Humanism and Titanism: Masaryk and Herder

  • Frederick M. Barnard
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that the similarity between the ideas of Thomas G. Masaryk and those of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) is at times so striking as to be truly breathtaking.1 Perhaps the most characteristic affinity lies in a persistent desire on the part of both men to bring together concepts that are usually held to be in tension, ‘dialectically’ opposed, if not altogether contradictory. In this paper, I wish to focus on one such tension, the tension between autonomy and heteronomy, which, in their thinking, largely parallels the tension between human beings’ understanding of themselves as self-directing agents and possessors of freedom, on the one hand, and as other-directed servants, instruments or victims, within an order not of their own making, on the other. It is the central thesis of both Masaryk and Herder that it is modernity’s separation and opposition of these modes of self-understanding which bring them into internal conflict, thereby creating the prevailing malaise of modern man.


Religious Tradition Moral Action Moral Choice Perfect Rationality Social Mutuality 
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  1. 1.
    Alexander Gillies, in ‘Herder and Masaryk: Some Points of Contact’, Modern Language ReviewXL (1945) pp. 120–6, writes: ‘No more instructive or illuminating approach to Herder can be found than in the writings of Thomas G. Masaryk, the philosopher-President’ (p. 120). The theme of the two men, Gillies observes, was fundamentally the same, the diagnosis and cure of modern ills. And their cure, for Masaryk and for Herder, according to Gillies, was the same: the doctrine of Humanität.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, The Making of a State(New York: Stokes, 1927) p. 421. It is only fair to add that Masaryk was himself extremely critical of the Slav Messianic theory and preferred to speak of a ‘synthesis’ of cultures (p. 424).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Masaryk, Modern Man and Religion(Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1938 [Reprint 1970]), pp. 274–5, concerning Goethe; and, concerning Kant, he wrote: ‘Why should I trust in a prioriknowledge?’ (p. 89): and distanced himself from ‘Kant with his aprioristic subjectivism’ (p. 90). See also pp. 200–2.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Milan Machovec, Tomas G. Masaryk (Prague: Melantrich, 1968) p. 12.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1990

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  • Frederick M. Barnard

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