Dialogue on the Threshold

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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Husk and kernel

The foundation of any national character is human nature. A national character is simply a particular colouring taken on by human nature, a particular cystallisation of it. (. . .)  Reactionaries seek to excise and destroy the deepest and most essentially human aspects of a nation's character; they promulgate its most inhuman and superficial aspects. They prefer the husk to the kernel. When they promulgate nationalism, reactionaries try to destroy what people share at a deep level; they recognise only what people share at the most superficial level. (. . .) It is important to understand what is primary and what is secondary. Of course, there is such a thing as national character. Nevertheless, far from being the foundation of human nature, it is simply one of the many colours, the many timbres, that human nature takes on. During the twentieth century the importance of national character has been hugely exaggerated. This has happened in both great and small nations. (. . .) The nationalism of a small nation can, with treacherous ease, become detached from its roots in what is noble and human. It then becomes pitiful, making the nation appear smaller rather than greater.

Vasily Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook, translated from the Russian by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, with an introduction and notes by Robert Chandler and Yurky Bit-Yunan, New York Review of Books, New York, 2013, pp. 15-16.

Original: Василий Гроссман,  Добро вам, Собрание сочинений в четырех томах, Москва, Аграф, 1998