Masaryk, Tomáš Garrigue

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MASARYK, TOMÁŠ GARRIGUE (1850–1937), prominent Czech scholar and statesman.

Born to a Slovak father who was a coachman on an imperial estate and a German mother, Tomáš Masaryk gained his primary and secondary education in Moravia and Vienna. After completing his doctorate in philosophy in 1876 at the University of Vienna with a dissertation on Plato, he continued his studies at the University of Leipzig, where he met a young music student, Charlotte Garrigue, from Brooklyn, New York. They married in 1878 and, as a symbol of his esteem, he took her family name as his middle name. His marriage brought him into contact with the United States, and he made several visits there in the prewar years.

To secure a teaching post at the University of Vienna, Masaryk submitted a required second dissertation, or habilitation, entitled Suicide as a Social Mass Phenomenon, that employed modern tools of sociological analysis to correlate the rise in suicides with a decline in religious faith. His work was accepted and he became a privatdozent at the university, a poorly paid position that was a necessary first step to a professorship. Around the same time, he converted from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, a decision motivated in part by a sense of national identity, since the Hussites, the early Protestants who were suppressed by the Catholic Habsburgs in the seventeenth century, held a place of honor in the pantheon of Czech national heroes.

In 1882, following the division of Charles University in Prague into separate Czech and German entities, he took a position as professor extraordinarius of philosophy at the Czech university. His appointment to the more prestigious "ordinarius" rank was delayed until 1896, in part because of his involvement in a bitter dispute about the authenticity of two medieval manuscripts, discovered early in the century, that described life among the early Czech tribes and were a source of national pride. In the 1880s, a prominent Czech philologist unleashed a furor in the national community when he proved that they were forgeries. Masaryk supported his findings, arguing that national pride must be founded on truth, and although excoriated as a traitor in the popular press, he won the support of a younger generation eager to escape the narrow confines of national chauvinism.

In 1890, Masaryk joined the Young Czech Party and was elected to both the Imperial Parliament and the Bohemian Diet, but left the party and abandoned both mandates in 1893, following a dispute with the party's leadership. In numerous publications from the 1890s, he articulated his understanding of the Czech national mission, arguing that the meaning of Czech history was the ideal of humanity, which was embodied in religious faith and manifested in the Hussite movement and in the Czech National Revival of the nineteenth century. Expanding this perspective to contemporary issues, he supported the drive for workers' rights, women's equality, and universal suffrage. He was one of the few Czech leaders to reject the historic state rights argument, which based the demand for autonomy on the traditional privileges of the old Kingdom of Bohemia. Arguing that it abandoned the Slovaks, who lived under Hungarian rule and whose territory had never been part of the Bohemian Kingdom, he instead pioneered the concept of Czech and Slovak unity, and was supported in this effort by a group of young Slovak intellectuals.

Masaryk gained international renown for his principled stands in two widely publicized legal proceedings. In 1899, he defied popular opinion to defend a poor Bohemian Jew, Leopold Hilsner, who had been convicted of ritual murder, and in 1909, he supported Croats and Serbs who were being tried for treason on the basis of trumped-up evidence. In 1900, he founded a political party, popularly known as the Realists because its platform emphasized reason and facts over Romantic notions and national illusions. Although his party was small, Masaryk acquired a seat in parliament in 1907, following the introduction of universal male suffrage for elections to that body.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 inspired Masaryk to undertake his most extensive scholarly work, an analysis of the Russian intellectual tradition entitled Russia and Europe, which appeared in 1913. Masaryk left the country during World War I to work abroad for the creation of a postwar state of Czechs and Slovaks, and in 1918 was acclaimed "President-Liberator" of the new country he helped to found. He died in 1937, two years after resigning the presidency.

See alsoNationalism; Young Czechs and Old Czechs.


Capek, Karel, ed. Talks with T. G. Masaryk, translated and edited by Michael Henry Heim. New Haven, Conn., 1995.

Skilling, H. Gordon. T. G. Masaryk: Against the Current, 1882–1914. University Park, Pa., 1994.

Winters, Stanley B., Robert B. Pynsent, and Harry Hanak, eds. T. G. Masaryk, 1850–1937. 3 vols. London, 1989–1990.

Zeman, Zbyněk A. B. The Masaryks: The Making of Czechoslovakia. New York, 1976.

Claire E. Nolte