Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and the Humanist Foundations of Democracy

TGM, born 7 March 1850 in Hodonín, died 14 September 1937 in Lány

He graduated from philosophy and classical philology at the University of Vienna (having attended lectures in philosophy, aesthetics, psychology, and national economy; professors Zimmermann, Bretano, Gomperz, Menger; 1876 doctor’s degree), followed by a year of study at Leipzig University, where he met E. Husserl. In 1878 he completed his habilitation thesis, Der Selbstmord als sozialle Massenerscheinung der Gegenwart (published 1881, Czech translation in 1904).

In 1882 he took up a professorship at the newly established Czech university in Prague. He founded the journal Athenaeum (1883), where he fought to disprove the authenticity of the Dvůr Králové and Zelená Hora Manuscripts (Gebauer’s treatise 1886). He founded the magazine Čas (Time; 1887; changed to a weekly in 1889). Due to his campaign against the aforesaid manuscripts, the Otto Publishing House terminated its contract with Masaryk for the publication of Athenaeum and withdrew him from the post of chief editor of its seminal Czech encyclopaedia Ottův slovník naučný. This critical focus, driven by young intellectuals, gave rise to the Realistic Movement. The Realists became increasingly political, their central figures being Masaryk, Kaizl, Kramář, and Rezek. Negotiations to join the “Old Czechs”, or the National Party (1889, with Rieger, Bráf, Mattuš), failed mainly due to the latter’s accommodating approach to the Czech-German Compromise debated at the time. The Realists then affiliated with the “Young Czechs”, or the Free-Thinking National Party (joining it in March 1890 following negotiations with J. Grégr). The 1891 elections resulted in Kaizl and Masaryk being voted in as deputies to the Imperial Council. In 1892 Masaryk gained a seat in the Bohemian Diet. Disputes with the Young Czechs led Masaryk to relinquish both posts. He then turned his efforts to “apolitical politics”. He started the monthly Naše doba (Our Time), where he published his contemporary lectures and articles, later compiled in a Czech tetralogy (Česká otázka – The Czech Question, Naše nynější krize – Our Present Crisis, Jan Hus, Karel Havlíček). In the late 1890s he held a number of lectures and published papers on social issues and socialist theories; in 1898 he published Otázka sociální (The Social Question). In 1899 he publicly intervened in the Hilsner Affair, opposing Czech anti-Semitism, and pushing for a retrial. In December 1899 Čas shareholders voiced their wish for the Realists to organise as an independent party. The founding assembly took place in March 1900. In the 1907 elections, Masaryk was nominated by his supporters in Moravian Wallachia; he won the seat with the help of social democrat voters. His growing understanding of the state of the Habsburg Empire fuels his political and moral opposition to the regime, exemplified by well-known affairs: the Zagreb Trial (the false accusation of 53 Serbs and Croats of high treason), the Friedjung Trial in Vienna and the Vasić Trial in Belgrade.

When war broke out in 1914, Masaryk began to work on the dissolution of Austria-Hungary. He left the country in December 1914 and initiated the creation of domestic intelligence network (“Maffia”) in support of foreign action against Austria. An arrest warrant issued in March 1915 precluded Masaryk’s return to Prague. His foreign mission made Czechoslovak independence its aim. Masaryk later summarised and explained his political conceits of the time in his treatise The New Europe (1918 in English, 1920 in Czech). He was elected chairman of the newly established Czechoslovak National Council (1916, headquarters of the foreign mission). He was especially active in Russia (1917, Czechoslovak Legions) and in the United States (May 1918, triumphant welcome in Chicago), where he negotiated support for the mission from expatriate organisations of Czechs and Slovaks (Pittsburgh Agreement) and seconded and advanced Wilson’s ideas for the post-war organisation of Europe (Washington Declaration).

On 14 November 1918 the revolutionary National Assembly chose Masaryk to be the first President of Czechoslovakia. He took his oath of office upon returning from exile, on 21 December 1918. He was re-elected in 1920 and 1927. He presented his moral and political opinions and worldview in Světová revoluce (The World Revolution; 1925). He abdicated from the office of president in 1935.

Source: Milan Znoj et al.: Český liberalismus. Texty a osobnosti. Torst, Praha 1995

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