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Does Identity Depend on Sovereignty?

Roland (right) receives the sword, Durandal, from the hands of Charlemagne (left)

1,084 words

Translated by Greg Johnson

Author’s Note:

I reproduce here in full a seminal article that I published in Le Figaro on February 1, 1999, under the title: “Sovereignty is not Identity.” This article was part of the debate provoked by the Amsterdam Treaty and discussions about the future EU.

My intention was to liberate the minds of those who see history from a Jacobin and “state-centered” perspective, which has always been taught in France under the influence of an exceptionally powerful centralized state. This history focuses exclusively on the state and practices a kind of negation of the French people and the carnal nation that I hope to rehabilitate. This article provoked some lively debate in those circles most attached to the idea of sovereignty, promoting new thinking on national identity. I reproduce it as it was published at the time.

A wave of panic stirs our remotest hamlets. France, will she survive the Euro, the Treaty of Amsterdam, the conspiracy of the Eurocrats, to the year 2000? Is the loss of sovereignty the loss of identity? On these real issues regarding the challenge of the construction of Europe, historians have remained strangely silent. Yet if there is an area where history can illuminate the future, it is that of French identity in the midst of Europe.

Unlike the German nation, which lived without a unitary state for six centuries, from 1250 to 1871, France has not experienced such an interruption. Here, the unitary state was continuously maintained during the same period. Hence the causal relationship inscribed in our minds between sovereignty and identity. It has even become a kind of dogma, maintained by Jacobin historiography, that the French nation is the creation of the state and that, deprived of the latter, it would be in danger of death and dissolution.

It this were true, such a nation would be worthless. But it is false. Certainly no one would contest that the state, royal and republican, built the political and administrative framework of the nation. However, this has nothing to do with the formation of its substance. The state is not the creator of the French people or the source of our identity. History shows that. But this truth is so contrary to received ideas that it needs some explanation.

Let us refer to the origins, the Oaths of Strasbourg, publicly pledged in February 842 by Charles the Bald and Louis the German, grandsons of Charlemagne. The authentic text was written in Langue d′oïl (Old French) and Old High German. It is the oldest known document attesting to a linguistic separation between German-speaking and French-speaking Frankish barons of the same stock. The Oath of Strasbourg is, in a way, the official birth of the French and the German peoples before France and Germany. In the 9th century, without there ever being a nation state, two peoples and two cultures are already evidenced by the mysterious emergence of two distinct languages.

Move forward in time. From the 11th and 12th centuries, there is ample evidence of radiant French identity. At the time, the centralized state did not yet exist. The little courts of the petty kings of the time had nothing to do with the Song of Roland or Tristan and Isolde or the Lancelot of Chretien de Troyes, primordial monuments of a Frenchness deeply rooted in the European soil. The role of the state is also absent in the emergence and proliferation of the Romanesque style in the following centuries, in the admirable secular architecture of castles, towns, and country houses, neglected by the scholarly historiography up to André Chastel.[1]

What sort of people, what sort of identity? In the 12th century, the famous Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis and adviser to Louis VII, responds in his own way: “We are French of France, born of the same womb.” Five centuries later, the grammarian Vaugelas, who in 1639 led the drafting of the Great dictionary of the Academy offers this definition: “People does not mean mob, but community represented faithfully by its nobility.”

More than the state, the deciding factor of the birth of a nation is the existence of a “core people”: homogeneous, numerous, active, “represented by its nobility,” from which unfold a language and style that gradually extend to similar neighboring peoples. Such was the fate of the historic “core people” of the Ile de France, Picardy, and Neustria, of high Frankish composition. The Capetian kings made it the base of their ambitions. What happened, under the dry rule of the state, to this “core people,” the people of Bouvines and many other exploits, once so strong?

It is to them that we owe our language and its inner strength, so long inviolable.  Émile Littré emphasized this in his History of the French Language. He showed how powerful vitality and genuine originality allowed the transformation of a Celticized and Germanized low-Latin into Old French and then French.

Before being ennobled by literature, the language had arisen from the people. Montaigne knew well when he wrote: “I would rather my son to learn to speak in taverns than schools of eloquence. . . . If only I could confine myself to the words used in the market of Paris.” Ronsard said much the same thing by assigning this condition the adoption of new words: “they are to be molded and shaped on a pattern already received from the people.” A pattern which Etiemble, in the 20th century, nicely called the “people’s throat.” Of course there must still be a people, i.e., living and rooted communities, everything that the centralist government dislikes and has always fought.

The state has its own logic which is not that of the living nation. The living nation has nothing to fear from the loss of sovereignty, because sovereignty should not be confused with identity. If further proof is needed, the history of Quebec is eloquent enough. Since the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French in Canada were totally abandoned by the royal state. Isolated in a hostile land under foreign sovereignty, they not only failed to disappear, but they multiplied, preserving their ancestral language and customs, fighting victoriously against Anglo-Saxon linguistic hegemony.

Identity lies in fidelity to oneself, and nowhere else.


1. One might add that in the 14th century several large fiefs often Carolingian and French escaped the royal state, but not French identity: Great Burgundy, Guyenne, French Flanders, Lorraine, Franche-Comté, and Savoy, not including independent Brittany.




  1. rhondda
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I love the French Canadians precisely because they are loyal to who they are. The Wasp English Canada do not get that. I am so glad that the Quebecois won the recent election, not with a majority, but hey why should they? Prove you are for us is a good motto. Something the federal government should pay heed to while they dance with Americans and Jews.

  2. Sandy
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    The original Quebecors came from Brittany in Northern France and those Bretons had merely crossed the English Channel in the old days when England ruled northern France. The only real difference between the old Quebecors and the Canadians was language and their dedication to preserving that has opened the door to French speaking Africans resulting in an multi-cultural Quebec. Hardly a victory against “the English.”

    • rhondda
      Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      Sandy, do you know any French Canadians? What Venner says is true. The French Canadians were deserted and had to survive as a group on their own. It is not just language. Where they came from is not the point. How they survived is.

      When I lived in Ontario, the French we were taught was France French which was a direct insult to the people of Quebec who have their own way of saying things. Wasps I know were angry that they even had to learn French to keep their government jobs and this was with it being paid for and time off work. Paid to learn another language and they were angry!!! They deliberately discriminated against anyone from Quebec because they could. So there are French speaking Africans in Quebec. Look at the mongrels taking over Toronto! Just like the states, black crime is on the rise. I would put my money on the French Canadians actually doing something about it while in Toronto they kiss toes and ask for forgiveness.

  3. Sandy
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Rhondda, I don’t currently know any French Canadians although I have known a couple in the past. The French were indeed deserted after “the conquest” but they were deserted by the French.
    When the British Empire and the French Empire clashed on the Plains of Abraham Murray became the governor and having served under Wolfe in the conquest of the Scottish Highlands he was so sickened by it all he had become a bit of a softie and allowed the french to keep their religion and their culture. He even protected them from the merchants to such a degree that he was recalled to London where he had to stand trial. Acquitted, he was appointed governor of the Bahamas.
    The Quebecois were discriminated against but the French Empire was Catholic while the British Empire was Protestant. Just as “the Wallace” was Catholic while Edward was leaning towards the rising Protestantism.
    As you say I m sure that the Qubecoais will do sometime about it but being predominantly White you know it will be the wrong thing. And they are focused on the wrong enemy.

  4. Razvan
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    The sovereignty might be not that important for the French people. Surrounded by civilized people with no intention to exterminate the French people nor to wipe out their identity, sovereignty might not seem to be that important. Same things might be said about the Quebecois.

    In other parts of the world, including Europe, sovereignty is a matter of survival. Both spiritual and physical. Wars, induced famine, horrible exploitation, deportation, cultural degradation and history mystification … Guess the westernmost part of Europe didn’t see them in full and for a thousand years. This is why sovereignty might not be that important for Mr. Venner.

    Few verses of Mr. Yankevich on CC websites are more than enough to refute the thesis of Mr. Venner. I mean they are enough to show what really happens when the sovereignty is lost to a foreign, genocidal, unmerciful people – like the jewish people.
    Imagine that the entire political power is lost to the arabs and the jews. What chance will have the French identity by itself?
    The same as the North-African whites peoples had after the muslim conquest.

    This article might have been written by those Byzantine orthodox priests, that thought that an ottoman occupation might be better than a catholic one, because their byzantine identity will be better preserved. One might ponder over this ideea.

  5. Posted September 8, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    So the issue becomes: what is to be done about the liberal state and the universalized notions of Man that have been imposed upon our more organic forms of “identity” and unity?

  6. Jaego Scorzne
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Same thing in Northern Island, the Sin Fein want to fill the place up with Non Whites. That makes the whole struggle for literally nothing.

    As far as Identity vs Sovereignty: most people succumb to the Muslims in a few generations. If your old culture was so good, why did they win? Get with the winners. So, it’s a test: is your culture strong enough to resist the easy road that’s offered? Does it offer enough, is it rich enough? The Greeks of Greece withstood centuries of Muslim occupation so for them, the answer was yes.

    On Orthodoxy: is the Church behind the Golden Dawn? That would be impressive since the Golden Dawn was refusing to give immigrants any aid. That would show the victory of Wisdom over idiot compassion.

  7. Razvan
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    The Greeks withstood centuries of ottoman occupation, but at what tremendous price. It is extremely sad to see one of the brightest European civilizations destroyed, corrupted, infected by one of the most vulgar, base, violent, sadistic Asian civilizations.

    I was saying that even the identity was preserved, the price paid and the sorrow were almost unbearable.

    On the other side, there were many other Orthodox countries that helped materially (countless treasures in fact) different religious centers, especially Athos and Constantinople in order to support that Greek-Orthodox identity. Today such kind of support is impossible because there will be no sovereign country.

    The effects of sovereignty loss are already visible in the identity change.

    Golden Dawn may have some support from a certain part of the Church – the old, conservative, nationalistic part.

    My sense is that the other part of the church started to embrace the multiculturalism.
    Few weeks ago I saw on TV a documentary that showed some Orthodox priests (Greeks and Romanians) proselytizing in Kenya. It made me sick. Even my priest tried to convince me that the “value has been born on the Mount of Sion, not on the Carpathians”, so I had to show him the door. I am afraid that Mr. Johnson is right to be skeptic with regard to any Christian church. The old priests are dying. The new democratic/materialistic breed is worthless – and entirely different from the old one.

  8. Dominion
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Venner is certainly correct in distinguishing between sovereignty and identity, but there’s obviously an ongoing relationship between the two. The first state of sovereignty (when a group moves from tribal existence to a ‘State’ society, but not through being conquered, seems like it would require identity to exist. Romans had to consider themselves as such before the city could become a Republic. Of course it is also possible to create a new identity through sovereignty (as was said after the creation of the Kingdom of Italy, “we have created Italy, now we must create Italians”). The current task of the NANR would be to focus on identity, questions about it, and the future of the identity of Europeans in North America, their history and culture. Sovereignty, as it stands now, is a question the full impact of which will be felt later in the game, as the ‘European’ nations of Canada and the United States bring about sovereignty of liberal civic identity, not national or folk identities.

  9. Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Johnson: could you please clarify the part about how this is for Le Figaro?

    I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that you wrote this 13 years ago for France’s top right-leaning newspaper.

    Please elaborate.


    – Arturo

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      The article is by Dominique Venner.

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