On the Difficulty of Being a National Liberal in Nineteenth-Century Finland

in Contributions to the History of Concepts
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  • 1 Stockholm University jussi.kurunmaki@sh.se
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This article examines the ways in which the Finnish liberals described themselves as national liberals and how they were labeled by their opponents as supporters of foreign doctrines and cosmopolitanism in the late nineteenth century. It will be shown that the rhetoric of liberalism was entangled in an inflamed issue between the advocates of Finnish and Swedish languages in Finland. Ultimately, this contest dealt with the concept of nation. Furthermore, the article discusses the uses of other countries' political life as exemplary cases, thus bringing a transnational perspective into the analysis. The contested character of the concept of liberalism and its compound form, national liberalism (nationell liberalism, kansallinen liberalismi), will be highlighted by paying attention to the semantic differences between Swedish-language and Finnish-language uses of the concept. The article closes with an interpretation of the weak role that the concept of liberalism has played in nineteenth-century Finnish political culture.


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