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Building the Nation

Building the Nation: N.F.S. Grundtvig and Danish National Identity

Copyright Date: 2015
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    Building the Nation
    Book Description:

    Denmark became a nation amidst the turbulence of the nineteenth century, an era plagued by war, bankruptcy, and territorial loss. Building the Nation is an insightful study of this formation, emphasizing the crucial role of N.F.S. Grundtvig, the father of modern Denmark. Persevering through years of humiliation, internal conflict, and occupation, Denmark now boasts one of the world's most stable and democratic political systems, as well as one of its richest economies. From disaster to success, Building the Nation emphasizes the role of national icons and social movements in the formation of Denmark. The poet, political philosopher, clergyman, and founding father N.F.S. Grundtvig is compared to Rousseau and Durkheim in France, to Herder and Fichte in Germany, and to other great thinkers in the United States and Ireland. During his lifetime, the kingdom of Denmark transformed from monarchy to democracy and moved from agrarianism to a modern economy - evolutions to which Grundtvig himself contributed. He has become a fundamental and inescapable reference-point for discussions about nation, democracy, freedom, religion, and education in Denmark and abroad. Situating Grundtvig in both the history of Denmark and the intellectual history of nineteenth-century Europe, Building the Nation argues for the centrality of his influence in the making of modern Denmark, as well as the continuing influence of his work.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9631-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-26)

    It is very hard to question what seems natural. This certainly applies to the sense of belonging to a nation, so totally taken for granted in modern times – particularly by the Danes. But any sustained reflection on the historical record mandates awareness of the presence of alternative identities, mostly local, sometimes religious or military or imperial for the elites of the pre-industrial world. Hence the nation is best seen as a project, a category of practice as much as a universal reality inscribed in the souls of men and women throughout the historical record (Brubaker 2002). To make this point...


    • 1 Nation Building and State Building
      (pp. 29-50)

      The significance of an individual like N.F.S. Grundtvig must be seen in terms of the building of a modern Danish nation, which was, in turn, critical to the success of the modern Danish state. Nation building is critical to the success of state building. The state consists of tangible institutions like armies, police, bureaucracies, and the like, while the nation has to do with shared traditions, symbols, historical memories, language, and other cultural points of reference. The reason that nation building is key to state building reaches to the core meaning of the state: as the organizer of legitimate violence,...

    • 2 Icons of Nationalism
      (pp. 51-78)

      The recent exchange between Marine Le Pen and President Sarkozy about the place of Jeanne d’Arc in French history and her significance for the French nation reminds us that heroines and symbols, even of a far-gone age, can have a profound resonance for later periods and modern generations. How much more so when it comes to more recent figures – a Napoleon, a Bolivar, or a Garibaldi! Or, for that matter, a Michelet, a Manuel Gamio, or a Mazzini. In one sense, it hardly matters, except to historians, what these figures intended or signified in their own times; what matters is...

    • 3 Between Tradition and Modernity: Grundtvig and Cultural Nationalism
      (pp. 79-92)

      On the last day of 1848, Grundtvig sat down at his desk in his home at Knabrostræde in inner Copenhagen to pen a sermon for New Year’s Day after one of the most dramatic years in Danish history. The year had begun with the death of Grundtvig’s protector, Christian VIII. It was followed by the outbreak of civil war in the duchies and the abolition of absolutism on 21 March after mass demonstrations and pressure from a broad political alliance. In the autumn, a general election for a constitutional assembly was held. In spite of his reservations about elective democracy,...


    • 4 Religious Revivalism in Sweden and Denmark
      (pp. 95-109)

      In modern research on society and history, it is quite common to focus on nationalism and ethnicity. For many this seems to be an important, even a natural, way to understand human life. But the question is: Has it always been as natural as it is for us? One way to discuss this is to analyze N.F.S. Grundtvig’s nineteenth century, which is often seen as the formative century of nationalism. At the same time it is also a century of religious movements, or revivals, as they are often called in a Protestant context.

      Grundtvig is known as one of the...

    • 5 The Nation as Event: The Dissolution of the Oldenburg Monarchy and Grundtvig’s Nationalism
      (pp. 110-133)

      The Danish theologian, poet, educational, and political thinker Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig lived a very long and productive life from 1783 to 1872. In this long life, he not only witnessed enormous changes in his own society and state but also lived through the intellectual periods of the Enlightenment and romanticism, both of which left a deep imprint on his thinking. He is the single person most responsible for the national culture and political thinking that came to characterize the Denmark of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It may even be argued that he still plays a dominant role...

    • 6 Why Denmark Did Not Become Switzerland
      (pp. 134-148)

      In the middle of civil war Meïr Goldschmidt (1894), editor of the cosmopolitan periodicalNorth and South,made a strong plea for a federal solution to Denmark’s problems. Our concern here is with a particular element of his case – namely, his insistence that much could be learned from Switzerland, whose short civil war in 1847 had been settled through the creation of a new federal constitution. It takes but a moment’s thought to realize that much more is involved here than constitutional details of the mid-nineteenth century. The fundamental moral consideration raised by Goldschmidt is obvious – namely, the desirability of...


    • 7 “Hand of King and Voice of People”: Grundtvig on Democracy and the Responsibility of the Self
      (pp. 151-168)

      A review of Grundtvig’s political theories – especially his negative view of democracy and positive view of absolute monarchy – raises a problem in the contemporary estimation of Grundtvig since he and the Folk High School movement have tradition ally been considered part of the foundation of Danish democracy. This chapter takes a closer look at Grundtvig’s political ideas, especially his negative estimate of democracy, his idealization of “opinion-guided monarchy,” and his idea of a utopian people constituted by a common aspiration for the general good. I look at this political ideal within the context of its legacy from late eighteenth-century patriotic...

    • 8 On the Church, the State, and the School: Grundtvig as Enlightenment Philosopher and Social Thinker
      (pp. 169-191)

      Grundtvig’s song “Enlightenment” (1839), so beloved of the People’s High Schools, has achieved such widespread popularity due to its emphasis on educating the people rather than just the scholars. Yet it should not be read as an anti-intellectual proclamation. What Grundtvig is rejecting is a particular rationalist view of education – one that leads to self-centredness and that excludes the broader public from enjoying its fruits.

      He prefers to speak of “various kinds of enlightenment” – in the plural (Grundtvig 2011 [1834], 111). There are Jewish, Greek, Latin, French, German, British, and Nordic enlightenments since each of these peoples may claim to...

    • 9 How Grundtvig Became a Nation Builder
      (pp. 192-210)

      Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig is rightly regarded as the single individual who has had the greatest importance in the formation of the Danish nation. In arguing this I make two claims that run as red threads through what follows. First, the building of a nation is a process of both creation and formation; second, the building of the Danish nation takes place in Grundtvig’s lifetime, with he himself laying the foundation.

      In his younger days Grundtvig had no ambition to be a nation builder. He was convinced that it was only a matter of time before the society into which...


    • 10 Fichte and Grundtvig as Educators of the People
      (pp. 213-231)

      Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783–1872) may seem unlikely bedfellows, yet both saw it as their task to educate their nations, and Fichte was one of several German influences on Grundtvig.

      Especially among non-philosophers Fichte is known for his thesis of the “pure I,” which creates its own world for itself: “The I posits the non-I.” In other words, consciousness defines reality. This represents the ultimate point of German idealism. The consciousness of which Fichte speaks is not the empirical everyday consciousness: it is pure consciousness in principle, not unlike a platonic “idea.” This...

    • 11 Come Together: Thoughts and Theories on Social Cohesion in the Work of Nikolai Grundtvig and Émile Durkheim
      (pp. 232-253)

      The long nineteenth century was a troubled period in European history, violently initiated by the French Revolution and devastatingly ended by the First World War. During this time, Europe and North America underwent remarkable demographic, economic, and social changes. In more than one sense this was the century of revolutions. The political revolutions and wars of independence in France, Serbia, Poland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, and so on, all motivated by a new-found sense of national self – and typically rooted in or connected to liberal and democratic ambitions – are obvious examples of the trend. Naturally, the years 1830, 1848, and...

    • 12 “The Gordian Knot”: Grundtvig and British Liberalism
      (pp. 254-266)
      OLE VIND

      For over three months each summer in 1829, 1830, and 1831, respectively, Grundtvig received royal grants to visit England for the purpose of studying the Old English manuscripts in London, Exeter, and Cambridge. Already in 1820 he had published the first modern (Danish) translation of the Old English heroic poemBeowulf, and he was now looking for further ties of kinship between Old English and Old Norse poetry and mythology – a kinship that plays a key role in his philosophy of history.

      The meeting with modern England turned out to be of crucial importance for his political ideas as well....

    • 13 Grundtvig and the Slavic Awakening in East Central Europe: (Con)textual Parallels, Mutual Perceptions
      (pp. 267-283)

      Intuitively, writing on Grundtvig and the Western Slavs may seem a nonstarter or an exercise in far-fetched analogies. As we shall see, Grundtvig showed only marginal interest in, and even less sympathy with, Czechs and Poles, or Slavs in general, while, conversely, his historical and theological writings remained unknown to the national “awakeners” of East Central Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. However, as I show in the first part of this chapter, Grundtvig’s thoughts on history, nationality, and popular enlightenment (or education) have a lot in common with the views and aspirations of contemporary Polish, Czech,...

    • 14 Crisis of Religion and Nineteenth-Century Spiritual Reform: Varieties of Nation Building in Grundtvig and Emerson
      (pp. 284-299)

      What does it mean to contribute to nation building? In the perspective adopted in this chapter, it entails developing a notion of a country’s purpose and destiny and, thereby, promoting a common, national identity and stronger social bonds. By comparing two leading nineteenth-century figures who made substantial contributions to nation building, Denmark’s Nikolai Grundtvig (1783–1872) and the United States’s Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82), I intend to show how interesting parallels emerge, despite vast differences in national context and conditions.¹ Differences apply as well to the two personalities in question. In fact, had Grundtvig and Emerson known each other,...

    • 15 Community and Individuality: Grundtvigian and Kierkegaardian Protestantism in Denmark
      (pp. 300-312)

      The Danish priest Carl Koch, who was born in 1860, five years after the death of Søren Kierkegaard and twelve years before the death of N.F.S. Grundtvig, once recounted: “Someone told me that he had seen Grundtvig and Kierkegaard walking together along Østergade [a street in central Copenhagen]. Grundtvig progressed, steady and broad; Kierkegaard, playfully mobile, at one moment on one side and the next moment on the other side of his companion – all during vivid conversation. Then they arrived at the gate that Grundtvig was heading towards; he tipped his hat; Kierkegaard bowed deeply and took off his hat...


    • 16 Grundtvig’s Idea of a People’s High School and Its Historical Influence
      (pp. 315-330)

      Danish history from 1848 to 1945 tells the story of how three classes – the civil service, the peasantry, and the working class – were, by turns, the motive power that built the Danish nation-state. The civil servants gathered together as a political grouping in “the National Liberals,” which, however, was not a party in the modern sense. The peasants joined the Left Party, which is now the Danish Liberal Party (orVenstre, in Danish). And the working class formed the Social Democratic Party. In cultural terms, the educated citizenry made up the core of the National Liberal network, the Grundtvigian movement...

    • 17 Grundtvigianism as Practice and Experience
      (pp. 331-345)

      One of the stories told about Peter Larsen Skræppenborg, a nineteenth-century Danish lay preacher, recounts his first encounter with the writings of N.F.S. Grundtvig. According to the story, Skræppenborg was staying with a friend on one of his periodic travels around Denmark, and, as they sat by the fire after dinner, the friend handed him a copy of one of Grundtvig’s recent sermons. Skræppenborg read a few pages, leaped to his feet, and dashed out of the house, running barefoot into the falling snow. The friend, alarmed, ran to the door. “What’s the matter?” he called. Skræppenborg shouted back, in...

    • 18 The Popular Voicing of Sport: Comparative Aspects of Grundtvigian Movement Culture
      (pp. 346-361)

      Grundtvig was influential not only directly, through words, actions, and inventions, but also indirectly through practical and oral channels, the Grundtvigian movement, free congregations, gymnastic associations, cooperatives, and People’s High Schools. Sport and movement culture show how practical Grundtvigianism affected Danish everyday life, down to the personal, bodily level. This happened in a way that would probably have surprised Grundtvig.

      In Denmark, the world of sport is marked by the impact of Grundtvigian gymnastics. So-calledfolkeliggymnastics made people meet in voluntary associations and in large summer meetings (stævne), singing and playing together, mostly in a non-competitive way. The “popular”...

    • 19 Windmills, Butter, and Bacon: The Circulation of Scientific Knowledge among Grundtvigians in the Decades around 1900
      (pp. 362-380)

      It is well documented that the followers of N.F.S. Grundtvig played a seminal role in the Danish nation-building process, including the forming of national identity and democratic modernization. Hence, the Grundtvigian movement took a central part in the national, religious, and cultural enlightenment of the rural population in Denmark in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Korsgaard 2006; Østergård 2006). In line with this perspective, existing historiography has primarily focused on the Grundtvigian People’s High Schools and their program of liberal education, emphasizing the role of history and literature in the formation (dannelse) of the Danish people (Hjermitslev 2010; Korsgaard...

    • 20 An Ongoing Influence: The Political Application of Grundtvig’s Ideas in the Debate on Danish Society, 2001–09
      (pp. 381-395)

      In this chapter I investigate how and why the ideas of the Danish theologian, politician, and poet N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783–1872) were used by Danish politicians in the Danish public debate from 2001 to 2009, and what effect these ideas have on nation building in today’s Denmark. My investigation is threefold. First, I look at Grundtvig’s historical role in the Danish political debate to indicate examples of his influence and to compare them with examples from other famous Danes from the Danish Golden Age Literary and Artistic Tradition. Second, I look at how Danish politicians used Grundtvig’s ideas in the...

    • 21 The Economic Consequences of the Size of Nations: Denmark in Comparative Perspective
      (pp. 396-411)

      Queen Gertrude advised her son to “cast thy knighted colour off / and let thine eye shine like a friend on Denmark.” We do not have Hamlet’s problems, find little that is rotten in the state of Denmark, and certainly regard ourselves as friends of the country. This is scarcely surprising: we have now spent large chunks of our lives in Copenhagen and have accordingly been drawn ever more into understanding the political economy and culture of Denmark, seen in comparative and historical terms. Explaining the research journey that we have taken and have yet to complete is an idiosyncratic...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 412-426)

      InThe Origins of Political OrderFrancis Fukuyama entitles one of his chapters “Getting to Denmark.” In this chapter he says it all: How can other countries become like Denmark – that is, “stable, democratic, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, and [having] extremely low levels of political corruption” (Fukuyama 2011, 14–19)? To his unreserved praise of Denmark Fukuyama adds the following: “Most people living in rich, stable, developed countries have no idea how Denmark itself got to be Denmark – something that is true for many Danes as well” (14). By way of explanation he writes: “The struggle to create modern political institutions...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 427-430)
  11. Index
    (pp. 431-453)