Persons commonly use ‘people’ in the sense of ‘persons’, but a person isn’t primarily one of the people or a member of some people, understood as the people or a people. A person among persons is an individual among individuals. Indeed, the first recorded use of ‘people’ (i.e., the item of English) was a sense of “human beings not individually known or considered as individuals” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged).
Indigenous persons didn’t originally understand themselves as a people (i.e., one variety of a European general kind); rather, they were Navajo, Inuit, Mongolian, Persian, Gallic, or Angle, etc.: a self-determinative singularity, conceived as a distributed language family or regional version of The Family.
The English notion of people has its first known use in the 13th century, followed by first known use of ‘nation” in the 14th century, meaning the same as nationality, emergent through Middle English from the Latin ambiguity of ‘natio’: birth, race, people; and earlier Latin ‘gnatus’: to be born, like Latin ‘gignere’: to beget.
The notion of nationalism didn’t arise for another half millennium, 400 years after European discovery of “The New World” caused a German cartographer in 1507 to call it all “America,” in honor of the explorer Americus Vespucius, in the cartographer’s book that was widely read in Europe.
The global emergence of nationalist movements began with the British colonies in America, as self-determinative founding, spreading to France and elsewhere. That’s quite different from the 20th century advent of a people in an existing nation becoming passionately ideological and ethnically exclusive about their existing nationality.
Thus, a distinction between genuine and ungenuine nationalism is easy to make: Nationalism as founding of nationality or later honoring that founding (and celebrating one’s nationality relative to its founding and history) is different from amplifying a given nationalism as an exclusive ethnic politics.
[Importantly, race is originally a term of kinship lineage. ‘Race’ came to English in the 16th century as “the descendants of a common ancestor: a family, a tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same...ancestral class or kind“ (M-W. Unabridged).The character of U.S. nationality is Constitutional. The gathering of colonies into states unified by a ratified Constitution is all that U.S. nationality is. In principle, the U.S. “American” sense of nationality is “blind” to ethnic differences because citizenship or resident status isn’t ethnically defined. In effect, non-ethnic constitutional citizenship is trans-ethnic. Due appreciation of ethnic difference belongs to cultural society, not the national political order.
Biologistic notions of racism turn up in the early 20th century, surely due to distorted 19th century Darwinism applied to distorted notions of ethnic entitlement.
So, deeply ancestral notions of “blood relatives” become biologized; and deeply agrarian notions of belonging to a land become biologistically soiled.]
A transnational, global conception of united nations depends on an admirable, practical, and historically valid sense of ‘nation’, not only for global political life and law, but for generative senses of nationality—of national, trans-ethnic identity—across continental regions that can serve governmental union for territories of a people.
So, notions of transnationalism in political theory are vital for understanding collaborative political life. This includes the challenge of finding constructive balance between the virtues of humanistic union and the confederational character of global internationality. (In my view, by the way, Jürgen Habermas’s notion of “post-national constellation” should be seen relative to inter-transnational understanding which doesn’t try to antedate the importance of nationality.)
next—> the challenge of humanistic union for the confederated planet