History of the Højskole-movement

Since 1844, Danish Folk High Schools (“Højskole” in Danish) have been at the core of Danish culture, Christianity and politics. Until the end of the 20th century it was customary for Danish governments to consult the dominating folk high schools before taking office.

In 1864 the Danish state, then encompassing Denmark, Norway and the now German duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, as well as a number of colonies, lost two thirds of its territory, as well as two fifths of its population, to Prussia. European leaders of the state seriously discussed whether Denmark should remain an independent state. German intellectuals proposed that Jutland should be annexed to Germany, whilst the remaining islands in the Baltic Sea should become a part of Sweden.  

This threat severely affected Danish culture and all political decisions made up to the beginning of the First World War in the summer of 1914.

The above-mentioned threat changed the cultural flow in Denmark. Business structures, school systems and intellectual life changed radically.

““What is lost outwardly, must be won inwardly” became a nationwide motto. 

Throughout Denmark’s long period as the world’s oldest monarchy, never before had it experienced an intellectual reawakening so wide ranging as in the years from 1864 to 1920. The engine of this reawakening was the Folk High School.  The Folk High School created a Danish self-esteem, which would later be the prerequisite for the newly-established democracy.

The leader of this cultural movement was the pastor, politician and philosopher Nikolaj Frederik Severing Grundtvig. Grundtvig was inspired by English liberalism, as well as the German philosopher Herder. Grundtvig was a man of both the international and national. One of his most widely regarded ideas was that the prerequisite of a stable democracy was that the entire population had an understanding and liking of their own culture. Peasants should write articles to newspapers, make speeches at large assemblies and create organizations. Due to this, the peasants were given a central position in Danish democracy. At the end of the 19th century the Social Democratic Workers’ Movement also started to share bonds with the Folk High School. From this particular movement, which has inarguably been the most prominent Danish party throughout the last 100 years, Folk High School people have taken offices such as the cultural, foreign and financial ministries. Even today the current government have highly placed members who are strongly connected to the Folk High Schools.