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European Nationalism: German Research Paper

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Nationalism can be perceived in many ways. On one hand, it may connote the historical process of establishing nationalities as political units, or the construction of modern national states while on the other hand, it may indicate the theory, principle, or ideal implicit in the historical process or ‘nationalism’ may be used to express a condition of mind among the members of nationality, an attitude in which loyalty and devotion to one’s nationality are considered to be of prime importance.

If we perceive ‘nationalism’ in context with the problem that Europe has encountered between 1815 and 1850, we would analyze that Nationalism, during this era of kings and tyranny rejected the cosmopolitan aspects of liberalism, its rational spirit, its emphasis upon natural rights, its preference for the individual, and its aversion to state authority. From the nationalist point of view, freedom was not considered the right of the individual, and so the individual was not supposed to live according to his own will, but he was subjugated by his sense of freedom to that conferred upon him by group authority. Nationalism, in contrast to liberalism, often discards humanitarianism in favor of national interests, advocates a system of national economic protection, regards imperialistic expansion as desirable, and looks favorably upon war as a means of promoting national prestige.

While talking about European nationalism, German nationalism elucidates that it was not accompanied by the beneficial results that had been expected at the time. Germany remained beyond the periphery of European civilization, acquiring a unique character of her own and playing a unique role in the European history of nation-making. The synthesis of nationalism and liberalism was especially pronounced in England, with its parliamentary monarchy and its strong middle class. A similar development may be noted in France, although the timing and character were different. In both countries, nationalism and liberalism were allies in the struggle against absolutism and caste.

In Germany, however, where the appearance of the nation-state and national sentiment was delayed for more than three centuries beyond that of England and France, the synthesis was never effectively achieved. The result was therefore a politico-cultural lag with the building of German nationalism as artificial as the construction of the Panama Canal. German nationalism was created under the tyranny of Napoleonic despotism where it experienced means of forgetting their degradation, while Germans turning their eyes back to a great legendary past when the old imperial Germany had been the cockpit of Europe. German nationalism while busy seeking their salvation in romanticism, attempted to draw strength from German antiquity, from the German landscape, and the German language, customs, and art. Later the German nation in its youth the ‘eternally striving’ was indeed far from being aggressive, intolerant, and imperialistically-minded, all features which darkened its image from the late nineteenth century onward.

According to Michener (1993) “It is often forgotten that in the early decades of the nineteenth-century German nationalism was a liberal movement, very much in tune with the European Risorgimento nationalism of the age” (Michener, 1993, p. 84). Nationalism and liberalism were terms used almost synonymously by contemporaries and followers of the nascent national movement, they were a single cause. Nationalists in that era were called liberals and vice versa. Around 1800 Germans, regardless of which of the then numerous German states they belonged to, developed a cultural and political awareness that, despite the difference of detail, can be described as an early form of German national consciousness. It combined national and liberal elements which spread first among intellectuals and the educated middle classes before it reached other strata of society. Much was needed to instill a sense of German identity and common political ambition, a feeling of belonging together as one nation, into the populations of the central European states, Protestant and Catholic alike, the ideas and upheavals of the French Revolution of 1789, the revolutionary wars of the 1790s, the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the collapse of Prussia on the battlefields and, finally, the Napoleonic occupation of almost the whole continent of Europe.

The Germans were led to believe that they had found their identity by resisting Napoleon and his armies and adopting the dazzling ideals of the French Revolution as guidelines for their future national existence. They began to see themselves above all as a cultural nation that had so far been denied freedom and political organization in a unified state. For this reason, the advocates of rising German nationalism called for a nation-state founded on the self-determining nation as the sole source of legitimate government. They claimed that a strong common state would protect the Germans against foreign aggression and, at the same time, provide unprecedented prosperity, internal peace, civil rights; democracy, and individual liberty a Utopian dream come true.

The German national consciousness began to emerge at the turn of the eighteenth century through culture and literature as tools for making the German language and culture a common national bond. However, there was no unified stance on how the German nation should be incorporated into a state structure, nor was it politically viable until 1848. Initial calls for national unification, such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s famous Addresses to the German Nation in the winter of 1807/8 and Ernst Moritz Arndt’s German songs did not enjoy widespread support (Herb, 1997, p. 8).

German Folklore: The Grimm Brothers

In such an era where German romanticism was largely a counter-reaction against the French Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and Napoleon, resorted back to an idealized medieval era or even prehistoric mythology (Kent et al, 2000, p. 16), Grimm brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm) promoted German linguistics and literature by collecting variations of the traditional ballads from unschooled country people. The brothers Grimm initiated a new era of folklores by compiling German fairy tales, an activity which eventually led ‘Jacob Grimm’ to publish his Deutsche Grammatik (1819-34), in which he formulated his well known ‘law’ that highlights the concern that changed laws have no exception (Kent et al, 2000, p. 178). Among their famous works are fairy tales like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel.

The Grimm brothers were the founders of scientific Germanistics and were best known as the pioneers of German folklore and fairy tales. They were among the small group of dedicated scholars who fashioned a popular national German literature with simply no intention of advocating a narrow nationalism, yet it would seem that in venerating national indigenous, anonymous folk poetry in the belief that it contained a pearl of primitive folk wisdom, they helped set the stage for a type of nationalism which became progressively more and more extremist. This holds not only for their lifetime of philological research, which has aroused the admiration of scholars throughout the world but also on a more popular level for their famous collection of fairy tales. There is evidence to show that they were designed originally as a means to stimulate national sentiment, to glorify German national traditions, and, in short, to bolster the rising force of German nationalism (Snyder, 1952, p. 45).

Although the Grimm sought to advertise their tales as products of the ‘folk’, recent research tells us that they relied on sources at least at one remove from peasant culture (Tatar, 1987, p. 24). The Grimm initiated with the process of compiling tales just when German folk stories started ceasing to play a vital role in the day-to-day activities of adult life, they received from their informant’s versions of the tales that already had been dramatically revised. Grimm readers ranged from children to adults and from lower class to those literate audiences who were aware of the basic content that is helpful are shaping deviation sharply from what was told at harvesting time or in the spinning room, but off-color details along with crude language had no doubt been toned down or eliminated. The Grimm informants were mostly unlettered German peasants who spoke the inimitable language of the ‘folk’ but still were literate enough to understand the influence of those folks. Also, the Grimm was by no means opposed to resorting to literary sources for their ‘folkloric’ texts.

The Grimm understood the influence each culture or community has on its moral and national values therefore Grimm, categorized the process of recasting folktales unfolded into two stages. First, as audience Grimm used to influence the telling of a tale simply by their physical presence, social standing, age, sexual identity, and body language. According to Tatar (1987) “Grimm brothers claim about Dorothea Viehmann to possess an infallible memory for detail corrected herself if for a moment she deviated from the standard phrasing for a story, it is hard to believe that her narrative tone and style remained the same whether she was rehearsing her repertory for the Grimm or telling a tale to her grandchildren” (Tatar, 1987, p. 26). No matter how precisely the Grimm recorded the oral renditions of those tales, they were still the receivers of texts shaped by their presence. Therefore the physical presence of the tales in the first stage elucidated the verbal dimension of a performance where gesture, facial expression, along with all the other vital components of a live performance, escaped their recording efforts.

In a second stage, the Grimm altered the texture of the tales narrated to them just like the early collectors of folktales, particularly those working before the age of the portable tape recorder, they could not resist the temptation to improve on what they heard, to render readable what might be pleasing to the ear alone. Wilhelm Grimm not only created a homogenous, stylized language for the tales, but also introducing messages, motivations, judgments, morals, and other often pedantic touches. A prisoner of his passion for order, logic, and instrumentality, Wilhelm Grimm unfailingly smoothed the rough edges of the tales he heard and read, even as he imbued them with the values and pedagogical demands of his time.

Though with an assistance of a typical form, it is not always easy to determine which aspects of a fairy tale are culture-bound and which elements function as part of its timeless, universal structure, it is easier to visualize the German cultural boon Grimm Brothers presented as a nation. Grimm’s fairy tales were unique in their notion to represent the German culture of that era in the light of harsh social climate where child abandonment, king’s tyranny, lack of morals, and other extreme situations were the common problems. European folklore operated as a system-oriented toward conventions that were sanctioned by a cultural community and literature driven by the oppression of rulers. The strictures imposed on folkloric inventiveness and made it easier for the nationalists to identify the strict and uniform laws to which folkloric performances were subjected. Therefore we can conclude that German folklores made a significant attribute towards the collective activity of serving towards German nationalism.

References

Herb Guntram Henrik, (1997) Under the Map of Germany: Nationalism and Propaganda, 1918-1945: Routledge: London.

Kent Conrad, Wolber K. Thomas & Hewitt M. K. Cameron, (2000) The Lion and the Eagle:Interdisciplinary Essays on German-Spanish Relations over the Centuries: Berghahn Books: New York.

Michener Roger, (1993) Nationality, Patriotism and Nationalism in Liberal Democratic Societies: Paragon House: St. Paul, MN.

Snyder L. Louis, (1952) German Nationalism: The Tragedy of a People Extremism Contra Liberalism in Modern German History: Stackpole: Harrisburg, PA.

Tatar M. Maria, (1987) The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

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