Ionuț Butoi, Mircea Vulcănescu. O microistorie a interbelicului românesc, Editura Eikon, București, pp. 328-331
The present book undertakes a microhistory of interwar Romania from the perspective of Mircea Vulcănescu, who was both an important social actor and an acute observer of the society he lived in. At the same time, my research is part of the comprehensive social history investigations centered on the Gustian or Monographic School of Sociology initiated by Professor Zoltán Rostás. Investigating the Gustian School and its multiple projects affords researchers the opportunity to shed light on multiple related themes. These include, but are not limited to: the social conditions of university youth, policies of social intervention, the Gustians’ wide-ranging social-scientific investigations of the Romanian rural world , as well as their collaboration with diverse political actors.
Mircea Vulcănescu was one of the principal members of the Gustian School and one of the first social scientists who, alongside Dimitrie Gusti, grappled with the social problems of both the Romanian youth and the Romanian village. As such, he was instrumental in shaping the monographic theoretical system used to investigate these problems. My work draws on institutional archives such as police reports and bulletins for official use concerning the mood population, as well life histories gathered from journals and correspondence. Mircea Vulcănescu’s own contributions are analyzed contextually.
All these sources are used in order to bring into focus the following interrelated themes, starting from the ‘’micro’’ dimension of the phenomena in question:
1) Vulcănescu’s position and role in the student organizational milieu during the first decade of the interwar period, particularly as it relates to Dimitrie Gusti’s Sociology Seminar;
2) the position of the Gustian School and especially that of Mircea Vulcănescu in regards to the condition of village as social periphery of Greater Romania;
3) interwar social practices having to do with family life, professional comportment, as well public engagement and communication. The latter are derived from Vulcanescu’s career as a public servant, that is as a financial expert.
One of the objectives of this study is to bring some clarity in regards to Mircea Vulcănescu himself. The extant literature on the subject tends to regard him as a ‘’disciple’’ of Nae Ionescu and a sympathizer of the Legionary Movement. Another goal is to determine Vulcănescu’s theoretical and methodological contributions, in the context of monographic sociological research, to the study of the peasant economy.
In addition, I have investigated his conceptual and practical contributions in the area of state administration, his experiences as a publicist, and his views concerning the dramatic political and social developments that preceded the onset of the Second World War.
Last not least, I have sought to reconstruct the social world(s) of interwar Romania starting from a hypothesis that belongs to the ‘’macro’’ level of social inquiry. I thus argue that the political and ideological extremisms of the interbellic period had less to do with the resurgence of ‘’traditionalist/autochtonist’’ cultural currents in opposition to “westernizing/synchronizing” movements and more to do with underlying structural factors. Interwar extremism was a consequence of the traumatic social changes experienced by a peripheral society undergoing a process of internal colonization.
Accordingly, I show that the influence of Nae Ionescu over Vulcănescu has been greatly overestimated. In this sense, the first chapter analyzes the social condition of interwar university students and two important student organizations. I compare The National Union of Christian Students (UNSCR), the seedbed of the Legionary Movement, with that of the Association of Christian Romanian Students (ASCR). It was in this latter, smaller organization that Vulcănescu was an active member.
Consequently, I show the differences between the types of social activism specific to each organization and elucidate the premises behind the collaboration between ASCR and Dimitrie Gusti in investigating and ameliorating the social problems of university youth. I continue my analysis by reevaluating the various currents within the ‘’Young Interwar Generation’’. These currents cannot be reduced to a simple polarity between ‘’democrats’’ and ‘’nationalists’’ or ’’fascists’’, being in fact much more intermixed and eclectic.
The conclusion of this chapter is that the success of the Legionary Movement must be ascribed to structural factors, namely the social, economic, and political frameworks that configured young people’s life expectations. No less important were the new modes of political mobilization. These factors played a more significant role than cultural factors such as religion.
The second chapter demonstrates that the Gustian School, as represented by Mircea Vulcănescu and Henri H. Stahl, was preoccupied by the interwar rural world because, on a social-scientific basis, it had identified in the village a relatively autonomous form of social life. Vulcănescu and Stahl regarded the village as a socio-economic model which should be understood on its own terms and hopefully shielded from the worst consequences of its interaction with the wider capitalist economy. I also show the concrete consequences of the internal colonialist attitude evinced by administrative center towards the countryside.
This is evidenced by the superimposed impact of the world economic crisis and of the Romanian’s state’s economic policies on the rural world, as well as the religious turmoil caused by the introduction of the new calendar. In the process, I show that Vulcănescu’s position towards these issues, which was very close to Stahl’s, anticipated postwar rural themes in the social sciences. In this context, the contributions of Karl Polany are a case in point.
The third chapter focuses on certain significant interactions that marked Mircea Vulcănescu’s career as a financial expert in the public administration. Vulcănescu’s experience in the Public Debt Department of the Ministry of Finance brings into focus Greater Romania’s peripheral status in the European economy and the consequences of this status upon state finances. This chapter also captures important aspects of the ongoing ’’technocratization’’ of state administration, a process which Vulcănescu advocated.
Finally, the chapter describes the outlook and morale of the Vulcănescu family in the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Second World War, their attitudes towards Jews, their views regarding the Legionary Movement, as well as their opinions concerning the dramatic events of the period. The perspective of the Vulcănescu family is compared and contrasted with the outlook of various political groups and with the views of people in other social categories, including ethnic minorities. These views are conveyed in the manner in which they were perceived and the recorded by the reports of various Police Inspectorates.
In my final remarks, I observe that the dominant historiographical vision which regards the interwar period as characterized by a division between “autochtonists” and “synchronizers” is inadequate from an interpretive standpoint, not least because it is crude and simplistic. The dominant perspective blames the autochtonist camp for perpetuating socio-economic backwardness by dint of its idealization of village culture and of the Orthodox religion. In turn, this helped created fertile ground for great social tragedies in the guise of totalitarian experiments. By contrast, my book tried to show that the major problems of modern Romania should not be ascribed to the preoccupation for the rural world and/or religion. For their origin resides in the structural condition which defines the country’s position in Europe and in the ways this was reflected in the process of modernization.