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  • Comparative Studies in Society and History, Volume 40, Issue 4
  • October 1998, pp. 637-665

In Search of Natural Identity: Alpine Landscape and the Reconstruction of the Swiss Nation

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 October 1998

Elias Canetti, in a brief passage of his Crowds and Power (first published in German in 1960), argued that neither language, nor territory or history are at the heart of what today we would call national identity. What nations can not do without, however, and what has contributed most to turning different individuals into conscious members of a particular nation, is a national “crowd symbol.” Canetti then went on to show that most European nations possessed one such symbol around which a popular feeling of national belonging could be generated and sustained. In the case of England, he maintained, it was the sea that took this function; while for the Germans it was the forest. In France, on the other hand, it was the Revolution that came to play this very role. And in Switzerland—the case Canetti probably knew best from his own experience—it was the mountains (see Canetti 1960:191–203).

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