Baltic “Peoples” in European Enlightenment Thought

Ralph Tuchtenhagen (Humboldt University)

Although closely connected to older concepts of people in the sense of crowd or mass, the concept of a distinct “people” is an invention of European Enlightenment thought.  It marks a shift of consciousness from speaking of people as mere subjects of a master to people composing a community that shares a common history, language and world view, common customs, values, and political aims.  In a Baltic context, the pastoral work of the (Baltic) German vicars and the impact of the German Enlightenment (Kant, Herder etc.) obviously led to a shift from distinguishing Deutsch (German) and Undeutsch (non-German) to discovering/inventing “Germans,” “Latvians,” “Estonian,” “Lithuanians.”  This talk aims to explain how this change of concepts developed in the context and under the impact of European Enlightenment thought in the second half of the eighteenth century, and to elucidate what attributes were created to make it into a leading idea of nineteenth- and twentieth-century political thinking.

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