Archive

Academic Papers

A modified version of this essay was published in Vol. 4, No. 1 of “Interplay: A Journal of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature.”

Note: This is an extended essay on a topic which has been discussed already on this blog. If interested, please read parts one, two, and three


The Balkans occupy a contested middle-ground in studies on orientalism since they are neither Western nor do they fit into Edward Said’s conceptions of the “Orient.” Instead, they have historically been pulled by three distinct axes of power: the West, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia. Although not traditionally colonized, the logic of colonialism and orientalism still operate via representation and identity. In order to understand how this logic operates, we must most importantly understand how the Balkans were known to those outside of it. By looking at travelogues from Western and Russian/Orthodox travelers, this essay will seek to understand how to account for the similarities and differences present in these works.

The first instances of Western travel interest in the Balkan region began in the late 16th century, mostly among the British upper-class. Their observations proved to be meager, totalizing, and nebulous; interest in the Balkans as a cultural space was secondary to exploring the Ottoman East. After a century-long lull of interest in Western circles, Balkan travelogues began once-again reappearing during the 19th century amidst a changing political landscape in Europe. The so-called “Eastern Question,” the multiple Russo-Turkish wars, the 1856 Treat of Paris, rising Balkan nationalisms, and the uprisings in Bosnia and elsewhere during the latter-half of the century all put the Balkans back on the Western map.

This essay places us in this century of sweeping change. For these European travelers, the Balkans served as an in-between space and a testing ground for their own inter-cultural analyses and observations, including on how “Europe” proper should be defined. When considering the origin and journey of each traveler, one can begin to piece together the discourse on the Balkans as a separate space. The discursive basis for the Balkans as separate from Europe was constructed partly through the travelogue, more so than is commonly understood, and the travelers themselves used the Balkans as a vehicle with which to make political criticisms of their host country and as a means through which to indict all of Ottoman influence on Southeast Europe.

I. Orientalism in Balkan Historiography

As has been mentioned, the Balkans occupy a disputed middle-ground between the two categories in Edward Said’s schema of orientalism: Europe (the West) and its constitutive other, the Orient. Part of the issue is that the Balkans have significant historical baggage, and “what we know about the Balkans cannot be separated from how we know it”[1]. Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova calls the specificity of this historical dilemma as uniquely called balkanism which, although related to Said’s orientalism, diverges from it on account of historical difference. What makes the Balkans categorically different from Said’s conception of the Orient is that the Orient “has an intangible character, [whereas] the Balkans have a tangible and concrete existence in Western historical accounts”[2]. Another point of difference is that, “the Orient […] is portrayed in Western accounts as Europe’s complete opposite, [whereas] the Balkans are construed as an ambiguous category on the periphery of Europe,” as an “incomplete self”[3]. This is why Western travelogues oftentimes prescribe cultural purification or Western occupation as the necessary political antidote, so that the Balkans can, presumably, finally “complete itself” and join the greater, Christian European community.

Discourse on the Balkans thus has its own unique rhetorical arsenal which it defers to when being discussed, and its representation operates through centuries-old Western histories, travelogues, literature, and journalism. Balkan representation operates within the bounds of how it was known. Indeed, this was, and is still, internalized by its people, a phenemon called  “nesting orientalism” by historian Milica Bakić-Hayden [4]. “Nesting orientalism” describes a discourse where the Other is appropriated by those who were themselves designated as this category within orientalist discourse. Naturally, this has been the butt of many self-aware jokes, by Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek and others, on how Slovenes view themselves “more Western” than Croats, who feel similarly towards Serbs, and Serbs who view themselves as “less Eastern” than Albanians, and so it goes [5]. It would seem that, even for the people living there, the Balkans lack concrete, geographic boundaries; instead, what is Balkan is often “not-us,” depending on who one asks. The land thus constantly finds itself historically displaced as if it lies suspended outside of Europe proper, despite being located in it.

This phenomenon of self-orientalism was not unknown to Edward Said, who used such language to describe Sigmund Freud in Freud and the Non-European. Freud, an Eastern Europe Jew, also “saw himself the subject of stereotyping that today might as well be designated ‘orientalist'” despite now falling squarely in the Western canon [6]. Interestingly, this same psychoanalytic language was employed by Radovan Karadžić and others to articulate a common European subjectivity for Serbs to justify inter-ethnic violence during the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. What Karadžić found useful in psychoanalysis was its idea of the “split subject” which he viewed as the subjective articulation of the objective, split historical subject of the Balkans itself. However, Karadžić understood reclaiming this “European subjectivity” through the violent ripping apart of his regional multi-faith communities so the Serbs could, once again, become one people who could then be made intelligible in proper European discourse [7]. Psychoanalysis and poetry was used to describe the “purification” of one’s people, seen as removing the taint which bound them to their split consciousness and relegated them as the abject of Europe and the West. This articulation of identity is particular to the Balkans, and cannot be captured through just orientalism. Instead, Todorova’s concept of balkanism is a more appropriate, given the Balkans’ peculiar historical position as the “in-between” and “incomplete” entity between Europe proper and the perceived “Orient.”

II. The Traveling British Aristocrat

If we cannot separate the actual, geographic Balkan space from how it was known, our first task must then be to uncover how it was described and narrativized. Travelogues grant us with the best means with which to do so, since they provide the link between the geographic space, passed through during the traveler’s journey, and the presentation through which the Balkans are known by to Western audiences. The stock traveler in Balkan travelogue literature is the British aristocrat, many of whom traveled through Ottoman Rumelia either as their destination, or en route to Istanbul. In these travelogues, as will soon be demonstrated, many travelers may pass through the same space but deduce from it different lessons and political prescriptions. As was often the case for these travelers, the writings say less about the actual material conditions of Ottoman Rumelia, and speak more of the traveler’s own audience, their journey, and ideological and historical predilections. Thus, many travelers pass through the Balkans not out of impartial interest, but rather with the intention of inscribing their view of the culture, people, and land onto the space itself – which, in turn, became branded onto Western perceptions and was then, in many cases, internalized and appropriated by the people living in the Balkans themselves.

It was during the 19th century that Southeast Europe emerged in public British imagination as “a peripheral zone of barbarism and conflict” largely through travelers’ accounts, and this imagining began to interact with the British state.[8] These travelers journeyed amidst the so-called Eastern Question in British politics, and they were determined to participate and provide a constant stream of information, none of which truly clarified the issue. These stances did not all make up one coherent political ideology, and the travelogues themselves vary in their political prescriptions and allegiances. Despite being politically disparate, all of these travelogues led themselves to a specific manifestation of power. Instead of being construed as their young Italian and German neighboring nation-states, the Balkans were constructed through discourse “developed primarily, though not exclusively, for usage on the colonial object.”[9] Regardless of their political affiliations, most if not all of these British travelers agreed on the subordinate status of the lands they were visiting through cultural signifiers, evoking “a place of comedy, romance, or imminent threat.”[10]

Such is the line that follows through these traveling accounts. Robert Manuro concluded his journey through the Western Balkans by praising the improvements brought about by Austro-Hungarian rule[11]; R. Arnold speaks of Serbia and the Danube providences as needing to “fall beneath the crown of the Kaiser” rather than have their autonomy continue;[12] Sir Arthur Evans writes that the “hated government of the [Ottoman] must be severed” and that the “ultimate form of Bosnian government is a question of secondary importance to the paramount necessity of establishing order in that unhappy land.”[13] For all of these British writers, the necessity of a foreign force to establish order is the highest priority, whatever their reasoning for it may be. Underneath it all, the fact that these are still Europeans fills these travelers with psychological fears, and their narratives include “threatening moments of self-recognition in which some aspect of Eastern Europe reminds them of the British Isles.”[14] This fear was even reciprocated by the British state; Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously proclaimed that the League of Three Emperors “was beginning to treat England ‘as if we were Montenegro or Bosnia.’”[15]

In the past decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in Victorian women travelers who were previously often relegated to a mere footnote to their male journeying counterparts. For these women “foreign travel was a means of redefining themselves, assuming a different persona and becoming someone who did not exist at home.”[16] Traveling to Eastern Europe had a phantasmic quality to it for these travelers, as if it were an adventurous fiction novel. Emily Gerard compares her travels through Transylvania with the “experiences of Robinson Crusoe on the deserted island and of a fairy-tale princess who was carried off to gnomeland.”[17] Not just women, but many British travelers expressed such imperial imagination as a motive for exploration, falling spell to the “indolent charm and drowsy poetry of this secluded land.”[18] Traveling also offered these aristocratic women a subtle means with which to influence public discourse. Georgina Muir Mackenzie and Adeline Paulina Irby, traveling in the 1860s, remarked that “they found it to be ‘much more exciting […] to be two Englishwomen in the wilds of Turkey than to be at home in England.’”[19] Their book Travels in the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey-in-Europe became critically acclaimed in England and was used by William Gladstone in speeches and parliamentary debates on the Eastern Question.[20] Given that the knowledge of southeastern Europe was marginal in British public life, Travels is said to have brought a virtually unknown subject to British popular discourse. These women writers came to the Balkans with different expectations than their male counterparts, but their observations inevitably overlap as is expected. Just as Sir Arthur Evans writes in his account, Mackenzie and Irby focused their writing on the perceived injustices committed against the Christians by their Ottoman overlords, and ultimately all of these authors come to the same conclusion: that fellow Christians are being persecuted, and that the Ottoman influence must be removed from southeast Europe. However, Mackenzie and Irby do not prescribe foreign occupation as the solution for the Balkans as some other male British travelers did; instead, we see a condescending argument for national sovereignty on the basis of, for example, the Bulgarians being “shrewd,” “eager for intelligence,” and possessing an “industrious approach to agriculture.”[21] Both of them expressed similar opinions towards the Serbs, and wished that both Montenegro and Serbia “draw Kosovo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina into ‘one Serbian fatherland.’”[22] Muir Mackenzie and Adeline Paulina Irby thus prescribe here a political solution that would frankly become the basis for multiple Balkan wars in the succeeding century, imposing their conceptions of Western nationhood as the only possible political solution.

Irby and Mackenzie also pass judgement on the social mores of the Balkan lands in proto-feminist engagement. They “lament the restrictions on female education, the oppressiveness of marriage expectation, and the abuses of traditional rural customs.”[23] However, these same critiques are simultaneously critiques of the gendered social mores they faced at home in Victorian Britain. Traveling gave these aristocratic British women travelers an opportunity through which they could make political criticisms – it was the journey that granted these women an entry point into British political discourse and many of their political prescriptions for the Balkans are, conversely, for Britain itself rather than exclusively the Balkans. In other words, the Balkans served as the vehicle through which they could make political commentary. This same logic applies to all of these British traveling writers: in prescribing their political solutions to the plight of the Balkans, they are simultaneously drawing on Britain as their reference, and thus their Balkan criticisms intersect with their criticisms of British society. They are of the same discourse, and their standards are unequivocally British. Their goal is to ultimately see that these people break from the yoke of Ottoman rule. Their criticisms of the Balkans thus oscillate between two camps. One the one hand, their criticisms of social mores and life in the Balkans are inadvertently also criticisms of their Victorian British society; and, on the other hand, they indict the Ottoman Empire for the perceived wretchedness of the Balkan lands. These two lines of argumentation – an indictment of Ottoman influence and/or a critique of British society vis-a-vis a critique of Balkan life – runs parallel throughout all of these travelogues.

III. Russian Travelers Who Journeyed through the Balkans

Thus far, only British travelogues have been discussed to understand how the Balkans were known. One must consider, however, contrasting travelogues to bring truth to the claim that these traveling accounts had more to do with opposition to Ottoman rule and the traveler’s origins, rather than the Balkans themselves.

Maria F. Korlova was an upper-class Muscovite traveler who journeyed to Macedonia and Albania in 1868 and documented her observations. Despite hailing from Russia, her observations draw similarity to Mackenzie and Irby and other Victorian travelling women. Like them, she remarks on the lack of “female emancipation,” a concept she associates with European modernity and progress.[24] She made these remarks decades before women’s emancipation became a central issue in Russia. Her essay is not a case study on Eastern-Western relations, but instead demonstrate how “gender and class can be inserted into debates about Russian identity and Russia’s place in Europe’s symbolic map of modernity.”[25] She remarks that had traveled in a country not yet visited by a “single Russia female” establishing an authoritative voice via gender, social status, and nationality.[26] As has been mentioned thus far, Korlova’s account bears a striking resemblance to other upper-class women travelers of the Balkans at this time. However, this begs the question: how did these women, living in different regions, all come to similar conclusions in their Balkan travels? Arguably, it is because they all belonged to the same social milieu: “they were all concerned with enhancing women’s status and commented on their national identity and notions of European belonging.”[27] It was during the 19th century that a trans-European class consciousness was developing among the upper-class, and these women belonged to this particular historical moment on account of their class. Most of them were of the same stock as those that participated in the Grand Tour where upper-class men would travel Europe and mingle with the upper-crust of polite European society. A class dimension across the entire continent of Europe is what united these women, not their country of origin.  Most of these women travelling writers in the Balkans thus intersect on three major points: (1) they make criticisms of gendered social mores which they could not do in their home country, (2) there is an emphasis on being the “first visitor,” and (3) a Eurocentric belief in being a part of a superior culture, and always trying to cross cultural boundaries but never class boundaries.

However, other travelling writers in the Balkans visited with the intention of reaffirming their place of origin. For those Russians travelling to Bulgaria in the 1840s, they “saw it as the cradle of Slavic civilization and written culture.”[28] Their travels focused more on Bulgarian archives and monasteries, oftentimes pillaging them so their materials could be brought back to Russia. The shift in Russian travel literature noticeably changes during the rising tides of nationalism. Whereas, “in 1810 some Russian travelers empathized with the Turks, few travelers did after 1840.”[29] Here, again, we have an instance of travelogues illuminating more about their host country and culture than the space they are said to be describing. The drastic change in opinion towards the Balkans in Russia is not that Serbia had accelerated in its economic development from the 1810s to the 1840s; rather, the political climate in Russia changed as did geopolitics. Slavophilism became a popular political ideology in Russia, along with the souring of relations between Russia and the Ottoman Empire culminating in multiple wars during the 19th century.

Comparing these Russian and British travelogues illuminate a stark different between them which are products of history, rather than individual differences between the travelers themselves. Across the board, with Mackenzie and Irby as notable exceptions, the Western travelogues prescribe that the Balkans must remove their Ottoman character and be civilized by a foreign power, along the lines of Austria-Hungary as is mentioned by the French traveler Emile De Laveleye in his text The Balkan Peninsula.[30] All of these Western travelogues, however, are outright hostile to Ottoman influence, no matter their intended audience. The aristocratic travelers who journeyed to the Balkans belonged to the same milieu, and a trans-European upper-class was developing its own separate consciousness apart from the rest of Europe. Therefore, similar topics are touched on in all of these accounts, namely criticisms of Balkan social mores, the perceived oppression of Christians, the “backwardness” of its people, and outright hostility towards anything Ottoman. The Russian travelers, on the other hand, documented their journeys in different light and instead, after the 1830s, focused on the Slavic elements of Balkan society and elevated them. In doing so, they were acting in accords with the nationalist movements of their time, and they paid particular attention to how these lands related back to their native country of origin. A notable exception to this rule was Maria F. Korlova, who wrote her account similar to other aristocrats of her milieu, as they did across Europe. This, thus, is the point of divergence between these aristocratic travelers and other more marginal travelers, Russian or otherwise: the former highlighted their European identity, as a cross-continental elite with the same interests, but others were influenced by the burgeoning nationalisms of their host country, and took this perspective in their travels. These travelogues thus demonstrate the two different ideological strains taking root in Europe in the 19th century, one being the trans-European identity as was made conscious in the upper-crust of European society, and the other is the nationalist undercurrent that inspired some Russian and Orthodox travelers to journey to the Balkans to find lost cultural treasures for their respective nationalist histories. This contradiction of interests between the nationalists and pan-Europeanism would come to a head many times over in Europe, starting from the nationalist revolutions of 1848.

IV. Conclusions

Reviewing these travelogues forces one to ask: Can any traveler write of regional history without falling into the trap of generalizing peoples into a pathology in an effort to describe them? Moreover, which of these travelogues are “more true?” Ultimately, the problem lies in how one approaches this question. This essay was written without falling into the trap of comparisons on which travelogues are more accurate; all of them are steeped in their respective opinions, molded by the history that preceded and enveloped them. Arguably, no travelogue can escape the trap of essentializing and projecting onto the land. So, we are left with these fleeting reflections on a particular historical moment in the Balkans, molded by the respective socio-economic milieu of each traveler.

However, we can deduce a few truths from these many travelogues. Firstly, as has been demonstrated by the British travelogues alone, these reflections had a real impact on discourse and public policy back home. It brought the Balkans to an audience who had previously not known much, if at all, about it. Secondly, the similarity in these travelogues demonstrate that the travelers were using the Balkans as a vehicle with which to make their own political criticisms and observations, many of which reflected the politics from whence they came. For the aristocratic traveler, Maria F. Korlova and others, the observations were strikingly formulaic and similar, as if they were products of the same society despite living in disparate places. This was a consequence of their class-basis, and this can be taken to be wholly explanatory of the similarity in form and content. However, what unites all of these travelogues, albeit for different reasons, is their animosity towards Ottoman influence. For the Russian travelers, the Slavic character was elevated as their own, and Ottomanism was seen as a corrupting influence; Western travelers also despised the Ottoman foothold in Europe, but they prescribed a different solution more-aligned with their country’s interests, i.e. foreign occupation. Whatever their political orientation, all of these travelogues deferred to the geopolitical interests of their host country, and it is therefore difficult for anyone to read these and take their observations at face-value as representative of what was actually-happening in the Balkans at this time. As has been stated in this essay repeatedly, what we know about the Balkans cannot be separated from how we know it. Therefore, these travelogues altogether provide us a discursive basis from which we can understand how the Balkans were perceived during the 19th century, and this, in turn, brings us one step closer to understanding the space as it was actually lived by the people there. We can then begin to unravel the Balkans from orientalist historiography, and find it that occupies something separate from Said’s schema, as is articulated by Maria Todorova’s concept of balkanism. However, this can only ever be done piecemeal, since we cannot encapsulate the entire scope of history, not to speak of the Balkans but of any space. Therefore, all we are left with are these travelogues, as historical fragments, to attempt to illustrate a historical reality as accurate as one can.

References

[1] Dušan Belić, Immigrants as the Enemy: Psychoanalysis and the Balkans’ Self-Orientation (Slavonic & Eastern European Review, vol. 87, No. 3, 2009), 489.

[2] Vasiliki P. Neofotistos, “The Balkans’ Other within”: Imaginings of the West in the  Republic of Macedonia (History and Anthropology, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2008), 19.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dušan Belić, Immigrants as the Enemy: Psychoanalysis and the Balkans’ Self-Orientation, 490.

[5] Vasiliki P. Neofotistos writes of this in “The Balkans’ Other within”: Imagining of the West in the Republic of Macedonia where she recounts: “The ’Balkans’ included Greece when my Macedonian friends suggested that Greeks and Macedonians shared the same ‘Balkan mentality’ … and also Bulgaria and Turkey when my Albanian friends who had taken a bus trip from Skopje via Bulgarian towns to Istanbul, where they visited relatives, recounted how convenient it was to get around ‘the Balkans’ by bus” (pp. 18).

[6] Dušan Belić, Immigrants as the Enemy: Psychoanalysis and the Balkans’ Self-Orientation, 491.

[7] In the West, the Balkans are commonly construed by overlooking any differences that might exist between their peoples and cultures; therefore, for the ethnic-religious nationalists of the 1990s, the first step was to separate themselves from this lumped Balkan identity, in this case through violence, so as to be recognized in Western discourse as separate peoples, not signified by the Balkan region. This tragedy was caused by the appropriation of orientalist discourse by the people it originally described, and by the Balkan’s indeterminate position as an “incomplete” part of Europe; thus, the ethnic violence that ensued is predicated on a desire to complete what was prescribed by the very logic of Western orientalist discourse.

[8] Andrew Hammond, The Uses of Balkanism: Representation and Power in British travel Writing, 1850 – 1914 (The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 82, No. 3, 2004), 602.

[9] Ibid., 603.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Robert Munro, Rambles and Studies in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia with an Account of the Proceedings of the Congress of Archaeologists and Anthropologists Held at Sarajevo, August 1894  (Edinburgh and London, 1895), 390.

[12] R. Arnold, From the Levant, the Black Sea, and the Danube (Vol. 2, London, 1868) 235 – 236.

[13] Neval Berber, Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (Spirit of Bosnia, Vol. 5 No. 4., 2010).

[14] Katarina Gephardt, “The Enchanted Garden” Or “The Red Flag”: Eastern Europe in Late Ninetieth-Century British Travel Literature (Journal of Narrative Theory, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2005), 295.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Andrew Hammond, Memoirs of Conflict: British Women Travelers in the Balkans (Studies in Travel Writing, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2010), 57.

[17] Katarina Gephardt, “The Enchanted Garden” Or “The Red Flag”: Eastern Europe in Late Ninetieth-Century British Travel Literature, 295.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Andrew Hammond, Memoirs of Conflict: British Women Travelers in the Balkans, 59.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 60.

[23] Ibid., 61.

[24] Evguenia Davidova Gender and Culture in the Turkish Providence: Observations of a Russian Woman Traveler (Aspasia, vol. 6, 2012), 80.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 83.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Sarah McArthur, Slavophile Ideology and Representations of Serbia in Russian  Travel Writing, 1810 – 1850 (Budapest, 2007), 2.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Emile De Laveleye, The Balkan Peninsula (Bibliolife, 2008), 72.

In Nazi ideology, the Fuhrer is the living embodiment of the people’s community (volksgemeinschaft); he is the manifestation of the people’s will, and thus ties the entire presentation and ideological system (weltanschauung) together as one cohesive whole. Yet, the “Fuhrer principle” is not wholly explanatory of Nazism, nor should it be taken to be [1]. Rituals, symbols, and their repetition were crucial in the presentation and maintenance of Nazism as an ideological hegemon. This much is obvious – one cannot escape the prevalence of grand illustrations of Nazi spectacles in Western popular media, given the photos of the momentous Nuremberg rallies and others, especially seen in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. They have been seared in the public mind, but in doing so, they have also been mostly emptied of historical context.

Nazism would not have been as successful as it was had there not been historical precedent, and this continuity is crucial to demarcate because it places us squarely in the minds of the German spectator, and grants us an understanding of the allure behind the presentation. Thus, the purpose of this essay is twofold – for one, it aims to further affirm the claims that ritual was crucial to the maintenance of weltanschauung and relied on it; and secondly, I will demonstrate that Nazi rituals harkened back to forms of previous mass public expressions (Catholic, Protestant, Teutonic, and otherwise) which were emptied of their prior substance and used for other ideological ends, namely that of the Nazi state. These rituals took the form of religion in what German legal scholar Herman Heller pithily called “Catholicism without Christianity” [2]. Nazism transformed religion’s rituals and politically utilized it by “[obscuring its] transcendence by means of an ever-larger infusion of ritual” [3]. I hope to show how ritual and historical continuity was one of the central spectral features of the weltanschauung, and was thus integral to its legitimacy.

3016909-poster-1280-nazinuremberg

I. The Main Components of the Nazi Mythos

A dominant group demands a mythos for it be seen as historically legitimate. One cannot discuss political rituals, or any tradition, without discussing their mythologized origins. As Eric Hobsbawm writes, “[invented traditions] are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations, or which establish their own past by quasi-obligatory repetition” [4]. This type of historical “play” – the usage of history for ideological ends – necessitates a myth and presentation in order for it to be viewed as a consistent narrative by its viewers. The Nazis were able to do so by creating a “holy history,” sanctifying their politics to works towards their mythologized ends [5].

The religious amenities of fascism are well-documented. Academic Paul Mazgaj writes:

Translating the ancient religious topos of death and redemption into a secular myth of national decadence and renewal, fascists were able to project an incredible dynamism, sense that a new society would soon rise from the ashes of the dying one [6].

Several authors had commented on the relationship between mythology and politics more generally. Emilio Gentile theorized about the sacralization of politics as one involving a political liturgy, an elect community, and a specified code of ethics [7]. Karen Anderson has written of the necessity of “sacrifice, liturgy, and ritual” in mythology [8]. Stanley Stowers in his piece The Concepts of ‘Religion,’ ‘Political Religion’ and the Study of Nazism asks us a pressing question – “did National Socialism break down the wall that modernity had recently erected between the secular domain of politics and the domain of religion?” [9]. Perhaps a glimpse of the answer can be found in a quotation from the National sozialistishe Monatshefte in its September, 1938 issue:

It is said that the body belongs to the state, and the soul to the Church or God. This is no longer the case. The whole man, body and soul, belongs to the German nation and to the German state. The latter has also taken all matters of faith under its own control [10].

This supposed “breakdown between politics and religion” must first be understood through the basis of Nazi ideology – the myth.

The Nazi mythos can be broken up into four main mythological “clusters.” Firstly, there is the myth of the leader or messiah represented through the Adolf Hitler whose goal is to unite and lead the volk towards historical salvation. Secondly, there are the people themselves (volksgemeinschaft), who form a community united all under the domain of the Fuhrer. Third is the concept of degeneracy or the myth of culturally alien things which pose a threat to the volk. Nazism depended on moral dualism, which several scholars such as Hamilton Twombly Burden have dubbed “Manichean,” which rests on the premise that all things fall on one of two sides of the dividing line – that which is “good or bad, right or wrong, or us or not of us” [11]. The Manichean evil in this scheme then, for Nazism, is the Jew who represents “the war of life or death” but extends even greater to include everything that is assumed non-German including socialists, Roma people, the disabled, and Slavs [12]. Fourth and last is salvation or rebirth which scholar Rodger Griffin has called “palingenetic ultra-nationalism” taken from the Greek word palingenesis meaning “becoming again” [13]. For Nazism, this rebirth or salvation would come as a cataclysmic end during which all cases of prior anomie, degeneracy, and moral crises would be resolved through the Fuhrer. This is Nazi salvation history (heilsgeschichte), sacralized politics for this world and not the next, which affirmed the reality of their cause; they thus painted reality in this mythos and saw themselves as Germany’s proper eternal return. In doing so, they also created the conditions with which to justify their political ascension.

II. The Necessity of Ritual

Public rituals in Nazi ideology served to create internal consensus where the spectacle would work as a mass suggestion. This was done through huge parties and grandiose architectural feats. And Hitler himself knew the allure of these spectacles. Simon Taylor in Symbol and Ritual under National Socialism brilliantly connects these grandstanding rituals to Hitler’s own words, quoting him writing after a socialist rally in Berlin just after WW1:

A sea of red flags, red scarves, and red flowers gave to this demonstration, in which an estimated 120,000 took part, an aspect that was gigantic from the purely external point of view. I myself could feel and understand how easily the man of the people succumbs to the suggestive magic of a spectacle so grandiose in effect [14].

The Nazi leadership understood the power of these performances. The rituals therefore accomplished a crucial role in the ideological framework of Nazism – it tangibly created the volksgemeinschaft which could be felt and seen, and hence “allowed for mechanisms of mass suggestion [to] operate” [15]. Spaces were thus architecturally designed to concentrate the crowd’s attention on the centerpiece: the Fuhrer or the holy symbol representing him [16]. Such fixtures were previously only seldom used for anything other than holy presentations. Architect Albert Speer’s “Cathedral of Light” (Lichtdom) drew on this historical continuity sharply, and Goebbels even spoke of the “need to emulate the mysticism of the Roman Catholic Church at party rallies” [17]. It is through these spectacles that the Nazis were able to stage-manage the psychological process of identification by using grandiosity and rituals to affirm their ideology’s superiority against the Manichean evil they were fighting against.

III. The Nazification of Tradition and Ritual

Simon Taylor identifies three types of National Socialist celebrations present in various forms from 1919 to 1945: (1) celebration of the National Socialist Year (Jahreslauf), (2) morning celebrations (Morgenfeiern), and (3) life celebrations (Lebensfeiern) [18]. Celebrations marking the National Socialist calendar year were most common and these included the Founding of the Party Programme (February 24th), the Fuhrer’s birthday (April 20th), and the commemoration of the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (November 9th)[19]. Taylor also mentions other holidays which were previously Christian or labor holidays, but were re-imagined for Nazi purposes such as Christmas and Labor Day. The Nazi Party would use these public holidays to organize support as scholar Barry Stephenson notes in one such example in 1933 when the party rallied in Wittenberg’s Marketplace on the Protestant holiday of Reformation Day, October 31st [20]. In other such example of historical rewriting, the Nazi Party transformed Remembrance Day on March 16th, a day meant to mourn the fallen of World War One, to a day of pride and triumph where “the swastika flag was no longer to be lowered to half-mast, but flown proudly… as a symbol of Germany’s reawakened faith and pride” [21]. Taylor notes that many other holidays suffered the same fate including “Easter, Mother’s Day, Whitsun, [and] the Harvest Thanksgiving” [22]. These Christian and, in some cases, old pagan Teutonic customs, needed to be revived to counter what they called “Jewish-Marxist materialism” [23]. These state-sanctioned holidays created a cycle of “high holy days” which were meant to resemble religious calendars and signified when the people would carry out their yearly rites.

One particular ritual – the 9th of November – became central to the Nazi myth of palingenesis. It was here that narratives were transformed, connecting the defeat in 1923 to Nazi victory in 1933. The message of the ritual was of rebirth and martyrdom, that the spilling of Nazi blood during that failed coup was a prerequisite to the “historical inevitability” of National Socialism. On the morning of November 9th, 1935, Hitler unveiled the Bloodflag (Blutfahne), the flag carried by the conspirators in 1923. It was stained by the flag of its martyrs and was brought out to consecrate the newly-built Temple of Honor in Munich where the sixteen fallen party members were housed. The Bloodflag was a holy symbol and was thus unveiled only on the 9th of November and at Nuremburg during Reichsparty-day [24]. During its presentation, names of the fallen were read as upwards of thousands assembled party members and Hitler Youth responded “Here!” in unison. In this quasi-religious ceremony, the Fuhrer would symbolically unite the living with the dead – united through blood and honor. As Taylor writes, the Bloodflag was the “essential confirmation of the Nazi mythos” [25] symbolizing the Christian cross with Hitler as its figurehead, consecrated as Christ. If it had not already, Nazism had begun to take on religious signification with the unveiling of the Bloodflag. The flag was a “sanctuary,” the blood of the fallen was “holy,” and the Reich was “eternal” as it was constantly repeated through Nazi rhetoric [26].

In order to further affirm their fight against the Manichean evil, public gatherings were planned to combat presumed “degeneracy.” Book burnings were a staple where texts by Jews, certain intellectuals, and leftists were driven around in carriages through the streets for all to see and then subsequently burned. The ritual was not unprecedented in European history – for they were “reminiscent of both the medieval book burnings of Talmudic and heretical texts as well as the Catholic ceremony of the auto-da-fe” during which heretics were burned alive in a public act of penance [27]. An art exhibit of “degenerate art” was also organized by Adolf Zeigler and the Nazi Party 1937 to present to the German people the values that had previously undermined their society.

IV. Closing

Ritual and presentation were not peripheral to Nazi ideology. In fact, they were central to it. These public spectacles solidified the state’s supreme power, and touched on all facets of the Nazi mythos: the supremacy of the Fuhrer, the people’s community, the historical enemy, and Germany’s rebirth as a nation. Throughout all these spectacles, the fixation remained on the Fuhrer. Whereas such presentations were previously reserved for holiness, Nazism made politics sacrosanct; it reappropriated previously-religious symbols and rituals and emptied them of content, and thus filled them for their own use. And if it were not for this historical precedent, Nazism would have had little momentum. It required these historical parallels – and its party members acknowledged their mythic power, and organized with its help. Thus, although not a religion, Nazism took on religion’s mystical form and broke the barrier between the state and religion. It was a quasi-religious ideology without transcendence, Catholicism without Christ, but to its fervent followers, it was so much alike that they followed and swore its allegiance to it all the same.

***

[1] A succinct explanation of the Fuhrer Principle was said by Rudolf Hess at the end of Triumph of the Will: “Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler.”
[2] Max Ascoli, Arthur Feiler, Fascism for Whom? (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1938), 281.
[3] Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich (New York: DeCapo Press, 1971), 72.
[4] Eric Hobsbawm, Terrance Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 3.
[5] Stanley Stowers, “The Concepts of ‘Religion’, ‘Political Religion’ and the Study of Nazism,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan. 2007): 9.
[6] Paul Mazgaj, Imagining Fascism: The Cultural Politics of the French Young Right (Cranburby, NJ: Rosemond Publishing, 2007), 30.
[7] Stanley Stowers, “The Concepts of ‘Religion’, ‘Political Religion’ and the Study of Nazism,” 16.
[8] Karen Armstong, A Short History of Myth (New York: Cannongate, 2006), 2-9.
[9] Stanley Stowers, “The Concepts of ‘Religion’, ‘Political Religion’ and the Study of Nazism,” 10.
[10] Otto of Austria, “Christianity and National-Socialism,” World Affairs, Vol. 105, No. 2 (June 1942): 76.
[11] Jason D. Lahman, “The Form that Fuels the Flame: Public Ritual and the Nazi Mythos,” Ex Post Facto, Volume XIX (2010): 47.
[12] Wilard Gaylin, Hatred (New York: Public Affairs Press, 2003), 221.
[13] Jason D. Lahman, “The Form that Fuels the Flame: Public Ritual and the Nazi Mythos,” 40-41.
[14] Simon Taylor, “Symbol and Ritual under National Socialism,” The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Dec. 1981), 511-512.
[15] Ibid., 512.
[16] Ibid., 513.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid., 505.
[19] Ibid., 505-506.
[20] Barry Stephenson, Performing the Reformation: Public Ritual in the City of Luther (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010), 10.
[21] Simon Taylor, “Symbol and Ritual under National Socialism,” 506.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid., 509.
[25] Ibid., 510.
[26] Ibid., 513.
[27] Jason D. Lahman, “The Form that Fuels the Flame: Public Ritual and the Nazi Mythos,” 53.

This is an exercise in historical writing for “a time before there were authors” (Robinson, 14). I will be focusing on Late Antiquity Arabia in an effort to describe what history is. Therefore, the form of this essay, along with the actual historical content, are both equally as important.


A narrative on Muhammad inevitably involves looking at him as he was, as a man of his time. Although it is inescapable that we describe Muhammad’s life with a degree of agency, this is only the fault of our own imaginations. Even greater, it is also the fault of our own narratives. All historical events can be said to be intimately linked to everything before it; this much is obvious. Therefore, it is the historian’s role to delineate which events were formative in history, and which were less so. In other words, which events allow us to view history in motion? – And how are these events situated in relation to another? Little can be said about the continuity of history with any certainty and, as historians, we are left fumbling to find causation.

As Isiah Berlin writes in his seminal essay The Hedgehog and the Fox, “we will never discover all the casual chains that operate: the number of such causes is infinitely great, and the causes themselves infinitely small” (Berlin, 44). Therefore, all historical writing ultimately takes the form of a kind of narrative, none of which are “true” in any objective sense [1]. Rather, they are approximations of a historical reality; all history is the history of approximations, some of which are closer than others, naturally, but they all have a desire to reign in history as an effort to ground it. Walter Benjamin so eloquently writes of this in his Theses on the Philosophy of History: “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger” (Benjamin, VI). Any writing of history is such an exercise.

Appropriately, a discussion on the context of pre-Islamic Arabia (and the greater Middle East) before the rise of Muhammad involves privileging certain causalities as more crucial to historical progression than others. Because of this, it is central that a historian examines structures in relation to particulars, rather than just particulars [2] – in other words, we must not look at Muhammad only as a man; we must look at the social fabric in which he was thrown into, and the great powers that shook his conscience so heavily that it demanded he act. Therefore, I will speak of Muhammad through what he did, but we must be cognizant there is no “being” doing anything; everything is happening, and unfolding, in an infinite amount of ways. I propose an account of Muhammad, not as an individual agent [3] but rather as an agent of history, of a force greater than himself, who is irrevocably linked to the material conditions which produced him. In this sense, he is not an actor – he is merely acting. It is on this account that we begin by introducing the world that Muhammad would soon inhabit.

I.  The Material Conditions That Preceded Muhammad

The Arabian Peninsula is vast, “nearly as big as one third of Europe, but very sparsely populated” (Rodinson, 11). The entire region is mostly desert, with low rainfall and dunes that stretch several miles in length and hundreds of feet into the air.  Oases dot the landscape as a refuge for vegetation, along with coastal regions which enjoy agricultural development unlike the majority of the region. It was during these early centuries, before Christ and until a century or two before Muhammad’s birth, that the “the way of life was [solely] dictated by the land.” The majority of inhabits were nomadic, unless they were living in a lush, hydrated area to settle (Rodinson, 12). Therefore, some degree of symbiosis was necessary for social order between the farmers in the lush regions, the Bedouin nomads, and the townsfolk of the surrounding villages. A loose system of protection was developed, where communities purchased safety from the herdsmen. The economic relationship was based in trade, helped by the domestication of the camel, which provided a link between the Fertile Crescent, the caravans, and the bustling communities growing deep within South Arabia. This produced a cultural exchange, hastened through trade, with goods passing through from “India, East Africa, and the Far East on the one hand, and from all over the Mediterranean on the other” (Rodinson, 13). A social structure had emerged – and it lay in the stationary communities alongside oases and the coast which enjoyed all of these cultural treasures that passed through it from all over the known world. The riches flowed into Arabia, especially Southern Arabia, and “the growth of Mediterranean civilizations had the corresponding effect of increasing the wealth of their South Arabian suppliers” (Rodinson, 21). Arabia, therefore, was not a “pure seed in a rotten earth” as it were; it was very much connected to the cultural developments of its time (Rodinson, 24).

It was from the land that basic units of life and of civilization were created – tribes, kinship, and genealogies served as the only foundation with which to grow as a community (Donner, 28). For those living in the Hejaz, life was immensely difficult; they lived on “the verge of famine, drought, and death” (Brown, 3). The tribe and its customs were the only protection an individual possessed in such a tumultuous environment and, naturally, some clans possessed more clout and wealth than others. However, Arabia was still relatively poor – class differences were felt, but in times of war or catastrophe, all social classes were equal in their wretchedness. The instability of life, and the possibility of death and ruin, was the ultimate equalizer.

South Arabia proved to be more fortunate than its northern counterpart, but it is likely that its influence spilled over to its common Arab neighbors. Here, skilled architects built large palaces and monuments. Art was realized, infused by Roman, Hellenistic, and even Indian influences. Luxury commodities began taking form. Writing took shape on social, legal, and administrative questions. All of these developments were in continuous contact with the northern peoples of Arabia. A social divide was thusly being created between the settled peoples of South Arabia and the Arabs in the northern periphery hundreds of years in the making before Muhammad’s birth (Rodinson, 21- 23).

All of this brings us to the 6th century where multiple events transformed the Middle East and, to some, signified apocalyptic proportions. The great Byzantine and Sassanid empires were competing for economic mastery of world. As Maxime Rodinson writes,

From 502 to 505 there had been war under the reforming King of kings [Kavadh I]. He resumed it in 527 over the Caucasus, and it was continued by his son [Khosrau I], who offered to make an eternal treaty of peace with Justinian in 532, But war broke out again in 540 and Antioch fell to [Khosrau I]…. an armistice was signed in 545… however, war broke out again in 572 (Rodinson, 26).

The ruling tribes of Arabia looked at this with envious eyes, for it was them that, too, wanted the fertile lands of Syria and Mesopotamia. Soon, the Arabs settled in these regions found themselves forced to take sides rather than simply assimilate. Because of a lack of resources, the Byzantines and Sassanians established indirect control over parts of Arabia through alliances with its tribes “in exchange for cash subsidies, weapons, and titles” (Donner, 31). Many became auxiliary units, fighting for either ruling power that was willing to give them a reward. And it is certain that culture permeated through these interactions – Christianity had begun to make headway among the Arabs (Rodinson, 28). Christianity’s foothold in Arabia only served to intensify the ongoing war and, by association, now implicated the entire region into the world conflict [4] if it had not been before.

Although it is difficult to personify this 6th century power struggle, its vast implications were felt under the rule of Yūsuf Dhū Nuwās [5] in South Arabia who began persecuting Christians Monophysites in an effort to appeal to Persian power. Byzantine attempted to provide protection to these Christians through Ethiopian auxiliary units in 512, but they were crushed. Thousands were murdered under the rule of Dhū Nuwās consequently. It was to be known as a period of pillage and general indiscriminate slaughter (Rodinson, 32). This undoubtedly made a strong impression in Arabia; for those that had not realized it already, it revealed the serious stakes that were at play.

Everything was changing and history had begun to accelerate in ways previously unseen in the decades before Muhammad’s birth which, according to Islamic accounts, was in the year 570CE. South Arabia became the center of intense conflict, a type of proxy war between Persia and Byznatium, because of its pivotal trading position into the Indian Ocean basin (Donner, 33). Pro-Persian Arabs, the old supporters of Dhū Nuwās, began attacking Southern Arab communities; Abraha came to power in Southern Arabia with the help of Ethiopian soldiers who still remained there, whose successors took a strong anti-Persian stance; Khurso I allied with the Turks and deepened Persian hegemony in Central Asia. All of Arabia felt the pull of history ripping it apart. Southern Arabia felt it most violently, with bloody factionalism draining its wealth and strength (Rodinson, 33-35).  Petty feudal lords began to fill vacuums of power and the Bedouin nomads profited from the chaos by charging more for their protection services. Now with capital and profit, communities soon became centers of Bedouin operations and prospered during regional chaos. All of Western Arabia underwent incredible economic expansion, most notably Mecca and as south as Medina, where new Jewish settlements created an agricultural life previously unfound (Donner, 35). In Mecca, cultivation was unsustainable because of the poor climate; instead, the Meccan tribe of Quraysh turned to commerce and traded with regions as vast as “Yemen, eastern Arabia, and Southern Syria” that were in perpetual need of supplies (Donner, 36). Mecca, and the Quraysh tribe specifically, was now in a position to network with tribes across Arabia and establish joint commercial ventures. It was in the midst of this economic transformation that Justin II declared war on Persia in 572 CE which only further expanded this emerging economic hub (Rodinson, 33).

From the shell of traditional, nomadic Arab society emerged a new form of organization: a mercantile economy. And with it, the tribal structure could not contain itself anymore.  It had begun its slow decline as its values became unintelligible within the new market system. In an environment of panic, a thirst for something new was in the air as some Arabs began to turn to universalist religions as a means of solace, as a means to make sense of the chaos. Yet, these religions – Christianity, Judaism, and all its sects – still seemed foreign; it was not of the land, and could in no way propel Arabia beyond the great powers that were collapsing. Something else was needed. It was at this precise historical moment, amidst an unprecedented shift in Arab consciousness, that Muhammad was thrown into the world to make it his own.

II. The Movement of Ideas

Ideas cannot be separated from their historical moment nor can be they seen wholly separate from the material conditions that produced them. Therefore, ideas Muhammad transformed for his own movement were not entirely new, but they came at a time when there was the historical “space” for them. Muhammad’s ideas would have had no currency had the situation not been so dire, had the entire social order not been slowly uprooted by new economic necessities. The conditions were ripe for Muhammad’s religion to materialize.

Philosophies were constantly in flux in the Near East and their influence was felt deep within Arabia, starting hundreds of years before Muhammad’s birth. Many of them became infused with indigenous cultures in the region, but this would reach its ultimate conclusion with the establishment of Muhammad’s movement. We must first understand Arabia’s own way of life, however, in order to fully comprehend how these other foreign ideas fused with it. The most widespread means of native expression in this largely nomadic society, still unstructured, was through words – poetry was highly prized as a means of persuasion, for it showed wit and vitality, not to mention it being incredibly useful within tribal politics (Rodinson, 15). It was a culture of “mainstream orality and marginal writing, where poetry and other forms of oral performance were Arabian tokens of pride” (Robinson, 11). Muhammad must have encountered these orators, for he was a man with a gift for persuasion. He was a “remarkably able diplomat, a capable of reasoning with clarity, logic, and lucidity” (Rodinson, 53).

Arabia also lacked a cohesive moral structure before Muhammad’s movement. There was nothing uniting the Arabs in social, political, or moral terms which would allow them to assert their power effectively. Communities had moral standards, but these were not inspired by religion; they were “realists” in this sense, and mostly believed in what would create order. The most prized personality was one who had virility and this was maintained through honor. If a man did not act with courage and compassion towards his kin, he would disrespect his honor within the tribe (Rodinson, 17). None of these social organizations had any real supernatural basis that was felt strongly. Many Arabs were, however, polytheists – but some also nurtured an ancient legend of the one God, the God of Abraham, especially those living in the Hejaz. Symbolically, Mecca also had the Kaba “which was a shrine built ages ago by Abraham as the ‘first house of worship appointed to men’” (Brown, 4). Despite these appeals to a greater divine order, for most living in Arabia, man was the measure of all things. In such a harsh environment, there was no time for meditations on the infinite. Muhammad would be responsible for changing the equation; Instead of man being the measure of all things, it would be God.

However, which ideas entered the collective consciousness of those living in Arabia around the 6th century? – And from where did they come? South Arabia was the first to experience an influx of new ideas, but by the 6th century this had begun to spread to all fringes of the desert and even to Bedouin nomads themselves. Aramaic and Hellenistic influences were felt most strongly. This is even demonstrated through the language used in Southern Arabia, where Arabic “had assimilated Greek, Latin, and other foreign words, for the most part through the channel of Aramaic” (Robinson, 25). It was also around the 6th century that Arab paganism began “receding in the face of a gradual spread of monotheism” (Donner, 30). After the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem around the year 70CE, communities of Arabic-speaking Jews began to spread into Arabia and were especially prominent in Yemen and the northwest. Christianity, too, began to penetrate into Arabia and its communities settled in Yemen (with the help of Byzantine influence), eastern Arabia and the northern fringes bordering Iraq and Syria (Donner, 30). Monotheist religions and their philosophies were being felt throughout all of Arabia; they constituted a kind of “religio-cultural matrix” which was a continuum of “belief, ritual and practice, overlapping multiplicities of Neoplatonism, monotheism and polytheism” which avoided being formalized into any idea that could concretely take hold across all of Arabia (Robinson, 6). All of these philosophies lacked the impetus to catch the entire region in its imagination on their own. This would require someone that was of the land, who was deeply in tune with Arabic traditions, and who would make these monotheist religions accessible to Arabs while also transforming it into their own project.

III. The World-Historical Moment Through Images

To the common people of Arabia and the greater Middle East, the war between the Sassanian Empire and Byzantine Rome signified apocalyptic proportions. It had begun in the 6th century but such feelings continued well until the mid-7th century and the establishment of a new major power, the Rashidun Caliphate. Muhammad was forced to reconcile these early cataclysmic events with his conception of the divine, for it seemed as though God was Himself intervening and accelerating history — and to Muhammad this signified a change in the very direction of what was to come.

IV. The Role of Muhammad in This Historical Moment

As been demonstrated many times over now, Muhammad was not born in a vacuum. There were world powers vying for hegemony in Arabia and the entire Near East, which situated Muhammad in a historical moment and propelled him into a role almost without his choosing. God chose him; and, if we take this for its deterministic implications, history had chosen him as well, even without him consciously choosing.

However, what was Muhammad’s historical “role?” He was situated in a context that demanded him to take on certain responsibilities, divinely-inspired no less, but he still had serious material concerns for the well-being of his contemporaries. Still, the question of “’Who was this Muhammad?’ … was a question posed already during his lifetime” (Robinson, 4). Above all, he claimed he was just a man, which further grounded him in the material conditions of his time. And, just as importantly, he was “the seal of the prophet” whose aim was to remedy the abundance of philosophies that were flowing into Arabia and make them one whole. Muhammad’s role as totalizing all these particulars which were in constant conflict (the many sects of Christianity, Judaism, etc.) was a direct response to the moral panic that ensued during the instability of the 6th century – Arabs were being humiliated abroad; tribal customs were outliving their worth; no one know which gods to worship; and the rich began to trample on the disenfranchised (Rodinson, 66). The Second Rome was expected to fall and apocalyptic catastrophe, Judgement Day, seemed imminent. Muhammad was necessary to stem the tide, so to speak, and to prevent Arabia, and supposedly the world, from succumbing to its rampant vices and violence.

For much of his life, Muhammad was situated in Mecca which was booming economically. The tribe of Quraysh had raised themselves to dominance. They held many Ethiopian slaves and those who settled in Mecca could become clients of their power (Brown, 6). Those who flocked to Muhammad’s words were oftentimes the most alienated in Meccan society. These included adolescents who wanted fresh ideas, those who were dissociated from the social system, those critical of Meccan power, the impoverished, and many others. The Quraysh looked at this amusingly at best and, at worst, “there was a certain contempt for the low social status of those involved” (Rodinson, 102). Whether Muhammad had formalized it or not, what he was doing was creating a power in direct opposition to the elites – and “perhaps Muhammad thought that Allah would make use of the fortunes of war between Byzantium and the Persians” and use it to rally his people to create a new society (Rodinson, 123).

Muhammad, therefore, took on a very social role that was very much intertwined with the politics of his day. He was an arbitrator between different classes, an orator of the divine, and a mediator in times of conflict. After arriving in Medina, the first thing he did was write up a written agreement with the townsfolk and his believers (Brown, 27). The very material basis for his actions is even evident in the Qur’an itself, for “not only did the Qur’an provide guidance for dealing with the poor; it also dominated much of the thought and behavior concerned with economic activity” (Bonner, 392). This is no coincidence. For Muhammad, every ‘social’ act was a means of worshiping God and would form the foundation for a new social order.

History knows no true narrative, and no real causality, but we are forced to create them for the sake of relevancy.  Although history cannot be personified through any single individual, the phenomenon of the “holy man” or “prophet” is precisely about acting as if one is this personification. As Peter Brown writes in The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity:

What is decisive, and puzzling, about the long term rise of the holy man is the manner in which, in so many ways, the holy man was thought of as having taken into his person, skills that had previously been preserved by society at large (Brown, 100).

Muhammad encapsulated this phenomenon by being the vehicle through which his long-view of history could be realized. In this sense, he was the living embodiment of the events that tore apart his time. Muhammad, thus, can be said to be the personification of the entire sum of his society, all that preceded him. It is by this account that we can begin to construct a history without agency, and without a Great Man to direct it. Just as God spoke to Muhammad to push towards what was divinely inevitable, we, too, can play with this language and characterization – we can speak freely of God, an ever-present force said to guide us, as synonymous with the incessant march of history forward. If it is not God who we serve as determined beings, then maybe it is God who serves history, for whom Muhammad was the vehicle towards what He deemed as salvation.

***

[1] “Objectivity” is a difficult concept to even conceive of, especially in historical writing. Surely, there are “facts” that are true, but how do these facts fit into the greater narrative? Is there one correct narrative? It is on these grounds that I discount “objective” or “scientific” history as being impossible.

[2] By particulars here, I mean individual actors and events. It would be foolish to stress these without placing them within the structure from which they were conceived.

[3] Once again, language fails us here. I will be speaking of Muhammad as a “man,” sometimes even discussing his actions, but this is only because it is rhetorically useful; if we abstract too much, we might be left with absolutely no narrative at all. We just must remember that his actions are not wholly his own.

[4] In the context of the time, this was most definitely a “world conflict” or “world-historical moment” in the sense that this encompassed what was the known “world” at the time, or the center of it at least.

[5] Interestingly enough, Yūsuf Dhū Nuwās was of the Jewish faith allied with Persian power which showed that religion was perhaps more fluid during this time than it is now.

Bibliography

  • Berline, Isiah. Russian Thinkers. 22 – 81. The Viking Press, New York. 1978.
  • Benjamin, Walter. On the Concept of History. Dennis Redmond. 2005. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Trans. Anne Carter. Pantheon Books, New York. 1971.
  • Donner, Fred M. Muhammad and the Believers. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2010.
  • Brown, Jonathan A.C. Brown. Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Robinson, Chase F. History and Heilsgeschichte in Early Islam: Some Observations on Prophetic History and Biography. City University of New York.
  • Bonner, Michael. Poverty and Economics in the Qur’an. Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Pp. 391 – 406. XXXV:3 (Winter, 2005).
  • Brown, Peter. The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity. The Journal of Roman Studies. Pp. 80 – 101. Vol. 61 (1971)

Note: Western travelers evoked history as they traversed Bosnia and the Balkans, writing down their experiences and explaining them, and by doing so also proliferated a certain kind of discourse. Therefore, the history of travelogues — and how these narratives were constructed over time — is crucial to understanding Western conceptions of Bosnia, and more generally, how orientalist discourse has been used to illustrate the “Other.” This is the last part of three essays.


The development of orientalist discourse on Bosnia can most concretely be traced through the eyes of Western tourists that wrote of their experiences in the region. Through travelogues, these adventurists documented their perceptions of the Balkan periphery, and their observations permeated throughout their respective societies and provided a discursive basis for viewing the Bosnian “Other.” The first instances of Western travel interest in the troubled region began in the late 16th century, mostly among the British upper-class [1]. However, to explore Bosnia was not their immediate goal – for Bosnia was intimately linked to the Ottoman, and it was merely seen as a passage towards Istanbul [2]. The goal of these early travelers was to understand the “Ottoman peril” during a time when the empire was cutting deep into Europe, threatening the very existence of European trade on the Italian peninsula. Therefore, their observations proved to be meager, totalizing, and nebulous; interest in Bosnia was secondary to actually exploring the Ottoman East. As the 17th century unfolded, Westerner travelers abruptly changed their routes and began to altogether ignore the southeastern passage [3]. Passing through Vienna and Budapest proved to be much more fascinating, and perhaps familiar, to these tourists in their travels towards Istanbul and it was not until the mid-19th century that Bosnian travel literature began to reappear in Western literary discourse yet again. During this time, political conditions had changed and Western policy towards the region began to reorient itself with new material realities. If British foreign policy is to be taken as an indicator of this development, Britain changed its viewpoints because of the changing times – the Crimean War (1854 – 1856), the 1856 Treaty of Paris, and the resurgence of the “Eastern Question” put Bosnia, and southeast Europe, once again on the Western map [4]. Interest only intensified after the Bosnian peasant revolts of 1875 and its occupation by Austria-Hungary, which put a friendlier, more accessible face to the Bosnian Orient.

During the height of these peasant revolts in 1875, archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans traveled to Bosnia to record the insurrection that was unfolding and recorded his experiences in his text Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on Foot During the Insurrection, August and September 1875. The first part of his text is an immediate account of the troubles, captured through short phrases spaced by abrupt dashes. Violence by the Turkish Orient against Christians is highlighted as a particular problem. He writes of a “murder of a young Christian by two armed Turks,” the “dangerous spirit of the Mahomentan population,” an “outbreak of Moslem fanaticism,” “farmers… being tortured by Turks,” “panic amongst Christians,” and describes the insurrection as a “Mahometan counter-revolution” [5]. His imagination of the Bosnian woman shows a gendered orientalist discourse, as he recounts his experiences with the feminine Other. He speaks of them as covered in glittering jewelry and tunics; and compares them to “exotic insects… with the forewings of dazzling gauzy white and underwings of scarlet” [6]. In his text, he recounts a brief history of Bosnia, stressing its Slavonic origins, and how the Islamization of the region was the elevating of Islam to a “national character… of a fanatical hue” [7]. He further writes:

 … Even Englishmen may be inclined to accept the conclusion that the present connection between Bosnia and the hated government of the [Ottoman] must be severed; the more so as the geographical configuration and position of Bosnia—a peninsula connected only with the rest of Turkey by a narrow neck—make it almost impossible to hold out against a serious invasion, and put it always at the mercy of foreign agitators.

Such a revolution may seem a Utopian dream… For the moment, however, the ultimate form of Bosnian government is a question of secondary importance to the paramount necessity of re-establishing order in that unhappy land [8].

In the spirit of a kind of Christian “cleansing,” he thus recommends “reconciling the Mahometan population of Bosnia to the new order of things… by sacrificing the [Ottoman]” [9].

The tropes of Western orientalist discourse are seen here in full view, to the point where one can easily list them as Edward Said characterized them [10] – such as (1) traveling to an exotic land and the exoticization and fetishizing of its people, (2) assuming fictional, unchanging essences of the land’s people, and (3) a claim to know more than the Orient which is apparent in his diagnosis for the necessity of an anti-Mohometan revolution. However, all of these are fictitious projections by Sir Arthur Evans and speak more of the orientation of Western discourse towards Bosnia than Bosnia itself. As he traverses the violent landscape, Evans illustrates history through his writing, reducing centuries of Bosnian experiences to the perceived, unchanging Orient essence. Through the travelogue, he is not merely documenting his experiences – he is directly involved in the production of history, and of narratives, using the people he encounters to pass his own judgements, and his own politics.

Still, other Western tourists followed in these same footsteps. James Creagh in his 1875 text Over the Borders of Christendom and Eslamiah: A Journey through Hungary, Slavonia, Servia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, and Montenegro, to the North writes of his experiences in Bosnia during the same time Sir Arthur Evans was present. Particularly, he draws a sharp contrast between the Germanized Slavonski Brod of Croatia with that of deeper, Turkish Bosnia with the former being “modern” and the latter as “decadent” and of the East [11]. Belgian author and traveler Emile de Laveleye in his 1887 text The Balkan Peninsula also places a geographical boundary as being the Sava River. He writes,

I have never seen the difference between West and East so strongly marked. Two civilizations, two religions, two entirely different modes of life and thought, are here face to face, separated by a river… this river has really divided Europe and Asia [12].

However, he would go on to argue that this division, although existing for hundreds of years, would be corrected through Austrian influence during which “the Mussulmen character would rapidly disappear” [13]. British aristocrats Pauline Irby and Humphry Sandwith during the same period likened Bosnia to the “wilds of Asia,” which felt more like the Orient than their actual travels into Turkey and Mesopotamia [14]. It is in this sense that Bosnia to these Western travelers was more “East” than the Orient itself; exotic and different, it was akin to stepping into another world, and the geographic proximity of this other world within Europe was seemingly magical. It was magical insofar in that it was a European anomaly, and they firmly believed that stepping into it would give them insight into the East more than the actual East ever could. It was through this crude mythologized narrative that Bosnia’s suffering became the Western traveler’s entertainment, pleasure, and interest – and, to them, it was a clever, accessible way to access the Orient without actually stepping outside of continental Europe.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West deviates from this standard orientalist discourse, but only towards the Serbs; Bosniaks are excluded from West’s focus altogether. Much can be said about the over 1,100 pages of detailed text, which are filled with historical weight that is delicately put alongside West’s travels in the Balkans. She thus re-imagines the landscape with what came before it. However, she falls into a different kind of orientalism, perhaps even inverting the entire discourse – whereas previous writers had seen this Other as contradictory to themselves, West instead fetishizes them. She illustrates them to be somehow “more European” than Europe itself, possessing almost magical qualities that she has now rediscovered. This has much to do with her opinion of the Serbs, towards whom she holds the highest, almost fanatical, regard for. That being said, she maintains the same discourse as previous travelers of the Bosniaks, except it stems from a different source: she looks negatively on Bosnias because she is a Serbian nationalist, and thus views them as unfortunate “Muslim Serbs.” West reproduces the orientalist discourse through her Serbian nationalism, and thus maintains the “bulwark myth” [15] as a central component of Balkan identity which rests on being exclusionary towards Muslims. Her work absolves the Serbs of their wretched history in Western narratives, very prolifically and poetically even — but for the rest of the peoples living there, especially the Bosniaks, the same orientalist narrative is peddled with no regard.

Rebecca_2

Rebecca West. Year Unknown.

She writes of the Slavs as having an “infinite capacity for inquiry and speculation,” as opposed to the Turks who “have no word in their language to express the idea of being interested in anything” [16]. Interestingly enough, oftentimes orientalist discourse does not come from West’s words, but rather, is re-imagined through the people she encounters. In one such encounter, a Jewish man remarks that “I used to feel ashamed because the Germans took me as an equal, and here in my house I was treated as an inferior to men with fezes on their heads.”[17] In yet another heated encounter, a Bosniak man steps into their conversation, seemingly as a discursive intervention against orientalism: “then perhaps you can explain why your Belgrade gangster politicians have devised this method of insulting us Bosnians… [And] we have seen them insulting our brothers the Croats” [18]. Despite having little to no prior knowledge of the Balkans, West makes very firm statements on the nature of its people, and her diagnosis of its problems, and what should be done in the spirit of all Western travelers who came before her. She describes Bosnian women as not “[looking] in the least oppressed… they are handsome and sinewy like their men” and, in fact, they resemble the men in that “[they] look like heroes rather than heroines.”[19] In one absurd observation, she remarks “always, in this part of the world, where there is running water, there is an elderly Moslem contemplating it” [20]. Her solution to the region is, most concretely, Serbian nationalism. Her curiosity of Bosniaks stemmed from how little she knew of Islam; a “population of Islamicized Europeans” struck her as “antithetical to Europe” [21]. The Turks, she felt, “deserved destruction collectively” and that they had left the Bosniaks as a kind of “walking dead,” as the damned, with the Serbs being their opposite, as the saved [22]. According to West, however, the Bosniaks were not directly guilty of their misdirection. Their supposed “Turkishness” could not uprooted through the forces of any other group, she believed, Serb or otherwise. If we accept her words that nationalism “had come to a stage where fantasy becomes a compulsion to suicide,” then perhaps the solution for West would be symbolic suicide, one of culture, and one where Bosniaks retracted their history to embrace the fantasy, the one she took as valid, i.e. bellicose Serbian nationalism. It is in this sense that she might have agreed with Sir Arthur Evans, albeit for different reasons: in order to redeem Bosnia, its people must begin “by sacrificing the [Ottoman]” [23].

Regardless of the lucidity of the text, and the sheer brilliance of its prose, West’s text (and all of these travelogues) leaves me asking a question that may be unanswerable: can the Western traveling author ever escape the orientalist discourse? – and, even further, can any author documenting regional history ever escape the trap of essentializing, of generalizing a peoples into a pathology in an effort to describe them? The travelogue falls into these traps, for it is immensely difficult, if not impossible, to discuss Bosnia without illustrating an image of the “common person” [24]. In some sense, West’s account is “more true” than previous travelogues of Bosnia because it gives historical weight to every encounter, however I question whether even phrasing it in this fashion lends itself to being more accurate. For it is not necessarily that an account is actually “more true,” because all accounts are steeped in projections and speculations; that much is inescapable. However, it could be said that West’s account is more “vivid” if anything, because of its historical narrative and detail, but this does not necessarily make it an accurate, true representation of Bosnia. This is arguably impossible to capture in literary form. All travelogues fall victim to deferring their comparisons relative to their author’s origins; one cannot escape these biases and, in some sense, should sometimes be welcomed as a means of legitimate comparisons (within reason, of course). All of these travelling accounts attempt to get to the “real” Bosnia, oftentimes portrayed as one before Turkish influence, but locating this precise origin is impossible – this is because it does not exist. There is no derivation with which to judge Bosnia on, no historical “essence” which was lost, and no glimpse into a bright future inscribed in the land. All of these are an author’s constructions, conscious or not, and are engraved in the literary form as such. Looking at these with a critical eye, all we have left is no form, just our description of it, and perhaps that is enough to make it “true.” As it was said by photographer Michael Ackerman, “places do not exist, a place is just my idea of it” [25] – and, given that there is no historically fixed point, perhaps that is all we can actually argue at its most basic level.

***

[1] Berber, Neval. Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (Spirit of Bosnia, Vol. 5 No. 4., 2010).
< http://www.spiritofbosnia.org/volume-5-no-4-2010-october/unveiling-bosnia-herzegovina-in-british-travel-literature-1844-1912/
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Evans, Arthur, Sir. Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on Foot During the Insurrection, August and September 1875 (University of California Libraries, 1877).
[6] Ibid., Ch.1: “The Dress of the Woman”
[7] Ibid., XCVI “Historical Review of Bosnia”
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Bullock, Allan. Trombley, Stephen. The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (Harper Collins Publishers, 1993), pp. 617.
[11] Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (Spirit of Bosnia, Vol. 5 No. 4., 2010).
[12] De Laveleye, Emile. The Balkan Peninsula (Bibliolife, 2008), pp. 72.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (Spirit of Bosnia, Vol. 5, No. 4).
[15] A core component of Serbian nationalism is seeing themselves as the honorable bulwarks against Ottoman invasion.
[16] West, Rebecca. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Penguin Classics, 2007), pp. 302.
[17] Ibid., 313.
[18] Ibid., 311.
[19] Ibid., 327.
[20] Ibid., 396.
[21] Hall, Brian. Rebecca West’s War (New Yorker Magazine, 1996), pp. 80.
[22] Ibid., pp. 82.
[23] Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on Foot During the Insurrection, August and September 1875 (University of California Libraries, 1877).
[24] A central problem in deconstruction literary theory: an image produced by any text is never stable.
[25] Dyer, Geoff. Journeys into History (The Guardian, 2006). Accessed May, 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/aug/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview2/

propNationalism works within a unique niche in contemporary society. It is constantly romanticized by its proponents, described as both necessary and natural, despite having to reinvent itself with every new epoch. Nationalism prides itself on its continuity, but it is constantly changing the means with which it defines itself. In a symbolic gesture, nationalism “mediates the past with the future, while providing an effective dimension for the present” (Tonkin, McDonald, Chapman, 255). It gives the appearance of historical resemblance in a reality that is actually ever-changing and fluid. The Enlightenment and Romanticist literary movements have played their part in developing national consciousness by describing nationalism as eternal, static, and even “infinite.” Ironically, it is because of the ordinariness of capitalist standardization that nationalism found its sincerest and most passionate supporters. The fact that nationalism rose during a time of emerging economic automation and science is no coincidence – National consciousness had to be created as a means to cope with the turbulent alienation of modernity.

I. Essentialism Is Inseparable from Nationalism

This stamp from 1964 is meant to commemorate the nationalist icon, JFK. He is honored with a depiction of the eternal flame.

This stamp from 1964 is meant to commemorate the nationalist icon, JFK. He is honored with a depiction of the eternal flame.

The eternal flame is the distinctive marker of national honor. It is used to respect those who died for their homeland, or to venerate political figures of national importance. The “eternal” in this fiery symbol is an all-encompassing depiction of the nation-state; the nation is conceived as immaterial, unique, and timeless by its most fanatical believers and oftentimes heightened to quasi-religious proportions. This line of rhetoric is characteristic of a philosophical position which dates back to Greek Antiquity – essentialism. Essentialists posit that there exists an objective, core quality to a particular person or group that is inherent in their very being. Therefore, essentialism is also an a priori claim on human nature.  This philosophy can take on different forms. It can function within an individualistic framework where attributes are assumed for an individual based on how they can be characterized more generally (race, gender, etc.). Ethno-nationalism derives its power from an essentialist position, arguing that their particular group constitutes a natural identity and one that has a greater historical narrative they are destined to complete. It is the position that “nations are natural, organic, quasi-eternal entities” rather than products of historical forces (Tonkin, McDonald, Chapman, 248). Essentialist nationalism is thus the position that the individual is second to the community and therefore owes allegiance to the nation.

6a00d83451cdc869e20120a8b4166c970bVirtually all of nationalism functions as essentialist in how it conceives itself. The concept of “the nation” rests on four major ideas that Benedict Anderson in the introduction to his book Imagined Communities outlines. Firstly, the nation is imagined. It is imagined because, although conceiving of themselves as a group, “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members” (Anderson, 15). Secondly, the nation is limited. Each national group has finite boundaries with which it defines itself. Anderson makes an effort to clarify this distinction by arguing that “the most messianic nationalists do not dream of a day when all the members of the human race will join their nation…” (Anderson, 16). In other words, nationalism is by its very design limited in scope; Nationalists does not seek the expansion of all people within its borders. Instead, they value most those that culturally qualify as their own.  Thirdly, moving forward, the nation is sovereign. Nationalism requires a state to enforce itself or else it falls into obscurity, which is why the “nation” and “state” are so deeply intertwined. And finally, fourthly, the nation is a community because “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship” (Anderson, 16). It is why individuals die for their nation – they conceive of themselves as inseparable from it and are therefore willing to be slaughtered for the state. Such actions, although sometimes full of valor, are motivated by imagination.

Ironically, the more passionate nationalism is, the more it discredits itself as an ideology by turning to violent means to achieve an imagined vision. As Josep Llobera writes, “in the long run, the history of Western Europe is the history of the qualified failure of the so called nation-state” (Tonkin, McDonald, Chapman, 248). However, despite the atrocities committed in its name, nationalism relentlessly survives with each decade. Nations amass popular credibility and power through two means – by creating the “Other” and the myth. In order for nationalism to take root, it must first differentiate itself from other groups or individuals that are unlike it. Commonalities are formed within a particular group – be it cultural, religious, or political – and eventually synthesized, popularized, and normalized and made natural in contrast to the “Other.”

II. The Creation of the “Other”

In order for an ethno-national state to affirm itself, it first has to make clear what it is not. This process of differentiation is crucial in the development of nationalism since it distinguishes the “nation” from those that are outside it, and thus creates an imagined community for its people to follow. However, imagined communities are not created in a vacuum; there must be particular historical forces at play in order for a group to conceive of themselves, collectively, with one national identity. Take the case of Catalan nationalism – it emerged as a result of regional repression, an ineffective Spanish state, industrialization, romantic literature, and a strong Catholic base (Tonkin et. all 250, 251, 252). The final differentiating factor is, ultimately, language which is arguably “the symbol and the lively expression of the personality of [the] people” (Conversi, 55). Catalan nationalism and its history provide us with many sources on how the intelligentsia made an effort to differentiate Catalans from other Spaniards. The dichotomy of being “Catalan” and “not-Catalan” is an important one, since the whole purpose of its nationalist project was to create an “irrefutable and indestructible Catalan personality” (Conversi, 55). Thus, the creation of Catalan nationalism involved the creation of core values and language as a means to differentiate Catalan as a legitimate nationality. And such was not just the case in Catalonia, but for all nationalist movements that sought validity in the post-Enlightenment era.

III. The Myth of Nationalism

The creation of nationalist myths goes hand-in-hand with differentiating the nation from others. The myth functions as a unique starting point for national consciousness – it inspires and creates a common story of origin for all the people in its supposed jurisdiction. The need for myths is apparent in virtually all nationalist movements. For Croatians, they found national solidarity by identifying themselves as the cultural ancestors of the historic Illyrians who lived in the Balkans around 5th century B.C. In another case, the Scottish Highlands created their own nationalist myth by distinguishing themselves from Irish culture. As Hugh Trevor-Roper writes in The Invention of Tradition:

It occurred in three stages. First, there was the cultural revolt against Ireland: the usurpation of Irish culture and re-writing of early Scottish history… Secondly, there was the artificial creation of new Highland traditions, presented as ancient, original, and distinctive. Thirdly, there was the process by which these new traditions were offered to, and adopted by historic Lowland Scotland… (Hobsbawm, 16).

scot5In an effort to forge a national identity, the Scottish intelligentsia told stories of Scotts resisting Roman armies, called Irish-influenced ballads their own, and even popularized their own non-Irish traditional garb by the 18th century (Hobsbawm, 17, 19). This was done all in efforts to differentiate themselves from Ireland, who they felt culturally overshadowed the Highlands.

The creation of myths is the imaginative potential of nationalist projects. The sheer literary talent of piecing together a coherent (although fictitious) narrative was a product of 18th century Romanticism. Eventually, these tales became ingrained in the culture from which they sprung; the myths began to be taken as true, as if they had a life of their own. These stories’ main purpose was to establish a grander narrative which grounds the community in core values and common history. Thus, myths are a necessary component of any nationalist project – they reinvigorate a community to stand on its own, distinguishes them as unique, and ultimately gives them a reason to take up arms to defend their imagined history.

IV. Inventing Traditions

Thus far, we have discussed the steady progression of nationalist development. First, it begins by taking an essentialist position on a group’s origin. From here, differentiation begins by defining the particular group separate from the “Other.” It is then that the creation of “myths” arises in order to justify collective consciousness and action.  Once a national identity is established, it becomes the responsibility of the state and/or the people to maintain it.

Structures and codes of behavior are usually maintained through invented traditions, by using repetition and appealing to continuity with the past.  Historian Eric Hobsbawm defines this phenomenon in the opening pages of The Invention of Tradition:

‘Invented tradition’ is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past (Hobsbawm, 1).

Invented traditions function as the maintainers of state power. They are constructed with the intent of making the custom appear “historic” or “natural.” Such was the case for the British Monarchy, which was forced to reinvent itself in the late 19th century amidst an educated, growing middle-class. However, this process was not easy and required many failures on part of the ruling class to perfect its rituals. David Cannadine in chapter four of The Invention of Tradition writes, “For the majority of the great royal pageants staged during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century oscillated between farce and fiasco” (Hobsbawm, 117). This was because royal ceremonies in Great Britain before the mid-19th century were historically done behind closed doors, rather than as public spectacles (Hobsbawm, 116). With the rise of liberalism, the British monarchy had to create a ceremonial tradition that would quell the public’s animosity towards the Crown. They exacted it to a science – appealing to tradition, populism, and the myth of their necessity as an institution. Soon, the British royal family became the living embodiment of national pride, whose “traditions” live on to this day.

However, when a hegemonic imperialist power invents traditions, these changes have ramifications far outside its nationalist borders. The British Empire also imposed these traditions on its colonies, in an effort to naturalize their exploitation and justify their expansionism. It is not a coincidence that the rise of the British monarchy’s symbolic power, starting in the late 19th century, was directly around the time of it colonizing Africa. The same process of “inventing tradition” would be applied to Africa to make them submissive to Anglo-Saxon power. Terence Ranger writes in chapter 6 of The Invention of Tradition:

But serviceable as the monarchial ideology was to the British, it was not enough to provide the theory or justify the structures of colonial governance on the spot. Since so few connections could be made between British and African political, social, and legal systems, British administrators set about inventing African traditions for Africans (Hobsbawm, 212).

A hierarchy was enforced in Africa which placed “white” as the ideal amongst the people living there. The watchful eye of Anglo-Saxon officials became symbolic of the African peoples’ position in relation to British power and was justified through appeals to nature and history. With this also came justifications from Protestant theology – the mantra was that it was the white man’s burden that the British have taken upon themselves, out of benevolence, just to help these people succeed. This, however, could not be farther from the truth.

A British ceremony commemorating Ado’s Kingdom assimilation into greater British Nigeria [1897 – 1899]. It was through these rituals that the British empire created traditions and assumed dominance. They did it by creating a spectacle.

tmp23E42_thumb_thumb

British imperial power expanded its power by forcing groups to assimilate into their empire with the threat of force. In this photo, British colonial administrators meet with Nigerian representatives.

333_IMAGE1

The British Royalty, starting in the late 19th century, began to rely on aesthetics and ritual to enforce their necessity. In an age of growing democratization, the royalty needed to stay relevant by making each of their actions a symbolic event. The coronation stood, above all else, a symbolic representation of the passing of imperial power. The above photo is a postcard meant to endorse national pride from 1911.

are-we-afraid-no

“Are We Afraid? No!” is a jingoistic British postcard from WW1. The five pups represent the best of Britain’s colonial territories (i.e. Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa). The exact year of the postcard is unknown.

poster

This is a french poster by the Mouvement Anti-Apartheid (also known as the Campagne Anti-OutSpan or C.O.A). The group was founded in 1975 and supported the African National Congress and the struggle against apartheid. This was part of its first campaign to boycott Outspan oranges from South Africa in an attempt to destroy the Western hegemony in Africa.

The British Crown is an especially relevant example of invented traditions. Because its influence was so widespread, Anglo-Saxon culture permeates and invents itself as “natural” even to this day. Still, Great Britain aside, virtually all nationalist state projects appeal to a type of invented tradition to maintain itself and make its institutions seem “natural” – be it the caste system in India, or the romanticizing of the Founding Fathers in the United States, or even the appeal to the Roman Empire in fascist Italy under the rule of Mussolini. All of these invented traditions appeal to supposed “historical continuity” and attempt to make a narrative to justify its institutional power. Invented traditions are the means with which nationalism maintains itself as relevant and necessary with each passing generation.

V. Popularizing the Nation

The spread of nationalism goes hand-in-hand with its invented traditions. Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities outlines a few historical patterns which explains how virtually all nationalist movements popularized themselves. Much of it has to do with “print capitalism,” which was the commodification and mass-production of texts. It ultimately led to a codified language, a “national” language, and extinguished any dialects that previously existed locally. The rise of print capitalism was a steady process, but it eventually grew to encapsulate every aspect of life. Anderson notes, “at least 20,000,000 books had already been printed by 1500… if manuscript knowledge was scarce and arcane lore, print knowledge lived by reproducibility and dissemination” (Anderson, 37). In turn, the print expansion also brought with it a level of greater community, one which extended far beyond kinship and familial ties. It molded a type of national consciousness, a collective identity, by standardizing the means of communication. Therefore, the birth of nationalism can very much be associated with the birth of capitalism and their development is intertwined.

Far beyond print capitalism, other historical factors merged to further solidify nationalism in public consciousness. The spread of the newspaper connected previously unrelated social phenomenon into an implicitly greater narrative, which eventually led to nationalism. Anderson writes:

In this way, the newspaper… quite naturally, even apolitically, created an imagined community among a specific assemblage of fellow-readers, to whom these ships, brides, bishops, and prices belonged (Anderson, 62).

Along with the newspaper, the homogenization of time with the steady adoption of the Gregorian calendar created “the idea of a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogenous, empty time” which fits nicely into nationalist narratives of continuity. All of these factors – propagated through print capitalism – led to a kind of philological revolution, while also creating a common measurement of time, which allowed for the birth of the collective consciousness that would become nationalism.

VI. Conclusion and Final Remarks

Nationalism derives its prowess from essentialism, myths, and differentiation. It popularizes itself through print, through national language, and through common narratives for the future. And finally, it cements its dominance through repetition and invented traditions. The nuances of how nations individually created their sense of pride are invariably unique, mostly due to differences in relative power, but the general way nationalism is conceived is virtually the same in every historical situation.

Although nationalism is derived from invented traditions and mythological imagination, this does not delegitimize its potential as a political force. Nationalism has proved to be one of the most dynamic phenomena in history, constantly re-inventing itself with each generation. Although as a rule, nationalism is an imaginative community, it has its uses in fighting hegemonic power and re-vitalizing exploited peoples. As Stuart Hall writes in Culture, Globalization, and the World System: “I do not know an example of any group or category of the people of the margins, of the locals, who have been able to mobilize themselves, socially, culturally, economically, politically… who have not gone through some such series of moments in order to resist their exclusion, their marginalization” (King, 53). It for this reason that nationalism cannot be discarded purely on the basis of being imaginative – it has the potential to be a necessary counter to dominant power, and has revitalized marginalized people throughout the world, especially in the post-colonial era. As a means, nationalism is a sound anti-imperialist platform, but it still fails to provide an end. The historic end-goal of nationalism is the victory of the particular nation. What this end entails is potentially open to reactionary violence, and even political manipulation, which has been the case for the much of modern history. Nationalism breeds competition; It may function as a means to liberate a group, but it fails to provide a proper end.

***

– Tonkin, Elizabeth. McDonald, Maryon. Chapman, Malcolm. History and Ethnicity. Routledge, 1989. New York. pp. 247 – 261. Print.

– Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. Verso Books, 1983. London. Print.

– Conversi, Daniele. Ethics and Racial Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1. Routledge, 1990. pp. 50 – 70. Print.

– Hobsbawm, Eric. Ranger, Terrance. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press, 1983. New York. Print.

–  King, Anthony D. Culture, Globalization, and the World System. University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Minneapolis. Print.

 

Kierkegaard & Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard are often grouped together as some of the first thinkers in what would become existential philosophy. However, Nietzsche (who outlived Kierkegaard by decades) likely never encountered the other’s work directly. The differences between them are therefore stark. Although diametrically opposed on religion, both philosophers find some common ground in making the subject the most prescient matter in their works. It is this similarity which leads them into comparable territory – it forces them to reconsider the metaphysical tribulations that were (and still are) ingrained in Western culture, critiquing and dismantling them, all in hopes of giving the individual the philosophical focus it so deservingly needs. Nietzsche arguably does this best since he begins by overturning basic assumptions, leaving nothing unchecked, and then works his way up to the individual and the herd. Thus, although Kierkegaard writes poetically of the self, Nietzsche truly provides existentialism with an all-encompassing critique of contemporary thought by beginning with basal ontology and then moving forward, in an engaging fashion.

I. Ontological Differences and Categorizations of the Self

Kierkegaard does not have a strident ontology of anything but the self. For him, the self is all-encompassing and the most pressing issue. Therefore, he is not concerned with the categorization of “being” in the tradition of Aristotelian thought. Rather, he turns his focus to subjective experience. This is particularly why in Martin Heidegger’s notes on Being and Time he gives Kierkegaard much credit. He writes, “Søren Kierkegaard explicitly seized upon the problem of existence as an existentiell problem, and thought it through in a penetrating fashion” (Perkins, 187). Heidegger recognizes Kierkegaard as the first to establish the self not as a category of thought, but rather as a way of being. In other words, one becomes a subject rather than thinking subjectivity into being. It is on this basis that Kierkegaard largely stays away from abstractions on religion, the self, or society. In the same vein as Nietzsche’s polemics against metaphysics, William Barrett describes Kierkegaard’s skepticism in Irrational Man:

Existence and theory about existence are not one and the same, any more than a printed menu is as effective a form of nourishment as an actual meal. More than that: the possession of a theory about existence may intoxicate the possessor to such a degree that he forgets the need of existence altogether (Barrett, 141).

Kierkegaard was attempting to fight against the dominant Hegelian philosophy of the time, which posited that man was merely a victim of social forces – a philosophy where the individual disappears in change, rather than creating the change himself. Whereas many thinkers of his time influenced by Hegel and Kant saw existence as a concept, Kierkegaard realized that “[his] own existence [was] not a matter of speculation to [him], but a reality in which [he was] personally and passionately involved” (Barrett, 145). Therefore, Kierkegaard viewed the categorization of the self as a perversion of subjectivity. Existence is not mirrored as a concept in the mind, it is self-created and self-categorized through the “Either/Or of choice” (Barrett, 145). No metaphysical abstractions will do the self justice – only the subjective choices truly represent it.

Similar to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche’s conception of “being” is difficult to pinpoint since he is mostly a political writer interested in polemics. Yet, his ontology is the cornerstone of his greater ideas and is therefore necessary to understanding his positions fully. His ontology can thus best be watered down to a kind of opposition to Kantian conceptions of “being.” Kant considers there to be two realms of knowledge regarding an object, that which is phenomenon (i.e. experienced by the senses) and that which is noumenon (i.e. “something that is thought” or “the object of an act of thought”). Thus, Kant differentiates a “thing” from a “thing-it-self” and posits that the latter is not fully knowable since we can only infer from the appearances of phenomena. Kant uses noumena as a way to defend reason and metaphysics by arguing they are a “necessary limitation” since they leave questions of the divine outside of its scope.

The "thing-in-itself" is seen as that which is beyond perception.

The “thing-in-itself” is seen as that which is beyond perception.

For Nietzsche, Kant’s distinction is a meaningless metaphysical construction. A “thing-in-itself” cannot be conceived separate from its appearance, since that would undermine our entire ability to perceive. Noumenon is therefore identical to phenomenon. It is from here that Nietzsche begins to break down Western metaphysics from its dogmatic roots. By eliminating the “metaphysical realm,” Nietzsche inadvertently opens the door to an innumerable amount of questions – if there is no noumenon, if appearance is all we have, then there is no objective ethics, no distinction between metaphysics and science, and no knowledge greater than us. This trail of thought inevitably leads to a form of subjectivity, one which Kierkegaard embraces as the only real truth. Nietzsche pushes this idea to its ultimate conclusion by arguing for a morality beyond good and evil, giving agency to the individual rather than to “objective” categorizations of what one ought to do. It is through his rejection of the noumenon that he affirms life, the subject, and experience as the basis of philosophy itself.

Questions of noumenon for Nietzsche are useless since this reality is the only reality we can conceive of. Discussions on “ideal” or “greater” forms are thus useless in accruing usable knowledge. Nietzsche writes in Twilight of the Idols, “the reasons for which this world has been characterized as apparent are the very reasons which indicate its reality; any other kind of reality is absolutely indemonstrable… The apparent world is the only one, the true world is merely added by a lie” (Addis, 27). It is here that he accuses Western metaphysics of perpetrating a lie, of creating a “true” world of greater forms that distorts our actual perceivable reality. He goes even further, laying a criticism on Kant’s influence on metaphysics in The Challenge of Every Great Philosophy by contrasting him with Schopenhauer.

Kant clung to the university, subjected himself to governments, remained within the appearance of religious faith, and endured colleagues and students… Schopenhauer [had] no consideration for the scholars’ caste, stands apart, strives for independence of stat and society… wherever there was any kind of tyranny, it has hated the lonely philosopher (Kaufman, 123).

Therefore, Nietzsche mostly rejected metaphysics as institutionally illegitimate. William Barrett speaks of this in the Irrational Man, arguing that “Nietzsche ridiculed the very notion of Being as one of the most deceptive ghosts spawned by the brains of philosophers, the most general and therefore the emptiest of concepts” (Barrett, 178). Hence, there are no transcendent features of humanity that are always true irrespective of context. Such claims are that which philosophers want to be true since every great philosophy, as Nietzsche writes, “is the personal confession of the author” (Magnus, 216). Therefore, for Nietzsche, Western metaphysics ironically proves his argument for will to power – be it Kant’s a priori arguments for noumena, or Plato’s forms, these metaphysical claims are merely descriptions of what the author wants to see in the world, all to grant him to the power of knowledge, in the hopes of foolishly making the world more recognizable.

Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche value the subject and largely reject metaphysics, which is where they intersect ontologically. Kierkegaard’s position against universals bears resemblance to Nietzsche’s position of perspectivism – that there are many different interpretations, and different perspectives, of a particular truth. He echoes this sentiment in Three Upbuilding Discourses, “When one person sees one thing and another sees something else in the same thing, then the one discovers what the other conceals” (Hong, 59). Therefore, it is through subjective perspectives and the commonality between them that we find truth and fulfillment as individuals, rather than through categorizations and abstractions.

II. Ontology Applied: Consciousness, the Subject, and the Masses

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard both place emphasis on the individual, but apply these emphases differently. Nietzsche is concerned with the will of the individual in social relations and is thus concerned with questions of consciousness that Kierkegaard neglects to mention. He begins this inquiry from his ontology – if there are no metaphysical claims “beyond” human capacities, all that is required is the will for it to be done. It is from here Nietzsche explores consciousness, stemming from his ontological foundations.

gay-scienceHe theorizes in the Gay Science that “consciousness has developed only under the pressure of the need for communication… consciousness is really only a net of communication between human beings” (Solomon, 70). This “net of communication” Nietzsche speaks of can be conceived as a type of organization within an individual himself. In other words, consciousness is necessary to reconcile and communicate competing instincts, drives, desires, and passions. Given all of this burden internally, man is left powerless. Nietzsche writes:

Our actions, thoughts, feelings, and movements enter our own consciousness… as the most endangered animal, he needed help and protection, he needed his peers, he had to learn to express his distress to make himself understood (Solomon, 70).

It is here that Nietzsche’s position on the self becomes clear – we are not a kind of “Platonic essence” or a “Cartesian thinking substance”; we are a product of competing drives and perspectives. He goes further argue a controversial point that cements most men into the herd.

My idea is, as you see, that consciousness does not really belong to man’s individual existence but rather to his social or herd nature (Solomon, 71).

It from here that man finds himself stuck. Nietzsche describes our “subconscious world [as one of] servant organs working in mutual co-operation and antagonism” (Samuel, 34). We neglect this internal relationship and create a “little tabula rasa of the consciousness” through induced forgetfulness“ to make room again for the new, and above all for the more noble functions and functionaries, room for government, foresight, predetermination” (Samuel, 34). Thus, the creation of structure and the herd requires a kind of forgetfulness that is self-induced.

Kierkegaard fails to properly discuss consciousness in the context of the crowd. He only briefly explores phenomenology in The Concept of Anxiety where he argues that anxiety serves as a means for the mind to induce self-conscious reflection before a choice of either/or. The lack of analysis on consciousness leaves a gap in Kierkegaard’s work – he jumps into analyses of the self without fully establishing his foundations. Nietzsche’s claims, on the other hand, build off each other by philosophically reaching the self from the ground-up rather than assuming certain characteristics of the self and its interaction with the world.

Looking past consciousness, Nietzsche begins to dismantle the herd and its characteristics. He sees it as the main opponent of the individual since it values what does not have value. The herd accepts pessimism and makes value judgments based on fear and peer-approval rather than personal conviction; They take comfort in being in relation to others. For Nietzsche, the herd denies their own will. Similarly, Kierkegaard writes that “a crowd – in its very concept – is untruth, since a crowd either renders the single individual wholly unrepentant and irresponsible, or weakens his responsibility by making it a fraction of his decision” (Solomon, 13). The crowd (or the herd) therefore dissipates responsibility among itself, acting as one unit, but not taking responsibility as one. This creates a dissonance between action and accountability, which Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are correct to be wary of.

III. How Do We Ought to Live?

The question of what we ought to do is a difficult one and both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche treat this question differently. Kierkegaard argues that the leap to faith is necessary reach the religious state where one is personal dialogue with God. It is at this level that the self is actualized and becomes fully authentic in serving a greater subjective purpose. Therefore, the religious stage is beyond living as a mere ethical individual; it suspends the universal ethical for a subjective realization of God’s purpose. Nietzsche, too, suspends the universal ethical, but he does this from a very different philosophical position. Nietzsche’s discussion of ethics is not normative. He is very polemical in his writing and fervent in his criticisms, but he does not prescribe an easy solution to the social ills he diagnoses. He is simply interested in removing constraints, both real and imagined, which prevent individuals from reaching their actual potentiality. He worked to bring philosophy down from divine instruction to more human relations, in the grasp of our will. Kierkegaard, alternatively, wishes for us to subjectively realize this divine instruction rather than have it be commanded to us by others.

Despite not having a normative description of ethics, the point to take away from Nietzsche’s writing is clear – He was for the affirmation of life, to be able to look back on your life and confidently say “once more,” and to be able to celebrate one’s whole life in full. Kierkegaard was for this affirmation, but with strings attached which envelops man into an innumerable amount of paradoxes and inconsistencies. Despite Kierkegaard’s push for subjectivity above all else, he still leaves man’s subjectivity in the presence of God. Despite his desire to be authentic, his argument for the divine still robs the individual of pure autonomy since he is beholden to a greater power beyond himself. Nietzsche would find this to be a perversion of man’s will. Therefore, abandoning the divine as a legitimate argument truly places power back into the hands of the individual by eliminating the unnecessary contradictions Christian theology brings and all the institutional baggage it holds.

In Buddhist philosophy, the single-stroke circle represents continuity and the mind when it is not wandering. Its form bears resemblance to Nietzsche's affirmation of life; that one would do it all over again if need be, for eternity. This piece, Ensō (2000), is by Kanjuro Shibata XX

In Buddhist philosophy, the single-stroke circle represents continuity and the mind when it is not wandering. Its form bears resemblance to Nietzsche’s affirmation of life; that one would do life all over again, if need be, for eternity. This particular piece, Ensō (2000), is by Kanjuro Shibata XX.

IV. The Existential Diagnosis

Being polemical authors, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard are both heavily invested in social criticism and vindicating the self against the masses. Kierkegaard identifies these social ills in The Present Age where he eloquently argues against the social excesses of temporary pleasure as a means of coping with existential angst. It is an age of confused spontaneity and misdirection, an “age of advertisement and publicity” where “nothing ever happens but there is immediate publicity everywhere” (Solomon, 4). It is also an age where the public domineers, leveling passion to the lowest common denominator; “it hinders and stifles all action” (Solomon, 7). Kierkegaard argues that the public is “the most dangerous of all powers and the most insignificant” since one can speak to the whole nation on behalf of all, but yet actually be speaking to no true individual at all.

Nietzsche characterizes his contemporary society as approaching the “advent of nihilism” and Kierkegaard would surely agree. However, they would differ on the reasons behind the cultural malaise that sweeps Europe. Nietzsche would attribute the age of nihilism as a consequence of the death of God. He writes in The Gay Science, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms” (Kaufmann, 126). Nietzsche is arguing that we have exhausted religion as a moral compass and source of meaning, yet the objectivity we derived from the divine we still use foolishly. Kierkegaard would certainly disagree with this characterization, instead arguing that the cultural malaise is due to a lack of true religiosity of the self through institutional Christendom. Here, Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s diagnosis of society can be synthesized to form a more complete picture – the kind of hedonism Kierkegaard describes is one of worry and concern, but it is directly linked to Nietzsche’s characterization of nihilism. It is because we are living in the age of nihilism that the present age is so bleak.

V. Conclusion

Overall, Nietzsche provides a far more nuanced existential critique of society and the limitations imposed on individuals from realizing themselves fully. Kierkegaard sets the foundation for analysis of the self through his assertions, but he fails to build on his ideas. Nietzsche’s thought can be mapped from his ontology, to his definition of consciousness, and then consistently applied to his social criticisms – Kierkegaard fails to create this basis and instead places the ideal individual in the hands of God. Inadvertently, Nietzsche pokes holes into Kierkegaard’s dependence on the divine through his anti-Christian rhetoric, during which he makes the case that the divine is yet another limitation on self-realization. Therefore, Kierkegaard – although passionate and refined in his interpretation of God – fails to capture the spirit of individuality fully, since it is constantly being anchored in Christian imagery. Nietzsche breaks all assumptions, questioning the very basis of Western though, forcing us to start from scratch and affirm life for what it is, in all its contradictions and absurdities.

***

– Perkins, Robert L. The Concept of Anxiety (International Kierkegaard Commentary). Mercer University Press, 1985. Print.

– Barrett, William. Irrational Man; A Study in Existential Philosophy. New York: Doubleday, 1958. Print.

– Addis, Laird. Nietzsche’s Ontology. Ontos Verlag, 2012. Print.

– Kaufmann, Walter Arnold. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre,. New York: Meridian Books,    1956. Print.

– Magnus, Bernd. The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche. Cambridge, England. Cambridge University    Press, 1996. Print.

– Hong, V. Howard. Hong, Edna H. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses: Kierkegaard’s Writings, Vol. 5.    Reprint Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.

– Samuel, Horace B. The Genealogy of Morals. New York. Dover Publications, Inc., 2003. Print.

– Solomon, Robert C. Existentialism. 1st ed. New York: Modern Library, 1974. Print.

“The Arrival of the Croats at the Adriatic Sea” (1905) by Oton Iveković

Yugoslav nationalism is a unique phenomenon that credits its historical development to over a century of anti-imperialist politics. It was the culmination of decades of underground nationalist projects, one of idealism and sometimes even pragmatism. The growth of a “Yugoslav identity” owes its very formation to a synthesis of many different elements of Balkan culture with the common interest of security against future imperialist powers. That is to say, Yugoslav nationalism had to be created from independent nationalist movements which lacked the power to manifest themselves on their own. Croatia and Serbia were the main players in the creation of this new nationalist vision, forging a nationalist alliance despite differences in interest. It was from here that the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes came into existence and, eventually, the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. This essay will analyze Croatia’s ideological contribution to the development of Yugoslavism starting from the creation of its own national awakening up until the establishment of the first Yugoslav project, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

I. Developing a Croatian National Consciousness

In the 19th century, Croatia was a kingdom within a kingdom within an empire. The Kingdom of Croatia pledged its allegiance to the Kingdom of Hungary which was part of the great Austrian Empire. It found relative autonomy in the federation, but feared growing nationalism in Hungary would result in increased Magyarization of Croatia into a Greater Hungary. As a response, the Croatian intelligentsia felt it necessary to revitalize their traditions, folklore, and history in hopes of preserving it. Jonathan Sperber writes in his book The European Revolutions: 1848 – 1851:

[The 19th century] was the period when the smaller, mostly Slavic nationalities of the empire – Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Ukrainian – remembered their historical traditions, revived their native languages as literary languages, reappropriated their traditions and folklore, in short reasserted their existence as nations [1].

The intelligentsia in 19th century Croatia realized that national awakening required a universal Croatian language and a literate population to maintain it. At the time, Croatia was broken into many different local dialects and lacked any homogeneity in the way its people spoke. Most Croatians were part of the illiterate peasant class. Thereby, the first step for the Croatian bourgeois class was to facilitate the printing of books to further national consciousness. Maksimilijan Vrhovac, a bishop from the city of Zagreb, is credited as one of its prime ideological architects by collecting many of the nation’s “spiritual treasures,” translating the Bible and other texts into Kajkavian Croatian (a dialect spoken in the north), and even appealing in front of the Croatian parliament in hopes of opening a public library in the capital [2]. Vrhovac would set the foundation for what would decades later become the Illyrian Movement.

Statue of Ljudevit Gaj in Zagreb, Croatia

Statue of Ljudevit Gaj in Zagreb, Croatia

In the beginning of the 1830s, a group of young Croatian writers assembled in Zagreb calling for the unity of all Slavs within the Habsburg Monarchy. These young writers were led by Ljudevit Gaj who published Brief Basics of the Croatian-Slavonic Orthography in 1830 which was the first text that established a common Croatian writing system [3]. The goals of the Illyrian Movement then became actualized into tangible demands; the Illyrians wanted a standard language and culture to counterbalance growing Hungarian power. A single language, they felt, was the only way to achieve national revitalization. Gaj penned a proclamation in 1835 outlining the goals of the movement:

There can only be one true literary language in Illyria… It is not found in a single place, or a single country, but in the whole of Illyria… Our grammar and our dictionary is the whole of Illyria. In that huge garden there are beautiful flowers everywhere: let us gather everything of the best in one wreath, which will never wither [4].

For the Illyrian movement, national consciousness extended far beyond what is today modern-day Croatia – they took their inspiration from the commonality of being historically “Illyrian.” The Illyrian people were a group of Indo-European tribes who mainly lived in the Western Balkans. The historical group spanned from modern Slovenia all the way down to Macedonia. The Illyrian movement would become the spiritual precursor to Yugoslavism, encompassing the same lands in hopes of creating a unified Southern Slavic people.

The movement proved to be immensely successful within Croatian upper-class, but found little support from the peasant class and those living outside the Kingdom of Croatia [5]. Within where it was popular, however, it found literary success. Epic poems were published in “Illyrian grammar” (which would eventually evolve into Serbo-Croatian), the future Croatian national anthem was written by lyricist Antun Mihanović, and Croatian newspapers were allowed to be published starting in 1834. Ljudevit Gaj was responsible for establishing the first one in 1835 and thus was the pioneer of the beginning of Croatian journalism [6]. He also began the literary journal Danica as an attachment to the paper to further Croatian literary achievements. Each issue contained the motto of “[a] people without a nation/is like a body without bones” fully capturing the spirit and vigor of the Illyrian movement’s idealism. In the 1838 edition of Danica, Gaj further outlined the goals of the Illyrians against its detractors and critics. He writes:

Our intention is not to abolish individual names, but unify them under a general name, because each of the individual names carries its own individual history, which gathered together, comprise a more general history of the Illyrian nation [7].

Reading rooms were established in Zagreb for Illyrians to meet and discuss the growing linguistic developments. The first Croatian opera was written by composer Vatroslav Lisinski in 1846. The Illyrian movement thus achieved significant success throughout the Croatian intelligentsia, only to be suppressed in the wave of revolutions that would sweep Europe in 1848.

Despite these national developments, the Illyrians found themselves at odds with the Hungarian nobility and those supporting it. In 1843, the use of “Illyrian” was banned by Hungarian authorities [8]. Tensions surmounted on July 29th 1845 when the People’s Party (alternatively called the Illyrian Party) felt cheated when a Hungarian-allied candidate won during the elections held for newly-established Zagreb County of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. Members and supporters of the People’s Party filled the square in protest which angered the Croatian ban, ethnic Hungarian Fancis Haller, and the Austrian army was called to subdue the protestors. Thirteen protestors were killed and over two dozen were injured in the ensuing violence which would be remembered as the “July Victims” [9]. Croatian opinion in Zagreb was split – those of the Illyrian movement felt that the only means of securing a Croatian future was the establishment of an independent Croatian state whereas some Hungarian-Croats and other ethnic Croats felt that Croatia was best served through close relations with Hungary. With fear as an impediment to further progress, the Illyrian movement would have only one major victory after 1845. In October of 1847, with the help of politician Ivan Sakcinski, Croatian replaced Latin as the official language of the kingdom through a unanimous vote in parliament [10]. However, this major victory would be overshadowed by censorship and a crackdown on dissent in 1849 by Emperor Francis Joseph. A new constitution was created by the Austrian autocracy and the Danica soon went out of print. This effectively put an end to the Illyrian movement and any hopes of a unified Pan-Slavic state, but its spiritual adherents kept the fire going covertly, enough to influence the future trend of Yugoslav nationalism in the decades ahead.

With the suppression of the Illyrian movement, new beginnings had to be made to ensure the progress achieved was not in vein. Writers from mainly Croatia and Serbia (including one individual from Slovenia) met in Vienna in March of 1850 to discuss how Southern Slavic literature could be unified under a common banner to fight the growing empires that existentially threatened it [11]. The agreement that followed among them would become known as the Vienna Literary Agreement which established a basic method of writing for mainly Serbians and Croatians. The agreement was not formalized institutionally of course, but it provided inspiration for the codification of Serbo-Croatian as one especially during the years of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the latter half of the 20th century.

II. The Beginnings of Yugoslavism

With the suppression of the Illyrian movement, the Pan-Slavic project had to find a new name. While the Illyrian movement was mainly a literary and linguistic ideal, future calls for a Pan-Slavic state had to be put in the context of institutions and governmental structures. Whereas the limitations of the Illyrians were that they focused only on language as a means of uniting Southern Slavs, its successor needed to transcend these limitations and appeal directly to cultural and historical unity. The Illyrians’ spiritual heir soon became Yugoslavism and its most passionate adherents. Once again, Pan-Slavism found its face in the Croatian intelligentsia.

In the later-half of the 19th century two Croatian Catholic bishops, Josip Strossmayer and Franjo Rački, were the main partisans for the Yugoslav cause and supported academic institutions in both Serbia and Slovenia. However, nationalist competition between Serbia prevented their ideas from being spread outside of the Croatian bourgeois class and they faced similar problems that the Illyrians faced decades prior. Yugoslavism also failed to penetrate the majority peasant class in Croatia, appealing to mostly liberal Catholic clergymen and the literary elite. As Lenard J. Cohen writes in Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia’s Disintegration and Balkan Politics in Transition, “Obstacles… to the Yugoslav idea… down to the lower strata’s predominant emotional commitment to its own individual locales, can, to a certain extent, be explained by the educational backwardness of Croatia’s agrarian population in the nineteenth century” [12]. The Croatian peasant class also lacked the “information about other South Slav regions and people” and thereby could not even conceive of a Yugoslav position. Most of the Serbian upper-class faced similar issues in mobilizing their largely poor agrarian population, whose “lower social layer lived like the Croats, as a subordinate agricultural stratum within the confines of the oppressive Ottoman imperial system, and also suffered from education deprivation” [13]. Most of the Serbian intelligentsia also scoffed at the idea of a Pan-Slavic identity and instead focused on Serbian aims at freeing themselves from Ottoman rule. They found little benefit in joining a union with the Croats against the Austro-Hungarian Empire; they had their own struggle against the Ottomans.

However, in the mid-1860s this pattern of non-cooperation between Serbian and Croatian interests was interrupted. Josip Strossmayer and Serbian foreign minister Illija Garašanin agreed on a plan that would begin the process of creating a Yugoslav state independent from both Austria and Turkey [14]. Nevertheless, the Serbian intelligentsia lacked commitment to the issue and the plan fell apart within two years. This was because Illija Garašanin was not attracted to the romanticized Yugoslav ideal espoused by Croatian thinkers; rather, Garašanin realized that Yugoslavism fit nicely into his conception of a “Greater Serbia.” He was, in fact, one of the founders of the concept, writing in his 1844 text Načertanije: “A plan must be constructed which does not limit Serbia to her present borders, but endeavors to absorb all the Serbian people around her”[15]. Thus, the question just who was Serbian became increasingly relevant among the Serbian upper-class. Vuk Karadžić, a prominent Serbian linguist of the 19th century, argued that “Serbians” encompass all those who spoke the Štokavian dialect which included large areas of Croatia and most of Bosnia. For Karadžić, these people were “Serbs who did not accept the name” and were to be assimilated into Greater Serbia [16]. It was these differences that further alienated the goal of Croatian Yugoslavism and that of Greater Serbia. Soon, Serbia’s expansionist aims would find cover in their support for Yugoslavism which gave them a platform with which to justify Serbian hegemony and power in the 20th century.

III. Struggle, Terrorism, and the Birth of the Yugoslav State        

Yugoslavism remained relatively unknown and too idealistic until the turn of the 20th century. In 1908, Bosnia and Herzegovina was annexed was by Austria-Hungary which angered Southern Slavs as they began to collectively see themselves as a victim of foreign imperialism (i.e. Yugoslavs). Famous sculptor Ivan Meštrović  began writing poetry arguing for a “Yugoslav race” and even built a sculpture commemorating Serbian folk hero Prince Marko at the International Exhibition in Rome in 1911. He wished to bridge the cultural and artistic gap between Serbians and Croatians through his work, becoming immensely popular during his lifetime. In 1912, the Balkan War added another reason for the necessity of a Southern Slavic union. With a weakening of the Austrian Empire and the end of Ottoman occupation in the Balkan states by 1913, the Yugoslav project was on the verge of being actually realized.

Gavrilo Princip arrested after murdering the Austrian Archduke and his wife. He was only nineteen, one month shy of his twentieth birthday.

In the following years, the Balkans would violently erupt and organize itself on different lines. Serbia began funding paramilitary groups that would engage in anti-imperialist struggle in hopes of creating a “Yugoslav state” with Serbia as its national leader. The group Young Bosnia came to prominence in the early 1900s composed of Serbians, Croatians, and Bosniaks. Their ideals were inspired by revolutionary youth movements and the works of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and socialist/anarchist politics. After multiple failed attempts on state leaders, Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife on the 28th of June, 1914. Angering Austria-Hungary, the empire issued an ultimatum against Serbia to stop its violence and made a list of concrete demands.  World War I ensued a month after the assassination, against the interests of the Austrian-Hungarian autocracy. During Princip’s trial, he loudly proclaimed “I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria” [17]. For many Southern Slavs, the creation of a Yugoslav state seemed inevitable.

However, before a Yugoslav state could be constructed, it had to be agreed on just what was to be established in the years ahead. Croats (including the Croatian Peasant Party and other social democratic parties) and the Serbian diaspora living in Croatia and Bosnia preferred a federated system of governance which would allow different Southern Slavic ethnic groups to cooperate amongst each other. Conversely, Serbs living in Serbia had plans for a Greater Serbia or a centralized Yugoslavia dictated by Belgrade, Serbia’s capital [18]. While Serbia was funding paramilitary groups aimed at uniting Southern Slavs, Croatia organized the Yugoslav Committee which was given the task of mapping out the future state. Its board was composed of mostly Croats and a few Serbian and Slovenian members. Although Serbian and Croatians aims for a Yugoslav state were fundamentally different, the Yugoslav Committee signed a compromise declaration with the Kingdom of Serbia in 1917 [19]. The declaration allowed for a parliamentary monarchy, composed of three nations, universal suffrage, and two different alphabets (Latin and Cyrillic) that were equal before the law. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was established in 1918 with support from the Allied Powers. And it was then that the Yugoslav project became realized, albeit not as many Croatians had envisioned it.

IV. Conclusion and Remarks

Yugoslav nationalism was the product of literary romanticism, idealism, and anti-imperialist politics. However, it began very different in Serbia than it did in Croatia. Concepts of “Greater Serbia” constantly clouded any hope of a truly federalized cooperative state among Southern Slavs and instead replaced it with Serbian hegemony. This became apparent in the years following the formation of the Yugoslav Kingdom and the Serbian monarch’s established dictatorship in July of 1929, much to the outrage of the other ethnicities within Yugoslavia. Thereby, Croatians are hesitant when Serbian leaders speak of “Yugoslavia” in good light; for most Bosnians and Croatians, “Yugoslavism” has become synonymous with Serbian hegemony and power which has manifested itself in virtually every attempt at “brotherhood and unity” within the Balkans. The failed attempts at unification have stalled any proposals for federative unity within the Southern Slavic region; instead, individual nations have turned to nationalism and self-reliance as a means of coping with larger powers. As this proves ineffective, since Balkan states lack any bargaining power against Western nations, feelings of the Illyrian Movement and Yugoslavism might again return. However, it will return with another name as has been the cyclical case in the Balkans ever since national consciousness took hold in the tumultuous region during the 19th century.

***

1.     Sperber, Jonathan. The European Revolutions, 1848 – 1851.”(Cambridge University Press,                 2nd Edition, 2005)

2.     Šanjek, Franjo. Christianity in the Croatian Religion. [Kršćanstvo na hrvatskom prostoru].                     (Kršćanska sadašnjost, 1996).

3.     Becker, J. Carl. A Modern Theory on Language Evolution. (iUniverse, Inc. 2004).

4.     Vukcevich, Ivo. Croatia: New Language, New Nationality, and New State. (XLIBRIS, 2013).

5.     Marc, L. Greenberg. The Illyrian Movement: A Croatian Vision of South Slavic Unity. (Oxford                                 University Press, 2011).

6.     Ibid. 3.

7.     Gaj, Ljudevit. “Danica.” (National and University Library in Zagreb)

8.     Fishman, Joshua. Garcia, Ofelia. Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity: The                                 Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts, Volume 2. (Oxford                         University Press, 2011).

9.     Hawkesworth, Celia. Zagreb: A Cultural and Literary History. (Signal Books, 2007).

10.    Press Office. 165 Years Ago Croatian Parliament Proclaimed Croatian as Official                                  Language. (Croatian Parliament, Web).

11.    Greenberg, D. Robert. Language and Identity in the Balkans. (Oxford University Press,                          2008).

12.    Cohen, J. Lenard. Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia’s Disintegration and Balkan Politics in                               Transition. (Westview Press, 2nd edition, 1995).

13.    Ibid.

14.    Göransson, Markus Balázs. A Cultural History of Serbia. (Web, 2013).

15.    Garašanin, Illija. Načertanije. (Croatian Information Center, Web).

16.    Greater Serbia: From Ideology to Aggression. (Croatian Information Center, Web, 1993).

17.    Andjelic, Neven. Bosnia-Herzegovina: The End of a Legacy. (Routledge, 2003).

18.    Djokić, Dejan. Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea, 1918–1992. (University of Wisconsin               Press, 2003).

19.    Dragnich, Alex N. The First Yugoslavia: Search for a Viable Political System. (Hoover                             Institution Press, 1983)

INTRANSIGENCE

PUBLICATION OF INTERNATIONALIST COMMUNISTS IN NORTH AMERICA

Neotenianos

A Blog about Propaganda

Journey to Russia

Embracing the cold, the beautiful, and the mysterious, Mother Russia

YesterYear Once More

Life as it was reported back then

Victor Serge's Ghost

"One must range oneself actively against everything that diminishes man, and involve oneself in all struggles which tend to liberate and enlarge him"

Collecting Russian Art

20th century Russian art and its uniqueness

Adidas Marxism

Writings from the European periphery.

Communist League Tampa

proletarians of the world, unite!

Mosul Eye

To Put Mosul on the Global Map

Uglytruth-Thailand

Thai politics

Yanis Varoufakis

THOUGHTS FOR THE POST-2008 WORLD

Fractal Ontology

refracting theory: politics, cybernetics, philosophy

Russia Without BS

Home of the Spaghetti Kozak

The Disorder Of Things

For the Relentless Criticism of All Existing Conditions Since 2010

United States Hypocrisy

A critical analysis of the American empire's high-minded rhetoric, and the ways in which it continually fails to square with reality.

Valentino's blog

A blog about visual arts (well, mostly...)

eleutheromania

e*leu`ther*o*ma"ni*a | noun | a mania or frantic zeal for freedom. | [R.] Carlyle.

synthetic zerø

aequilibrium movere

STALIN'S MOUSTACHE

Roland Boer's Blog: Marxism, Philosophy and Socialism in Power

rheomode

..............................the research base of jon goodbun

Paths to Utopia

scattered reflections on politics for our time

Evvycology

It's Evelyn, It's Ecology, all in one convenient package

John Riddell

MARXIST ESSAYS AND COMMENTARY

Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

All that is Solid for Glenn Rikowski

All that is Solid ... is a radical blog that seeks to promote a future beyond capital's social universe. "All that is solid melts into air" (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 'The Communist Manifesto', 1848).

Symptomatic Commentary

Notes, Interviews, and Commentary on Art, Education, Poetics, and Culture

The View East

Central and Eastern Europe, Past and Present.

IRRUSSIANALITY

Russia, the West, and the world

Uneven And Combined Development

theorising the international

Bezbozhnik - безбожник

On anti-religious propaganda in the early USSR, with some disgressions on the Russian Soul.

Nationalism Studies

Monitoring the Changing World

Old Woman on a Bicycle

My Art & Photography Mostly, but Maybe Other Things

Sráid Marx

An Irish Marxist Blog

SIMON BRIERCLIFFE

Historian and geographer, writer and researcher

Pedagogy & the Inhumanities

Pedagogic nihilism fights a windmill battle against international capital

Peter Marcuse's Blog

Critical planning and other thoughts

communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

People and Nature

Some socialist ideas about society, the earth and their interaction

Clio Ancient Art & Antiquities

Exploring the world of antiquities dealing, collecting, heritage issues and a bit of archaeological travel

Posthegemony

Something always escapes!