A perspective on a failed nationalism ca. 1838-1845
Nicolai Sichlau European Ethnology, Saxo Institute, Faculty of Humanities, Copenhagen University 2009
In the mid 1830s, Scandinavism emerged on the European stage amongst its other nationalistic siblings, in Germany, Italy, and Poland. The Scandinavian movement was by and large isomorphic to these nationalistic and liberal unification movements for autonomy, and constitutional rights, on the basis of common culture and common language. And much like these its was mainly promoted by the academic and liberal Avant-garde bourgeois, idealistically invoking the common old Norse Viking identity perceived to be an age of freedom, as a means of politically opposing absolutism, and argue for a Scandinavian union of Denmark and Sweden-Norway.
The sway Scandinavism held over the young academics, is quite tantalizing given the fact that Danish Swedish relations from the late middle-ages up to 1813 was more or less a state of perpetual war, resulting in a deep seated hate and distrust between the populace of the two kingdoms. Amongst other things this thesis sets out to understand the logic behind the development of this rapid metamorphosis from arch enemies to a union of the two brethren-nations.
But on a more general level the thesis takes a
“natives point of view” on the movement, and understand it on its own terms.
The theses applies a combination of the Ethnosymbolic approach as a comparative framework to understand nationalism and New Cultural History to establish what Robert Darnton calls a “social history of ideas” to gain a deeper understanding of how the ideas of the ethnic nation travelled, and was established as a new “order in the world”. It is an investigation of how the ideas of the “national” was sought to constitute a joint Scandinavian identity, on a very concrete level in time and space. Furthermore I seek to understand why Scandinavism appealed widely to the academic bourgeois as a structure of meaning, perceived by them to end the calamity’s of their time. I also criticise the major scholarly works of nationalism, for having a strong Anglo-Saxon- French bias when looking for empirical ground to prove their hypothesis. The “Sturm und Drang” movement, and major German liberal thinkers like Turnvater Jahn, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Ernst Moritz Arndt, Friedrich Schiller, Ludwig Börne, J.G. Fichte and Hegel, are largely ignored in the influential works of Bennedict Anderson, Ernst Gellner, Erik Hobsbawm, and Anthony D. Smith. This is quite surprising given the fact that German thinkers were read extensively in Northern Europe, the Slavic countries including Russia, Sweden and Denmark, these where all countries where German was the lingua franca of the educated bourgeois. I suspect though this ethnocentric lacuna to be caused by a linguistic barrier.
In conclusion I argue that the Heglian understanding of history, is pivotal to understanding Skandinavism, and that the entire movements argumentation and reasoning for its relevance is tied up to a Hegelian teleological understanding of history. The Swedish and Danish Scandinavianists seek reconciliation in their newfound brotherhood. - Not by forgetting, (as Ernst Renan is famously know to have remarked); their former mutual animosity but by remembering it, do they take comfort in the future hopes of their utopian dreams. Seeing the former animosity as the workings of the metaphysical “Weltgeist” proves to the Scandinavianists that their miraculous reunification is the synthesis leading towards man´s freedom (the perceived goal of the “Weltgeist”). The enthusiasm over the Hegelian system of thought is enormous in the period, and the systems sway, and the quasi-religious pathos surrounding history and the “weltgeist” in it, is in my opinion what gives the ideas of the national, their sanctimonious aura or essence, and thus explains the enthusiasm and momentum of the newly awakened nationalist. From my admittedly narrow point of view, the lack of understand or interest in Hegelian philosophy, when dealing with the idealistic/romantic nationalistic movements of the Nineteenth century, seems almost grotesque.