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We, the People

Mishkova Diana

Part I. Ethnos and Citizens: Versions of Cultural-Political Construction of Identity

History and Character

Visions of National Peculiarity in the Romanian Political Discourse of the 19th Century

Balazs Trencsenyi

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  • 1 See his Descriptio Moldaviae (written between 1714–1716); modern edition: Cantemir (1986).
  • 2 “Fugiţi! Ruşinaţi-vă de voi înşivă! Tânguiţi-vă, căc v-aţi vândut haractirul!” [Run away! Be asham (...)

1As in most European cases, some aspects of the Romanian discourse of national peculiarity can be traced back to the humanist genre of “Descriptio” of the land, narrating the origins and political history of the respective people, a genre which in the Danubian Principalities reached its climax in the works of the erudite Moldavian prince-scholar Dimitrie Cantemir (1673–1723).1 The works rooted in the humanist chorographical paradigm of course had a very different discursive function and referential basis than the characterological constructions underpinning the projects of modern nationhood and state-building, emerging from the late 18th century onwards, making “national individuality” a key argument of political self-legitimization. Some references to this national individuality can be identified in the political and cultural works of the Transylvanian Greek Catholic elite, which sought to anchor the historical-institutional identity of Transylvanian Romanians in a genealogical construction. They were stressing customs and behavior as the proof of continuity with the Roman colonists of Dacia and accidentally, even the concept of “character” surfaced in some of their writings. Simultaneously, the cultural-geographical literature stemming from the Danubian Principalities (often by travelers or cosmopolitan intellectuals, whose work can be related to more than one national tradition, such as the Greek Daniil Philippide or Dionisie Fotino, both of whom authored geographical descriptions of these lands, or the French Encyclopédiste, J. L. Carra) sought to put these polities on the map of Europe, making references to the customs of the inhabitants. Significantly, the concept of character was already able to become politicized in the late 18th century, as was the case with the reformist discourse of the Moldavian boyar Ionică Tăutul, who deplored the loss of patriotic identification and the growth of egoism on the part of the ruling elite.2

  • 3 On Mumuleanu, see Popovici (1972), p. 95; Cornea (1972), p. 215–218; and Piru (1977), pp. 725–734.
  • 4 Actually, the Theophrastian model was popular in neo-Hellenic literature of the late-18th century (...)
  • 5 “Procuvîntare,” in Mumuleanu (1972).
  • 6 Mumuleanu (1972), pp. 89–90.

2The discourse of characterology came to the forefront of literature due to the volume of poetry by the pre-Romantic Barbu Paris Mumuleanu3 (1794–1837), entitled Caracteruri [Characters] (1825), which, however, did not focus on national character but, following Theophrastus4 and La Bruyere, dealt with the various social types of his country, such as old and poor noblemen, the women, the hypocrite, the flatterer, the scholar, etc. The work had a sharp critical edge in view of the state of national culture, becoming explicit especially in the long introductory essay.5 The Enlightenment-type critical tone is thus interwoven with a number of references to national identity, deriving the collapse of common good and the flourishing of egoism from the loss of patriotism. Along these lines, Mumuleanu rejects the aping of French fashion, the “lack of good learning,” loss of national pride and the “ambition of patriotism,” and especially the fact that his compatriots “are ashamed to be called Romanians.”6

  • 7 Apart from Aaron’s famous article “Patria, patriotul, patriotism,” Ştefan Lemny (1986) lists a num (...)
  • 8 Theodor Diamant, [Comerciu], in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 10.

3Conceptualizing the national character became of considerable importance in the late 1830s and especially the 1840s, with the emergence of a new public sphere on both sides of the Carpathians, together with the advent of political journalism and the crystallization of new intellectual directions such as literary criticism or political theory. The inherent ambiguity of these early texts dealing with the characterization of the nation was due to the presumption that Romanian “national culture” was practically non-existent, therefore the task of the elite was to create one, valorizing the character-traits of the community but making a qualitative jump. This temporal projection into the future can be seen in the work of one of the first social theoreticians, Florian Aaron (1805–1887), who argued that it was exactly patriotism that was going to create a truly national character.7 At the same time, rather than by reference to the political framework, nationality could only be defined in view of shared customs, thus references to national character came to be applied not only as the end-result but also of the starting point of future-oriented political projects, such as in the work of Theodor Diamant, the ideologist of the phalanstère at Scăieni, who, in his writings, referred to the good character (“haracterul cel bun”) of the Romanians as the basis of his utopian project.8

4The emerging Romantic “national characterology” was thus inherently connected to the vision of progress and became an important ideological building block of the new national discourse. What is more, this intertwining of past, present and future through the concept of character made these “characterological” references crucial in the formulation of various visions of “national progress.” The construction of national character became entangled in a complex negotiation between the narrative of linear progress and the critique of the recent past in contrast to heroic antiquity; the cult of the West and the ambition to connect the values of modernity to the archaic culture of Romanian peasants; the praise of ancestral customs and the growing consciousness of the unavoidable dissolution of patriarchal social ties.

  • 9 Simeon Marcovici, “Civilizaţia,” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, pp. 230–239.

5With all this ambiguity, the overall tone of the Romantic narratives of cultural development was future-oriented, rooted in the vision of irretrievable progress. The keyword of civilization, which drew on the late Enlightenment paradigm of civility and politesse, was at the core of a great number of political and cultural manifestos. Civilization, however, was almost never identified with mere material progress, but always had a strong moral-political component. For the historian and future politician, Mihail Kogălniceanu (1817–1891), civilization involved (most of all) political emancipation, while two prominent teachers of the elite St. Sava college in Bucharest, the Transylvanian-born Ioan Maiorescu (1811–1864) and the Wallachian Simeon Marcovici (1802–1877) both connected civilization to the functioning of institutions serving the common good, in contrast to material welfare.9 Along similar lines, the Moldavian poet and scholar Gheorghe Asachi (1788–1869) subscribed to the vision of continuous progress, but at the same time depicted the dangers of moral corruption in the form of growing egoism.

6The nation being in a transitory situation, wedged between barbarism and civilization, thus became a characteristic topos of describing the collective self. The essays by Cezar Bolliac (Poezia populară, 1844; Poezia, 1846) described civilization based on borrowings from Western societies as a source of happiness, but sought to connect this to the archaism of the Romanian population, pointing out that cultural borrowing should also take into account the national character of the given people on the receiving end of the civilizational transfer. He thus stressed the need to search for the character of every nation in folklore, descending to the matrix of the nation through physiognomy, and taking into account climatic factors. Bolliac defined poetry as the most archaic cultural phenomenon, linked to the cradle of civilization—which he saw in India—and carrying the traces of ancient systems of legislation. At the same time, he was also aware of the gap between national archaism and the envisioned world of civility. His proposed solution was to mediate between these seemingly incompatible structures with the help of the aesthetic sphere, turning poetry into a “positive and real direction”: envisioning the modern poet as the priest of a secularized religion, preaching liberty and equality. The poet is called to return to his folklore tradition, while using it consciously to create a modern culture, as the agent of nation building, projecting normative national character on the future—turning the “people” into a “nation.” A decade later, Bolliac proposed an even fuller theory of national character in his Mozaicul social (1858), defining Romanianness in terms of climatic determination, stressing that the Romanians were fatally wedged between the poles of north and south, past and future, archaism and modernity. As he pointed out, the changing climate of the Danubian lands resulted in a capricious national character, the mixture of barbarism and civilization, Orient (characterized by the preponderance of sentiments) and Occident (rational aspirations).

  • 10 Ion Ghica, “Invăţăturii publice,” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 25.
  • 11 Ion C. Brătianu, “Memoria asupra românilor dat imparatului Napoleon III,” in I. C. Brătianu (1921) (...)
  • 12 Alexandru Papadopol-Calimah, “Limba românească,” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, pp. 298–300

7What qualified this ideological construction was the assertion—which went together with the notion of civilization from the very beginning of its use in the Romanian context, and which later came to exert an extremely powerful influence—that progress in some sense was imposed from outside. This made some of the proponents of civilization the straightforward partisans of import: in the Enlightened language of political economy, Ion Ghica (1816–1897) for instance stressed the need for exchange with other peoples connecting industry and freedom,10 while, in a much more radical tone, the Romantic ideologist Ion C. Brătianu went as far as to propose self-colonization as a project of modernity, pointing out that with the assimilation of Romanians into French culture, France would have the advantages of a colony without having to maintain it with military force.11 More often, however, even in those works which were committed to a linear and universalist vision of progress, the idea of imported modernity raised some doubts, opening the space for contrasting cosmopolitism and national character, or debating the relationship of imported goods and ideas and the local tradition. Gradually, imitating the West became problematized, and tellingly, criticism of the West was also often formulated with reference to Western models of organicity and authenticity. For instance, while discussing language reform, the historian Alexandru Papadopol-Calimah (1833–1898) stressed the need to imitate to some extent the more advanced languages, but proposed a “Fenelonian” reformism, i.e., moderation in changing the local norms.12

  • 13 Ion C. Brătianu, “Naţionalitatea”, in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. I, pp. 471–494.

8In the programmatic essay by Ion C. Brătianu,13 entitled Naţionalitatea (published in 1853 while the author was in emigration) we find the same clash of an evolutionary vision and the search for authentic models to emulate, mediated by the discourse of national character. Brătianu started from the assertion of the infinite richness of humankind, marked by the multiplicity of forms but also by the unity of human genius. In this interpretation “character” is the differentia specifica of nationalities—assuming physiognomic, moral and affective traits. Brătianu sought to integrate this into a scheme of “stadial history,” stressing that nations themselves were historical products, evolving towards greater difference over centuries. In antiquity, there were no real nations and thus national character itself was constituted by a historical process. This construction allowed for a complex model of ethnogenesis, pointing out that modern nations were products of ethnic mixing. Brătianu qualified this perspective with the assertion that not every human type was able to mix fruitfully, thus, for instance, the fusion of Celtic and Latin races yielded successful progenies, while other combinations were less viable, such as the mixing of Latin and Slavonic blood.

9Brătianu’s stadial model of evolution did not preclude the need to regulate progress—since every nation had its own personality (in Bilanţul situaţunii, from 1858, he talked about “vital principles”), civilization could not be imposed from outside because the outcome of such an artificial mismatch would be an unproductive “bastard.” At the same time, in line with his vision of fruitful racial mixing, he clearly considered some of the cultural directions more desirable than others, and linked Romanianness to a pan-national framework of Latinity, stressing that organic cultural influences were necessarily coming from kin-peoples.


  • 14 Aaron, “Precuvântare la idee repede de istoria Prinţipatului Ţării Rumâneşti,” in Cornea and Zamfi (...)

10The dynamic relationship of “universal” and “peculiar” can be seen in the discussions on the use of local historical traditions in the process of nation building and the creation of a new national ideology. There was a consensus among all the cultural and political authors of the time that “national history” was the basis of any project of regeneration. Back in the 1830s, Florian Aaron wrote that the history of the patria was a mirror in which to “see the future.”14 From his perspective, losing history implied losing nationality itself, as had happened during the long Slavonic cultural domination over the Romanian cultural substrate.

  • 15 “Magazin istoric pentru Dacia” in Bălcescu (1974), pp. 87–91.

11On the other hand, the precise way of instrumentalizing this local historical tradition to support a political project was highly contested. One can speak of two distinct narratives—revolutionary and evolutionary—which were gradually taking shape in the 1840s, even though they retained many common traits. As for the revolutionary use of national past, the obvious case in point is the most important ideologist of the revolutionary movement in the Danubian Principalities, Nicolae Bălcescu (1819–1852). Already at the beginning of his publicist career, Bălcescu stressed the need for creating a canon of national history, defining it a sign of the Romanians’ emergence from barbarism.15 As to the precise form of this history, Bălcescu made constant reference to Jules Michelet, asserting that what was needed was a history of institutions rather than one of rulers. Consequently, Bălcescu’s new historical narrative, focusing on “the Romanian people,” was based on a stadial theory of progress, with a special interest in folklore as a source for national history in the absence of other sources.

  • 16 Bălcescu (1998), pp. 10–12.

12Bălcescu set forth a discourse of Romanianness in terms of a “continuous progress”—“a historical evolution to get closer to God,” fusing an evolutionary and a providentialist narrative and thus legitimating the radical democratic political agenda in a quasi-theological language. According to Bălcescu, a nation is worthy of existence in so far as it ultimately contributes to the evolution of humankind towards further perfection. In his opinion, the Romanian nation had been at the forefront of the struggle for “the realization of the Divine Law,”16 that is, the establishment of universal liberty, equality and fraternity.

  • 17 Bălcescu was far from being the only one to instrumentalize national antiquity for ideological-pol (...)
  • 18 “Spătarul Ioan Cantacuzino” in Bălcescu (1944), pp. 133–150.
  • 19 “Despre starea socială a muncitorilor plugari în principatele Române în deosebite timpuri” in Bălc (...)
  • 20 “Cuvânt preliminariu despre izvoarele istoriei Românilor” in Bălcescu (1944), pp. 103– 116.
  • 21 See his “Puterea armată şi artă militară dela întemeierea Principatului Valachiei până acum” and “ (...)

13Throughout their troubled history, the specific features of the Romanians, such as the egalitarian social framework of an essentially military society, the constitutionalist traditions, and the lack of Western-type feudalism, predestined them for such a contribution, even though the alienation of society from its first (democratic) principles and the gradual collapse of national solidarity weakened the Principalities and exposed them to Turkish domination.17 In this quasi-providentialist scheme, the reception of—alien—feudal social structures was the root of inequality—the original sin—which was aggravated by Phanariot rule, the divine punishment, leading to the total alienation of the people from the boyars and the high culture they represented,18 threatening the nation with utter destruction. The fate of Poland served as an explicit example for Bălcescu to substantiate this divine warning.19 The seeming disparity between heroic traditions and the actual corruption was bridged by a uchronic mode of representation—i.e., the existence of the roots of democratic modernity, so far suppressed, but dwelling in the sphere of potentialities. Even if the medieval institutions were ruined, Romanian national character was a repository of this potential of regeneration—exactly the ahistoricity of peasant culture made it possible to defend their nationality in the past by sticking to their customs, i.e., refusing to change with a non-authentic history.20 These national character traits should and could still be recovered from the depth of the popular soul, thus becoming the foundation stones of a democratic republic. Thus, the archaic national institutions could be revalorized as fitting into an eminently European pattern—republican institutions, based on the military valor of the inhabitants, stemming from the Roman colonists.21 Small wonder, then, that historical research for Bălcescu had a strong “ethno-pedagogical” function—educating the people by confronting them with their past. This hermeneutic circularity of turning the people into its own latent self was prompted by the specific nature of historical evidence available for Bălcescu: as the process of alienation destroyed the other sources, the historian of Romanian antiquity had to turn to popular poetry. This was all the more possible, as the author readily subscribed to the vision (put forward by Jacob Grimm and Michelet) that poets were the first historians—thus awakening historical consciousness equaled making the people conscious of its own folklore tradition.

  • 22 See Skurnowicz (1981); and Andrzej Walicki, “From Sarmatism to Romanticism” in Walicki (1994), pp. (...)
  • 23 Bălcescu, Mersul revoluţiei în istoria Românilor in Bălcescu (1944), p. 208.

14The most encompassing version of Bălcescu’s theory of history can be found in his Mersul revoluţiei în istoria Românilor [Course of the revolution in the History of the Romanians] (1850), which succeeded in integrating most of the elements discussed above into a meta-historical scheme, creating a narrative similar to the contemporary “national Romantic” historical models in East Central Europe, such as the Pole Joachim Lelewel,22 or the Hungarian Mihaly Horvath, while being evidently influenced by the revolutionary emigré, dominantly Polish, subculture of Paris. The essay extended the narrative of suffering as a basis of salvation to formulate a specific Romanian national mission: namely, to be the vanguard of civilization.23 In this quasi-Hegelian scheme of dialectical progress giving meaning to every instance of the national past, even negativity had its providential role: the loss of original equality starts the historical movement. Thus, Bălcescu resolves the possible contradiction (visible in his other essay, Reforma socială) between the implications of the stadial theory and his radical democratism, depicting serfdom as a higher level of social organization than primitive equality but also deploring the loss of archaic democracy and establishing a symbolic link between primordial innocence and the desirable future. In this dialectical vision, even the Phanariots were fulfilling a providential mission in the sense that exactly the climax of corruption (reminding the reader of the “period of complete sinfulness” depicted in Fichte’s philosophy of history) activated the forces of regeneration. The “National party” raising against the oppressors (the parvenu ciocoii and the alienated bureaucrats) eventually came to incorporate the social into the national cause. Thus, the “course of revolution” in Romanian history means the gradual incorporation of the people into the nation, the fulfilment of emancipation and the progress towards liberty, unity (the process of nation-formation is defined in terms of the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia), and democracy.

  • 24 Kogălniceanu, Slăvie, vecinitate şi boeresc in Kogălniceanu (1946), pp. 198–199. Significantly, th (...)
  • 25 Kogălniceanu, Introduction to Letopiseţele, in Kogălniceanu (1946), 671.

15As for the evolutionary paradigm, significantly, most of the constitutive elements were the same, but they came to be used for a somewhat different political project. While sharing the vision of continuous and one-directional progress, the proponents of this discourse laid stress on retaining institutional continuity with the past, bringing together the fruits of civilization with the normative national tradition represented by the traditional elite. The most coherent formulation of this position is by Mihail Kogălniceanu. On the surface, his historical program was quite similar to that of Bălcescu: he suggested collecting folk customs and contrasting the new history focusing on the evolution of the whole society to the history of princes. He was also subscribing to the myth of the ancient Romanian republics in Maramureş and Făgăraş,24 i.e., rooting modern democracy in the institutions inherited from the Romans. However, some of his formulations indicated a certain distancing from the model of the “curve,” which fused the idea of heedless progress with the image of pre-modern egalitarianism, constituting the beginning and the end of national history. When he repeatedly stressed that civilization meant linking the present with the past, this link was imagined in a different way than in the revolutionary narrative.25

  • 26 Kogălniceanu, Histoire de la Valachie, in Kogălniceanu (1946), 178ff.
  • 27 Kogălniceanu, Introduction to Letopiseţele, in Kogălniceanu (1946), 673.

16In his early Histoire de la Valachie (1837),26 he scanned the medieval and early modern history of Wallachia for models to emulate, but rather than eulogizing a primitive equality, he focused on the aspects of meritocracy, especially among the boyars. Instead of putting the responsibility for the collapse of the statehood on social differentiation, he changed the order of causality, stressing that the collapse of heroic virtue of the Romanians was due to the collapse of their statehood under external pressure. At the same time, he also subscribed to the idea that somehow the “character of the nation” remained uncorrupted, and this was due to the common people, who were “far from vices and cities, without luxury,” while the elite became infected by Greek mores. In this sense, his program of recovery was also conditioned by the return to the popular substrate of the society, the true repository of national character. At the same time, he put much more emphasis on the instrumentality of the national historical canon in this recovery–as he stressed, after the fall of Constantinople, the decadence of nationality and forgetting the past went hand in hand,27 so the rekindling of nationality was also conditioned by revoking the past. This of course implied a much broader incorporating gesture. As the different social strata were equally part of this envisioned “past,” it became possible for Kogălniceanu to downplay the allegations of responsibility of the social elite in “corrupting” the cultural-political tradition. Furthermore, he also used this narrative to reject the attempts at importing “ready-made” institutions of modern democracy to the Danubian Principalities. As he pointed out, moderate and gradual reforms were needed and not hectic revolutions, as any innovation had to correspond to the national tradition, the “trunk of the peoples” [tulpină popoarelor], otherwise the new civilizational achievements could only be “exotic plants,” without any real impact.

  • 28 Eliade-Rădulescu (1916).
  • 29 Eliade-Rădulescu (1916), vol. II, p. 154.

17Along these lines, one can observe the intertwining of identity discourses and the evolutionary perception of history in the mid 19th-century Romanian context as well. For instance, in his major work on the philosophy of history, entitled Echilibrul între antiteze [Equilibrium between antitheses 1859–1869], Ion Eliade-Rădulescu (1802–1872), a major ideologist of the liberal nationalist generation of 1848, sought to harmonize the principles of progress and conservation, the imitation of external models and the normativity of the local tradition in a grandiose scheme of tangential evolution towards perfection.28 As he put it: “the Spirit moves only towards the better, or from the better towards the even better, from the perfect towards the more perfect;” while conservation implies “a pause, a rest in the course of progress.”29 Significantly, this scheme of historicity was integrated into an even broader attempt of ontological synthesis of spirit and material. He offered a theoretical argument linking nationhood with the category of existence (“a fi”)—in this sense, Eliade-Rădulescu can be credited with formulating the first Romanian “national ontology,” which became a crucial intellectual enterprise in the interwar period.

18In Eliade-Rădulescu’s vision, “real progress” was conditioned by adherence to the national institutions that survived the vicissitudes of time. The history of Romanians is also unfolding in terms of a dialectic of spiritual motion towards the realization of a set of universal ideals and national institutions, which serve as repositories of accumulated traditions and practices. Not surprisingly, the concept of continuity is crucial for this vision: for Eliade-Rădulescu, even 1848 was not a break, but the refusal of externally imposed order (the “Organic Regulations” of 1831–1832), that is, reinstating historical continuity. Therefore, he considered the opposition of liberal and conservative political camps ephemeral, something that would eventually be resolved by a higher synthesis of the two fundamental principles. In a similar sense, he sought to position Romanian culture in between different external influences: the liberty of the Germans (i.e., a “new nation”) and the traditionalism of the French and Slav “old” cultures. It is not surprising, then, that his model of successful synthesis was not in Europe, but the United States of America.

19Eliade-Rădulescu’s scheme of historical evolution had one more important feature, namely the fusion of the secular socio-economic pattern and a narrative of “sacred history.” While Bălcescu used this modality to legitimize a revolutionary project, Eliade-Rădulescu was trying to find a balance between the revolutionary and evolutionary modalities, recycling the references to a national salvation story. He connected the narrative of Romanian democratic legal traditions originating in republican Rome with a curious theory of the roots of Christianity as part of Roman plebeian culture, rejecting the corrupted public morality of the Principatus and thus integrating Christianity into an envisioned egalitarian tradition. In line with his overall obsession with syntheses, although he did not claim that Christianity was merely a continuation of Roman popular culture, he stressed that it was a synthesis on a higher level: while ancient republicanism subjected the individual to the community (as he puts it, it was the “holocaust of the self”), thus salvation could only be collective—Christianity opened the road to individual salvation. Not surprisingly, this narrative was used to contrast Romanian Orthodoxy with Western Christianity, pointing out that in the former there was no “involvement of Caesar,” whereas the latter was contaminated by politics and thus lost its essential trait. This created a possibility for formulating a discourse of Romanian “elect nationhood,” using the classical topoi of this genre, such as the “Moses of Romanians” (Radu Negru, the mythical founder of Wallachia, in the 14th century). All this is instrumentalized to underpin a theocratic-democratic vision, while rejecting radical liberalism. While the radicals rely on reason to make laws and also refer to foreign models, according to Eliade-Rădulescu, laws are to be “natural,” in “line with the Creator’s will,” linked to ancient customs.

  • 30 Vasile Mălinescu, “Flamura Românilor” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 242.
  • 31 “Bilanţul situaţiunii” in I. C. Brătianu (1921), p. 302.
  • 32 “Republica română” in I. C. Brătianu (1921), p. 93ff.
  • 33 “Dorinţele partidei naţionale în Moldova” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. i, p. 90.

20Bălcescu’s and Eliade-Rădulescu’s references to a national eschatology were not as idiosyncratic as they might seem at first sight. As in practically every European Romantic tradition, this fusion was one of the crucial modalities of constructing a historical narrative. The eschatological modality of progress, appearing in the 1840s, and especially around the revolutionary movement of 1848 bears considerable similarity to the Polish pattern of national Messianism, which was extremely influential in the period. The elements of this discourse can be found in various writings, usually not creating a fully-fledged ideology of Romanians being “the Christ of the nations,” but using some of the topoi of this tradition. Thus, in Alecu Russo’s paradigmatic Cântarea României, the normative past of the nation is linked to a Messianic expectation of national and universal regeneration. The Moldavian politician, Vasile Mălinescu (1817–1866) described civilizational progress as a way to “salvation”;30 Ion C. Brătianu referred to the God of Romanians;31 and in another work merged the argument for the perfectibility of humankind with an eschatological modality.32 In similar terms, the manifesto of 1848 composed by Mihail Kogălniceanu described suffering as the basis of the formation of (national) character and a way to liberation.33

  • 34 Bolintineanu (1915), (written in 1858).

21Even though on the topical level there were many attempts to fuse the eschatological and the national rhetoric, not everybody stated explicitly that the national and religious identifications were actually overlapping. Probably the most straightforward formulation of this is by the writer and traveler Dimitrie Bolintineanu (1819–1872), who asserted that religion and nationality were intimately linked, as patriotism was irrational—“sublime madness”—and thus structurally similar to religious feeling. All this was used to support his claim against cosmopolitanism and indirectly against the idea of multinational states: if patriotism is not rational, it is impossible to regulate it according to an accommodation of various conflicting interests, and thus it is clear that more than one people cannot be unified in one state.34 Interestingly enough, in Bolintineanu’s understanding, this creative irrationality is not something naturally given, but itself subject to evolution: as he points out, the Romanians (especially the Vlachs of Macedonia, whom he visited in one of his travels) were utterly lacking patriotism, in contrast to Greeks and Hungarians, who were infatuated by another extreme, national egoism.

22These observations lead us to the next crucial aspect of the interaction of the vision of progress and “national character” in the paşoptist world view: how the “people,” the lower classes, could be linked to the vision of progress? As we could see above, the discourse of “customs” was in general rather ambiguous, as it sought to bring together the appreciation of archaism with the search for the agents of social and cultural progress in the community. Faced with a multiplicity of challenges and contexts, the Moldavian, Wallachian and Transylvanian liberal nationalists did not produce one canonical answer to this dilemma, but a number of divergent formulations. One can place these conceptions on a continuum ranging from the thinkers under the influence of Enlightenment ideas, considering the people rather passive building-materials of a modern nation, and deploring the low civilizational level of their rural compatriots, to those Romantics who depicted popular culture and folk customs as normative for the building of a national community.

  • 35 Bariţiu, “Cultură” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. i, pp. 221–230. On Bariţiu’s political and cu (...)
  • 36 Bariţiu (1962), p. 52.

23The Transylvanian George Bariţiu (1812–1893), for instance, severely criticized the cult of peasant simplicity, rejected archaic magic practices, and posited England as the best example of civilizational progress.35 At the same time, he also asserted that folklore is the prime repository of the national character.36 An in between modality was coined by those thinkers, such as Kogălniceanu, who identified the “People” with “the past”—thus defining it as the root of development and national individuality, but also distancing themselves from an uncritical cult of folk customs. The relegation of the “temporality” of the people to the past did not mean, however, the cult of pre-history. On the contrary, the idea of pre-historical archaism was rather a potential threat—as Eliade-Rădulescu pointed out, the “blacks” do not have traditions, they exist on a pre-historical civilizational level from where it is practically impossible to reach modernity. It was therefore crucial to prove that the Romanian peasants were not barbarians—and the topology of organic autarchy and even of moral superiority over Western societies could be the result of such an effort of selflegitimization. In Eliade-Rădulescu’s writings, we come across peasants living an idyllic life, contrasted with the misery of English proletarians.

24As seen above, the popular customs became crucial in discussions on the historical continuity of institutions. Building on the Latinist historical vision of the Transylvanian school, Eliade-Rădulescu was one of the first to turn the narrative of the ancestors of the Romanians retreating to the mountains and keeping their national traditions in the storm of the Völkerwanderung in this direction. In this sense, folklore could be identified with collective memory reaching back to the Roman times, and this confirmed Eliade-Rădulescu’s overall argument about the survival of republican institutions until the present.

  • 37 Bucur (1982), p. 123.

25The cult of national antiquity located in folklore was obviously a compensatory mechanism of intellectuals who had to face the challenge of being accused of lacking a proper historical tradition in the absence of historiographical evidence. In a letter by Dimitrie Brătianu, the brother of Ion C. Brătianu, to Jules Michelet,37 we find a clear illustration of this: Brătianu seeks to respond to the accusation of the Romanians’ lack of history, pointing out that this is just because history is understood in terms of Western historiographical production, which of course neglected the past of the peoples at the eastern margins of Europe. The envisioned Roman–Romanian continuity puts the nation into its proper context: the love of liberty, attested by brigands having special social consciousness, the existence of republics in the 12th century, and the simplicity of the manners of peasants are evoked to prove this continuity in the absence of written sources. In his attempt to support his argument, Brătianu reaches a hypertrophic version of archaism: defining the character of the Romanian people as living antiquity per se, fusing the “sobriety of Sparta” with the “eloquence of Athens,” featuring “heroic chants,” but also “biblical women,” and marked by a heroic military tradition.

  • 38 Alecu Russo, “Poezia populară” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 340.

26Similarly, in Alecu Russo’s formulation, folklore was a historical archive, where the most original layer was linked to the memory of antiquity.38 Skillfully merging the vision of one-directional progress with the genealogical argument, Russo suggested that Virgil’s Georgicon was a perfect source for understanding the mores of the contemporary Romanians. Classical antiquity was thus linked to authenticity, the Virgilian tradition becoming integrated into the canon of Romanianness. The “classicism” of this construction of identity did not imply, however, a program of imitating the ancient cultural models: thus Russo had no qualms about defining the popular ballad, Mioriţa, which did not have any classical reference, as the purest expression of Romanian national character.

  • 39 Vasile Alecsandri “Românii şi poezia lor” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. i, pp. 169–189.
  • 40 Cratiunesco (1874).

27The same claims can be found, against the background of an even more poignant Romantic aesthetic setting, in the essay by the most important Romanian Romantic poet, Vasile Alecsandri (1819?–1890), entitled “The Romanians and their Poetry.”39 Moving towards self-exoticizing, Alecsandri stressed the patriarchal customs, fantastic beliefs, and proverbs of the people, describing them as “documents” for the way of thinking of the nation. Analyzing popular poetry, he identified two key motifs of the national soul: fervent love and the life of the outlaws [haiduci]. All this had a strong impact on the canonization of Romanian folklore. Alecsandri was the editor of the normative collection of Romanian folk poetry (Balade adunate şi îndreptate, 1852–53), and this paradigm determined the way the Romanian tradition was “marketed” abroad in the second half of the 19th century—nation-building and cultural canonization could thus go hand in hand with archaism. In a book by the future professor of pedagogy and aesthetics, Ioan Crăciunescu (1845–1909), published in Paris, references to Herder support the argument according to which poetry was laid at the core of every archaic civilization, and especially popular poetry was the mirror of national soul.40 The Romanian predisposition towards poetry thus proved for him that this nation still existed in a state of nature.

  • 41 Alecu Russo, “Studie moldovană” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, especially pp. 348–360.

28This vision of uncorrupted natural harmony (perhaps accentuated for “foreign consumption”) was not the only modality of understanding the relationship of modernity and antiquity. Already in Russo’s text from 1851 we can find the assertion that there was an imminent need to canonize the folk culture, as the authentic culture was disappearing.41 This indicates that no matter how powerful one might have considered the popular culture to be, there was a common element in most of these formulations of national character in terms of the popular tradition: namely the “double-bind” of defining the folklore as a source of knowledge, but also as something to be cultivated and canonized, and the profound ambiguity of an evolutionary vision of civil society and a critical modality deploring modernity for losing its spiritual grasp on the people (an “emotional past” contrasted to “rational present,” marked by alienation, and lack of coherence). This is expressed succinctly by Alecu Russo: “as much as we gain in progress, we lose in private relations.”

  • 42 Barnuţiu (1909).

29Finally, from the perspective of the later development of the Romanian discourse of identity, one has to pose the question to what extent national archaism and the Romantic discourse of national character localized authenticity in the ethnos. As one could see in the case of Bălcescu, ethnicity was part of the historical narrative, most visibly in the case of anti-Phanariotism, describing the influx of Greeks as the agents of decomposition. There is a certain parallelism between this meta-historical construction and the Transylvanian version of identity-discourse emerging in 1848, most memorably in the famous speech of Simion Barnuţiu held in Blaj, which described the incursion of Hungarians to Transylvania as the root of all evils.42

  • 43 Eliade-Rădulescu (1916).

30At the same time, it would be a mistake to overstate the importance of ethnicity in the paşoptist discourses. It is rather indicative that in Ion C. Brătianu’s Memoriu (1859), which is an important profession of faith of the statebuilding political group, the merchants and artisans are defined as the basis of patriotism, even if not all of them are ethnically Romanian, while the peasants are described as the “raw material” of nation building rather than its normative basis. Similarly, Eliade-Rădulescu’s theory of “ciocoism” (i.e., of the destructive and egoist social class infiltrating the social body of the Romanians, the “plague and cholera of society”) is ultimately not ethnicized, but denotes a mentality, and he stressed that the son of an honest citizen can become a ciocoi, and the other way round as well. At the same time, at least metaphorically, the mark of foreignness is conferred on them, described as having a “great dose of gypsyness.” In contrast to the liberal consensus of the 1840–50s, however, Eliade-Rădulescu categorically excluded the Jews from the body of the Romanian nation on a religious basis, stating that only Orthodox Christians could be Romanians.43


  • 44 Gheorghe Melidon, “Despre învăţătură” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, pp. 245–248.

31Already in the 1850s the transformation of the Romantic discourse of civilization reached another stage, as an increasing number of critiques raised their voice against the inauthentic reception of foreign models in the name of a local pattern of civilization. A good example is the pedagogue Gheorghe Melidon’s (1831–1897) text from 1855, which still subscribed to the normative concept of civilization, but pointed out the superficial nature of reception, stressing that the lower classes were utterly ignorant and the higher ones were having civility only on the surface. Melidon thus connected the vision of gradual progress to the critique of foreign influence [străinism], stressing that the reception of external models needed to follow the internal growth of civilization.44

  • 45 On Junimism, see Zub (1976), Ornea, (1978), Alexandrescu (1989) and Drace-Francis (2006).
  • 46 “Introducţie” in Kogălniceanu (1974), pp. 223.

32From the 1860s onwards, this Romantic/liberal nationalist framework of identity was challenged by a new cultural-political discourse, Junimism.45 The Junimist critique of paşoptism meant the dissolution of the fusion of progress, local traditions, external models and the “quasi-theological” vision of historical development, although it was much less obvious how the proposed new identity-discourse would look like. As we could already see, although the Junimists tended to counter-identify themselves to the liberal nationalist advocates of cultural import, the criticism of imported forms was far from being unprecedented. For instance, in the writings of Kogălniceanu, who both politically and culturally tried to balance between liberalism and conservativism, we find a number of pejorative remarks about both “romanomania” and “xenomania.” In the introduction to the journal Dacia Literară, he expressed his criticism of the restless desire of imitation and got close to rejecting translation literature altogether as a source of cultural emancipation.46

33All these preoccupations became encapsulated into a more systematic framework of cultural and political criticism in the Junimist intellectual tradition originating in Iaşi. The immediate context of their criticism concerned the language codification, where they confronted the “exaggerations” of the “Latinist” school trying to restore the morphological connections between modern Romanian and classical Latin, and argued for a more organic vision of language and society. While the Junimist intellectuals put forward various projects in literature, historiography, and eventually even politics, at the root of their self-positioning, we can find a common denominator of a sweeping critical attitude rather than any commonly shared set of values or program of action.

34One can, nevertheless, extricate some more general claims about the nature and preferred direction of the Romanian national project that characterized most of the Junimists. On the whole, they asserted that the rise of modern lifestyles and institutions triggered the dissolution of the normative national character. They based their claim on the observation that the new social layer, which represented modern values, was increasingly alienated from the peasantry and thus the—perhaps unintended—consequence of “progress” was the collapse of common identity. The main ideologist of the Junimist movement, Titu Maiorescu (1840–1917)—in his programmatic essay, “În contra direcţiei de astăzi în cultura română” [Against the current direction of Romanian culture]—connected this “corruption” to the negative impact of cultural imitation. He stressed that the youngsters going to the West were not prepared for this experience and appropriated only the Western forms without knowing the historical preconditions. The ensuing proliferation of forms without substances (“forme fără fond”) were not without any social use, but became explicitly destructive. It led to the growth of the gap between the upper class and the people, culminating in the formation of an entirely alienated new elite. In contrast, the peasantry continues to feature the national tradition, it is the only “real class,” but it loses contact with the social and political elite.

  • 47 Costache Negruzzi, “Cântece populare” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii. pp. 254.
  • 48 Vasile Pogor, “H. T. Buckle – Istoria civilizaţiunii în Englitera” in Lovinescu (1942), pp. 98–115

35Even if it did not pose a coherent narrative, the Junimist vision of the vicissitudes of Romanian development could be considered a new discourse of identity. Its protagonists stressed the epistemological break with Romantic ideologies and set forth a positivist theoretical framework. As the paradigmatic scientific approach of the positivists was that of biology, the Romanian followers of this trend also stressed the naturalist and organicist theories in the social sciences. This had a considerable impact on the way nation became imagined, putting increasing emphasis on the “natural” ingredients of the community, bringing together the national character with biological determinants. This was not a novelty of course: as the paşoptist Costache Negruzzi (1808–1868) characteristically formulated, the main factors of civilization were the nature of the soil and the character of its inhabitants.47 What was nevertheless new was the broader framework narrating civilization under the aegis of organic evolutionism—progress from this perspective is the gradual unfolding of inherent potentialities catalyzed by the natural environment. As a result, the idea of civilizational jumps caused by external instances became less and less acceptable. As one of the leading Junimist intellectuals, Vasile Pogor (1833–1906), stressed in his review of Thomas Buckle,48 progress was not related to the initiative of government but was due mainly to climatic factors. He subscribed to the theory that the warmer land is usually marked by despotism due to the humors of its inhabitants. This understanding of “civilization” rooted in nature led to the rather sharp distinction between the biosocial basis of civilization on the one hand and religion, culture and mentality being considered more epiphenomenal on the other. Pogor’s speculation had another important implication, namely the separation of material, intellectual and moral progress. It was possible to imagine a society with a high level of material civilization but still lagging behind in cultural and ethical terms. This meant a break with the earlier understanding of cumulative growth of civilization inherited from the Late Enlightenment, although it was obviously not that far from the perspective of Rousseau or even Diderot. In contrast to the Rousseauian vision, however, this contrast did not shift into a praise of premodernity or the bon sauvage, but served as a critical perspective to judge societies which reached a certain level of socio-economic modernity without an overall mental adaptation to the Western patterns.

  • 49 Theodor Rosetti, “Despre direcţiunea progresului nostru” in Lovinescu (1942), pp. 126–162.

36While Pogor’s text remained on the meta-level, this analytical framework was turned to the Romanian society in a number of writings of the protagonists of Junimea. For instance, the writer and politician, Theodor Rosetti (1837–1932), in his “On the direction of our progress”49 stressed that changes on the surface notwithstanding, Romanian society was still at a primitive stage. The expected modernization was supposed to move it out from this primitivism, not only in a socio-economic but also in a mental sense. In order to be successful, however, the new structures were supposed to be organically linked to the existing traditions and cultural patterns, no matter how antiquated they might have been. Thus the question of coherence became a crucial one—progress should link present and past, the individual and the state, the particular and the universal.

  • 50 Titu Maiorescu, “Idei dintr’un ciclu de ‘Prelecţiuni populare’” in Lovinescu (1942), p. 90ff.

37From this perspective, the previous decades, which were considered to be a success story by the liberal nationalists, meant a period of disintegration—the loss of continuity with the past and the emergence of individuals gradually breaking away from their community and thus losing moral control. This became clear from the growing gap on the one hand between the elite and the masses—living different lifestyles, having very different preferences, etc.; on the other hand between the old generation and the new one breaking with the past. For Rosetti, this differentiation entailed the antipode of real progress, resulting in veritable chaos and the dissolution of social bonds. It is important to stress, however, that the imperative of the continuity with the past did not imply the idealization of the past as a regressive utopia: the Junimists were vocal in rejecting a nostalgic understanding of pre-modern structures, thus, for instance, for Titu Maiorescu progress entailed the disappearance of feudal privileges.50 Nevertheless, “national tradition” became a crucial concept—linking the normative conception of the national essence to the project of modernization. In order to grasp this “national essence” the Junimists advocated the return to the sources on previous stages of national history, studying the nature of the Romanian people in its various manifestations, such as folk art, poetry and customs. As Rosetti stressed, the aim was to create “national sciences”—developing a truly Romanian history and language, keeping in line with the “vital core of our race.” Authenticity was sanctioned by “history’s judgment”—which, similar to nature, tended to eliminate “hybrid forms.”

38This is exactly the locus of the “ethnic” in the Junimist discourse. To some extent this can be considered paradoxical, as the program of the movement was exactly to reject the “patriotard” rhetoric of the liberal nationalist generation and approach the national community critically. At the same time, the organicist argument was activating the potentials of an ethnicist discourse—contrasting the bearers of the tradition (who could be defined as the “true Romanians”) with those who became alienated from it (by adopting foreign mores). This, however, did not necessarily go together with an identification of alienation with the presence of ethnic aliens—as a matter of fact, some of the leading Junimists, such as Titu Maiorescu and Petre Carp, were among the most moderate in the debate on the emancipation of the Jews, where many representatives of the political elite expressed their fears that the growth of the number of Jewish citizens would put the Romanian state into danger and thus rejected a more liberal procedure of according citizenship demanded by the Western powers.

39Thus, one can conclude that, often against the intentions of the speakers themselves, the positivist intellectual framework, subscribed to by the Junimists, had a strong drive towards the ethnicization of politics. This can be seen from the intellectual itinerary of the philosopher from Iaşi, Vasile Conta (1845–1882), whose oeuvre was usually taken to be the first materialist philosophical system stemming from Romanian soil and thus hailed by the communist historians of philosophy. Deeply influenced by the contemporary trends of positivism and publishing his main works in the main organ of Junimism, Convorbiri literare, Conta stressed in his works the fictitious nature of free will, arguing from the perspective of material determinism. While most of his speculations were about natural philosophy, he also sought to create a new organon of social sciences. Most of all, he stressed the importance of statistics—which was able to document the working of vast uncontrollable forces which the individuals could not grasp from their limited perspective.

  • 51 Conta (1877).

40Drawing on Vico’s vision of historical phases, but mainly on the works of Comte and Buckle, Conta sought to arrange the flux of these supra-personal processes according to a scheme of historical pulsation—which he put forward as a “theory of universal undulation.”51 This materialistic vision had a powerful impact on his understanding of nationhood as well. As he formulated, nations were products of their natural medium, and national history was the function of the material setting determining the life conditions of the nation. It is significant that this perspective could have rather divergent political implications. In his youth, traveling to Belgium and France, Conta earned the reputation of being a radical left-winger, whose philosophical materialism and implied atheism was supposed to square with his political radicalism. As a matter of fact, his radicalism went beyond the general understanding of the radical democratic left in Romanian politics—as he repeatedly asserted that democracy as a form of government was based on the fiction of free will, whereas the future state was to be based on the idea of determination. Furthermore, his involvement in Romanian politics in the late 1870s makes this picture even more complicated.

  • 52 Conta (1899).

41Conta emerged as one of the most vocal critiques of the project for Jewish emancipation, which was part of the package “imposed” on Romania by the Berlin conference of 1878. He contributed to the ensuing debate with a series of pamphlets, which stressed the pernicious nature of the influx of Jews and advocated a policy of legal discrimination.52 By doing so, he adopted most of the common places of the emerging—mostly Central European—anti-Semitic discourse to the specific Romanian context. The theoretical basis of his rejection of immigration was a naturalistic understanding of nationhood. As he repeatedly stressed, all forms of social organization, namely families, peoples and states, were based on the community of blood. This community secures similar reactions, guaranteeing a social cohesion, which is the key to progress. Therefore the condition of admitting foreigners for him was biological assimilation—only the complete melting of the specific character of the foreigner into the Romanian biological substrate could secure socio-cultural cohesion.

42The danger posed by the Jews according to Conta was exactly their unwillingness to dissolve their character. Even if they accepted on the surface the lifestyle of the majority, they sought to preserve their own social and political organization and thus constituted an alien body and a seed of corruption. This vision was further radicalized in his second major speech held in the Parliament on the “Jewish question,” which shifted the emphasis from the image of the Jews stubbornly resisting assimilation to that of expansive Judaism, the conscious subversive activity of Jewish conspirators to subvert the Romanian state and eventually colonize the territory—thus updating his narrative with the most recent developments of European anti-Semitic political discourse. As Conta stressed, the conspirators used the framework of constitutional liberties for destruction, while enjoying a monopoly of press, the support of their kinsfolk under the aegis of Jewish internationalism masked as international concern for civil rights. The climax of this vision is, predictably, an apocalyptic picture of Romania as a potential new Israel, a new nation-state of the Jews eventually purged of its autochthonous population.

  • 53 Eminescu (1931), p. 62.
  • 54 Eminescu (1931), p. 64.
  • 55 Eminescu (1931), p. 70.
  • 56 Eminescu (1931), p. 274.

43While his intellectual relationship to Junimism is rather complicated, the political project of Mihai Eminescu (1850–1889), the most eminent Romanian poet of the 19th century, can also be placed in the context sketched above. Eminescu’s sociological insights crystallized around a single dichotomy: the conflict between the “positive classes” and the “superimposed strata,” that is, the autochthonous and the alien. Back in 1820, “two independent classes existed, one a peasant class, originating from drafted soldiers, and the other, a city-dweller class. [...] The history of the last fifty years is called ‘national regeneration’ by many, but it could be better called the history of the eradication of the yeomanry and the guildsmen [răzeşilor şi breslaşilor].”53 The reformation of the political establishment created an “unhealthy stirring” and a craving for positions “based not on labor but on privileges.” This “flocking to the gates of privilege”54 carried the members of the positive classes along as well, leaving an economic void behind, which could only be filled up with alien elements—pre-eminently with Jews. “Where are these positive classes in our country? The historical aristocracy—it must be historical to be of any importance—almost disappeared, a positive middle class does not exist at all, the voids are filled up with strangers, the peasant class is too uncultivated, and although it is the only positive class, nobody understands it, or represents it.”55 Thus the “positive classes” are the natives, while the “superimposed strata” are the “aliens” and the “alienated,” the importers of Western structures and those who flocked into the country in search of economic opportunities. The focus of these speculations is obviously the problem of the correspondence between structures and institutions, and the task of the community is to adapt to the march of history. If the national genius fails to show the way to the elite (“the genius of our Romanian nation is a book with seven seals for the generation in power”)56 the agents of history will become aliens, and history will become the process of alienation.

  • 57 Sorin Antohi, “Utopia lui Eminescu” in Antohi (1994), pp. 104–35.
  • 58 Eminescu (1931), p. 125.
  • 59 Eminescu (1931), p. 96.
  • 60 Eminescu (1931), pp. 111–12.

44Eminescu’s utopianism57 is obviously the counterpart to his sociological vision of “regressive progress.” The vegetative eschatology presented in his story Cezara, and the vision of an organic agrarian community both give us a normative canon that can be played off against the deplorable present of disintegration: a regulative idea of progress, the “real aim of history” as reintegration. In its most radical expression, this utopianism, the insular eternity of Euthanasius, might transcend history to crystallize into the vegetative creativity of the Romantic Ego, but as a regulative idea it coexists perfectly with a linear-historicist vision of “real progress,” “which is the natural link between past and future.”58 This means that the normative horizons of politics contain acts of “conservation here, adding up something there,” which makes it understandable why Eminescu praised England as a model of development. No matter where the Romantic Ego might be wandering, the horizons of the problem he struggles with are drawn according to the dichotomy between “importation and autochthonism.” The real question is the connection between past and future: “Whether an oak tree, broken at its roots and planted artificially in a luxurious garden, has a future?”59 Myths of regression, craving for a time when “there was neither today, nor tomorrow, nor yesterday,” do not change the perspective of organic continuity and institutional innovation: “first you have to be an industrial nation, and then you can have the laws and institutions of an industrial nation.”60


  • 61 The best intellectual biography on him to date is Pecican (2004).

45The case of Bogdan P. Haşdeu (1838–1907) is in many ways parallel to that of Eminescu. While Eminescu represented a potential development inherent in the Junimist critique of liberal nationalism, Haşdeu in political and cultural terms continued the Romantic-liberal heritage but also turned it into a more directly ethnicist direction.61 Furthermore, similar to Eminescu, his oeuvre also served as a crucial source of inspiration of the interwar nationalists.

46Haşdeu’s case is also important as it witnesses the intertwining of the issue of temporality with the question of national character. It thus helps us understand how the political projects, the historical narratives and the normative discourse of the “national self” mutually conditioned each other. In this sense, the broader intellectual context of his work is the radical transformation of nationalism and liberalism as ideological frameworks of Romanian political thinking. This context makes it understandable why the reconstruction of the sometimes rather hilarious speculations on ethnogenesis, national archaism and the topology of uniqueness, which were often described as irrelevant byproducts of the otherwise unilinear drive towards professionalization of historical sciences, is more than an idle scholarly pastime. The reformulation of the place of the ethnos in historical time was crucial in undermining the liberal political discourse, which was dominating Romanian political culture in the mid 19th century.

  • 62 See, e.g., “Interesele României” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 244–47.
  • 63 “Dl. Titus Livius Maiorescu” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 297.
  • 64 Berlin (2000), pp. 168–242.

47The background of Haşdeu’s political ideas was the new state-framework which had emerged in the wake of the union of Wallachia and Moldavia in 1859, and the ensuing political and cultural struggles within the elite. Haşdeu was a vocal representative of the camp arguing that the consolidation of the new state required the radical extension of political rights—as he formulated in argument with C. A. Rosetti (1816–1885), a former radical democrat who became part of the establishment after 1859, only universal suffrage could guarantee the formation of a new national community—turning the people into “citizens” and overpowering the ethnically alien urban population. Making this counter-position, Haşdeu could describe his conservative opponents as the agents of autocracy,62 and also connect rhetorically the camp of political conservativism with serving the interest of “the aliens.” This meant a direct clash with the proponents of more moderate reforms, and Haşdeu sought especially to destroy Titu Maiorescu, the leading Junimist intellectual, by declaring that he “personifies all that is the most anti-national in a sinful union with all what is the most anti-democratic.”63 At first glance, the main lines of his identity-discourse can be compared to the phenomenon memorably described by Isaiah Berlin as “populism,”64 that is, having a strong thrust against state-nationalism and focusing more on the creative potentials of the folk, which is held to be suppressed or marginalized from the perspective of “official nationalism.”

  • 65 See, for instance, his discussion of the Polish-Bulgarian ethno-cultural links in the text “Stat ş (...)

48His discourse of nationhood was rooted in a new methodological configuration of history and its auxiliary disciplines. The intellectual sources of his theories show a remarkable variety. From the 18th-century European cultural heritage, he had been referring to Vico, Montesquieu, and Herder as his main sources. Working out his theory of evolution, he was an ardent follower of Hegel and Comte. He also made ample references to Max Muller’s linguistic works and he borrowed the concept of pathologie sociale from Paul Lilienfeld’s Sozialwissenschaft der Zukunft. Significantly, while the usual direction of intellectual transfer was East–West, Haşdeu also pioneered the adoption of scientific output coming from East Central Europe. This is most visible in his references to Slavic studies, where he was repeatedly evoking the ideas of Josef Dobrovsky, Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, Franz von Miklosich, Jernej Kopitar, alongside the ‘Westerners,” Robert Rosler and Louis Léger.65 He was also the founder of the journal Viitorul, edited together with the Bulgarian émigré Georgi Rakovski.

  • 66 “Dicţionare şi dicţionare” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 23.

49Using various intellectual sources ranging from philosophy to folklore, he sought to reshape historical narratives in view of ethnography and linguistics, the paradigmatic “national sciences” fitting into the trend of general democratization. The study of languages for Haşdeu is a “popular science” marked by egalitarian spirit, in contrast to the elite-centered forms of cultural analysis,66 focusing on the “dead languages of the Church.” By turning to the popular culture and the national language one can create a basis for all the modern scientific projects: consequently, Haşdeu praises Vico for being the first one to assert that “every people has its own encyclopedia, geography, cosmography, astronomy, etc.” all contained in the depths of its vernacular language. Along these lines, he defines folklore not as the collection of popular texts or objects, but representing the “entire present and past life of a people, its material and moral life in its gradual unfolding.”

  • 67 “Mişcarea literelor în Eşi” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 59.

50These claims are buttressed by a new psychology and epistemology of popular cultural creation. Going against Moses Gaster’s philological theory of popular culture as the manifestation of gesunkene Kulturgute, fairy tales for Haşdeu are not to be discarded as unreal, as they have the reality of the dream, that is, an alternative reality—from which it is possible to discover “what cannot be seen or known.” In this sense, tales are rooted in universal patterns of our mind, they are the same everywhere as they do not have temporal and local origins—they only represent the mindset of the primitive man. In Haşdeu’s thinking, this universalistic trait of popular culture is not incompatible with an assertion, once again with reference to Vico, of cultural specificity inherent in folk culture: “the peasant contains in his mind and soul all the elements that are to flourish in culture.”67 Haşdeu contrasted this to the alleged “national literature” which he considered more of a shallow imitation of the Western models.

  • 68 See especially “Noi in 1892” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 125–133; he uses the concept of “philo (...)
  • 69 “Mandatele-mperative-n privirea propăşirei,” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 102.
  • 70 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 173.

51All this is encapsulated by a sweeping image of the philosophy of history, stressing the correlation of the individual and the species68 and arguing for an organicist vision of historical ages corresponding to the stages of human life. The organic metaphors are crucial to his construction of Romanian history as well: the rebirth [Renaştere] of the nation follows its “agony,” where the alien rulers play the role of lethal illness (the Phanariots are described as “filoxera”), while the “New Romania” to be built has to go through the phases of the formation of human character—from the egoism of childhood through the imitation of the older (French culture) towards mature self-assertion. Already in an article from 1859, he gives a philosophical overview of the theories of evolution in history,69 suggesting with explicit reference to Hegel that progress is a matter of consciousness, being rooted in reflection. In this sense the Occident is a privileged part of the world; in contrast to Indian or Chinese philosophy the open-ended process of history created hope in change for the better and made people much more active. Participating in this progress is what constitutes our human essence, while acting against progress makes us lose our humanity. At the same time, this evolutionary framework is brought together with a certain relativism. “Nations are going ahead only on the road of a principle”: the evolutionary vision is thus fused with the assertion of a specific “matrix” of the community which is supposed to unfold. He once again refers to Vico to stress that, while humankind in general is the subject of evolution, every culture has its own rhythm and it is impossible to impose the itinerary of one culture on another by force, and in this sense progress is explicitly conditioned by ethno-cultural purity.70

52This vision of nationhood, based on the imperative that the real love of humankind implied promoting one’s own ethnic community (“propria sa ginte”), thus tried to bring together the Vicoian-Herderian and the Hegelian construction—harmonizing particularism with universal progress. In the 1870s, however, Haşdeu increasingly moved away from his earlier vision of the balance between national and universal and came to imagine these two normativities as mutually exclusive. In his opinion, recent history, especially the French–German war, taught that one had to choose between the national loyalty and the humankind, and thus the ultimate loyalty had to be that of being Romanian.

  • 71 See, for instance, “Ziarele în Romania” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 97–101.

53This meta-historical framework is used for the more detailed analyses of Romanian historical development as well. The basic counter-position of Haşdeu was fairly similar to that of Eminescu: the contrast of corrupted present and heroic past.71 Of course, the problem was that the historical past of the Danubian Principalities as transmitted by the traditional sources could hardly be considered normative en bloc, as it contained many aspects which were politically unacceptable for Haşdeu. His discursive strategy was to try to purge the tradition from these elements, stressing that Phanariotism and feudalism were interconnected and equally alien to the soul of the people—so even if there were feudal institutions these were not part of the tradition per se. The result of this redefinition of tradition is the vision of the Romanian past as an “alternative antiquity” existing more in potentiality than in actuality.

  • 72 “Stat şi substrat” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 7–43.
  • 73 “Anglia în Ardeal” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 291.

54His model, merging ethnicization and democratization in projecting a normative tradition, is also crucial for his reconstruction (or deconstruction) of more recent history: for instance, in his “Discourse on Tudor Vladimirescu” he describes the conflict as ethnic—contrasting the ethnic Romanians with the “locusts.” Ethnicity thus serves as the mytho-moteur in Haşdeu’s philosophy of history.72 This does not mean, however, that his understanding was completely monolithic. He was, from the very beginning, postulating that ethnic fusion was part of the formation of Romanian nation, but for some time, while he did not subscribe fully to the Latinist narrative of the Transylvanian school, he emphatically rejected the idea of the Latinization of Dacians.73 Later on, he became more open to the vision focusing on the Dacians and turning towards an autochthonist narrative of ethnogenesis. He developed a rather complex theory of “strata” and “substrata,” constituting the ethnic setup of a community: “every ethnie [ginte] is composed of ‘geological terrains’”—that is, different layers representing different historical epochs and their relationship making up the substance of a nation. His most elaborate ethno-genetic narrative started from the “Pelasg substrate” which was supposed to bring together Thracians and Greeks. This framework also established a connection between the Romanians and the Albanians—Haşdeu repeatedly stressed that the Albanians were also Dacians—and their medieval state was a “beautiful neo-Dacian kingdom.” The Romanian ethnie in this vision is the result of the interplay of this “Pelasg substrate” with the Latin stratum, leading to a new configuration. This means that while he considered that the existence of a given substrate could guarantee some sort of ethnic continuity, Haşdeu accepted that the “logic” of assimilation was also part of history. He stressed, however, that Latins were generally hard to assimilate.

  • 74 “Papa de la Neva” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 146–158.
  • 75 “Facultatea de Medicină” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 238.
  • 76 “Noi şi voi” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 137–139.

55Based on the common ethnic and cultural background, he was at some point toying with the idea of a Balkan confederation—but emphatically rejected the revolutionary Mazzinian version and stressed instead Balkan orthodoxy as a separate tradition.74 In general, however, he explicitly rejected federalism as the main principle of state organization—stressing national individuality as the core of any state-building project and thus clearly transgressing Berlin’s definition of “populism” as the assertion of ethnicity in contrast to statehood.75 Along these lines, his main concern was to create a Pan-Romanian confederation on the basis of his claim that “all Romanians are brothers,” thus “re-conquering” Bukovina and Transylvania. Conspicuously, the neighbors of the Romanians are generally described as barbarians: the Hungarians are an Asiatic and uncultivated race, whose existence was preserved only due to Romanian cultural influence. He also raises an issue that was to become one of the common themes of fin-de-siècle Romanian ethnic nationalism, stressing the process of Jewish assimilation in Hungary as a sign of internal corruption. He also compares the Romanians favorably to the Hungarians in the sense of independent statehood, stressing that the Hungarians do not even exist as a nation as they do not have a state of their own.76

  • 77 “Patriotism şi neîncredere” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 278
  • 78 “Noi şi voi” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 134–145.

56Along these lines, Haşdeu repeatedly asserted the importance of “Patriotism” as a central virtue but “redescribed” it in an “ethno-national” sense as being aimed at “national greatness and not the greatness of the country.”77 This does not mean, however, a conceptual separation of statehood and nationhood—on the contrary, Haşdeu’s understanding of nationality was based on the claim that a nation can live only as an organic part of a nationstate.78

  • 79 “Discursul primind preşedinţia societăţi Românismul” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 62–67.
  • 80 In other context, see also his “Cosmopolitism şi naţionalism” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 68–71.
  • 81 “Cauzele şi rezultăţile Cosmopolitismului” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 71–75.
  • 82 “Discursul primind preşedinţia societăţi Românismul” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 66.

57While he also analyzed the external pressures on the Romanian nation, he became more and more fixated on the “internal aliens.” The real danger was coming from inside—the rejection of the national imperative, the “gangrena” of cosmopolitism.79 For him, cosmopolitism80 was not only a misunderstanding of the logic of history, but an active force of dissolution—a “refined egoism.” While Haşdeu started as a liberal politician, it is along this line of thought that he came to assert that liberalism was a “fake ideology.”81 This also signaled a break with the traditional framework of politics: Haşdeu stressed that both sides meant the same thing and thus started to search for new patterns of ideological mobilization. One such reference was the use of a generational rhetoric: “the youth [junimea] is incapable of living in lies.”82

  • 83 The intertwining of democratic and ethnic claims can be observed in his programmatic article, “Pri (...)
  • 84 “Patriotism şi neîncredere” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 285.
  • 85 “O voce năbuşită” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 189–193.
  • 86 “Parlamentul românesc” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 272.

58In general, he came to describe the “cult of foreign” as the root of all evils in the country, adding that this aping was the sin of the elite, who were anyhow not ethnic Romanians. This fit into his general thrust to ethnicize social conflict,83 stressing that the boyars were almost exclusively of foreign origins, while the ethnic Romanians were the oppressed.84 Writing about the travelers on board a steamship, he did not fail to remark that “few real descendents from the colony of Trajan possess the means to allow themselves such an expense,” while elsewhere he contrasted the public of salons and the “Romanian speakers.” The issue of the Jews also appears in this context: Haşeu published as early as 1865 a series of pamphlets on the “Jewish question” and he became increasingly preoccupied with the issue: going as far as declaring that “our political religion is to combat Judaism”85 and warning of the danger of Romania “becoming Palestine.”86 It is important to stress, however, that as the ethnic discourse in general is connected to the idea of “democratization,” Haşdeu also linked his anti-Semitic claims at least rhetorically to the issue of the emancipation of the Romanian common folk, rather than to the protection of the traditional elite.

  • 87 “Ce vrea Caimata?” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 360.

59All these considerations play a decisive role in Haşdeu’s attempt to reshape the discourse on national character. This does not mean a complete break with the liberal nationalist tradition—he subscribed to the idea that the customs of Romanians were like that of the ancient Romans. But when developing more coherent narratives of identity in the late 1860s, he tried to buttress his political agenda with a normative image of Romanianness accentuating “popular democratic” character traits. Not surprisingly, the concept of character had an immediate link to ethnicity for Haşdeu—for instance, he made a reference to Theophrastian physiognomic characterology when stating that the character of his political opponent, the liberal Rosetti, was not Romanian.87

  • 88 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 156–168.
  • 89 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 160.
  • 90 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 186.

60The most ample discussion of the topic is in his series of essays from 1868 under the title The character of the Romanian nationality as the basis of its legislation.88 The essays deplored the import of political recipes from outside, more specifically that of legislative models. With reference to Montesquieu, he asserted that “national character” was the only fountain, only criterion, and only basis of legislation. Once again, in defining the national character he returned to his vision connecting ethnicity and political emancipation. When turning to the national character, he sought to refute the stigmatic stereotypes of Romanians in terms of barbarism. He stressed that the majority of negative stereotypes originated outside and were subsequently taken up by Romanian boyars to legitimize their oppressive measures against the common people. In contrast to these stereotypes, Haşdeu set himself the task of unearthing other sources where the true national character could be found.89 Not surprisingly, he searched for this in the “national history”: in “those facts of Romanian history when our people manifested itself in a uniform manner”—geographical and historical distances notwithstanding. He also stressed the need for a systematic study of the national self—creating a scientific basis for his characterology.90 On the whole, he asserted that the study of national character had to be based on the study of the past, and that this also exposed the need for a new and more coherent consciousness of the past as contrasted to the chaos of interrupted episodes.

61The actual political goal of his essays was to prove that the Romanian people were marked with “extreme moderation” in the entire course of its history. This was crucial in order to attenuate the boyars’ fears that the introduction of a more extensive right of franchise would mean the triumph of unfettered demagogy. With his new narrative of national character, Haşdeu sought to prove that the danger of demagogy did not exist in Romania and thus democratic reforms were possible—and what is more, these reforms were “the necessary emanations of the Romanian national character.” The normative model here is an autochthonous democratic popular tradition vs. “alien” feudalism. He referred to the peaceful secession of the Roman plebs to the Aventine as an example, which he considered directly connected to the mindset of the Romanians as the Roman folk traditions were “retained by the veterans on the Danube”—that is, the Roman component of the Romanian nation. This moderation can also be observed in the behavior of the Transylvanian peasant revolt of 1437—which he describes as an ethnic Romanian movement for national emancipation. The frequent wars of Romanian history, often turning Moldavia and Wallachia against each other, were not caused by the people either: the conflicts were never between the peasants (i.e., the Romanian nation) but between princes and boyars (who were per definitionem “aliens”).


  • 91 Haşdeu (1937), vol. i, p. v.
  • 92 Haşdeu (1937), vol. i, p. xxxvii.

62Similar to the appropriation of Eminescu, Haşdeu also became a crucial reference for the nationalist projects of the interwar period. The most complex reconsideration of his intellectual heritage was attempted by Mircea Eliade (1907–1986), who undertook the publishing of his most important political and historical writings in a two-volume edition, coupled with a long introductory essay. It is instructive to look at Eliade’s re-reading of Haşdeu—discerning what a spiritual leader of the interwar generation considered relevant from the work of his “predecessor” and how he sought to create a tradition for his own attempts of re-narrating the national past in a new antihistoricist key. Eliade’s explicit program was to reintegrate Haşdeu into “the history of the civil moral and prophetic life of the century.”91 He was explicitly comparing him to Eminescu as the other source of inspiration—accentuating his contribution mainly to the philosophy of history and stressing his “prophetism”—the “only one from his generation who believed in the historical mission of Romanism.” Eliade also suggested a model of interpretation in terms of an “Encyclopedic tradition” of which Haşdeu was supposed to be the main protagonist—propelled by the “desire to force Romanian culture to jump as many stages as possible, raising it to ‘world level’.”92

  • 93 Haşdeu (1937), vol. i, p. xxxix.

63Thus, the attempt to create a national science becomes an indicator of a national prophetism, marked by the “thirst for the monumental,” “elect nation,” “civic optimism” and “Romanian Messianism.” In Eliade’s reading, this encyclopedic tradition overlaps with the program of creating a modern Romania, a kind of national Renaissance—or “our humanism”—which, unfortunately mutated into philology and history too quickly. Apart from Haşdeu, the heroes of this national renaissance for Eliade were Bălcescu, Eliade-Rădulescu, and Eminescu, contrasting the “critical tradition” initiated by Titu Maiorescu, which Eliade considered a failure. The most important trait of these prophets in Eliade’s reading is the courage to relate to Europe face to face, on an equal basis,93 being national and European at the same time, without complexes of inferiority or over-compensation. Interestingly, Eliade identified the root of the dissolution of this stance and the emergence of two camps fighting “for or against Europe” in the work of the revered Eminescu.

64Haşdeu’s attempt to create a Romanian high culture also meant for Eliade a cognitive turn: propelled by the “Romantic passion of synthesis” it created an attitude appreciating the manifestations of culture in their complexity. What is more, by postulating a “magic method” of correspondences, harmonies and “original phenomena,” and turning the subjectivity of the genius into an objective method, Haşdeu actually “went beyond” the other Romantics and thus opened the road for the modern methods of cultural analysis professed by Eliade himself. Such innovations are “the organic and unitary conception”; the “passion of the beginnings”; the centrality of physiognomy, focusing on concepts like mission and destiny rather than mere historical sequence; and the vision of the “historically concrete, being represented by the collective.” Last, but not least, Eliade also points out that Haşdeu was the first to come up with concepts such as “national logic” and “Romanian science,” which Eliade praises as the first step towards the discovery of the cognitive entanglement of national identity.

  • 94 See Haşdeu (1937), vol. I, p. lxx, where Românism is defined as the normative principle of institu (...)

65All this says a lot about Eliade’s ambiguous relationship to Romanticism, professing its continuation but also formulating his criticism—perhaps even more than about Haşdeu’s own methodological toolkit. Beyond the methodological identification, Eliade tends to construct Haşdeu as the source of cultural-political revival, offering a potential synthesis (inherent in the polar structure of Romanticism which made it possible for contraries to be resolved in a higher synthesis) of values and attitudes that became fatally polarized in the process of Romania’s modernization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For Eliade, Haşdeu’s Românism is a normative principle of bridging nationalism and universalism.94 By rejecting the imported cultural and political patterns, he is able to bring together patriotism and democratic political convictions, which once again seemed to be in conflict for the ensuing generations. Haşdeu thus turns into a symbol of an indigenous cultural synthesis of European significance, that of “Romanian Romanticism,”—not an imported doctrine, but stemming organically from the local roots and on par with the Occident.

66In this context, Eliade also contrasts his hero to the cosmopolitism of paşoptism, sweepingly rejecting the latter, even though in the context of prophetism he was still praising Eliade-Rădulescu and Bălcescu. But on a more general level, Haşdeu provides Eliade with a matrix of a “positive” Romantic tradition, separated from the paşoptist-liberal canon. Haşdeu is also turned into a key reference in raising the issue of origins, so important for Eliade throughout his intellectual career, as the key historical problem—“he appeared as a meteor in the debate on origins.” Along these lines, Eliade postulates yet another line of tradition, drawing from Haşdeu through Nicolae Densuşianu and Vasile Parvan to Lucian Blaga.

  • 95 Haşdeu (1937), vol. I, p. lxxviii.
  • 96 Haşdeu (1937), vol. I, p. lxxx.

67In his effort to reinterpret his hero from the perspective of the antihistoricist intellectual atmosphere of the 1930s, Eliade also accentuates that Haşdeu’s vision of progress did not correspond to the mechanistic conception of the positivist mainstream. For him, human progress was only possible, not necessary, and destiny could not be derived from merely material factors.95 Finally, quite predictably, Eliade also finds Haşdeu’s references to the “young generation” as a hope of recovery congenial to his own efforts. On the whole, Eliade considered Haşdeu’s legacy the most important in view of asserting the originality of the Romanian people and thus offering a new historical framework—based on the “totality of history.” He was “the only one to live a Romanian Romanticism and realized a Romanian magic vision” based on the “magic intuition of the world.” In this sense, his oeuvre is the most important blueprint for the modern Romanian culture trying to assert its originality—“his destiny is starting just now.”96

68While Eliade’s introduction was extremely skillful in weaving textual reconstruction together with developing the author’s own cultural-political agenda, we can find some ambiguities which shed a light on the fundamental difference between the 19th-century, late-Romantic projects of national identity building and the new nationalism of the interwar period. First of all, Haşdeu’s fusion of evolutionism and cultural relativism differed considerably from that of Eliade, who practically rejected the 19th-century notion of progress which Haşdeu did share, even if critically. Haşdeu’s understanding of high and low cultures was also fairly different from what became conventional in the 20th century—characteristically, when talking about popular art as a source of understanding the people, he also included chronicles unproblematically, which in a different register would hardly fit into the conceptualization of folk culture.

  • 97 “Bilanţul unui an” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 243–44.
  • 98 “patria ciocoită, jidovită si călugarită a lui Ştefan cel Mare.” Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 220.
  • 99 Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 287.
  • 100 “O voce năbuşită” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 192.
  • 101 See Haşdeu (1892).

69Eliade is also surprisingly restrained when discussing the place of religion in Haşdeu’s system. As a matter of fact, Haşdeu was a supporter of secularization, and he was even greeting the League of Freethinkers,97 stressing that public instruction and morality should be independent of “any mingling of religion” and going so far as to link conceptually the Church with some other “public enemies” in a manner presumably uncomfortable for Eliade: “the fatherland of Stephen the Great, swerving with parvenus, Jews and monks.”98 Rather than any kind of political orthodoxism as it was envisioned in the 1920s, exactly this secularist discourse creates the place of a sacralization of the nation—manifested by such concepts as national “catechism,”99 or “our political religion” [religiunea noastră politică].100 Similarly, this makes it possible for him to envision Judaism not in religious but in ethno-cultural terms. Finally, while for Eliade’s generation, orthodoxy was the natural context of mysticism, Haşdeu interpreted mysticism as a cultural phenomenon separate from Christianity (once again referring to Vico). It is understandable, then, that the mysticism of his last two decades101 after the loss of his daughter Iulia did not enter into any kind of interplay with his political nationalism and was as far as possible from shaping any kind of political orthodoxism.


70In the 19th century, Eastern European “national characterology” was mainly the battleground of the competing projects of “defending the local tradition” and “importing institutions from the West.” In the Romanian case, the turn of the 20th century witnessed the strengthening of the patterns of conservative characterology based on appeals to ethnic, rather than institutional continuity, which in many ways prepared the ground for the subsequent anti-historical turn. The emergence of Greater Romania in 1918 posed a set of questions, which the traditional discourse, based on historical-institutional continuity was unable to answer: from territorial/institutional changes, through the advent of mass-politics triggered by general franchise, to the agrarian reforms and the incredible growth of ethnic heterogeneity within the new boundaries. The collapse of the historicist discourse (which emphasized cultural and institutional continuity with the “glorious Middle Ages”) pushed the new generation of nationalist intelligentsia to separate the “normative past” from the historical process.

71The core of this new discourse in Romania was an “atemporal” (e.g., in the case of Mircea Eliade) or “sub-historical” (Lucian Blaga) “stylistic matrix” which was held to determine the constitutive features of the community. This “stylistic matrix” unfolded against history, and its structure was to be revealed by means other than historical interpretation. In contrast, “nature” emerged as the basis of the community, and development was perceived not as externalhistorical, but as internal/self-reflexive. As Eliade put it in an article from this period, “the problem of Romanian soul is more of an ontological than of an historical issue.” History, which was the central notion of the Romantic characterologies, thus became derivative: couched in the topos of “historical destiny,” it turned into an object for metaphysical speculation. This development, as we could see above, had a very ambiguous relationship with the 19th-century discourses. While not being unrelated to the Romantic discourse of nationhood, the emerging “national ontologies,” counter-identifying the nation with “Western modernity,” meant the consummation of the Romantic nationalist discourse of specificity. Originally seeking to establish a symbolic framework exactly in order to facilitate the dialogue with the European models of political modernity, these constructions eventually opened the door to circumventing the Enlightenment model of “stadial history” by re-valorizing archaism as a resource of national regeneration.



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Romani, Roberto. National Character and Public Spirit in Britain and France, 1750–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Schmitt, Carl. Poltical Romanticism. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1986.

Skurnowicz, Joan S. Romantic Nationalism and Liberalism: Joachim Lelewel and the Polish National Idea. Boulder: East European Monographs, 1981.

Stanomir, Ioan. Naşterea Constituţiei. Limbaj şi drept în Principate până la 1866 [The birth of the Constitution. Language and rights in the Principalities before 1866]. Bucharest: Nemira, 2004.

Szegedy-Maszák, Mihály. “Framing Texts as the Representation of National Character: From Enlightenment Universalism to Romantic Nationalism.” In National Heritage—National Canon, edited by Mihaly Szegedy-Maszak. Budapest: Collegium Budapest, 2001, pp. 107–120.

Valota, Bianca. “Institutionalisierungsverlaufe der rumänischen Geschichtswissenschaft bis zum Zweiten Weltkrieg.” In Historische Institute im internationalen Vergleich, edited by Matthias Middell and Frank Hadler. Leipzig: Akademische Verlaganstalt, 2001, pp. 149–171.

Verdery, Katherine and Ivo Banac, eds. National Character and National Ideology in Interwar Eastern Europe. New Haven: Yale Center for International and Area Studies, 1995.

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———. Poland between East and West. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1994.

Zub, Alexandru. Junimea. Implicaţii istoriografice [Junimea. Historiographical implications]. Iaşi: Junimea, 1976.

———, ed. Culture and Society: Studies, Influences, Analogies in the Modern Romanian History. Iaşi: Ed. Academiei, 1985.


1 See his Descriptio Moldaviae (written between 1714–1716); modern edition: Cantemir (1986).

2 “Fugiţi! Ruşinaţi-vă de voi înşivă! Tânguiţi-vă, căc v-aţi vândut haractirul!” [Run away! Be ashamed of yourselves! Weep because you sold your character!]. See I. Tăutul, Scrieri social-politice (Bucharest: Minerva, 1974), p. 92, quoted by Stanomir (2004), p. 74.

3 On Mumuleanu, see Popovici (1972), p. 95; Cornea (1972), p. 215–218; and Piru (1977), pp. 725–734.

4 Actually, the Theophrastian model was popular in neo-Hellenic literature of the late-18th century and the text by Dimitrios Darvaris (1757–1823), dating 1795, also reached the Romanian readership.

5 “Procuvîntare,” in Mumuleanu (1972).

6 Mumuleanu (1972), pp. 89–90.

7 Apart from Aaron’s famous article “Patria, patriotul, patriotism,” Ştefan Lemny (1986) lists a number of other examples of the use of the concept of national character such as the article “Însuşiri naţionale ale englezilor şi franţezilor” (România, 1838), or “Caracteristica naţiilor europene” (Albina, 1846). See Lemny (1986), p. 144.

8 Theodor Diamant, [Comerciu], in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 10.

9 Simeon Marcovici, “Civilizaţia,” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, pp. 230–239.

10 Ion Ghica, “Invăţăturii publice,” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 25.

11 Ion C. Brătianu, “Memoria asupra românilor dat imparatului Napoleon III,” in I. C. Brătianu (1921), p. 120.

12 Alexandru Papadopol-Calimah, “Limba românească,” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, pp. 298–300.

13 Ion C. Brătianu, “Naţionalitatea”, in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. I, pp. 471–494.

14 Aaron, “Precuvântare la idee repede de istoria Prinţipatului Ţării Rumâneşti,” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, pp. 141–149.

15 “Magazin istoric pentru Dacia” in Bălcescu (1974), pp. 87–91.

16 Bălcescu (1998), pp. 10–12.

17 Bălcescu was far from being the only one to instrumentalize national antiquity for ideological-political purposes. In Ion C. Brătianu’s Bilanţul situaţiunii (1858) we can see the same republican inferences are used to legitimate a national state-building project based on the claim that before Tatar invasion a quasi-democratic society existed, which came to be destroyed by Phanariots, i.e., a class of foreigners.

18 “Spătarul Ioan Cantacuzino” in Bălcescu (1944), pp. 133–150.

19 “Despre starea socială a muncitorilor plugari în principatele Române în deosebite timpuri” in Bălcescu (1944), pp. 181–196.

20 “Cuvânt preliminariu despre izvoarele istoriei Românilor” in Bălcescu (1944), pp. 103– 116.

21 See his “Puterea armată şi artă militară dela întemeierea Principatului Valachiei până acum” and “Despre starea socială a muncitorilor” in Bălcescu (1944), pp. 29–78, 181–196.

22 See Skurnowicz (1981); and Andrzej Walicki, “From Sarmatism to Romanticism” in Walicki (1994), pp. 9–25.

23 Bălcescu, Mersul revoluţiei în istoria Românilor in Bălcescu (1944), p. 208.

24 Kogălniceanu, Slăvie, vecinitate şi boeresc in Kogălniceanu (1946), pp. 198–199. Significantly, the Dacians in Kogălniceanu’s vision are mentioned but only as a prehistory of the land: while Decebal is depicted as a positive figure, the author does not establish any genealogical relationship with the Dacian people.

25 Kogălniceanu, Introduction to Letopiseţele, in Kogălniceanu (1946), 671.

26 Kogălniceanu, Histoire de la Valachie, in Kogălniceanu (1946), 178ff.

27 Kogălniceanu, Introduction to Letopiseţele, in Kogălniceanu (1946), 673.

28 Eliade-Rădulescu (1916).

29 Eliade-Rădulescu (1916), vol. II, p. 154.

30 Vasile Mălinescu, “Flamura Românilor” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 242.

31 “Bilanţul situaţiunii” in I. C. Brătianu (1921), p. 302.

32 “Republica română” in I. C. Brătianu (1921), p. 93ff.

33 “Dorinţele partidei naţionale în Moldova” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. i, p. 90.

34 Bolintineanu (1915), (written in 1858).

35 Bariţiu, “Cultură” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. i, pp. 221–230. On Bariţiu’s political and cultural ideas, see the contribution by Kinga Sata in this volume.

36 Bariţiu (1962), p. 52.

37 Bucur (1982), p. 123.

38 Alecu Russo, “Poezia populară” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, p. 340.

39 Vasile Alecsandri “Românii şi poezia lor” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. i, pp. 169–189.

40 Cratiunesco (1874).

41 Alecu Russo, “Studie moldovană” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, especially pp. 348–360.

42 Barnuţiu (1909).

43 Eliade-Rădulescu (1916).

44 Gheorghe Melidon, “Despre învăţătură” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii, pp. 245–248.

45 On Junimism, see Zub (1976), Ornea, (1978), Alexandrescu (1989) and Drace-Francis (2006).

46 “Introducţie” in Kogălniceanu (1974), pp. 223.

47 Costache Negruzzi, “Cântece populare” in Cornea and Zamfir (1968), vol. ii. pp. 254.

48 Vasile Pogor, “H. T. Buckle – Istoria civilizaţiunii în Englitera” in Lovinescu (1942), pp. 98–115.

49 Theodor Rosetti, “Despre direcţiunea progresului nostru” in Lovinescu (1942), pp. 126–162.

50 Titu Maiorescu, “Idei dintr’un ciclu de ‘Prelecţiuni populare’” in Lovinescu (1942), p. 90ff.

51 Conta (1877).

52 Conta (1899).

53 Eminescu (1931), p. 62.

54 Eminescu (1931), p. 64.

55 Eminescu (1931), p. 70.

56 Eminescu (1931), p. 274.

57 Sorin Antohi, “Utopia lui Eminescu” in Antohi (1994), pp. 104–35.

58 Eminescu (1931), p. 125.

59 Eminescu (1931), p. 96.

60 Eminescu (1931), pp. 111–12.

61 The best intellectual biography on him to date is Pecican (2004).

62 See, e.g., “Interesele României” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 244–47.

63 “Dl. Titus Livius Maiorescu” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 297.

64 Berlin (2000), pp. 168–242.

65 See, for instance, his discussion of the Polish-Bulgarian ethno-cultural links in the text “Stat şi substrat” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 7–43.

66 “Dicţionare şi dicţionare” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 23.

67 “Mişcarea literelor în Eşi” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 59.

68 See especially “Noi in 1892” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 125–133; he uses the concept of “philosophy of history” also in his “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale.”

69 “Mandatele-mperative-n privirea propăşirei,” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 102.

70 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 173.

71 See, for instance, “Ziarele în Romania” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 97–101.

72 “Stat şi substrat” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 7–43.

73 “Anglia în Ardeal” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 291.

74 “Papa de la Neva” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 146–158.

75 “Facultatea de Medicină” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 238.

76 “Noi şi voi” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 137–139.

77 “Patriotism şi neîncredere” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 278

78 “Noi şi voi” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, pp. 134–145.

79 “Discursul primind preşedinţia societăţi Românismul” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 62–67.

80 In other context, see also his “Cosmopolitism şi naţionalism” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 68–71.

81 “Cauzele şi rezultăţile Cosmopolitismului” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 71–75.

82 “Discursul primind preşedinţia societăţi Românismul” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 66.

83 The intertwining of democratic and ethnic claims can be observed in his programmatic article, “Principii jurnalului Traian”; see Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 210.

84 “Patriotism şi neîncredere” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 285.

85 “O voce năbuşită” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 189–193.

86 “Parlamentul românesc” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 272.

87 “Ce vrea Caimata?” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 360.

88 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), pp. 156–168.

89 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 160.

90 “Caracterul naţionalităţii române ca baza legislaţiunei sale” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 186.

91 Haşdeu (1937), vol. i, p. v.

92 Haşdeu (1937), vol. i, p. xxxvii.

93 Haşdeu (1937), vol. i, p. xxxix.

94 See Haşdeu (1937), vol. I, p. lxx, where Românism is defined as the normative principle of institutions.

95 Haşdeu (1937), vol. I, p. lxxviii.

96 Haşdeu (1937), vol. I, p. lxxx.

97 “Bilanţul unui an” in Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 243–44.

98 “patria ciocoită, jidovită si călugarită a lui Ştefan cel Mare.” Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 220.

99 Haşdeu (1937), vol. ii, p. 287.

100 “O voce năbuşită” in Haşdeu (2001), p. 192.

101 See Haşdeu (1892).


Balázs Trencsényi is an Assistant Professor at the History Department of Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, and co-director of CEU Pasts, Inc., Center for Historical Studies. He holds a PhD in Comparative History from CEU (2004). His main areas of interest are history of political thought in East Central Europe, comparative historiography, and methodology of history-writing. He is co-editor of a number of volumes on political ideas and historiography in the region, such as Nation-Building and Contested Identities: Romanian and Hungarian Case Studies (2001); Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1775–1945): Texts and Commentaries, Vols. I–II (2006–7); and Narratives Unbound: Historical Studies in Post-Communist Eastern Europe (2007). A collection of his studies on the history of political thought is available in Hungarian, A politika nyelvei. Eszmetörténeti tanulmányok (2007).

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