Version classiqueVersion mobile

National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter IV. The Nation and Its Neighbors in Europe: Problems of Coexistence


Ion C. Brătianu
Traduction de Mária Kovács

Texte intégral

1Title: Naţionalitate (Nationality)

2Originally published: in Republica română (Brussels, 1853) vol. I, no. 2.

3Language: Romanian

4The excerpts used are from Din scrierile şi cuvântarile lui Ion C. Brătianu, 1821–1891 (Bucharest: Carol Göbl, 1903), pp. 39–40, 59–61.

About the author

5Ion Constantin Brătianu [1821, Piteşti (Wallachia) – 1891, Florica (near Piteşti)]: politician. He was the scion of an old boyar family. After being educated at home, Brãtianu became in 1835 a member of the newly created Muntenian national militia. In 1841 he joined his brother in Paris, and studied at the Collège de France, where (along with many other Romanian students) he came under the influence of Jules Michelet (1798–1874), Edgar Quinet (1803–1875), and Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855). He was a member of several Masonic lodges and had close contacts with the émigré leaders of other East European nationalities. He participated in the French revolution of 1848, establishing ties with Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869). In 1848 he returned to Wallachia and became one of the leaders of the revolution. After the defeat of the revolution he went into exile in France, where he stayed until 1857. From 1857 to 1859 he was a member of the National Assembly of Wallachia (the so-called ‘Divanul adhoc’) that voted for the union of Wallachia with Moldavia in 1859. From 1866 until his death in 1891 Brătianu participated in the most important political events of the new state, such as the instauration of the Hohenzollern dynasty (after the abdication of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, in May 1866, Prince Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen became the new ruler of Romania), the drafting of the constitution of 1866, the independence of Romania (1878) and the proclamation of the Romanian Kingdom (1881). Although for a short period after 1866 Brătianu manifested republican sympathies, after 1876 he became a loyal supporter of King Carol and his politics. He was repeatedly appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. In 1876, together with C. A. Rosetti (1816–1885), he formed a Liberal cabinet, which remained in power until 1888. In 1883, he supported Romania’s adherence to the Triple Alliance. After 1883 Brătianu acted as the undisputed leader of the Liberal Party. In 1888 he withdrew from the government, but remained an opposition politician until his death in 1891. Brătianu established a dynasty of politicians whose existence became synonymous with the history of the Liberal Party in Romania. He is celebrated as the father of Romanian liberalism and one of the ‘architects of modern Romania.’

6Main works: Mémoire sur l’empire d’Autriche (1855); Mémoire sur la situation de la Moldo-Valachie (1857); Instrucţiunea publică [Public education] (1865); La Question religieuse en Roumanie (1866); Memoriu [Memoir] (1901).


7The Romanian ‘generation of 1848’ considered the West and ‘civilized’ Europe as their political and cultural model. These intellectuals argued that the Western pattern of development should be introduced into the Danubian Principalities. Their ideas about politics were greatly influenced by the European liberal doctrines of the mid-nineteenth century, liberal nationalism being the political ideology they considered the most suitable for a modern Romanian state.

8In Le Peuple (1846) Jules Michelet advanced one of the most influential theories of liberal nationalism produced in the nineteenth century. The book discusses the economic and political transformations endured by Europe as it evolved from an agrarian to an industrial society. Using France as an example, Michelet suggested that modernization and industrialization generated political and ideological conflict. Harmony in society was disrupted. Michelet’s invocation of a natural balance and order in society was not, however, an indication of a conservative turn in his thinking, but served to introduce one of his main ideas about the role of the nation in history. Michelet saw the love of one’s country as the cure to many existing problems. He invoked the innate goodness of the masses and considered ‘the people’ as the source of progress in history.

9Michelet’s ideas about the people reverberated in the thinking of the Romanian leaders of the Revolution of 1848. They equated progress and modernity with Western European civilization, but were pragmatic enough not to overlook the fact that the majority of the Romanians were peasants. The idea that the nation resides within the people enabled them to integrate the traditional culture of the Romanian peasants into the long-term project of institutional and political modernization. The sovereignty of the people served not only as a principle for nascent Romanian liberalism but also for the formulation of a nationalist doctrine.

10Equally important in shaping Brătianu’s ideas about the nation, the people and the role of national leaders was Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872), a leading figure of Italian liberal nationalism. Mazzini described the principle of nationality as one of the formative forces of the modern world, composed of natural elements such as language and ethnic origin, and moulded into the consciousness of the people by education. This theory of the nation was based on the assumption that ethnic groups were intrinsic parts of nature. This form of nationalism, therefore, combined two traditions: the Romantic idea of the innate propensities of a nation, and the liberal notions of individual equality and transnational unity.

11Brătianu’s theory of the nation combined Michelet’s and Mazzini’s views on the natural tendency of individuals to associate in larger groups—such as family, tribe and nations—according to their interests and physical conditions with Romantic ideas about the permanence of ethnic characteristics. No political regime could deny a nation’s freedom and right to existence. The rights of a nation derived, Brătianu claimed, from the rights of men that were by definition individual and universal. They were also the creation of nature. The stress on the unity of nature led Brătianu to see nations, too, as part of a great organic whole. Nations were not only the result of cultural and political activity but also communities of biological descent. It was in this context that Brătianu regarded race as the prime repository of the physical traits of both individuals and nations.

12During the nineteenth century various nuances, connotations and meanings became associated with the concept of race. Interpretations of race multiplied, but they did not necessarily harmonize with each other. In many ways, this is partly explained by the fact that scientists and philosophers regularly conflicted over explaining human diversity.

13Brătianu’s explanation of the concept of race illustrates his familiarity with the debate about racial types characterizing the natural sciences at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He was especially influenced by the theories of racial categorization of mankind proposed by the German naturalist, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), one of the founders of modern anthropology, whose subdivision of races he followed. Nevertheless, Brătianu did not use the concept of race for national identification but to indicate the natural condition of a nation. Race, he believed, explained the character of individuals, the structure of social communities, but racial characteristics dissolved into the nation.

14Devoted to the liberal principles of equality and unity, Brătianu saw all nations as part of the great chain of being, with the most advanced of them leading the way towards universal progress and civilization. Like most of his contemporaries, Brătianu believed that European culture, especially in its French form, was the highest form of civilization. The ‘racial discourse’ was thus used by Brătianu to establish a symbolic connection between the Romanians and French civilization based on the fact that both Romanian and French were Romance languages and also stressing the undeniable influence France had on the formation of modern Romanian culture.

15Closely connected to the issue of civilization was the idea of progress, which Brătianu derived from the principles of the French Revolution. He thus suggested that freedom, democracy and parliamentary government would eventually be introduced into the Danubian Principalities as well. The Revolution of 1848 convinced the Romanians, Brătianu believed, that the principles of democratic revolution and nationalism were the guiding forces of the new Europe, an order based on the primacy of the nation-state. For Brătianu the nation-state was a precondition of a constitutional-democratic order. This relationship marked not only his political activity, but also the evolution of Romanian liberalism. Many of Brătianu’s ideas about the nation and the state were incorporated into the political programs of the Liberal Party and materialized in its political achievements. Brătianu and his liberal legacy served as a constant source of inspiration for the modernist program of national development in Romania between 1860 and 1940.



17Nationalities and races are natural and constitutive elements of mankind, and therefore necessary for its development. However, in 1848 the Hungarians wanted to Magyarize the Slavs and the Romanians. The first condition for a people to exist is to live in freedom as a nation. Each of the notions of nationality, liberty and democracy are interrelated. The definition of the revolution supports the reorganization of Europe into nations, […] so that from each nation, in its entirety, the solidarity of all the peoples of Europe should emerge, and thus the unity of a universal republic should come into being. In such times, the issue of nationalities and races is one of the most controversial. Some deny them, so far as to annihilate them, while others believe in them, so far as to sacrifice everything for them. In order to establish the new order of things in Europe, this debate must be clarified. Are nationalities and races natural and necessary elements of mankind, or merely ephemeral forms, resulting from ignorance and some abnormal state that must disappear once mankind matures?

18Upon this issue, which I have formulated in its utmost simplicity, opinions are divided into two general categories. The first category holds that nationalities are merely intermittent, arbitrary stages, through which mankind must pass from ignorance to reason. The other, studying mankind in the scientific manner, as employed in the natural sciences, shows that nationality and race are natural and constitutive elements of mankind, like species and genera, and therefore absolutely necessary for its development. The first category or division includes the advocates of despotism, for whom everything in the world is chance or luck […]. For [the advocates of despotism], nationality, like any other thing, is made and unmade by the wish of the masters; [to the advocates of despotism] national feeling is a prejudice, fit for serving, as needed, the ambitions of a man, a family or a class. Tsar Nicholas and the Emperor of Austria share this belief.

19If nationalities had only these latter as adversaries, I would not have needed to talk about them; but unfortunately, even in our camp, in the camp of liberty, there have been and there still are people, who, seeing only the negative side of the national feeling, regard nationalities as forms of the past—which could prevent mankind’s brotherhood— and an obstacle of progress. […]

20In scientific language, the word ‘race’ is used to denote the five great divisions of humankind, which are, as I have said, the white or Caucasian race, the yellow or Mongolian race, the red or American one, the black or Ethiopian one, and the Malayan. Race is subdivided into families such as the Latin, German and Slavic families, who are part of the Caucasian race, the rest of whom lives in Asia and Africa. Thus, the words race and family have very clear meanings; despite this, in ordinary language, the word race is used in the sense of family, and I was forced to use this word with this meaning, so as to avoid confusing my readers.

21Talking about the formation of races, I touch upon an issue that may seem pointless to some. I have seen people who, though heated partisans of nationality, would not admit that the formation of races could have any sense. How could Romanians, they tell me, be more directly and more intimately related to the Italians, and the French, rather than to the Germans, the Hungarians and the Slavs, who are their neighbors? Far be it from me the idea of hostility between races, no less than that among nations or people. Such enmity was the condition of ignorance, of the past. The solidarity and brotherhood of races, peoples and individuals are the conditions of the future society, in the triumph of which I believe and to the triumph of which I want to contribute with all my power to hasten its onset. I insist, however, on the formation of races, for I believe it is a means of the development of man, another shield for our protection against hostilities and wars that can last among races. I intend, by making them face each other in their entirety, to have them learn to respect each other and shake hands with each other as equals. Thus, we will give the last blow to the idea of conquest. Emperor Nicholas will not be able to exploit Pan-Slavism any longer, by making the Slavs believe that in their numbers they are meant to conquer the West, when they know that in Europe there are no singular nations, but races more numerous and compact, or even more powerful, than the Slavic race. If a nation is an individuality that has the right to exist by itself, the more so with a race, whose physical, intellectual and moral personality is stronger and more specific. The proof is that in German and Slavic countries the individuals of different nations of the Latin race can be mistaken for each other, and it is only the type of race that counts. Likewise, in France, except for those who have conducted specific studies on the German nations, they cannot tell a Swedish person from a Prussian or a Dutchman; all they see is the German race.

22Intimate relations, the exchange of ideas and feelings among nations of the same race are necessary for the development of each one of them, for the effects are more direct than those produced by the relations among nations of different races. In the case of the Romanians, for instance, as long as they were inspired only by the German genius in their studies, Romania was a stranger to progress. When they also studied in Italy, and especially in France, they were able to introduce their nation to civilization. […]

23Races are large individualities, groups of peoples, and like everything that exists in nature, they have their way of being. We must look for that way and take advantage of it. As long as we did not know the physiology of the human genre, we did not know that wonderful classification that science gives us today; now, when we know it, it would be irresponsible to deny or crush it. The more its circle of progress widens, the more man grows. All these divisions and subdivisions of the human race are to its advantage. As in the sciences, by means of classification, we could speculate; from this marvellous classification of the human race, God made for humans a ladder by means of which they can climb to Him. Home, the nation, the generic family and race are the steps of this ladder. Indeed, man receives from his mother’s breast the first impression of a moral life; on the lap of the father he gets the first ray that brightens his intelligence, and in the circle of the community he learns to love his fellows. Eventually, the motherland takes him on her wings to show him a horizon which he had not even dreamed of; she makes him feel that in his heart throbs the blood of several million people; he understands solidarity and brotherhood, he is ready to sacrifice himself, and he is consecrated as a citizen. In the heart of nations of the same family his circle of brothers widens, he feels stronger than Samson, life means harmony for him, everything grows, everything stretches out and floats on the ocean. Race initiates him, more than any other element, in the secrets of general life. Making him perceive the individualities of mankind, [race] shows him that it is a transcendent classification, it teaches him that man is not an anomaly on Earth, but the crown of this harmonious world. Race makes him part of mankind, and mankind—making him understand a moral world besides the physical one—connects him to the infinite, and thus he rises to God, from that moment onwards convinced of his immortality.


Mária Kovács (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

Conditions d’utilisation :


Volume papier
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search