The Meaning of Czech History

By Tomáš G. Masaryk; René Wellek et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

The meaning of Czech history? Can there be an express meaning, sense, or idea, we may ask skeptically, not only of Czech history but of all history? Modern analytical philosophy has taught us to distrust all words, however hallowed by tradition. We have to define the meaning of "meaning" more closely. Some would say that the meaning of a nation's history is only another way of speaking of its leading theme, its dominant character, or its specific contribution to the history of civilization. We can hardly doubt, for instance, that Greek democracy or Roman law constitute achievements attributable to only one nation. A value judgment is implied: we consider Greek democracy and Roman law to be more important in the subsequent course of history and even to us today than, say, Greek religion or Roman technology. But the word "meaning" can mean also something more. It can mean "mission"; it can be a call to action, a program, a political or moral demand. Thus the Hebrew prophet saw the meaning of the history of Israel in a special relation to God, and a Christian sees the meaning of all history in the salvation of mankind through Jesus Christ. Abraham Lincoln spoke of his nation as "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" and others later spoke of "manifest destiny" or simply of the "American dream."

Masaryk uses "meaning" in this later, wider sense. His concept of Czech history is a program, a demand, a call to action, an ap

-vii-

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