Romantic nationalism (also national romanticism, organic nationalism, identity nationalism) is the form of nationalism in which the state derives its political legitimacy as an organic consequence of the unity of those it governs. This includes, depending on the particular manner of practice, the language, race, culture, religion, and customs of the "nation" in its primal sense of those who were "born" within its culture. This form of nationalism arose in reaction to dynastic or imperial hegemony, which assessed the legitimacy of the state from the "top down", emanating from a monarch or other authority, which justified its existence. Such downward-radiating power might ultimately derive from a god or gods
(see the divine right of kings and the Mandate of Heaven).
Among the key themes of Romanticism, and its most enduring legacy, the cultural assertions of romantic nationalism have also been central in post-Enlightenment art and political philosophy. From its earliest stirrings, with their focus on the development of national languages and folklore, and the spiritual value of local customs and traditions, to the movements that would redraw the map of Europe and lead to calls for "self-determination" of nationalities, nationalism was one of the key issues in Romanticism, determining its roles, expressions and meanings.
The ideas of Rousseau (1712-1778) and of Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) inspired much early Romantic nationalism in Europe. In 1784 Herder argued that geography formed the natural economy of a people, and that their customs and society would develop along the lines that their basic environment favored.
From its beginnings in the late 18th century, romantic nationalism has relied upon the existence of a historical ethnic culture which meets the romantic ideal; folklore developed as a romantic nationalist concept. The Brothers Grimm, inspired by Herder's writings, put together an idealized collection of tales, which they labeled as authentically German. The concept of an inherited cultural patrimony from a common origin rapidly became central to a divisive question within romantic nationalism: specifically, is a nation unified because it comes from the same genetic source, that is because of race, or is the participation in the organic nature of the "folk" culture self-fulfilling?
Romantic nationalism formed a key strand in the philosophy of Hegel (1770-1831), who argued that there was a "spirit of the age" or ''zeitgeist'' that inhabited a particular people at a particular time, and that, when that people became the active determiner of history, it was simply because their cultural and political moment had come. Because of the Germans' role in the Protestant Reformation, Hegel (a Lutheran) argued that his historical moment had seen the ''Zeitgeist'' settle on the German-speaking peoples.
In continental Europe, Romantics had embraced the French Revolution in its beginnings, then found themselves fighting the counter-Revolution in the trans-national Imperial system of Napoleon. The sense of self-determination and national consciousness that had enabled revolutionary forces to defeat aristocratic regimes in battle became rallying points for resistance against the French Empire (1804-1814). In Prussia, the development of spiritual renewal as a means to engage in the struggle against Napoleon was argued by, among others, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), a disciple of Kant. The word ''Volkstum'', or "folkhood", was coined in Germany as part of this resistance to French hegemony.
Fichte expressed the unity of language and nation in his thirteenth address "To the German Nation" in 1806:
:''The first, original, and truly natural boundaries of states are beyond doubt their internal boundaries. Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself, long before any human art begins; they understand each other and have the power of continuing to make themselves understood more and more clearly; they belong together and are by nature one and an inseparable whole.'' (Kelly, 1968, pp. 190-91)
:''Only when each people, left to itself, develops and forms itself in accordance with its own peculiar quality, and only when in every people each individual develops himself in accordance with that common quality, as well as in accordance with his own peculiar quality-then, and then only, does the manifestation of divinity appear in its true mirror as it ought to be; and only a man who either entirely lacks the notion of the rule of law and divine order, or else is an obdurate enemy thereto, could take upon himself to want to interfere with that law, which is the highest law in the spiritual world!'' (Kelly, 1968, pp. 197-98)
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