Johan Vilhelm Snellman

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Johan Vilhelm Snellman

Johan Vilhelm Snellman (born May 12, 1806 in Stockholm , † July 4, 1881 in Kirkkonummi ) was a Finnish philosopher , journalist and statesman. As a thinker and committed journalist in the tradition of Hegel , he played a significant role in the development of a Finnish national consciousness , as the expression of which the Finnish language also gained a new appreciation. As a member of the Finnish Senate, he achieved Finland's monetary independence and achieved a breakthrough on the way to the recognition of Finnish as an official language.


JV Snellman began his studies at the Turku Academy, which was moved to Helsinki after the great fire of the city in 1827.

Youth and Studies

Johan Vilhelm Snellman was born on May 12, 1806 in Stockholm as the son of the Swedish-speaking sea captain Christian Henrik Snellman from Pohjanmaa in western Finland . When Finland fell to Russia in 1809 , the family decided to return home and settled in Swedish-speaking Kokkola in 1813 . From 1816 JV Snellman attended public school in Finnish-speaking Oulu . Here Snellman, whose mother tongue was Swedish, learned the Finnish language. In 1822 he began his studies at the Imperial Academy in Turku , which was moved to Helsinki after the Turku fire in 1827 .

At the academy Snellman studied first theology , later philosophy as well as history , Greek , Latin and literature . Through his teachers Adolf Ivar Arwidsson and Johan Jakob Tengström , the young Snellman came into contact with Hegel's philosophy, which he soon made the basis of his own philosophy, but which he developed independently.

During his student days, Snellman came into close contact with a group of students whose members would later become some of the most influential promoters of Finnish culture. Members of this group, known as the Saturday Society ( lauantaiseura ), included Johan Ludvig Runeberg , Zacharias Topelius , Johan Jakob Nervander and Fredrik Cygnaeus .

Uncomfortable thinker

Johan Vilhelm Snellman in 1849. Painting by Oskar Nylander.

In 1831 Snellman completed his studies in philosophy and completed his dissertation on the philosophy of Hegel in 1835 . In the following years he worked as a lecturer at the University of Helsinki , but came under repeated pressure because of his emphasis on academic freedoms. In 1839 Snellman lost his teaching post after he had refused to accept the office of curator in the student body of North Pohjanmaa on the instructions of the university administration. Snellman took the view that the student body should be able to choose their own curator.

After leaving the university, Snellman traveled to Tübingen in Germany , where he met the students of Hegel, who had died ten years earlier, especially Jakob Friedrich Reiff , who tried to synthesize Old and Young Hegelianism with his beginning of philosophy , and David Friedrich Strauss , who had just caused a sensation with his work The Life of Jesus, viewed critically . Snellman's German-language work, the attempt at a speculative development of the idea of ​​personality , in which he did not reject Strauss' theses to the horror of conservative circles, earned him the reputation of a dangerous radical in Sweden and in his home country.

In the autumn of 1841, Snellman went to Stockholm, where he wrote his main work Staatslehre ( Läran om Staten ) in 1842 , which was also allowed to be published in Finland and achieved considerable sales success with 442 copies sold by July 1843. One of the core theses of the work was that Finland must acquire a place in the middle of the peoples through the development of its own language and culture. For Snellman, the establishment of Finnish national consciousness was the only way to avert Russification .

Upon his return to Finland in 1842, Snellman found that the reputation he had built in his writing made it virtually impossible for him to find employment in the positions he wanted in the capital. Finally he accepted the post of rector of the elementary school in Kuopio , which he held until 1849. During this time he also devoted himself intensively to promoting Finnish cultural and political development by publishing various newspapers in Swedish and Finnish. He then returned to Helsinki and, after an academic post had again proven unattainable, worked as an office clerk until 1856.

Professor and Statesman

With the accession to the throne of Tsar Alexander II in 1855, the environment for Snellman's activities relaxed noticeably. In addition, the teachings of Snellman were given a new meaning for the Russian rulers, who had been weakened by the lost Crimean War . Especially with regard to the strengthened Scandinavianism , the tsar had to fear that Finland would again turn increasingly to Sweden and seek a detachment from the tsarist empire. The emphasis on the Finnish nation and language was now seen as a welcome means of warding off this danger. In 1856 Snellman was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the University of Helsinki without a formal application process.

As a professor, Snellman emphasized the freedom of scientific conviction and civil education, but at the same time had a moderating effect on his students. During this time he gained the trust of Alexander II and was finally appointed a member of the Finnish Senate , the then government of the country, in 1863 . He took over the office of chairman of the finance commission, a position comparable to today's finance minister. In recognition of his services, Alexander II raised Snellman to the nobility in 1866 . Two years later, Snellman resigned from the Senate after falling out with Governor General Nikolai Adlerberg as a result of a dispute over detailed questions about the construction of the railway connection to St. Petersburg.

After his departure from the Senate, Snellman was still active in various economic and political offices and was chairman of the Finnish Literature Society from 1870 to 1874 . Johan Vilhelm Snellman died on July 4, 1881 at his country estate in Kirkkonummi.



As a philosopher, Johan Vilhelm Snellman was firmly rooted in the idealism of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , from which he developed his own political and social philosophy . In his Latin dissertation, Academic Dissertation in Defense of the Absolutism of the Hegelian System ( Dissertatio academica absolutismum systematis Hegeliani defensura ), he rejected attacks directed against Hegel on the one hand and focused on the concept of personality on the other .

He deepened this approach in his essay Attempt at a Speculative Development of the Idea of ​​Personality . The script was created in the area of ​​tension between the so-called Young Hegelians and the Old Hegelians , which had arisen again among the heirs of Hegel . It was particularly related to the criticism of the historical person Jesus made by David Friedrich Strauss and the storm of indignation this triggered among more conservative Hegelians. Snellman did not reject the theses advanced by Strauss. God only exists in people who cross the boundaries of their individuality, accept the customs of their people and promote them for the benefit of the nation. Snellman considered the thought of an immortal soul to be vain and selfish. However, Strauss and the Young Hegelians criticized Snellman for not giving the concrete personality the importance it deserves.

These thoughts found their continuation in a more concrete way in Snellman's main work Staatslehre , a socio-philosophical work with a sociological approach. Based on Hegel's legal philosophy, the work is divided into the sections Family, Society and State. The family serves the ethical upbringing of the children and the passing on of the national educational heritage to the next generation. In civil society, people submit to laws that are understood to be reasonable, while in the state, as the highest form of development, people are freed from the compulsion to obey the law, their behavior is instead guided by patriotic ties to the independent culture of the nation.

The concepts of nation and national consciousness are central to Snellman's philosophy. The people acquire their nationality as a result of a historical process through development of spirit, culture and education. Only a people with an independent culture is capable of an independent nationality. This presupposes the existence of a common language as an expression of national education. Language is not only a tool for formulating thoughts, but the national way of thinking is structured in the common language.


The weekly Saima , published by Snellman from 1844 to 1846, was Finland's first influential cultural-political magazine.

Snellman tried to promote the achievement of a Finnish national consciousness and a national culture in particular by publishing newspapers. During his time as school principal in Kuopio, Snellman began publishing the weekly newspaper Saima in January 1844 , which became the first cultural-political magazine with a notable influence on Finnish cultural life. It was published in Swedish and was aimed at an educated readership. In terms of content, the paper dealt with news, announcements, but also poems and stories, travel reports and literary reviews. Snellman's teachings were given a more popular expression, more accessible to the wider public.

The Saima reached a comparatively wide audience. With a circulation of around 700, it was one of the four highest-circulation papers in the country. Although no current political events were commented on in the Saima , the powerfully formulated articles showed a liberal and liberal line and soon caught the attention of the Russian Governor General Menshikov , on whose orders the license for the Saima was finally revoked at the end of 1846.

In addition to the Swedish-speaking Saima , Snellman was involved in founding the Finnish-language paper Maamiehen Ystävä ("The Farmer's Friend") and from 1843-1844 its editor. Unlike the Saima , the Maamiehen Ystävä focused on providing practical advice and basic education for the agricultural community. The paper found an even larger readership than the Saima .

Immediately after the Saima was banned , Snellman prepared a new publication under the name of his friend Elias Lönnrot . From May 1847, the monthly magazine Litteraturblad för allmän medborgerlig bildning ("Literature sheet for general fellow citizenship ") appeared, in whose detailed articles mainly current topics from science and literature were dealt with. The literary paper also achieved a considerable circulation of around 400. Snellman gave up the management of the paper in 1849 because of his move to Helsinki, but took it over again in 1855. He devoted himself to the modernization of the Finnish economy. At the same time, he turned against anti-Russian tendencies and took the view that the Finnish people could only achieve a more independent state role through education, but not through violence.


After his senator appointment in 1863, Snellman served as chairman of the finance commission responsible for the state budget. He has faced significant problems in that office as his tenure has seen some devastating crop failures. Nevertheless, he managed to finance the railway line to Saint Petersburg , which is important for the Finnish infrastructure .

The most important achievement of Snellman economically was the implementation of a radical currency reform . The Finnish mark was introduced as a means of payment as early as 1860 . However, this innovation was initially of a purely nominal nature, since Russian paper money , which was subject to considerable fluctuations compared to the silver ruble , continued to be legal tender. From 1864 Snellman persevered in persuading the Russian government authorities, as a result of which Tsar Alexander II signed the so-called currency manifesto on November 4, 1865. The silver mark was declared the only legal tender in the Grand Duchy of Finland. The silver ruble remained valid, but the unstable Russian paper money no longer had to be accepted. The Finnish currency was placed under the control of the Finnish bank operating under the supervision of the Finnish estates. Finland had thus achieved monetary independence.

The second major achievement by Senator Snellman is related to language policy . According to Snellman's state philosophy, the development of the Finnish people into a nation could only take place through the Finnish language . However, during Snellman's tenure, Swedish was Finland's only official and cultural language. The Senate showed little inclination to change anything in this situation. After his appointment as senator, Snellman decided, bypassing the Senate, to refer the matter to the Tsar personally. He succeeded in arranging an audience during a visit by Alexander to Hämeenlinna, Finland , and on August 1, 1863, the Tsar actually signed the proposed language ordinance, which ordered the introduction of Finnish as the official language within a transitional period of 20 years.

Significance for posterity

In 1923, a statue of the "Father of the Finnish Mark" was erected in front of the Finnish Bank building.
Snellman's tombstone in Helsinki.

Johan Vilhelm Snellman has become a symbol of the Finnish national movement thanks to his state philosophy and statesmanship. Many Finns see him as a pioneer of Finnish independence, even if he never explicitly sought state independence himself.

In 1906, on Snellman's centenary, around 100,000 Finns demonstratively changed their Swedish-language surname to a Finnish-language equivalent. In the ongoing struggle for Finnish as the university language of instruction, all Finnish-speaking student bodies gathered in 1928 around the Snellman statue designed by Emil Wikström and Eliel Saarinen , which was unveiled in front of the building of the Finnish Bank ( Suomen Pankki ) in Helsinki in 1924 . As the “father of the Finnish mark”, Snellman was the first historical person in 1940 to be depicted on a Finnish banknote, the then 5000 mark note.

Johan Vilhelm Snellman's birthday, May 12th, has been celebrated in Finland since independence as “Day of Finns” ( Suomalaisuuden päivä ), when the Finnish flag is hoisted nationwide. The year 2006, the 200th anniversary of Snellman's birthday, was celebrated as Snellman's festival year with numerous events across the country.


JV Snellman's work comprises well over ten thousand printed pages. The following is a selection of his most important writings:

  • Dissertatio academica absolutismum systematis Hegeliani defensura. (Academic dissertation in defense of the absolutism of the Hegelian system). Helsinki 1835.
  • Försök till framställning af logiken. (Attempt to represent logic). Helsinki 1837.
  • Philosophisk elementary course. (Philosophical elementary course, three volumes). Stockholm 1837-1840.
  • Attempt at a speculative development of the idea of ​​personality . Tuebingen 1841.
  • Läran om staten (political theory). Stockholm 1842.
  • Tyskland. Skildringar och omdömen från en resa 1840-1841. (Germany. Descriptions and assessments of a trip 1840–1841). Stockholm 1842.
  • De spiritus ad materiam relatione. (About the relationship of spirit to matter). Helsinki 1848.

The entire work of Snellman was published in 1998 in a 24-volume complete edition Samlade arbeten by Edita Publishing Oy, Helsinki. In 2005 the same publisher published a complete Finnish translation of the complete edition Kootut teokset .


  • Lauri Kallio: JV Snellman's Philosophy of Personality . University of Helsinki, 2017, ISBN 978-951-51-3154-6 ( - Diss.).
  • Raija Majamaa, Leeni Tiirakari: JV Snellman: Valtioviisas vaikuttaja. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, Helsinki 2006, ISBN 951-746-678-1 (Finnish)
  • Pentti Virrankoski: Suomen historia. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, Helsinki 2001, ISBN 951-746-321-9 , ISBN 951-746-342-1 (Finnish)
  • I. Patoluoto (Ed.): JV Snellmanin filosofia ja sen hegeliläinen tausta . Helsingin yliopiston filosofian laitoksen julkaisuja 1, 1984 (Finnish)
  • Matti Kinnunen: "JV Snellman-Bibliografiaa" in JV Snellman ja nykyaika , Ed .: Kai Huovinmaa Helsinki, 1981, pp. 61-71
  • Eino Karhu: Nation building in Finland and Ingermanland. Essay and autobiography . Herne 2007 (v. A. Pp. 70–91)
  • Raimo Savolainen: "JV Snellman as Vordenker der Nation" in the Yearbook for Finnish-German Literary Relations, No. 38, 2006, pp. 73–86, Ed .: Fromm, Nevela, Schellbach-Kopra, German Library Helsinki

Web links

Commons : JV Snellman  - collection of images, videos and audio files
This version was added to the list of excellent articles on April 22, 2006 in this version .