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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter I. Cultural modernization: Institutionalization of “national sciences”

The science of nation

Dimitrie Gusti
Traduction de Mária Kovács

Texte intégral

1Title: Stiinţa naţiunii (The science of nation)

2Originally published: Sociologie românească, No. 2–3 (February–March 1937), pp. 1–7.

3Language: Romanian

4The excerpts used are from the original, pp. 1 and 3–7.

About the author

5Dimitrie Gusti [1880, Iaşi – 1955, Bucharest]: sociologist, ethnographer and the founder of the ‘Bucharest Sociological School,’ or the so-called ‘Monographic School.’ Gusti was born to a family of local notables and completed his primary and secondary education in Iaşi. In 1898, Gusti enrolled in the University of Berlin, where he studied with the German philosopher, Friedrich Paulsen (1846–1908). From 1900 to 1904, he studied at the University of Leipzig with German scholars such as the psychologist and physiologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920), the historian Karl Lamprecht (1856–1915) and the geographer and ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904). In 1904, Gusti received his doctorate and returned to Romania. In 1910, he was appointed professor of sociology and ethics at the University of Iaşi, but in 1920 he moved to the University of Bucharest. In 1919, he founded the Asociaţia pentru Ştiinţa şi Reforma Socială (Society of sociology and social reform), which in 1921 was renamed the Institutul Social Român (Romanian social institute). Gusti edited two of the most important scientific journals of the interwar period, Arhiva pentru ştiinţa şi reforma socială (Journal of sociology and social reform), which in 1940 became the International Union of Sociology’s official journal, and Sociologie românească (Romanian sociology). In the 1920s and 1930s, a new generation of sociologists and ethnographers, along with specialists in various other disciplines, took part in Gusti’s ‘teams’ to conduct fieldwork in rural areas. In 1934, Gusti became the director of the Royal Cultural Foundation. In 1936 the ‘Village Museum’ in Bucharest was established with Gusti as one of its founders. Together with some of his collaborators, especially the anthropologist and social historian Henri H. Stahl (1901–1991) and the sociologist Traian Herseni (1907–1980), Gusti initiated a systematic investigation of Romanian rural culture and civilization. Gusti was also a member of the Romanian Academy and of various institutes of sociology (in Geneva, Tokyo and Prague), and doctor honoris causa of the University of Leipzig. During the interwar period, Gusti was revered as the founder of modern sociology in Romania. Although marginalized after the establishment of the communist regime in 1947, Gusti’s theories were appropriated by historical sociologists and historians of culture. Some of his writings were also used by western theorists of economic development in Latin America, and by those working within the paradigm of ‘peripheral societies.’ After 1989, many of Gusti’s writings were re-edited in Romania, and his theory of the nation was adopted more by intellectuals searching for alternative models of national identity than those centered exclusively on ethnicity.

6Main works: Die Grundbegriffe des Presserecht [Basic notions of the press law] (1908); Soziologie, Politik und Ethik [Sociology, politics and ethics] (1909); Sociologia războiului [The sociology of war] (1915); Partidul politic [The political party] (1924); Sociologia militans, 2 vols. [Militant sociology] (1935–1946); Enciclopedia Romaniei, 4 vols. [The encyclopedia of Romania] (1938–1943).


7After the creation of Greater Romania in 1918, Romanian intellectuals realized that the new political context required a corresponding cultural project. Romania was a predominantly rural country with a strong traditional community whose identity was rather parochial. Transforming these communities into a modern nation was a pressing issue for the interwar generation. In addition, with the annexation of Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia, Romania acquired a significant number of ethnic minorities (almost 30% of the total population in 1921) that not only changed the Romanians’ self-perception as a majority, but also challenged their social and economic status. In Transylvania in particular, Hungarian and German minorities were largely urbanized, and occupied, at least until 1920, a central position in public administration and the economic sector. The nationalization of towns and cultural institutions was closely connected to the implementation of various cultural projects that aimed at offering a common national platform to all Romanians. Sociology, according to Gusti, was to take up the challenge offered by this historical opportunity. From a science of society, it had to become the science of the nation.

8Gusti offered one of the most modern definitions of the nation produced in interwar Romania. Familiar with classical theories of the nation elaborated in the nineteenth century (especially those of Fichte, Renan and Mazzini), Gusti offered a synthesis, merging sociological theories with his local knowledge of Romanian society. According to Gusti, the nation should not be identified solely with the state, the people or race. He argued that neither language nor religion were prime conditions for defining national character. The nation was, Gusti believed, a social unit, defined by the relationship between citizens and the state. Agreeing that the nation was the most sophisticated form of social solidarity, Gusti therefore insisted that the nation was the supreme human condition; individual destiny could only be accomplished within its national form.

9The best approach to studying national realities, Gusti argued, was the ‘monographic’ one. Furthermore, sociology had to rely on first-hand research, and Gusti outlined a new definition of monographic research. The first condition was direct observation. The sociologist must be involved directly in social realities. Thus, fieldwork was strongly recommended. Secondly, the sociologist must be guided by intuition and empathy toward the social life under observation. The sociology of the nation should therefore not start from general observations, but from the knowledge of local and regional conditions. According to Gusti, Romanians were not yet a fully-fledged nation. After the completion of their political unification, the task was to elevate the ‘Romanian people’ to a superior stage, that of the ‘Romanian nation.’ Education and culture were the two conditions for realizing such a transformation. The real meaning of culture, according to Gusti, was to transform the community, defined both biologically and socially, into a nation, a superior spiritual social entity. Considering sociology as the “science of the nation,” Gusti assigned a localized and particular meaning to this discipline. Sociology should become a discipline facilitating the understanding of Romanian social realities. Although Gusti advocated the transformation of sociology into a ‘national science,’ he did not promote its complete absorption by mechanisms of nation building, such as forced nationalization or ethnic segregation.

10Gusti’s methodological approach to the problem of the nation had some practical effects as well. A vast network of specialists working under his supervision covered the entire country. In the 1930s, this network was also used by the king Carol II, who financed the ‘Sociological School,’ to counteract the ‘Legionary Movement’s growing influence both among the youth and in the rural areas. Gusti’s research teams transgressed also ethnic affiliation, as many young Hungarian and German students from Transylvania participated in the research activities organized by the ‘Sociological School.’ Although some of this research was ground-breaking, Gusti’s ambitious sociological project did not achieve its goals as effectively as imagined by its founder. In the increasingly politicized atmosphere of the 1940s, the ethnic model of the nation became the norm among intellectuals and political elites in Romania; the communist regime manifested a similar disregard for Gusti’s model of social integration, seen as too ‘liberal’ and marred by a ‘spiritualist’ definition of the national community. As with other writings of the interwar period, it was only after 1989 that his text on the nation was properly discussed by sociologists and anthropologists.


The science of nation

12The nation is the central reality which sums up all natural aspirations of individuals and in which all international manifestations begin, not toward a new being, but toward a new system of relations. The nation is the only social unit that is self-sufficient, in the sense that it does not require, for its complete accomplishment, a more inclusive social unit, being able to develop for itself its own values, establish a goal and identify the means of accomplishment, that is the organizing and fulfilling force of its own making. No other social unit occupies such an important place in the field of social life. For instance, family life does not represent, as it did in the Greek-Roman past, a closed, almost autonomous world, but is regulated largely by the State and is related through its economic and spiritual needs to a wider social life. Children do not only learn the power of the father, like in patriarchal families, but they are also protected by the State, and the State educates them and provides for their religious needs through special institutions, namely the school and the church. Therefore, families are not self-sufficient; they are subordinated to national life and the organization of the State. The same happens with almost all social units: villages, towns, churches, schools, etc. Therefore, science sometimes calls them, not without reason, social subunits, and not social units. The nation, however, deserves more completely the name of a social unit, because it does not depend on a larger unit. It is true that until recently, the nation was also subordinated to the State, but with the world war this situation was changed to its advantage. National states do not show us any longer nations gathered arbitrarily, and ruled by force within a state, but they are a simple political expression of organization of the nation. Nowadays, the state is merely a form of manifestation of the nation, therefore a reality functionally subordinated to it. This is how, looking at its inner composition, the nation appears as the most significant and the most comprehensive social unit of our times. Outside, each nation is connected to other nations by common interests, which lead to collaboration or competition, and thus give us the aspect of international life. Internationalism does not mean pan-nationalism or cosmopolitanism, but connection among nations. In other words, true internationalism does not annihilate nations, but it looks at them in terms of their relations. In this way we get the true concept of mankind. For nations together, in their joint efforts on the way to civilization, give rise to mankind, not in the anti-nationalist sense, of humanitarians without a country, but in the nationalist sense, as reality that reflects the being of nations and their creative energy. Beyond nations humankind does not occur as a world in itself, but humankind as the totality of nations, like harmony of the original and specific national beings. […]

13What is a nation? […] First, we argue that the nation is a synthetic reality, in the sense that it forms a totality, a living and indivisible unit, impossible to reduce to individuals that compose it or to a single part of its being. The nation precedes us, its members, and at the same time is superior to us. Its wholeness comes from the fact that the nation is the most complete social unit, and what characterizes social units is their structure, by which the elements are organized in a particular way, not after their own nature, but after the nature of the whole. Individuals can participate in several social units without changing their nature. This means that the change takes place in the individual, depending on his participation in one or another social unit, and on the organizational principal of these units, which is irreducible to the composing individuals.

14Second, we think that the nation is a voluntary creation, because unlike in a people, which is a natural ethnic community, the nation is created through a permanent effort, through the will of being, living and fighting. The nation requires a will that is aware of the goals that it pursues, mastering its means of action, capable of vast creations and oriented toward wide perspectives. It is not what nature made it, but what it strives to be, what results from the ceaseless effort of those that make it up. A nation lacking in will falls back into the natural state of a people, becoming a simple community of blood and tradition, not a community of will, conscience and aspirations. Peoples live a passive life of fatalism and resignation. The nations live an active life of fighting for an ideal and of creating its own destiny. Therefore, the element that distinguishes these two stages of development and shows us the transformation of a people into a nation is will. In other words, will appear to us as the essence of national life, as the most significant element, without which it could not be preserved.

15Out of the will of the nation to succeed in manifesting itself begin all cultural creations and all connections with the environment and the factors that condition it. For a nation is not an uprooted reality, suspended in air, but on the contrary it has deep connections with the land on which it develops, with the blood of the population that makes it up, with the past and the products of its ancestors, and the psychological life of the living individuals.

16A nation generally develops on a certain land, the land of the country. […] The Romanians are a Carpathian people, and the Carpathians represent a Romanian world. Without this bond, which is now essential and organic, between the land and our people, we can understand nothing of the history and present civilization of the Romanian nation. It is true that there was a breach in this natural growth through capitalist influence, but after all the signs, the new Romanian world that is emerging will determinedly resume the interrupted line in terms of State life, and will return to the old unity between the Romanian land and civilization. In any case, a science of the nation is impossible without the detailed research of the relations between the nation and the land that houses it.

17On the other hand, the nation cannot be separated from its ethnic background, from the population that composes it, its specific racial features, the hereditary substance, as well as physical and psychological features that only its members possess. The fact that there are no pure races, that no nation is made up of elements of the same race, does not mean that race does not play any role in the life of nations. It is sufficient for two nations to have different racial composition, that is to include populations of mixed races in different percentages, and therefore to impose in the hereditary process a different percentage of the same type of features, so that they should manifest specific features at least in certain respects. From this point of view, one can talk about a specific racial composition for each people, although race should not be mistaken for nation. To the same extent, the echo that the unity of the race has in the conscience of a nation must not be ignored. This time there is a collective psychological phenomenon, which is not strictly linked to the biological truth. Even if it does not represent a pure race, a people can have the conscience of a racial unit, and even of its superiority toward other peoples. […]

18A nation is also the sum of previous efforts, a result of a historical process, of life experience gained by the forefathers, accumulated and transmitted from generation to generation. Nations cannot be reduced to collectives of people that make them up at a certain moment. The dead come together with the living, and sometimes the orders of the past are perfectly valid for the present period, too. The historical past is not an outside factor that worsens in a way or other the life of nations, but an important part, the nation itself in progress, on the way to self-accomplishment, as destiny and mission. […]

19The creative manifestations of a nation can be reduced to some fundamental categories. Such are the economic, spiritual, judicial and political manifestations. In all domains, a nation tends to accomplish itself as truthfully as possible, to express its working and creative power, to reach its own formula of culture, and therefore of specific settlement and manifestation inside universal civilization. Nations tend to gain their own economic life, to provide them with a lot of power and as much independence from other nations as possible. Nowadays, national sovereignty is increasingly not a strictly political issue, but a global manifestation in all fields. A country that is economically subjugated, franchised to foreign enterprises, a debtor of other countries, is not entirely the master of its own fate, even if politically speaking is has an apparently independent government, constitution and political organization. In addition, economic activity is what links a nation even more to its land. All the resources of life that the geographical environment provides, from the pastures that are appropriate for grazing, or the fields for cultivation, to the most hidden mineral resources, belong to the nation and are to be used gradually depending on the natural development of the nation, and to the extent in which there appear other resources for the following generations. An economic life that is given away to foreigners leads to the merciless exploitation of the riches that the country has and to the destruction of the means of living for the next generations or at least to the appearance of some activities that are alien to the nature and the stage of organic development of the nation, which further leads to the lack of inner equilibrium and to the dismembering of the national community. Consequently, economic manifestations are not chance elements in the life of a nation, but essential components through which the nation can be preserved and developed, but they can also lead to political degradation and even disappearance. […]

20To sum up, in a harmonious and indivisible synthesis, the economic, juridical and political manifestations of a nation form the genuine national culture, the highest form of human life. […] A nation is not simply reduced to either its willpower, or its ideals in life, or to any of the cosmic or biological, historical or psychological factors, or to any of its economic, spiritual, juridical or political manifestations, but it includes all of them in an indissoluble whole, like a single being in life relations with the surrounding world. The science of nation must start from this reality and must present it to us unaltered in all its complexity and manifestations.


Mária Kovács (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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