"Blood and Homeland": Eugenics and Racial Nationalism in Central and Southeast Europe, 1900-1940

By Marius Turda; Paul J. Weindling | Go to book overview

Culturalist Nationalism and Anti-Semitism
in Fin-de-Siècle Romania

Răzvan Pârâianu

During the nineteenth century, European thought was deeply influenced by a new heuristic notion used in most of the human sciences at the time. It was the idea of race, which, benefiting from the scientific prestige offered by natural sciences, achieved pre-eminence in many theories about human nature, society, history, and eventually culture. The idea that a group of people may share common physical and psychological features seemed a particularly powerful explanation for many scholars. This way of reasoning was extremely seductive because it established a biological foundation for the "science of man" and created the prerequisites for a positivist approach in understanding human nature. Such a racial interpretation of groups and cultures survived until the middle of the twentieth century, when these ideas were discredited by Nazi racial ideology.

In a completely different political context, intellectuals in Central and Southeast Europe, emulating their Western counterparts, adapted various theories of race to their own national and political programs. This was the case for a young generation of Romanian intellectuals, who, at the end of the nineteenth century, having the opportunity to study at German or French universities, was mesmerized by theories of race. For this generation, race represented something profoundly atemporal and trans-individual, capable of shaping the culture and civilization of a specific Volk. Moreover, modern theories about race offered a good opportunity to present and legitimize political claims "scientifically." It was an opportunity to affirm that the true nature of the Volk was not altered and, under propitious circumstances, may in fact flourish on fertile soil. The unity of language was the irrefutable proof for the great expectations these young and enthusiastic intellectuals had for their nation and state.

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