- Realism, Tolerance, and Liberalism in the Czech National Awakening: Legacies of the Bohemian Reformation
This impressively-researched work argues that the Czech national awakening was neither rooted in the nineteenth century nor in language. Zdene.k David advances a revisionist thesis arguing that its roots may be located in the "happy marriage" of the Catholic Enlightenment and the Bohemian Reformation. He agrees with Thomas Masaryk against Josef Pekar. and mainstream historiography. Unlike the former, David prefers the utraquist stream of the Hussite tradition rather than the Czech Brethren, suggesting that the toleration and liberalism exhibited by utraquism formed the intellectual basis for the national awakening.
There are two major foci: first, the nature of the Czech national awakening, and second, an interpretation of later Hussite history. On the first, David is masterful. Eschewing the calamity of the Counter-Reformation, David regards the Catholic Enlightenment as the incubator. German ascendancy was foisted on Czechs by Austrian bureaucrats rather than voluntarily embraced by the awakeners. Johann Gottfried Herder was not a key player, and David presents compelling supporting evidence for that conclusion. [End Page 827] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is left out (quite rightly), whereas Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling are overshadowed by the towering influence of Bernard Bolzano. Chapters 5-11 constitute a mighty achievement that no student of modern Czech history can ignore.
The other focus of the study is not as convincing. David consistently stresses utraquist tolerance, which is a problematic claim. The utraquists actively persecuted the Czech Brethren, were opposed to any legal recognition of the Brethren, and lobbied to exclude them from the "Peace of Kutná Hora" (1485).At least one man was burned alive (1511) for protesting idolatry at a Utraquist Mass. The preacher at Prague's utraquist Tyn Church collaborated in the repression of the Brethren, and the sixteenth-century Utraquist Consistory was sometimes a tool used by royal authorities to suppress and persecute. David mentions none of this. He glosses the history as "liberal," "mellow," "irenic," "tolerant," and "permissive" and suggests this formed the basis of the national awakening.
In his earlier work, David noticed that a large number of sixteenth-century works were republished in the late-eighteenth century, and the present book is a fuller exploration of that phenomenon. Adopting R. G. Collingwood's "theory of reenactment," David argues that reading historical sources allows the reader to think the thoughts of the writer and bring the past to actuality in the present. The republication of sixteenth-century utraquist texts presents David with prima facie evidence supporting the Czech national awakening as the legacy of the Bohemian Reformation. David quotes Frantisek Pelcl, who claimed in 1781 that any Czech reading Czech-language books and familiar with Bohemian history was already something of a Hussite. The claim is spectacularly specious. Political uses of the past are detectable in the Czech revival. For example, the expulsion of a professor from his university post in Prague was likened to Hus's execution.
Although the book is not an easy read, it exhibits tremendous erudition, deep reading of the sources, and expansive knowledge; it is superbly researched and characterized by unusual dexterity especially on the national awakening. One can only admire the industry and learning of the author. The connections to the Bohemian Reformation are less convincing and considerably more tenuous, and the plot is nearly lost in the denseness of the "epiphenomena of a reified national spirit" and "ontically individualistic, epistemologically empirical" philosophy that characterized the awakening. Historians of philosophy and those interested in the emergence of Czech nationalism will find the book useful and provocative. For the student of the Bohemian Reformation, David's thesis must be tempered by the fact that at the height of the putative appropriation of utraquist history by the awakeners, Jan Hus's Bethlehem Chapel in Prague was pulled down. [End Page 828]