Masaryk, Thomas G.

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Masaryk, Thomas G.



Thomas G. Masaryk (1850-1937), Czechoslovakian statesman and social theorist, was born in Hodonin on the Moravian-Slovakian border. His father, a Slovak, was a coachman on one of the imperial estates; his mother came from a small Moravian town. He studied first at the Gymnasium in Brno, but after a conflict with the Roman Catholic church he left there and attended the Gymnasium in Vienna. Later, at the University of Vienna he wrote his dissertation, “Das Wesen der Seele bei Plato” (1876), under the philosopher Franz Brentano. In 1877 he studied with Gustav Theodor Fechner at the University of Leipzig, but Masaryk was influenced less by Fechner than by Charlotte Garrigue, a music student whom he met at Leipzig and later married. She came from a well-to-do American Unitarian family, whose religious faith had been shaped by Theodore Parker, and her religious views helped Masaryk define his own. Through her he also gained an understanding of English philosophy and American society: Locke, Hume, Mill, and Spencer influenced his thought, and American institutions guided his social and political aspirations. Masaryk acknowledged the extent of his debt to his wife by taking Garrigue as his middle name.

In 1879 Masaryk became Privatdozent of philosophy at the University of Vienna. His interests centered on sociology and on Czech political life. His first important book was Der Selbstmord als sociale Massenerscheinung der modernen Civilisation (1881). In this work he attempted to deal with suicide as a social phenomenon and to support his conclusions statistically. According to Masaryk, Europe was then in a period of high suicide rates. This could be directly attributed to a decline of monotheistic religion and thus was the “fruit of progress, of education, of civilization” (p. 146).

When the Czech university was established at Prague in 1882, Masaryk was called there as extraordinary professor of philosophy. He held his post for 32 years. During those years he helped to form the political and moral ideas of a significant part of the Czech and South Slav intelligentsia, although before 1914 he was not popular among the Czechs. His opposition to the Catholic church, on the one hand, and to Marxism, on the other, his pronounced Westernism, and his “realistic” moderation in political and national demands prevented him from exercising a wider influence.

While a professor in Prague, Masaryk published his Versuch einer konkreten Logik: Klarifikation und Organisation der Wissenschaften (1885), his last scholarly work. From then on, most of his work was more directly concerned with moral and political education. He founded and edited several journals, among them Athenaeum and Naše doba (“Our Epoch”), and a political weekly, Čas (“Time”). He was active politically as a member of the Austrian Reichsrat, representing first the Young Czech party, from 1891 to 1893, and later, from 1907 to 1914, the tiny Progressive party (more generally known as the Realist party), which he had founded.

Masaryk’s political activities reflected the themes of his writings published during these years, in which he discussed Czech nationalism and deplored the deficiencies of the Marxist approach to basic social problems (1895; 1896; 1898). He knew Russia from both studies and travels and wrote two volumes interpreting Russian culture, history, and religion (1913). He planned but never completed a third volume, on Dostoevski, whom he regarded as the key author for an understanding of Russia and whose philosophy and outlook he totally rejected.

Masaryk’s own nationalism revived and extended the ideas underlying the work of the first modern Czech historian, Frantisek Palacky. Masaryk saw the Czech national awakening in the nineteenth century as a continuation of the Hussite reformation of the fifteenth. And the movement of the Bohemian Brethren, in his view, encompassed the highest aspirations of the Czech nation and of the whole of mankind. This vague, moral nationalism was sharply criticized by professional Czech historians like Jaroslav Goll and Josef Pekař.

In 1914 Masaryk left Prague, and during World War I he became the leading propagandist urging the establishment of independent small nations (1918) and the identification of Czech national traditions with those of Western democracy. He made London the center of his activities and in 1917-1918 visited Russia and the United States. It was his plan to create a Czechoslovakia in which Czechs and Slovaks would be united on the strength of ethnic principles and Germans and Magyars would be included on the basis of historical principles; his views prevailed at the Versailles peace conference. He was elected the first president of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and was continuously re-elected until he resigned in 1935 for reasons of ill health. Until 1948 he was revered as the “father of his country,” but because of his strong anti-Bolshevik stand the post-1948 communist regime has been sharply critical of him.

Hans Kohn


1876 Das Wesen der Seele bei Plato. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Vienna.

1881 Der Selbstmord als sociale Massenerscheinung der modernen Civilisation. Vienna: Konegen.

(1885) 1887 Versuch einer konkreten Logik: Klarifikation und Organisation der Wissenschaften. Vienna: Konegen. → First published as Zakladove” konkrétni logiky.

(1895) 1935 Česká otázka: Snaky a tuž by ndrodniho obrozeni (The Czech Question: Efforts and Aspirations Towards the National Rebirth). 4th ed. Prague: Čin.

(1896) 1920 Karel Havliček: Snaky a tuzby politickeho probuzeni (Karel Havlicek: Efforts and Aspirations Towards the Political Awakening). 3d ed. Prague: Laichter.

(1898) 1935 Otázka socidlni: Zdklady marxismu sociologické a filosofické (The Social Question: The Sociological and Philosophical Foundations of Marxism). 3d ed. Prague: Cin.

(1913) 1955 The Spirit of Russia: Studies in History, Literature and Philosophy. Rev. & enl. ed., 2 vols. New York: Macmillan. → First published in German.

1918 The New Europe: The Slav Standpoint. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.

(1925) 1927 The Making of a State: Memories and Observations, 1914-1918. New York: Stokes; London: Allen & Unwin. -→ First published as Světovd revoluce za vdlky a ve vdlce, 1914-1918. (1931-1933) 1944 Masaryk on Thought and Life: Conversations With Karel Capek. New York: Macmillan. First published as Hovory s T. G. Masarykem.


Festschrift Th. G. Masaryk zum 80. Geburtstage. 2 vols. 1930. Bonn: Cohen.

Ludwig, Emil (1935) 1936 Defender of Democracy: Masaryk of Czechoslovakia. New York: Robert McBride. First published as Gesprdche mit Masaryk: Denker und Staatsmann.

Nejedly, Zdenek(1930-1935) 1949-1950 T. G. Masaryk. 2d ed., 2 vols. Prague: Orbis. Seton-watson, Robert w. 1943 Masaryk in England. New York: Macmillan.