The Philosophical Background of His Political Views
Zdenĕk V. David
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
360 pages, cloth
The importance of the political thought of Thomas G. Masaryk (1850−1937), the first president of Czechoslovakia, has been based on two considerations. One was his image as the principal shaper of the democratic culture in inter-war Czechoslovakia. The other image was as a model of political prudence and sagacity not only for East-Central Europe, but one recognized universally. He was called by his contemporaries “the wisest European of today” and “the greatest man in Europe.” John MacCormac, writing in the New York Times in 1930, saw in Masaryk a personage of the same caliber as Washington, Lincoln, and Wilson.
Masaryk brought to his political activity the assets of profound background in scholarship, as well as a religious flavor. A leitmotif of Masaryk’s intellectual search was his desire to establish a religious dimension to the human experience. Unable to accept his native Catholicism, whether traditional or liberal, he turned to the two modernizing trends in German Lutheranism that had jettisoned traditional dogma and liturgy.
Zdenĕk V. David’s main interest is to probe the mind of the man as revealed through his writings on philosophy and religion, and to map out his position in relation to the principal Austrian, British, French, and German – to some extent also American and Russian – thinkers with whom he dealt in his philosophical and religious writings. He focuses on the ideas behind Masaryk’s political pronouncements and activities.
Member of the European Parliament from Hungary (2004-2019). Formerly Jean Monnet Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Nationalism, University College, London
$ 50 cloth 200 pages
It’s a well-worn cliché that every policy has costs, not just benefits, as well as unintended consequences. The eastward enlargement of the European Union in 2004 and after is a case very much in point. Fifteen years on there is greater or lesser dissatisfaction both in Brussels and in the new member states that joined. This book explores the whys and wherefores from an unusual and original perspective. The author, György Schöpflin, worked for nearly three decades as an academic at the London School of Economics and then as a member of the European Parliament for a decade and a half. By and large, academics seldom have the chance of seeing how theory operates in the real world, what politics is like at the coal-face. The book reflects both dimensions and is indispensable for anyone who wants to know how political theory works in practice.
The key concept of his title is that of federalism, understood as a unifying factor for the peoples of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the First World War, even those resolutely in favor of dismantling Austria-Hungary recognized that the Danubian area required some sort of federal unity, if only for economic reasons.
One of the main actors of the narrative is Karl of Habsburg-Lorraine, the last Emperor-King of Austria-Hungary. As soon as Austria-Hungary fell apart, Karl started actively to try to reconstruct his empire by writing a plan for a new con/federal monarchy and by contacting the pope and the leaders of the Entente regarding this plan.
Bécsi’s book is a study in virtual history, what might have been, and reading it one is tempted to follow this line of thought as well. The shadowy figures that cross its pages—the Marquis de Castellone who sought to win over the Foreign Office to Karl’s plans, the better-known Stepan Radić who played with federal schemes in an effort to advance the Croatian cause, or the obscure swindler Karol Bulissa—all failed in their attempts.
The present configuration in Central Europe, with the emergence of the Visegrad bloc and disintegration in the Balkans, seems to make Zoltán Bécsi’s work more relevant than ever.