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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter II. Spirit of the Nation: Customs, Language, Religion

The public law of the Romanians

Simion Bărnuţiu
Traduction de Mária Kovács

Texte intégral

1Title: Dreptul public al românilor (The public law of the Romanians)

2Originally published: Iaşi, Tip. Tribunei Române, 1867. The work was published posthumously.

3Language: Romanian

4The excerpts used are from C. I. Gulian et al., eds., Antologia gîndirii româneşti, sec. xv–xix (Bucharest: Ed. Politică, 1967), vol. I, pp. 380–383.

About the author

5Simion Bărnuţiu [1808, Bocşa Română (Hun. Boksánbánya, Ger. Rumänisch Bokschan, Transylvania) – 1864, Trăznea (Hun. Ördögkút, Ger. Teufelsbrunnen, Transylvania)]: professor of law and philosopher. His family was of modest origins. Bărnuţiu began his primary education in his home village and between 1818 and 1820 he completed his secondary education in Şimleu (Hun. Szilágysomlyó) and Carei (Hun. Nagykároly, Ger. Grosskarol). From 1826 to 1829, he studied theology at the Greek-Catholic Seminar in Blaj (Hun. Balázsfalva, Ger. Blasendorf), where he was appointed professor of history and philosophy in 1839. As a result of his nationalist activity and a conflict with Bishop Ioan Lemeny (1780–1861), he was later dismissed. In the decade before the revolution of 1848, Bărnuţiu became involved in public life in Transylvania and published articles in various newspapers. Two major themes preoccupied him intensely: the role of religion and national rights. The latter theme was reflected in his criticism of the intention of Hungarian liberals to introduce Hungarian as the language of public administration and of education throughout Transylvania. In 1842 the Transylvanian diet enacted a law that mandated the use of Hungarian in Romanian Greek Catholic and Orthodox schools. Bărnuţiu defended the use of the Romanian language, condemning the law as an attempt not merely to deprive the Romanians of their language but also to destroy their national being. Although the language law was not implemented, Bărnuţiu developed increasing reservations towards Hungarian liberalism. During the Revolution of 1848, Bărnuţiu was one of most active Romanian leaders. He wrote one of the revolutionary proclamations, which advocated recognition of the Romanian nation as equal to the Hungarian and Saxon nations. He was also the vice-president of the National Assembly of Romanians in Transylvania. On 15 May 1848 he delivered a memorable speech to the Romanian revolutionaries gathered in Blaj, in which he outlined the main demands of the Romanian national movement in Transylvania. After the defeat of the revolution he escaped to Oltenia and then to Vienna. After 1849 Bărnuţiu continued his studies in Vienna and Pavia, where he obtained a doctorate in law. In 1855 he was invited to teach in a lycée in Iaşi, and later became professor of law at the University of Iaşi. Bărnuţiu was known for his excessive Latinist convictions which eventually determined Titu Maiorescu (1840–1917) to launch a devastating critique of his theories. In Transylvania, on the other hand, he was regarded as a symbol of the Revolution of 1848, and became a constant point of reference for Romanian nationalism in Austria-Hungary.

6Main works: Raporturile românilor cu ungurii şi principiile libertăţii naţionale (The relationship between Romanians and Hungarians, and the principles of national liberty) (1852); Dreptul public al românilor (The public law of the Romanians) (1867); Dreptul natural privat (Private natural law) (1868); Psicologia emipirică (Empirical psychology) (1870).


7The revolution of 1848 in Hungary and Transylvania was a test for both Hungarian and Romanian nationalisms. When the Hungarian Diet opened in March 1848, Lajos Kossuth (1802–1894) demanded a new constitutional relationship between the Crown and the Diet. After the initial success of the revolution in Vienna and a series of demonstrations in Pest, Emperor Ferdinand (r. 1835–1848) could not oppose the Hungarian revolutionaries.

8Having secured its autonomous power, the Hungarian Diet then passed the ‘April Laws.’ According to these laws, all males aged 20 years or over who met certain property requirements could vote in elections for the Lower Chamber; toleration was extended to all Christian denominations; peasant serfdom was abolished; taxation was extended to all inhabitants, noble or not; and patrimonial courts on estates were abolished. All citizens became subject to the same system of courts, with a right to trial by jury. Additionally, a national land bank for investment was established; freedom of the press and of instruction in schools was introduced; a National Guard was created as an autonomous Hungarian armed force; and, administrative union with Transylvania was declared, pending its ratification by the separate Transylvanian Diet, which consented in May 1848. The ‘April Laws’ reflected the national transformation advocated by Hungarian revolutionaries. Generally, the Romanian leaders in Transylvania welcomed the laws, but they rejected both the introduction of the Magyar language as compulsory criterion for being a candidate at the elections and the unification of Transylvania with Hungary.

9The leadership of the Romanian national movement was divided between clerics and laic intellectuals. The first group was represented by Andrei Şaguna (1809–1873), bishop and metropolitan of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Transylvania; the second by Simion Bărnuţiu. In principle they agreed on the same demands; but while Şaguna was a moderate who tried to reconcile the issue of the protection of the Orthodox Church and the Romanian nation with loyalty to the Court of Vienna, Bărnuţiu was more interested in obtaining political autonomy for the Romanians within an autonomous Principality of Transylvania. The two leaders joined forces during the main assembly of the Romanian revolutionaries in Transylvania which took place in Blaj in May 1848. The union of Transylvania with Hungary was openly rejected, and Bărnuţiu expressed his revolutionary program and nationalist ideas in the speech he delivered on that occasion.

10Bărnuţiu’s theory of the nation combined the Romantic ethos of the period with the rationalism of the Enlightenment. He attempted to combine his interest in philosophy with an increasing preoccupation with the national language and historical tradition. Thus, his definition of the nation differed from that of his predecessors in the eighteenth century in one significant aspect. National rights, he claimed, should not be based upon historical precedents and imperial diplomas but should be derived from the theory of natural law and the idea of inalienable human rights. Deeply influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, especially in the popularized version offered by Wilhelm Krug (translated into Romanian in the 1830s), Bărnuţiu regarded the transformation of society professed by philosophers of the Enlightenment and the development of national consciousness advocated by Romantic thinkers as intricately connected. According to him, philosophy was as much about deciphering the universal laws of existence as about legitimating freedom and the right to existence. Philosophy determined the individual to live an intellectual and moral life, while nationalism imparted to him a sense of belonging to a community. Nations, as aggregates of individuals, possessed natural rights and deserved equal treatment and recognition.

11Bărnuţiu’s philosophical rationalism also shaped his attitude towards religion. Before the Revolution of 1848, Romanian clerics in Transylvania were the uncontested champions of the national idea. Religious rights were indistinguishable from national rights. The group of secular intellectuals that emerged during the 1840s argued for a broader definition of the nation which diminished the role of religion in shaping the identity of the individual. Eventually, these secular intellectuals seized the leadership of the national movement from the religious leaders. Bărnuţiu acknowledged the indispensable role that Romanian Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches had played in the past in defending the Romanian nation, but he accused them of threatening national unity, as both churches were preoccupied more with their religious interests than with the general welfare of the nation. One solution, Bărnuţiu suggested, was to limit the authority of the church with respect to national issues. As the majority of Romanian schools in Transylvania were under church jurisdiction, Bărnuţiu demanded the modernization of the school curriculum so as to include the study of the sciences and modern languages in addition to religious subjects. The ‘revival’ of the nation, he concluded, should be based not on religious dogmatism but on the education of the masses, along with the introduction of social and political liberties.

12Bărnuţiu’s criticism of religion did not prevent him from admiring the writings of the ‘Transylvanian School,’ and especially their ideas about the Roman origins of the Romanians. Like his predecessors, Samuil Micu, Petru Maior and Gheorghe Şincai, Bărnuţiu identified a connection between the Latin language and modern Romanian. Bărnuţiu did not, however, concentrate only on the linguistic aspect of the Latin connection. He constructed a theory of the nation that was based on ancient Roman law. He used the model of the Roman republic to advocate the creation of a ‘Romanian republic’ that would unite all Romanians and which would be governed by laws established by the community. The power of the ‘Romanian republic’ thus envisioned by Bărnuţiu was based on the nature of the Romanian people, its intellectual and moral qualities, and its material power. From the Romans who possessed ‘maiestas’ (‘majesty’), the Romanians had acquired ‘maiestate,’ which was, according to Bărnuţiu, the supreme quality of the Romanian nation. Although Romanians were the direct continuators of Roman customs, they had developed a very particular legal tradition, different than the one existing in Western Europe. Thus, European constitutions—whose genesis Bărnuţiu traced to the medieval period—were not appropriate for Romanians. European constitutionalism was, to Bărnuţiu, just a fiction. What the Romanians needed was liberty, justice and the right to property.

13Bărnuţiu’s endorsement of the rationalism of the Enlightenment—in a period when the Romantic ‘Weltanschauung’ dominated European thinking— led some scholars to contest the existence of Romanticism among Transylvanian Romanians. Bărnuţiu’s philosophical system was indeed derived from Kant’s rationalism, but his definition of the nation was influenced rather by Romanticism. Bărnuţiu enjoyed a great reputation at the time. Although his exaggerations about the ‘Latin’ character of the Romanian nation were soon rejected, interest in his legal theory of the nation survived until the early twentieth century. In Viaţa şi ideile lui Simion Bărnuţiu (The life and ideas of Simion Bărnuţiu) (1924), Gheorghe Bogdan-Duică coupled Bărnuţiu’s juridical ideas about the nation with discussing Transylvanian regionalism, which animated certain Romanian intellectuals from Transylvania in the interwar period.


The public law of the Romanians

Romanian law and Roman law

15Romanian law is Roman law, which is why it is imperative that it be constantly in accordance with the natural and eternal principles of law that the Roman people established and approved; such development requires the very existence of a Romanian nation, for the right of nations that are alive is not born casually, nor is it borrowed from foreigners, but it is born from the indigenous nature, like language; therefore, as it would be unnatural, irrational and non-national to corrupt one’s language through the use of foreign languages, the same applies to law. In the continuous evolution of our law based on ancient foundations, we will show the vital and regenerating power of our nation, and its decadence through the adoption of foreign codes of law.

The Romanian nation

16Nation, race, or people (natio, gens, populus), as Cicero said, are not any crowd of people united in any way, but a crowd of people united by natural links such as the same origin and the same language (vocum communio), and then by the consensus of law and the communion of interests.

  • 1 Karl Ludwig von Haller (1768–1854), Swiss professor of constitutional law of conservative politica (...)

17Each nation is individual, and all national rights are united in the personality of the nation; it might be said that they belong to the country, if the country is understood to belong to the nation; and if the country is of the crown, and the crown is of a hereditary family, then the true issue of national rights arises, and these will still be of the family who owns the crown, the country and the nation. It has never been so necessary to reveal that the nation is the subject of public right as now, when powerful nations are at war against poor ones, and the privileged classes wage war upon those who suffer under the burden of catering for these privileges. Now it should be known to the Romanians, too, that the public rights of the Romanians are a common possession of all Romanians, not the private property of some, as things have started to happen with the Romanians, too, after the theory of Haller1 and the European reaction; it should be known that the territory that the Romanians inhabit as owners belongs to the Romanian nation, [and] not the nation to the territory […]

The objective of the Romanian Republic

  • 2 “Gathering of a multitude allied by the sanction of law, with a community of benefit” (Cicero, De (...)

18The objective of the Romanian Republic is included in the very idea of it as coetus multitudinis juris consensu et communione utilitatis sociatus2 that is, law and justice should dominate and govern all over, so that the Romanian nation can live in eternal liberty and independently under their shield, to be able to develop and defend its physical and spiritual life, and enjoy common peace and prosperity. […]

The features of the Romanian Republic

19Among the features of the Romanian Republic we include:

20The nature of the Romanian people: with the Romanian people, we have verified the saying of Sallust, namely that nature is stronger than law. Goths, Huns, Avars, Greeks, Bulgarians tried to conquer it; then came the Hungarians, and the Germans with new and amended plans to break away the connections within the nation, and to wipe it out. They divided it, crushed it, and fooled it with imaginary happiness which allegedly would descend on it from foreign civilizations. How many times its intelligent sons left it, and yet it has held out despite all, and its power shows in its language, unity and concord.

21Politics orders and determines intellectual and moral powers, and talents; then [it determines] those educational institutions destined to these evolutions so as to help the good nature of the Romanian people, and to strengthen it with real national powers. [Politics] can also endanger the Romanian people; this would happen especially if the intelligentsia that governs and leads [the nation] had more trust in all that is foreign than in what is Romanian.

22The nature of the Romanian people, the evolution of its intellectual and moral powers and of its talents, the erection of educational institutions, the accomplishment of national goals also require material resources, natural products, services, natural provisions, supplies and money; the Republic cannot exist without a national pecuniary wealth. Here, however, Romanian politics can exercise national power, it can support agriculture, emancipating it from the serfdom that presses it, emancipate its industry and commerce from foreign domination, thus helping the creation of national and public wealth; but it can also carry on an anti-Romanian policy, perpetuating the serfdom of Romanian peasants, bringing foreign products, abandoning industry and agriculture to foreigners, and therefore destroying national prosperity. […]

The sovereignty of the Romanian People

23The sovereignty of the Romanian people is the supreme value, which applies to all its territory, individuals, goals, and national affairs. This unique, indivisible, sacred and totally independent sovereignty, not subject to any other sovereignty on earth, is the condition of a true human and national life, without which none of the most sacred goals could be achieved, which is why the Romans called it ‘majesty’ (maiestas)—its name also shows its imposing importance. Sovereignty characterizes all free peoples (it characterizes the Romanians, too) when the people have their laws, and magistrates through whom they govern themselves. […]

The constitutions of Europe are not for the Romanians

24Because these constitutions are the creations of feudalism which we see in the House of Lords in England, in the Chamber of Peers in France, even in the Senate House in Belgium, and in the customary assemblies of the Romanian Principalities and so on. [These constitutions] are based on the idea of the hereditary principle—an idea which is foreign to both the old Romans and the Romanians in Dacia—which is per excellentiam German and destined not only to preserve the domination of the Germans over the Romans, but also (si fata velint) to spread it all over the world; [through these constitutions] German princes dominate other European races, [causing] division and annexation of other nations, imposing on them German principles through universal suffrage and constitutions—all to the benefit of the Germans.

25None of these constitutions answered the wish of the nation, or the postulates of the human mind and life. By dividing the sovereignty and giving some of it to princes as properties, [these constitutions] made them feudal lords over the people, who feared for their liberty more than they feared foreigners, and they fought against them and their ministers more than they fought against foreigners. European constitutionalism is a political fiction invented with the aim of making peoples forget their liberty, by making them believe that they are free.


1 Karl Ludwig von Haller (1768–1854), Swiss professor of constitutional law of conservative political orientation. He was a grandson of the famous poet Albrecht von Haller. Haller’s most important work was his Die Restauration der Staatswissenschaft oder Theorie des natürlich-geselligen Zustands, der Chimäre des künstlich-bürgerlichen entgegengesetzt.

2 “Gathering of a multitude allied by the sanction of law, with a community of benefit” (Cicero, De republica I, 25).


Mária Kovács (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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