Alienation, Utopia, & Hungarian intellectuals:
Madách, Ady, Karinthy, Fogarasi, Nádor, Lukács, Mannheim

Joseph Gabel

The theme of “Hungarian alienation” [6]—a vague feeling of fatality or of malediction [7]—is expressed with a remarkable vigor by the poet Endre (Andrew) Ady, one of the giants of Hungarian—and of world—literature. The Hungarian people are in the center of Europe, isolated from the surrounding peoples and languages. Their country is located on the historical crossroad of invasions, its history is a tragic one—a long series of unsuccessful revolutions [8] and interminable periods of foreign occupation. “We remained virgins on the heroic wedding bed of revolutions” exclaimed Ady on the eve of the democratic Revolution of October 1918 (the “Asters Revolution”). Ady saw the fiasco of that revolution but died before he could witness the failure of the Communist experiment of Béla Kun in 1919. It is possible that the spectacle of this tragic series of aborted revolutions helped to sensitize certain representatives of the Hungarian Intelligentsia, such as Madách, Mannheim, and Kolnai, to the problem of utopia. A collective feeling of solitude and failure can bring about diametrically opposed results depending on the general level of political awareness. At a primitive level, such a feeling may give rise to a certain openness to right-wing-extremist ideologies. [9] In a sophisticated intellectual context—as is generally the case with intellectuals of Central Europe—it can, on the contrary, help people to understand the problem of alienation. I see here one of the gnoseo-sociological reasons for the distinctive character of Hungarian Marxism.

Two other important factors converge with the preceding ones as instruments of decentration: the paradoxical situation of Hungarian nationalism and the religious dualism.

*      *      *

These factors were particularly influential in certain intellectual milieus of Budapest, which were drawn to Marxism because of the lack of a great national doctrine in philosophy or sociology. The result was a form of Marxism basically antidogmatic and dialectical, even relativistic, with some idealistic trend, to the extent that the primacy of dialectics over materialism implies such an orientation. Moreover this “Hungaro-Marxism” was above all eclectic. The Galilean Circle (Galilei kör) was at this time (before the First World War) the principal organ of progressivism among the students of Budapest. Its masonic origins did not prevent it from propounding Marxism and at the same time the philosophy of Ernst Mach, a thinker appreciated in Austro-Marxist circles but notoriously shunned by orthodox (soviet) Marxists. Béla Fogarasi who will become one of the most important personalities of Hungarian Academia after 1945, translated Bergson, another thinker unjustly ostracized by the Marxian orthodoxy. The author of the Données Immediates de la Conscience influenced Lukács and indirectly, through Sorel, the outstanding Hungarian theorist of revolutionary syndicalism, Erwin Szabó. The first truly well-informed Hungarian specialist of Bergson, Valerie Dienes, was also a member of the Galilean Circle. Bergsonism, often branded in France as reactionary, was adequately perceived by a large sector of the progressive milieu of Budapest as a dialectical doctrine of de-alienation. The same holds true for Durkheimianism whose latent kinship to historical materialism was diagnosed in Hungary at a very early stage. [11] These examples illustrate the high degree of cultural openness and the ability of the Hungarian Intelligentsia at this time to synthesize. In that cosmopolitan milieu, open to every influence, resolutely anti‑sectarian, and heedless of taboos, the problems of alienation, ideology, utopia, and even those of false consciousness naturally came to play an important role, not only in philosophy but in literature as well.

Let us consider two examples from opposite poles of this period, the first of which shows the early stage at which these themes took root in the Hungarian intellectual life and the second the tenacity of these roots. In 1860 the poet Emeric Madách published his “Tragedy of Man,” a grandiose philosophical poem concerned with the subjects of alienation and utopia. [12] Nearly a century later—at the zenith of Stalinism—a study of the Marxist philosopher George Nádor was published under the title Contemporary sophistry. A contribution to the logical analysis of the fallacious thinking of the Bourgeoisie in the imperialist era. [13] This essay is a genuine critical analysis of a form of false consciousness, in the wake of the studies by Béla Fogarasi, which we shall discuss later on. Obviously, Nádor—like Fogarasi before him—avoided the term “false consciousness” as a taboo concept; his examples are taken exclusively from “bourgeois” ideologies, and a timely quote from Stalin in the epigraph served as a life insurance policy that was far from superfluous at the time. Any reader the least bit alert could not help but recognize that the processes of logical distortion in bourgeois thought diagnosed by these two authors were identical to those underlying the Stalinist ideology, which was a “spontaneous ideal type” of false consciousness. [14] Considering the date (1952), the publication of such an article in a highly official journal is an event whose significance and implications need not be emphasized.

This tumultous period of recent Hungarian history was also marked by the blooming of an extremely interesting, nonconformist movement in art and literature, akin to some extent to the culture of Weimar but anterior as to its origins and independent in its inspiration. Between the two world wars, there were many exchanges between Weimar and the progressive Intelligentsia of Budapest. The modernist explosion in Weimar—the Bauhaus among others—was to some extent attributable to the influence of political refugees of Hungarian origin. “I recall with emotion,” writes Frederic Karinthy,

this era now closed forever, with its art full of grandiloquent mannerism, its messianic collectivism and disillusioned cult of the ego, its cynical sentimentality and cold-blooded search for the sense of the life, its naive complexity and sophisticated primitivism.... I recall with emotion this time since I am now aware of the fact that it was one of the golden ages of our national literature. [15]

Frederic Karinthy is worthy of our attention. Little-known abroad but extremely popular in his country, he was a genuine demystifier in the style of his English model, Swift, whom he translated, later writing a continuation of Gulliver’s Travels. In his novel, A Journey in Faremido, Karinthy leads Doctor Gulliver through a world of intelligent machines. The description of that reified universe is curiously devoid of criticism: Karinthy’s living machines—the Solasi—are more human than man himself. Obviously the author of A Journey in Faremido does not view reification as a totally negative phenomenon.


6. This theme is reminiscent of the “leyenda negra” in Spain (Menendez Pelayo).

7. Cf. the definition of reification given by Lukács: “menschenfremde und menschenferne fatalistische Notwendigkeit” (a fatalistic necessity foreign to and remote from man) Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (Berlin: Malik Verlag, 1923), 141.

8. “How beautiful it is to feel that one belongs to a people so imbued with fatality” (Ady).

9. One of the right-wing-extremist sheets before the war had a characteristic title: “We are alone” (Egyedül vagyunk).

11. Cf. Oscar Jászi, “Vérification inductive du matérialisme historique” in J. Gabel, B. Rousset, and Trinh Van Thao, L’aliénation aujourd’hui (Paris: Anthropos, 1974), 349-53. The original of the article was published in the review Huszadik Szŕzad (Budapest). Jászi considers the studies by Mauss and Beuchat on seasonal variations among the Eskimos, to be an “inductive verification” of the Marxist conception of the relations between the infrastructure and superstructures.

12. Cf. the fine article by L.G. Cigány Madách in the Encyclopaedia Universalis (vol. 10, 271).

13. This article of George Nádor has been published in 1952 in the highly official Annals of Philosophy (Filozofiai Evkönyv).

14. Both Fogarasi and Nádor stress the importance of the “unwarranted identification” as one of the basic features of ideological distortion. The examples quoted by these authors are drawn exclusively from right-wing ideologies. There is no doubt, nonetheless, that the ficticious identification is a prominent feature of the ideology of Stalinism (“social-fascism,” “Hitlero-Trotskism”). Our authors were certainly aware of the fact that their views involved an indirect criticism of the dominant ideology of this time.

15. The preface to the second edition (1920) of his collection of literary pastiches: Így írtok ti (So That’s How You Write!) (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1953), 7.

SOURCE: Gabel, Joseph. Mannheim and Hungarian Marxism, translated by William M. Stein and James McCrate (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1991), Chapter 1, The Socio-Historical Context of Hungarian Marxism, pp. 6-7, 8-10, 11-12.

Note: The factors favoring Marxism in Hungary (and its originality) mentioned in this chapter are: the lack of an original Hungarian philosophical or sociological tradition, the sharp split between conservative academic culture and innovative intellectual milieux (including psychoanalysis) and the toleration of intellectual independence coexistent with institutional exclusion, the isolation of Budapest from the rest of the country, Hungarian alienation, fueled by linguistic isolation and a series of historical defeats, the contradictions of Hungarian nationalism which also enabled cosmopolitanism, the standoff between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Paul Szende on ideology & reification

András Gedö et al on Lukács (1957)

Review of Béla Fogarasi, Logik by Alonzo Church

Frigyes Karinthy: philosophical fragments / filozofiaj fragmentoj

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto

Pri Falsa Konscio kaj Mistifiko
de Ladislav Podmele (in Esperanto)

Georg Lukács’ The Destruction of Reason: Selected Bibliography

Anti-Bergson: Bibliography & Links

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Select Bibliography

Ideology Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

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