It is already known that the problems which mankind is now facing, at the end of a century and of a millennium, hardly could be considered simple. Europe is trying to find solutions to the consequences of the fall of communism, and especially to the difficult problems of reintegration of the ex-communist countries into the free-market economic system and into the Western-type civilization.

            The enthusiasm and satisfaction generated by the destruction of one of the most oppressive totalitarian systems were amazing and strongly motivated. However, the changes the civic way of thinking, the mentalities especially the economic system as well as their evolution towards requirements of the Western system have proven to be more difficult and complicated than they were initially thought to be. Moreover, certain countries, such as Romania, have not yet succeeded in harnessing the initial enthusiasm and energy. Economic reform, as well as administrative and social reforms, are encountering difficulties with long periods of stagnation and various obstacles.

            There is also a significant reactionary, conservative force that persists not only on economic levels but also among the intellectuals and thinkers. This conservative attitude is supplied, unfortunately, by significant errors made by political leaders unable to make important decisions and to assume the risks. One could ask oneself why this conservative attitude exists and how it could be diminished in the near future? A possible answer could be given by the modern and contemporary history of Romania.




            Looking attentively in historical studies I found that crises and the problem of connecting to the Western civilization existed during the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. The 19th century was marked by the revolutionary movement in 1848 which had a significant consequence for Romanians: the union of two Romanian provinces in 1859 and the foundation of a national State based on the European model. Economic consequences as well as cultural and social changes marked the end of that century.

            In the 20th century, after World War I, the necessity of a more accentuated capitalist development became obvious. Then as now most intellectuals were oriented in two important directions of thinking on the national problems:


            (1) those who desired a rapid integration of the new national state into the community of the Western nations; and

            (2) those who were interested in maintaining national identity and in promoting the rural way of life that was considered the only one capable of preserving the ancient Romanian traditions. The sympathizers with the latter cause considered that the Romanian State could be manifestly present in the European context only by its national specificity, an idea inherited from the romantic period of the 18th and 19th centuries and initiated by the German thinking about Der Volksgeist.

            As a consequence, the 1920s and 1930s were marked by the publication of numerous studies trying to define this national specificity. The studies were written by important thinkers who became, at the end of the 30s, spiritual leaders of a social movement that gained a political status and much sympathy among the people. It was an extremist movement of the political right, Legionarism. In the beginning, it was a cultural movement, understood as an extension of Romanian traditionalism.

            One of its spiritual leaders was Nichifor Crainic (1889-1972) who elaborated the theses of orthodoxy and published them in the cultural journal, The Thinking (Gandirea). Another spiritual leader was Nae Ionescu (1888-1940), philosopher and professor at the University of Bucharest. He was one of the leaders of the anti-rationalist movement and had a great influence on the generation of young intellectuals who started their carrier at the end of the 20s. Ionescu proclaimed the destruction of positivism and asserted firmly that the world must be led by forces that should reject man's cognitive capacities. Reality was, for him, action. It is religion or a mystic attitude that realize the purpose of all humankind; through them, one can understand the world. Orthodoxy was, in Ionescu's thinking, the real religion and the only one adapted to the way of life of the Romanian peasant. He considered that anybody could become Catholic or Protestant; but he had no doubt that, if somebody is really a Romanian, he was born Eastern Orthodox. Orthodoxy is "a natural way of being in the world" that cannot be acquired by various types of religious practices. The real Romanian citizen lives in a village which is the center of the orthodox spirituality; he should avoid town life because it denaturalized the spontaneous, natural way of living.

            Nae Ionescu succeeded in gathering around his personality a group of outstanding young people who afterwards became famous as cultural personalities: Emil Cioran (1911-1995), the philosopher of man's tragic destiny, M. Eliade(1907-1986), the famous historian of religions and Mircea Vulcanescu (1904-1952), philosopher and sociologist. Many of them collaborated on the cultural journal, Criterion.

            They had no doubt that they were the missionaries of a new spirituality. They cited Swedenborg, Kierkegaard, Sestov, Heidegger, Unamuno, Berdiaev; they were interested in orphism, theosophy, Oriental mysticism and ancient religions; they talked about the providential mission of their generation; and they criticized capitalist mediocrity and materialism with all its forms. Their mission was to realize the unity of the Romanian soul and to determine the spiritual reconstruction of Romania even as their forerunners had achieved the political union. Their desire to push Romania away from its lethargic state of inactivity was obvious. E. Cioran1 wrote that he felt humiliated by the fact that he was a citizen of a country living like a plant, in a vegetal manner. Romania had nothing to say to Europe for a thousand years. Like Ionescu and Crainic, they were attracted to the Romanian village, the place of the Romanian spirituality; they, too, appreciated the role of Orthodoxy in the modelling of the national experience.

            During the 30s, Crainic and Ionescu changed the emphasis of their movement from a religious and cultural attitude to a political one. They expressed their admiration for Fascist politics, especially in the Italian form, and made "autochthonism", defined as a combination of ethnicity and religion, the spiritual product of their personal version of a corporatist state, named "ethnocracy".

            The accent on ethnicity and the admiration of the Fascist movement made Carainic change his focus from the venerated East to Rome. In Mussolini's Italy he found the model of an active state based on Christian spirituality that could efficiently combine historical tradition and political experience without the exaggerations of capitalist liberalism. Byzantium was replaced by Rome. This new type of orthodoxy attracted the younger generation, who "became activists by desperation", as Vulcanescu named them. Ideologically they opposed the main group who were looking for interior harmony in an almost idyllic atmosphere. An interesting aspect of this cultural and political movement is the fact that they wanted, in the same measure as their antagonists, to connect Romania to the coordinates of Western civilization. Its solution was based on emphasizing national specificity and posturing as if afraid of losing the national identity while integrating into the European realm through a process that seems quite similar to our contemporary false problems concerning globalization. The problem discussed so much at this turn of the millennia is that of the danger of losing national identity during the process of globalization; this problem also concerned our forerunners. They did desperate things not because they believed in what they did but because they wanted to believe in them, says Vulcanescu.2

            The opposition, having liberal conceptions and sympathies, promoted and supported the idea that all sorts of traditionalisms should be abandoned because they were considered the main obstacle against modernization. To maintain at any cost a rural culture, to eulogize the peasant life, to idealize it as well as the Orthodox religion, which was declared to be the unique preserver of Romanian specificity, were not aspects not appreciated by the non-traditaionalists.

            Among the representatives of interwar cultural life, who joined together in order to attack the extremist position led by Crainic and his Orthodoxist colleagues, we can mention: Eugen Lovinescu (1881-1943), the main literary critics of that period, and Mihai Ralea (1896-1964), who was the leader of an influential cultural journal, Viata Romaneasca (Romanian Life), one of the spiritual leaders of the moment and a supporter of the pro-European movement. They denounced Orthodoxy as a serious obstacle to express the national specificity just because of its fundamental Byzantine-Slavic characteristic. Another liberal personality of the period was Stefan Zeletin (1882-1934), a philosopher and sociologist.

            Lovinescu and Zeletin, as well as Ralea, believed that Orthodox Church did not serve the national interests because it would have denied its proper Romanian substance. Lovinescu named it "the most active ferment of the orientalization of Romania" and considered it an "obscurantist religion stuck in dogmas and formalism"3 which had imposed on the Romanian people a foreign language, (Slavon) and had thrown the people into the "Slavic sea" which had almost swallowed them. Into this situation came the first Romanian thinker on the European level: Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723).


            Enclosed in our dogmas, nothing that was happening in Europe could reach our territory. While the world was rebuilding its bases, nothing was growing in our country; we kept staying hidden in our small pit-houses of wood and reed.4


            The author discovered the positive influence on our culture and civilization caused by foreign representatives of the Catholic and Protestant Churches. The first religious translations were published in Transylvania, at Brasov (1482) by Protestants.

            In Moldavia, the eastern province of Romania, the political, economic and cultural relations with Poland from the 15th to 19th centuries allowed a more profound penetration of the Catholic way of thinking. The Moldavian historiographers visited the old and famous Polish universities such as the Jagellonian University in Cracaw and learned the Latin language. By doing so, these intellectuals were able to understand and to interest themselves in proving the Roman origin of the Romanian people. At the same time, they promoted the colloquial written Romanian language among the Moldavian boyars.

            During the 18th century, the Romanian people in Transylvania united with the Roman Catholic Church and, under the influence of the European Enlightenment, they proved and increased their interest in knowledge and the scientific proof of the Latin origin of our language.

            Taking into consideration these aspects, as well as others, E. Lovinescu considered that Romanian society has the obligation to re-direct the political, economic and cultural axis from the East towards the West which is a radical change from ex oriente lux to ex occidente lux.5

            In order to make this significant change, Lovinescu considered that a modification of the mindset should be performed before making any economic changes. His main idea was that the ideological revolution precedes the economic one. However, today, our actual situation seems to tend the other way. A group of people from political associations and civil society consider that first a changed mentality is necessary, but under the pressure of time the first step should be economic, followed or accompanied by a cultural one.

            Lovinescu considered that the only chance to achieve this purpose was to synchronize Romanian society to the West through a process of imitation. The process should take place first at a psychological level. The author used Gabriel Tardes's conception of imitation.6 The end of the 19th century demonstrated that imitation was useful and successful. It was implemented from the higher to lower levels. It is based on the main sociological idea: imitation of a superior civilization followed by an assimilation process. In this situation, the economic and political forces that effected the change and synchronized the Romanian society to the West, were the liberal forces and the liberal bourgeoisie.

            Another pro-Occidental thinker was S. Zeletin.7 In The Romanian Bourgeoisie8 Zeletin offered an applied, rational and well-argumented study of the imperative of developing the Romanian capitalist society. Zeletin was an advocate of modernization with his vision of corresponding to the facts. He observed that even inside the peasantry changes had been made which were seen as natural and irreversible. The only solution for Romania is to increase and stimulate development of life in all domains.

            Zeletin also noticed the existence of a paradox at the psychological level: if the liberal economy promotes a renewed Western spirit within the economic domain, the cultural one is significantly anti-bourgeois. Thus, during the interwar period, a relationship could be achieved between the progressive economic and the conservative cultural processes. Zeletin was referring to the forms of nationalism and xenophobia which he considered real and dangerous obstacles to the effort of "building a modern capitalist nation".

            These suggestions point out the Romanian situation during the interwar period which seem similar, mutatis mutandis, to the situation at the move into the next century. There is, of course, a significant distinction: the current economic situation is disastrous, causing serious cultural and ideological consequences. The great similarity between these two periods is based on the wish of the majority that Romania be reintegrated into the European civilization in order to be able to participate in the process of globalization.




            In analyzing the cultural ideas and their evolution, I consider Romania to be passing through a period of crises where major political phenomena make it necessary to rethink certain ideological and cultural aspects.

            What roles should Romania play? What attitude should it adopt? These are actual political problems. But how does the Romanian citizen respond to the need of adapting to the Western mentality? How much is he or she prepared for this harsh impact of a significantly different civilization and mentality? These are questions which the cultured man should answer if interested in the formative aspect of cultural interaction.

            A possible answer can be found, once again, by studying our forerunners. In the following pages, I will refer to the cultural thought of Tudor Vianu, namely, on the cultural condition and its civilizing role in our century.9

            Vianu was interested not only in the philosophy of culture, but also in its sociological dimension, teaching the first courses of the sociology of culture in Romania at the University of Bucharest in 1933. Culture is a dynamic force which he recognized as a force that activates the spirit and has a teleologic role. Culture promotes man in "his role of self-creator of his destiny".10 Therefore, culture is an act of human freedom; the man of culture does not accept passively the society in which he lives, but he tries to change it; thus, culture becomes a social phenomenon. It is necessary to assimilate, transmit and change culturally. As these phenomena take place only inside society, it is obviously necessary to know the situation of culture at a certain moment: its characteristics, the basic ideas which govern it and the direction of its progress.

            It is necessary to know and analyze the cultural values, how they act, and evolve their rank in a hierarchy. Approaching culture from a philosophical point of view, one can also understand certain past phenomena as well as predict the future.

            At 32 years of age, Vianu wrote About Rationalism and Historism,11 in which he described the entire evolution of philosophical and cultural ideas between the 17th and the 19th centuries. He remarked that the passage from the 17th to the 18th century brought Europe a significant change of philosophical perspective from the general and universal to the particular and individual. This passage is not sudden and is specific to all the domains of spiritual life.

            From Rousseau to Hegel, European thinking traverses several peaks. The author, Vianu, critically analyzed the role of reason. Starting with Kant and Rousseau, the supremacy of reason established by 17th century Cartesian classicism is strongly eroded. This type of thinking, structured on the universal, which is static, narrows during the following century. Rousseau and Condorcet change the focus towards a certain dynamism which points up the role played by the particular individual.

            Herder and Humboldt preached a new cultural ideal -- the individual soul. Until that time, humankind had been the only bearer of culture, the Romantics considered that man as an individual to be the cultural agent. Kant considered humanity to be a bearer of culture. For Kant humanity encompassed a quality had by every man; the purpose of humanity was continual progress. On the contrary, Herder considered the individualizing process to be very varied and to cause various individual cultures. Humanity was, for him, a harmonious fulfillment of all possibilities; the purpose of the whole of humankind should be what each man is and can become. Herder stressed that the human purpose is not only the progress of rational thinking, but also a harmonious development of all human qualities and values. If at a political level the state was for Kant the framework where the individual could live according to the rational imperatives. Herder rejects the universalism in nature that demands that life should be harmoniously developed under local, individual conditions.

            Humbold deepens the meaning of these ideas. He agrees with the liberal attitude on an almost negative influence of the state which is supposed to assure the protection and safety of its citizens, but he rejects any interference to the privacy of each person. "The highest ideal of men's co-existence is the one which would assure each man the possibility to fulfil himself from himself and only for himself."12

            The new idea that dominated in the early 19th century was that mankind divided into particular cultures without obvious connections among them. This new historicist concept of culture was Herder's most important innovation.

            But Hegel is the one who achieves the accord between the two conceptions which had been on opposite sides until then: the universalist rationalism and the individualizing historicism. Reason (Spirit) is, for Hegel, a principle immanent not only to general reality, but also to history. Considering that Reason should be autonomous and its substance is freedom, Hegel obtains the interiorization of the idea of freedom which is not a social but interior and metaphysical. When the Spirit, passing through a step-by-step self-awareness, realizes itself in the form of the State, this social form is the embodiment of spirit or freedom.

            The individual becomes free when the reasons of his will coincide with the reasons of the Spirit as it is manifested in the form of the State. Thus, Hegel succeeds in combining rationalism (which gives a unique and progressive sense to history) with historicism (individual appreciation of originality at certain moments). The rationalist philosophy of culture supposes a unique progress of humankind towards a universal ideal of domination. Historicism distinguishes among various cultures due to their originality; the ideal is not the progress of humanity, but a harmonious development of individuality.

            Nietzsche criticized the historicist and etatist Hegelian vision as it appeared at the end of the 19th century in the studies of certain thinkers, like David Strauss. The basic idea was that reason completely develops itself throughout history, thereby clarifying in this way the sense of culture. The result was an agreement on the status of facts, a satisfaction that could cause non-activism and the consent for the idea of sure and continuous progress. Strauss becomes, in Nietzsche's opinion, the model of the cultural Philistine (Bildungs Philister). The only solution for Nietzsche is the super-historical attitude after having taken an ahistorical position.

            The super-historical man does not accept his fulfillment as a continuous becoming, but considers that the world ends and reaches its purpose in each particular moment. As a consequence, life is considered from an absolute point of view. An historicism assures us of the universe in which the super-history is possible; it gives us the belief in the absolute value of creation. This super-historical attitude can be achieved only in art and religion, for science can study only processes of becoming. Hence, Nietzsche established an artistic and religious ideal for culture.

            Nietzsche definitely exceeded the progressist rationalism of the 18th century. He also opened the modern cultural crisis which had long been evolving. The sense and purpose of culture would no longer depend, for Nietzsche, on the fulfillment of reason, but on the intensification of the creative forces oriented towards the absolute and eternal being. Each people and period have their ideal generated by the specificity of their metaphysical conscience. Each culture is an individual totality.

            By the end of the 19th century the conclusion was that modern culture as a whole could be systematized in a plurality of types, but it did not tend towards an accomplished unity from the historical point of view. In Nietzsche's view real cultural creation aims at the absolute through an ahistoricism; only when reaching the immobility of the eternity, can we discover the mystery of absolute creation. A logical consequence, remarks Vianu, would be that the human creation should belong to an ontological vision and not to a vision submitted to the process of becoming. But Nietzsche had another view: he considered that we could not feel the creative impulse in the position of eternity because human creation loses its sense in comparison to the Absolute Being. The self-knowledge, diving into the depth of our particularity, should represent the basis of culture when desiring to achieve such creativity; self-knowledge should be a premise as well as a result.13

            The transition from Rousseau's thinking to Nietzsche's is a dialectical process. Where Rousseau doubts the existence of a value of civilization and requires the rules of human nature, Herder considers that natural laws do not operate in human society, but only at the level of individual cultural existence, marking thus the rise of historicism. Nietzsche has another conception of culture which is based on the philosophical category of action. Cultural action (deed) is a creative human supplement by which thereby reality completes its meaning. Culture completes nature, which receives human qualities. Nietzsche stimulated cultural originality by stressing an activist conception in which culture is the completion of nature.




            Nietzsche's vision of human society is based on the idea of a large crisis. In fact, a series of thinkers (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Marx) thought that human thinking confronted a period of crisis.14

            Vianu finds an explanation even at an axiological level which receives and develops the fundamental idea analyzed in the above-mentioned article. He discovers15 that an obvious differentiation of values takes place in modern culture, generating a real autonomy of values. In fact, this is the great conquest of modern culture. If certain values had been potentia hierarchy during the Medieval Age, with Classicism and Enlightenment imposing a subordination of the other values, then during the modern period the consciousness of the irreducibility of values caused can increase of their individual freedom and autonomy. The consequences of this autonomy were:


            1. the impossibility for the values-bearer to cover the totality of life: Each individual has the liberty to live under his proper value;

            2. the suppression of the center of culture: The modern man has always a peripheral position as he subordinates to an autonomous value. He seems to live in an inner vacuum as he is not oriented towards a significant center.


            Analyzing the trials to get back to a centered culture (the theories proposed by Comte, Berdiaev, Maritain), Vianu draws the conclusion that this return is no longer possible because "irreversibility is a fundamental characteristic of the historical evolution". If processes are reversible in nature, they are not in history. Any summing up of values makes impossible any return (which supposes the elimination of those values summed up afterwords).

            This idea should be taken into account even now. There are thinkers who propose a reorganization of civil society, a moral behavior based on the ideas prevalent before World War II. This process would suppose the elimination from the psychological data of the post-communist society of all the aspects accumulated during the fifty years of communism. It is really an illusion to think that somebody could wipe out such an accumulation, nor am I convinced that it would be a good idea! This experience of a part of the world did affect the psychic structure in a certain manner; it is an experience that should not be forgotten. Besides its tragedies and bad influences, it offered new visions on human existence, namely, special psychological attitudes that have to be recorded. They belong to the history of mankind for certain geographical regions.

            Coming back to Vianu's conception, he wonders if the cultivated man subordinated to a unique value can or cannot express and reflect the entire unity of life. The Romanian thinker believes that distinction and differentiation can contribute to regaining the totality.

            The creative act, Kant considered, does not come from outside; it is an inner, spiritual, creative excess; it is a psychic synthesis. In addition, the soul is a teleological structure in Dilthey's vision. Thus, the unity of purpose assures the form of the life of the soul. That purpose is a value. The teleological structure of the soul, in the gestalt vision, is in a hierarchy and is led by a super value but is capable of cooperating with other values. Taking into account all these aspects, Vianu proposes a new activist attitude towards culture. Cultural activism proposes as many aims as it can assume; it understands culture as a deed of human freedom; the creative act is an expression of freedom.

            Having in mind Max Scheler's conception of human types specific for various cultural periods, Vianu considers that the type of man who thinks responsibly should be the model for this new activist moment of culture. The Promethean myth and type of man would be, in Vianu's vision, the embodiment of this active and creative attitude.16

            Vianu discovers the presence of the Promethean motive in Romantic poetry and modern philosophy and makes an analysis from the perspective of this motive. He thus discovers that Prometheus himself, as a mythological god, appears in works of some of the romantic poets: Shaftesbury who compared the artist to Prometheus, Goethe who did not finish his Prometheus , Rousseau, Shelley and Byron or Goethe again with his Faust, because even the pact with evil contains obvious Promethean elements. There are also Promethean aspects in Kant's and Fichte's philosophy. The latter insisted on the Promethean dimension of the theory of culture. This is the practice of all our spiritual abilities in order to reach a complete freedom. To make the world conform to man, to change things according to human conception -- this is a Promethean vision.

            In this way, Vianu's activism is not limited to an ethical value, but is governed by the religious value of love for others, by the Promethean aspiration towards the fulfillment of human destiny. That is why, in his opinion, the Romanian culture has been in a continuous process of adaptation. Revolutionary and democratic rationalism proposed the ideal of national freedom for the Romanian Provinces; the process of occidentalization took place as a result of this cultural rationalism, doubled through the process of becoming conscious of creative freedom. Vianu considers that the need to find and maintain national identity is not solved by a continuous theoretical redefinition -- "We are what our deeds are". It is not the historicism which offers us definitions about our own national identity, but the facts which the cultural deeds can represent.17

            I consider this conception as a plausible answer even for our current situations. The model of Promethean humanity has been actualized for two centuries especially at a global level. The problem of cultural and national identity in the context of globalization takes us back to a historicist and individualist vision that Vianu suggested we overcome even in 1944. We must consider that the interwar period was a kind of negative, catastrophic example of violence and brutal individualist definitions that dominated Europe, encouraging political extremist actions and imposing totalitarian governments.

            The individualist definitions of separation and opposition are dangerous any time and anywhere as they generate extremist movements. An opposite attitude, based on collaboration and mutual understanding, could be supported by the activist model and the Promethean man.




            1. E. Cioran, Schimbarea la fata a Romaniei (The transformation of Romania) (Bucharest: Publishing House Vremea, 1936), pp. 7-58.

            2. M. Vulcaescu, Tendintele tinerei generatii (Tendencies of the young generation), Lumea noua (New world), nr. 14 (Bucharest, 1934).

            3. E. Lovinescu, Istoria civilizatiei romane moderne (History of Romanian modern civilization), vol. I (Bucharest: Publishing House Ancora, 1924-1926), pp. 5-10.

            4. Ibid., p. 10.

            5. This problem is also our contemporary problem after the political events of December 1989.

            6. G. Tardes, Les lois de l'imitation (The laws of imitation) (Paris, 1890).

            7. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy at Erlangen, Germany; specializing in English philosophy and also in economics; he wrote a great many articles on the economics.

            8. Stefan Zeletin, Burghezia romana (The Romanian Bourgeoisie) (Bucharest: Publishing House Cultura National, 1925).

            9. Tudor Vianu (1897-1964) is one of the most valuable personalities of our culture during very different political periods of our history. He was an aesthetician, a philosopher of culture and values; he worked as a professor at the department of Aesthetics at the University of Bucharest. After World War II and especially during the first period of the communist government, he was Director of the Library of the Academy and an official representative in various international structures. Having received a Ph.D. from Germany, Vianu was one of the important cultural voices in the Romanian culture for a large period of the 20th century.

            10. T. Vianu, Sociologia culturii (Sociology of Culture), in Opere (Complete Works), vol. 8 (Bucharest: Publishing House Minerva, 1979), p. 351.

            11. T. Vianu, Conceptia rationalista si istorica a culturii (The Rationalist and Historicist Conception of Culture), in Arhiva pentru stiinte si reforma sociala (Archive for Sciences and Social Reform) (Bucharest, 1929).

            12. Apud. T. Vianu, op. cit. in Opere (Complete Works) vol. 8 (Bucharest: Publishing House Minerva, 1979), p. 35.

            13. Ibid., p. 42.

            14. H. Arendt, Between Past and Future, (La crise de la culture) (Paris: Gallimard, 1972), pp. 58-121.

            15. T. Vianu, Introducere in teoria valorilor (Introduction in the Theory of Values), lin Opere (Complete Works), vol. 8 (Bucharest: Minerva, 1979), pp. 60-130.

            16. T. Vianu, Sociologia culturii (Sociology of Culture), in Opere (Complete Works), vol. 8 (Bucharest: Minerva, 1979), pp. 410-427.

            17. T. Vianu, Filosofia culturii (Philosophy of Culture), in Opere, (Complete Works), vol. 8, p. 311.