One word to rule them all: ‘Civic-mindedness’ and Danish Prime Minister Frederiksen’s Nationalist Covid-19 rhetoric

By: Lisa Villadsen


Volume: 06
Issue: 02:2020
ISSN: 2459-2943
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2020.0030
Pages: 229-248
Lic.: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
corona epidemic
banal nationalism
Mette Frederiksen
rhetorical leadership



The essay is a case study critically engaging the Danish Prime Minister’s rhetorical leadership during the early phase of the COVID-19 crisis. Through conceptually oriented rhetorical criticism of a series of press conference speeches given by the PM, the essay demonstrates how her rhetorical leadership in the early stages of the corona crisis relied on communitarian appeals couched in nationalistic terms whereby contributing to stopping the spread of the virus gradually became inscribed in a Social Democratic narrative about community and solidarity and which eventually was presented as part and parcel of an essential ‘Danishness.’ The argument is that the PM’s speeches successfully framed the national response to the epidemic as just that, a national or even nationalistic response. Analysis of the salient phrases ‘standing together by keeping apart’, ‘civic-mindedness,’ and ‘taking care of Denmark’ inform the characterization of the PM’s rhetorical strategy and its ideological underpinnings. The term ‘civic-mindedness,’ specifically, was used as a short-hand referent for all the government’s instructions, advice, and admonitions to change the public’s behavior, and functioned as a guideline for the people in Denmark regarding their understanding of and reactions to the corona epidemic. One word to capture many words, and one word to guide, even rule, a people.


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