Are nations driven by the same emotions that drive individuals?

Posted November 4, 2011 10:45 am  

How is it that nations seem to be driven by some of the same emotions that drive individuals?

The notion of human beings operating on two parallel levels—one as individuals and the other as members of a social group—goes back to the homo-duplex concept of Emile Durkheim, the great 19th century French sociologist. Durkheim conceived of our brains as structured for selfish, individual competition at one level but for mutual cooperation at a higher level, the mechanism by which groups effectively compete with one another. For him, the ability to overcome petty concerns in favor of the common good is what makes us fully human. Do current studies of the brain support this 19th century explanation?



A related question is: How do societies arrive at the identities that define them?

Durkheim saw religion, the essential force that had always bound individuals together, as a projection of the power of the society onto an external vision of the sacred. With traditional religion on the decline, he thought other emotions would serve the same function.

“Society is not at all the illogical or a-logical, incoherent and fantastic being which has too often been considered. Quite on the contrary, the collective consciousness is the highest form of psychic life, since it is the consciousness of consciousness. Being placed outside of and above individual and local contingencies, it sees things only in their permanent and essential aspects, which it crystallizes into communicable ideas.”

In Italy, individuals identify with smaller social groups: the family, the contrata, the town; in Portugal, it may be a concept like saudade; in America, an historical narrative. How do these traditions become so powerful and enduring?




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