National Character – Cultural Nationalism – Empire


In the eighteenth century, “national character” [Nationalcharakter] was subject to ongoing debate, whereby it became clear that the term “nation” itself could mean various things. This was further complicated by existence of alternative conceptions of order that endured and competed with each other—including class distinctions, moral-religious codes, and older classification schemes such as humoral theory. It was not until the last third of the 18th century that the idea of “national character”—the idea that nations or “peoples” have certain characteristics and traits—finally coalesced. This process saw new “scientific” justifications and pseudo-scientific interpretations of established ideas about “national” attributes and differences. Language and climate played an important role in theoretical considerations (such as those by Johann Gottfried Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt) of nation and national character. An imagined language and cultural community with a common “national character” likewise formed the basis of an imagined national identity. Additionally, in the last third of the 18th century, members of certain political circles began questioning the Old Empire’s capacity for reform and in doing so emphasized the tense relationship between old-state society, absolutism, and constitutionalism. Under the slogan “national spirit,” they also posed questions about the sort of cultural and political identity that might exist in an empire whose territories were not unified (Friedrich Carl von Moser).


  1. < Representations of Social Order
  2. Sophie von La Roche >