The recurrent crisis of political modernity: Lessons from a project on the history of political thought in East Central Europe
29. April | 10:00
Presentation from Balázs Trencsényi (CEU Budapest)
The presentation will draw on the experience gathered while working on the project “Negotiating Modernity”: History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe supported by the European Research Council, resulting in the volumes, History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe. Volume I: Negotiating Modernity in the “Long Nineteenth Century” by B. Trencsényi, M. Janowski, M. Baár, M. Falina, and M. Kopeček (OUP, 2016) and Vol. II: History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe. Volume II/2: Negotiating Modernity in the “Short Twentieth Century and Beyond” (1968-2018) by B. Trencsényi, M. Janowski, M. Baár, M. Falina, L. Lisjak-Gabrijelcic, and M. Kopeček (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). The Project aimed at producing a synthetic volume on the history of modern political thought in East Central Europe, providing a basis of intra- and extra-regional comparison. Its key feature was the “negotiation” of analytical categories in view of the broader European intellectual framework of the times and pointing out long-term structural and ideological continuities. The presentation seeks to linkt eh lognue durée narrative of this work to the dilemmas of the post-1989 period, taking into account the dynamics of Westernizing and anti-Westernist ideological shifts in the region since the Enlightenment, mapped by our project. The initial euphoria of the disappearance of the Cold War division of Europe was gradually tinted by resentment and the two and a half decades since the regime changes witnessed the (re)emergence of various anti-Western and autochthonist ideological modalities. However, I argue that exactly this ambiguity of identification and rejection, which could be detected already in the eighteenth century, indicates that the relationship of East Central Europe to its Western “significant other” needs to be described in terms of a permanent liminality. This liminality can also be depicted in terms of repeated attempts at the internalization of the norms of political modernity, alternating with periods experiencing the implosion of the reformist emancipatory/liberal democratic system. All this might well be described as a metahistorical pattern of recurrent cycles of “catching up” and “alienation.” Needless to say, this pattern does not mark out East Central Europe as unique, since other regions (such as Southern Europe or Latin America) also produced comparable dynamics in certain historical periods. Nevertheless, the way this negotiation has unfolded over the last two-and-a-half centuries might be considered region-specific, making it meaningful to talk about East Central Europe as a unit of analysis for research in the transnational history of political thought and also a common background against which the emerging national political cultures can be compared and studied. Considering this, the developments after 1989 acquire a historical depth—making the surprisingly dynamic upsurge of liberal democracy and the unexpectedly powerful trends of “backsliding” understandable as part of a recurrent regional pattern, two sides of the same coin, as it were.
Balázs Trencsényi is Professor at the History Department of Central European University, Budapest, and co-director of Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies. His main field of interest is the history of modern political thought in East Central Europe. Between 2008 and 2013, he was Principal Investigator of the ERC project, “Negotiating Modernity”: History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe. Among others, he is the author of the monograph, The Politics of ‘National Character’: A Study in Interwar East European Thought (Routledge, 2012); co-author of AHistory of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe. Vol. I-II (Oxford UP, 2016, 2018); as well as co-editor of Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1775–1945), vols. I–II, IV.(Budapest-New York: CEU Press, 2006–7, 2014) and European Regions and Boundaries: A Conceptual History (Berghahn, 2017).
jakob.vogel ( at ) cmb.hu-berlin.de