Johann Gottfried Herder and the Czech National Awakening: A Reassessment

Zdeněk V. David


The Czech national awakening is habitually linked with Herder’s influence as a Romantic and anti-Enlightenment happening. This study argues the opposite. It contradicts, at least in the Czech case, the idea, originally articulated by Hans Kohn, that European nationalism, particularly in the center and the east of the continent, was an expression of a particularist self-assertion, verging on (or passing into) xenophobia, and defying the rationalistic and cosmopolitan outlook of the Enlightenment. The objective of this study is, fi rst, to show that the pace-setters of the Czech national awakening functioned within the realistic rationalist Enlightenment, rather than within the emotional self-centeredness, growing out of the Romanticist ethos. They drew on other than the Herderian sources, primarily on the Josephist Enlightenment, and the subsequent liberal Catholicism, epitomized by Karl H. Seibt and Bernard Bolzano. The assumptions to the contrary were based on (1) the allegedly anti-national character of the Enlightenment; (2) a distaste for liberal Catholicism by both the offi cial Rome and the secularists; (3) an assumption of the obvious superiority of German culture; and (4) a confusion with the Slovak national romanticism.

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