History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century

By Ivan T. Berend | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
ROMANTICISM AND
NATIONALISM IN CENTRAL
AND EASTERN EUROPE

ROMANTICISM AS VEHICLE OF NATION-BUILDING

THE POOR CENTRAL and Eastern European soil was neither fertile nor cultivated enough to nourish the fruits of the Enlightenment and the “dual revolution.” The modern science- and philosophy-based worldview was unable to penetrate the noble elite or take root among the illiterate masses. The Newtonian scientific revolution and the revolutionary ideas of the age had only a limited impact in the eighteenth century. The existing institutions, customs, biases, and superstitions were more or less frozen in place until the early to mid nineteenth century.

Romanticism was primarily responsible for introducing the Western values of freedom, liberty, and nation. Romanticism also mobilized enthusiastic emissaries in Central and Eastern Europe. Although the western and eastern parts of Europe followed different paths of social, economic, and political development, they were components of the same European system and shared the same cultural heritage. Nothing could halt the spread of inspiring and rejuvenating ideas. And travelers from both West and East—Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Western European entrepreneurs, artisans, and experts, Eastern European writers, political thinkers, aristocrats, and adventurers—often crossed the borders and spread information and knowledge on the spectacular transformation of the West.

Romanticism, nevertheless, did break through with the fortissimo of Berlioz’s exalted Symphonie fantastique, with the seduction of Schubert’s

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