Political Ages: Medievalism and Nationhood in 21st-Century Swiss and British Politics

Berger, Matthias (2017). Political Ages: Medievalism and Nationhood in 21st-Century Swiss and British Politics (Unpublished). In: The Middle Ages in the Modern World (MAMO). Manchester. 28 June-1July, 2017.

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In a number of European countries, the national exceptionalism narrative underpinned by medieval history is currently staging a comeback. This paper offers a comparative reading of several recent medievalisms by British and Swiss politicians, exploring the ways the Middle Ages are made to speak to present-day national identities – and policies. Conservative MEP and Brexit ideologue Daniel Hannan’s book-length polemic How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters (2013), for instance, taps into ‘Whig history’ to (re)claim a unique tradition of ‘freedom’ for what he calls the Anglosphere. Digging deep into the insular past, he traces the roots of Anglosphere constitutional, social and cultural exceptionalism to the Anglo-Saxons. After centuries of success, Hannan claims, the Anglosphere has now forgotten its heritage, and the cause of freedom stands to be lost to ‘Europeanisation’. Similarly, the ‘national-conservatives’ around former member of the Federal Council and Swiss People’s Party grandee Christoph Blocher are currently reviving an outmoded grand récit of Swiss exceptionalism flowing from national ‘liberation’ in the late Middle Ages. Specifically, the fifth centenary of the Battle of Marignano in 2015 saw their controversial and well-publicised attempts to (re)frame the resounding defeat as the beginning of Swiss political neutrality in order to legitimise a hands-off policy in Europe today. Displaying an overriding concern with origins and continuity, both are examples of a ‘medieval’ memory that operates at the interface of politics and culture, appealing to a common identity by means of a shared past that makes strong demands on the present.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of English Languages and Literatures

Graduate School:

Graduate School of the Humanities (GSH)

UniBE Contributor:

Berger, Matthias


400 Language > 420 English & Old English languages
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 820 English & Old English literatures
900 History > 940 History of Europe




Matthias Berger

Date Deposited:

07 Dec 2017 15:45

Last Modified:

07 Dec 2017 15:45

Uncontrolled Keywords:

medievalism; national historiography; national identity; nationalism; Euroscepticism; memory politics;



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