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The Place of Masaryk in the Culture Wars (Kulturkampf)#

Stanislav Balík, 22.6.2017, Wien

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk is commemorated in various contexts. Most of his work is now identified only with the anti-Austria resistance, the emergence of Czechoslovakia and the whole of the First Czechoslovak Republic. But it was rather the conclusion, respectively the culmination of his long political work. Masaryk had an extraordinary influence on the face of public debate since the 1880s: whether through his work at the Prague Charles University where he influenced several generations of Czech intellectuals, or through his role as a public intellectual who was not afraid to go against public opinion in such sensitive cases such as disputes over so called Czech Manuscripts, in Hilsneriada, and others. His influence was also exceptional through the journals he was managing or influencing, and especially in numerous of his publications. By all these facts he affected the understanding to the Czech spiritual traditions and to the history and the formulation of the Czech political program. Masaryk has long been regarded as a main representative of the Czech Left (where, undoubtedly, he belonged with his so-called realistic part of politics). The Right parties of the First Czechoslovak Republic had their long-standing problems with his support. But perhaps the greatest distance was, however, between TG Masaryk and the Catholic part of the Czech society - between them was a deep trench. This was due to his extraordinary commitment in anti-clerical efforts and his role in the so-called cultural wars (Kulturkampf) in the Czech lands at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. And to this aspect of his work will be devoted this presentation.

Kulturkampf in the Czech Lands#

What was the meaning of “Kulturkampf” in the Czech lands? It was a specific variant of a cultural war, different from the classic one in Bismarck Germany. It responded to the developments in the Catholic Church after the first Vatican Council. Under the influence of many circumstances, a violent struggle between the state power and the Catholic part of society had begun in Germany. Its main part can be dated to the years 1871-1879, when the Prussian Chamber of Deputies passed a number of laws which radically affected the Catholic Church. The Catholics responded to it by resistance in the form of passive resistance and consistent support of their political party, the Zentrum (Center). The state, however, did not like it and tried to break the resistance - for example by extensive criminal sanctions against Catholic bishops and priests. However, Catholic protests continued. The situation had changed after the death of the Pope Pius IX, the Bismarck's personal enemy (died in 1878). It wasn’t usual to connect the topic of Kulturkampf with Austria or with the Czech countries. That was due to fact that in the classic one – in Germany – it was the state who fought with the Catholicism. In the Habsburg monarchy, on the contrary, the state structures were identified with the Catholic Church, respectively with Catholicism. Until today we know the words describing their relationship as an alliance of “throne and altar”. Of course, we cannot overlook the short period of the late sixties of the 19th century, symbolized by the adoption of the so-called May laws (1868), which could have been considered as manifestations of Kulturkamp. Despite this short episode, the Austrian state structures remained at least close to the Catholicism. Nevertheless, this fact did not fully correspond to the state of the society (especially Czech society), which, on the contrary, was increasingly indifferent to Catholicism. And it is just the inconsistency of these two facts that formed the specific form of local Kulturkampf. And it is not important that until 1918 the Catholic attitudes prevailed anti-clerical ones in individual battles, so that we can also speak about the Kulturkampf à rebours.

Masaryk and his relations with the Catholic Church#

We will not speak here about Masaryk's attitude to religion or to faith. This is an extremely complicated task. Masaryk criticized all the Christian churches – not only the Catholic one, he criticized also the Protestant denominations which he tried to be a member of. Despite this fact, he was a man for whom the question of religion was a key life issue, a man who was seeking and did not find; man who thought and formulated. He wasn’t the heir of the enlighteners with their deistical concept of God (however he was close to deism). Probably he wasn’t even a Christian - he clearly denied Jesus' divinity. Although we tend to see Masaryk in the religious and social sphere primarily as a moralist, he explicitly and repeatedly stated that religion is not philosophy, is not theology, is not faith, is not morality, it is not a cult - these are only the elements of the religion. He stated that religion solves the problem of eternity. In Masaryk's conception, anti-Clericalism was the same as anti-Catholicism. And he rejected not only the political involvement of the Catholic Church, but he explicitly rejected Catholicism as such. We can say that Masaryk's attitudes toward Catholicism would be scandalous today. For example - he said: “The Church and official religion, instead of honesty, character, morality, spread and support falsehood, lies and immorality." Until his death, he would not even agree with the current model of the cooperative relationship between the churches and the state. He believed in a strong position of the state – also in the social field (charity, education, etc.). He refused all the manifestations of Catholicism at that time, even the new , national ones. Although he was anti-Catholic, he was not, as mentioned earlier, anti-religious: "I speak against philosophical and religious indifferentism, I speak against those practitioners and theoreticians in various disciplines who are indifferent towards the last things of people. " He made a great diagnosis of the time - when he spoke about the state of faith in the Czech lands: He stated that intelligentia was not the most radical anti-Catholic tedency in society. Not only workers but also farmers fell away from the Catholic Church. He said that priests live in a great lie if they believe that if farmers go to church on Sunday, they are Catholics. He spoke also about students – the group which he knew really well: "Most Czech students are coming to university through the teaching of religion, through various ceremonies, etc., not only in fact outside the Catholic Church but also aweay from religious faith at all.” Sometimes he was wrong - for example, when he in 1904 criticized the Church for being aristocratic and plutocratic. If so, certainly not at all, at the time these words were spoken – in Olomouc, the archbishop of that time, Theodor Kohn, was born in a really poor family in the countryside. The situation in Italy or France was similar. Pope Pius X. who had been elected one year before was a descendant of a poor peasant family. Considering Masaryk and his relationship to religion, we have to speak also about his famous conception of the Czech question as a religious question. When he said that the “good Czech” could not be a Catholic, it was his most influential mental stereotype which he brought forth. He closely united the Czech tradition with anti-Catholic, Hussite tradition: "Tabor is our program".

Masaryk and his participation in Kulturkampf before the First World War#

Masaryk was engaged perhaps in every better known case close to anti-clericalism. He was one of the leading figures in perhaps the best-known event, the so-called Judas affair. It was that in 1905 in the Moravian town of Prostějov. There was an exhibition held of paintings by the famous painter František Kupka. In the catalog to this exhibition an article by professor Karel Juda (it was signed under the pseudonym Kara Ben Jehuda), professor at the gymnasium, was published. This article attacked religion. Against this, the local priest Karel Dostál Lutinov protested in the newspaper. Dostal complained that Juda – as the teacher and the educator of the youth should not publicly criticize the Church. He demanded the removal of false and defamatory statements and an apology to those Juda had pointed to. Dostal’s article started a big affair. The Catholics defended themselves against the insults of religion, anti-clericalists against the denunciation they saw in Dostál's letter. The affair was considered by the opponents of Catholicism to confirm the claim promoted by Masaryk: "A catechist is a government-sponsored denunciator." Here we see one of the characteristic features of Masaryk in his anti-clerical struggle - the generalizations and stereotypes that he so much rejected in other areas. Dostal's article intended to solve many other questions: freedom of conscience, ethical standards, human values, the Church influence in society etc. It is not important at this moment how the whole affair ended (the defeating of Juda). Let's notice the Masaryk's role in it. For example - at one meeting in Prague in January 1906 he said that “scientific thinking and Catholicism are two worlds that exclude each other”. For this reason he demanded religion be removed from school, stating that religion only teaches children to lie and to divide. That meeting due to these and similar words was officially dissolved after half an hour. Thereafter, three court proceedings took place, but all three of them were won by Masaryk. Another affair demonstrates which battles Masaryk led and how petty were some causes which led to big wars. There were not only great political events in Vienna for him; he worked primarily on the lowest local level. It was the so-called Konečný affair (1907-1908), which started by the effort of Alois Konečný to become the basic school director in the village of Bludov in northern Moravia - until then he had been director in nearby Bohdíkov. Konečný was a symbol and leading figures of North Moravian Progressives. He headed the Central Association of the Teachers Associations in Moravia, he was one of the leaders of the National Socialist Party in Moravia. The Catholics in Bludov started a major offensive against Konečný to be elected director. They used his earlier activities – one year before he had organized the first civil funeral in the region (the funeral of his teacher's colleague); and his own pre-election campaign (un-successful) to the Moravian Assembly in 1906. In that campaign he had stated that religion hurted children and therefore had to be removed from school. The Moravian school council agreed with the objections of his opponents and sentenced Konečný for violating his teacher's duties, to lose the post of director in Bohdíkov and,above all, to transfer him to another, a subordinate place. After the decision of the Moravian school council the major parts of Moravia and Bohemia started to protest. A number of demonstrations, meetings of municipal committees or party associations were held. Just in that moment Masaryk began to engage himself. In the Vienna Reichsrat he interpellated the government. He participated in a number of public meetings and demonstrations. The final decision in this affair was made by the Austrian Prime Minister, Max Wladimir von Beck, who confirmed the decision of the school council, but ultimately weakened the final sentence – Konečný was transferred but not to a subordinate position. Masaryk engaged himself also in other affairs connected with universities and their relations to the Church, for example in Wahrmund’s affair. On Masaryk example we can also characterize the nature of the Austrian state. Although the state was accused of its clerical character, Masaryk had never been condemned by this state for his anti-clerical activities, although he had been accused several times. He could present his views publicly - as a university professor, a deputy, a public intellectual. So also at his example we can confirm the liberal nature of the last decades of Austria-Hungary, when the so-called connection between the throne and the altar was mostly symbolic and ritualistic.

Masaryk, Kulturkampf and his time as President#

Masaryk's attitude to symbolic events connected with the influence of the Catholic Church from the time of the beginning of the First Czechoslovak Republic, when the Kulturkampf actually culminated, was quite clear. not Not only was the famous Marian column on the Prague Old Town Square demolished, but so were several hundred other objects of small sacral architecture - crosses, statues of St. Jan Nepomuk, and others. Of course Masaryk did not stand in the leading position of the crowds which physically destroyed these symbols, but on the other hand, he did not publicly condemn this. In the matter of removing religious symbols from the public space, Masaryk repeated that religion is a matter of the individual. So he de facto supported these destructions. The culmination in the complicated relationship between Masaryk and Catholicism occurred in connection with the main concern of Czech Catholicism - the memory of Jan Hus. In 1925, 510 years after Hus's burning at the stake, the Hus commemoration day was celebrated for the first time as a state feast. Masaryk and other top state politicians took part in the celebration of this anniversary. Masaryk also hoisted a black Hussite flag with a red chalice at the Prague Castle. In response, the Catholic Nuncio, Francesco Marmaggi, left Prague for Rome to protest at the Vatican. Nevertheless, in the same year the complicated process of reconciliation between Masaryk's Czechoslovakia and the Catholic Church began, which led to factual tolerance and reconciliation from both sides in the thirties. The significant weakening of Masaryk's rejection of Catholicism we can observe from the end of the twenties. A visible symbol of this turnaround can be seen in the celebration of the St. Wenceslas millennium in 1929, when Masaryk stated: “St. Wenceslas is a sympathetic personality to me. He supported Christianity and the Church and it was good, cultural and progressive work.” In the thirties a quiet time started – Masaryk came into contact with the famous young Prague Franciscan Jan Evangelista Urban, one of the representatives of the new generation of Catholic intellectuals. Was it the transformation of Masaryk or of Catholicism? Or the transformation of both?


Masaryk's anti-clericalism was more or less "scholarly". His engagement in the Kulturkampf had many negative effects. Also in the field where Masaryk himself would not have liked it - in the area of non-institutionalized religiosity. Both this and the sphere of institutionalized religion were devastated after 1948 by ideological pupils and heirs of the anti-clerical warriors at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Masaryk's "heritage" was developed not only by intellectuals but was also taken up by a number of less educated and more aggressive progressives who simplified his arguments so that they could be used in ideological battles - not only with those who really wanted to establish the global rule of the Catholic Church, but also with ordinary Catholics who wanted to confess publicly or privately and live their faith. In this respect, Masaryk has not only been a significant philosopher thinking about democracy and freedom, but he has served as an inspiration for those who wanted to abolish a significant part of Czech social and political traditions. Stanislav Balík is the head of the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University Brno. He specializes in local politics, Czech ecclesiastical history and non-democratic regimes. He is the author of seven and the co-author of eight books (e.g. Komunální politika; Český antiklerikalismus 1848-1938, Katolická církev v Československu 1945-1989; Letnice 20. století; Postkomunistické nedemokratické režimy), of which four were also published in Germany and Poland, and many scientific papers published in domestic as well as international journals.

Contact: balik@fss.muni.cz