The Idea of National Superiority in Central Europe, 1880-1918

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Edwin Mellen Press, 2004 - History - 193 pages
This book focuses on the ways in which biological discourses of race and ethnicity affected and shaped nationalism and the idea of national superiority in Central Europe between 1880 and 1918. Preface; In this book, Marius Turda shifts a familiar and topical debate on to unfamiliar and neglected ground. Since the shattering events of the 1930s and 1940s much has been written about the genesis of notions of race in Central Europe. The blending of organic and collectivist traditions in German thought with the evolutionary arguments which derived especially from Darwin and with biological ideas about heredity was catalysed from the 1860s onward by increasingly intense nationalist sentiments. None of this led directly to Nazism, but it did create a climate in which such racist conceptions might be able to thrive. Their relation to forms of ethnic self-assertion was direct and immediate. Here is Turda's starting-point. Austria-Hungary in its last decades became notorious for nationality conflicts, but hitherto it has been generally held that racial theories played a comparatively minor role there. Austria as a pressure-group. Their rabid anti-Semitism shaded into a more broadly-shared dislike of the salient role of the Jews in the country's public life. Turda expands on the theoretical and quasi-scientific context for this, demonstrating in particular the influence of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who lived for some time in Vienna, and of Ludwig Gumplowicz, the cult sociologist of his day. But Turda's real novelty is to extend to the other half of the Dual Monarchy his analysis of the growing role of race. Hungary had some essential preconditions for it to infect national ideology. There was acute competition between ethnic groups, mainly a series of bilateral contests between the dominant Magyar interest, with its relative majority of the population, and the half-dozen other significant nationalities. Moreover, there was still an inherited discourse of an essentially tribal kind: the Magyars as a pristine blood-brotherhood, as conquerors and warriors, or (to their opponents) as Asian immigrants and uncultivated barbarians. nineteenth century from vindication of the nobles and their political and social privileges to cover a whole ethnic community bound by fierce adherence to Hungarian integral statehood and to Magyar linguistic culture. Yet the racial element has usually appeared to be balanced for historians by another long-established feature of Magyar hegemony: its attractiveness to many born outside the Magyar camp and the concomitant willingness of the latter to accept on equal terms those who assimilated to its values. Over the centuries that had been a historical reality, as well as (equally importantly) a perception of Magyar hospitableness, magnanimity, and adaptability. With most of the commentators whom Turda examines it remains a clear principle. This is hardly surprising: whereas only one of them, Zsolt Beothy, was the scion of an ancestral noble or gentry family, fully half came themselves from a non-Magyar background. Anti-Semitism, in particular, was largely absent from the Hungarian debate. of his innovative account of racial thinking among influential representatives of the ruling culture of Dualist Hungary. He sets it in relief with his concluding portrait of a Romanian, Aurel Popovici, whose ideas about race likewise drew on a traditional national agenda, in this case defensive attitudes specifically resistant to Hungarian assimilatory pressures and stressing purity of descent as distinctive of Romanians' ethnic identity. Popovici's work was a milestone in the heightened sensitivity to issues of national degeneracy which set in after the turn of the twentieth century; and as such anticipated one of the principal obsessions of later fascist ideology. In 1908 a 'wandering Scotsman, ' Scotus Viator, nom de plume of the young historian Robert William Seton-Watson, published a devastating critique of the politics of integration being pursued by Magyars. He called it Racial Problems in Hungary. Thus the most significant work of the leading foreign contributor to the debate on the nationality issue in the Habsburg Monarchy carried the keyword of Turda's investigation in its very title. been called 'peoples', and in our day are often known as 'ethnic groups: ' there is no imputation for this British liberal of blood descent, common physical characteristics, or claims to inborn superiority. Yet the terminology itself could easily become loaded with fresh meanings. That would take place dramatically a decade later, when the whole Habsburg edifice collapsed, and a resultant new structure (which Seton-Watson had a share in creating) unleashed yet more embittered nationalist clashes on the region. Marius Turda has been uniquely placed to bring this project to fruition. Bringing good knowledge of all the relevant languages, including German and Hungarian, as well as his native Romanian, he has studied and researched in a number of different environments and acquired a notable scholarly detachment for dealing with these highly controversial issues. and opens up broad and rich new perspectives on the political thought and intellectual culture of a part of Europe which contributed greatly to the instability of the whole continent in the early twentieth century. R.J.W. Evans Regius Professor of History Oxford Universi

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Contents

Preface by Dr R J W Evans
1
Racial Thinking Nationalism and Social Darwinism
13
A New Definition of the Nation
20
Copyright

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