Nae Ionescu on Democracy, Individuality, Leadership and Nation Philosophical (Re)sources for a Right-Wing Ideology

By Surugiu, Romina | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Nae Ionescu on Democracy, Individuality, Leadership and Nation Philosophical (Re)sources for a Right-Wing Ideology


Surugiu, Romina, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Nae Ionescu is one of the most influential and controversial Romanian thinkers. The present article explores a less used perspective in studying Nae Ionescu's philosophical, political and journalistic activity: the philosophical roots of his major political ideas. The anti-democratic position of Nae Ionescu was, theoretically explained, by the criticism to Rene Descartes and J.J. Rousseau's ideas. The individual is supposed to be an instrument of history and nation. Any individualizing tendency is allegedly a betrayal to the nation. Moreover, the leader has mystical prerogatives therefore the universal suffrage is not consistent. On its turn, the nation is not defined on the basis of the social contract. Nation is "a community of love and life", in Nae Ionescu's opinion. Nae Ionescu's beliefs largely influenced the right-wing Romanian ideology during the years between First and Second World Wars.

Key Words:

Nae Ionescu, right-wing ideology, democracy, individuality, leadership, nation

The controversial and influential Romanian philosophy professor and well-known journalist, Nae Ionescu, offers an example, albeit a negative one, for transferring philosophical and religious ideas into the political discourse. His philosophical beliefs become, through the public lectures at the University and editorials at "Cuvântul" newspaper, the basis of a radical ideological discourse

Among his main ideas were: the critical attitude on Descartes' rationalism, nominalism, individualism, and scientism, the idea of "traire"/ Erlebnis / the act of living1, the realist-static conception on existence, and the return to the Eastern Orthodox spirituality. Thus, the critique of Descartes' rationalism, of nominalism, individualism, and scientism led to the rejection of liberalism, democracy and parliamentarianism; "trairea"/the act of living, and the realist, static attitude toward existence were reflected into Nae Ionescu's efforts to define the nation, the individuality, the collectivity. The return to Eastern Orthodox spirituality upheld the mystical nationalism promoted by the Romanian thinker.

Main concepts: Rationalism and Democracy

The historical context of the inter-war years was not favorable to democracy as a system of government. After the First World War, the Europeans had high expectations related to the welfare, and, generally, to the improvement of society and of its political leadership. The totalitarian and nationalist ideas found a fertile soil in this wide climate of disappointment and frustrations of the society, and led to the collapse of most of the European democratic systems. "The apparent failure of ostensibly democratic systems to deliver an increased standard of living to many in employment, the lack of provision for the unemployed, and the failure to maintain the value of pensions for the old or those disabled in war, created an ever-growing army of enfranchised and disenchanted. (...) The disappointments of the immediate post-war period led to the overthrow of democracy in several states in Eastern Europe and to the rise of Mussolini. The post-1929 collapse led to further reverses for democracy in Eastern Europe, and to Hitler's ascendancy in Germany. Even in those states where democracy survived there were great shifts in electoral fortune, sometimes accompanied by demands for strong leadership"2.

Strong criticism was raised by intellectuals, philosophers, economists, professors or journalists. Philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, whose ideas inspired Nae Ionescu, wrote in 1924 that democracy lacked flexibility and consistency, and it was insensitive, skeptical to the will of the masses. Allegedly, democracy ignored the truth and recognized only the power of numbers. Berdyaev commented upon J. J. Rousseau's ideas, considering the French thinker as the spiritual father of democracy. At the same time, Nae Ionescu shared the same opinion on Rousseau.

"There are no guarantees that in democracy the will of the masses will aim for righteousness, that will aim for freedom, and not for the radical overthrow of any liberties"3. …

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