Sunday, October 18, 2009

DR. BOGDAN STEFANESCU, University of Bucharest
© 1999 by Bogdan Stefanescu (request citing permission at )

Ukrainian translation published in Krytyka no.11/nov. 1999

On The Discrimination of Nationalisms:
The Rhetoric of Identity in Romanian Culture

Theorizing Nationalism
Re-topicalizing Nationalism
The investigation of nationalism has become again fashionable after 1989 due to an upsurge of ethnic confrontations in and outside the Yugoslavic hotbed, and to East European political debates on the applicability of Western models of democracy. Though communism is sometimes taken to be a cause or aggravating circumstance for it, nationalism did not succumb in the postcommunist age of transition and thus confirmed the pronouncement of, among others, Benedict Anderson that "the 'end of the era of nationalism', so long prophesied, is not remotely in sight. Indeed, nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time" (Anderson 1990: 12).

For diverse reasons, Romania has always been a particularly favored source for critics of nationalism and it regrettably stars in the all-time hall of xenophobic infamy. Studies on Eastern European postcommunism approach Romania almost exclusively via its ethnic conflicts. Yet, in spite of serious ethnic incidents (like those of 1990 in Tirgu-Mures) and of the persistence of extremist nationalistic parties in the Romanian Parliament, the "Hungarian problem" vanished from public life in Romania since the “electoral revolution” (Tismãneanu) of 1996. This is all the more surprising since many remarkable events of immediate relevance to nationalism have occured in Romania: the historic Treaty between Romania and Hungary which has recently been signed, the participation in the Romanian government of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), and the visit of the President of Hungary to Romanian regions with a record of ethnic tensions. None of these events produced any significant nationalistic reactions in the public life of Romania.

The paradoxical evolution of nationalism in post-1989 Romania invites new efforts to revise explanations and descriptions of the phenomenon. This should not be taken as a dismissal of remarkable previous contributions to the field from scholars like Eugene Weber, Katherine Verdery, Keith Hitchins, Claude Karnooh, Irina Livezeanu, Vladimir Tismãneanu, Leon Volovici etc. I rather aim at providing some clarifications by means of a methodological reform. The reasons why I felt such an intervention might prove beneficial are the problematic nature of the concept of nationalism and the theoretical frugality of many investigations of Romanian nationalism which can lead to confusion.

The Need for Critical Pluralism in Studies of Nationalism
Epistemic difficulties in dealing with Nationalism become particularly noticeable in a critical symptom I will call the radicalization of intellectual descriptions. Critics tend to reduce the different cultural idioms in modern Romania to a sharp antagonism which is the result of contamination from political debates, usually stereotyped as an alleged pair of rival parties or ideologies. Let me illustrate this critical phenomenon with the examples of a historian, an anthropologist, and a political scientist all of whom share the radicalization of their depiction of Romanian cultural discourse.

Keith Hitchins sees post-1848 Romania as torn between "two general directions... [o]ne, drawing upon the Western European experience, would lead to industrialization and urbanization and bring radical changes to every facet of Rumanian society; the other was based upon Rumania's agricultural past and emphasized the preservation of traditional social structures and cultural values" (Hitchins 1994: 55). Between the two world wars the situation is pretty much the same, and although the historian admits that the Romanian intellectuals engaged in the "Europeanists" versus "traditionalists" polemic evinced "the most diverse ideological commitments", he finds that "[t]he affinities of both groups with pre-war currents of thought are striking" (292).

Katherine Verdery's version of nation-building is more sophisticated, but cannot finally resist the attraction of political combat (Verdery 1995: xii). Although she preserves the East-West oppositional scheme in describing intellectual debates before and during communism in Romania, Verdery complicates the picture by inserting Marxism into the Western paradigm of liberalism. In her latest book, Verdery confesses that anthropological research of socialist Romania developed her appetite and commitment to Marxism: "Reading and admiring Capital was thus the culmination, not the beginning, of my research into 'real socialism'. The result was a commitment to the critique of capitalist forms through the critical examination of socialist ones." (Verdery 1996: 9) Moreover, she seems to believe that both sides of the debate on the future of Romania produce the same (negative) effect in Romanian culture: they solidify national(ist) ideology and the position of intellectual elites which specialize in constructing it (41).

Verdery's critique of "national ideology" has thus imperceptibly led to a radical (Marxifying) reconstruction not only of Romanian culture, but also of Western democracy and American values. Her ideological realinement is also performed by means of political antagonism, this time between Western civil pluralism and East European ethnic nationalism. Here is Verdery employing the radical grid as she describes the idea of nation:

"Historically, the idea of 'nation' has meant a relationship of two kinds: first, a citizenship relation, in which the nation is the collective sovereign emanating from common political participation; and second, a relation known as ethnicity, in which the nation comprises all those of supposedly common language, history, or broader 'cultural' identity. The 'citizenship' meaning of nation seems to have originated in centers of liberal democracy, where it only sometimes coexists (as for example in France) with the 'ethnic' meaning of nation. The latter is the meaning most common in Eastern Europe and is the one usually associated with 'nationalism' - by which I mean the invocation of putative cultural or linguistic sameness toward political ends and the sentiment that responds to such invocation." (Verdery 1996: 84)

With this new antagonism, the American anthropologist proceeds to further analyze post-1989 Romanian culture which reconfirms her revised version of the traditional antagonism (Ch. 5 "Civil Society or Nation? Europe in the Symbolism of Postsocialist Politics", 104-129). Verdery's dichotomy between civil and ethnic discourses is shared by Vladimir Tismãneanu in his description of post-communist Eastern Europe. One chapter-heading in his 1996 article, The Leninist Debris or Waiting for Peron, speaks of "The Split Between Individualistic and Communitarian Values" (528) and reverts to a well-known clash of paradigms: the (neo-)classic/Enlightenment versus the romantic (511-2). His critique of Romanian political culture is performed through a clear confrontation between the liberal (pro-Enlightenment) ideals which he shares and the loathsome ethnocratic drives:

"For the foreseeable future, the East European situation (regardless of the hegemonic self-congratulatory narratives) will remain in the ideological age; symbols, myths, rationalized miracles, liturgical (ethnoreligious) nationalisms, and teleological pretense have returned after the short-lived 'postmodern' interlude of the revolutions of 1989. And with them, the politics of emotion, irrationality, hostility, anger, and unavowed, unbearable shame. This is indeed the politics of rancorous marginality, 'cultural despair' (Fritz Stern), and convulsive impotence that the nascent democratic (dis)order can barely contain. The fate of Yugoslavia tells much about the infinite capacity of elites in these societies to restore the fallacies and the follies of the past to the rank of new national mythologies in the attempt to maintain and expand their hold on power... True, some of these politicians pay lip service to liberal values, but their true commitment is to a vision of politics that subordinates the individual to the interests of the nation-state (as defined by them, of course)." (Tismãneanu 1996: 507-8, 514)

One cannot ignore the fact that these discussions are mostly carried in the midst of dramatic situations like gruesome wars and disastrous social crises which call for urgent choices and decisive actions. But, although I acknowledge that radical, either/or type decisions need to be taken in such cases, there are some cumbersome consequences of reducing the intellectual landscape to the stark conflict between pro-Western modern liberals and pro-Eastern traditional conservatives.

One such consequence is that nationalism will usually be dispatched to the latter, less respectable stance with insufficient consideration. The composite sketch resulting from this neat antithesis opposes liberalism, seen as a rational, materialistic practice of democracy based on universal participation in social-political life, to nationalism (ethnocracy) figured as an irrational, speculative attitude with "potentials for exclusion and for war" (Verdery 1996: 84).

Therefore, nationalism is objectionable not only theoretically, as a fictitious description of collectivities, but also morally, as an undemocratic offense to tolerance and individual rights. But the purely geographic East-West dichotomy between "good" and "bad" cultures has been recently called into question by cultural critics, and it really is not hard to see how the West (indeed, the United States themselves) has been constantly practicing the very obnoxious forms of nationalism it condemns in Eastern (European) countries (Mestrovic 1994: 61-78).

Moreover, due to such manicheistic descriptions, many texts and authors whose only fault is that they do not fit the liberal scheme have to be dumped into the cage of war criminals and racist delinquents. The schematics of war-like descriptions forces even liberal critics to sometimes transform differences into differends as if blindfolded by the sect of Manes and intoxicated with the very slogan they deplore: "Whoever is not with us is against us."

Before going any further, I have to make it quite clear that I am not criticizing liberal attitudes from an adverse position. On the contrary, what dissatisfies me is the very possibility of falling short of sound liberal principles like those of tolerance and pluralism. Nor am I questioning the mechanics and outcome of the liberal censorship of nationalism in order to altogether dismiss moral judgement - I am simply calling for its refinement.

My fear, then, is that the radicalization of intellectual descriptions which I have discussed so far may lead in fact to an estrangement of liberalism which consists, as shown above, in a mechanistic excess. In such an undesirable scenario, the liberal critics devise a critical passe-partout which provides easy access to truth, morality and pragmatic success. What drives by them is a reverie of self-run norms, which dispense with the individual judgment of particular cases - the genuine manifestation of critical sense. Hither lies the subtle spectre of conservatism. To use Andrei Plesu's terms in his Minima moralia, having managed to avoid thinking without criteria, the liberal critic performs the opposite excess - criteria without thinking.

Also, I cannot believe that any liberal critic would find reasonable the condemnation of all attempts to access or affirm collective identity through discursive (linguistic) practices. While it is true that English is spoken differently by different linguistic communities, the speaking of English does institute a peculiar perception and attitude with its speakers, which may be said to differ from that of, say, Francophone or Russophone collectivities. To ban the concept of sameness and difference through discourse, or the legitimacy of non-liberal ideologies strikes me as a form of intolerance no less repelling than the policy of "crimethink".

I do not share the "postmodernist" belief in "the end of the Enlightenment project" in which I really see manifest a more persistent spirit to be found in earlier as well as later "projects". However, Stjepan Mestrovic may be right to a certain extent when he accuses the liberal West of hegemonism and "cosmopolitan provincialism" for its attempt to impose cultural and political homogeneity, a practice which does seem pretty ethnocentric itself (Mestrovic 1994: viii, 5 and Rajchman 1995: 213-6).

By contrast to this worst-case scenario, the exemplary attitude of a genuinely liberal critic may be illustrated by Vladimir Tismãneanu who refrains from authoritarian impositions when confronted with two different thought-frames, H.H.Stahl's enlightened objective sociology of Romanian rural communities and Lucian Blaga's mytho-poetic speculations on the Romanian village:

"I believe there is a fundamental incompatibility between, on the one hand, the approach cherished and developed by Stahl and, on the other, that undertaken by Blaga, within the limits of myth, metaphysics and poetry. However, each of these two types of approaching Romanian reality is legitimate and only an inquisitorial perspective would aim to supress one on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the other." (Tismãneanu 1994:159-160)

Tismãneanu cannot bring himself to banish either one of the two interpretive positions, for fear he would become part of the "intolerance for the very ideea of diversity" which in Romania turns any polemic into accusations of antipatriotism (159).

The same tolerance of ideological pluralism is evinced by Hayden White in his investigation of ideologies behind various types of historiographic discourse, a field not entirely unrelated since, in Renan’s opinion, “getting its history wrong is part of being a nation”:

"In my view, there are no extra-ideological grounds on which to arbitrate among the conflicting conceptions of [...] the different ideologies. For, since these conceptions have their origins in ethical considerations, the assumption of a given epistemological position by which to judge their cognitive adequacy would itself represent only another ethical choice." (White 1973: 26)

Tismãneanu and White are not the only critics tolerant of plurality in this our century which started with Niels Bohr's principle of the complementarity of mutually exclusive theories. Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) proposed the thesis of the incommensurability of paradigms which opened the way to a wave of unexpected pluralistic pronouncements. In his celebrated 1966 article, Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences, Derrida speaks of the undecidability between "two interpretations of interpretation". Richard Rorty's Consequences of Pragmatism (1982) acknowledges "two ways of thinking about various things" with two different representations of truth, and Stanley Fish joins in this choir of tolerance when he allows for the coexistence of two different paradigms, the "serious" and the "rhetorical" man (Fish 1989: 499-502).

As to cultural paradigms, the host of pluralists is enforced by Durkheim's rejection of the Western monopoly on democracy and individualism, as well as the more recent critique of the "Enlightenment Secular (or Rationalist) Fundamentalism" coming from Ernest Gellner who, in Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (1992), finds the modern episteme of the Western civilization just "one style of knowledge" among others which it contaminates and disrupts (Mestrovic 1994: 64-7).

My own methodological suggestions will be supportive of ideological pluralism and will in part coincide with Hayden White's phenomenological analysis of ideological discourse-types. The reason why I chose to engage in a more metaphysical approach is the important body of evidence which seems to indicate that material and intellectual contexts are not enough to explain nationalism.

The evidence I am thinking of includes the quasi-autonomy of nationalism from the communist social-political environment which accommodated such diverse and even opposing phenomena as internationalist utopias (the Marxist legacy), imperialistic appetites (the Soviet Union), and ethnocentric xenophobia (Ceausescu's protochronism, for instance). Also, the dissipation of nationalist quibbles in Romania after November 1996 at the moment of severest crisis in the transition to a market economy may dismiss attempts to have material shortage account for nationalism. Finally, as I will demonstrate with Romanian examples, nationalist/ethnic discourse precedes (romantic) German ideology, though it is traditionally regarded as its off-spring.

A Working Definition of Nationalism
But, first, let me start by making a few preliminary distinctions regarding the term "nationalism" which has been employed to designate so many different things and be confused with almost anything else. This is a result of the difficulty the central concept of nation raises, which has driven even one of the best students of nationalism, Hugh Seton-Watson, to the hopeless conclusion that "no 'scientific definition' of the nation can be devised" (Anderson 1990: 13). He is seconded today by the no less respectable Eric Hobsbawm who feels “the word ‘nation’ is today used so widely and imprecisely that the use of the vocabulary of nationalism today may mean very little indeed” (Hobsbawm 1990: 9).

It is true that critics use the term "nationalism" rather indiscriminately to name different things like xenophobia and love of one’s country, racism and loyalty to one’s people, chauvinism and national consciousness, territorial appetite and self-determination, the ethnographic theory of the nation-state and federal activism, collectivism and individualism, hurt national pride and patriotism, speculative constructs and political action, defensive and offensive attitudes, xenophobia and patriotism.

Such disarray is prone to nominalist protests like that of A. O. Lovejoy in the case of a similarly problematic notion in the history of ideas, Romanticism, which is traditionally considered to be the initiator of the nationalistic age. In the epoch-making essay of 1923, On the Discrimination of Romanticisms, Lovejoy's verdict was that "the word 'romantic' has come to mean so many things that, by itself, it means nothing" and advocated the acknowledgement of a "plurality of Romanticisms" which lacked any unifying feature.

Like him, I am dissatisfied with the terminological muddle. Unlike him, I find a nominalist conclusion to be an inadequate description and a logical inconsistency. Like him, I propose a variety of Nationalisms. Unlike him, I do not see them as unrelated, unstable processes, but rather as products of four fundamental types of discourse.

Before discussing the types of Nationalism, however, let me distinguish between Nationalism and its misnomers. For the sake of precision and with due respect for Occam's rasor, I choose to see Nationalism as a form of self-consciousness, which conceives one's identity in relation to collectivities. All other phenomena which are sometimes called by the same name (see supra) may be related to, or contiguous with, but are nevertheless different from nationalism and that is why they have their own names. Nationalism is therefore a critical act, where critical means a self- reflexive interpretation of collective life.

With this last qualification in mind, nationalism has to be distinguished from emotional or passional reactions to the local for they are un-critical and, therefore, devoid of self-reflexivity. Such are patriotism (love of one's country), solidarity (group sympathy), ethnic communion (sharing in the spirit of a community), chauvinism (extreme devotion and self-sacrifice to one's country) or xenophobia (fear/hatred of foreigners).

Finally, Nationalism is a concern with internal cohesion and a reaction to external coercion. It will therefore insist on unity and commonality, be it of territory, of race or blood, of history, of language, of customs, of institutions. Nationalism attempts to endow the life of a community with coherence, pretty much as an individual does with his personal life. The destiny that is thus drawn is the making of a nation’s history, a process at once reflective and active. Nationalism informs the nation’s account of the past and its project for the future, it fictionalizes the material and materializes the fictional.

The difference between nationalism and historiography resides in the relation to one’s subject, not in the quality of the interpretation. Hobsbawm’s belief that nationalist accounts of the past are (intentionally) “wrong” or subjective, while historical ones are “right”because objective and politically non-commited (1990: 12-3) can hardly be accepted today, after a by now long standing epistemological campaign to raise awareness of the unavoidably fictional and ideological nature of historiography. It does not even take theoretical insight to detect hidden political agendas, or merely emotional attitudes in historians with no relevant nationalistic stakes in their subject. In fact, historiography should at least consider, if not rely on, the nationalistic accounts of each nation’s past in order to accede to the higher cohesion of trans-national past.

The Tropology of Nationalist Discourse
But Nationalism should not be regarded as a uniform manifestation of discursive collective identity. As discourse is inherently tropological, there are a few fundamental manners of constructing identity. The meaning I give such typological realities is very close to, though significantly modified from, Hayden White's views in Metahistory (and The Tropics of Discourse), where he c alls them "modes of historiographic consciousness" or, more ambitiously, "styles of thought".

If tropos (like, in fact, typos, or ethos) may also mean "manner" or "way of life", then the concept of (national) identity can indeed be defined in "tropological" terms. This is not to say that rhetoric must replace metaphysics: the two have to coexist. Although Benedict Anderson has rightfully imposed them in contemporary criticism as "imagined", as "cultural artefacts", nations are not simply "inventions", as Ernest Gellner claims - they are rather styles in which discourse shapes communities (Anderson 1990: 15 and Verdery 1995: 8-9).

In his analysis of historiographic discourse, Hayden White takes the four master tropes of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony (cf. also Kenneth Burke's Appendix to A Grammar of Motives) to be the hidden mechanisms that prefigure four basic ideologies: the Anarchic, the Radical, the Liberal, and the Conservative. But, he hastens to specify, these are not the historical movements, the political parties or their platforms, they are names for "general ideological preferences" (1973: 24).

White's four ideologies are really archetypal mental patterns on which any intellectual construction rests, irrespective of (because preceding) practical aims. The relations between them form a cross-polarity in which, by twos, they share one similar feature and oppose each other in one respect.

Thus, in White's account, Liberalism and Conservatism share a desire to preserve the continuity of existing order and only accept slow and gradual changes, but Conservatism relies on an irrationalist, intuitive knowledge of the natural progress of society, while Liberalism looks at a mechanistic order in a rational manner, relying on political structures and legislation.

Anarchism and Radicalism, on the other hand, share an attraction for discontinuity both as a cataclysmic transformation of the extant order and as an interest in individuals or particular structures, but while Anarchism shares with Conservatism an irrationalist belief in the natural sense of humanity of the individuals associating by virtue of empathy, Radicalism shares with Liberalism a rational, scientific approach of the concrete conditions of social progress.

Of the features provided by White for these four ideological modes I selected those I found to be more consistent and salient, and I translated them into a componential-analysis type of description with th intent to provide an intrinsic rationale for the system and the correspondences in it. Also, I exchanged the Archetropes (as I prefer to call them) of Antithesis and Simile for White's choice of metonymy and synecdoche, respectively, and reversed some of the correspondences he establishes between (arche)tropes and ideologies.

Based on the componential analysis of the four types I reassigned them to slightly different prefiguring Archetropes ("Master Tropes") and their respective, less exemplary figurative sub-variants. The resulting table of these four modes now looks like this:

Anarchist Nationalism

Let me start with Nationalism in the "Anarchist" mode. The Anarchic type of self-identification is irrational because it works intuitively through empathy and discontinuous since it configures the uniqueness of a nation and is entirely indifferent to extraneous social impositions.

The Anarchist program has been made especially known by William Godwin (An Inquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793) whose synthesis of anarchism influenced Shelley, Wordsworth and Hazlitt, and by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (What Is Property?, 1840). For these exemplary Anarchists, human interaction comes naturally in small autonomous communities which are representative nuclei of (ethnic) communion. Anarchism is a forma mentis which originated a long tradition of the rejection of social-political authoritarianism dating back to the Stoics and the Cynics. Godwin was simply summing up previous proposals like that of Gerrard Winstanley and his 1649 pamphlet Truth Lifting Up Its Head Above Scandals which lays down the basic principles of Anarchism: dissent against imposed authority, disdain for the selfish greed of private property, natural freedom and communion, passive resistance.

Convinced of the natural harmony and consubstantiality of the members of a community, the Anarchic Nationalist engages in introspection. He hopes to discover the unitary essence of a nation in the individual (usually himself) and in atomic cultural manifestations. Hence the distrust for centralized governments and normative forms of organization. This unity is restricted to the level of individuality and interiority, and is a stranger to anything external like aims and desires, plans and programs, causes and effects. Hayden White (1973: 357-374) discovers archetypal Anarchism in Nietzsche's perspective on social history as a corruption of the innocent Metaphoric vision, which makes him proclaim in The Genealogy of Moral:

"There is no set of maxims more important than this: that the actual causes of a thing's origins and its eventual uses, the manner of its incorporation into a system of purposes, are worlds apart; [...] that all processes in the organic world are processes of outstripping and overcoming, and that, in turn, all outstripping and overcoming means reinterpretation, rearrangement, in the course of which earlier meaning and purpose are necessarily either obscured or lost."

Rousseau's transcending of the Enlightenment project in his Social Contract (1762) is an example of Anarchist Nationalism. Rousseau advocates the spontaneous and internal construction of a nation through the individuals' feeling of affinity and their common representation of simple destiny and responsibilities, and he sees this form of national identity best illustrated in the limited communities of the Swiss republics, reminiscent of the Greek city-states (Kohn 1955: 20-2).

Jules Michelet's Anarchic Nationalism in his Historical View of the French Revolution is easily recognizable in his praise of "the new principle" of patriotism which he opposes to "the old principle" of authoritarian institutions like the parliaments, the nobility, and the clergy. By this new principle he means innate sociability ("the fundamental basis of human nature") manifest as "a mutual effusion of the heart" which led to "the spontaneous organization of France", independently, by local communities (97-9).

The fundamental trope of Anarchism and its version of Nationalism is Metaphor. Through metaphor, Anarchism prefigures a quintessential unity of the individual and the collective, of the concrete and the abstract, of perception and conception, of the practical and the contemplative before these pairs could have been separated into antinomies.

Michelet and his account of the national impact of the French Revolution can serve again as a perfect example of how Metaphorism is more than ornamentation, of how Metaphorizing is the very thought-process in discoursing collective identity. The French historian derives the spirit of France from the symbols and personifications centered around the "solemn banquet of liberty" (itself a metaphoric ritual of communion), such as the Mother, a represetation of the native land obviously conflating the etymological meaning of ‘nation’, the Child, as the incipient, innocent, reduced version of both the individual and of social renewal adopted by all members of the community, or the Marriage, a pretty straight-forward "symbol of union" (98-102). Through each of its communities engaged in these metaphoric rituals of union, the nation acquires the attributes of the social atom - the family

In Romanian culture, the Anarchist intuition of the national has been amply represented. Many writers looked for Romanianness in individual words, individual metaphors, individual myths, individual texts. They found that a fragment may own the immense symbolic power of containing the whole. Like Blake, they dreamed:

"To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour." (Auguries of Innocence)

In 1918 Romania finally became reunited with all territories traditionally inhabited by Romanians. In 1919, at his opening lecture on Geography at the recently Romanianized University of Cluj, George Vâlsan discusses the importance of an ancestral "sense of place" (as Seamus Heaney would call it today), preceding the concept of fatherland. He finds it in a word, mosie, a word designating traditionally inherited land, a word derived from mos, meaning "old man", "grandfather" or "forefather":

"The Romanian does not say: 'I fight for my people', he says: 'I fight for my country, for my mosie. And wisely so, for he does not fight simply for this great agglomeration of contemporaries, but also for his land, - this land our peasant cherishes so, - and for his forefathers [mosi] which this land preserves. What a fine word mosie! Evidently it comes from mosi, but it still refers to land. It joins these elements into one.[...] And it is so right that the notion of land in its diverse geographic fashions should be part of the obscure national conscience of the peasant![...] Nature is endowed with a soul, and that soul is ours." (Chimet 1992: III, 29)

Vâlsan, therefore, performs a phenomenological bracketing of indefinite mental acts such as that underlying the word mosie, and finds in such isolated products of Romanian culture a metaphoric unifying power, not just at the stylistic level, but also at a metaphysical one. Incidentally, he also offers a counter-illustration for Benedict Anderson's definition of "nation-ness" as "horizontal comradeship" and "confidence of community in anonymity". (Anderson 1990:16, 40)

The same belief that you can find the essence of a culture in individual words was entertained by Mircea Vulcãnescu, an exceptional philosopher who died a sublime death in a communist prison. Vulcãnescu portrayed a "Romanian dimension of existence" from a phenomenological investigation of a few scattered but essential words like a fi (to be) and its derivates, fiinta (being) and fire (individual nature or way of being), or întotdeauna ("always", but, literally, "in-all-as-one") which Vulcanescu finds related to the Greek en kai pan).

Seen from the perspective of his Anarchist perception of collective identity, Vulcãnescu's death becomes a predictable, necessary gesture. When someone in the cell were he was held as a political prisoner broke the interdiction to speak and would not step forward to admit it, Vulcãnescu took the blame on himself and was incarcerated naked, in the wintertime, in a cell with a wet floor. A young man sharing his fate collapsed with exposure, at which Vulcãnescu lied down as a living bed, bearing the young man on his back. As a result, he caught pneumonia and died. The incident became public through Constantin Noica's report, a friend of Vulcãnescu and a distinguished philosopher himself, who vexed the readership with a post-mortem admonition of Vulcãnescu's impulsive deed, which, in Noica's view, was a betrayal of the greater responsibility towards Romanian and world culture.

Noica's comments on Vulcãnescu's death, in keeping with his "supraethical" vision caused incensed reactions from younger humanists who immediately censored him as morally deficient (Andreescu 1992: 82-3, 86-7, Antohi 1994: 178). For my part, I believe this is a clash of competing, yet equally respectable, and just as equally partial ideologies with their necessarily approximate ethics: Vulcãnescu's Anarchist sense of small-scale, irrational and non-pragmatic bondage with a fellow human being versus Noica's Conservative version of anti-materialism and irrationalism, ironic and concerned exclusively with the greater spirit of Romanian culture (see infra).

Lucian Blaga, a poet and a philosopher, proposes a typically Romanian "stylistic matrix" which is illustrated by such metaphors as the plai (undulating, hilly and green plateaus, typical territory of shepherds). For Blaga, the plai is a product of a specifically Romanian vision replicated in architecture, poetry, philosophical temperament etc. It is a complex spiritual scape, "an elevated, rhythmic and indefinite horizon made of hills and hollows" which configures the melancholy, bitter-sweet Romanian universe as a mitigation of opposites.

The examples given so far illustrate the attitude of certain philosophers between the two world wars which prompted most critics to regard such formulations of Romanian Nationalism as an off-shoot of radical, neo-romantic, right-wing German ideology, as claimed by many critics (Karnooh 1994: 146-171, Verdery 1995: 48-9, Hitchins 1994: 297-306, Livezeanu 1995: 248, Strensky 1987: 70-129, Volovici 1991: 16, 45-94). Although I do not aim to contradict the factuality of this ideological migration, the exclusiveness of the fascist genelogy is unacceptable on two accounts. First, we will find co-occuring formulations of Romanian Nationalism that belong to different ideologies, and, second, the "Anarchist" version of Nationalism is to be found both earlier and later in Romanian culture. And if the later occurances might be confused with mere echoes of inter-war right-wing extremist ideologies, then the earlier cases of Anarchist Nationalism can no longer be explained off as fascist.

The Wallachian Prince Vlaicu already distinguished between "our Romanians" and Greeks in 1369. Interestingly enough, the people and the language were even then perceived as unitary (Romanian) although the three politically independent principalities of the Romanians were called Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, and although the printing press, a determining factor in Anderson’s account of nationalism, had not yet been invented. Still, there is ample textual and factual evidence that Romanians had an awareness of a common origin (Rome and the Roman colonists of ancient Dacia) and of a shared language despite the individual development of the three principalities under different spheres of influence.

This ethnic conscience of Romanians in all three principalities was supported by their sharing "the same law [i.e., Christian and customary] and the same language" (Luca Stroici: 1593, 1595, Coressi: 1563, 1564, 1567, Matei Basarab: 1639, Varlaam: 1643, 1678, Gr. Ureche: 1647, M. Costin: 1675, 1677, 1684, 1691 etc. quoted in Georgescu 1987). In 1850, Aron Pumnul defined nation as "the whole of a people of the same blood, speaking the same language and sharing the same customs." In the 1820s the native land is anthropomorphized in the metaphor of the loving mother. One writer exclaims in rapture: "Motherland, sweet name, like an ancestral memory, clironomy of the beginnings with which my heart is conjoined!" (Naum Râmniceanu, On the Origin of the Romanians, 1820)

In other words, their Nationalism was abstracted from spiritual elements and conceived outside the context of common institutions or common interests. The exceptional historiographer Vlad Georgescu could not find in the texts of the times any indication "whether the unity of origin made them think of a political unity too" (Georgescu 1987:330).

To me, these illustrations show that, although entirely outside the scope of Enlightenment liberal humanism, Anarchist Nationalism cannot be reduced to communist ideology, whose impersonal globality it rejects (as did Bakunin with Marx's "German authoritarianism" in the Socialist International) and whose obsession with the question of property it deplores. Nor can it be explained off as a mere symptom of right-wing Romantic ideology.

Radical Nationalism

There is also a "Radical" version of Nationalism. The Arch-Radical shares with the Anarchist a commitment to discontinuity both in his call for abrupt or revolutionary change and in his concern with the singularity of his nation. But unlike the irrationalist, introspective Anarchist, the Radical dwells in the concrete: he has ardent aims, makes bold plans and calls for extreme actions. Unlike the natural Anarchist who is distrustful of social constructions, the Radical wants to reshape social life and "reconstitute society on new bases" although both envisage "cataclysmic transformations" (White, 1973: 24). His conduct is rational, he analyses, judges, and wants to control events in their immediate, particular context. I am not including here what sometimes passes as “radical”, but is really extremist passion under the guise of xenophobia and chauvinism.

Radical antinomism can work diachronically, when advocating a drastic change from a previous social practice to a new one (as in the case of universal manhood suffrage proposed by Ch. James Fox in 1797 and by pre-1848 French radicals, or in that of the broad social reforms called for by Clemenceau and the Radical-Socialist Party at the turn of the century). But there can also be structural, synchronic antithesis as in Marx's vision of "class struggle".

The Radical version of Nationalism is probably best represented by Nikolai Danilevsky whose Russia and Europe: An Inquiry into the Cultural and Political Relations of the Slav World and of the Germano-Latin World constructs a pan-Slavism based on a hostility between his nation, a superior race, a chosen people moved by Orthodoxy, the only acceptable religion, and the (Germano-Latin) rest of Western Europe (Kohn 1955: 151-5). This theme of a nation elect and perceived as exceptional in opposition to all others and meant to perform a divine or historic mission is far from being monopolised by the Slavs. It has been predilect with the more advanced Western nations and empires too, whether it was Milton’s or Blake’s England, the New Jerusalem, stirred by the vision of “Rule Britania”, Germany and its compulsive Deutschland, Deutschland, über ales, or the very United States whose determination to be the leader of the civilized world spans the one and a half century from Frank L. O’Sullivan belief in Uncle Sam’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent alloted by Providence” to Jerry McGuire’s managerial push for athletic supremacy (the film’s first words are “America still sets the pace for the rest of the world.”). The excesses of this sense of a mission were diagnosed with bitter premonition by William James at the turn of the century:

“...we have to deal with a factor peculiar with our belief, namely, in a national destiny which must be ‘big’ at any cost, and which for some inscrutable reason it has become infamous for us to disbelieve in or refuse. We are to be missionaries of civilization, and to bear the white man’s burden, painful as it often is. We must sow our ideals, plant our order, impose our God. The individual lives are nothing. Our duty and our destiny call, and civilization must go on.” (Kohn 1970: 108)

The fundamental trope of Radicalism and its version of Nationalism is Antithesis, identity as difference and contrast. Antithesis introduces a new form of discontinuity, not the insightful symbolic autonomy of the Anarchist, but outward isolation through distinction.

Romanian Nationalism also has a Radical version. As early as the 17th century (M. Costin, De neamul moldovenilor, din ce tarã au iesit stramosii lor, 1691; M. Cantacuzino, Istoria Tãrii Românesti, 1716), Romanian identity came to be defined by contrast to other entities - whether ehnic groups or empires - through distinctions between good traits and bad traits of national character, and in the polemic form of argument, since political strife led to challenges of a historical and juridic nature.

Also, we are moving from the symbolic definition of national unity with vague temporal dimensions, to a more palpable idea of nation as a collectivity of contemporaries with a shared ascent and common interests. Nationalism becomes more programatic, and manuals of patriotism are issued (S. Nicola: 1829 etc.). The quality of being a Romanian is selective and does not reside in mere birth or residence, hence the often anthologized dictum of Tudor Vladimirescu, a 1821 revolutionary hero: "The motherland is the people and not the bandits' gang" (Patria e poporul, iar nu tagma jefuitorilor). He was no doubt referring to the Greek princes who bought their right to rule Wallachia from the Ottoman Empire. The ethnic allusion proved not only fit but fateful too. Vladimirescu died at the hands of his envious associate and rival, the commander of the Greek nationalist movement Eteria, a premonitory name.

As we move into the nineteenth century, the adversative construction of Radical Nationalism increases its pitch as Romania fights her several enemies to gain political union (1859 and 1918) and independence (1877).

Inter-war Romania witnesses a new form of Radical Nationalism engaged in ultra-critical self-deprecation. The critical vein explodes into sweeping denial. Tidal waves of sarcasm and mockery crash over Romanianness in a huge effort to singularize the nation through its defects. Before leaving Romania for good, Eugene Ionesco wrote a devastating pamphlet called No. Tristan Tzara, the notorious pen-name of the Romanian Jew Samuel Rosenstock, is a transliteration of the Romanian phrase trist în tarã which means "sad in my country". This other leader of the world avangarde also emigrated and created a form of anti-literature, as did Eugene Ionesco.

Another famous emigre, Emil Cioran, became the last great nihilist in the European tradition. In 1934, Cioran published a volume called On the Heights of Despair. In 1939, his last Romanian book was published, Romania's Transfiguration. It read: "There must reside in the psychic potential of the Romanian people an inadequacy, a non-comformity of sources which take the shape of a substantial deficiency. While so many other peoples were possessed by a germ of spontaneity, an original active irradiation, an uncontained explosion, the Romanian form of living suffers from lack of a primordial dynamism[...] The necessity of a historic leap appears all the more imperative [...] The fatalism of our kin is a curse we will have to terminate in thunders. May its sparks cut to our very core. I want another people!" Cioran left the country in 1937 and never returned.

A feeling of guilt and shame not unlike that usually experienced by victims of rape led to a wave of self-deprecating jokes in the last years of communism in Romania (and the most dreadful since the forced Stalinization in the late forties and the fifties). The jokes, no doubt, were also a reaction to the demented missionarism of Ceausescu’s protochronist nationalism (Verdery 1995). One such joke proclaimed: “Romania is the most beautiful country in the world - it’s such a shame, though, that it had to be populated by the Romanians...” The nation was still perceived as exceptional: exceptionally bad.

It is jokes like this that testify for the ability of the Romanians to remain lucid and self-critical about their radical excesses. Katherine Verdery seems to believe that communist Romania, as well as the rest of Eastern Europe, was afflicted with a pathologic construction of the subject by the “us (common pople) versus them (party officials)” antagonism. (A mimetic thesis that establishes the opposition between “us” Westerners and “them” Romanians.)

A very popular Romanian joke spoke of this very schism between public and private personas. A Western journalist comes to Romania for first-hand experience of the people’s state of mind. He stops someone in the street and asks him what he thinks about various aspects of life in communist Romania. Cautious of the omnipresent Security Police, the man constantly replies by quoting the official pronouncements of the Communist Party. When asked by the dissatisfied journalist if he has no personal opinions, the interviewee’s considered reply is that, yes, he has his own opinions - but he strongly disagrees with them. The joke shows that this apparent shizophrenia was in fact a calculated strategy of survival and adaptation, not an uncontrollable and unwitting mental condition.

Liberal Nationalism

The next type of Nationalism is the Liberal. Arch-Liberalism shares with Radicalism the rational and materialistic inclinations, but will look for general laws and trends to explain and guide the nation. Also, the Liberal no longer cares for revolutionary solutions. He rather militates for evolutionary change and will engage in the gradual reform and fine tuning of the social and political institutions. It must be noted that although apparently an individualistic world-view, Liberalism operates and envisages the fulfillment of individual rights exclusively through legiferated and universal processes of social coherence, the exact reverse of the existentialist private reaction to social order by means of which the Radical aims to anuul the old, and ascertain the new, social homogeneity.

That Liberal Nationalism is not a contradiction in terms is demonstrated, among others, by Carl Schurz and his 1859 Bostaon address, True Americanism:

“True Americanism, toleration, the equality of rights, has absorbed their prejudices, and will peaceably absorb everything that is not consistent with the victorious spirit of our institutions.” (Kohn 1955: 145)

The fundamental trope of Liberalism is the Simile. Its function is integrative, it works to aggregate the nation by means of comparing and finding material commonality between individuals. In Humboldt's terms, Simile can be said to have a "connective ability" which operates against a background of coherence, of an "antecedent congruity between subject and object" (The Task of the Historian).

In such a perspective on the nation, metaphors of common origin and distinctions of singularity are less important. The nation has to be endowed with social and political determination, it has to be integrated in an objective causal nexus. When challenged, the Liberal Nationalist will no longer conjure evidence of the past, but rather produce logical arguments and present the materiality of the present.

In Ce sã fie românii (1842 - What Could Romanians Be) G. Baritz gives up demonstrating once more the origins of his nation in Transylvania and, instead, uses common sense: how could a nation of several million people emigrate across the Danube in the 13th century? And even if they did, then the Hungarians allowed themselves to become a minority in a country they already possessed which is evidence of their political impotence. This critical attitude is new and evinces a more liberal concern with social-political realities.

The ad-hoc Assembly of Moldavia offers a new definition of the nation two years before the Union with Wallachia in 1859 that betrays a Liberal Nationalist ideology prepared to lead the process of political unification to its ultimate conclusion: "we have the same origin, the same language, the same religion, the same history, the same institutions, the same laws and traditions, the same fears and hopes, the same needs to satisfy, the same frontiers to defend, the same grievances to overcome, the same future to ensure and finally the same mission to fulfill." Notice also how simile creates the internal structure of the argument.

This was meant as material evidence of a nation's congruent self-presence. In 1875, A.D. Xenopol was invoking the legal right of national majorities, rather than historical documents, in order to justify demands for civil rights of the Romanians as a majority in Transylvania.

Eugen Lovinescu was an exemplary Liberal Nationalist. In his History of Modern Romanian Civilization (1924-6) he traces the formation of the nation as the gradual infusion of Western liberal ideology starting with the mid-nineteenth century. Lovinescu feels that "'politicianism' represents the most intimate trait of our race" and he offers a sociological explanation of the making of the Romanian Nation. He believes that "the process of the formation of the soul is not revolutionary, rather evolutive; but, as it is determined and prompted by the conditions of our moral and material existence, we can have a benefic influence on it." Lovinescu's deepest concern is that "if we were to deny the role of institutions in social life, we would be denying the very possibility of any progress". Lovinescu’s pet theory was that of “synchronism”, an elaboration on the mechanics of Simile according to which mere imitation of Western society brings uniformity and creates a viable society in Romania. Analogous liberal concerns about the making of Romania can be found in other critics like St. Zeletin, Mircea Djuvara, M. Manoilescu.

Following 1989, a new wave of liberal nationalism emerged with young critics like Stefan Antohi, Gabriel Andreescu, Mioara Caragea, and, most notoriously, Horia-Roman Patapievici. They all coincide in jeering at the "traditional" version of irrationalist, intuitive nationalism and its obsession with the metaphysics of identity as most entertainingly illustrated by this passage from Patapievici, a ruthless parody of the Metaphorics of Anarchic Nationalism:

"To be a Romanian did not pose for me any problem of choice: it was an ineluctable destiny. A dilect one, no doubt, for the optimistic, flattering ontology edified by Mircea Vulcãnescu and Constantin Noica... seemed to create a right. Romanianness, consequently, was instituted as a kind of privilege, a kind of baptism through birth, even preceding birth. To be a Romanian meant to be chosen. You have, no doubt, been able to recognize this as the ethnic theory of the stamped spermatozoon" (1995: 84)

Consevative Nationalism

The last form of Nationalism is Conservative. Like Liberalism, it is another form of gradual continuity, but it disregards rational explanations based on the material aspects of reality. Instead, it reflects on the organic development of the nation conceived as a spiritual whole.

The organic integral nature of the nation cannot be explained by the mere sum of its parts, rather by the hidden dialectic of opposing principles which have to be intuited, a feature it shares with Anarchism. The evolution of the nation is perceived as a natural rhythm, a plantlike growth which cannot be programed and should not be tampered with. The best example of Conservative Nationalism is that of Herder’s theory of the Volkgeist, the spirit of a nation, seen as an organic growth and a self-revelation of the Divine (Kohn 1955: 31-2).

The fundamental trope of Conservatism is Irony. Irony plays opposites one against the other and teases with their paradoxical identity. It is also a superior form of self-knowledge.

There has always been a conservative streak in the Romanian sense of nationhood. The desperate fight for national self-preservation against the many empires imposed paradoxical strategies, ironic conversions of appearances into their opposites.

For instance, historian Vlad Georgescu talks of a theory of capitulation common among the Romanian princes, by which the country was both vassal and autonomous. After 47 years on the throne of Moldova during which time he fought and kept at bay the Poles, the Hungarians, and, most importantly, the Turks, after defeating the glorious conqueror of Constantinople and being called "Christ's Athlete" by the Pope, Prince Stephen the Great left a surprising political legacy. As he lay dying, Stephen called his successor and his courtiers and asked them to capitulate to the Turk and accept Ottoman sovereignty by paying a tribute.

It became the strategy of Romanian principalities to identify the auspicious moments when the enemy was less fortified and fight bitterly. Then offer a conditional capitualation to a relieved opponent by which they could maintain their social, political, economic and cultural freedom.

Evacuation was the main strategy of Romanian resistence throughout its history. The Romanian military doctrine of defense, devised in the milennary confrontation with sweeping migrations and empires, consisted in scorching the lands and the crops, poisoning the wells and the springs, burning their own houses and retreating into the central region of mountains and forests.

The backbone of this strategy was the mental reflex of vacating the external or peripheral and withdrawing towards an elusive, ungraspable center. It was this attitude that helped Romanians survive even when the mountainous and woody retreats were no longer accessible. Then Romanians switched to a more sophisticated defense: they resisted their inauspicious history through culture.

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), the famous historian of religions, was talking of the Romanian retreat from the "terror of history", the poet-philosopher Lucian Blaga (1895-1961) spoke of the Romanians' "boycoting of history" as a cultivation of a sense of permanence through their cultural traditions rather than through engaging openly in a direct fight for territorial supremacy.

Folk wisdom cherishes proverbs like "Water passes, stones remain." or "Once a wave, you pass like a wave."

In recent years, the first major defeat of communism was performed through culture by Romania's greatest philosopher after World War II, Constantin Noica. Noica (1909-1987) was imprisoned for 6 years and was confined to a forced domicile for another 9 years and is denied for most of this time the right to publish. Rather than defect and live in exile abroad, Noica chose a different kind of exile. He withdrew in a remote village in the center of the country and into the world of culture.

Gabriel Liiceanu, one of the constantly reputed intellectuals both before and after 1989, and Noica's disciple, descibes Noica's self-inflicted exile: "In Cimpulung he was found in his room, dressed in his overcoat, his rubber galoshes on, reading from St. Augustine; the water in the pot had frozen. 'The God of culture'... had no doubt blinded him, turned him into a medium, rather than a man, and giving him the right (like all those who intrigued their contemporaries, pushing a community forward) to be measured by different standards."

Noica became a model for the younger generations and each of his books was a secret revolution of the Romanian mind. His books sold out immediately and circulated in clandestine photocopies at twenty times their market price. At a time when Romanians were famished by Ceausescu, and when butter (like all basic foods) was an almost unattainable rarity, Noica's books were exchanged for 4 bars of butter. This probably indicates what type of survival Romanians cherished most. It also illustrates a genuine Conservative Nationalism opposing the rigid Communist chauvinism.

Noica's strategy of resistence was entirely cultural. He was accused of many things, but could not be denied his role of "the main evidence of a nucleus of live thought in the ocean of dead" Marxism-Leninism.

Paraphrasing Noica's beliefs, Liiceanu talks of a "will to culture" that prompts a "lateral, discreet and unspectacular liberation, maybe even guilty in its intellectual egotism, but which always has been the form in which the best of Romanian spirit survived to the present day... If by history we understand the series of events happening to us, but also without and beyond us, then culture for Noica meant, no doubt, a withdrawal from history... " (my emphasis)

Noica performed in his many philosophical essays on Romanianness an ironic hermeneutic. He turned words upside down, he derived unexpected connotations, found contrary meanings in one and the same word, or turned it on itself to produce spectacular fireworks of philosophical nuances.

In a prologue to his ontology of the limit that does not limit (or the opening closure), he remarks the word hotar (=border) which, surprisingly, is of Hungarian origin:

"This word, hotar, so encoded into our language, is nevertheless taken from another language, Hungarian. Today, when we are already settled in the Latinity of our language, since no one is left to deny it, we should admit - whatever our past - to a good mental and affective contact with coinhabiting natinalities."

The statement is infinitely ironic (not sarcastic!). Noica picks up the word for territorial separation and reverses it into spiritual communion. In an alchemic twitch of his magic philological wand, he produces the ultimate coincidentia oppositorum! National identity emerges mysteriously from an identifiation of self and other - an easily recognizable Hegelian dialectic.

Noica devised a typology of cultural styles which he named "Spiritual Maladies". The creative malady typical of Romanians is the "ahoretia", the refusal of existential determinations (Gk. horoi). He describes it as: "a sudden illumination [...] which forces the subject to reject participation, to dominate his determinations, to perceive the positive in non-action and negativity, accepting defeat, assimilating it and entering indifference, [...] which annihilates novelty and proclaims the fruitfuness of non-travel."

Noica is yet another face of Conservative Nationalism: ironically irrational, abstruse in his absenteeism.

By Way of Conclusion

What this excursion through Romanian forms of Nationalism shows is that simple binary oppositions like that endorsed by Katherine Verdery between a good Western liberal nationaslim and a bad ethnic Eastern European one, are not just simplistic (and, therefore, confusing) but also inaccurate descriptions of the state of fact. It also discharges rash moral judgements passed on the mere basis of ideological tropism. What I have been proposing instead, based on Hayden White's observations, may be called an Essential Rhetoric, or Ontic Tropology, which deals with four "ideological" structures of Nationalist discourse. They can be seen as four different "modes of thought" that also shape the four ethoi, the four different grounds for moral criteria and moral judgements, not the morality to be evaluated.

We can now return to the problem of evaluating Nationalist dicourse and remark that, first of all, these four ethoi do not really represent choices: you cannot choose your mental make-up, just as you cannot choose your temperament. They are the givens of the life of discourse, the manner in which discourse comes into being. Essential rhetoric (ontic tropology) deals with the fundamental hypostases of the logos or discourse with a Ciceronian identity between res and verba and, in this realm, the vertical dimension of discourse hypostasizes the truth of being as identitas: you are what you speak, just as you speak as you are. It is a perpetual rebirth of the fundamental paradigms of world interpretation. In this mode, to be, to know and to do (to make) are consubstantial. There is no room for the necessary critical distance.

Secondly, ethical performance is a question of accomodating the context, of relating to a particular situation. None of these modes of being, none of these perceptions of history can be good or bad in themselves. What is either good or bad is how you perform within the limits of your (tempera)mental type, how you manage to adapt your type to particular situations.


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