Coordinated by Aurelian GIUGĂL


Society and culture in pre-modern Romanian histography. The case of Alexandru Duţu

Dan-Alexandru CHIȚĂ

Independent researcher



Abstract: The following paper attempts to reconstruct the cultural-oriented vision about pre-modern history in the Romanian Principalities at the crossroads of late-eighteenth century Europe in the main works of the Romanian historian Alexandru Duțu. We will mainly deal with pre-modern texts. At the same time, we will contrast this cultural outlook on the local history with other scientific attempts to penetrate into the process of modernization of Eastern Europe during the period discussed. The opposing perspective, as far as we could delineate it, comes from the field of economic history, political science (in respect to nations, nationalism and nation-building) and the vision of modernization in the school of historical materialism. The chasm between the two viewpoints highlights both the merits and the inherent limits of Alexandru Duțu’s approach.

Keywords: Alexandru Duțu, modernization theory, core-periphery, nations and nationalisms, nation-states, Enlightenment, political modernity, Eastern Europe, early modernity, Industrial Revolution.





            One of the most scathing remarks often made by Marxist thinkers and historians when approaching the subject of the modernization process[i] in the economically peripheral countries of late-feudal Central and Eastern Europe[ii] after the eighteenth century[iii] is that the intellectual energy fueled into subjects such as the question of language and the creation of the national literatures contributes to the creation of a public sphere which is mostly literature-focused and that does not give way to enough space of reasoning to more important issues such as economy, political science and even “political economy”. To Marxists, the much revered status of literature is either a sign of a mildly bourgeois society which is beginning to acquire a class consciousness of its own in the guise of social clubs (and hence build a public sphere with its own traditions and symbols, encapsulating the whims and the follies of the bourgeois class) or yet another hint that a society which is organized by a literature-centered elite is set to stay backward since other professionalized opinions, shaped by the development of the newly-established social sciences in the late nineteenth century, are not to interfere with the rigid and stagnant status quo mindset and its systems of political and economic valuation. The only apparent concern of eastern European political and cultural elites in the nineteenth century was to sluggishly imitate Western cultural patterns in the spirit of chauvinistic and nationalistic values, heralded by an age of Romantic poets and writers who would later on be enlisted in the national pantheon.

“In the nineteenth century virtually all the Central and Eastern European elites developed strong nationalist ambitions, that is, a desire to establish strong states under their control. They took as their ideals the strong Western countries, large or small, which seemed able to survive and thrive as independent nation-states. As the Eastern European countries gained independence in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries they built their own bureaucracies, armies, and school systems. They hoped to achieve economic growth as well because this was so obvious a part of national strength. They all became, to a greater or lesser extent, somewhat amusing imitators of Western Europe, and the object of mockery for this in the West, much as the posturing diplomats and presidents of the small new states of the Third World are still viewed by all Europeans, Western or Eastern.”[iv]


            Apparently, the public sphere was, following the classic analysis of Jürgen Habermas, in the world of letters, which is not per se solely bourgeois.


“The bourgeois avant-garde of the educated middle class learned the art of critical-rational public debate through its contact with the <<elegant world>>. This courtly-noble society, to the extent that the modern state apparatus became independent from the monarch’s personal sphere, naturally separated itself, in turn, more and more from the court and became its counterpoise in the town. The <<town>> was the life center of civil society not only economically; in cultural-political contrast to the court, it designated especially an early public sphere in the world of letters whose institutions were the coffee house, the salons, and the Tischgesellschaften (table societies). The heirs of the humanistic-aristocratic society, in their encounter with the bourgeois intellectuals (through sociable discussions that quickly developed into public criticism), built a bridge between the remains of a collapsing form of publicity (the courtly one) and the precursor of a new one: the bourgeois public sphere.”[v]


            The above-mentioned left oriented historiography, judged from the perspective of the cultural histories of Alexandru Duțu, seems not to be diffident in regard to the history of the region before the strong Western influence which followed only after the trade routes with Central Europe have been opened in the late 1820s and the influx of goods came with the cultural mentalities they brought from the “civilized West”. In fact, seemingly contradicting the cultural histories written by Alexandru Duțu during his lifetime, there is apparently no literature worthy to be analyzed and preserved before the literary output of a generation of Romantic politicians, statesmen, diplomats, and, last but not least, national poets and writers, who, in the footpaths of the cultural and economic impact of Western patters, went to study in the modern European metropolis of the time, namely Paris or Vienna, and brought with them not only an age of newly-established cultural fashions, but also the classifying of the pre-modern literature as feudal and belonging to a resolute period of national history.


In the first decades of the century, the pursuit of higher education in the West (mostly in France and Germany, much less often in England or Italy) also became standard procedure for Hungarians, Romanians, and Poles. Young aristocrats pioneered this kind of experience, and played a decisive role in disseminating reform and progressive ideas in their countries of origin.”[vi]


            The whole generation of “amusing imitators” has created the modern national state of Romania and was willing to supply it with a modern economy as well. There was, however, a local literature in the Romanian Principalities long before the fashions of the West made way to a generation of scintillating literary “imitators”. In the national Romanian historical imaginary, what had once been the culture and the traditions of the late medieval states turned into the oriental Otherness from the point of view of the westernized political elites.

            The so-called absence of the social sciences in the consolidation of the state in the European East, including Romania, could be attributed, on the one hand, to the lack of any modern institutional traditions in an area still dominated by economic agrarian backwardness[vii] and lack of social differentiation and, on the other hand, to the social sciences themselves, which were still gaining scientific importance and respectability in the period. At the same time, since the modernization of the Romanian lands has been a top-down social enterprise, the dynamism of the local boyars in the first half of the nineteenth century does not contradict the conservative and organic fabric of the society below their ranks. In fact, the process of modernization[viii] would be slowed down and probably even halted at some points when the local elites have showed signs of detachment from the rank-and-file peasants or the petty city-dweller[ix].

            In the land of “invented traditions” the chasm dividing the generation of Romantic revolutionaries and the obliterated past is set by Western standards: nationalism and a strong centralized state are summoned to widen the gap forever, at least as the writing of history is concerned. In this sense only, the process of imitation is somewhat comic, when the history of the real people, above (or below) and beyond the elitist credo, is fit according to the reformist whims of most local Western educated elites.

            If we were to take Habermas’ understanding of what stands for the origin of the public sphere seriously, the local nobility came to regard themselves as elements of bourgeois modernity only after they have been exposed to the “elegant world” of great European cultural and economic centers. The boyar dons his best bourgeois suit. There were no solid courtly manners to learn from (except the already repudiated Ottoman courtly manners), but it was the direct impact of the coffee house and salons, together with the city-life of European cosmopolitan metropolis, which shaped the modern thinking of the Romanian elites after 1840. There was indeed a bridge built between the lost Oriental elites and the new ones, who refashioned history according to Western Romantic ideals, mostly French radical liberalism and only slightly the British liberal conservative values – the latter having gained roots in a social context radically different from the nineteenth century Anglo-Saxon case.

            The leftist approach to the cultural relevance of semi-peripheral and peripheral societies (in terms of the capitalist world system depicted by Immanuel Wallerstein[x], i.e. as Western Europe has proved to be for the Eastern hinterlands when the Ottoman Empire was in the course of its economic decline) is misguided by taking too seriously the sole paradigm of the liberal elites in spreading and enforcing the Western reformist principles. The leftist critics of modernity wholeheartedly embrace the liberal assumptions of a thin group of economic and political reformers, who gave themselves the task of changing from above a whole traditional society, and first and foremost criticize them for their liberal beliefs and not really in accordance with their successes and failures as reformist liberal elites.

            Economic and social histories tell of a different story: although modernized in the Western mindset, the Eastern European reaction of the longue durée is not to be underestimated: the modernization process was slow and heterogeneous[xi], while the hybridization of Western thinking to already consecrated layers of mentalities ended in fostering a society with its own peculiarities and cultural traits.






            A welcoming greeting to methodological prudence and to historical gradualism, not efficient breakthroughs, had been the lighthouse from which Alexandru Duțu has written his own accounts of local cultural histories, more so since his works testify to the importance given to cross-cultural and intercultural studies which would reveal the cultural patterns of Eastern Europe in general. His works have been striving “towards the cultural and psychological causes of the evolution of the literature, the study of mentalities, models and their cultural impact, towards cultural and literary anthropology”.[xii] As Mircea Anghelescu adds soon after in the collective work just mentioned, the original perspective of Alexandru Duțus interest in pre-modern literature is to be assessed together with his revaluation of the modernization process in the nineteenth century, which was not as radical or as profound as the elites have wanted it to be portrayed in history books or to be inscribed in the general mindset. That is why it is relevant to track down the origins of modernity in the Romanian lands and, consequently, in the whole cultural space surrounding the two principalities: “the study of popular books as a cultural phenomenon, and their importance in their study of the imaginary collective in various epochs; reviewing eighteenth century texts whose importance has been neglected, texts by Chesarie de Râmnic, Gherasim Clipa or Leon Gheuca.”[xiii] Other significant authors, ascribed to pre-modernity, are in fact, under Alexandru Duțus critical eye, forerunners both at the level of ideas and later cultural patters which will shape the general consecrated views on the local modernization process. 

            If there is any more ingenious and decisive contribution of Alexandru Duțu to the realm of cultural history this is to be sought in the interpretation of the mentalities in the Romanian literature at the crossroad of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: there are elements which confirm the future path of the intellectuals fashions half a century later and there are also trademarks which set the Romanian Principalities apart both from the cultural framework of Western Europe and the Ottoman rule. Alexandru Duțu capitalizes on an extensive intellectual production that had been little noted previously” and

“circumscribes a category of writings diverse enough in genre, but ultimately brought together as a more coherent whole by the concern for education, now servicing a new idea: the civic education of the new citizen, of the person constantly accumulating and reflecting the needs, tendencies and options of a society on the rise everywhere in Europe. From ancient writings devoted to home management (e.g. Pseudo-Isocrates) to the ethical Enlightenment of Voltaire and Marmontel, a great number of compilations, adaptations and translations that had mobilized the efforts of various intellectuals and filled the time of the epoch’s readers are divided into structures and explained. Moreover, the author analyzes the consequences that being acquainted with these texts had on building a political, civil, conscious and responsible society in the Romanian principalities.”[xiv]

            Together with the non-Marxist approach in the historical accounts written by Alexandru Duțu, there are no clear indications that his hermeneutical abilities are deeply influenced or subjected to the nationalistic historiography, which was part and parcel of the legitimizing school of national communism which began to intoxicate most honest academic writings after 1970, although the general rhetoric of his books is, rather more than less, to inject normative status into the concept of the nation. The social sciences in Romania after 1971 have been gradually but firmly exposed to the intellectually suffocating commands of the regime, largely settled on devising a fascist-like wide-scale national pantheon, wherein the nation could be glorified in its leaders, commencing with the almost legendary ancient chieftains and culminating in the figure of the General Secretary himself. The self-glorification of an idealized nation that has its roots in obsolete times overflowed in what is now identified as protochronism[xv], a manner of writing history that gave prominence and priority to ethnic “Romanians” and their lost forefathers in antiquity, centered around the fictitious scientific hoax named ‘Dacology’.[xvi]

            According to Victor Neumann[xvii], starting from the concept of le Peuple and its German avatar la Nation in the works of Jules Michelet, two concepts embedded in the period of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, the conceptual descendence of le Peuple/la Nation is traced back to the works of Ernest Renan and to the way the concept involves a kind of national consensus based on civic equality and citizenship, Western European realities which did not lead to bloodshed in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, according to Victor Neumann (who identifies the history of the concept of nation in a comparative cross-European overview, in line with Reinhart Koselleck[xviii]), the stateless German nation, without a stable territorial unity since the Middle Ages, had embraced a vision of the nation which will become the Eastern European model. Romania, later on Hungary, Bulgaria and other Balkan nations under the Austro-Hungarian administration are the result of the elitist mentality concerning the ethnic-cultural nation, political features which go back as far as the intellectual legacy of Herder, Hamann and Fichte. The thinker somehow responsible for the cult of an organic community, heir to a language with universalistic virtues (every language is the result of a vision stemming from a putative common singularity, a vague and obscure concept), ancient roots and legendary heroes, is Johann Gottfried von Herder, whose contribution to the history of mentalities has been also assessed by Isaiah Berlin in regard to the main lines of the future nationalistic campaigns led by the Bismarckian Kulturkampf[xix], according to which the invisible essence of a nation consists ultimately in its own race. This Volk-centered essentialism would permeate the traditional world of societies without a stable or established state and a nation exposed to diverse neighboring nations living on the same piece of land, hence with no clearly-set identity (and virtually able to favor any mass project of ethnic engineering), throughout the nineteenth century.

            What Victor Neumann manages to identify is the way in which the Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Hungarian et al. nations transcends any vision of a down-to-earth social contract between citizens sharing equal rights as citizens while preferring the elitist demagogy which holds tight to the legal feudal privileges under the banner of a “revolutionary” nationalistic tribalism. The reality of a state erected around the stronghold of a pure “nation” in the case of Romania continues in the twentieth century when “Greater Romania” experiences a period of state-controlled “nationalization”, as evidenced by the researches carried out by Irina Livezeanu.[xx] The state was set around a prototypical citizen with Romanian blood and only partially accepting the Romanian citizen as somebody who benefited from full citizenship rights. A foreigner, whatever legal rights it enjoyed, was still to a certain degree a stranger from the perspective of the authorities. Not accidently, the modernization process after the 1830s disrupted and cancelled out the oral and written culture before the nineteenth century as an irrelevant cultural attempt[xxi].

            Alexandru Duțus works spring from a different vein: although they are set in a period which predates the advent of Western modernity in south-eastern Europe, none extol the legacies of an irretrievable Romanian ancient past and, at the same time, none condemn the Byzantine regime or highlight in dark colours the influence of the Ottoman Empire as culturally stifling as many later nationalistic historians have done. Although Alexandru Duțu does not go so far as to reevaluate the economic and political age of the Phanariote Greeks[xxii], the Romanian historian portrays the period as a cultural bric-a-brac, a chaotic mosaic of many cultural tendencies, wherein Oriental, Western Enlightened and Russian elements are mixed together in a genuine cultural concoction. His task is not to reconcile the predominant historiography on the subject with the overall age, which is critical and harsh regarding the achievements of the Romanian Principalities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries while blaming it all on the presence of major Empires in the region and safeguarding the eternally political virtues of the local elites that had to unwillingly surrender to external pressures in order to preserve a certain degree of political autonomy, but to cast an eye on the failures of modernity in the region because the reformist policies, inspired by the certainty of only one way to modernity, that is Western-borne, were too radical considering the cultural and economic levels of the societies in south-eastern Europe. However, this is not to say that Alexandru Duțu is at odds with his contemporaries on most subjects, but it is his general overview that counts.





            The first attempt of Alexandru Duțu to throw a new glance on what had been the literary output prior to nineteenth century is Coordonate ale culturii românești în secolul al XVIII-lea, a book published in 1968 and covering the spread and the influence of texts in the Romanian lands between 1700 and 1821. From the outset, Alexandru Duțu states that in spite of a rather lack of printing presses in south-eastern Europe in comparison to the Western counterparts, the available literature circulated and reached the courts of the local noblemen[xxiii]. While at the beginning of the eighteenth century by literature one referred to any written text bound into a volume or in a form of a manuscript, with the exposure to the Enlightened ideas of the West, “literature” itself diversifies into small genres, not as consistent and single-minded as in Western Europe, where the public had also diversified along the economic developments of the hierarchized middle classes, but still copying the Western model[xxiv].

“The development takes place in a seemingly slow rhythm because the historical circumstances in which the Romanian countries had been in the course of the century [the eighteenth century] are not suitable to a continuous and diversified development: the foreign rule, the wars, the usual epidemics, the instability of the princely courts, able to protect the literary circles which were still depending, all across Europe, on them; the rhythm is however <<seemingly>> slow because the mentality continuously evolves, as the literary prints of the age testify – especially the mail, as well as some excerpts from historical works which allow us to see into an intellectual life richer that the one which managed to reach the published works.”[xxv]

The cultural milieus involved, although representing the elites, are still to a large degree dependent, at least as far as the local mentalities are concerned, on oral works of literature, by which it was meant either works of art belonging to the folk or the high respect showed to rhetoric. The high esteem owed to folk works is due to the historically-testified fact that the clergy in the two principalities was still connected and, indeed, part of the peasant population. The general level of the scriptural education among the priests of the local Orthodox Church was, according to the account of Alexandru Duțu, rather low, but this occured within a largely illiterate rural population. On the other hand, the high place held by the study of rhetoric was directly linked to the Greek schools, “where the ancient rhetoric was studied and intensely refined.”[xxvi]

            What Alexandru Duțu is diligently looking for has more to do with how the mentality of the scriptural elites has changed during the eighteenth century and to what extent this transformation at the level of tastes and preferences has contributed to the alteration of what was acknowledged as valuable and precious literature. Even the choice of the translated books might give a hint to a shift in the mentality since there must be a significant mass of readers interested in the subject. Alexandru Duțu adds that he has tried to


“retrace the past of some significant cultural manifestations, to throw light on some forms of the literary taste in the eighteenth century, allowing ourselves to signal some antecedents of the literary forms that entered the modern Romanian literature. And this has been done only because the texts contain new elements that are at the same time widely spread and can show the stages through which the literary tastes had passed”.[xxvii]

            Despite the harsh reality of an almost illiterate general public in the two lands, the books which were read by a few members of the elite had impregnated an oral mentality. The mental chasm separating the higher echelons from the common people was, oddly by Western standards, not a wide chasm at all. Some of the ideas of these books have percolated to the masses and have influenced them, although it is beyond doubt difficult, if not untenable, to estimate to what degree this had happened. 1821 has been chosen as a milestone after which the Romanian principalities had begun their modernization process.

“Even if the circulation of «representative» works in the territory of our country denotes a concomitant development of mentality which has been confirmed by the multiple contacts between the most important scholars of the Enlightenment.”[xxviii]

            What Alexandru Duțu points out as distinctive for the local culture at the end of the eighteenth century is the relevance of the “living element” that

       “spread at the level of mentalities [and] managed to gain more relevance because of that characteristic which enhances the identification of that living fact that, in a culture so vivid as the Romanian one, [is] the strong constant connection between the written word and spoken or painted beauty, between the artistic act and the historical one.”[xxix]

            Most of the pre-modern scholars already resemble some of the ideological traits which will distinguish the 1848 generation, that is acknowledging the civic rights of the people (in a more legal sense, probably borrowed from the Enlightened absolutism of the eighteenth century Habsburg Empire) and a critique of the social practices prevalent in the two Principalities before the 1800s. Some of the values which have been Persian or largely Oriental at the beginning have merged with values discovered in the roman de chevalerie or the European poetry of late medievalism.

            Alexandru Duțu also believes in the humanist encyclopaedism of the late scholars in the Principalities in the eighteenth century. According to Duțu, the enlightened encyclopaedism is socially-oriented against the despotism prevalent in Moldavia and Wallachia and communicates with the Latinist school from Transylvania: it is an encyclopaedism which grows from the study of the history, geography and language of the people living on the territories of future would-be Romania. Apparently, there is no difference between the Romantic pathos for national unity and the themes of the generation before, but it might be for this lack of nationalistic propaganda and the scientific discovery of a political and social self-consciousness that makes the age so ripe in ideas. The volume Coordonate ale culturii românesti în secolul al XVIII-lea is in fact a collection of relevant fragments, each of them being ascribed a thorough study written by Alexandru Duțu, from texts which had enough circulation before or around the 1800s, so that we can now speak about a cultural profile of the main mentalities present at the time at the top of the society.

            The first study is focused on the books for “delight” or leisure which are typical for the age of Constantin Brâncoveanu. The main texts under debate, Floarea darurilor and Pildele filosofești, are, according to a taxonomy taken from Nicolae Iorga, part of the libre de sagesse genre, but coming at the crossroads of civilizations: the books were destined for the private contemplation of the boyars and the Court, being prototypically a book comprised of moral pedagogical lessons and a lively, somewhat shallow attempt to portray the main political experiments that were taking place in the realm of ideas in Western Europe. The reign of Constantin Brâncoveanu did not only bring in a period of stable economic development, but also deeper contacts with the Western world, especially the Italian and Greek intellectual foci.

“Whether it is true or not that the publishing of church books in the Romanian language in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had achieved the creation of the instrument through which literature had also been created, these published texts did not contribute by themselves to the increase in the number of readers and the creation of literary tastes or for written literature.”[xxx]

            There are many similarities existing between the origins of literary works in the Romanian lands and what was going on at the same time in the neo-Greek literature south of the Danube. At the end of the 1700s, the humanists of the two principalities are writing a religious didactic literature, part of it consisting of versifications.

      “The published books have therefore brought in the first place the preoccupation to formulate a Romanian terminology adequate to the subjects which are present in the texts written in <<sacred>> languages, as well as implementing the beginning of a dialogue with some readers who are foremost clergymen, but not only.”[xxxi]

            The schools of rhetoric in the two countries were largely influenced by a resurgence of the neo-Aristotelianism in the Balkan region and the textbooks of neo-Aristotelian thinkers like Teofil Coridaleu[xxxii] were in use for almost one hundred years. The moral precepts were passing through a phase of mild laicization. The literary style was still mostly colloquial, testifying to the close intertwining between the cultural-written accounts and the oral-spoken ones. Many of the first texts which had a pronounced laical inclination, especially the ones that dealt mainly with moral precepts, folkloric tales, chronographs, rules of the just governing or advice in regard to social behavior and courtly manners, were gathered together under the guise of a miscellanea, attesting the personal and portable nature of reading and meditating.

“Judging from a general point of view, some sayings from Pildelele filosofești correspond to the advice from Floarea darurilor: prudence and moderation are natural advice in the two works, which try to open a pathway through the dark woods where beasts roam, embodied not only in sins, but also in political forces that fight for their prey by crushing the most precious good, which is the human being. It is on man that the sum of all observations and thoughts expressed in the books of wisdom is centered. In this respect, one could observe that, in the «renaissance Aristotelianism» sense, the book is meant to deepen the virtue by the psychological investigation it widens up; the interest for the «soul» from which vice and virtue originate turn gradually into curiosity for the psyche, an evolution which has its grounds in the work published in 1713 and then a justification as decades go by, placing itself in a context gradually invaded by the enlightened rationalism.

Nonetheless, even the antagonism between the worldly life and wisdom will perpetually change during the century, starting, however, from a background that allows for these changes, because both Pildele filosofești and Cantemir’s Divan places this conflict in the complexity of the daily life itself; as long as the rational systematic education has replaced the oral sharing of knowledge from teacher to apprentice, the opposition has started to diminish and, at that moment, the book from 1713 had been subject to fragmentation and selection, as the short collection by Leon Gheuca from 1786 indicates.”[xxxiii]

            This book of wise aphorisms is not destined to celebrate the noble values of the feudal aristocracy. It is rather an affirmation of reason which borrows traits from the moralistic works of the enlightenment. Individual self-realization is linked to the dignity of man and the values of prudence, patience and wisdom give way to a new type of spirituality. The age of shifting mentalities was at its dusk. It is highly dubious to affirm that the new type of literature is just a mere figment of Western imagination transplanted and translated onto Eastern grounds. On the contrary, the age of modernity lies far ahead, but the first steps have been taken. Before the 1800s, the literature which started to gain prominence in the high ranks of the society showed signs of breaking away with the strictly dogmatic biblical content of Slavonic sacred texts. 

            Alexandru Duțu will go on by highlighting the gradual evolution of the process at stake, both continuous and syncretic, especially so since it was a warm support for the intertwining between the rational argument and a certain sensibility, “which conveys to the Romanian Enlightenment its own place” in the European world of ideas, “where the theoretical side could sometimes storm into the realm of fantastic legends, while the apologetic sentimental one had achieved a register difficult to comprehend in other cultures.”[xxxiv] Although most of the authors mentioned thereof belong to the liturgical sphere of influence, i.e. they are Orthodox thinkers, traces of the belief in the possibilities of human reason in a world which could be deciphered in and by itself are identifiable in the texts selected for the anthology by Alexandru Duțu.

            The core of culture coincided with the zealous activity of a working printing press, the most proliferous publishing “house” in the eighteenth century being Rîmnic. All throughout the eighteenth century, the Romanian publishing centers in Transylvania put a stop their activity because of the control and administrative predominance of the Habsburg authorities. However, even under dire circumstances, there was no reluctance for the spread of new political ideas under patristic theological guise. Chesarie from Rîmnic will be for Alexandru Duțu the short but eloquent representative of a scholar who is set between two worlds: the world of traditions, which have remained alive contrary to all expectations and under terrible historical challenges, and the new world of law and “patrie”, a concept used by Chesarie in some instances with the same clarity as a nineteenth century scholar.

“The historical time had, therefore, its own characteristics and laws; it is linked to Providence’s plans” but the new meaning acquired by time in the mental framework of the age is that “it could be also used so that people can start here on a new path”[xxxv].

            As evidenced by the many texts and men of letters that Alexandru Duțu quotes, there has been a gradual increase of ideas belonging to the age of enlightenment[xxxvi], although the connection to the liturgical sources is still strong and the social and political ideals of the age of reasons are yet very weakly alive and kicking in the intellectual imaginary of the local thinkers.

            The first translations from Fenelon, Montesquieu and Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man dates back from this period as well. Moldavia and Wallachia were experiencing the same stable wave of western conceptual influence. The Romanian written word in Transylvania, owned to its poor ability to be available to as much as many people as possible, has a certain distinctive place.

“In this movement of ideas the written word acquires a decisive role: the book and the newspapers become the means of communication by excellence, but culture begins to signify a participation of the values which are being formulated and will develop through the means of the pen and the press. (…) Under these circumstances, the publishing house has an essential role, and the process of «literacy» is one of the determinant conditions of the existence of the new cultural mode. «Enlightening» is opposed to the «edification», and wisdom acquires the meaning of exercising reason, distinct from the traditional understanding of a «law» which allows for the separation of good from evil, of the necessity from the dangerous uselessness, of the essential from the deceiving appearance.”[xxxvii]

            Overall, the oral tradition reinforces itself over the written word, both stylistically and in so far as its content is regarded. Science, the flourishing of the literary arts, the political and social reformist endeavor have an influence, although small, in the new mindset of the Eastern European scholar at the end of the eighteenth century. The standing of rhetoric, combined with the high esteem a good spokesperson used to have in an oral culture, constitutes a cultural landmark. The new influence of the Greek schools and their consecration of Aristotle’s stature are yet other intellectual trademarks of the region at the time. Historical and social literature is highly praised and cherished by the public, as far as this public is limited to the literate rich city dwellers.

            Since most of the ideas from Coordonate ale culturii românești în secolul al XVIII-lea follow the logic of a short text which precedes a series of fragments from late eighteenth century texts, Alexandru Duțu will deliberately settle on developing some of the interpretations in Sinteză și originalitate în cultura română, a book published in 1972. In the first chapter of this work, Alexandru Duțu accomplishes the task of pinpointing the main historiographical disputes which have attempted to reconcile the origins of the local literature. As previously alluded to, for most scholars on the subject, there is a wide chasm between the pre-eighteenth century «the old literature» and the new, more developed, that is to say, more modern, «modern literature», of the nineteenth century.

            Alexandru Duțu reinforces the fact that this perspective is not only to be identified in the Romanian case, but it is an interpretation of the past which has gained solid ground in most of the cultures of the region. The general consensus, which Alexandru Duțu inadvertently summarizes, is that, although there have been some vivid influences in the cultures of the region before 1800s, one cannot speak of a genuine literature. In fact, literature as an artistic product or as a final purposeful work of art, destined for the esthetic delights of this time, came only later and abruptly, by Western interference. Literature was still linked solidly into a general unspecialized composite, together with the sciences of the age or with the liturgical chronographs. It was the modernization process which triggered the passionate adventure of gaining lost distances and of creating, in a short lapse of time of only two generations, a genuine literature in Romanian, comparable, at least temporarily, with its French, English, etc. counterparts.

            Alexandru Duțu states that


“if we direct our interest towards the whole written culture, taken as a whole with many manifestations, then one will concentrate on the transformations undergone by a homogenous culture until the intellectual activities have deliberately divided and the collective cultural experience has become conscientious of the diversity of individual experiences. As long as the transformations are identified to have taken place in perfectly different stages, labeling too generally and with a narrow purpose does not prove useful.”[xxxviii]

            The various stages through which the oral and written cultures have passed reflect the social dynamism of the time. According to Alexandru Duțu, there has been no radical and sudden break with a past, but a sequence of generations which have gradually, steadily and not altogether visibly, departed from mental habits and custom and acquired, again moderately and step by step, the ideas, the ideals and the social changes which were beginning to ascertain the mental framework of most European societies during the age of Enlightenment. Historians, such as Paul Hazard[xxxix], settle the birthdate of the new modern consciences under the banner of the crisis which began to erode the social and mental structures of the civilized West ever since the onset of the eighteenth century. The ripples of the new waves of ideas have landed on the eastern shores of Europe as well, nevertheless, significantly reduced in intensity and slightly anachronistic. The written works, followed in their subtle changes of vocabulary, ideas, perceptions, are the living testimonies of a civilization which is undergoing internal alterations.

            The break with the past may appear revolutionary at the surface if one would isolate important events from the flow of time, but the minor and constant changes give the final effect its strength, poignancy and relevance. The predominance of orality is again not to be disputed.


“Under the circumstances, until the nineteenth century, writing has not recorded all the possibilities of expression, but has only retained only a part of the ways of exteriorizing the mentalities. Ascribed to fulfilling a function, invested with a well-known authority in the life of the community, writing reflects the circumstances of accomplishing an officium – the princely, the ecclesiastical and aristocratic one. The lord’s decisions are written down, memorable documents are cut into stone, liturgical tests are published, and the major events of a country are also written. Other forms are allowed for orality and «figurative» expression. One will not find in writing the whole intellectual activity of the society, but only the «official» one, until de age of humanists, when writing starts its ascend, which ends in the romantic age, when writing spreads to all sectors of intellectual activity, separating itself from the folklore and the visual arts.”[xl]

            From the synchronic interspersing of foreign influences and the local «authenticity» the mental structures are once again cast into different shapes. What did not achieve the level of a fixed mental structure would soon be forgotten. The long-lasting traditions, together with their obsolete social framework, had to be revised.

      “In the stages of density, the assimilations have integrated in the directions set by expression and, by melting it again, have taken part in the original process of revising the past. This relationship between synthesis and originality is to be found in all the major stages which we will review and, through the means of it, the cultural domain has extended and crystallized.”[xli]

            Traditional values acquire new meanings and the values they give birth to carry more load in the mental structures. The stages of increased cultural density are detailed by Alexandru Duțu henceforth. The first concept Alexandru Duțu comes up with to define an epoch is the civic humanism of the eighteenth century scholar, who becomes an epitome of an entire age that looks beyond the narrow horizon of medieval figures, such as the knight or the clergyman. The new generations of scholars turn back to the written testimonies of the ancient Roman or Greek civilization, inspired by their Western counterparts. A new school of thinking concentrates more on the benefits of education: new pedagogical models are to be found in the eighteenth century texts. As far as the style is regarded, there was an urge to create a type of literature which had little in common with the oral tradition. Hence, new words are introduced into the language in the hope of gaining distinction and superiority in the eyes of the ruling classes.

            The references to classical authors are again an indication of how much the language needed to change if it wanted to compete with other cultures in Europe. However, the orality of the culture will persist even under written form. The causes of this are twofold: on the one hand, the local aristocracy was neither independent from foreign control nor too powerful in the Romanian lands so as to trigger the development of other intermediate social classes, e.g. urban dwellers or small landholders, on the other hand, most scholars who wrote during the age had humble origins directly related to the peasant strata and so carried in their writings a degree of orality which was considered natural and not problematic. The cultural centers for the young scholars were directed towards Istanbul and Padova, places where the Western ideas were only gradually beginning to be accepted and appreciated. Alexandru Duțu entrusts the civic humanism of the age into the works of Dimitrie Cantemir, Constantin Cantacuzino Stolnicul, Miron Costin, who give the impetus for a future retracing of the new modern consciousness that was interested in natural sciences, geography and history.


“The traditional standings are critically reconsidered and the doubt in the viability of some well-established concepts is clearly expressed, but the worldview is not completely renovated. The new viewpoints are expressed by people who are still attached to the social and economic feudal structure; the openness does not involve a clear detachment from the ideology of the predecessors and does not introduce points of view that are so new and strong into the traditional conceptions so as to force them to look for a refuge less in intelligence and more in sensibility, moving into the background gradually and leaving open its place to rational system of thinking.”[xlii]

                The advent of the age of scientific reason is henceforth foreshadowed:

“Old precepts are reconsidered in order to support more vigorously the political struggle, and that is why they are partially, but constantly changed practically; the prestige of intellectual values is maintained, which even goes up because of the critical spirit; the openness to the common folk is also increasing, although there is the idea that the great masses should be «involved» in the fight, but not incorporated by studying its own demands; the man is the center of attention, who seems better rooted into a clearly distinguished social environment.”[xliii]

            The society itself becomes more individualized and, as already mentioned earlier, the role of education becomes a landmark of distinction in the higher ranks. The local language is more and more favored, even in liturgical texts, although the conservatism of most printing presses and clerical publishers is not to be underestimated.

            Foreign books enter the two countries at an unprecedented rate and the vocabulary of the time enriches itself with many words borrowed initially from Greek, Latin or Turkish. The diversification of intellectual activities brings also a new view of time, which is rectilinear and therefore historical. Ethics will be given high importance in the scholarly mindset. The humanist scholars are fond of the almost infinite possibilities of man’s reason and skill as long as they coalesce around a civilization. Although the exterior political battles and the military campaigns are daily threats, the intellectual representatives of the Romanian lands have already initiated their quest for reason, education and the dignity of man, inspired by the tide of ideas which was sweeping the western outskirts of the continent.



            The second period in the development of the ideas and mentalities at the close of the eighteenth century is for Alexandru Duțu the so-called concept of “patriotic enlightenment”. The first aspect which gains importance in the period is the intense circulation of books, mostly translations which will determine the worldview of the new elites. The same tidal wave of ideas coming in the form of books is present in all the three historical lands. What first turns out more prominent is the selective process of the local elites: mostly, the translated books are either related to didactic works, or to tales or short story that are deeply moralizing. The philosophical masterpieces of the eighteenth century will gradually enter the world of ideas of south-eastern Europe, but this will not be the case at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

            “The revolutionary current, which completely questions or denies the institutions and the values of the Ancien Régime, creates a deep and general spiritual crisis.”[xliv] The age of nationalisms is becoming prominent while the feudal ties weaken by every forthcoming decade[xlv]. The information that comes from the West does not reach the lower echelons of society, which is a limit to the fast step of implementing ideas into the fabric of everyday life. The level of economic dynamism was still lagging far behind the mainstream development of Western Europe at the time. As far as ideas are concerned, there has not been any revolutionary change in mentalities, but the slow rhythm by which systems of ideas were imported leads to a peremptory change in the kinds of books read by the literate classes. Historical recording benefits from the Western influence and the prospects of assembling a local history with its own set of values are better than ever before.

The quantity of texts all throughout the eighteenth century, although still controlled by the Church, increases to never before seen heights. The public is also made largely of merchants and noblemen.

       “We can identify that the translation of works which were extremely popular at the time of the editing of books that contain new ideas stems from the initiative of boyars or clergymen, the diffusion and generally the amplification of contacts with the intellectual movement of the continent are owned to some intellectual circles from the urban centers or to merchants who associate their interest for short-term gains with the curiosity for a literature willing to speak about their world, about the ethics that dominate social interactions, about the fantastic adventures of some couples which show what place feelings and passions occupy in man’s existence.”[xlvi]

            As mentioned earlier, the development of historiography is conventional both for the role played by reason and political ideals at the time. The patriotic zeal is not to be underestimated. From a circular traditional time the historiography of the age moves on to a sensible linear comprehension of historical events. This is also a testimony of the influence of Enlightenment’s ideas in the region.[xlvii] A new self-consciousness takes shape from these elements mixed together, which is at the same time traditional and open to modernity.

            The oral and scriptural levels of mentalities intersperse during the decades before the full-fledged modernizing desideratum of the mid-nineteenth century.


“Without doubt, the Romanian enlightened thinkers have deliberately looked for a place of the written Romanian culture within the European culture: this is demonstrated not only by the predominance of the enlightened Europe in the general consciousness, but also by the on-going dialogue, at a superior and more lively level, with foreign specialists”.[xlviii]

            Next on, Alexandru Duțu will devote a special chapter to the heroic figure of the romantic revolutionary of 1848. This type of political romanticism, which exulted over the inner merits of the nation and its long-lasting tradition, helped the consolidation of the concept of nation in the process of state-building in the Romanian lands. After 1821, the Romanian ties to the West develop economically so much that in the coming generation the necessity of designing a political framework - fitting the new commercial ties - that is borrowed from the West was the accomplishment of the revolutionaries and intellectuals around 1850. The literate public in the cities diversifies and looks forward to an increase in the number of books translated at the time. The presence of a need for daily matters and affairs could be traced back to the founding of the local press. As a side effect of the urban loisir, the dramatic arts start to take their toll in the public space with mostly popular performances, but there was enough room for the elites as well. Political and literary clubs are often meshed into one another. However, most cultural elements were imported and there were only meek signs of local artistic originality within the urban classes in the age.

            Alexandru Duțu stresses an important point at this moment of his cultural history: in spite of the merits of the 1848 generation, there had been an oral and scriptural tradition in the Romanian lands before the onset of Western cultural models would begin to swipe away old and perishable mental patters. There is a radical openness to universal works of art which steadily dismantle the high throne on which the liturgical tradition had stood on no more than half a century before. The process of modernization might have seemed radical as far as the elites were concerned, but rather feeble and still foreign for the rest of the society. A new sense of individualism and an emphasis on the question of subjectivity gain ground in the public debate, even more so in intellectual circles. All these traits were envisaged in the emancipatory will of the ruling classes, respectively the boyars who wanted to break away with the established norms and help to consolidate a thriving Romanian bourgeoisie and landowners’ class. New concepts, such as «the people», «progress», «the nation», are introduced in the public agenda and will reshape the mentalities of most social classes.


“Naturally, the shifts in the fields of intellectual activity have been triggered by the remapping of knowledge, a situation which occurred both by the prestige of sciences and clarification of some concepts”[xlix]

and also due to the role-model represented by the European civilization, scurrying towards its highest ever recorded peak of economic, social and political development in the nineteenth century. The oral culture did survive, but was gently relegated to an inferior position in the modern hierarchy of knowledge, which had begun to be common for the whole European civilization.

            Alexandru Duțu further on elaborates on the issue whether or not the Romanian culture after 1821 and the modernizing mental framework of 1848 had anything in common to the previous cultural models or whether it was a genuine new-born acculturation that denied the existence of any tradition:

“The truth is that the differences between the intellectual activities which had occurred in different stages are responsible for the different relations which are established between the areas of the expressive framework, which also indicate variations in the mental structures. The debate about the connection between the microcosm and macrocosm, about corresponding levels show a certain overview on the world and society, whereas the attention given to scientific exploration of nature and the laws of progress, discovered after the historical analysis of the civilization forms, indicate another point of view. But if the mental structures are different, where could the connections be traced?”[l]

            His assessment goes beyond the confines of a rigid debasement of the local traditions before the eve of modernity in the nineteenth century. Alexandru Duțu admits to the economic backwardness and the constant series of warlike strife that have dominated the political life in the region, but backlashes by protesting against the shallow historical retrospective view of the cultural impact of the humanistic, orthodox, enlightened and oral cultural tradition before the advent of Westernization in south-eastern Europe: his testimony is a clear indictment of both the romantic Romanian historians who have centered exclusively on the merits of the nation in the past and its supposedly justified desire to assemble into a strong nation-state against the Oriental dark age which preceded it and a clear unbiased account of the ontological values of the pre-modern society that was already on its own path of assembling together various cultural traditions.

            Many of the ideas and concepts which are being advanced methodologically in Sinteză și originalitate în cultura română (1972) share most of the historical analysis with the main lines in Cărțile de înțelepciune în cultura română (1972), perhaps the most academic and rigorous study published by Alexandru Duțu during the 1970s. Alexandru Duțu starts from the general assumption that the types of literature which were of public interest in the second half of the nineteenth century could be sensibly grouped into two large categories under the all-encompassing heading of “books of wisdom”: books that were meant for the general public, id est the urbanized literate social milieus, which assembled together various topics regarding the behavior, the tastes and mental preferences of the modern civilized man, and another category of books, called mirror for princes or Fürstenspiegel, that explicitly had a didactic content of self-help textbooks for would-be rulers and kings. These kinds of books are organized as vivid testimonies of the mental framework that had been changing organically in the latter half of the eighteenth century.


       “In the writings under re-categorization one does not come across too many assumptions in regard to the necessity of a radical change in the readers’ conceptions; but it is certain that neither a book would not have been published nor a manuscript copied relentlessly, given the harsh circumstances in which the written culture has developed in the Romanian lands, if that piece of work had not been the answer to a spiritual need, either because its author felt responsible to express his ideas, or that the readers had felt the need to look for an explanation to real issues in the pages already read.”[li]

            Alexandru Duțu goes on and searches through the intricate depths of the so-named books of behavior. Most of the content consists of apothegms meant for the monastic communities and for the majority of the clergymen: the wisdom of the sayings is largely moralistic and relates to the individual’s behavior in his effort to attain spiritual purity. This is why the image of the saint as a human prototype undercuts the whole project. Among these books, one is still within the confines of the traditional world. However, when the public enlarges and diversifies the books of liturgical wisdom are slowly engulfed by more mundane requests: signs of a shifting mentality become visible at the end of the seventeenth century. Apocryphal elements of folkloric origin pour into the books of wisdom. Part of the responsibility of the continuous change at the level of elite’s mentality is due to the tightened contact between the local scholars and the universities of today’s northern Italy, from where, during the eighteenth century, the local men of letters return after study. The humanist of the new century follows on the track of the general crisis of the European consciousness around 1700s by delimiting, and thus separating, the domain of ethics within the realm of theology. Thus, the epistemological foundations of Eastern European traditionalism are steadily beginning to shake before collapsing a century later on.

       “What is of interest to our study is that, within the books of wisdom, some of them in the form of dialogue, humanistic problems are introduced, foreign to the asceticism which the «mirror for the clergyman» were preaching; the collections – among which there should be comprised some parts of the works of questions and answers, into which there were inserted genuine sayings from the folklore, or texts that were dealing in the same way with biblical matters, some variants reproducing basic folkloric beliefs or even remnants from old Bogomil writings, therefore, a genre which was extremely diverse, not to say «classical»,  change and the predominant characteristic is debating the contemporary issues of the age.”[lii]

            The brand-new elements in the new books destined for the private enjoyment of the educated few were distributed along the dichotomy of good versus bad, but this time, what is a further development to the theological rhetoric, the description of virtues and vices in the social confines of the epoch appears not to upset the traditionalism of the period, which lacks the stiffness and prudery of past ages.

       “One can state that images which the collections of wisdom from Greek manuscripts offer, that have been edited or used in the Romanian countries, indicate a narrowing of their purpose (addressing in a lesser degree to the general public and more to the king’s administration), but also a deeper understanding of the genre (the former student getting used to cropping with one’s own tastes the maxims which could attract one’s attention at a further reading). When taste develops and the mentality is commencing its change in the second half of the century, the man of letters dares to add in one’s personal collection of maxims quotes from European enlightened thinkers, who were giving another kind of advice than Plutarch or the much revered Cato”.[liii]

            Most books published during the eighteenth century follow three tracks: books meant for schooling, others designed to vulgarize the most important up-to-date scientific discoveries and, last but not the least, the writings which opened new vistas in the mentalities of the society. Nonetheless, if it had not been for the sweeping tide of ideas emanated from the Romanian-speaking scholars of Transylvania, the reformist aspects present in the scholarly works of most clergymen in Wallachia and Moldavia would have gone largely unnoticed. The society itself was barely administered properly by the local elites, the state itself was under vicious attacks from the Ottoman Empire and there was not enough internal social dynamism to foster a spirit of reformist emulation of rationalism in daily affairs as was the case in Central Europe of the time.

            Henceforth, the archetypical break with the past might be rather connected to the increased interest of the Transylvanian clergymen for the question of citizenship and civil rights. The works were destined to capture the attention of the urban dwellers, consisting mainly of advice in public appearance and social behavior, of the importance of history and social ties, of traditions that need to be protected and of superstitions and spiritual forgeries that should be dispensed with.

            The place of the laic education is an improvement in comparison to the past: acquiring knowledge in the fields of natural sciences leads to a better control of daily affairs. The illuminating constancy of scientific knowledge underlies the enlightened writings of the Transylvanian branch of Romanian scholars and men of letters. The works of Lord Chesterfield or Alexander Pope[liv] begin to circulate in the dense atmosphere of the epoch, epistemologically homogenized in the traditional patterns of the Zeitgeist. At length, the privilege of the spoken word slides gently into oblivion as long as the written records multiply with every decade: nevertheless, the high respect showed to the eloquence of good spokespersons will be a trademark of the entire region. An educated individual should be distinguished both in appearance and in the process of expressing ideas[lv].

            More specifically, most topics of concern were centered on the nation, the progress of the public mores and of the material life even before the 1800s. The first glimpse of social self-consciousness in the Eastern European lands had been in direct reaction to the cosmopolitan empirically-concerned civilized middleman of Western Europe.


       “Not only a series of concepts, but also the classical examples have gone into disuse and this happened because of the impetus taken by the sole study of universal history; thus one can look at the transformation of <<examples>>, which no longer stand as embodiments of any divine manifestation, but rather authentic and factual historical models. The transformation is evident in the contents of the «collections», in which we have seen inserted fragments from the history of the Romanian people, as well as in the series of printings which record some books dedicated to historical figures.”[lvi]

            Instead of the sententious biblical extracts or excerpts from the ancient classics one is exposed to a collection of wise sayings from different, chronologically marked, periods in the past, up to the present time. Instead of abstract allegorical depictions of vices and virtues, the public is rendered to judge the diversity of human characters such as in the “characters” of the modern French Theophrastus, Jean de La Bruyère. Instead of the mild advice given to an extra-temporal social order, static as all traditional gnosiology, the minds of the age absorb de ideas of patriotism under a national flag and revolutionary anti-feudal republican ideas. In Alexandru Duțus own words:

       “The work of the great revolutionary writer marks another climatic point in the evolution of the genre, its whole problematic, brought to a socio-political stage, having been defended in a rational manner, which starts from the premise that human self-fulfillment is accomplished only with the means of the human being. By inscribing the human being in the life of society, «the book of wisdom» has reached its final stage, reaching the natural conclusions of a long intellectual process that has crystallized two centuries before.”[lvii]

            The citizen is part of the society at least nominally, at the level of ideas. This has been a mental breakthrough for Eastern Europe in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

            The next kind of books which will influence the mental background and foreground of the literate classes is the Fürstenspiegel genre. Apparently medieval and encrusted in the liturgical tradition, the mirror of the princes could and had been able to incorporate the modern concepts that sprang from the crisis of consciousness at around the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, which the works of Paul Hazard have magisterially demonstrated[lviii]. Part of the orthodox rationalism Alexandru Duțu has already referred to are the limits imposed by the traditions of the church to the powers of the kings, who could easily get trapped into the moral monstrosity of tyranny and godless arbitrary in the use and abuse of power in the state administration. The spiritual power still dominates, at least conceptually, the temporal power in the eighteenth century in Eastern Europe.

“Based on this principle rights and duties were created that had their sanction in divine judgment. In the spirit of eastern spirituality, particularized most of all by Hesychasm, a major stress is put on the unifying power of love (hence, the great contribution of the coherence of human and divine wills, that synergy meant to create an openness to noticing the essence and, simultaneously, to back up the aspiration towards totality that stops the more active intervention of the systematic reason, which defines the domains of human activity).”[lix]

            We are still in pre-modernity, but the homogenous nature of the mental framework in traditional societies stands up for its own sets of values. However, the heroism of the ruler will be steadily replaced by the opinion that the supremacy of law would be just as useful for the society and the community. The king is still the sovereign of all laws in the kingdom, but since he is also subject to the laws founded into the realm of God, the laws govern in abstracto by themselves. This is not a process of deluding ourselves since the historical testimony speaks otherwise: the lack of appropriate laws together with the hallow spirit of the laws constituted the daily practicalities of late-feudal governance. The scholastic studies which were interfering with the traditional philosophy in the schools of the age led to the direction of innovation and, thus, borrowing the abstract impersonal essence of the modern law would take the form of reformist enlightened mentality. The absolute divine power of the king, because of the French books that are under translation in Eastern Europe, begins to be questioned and, at least mentally, checked and balanced by the principal of the law’s omnipotence.

       “At the level of values, the shift from the predominance of ethical values to the advance of political values speaks for itself.”[lx]

            And a bit further on:

       “If we don’t come across the prospect of any political theory and if resorting to wisdom (especially significant in the context of our topic) continues to have a preponderant function, it is beyond any shadow of doubt that the issue of the political power is seen in the terms (which we find present both at Fénelon and Massillon): master-subjects. These do not have the function of a simple reference point, but they are the ones which hold the crown with «a multitude of hands». The demophil spirit moves the issue, itself reflecting the social mutation which takes place at the level of creation and of cultural action in the last decades of the eighteenth century – the first two decades from the twentieth century.”[lxi]

            The influence of Western ideas and ideals is felt also through the intermediate reformist urges of the Transylvanian School of Romanian intellectuals, who borrow most of the legalistic and administrative attributes from the enlightened despotism of the Habsburg Empire.

“The economic life under transformation and the new social relations from the Romanian principalities, as well as from the surrounding empires that have controlled the feudal structure of the lands, were facing the absolutism with new challenges”.[lxii]

            The only reaction against the tide of times was through force. Therefore, although the fight had been only temporarily won, it will be lost forever spiritually. The long-lasting Fürstenspiegel was spiritually waning in the newly-born social world where the feudal ties were breaking apart and would never come back again. The long-lasting inheritance of the age can be identified in the manifold steps in which the creation of the modern state in the middle of nineteenth century will use the precepts of administration by law, in spite of the side effect of stifling the autonomy of the individual and the free will of the citizen in deciding from below the general laws of the society. Owed to the lack of a stable thriving bourgeoisie able to decide by itself the track of modernity and by a weak aristocracy, the Romanian culture will be incessantly subverted by the paternalistic modernization derived from the omnipotence of the modern state.

            The change of the cultural center from the Greek Byzantine sphere to the Western influence had been a stable transition in the long span of the eighteenth century. The production of texts and historical recordings was still a matter of public concern. The great age of Romantic individualism was yet to come for the scholar of the late-feudal social organization.


“The writing is still closely tied to the political program; a scholarly study of the ancient texts, an inquiry into the relations exiting between the conceptions of diverse periods and, hence, a shift of the intellect towards the environment in which its works are second-hand issues in comparison to the urgency of building a body of documents and arguments meant to support the rights of the people and of the state. The main innovative effort is done in the historical field with the purpose of demonstrating the Latin origin of the Romanian people, that the Latin world had brought the <<Renaissance>>.”[lxiii]

            Alexandru Duțu will reinforce the point of view he has pleaded for and articulated in other books and separate studies as well: although the inspiration of the Western enlightened ideas is not to be disputed under any circumstance, the acculturation of Western models and patterns does indeed fall under the influence of the local tradition, which is “aware of its existence.”[lxiv]

       “The amplification of the contacts with the movements of ideas all across the continent creates the basis of a much diversified and rich culture, which is built on a cultural tradition and on a series of values that indicate a clear self-consciousness. The activity of the enlightened scholars is grounded on the long intellectual activity of the publishers who have activated in the preceding decades, in the schools which have resumed, after each calamity, the courses and renewed their study books. The enlightened scholars can recuperate a scholarly tradition, which, though not transforming into a humanist tradition (in the sense of cultivating the studia humanitatis), manages to keep alive the intellectual preoccupation and to put into writing the great expectations of the community and its purposeful values.”[lxv]

            With the turn of the century, in the foot tracks of the French Army and its eastern campaigns, the Romanian principalities had opened to the fresh inspiration of French political ideas, which were, nevertheless, considered too radical and outlandishly anti-feudal for the stability and cultural homogeneity of the two small kingdoms, economically still dependent on the Ottoman hegemony in the region.  

            Alexandru Duțu details the connections that have been borne out of the Napoleonic campaigns and highlights, most relevantly, the process through which the Greek language – employed as the means of communication of the laic intellectual elite – would soon be replaced, on the canvas of the Romantic age, by the French-inspired educated young elites. In comparison to the French model, that will have a definite and irreversible impact at every social level on the mental framework of modern institutional Romania, the British example is largely employed by the local scholars as either a piece of good morals from where to learn or as an example of insightful role-models, such was the case with the gentleman code of conduct prescribed by Lord Chesterfield in the letters to his son, a piece of literature which was available in the Principalities around the 1800s. There were also readers who sought in the British example the pinnacle of the age in matters of science and technology. However, the nationalistic impetus and the cry for independence of the small nations, inspired by Western thinking at the time, triggered the affirmation of a new role-model in the region: the patriot. He belongs to a generation that is already intellectually modernized.

Overall, Alexandru Duțu demonstrates carefully that there was no real mental borderline between the written works and the figurative language or the folklore in the eighteenth century and that these three dimensions crisscrossed each other even if the artist or the historian came from different social settings. The social and the mental coordinates had been so specific for the region that there is a cultural blending at every level of the homogenized mentalities. Furthermore,


“the modernization process brought with it a great degree of imitation which tore many vital strings that held together the people and their original hearth, deranging the belief in the values of an authentic civilization.”[lxvi]





            The methodological concept that has a pivotal role in all of Alexandru Duțus studies is the cultural of orality before 1800, which is neither to be shallowly confused with the folkloric view (that does have its weight) or with the pre-modern historical accounts of the theological scholars. The essence of the oral culture for Alexandru Duțu lies in the overlapping of all the forward-looking tendencies after 1750 in the two principalities (the Transylvanian Romanian elites are the first educated in Western patterns), even if it expresses the visual arts in the monasteries, the liturgical texts or the folkloric works of art. The cultural blending gave to the language and the society a homogeneity that does not allow a partial estimation, but a general judgment. It is the richness of this homogenous and coherent whole at the level of mentalities which, Alexandru Duțu believes, leaks into the modernization process. Although the traditions of the old order are distorted and the homogeneity is lost, the pathway of the type of modernization in nineteenth century Romania has not been completely imitated and transplanted from Western Europe. On the contrary: the cultural transformation, as far as the first half of the century is concerned, took care to preserve the deep layers of orality and cultural wholeness of the old society, but this was not to last. Somehow, the modernization elites proved irresponsible by not paying close attention to the late-feudal heritage of the social organism, of which they are still a limb in the political body.





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[i] John Torrance, Karl Marx’s Theory of Ideas, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 362-394; Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Volume 1 (State and Bureaucracy), Monthly Review Press New York and London, pp. 464-484, 572-591 and for a critical overview Robert C. Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, Cambridge University Press, 1972.

[ii] For the historical economic precedence of the West and the role of the medieval Commercial Revolution, see Georges Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1976 and the classical study by Henri Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, Mariner Books, 1956.

[iii] Barrington Moore Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, Penguin University Books, 1974, pp. 413-433.

[iv] Daniel Chirot (editor), The Origins of Backwardness in Eastern Europe. Economics and politics from the Middle Ages until the Early Twentieth Century, University of California Press, 1991, p. 11.

[v] Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991, pp. 29-30.

[vi] Virgil Nemoianu, Imperfection and Defeat. The Role of Aesthetic Imagination in Human Society, CEU Press, Budapest, New York, 2006, p. 104 (pp. 91-127).

[vii] For an overview in statistical terms of the importance of the Industrial Revolution in the development of capitalism worldwide, Paul Bairoch, Economics and World History, The University of Chicago Press, 1993, pp. 101-109; Robert William Fogel, The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100, Cambridge University Press, 2004; Lenard R. Berlanstein (editor), The Industrial Revolution and Work in Nineteenth Century Europe, Routledge, 1992.

[viii] For an all-encompassing study on the subject of modernity and the modernization process, see Ronald Inglehart, Christian Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Index, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

[ix] For the socio-political radical changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution in the developed West, see the classic work by Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, 2001, pp. 35-136.

[x] Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, vol. III: The Second Great Expansion of the Capitalist World-Economy, 1730-1840's, San Diego: Academic Press, 1989.

[xi] For the Western economy of the Middle Ages as different from the Eastern Hinterland, Georges Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1974.

[xii] Laurențiu Vlad (sour la direction de), La dimension humaine de l’histoire, Institutul European, Iași, 2012, p. 108.

[xiii] Ibidem.

[xiv] Ibidem, p. 109.

[xv] Alexandra Tomiță, O istorie “glorioasă”. Dosarul protocronismului românesc, Cartea Românească, 2007.

[xvi] Perhaps the best book still available on the subject of the Romanian national mythologies is still Lucian Boia, Istorie și mit în conștiința românească, ediția a III-a, editura Humanitas, București, 2006.

[xvii] Victor Neumann, Neam, popor sau națiune?, Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2004 and also Istoria României prin concepte. Perspective alternative asupra limbajelor social-politice, (Editor coordonator împreună cu Armin Heinen), Polirom, Iași, 2010, Essays on Romanian Intellectual History, Second Edition, Institutul European, Iași, 2013.

[xviii] Reinhart Koselleck, Conceptele și istoriile lor, Art, București, 2009.

[xix] Michael B. Gross, The War Against Catholicism: Liberalism and the Anti-Catholic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Germany, University of Michigan Press, 2005; Matthew Jefferies, Imperial Culture in Germany, 1871-1918, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

[xx] Irina Livezeanu, Cultură şi naţionalism în România Mare, 1918-1930, Humanitas, București, 1998.

[xxi] For the particular case of the Jews as a benchmark of deep-seeded chauvinism, see Andrei Oisteanu, Inventing the Jew. Antisemitic Stereotypes in Romanian and Other Central-East European Cultures, foreword by Moshe Idel, Nebraska University Press, Lincoln & London, 2009.

[xxii] I would like to mention here the contribution of Bogdan Murgescu, Țările Române între Imperiul Otoman și Europa creștină, Polirom, Iași, 2012, on the complexity of the subject here mentioned.

[xxiii] Eugen Negrici, Narațiune în cronicile lui Grigore Ureche și Miron Costin, Minerva, București, 1972; Imanența literaturii, Cartea Românească, Iași, 2009, pp. 21-109.

[xxiv] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, Editura pentru Literatură Universală, București, 1967, pp. 434-500.

[xxv] Alexandru Duțu, Coordonate ale culturii românești în secolul al XVIII-lea, Editura pentru Literatură, București, 1968, pp. 8-9.

[xxvi] Ibidem.

[xxvii] Ibidem, p. 13.

[xxviii] Ibidem, p. 15.

[xxix] Ibidem, p. 17.

[xxx] Ibidem, p. 29.

[xxxi] Ibidem, p. 33.

[xxxii] Ștefan Afloroaiei, Cum este posibila filosofia in estul Europei, Polirom, Iași, 1998 or Dicționarul operelor filozofice românești (coordonator general Ion Ianoși, coordonatori Vasile Morar, Ilie Pârvu, Dragan Stoianovici, Gheroghe Vlăduțescu), Humanitas, București, 1997.

[xxxiii] Ibidem, p. 58-59.

[xxxiv] Ibidem, p. 120.

[xxxv] Ibidem, p. 140.

[xxxvi] For a thorough up to date study of the political ideas behind the age, see Jonathan Israel, A Revolution of the Mind. Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy, Princeton University Press 2010, while for the multiple epistemological shades of the intellectual legacy of the Age of Enlightenment, see Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

[xxxvii] Ibidem, p. 219.

[xxxviii] Alexandru Duțu, Sinteză și originalitate în cultura română, Editura enciclopedică română, 1972, București, p. 48.

[xxxix] Paul Hazard, Criza conștiintei europene, 1680-1715, Humanitas, București, 2007.

[xl] Alexandru Duțu, Sinteză și originalitate…cit., p. 64.

[xli] Ibidem, p. 86-87.

[xlii] Ibidem.

[xliii] Ibidem, p. 113

[xliv] Ibidem, p. 126.

[xlv] On the subject of nations and nationalism, see Hans Kohn, Nationalism: Its Meaning and History, Robert E. Krieger Publishing Co, 1982, Prophets and peoples: Studies in nineteenth century nationalisms, Octagon Books, London, 1972; Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalisms, Cornell University Press, 2009; Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, Harvard University Press, 1993; Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, 2006, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press, 2012; Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalisms since 1780, Cambridge University Press, 2012; Elie Kedourie, Nationalism, Wiley-Blackwell, 1993; Peter F. Sugar, (ed.), Eastern European Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, The American University Press, Washington, 1995; Peter F. Sugar, Ivo J. Lederer (eds.), Nationalism in Eastern Europe, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1994.

[xlvi] Alexandru Duțu, Sinteză și originalitate…cit., p. 156.

[xlvii] On the question of the relevance of enlighted republican ideas in the region, see Paul Cornea, Originile romantismului românesc, Cartea Românească, 2009, pp. 55-59.

[xlviii] Alexandru Duțu, Sinteză și originalitate…cit., p. 166

[xlix] Ibidem, p. 207.

[l] Ibidem, p. 212.

[li] Alexandru Duțu, Cărțile de înțelepciune în cultura română, Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, București, 1972, p. 14.

[lii] Ibidem, p. 23.

[liii] Ibidem, p. 29.

[liv] Alexander Pope, The Major Works, edited by Pat Rogers, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 270-309.

[lv] Lord Chesterfield, Lord Chesterfield’s Letters, Oxford University Press, 2008.

[lvi] Ibidem, p. 56.

[lvii] Ibidem., p. 61.

[lviii] I am here referring to Paul Hazard’s two books, available also in Romanian: Criza conștiinței moderne, Humanitas, București, 2007 and Gîndirea europeană în secolul al XVIII-lea, Univers, București, 1981.

[lix] Ibidem, p. 78.

[lx] Ibidem, p. 91.

[lxi] Ibidem, p. 93.

[lxii] Ibidem, p. 99.

[lxiii] Ibidem, p. 129.

[lxiv] Ibidem, p. 135.

[lxv] Ibidem, p. 135.

[lxvi] Alexandru Duțu, Călătorii, imagini, constante, editura Eminescu, București, 1985, p. 208.