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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

Slavic philosophy

Petar Beron
Traduction de Alena Alexandrova et Elena Alexieva

Texte intégral

1Title: Slawische Philosophie (Slavic philosophy)

2Originally published: Prague, Fr. Ehrlich, 1855

3Language: German

4The excerpts used are from Славянска философия (София: Акад. изд. Проф. Марин Дринов, 2000). Part I, Chapter IV and V, pp. 55–58; Part III, 2, Chapter I, p. 191.

About the author

5Petar Beron (Pierre Béron) [1800, Kotel (Central Bulgaria) – 1871, near Craiova]: philosopher and pedagogue. He came from a rich merchant’s family, and received his primary education in Kotel (in the eastern part of the Balkan mountains) and in Bucharest. In 1824 he published a primer, the so-called ‘Textbook with the Fish’ (because of the picture on its cover), which had a considerable impact on the Bulgarian educational system as the first modern schoolbook written in the vernacular language. It amounted in fact to a small encyclopaedia for children. Beron continued his studies in Germany, at first in the Faculty of Philosophy at Heidelberg and later in the Faculty of Medicine at Munich, where in 1831 he defended his doctoral dissertation. From the late 1830s onwards he lived in Paris, Berlin, London, Vienna, Prague and Athens, where he continued to work on his extremely ambitious scientific projects. His works in French, German, Bulgarian and other languages cover almost all fields of knowledge: from physics, chemistry and meteorology to history and moral philosophy. He remains a figure of veneration as the first Bulgarian encyclopaedist, a major pedagogical reformer and the first modern Bulgarian philosopher.

6Main works: Буквар с различни поучения [Textbook with various instructions] (1824); Slawische Philosophie [Slavic philosophy] (1855); Panépistème ou sciences physiques et naturelles et sciences métaphysiques et morales, 7 vols., (1861–1867).


7Even if Beron’s scientific works are closely related to contemporary positivistic trends in the sciences, he combines his research interests with the rationalist and humanist ideas of the Enlightenment, which also affected his cultural program for a national revival (although his direct influence on the Bulgarian national revival is represented primarily by the small textbook he published in his youth). His more fundamental works, written and published abroad, did not influence cultural life in the Bulgarian lands. These books represent a curious mixture of positivism with a type of pantheistic vision that recalls the late Schelling. Beron’s terminology was to a large extent a personal invention and because of this, it was hermetic and of little influence.

8Arguably, the most important of Beron’s scholarly works, the Slawische Philosophie can be read as an example in support of the thesis that the ‘national project’ is essentially related to Romantic philosophy. The most significant element of the work in light of the examination of the process of national identity-building remains the perspective implicit in the title itself. Beron finds the archetypal source of his ‘pan-epistemological’ project in the ‘Slavic idea.’ He clearly sought to imply that the Slavic peoples embody the telos of history by adopting a new, scientific worldview, based upon the ‘primordial’ propensity of the Slavs to grasp and penetrate into the essence of the world. Like Georgi Rakovski, Beron makes a connection between the mastering of the Slavic/Bulgarian tongue and the access to a scientific worldview, that is, to the ultimate truth. In this sense, even though the text of Slawische Philosophie remains absolutely irrelevant on the referential level to the nation-building discourse, it functions performatively as a symptom of the very mechanism of identity-building. It is worth noting, though, that the tendency of the interchangeable use of the terms “Slavic” and “Bulgarian,” typical of the Bulgarian Enlightenment, seemed to satisfy a deeper need for solid identification.

9Not surprisingly, the indirect impact of Beron’s scientific activity turned out to be much more important. Other figures of the ‘National Revival’ (Ivan Seliminski, Liuben Karavelov, Vasil Drumev) regarded it as a strong argument for the quality of the Bulgarian mind. The figure, rather than the works, of the prominent thinker would serve in this period as an incarnation of the national genius. This vision suffered hypertrophy as Ivan Seliminski became convinced that his friend Beron was among the brightest minds of humankind and undoubtedly the initiator of a new era of human knowledge and culture in general. Indeed, Beron himself explicitly shared this conviction: in the ‘Preface’ of his monumental project of creating a Global Science, Panépistème, he proclaimed his Copernican role in the sciences. In this way, Enlightenment beliefs in the sovereignty of the human mind and in positive knowledge find themselves symptomatically and closely related not only to Pan-Slavic ideology, but also to the creation of a personal myth of the author himself (a fact which provides a strong argument for considering Beron as a transitory figure between the Enlightenment and Romanticism and one of the protagonists of the Romantic project of nationalizing the sciences).

10In the extracts cited below, Beron develops his vision of the human races in light of his ‘cosmoelectric’ theory. Behind the very hermetic and enigmatic para-scientific rhetoric of the text, one can detect a kind of virtual racism, related to the idea of superiority of the white—European—race. All this is integrated into a typically positivist scheme of natural determination. More particularly, Beron describes the Danube and the Balkan peninsula as a corner-stone of European civilization, and it is not difficult to identify the Slavic peoples, and the Bulgarians in particular, as the most advanced and future-oriented sub-group of the European ‘race.’

11For the most part, Beron’s main scientific works remained unexamined (most of them have not even been re-published and/or translated into Bulgarian), which does not allow either for their objective evaluation from a contemporary scientific point of view, or for their interpretation in view of the philosophy of science.


Slavic philosophy

About the creation of the peoples and the spreading of the nations around the world

13Furthermore, we have to compare the locations of the people now with those which they would have to take according to the discovered law, in order to see whether these laws are still valid now.

14I. Asia, the largest continent, is connected with Europe and Africa and is transected by many large rivers; it is also transected by many mountain chains and is populated by different kinds of plants and animals. In this land were formed the most perfect human races; and when they became too many in their homeland, they resettled to the higher latitudes, because each race was prevented by the neighboring one from moving to West or East or to the Equator.

15A. The race which had formed on the west coasts of Asia reached Mesopotamia through the coasts of the Persian Gulf. From that location it did not spread to Arabia, where the Ethiopians and the Abyssinians were already settled, but through the Suez Canal it crossed to Africa and settled on the banks of the Nile, until it was stopped by the migrating to the north of southern African races: then it was forced to resettle in the country’s inland.

16B. The second more eastern race separated itself from the upper western race, with whom it had wandered in parallel to Suez, and following a northern direction, reached the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and moved along them till it reached the Bosphorus. The western part of that race began to cross the Bosphorus, while the eastern, following a northern direction, reached the eastern coasts of the Black Sea. The first families to cross the Bosphorus settled on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, and also in the inland of the country as far as the Peloponnese. When their migration in that direction was impeded, the next families spread along the west coasts of Black Sea and following them reached the right bank of the Danube. The eastern parts of that race who had separated themselves earlier, followed the route along the east coasts of the Black Sea and after that the Southern Carpathians, where it crossed the Danube and settled in the Carpathians on the right bank of the Danube.

17C. The third eastern race reached the Bosphorus in parallel to the second, separating the above-mentioned part of the second race from its main branch, and following this part, it reached the left bank of the Danube, settled in the inland and reached the eastern flank of the Carpathians. Because the right bank of the Danube was already taken, this race did not cross the river but settled along the Carpathian chain until its movement in that direction was stopped by the fourth eastern race. For that reason, the next families were forced to cross the mountain chain and also the river, and in this way, following the region on the right side of the Danube river, this race reached the western Carpathians. Stopped by the mountains, it turned south and reached the coasts of the Adriatic Sea. Its western part settled in the inland of the peninsula, while its eastern part wandered to the area of the Po basin and the Mediterranean coast, until it was stopped by the Alps, which in the end, however, they crossed. Then they migrated to east and west, crossed the Pyrenees, and reached the Atlantic coast.

18D. In the east parallel to the third race was a fourth race, which made its way to the north, passed along the west Caspian coasts, crossed the Caucasus and reached the northern mountain-spurs of the Carpathians, where it came across the third race, as has been already described. This fourth race crossed the Carpathians, wandered along the left half of the Danube basin area and reached the Rhine. They migrated inland, and finally reached the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas.

19E. Before the third and fourth races reached the western and the northern borders of Europe, the lands between the Danube and the Mediterranean sea were already taken by the most numerous second race, and the next families from the same race were already stopped. And so, they could not migrate either through the Bosphorus or between the Black and the Caspian Sea, because, as we already said, those lands were already taken by the third and the fourth race. For that reason, the families from the second race who arrived were forced to turn to the east, to the eastern coasts of the Caspian Sea, and in that way the third and the fourth races were separated from their families coming after them. In this way the stream of the numerous second race was turned in a direction almost opposite to its initial one. Following the coasts of the Caspian Sea and the basin area of Volga, the second race settled in Eastern Europe and Western Asia, reaching the northern coasts of the continent.

20At the time when the second race was diverted from west to east, the migration of the third and the fourth race was interrupted by the next families. The leading families of that race had reached already the Carpathians, and at the time of the divergence of the second race, they were already moving ahead to the western and eastern borders of Europe. In this way the lands between the Black and the Caspian Seas, which they left behind them, were populated by the families which were following them and had already mixed with each other many times.

About the spread of the education among the human races

21The first traces of education appeared in the Asiatic races, and specifically in the population of the western and eastern coasts of the continent. The progress of education among the eastern race was hampered because of the scarcity of means of communication with the neighboring western races. So that education was localized on the Chinese coasts and the islands of Japan.

22On the other hand, education among the western races originated first in Mesopotamia and from there it spread among the first race in Egypt, where it reached its highest form.

23From the first race education was transmitted to the second, who had settled in Asia Minor and in particular on the coasts of the Mediterranean and from there, via its own colonies, on the southern coasts of Europe. With the second race education reached its most advanced form in all fields. That happened because of: 1. The multiple relations and means of communication fostered by the geographical location of the country, and 2. The lack of another comparable culture which might be imitated. The Greek culture is a creation of the Cosmos and the objects of the Cosmos and their elements in the micro-cosmos, therefore it is real.

24Education passed from the second race to the third one, and there it reached a high degree, but without being on the level of the second, which was impossible because the culture of the third race was an imitation of the second.

25While later the progress of education in Europe slows down, it renews its origin in the east African race, where, having been given back by the second Asian race to the first, it was transmitted by it to the eastern African race, where it reaches a high level.

26Later, the education of the second race spread among the third race and from there it passed to the fourth eastern race. The quantity of accumulated empirical knowledge was huge, and remained available and as material for new development when at last the turn of the fifth race came.

27This fifth race—in fact this is the second Asian race—without imitating the education of the third and the fourth, and being in direct contact with the vanguards of the third and the fourth races and following its own methods, transcending the natural laws of the phenomena and the causes, was always led by two fluids. These two fluids and the natural laws led to the explanation of all phenomena, which became subject of the different sciences. […]

On pedagogy: III, Didactics

28The different types of constitution are no longer guided by the principles of other nations, but are instead accepted by those nations, among which they have to be applied. Therefore, the appropriate constitution shall be adjusted, first of all, to each nation according to its age, and then, according to the other cosmic and geographic conditions. I. Through their orderly life Englishmen save much of their encephalic or vital electricity, as they use this not only for the formation of ideas and manifestations in various arts, but for the formation of such plans and ideas, the implementation of which is aimed at an increase in nutritional resources or welfare. That is why, in this nation, the measure of value is reduced to the unit of the penny. II. The Slavic nation is still in its childhood; it is concentrated in its monarch, the electric currents of the individuals uniting into that of the monarch, whose electricity becomes one tremendous flow. That is why, for this nation, the monarch is the measure of value, while each individual is evaluated according to the part of this unit he owns. III. The rest of the European nations are at present in their infancy, spending part of their electricity to supply the nutritional resources needed, while the rest of it is used for the formation of various ideals, which find their accomplishment in different arts, poetry, painting and sculpture. Therefore, in these nations there is no solid measurement of value.

29I. The image of the English nation is to be found among ants. II. The picture of the Slavic nations, among bees. The picture of the rest of the European nations is to be found among beetles and, in part, among butterflies.


Alena Alexandrova (Traducteur)
Elena Alexieva (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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