The Narrow Path to Freedom: István Bibó’s Public Moralism”

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University of Jyväskylä’s Hungarian Studies Program’s Spectrum Hungarologicum proudly presents the publication of the first Finnish monograph on István Bibó. “Vapauden kapea polku: István Bibón julkinen moralismi” / “The Narrow Path to Freedom: István Bibó’s Public Moralism” is written by the historian Anssi Halmesvirta and this is the 9th volume of Spectrum Hungarologicum.
The open-access publication can be downloaded in pdf-format from the link below:
Abstract: The task of this study is to listen to the moral voice of István Bibó, a Hungarian democrat. Listening to past ‘voices’ is an approach of intellectual history introduced by Stefan Collini, who has eavesdropped on the conversations of ‘public moralists’ in the British intellectual life from the period c. 1850–1950. What has been translated of and written on Bibó’s thought in Hungary – irrespective of a couple of notable exceptions not much is found abroad – is very ‘Hungarian’ in tone in particular, note the very productive workshop (Bibó Szellemi Műhely), whereas I have tried independently to develop Collini’s approach. Instead of uncovering the meanings of ideas and concepts in the contexts of their utterance (textuality and conceptual unity), Collini’s point is to study political ideas and arguments in relation to some basic values that an intellectual culture maintains and intellectuals reevaluate. My hypothesis is that Bibó’s voice is ‘publicly moralist’, as he sent serious messages to his reading public, not only to Hungarian intelligentsia but occasionally to all Europeans. Not entertaining so much a ‘scientific attitude’, in times of crisis Bibó detected
confusion, decay and loss of the fundamental values on which order and legitimacy of power in a society rest. His main message was to awaken the elites to their proper function of reinventing and resuscitating such values as equality, freedom, solidarity, temperance, moderation, political correctness, and social justice. He also pointed to their possible moral failings; they had not been ready or willing in their governing practice to execute timely reforms in accordance with such values. Bibó presupposed that moral issues outweigh political, economic or aesthetic considerations. His rhetoric was not only rational persuasion or political-cultural criticism telling the truth and demanding some social reform from a set political platform. Instead, he stood on a higher moral ground from which he could preach the revival of democratic values that were, in his view, at some critical historical moment brought to forebut lost (in Hungary e.g. in 1848–1849, 1945 and 1956). Bibó used his voice from a rearguard position and took part in political life only when a democratic solution appeared feasible (in 1945–1947 and 1956). Thus political theory for Bibó appears as a parasite to social values and moral comprehension.

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