Modern Hungarian Society in the Making: The Unfinished Experience

Modern Hungarian Society in the Making: The Unfinished Experience

Modern Hungarian Society in the Making: The Unfinished Experience

Modern Hungarian Society in the Making: The Unfinished Experience

Excerpt

Most of Central and Eastern Europe began to emerge from feudalism as early as the 1840s. In some cases this emergence took more radical forms (uprisings and revolutions), while in others it manifested itself in more peaceful processes, for example, change initiated from above.

In my opinion, the modern history of this region – and so of Hungary – is the story of a still ongoing process of transition from a feudal to a civil society. This seems to be supported by the economic, social and intellectual changes that occurred in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

In these circumstances the issues surrounding the emergence of a civil society must be regarded as crucial for ah understanding of our present, as well as of our past.

I am aware that the term itself – the emergence of civil society – is a product of the history of this region, and that it might sound strange and unfamiliar to readers in countries with a different historical background. I cannot do without it, however, because the term commonly used in the West to describe similar processes – modernization – has in a Central and East European context a quite different content and set of connotations. Indeed, an important part of the modern tragedy of the region is an object lesson in how 'modernization' can take place without a civil society emerging alongside it – even under circumstances of blatant suppression of the values of a civil society. The region underwent a number of such 'experiments' in the nineteenth century (1849–67) – Habsburg neo-absolutism was committed to modernization, though by no means adhering to the values of a civil society - while in the twentieth century we might point to a number of right-wing authoritarian attempts aiming, among other things, at the severe curtailment of private ownership. The most clear-cut division between modernization and the emergence of a civil society, however, occurred under socialism, in which 'modernity' was contrasted with 'bourgeois' notions in the most thoroughgoing manner possible. In my opinion, such modernization led only . . .

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