- Reviewed by
The rediscovery of Southeastern Europe after the Cold War has resulted in a veritable flood of social science studies of the region. Aside from the republication of classic works long ignored by scholars and practitioners of European politics, the recent literature is characterized by striking inconsistency in terms of theoretical and methodological rigor, comparative scope, historical depth, and pedagogical utility. In contrast, Paschalis Kitromilides’s Enlightenment, Nationalism, Orthodoxy: Studies in the Culture and Political Thought of South-Eastern Europe makes a valuable contribution to the field.
As an inquiry into the cultural evolution, social history, and politics of Southeastern Europe, the book’s intellectual scope and comparative depth are remarkable. Kitromilides is a political scientist by training, yet his work reflects an unmistakable commitment to interdisciplinary methods. It is a testimony to his intellectual creativity and respect for comparative historiography that this volume offers a provocative interpretation of the interactive effects of Enlightenment thought and Orthodox Christianity on the processes of nation building and state formation in Southeastern Europe.
This work is exceptional for two main reasons. First, Kitromilides captures the bi-directional nature of the regional transmission of ideas between the European West and East. At the same time, he evaluates this process of transmission within the context of the power struggles of Great Power politics. Secondly, in contrast to much current scholarship and policies built therefrom, Kitromilides relocates Southeastern Europe squarely within the larger geographic and symbolic space of Europe as a whole. Working from an approach that treats “the European East and West not as irreconcilable opposites but as integral parts of a broad European civilization . . . [and] . . . as complementary cultural entities,” he successfully elucidates “the pervasiveness of cultural syncretism across Europe and particularly on an intra-Balkan scale” (xiii–xiv).
The volume is actually a collection of thirteen articles already published by Kitromilides over the course of two decades. It also includes an appendix of bibliographical and critical notes meant as the author’s critique of the articles’ analytical currency at present. Each of these articles is noteworthy in its own right, but the strengths of the volume can be well appreciated by reference to several representative pieces.
Kitromilides convincingly establishes the relevance of intellectual and cultural history to the contemporary dynamics of Southeastern Europe in the essay on “Modernization as an Ideological Dilemma in Southeastern Europe.” He shares with eminent authorities on the region (e.g., Jelavich & Jelavich, Lampe, and Stavrianos) the view that Southeastern Europe constitutes a unity in historical terms, as evidenced by the intense preoccupation with modernization that has characterized each and every nation-state in the region from the early nineteenth century to the present. Kitromilides’s approach to the modernization [End Page 369] question is noteworthy in that he defines the problem in specifically ideological terms, based on the claim that conflicts over Romantic versus liberal Enlightenment conceptions of nationalism placed an indelible stamp on the politics and culture of the region over the last two centuries. He argues, moreover, that the primary challenge of modernization for the region in today’s post-Cold War era remains how to conceptualize and to resolve the historically rooted “incomplete liberal transformation” (X, 78).
This essay is best read as the introduction to the volume, for all the preceding articles discuss, from various perspectives, the international and regional factors that led to the hijacking of liberalism by conservative intellectuals and politicians. Kitromilides demonstrates the built-in contradictions in Enlightenment thought as it emerged in the European West. His essay on the ambiguous role of women in the writings of Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Locke speaks to why the politics of the Enlightenment was driven by men who were “‘feminists with misgivings,’ unable, as it turned out to liberate themselves from that age-old fear of women as vessels of passion and vice” (VII, 40). Equally insightful is his analysis of the overwhelming tension amongst the political elites of the Great Powers, based on the desire to endorse liberal...