France's Natural Borders

Isleifson

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,074
Lorraine tudesque
Bismarck was not a romantic, he did not care about Alsatia being old germanic land.

It was just about having a better border to France. Otherwise he would never taken as well the french speaking part of Lorraine and the french speaking part of Alsace.

This pangermanic thinking come with Willi.

But anyway the german never trusted us. In WWI the Alsatian and Lorrainers were send to the east front or the Navy.
 
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Aug 2012
1,733
Colorado
It is important to be aware that there are continuous language areas on the one hand, and sharp language borders on the other. For example, the Romance language area was once continuous; this is still obvious when one looks at the local dialects which smoothly transition into one another (e.g. at the border between France and Italy). The border between Romance and Germanic languages, however, was always sharp; there is no transition from a French dialect into a German dialect.

This argument does not mean that language trumps everything else, it just establishes that the assimilation of people who speak a closely related language is very different from those who speak a truly foreign language.



Yes, this was especially true for the Alsace, where almost nobody spoke French and thus was considered barbarian by French standards.



Somehow you give me the impression that you think that there was France as a state, and to the East of it a desert without any state organization. The reality is that you don't even have to use historical linguistic borders, because the Holy Roman Empire as a state did have clearly defined borders. The regions we are discussing here were all part of that state for at least 700 years (962-1648). Is this something that should not be considered at all?

There is enough evidence that we can speak of a territory called Germany at least since the 10th century; so it did exist in 1200, 1500, or 1800. Its state organization was different though. The Holy Roman Empire was not a nation state, although clearly dominated by Germans.

The development of a national identity did not happen out of the blue in the 19th century, even not in such a belated nation as Germany. There was actually a quite intense national debate around 1500 among German humanists. One of the protagonists of that debate was Jakob Wimpfeling, an Alsatian born in Schlettstadt. He clearly advocated German patriotism and felt as German, and would not in his wildest dreams have expected that his hometown would once be called Sélestat.

So, when Louis XIV invaded the Alsace in the second half of the 17th century, there was already a German identity, albeit certainly not in the modern sense.



How we define nationality is not static, but changes very much over time. In Germany, the cultural and linguistic identity preceded the organization as a nation state, whereas in France it was the other way round. The German term for German originally referred to all people that spoke in a German dialect as opposed to those who spoke a Romance language. So, even people in the area of Switzerland, Austria, or the Netherlands (but not Denmark, which is not part of the German dialect continuum) would have self-identified as German in the 16th century. Later on, the term was used in a more restricted manner, with loyalty to a state becoming more important.

Even the French, however, are not free from a linguistic definition of their nationality, at least since the Revolution. Until then, for example, the Alsace was left alone with its cultural and linguistic identity, and some of the bourgeois elites there actually felt both German (culturally and liguistically) and French (politically). Later, however, France did not accept these special identities anymore; this is the reason why France in contrast to most other civilized nations did not even sign conventions for the protection of minority languages. It is also the reason why German was suppressed and in part forbidden after WWI and WWII. If the question of language were not central for France, why should the Alsace not have kept its cultural and linguistic identity?

In regard to natural borders - I have never understood such an artificial concept. If there is such a thing as a natural, geographic border, it is usually an ocean, or a mountain ridge, almost never a river. The point is, a natural border cannot be independent of cultural, linguistic, and political factors; otherwise, why not take the Elbe as France's natural border? Having said this, the most rational natural border between France and Germany would have been the Vosges Mountains, which conincided with the language border for a millennium.

Excellent and well thought-out response Grimald, I have to agree with much of what you say.

This argument does not mean that language trumps everything else, it just establishes that the assimilation of people who speak a closely related language is very different from those who speak a truly foreign language.
As an American from a country of immigrants (or so they say :)), I don't agree necessarily that assimilation is easier for those who speak a closer related language. Using the French and Germans as an example, the German immigrants in the 18th-19th century were considered more foreign and a threat compared with the French immigrants and the Canadian immigrants. This is despite the fact that Americans and Germans both speak a Germanic language. In the modern world, Korean immigrants seem to assimilate faster than Mexicans, despite the fact that Spanish and English are fairly similar especially when compared with Korean. I agree in most cases, but just to play devil's advocate, I've offered some exceptions to the rule! :cool:

Somehow you give me the impression that you think that there was France as a state, and to the East of it a desert without any state organization. The reality is that you don't even have to use historical linguistic borders, because the Holy Roman Empire as a state did have clearly defined borders. The regions we are discussing here were all part of that state for at least 700 years (962-1648). Is this something that should not be considered at all?

There is enough evidence that we can speak of a territory called Germany at least since the 10th century; so it did exist in 1200, 1500, or 1800. Its state organization was different though. The Holy Roman Empire was not a nation state, although clearly dominated by Germans.
I agree with you. I don't think that the region called Germany before 1871 was any kind of cultural desert! We are really just butting heads especially on one point. I am referring to Germany as being a state founded in 1871 with a capital in Berlin. You are considering Germany to be a continuum that extends from medieval times to the modern day. Neither either idea is wrong or right, and both have their merits. I am referring to the state and you are referring to a cultural/linguistic/ethnic entity.

By the way, I don't want to come over as a German nationalist. My argumentation would have certainly been very different if I discussed with a German nationalist who considered German-speaking regions like the Alsace as terra irredenta.
Don't worry, you aren't! You are just making some valid points. I'm not a German nationalist either, and I have to recognize what you have argued (at least to some extent).
 
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Aug 2012
1,733
Colorado
We had alsatian Protestants, alsatian Catholics, not to talk about the many Jews.

Alot of the Catholic and the Jew left, and not only in 1871, but until 1914.

The Lorrainer had been completely surprised by the annexation, they had absolutely nothing to do with the Reich, since a long time.

Français je ne puis, allemand je ne veux, Lorrain je suis.

Which you can translate by

French I cannot be, German I don't want to be, Lorrainer I am.

Isleifson, Can you offer more insight into being a Lorrainer, or a Lothringener? :)

It is interesting, and I think we've had several threads were at least Beorna and I have disagreed on how German or French the people of Lorraine are!
 

Isleifson

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,074
Lorraine tudesque
Isleifson, Can you offer more insight into being a Lorrainer, or a Lothringener? :)

It is interesting, and I think we've had several threads were at least Beorna and I have disagreed on how German or French the people of Lorraine are!
For that we need a new thread

Lorraine-Lothringen, the forgotten land
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,239
SoCal
What if France had her so called natural borders following the Napoleonic wars? (assume the remainder of Europe is not under the French boot)
In such a scenario, France would have more natural resources (coal, et cetera) and also more industry (thanks to Belgium and the Rhineland). As for assimilation, I suspect that the trajectory of the Rhinelanders in this scenario would have been similar to that of the Alsatians in real life while the trajectory of Wallonia would have been similar to that of the Occitans--as in, virtually complete assimilation into French life and French culture. As for the Flemings and southern Dutch, I'd expect them to have a trajectory in this scenario similar to that of French Flanders in real life.

A PoD which lets France keep these territories might very well result in a different Otto von Bismarck being born. If so, that could result in no Franco-Prussian War or in a different Franco-Prussian War. It's also possible that a France that would extend to its "natural" borders might be more willing to accept the rise of Prussia due to it feeling more secure than it felt in real life. Of course, if war between France and Prussia would still break out, then France's odds of victory in this war would be higher due to the additional industry, territory, and population--though French victory obviously wouldn't be guaranteed.

Also, this obviously wouldn't be guaranteed due to the butterfly effect, but if there is an alt-WWI in this scenario, it would be interesting how Germany would develop its war plans in the West had France controlled Belgium and the southern Netherlands.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,189
Sydney
I'm not so sure the Rhine-landers were so attached to being "Germans "
they spoke some form of German but Germany conciousness emerged in the middle to late 19th century
on the integration side those regions were Catholic ,had been under various rulers and were mostly concerned with their autonomy
that's on the minus side , French centralism would have clashed with them
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,239
SoCal
I'm not so sure the Rhine-landers were so attached to being "Germans "
they spoke some form of German but Germany conciousness emerged in the middle to late 19th century
on the integration side those regions were Catholic ,had been under various rulers and were mostly concerned with their autonomy
that's on the minus side , French centralism would have clashed with them
I suppose that the Rhinelanders who didn't like French rule could have simply moved to Germany.
 
Apr 2017
732
Lemuria
I simply cannot imagine that inhabitants of the French Rhineland departments, if they had been retained, would have abandoned their German culture in the 19th Century, it would have been unsatisfactory for all concerned; it was all very well for someone like Napoleon to keep them under his thumb, but times were changing.
They probably wouldn't abandon their culture. Regional identity have always been strong in France. They would be like Alsace but they would probably be bilingual. To me Rhineland seems to have more in common with Eastern France than Eastern Germany. From the Franks, Alemmani and the Gauls, similar people inhabited those regions. In fact, there should have been a fairly powerful kingdom (would be around 25-30 million people nowadays) between France and Germany called Middle Francia or Lotharingia (nice name). But it was not strong enough to survive predation from Western Francia and Eastern Francia.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,189
Sydney
I can assure you that French Flemish , Breton and Occitan have not abandoned their identity
Alsatian , especialy around Mulhouse , speak their impenetrable Germanic jargon with each others
let's not even talk about the Basque and Corsican ,
two hundred years of Paris rule has only painted over local sensitivities with a solid patriotism
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,212
Welsh Marches
At the time of the French revolution the culture of Alsace was basically German, now it is basically French; the Alsatian dialect has been in steady decline since the beginning of the last century, and the rate of decline has increased in the last 30 years. I'm all in favour of regional peculiarities, but the culture of European countries is alas becoming increasingly homogeneous. Even Welsh-speaking Wales (which I have lived in) is not really that different from any other part of the UK, and in recently moving from Wessex to the Welsh Marches I have felt hardly any difference at all. One can largely discount tourist stuff and the folklorish stuff that is a hobby for the weekend, rather like battlefield re-eanctments. Cornish is still a dead language even if people play at talking it.
 
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