Paradox and Dilemma. Danish National Identity between Multinational Heritage and Small State Nationalism (2000)

Paradox and Dilemma — Danish National Identity between Multinational Heritage and Small State Nationalism

I: Hans Branner and Morten Kelstrup (eds.), Denmark’s Policy towards Europe after 1945: History, Theory and Options, Odense University Press 2000, pp. 139-184.


The Dane who never refrains from underlining the smallness of his country, at the same time feels strongly that no other country surpasses his own

Denmark in particular and the Nordic countries in general represent variations of general European patterns of state- and nation-building and political culture. Sweden and Denmark rank among the oldest, most typical nation-states. Accordingly, together with France, Britain and Spain they should be studied as variations of the early modern European state-nation rather than as typical ‘small states’. In heavy competition, the two states together exercised a supremacy over most of Northern Europe from the late Middle Ages onwards. Mainly as a result of mutual exhaustion, Russia, Prussia and to a degree the United Kingdom gradually replaced Denmark and Sweden, who were subsequently reduced to the status of smaller powers. As a result of simultaneous changes in great power politics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the major conflicts in Europe were relocated away from Northern Europe and produced a virtual ‘neutralization’ of the Scandinavian countries north of the Baltic Sea. This relative peaceful situation has struck a deep chord among Danes. Regardless of many years’ membership in NATO and the European Union, neutralist ideology still has a strong resonance in the population. A side effect of the experience as a privileged periphery in Northern Europe was the rise of a trans-national common Nordic identity on top of the independent national identifications. Even today, large numbers of the population regard Nordic unity as a viable alternative to European culture and integration. This supranational identity is of a particular kind as strong national identifications were the very precondition for successful Nordic cooperation at a practical level since the early twentieth century, not a competing identification as seems to be the case at a European level (cf. Østergaard 1997b).

Such paradoxes are deeply ingrained in the Nordic political cultures in general and Danish political culture in particular. As a result of history, Danish self- perceptions oscillate between that of a small state with a moral right to exercise influence because of its strong and coherent society and that of a small state with no influence in the world. Often both understandings are invoked, albeit in different contexts. The self-perception of the country as weak often translates into the saying: ‘Denmark is a little land’. On the other hand, Denmark’s disproportionately high influence in some aspects of world affairs is justified by reference to the country’s homogeneous character and high moral standards. The latter comes to the fore primarily when Danish democracy is — favourably — compared with that other European countries.

Small state, strong society, weak power, strong state…

The concepts of small state and strong society do not exhaust the list of possible characterizations, yet they indicate some of the ways Danes and foreign observers have understood Denmark’s situation in the world. The distinction between weak power and strong state was originally introduced by Barry Buzan (1983) and has been elaborated among others by Ole Woever (1995) and Bertel Heurlin (1996). By juxtaposing military and economic power with social or societal strength, Buzan seeks to draw attention to the fact that influence in the international community is exercised on the basis of more factors than sheer size and military might. Internal cohesiveness and economic strength, combined with national as well international trading power, are alternative sources of strength, not to speak of morality. Buzan has since elaborated this line of thinking under the heading of ‘societal security’ (Buzan 1993). It is probably no coincidence that such alternative sources of influence in international politics should be stressed by the so-called ‘Copenhagen School’ of international studies.

A ‘strong society’ is an older concept, which has resurfaced, recently provoked by observations of so diverse societies as the former Soviet Union and Italy. Among others, the American political theorist Francis Fukuyama has pointed to the importance of the social and cultural mechanisms, which precondition the rule of law (in German, Rechtsgesellschaft). These cultural factors he calls ‘trust’ (Fukuyama 1995). Arguing in a similar vein, the American political scientist Robert D. Putnam, investigating the long-term factors influencing the working of civic culture and local democracy in Italy, has pointed to the influence of age-old traditions of civic behaviour in Central and Northern Italy (Putnam 1993). Putnam finds that democracy, and with it market capitalism and the rule of law, flourish where the civil society is strong and cohesive. These recent observations are strikingly similar to early explanations of the Nordic welfare states such as Marquis Childs’ now classical study of Sweden as a representative of a ‘middle way’ between capitalism and communism (Childs 1936). Childs wanted to impress on his fellow Americans the need for a social order in the vein of Roosevelt’s New Deal. However, his book at the same time heavily influenced Scandinavian reflection on our own so-called ‘Nordic’ model of society.

This belief in a ‘Nordic’ model of the welfare state in particular, and social democracy in general, has led many Scandinavians to assume a major difference between their small, coherent and peaceful societies and the larger, conflict-ridden and aggressive European (and American) states. Among the Nordic countries, these beliefs are most widespread in Denmark and Sweden. At the same time, however, these two countries dominated all of Northern Europe and were locked in mortal competition over the Baltic Sea, the Dominium Maris Baltici, in the centuries between 1500 and 1800. This conflict arose from the geopolitical realities of two multinational statenations both trying to exercise hegemony over the Baltic region. The populations of both the major protagonists, though, have largely forgot this warlike past. Compared with most other states in the European Union, present-day Denmark appears as the very archetype of a ‘small state’.1 Accordingly, its foreign and European policy is often interpreted exclusively as a consequence of an age-old tradition of determinism and neutralism. In an influential book, a Danish scholar working in Canada, Carsten Holbraad, has traced this tradition back to the peace settlements after the Great Northern War in 1720 (Holbraad 1991). As Hans Branner points out in his contribution to this volume, this analysis does not grasp the internal paradoxes and ambiguities in Danish foreign policy positions, among the elites as well as in the broader public. Holbraad identifies a so-called ‘Danish’ policy of neutrality extending from 1720 well into the twentieth-first century. He distinguishes between different versions of this neutralism in different periods: aligned neutrality 1720-1807; isolated neutrality 1814-1920; defenseless neutrality 1920-1945; nonaligned neutrality 1945-1949 and latent neutrality 1949-1989. Basically, however he sees the foreign policy of Denmark as variations over the fundamental attitudes of a typical ‘small state’ with interests only in her own survival. This approach does not allow for the present policy of ‘active internationalism’ (cf. Holm 1997). It also misunderstands the very meanings of ‘Denmark’ and ‘Danish’, being based on the misleading assumption that the ‘Denmark’ of the different periods was one and the same entity. Since Denmark no longer refers to herself as a ‘small state’, having instead embarked upon an unprecedented active multilateralist — some would even say interventionist — policy in her Baltic ‘Near Abroad’ (the area Mouritzen [1997: 47] refers to as her ‘salient action sphere’) and in the Balkans. This interventionism has been backed by armed force on a hitherto unknown scale, from naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and heavy tanks in Bosnia to military cooperation with Poland, the Baltic countries (Heurlin 1994 and 1996) and from 1999 with France (in Kosovo). Other observers at times have preferred to refer to the country as a ‘small nation’. At other times, Denmark has been referred to as a ‘small people’ on a pair with the Catalans, the Scots, the Bretons, the Corsicans or many other of Europe’s so-called ‘stateless’ peoples. This is obviously wrong. Denmark is a small state yes, but hardly a small people, as Denmark is a nation with its own state, uncontested membership in the United Nations and a long historical legitimacy. Countries like Denmark belong to a restricted, privileged group of small states ranging from Luxembourg to the Netherlands, who by historical accident exercised national independence in the crucial years in the middle of the twentieth century when European cooperation was launched on the basis of sovereign nation-states — cf. the telling title of Alan Milward’s seminal work on the early phases of European integration, ‘The European Rescue of the Nation State’ (Milward 1992).

It is hard to determine any precise logic behind the different statuses of Catalonia, Scotland and Bavaria, on the one hand, and Luxembourg, Denmark and Ireland on the other. However, regardless of their ‘accidental’ background,2 the sovereignty of the latter states is now a fact which has allowed these particular entities a disproportionately large say in European — and for that sake global — political and economic affairs. In the era of nation states, independent statehood plays a major role, regardless of how formal it might be. Therefore, it is not completely ridiculous when the Danish electorate clings to the sovereignty of their country, however imprecise the term may seem, while Germans and Italians seem fairly keen on handing over their national sovereignty to European institutions. The problem for Denmark as a player in international politics is that many Danes mistake formal sovereignty for real power in determining European politics. Thus they feel frustrated or cheated when realizing the limits of the influence of small state, regardless of the strengths and cohesiveness of its society.

Indeed, if we investigate the political debate in Denmark on European integration and on related elements in the political culture, we find a number of features normally taken to be characteristic of recently independent or even not yet independent countries. Slovenia offers an interesting case for comparison, as there are a number of similarities between the national mentalities of the two peoples as expressed in political discourse and world view. The geographical and geopolitical differences, however, are equally striking. The Slovenian lands have as long a history as Denmark, but only as separate provinces in what eventually became the multinational Habsburg Empire. They were never the legitimate basis of a recognized ‘national’ Monarchy of their own with an unbroken history. The Slovenes are a small people held together as a cultural nation and only in 1991 rose to into the rank of state (Gow and Carmichael 2000). Thus, it personifies the small, ethno-national nation-state of the theoretical literature (cf. Connor 1994).

Denmark, on the other hand, has been around for more than thousand years. Not exactly the present entity, but an entity carrying the name Denmark, can be identified as far back as the formative years of Europe in the early Middle Ages. Originally Denmark was a rather typical state-nation consisting of several entities.3 In contrast to other old state-nations such as France, Spain and the United Kingdom, Denmark was defeated in its wars with Sweden and Prussia and, consequently, lost most of her territories. Contrary to Poland, however, Denmark was not swallowed by stronger neighbours as the great powers of the day was interested in preserving a small sovereign state at the entrance to the Baltic Sea. In the nineteenth century, the core provinces of this multicultural and multilingual composite state gradually evolved into a homogeneous nation-state with a political culture based on identity between language, people (folk), nation and state.4

In the following contribution I intend to analyze the confluence of the long legitimacy of the state, the small nation-state of the nineteenth century, the nationalistic rejection of an ever-closer European Union since 1972 and the policies of active internationalism in the 1990s. At first sight, the relation between the strong Danish, civic or civil society, national identity and the different strategies and perceptions in the foreign policy of this small country appear paradoxical. A small state with only 5.3 million inhabitants and limited military might at times behave as if it were a big state. On other occasions the state might emphasize her smallness, particularly when confronted with issues of handing over national sovereignty to the European Union.

Integral nationalism in a rump territorial state-nation — a ‘Danish’ Paradox?

In a comparative context, Danish national identity and political culture combine features of what is often referred to as East European integral nationalism typical of smaller, recently independent nation-states and the patriotic concept of citizenship in the older West European state nations (Brubaker 1992). The explanation of this apparent paradox is that Denmark belongs to both families. A former multinational, composite state was cut down to a size that enabled a class of about 60.000 peasant-farmers to establish an ideological hegemony in the diminished and nationalized, yet still fully legitimate, state.

Only few foreign observers have correctly identified the historical and geographical reasons behind the simultaneous existence of negative feelings towards European integration on the one hand and concerned and well-informed internationalism on the other. One of these exceptions is the former British ambassador to Denmark in the late 1980s, Peter Unwin,5 who, in the context of a broader reportage and political analysis of the reemerging Baltic region, observes: ‘Denmark seemed at first sight the most transparent of national societies. But closer examination revealed paradoxes as inexplicable as any I had encountered as a diplomat in Hungary, Germany, the United States and Japan’ (Unwin 1996: 9). Unwin formulates these paradoxes as follows:

I found the Danes an intriguing people, straightforward and perverse by turns. …. [Who] think of themselves as relaxed and humour-loving, but the astonished stare with which they so often greet everyday statements spoke to me rather of wellcontrolled insecurity.

Long before their 1992 vote on Maastricht, the Danes were manifestly ambivalent about their place in Europe and about the impact of the European Community on their country. They seemed to me quite as reserved, as confused even, as my own countrymen, and more introverted by far than the British. And yet the Danes were polyglot citizens of Europe and the world, much travelled, cultivated, good judges of red wine, and a people with global conscience, pouring their money into relief of distant hardship. (Unwin 1996: 208)

The explanation Unwin finds in Denmark’s geopolitical situation: If geography is the clue to history, history is the key to national psychology. The Danes, I found, were no exception to this rule. They cherish 1,000 years of continuity. They remember that their king’s writ used to run to the gates of Hamburg, as far as the North Cape and across the Sound deep into southern Sweden. Gradually they lost their empire, and its loss, along with wars with Sweden and Prussia and high-handed British arrogance has left its mark on the national psyche. Similarly, the Danes’ passionate egalitarianism is a peasant nation’s response to memories of royal absolutism and a harsh, German aristocracy. […] The Danish psyche seems to have come to terms with this long history of loss with admirable equanimity. Animosity towards Sweden, for example, runs no deeper than the Oxford versus Cambridge variety. But with Denmark’s readiness to face reality came passivity, a sense that she lies exposed to the mercy of her neighbours and of superior force. (Unwin 1996: 209-210)

This even holds true in the face of recent Danish activism in international affairs: [R]ecent Danish self-assertion reminds one that their emphasis on the littleness of Denmark has always had something self-consciously whimsical about it, almost Yiddish in its self-depreciation. For the Danes are rightly a proud people, with a proud history. […] Many Danes find that their self-depreciating whimsicality sits uneasy with their proud past. Yet the modern history of little Denmark is a triumphant success story. When the Danish crown ceded its richest provinces to Germany in 1864, the Danes set themselves to develop the bleak heathland of Jutland and to create wealth there to replace the lost riches of Schleswig-Holstein. At the same time they began to lay the educational and socially egalitarian foundations of today’s Denmark. […] To Danes, and to many foreign observers, Denmark is an ideal society. No one is very poor; few are very rich. […] The state and its police are surprisingly intrusive, but their intrusions are accepted as necessary to that fairness and order which the Danes prize so highly. (Unwin 1996: 211-212)

These are the words of a highly perceptive and intelligent outsider. They point to the dilemma between a long and relatively uncontested past as a composite European state-nation of second rank and the more recent ethnically homogeneous ‘little Denmark’ sharing many characteristics with the smaller and younger nations on the peripheries of core Europe. As the collective memory of the Danes tends to neglect the multinational past, and the majority of outside observers share this mistake, it seems relevant to begin the analysis of the present national identity and its repercussions on European integration policy with a recapitulation of the historical evolution of this state-nation. A major reason for confusion is that the older composite monarchy bears the same name as today’s ethnic nation-state. More precise than ‘Denmark’ would be to talk of the Oldenburg Monarchy from 1448 to 1863.

From Composite State to Peasant-Farmers’ Democracy

Until the loss of the Norwegian half in 1814, the name ‘Denmark’ referred to a rather typical European composite state. The official title of this middle ranging, Absolutist power in Northern Europe was ‘Kron zu Dennemarck’, ‘The Danish Monarchy’ or ‘House of Oldenburg’. Today, if remembered at all in its entirety, this state is referred to as the ‘Double Monarchy’ or ‘Denmark-Norway’. These names, however, are so imprecise that they must be considered wrong. Geographically, the state consisted of the two kingdoms, Denmark and Norway, the two duchies Sleswig) and Holstein, of which the latter belonged to the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. Furthermore, the composite state comprised the Atlantic dependencies of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, which from a position originally under Norwegian suzerainity gradually came to be ruled directly from Copenhagen.

Furthermore, the Danish Monarchy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries acquired a full set of colonies in the West Indies, West Africa (Christiansborg in present-day Ghana) and India (Serampore and Tranquebar). This colonial empire enabled the state to have a stake, albeit a minor one, in the triangular Atlantic trade between a European center, the slave-producing West Africa and the sugar-cane growing West Indian islands St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas (Degn 1974) supplemented with a stake in the East Asian trade (Feldboek and Justesen 1980). In the late eighteenth century the main cities in the European part of the conglomerate state were Copenhagen, Altona and Kiel in Holstein, Flensburg in Sleswig and Bergen in Norway; except Copenhagen, all lay outside the frontiers of present day Denmark. The port of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas in the West Indies and Serampore (formerly Frederiksnagore) in India up the Hoogh river from Calcutta ranked second and sixth, respectively, in terms of trade volume and number of inhabitants in the whole Danish empire.6

The main financial basis of the Danish state stemmed from duties levied on ship traffic through the Øresund channel to and from the Baltic Sea. For a long time, the Danish Monarchy owed its relatively strong financial situation to this position at the entrance to the Baltic sea as demonstrated in the impressive castle at Elsinore (Helsingør) which was built just in time for Shakespeare to use as location for that most famous of plays, Hamlet. Because of a favourable geopolitical position, the Danish Monarchy from the late Middle Ages was able to exercise hegemony over Northern Europe; de facto for approximately 400 years, de jure in the form of the Kalmar-Union from 1397 to 1523. Because of its possession of the main islands in the Baltic, Rügen, Bornholm, Gotland, Dagö and Ösel, the state even secured a dominating position in the Baltic for another hundred years, the so-called Dominium Maris Baltici (Ahnlund 1956).

Being a composite state stretching from the North Cape to Hamburg, equivalent to the distance from Hamburg to Sicily, and possessing various islands in the North Atlantic, the military, technological and political backbone of the empire was the navy. This navy had to be big enough to fight simultaneous wars in the Baltic against the emerging Swedish rival and protect the far-reaching Atlantic possessions. The Danish state succeeded in doing this for more than 150 years until the middle of the seventeenth century. Then, having overstretched its resources, it suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the rising competitor Sweden. Between 1645 and 1660, the Monarchy lost its hegemony over Northern Europe to a newly established Swedish empire around the Baltic (Roberts 1979). Yet, the Danish navy was still in a position to deal crushing blows to the Swedes in the Scanian war 1675-79. Only Swedish military success on land enabled Sweden to retain the newly won territories of what today constitutes western and southern Sweden. Even in the eighteenth century, however, the might of its navy, kept the composite state of Denmark- Norway-Sleswig-Holstein ranked second in Europe only to great powers such as France, Great Britain, Spain, Austria (Casa d’Austria), Russia and the rising Prussia. From a comparative point of view, we may note that this geographically somewhat overstretched and financially overburdened state nevertheless succeeded in modernizing itself from the top down by the end of the seventeenth century and again in the late eighteenth century (Horstbøll and Østergaard 1990), an endeavour in which most other contemporaries failed. In many ways, this Northern European Monarchy embodied the ideals of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. That is why its political system was eagerly debated among political observers from Venice to London. Not always favourably as we know from Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois (1748); but debated it was (cf. Østergaard 1995a).

In theory, the political system was unconditionally Absolutist since the revolution in 1660 and the subsequent drafting of a sort of Absolutist ‘constitution’ (Lex Regia or King’s Law) of 1665. Yet the political reality was far less despotic. So different was the reality that the Norwegian historian Jens Arup Seip has somewhat paradoxically characterized the system from the 1770s onwards as ‘Absolutism guided by opinion’ (Seip 1958). Less clumsily, this political culture could be termed ‘Absolutism by consent’ (Østergaard 1995; Horstbøll and Østergaard 1990). This tradition for consulting public opinion explains why Denmark-Norway succeeded where the very epitome of Absolutism, France, failed. Where France came to unleash the uncontrollable forces of democratic revolution, the Danish kingdom revolutionized itself from above in a series of relatively coherent reforms of the agrarian system, civil liberties, customs and trade regulations in the years from 1784 to 1814 (cf. Løfting, Horstbøll, Østergaard 1989; Østergaard 1995).

Subsequent international political catastrophes in the nineteenth century reduced this multinational composite state to a tiny nation-state. So small was its size after the loss of the duchies of Sleswig and Holstein in 1864 that many in the dominant elite wondered whether it would be able to survive as an independent state and neighbour to the recently united, aggressively dominant, self-confident Germany. Competing new elites devised different programs for the survival of the mini-state. Parts of the national-liberal intelligentsia advocated a union with Sweden and Norway, the Scandinavianism (which de facto would have meant Swedish hegemony cf. Østergaard 1996b and 1997b).7 A small minority advocated alignment with the new Germany, a much larger group neutrality vis-a-vis Germany combined with an economic orientation towards the British Empire. Gradually, the latter program was chosen and led to a small, successful democracy, truly one of Barrington Moore’s ‘small states.’8

What is important, however, is not to mistake this second, extremely homogeneous nation-state for the composite state, even though they are normally referred to by the same name, “Denmark”. That would be even more wrong than confusing present day’s Russia or Serbia with the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. There is some continuity, obviously, but in many areas the discontinuities are more important. First of all, many areas outside the core lands are completely left out of most analyses of European history, while at the same time the role of the larger composite states in international politics is completely misunderstood when concieved only in terms of the national states of the twentieth century. Today, both the multinational middle ranking power as well the amputated social-democratic Danish nation-state of the twentieth century are referred to as ‘Denmark’ in the multi-volume histories of Denmark. In fact, however, apart from a certain geographical continuity of the two provinces Jylland (Jutland) and the islands of Sjoelland and Fyn they do not have much in common.9

Danish observers tend to take the continuity of Danish history so much for granted that they never reflect on the proper name for the state. Yet it is important to bear in mind that the nationally homogeneous ‘Denmark’ of the last 150 years was very different from the political entity we encounter in international politics of the early modern period. The result of the reduction in size was an extremely homogeneous population which enabled the rising class of peasant farmers to establish ideological hegemony over the political culture in the remaining Danish state. Such ideological hegemony over a legitimate and fully recognized old territorial state was (and still is) relatively unique.

Contrary to other states with strong peasant movements, the Danish peasants actually managed to take power in this small monarchy and turn it into a homogenous national democracy. Popular values permeated all sectors of the society, in contrast to other modernizing societies where they had to compete with stronger forces. The peasant farmers were not the only social force. However, as will be demonstrated below, after the turn of century, the values of the peasant farmers came to set the conditions for the ideological, party political and economic struggles within the new, smaller Denmark and put their fundamental imprint upon the other forces such as the commercial bourgeoisie and the rising working class (cf. Østergaard 1992a). This situation can best be characterized as an ideological hegemony 10 as the one the Italian marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci has analyzed for Italy in his famous Prison Notebooks (Gramsci 1930-36; cf. Sørensen 1991 and 1991).

A few years ago, my colleague Helge Paludan, argued that the structural conditions for these peasant values in the core lands of the Monarchy date back to the High Middle Ages (but not back to the Viking Age) when the Christian familia was established by law in 1305. According to Paludan, this family structure enabled the peasants to emerge as a separate class following the enormous restructuring of land holding in the wake of the agrarian crisis of the Late Middle Ages (Paludan 1995). Although the overwhelming majority of the peasants were tenants, they held their farms on relatively secure terms. Because of protection from the Crown, it was difficult for aristocratic estate-owners to incorporate individual farms into their directly run estates.

If Paludan’s interpretation holds true, the long-term structural explanation of the peculiar agrarian development of the Danish core lands, that is Northern and Southern Jutland (the latter called Schleswig in German, Sønderjylland in Danish), Zealand and Southern Sweden (Skaane (Scania), Halland and Blekinge) date back this far. These values then helped the peasant farmers successfully survive the agrarian reforms of the late eighteenth century and resurface as a hegemonic class in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They even made it into the industrial era, as will later be described. This social continuity, however, does not imply any direct continuity in the political nation. National sentiments were primarily reserved for the political class, i.e., the aristocracy. And the aristocracy was oriented towards manorial possessions in the broader multinational realm in Scandinavia and the Duchies.

These liberal peasant values also help explain some of the paradoxes of national identity and political culture of today. Why is it that a relatively open minded political culture has gone back on its own professed internationalism and rejected the European project as a grand idea and a challenge? Minor tactical disagreements aside, most of the Danish political spectrum agrees on a fundamental mistrust of everything ‘big’ i.e., transnational and ‘European’. The disagreements between Left and Right are based on differing perceptions of the economic benefits they see coming from the European Union and different evaluations of the necessary adjustments of economic distribution policies. In European matters, however, both sides basically agree to do as little as possible, as late as possible, as cheap as possible, and with as little enthusiasm as possible, reflecting a century and half of Danish foreign policy.

On the one hand Danish national identity reflects the parochial mental horizon of the class of middle-sized landowners. On the other hand, these peasant farmers themselves produced in an agrarian-industrial way for the global market. They had inherited a complete, legitimate state which enabled them to deal at an international level as the equals of other powers, albeit somewhat smaller. Internationalism and parochialism were combined: an extreme self-confidence and a tradition for stressing smallness and lack of importance are characteristic of the Danish worldview, a view which helps explain the apparently contradictory attitudes to international cooperation. Economic cooperation is considered fine and military alliances necessary, but political cooperation is predominantly perceived as a loss of sovereignty. In order to understand how this particular combination of factors came about, we need to examine the Danish historical experience in more detail.

Composite States at War — the Swedish and Danish Empires

The present boundary between Denmark and Germany dates back to only 1920, which means that strictly speaking modern Denmark, is a result of the peace settlements after World War I. Yet Denmark also has a much older history which sets it apart from most other European countries. Even the Nordic countries have had different experiences. The past of Finland, Norway and Iceland is closer to that of small nations in Eastern Europe or even that of decolonized peoples in the Third World.11 Denmark and Sweden, on the other hand, belong to a different group of classic Western state-nations, i.e., France, United Kingdom and Spain. The United Kingdom began as a personal union between England (including Wales) and Scotland in 1604, later developing into a parliamentary union in 1707. Spain came into being in 1492 with the submission of Granada, the last Muslim state, and the unification of Castilia and Aragon, although Catalonia was only formally incorporated in 1714. France gradually acquired its present borders (l’Hexagone) in a steady process of expansion from 1500 to 1700. The end result is a curious mixture of extreme centralization and jealously guarded localism. As suggested by the British historian Hugh Kearney, it is instructive to compare developments in Northern Europe with those of Spain, Britian and France, not only in order to gain a better grasp of the history of the North, but also in order to better understand the major polities which are most often accorded prominence as classic examples of the nation-state (cf. Kearney 1991).

One might wonder why the unification of the North did not take place in the Middle Ages or early modern period, as was the case in Spain, Britain and France. The answer is Sweden. In the Late Middle Ages the Danish Monarchy strived to achieve mastery of the entire Baltic region, Dominium Maris Baltici as the strategy was called (Ahnlund 1956). Ultimately, Sweden broke away and transformed herself into a competing composite state with a huge Baltic empire. The competition between these two Northern European States explains the present situation. In order to compensate for their humble population figures, the relatively poor states of Denmark-Norway and Sweden established themselves, each in its own particular way, with a state apparatus that was ‘heavier’ than was the norm elsewhere in Europe (Anderson 1974: 173-91). The degree of centralization and extent of taxation are still evident in the magnificence of the monumental buildings in the two capitals of Copenhagen and Stockholm. This exploitation of the population in its entirety was later depicted by ‘anti-colonialist’ Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic and Faeroese historians as Danish and Swedish national oppression, respectively. Yet this description is not accurate. Broadly speaking, Danish and Swedish peasants were exploited on an equal footing with the Norwegians, Sleswigers, Holsteiners, Icelanders, Faeorese, Finnlanders, Samis and others.

Denmark had long been the most populous of the three Scandinavian monarchies, and its efforts to achieve sole supremacy failed only because the Danish nobility, prior to its defeat in the seventeenth century, refused to be tamed by a strong monarchy. Furthermore, the transnational nobility, with landed estates in both Sweden and Denmark, also failed in its attempts to create an aristocratic republic under elected kings, as occurred at the same time in the Polish-Lithuanian rzeczpospolita (in Latin respublica, cf. Davies 1984: 296). Instead, Sweden acquitted itself so well that between 1645 and 1709 it was able to assume the hegemony over Denmark-Norway in the Baltic and Northern Europe and establish a much more successful empire. Denmark avoided being annexed by Sweden between 1658 and 1660 only because the great power of the time, the Netherlands, wanted a weak state controlling the approaches to the Baltic and decided to change allegiance from Sweden to Denmark.

The Netherlands came to the aid of Denmark in 1658, just as Britain and Russia were subsequently to lend Denmark their support for fear of finding themselves faced with a single great power at the entrance to the Baltic (the Sound). This narrow escape has left deep traces in the collective memory of Danes, something approaching genuine trauma.12 Only after a series of attempts to undo the Swedish conquests and challenge her newly won hegemony Denmark accepted her losses. Denmark’s acquiescence, on the other hand, eventually caught on to such a degree, that the history of Danish-Swedish conflict has been virtually obliterated from the institutionalized historical memory. The conflict lives on, but as Peter Unwin remarked, it remains at a level comparable to the competition between Oxford and Cambridge (Unwin 1996: 210).

As a result of this national amnesia, the overwhelming majority of Danes today consider the inhabitants of Skaane not as ‘lost Danes’, but as Swedes. This renunciation is rather perplexing to outsiders, as the landscape of Skaane to this day positively exudes ‘Danishness’, if one only abstracts from the application of a thin coat of Stockholmian state-Swedishness. After the Swedish annexations in 1658-60, and especially after the checkmate situation of the War of Skaane in 1675-79, radical measures were taken to reorient the Scanian population towards Sweden. What is remarkable in a European perspective is not these efforts in themselves but that they were successful. As the Danish historian Knud Fabricius has demonstrated, Skaane constitutes just about the only known example of such a massive policy of indoctrination having succeeded (Fabricius 1906: 3-16). Whether this may be attributed to the skill of the Swedish state or to the realism (or weak national identification) of the Danish peasantry remains an open question (cf. Åberg 1994 for an open-minded Swedish analysis). What is worth noting today is that Swedish- Danish antagonism in Skaane has since been effectively buried. Of course, there are still wide clefts between Danes and Swedes, but this is not due to the wars of the past, but to the fact that until quite recently the Swedes succeeded in presenting themselves as the epitome of modernity.

The demand to bring Skaane ‘home to Denmark’ is stone dead and has been so now for almost 300 years. This massive repression of history can be traced to the realignment of the Danish state following defeats at the hands of Sweden in the mid- 1600s. The relinquishing of Skaane, Halland, Blekinge, Gotland, Ösel, Bohuslen, Herjedalen and Jemtland between 1645 and 1660 led to the introduction of the Absolutist monarchy in 1660. This implied an administrative reorganization or ‘modernization’ of the state, but also a geopolitical reorientation towards Sleswig and Holstein, which were now gradually incorporated into the core of the kingdom as the competing state-nation project in Northern Europe, that of the Gottorp family which ruled over parts of Sleswig-Holstein 1490-1720/73 gradually lost out to the Oldenburg family. This realignment was almost of the same magnitude as the simultaneous transformation of Sweden from an East-West to a North-South axis. The Danish Monarchy was to prove unsuccessful in its attempts to regain the provinces lost to Sweden in the two wars of revenge of 1675-79 and 1709-20, but the increase in the power of the Crown, was to be otherwise achieved with the annexation of the Gottorp regions of Sleswig and Holstein in 1720. During the war of 1675-79, the Duchy of Sleswig was occupied by Danish troops, though no lasting result was achieved, and in 1689 the king was forced to accept the reinstatement of the Duke of Gottorp. In 1700 Denmark again fought Sweden, each in union with separate European great powers. As a result of the Swedish defeat by the Russians at Poltava in 1709 in present day Ukraine, Denmark achieved its revenge but gained no lands. As compensation, Sweden, France and Britain in 1720 finally accepted the incorporation of Gottorp by the Danish king, enshrined in the Act of Incorporation of 1721. The Law of Succession of 1665 (Lex Regia) was now extended to the whole of Sleswig. Administratively, however, Sleswig was to remain together with the royal portions of Holstein, both of which to be administered by the German Chancellery (since 1523 situated in Copenhagen), which functioned as the ‘Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ for the whole state in the Absolutist period. The Monarchy thus lived up to its official name, the Low German ‘Kron zu Dennemarck’. This designation referred not merely to Denmark proper, that is Jutland north of Kongeåen and the islands, but to the Crown’s possessions in their entirety, Norway and the Norwegian dependencies Greenland, the Faeroes and Iceland, as well as the duchies of Holstein and Sleswig. All in all, this multi-national state ranked as a medium-sized European power at the level of Prussia and multinational Sweden. Thanks to Norway it possessed the third largest navy in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. In 1767, after a major military crisis (Østergaard 1999), an exchange was agreed with the Gottorp heirs, whereby the Danish king gained unchallenged possession of all Holstein. The move was effected in 1773, making the united monarchy a tangible reality within the framework of the Danish-Norwegian Dual or Double Monarchy. Thus, the foundations were laid for the great reform process of 1784-1814. These reforms were initiated primarily by representatives of the German-speaking aristocratic elite within the composite state. This elite, however, saw no reason to make any adjustments to the administrative division of the realm, so that the Danish-speaking regions in Sleswig were to continue to be administered together with Holstein, as was stipulated in the ‘Treaty of Ribe’ of 1460, by which the Danish king had promised to keep the two duchies ‘unde dat se bliven ewich tosamende ungedelt’ (that they stay forever undivided, cf. Gregersen 1981: 178).

The foundations of this tightly organized state were laid in the 1670s and 1680s, when the Absolutist monarchy reformed itself on the pattern of the France of Louis XIV.13 The all-encompassing bodies of laws, the Danske Lov of 1683 and the Norske Lov of 1687, modernized, systematized and made uniform the many varying medieval provincial laws, introducing a chancellery in the European mould (Horstbøll and Østergaard 1990). A completely new survey of the productivity of the arable land and other natural resources enabled the state to collect taxes on a fairer basis than before. The central administration was rebuilt on the Swedish-European model of specialized colleges somewhat similar to today’s ministries. The administration of the army and navy was the first to be modernized. Then followed the administration of finance, whose college was made up of four nobles and four burghers. That the path to a government career in this way was opened to persons of non-noble birth was something quite new. The old regional administration of state territories in the Danish and German Chancelleries, respectively, was incorporated into the college system as ‘domestic’ and ‘external’ administration, and by the end of the seventeenth century the territorial state had gradually been replaced by a tax-based ‘Machtstaat’ (power-state, cf. Ladewig Petersen 1984).

In a brief episode from 1770 to 1772, Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737-72), physician to the Absolutist King Christian VII, tried to revolutionize the entire state by introducing radical reforms from above of the type recommended by Enlightenment philosophers. Though born in Altona, i.e. within the borders of the multinational Monarchy, most of Struensee’s career had been spent outside Denmark, and he was thus perceived by the majority of population as a foreigner. His reforms quickly ran into disrepute when he was exposed as an adulterer and the queen’s secret lover. His arrest and subsequent execution provoked some anti- German sentiments among Danish-speaking middle classes who hoped to profit from the expulsion of the so-called ‘Germans’ (Feldboek 1991: I).

In an attempt to forestall further criticism, the government, in 1776, passed a law reserving government jobs for those born inside the realm, the ‘Indfødsret’. This law was backed by a whole series of well meant — but futile as it turned out — attempts to build a common patriotic feeling in the whole of the realm in general and for the king in particular (Feldboek 1991: I-II and Rasmussen 1995: 28-29). Examples of this ideological enterprise was the publication in 1776 of a history of the Monarchy (Suhm 1776) and Ove Malling’s ‘Lives of Eminent Danes, Norwegians and Holsteinians’ in the tradition of Plutarch in 1777 (Malling 1999). In 1800, the Danish king still ruled over a vast, though thinly populated realm, stretching from Greenland, Iceland and Norway to the suburbs of Hamburg, in distance half the total European coast-line. According to the reliable census of 1801, the total population of the kingdom was 2.5 million. Denmark-Norway had 1.8 million, 51% of which lived in Denmark proper; Sleswig-Holstein had 600,000 inhabitants, of which 54% were in Holstein; other German possessions counted for some 90,000 people and the North Atlantic islands some 50,000. No reliable census for the colonies exists, as their status was different (Rasmussen 1995: 25). The Enlightenment reforms of the late eighteenth century were based upon reform of the civil laws, which ended the personal dependency of peasants upon landowners, a reform of the system of cultivation comprising abolition of the common field system and enclosure of the individual holdings, establishment of a comprehensive school system (1814), and liberalization of the customs as the most important changes. In 1805, serfdom in Holstein was abolished, a move which alienated the German landed aristocracy of this province and made them the embittered opponents of the Monarchy they had been supporting, or at least accepted as legitimate. In 1806, after the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire, Holstein was incorporated into the Danish monarchy. Between 1720 and 1807, the Danish Monarchy enjoyed a hitherto unparalleled prosperity, based on rising prices for its agrarian products and huge profits in neutral trading during the repeated European and colonial wars (Feldbæk 1980). In the early nineteenth century, however, Denmark-Norway overplayed its hand and ended up an adversary of Britain in the Napoleonic wars. The battle of Copenhagen in 1801, the British bombardment of the capital in 1807.14, the subsequent loss of the navy and final defeat at the hands of the anti-Napoleon coalition led to bankruptcy of the state in 1813 and the loss of Norway to Sweden in 1814 (Feldbæk 2000).

These events completely altered the balance between the German and Nordic elements in the composite state. The number of German speakers rose from less than 20% to 35% and nationalist sentiments began to tear the state apart (Rasmussen 1995: 26). As mentioned, in 1806, the Duchy of Holstein was annexed to Denmark as a consequence of the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire. However, with the establishment of the German Confederation in 1815, Holstein was reestablished as an independent duchy, which implied that the Danish king participated in the Federal Assembly in his capacity as Duke of Holstein. As punishment for the alliance with France, the Danish king was compelled to cede the kingdom of Norway to Sweden, ‘in return’ for which he received the tiny Duchy of Lauenburg (Nørregaard 1954). With that, the Dual Monarchy gave way to the socalled Gesamtstaat (‘Helstat’ or United Monarchy).15 Though reduced, this state was still a composite state in legal terms, and it retained its multinational in character. It consisted of the Kingdom of Denmark proper (North Jutland to the Kongeåen plus the islands) and the duchies of Sleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg. The latter, no larger in size than the minor Danish island of Lolland, retained its independent status and its particular institutions. Furthermore, the realm comprised the dependencies of Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and the colonies of Greenland, the Danish West Indies, Tranquebar and Guinea. In short, still a multi-nation polity in the mould of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, only smaller. As was the case with the Habsburg Empire, however, the multi-national state was soon to be torn apart by two antagonistic, national programs, a ‘Danish’ (either the Danish-Danish or the Scandinavianist, that is Danish-Swedish, variant) and a ‘German’ (either the Sleswig- Holsteinian or the pan-German or grossdeutsche variant).

Civil War, Break-up of the Composite State and Nationalization of the Peasant Masses

Nationalization is the most convenient and relevant term denoting the processes of national identification and democratization in Europe in the nineteenth century. It denotes processes of deliberate nationalization from above (cf. Mosse 1975), that is indoctrination as well as broader, more democratic processes from below combined with deliberate national indoctrination by the school system and the media (Weber 1975).16

The demand for the creation of a national state with a written constitution was first formulated in minority liberal circles in the first half of the nineteenth century, primarily among students and younger civil servants. In Denmark and Holstein, the move from international or supranational liberalism to national liberalism took place between 1836 and 1842. Until then the liberal movements in Copenhagen and Kiel had been allied in their resistance to the almost unlimited power of the Absolute Monarchy, which continued to prevail even after the introduction of the consultative assemblies in 1830/34. Being so few in number, the bourgeoisie alone was in no position to shake the despotic regime. Had this not been apparent before, it certainly became so after the accession of Christian VIII to the throne in 1839. The liberals had believed that Christian VIII would transfer the free Norwegian constitution, the shaping of which he had overseen in 1814, to Denmark. Astute as he was, however, Christian VIII nourished no desire to curtail his own powers and deliver himself into the hands of the increasingly nationalistic liberals. Under these circumstances, the two liberal reform groups in the capitals of Copenhagen and Kiel each established their own strategic alliances. In Denmark, the liberals allied themselves with the peasant farmers, an alliance which in 1846 was capped by the establishment of a political party, Bondevennerne (Friends of the Peasant). In Holstein, a more informal alliance was established with the landed aristocracy that later developed into the Sleswig-Holsteinian movement (spelled with a hyphen to indicate the long unity of the two historic provinces). The confrontation of 1848 was not the only possible result of the national confrontations in Sleswig as it has been depicted in nationalist historiography from both sides. But neither of the two national liberal groups was able to gain power without a ‘national’ polarization over an abstract ideology (Waahlin & Østergaard 1975). Thus nationalism came to tear apart the relatively well-functioning composite state, Helstaten.

The nationalistic radicalization of the language employed eventually led to war and ended with the dismemberment of the Danish united Monarchy after the self-inflicted defeat of 1864. Denmark survived as a sovereign nation-state only by the skin of its teeth, and only with help form the outside. Again it was the interests of the great powers, this time first and foremost Russia and Britain, in maintaining a neutral power at the entrance to the Baltic, that saved Denmark as a sovereign state. Had this not been the case, the country would have become either German or Swedish (the latter eventuality being termed Scandinavianism). Today we have grown used to considering this development as both inevitable and positive. This view reflects the swift exploitation by popular movements of the exceptional situation of a whole sovereign state having been rendered so weak that it allowed the peasant movement and subsequently, the workers movement to gain control over the state (Østergaard 1992a). Such popular movements were not altogether uncommon in an international context, but it was quite unique for such movements to gain cultural, economic and eventually political hegemony within a sovereign state. This is what the slogan ‘Outward losses must be made up by inward gains’ came to mean for the Danes in the period following 1864.

The programme for a romantically, ethnically and historically motivated definition of the nation was, as previously noted, formulated by the National Liberal ‘party’ — party here being placed in inverted commas because the liberals in principle did not recognize political parties at all, only representatives of the whole nation, “the nation’s finest and best”, motivated only by their own convictions (Lehmann 1861). This conception, however, was out of tune with the political and social realities. The years 1830-1848 saw the rise of modern political ideas in Denmark (Waahlin and Østergaard 1975). As a result, the lower classes began to organize themselves from the bottom up. According to the liberals, members of society ought to organize on the basis of their own ideas and compete for political power through free elections — although the liberals meant that only those who understood how to govern should vote, ‘the best’, ‘the brightest’ and ‘the educated’ in the words of one of the leading National Liberal politicians, Orla Lehmann (1861). But this was all theory. In practice, it was to become apparent already prior to the political upheaval of 1848 and the subsequent civil war between ‘Danes’ and ‘Germans’ (the Danish version of a bourgeois revolution, cf. Østergaard 1998) that the dividing lines ran parallel with social or class-based affiliations. Liberal academics, officials and other pillars of the liberal community sought to conceal these class cleavages by shrewdly elaborating appeals in the name of ‘the people’. The means for creating this alliance across class divisions was the so-called ‘national revival’ (or more aptly, nationalistic incitement) concerning the status of the Duchy of Sleswig within the national framework. The strategy worked well for a number of years, but ended with the abortive attempt to annex Sleswig in November 1863 and the National Liberals’ subsequent collapse. Stubborn and intransigent quibbling by Danish National Liberal politicians and their misjudgement of the international situation enabled Bismarck to establish a united Germany, without Austria, and under Prussian dominance (Nielsen 1987). The international political climate and international agreements notwithstanding, the National Liberals demanded a Danish nation-state within the ‘historical’ framework, that is all of Sleswig to the river Ejder, regardless of the opinion of the inhabitants. This move would have resulted in a large German-speaking minority within Denmark. Instead Prussia and Austria took all of Sleswig and Holstein, with a large Danish population in Northern Sleswig (Østergaard 1996a).

This led to the proclamation of a new German Empire in 1871. The presence in the middle of Europe of this unstable and all too domineering major new power provoked in its turn a national unification in Denmark, as well as in other neighbouring countries. In Denmark, this was achieved in a quite exceptional manner by means of a combination of outside pressures and initiatives from below, primarily from the class of peasant farmers. On the basis of this conscious demarcation as regards Germany and all things German, the modern, popular and democratic Denmark emerged, i.e. everything Danes today celebrate as being particularly Danish about Denmark and the Danes (Østergaard 1984).

During the 1870s, the opposition successfully engaged in a virtual Kulturkampf with the conservatives and the urban liberals over control of the schools and the congregations. The struggle over the schools was to have far greater importance for the establishment of cultural hegemony than the better-described conflict of literary cultures in the 1880s (Østergaard 1984). The latter has always been the subject of attention from social-liberal intellectuals owing to the quality of the contributions from the critic and politician Edvard Brandes (1847-1931), the literary historian Georg Brandes (1842-1927), the journalist and politician Viggo Hørup (1841-1901) and other so-called ‘European’ intellectuals. Despite their intellectual brilliance and apparent victory with the founding of the newspaper Politiken in 1884, the cultural hegemony they sought after, did not materialize. The religious and social movements of the Grundtvigians and their opponents in the Pietist ‘Inner Mission’, however, were more successful. From their efforts ensued a hegemony which in the twentieth century subsequently was to be appropriated by the Social Democratic workers movement, in alliance with the successors to the European left the so called ‘Radikale Venstre’.

With social unification, however, came a high degree of national mobilization among the rural masses and in the rest of the nation. This nationalism, in its turn, made it extremely difficult for the responsible government to strike the necessary compromises with the rising German power next door. Only the defeat of the German Reich in World War I provided an opportunity for Denmark to retrieve the Danish speakers in North Sleswig. Because of clumsy attempts to Germanize them, the Danish-speaking Sleswigers had become ardent Danish nationalists, organizing a sort of parallel society (Japsen 1980). Yet it took almost superhuman efforts on the part of courageous and far-sighted representatives of the Danish minority in Sleswig, such as H. P. Hansen Nørremølle (1862-1936) to bring about the necessary change in the Danish political line and obtain a vital national compromise with its great neighbour (Østergaard 1996a).

One of the prerequisites was the building of new self-confidence within the population. An important element in this process was a reorientation away from Europe and towards the North (Østergaard 1996b). Whether the shift from a European to a Nordic orientation has been worth the cultural price is a matter for debate. However, it is incontestable that in the short run, the reorientation involved major political advantages in terms of a homogenous and self-important nation-state that was able to hold together, even after having surrendered to German forces almost without firing a shot on April 9, 1940.

The Peasant-Farmer Roots of Danish National Identity

Contrary to the situation in most other nineteenth century nation-states, the small size of the amputated Danish state allowed a numerous class of relatively well- to-do peasants turned independent farmers via the reforms of the late eighteenth century to assume economical and political hegemony. This did not occur without opposition, but through the latter part of the nineteenth century, the middle peasants gradually took over from the despairing ruling elites. The latter were recruited from the tiny urban bourgeoisie, the civil servants of the state trained at German-style universities inside the Monarchy as well as outside, and the manorial class. After the debacle of 1864, and the subsequent establishment of a strong united Germany next door they had lost faith in the survival of the state. Some even played with the thought of joining this neighbouring state which already dominated the culture of the upper classes.

In this situation, however, an outburst of so-called ‘popular’ energy proclaimed a strategy of ‘winning inwards what had been lost to the outside’. The slogan was turned into a literal strategy of retrieving the lost agrarian lands of Western Jutland, now deserted because of the deforestation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It also took the form of an opening up of ‘Dark Jutland’ in an attempt to turn the economy of the peninsula away from Hamburg and redirect it towards Copenhagen. This movement, provocatively called ‘the Discovery of Jutland’ (Frandsen 1995 and 1996), entailed the exploitation of Jutland by the capital Copenhagen, situated on the far eastern rim of the country as remnant of the former empire, much like Vienna in present day Austria. This battle between metropolis and province is not yet over, as demonstrated in the heated controversies whether or not to build a bridge between the islands of Fyn and Sjoelland or to connect Sweden and Copenhagen directly with Germany over the gulf of Fehmern (Østergaard 2000a and b). The attempt to hold the Danish nation-state together and keep Jutland away from Hamburg won out, as the former bridge has now been completed. The decision, however, was achieved only by a very narrow margin.

More important, however, is the cultural, economic and political awakening of the middle peasants who became farmers producing for the world market precisely in this period. The basis for their success was the relative weakness of the Danish bourgeoisie and the country’s late industrialization. The take-off happened only in the 1890s and the final break-through as late as the 1950s (Hansen 1970). The middle peasants developed a consciousness of themselves as a class and understood themselves to be the real backbone of society. Their ideology supported free trade, not surprising as they were beginning to rely heavily on the export of food to the rapidly developing British market. Trade links to Britain were so important that Denmark, economically speaking, was de facto a part of the British Empire from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. More surprising is the fact that their ideology also contained strong libertarian elements because of their struggle with the existing urban and academic elites. The peasant-farmers’ movement achieved hegemony because it succeeded in establishing an independent culture with its own educational institutions. This was in turn possible because of the unique organization from of the agrarian industries: the cooperative.

Basic agrarian production had remain individual production on independent farms, albeit of an average size somewhat larger than usual in a European context. However, the processing of the dairy and meat produce into exportable products took place in local farm industries run on a cooperative basis. The cooperative associations were run democratically on the basis of equality, regardless of the initial investment. The cooperative movement formulated this in a slogan of votes being cast ‘by heads instead of heads of cattle’ (i.e., one man, one vote regardless of the initial investment). This pun (in Danish hoveder and høveder) is less true when one starts investigating the realities of the cooperatives. Yet the myth remained, producing a sense of community, which by means of various political traditions has been transformed into a long-lasting hegemony that laid the ground for a national consensus. This consensus, while hard to define, until very recently enabled members of the Danish community to communicate across class differences through means of words, symbols, and actions. Humour and understatement thrived on a common understanding that precedes the spoken words.

The libertarian values, though, were not originally meant to include other segments of the population. The agrarian system was based on a crass exploitation of the agricultural labourers by the farmers. The latter, along with the urban elites, were often not even considered part of ‘the people’ by the peasant-farmers. However, in an interesting and surprisingly original ideological manoeuvre, the rising Social Democracy adapted its ideology to the unique agrarian-industrial conditions in Denmark and developed a strategy very different from the Marxist orthodoxy of the German mother party. The Danish Social Democracy even agreed to the establishment of a class of very small farmers called husmoend (cottagers). Thus, the Social Democrats fulfilled the expectations of their landless members among the agricultural labourers but at the same time undermined the possibility of ever obtaining an absolute majority in the parliament, as did their sister parties in Sweden and Norway.

This apparently suicidal strategy, as well as subsequent compromises in housing policy, ruled out any position of a virtual Social Democratic monopoly of power, as was the case in Norway and Sweden (Esping-Andersen 1985). Yet as far as we can judge, they did so knowingly and on purpose. During World War I, it became clear to the Social Democratic leadership that the party would never be able to achieve an absolute political majority. Under Thorvald Stauning’s thirty-two years of charismatic leadership (1910-1942), the party restructured its line from a class-based to a more all-embracing strategy. The consensus line was first openly formulated in 1923, and later on adopted in slogans such as ‘the people’s cooperating rule’ and, somewhat less clumsily, ‘Denmark for the people’ (1934). The platform resulted in a stable governing coalition, from 1929 to 1943, of the Radical Liberals (Det Radikale Venstre) and the Social Democratic Party. The Social Democratic leaders apparently accepted the ultimate check on the influence of their own movement in the interests of the society at large. Perhaps they did not distinguish between the two. Developments might have turned out differently in Germany had the Social Democracy in that country in the 1920s adapted a policy directed towards the people as a whole and not just the working class in the Marxist sense. The eminent German socialist theoretician Karl Kautsky (1854-1938) never really understood the role of agriculture in modern societies. He saw it as something of the pre-capitalist past, which would be better run according to the principles of massindustrialization as happened in the Soviet Union with the collectivizations of the 1930s. The Danish Social Democrats, in their practical policies had a better understanding of agriculture. But proved unable to turn this understanding into coherent theory. At the level of doctrine, the party stuck to the formulations in the 1913 program. These formulations reflected the international debates in the Second International rather than the Danish reality and the practical policy of the party. The very fact that the program of 1913 remained unchanged until 1961 testifies to the lack of importance attributed to theory in this most pragmatic of all reformist Socialist parties. Danish Social Democracy was never strong on theory, but the labour movement, on the other hand, has produced an impressive number of capable administrators and politicians.

This lack of explicit strategy enabled remnants of the libertarian peasant ideology to take root early on within the party and in the labour movement as such. The Social Democrats embarked upon a policy for the people as such, and not just for the working class. This testifies to the importance of the liberal-popular ideological hegemony dating back to the peasant-farmer’s ideological hegemony in the last third of the nineteenth century. The leaders realized that they would never gain power on their own. The farmers proper constituted only a fragment of the population as a whole, but small-scale production permeated the whole society then as it still does today. Ironically, the Marxist who understood Denmark best was Lenin. In a discussion of the Agrarian Program of the Social Democracy (Lenin 1907) he discussed at length the Danish cooperatives, which he had studied on the spot (in the Royal Library in Copenhagen). Lenin turned out rather positively disposed towards such a self-reliant strategy but refused to endorse it for Russia for a number of reasons. Maybe he should have done so. That a strategy directed towards the majority of the people would turn out more rewarding seems pretty obvious from today’s point of view. Yet a sophisticated socialist party such as the German Social Democrats embarked only on this strategy as late as 1959 in Bad Godesberg; the British Labour and the French Socialist Party took even longer to make up their minds; and what happens in former Eastern Europe still remains to be seen. The main reason why a libertarian ideology of solidarity ended up dominating a whole nation-state was the small size of this particular state. Danish historians and sociologists have eagerly discussed whether the peasant ideological hegemony resulted from a particular class structure dating back to the 1780s or even further back to the early sixteenth century, when the number of farms was frozen by law, or whether it was this ideology that created the particular class-structure of the Danish nineteenth century society (Paludan 1995). Constructed in such terms, the discussion is almost impossible to solve, as both positions reveal some truth. My own view is that the outcome can best be explained in terms of the existence of a particular form of populism or ‘popular’ ideology (folkelighed) stressing the importance of consensus among people. This status was first and most coherently formulated by the important Danish thinker, virtually untranslated and untranslatable philosopher, Nikolaj Frederik Grundtvig (1783-1872) who was a historian, priest, and poet. That is I stress the importance of what historians label ‘chance’ or ‘accidence’ (cf. note 2). This does not imply that I refrain from explaining the course of history, but I accept that a different outcome would have been possible (cf. Østergaard 1997d).

The Grundtvigian Synthesis — National and Social Consensus

Depressed by the defeat of Denmark by Great Britain in the war 1807-1814, the young priest N.F.S. Grundtvig took it upon himself to reestablish what he took to be the original ‘Nordic’ or ‘Danish’ mind. He translated the Icelandic Sagas, the twelfth century historian Saxo Grammaticus, the Anglo Saxon poem Beowulf and many other sources of what he considered to be the true but lost core of ‘Danishness’. His sermons attracted large crowds of enthusiastic students. His address on The Light of the Holy Trinity, delivered in 1814 to a band of student volunteers willing to fight the British, inspired a whole generation of young followers, including the priest Jacob Christian Lindberg (1791-1857), who later organized the first Grundtvigian movement. When Grundtvig embarked upon a sharp polemic with his superiors in the church on matters of theology, he was banned from all public appearances and publishing. This drove him into what he called his ‘inner exile’ in the 1830s. This inner exile, however, gave him time for reflection where he formulated a program for the revival of the stagnant official religion. When the ban was lifted in 1839, he burst out in a massive production of sermons, psalms, and songs, a literary legacy, which until at least a few years ago formed the core of the socialization of most Danes. Grundtvig then formulated an all-embracing view of nature, language, and history. In 1848, after the outbreak of the civil war over Sleswig, he produced a refined definition of national identity, which helped set the tone for a nationalism less chauvinistic than most in the nineteenth century. As is sometimes the case with prolific writers, his most precise theoretical expressions were to be found in the restricted form of the verse:

People! what is a people? what does popular mean?
Is it the nose or the mouth that gives it away?
Is there a people hidden from the average eye
in burial hills and behind bushes, in every body, big and boney?
They belong to a people who think they do,
those who can hear the Mother tongue,
those who love the Fatherland.

The rest are separated from the people, expel themselves, do not belong. (from the poem Folkelighed 1848 by N. F. S. Grundtvig, my translation)

This definition, though produced in the heat of battle with the German- speaking rebels in the duchies of Sleswig and Holstein, resembles most of all the definition of national identity produced by the French thinker Ernest Renan in what has since become one of the standard texts on nationalism, Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (1882). Originally Renan’s intention was to ‘scientifically’ demonstrate the right of the French population in Alsace-Lorraine to its French nationality after the provinces had been signed over to Germany by the peace treaty in 1871. After their defeat in the Franco-German war, the French changed their minds as to whether a nation should be defined in cultural or political terms. The same happened in Denmark after the defeat in 1864, which in 1867 was followed by the incorporation into Prussia of all of Sleswig. But Grundtvig anticipated this change of thinking — at least in some of his writings.

Renan’s statement has since become the standard formulation of an anti-essentialist definition of national identity. This could be labelled a voluntaristic-subjective definition, stressing as it does the importance of the expressed will of people. The rival definition in modern European thinking could be called the objective-culturalist definition. It dates back to the German thinker J.G.H. Herder and has permeated all thinking in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries up until Fascism and Nazism (Østergaard 1991a). It is surprising that the Danish thinker Grundtvig should present a democratic definition of nationality as early as 1848. No military defeat had preceded it, as was the case in France. Until 1870, French thinkers had defined nationality in terms no less essentialist than any German would after that date. Moreover it should be recalled that Grundtvig wrote these lines in a highly explosive political situation when a majority in the two predominantly German-speaking provinces of Sleswig and Holstein had seceded. Grundtvig left those who opted for the German language to their own choice as non-Danes, which in his opinion was a most deplorable fate. Yet he left them the choice and would never dream of interfering with it.

Through a long and complicated history, this understanding of national identity later became official Danish policy and has successfully been applied in the border region between Denmark and Germany after 1920, and particularly after 1955. There is much more to say about the thinking of Grundtvig and his influence on Danish political culture. The core of his thinking was the assumption that culture and identity is embedded in the unity of life and language. Although this kind of thinking invites one to label it as chauvinism, Grundtvig himself, like his opposite number Herder, did not assume a hierarchy of nationalities. Cultural diversity yes, cultural dominance no. Whether these assumptions are really viable need not concern us here. What is important is that Grundtvig’s thinking caught on among a class of people in the small Northern European state left over from the wars of the middle of the century. It began immediately after 1814, with the students. The breakthrough occurred around 1839, when various religious and political movements decided to transform his thinking into practice. First, it influenced the revivalist religious movements, later on the more explicitly political movements and eventually his thinking came to serve as the foundation for independent economic and educational institutions. Grundtvig himself did not seek such popular support. He delivered his message either in writing or orally, and then stood aloof when others decided what to make out of it. This is why some of today’s guardians of the thoughts of Grundtvig speak of him as having been ‘taken prisoner by the Grundtvigian movement’ when his message was transformed into an ideology known as ‘Grundtvigism’ (Thodberg and Thyssen 1983).

No doubt there is some truth to this, as is always the case when an individual’s thought is transformed into social practice, for example with Marx and Marxism. The only ones who have not suffered such fate are the likes of the existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55), i.e. those who formulate their ideas without reference to their relevance for society. Grundtvig’s thinking, however, certainly struck a chord with many groups in society, but he did not care whether it did or not. He normally refused to meet people, and, if he did, he talked incessantly and never listened. Consequently, the reasons behind the influence of his thinking are not to be found in his personal behaviour, but in the thought itself and its relevance for the surrounding society.

The revivalists came to Grundtvig of their own accord. This religious movement of the first half of the nineteenth century resembled many other Pietist movements throughout Europe. Because of the negative attitude of the official Lutheran state church, they chose to meet outside the churches, and were thus called Forsamlingsbevoegelsen (‘the Meeting Movement’). They were attracted by Grundtvig’s independent interpretation of the Lutheran heritage. Grundtvig, however, succeeded in giving an optimistic tone to the normally somewhat gloomy Pietism of German origins. In their struggles with the officials of the Absolutist state, these revivalists learned an organizational lesson which they would soon put to political use. The leaders of the peasant movement of the 1840s were recruited from their ranks. Initially working under the tutelage of the liberal intellectuals, the peasant party gradually broke away from the National Liberals, as they called themselves.

The various political factions of the peasant party would soon establish their own independent institutions, beginning with the church. With the transformation of the monarchy from an Absolutist to a constitutional regime in 1849, the organization of the church had to be changed accordingly. The result of these endeavours, though, differed in important ways from the otherwise comparable situation in the Lutheran monarchies of Sweden and Norway. A state church with a proper constitution never came into existence, though it had been envisaged in the constitution of 1849. This was a result of the influence of Grundtvig and the revivalist movement. They wanted guarantees of religious freedom, so the church should be the creature of the state, or its agent of socialization, as it had been under Absolutism. They found these guarantees best preserved in an anarchic state of affairs (Lindhardt 1951). This is how Denmark acquired a most peculiar mixture of freedom and state control in religious matters. The minister of religious affairs is called Minister of the ‘People’s Church’ — a contradiction in terms that does not seem to bother Danes. The minister presides over church administration and the upkeep of church buildings, most of which is financed by a separate tax, whereas 60% of the pay for the pastors is provided for by the state — which is why the ‘People’s Church in real terms must be considered a State Church. However, it is left to individual priests and their congregations to interpret the actual teachings of the church. Councils of the local parishes (Menighedsråd), elected every four years, run these congregations. Nowadays the most influential groups in these counties are the fundamentalist Inner Mission and the Social Democrats (sic!). In spite of their differences, they often collaborate in order to control the elected but academically trained priests. The latter are normally academically trained at the universities and represent an intellectually refined Lutheran theology, which often does not appeal to ordinary believers. Most of the apparently non-religious Danish population belongs to this church in the sense that 86% of the population pay the tax even if relatively few attend services, except for Christmas, baptisms, burials, and weddings. Still, I think, the Lutheranism of the People’s Church plays an enormous and insufficiently recognized role in defining the political culture. In fact, we should probably talk of Lutheran or Protestant Democracy rather than Social Democracy when analyzing the social and political model advocated by Denmark in particular and the Nordic countries in general.17

In the 1870s, the ideological battle was carried into the field education. The National Liberals who now sided whole-heartedly with the conservative estate owners in a party called Højre (‘the Right’) wanted a comprehensive school system under the supervision of the state. This, was vehemently opposed by the majority of the farmers’ party Venstre (‘the Left’), who believed in the absolute freedom of education and attacked the so-called ‘black’ schools of learning where Latin was still taught. This they could do because the peasant movement, from 1844, had established a network of ‘folk high schools’ throughout the country. Over the years, Grundtvig had produced a series of programs for a new and more democratic educational system. Like many of his other ideas they did not constitute a coherent system. Rather, they can be seen as an appeal for a more practical schooling in democracy. What these schools lacked in coherent programs, however, they made up for in flexibility. Today, most of them are institutions of adult education, supplementing the formal educational system.

On top of this, the anti-institutional thinking of Grundtvig ultimately permeated the Danish educational system to such a degree, that even today there is no compulsory schooling, only compulsory learning. How one is educated is a personal choice. Again, this might not sound terribly surprising for an American audience, but in the context of highly centralized European states with a Lutheran heritage, it is most surprising. Furthermore, these schools helped produce an alternative elite. Until very recently there were two or maybe three different ways of recruiting Denmark’s political, cultural, and business elites. The university system was one, the workers movement another at least until the democratization of the official educational system in the 1960s. Both are well known in other countries.

The third line of recruitment, through the folk high schools, however, is a uniquely Danish phenomenon. Grundtvig and his followers accomplished what amounts to a genuine cultural revolution. He hated the formal teachings of the official school system and favoured free learning with an emphasis on story telling — ‘the living word’ — and discussion among peers. This program gave rise to a system of autonomous ‘free schools’ for children, plus folk high schools and agrarian schools for the farmer sons and daughters in their late teens and early twenties.

It is difficult to estimate the importance of the Grundtvigian schools in precise quantitative terms, as their influence has been almost as great outside the schools as in them. There is no doubt, however, that the very fact of the existence of two or three competing elites has helped agrarian and libertarian values to make inroads into the mainstream of Danish political culture, thus contributing heavily to defining ‘Danishness’. The informal and anti systematic character of the teachings of Grundtvig suited the peasant movement extremely well. They could provide inspiration without restricting innovation. It also helps explain why Grundtvig has never been a favourite of academics; his thinking does not amount to a coherent theoretical system. His enmity toward all systems let him even to deny that he himself was a ‘Grundtvigian’ (much as Marx denied that he was a ‘Marxist’). ‘Grundtvigians’ never used this term themselves. They talked of ‘Friends’ and organized ‘meetings of Friends’. This organizational informality, too, turned out to be a major advantage, at least in the early stages of the movement. Furthermore, it explains why the influence of this farmers’ ideology was able to cross the boundaries of the class it originally served so well.

Grundtvig’s teachings were permeated by a fundamental optimism with regard to people’s capacities. He demanded economic and ideological freedom and the right of citizens to education. This program corresponded precisely to the needs of the large class of highly self-conscious and class-conscious farmers, men and women alike. In Danish literature and history, it has become commonplace to interpret Grundtvigism narrowly as the ideology of the well-to-do farmers. This identification of class and ideology dates back to the communist author Hans Kirk (1888-1962). He contrasted the farmer religion of Grundvigism with the more traditionally revivalist Inner Mission (Indre Mission) founded in 1853. According to Kirk, this competing religious movement better suited the poorer farm hands and fishermen. While the Grundtvigian farmers could reap their rewards in this life, the lowly farm workers and fishermen would have to wait until the next.

This convincing description presents three different social environments, each with a specific religion. It is a most satisfying materialist explanation, which has dominated Danish social history; a good example is the overview by the leading church historian P. G. Lindhardt (1953). The problem with Kirk’s explanation is that it is simply wrong. Later research has called into question his simplistic association of class position and religious belief (for instance Thyssen 1960-75 and Waahlin 1987). Examinations of membership lists of Grundtvigian parishes, for example, show that they included more than just well off farmers. The general pattern turns out to be that entire parishes were either Grundtvigian, or Inner Mission, or nothing at all. The determining factor seems to be the choice made by the elites of the parishes. In most parts of Denmark, in spite of openings toward other social classes, the well-off farmers constituted the core of both Inner Mission and the Free Grundtvigian churches. But they also dominated the great number of parishes that did not undergo any sort of revival, be it Grundtvigian or Inner Mission. These so-called ‘dead’ parishes — religiously committed to neither movement — actually accounted for 50% of all votes in the first elections to the councils of the parish churches in 1909.

These findings do not completely refute class-based explanations of religious beliefs, but they do force us to refine them. It turns out that Grundtvigism was not the only relevant ideological medium for the rising class of petty bourgeois entrepreneurs. What is important, however, is the function of both ideologies as a means of obtaining self-reliance. Both revivalist movements had their roots in, and helped to express, the needs of this class vis-a-vis government officials and influential businessmen. Whereas the function of these doctrines was similar, the difference lies in the content. Apparently, it did not matter what was said; what was important was, that it was said independently of the authorities. Most countries witnessed the spread of revivalist movements such as Inner Mission during the transition to industrialized modernity. The United States is full of them. In this sense Grundtvigism is a revivalist movement, regardless of the professed antagonism between the Grundtvigians and Inner Mission.

What is particular for the Danish Grundtvigism is its emphasis on the unity of land, country, God, and people (folk). It has turned out to be virtually impossible to export this particular synthesis. Grundtvigism even played a negligible role among Danish immigrants to the American Midwest. Today it has almost vanished in those communities, mainly in Iowa and South Dakota, where it was transported in the nineteenth century; Inner Mission, however, is still thriving (cf. Simonsen 1990). ‘Grundtvigism’ is thus to be understood as a shorthand for all the revivalist ideologies of self-reliance thriving in Denmark at the time regardless of their precise teachings. In a now classic account of Danishness, Robert Molesworth (1656-1725) British ambassador to the king of Denmark from 1689 to 1692, denounced what he called Danish ‘mediocrity and pettiness’. Molesworth hated everything Danish, their petty peasant slyness and shortsighted scheming. He apparently loathed every minute he had spent in the country. The conclusion of the account runs as follows: To conclude; I never knew any Country where the Minds of the People were more of one calibre and pitch than here; you shall meet with none of extraordinary Parts or Qualifications, or excellent in particular Studies and Trades; you see no Enthusiasts, Mad-men, Natural Fools, or fanciful Folks; but a certain equality of Understanding reigns among them: every one keeps the ordinary beaten road of Sence, which in this Country is neither the fairest nor the foulest, without deviating to the right or left: yet I will add this one Remark to their praise. That the Common People do generally write and read. (Molesworth 1694: 257)

Molesworth’s book was presented to the British audience as a travel account, but the actual intention was to warn the aristocracy, who in 1688 had expelled James II, of the dangers of Absolutism. Denmark had been proclaimed an Absolutist regime in 1660 after the disastrous defeat in its wars with Sweden. One might say that on principle it was the most Absolutist regime in all of Europe, as its Absolutism was actually written down in 1665, albeit made public only in the early 18th century. This was never done in the France of Louis XIV, the very country where Absolutism was invented. Warning against this ominous fate was Molesworth’s intention, so one should probably not pay more attention to his descriptions than to those of his friend and contemporary Jonathan Swift when describing the country of the Lilliputians or Brobdingnagians. Yet Moleworth’s characterizations remind us of any number of subsequent descriptions by Danes as well as foreigners. What varies is the valuation put on mediocrity and mundaneness in a society; some see it as the utmost boredom, others as the egalitarian heaven on earth.

Another way to look at this ideology of mediocrity is to accept it as the prerequisite of popular consensus. If laws and reforms are to work, they must be based on general acceptance among people. And acceptance has more often than not been the case in Denmark. At a time when the overwhelming majority of intellectuals in a Europe of rising nation-states talked of the necessary ‘nationalization of the masses’ or the necessity of transforming peasants into citizens through policies from the top down, Grundtvig developed an ideology centered on the concept of folkelighed (‘popular spirit’) denoting a common feeling of consensus in the population. According to Grundtvig, the feeling can take root only in a historically developed national community and is manifested in actions of solidarity. At the level of ideological discourse, at least, Grundtvig succeeded in transforming the traditional amorphous peasant feelings of community and solidarity into symbols and words relevant to constructing a modern industrialized imagined community. It remains to be seen whether the resulting mentality can survive the transplantation to entities larger than the Danish nation-state. Maybe it cannot. For a time, however, it was capable of influencing the majority of an industrial working class and establishing a welfare state distributing social benefits to all citizens of the state (‘universalism’, cf. Knudsen 2000). By means of easily remembered lyrics and slogans such as ‘Freedom for Loke as well as for Thor’,18 Grundtvig succeeded in influencing the mentality of a whole nation. The original Herderian concept of nation, on the other hand, was independent of state unity in Germany; one might even say that it compensated for the lack of a unified German state. As a result of this experience, the ‘Germanic’ tradition of national identity is based on a notion of a people (Volk, Folk) which does not necessarily coincide with the inhabitants of the territory. The Danes who lost the wars with Prussia and Austria, in real terms shared ideological positions with their German enemies. Yet contrary to the German experience, Danes have been indoctrinated at school and at home that they are different from and more democratic than the “suppressed” and “authoritarian” Germans. Whether people actually live by these values, of course, is another question. At the level of discourse, however, that is at the conscious and preconscious (but not unconscious) level, that is the political culture, the concepts of liberty and equality have had great impact on determining what can be expressed and what not, what does not have to be expressed at all, and which values are considered worthy to pursue.

These are the ‘peasant roots of Danish modernity’ or the ‘peculiarity of the Danes’. They help explain many of the apparently paradoxical features of Danish political and social life, including its anarchistic party political system. Real national values are at stake in the present process of European integration, and many Danes fear that they will disappear when society, nation, and state are not longer coterminous, as has been the case the last hundred years and so. This is why Danes have been so reluctant to fully participate in ‘the construction of Europe’. What they have failed to realize is how recent this identification of society, nation and state is, and how precarious the geopolitically exposed situation in the center of Europe at the entrance to the Baltic Sea is. When the Baltic region opened up to the rest of Europe with the fall of the Iron Curtain, old tensions dating from before the rise of the nation-states reemerged and put back on the table the necessity to choose between different international options. Denmark cannot any longer have it both ways, as she had during the Cold War.

Foreign Policy and National Identity in a Small State

In many ways, Denmark seems to provide the perfect illustration of Barry Buzan’s and Ole Woever’s concept of ‘societal security’; i.e. a militarily weak power which, however, is strong in the sense that it is difficult to control by military means because of its internal cohesiveness (Woever et al. 1993). This is no mere coincidence; social and national integration as an alternative to military armament actually formed the basis of the policies of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals who governed Denmark from 1929 to 1940.

The minister of foreign affairs at that time was the social liberal Peter Munch (1870- 1948). Munch started out in the 1920s as a convinced internationalist and stalwart believer in handing over power and possibly sovereignty to the League of Nations. He was never a doctrinaire pacifist, even though the official policy of the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre) was anti-militaristic. On the contrary, Munch seems to have supported the idea of enabling the League of Nations to use military force when acting with a mandate from the involved parties in international conflicts (Pedersen 1970). Only when he realized the diffidence of the major powers and lack of determination in the international community to implement the initial ideals of the international organization did Munch and his coalition government, under the Social Democrat Thorvald Stauning (1873-1942), endorse a policy of unarmed neutralism towards Germany (Pedersen 1970).

Munch defined the fundamentals of his international policy in three lectures delivered at L’Institut Universitaire des Hates Etudes Internationales in Genèva in 1931.19 The main topic was the ‘moral authority’ of the small nations, mainly the neutrals of World War I: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In Munch’s thinking, these five states were particularly able to ‘réaliser l’impartialité que est l’idéal de la Société des Nations’ (Munch 1931, 17). Of course these smaller powers did not have the same influence as the great powers. In Munch’s own words. ‘Certes nous ne prétendons pas a une influence correspondante à celle des Grandes Puissances’ (Munch 1931: 18). Munch argued that another kind of influence was possible, one based on economic and moral factors.

A precondition for display of such strength by a weak power was a high degree of cohesion within the national community. In the eyes of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals, military disarmament could be possible if society was ‘strong’, that is, insulated against totalitarian temptations from the Right as well as from the Left through social integration. The strategy was to hold the totalitarian ideologies at bay by means of a ‘Nordic’ welfare state. This alternative to the sterile radicalism of the German Social Democrats and Communists, respectively, was explicitly formulated by the respected classical scholar and Marxist theoretician, Hartvig Frisch (1893- 1950) in the ‘Nordic Preface’ to his book, Pest over Europa (‘Plague over Europe’), published shortly after Hitler came to power, in 1933.

In this perceptive political analysis of and warning against all totalitarian movements, Fascism and Nazism as well as Communism, Frisch endorsed the move from liberalism to social democracy. Only a socially just society, in his opinion, would be able to resist the dangerous temptations and easy promises put forward by the various enemies of liberal democracy. Frisch was never a pacifist, although he bravely defended the appeasement policy and cooperation with the German occupation forces during and after the war. This defense reflected intellectual honesty and personal conviction; it was definitely not unconditioned doctrinal pacifism as has often been claimed (Christiansen 1993). Although not a member of the inner circles of power in the Social Democratic party of the 1930s, Frisch was the first to explicitly formulate the Scandinavian strategy of political compromise between the Agrarians and organized labour in order to prevent Nazism and fascism. The Scandinavian Social Democrats developed this strategy in order to avoid the mistakes of their fellow social democrats in Germany and elsewhere in Central Europe. In January 1933, on the eve of Hitler’s take over in Germany, the Danish Social Democrats and the Social Liberals pushed through parliament a major crisis agreement with the Conservatives and the Liberals, the Kanslergade Forlig — named after the street on which prime minister Thorvald Stauning lived. With this package of laws, the Social Democrats offered the agrarians in Venstre subsidies for the farmers and devaluation of the currency in exchange for public works programs and a social security bill which primarily included higher unemployment compensation — the very policy the strong Social Democracy in Germany had failed to carry through in 1928.

The purpose of the agreement was primarily to save the parliamentary system; not for its own sake, but as a means of defending and extending the societal processes upon which the labour movement relied. The price included some political sacrifices, but the Social Democrats and Social Liberals accepted these because they had a higher political goal in sight, to preserve the social order and thereby national coherence (Lindström 1985: 156 ff.). Thus began the building of the strong society of the post-war period. In the public debate that followed the Kanslergade compromise, its advocates repeatedly returned to the crisis agreement as a superior alternative to the events in Continental Europe. This parliamentary policy was explicitly promoted in the new working-program in 1934, ‘Denmark for the People’.

The closing paragraph of the party congress the same year read: We want a Parliament fit for work and thus an active cabinet. We want to work on the basis of the legal, parliamentary foundations and preserve democracy and popular government for the protection of the right to work and of the working-class, and for the protection of the free prosperity and preservation of the Danish nation and the Danish people. (Lindström 1985: 171)

Munch’s policy of de facto pacifism regarding military means fell into disrepute in the Second World War during the German occupation ending with the Danish resistance movement and Denmark’s entry in NATO in 1948. Seen with the advantage of historical hindsight, however, one must admit that the policy ‘worked’, in the sense that Denmark escaped the trials of war and occupation almost intact as a democratic society and polity, though her moral reputation had suffered. In a way she even fared better than Norway, as the extreme cohesiveness of Danish society discouraged the Germans from attempting to install any kind of Quisling regime. Norway kept a high moral profile during the war as an occupied nation formally at war. This situation, however, left room for the Germans to install a regime of their own under Vidkun Quisling and this brought to the surface the divisions within the Norwegian polity. The effect of these divisions made itself felt long after the war and can still be observed in the difficulties of dealing with the legacy of Quisling.20 In contrast to the Netherlands, the Danish political system also succeeded in keeping the administration free from Nazi infiltration. The main factor in this survival as a nation was the other element of Munch’s non-offensive foreign policy, the strategy of immunizing the society against divisions coming from the outside. In a long-term perspective, the strategy of ‘societal security’ worked and has left deep marks on Danish society and collective psychology. This is less true for the 1930s, when the foundations of the welfare state were laid, but very much in the 1950s and 1960s, when the social democratic welfare state came into existence as an alternative to the two dominating ideologies of the Cold War, totalitarian Communism and unmitigated Capitalism. As argued by Poul Villaume, this so-called ‘Third Way’ between unmitigated capitalism and Communist central planning was probably more important as an ideological alternative to the cleavages of the Cold War than remembered today (Villaume 1995).

In Denmark in particular and in the Nordic countries in general, the program stuck and has survived the disappearance of Communism. Instead, a stereotype of a supposedly ‘Catholic’, ‘Southern’ or ‘Latin’ Europe without universal welfare values has taken its place as the predominant ‘enemy’ image. After almost thirty years of membership in the European Community, this image still plays a role in the public debate. The problem is that these stereotypes, maybe relevant in the 1930s, today are outdated as the remaining countries in the European Union have long ago embarked upon the road towards various versions of the welfare state (Ploug and Kvist 1994). This new situation, however, has not really dawned upon the majority of Danes, who still guard the sovereignty of their small state as if she were still a great power with real sovereignty. Such is the power of collective memory at the preconscious level that the members of this strong and successful society still deep down tend to think that they are citizens of a great power, though no sane Dane would be caught saying it aloud.

‘Folk’ and ‘Folkishness’ as Positive Concepts — Society, People, Nation, State and Sovereignty in Danish Political Thinking

When analysed in this historical context, the reluctant Danish attitudes towards Europe and European integration become less of a paradox. Ambivalence has characterized the Danish attitude towards European integration from the very beginning. Reluctantly, the majority of the population has let itself be dragged into European cooperation by the arguments of dire economic necessity coming from political and economic elites. But there has never been any enthusiasm, not even among the intellectuals and others who stand to profit from the greater opportunities of intellectual exchange on a larger scale. The socialist Left mistrusts Europe for trying to undermine the supposedly unique Danish welfare state, while the Right doubts Denmark’s ability to compete on equal terms. This defensive attitude may change, but it has not yet been translated into significantly different political opinions.

Why has mistrust of Europe and everything European been the dominant theme in Danish politics and permeated the political culture? Another way to summarize ‘Danishness’ of today is to say Denmark is a little land. This Danes say it all the time when they want to impress foreigners with how amazingly well we have done. The saying dates back to that philosopher of Danishness, N.F.S. Grundtvig, who in a poem from 1820 struck a core with the Danish attitudes of social levelling and the search for the middle ground:

Far higher mountains shine splendidly forth
than the hills of our native islands.
But we Danes rejoice in the quiet North
for our lowlands and rolling hills.
No towering peaks thundered over our birth.
It suits us best to remain on earth. (N. F. S. Grundtvig, Langt højere Bjerge, 1820, my translation)

The song ends on a note of flat hill self-satisfaction: ‘Even more of the ore, so white and so red (the colours of the flag u.ø.). Others may have got mountains in exchange. For the Dane, however, the daily bread is found no less in the hut of the poor man; when few have too much and fewer too little then truly we have become wealthy.’ 21 This is not a program for social or economic equality — Grundtvig at this time was a conservative — yet it is a clear proclamation of political anti-elitism and egalitarianism, which later came to embody the ideology of Danishness. There is a certain unpretentious, self-ironic note in this version of Danish national discourse. It is hard to detect for foreigners because it is considered bad form to be a nationalist in Denmark as in most other European countries after 1945. Nevertheless, this subtle form of nationalism surfaces immediately when foreigners start criticizing anything Danish. Danes love to criticize everything themselves, but put up the defenses as soon as somebody else points out a fault with Danish behaviour or something Danish. Luckily Danes are not very often confronted with such criticism, as Denmark has had a surprisingly good press in the international community — that is, when she is not mistaken for Sweden. This, of course, is mainly a reflection of the relative lack of importance attributed to this small country in world affairs. This attitude has nevertheless helped foster a feeling of what could be termed ‘humble assertiveness’ if not Lilliputian chauvinism: We know we are the best, therefore we don’t have to brag about it. One must never mistake the apparent Danish or Scandinavian humility for genuine humility. It often conceals a feeling of superiority.

Over the last ten to fifteen years, this security has been challenged by the arrival of a not very large number of immigrants, some 300,000 foreigners out of a net total population of 5.3 million, that is little more than 5%. Many of these immigrants have felt uncomfortable with the unspoken Danish way of life and have challenged it in ways never experienced before. That has produced a certain uneasiness among the public. May be the reason why there was no racism earlier on be that there was nobody to discriminate against? An American colleague, the cultural sociologist Jonathan Schwartz, who has been living in Denmark for more than thirty years, has characterized Danish culture as follows:

Danish Academic culture, like agriculture, tends to be enclosed, fenced in and hedged. The gård (farm) likewise, is self-contained, and even the house is surrounded by protective trees and bushes. What is Danish in Denmark is so obvious to the foreigner here. Hygge (cosiness), Tryghed (security) and Trivsel (well-being) are the three Graces of Danish culture and socialization. Faces look towards a common gård (yard), or a table with candles and bottles on it. Hygge always has its backs turned on the others. Hygge is for the members, not the strangers. If you want to know what is Danish about Denmark, ask first a Greenlander and then a guestworker … An American asked me the difference between Denmark and America. I ventured an answer. In America there’s one politics and fifteen ways to celebrate Christmas. In Denmark there are fifteen political parties and one way to celebrate Christmas … ‘Denmark is a little country’. That’s canon number one. A close second is: ‘Danish is a difficult language’. How many times have I been chastised for my foreign accent? (Schwartz, 1985: 123-124).

Ultimately this is a rather different way to express what most Danes do when they brag about their friendly, small, and democratic culture. Of course, Danes tend to regard as positive those features that irritate the American Schwartz. This only demonstrates how difficult it is to be accepted in such a closely-knit national culture. Yet both positions highlight the importance of the size of the country as an explanation of the specifics of the political culture. For some, small is beautiful, for others small means petty, mediocre, and tedious. From a cultural and historical sociological perspective, the Danish nation-state of today represents a rare situation of virtual identity between state, nation and society. As we have argued, however, this unity is a much more recent phenomenon than normally assumed by Danes as well as foreign observes.

Ideologically, Danish identity unequivocally belongs to the family of Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic identity discourses, where, in the tradition of the German thinker Johann Gottfried Herder national identity is conceived primarily in terms of language and culture. This differs from French thinking, where state-nation is a core concept and state and nation mutually help in defining the Other (cf. Renan 1882). The ethnocultural notions of Volksgemeinschaft (Danish: Folkefoellesskab) as an organic, linguistic or racial community were first formulated by German intellectuals in the early nineteenth century. They sought to distance themselves from what they saw as shallow rationalism and cosmopolitanism in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. This rejection led them to celebrate cultural particularism. In the social and political thought of Romanticism, nations were conceived as historically rooted, organically developed individualities, united by a distinctive Volksgeist and by the infinitely ramifying expression (Geist) in language, custom, law and culture. It was this interpretation that came to dominate the German understanding of nationhood. This is a somewhat surprising development as the unified Germany of Bismarck was originally was not inspired by nationalism, still less by ethno-cultural nationalism (Østergaard 1995b and 1997c). The original Herderian concept of nation did not envisage the political unification of all Germans; on the contrary, one could claim that its cultural unity compensates the lack of a unified German state. As a result of this experience, national identity in the ‘Germanic’ tradition came to rely on the existence of a people (Volk, Folk) which did not necessarily overlap with the inhabitants of the territory. In contrast with the German experience, the Danes, after having lost the wars with Prussia and Austria, were dependent on having a sovereign state if they should preserve their identity. This nation-state, however, was difficult to define theoretically, as the Danes shared ideological positions with their German adversaries. Here lies the theoretical basis behind the intellectual paradoxes of Danish attitudes towards sovereignty and integration. These paradoxes can still be identified in surveys of Danish values (cf. Gundelach 1993).

The German Reich of 1871 contained no unified citizenship; the Germans were citizens of the individual principalities of Bavaria, Hannover, Württemberg, Prussia, etc. Prussia, of course, dominated the others, comprising as it did two- thirds of the territory and its king simultaneously became emperor of the whole empire (the second). In principle, both the German Empire and the Weimar Republic were both organized as federal states. The federal system was cancelled only after 1934 as a result of Nazi Gleichschaltung. German citizenship came to be defined in linguistic, cultural (and therefore eventually biological) terms only in 1913, in the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, the legal code of Prussia; this definition has survived into the present German constitution of 1949 (Brubaker 1992) only modified as late as 2000 by the Social-democratic-Green coalition. Nonetheless, Germany was understood as a nation-state, and gradually came to understand itself as such. This change was due to the paradoxical combination of inclusion and exclusion. As kleindeutsch it excluded millions of German speakers in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. At the same time, the state included millions of French-oriented German speakers in Alsace-Lorraine, Poles in eastern Prussia and Danes in North Sleswig. The intensifying conflict between Germans and Poles in eastern Prussia reinforced the ethno-cultural and differentialist strand always existent in the intellectual German understanding of nationhood helping to translate it into practical politics (Wehler 1962).

How this notion was carried into the twentieth century by defeat in the First World War, perverted by Nazi völkisch propaganda and translated into official doctrine in the Federal Republic because of the massive migrations of Germans from Eastern and Central Europe after 1944-45 need not occupy us here. Suffice it to say that there is a striking similarity between the Danish and German understanding of nationhood at the level of ideology. On the other hand, the Danish version of this common ideology of national identity took root precisely because of the fatal clash with Germans in and over Sleswig. The clash was inevitable because both sides demanded a sovereign state based on parallel ethno-national principles. This parallelism, has left a profound duality in Danish political thinking, which helps explain some of the Danish ambiguities concerning sovereignty, European cooperation and national identity.

Danish identity is firmly rooted in ancestry, language and a whole way of being. In reality, Danish nationality is based on blood, not soil (jus sanguinis not jus soli) although it used to be easier for a foreign immigrant to acquire citizenship in Denmark than in Germany. In other words, Denmark firmly belongs to the group of ethno-national European nations where culture has priority to state in defining the political nation (cf. Brubaker 1992). On the other hand, as we have seen, Danishness has always been intimately linked with the existence of a sovereign state. For long periods, this state was multi-national in character. However, because of the continuity of the name, Denmark, the Danish national variant of the ethno-political program succeeded in monopolizing the multi- national prehistory, appropriating the label ‘Denmark’ for use in constructing its collective memory.22 This continuity is demonstrated at the symbolic level in a number of ways, from the myth of the origins of the Danish flag, which supposedly fell from heaven in present day Estonia in 1219, to pride in the impressive cultural heritage of the Absolutist capital of Copenhagen, to the contradictory nature of today’s uneasy co-existence of three nations within the so-called Rigsfoellesskab which in reality is a subtle mixture of a commonwealth and an empire (cf. Østergaard 1996a).

The present day national identity born out of the 1864 defeat, depended even more heavily on a nominally sovereign state than did the French and even British identity project. This dependence on the state explains the apparent contradictions in Danish collective mentality and political behaviour when confronted with the prospect of European integration. In an ever closer collaborating Europe with state characteristics dispersed at more levels, the ethno-cultural concept of nation seems to exhibit a series of relative advantages over the exclusively state-based concept we find in the traditional British identification of national sovereignty with the sovereignty of Parliament and unlimited parliamentarianism (Clark 1991). The French notion of republican, state-based national identity, on the other hand, might eventually come to grips with the new European-wide dispersal of sovereignty, provided the definitions are clear cut. The great loser, eventually, will be the peculiar Danish conflation of nation and state. It is therefore not surprising to see a majority of the Danish populace, for different reasons, rejecting the loss of national sovereignty, although this sovereignty, in real terms, is hard for outside hard headed observers to detect.

Small State, Strong Society and Active Internationalism

Denmark represents a series of apparent and genuine paradoxes. On one hand, Danish policy since World War II has been supremely active in advocating international norms also in areas where power politics predominate, that is security. Though the UN has been the primary arena for Danish active internationalism, in recent years, by undertaking its own independent initiatives, Denmark has not relied solely upon UN actions (Holm 1997: 65). Moreover, over the last ten years, Denmark has embarked upon a policy of building a sphere of influence in the Baltic area and thus no longer acts as a small state. Now it must be called a ‘non-small state’, whatever that might be (Mouritzen 1997: 47). On the other hand, the reluctant Danish EU policy has severely undercut her possibilities for effectively using these international norms because of the difficulties in building strong alliances with other members of the EU and the EU itself. The basis of this apparent paradox is a massive satisfaction in being Danish among her citizens and a negative feeling towards European citizenship.23 ‘Danish’ values thus help explain Danish behaviour in foreign politics (cf. Gundelach 1993).

The major problem, however, is that the ‘Denmark’ referred to is far from unequivocal. On one hand the name refers to a typical multinational state-nation with a long-standing role in European politics; on the other hand, this very same name refers to an atypical homogeneous small nation-state. This duality is nicely reflected in the use of two national anthems (cf. Knudsen 1992). The first is Kong Christian (“King Christian”) written by Johannes Ewald in 1779; this martial song praises the warrior king who defeats the enemies of the country — and politely forgets how he lost everything in the end. The other song is Der er et yndigt land (“There is a lovely land”) written in 1819 by the romanticist poet Adam Oehlenschläger, praising the beauty of the friendly and peaceful country and its national inhabitants. This latter is the one sung at national football-games, regardless of the result. Denmark, Danes and ‘Danish’ national consensus are caught between competing and at times even antagonistic notions of Danishness.


1: The concepts ‘small state’ and ‘small power’ are investigated in general theory and the particular Danish context in Branner and Kelstrup 2000. A classic description of the behavior and self-imposed limitations of a small power was put forward by Robert L. Rothstein in 1968. According to him, ‘a Small Power is a state which recognizes that it cannot obtain security primarily by use of its own capabilities, and that it must rely fundamentally on the aid of other states, institutions, processes, or developments to do so’ (quoted from Hans Branner 1972: 24). Branner’s on Denmark at the outbreak of World War I book is the fundamental work on Danish small state politics; it also gives an introduction to the international literature on the concept.

2: Social scientifically biased readers should note that for historians ‘accidence’ and ‘coincidence’ are not to be confused with pure chance. On the contrary, these termini technici refer to outcomes that can be explained afterwards, once they have happened, but could hardly have been predicted before, as the combination of the necessary structural factors only coincided because of a particular historical conjuncture. The sudden demise of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 is a major example of a development which historians would label accidental in this sense (cf. Østergaard 1997d on the use of counterfactual analysis in historical explanations).

3: State-nations are the territorial states, which originated in early modern Europe between 1500 and 1800, mainly in the West. Some of these states later developed into nation-states with a national identity created in a top down process. The distinction between state-nation and nation-state dates back to Hans Kohn’s classic account (1944), The Idea of Nationalism. It is developed in E. J. Hobsbawm (1990), Nations and Nationalism. To add to the terminogical confusion a nation-state is called état-nation in French. Many state-nations were organized as monarchical unions or composite states (see following note).

4: ‘Composite state’ has become a terminus technicus for the territorial states of early modern Europe. For a definition and elaboration of the British concept of sovereignty, see J.C.D. Clark, ‘Britain as a composite state — Sovereignty and European Integration’ in Østergaard (1991: 55-84). The nature of the British composite state is further elaborated in Clark, ‘English History’s Forgotten Context: Scotland, Ireland, Wales’, Historical Journal 32 (1989: 211-28); for an elaboration of the phenomenon in European context see H.G. Koenigsberger, ‘Composite States, Representative Institutions and the American Revolution, Historical Research (62, 1989: 135- 53) and J.H. Elliot, ‘A Europe of Composite Monarchies’, Past and Present (137, 1992: 48-71). Competing denominations are ‘conglomerate state’ and ‘multiple kingdom’. The first attempt to apply these concepts on Danish and Nordic history are O. Feldboek, ‘Clash of Culture in a Conglomerate State: Danes and Germans in 18th century Denmark’, C.V. Johansen et al. (eds.), Clashes of Culture, Odense University Press (1992: 80-93) and Jens Rahbek Rasmussen, ‘The Danish Monarchy as a Composite State’, in N. A. Sørensen (ed.), European Identities, Cultural Diversity and Integration in Europe since 1700, Odense University Press (1995: 23-36).

5: Peter Unwin, Baltic Approaches (1996). It seems to have become a virtual tradition for British ambassadors to write perceptive accounts of Danish identity, from Robert Molesworth’s An Account of Denmark as it was in the Year 1692 (1694) to James Mellon’s Og gamle Danmark (1992, not published in English).

6: An indication of the composite nature of the Danish state is the founding years of the universities of the multinational state before its final dissolution in 1864: Copenhagen 1479; Kiel 1665 (strictly speaking the University in Kiel was founded as a German speaking university by the Duke Christian Albrecht of the House Gottorp, that is, by a vassal of the Danish king who at the same time acted as his competitor in alliance with his Swedish enemies. After the incorporation of Sleswig and Holstein in the monarchy in 1720/73 the university continued as German, but its graduates were fully qualified as civil servants in the whole of the monarchy also after the introduction of the so-called act of Indigenous Rights in 1776, cf. Lange 1996: 224); Kristiania (Oslo) 1811; Frederiksnagore (Serampore) 1821/27. Even after the demise of the composite state universities were founded in various parts of the surviving realm (in Danish Rigsenhed or Rigsfoellesskab). They include Háskolí Íslands (the University of Iceland) in Reykjavik in 1911, Frodskapasetur Føroya in Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands 1952/65 and Ilisimatusarfik (the University of Greenland) in Nuuk (formerly Godthaab) in 1983. A further important example of the national significance of these seats of scholarship is the founding of the university in neighboring Lund in 1668. In the Middle Ages Lund had been the ideological center of the Danish monarchy as the seat of the archbishop. When the Danish king was forced to cede the provinces Skaane (Scania), Halland, Blekinge, Bohuslen and Jemtland to Sweden in 1658, the Swedish state in 1668 founded a new university in the area in order to present an alternative to the University of Copenhagen to train the many new priests needed to replace the former Danish religious indoctrinators. Only in the 1820’s ordinary Swedes were allowed to cross the frontier and visit Denmark (and vice versa). The political logic of the university in Lund was to educate a new generation of priests who would help swedisize the Danish speaking peasant population. As we shall see later, Sweden was surprisingly successful in this rather unique undertaking of renationalizing a province this early (cf. Fabricius 1906-58; Åberg 1994).

7: Cf. Bo Stråth, ‘Scandinavian Identity: A Mythical Reality’, in Sørensen (1995: 37- 57) and the ‘Illusory Nordic Alternative to Europe’, Cooperation and Conflict 15, (1980: 103-114).

8: In Moore’s opinion small states can be disregarded in comparative studies because of their lack of originality and importance (Moore 1966, x). The lack of importance Moore attributes to small states in history is certainly debatable, but there is no reason to debate the subject matter at great length here, as I have done so elsewhere. Barrington Moore uses ‘small state’ as a historical sociological characterization rather than as a term for small military and economic capabilities of international politics (Østergaard 1991b).

9: A logical corollary to this neglect of the other parts of the monarchy is the denial of differences within the resulting nation-state. Denmark turned out an extremely centralized state but in the nineteenth century attempts to turning the multinational monarchy into a federal state as well as later federalist projects for the ‘rigsfoellesskab’ cannot be ignored, as demonstrated by Steen Bo Frandsen in a major analysis of the Jutland question (Frandsen 1993 and 1996; Østergaard 2000).

10: In this particular context, hegemony is used in a relatively precise way as terminus technicus for those forces who have the ability to set the terms of the discourse in a given society. The Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci used this term to understand how a minority group was able to exercise power over a society with different and even conflicting interests in his Prison Notebooks (Quaderni del Carcere). The three Baltic states, with all their internal differences, could serve as a point of reference for comparative studies of popular political attitudes. However, the parallels should not be over-emphasized as the historical background of the apparently similar attitudes is very different (Kirby 1990 and 1994).

11: Norway, of course, has a long history as an independent state. In many ways the medieval monarchy of Norway can be considered the most centralized and unitary state in medieval Northern Europe. Because of a combined ecological and social disaster in the 14th century, however, her native elites were extinguished and the state fell under Danish-Holsteinian hegemony for almost 400 years.

12: By ‘collective memory’ I refer to the authoritative interpretation of history handed down in history books as well by other more popular means of recollection. The concept was originally developed by the French sociologist of the Durkheimian school, Maurice Halbwachs, who died in Buchenwald in 1945. In two path-breaking studies, 1925 and 1950, now translated into English, Halbwachs analyzed several of its implications. The French historian Pierre Nora took the concept ‘collective memory’ as a point of departure for his massive investigation of the so called ‘places of (French) memory’ (les ‘lieux de mémoire’) in 7 massive volumes (Nora 1984-92). Recently an entire industry analyzing the differences between history and memory has sprung up. A valuable Danish introduction to various aspects of remembrance and forgetting in the lives of nations, groups and individuals is found in B.E. Jensen et al. 1996.

13: According to the recent and highly original research by Gunner Lind and others, the structural foundations for these legal innovations date back to the wars between 1614 and 1662, the Danish version of the European wide military-political revolution of the seventeenth century (Cf. Lind 1994, 1992)

14: The British Bombardment of Copenhagen gave rise to the expression ‘to Copenhagen a city’ i.e. exposing a civilian population to a terror bombardment.

15: On the Gesamtstaat and the historical development of the Danish-German state see K. Bohnen, S. Aa.Jørgensen (eds.), Der dänische Gesamstaat: Kiel — Kopenhagen — Altona (Wolfenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung 18, Tübingen 1992). On Denmark-Norway as a Gesamtstaat, see Feldbæk 1998-99.

16: A combination of the two understandings of the term is applied by Østergaard in several analyzes of the Danish process (1992a: 1993). A general presentation of the theoretical literature on national identity in Østergaard 1996d and Hettne, Sörlin and Østergaard 1998)

17: Mouritzen uses these terms in a recent analysis of Danish foreign policy (Mouritzen 1997). Another perspective is to underline the origins of the particular Nordic version of Enlightenment thinking among the local priesthood as does Nina Witoszek and others in the forthcoming The Cultural Construction of the Nordic Countries ed. by Bo Stråth and Øystein Sørensen (1997). Lately the relationship between the welfare state and Lutheranism has been investigated into more details (cf. Østergaard 1998; Knudsen 2000).

18: Grundtvig, Preface to ‘Nordens Mythologi’, 1832, Udvalgte Voerker I.

19: Published later the same year under the title, La politique du Danemark dans la Société des Nations.

20: See, for instance, the reception of H. F. Dahl’s path-breaking biography of Quisling (Dahl 1991-92) and Øystein Sørensen’s original analysis of the striking similarities between the social programs of the Norwegian (and German) National Socialists and the Social Democrats in Norway an Great Britain (Sørensen 1991, 1993). A short presentation of the political debate over the findings of the historians can be found in Figueireido (1995).

21: N.F.S. Grundtvig, Langt højere Bjerge 1820 (my translation u.ø.).

22: This interpretation has formed the ideological backbone of Danish historiography, professional as well as otherwise. See the critiques in Østergaard (1992b), Engman (1991), Kjoergaard (1989) and Rasmussen (1995: 32)

23: A comparative survey of these feelings in the various EU member-states can be found in ‘Citizens Attitudes towards Europe’ Eurobarometer 45, 1996, 86-1


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On the one hand, Danish identity is firmly rooted in ancestry, language and way of life. In reality, Danish nationality is based on blood, not soil (jus sanguinis not jus soli) although it is easier for an immigrant to acquire citizenship in Denmark than in Germany. In other words, Denmark firmly belongs to the group of ethno-national European nations where culture has priority over state in defining the political nation. On the other hand, Danishness has always been intimately linked with the existence of a sovereign state. For long periods this state was multi-national in character. However, Because of the continuity of the name, ‘Denmark’, however the Danish version of the ethno-political program succeeded in monopolizing the multi-national prehistory and appropriating the label ‘Denmark’ into its own collective memory. This continuity is demonstrated at the symbolic level in a number of ways, from the use of the flag which supposedly fell from heaven in present day Estonia in 1219, to Danish pride in the impressive cultural heritage of the Absolutist capital of Copenhagen, to the contradictory nature of today’s uneasy co-existence of three nations within the ‘Rigsfoellesskab’ which actually is a subtle mixture of commonwealth and empire.

The present-day national identity emerging from the defeat in 1864 depended even more heavily on a nominally sovereign state than did the French and even the British. This dependence on a state explains the apparent contradictions in Danish collective mentality and political behaviour when confronted with the prospect of European integration. In an ever closer collaborating Europe with state characteristics dispersed at more levels, the ethno-cultural concept of nation seems to exhibit a series of relative advantages over the kind of exclusively state-based concept we find in the traditional British identification of national sovereignty with the sovereignty of Parliament and unlimited parliamentarianism. The French notion of republican state-based national identity, on the other hand, might eventually come to grips with the new European wide dispersal of sovereignty, provided the definitions are clear cut. The great loser, eventually, will be the peculiar Danish combination of the two. It therefore makes some kind of sense that a majority of the Danish populace, for different reasons have ended up rejecting transfer of national sovereignty, although the nature of this sovereignty is in real terms hard to detect for any hard headed, outside observers.

Denmark thus represents a series of apparent and real paradoxes. On one hand, Danish policy since World War II has been supremely active in advocating international norms also in areas where power politics predominate, that is security. Though the UN has been the primary arena for Danish active internationalism, in recent years, and in undertaking its own independent initiatives, Denmark has not relied solely upon UN actions. Moreover over the last seven to eight years Denmark has embarked upon a policy of building a sphere of influence in the Baltic area and thus no longer acts as a small state. It is now a ‘non-small state’ whatever that is. On the other hand, the reluctant Danish EU policy has severely undercut her possibilities for effectively using these international norms because of the difficulties in building strong alliances with other members of the EU and the EU itself. The basis of this apparent paradox lies in the Danes’ own a massive satisfaction in being Danish and an antipathy toward any notion of European citizenship. ‘Danish’ values thus help explain Danish behaviour in foreign politics. The major problem, however, is that ‘Denmark’ refers to a historical multinational empire as well as a modern homogeneous small state. This duality is nicely reflected in the use of two national anthems. The first is Kong Christian written by Johannes Ewald in 1779; this martial song praises the warrior king who defeats the enemies of the country — and politely forgets how he lost in the end. The other is Der er et yndigt land (‘There is a lovely land’) written in 1819 by Adam Oehlenschläger, which praises the beauty of the friendly and peaceful country and its national inhabitants. Denmark, the Danes and Danish consensus are caught between these competing and at times even antagonistic notions of Danishness.