Intellectuals and Politics in Central Europe

Intellectuals and Politics in Central Europe

Intellectuals and Politics in Central Europe

Intellectuals and Politics in Central Europe


In the Introduction, the editor gives an historical overview of the tradition of the political involvement of intellectuals in these countries, especially in the 19th Century. The chapters which follow describe the typical political and social attitude of Central European intellectuals, including writers, poets, artists, and scientists.


“I traveled to Prague, Brno, Bratislava, Warsaw, Krakow, Ber
lin, Dresden, Moscow… and I found myself in the same circle,
meeting virtually the same characters everywhere.”

(Iván Szelényi 1986–87, 115)

The principal aim of this book is to investigate the parts played by different groups of intellectuals in the course of the regime change in Central Europe. of particular concern is their role in delegitimizing the Communist system, transforming the political language, setting out different political scenarios for the transition period, and determining the character of a new, post-Cold War democratic system. in order to put this account on firm foundations, the book also describes the ideals and principles that have shaped the political thinking of Central European intellectuals.

In Central Europe, intellectuals—particularly those working in the humanities—have a long tradition of political engagement. Authors, poets, journalists, historians, and polyhistors maintained and invigorated their national culture and language, and set out the basic principles of the nation-state in the nineteenth century. These erudite reformers tried to incorporate more and more Western elements into their societies, which they regarded as backward. During this period, their main goal—as a ‘knowledge elite’ possessing a broad outlook and high erudition—was to further national progress by drafting reform proposals and promoting the establishment of a Western-type bourgeoisie. in the nineteenth century, these reformers tended to be followers of liberal-nationalist, then of radical ideologies of social equality. They believed that their knowledge and learning entitled them to pose as the ‘living conscience’ of their nation, to maintain national identity in the face of foreign oppression, and to uphold democratic values in undemocratic times. the more backward a country was, the wider the gap between the educated knowledge-elite and the uneducated masses. in these circumstances, typical of Eastern Europe as a whole, intellectuals came more and more to exhibit the character-

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