Re-imagining Arcadia: The South Slavic Balkans in the Changing Ideal of Western Europe, 1885-1914

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This chapter considers how changing understandings of ‘European civilisation’ among the continent’s more industrialised Western countries, notably Britain and France, were reflected in representations of the pre-Yugoslavian South Slavic Balkan territories before 1914. Since the late 1880s, Western European intellectual discourses were increasingly permeated by a sense of pessimism and latent anxieties concerning the ‘degenerative’ consequences of urbanisation. By the 1910s, Europe’s global pre-eminence was thus perceived as having stemmed from Western civic and moral qualities, rather than industrial and scientific advancements. Concurrently, the philosophical reconfiguration of these European ideals redefined the subjective meaning behind many of the pejorative archetypes associated with the South Slavic Balkans, engendering positive revaluations with a romantic emphasis on its mostly peasant population. Drawing on prevailing domestic concerns, Western European commentators even depicted such rural traditions as a spiritual palliative to the ‘decline’ of industrial society. The South Slavic Balkans’ changing status as an inflection of a reimagined European idea also found allegorical resonance in the region’s growing political instability. Local nationalist violence was itself interpreted as an expression of Europe’s wider slide into a state of modernistic degeneracy: an insidious trend that Western Europe was morally obligated to confront.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEurope and the East
Subtitle of host publicationHistorical Ideas of Eastern and Southeast Europe, 1789-1989
EditorsMark Hewitson, Jan Vermeiren
Place of PublicationLondon and New York
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781003120131
ISBN (Print)9781000878783
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2023

Publication series

NameIdeas beyond Borders: Studies in Transnational and Intellectual History

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