Which are the main neostoic authors
A book dealing with developments from the late Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century in regions of Europe that are not among the preferred historians in Germany presents the reviewer with a difficult task. There will hardly be a second historian besides the author himself who has researched a comparable north European west-east axis. The more one has to praise the author of the work, who manages to present his complex subject in a comprehensible manner on almost 300 pages. In addition, the structure of the volume is a small work of art, because it already represents part of the results of the investigation. Eriksonas, a Lithuanian historian by trade, who teaches in Cardiff and began his training (like many Lithuanian nobles in the 17th century!) At Charles University in Prague, traces the connection between heroic tales and concepts of national sovereignty.
The selection of the three countries, which might seem strange to an outsider at first glance, soon turns out to be an extremely profitable and productive research strategy. Eriksonas succeeds not only in presenting three comparable, independent types of national hero constructions and their respective meanings with Scotland, Norway and Lithuania, but at the same time uncovering deep insights into the intellectual-historical connections between three national movements located in the extreme north of Europe.
What is the topic of the work? Eriksonas examines ideas of the “heroic” in relation to notions of the state and national identity. While the previous research on nationalism, whether constructivists or essentialists, has left it to the determination of the evident fact that heroic figures represent "models of virtuous conduct" and should encourage successors in the national struggle (A. Smith, quoted on p. 15f. ), this study continues. Their starting point is the humanistic discussions about the traditions of the heroic virtues of classical antiquity at the end of the 16th century. For the neostoic thinkers of the modern state, such as Justus Lipsius, Hugo Grotius or Samuel Pufendorf, the virtues of the hero functioned as elements of a political morality on which modern states are to be built. It was around this time, when it came to Scotland's role in the British Union, that the medieval Scottish hero William Wallace was rediscovered and valued. Corresponding ideas spread through the networks of Calvinist schools and universities between Gdansk, Aberdeen, Lutheran centers in Sweden and Denmark and finally - modified in the form of the doctrine of heroic martyrdom - also in the Catholic world. The national hero traditions, which can be traced back to medieval legends, emerged and changed accordingly in the area of tension between political development, religion and rhetoric.
The investigation begins with Scotland, whose crown has been united with the English in personal union since 1603. This crown, which no longer embodied independent political power, became the central point of reference in the historical tradition of Scottish national sovereignty. Until the restoration of the Scottish Parliament, which was united with the English in 1999, the heroic myth surrounding Wallace played an important role in the construction of a Scottish national identity, as it was reminiscent of the independent Scottish statehood since the Middle Ages.
Norway, on the other hand, looked back on a later and also shorter-term medieval statehood. The country was in fact ruled from Copenhagen from 1387 to 1815, the Norwegian crown only remained intact in theory, even when it was subsequently united with the Swedish crown for almost a century. But as in the Scottish case, the royal tradition - kept alive in the form of medieval hero cults - was the most important starting point for the creation of a national political unity.
Lithuania is very different from the other two cases. It was never an independent kingdom, but as a Grand Duchy part of the union with Poland. The Lithuanian ruling nobility, the magnates, developed the myth of a Roman-imperial origin of the Grand Duchy due to the lack of a Christian kingdom. For this reason, too, democratic notions of national sovereignty, as popularized in Great Britain and Scandinavia since the 19th century, had a harder time there.
In all three countries, heroic traditions served to maintain claims to sovereignty in the long periods of union with larger states. In these double peripheries: on the edge of Europe and as smaller, weaker components within monarchical unions, different church regiments (Calvinist Church of Scotland, Norway as part of the Danish Lutheran Church, the late Christianized Lithuania under the Catholic Primate of Poland) led to the fact that earlier (Scotland) or much later (Lithuania), humanistic heroic traditions in connection with ideas of state sovereignty could develop. In the long run, these differences could promote (Scotland: civitas popularis), slow down (Norway: regnum) or hinder (Lithuania: aristocratic optimatum) the emergence of a civil national consciousness. Eriksonas ’study of three very different hero traditions shows that research on nationalism can gain new insights into long-term processes of transformation of ideas preserved in memory communities by looking back at the French Revolution. However, when reading the book it is not entirely clear how these insights can be transferred to other cases. This would have required a stronger theoretical penetration of the material, an analysis that was more abstract from the three cases.
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