I become through my relation to the Thou; as I become I,

I say Thou.

All real living is meeting.1

Martin Buber


This study is an analytical attempt at mapping Vytautas Kavolis’s theoretical thought by tracing it within the framework of his social and cultural criticism. It is not so easy to provide such a discursive map, since Kavolis’s theoretical legacy may well be referred to as his silent intellectual and moral autobiography. Therefore, it increases the responsibility of the author who comes to examine such an intimate and deeply personal thing as another scholar’s autobiography. Every statement and passage of Kavolis’s thought, every formulation or sequence of his working hypotheses — all are permeated by Kavolis’s existential and social experiences. This is why the theoretical reconstruction of Kavolis’s social and cultural theories, if reduced to the examination of his statements’ formal logical structure or of the context and analytical organization of his thought, would enable us to merely employ a scientific jargon by pointing out those paradigms of sociological thought that have been accepted and then further elaborated by Kavolis.

Kavolis was very skeptical and critical about such a banal, trivial and even "soulless" (as Kavolis would have said himself) concept of the social sciences and the humanities, and of scholarship in general. Moreover, he was quite convinced that the attitude toward scholarship and ideas, which refuses to take the multi-faceted human experiences seriously, fails to enrich somehow either scholarship as such or the individuality of a scholar himself/herself. Kavolis was extremely attentive to human diversity, spontaneity and unpredictability, let alone those empirically invisible intellectual dramas and ideological passions that essentially stimulate one’s need for constructing the critical and analytical thought capable of articulating both oneself and the world.

He was very much interested in the actors of various societies and historical epochs, traced back in his analytical studies and interpretive essays, — not in certain social or cultural types, but rather in flesh-and-blood human beings whose moral stances, modes of sensibility and nuances of emotions come to uncover the Great Chain of Being (to recall Arthur Lovejoy’s term) and the mystery of social becoming as well. This is to say that Kavolis seems to have been constantly trying to answer the question which is most puzzling for every social analyst: What is the way the organized societal life and colorful social theater spring from such ordinary and mundane things as individual self-understanding, fellowship and friendship, mutual trust and human interaction in general?

Instead of merely examining Kavolis’s theoretical constructs, I would like to make them talk to us — in order to conceive where they came from and how they came into being. In doing so, I will trace those implications of Kavolis’s thought that evidently evoke theoretical dialogue and further elaboration. My analysis rests basically on what, for the American and international academic community, are unknown works of Kavolis, written to bridge the specifically Western ways of looking at society and culture on the one hand, and the Lithuanian patterns of consciousness and social existence on the other (although Kavolis’s monographs, reflecting his major contribution to both civilizational analysis and the history of consciousness, are also included in the frame of reference). It is hoped that such an arbitrary selection of Kavolis’s theoretical legacy, accompanied by somewhat unusual emphases, might serve as a certain interpretive key in understanding the origins and meaning of his social and cultural criticism.




Many concepts and definitions of social and cultural criticism have been offered by the 20th century sociologists and intellectual historians. Yet, I am not tempted to join the mainstream interpretation of the social and cultural criticism by simply reducing it to the spread of left-wing radical (i.e., more or less related to Marxism) ideas in the social sciences and the humanities; nor would I refer to it as a mere social disconnectedness of a scholar/intellectual from his/her milieu; nor am I going to treat it as an allegedly obsessive revisionism. Rather, the point is to deal with the social and cultural criticism as the immanent and inescapable part, or even inner spring, of the modern social sciences and of the humanities. Such a standpoint is the only one that makes sense from the perspective of this turn of the millennia.

One recalls Louis Dumont’s statement on the need to reconcile truth and value that have been radically separated and contrasted to each other by modernity. This was particularly so in Kantian philosophy where the gap or rather abyss between truth and value acquired its paradigmatic form. Dumont calls for a reconciliation of the two within the framework of a modern symbolic configuration.2 I too would like to point out that a sharp dividing line between truth and value, in the context of the social sciences and the humanities is artificial and even false. Moreover, the radical distinction between truth and value simply does not work in tracing the phenomena of human consciousness. It refers to the ambitious epistemological program of modernity, rather than to the allegedly principal feature characteristic of the social sciences themselves (not to mention the humanities).

In the discursive universe of both social analysis and the interpretation of culture, value reveals itself as always lurking behind truth. The moral argument may quite naturally be extended to, and translated into, the explanatory framework. This is to say that value is always prior to truth. More than that, value is the very starting point in the quest for truth ; therefore, the former obviously underlies the latter.

Any study in social philosophy, sociology, intellectual history, anthropology or literary theory, which has some implications for social and/or cultural criticism, becomes part of its author’s intellectual and moral autobiography, thus mapping his/her existential and social experiences. Social analysts and/or interpreters of culture usually arrive at the subjects of their studies through their value orientations and moral choices, rather than through specifically theoretical preconditions. (One might wonder whether and how it would be possible theoretically to explain one’s dedication to, say, the study of medieval European culture, the latter being taken as a more or less conscious alternative to, and a basis for, the critique of the predominant tendencies and limitations of modernity and of its consciousness/culture as well.) Social analysts or interpreters of culture first release their social, historical, cultural and moral imaginations. Then they employ the diverse techniques of analysis/interpretation, which afterwards are qualified and named by various referent groups in terms of analytical approaches, strategies of research, methods, perspectives, multi- and interdisciplinary studies, etc.

This statement may well be exemplified by the fact that almost all major students of nationalism seek to understand the relationship between their individual identity, and the collective identity of the nation and its culture they take as their existential priority, background and choice. In fact, Anthony D. Smith and Ernest Gellner, though they have never been explicit on this issue, have been trying to conceive how modern Jewish nationalism and the modern state of Israel came into being. In so doing, they have provided a broad historical context and comparative perspective: one can perceive oneself insofar as the Other is perceived.

At this point, the case of the late Gellner is very interesting. He seems to have arrived at the comparative study of Muslim societies and of Islamic civilization by driving at his initial intention. This was to explore the constellation and symbolic configuration of, to use his own terms, the Great Tradition/High Culture and popular culture (and, of course, the viability or, on the contrary, fragility of this constellation) within the frame of both Islamic and Jewish histories and civilizations.3

This is how the social analyst’s imagination works. It by no means implies a certain narrow-mindedness on the part of those eminent scholars. It suffices to recall how theoretically broad and empirically inclusive was Gellner’s horizon by referring to the major issues he was addressing in his works: the relationship between the great doctrinal and scriptural religions and the realm of political power; the interplay between the predominant political ideologies of modernity and the dynamics of modern secularized society; the constant tension between human modularity and idiocratic communities. The latter he traced from the specifically Islamic principle of Umma to the Communist regimes’ political practices.

Therefore, the disciplinary choice, methodological preference, and emphasis placed on some subject matter by scholars, accompanied by their conscious attachment to the society analyzed/culture interpreted4 — thus bridging the individual identity and experience, on the one hand, and a certain social/cultural whole, on the other — are inevitably caused by his/her moral stance and value orientation. Nothing but the scholar’s sophistication and skill may hide his/her value orientation, political or ideological preferences, fidelity to one or another cultural tradition, and the like, thus dissolving those things in the precise formulations and incisive analytical language. As Vytautas Kavolis has noted himself, it makes sense to rely on the ideological assumptions and value systems in formulating the questions, but not in searching for the answers.

In this problematical focus, Vytautas Kavolis appears as one of those highly integral 20th century intellectuals whose critical thought was in constant interplay with the subject matters chosen for the analysis, and whose disciplinary choices or methodological preferences were derived from, and suggested by, their existential social experiences. The ways of looking at society and culture, conceptualized and articulated by Kavolis, obviously reflect his passionate striving for the active participation in, and even symbolic correction of, social reality.

It suffices to glance at his numerous social and cultural critiques written in his native Lithuanian, in order to see how prescriptive was Kavolis’s discourse in dealing with Lithuania’s history or present Lithuanian society and culture. His point was to show where, how and why his country fails to represent or share those principles, norms, ideals and values which Kavolis himself was passionately advocating.

Kavolis’s social and cultural criticism would be unthinkable without the methodologies elaborated and vitalized by him — the civilization analysis (along with Benjamin Nelson, Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt and Louis Dumont) and the history of consciousness. Among his predecessors and co-contributors, in theoretically constructing the latter, one could list Philippe Ariès, Michel Foucault, Louis Dumont and Hayden White. The former provides a framework within which the key components of every sociologically identifiable civilization, namely, its social structure and symbolic organization, can be traced in order to uncover the flux of symbolic meaning. The latter employs in-depth structural exploration of the dynamics of the tendencies of consciousness and of the predominant ideas in a given society, culture or historical epoch.5 Both bring us to a proper understanding of what has been suppressed in one civilization but more or less released and developed in other, as well as the models of self-understanding and the ways of perception of the Otherness.

In fact, the social analysts or interpreters of culture are condemned by virtue of their disciplinary choice and theoretical self-determination that are at once the moral choice and existential self-determination to become the social/cultural critic. If they happen to break away from social and cultural criticism, such a stance might be explained by referring to values, rather than to theory. Society and culture, if chosen as the subject matter and field of studies, imply not only analysis and symbolic correction of human reality, but critical self-reflection and capacity for self-questioning as well. Failing that, we can only conclude that the problem lies either in segmentary consciousness, losing any coherence and integrity, or in the symptomatic schism between truth and value.





One of the tensions experienced and reflected on by Kavolis (particularly, in his Lithuanian essays) is that between a self-appointed liberalism and the authentic liberal stance. In his essay, "The Current Meaning of Being Progressive," Kavolis points out that:


We feel spontaneously that we can never consider as liberal the one who, though he appoints himself to be liberal, fights for the restrictions of the freedom of discussions. This contributes to a societal atmosphere in which one is afraid to express one’s non-conformist opinion. We consider as liberal the one who, notwithstanding his ideological views and political coalition, fights for the diminution of restrictions in his milieu and in the world in general. In this sense, John XXIII and Paul VI, by virtue of having done their best to diminish restrictions within their institution, far surpass those . . . turning to mere political propagandists of anti-communism.6


Kavolis also adds that liberalism can in turn have its own limitations. As editor of Lithuanian Liberalism, a unique book indeed in the context of 20th century Lithuania, he had severely criticized the weak points of liberalism and was perfectly aware of its ups and down: "In some cases, liberalism may be unprogressive: when children are given more freedom than they can assimilate; when there is more care about criminals and their rights than about the protection of their victims. However, even in those cases when liberalism, in its effects, is unprogressive, it is assessed in terms of the effort at diminishing the restrictions, rather than in terms of some abstract principle."7

Another tension, which might be considered as the most intense and, in the theoretical sense, the most dramatic in his works, is that between liberalism and nationalism. This tension was of decisive importance to Kavolis for a couple of reasons: first, Lithuanian liberalism, mapped through Kavolis’s studies in Lithuania’s intellectual and cultural histories, had to be contextualized somehow within the frame of the modernization of Lithuanian consciousness and culture. That is, liberalism somehow had to be culturally assimilated and subsequently reconciled with Lithuanian nationalism. Second, Lithuanian nationalism has never had the theoretical and intellectual context that its counterparts have provided in other European countries.

On the other hand, for such a theoretician of responsible, i.e., morally committed, individualism as Kavolis, it was obvious that liberalism and nationalism might be not only compatible but even complementary phenomena — particularly, in bridging individual and collective identities. However, the elitarian and aristocratic nationalism of the first half of the 19th century, that is, nationalism of the so-called spring of peoples which manifested itself in Adam Mickiewicz and Giuseppe Mazzini’s visions and their struggle for peoples’ independence and freedom, had eventually transformed itself into a more exclusive nationalism. The latter, in the second half of the 19th century and, particularly, in the first half of the 20th century, was getting more and more mass, doctrinal and ideological.

So it is not accidental that the nationalism of the epoch of the spring of peoples, which has come to respect and esteem the Other’s freedom in the same way it did with regard to its own people, has been qualified by Kavolis as nothing other than a very liberal nationalism. According to Kavolis, this was replaced afterwards by the above exclusive, doctrinal nationalism permeated by what might be called, in Kavolis’s own terms, moral provincialism. In his article, "Moral Cultures: Maps, Trajectories, Tensions," Kavolis put it thus:


The danger of nationalist [moral] culture lies in its moral provincialism. Nationalism, as John Stuart Mill noted, makes people indifferent to the rights and interests of any part of humankind, except for that which is called the same name as they are, and speaks the same language they do. Not always, however, has nationalist culture been provincial. In the first half of the 19th century, Europe was full of liberal nationalists who believed that the struggle for the liberation of all peoples is but a common cause: therefore, a patriot of one people must help other peoples as well. Thus, later on, Basanavicius [one of the founding fathers of Lithuanian nationalism, the exponent of its liberal version] participated in the movement of Bulgarian democrats, and Georg Julius Justus Sauerwein [the nineteenth-century Lithuanian romantic nationalist of Sorbian origin] wrote "We Were Born Lithuanians" (and another version of the same song which was dedicated to the Sorbs). Yet, nationalism of the second half of the 19th century — in part, because of the impact of social Darwinism — moved away from the notion of universal brotherhood, enthusiastically shared by all nationalists, and reshaped itself within quite a narrow frame of the exclusive ("zoological") defense of people’s interests by all means. This is to say that nationalism got "primitive." (In many non-Western countries — for instance, in India, — the 20th century nationalism has repeated this sequence; so perhaps it might be taken as a natural part of the nationalist movement’s evolution, that is, as a consequence of the transformation of nationalism into a mass phenomenon?) Exclusive nationalism is incompatible with liberal culture which is, in principle, morally universalistic. (In the rationalist version of liberal morality: all are equal in their rights; in the Romantic version of liberal morality: all are equal in their pain which equally hurts everybody.8


The question arises: Why and how did such a focus of theoretical and ideological tension appear in Kavolis’s discursive universe? The reason seems to be quite simple. As a devoted student, theoretician and even ideologist of liberalism in at once the most inclusive and exclusive sense of the term, Kavolis was perfectly aware of the total absence and even impossibility of liberalism, in its paradigmatic Anglo-Saxon, i.e., Millian, version, in Lithuania. One’s obsessive efforts by all means to identify it in, or to impose it on, Lithuanian consciousness and culture would have led nowhere else but to a coercive falsification of Lithuania’s history, politics and culture. The origins of political liberalism, that is, its historical and sociocultural context whh originates from the emergence of the self-governing cities in medieval Western Europe and then goes across the Puritan Revolution in England and the 19th century English intellectual culture in general, can only be traced in terms of the phenomenon of the specifically Anglo-American variant of Western civilization.9

The only prerequisite of political liberalism and, at the same time, one of its historical origins, which may indeed be identified in Lithuania’s history, dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries: this is the aristocratic legacy of liberalism and some manifestations of political and religious tolerance in 16th and 17th century Lithuania. These were explored by Kavolis in his painstaking study of the Renaissance and Baroque Europe. He was fascinated by beginnings of political and religious tolerance in Lithuania that manifested themselves in Lithuania’s historical virtue of once having been a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country. This is why he considered the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural past of Lithuania its golden age.

Therefore, Kavolis had to search for what have been termed by him the responding tendencies in consciousness and culture. In other words, he had to find room within the framework of Lithuanian consciousness for the theoretically identifiable beginnings of liberalism in the form of the responding historical trajectories and tendencies of the thought and of intellectual/moral stances. This is exactly how Kavolis came to construct the concept of cultural liberalism. The latter served as a means to culturally assimilate liberalism to modern Lithuania’s mainstream value-and-idea system. (In fact, liberalism in Lithuania used to be quite frequently misinterpreted and misrepresented as just another term for agnosticism or left-wing political stances; this is still the case). Moreover, the concept of cultural liberalism came to enable Kavolis to hypostatize liberalism as such as an autonomous moral culture or even paradigm of consciousness. This sheds new light on the way Kavolis employs the comparison of the nationalist, liberal and romantic moral cultures. The nationalist moral culture, placed at the level of a broad comparative historical perspective, is assessed by him in the following way:


The moral culture of this type is deeply rooted in history; one may find its early, premodern forms in Jewish and Chinese traditions. Those traditions were but "ethnocentric," i.e., perceiving the entire virtue of the world as represented solely by their own communities. Current nationalism is said to have become, in the brightest manifestations of its maturity, "polycentric," i.e., striving for the equal and normal participation of its own nation in the whole concert of all the rest of the nations — consulting their equally valuable cultures and learning from them.10 The symbolic arena of nationalist culture is the ritual of the repetition of history, be it the never-ending campaign to reconquer Elsass or Gandhi’s demonstrations of non-violent resistance. The addresses of nationalists are just the same — the everlasting repetition of the same.11


Being aware of how problematic is the search for the origins — or at least manifestations — of liberalism in Central and East European political history, Kavolis was trying to identify and analyze both the particular liberal stances and the element of liberality itself in the history of Lithuania’s national rebirth (or, to be more precise, of Lithuanian modernity, however failing in the course of history). He had qualified the ideas and stances of the Varpas [The Bell] and Ausra [The Dawn] nationalist movements (along with those of their leaders Vincas Kudirka, Jonas Basanavicius and Jonas Sliupas) as liberal, thus drawing a sharp dividing line between liberal conservative nationalism. In so doing Kavolis was theoretically and intellectually bridging the nationalist and liberal moral cultures by employing the perspective of the history of consciousness (otherwise, he would inevitably have failed to accomplish such a task, for neither political theory nor political practice provide a sufficient basis for bridging those, one would think, mutually exclusive positions). At the same time, Kavolis was consistently trying to overcome the abyss between his own frame of reference, conceptual framework and analytical/interpretive language, on the one hand, and the mainstream Lithuanian consciousness and culture, on the other.

In his comparative studies, Kavolis impressively contextualized cultural liberalism, tracing it back to: Socrates’s ethical intellectualism and, particularly, his idea of the priority of the individual reason and conscience over the collective decisions; some elements of Christian theology stressing the crucial importance of the principle of free will; Chinese neo-Confucianists’ intellectual and moral stances; the frame of mind of the Heian epoch Japanese aristocratic culture; Hinduism; the Grand Duke of medieval Lithuania, Gediminas’s, assertion that all the ways — regardless of how distinct — lead to that same God; and even the early Islamic principle of ijtihad, according to which one is entitled to use one’s individual reason in interpreting the religious laws of Islam.12 Kavolis seems to have always been convinced that cultural liberalism, both in the West and in non-Western civilizations, spreads as the universal element of human experience, although the explicit and developed political liberalism has been unambiguously taken by him as a solely Western phenomenon of political consciousness. (Therefore, the possible implication of this thought would be as follows: cultural liberalism is possible even in those societies and cultures where political liberalism, historically thinking, has never come into being.)

The theoretically accurate, flexible and differentiating attitude toward nationalism made it possible to make clear distinction between the Herderian-Renanian paradigm of nationalism, that is, liberal nationalism par excellence, and the Action Francaise-type of reactionary, radical and integral nationalism, not to mention the grasp of how the modern Central and East European nations came into political existence. This flexible attitude assisted Kavolis in embracing the grandeur and misery of nationalism:


For liberals, the principal criterion for evaluating nationalism is that of free self-determination. The nation’s rights to political and cultural independence are protected insofar as the nation expresses its members’ self-determination to perceive themselves the way the nation represents. Yet, the liberals will always raise their voices in defense of the individuals’ rights and, above all, of the right of self-determination about how to be a human in the following cases: if the authorities of a given nation happen to determine who does belong to the nation, and who does not; what should be found in its members’ souls, and what can never be found; or if they happen to deny the normal human rights of those who do not belong to that nation/those who do not want to belong to it. The collective may be respected insofar as it respects both the individuals and the variety of their reason, conscience and life-styles. In liberal democracy, only pluralist and ethnically unlimited nationalism is acceptable, whereas assimilationist and ethnicity-cleansing nationalism can never be accepted.13


However, in bridging Lithuanian consciousness, as one of the manifestations and agencies of the nationalist moral culture and the liberal moral culture, Kavolis remained faithful to the principle of critical self-reflection. As noted, Kavolis was perfectly aware of the limitations of liberalism itself. This is why he was striving for its integration in a multidimensional, complementary and coherent framework for a more proper interpretation of the world. Both as one of the modern moral cultures and as one of the predominant political ideologies of the modern world, liberalism is merely one of many ways to reflect on social reality and the human individual, one of many possibilities to describe human consciousness in terms of existential and social experiences. In fact, being the derivative of Western rationalism and individualism (inseparable from the British empiricist tradition and common sense political philosophy as well), liberalism missed many points of human experience that are deeply grounded in other faculties of human sensibility: the sense of history, collective identity, group commitment, joint devotion, religious and mystical experiences, and the like. Needless to say those points, throughout history, have been dealt with and articulated by other moral cultures.

One of the paradoxes of liberal social philosophy and of liberal moral culture would be that the classic British version of liberalism, i.e., Millian liberalism of the 19th century, remained surprisingly insensitive to the process of the formation of new national entities, and particularly to the cultural and moral dimensions of this process. One wonders why and how this could be the case, since nothing else but liberalism came to construct the concept of the political nation thus lifting it to the rank of the key ideas of modernity. The concept of political nation came into being through the French social philosophers of the Enlightenment (at this point, nearly all the philosophes are worth mentioning here; yet, such theoreticians of equality and tolerance as Montesquieu, Condorcet, Helvétius and Bayle should be mentioned first) and Anglo-American political philosophy of the 18th and 19th centuries.

This is the reason why the disconnection of the 19th century liberalism with regard to those dramas and passions that captivated half of Europe is really surprising. Most probably because of this Kavolis, in his works, mentions from time to time the inability of liberalism to conceive of a number of the structures of sentiments and the nuances of emotions that are of decisive importance for individuals’ moral stances and for social connection as well.

Notwithstanding its limitations, liberalism was considered by Kavolis as the only moral culture whose very essence lies in advocating the principles of individual reason and individual conscience. Nowhere else but in the liberal moral culture and the historical prototypes that anticipated and shaped cultural liberalism has there emerged the free human being capable of determining himself by his own reason and individual conscience, and critically questioning himself and their society/culture .

It should never be forgotten, however, that nationalist moral culture has also made its substantial contribution to social and cultural criticism, for nothing but the nationalist type of moralization has promoted the connected and committed socio-cultural criticism. Through the notions of the universal brotherhood/sisterhood and the moral egalitarianism immanent to, and deeply inherent in, nationalism, nationalist moral culture has promoted the historically unprecedented social intimacy between a particular individual and their imagined14 or real community. (This moment of importance will be traced below.)

By stating the insufficiency and limitations of the liberal moral culture in embracing the variety of the forms of modern consciousness and culture, Kavolis notes:

Liberal culture itself insufficiently embraces the totality of the human essence and of the human relation with the milieu. The 19th century liberal culture took seriously neither nature, nor radical evil, nor the distinctiveness of national cultures, nor the subconscious sphere of human experiences and its demands. It failed somehow to identify the emotional reciprocities and emergent, though never verbalized, human solidarities — Seelengemeinschaften.15


At the same time, Kavolis never had any doubts about the liberal moral culture’s ability to provide a serious alternative to those negative tendencies of other moral cultures that have been termed by him moral provincialism, ecclesiastical imperialism, ascetic revolutionism and irresponsible determinism.16 Neither has Kavolis had any doubts that liberal culture underlines one of the basic human elements suppressed in other moral cultures: one’s ability rationally to judge everything by his own reason and conscience, while recognizing others’ rights to arrive at conclusions different from his, and one’s duty to perfect the ability of his judgment all the time: the problems we encounter in the course of human and civilizational development tend to become more and more complex.17

Although Kavolis has always subscribed to the liberal standpoint, the liberal moral culture, in his theoretical vision, can only acquire its real theoretical and moral value by entering the space of dialogue or even polylogue with other — both classic and modern — moral cultures. The same interpretive principle of polylogue, translated from his moral stance into the explanatory framework, has been applied by Kavolis to the comparative study of civilizations: there are no (and in principle there cannot be) self-sufficient civilizations, since some of them come to release and develop something that is inevitably suppressed, or at least neglected, in others. Thus, the comparative study of civilizations coincides with social and cultural criticism — they even enroll in one while tracing the models of self-understanding and of the perception of the Other.

This is precisely the theoretical context and moral focus whence the idea of the bridging of moral cultures (that is, the idea of one’s free participation in several moral cultures, which implies the critical questioning and symbolic correction of one’s own culture from a comparative perspective). This is also source of the idea of the complementarity of civilizations, behind which manifest themselves not only the civilizational analyst’s theoretical preconditions and working hypotheses, but the trajectories of his/her conscience and transcivilizational empathy as well. Therefore, the scholar’s participation in, and critical examination of, several moral cultures (i.e., one’s capacity for reflection on one’s own participation in several models of cultural logic, thus theoretically attaching oneself to, and contextualizing in, their interplay) becomes part of the scholar’s moral biography. In so doing, he/she places himself/herself in the imaginary gallery of other individuals and in the symbolic archives of their moral biographies as well.

Kavolis has advanced the following hypothetic thesis on the contrasting logics of moral cultures:


Moral cultures have different logics that tend to contradict each other. The thinking of those who participate in, at once, several moral cultures (i.e., the thinking of those who think from within of the contemporary person’s existential situation) should rest on their clear awareness of the inexorable conflicts between these cultures and of the ways of dealing with these conflicts: What kinds of things are to be bridged? What kinds of abysses (or of qualitative stumblings) are to be accepted and penetrated by their lives and destiny? One of the tensions, which manifests itself in the contemporary liberal culture of the West, is as follows: Is rational public life possible when intimate culture is romantically anarchist? Should one search for the common ground for these separated spheres of modern existence? If so, should one return to some traditional concept of transcendence or should one move forward towards the totality of human experiences as a common link between what has been separated by modernity? 18


Kavolis seems to have penetrated the very core of modernity and its challenge by offering this inclusive theoretical alternative. How to react to the challenge of modernity? How to accept it? (This problematical focus sheds new light on postmodernism as one of the possible responses to the fundamental theoretical alternative and existential dilemma formulated by Kavolis. He considered postmodernism to be a possible way to reconcile those things that have been taken by modernity as incompatible in principle, rather than as merely fashionable trend.) How to reconcile and bridge what has been ruthlessly separated by modernity: truth and value; rationality and emotional intimacy; expertise and sensitivity; hierarchy and equality/individualism; tradition and innovation; the classic canon and the released creative experiment; metaphysics and phenomenal science; the particular individual and community; the particular community and universal humanity?

One of the possible ways would be the return to metaphysics and religion (that is, to what has been called by Kavolis the traditional concept of transcendence) — the phenomena that have been, from the point of view of the split between truth and value, neutralized, relativized and, consequently, placed by modernity on the margin of consciousness and existence. Another way (suggested by the sequence and logic of Kavolis’s thought and by his ambitious epistemic program for both the social sciences and the humanities) would be rather an attempt at analytically embracing and, by attaching the dimensions of value and meaning, encompassing the totality of human experiences through the comparative study of civilizations. The latter implies the analysis of the flux of symbolic meaning and of the change of the structures of consciousness over time in Western and non-Western civilizations by capitalizing on civilizational analysis and the history of consciousness.

Modernity with a human face — this term, coined by Kavolis, refers to the need for sensibility in social analysis and the interpretation of culture. Both coincide with social and cultural criticism, since they are constantly accompanied by the tension between the "is" dimension and the "ought" dimension. On the other hand, truth and value can never be located in a single culture or civilization. Truth and value disseminate insofar as a comparison of the complementary, though distinct, models of self-understanding are employed.

Kavolis was an exponent of modern sociological disciplines, theory of civilizations and sociology of culture. It was he who invented such a hardly possible sociological discipline as the sociology of the fine arts. Yet he seems never to have been tempted to exaggerate the significance either of Western scholarship or of Western intellectual culture in general. He has been interested in Western civilization’s "conquest and exodus". Kavolis used this term introduced by Eric Voegelin in his philosophy of history,19 although he did not subscribe to Voegelin’s point of view). Kavolis was interested not only in the Western political and cultural accomplishments, crises and cul-de-sacs, but in the possibility of theoretically contextualizing its civilization by conceiving of it within, in Kavolis’s own terms, the idiom of both self and civilization.

The question is: Whether it is possible adequately to conceive of Western civilization only within the framework of the modern configuration of values and ideas, i.e., in the context of the West and of modernity, which mean virtually the same? This issue might be referred to as the very point of departure for Kavolis’s notion of the comparative study of civilizations: to provide an interpretive and conceptual framework for self-understanding within the idiom of self-and-civilization, thus transforming the comparative studies into, or at least tingeing them with, one’s own intellectual and moral biography. In this way Kavolis arrived at both civilizational analysis and the history of consciousness. His enthusiasm about, and dedication to, the comparative studies had nothing to do with the doctrine of political correctness. Kavolis’s civilizationist commitment is much more likely to have been directly related to his intellectual conscience. The latter, as the conditio sine qua non for transcivilizational empathy and theoretical sensibility in general, seems to have become one of the principal categories not only for Kavolis but for his predecessor Benjamin Nelson as well.20

However, for Kavolis, modernity was too complex a phenomenon to be reduced to some simplistic schemes or over-generalizations: he took modernity instead in the all-encompassing variety of its forms and national variants. Tracing some anti-modernist intellectual and moral stances or the anti-modernist tendencies of the consciousness of a given society (e.g., examining a series of the failed modernizations in Central/East European countries), Kavolis perceived them as but an inescapable and unavoidable part of modernization itself.

For instance, one of the most interesting implications of Kavolis’s concept of modernization is his statement that nothing but modernity comes to reveal/invent the tradition, for, according to him, we simply do not have another interpretive framework to articulate it except that within which historical consciousness and historical narratives disseminate. In fact, historical consciousness (i.e., backward- and forward-looking consciousness critically questioning or even rejecting the present) is just another term for modernity. Therefore, the stances of traditionalists and even of fundamentalists of various kinds — no matter whether they are aware of it or not — are merely a certain inversion of modernity. Other conceptual or interpretive frameworks, within which it would be possible to reflect on traditions or traditional cultures or premodern civilizations, simply do not exist.

This statement might best be exemplified by referring to Kavolis’s analytical study, "Civilizational Paradigms in Current Sociology: Dumont vs. Eisenstadt." Having noted that Dumont is evidently criticizing modernity from a premodern perspective, Kavolis points out:


What is problematic about this type of critical theory is that Dumont judges modernity from premodern premises (which, he argues, have in crucial respects been validated by the shortcomings of modern experience). Dumont justifies choosing this perspective by arguing that the premodern is, in the experience of humanity, the typical case, the modern the exceptional. . . . But it might also be thought that the premodern should be approached through the particular version of the modern (taking for granted that modernity emerges in culturally diverse forms) in which the directions of development of the former are revealed.21


Yet, the discursive map of Kavolis’s social and cultural criticism, as well as his intellectual portrait in the broader sense, would miss the point if we passed by one more important aspect of his personality and activities. Kavolis seems to have never been a disconnected academic professional locked solely within a narrow world of academic references and connections. I am referring not only to Kavolis’s intellectual and moral commitment to Lithuanian culture, but also to his need for active participation in, and symbolic correction of, the society and culture that have been freely and consciously identified by Kavolis as his own.

In other words, he needed not only to construct cultural theory but symbolically to construct as well a dynamic cultural practice which he could symbolically complement, correct or at least affect somehow through his explanatory framework, interpretive skill and incisiveness, and massive analytic equipment. After all, Kavolis has always striven not for the formation of his referent group sensu stricto, but rather for the formation of his Seelengemeinschaft, that is, the community of souls providing some intellectual and emotional intimacy of human connection. As cultural theoretician, Kavolis has always been trying to transcend purely theoretical constructs in order to enter the dynamics and mundane reality of his own culture, and, then, to experience and describe them from within. This is why Kavolis has come to define Lithuanian culture in terms of a certain cultural workshop, thus bridging the dimension of cultural theory and cultural practice. In doing so, he has been tracing and critically examining, in his own culture and its political/linguistic practices, those forms and models of the universally valid human experience that have been suggested by his comparative studies and theoretical reconstructions of society and culture.

Exactly the same might be said about Kavolis as sociologist. He has been very active in the construction of Lithuania’s social and cultural reality, thus transcending the limits of social analysis and trying to find out whether his imagined community is constituting itself as the society par excellence. That is, as a common political and legal framework for the self-activating public domain moved by both the political and moral commitment and by human trust, rather than as a mere arithmetic totality of atomized and victimized human individuals.

At this point, Kavolis appears to have been nearly the paradigmatic intellectual. His life and intellectual/moral stance may well illustrate the notion of intellectuals, widespread in the current studies of the issue, as the agency of consciousness. Kavolis was the intellectual by definition, a man of the movement. For him his group was of great importance in experiencing a collective identity/group commitment or cultivating a strong sense of "us" against "them". Without his vigorous journalism, persuasion, political propagandizing, polemic passion, and even ruthless irony targeted at the conservative part of the Lithuanian emigré community in the U.S., Kavolis would be unthinkable. He saw his group as important also in disseminating his social and cultural imagination and implementing his ideas.22

Every intellectual movement comes into existence through a certain kind of self-legitimizing discourse or rather metadiscourse from which there result such phenomena as: theoretical strategies, methodological preferences and disciplinary choices; the proliferation of the social sciences and/or the humanities; keywords (such as "the people," "freedom," "tolerance," "justice," "equality," "liberalism," "human rights," etc.); and the discourse — i.e., the complex of the modes of speaking and thinking — of something that is equally important for all members of a given group or movement.

Such a metadiscourse or background consciousness containing the significations/signifying centers of social reality, on the one hand, and the strategies or modes of speaking of them, on the other, needs the Grand Text — it may well be a program document or manifesto or encyclopedia (as in case of the Encyclopédie of the French Enlightenment movement) or journal (as in case of the Ausra [The Dawn] and Varpas [The Bell], nationalist movements and their journals on the eve of the emergence of modern Lithuania).

For Kavolis, the Santara-Sviesa [The Concord-Light] union (that is, the cultural union of Lithuanian émigré liberals in the U.S. headed by Kavolis) has virtually become both his intellectual/cultural movement and Seelengemeinschaft; whereas the vision of modern, liberal and West-oriented Lithuania, accompanied by the search for the new political and cultural discourse capable of contextualizing and articulating Lithuanian liberalism, has served as the above metadiscourse. Subsequently, the Metmenys [Patterns] — i.e., the journal of the Santara-Sviesa movement edited by Kavolis from 1959 to 1996 — has become his Grand Text.

It suffices to glance at the way Kavolis has been leading the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations to prove that he has always been the program intellectual, a man of the movement par excellence. In the U.S. (or, to be more precise, in the Anglo-American world), the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations has become, for Kavolis, his intellectual movement and Seelengemeinschaft, while his international metadiscourse might have been defined, in his own terms, as the search for the "multicivilizational universe of discourse" in the social sciences and the humanities.23 Needless to say the Comparative Civilizations Review has served, for Kavolis, as the Grand Text, even in the sense of a certain historical narrative. The movement of North American civilizationists, initiated by Pitirim A. Sorokin and then essentially influenced by Nelson and Kavolis, seems to have been perceived by Kavolis as somewhat the collective alter ego of the Santara-Sviesa movement (the latter named, not incidentally, by Kavolis the Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies; thus his intellectual and moral commitment coincided). Exactly the same may be said about the invisible kinship between the Metmenys and the Comparative Civilizations Review.

Kavolis’s attempts at reconciling and bridging those moral cultures and cultural logics which though separated by modernity, as noted, have always been present behind his scholarly projects and academic activities. The following passage, dealing with the tension between the rational public life and the romantically anarchist intimate culture in the Santara-Sviesa movement, shows how deeply permeated by the challenge of modernity were Kavolis’s individual existence and public life:


Perhaps, throughout the history of Lithuanian cultural movements, this tension has nowhere else been so dramatic as in the spiritual universe of the Santara-Sviesa where both of these stances — the rational public life and the romantically anarchist intimate culture — are equally intensively emphasized, equally spontaneously accepted.24


The theoretical construct, therefore, had to be embodied in cultural practice and mundane reality. On the other hand, even the theory itself turns out to be quite frequently inspired by human friendship.





Kavolis’s works on both "the ambiguous man" and "the pathologies of ambiguity" throw new light on his notion of social and cultural criticism. The distinction between the "unambiguous man" and the "ambiguous man" refers to cultural psychology — one more boundary discipline balancing between the social sciences and the humanities — which has been elaborated by Kavolis. (Such disciplines as cultural psychology or literary sociology or sociology of fine arts resulted from Kavolis’s conscious attempts at crossing the boundaries of disciplines, on the one hand, and bridging the social sciences and the humanities, on the other.) Hence Kavolis’s studies in comparative social pathologies examining the origins of destructiveness and tracing the models of evil.

Once more, let me recall the fact that Kavolis was an untypical sociologist. Moreover, the frame of sociology was too narrow for him. Not in vain, one of Kavolis’s main theoretical ambitions was to provide a multi- and interdisciplinary framework for a civilization analysis within which it would be possible to bridge social philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology (particularly, symbolic anthropology based on the interpretive framework of Clifford Geertz’s works — it was one of Kavolis’s methodological and disciplinary preferences), intellectual history, cultural history, historical semantics, semiotics, and literary theory.

He was by no means a globalist, globalization theory seeming to have been outside Kavolis’s scholarly concerns. He was by no means dreaming about certain "great syntheses;" nor was he longing for the revival of the Grand Theory. Kavolis never had any doubts about the priority given to the relationship between theoretical sophistication and empirical evidence, rather than to purely speculative thought. Therefore, psychohistorical anthroposociology — such a term was first coined by Nelson and Kavolis for civilization analysis — came to refer not to a certain pigeon-holing methodology but, on the contrary, to joint disciplinary dedication to the analysis of such problems that are hardly possible for particular disciplines to embrace or at least to handle. Note that Kavolis was always stressing short-term, ad hoc disciplinary alliances that are very easy to dismantle immediately upon one’s arrival at some conclusion summing up the complex research.

Small wonder, then, that it was vital for Kavolis to demonstrate, in the perspective of cultural psychology, how the structural shifts of symbolic meanings and/or the symptoms of societies, historical epochs, cultures, and civilizations in crisis manifest themselves through a particular human individual and his/her behavior or stance. One should admit that a society or culture in crisis inevitably reveals itself through the individual consciousness/human individual in crisis. One of such manifestations of culture in crisis is what has been termed by Kavolis the ambiguous man.

In his analytical study, "The Pathologies of Ambiguity," Kavolis notes that a number of humans quite frequently reveal, for themselves, their psychic ambiguity, although they become absolutely clear and unambiguous in forming or at least influencing other humans’ behavior and stances. In Kavolis’s opinion, the ambiguous man longs especially for intense experiences: this kind of striving for intensity, which is psychoanalytically identifiable and exploitable, jeopardizes not only the personality of the ambiguous man, but the entire modern consciousness and culture as well. According to Kavolis, where there prevails the striving for intensity, there predominates — quite often — the authoritarian style in both thinking and decision-making, even when the conscious contents of the thought is libertarian:


Let’s take, for example, Marcuse or the Living Theater. The intensity diggers quite naturally tend to think in polarities contrasting "truth" to "error," or "virtue" to "meanness," instead of searching for some missing links and nuances. Those nuances represent nothing other but the psychic ambiguity in their character which they consider unbearable and try to repress with arbitrary, though "real," moments of intensity. This is why they, even in demanding the freedom of choice, expect others to choose their way to be free or even their way to conceive of freedom. The dogmatic demands to the world spring from the inner ambiguity of personality. One can be preserved by the vigorous terms from one’s inner dissolvement. (Psychoanalysts used to identify this mechanism in the earlier, more or less romantic, Russian revolutionaries.) Dogmatism is the mechanical stabilization of the ambiguous man, rather than the organic one springing from the depth of his personality. (Yet, this kind of protective armor, deep inside the ambiguous man, sooner or later comes to crack down and destroy either the ambiguous man himself or others.)25


One of the possible implications of Kavolis’s thought would be that the ambiguous man, being incapable of analytically grasping and critically questioning himself, eventually comes to misrepresent social reality itself projecting on it those painful elements of his personality and experience that are too hard for him either to understand or to eliminate from himself. (It would be some kind of dogmatism which springs from cognitive dissonance.) Therefore, if "the dogmatic demands to the world spring from the inner ambiguity of personality," dogmatism itself is merely an illusion of both the clear standpoint and transparent thought.

One’s striving for intensity in one’s milieu actually betrays one’s ability critically to analyze neither oneself nor human reality as it is — before its enchantment with some kind of ideological magic, idiocratic formulas, carnal and psychic experiments, and the like. The dogmatic/ambiguous man is incapable of critically analyzing at all: he is capable only either of creating some gloomy prophecies or of symbolically excommunicating those who are considered to be a threat to the body social and its nearly mystical coherence. When the quest for enemies comes to replace critical analysis, his troubled imagination easily provides a group target.

Kavolis offers an even more strict formulation: "The demand of intensity may be easier satisfied by action — or by "carnal thinking," i.e., by the substitution of thought for motions and sounds, — than by the intellectual (especially, disciplined), self-critical analysis; it may be easier satisfied by the destruction of what is present (or by some bizarre experiments) than by the creation of something new."26 Then we can observe a sudden transition of Kavolis’s thought to the new theme which was most probably of great personal importance for him: "This may throw new light on the ambiguous human tendency toward cultural pessimism, that is, to extreme criticism of a given culture and its institutions. Such criticism was widespread in Germany from the end of the 19th century to the Weimar period, and it prepared the soil for the Nazi `Utopia’. . . . This case falsifies the standpoint that criticism is always a remedy of society."27

Kavolis’s statement implies that the extreme, radical and detached social and cultural criticism (or, to use one of Michael Walzer’s key terms, disconnected criticism)28 flourishes in the countries which have a relatively weak tradition of politically committed, i.e., connected, social and cultural criticism. So Kavolis might have employed the following working hypothesis. Disconnected criticism (which I would define as ad extra criticism) and cultural pessimism come into existence where it was virtually impossible to disseminate either utopian imagination (in its classical shape) or connected critical thought, i.e., the ad intra criticism. This could be either because of a historically short, weak and fragile tradition of liberal democracy (as in nearly the entire Central and Eastern Europe, except for the Czech lands) or because of the historically unprecedented oppressiveness of the state power structure and the deeply grounded gap between culture and politics (as in Russia).

The question arises: Whether and how social criticism is possible where there is neither public domain nor elaborate public political discourse, and where criticism can manifest itself only either through the anti-structural movements (as, for instance, the skomoroch — Russian tricksters in semi-Byzantine medieval Russia or, say, the yurodivye in the Russia of Ivan the Horrible or of Boris Godunov) or through exaggerated cultural pessimism, over-generalizations and gloomy prophecies? What remains of the society as such if the public domain and public political discourse happen to be eliminated? Where can connected criticism come from if this be the case? It would be difficult to imagine a West European or North American critical thinker depicting his/her country in the way the great Russian cultural pessimists Piotr Chaadaev and Vladimir Pechorin did. Only by noting the difference between the latter, on the one hand, and, for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson or William Morris or Samuel Butler, on the other, can one properly understand the crucial difference between ad extra and ad intra criticism.

One of the most profound of Kavolis’s insights into the moral origins of the nationalist critique of nationalism, that is, of social and cultural criticism within the framework of the nationalist moral culture, reveals a hardly identifiable basis for the politically and morally committed criticism in the 20th century:


The liberal and romantic moral cultures, after all, are rooted respectively in the individual’s rational (ascetic) and emotional (mystical) depth, whereas the nationalist moral culture rests on community, i.e., a historically concrete, "natural" community, which, on a voluntary and mystical basis is maintained or revived by the committed individual. The individual finds himself as having received a significant part of his moral substance from his community, and is prepared to hand over this substance, after having it refracted through his own experience, to the next generation of community members. But inasmuch as his community’s experience becomes his personal substance, part of his identity, he strictly judges this community and its history rejecting those things that are perceived by him as a deformation of his moral character. At the same time, he judges himself asking whether his contribution to community coincides with what it needs the most.29


Then Kavolis ironically sums it up: ". . . What it actually needs, not necessarily coincides, in the nationalist view, with what its people concretely want. The nationalist follows and conforms to a theory which provides the ready-made answer to what the people want, not to opinion polls of the population."30 Therefore, if the social/cultural critic, instead of participating in several moral cultures, limit and reduce themselves to a single nationalist moral culture, they betray either the symptoms of ambiguity in their consciousness and moral stance, accompanied by the striving for intensity and political power, or a shabby individual identity, accompanied by a desperate need for some kind of symbolic compensation or dissolution into the mystical collective body.

This is to say the ambiguous man can never become a connected critic. Such human ambiguity may easily transform itself into the ambivalence of severe critiques of those social phenomena (certain models of social order or of culture, modes of human interaction and self-expression, institutional practices, networks of social organization, etc.) that are considered by the critic to be alien and hostile to his/her imagined community and its lost golden age. Needless to say this is nothing other than the classic love-hate attitude one can direct either to oneself or to others. In brief, the connected critic is unthinkable without what has been called by Kavolis a clear structure of identity and personality.

The connected social and cultural criticism might best be defined in the following way: it implies and rests on one’s ability to experience the dynamics and dissemination of one’s society and culture as one’s own drama, while treating social analysis as the correction of the field of one’s own intellectual possibilities and moral choices. In other words, criticism means one’s ability to absorb the most symptomatic tendencies of social and cultural change taking place in one’s society and culture, and, then, to return them — permeated by one’s individual experience and theoretical articulation — to one’s community or society, in the form of critical warning or of intellectual and moral trial.

The most proper context of Kavolis, as social and cultural critic, is the company of "the nationalist critics of nationalist politics", following the way in which Michael Walzer has described Martin Buber.31 This company is primarily represented by such non-conformist and politically committed critics as Albert Einstein and Martin Buber — both dedicated Zionists, though mavericks and dissenters in the Zionist movement, who frequently criticized the Zionist movement leaders and their policies. As Walzer has incisively noted, Julien Benda — the very embodiment of disconnected criticism — would undoubtedly have thought such a position impossible.32 However, Benda would most probably have in turn been labeled by Kavolis as an ambiguous critic.

The question may arise: Does it make any sense to compare a Lithuanian émigré interactionist sociologist and civilizationist with an Austrian-Jewish philosopher and theologian, the founding father of the dialogue-based personalism, and both a committed Zionist and one of the most severe critics of its politics? Such a comparison makes sense in many respects. First, like Buber who might best be defined as the philosopher of the return, Kavolis is the withdrawal-and-return sociologist (to slightly modify Arnold J. Toynbee’s term). Both have severely and consistently criticized what has been perceived by them as the object of their devotion — their imagined communities that have eventually come into being as nation-states — and both have essentially contributed to the nation-building process. One would think that it is they of whom Lewis Coser has said: "We are likely to be especially critical of the things we love."33

Second, another common feature of Kavolis and Buber is their particular intellectual sensibility, which may well be described in terms of theoretical and moral empathy. It suffices to recall Kavolis stressing the importance of the ethics of compassion, inherent in the romantic moral culture (as in the romantic version of liberal morality: all are equal in their pain which equally hurts everybody), and of the perception of the Other. Walzer characterizes Buber’s empathy by referring not only to him, but to the Talmud as well: "`It is only common sense,’ as the Talmud says. `Who knows that your blood is redder [than his]? Perhaps his blood is redder’. . . . The same argument holds with regard to the group: `There is no scale of values for the function of peoples. One cannot be ranked above another’."34 Both Buber and Kavolis, by virtue of having been dialogue theoreticians par excellence, have raised their voices against instrumental and manipulative exchanges. Last but not least, both can be analyzed as nearly paradigmatic cases of liberal nationalism which always has its universalistic moral implications.

Kavolis’s attitude to the intellectual, emphasizing ascetic self-discipline, self-denying love of work, and self-dedication, evidently relates to the universalist origins of the liberal moral stance. As Walzer puts it: "The crucial moral principle of the true intellectual has the form of a self-denying ordinance. This was perfectly expressed many centuries ago by a Jewish sage giving advice to other sages and would-be sages: ‘Love work, do not domineer over others, and never seek the intimacy of public officials’."35 This attitude obviously penetrates Kavolis’s closing remark on the cultural liberal: "For the cultural liberal, it suffices to do his work, to be immune to various distractions, and to resist moral corruptions in himself."36

It is very important to note that Kavolis, in spite of his fidelity and commitment to his native Lithuania, has never completely identified himself with anything, thus preserving his critical distance and individual independence from the establishments, political authorities and bureaucracies. His stance might best be summed up by referring, once more, to Walzer’s words on Albert Einstein: "A man of passion and detachment, he found his own equilibrium in a balance of the two."37 These words perfectly fit Vytautas Kavolis as well.




My main task, in this study, to substantiate the working hypothesis that Kavolis’s great theoretical ambition to bridge the social sciences and the humanities, their disciplines and approaches, methods and perspectives, etc., was nothing other than a continuation and derivative of his great ethical intention to bridge the distinct moral cultures and models of self-understanding. This is exactly how value comes to manifest itself in the universe of the social and cultural critic’s discourse, constantly underlying what we take as truth, i.e., the adequatio rei et intellectus.

Therefore, Kavolis’s multi- and inter-disciplinary studies of society and culture can be depicted as the very tip of the iceberg, beneath which there lurks his conscious and even highly prescriptive participation in the distinct, though complementary, realms of human existence (in Kavolis’s terms, in the distinct symbolic logics and frames of meaning). Having defined civilizations — the largest comprehensive and sociologically identifiable sociocultural entities — as symbolic designs emanating values and meanings for human self-understanding and self-fulfillment, over time Kavolis has come to treat the comparative study of civilizations not only as a specifically theoretical project, but as a phenomenon of transcivilizational sensibility and conscience as well. Such a concept of civilization, which deals with it as consisting of social structures and symbolic organization, came from Nelson’s works (Kavolis has acknowledged that Nelson has been a major contributor to this perspective — a perspective which seems to prevail in current comparative studies).38

Like all great theoreticians who are — by virtue of being provocative and challenging — far ahead of plain empiricism and obedient school-theorizing, Kavolis had some vulnerable points in his analytical studies and interpretive essays. (As noted, Kavolis applied interactionist sociology to the comparative study of civilizations.) Having capitalized on some humanist interpretive techniques and cultural (particularly, literary) documents, he crossed the boundaries of disciplines to expand the horizon of the social analysis, let alone his numerous challenges to the things that had been taken for granted before. Yet, he took empirical data and information about societies and cultures solely from scholarly journals and books. This is why his direct contact with social reality sometimes seems to be problematic (although Kavolis’s rare theoretical and cross-cultural sophistication has essentially contributed to the incisiveness of his social analyses.) Moreover, Kavolis took empirical data on non-Western civilizations solely from secondary sources, i.e., the monographs and studies written by other authors, where the facts and data were already refracted through a certain explanatory framework or analytical scheme. Most probably, this is one of the unavoidable problems of every methodologist and conceptualist.

Kavolis’s last theoretical concerns revolved around the problem of human trust, which was lifted by him to the rank of a fundamental sociological issue. How does the human capacity for association and communication, originating from such unimportant things as various voluntary societies and clubs, eventually turn into the mighty social capital from which there results the modern — pluralist and civil — society? Why do humans, in well-organized social life, no longer cling together or strive for, in Kavolis’s terms, the "strong" relations and extremely intense friendships (that would be perceived as the only hope for the meaning of their lives)? Why is this still the case in Central and East European countries where intense and strong human friendship is frequently accompanied by absolute mistrust regarding the state and its institutions, i.e., the forms of organized societal life? How does society — which should never be confused with the arithmetic totality of human beings — originate in general? These questions reflect the basic sociological concerns of Kavolis in his last Lithuanian contributions. They show him as having returned to the primary questions of the social analyst and critic.

The critic is always in the universe of primary questions and in the situation of a permanent beginning.


Chair, Philosophy Department

Director, Comparative Civilizations Center

University of Klaipeda, Lithuania;

Swedish Institute Fellow (Guest Researcher)

University of Gothenburg, Sweden




1. Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), p. 11.

2. See Louis Dumont, "On Value," in The Proceedings of the British Academy, 66 (1980), pp. 207-41.

3. On the similarities of Jewish, Christian and Islamic civilizations (in terms of social structure and symbolic organization), and on the spread of nationalism in the great monotheistic civilizations as well, see Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

4. On the distinction between the analysis of (social) structure and the interpretation of (cultural) energy from a civilization-analytic perspective see Vytautas Kavolis, "Structure and Energy: Toward a Civilization-Analytic Perspective," in Comparative Civilizations Review, 1 (1979), pp. 21-41.

5. For more on the history of consciousness and civilizational analysis, see Vytautas Kavolis, "History of Consciousness and Civilization Analysis," in Comparative Civilizations Review, 17 (1987), pp. 1-19; Vytautas Kavolis, Civilization Analysis as a Sociology of Culture (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995).

6. Vytautas Kavolis, "Siandienine pazangumo reiksme" (The Current Meaning of Being Progressive), in Virginijus Gasiliunas, ed., Metmenu laisvieji svarstymai: 1959-1989 (Free Debates of the Metmenys: 1959-1989) (Vilnius: Lietuvos rasytoju sajungos leidykla [The Lithuanian Writers Union Press], 1993), p. 58.

7. Ibid.

8. Vytautas Kavolis, "Moralines kulturos: zemelapiai, trajektorijos, itampos" (Moral Cultures: Maps, Trajectories, Tensions), in Metmenu laisvieji svarstymai, op. cit., pp. 184-85.

9. This statement may best be proved and exemplified by the dialogue between French and Anglo-American political philosophies and paradigms of political thought. The most incisive, profound and subtle analysis of the differences between the Anglo-American world and continental Europe (from the point of view of political consciousness, social order, political and religious practices) has been provided by Alexis de Tocqueville: his magnum opus De la démocratie en Amérique (1835) remains unsurpassed and even unchallenged as the comparative study of political liberalism, democracy and individualism. On the late and strange birth of liberalism in France (French intellectuals having failed to essentially contribute to the formation and dissemination of liberalism after the epoch of the Enlightenment), see Mark Lilla, "The Strange Birth of Liberal France," in The Wilson Quarterly (Fall 1994), pp. 106-20.

10. This difference has been examined by Anthony D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 158-60. Kavolis refers to this position himself.

11. Kavolis, "Moralines kulturos . . .," op. cit., pp. 183-84.

12. See Vytautas Kavolis, "Liberalaus galvojimo erdveje" (In the Space of the Liberal Thinking) in Metmenys (Patterns), 63 (1992), p. 39.

13. Ibid., p. 38.

14. The term "imagined political community," coined by Benedict Anderson for the definition of the nation, seems to express the very essence of both the nationalist moral culture and of nationalist historical and cultural imaginations. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991), pp. 5-7.

15. Kavolis, "Moralines kulturos . . .," op. cit., p. 191.

16. Later on, Kavolis, in his monograph, Moralizing Cultures, comes to name the irresponsible determinism "a modern amoral culture" and "the culture of determinism." This concept, as well as the terms signifying it, obviously had assisted Kavolis in providing some incisive insights in the phenomena of the conspiracy theory, victimization and technocratic consciousness. See Vytautas Kavolis, Moralizing Cultures (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1993), pp. 48-9.

17. Kavolis, "Moralines kulturos . . .," op. cit., pp. 191-92.

18. Ibid., pp. 190-91.

19. See Eric Voegelin, Order and History, Volume 4 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), pp. 212-38.

20. For more on this issue, see Vytautas Kavolis, "Nelson’s Legacy of Comparative Studies," in E. V. Walter, Vytautas Kavolis, Edmund Leites and Marie Coleman Nelson, eds., Civilizations East and West: A Memorial Volume for Benjamin Nelson (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1985), pp. 17-24.

21. See the revised version of this study in Kavolis, Civilization Analysis as a Sociology of Culture, op. cit., p. 33.

22. Exactly those features as characteristic of the modern intellectual are referred to by Robert Darnton. In his brilliant article on the 18th century French Enlightenment movement led by the philosophes, Darnton considers the latter to have been the very prototype of what we call the intellectuals. See Robert Darnton, "George Washington’s False Teeth," in The New York Review of Books, XLIV, 5 (March 27, 1997), pp. 34-8.

23. For more on this issue, see Kavolis, "Structure and Energy: Toward a Civilization-Analytic Perspective," op. cit., p. 38.

24. Kavolis, "Moralines kulturos . . .," op. cit., p. 191.

25. Vytautas Kavolis, "Neaiskumo patologijos" (The Pathologies of Ambiguity), in Metmenu laisvieji svarstymai, op. cit., p. 126.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid. In stating this, Kavolis refers to Fritz Stern, The Politics of Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963).

28. See Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century (New York: Basic Books, 1988), pp. 3-28.

29. Kavolis, "Moralines kulturos . . .", op. cit., 183.

30. Ibid.

31. See Walzer, The Company of Critics, op. cit., p. 66.

32. See ibid., pp. 37-8; p. 66.

33. Quoted from ibid., p. 43.

34. Ibid., p. 67.

35. Ibid., pp. 43-4.

36. Kavolis, "Liberalaus galvojimo erdveje," op. cit., p. 45.

37. Walzer, The Company of Critics, op. cit. p. 38.

38. For more on this issue, see Kavolis, Civilization Analysis as a Sociology of Culture, op. cit., pp. 19-20.