Interwar Perspectives on Liberalism in Central Europe: the Czech, Austrian and Slovene National Liberal Heirs, 1918-1934

Thesis author: 
Oskar Mulej
Year of enrollment: 
Thesis supervisor: 
Maciej Janowski
Thesis abstract: 

In which spheres, in which manners and to what extent did liberalism survive or even continue to develop in the interwar Czech, Austrian and Slovene contexts? How did it manifest itself? Beginning from this general question, the dissertation concentrates on party politics as one of the possible perspectives for studying liberalism. It scrutinizes the political trajectories and ideological transformations of political parties in the interwar Czech lands, Austria and Slovene part of Yugoslavia, that are treated under the joint term “national liberal heirs.” The parties under scrutiny are the Czechoslovak National Democracy (Československá národní demokracie), the Austrian Greater German People's Party (Grossdeutsche Volkspartei) and the Slovene sections of the Yugoslav Democratic (Jugoslovanska demokratska stranka), Independent Democratic (Samostojna demokratska stranka) and Yugoslav National Parties (Jugoslovanska nacionalna stranka). These parties all inherited the national liberal tradition in terms of organization, social base, their rootedness in specific milieus and belonging to specific political “camps.” Their genealogically liberal background, however, did not necessarily imply commitment to the national liberal ideology of their predecessors or conscious identification with liberalism, which they often explicitly rejected.
The basic aim is setting up a common horizon for studying the discussed type of political party. Most importantly the dissertation discusses the degrees and types of nationalism espoused by the observed parties, their socio-economic views and paragons, their cultural politics and the relationships toward liberal democracy on one and alternative political models on the other side. By addressing these problems, it shows how national liberal party traditions continued moving along their pre-WWI trajectory that had been leading towards radicalization of the nationalist component at the expense of the liberal one. Lacking clear ideological fundaments, facing disorientation, coupled by eroding social bases, the parties under scrutiny were furthermore particularly susceptible to flirtation with new ideological currents, some of them radically illiberal, and adoption of some of their discursive elements. Generally, they however remained within the frame of representative democratic order. The disorientation also reflected in the attempts to (re-)define their positions as nationalist, conservative or – as it was most often the case - vaguely defined “democratic” parties. In its concluding chapter the dissertation also tackles the various meanings associated with the term “liberalism” in political languages of the studied contexts, as these reflected in the contemporary debates. In this way it opens up further possible perspectives of studying liberalism beyond the narrow frame of party politics.