Book review: Antonio Momoc, Capcanele politice ale sociologiei interbelice: Şcoala Gustiană între carlism şi legionarism [The Political Snares of Interwar Sociology: The Gusti School Between Carlism and Legionarism] (Bucharest: Curtea Veche, 2012). ISBN: 978-606-588-270-6
Roland Clark, University of Pittsburgh, firstname.lastname@example.org
Balkanistica, 26 (2013) 265-267.
In this thought-provoking monograph, Antonio Momoc demonstrates how deeply implicated many of interwar Romania’s most capable sociologists were in nationalist state-building projects. The book focuses on the career of Dimitrie Gusti (1880-1955). A renowned sociologist, politician and teacher, Gusti transformed his nascent academic discipline into an ambitious program for social reform. Thanks to the support of Prince Carol – later King Carol II – and his own political connections, Gusti used the Association for Social Studies and Reform, the Romanian Social Institute, and the Royal Cultural Foundations to promote literacy, medical, and agricultural education in the villages as well as to influence legislators on social issues. Gusti co-opted students associated with the Bucharest Sociological School to serve first as volunteer researchers and then as cultural workers. As researchers, they made detailed notes on issues such as rural economies, farming practices, kinship organization, religious rituals, music, festivals, and voting patterns. The leaders of these student teams published their findings as a series of monographs or in the journal Romanian Sociology (Sociologie românească, 1936-1942). Their work produced a number of valuable ethnographic descriptions of Romanian peasant life, but perhaps more importantly, the student teams shaped an impressive number of young researchers and civil servants in Gusti’s image.
Momoc’s account is based on a solid grasp of the periodical, journalistic, and specialist literature of the period, as well as on memoir and oral history accounts of the Gusti school. Most of these oral histories were collected by Zoltán Rostás, who originally supervised this project as Momoc’s doctoral dissertation. The book is heavily indebted to Rostás’ earlier research and is the latest addition to a growing body of Gusti studies patronized by Rostás. Unfortunately, the book lacks a developed introduction or conclusion, so the reader is expected to be familiar with the existing historiography and to guess at the wider implications of the research. Momoc’s story is important for showing how Eastern European scholars appropriated and adapted methodologies developed in the West, how intellectuals were incorporated into fascist and authoritarian movements and regimes during the interwar period, and for elucidating the relationship between development policy and academic research institutes in rapidly industrializing countries. None of this is made explicit in the introduction, and the book is presented simply as the modest history of a small group of sociologists in a poor country on the margins of European academia. Had Momoc paid more attention to the non-Romanian historiography, it could have been much more than this.
Momoc begins by examining Gusti’s own training. He shows that “Gusti appropriated the rules of [Émile] Durkheim’s methodology, but German phenomenology – in particular the psychologist [Wilhelm] Wundt – provided him with an intuitive approach to field observation that was foreign to French positivism.” (p. 73) In the process, Momoc asks what Gusti learned from other prominent Western sociologists he studied with, including Ferdinand Tönnies, Frédéric Le Play, Gustav von Schmoller, Franz von Liszt, the political economist Karl Wielhelm Bücher, and the philosopher Friedrich Paulsen. He also emphasizes how heavily Auguste Comte’s empiricism and Claude Henri de Saint-Simon’s socialism influenced the young Gusti to think of sociology as a springboard for politics and social reform. Trends in French and German sociology had a formative impact on Gusti, but he appropriated and moulded the approaches of his teachers in creative and original ways. In another chapter, curiously situated at the very end of the book, Momoc outlines Gusti’s conception of the nation. As did many Romanians of this period, Gusti thought of the nation as a social – not a political – entity defined by those cultural elements so cherished by Johann Gottfried von Herder. In contrast to the other leading sociologist of Gusti’s generation, Petre Andrei (1891-1940), Gusti identified the Romanian nation with the peasantry. For Gusti, national sovereignty meant giving power to Romanian peasants at the expense of other social classes.
The most significant contribution of Momoc’s monograph lies outside of the history of ideas, however. Chapters two and three show that from the moment he took up a chair in sociology at the University of Iaşi, Gusti began working to establish extra-university institutions to influence social policy decisions. In addition to the seminars and lectures that Gusti ran for politicians, Momoc describes the Romanian Social Institute as an “incubator,” first for future politicians and later for transforming specialists into cultural activists. By focusing on non-government institutions such as the Romanian Social Institute, Momoc shows that the state shaped society through a diffuse network of organizations that were not always directly responsible to the government. Several of these organizations were patronized by Prince Carol from the early 1920s onwards, and they came increasingly under his control towards the end of the interwar period when, as king, he abolished the democratic system and established himself as a dictator. Through the Social Service Law that was introduced at Gusti’s insistence in 1938, King Carol II mobilized Gusti’s students as cultural missionaries for his regime. Students no longer went into villages simply as observers; now they went as representatives of the state to implement reforms and to run social programs.
In chapters four and five, Momoc analyses factionalism amongst Gusti’s followers, many of whom joined the fascist Legion of the Archangel Michael. He locates their opinions within the interwar political spectrum and then does short but useful analyses of the scholarly and political views of seven of Gusti’s protégées: Dumitru Cristian Amzăr, Ernest Bernea, Traian Herseni, Mircea Vulcănescu, Henri H. Stahl, Anton Golopenţia, and Octavian Neamţu. Even though many of these men joined the Legion for personal reasons, Momoc emphasizes how Gusti’s conviction that sociology must be a political project shaped their fascist activism. This book is limited to the Gusti school and largely ignores other important currents in interwar Romanian sociology such as those led by Petre Andrei or Traian Brăileanu. Nonetheless, Momoc’s careful attention to the intersection of ideas and action, institutions and propaganda, makes it a valuable contribution to our understanding of state-building, nationalism, and intellectual life in interwar Romania.