The Historical Distinctiveness of Central Europe

A Study in the Philosophy of History

by Krzysztof Brzechczyn (Author)
Monographs 394 Pages

Table Of Content

1 In Defense of the Theory of the Historical Process

1 Introduction

From its very birth in the ancient Greece, philosophical thought has included a reflection over human society and its past. However, philosophy of history, as a separate philosophical discipline conscious of its object of study and methods, emerged in the Age of Enlightenment. Giambattista Vico, the Italian intellectual who lived at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, was named the pioneer of the discipline. He termed it the “new science.” Philosophical reflection over history was “new” in the sense that, in the Age of Reason, it escaped from the influence of religion and theology. Voltaire introduced the term “philosophy of history” in 1765.1 In the course of its evolution, the discipline has been understood as:

an interpretation of the past or of a fraction of the past using philosophical categories and concepts, or an explication of the past provided with reference to laws/models/theories responsible for social development;

a description of the past perceived from the perspective of universal history of human kind;

an evaluation and a search for meaning in history, or in separate historical events;

a theory of knowledge and historical cognition.

The Anglo-Saxon world offers an additional distinction into two branches of analytic (or critical) and speculative (or substantial) philosophy of history.2 ←19 | 20→Analytic philosophy of history belongs to philosophy of science, and it deals with the following issues concerning historical knowledge: modes of explanations, nature of a historical fact, structure of a historical narrative, status of historical laws. Substantial philosophy of history puts forward statements concerning the course of the historical process. Out of the above list, substantial philosophy of history has the first three features and analytic philosophy of history has the last feature. The substantial philosophy of history may predominantly emphasise the explanatory aspect of a given dimension of the past under study. Then it can be alternatively described as “theory of the historical process,” or “theoretical history.” When a given concept from substantial philosophy of history includes also the axiological aspect of the past, it is termed historiosophy.3

Regardless of the understanding of the substantial philosophy of history – minimalistic or maximalist – this type of humanistic reflection has raised a lot of controversy: from Karl R. Popper’s criticism of the impossibility to formulate laws governing historical development to Jean-François Lyotard’s claims about a totalitarian virus present in the very intention of constructing metanarratives. The present chapter offers a critical analysis of the accusations formulated by Isaiah Berlin, Karl R. Popper, Jean-François Lyotard, and Aviezer Tucker against the substantial philosophy of history.

2 On the Schematization of the Theory of the Historical Process

According to Isaiah Berlin, the characteristic feature of conceptions formulated within the substantial philosophy of history is their recognition of the past reality as a homogenous and universal developmental model. Berlin, such an understanding of history assumes that

[t];here is some single explanation of the order and attributes of persons, things, and events. Usually this consists in the advocacy of some fundamental category or principle ←20 | 21→which claims to act as an infallible guide both to the past and to the future, a magic lens revealing “inner,” inexorable, all-pervasive historical laws, invisible to the naked eye of the mere recorder of events, but capable, when understood, of giving the historian a unique sense of certainty – certainty not only of what in fact occurred, but of the reason why it could not have occurred otherwise.4

Substantial philosophy of history understood as above bears two characteristic features: it generates one universal model of history concerning a certain distinguished social entirety, such as Humanity, in which separate historical facts are perceived as necessary components of an order of events. According to Berlin,

[t];o understand is to perceive patterns. To offer historical explanations is not merely to describe a succession of events, but to make it intelligible; to make intelligible is to reveal the basic pattern – not one of several possible patterns, but the one unique plan which, by being as it is, fulfils only one particular purpose, and consequently is revealed as fitting in a specifiable fashion within the single “cosmic” overall schema which is the goal of the universe, the goal in virtue of which alone it is a universe at all, and not a chaos of unrelated bits and pieces [. . .]. Unless an event, or the character of an individual, or the activity of this or that institution or group or historical personage, is explained as a necessary consequence of its place in the pattern (and the larger, that is, the more comprehensive the schema, the more likely it is to be the true one), no explanation – and therefore no historical account – is being provided. The more inevitable an event or an action or a character can be exhibited as being, the better it has been understood, the profounder the researcher’s insight, the nearer we are to the one embracing, ultimate truth.5

For Berlin, this kind of approach to history was a manifestation of a “metaphysical fantasy.”6 His argument can be reconstructed in the following way: historical reality is typically multi-formed and multi-streamed. It is significantly more complex in reality than according to a philosopher of history, who is armed with “categories and rules,” hence it cannot be forced to fit into a Procrustean bed of any philosophy of history.7

←21 | 22→

A closer look at conceptions belonging to the substantial philosophy of history reveals that they can be divided into three types, according to the criterion of the degree of universality of the formulated statements:

According to universalistic conceptions, theories/models/dependencies or developmental mechanisms formulated within them pertain to all societies equally. It needs to be admitted that the formulated dependencies are being frequently applied in a dogmatic manner in order to explicate a historical reality.

A good example of the approach to history described above is the Stalinist version of historical materialism popularized in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and in the socialist states of the Eastern Bloc in the years 1944–1956. Joseph Stalin put forward a binding interpretation of this form of Marxism in his work Dialectical and Historical Materialism published in 1938, where “the great leader of the proletariat” in a very authoritative manner outlined five-staged developmental model including primitive communal system, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and socialism. The Marxist ideology proved detrimental to Marxism as such because, by legitimizing a totalitarian social system, it ceased to be a scientific theory developed by virtue of internal criticism and confrontation with empirical data.

However, the aforementioned universalism of the substantial philosophy of history is not characteristic solely for Marxism. It is also present in the social philosophy of liberalism, for example in Walt Whitman Rostow’s theory of modernization. According to this conception, the principal social factor is the development of modern science. The evolution of modern science and the successful application of its achievements brought about a modernization of economy, which, in turn, resulted in a creation of a modern nation state. According to Rostow, the history of all human societies evolves through the following five stages of economic development: traditional society, pre-conditions to modernization take-off, modernization take-off, drive to maturity, and age of mass consumption.

←22 | 23→

In traditional societies, modern science was yet to be developed and environmental conditions restricted economic growth. Family ties and clan relations dominated the social aspect of public life, and the entire social life had a hierarchical character. In traditional societies, the system of values was permeated with fatalism, or a conviction that, in all generations, individual members of society will have the same scope of life chances. According to Rostow,

[i];n terms of history then, with the phrase “traditional society” we are grouping the whole pre-Newtonian world: the dynasties in China; the civilization of the Middle East and the Mediterranean; the world of medieval Europe. And to them we add the post-Newtonian societies, which, for a time, remained untouched or unmoved by man’s new capability for regularly manipulating his environment to his economic advantage.9

The second stage described by Rostow as “pre-conditions to modernization take-off” is characterized by the application of the inventions of budding modern science, which brings about economic development. Simultaneously, agriculture was still the primary economic sector. In order to initiate a modernization take-off a society had to satisfy three conditions: to produce enough food to feed the growing town population, to serve as an outlet for production of the means of production, and owners should invest profits from agriculture into industrial production. This stage is characterized by the beginnings of international market and creation of nation states what is condition for a modernization take-off.

This was followed by an accelerated industrialization and urbanization of society. At this stage, the level of investment increased to 5–10 % of net national income, and a rapid advancement of particular industrial branches took place resulting in the development of remaining economic fields and transformations of political and public life. Rostow argues that all societies experienced the following developmental stage in various moments in history:

one approximately allocate the take-off of Britain to the two decades after 1783; France and the United States to the several decades preceding 1860; Germany, the third quarter of the nineteenth century; Japan, the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century; Russia and Canada the quarter-century or so preceding 1914; while during the 1950’s India and China have, in quite different ways, launched their respective take-offs.10

In the subsequent stage of historical development, which Rostow terms “the drive to maturity,” achievements of the previous stage were consolidated. In this phase of development, around 10–20 % of net national income was invested ←23 | 24→in economic growth. In the previous stage, mining and heavy industries were developed, while now the major investment was in the development of chemical, electrical, and machinery industries.

The final stage – the age of mass consumption – was reached when the primary income of the greater part of members of society had allowed for satisfaction of other demands, which go beyond basic needs, such as food, accommodation, and clothing. As society became predominantly urban, the majority of people was employed in the service sector. In the age of mass consumption, all members of society are capable of achieving prosperity – on account of welfare state institutions. At the time when Rostow formulated his claim, the United States (1946–1956), Western Europe and Japan (1950s) entered this stage of social advancement.

A contrast between European and Asian societies has become the foundation of dualistic theories. For instance, Karl August Wittfogel put forward a theory of hydraulic societies, which has revitalized the discussion on Asian social formation after the Second World War.11 According to Wittfogel, the tradition of distinguishing between occidental and oriental lines of development originates from the period when nomadic tribes proceeded from hunting and gathering to a sedentary life based on cultivation of land. The line of historical development was influenced by access or lack of access to water. In Europe, the abundance of water reservoirs ensured individual access to aquatic resources. However, the areas of Near East and Far East experienced shortages of water and rainfall. In order to survive, these societies were forced to organize irrigation works designed to tame large-scale rivers. The state was established to organize irrigation works and supervise the process of organization of production. Subsequently, it was no longer necessary to conduct regular irrigation works but the state organization founded for this purpose remained. In Asian societies, despotic-bureaucratic systems were established, hampering the development of private property and subjugating religious organizations.

With regard to the degree and scope of state interference into socio-economic life, Wittfogel distinguished between classic, marginal, and sub-marginal hydraulic societies. In classic hydraulic systems, state exercised direct control over irrigation works and organized them. Classic societies included: ancient ←24 | 25→Chinese, Egyptian, Indian, Inca, and Mesopotamian societies. In marginal hydraulic societies, the state dealt with building facilities and organization of ventures directly not associated with building canals, and additionally fulfilled a number of social functions, such as tax collection and defense. The Byzantine Empire is a good example of such society. Finally, in sub-marginal hydraulic systems developed in Russia and Turkey, state manifested its power in enforcing collection of taxes, developing defense systems against external aggression and maintaining legal order.

In his comparison of the historical development of Asian and European societies, Wittfogel claimed that Asian societies are characterized by state ownership of the means of production, despotism, dominance of the collective over the individual, and social stagnation. In contrast, characteristic features of European societies included: private ownership of the means of production, political freedom manifested in bottom-up formation of civil organizations, dominance of the individual over collective and dynamic development.

According to Wittfogel, capitalistic societies derive from the feudal system formed in the Western developmental line, while the system of real socialism in the Soviet Union and China derives from hydraulic systems formed in the oriental developmental line:

The agrarian despotism of the old society, which, at most, was semi-managerial, combines total political power which limited social and intellectual control. The industrial despotism of the fully developed and totally managerial apparatus society combines total political power with total social and intellectual control.12

Based on this, Wittfogel claims that the two developmental lines had been distinguished in the past and there were no new separate developmental lines distinguished afterwards. Moreover, hydraulic societies found their continuation in real socialism and feudalism – in democratic capitalism.

Pluralistic conceptions presume existence of many types of societies evolving according to distinct regularities. Samuel Huntington’s theory, which employs the concept of civilization, is one of such conceptions:

A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other ←25 | 26→species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions and by the subjective self-identification of people.13

Nonetheless, nation states are the most influential entities on the international arena and, as emphasized by Huntington, their interests, making covenants, and conflicts are defined by cultural factors, which determine their civilizational identity. As cultural formations, civilizations do not have clearly defined political boundaries and their political structure is characterized by great diversity. As a result, civilizations may include a single country (i.e. Japanese civilization) or a number of sovereign countries (i.e. Western civilization). The latter type of civilizations may be centered on a recognizable leading state (i.e. Russia in the civilization of Eastern Orthodox Christianity) or there may be no leader (e.g. in the Latin-American civilization or in the Islamic civilization, a number of countries aspire to the role of a leader; however, as of now, none of them managed to gain dominance over others). Huntington differentiated seven currently existing civilizations and one emergent:

Sinic or Chinese civilization – dating back to the 15th century BC; its cultural core is Confucianism; it encompasses China, Vietnam, and South Korea and Chinese communities living abroad;

Japanese civilization – emerged from Chinese civilization between the 1st and the 4th centuries;

Hindu civilization – formed around in the 14th century BC; its cultural core is Hinduism;

Islamic civilization – created in the 7th century on the Arabian Peninsula; currently spreading over North Africa, Near East, and Central Asian countries; it encompasses a number of cultures: Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Malayan;

Orthodox civilization – a continuation of the Byzantine civilization; differs from Western Christianity by two hundred years of Tatar rule, bureaucratic despotism and restrained contact with Western cultural tendencies: the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment;

Western civilization – dating back to the 8th and the 9th centuries; its characteristic features include: heritage of classical antiquity, Catholicism and Protestantism, a multiplicity of European languages, separation of spiritual and secular power, the rule of law, social pluralism, development of representative institutions, and individualism;

←26 | 27→

Cultural identity of a civilization to a large extent influences developmental lines of societies forming particular civilizations. Huntington states that it is a key factor in the future development of relations between the West and other civilizations.

If we treat Berlin’s criticisms as a criterion for a typology of the theory of the historical process, some of these conceptions will be subject to his charges (universalistic conceptions) and some will not.15 For this reason, Berlin’s critique is partially legitimate.

3 On the Prognoses in the Theory of the Historical Process

Karl R. Popper questioned the usefulness of formulating laws of historical development and possibility of putting prognoses in the historical sciences. According to him, a historicist doctrine (in its naturalistic version) of the social sciences is modeled on the natural sciences. Since these sciences (astronomy) are capable of making predictions regarding natural phenomena with a high degree of precision and for a long time ahead, i.e. solar eclipse, so should the social sciences be capable of forecasting certain social phenomena, i.e. revolutions? Following from this, the social sciences have fundamentally the same tasks as the natural sciences – formulation of scientific prophecies capable of predicting the social and political evolution of the humankind. Based on such prophecies, it is possible to determine the tasks of politics, which, following Marx’s definition, are ←27 | 28→supposed to ease the “labor pains” preceding the predicable, inevitable political events. Popper argued that,

[a];dmittedly all theoretical sciences are predicting sciences. Admittedly there are social sciences, which are theoretical. But to these admissions imply – as the historicists believe – that the task of the social sciences is historical prophecy? It looks like it: but this impression disappears once we make a clear distinction between what I shall call “scientific prediction” on the one side and “unconditional historical prophecies” on the other. Historicism fails to make this important distinction.16

Scientific predictions usually have a conditional character. If certain changes occur, they will be accompanied by other phenomena (if the temperature of water in a kettle increases, the water starts to boil). The physicist will say that under certain conditions the kettle will explode, the economist will say that under certain conditions a black market will develop, etc. From such conditional scientific prognoses and historical statements ascertaining the fulfilment of possible conditions, it is sometimes possible to draw unconditional predictions – under the modus ponens argument. If a doctor diagnoses scarlet fever, he/she then concludes that a patient will have a rash.

However, it is possible to formulate unconditional prophecies without theoretical justification, on which conditional scientific predictions are based – these predictions can come true by accident.

The historicist does not derive his/her prophecies from conditional scientific predictions, as this is impossible. In Popper’s view, predictions can be formulated about isolated, stationary, and recurrent systems. Among such systems are: the Solar System, life cycles of biological organisms, or weather cycles. However, the method of long-term prediction cannot be applied to the history of humankind, since in the development of human societies there appear non-repetitive phenomena. And, according to Popper, prediction is conditional on repetitiveness – as long as certain phenomena are repetitive, predictions can be made. This type of repetitiveness can be found in how new religions emerge or tyranny arises. Still, another of Propper’s arguments is that historical development is mainly non-repetitive and thus unpredictable:

The course of human history is strongly influenced by the growth of human knowledge. […]

←28 | 29→

What is left, then, for the social sciences? According to Popper, the principal task of the theoretical social sciences is “to trace unintended social repercussions of intentional human actions.”18 Popper illustrates this by describing an intention to purchase a house in a certain neighbourhood. The intention of the buyer is certainly not to bring about an increase of prices of the houses in the chosen neighborhood. However, the very fact of there appearing a potential buyer on the market will lead to a boost in the prices of the houses. The aforementioned task brings the theoretical social sciences close to the experimental natural sciences. Both types of sciences formulate praxeological rules stating what can be achieved:

The second law of thermodynamics can be expressed as the technological warning, “You cannot build a machine which is 100 per cent efficient.” A similar rule of the social sciences would be, “You cannot, without increasing productivity, raise the real income of the working population” […] These examples may show the way in which the social sciences are practically important. They do not allow us to make historical prophecies, but they may give us an idea of what can, and what cannot, be done in the political field.19

In the presentation of Popper’s views on the role of the social sciences, it is important to distinguish a negative aspect, or what the social sciences should not be doing, and a positive aspect, or what the social sciences should be doing. Let us begin with the negative aspect. In his analysis of Popper’s argumentation, Leszek Nowak states that the assumption (i) of the argument is the most typical statement concerning the historical process.20 As Nowak argues, “[i];f one attempts to ←29 | 30→prove incorrectness of a certain domain of thought, in an argument purported for this he/she cannot use claims belonging to the very domain in question.”21 According to Nowak, Popper makes the same mistake that the representatives of the Vienna Circle were charged with, namely, to prove logical impossibility of metaphysics on the basis of a particular claim belonging to a certain type of metaphysics – materialist metaphysics of physicalism. In this case, Popper, as Nowak claims, demonstrates the impossibility of the theory of history on the basis of an idealist theory of history, which may or may not be accepted.22 Whereas assumption (ii) is true – to predict a future discovery means to know it in advance, but it is not this assumption which is in fact absent from Popper’s argument, but its enthymeme that is employed in Popper’s argument: “To predict the future course of history it is indispensible to know the content of future scientific knowledge.”23 In Nowak’s opinion, however, this assumption is false, since the shape of the influence of future scientific theories on many significant social phenomena can be determined entirely independently of their content: we do not know anything about the state of future paediatrics and about the findings made in this domain in the future, but we do not have to know this to predict a number of quantities. It will suffice that, by extrapolating the type of dependencies present to-date, we will predict further drop of mortality of infants. It should be noted at this point that assumption (ii2) also tacitly contains the prognosis about the continuous growth of human knowledge. One might ask, on what ground, if, as stated by Popper, forecasting in the social sciences is impossible.

4 On the Loss of Nostalgia for the Metanarrative

The postmodern intellectual formation is founded on the critique of modernism and the philosophy of the Enlightenment.24 Postmodern thought perceives ←30 | 31→modernity as a formation dominated by rationalist fundamentalism, universalism, absolutism of the chosen truth, optimism, naïve trust in progress, admiration of science and technology, separation of the subject and object of cognition, exclusiveness, and contempt for inferior civilizations. The feature of modernity is generation of a metanarrative constituting its ultimate legitimization. Lyotard’s notion of metanarrative is a very broad term encompassing not only universalistic religion but also great philosophical systems, such as Hegelianism and Marxism, and finally any theoretical system which attempts to grasp the variety and volatility of social reality within one formula. Lyotard distinguished between two types of metanarratives understood in the above sense: the narrative of emancipation and a substantial narrative. The former referred to the people in metaphysical terms and called for the necessity to liberate them by means of science. The latter referred to the Spirit instead of the people, and science was to be a tool of great synthesis. The characteristic feature of the current social development is the disappearance of metanarratives, since, as Lyotard points out, “the most people lost the nostalgia for the lost metanarrative.”25 This state of affairs was partially influenced by extra-cultural, partially intra-cultural factors. In the present post-industrial society the majority of people is placed in the role of consumers, while the greater part of society is employed in the service sector. Individuals are becoming less and less attached to one occupation or place of residence. In all societies, the circulation of information and access to it have become crucial. There has also been a remarkable increase in the power of the mass media, which constantly produce images serving as substitutes of a direct ←31 | 32→view of the world, thereby creating a virtual reality for the receivers. A homogenous cultural canon is now replaced with pluralism of cultures, ideologies, and language games, of the same significance. This brings about a crisis of a social identity because traditional social entireties, such as nation, class, Church, state, have become disintegrated. This state of affairs is designed to lead to the atrophy of all metanarratives, which have so far enabled individuals to integrate separate aspects of their existence into one whole.

Lyotard’s claim about the disappearance of metanarratives may be understood at least in three different ways:

Let us note that Lyotard’s claim interpreted ontologically can be criticized the same way as Popper’s thesis: Lyotard formulates a claim about the impossibility of constructing a metanarrative based on statements belonging to a type of metanarrative, that is to say, the postmodern metanarrative. If, and to what extent, the said metanarrative is accurate is yet another question. At the same time, however, Lyotard’s claim understood in normative terms – adopting an assumption that a metanarrative is morally suspicious since it brings about unfavorable (totalitarian) social consequences – entails the very same theory of social consequences, namely, an idealistic theory of totalitarianism, which can be expressed in the following way: the construction of metanarratives brings about the emergence of totalitarian systems and so it itself belongs to the metanarrative questioned by Lyotard.27

Nonetheless, the easiest way to prove the fallacy of Lyotard’s statement interpreted sociologically is to search the online database of a large university library by typing the term “philosophy of history.” Randal Collins called the ←32 | 33→period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s a golden age in the development of macro-history (or comparative historical sociology).28 During that period, the following works were published: Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship; Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, vols. I–III; Theda Skocpol, State and Social Revolutions; Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990; Ernest Gellner, Sword, Plough and Book. Structure of Human History; and others.29

5 On the Teleology of Substantial Philosophy of History

The critique of substantial philosophy of history formulated quite recently by Aviezer Tucker, who claims that a constitutive feature of such philosophy of history is the answer to the question of meaning (sense, goal) of history. As a result, all philosophers of history who provide answers to this question seek to occupy a privileged position in the historical process:

From the temporal vantage point of the end of the process, whether it is linear or cyclical, it is possible to discern its direction and meaning. Therefore philosophies of history from Hebrew prophets to Fukuyama through Vico, Hegel, Marx, Toynbee, and Kennedy have had to include apocalyptic themes in their philosophy to justify their claim to understand the whole historical process.30

The apocalyptic theme consists in a conviction of the end of history as we know it, one that defines the course and meaning of the historical process. According to Tucker, however, philosophers of history have no privileged position and their works are not a reflection of the self-consciousness of history; at most, they constitute a useful tool in understanding the intellectual history of their times. The time when various philosophies of history gain popularity, it is marked by periods of discontinuation and radical social change. It is then that mainly religiously oriented people ask questions like: where are we going and where have ←33 | 34→we come from? Does history have a meaning? Answers to these questions may be found in various philosophies of history, even though, as Tucker claims, there is no scientific answer to be found.

It seems that the author unnecessarily combines two different characteristics shared by philosophies of history, which do not have to go together: the final stage and meaning (sense, goal, or value) of history assumed by a given philosophy of history. These two categories have been defined differently and they are logically independent.31 Crossing the two criteria, we may obtain four types of conceptions in substantial philosophy of history (listed in the table below).

Tab. 1: Types of substantial philosophies of history

Philosophy of History




F and T (i)

F and N-T (ii)


N-F and T (iii)

N-F and N-T(iv)

Finalistic-teleological conceptions (i) assume that history leads to some kind of final stage, which is somehow valorized. Depending on the kind of valorization of the final stage of the historical process, we may distinguish between optimistic and pessimistic finalistic-teleological conceptions. Optimistic versions include the conceptions of such great thinkers as Augustine of Hippo, Comte, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Fukuyama.32 The most popular finalistic-teleological substantial philosophy of history in the pessimistic version is, for example, Spengler’s conception.

We may also distinguish finalistic and non-teleological conceptions (ii), i.e. conceptions that assume some kind of final stage of history but cannot define the sense of history. Here belong some catastrophic theories, namely those of consequential catastrophism, according to which the decline of the world as we know it and the associated system of values is inevitable.33 However, the predicted total ←34 | 35→catastrophe of the world is not fulfilment of any underlying sense or the goal in history.

Non-finalistic and teleological conceptions (iii) include philosophies of history assuming that socio-historical reality is unchangeable or those that adopt a cyclic view of history. The latter allowed for some kind of restricted historical changes embedded in repetitive and generally inflexible developmental cycles. Polybius, Plato and the stoics developed that view of history popular in Antiquity. According to them, the meaning of history consisted in unveiling the essence of lasting phenomena, i.e. human passions, characters of nations, the laws of the Logos.34

Non-finalistic and non-teleological conceptions (iv) assume the invariability (or a cyclic model) of history and negate any characterization of the goal of history. This type of orientation in philosophy of history did not yet lead to the emergence of fully-fledged theories of the historical process.35 One can presuppose that conceptions inspired by the chaos theory belong to this kind of reflection in the substantial philosophy of history.

As demonstrated above, Tucker’s objections hold true solely for finalistic and teleological conceptions of the philosophy of history. Conceptions of type (ii) and (iii), and particularly non-finalistic and non-teleological conceptions of type (iv), do not fall under Tucker’s critique. Therefore, a question arises whether they belong to the substantial philosophy of history in Tucker’s understanding. Namely, he assumes that a defining feature of conceptions belonging to this domain of philosophy is their reliance on finalistic (in an apocalyptic version) and teleological motives. Tucker’s definition seems to be at least arbitrary. Apocalyptic motives are not a constant feature of substantial philosophy of history. They only emerged at a given time in the development of philosophy of history. According to Norman Cohn, until ca. 1500 BC the peoples of the Middle East believed in the existence of a stable and organized world. However, it was always under a threat from the forces of disorder of natural or supernatural origin. In the cosmogonic combat myth, the conflict between the forces of order and the forces of chaos acquired a symbolic dimension. Between 1500–1200 BC, the apocalyptic myth became popular thanks to Zarathustra – the forces of evil will be finally defeated and a new order will be created on the earth, and there will be no misery or suffering.36

←35 | 36→

Moreover, it is difficult to agree with the claim that the existence of ethical values determines the non-scientific and speculative character of the philosophy of history. Thus, the mere presence of values in the cognitive process does not determine the speculative character of the substantial philosophy of history but the possible functions that these values fulfill: heuristic or argumentative. Ethical values play a crucial heuristic role in formulating a problem under investigation, constructing initial model of a theory, or in its later developments. However, the subsequent process of substantiating the theory should proceed according to standard scientific procedures. The theory should be amended in case any discrepancies between theoretical outcomes and empirical data are detected. Usually, changes to the theory are made as a result of considering the influence of some factors, which had been ignored in its previous version.

The procedure looks different when the ethical values assumed by a given theory play an argumentative role. In that case, actual data inconsistent with the system of values adopted by a given theory are discarded and ignored by its author. Historiographic analyses and investigations merely serve the purpose of proving the truth and ethical value of the theory of the historical process. Here, the normative level of the theory, which describes the world as it should be and does not allow for the existence of any empirical reality inconsistent with the adopted system of values, is mixed with the descriptive level, which renders the world as it is. However, it must be noted that mixing descriptive and normative themes is not unique to the philosophy of history – it is actually present in many theories belonging to the humanities.

As demonstrated above, in his critique of theoretical history, Tucker – similarly to the above-mentioned Berlin – rightly captured the characteristics of some theories of the historical process but he erroneously ascribed them to the entire domain of the substantial philosophy of history.

6 On the Need for the Theory of the Historical Process

Isaiah Berlin and Aviezer Tucker both make the mistake of taking a part for the whole (pars pro toto). They distinguish certain characteristics (schematism and teleology, respectively) of the substantial philosophy of history, viewed as disqualifying, and ascribe them to the entire literature belonging to this philosophical domain. Whereas by treating the above features as a criterion for classification of the theory of the historical process, we will discover that only some of the theories have these features, while others do not.

Although Berlin criticized schematism and universalism of the substantial philosophies of history, one can observe an interesting paradox. As it turns out, ←36 | 37→liberal philosophy of history is not free from universalism, a charge eagerly made by the supporters of liberalism against its ideological adversaries.37 Rostow’s theory, which has been treated as an alternative to the vision of history presented by the authors of The Communist Manifesto, adopts a universalistic view on the past ignoring civilizational diversification.

The same vision of the past is present in a number of various theories of modernization, which are currently being developed, claiming spread of industrial market economy and democratic welfare state institutions on a global scale. Francis Fukuyama explicitly adopted the universalistic approach in his work on the liberal end of history. Fukuyama understands history in a Hegelian way, as a “single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all people in all times.”38 This vision of history is not only universalistic but also finalistic. According to Fukuyama, the history of human kind does not evolve ad finem, but it will end when the most essential needs are satisfied. Then “there would be no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, because all of the really big questions had been settled.”39

This brief presentation of the conceptions concerning the theory of historical process allows one to draw three conclusions. First, the deep structure of the theories under analysis is independent from its content. The theories of both Marxist and liberal provenance adopt a universalistic view of history. Interestingly, it appears that a number of liberalistic conceptions of history may become more dogmatic than the Marxist theories (allowing for a multi-variant approach to the historical development). Second, the universalistic vision of history is not the only structure of discourse present in substantial philosophy of history. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the pluralistic variant of the theory of the historical process, which posits the presence of many civilizations evolving in accordance to various developmental mechanisms. Finally, the inclusion of other aspects of the substantial philosophy of history, i.e. of teleology and finalism, demonstrates that this field of the humanities is even more diversified. Explanatory, normative, and prognostic threads entwine in varying proportions in theories belonging to this philosophical area. As a result, to accuse substantial ←37 | 38→philosophy of history in toto of uniformization of the historical process is to imply uniformity, which proves incomprehension of this field of the humanities.

In turn, Popper and Lyotard found their charges on tacitly adopted claims belonging to the very scientific field they criticize. Popper draws his arguments on the impossibility to formulate prognoses from the idealistic philosophy of history, while Lyotard’s arguments concerning the loss of interest in metanarratives are based on a certain characteristic of contemporary society, which itself belongs to the metanarrative questioned by him, which may or may not be shared.

However, there is some truth to Lyotard’s statement about the disappearance of nostalgia for metanarratives. Lyotard points to the social conditioning of the demand for metanarratives or its lack, and not to the state-of-the-art social sciences and humanities. For this reason, one may recognize that the loss of nostalgia for metanarratives is socially conditioned and as such seems to be more of a temporary than a permanent character. In a period of social stabilization, the demand for metanarratives is dropping. Public life becomes repetitive and predictable. People no longer ask philosophers of history for explanations of their social reality because they are perfectly able to understand it themselves. Metanarratives, if anyone cares to create them at all, are presented at boring academic conferences and published in professional journals by specialist publishing houses. They do not make the headlines in newspapers or on television. In times of crisis and social disturbance, when – to use Arnold Toynbee’s metaphor – history speeds up, the situation looks completely different. It is then that people lose their social orientation and no longer know what tomorrow brings. Then there comes a time for a philosopher of history because, in such social conditions, an intellectual demand for metanarratives is rapidly increasing. Whether that demand will be satisfied or not depends on the existence of previous metanarratives capable of explaining the volatility of the social world which had already been created in the times of social silence. The rule outlined above at least partially explains the origins of the work, which initiated philosophical reflection on history, at least in our civilization. On 24th August 410, the army of Visigoths headed by Alaric I conquered and sacked Rome. For people living at the time, this traumatic experience can be compared to the September 11 attacks in the USA. Then arose a need to understand the reasons for defeat. In general, people sought the reasons for misery in the vengeance of the Roman gods who had been abandoned by the Romans. Interestingly, Christians, despite their belief in one God, adopted this view and even attributed existence and certain causative power to Roman gods. It was in this intellectual atmosphere that Augustine of Hippo, at the instigation of Marcellinus, a high-ranking Roman official, begun working on the first three volumes of De Civitate Dei, aimed at demonstrating ←38 | 39→the fallacy of the above-mentioned views. In the years 410–426, his work grew to 22 volumes presenting a view of history alternative to the one expressed in Antiquity, and which has been largely preserved until the 18th century.40 We may likewise explain the popularity of Lyotard’s claim put forward in The Postmodern Condition of 1979. The book was written at a time of stability in Western countries – the first signs of crisis in the welfare state were not fully visible at the time, there was a period of détente between the USA and the Soviet Union concluded with the latter’s invasion on Afghanistan in December 1979. The Solidarity revolution in Poland was yet to break out, and the anti-modernizing and anti-American consequences of the Iranian revolution undermining the American hegemony in the Third World were still to display themselves (the occupation of American embassy took place in March 1980). Nostalgia for metanarratives increased after the fall of communism between 1989 and 1991. It was no coincidence that Fukuyama’s The End of History, which offered an interpretation of the events that had taken place in the Eastern block in the Hegelian terms, gained so much popularity in the first half of the 1990s. Similarly, the increasing confrontation between the West and the Islamic world brought about a growing popularity of the claims presented in Samuel’s Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations at the beginning of the 21st century. The concept of the civilizational conflict has by now become a journalistic cliché used to explain both terrorist attacks and Western policy against Arab states. Is it possible to live without metanarratives? It does not seem so. Moreover, in the current logic of social development, the actions of individuals, groups, classes, and societies equipped with the latest technologies generate social consequences of scale, which has been unthinkable until now. In an increasingly globalized world, human activity in one corner of the world brings about unexpected and frequently adverse consequences in another part of the world. In a world of growing interdependencies, the demand for great-scope social theories is expected to increase because such theories enable us to predict and explain the consequences of human actions. Whether the increase in cognitive demand for metanarratives will meet intellectual supply is yet another issue.

←39 | 40→←40 | 41→

1 Zbigniew Kuderowicz, Filozofia dziejów (Warszawa: Wiedza Powszechna, 1983), pp. 5–7.

2 See for example: Ronald Field Atkinson Knowledge and Explanation in History. An Introduction to the Philosophy of History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), pp. 8–10; Arthur Danto, Analytical Philosophy of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), William Henry Walsh, An Introduction to Philosophy of History (New York: The Harvester Press, 1976), pp. 9–24; in Polish literature, the above distinction corresponds with a division into an ontological and an epistemological dimension of the philosophy of history, see: Andrzej F. Grabski, Kształty historii (Łódź: Wydawnictwo Łódzkie, 1985), pp. 47–48; Dawid Rogacz, Chińska filozofia historii. Od początków do końca XVIII wieku (Poznań: Wyd. Naukowe UAM 2019), pp. 24–31.

3 For instance, according to Zbigniew Kuderowicz (Kuderowicz, Filozofia dziejów, p. 5) and Karl Löwith, search for meaning in the past is a substantial feature of the philosophy of history. Löwith claims that, “the term ‘philosophy of history’ is used to mean a systematic interpretation of universal history in accordance with a principle by which historical events and successions are unified and directed toward an ultimate meaning;” see: Karl Löwith, Meaning in History (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1949), p. 1. On various conceptions of the meaning of history, see also: Tadeusz Buksiński, “Czy historia ma sens?,” in: Zaproszenie do filozofii, eds. Krzysztof Łastowski and Paweł Zeidler (Poznań: Humaniora, 2001), pp. 99–115.

4 Isaiah Berlin, “Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century,” in: Berlin, Liberty, ed. Henry Hardy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1949] 2002), p. 55.

5 Isaiah Berlin, “Historical Inevitability,” in: Berlin, Liberty, ed. Henry Hardy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1954] 2002), pp. 104–105.

6 Berlin, “Historical Inevitability,” p. 56.

7 Moreover, Berlin formulated an accusation of immoralism of the substantial philosophy of history. For a polemic with this charge, see: Leszek Nowak, Władza. Próba teorii idealizacyjnej (Warszawa: In Plus, 1988), pp. 160–163.

8 For other classifications of the theory of historical process, see: Marek Wichrowski, Spór o naturę procesu historycznego. Od Hebrajczyków do śmierci Fryderyka Nietzschego (Warszawa: Semper, 1995), pp. 9–13; Kenneth Ghosh, “Some Theories of Universal History,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 7 (1964), pp. 1–20.

9 Walt W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth. A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 5.

10 Rostow, The Stages, p. 9.

11 According to Jarosław Bratkiewicz, the tradition to distinguish between occidental and oriental development line was initiated by Herodotus in Antiquity, cf. Jarosław Bratkiewicz, Teoria przedkapitalistycznej formacji społecznej w kulturach orientalnych. Interpretacja badań i polemik (Wrocław: Ossolineum, 1989), pp. 3–12.

12 Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism. A Comparative Study of Total Power (Yale: University Press, 1972), p. 440.

13 Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 43.

14 Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations, pp. 45–48.

15 It is noteworthy that in terms of non-Marxian historical materialism, the accusation of schematization is discussed in: Leszek Nowak, Katarzyna Paprzycka and Marcin Paprzycki, “On Multilinearity of Socialism,” in: Social System, Rationality and Revolution, eds. Leszek Nowak and Marcin Paprzycki (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993), pp. 355–371.

16 Karl Raimund Popper, “Prediction and Prophesy in the Social Science,” in: Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowlegde (New York: Harper & Row, [1948] 1968), p. 339.

17 Karl Raimund Popper, The Poverty of Historicism (New York: Harper & Row, [1944/45] 1964), pp. vi–vii.

18 Popper, “Prediction and Prophesy,” p. 342.

19 Popper, “Prediction and Prophesy,” p. 343.

20 Leszek Nowak, Power and Civil Society. Towards a Dynamic Theory of Real Socialism (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), pp. 217–221. For a comprehensive critical presentation of Popper’s views on the problem o possibility of conducting theoretical history, see: Nikolai S. Rozov, “An Apologia for Theoretical History,” History and Theory, Vol. 37 (1997), pp. 336–352.

21 Leszek Nowak, Własność i władza, Vol. 1 (Poznań: Nakom, 1991), p. 244.

22 It is not accepted by John A. Hall who states that inventions essential for the functioning of a feudal social structure in the early Middle Ages: iron plough and mill have had been invented in the Roman times, but they themselves did not bring about a transformation of the social structures of the Roman Empire, see: John A. Hall, Powers and Liberties. The Causes and Consequences of the Rise of the West (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 6–7.

23 Nowak, Power and Civil Society, p. 218.

24 I draw on a description provided by the following authors: Ted Benton and Ian Craib, Philosophy of Social Science: Philosophical Foundations of Social Thought (New York/Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 171–173; Jerzy Szacki, Historia myśli socjologicznej (Warszawa: PWN, 2004), pp. 901–921. It is worth recalling Lorenz’s description according to which the intellectual in question formation is characterised by the following three features: anti-reductionism combined with anti-unitarianism and anti-objectivism. The initial two features bring about distrust toward any metanarratives in history and a rejection of any possibility of reducing pluralism present in history to a unity. At the same time, however, anti-objectivism rejects the idea that there is a reality independent from its symbolic (particularly linguistic) representations. According to Lorenz, the above trends have been independently developed in the modern thought, and only their postmodern combination is original; see: Chris Lorenz. “ ‘You got your history, I got mine.’ Some Reflections on Truth and Objectivity in History,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften, Vol 4 (1999) p. 563. On the theoretical interpretation of postmodernism, see also: Leszek Nowak, “On Postmodernist Philosophy: An Attempt to Identify its Historical Sense,” in: The Postmodernist Critique of the Project of Enlightenment, ed. Sven-Eric Liedman (Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997), pp. 123–134.

25 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), p. 41.

26 I draw on slightly modified criteria allowing for a distinction between three types of nomothetism and idiographism presented in: Jerzy Malewski and Jerzy Topolski, “The Nomothetic versus the Idiographic Approach to History,” in: Idealization XIII: Modeling in History, ed. Krzysztof Brzechczyn (Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, [1960] 2009), pp. 299–310.

27 For the above reconstruction, see: Leszek Nowak, Byt i myśl. U podstaw negatywistycznej metafizyki unitarnej, Vol. I: Nicość i istnienie (Poznań: Wyd. Zysk i S-ka, 1998), pp. 13–21.

28 Randal Collins, Macrohistory. Essays in Sociology of the Long Run (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), p. 3.

29 Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966); Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System (New York: Academic Press, 1974); Theda Skocpol, State and Social Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990 (Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell, 1990); Ernest Gellner, Sword, Plough and Book. Structure of Human History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

30 Aviezer Tucker, Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 16.

31 For different concepts of the sense of history, see: Buksiński, “Czy historia ma sens?,” and for different concepts of the end of history, see: Ewa Domańska, “On Various Ends of History,” Journal of the Interdisciplinary Crossroads, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2004), pp. 283–292.

32 Based on the characteristics of concepts of historical processes offered in: Wichrowski, Spór o naturę procesu historycznego, pp. 100–101.

33 According to Leszek Gawor, that view of catastrophism was shared by two Polish thinkers of the interwar period: Marian Zdziechowski and Stanislaw I. Witkiewicz, see: Leszek Gawor, Katastrofizm konsekwentny. O poglądach Marian Zdziechowskiego i Stanislawa Ignacego Witkiewicza (Lublin: Wyd. UMCS, 1998).

34 Buksiński, “Czy historia ma sens?,” p. 102.

35 Wichrowski, Spór o naturę procesu historycznego, p. 101.

36 Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come. The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (London: Yale University Press, 2001).

37 The above paradox was recognized in: Nowak, “On Postmodernist Philosophy,” pp. 11–13.

38 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992), p. xii.

39 Fukuyama, The End of History, p. xiii.

40 Augustine of Hippo, The City of God (Overland Park, Digireads.com Publishing, 2017).

2 The Concept of Central Europe

1 Introduction

The purport of the present chapter is to outline the principal threads in a discussion concerning the status of Central Europe, its borderlines, and the nature of the developmental distinctiveness of this part of the continent. I adopt Jerzy Topolski’s claim that a historical region may, but does not have to, match a territorial entity distinguished geographically. The above takes place when:

an element of human activity and its consequences is added to a geographical characteristic of a region (or to pointing out the differences between the region and other similar spatial entities). Following from this, there are three elements required to distinguish a historical region: space, time, and a human being and his activity.41

Thus, in Topolski’s view, the principal criterion for distinguishing a historical region is the common life of a society of human beings on a given territory and its creations, which have to differ to some extent from the outcome of human life on a different territory. Following from this, the results of human activity include: economic, political, and cultural assets created by human beings, a social-class structure, in which the activity is undertaken, and forms of social awareness accompanying the activity. Topolski defines a historical region in the following way:

[It] is a concept, whose theoretical structure combines a defined territory inhabited by a given number of people who share a common history (short or long), which differs somehow from the history of other territorial/population entities of this type. Thus, it is understood as a certain comprehensive system (a structure), characterized by own historical identity (and sometimes by distinctive administrative borders), combining geographical, economic, social, political-administrative, cultural, and psychical elements (with separate elements that have a variable importance in various periods).42

The operation of distinguishing historical regions may be analyzed on two planes: cognitive and pragmatic. The cognitive plane determines the research usability of a given region to explain collected empirical facts or the ability to inspire future source studies. The pragmatic plane, in turn, determines the functionality of a given region against the interest of social classes: rulers, owners, ←41 | 42→and priests, and certain complex social entireties, such as national societies and entire civilizations (i.e. European civilization).

Let us now use the above conclusions to interpret the principal threads in the discussion over the status of Central Europe and the sources of its differentiation.

2 On the Criteria of Distinguishing Central Europe

Traditionally, the Central-European region is distinguished using two separate sets of criteria: geographical and historical/civilizational. These criteria can be used in a cognitive and a pragmatic manner. The geographical criterion considers the following features: landscape, climate, and fauna and flora. The set of historical/civilizational criteria includes the following variables: type of economy, type of political system, model of culture, and ethnic and religious composition of the population that inhabits a given territory. The division of European societies based on the set of historical/civilizational criteria include a division along the circles of latitudes (along the North-South axis) and the circles of longitudes (along the East-West axis). The Central-European region is distinguished only in the latter division.

Let us analyse the pragmatic manner of the use of the notion of “Central Europe.” This term first appeared in the German scientific and political literature in the beginning of the 20th century where it performed a predominantly non-cognitive function, serving as a justification of the German imperial foreign policy.43 A Central-European Association was established in Berlin in 1904 with a task to bring about an economic unification of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Joseph Partsch was one of the first authors who attempted to distinguish the Central-European region. He claimed that the region covers the territory spreading from Western Alps and the Balkans to the English Channel and the Curonian Lagoon, and from the Rhine to the Vistula River, and even the Dnieper River. However, in Partsch’s division, the borders of Central Europe matched the political borders encompassing the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland, and on the south: Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro.44

←42 | 43→

Friedrich Naumann popularized the idea of a union between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany during the First World War. According to his concept, Central Europe was a territory

“which extends from North and Baltic Seas to Alps, the Adriatic Sea and the southern edge of the Danubian plain. Take a map and see what lies between Vistula and the Vosges Mountains and what extends from Galicia to Lake Constance!”45

The discussed region was supposed to be an economic and political union bound by a military alliance between Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest, with an ensured dominance of Prussia and the German nation. The defeat of Prussia in the First World War and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire brought an end to the concept of the German hegemony in the region. During the interwar period, Central-European integration was, in fact, limited to a cooperation under the Little Entente, an alliance formed by the successor states of the Austria-Hungary and France, aimed at preventing the revision of borders by Hungary. Even more vague was the Polish idea of Intermarium, or the project of a Polish-Czechoslovakian federation.46

After the Second World War, the notion of “Central Europe” was replaced with the concept of Eastern Europe covering USSR and the countries of the Eastern Block: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Romania and Hungary – members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact, who were supposed to work together to build the system of real socialism modeled on the Soviet example. During the cold war, the European continent was divided into East and West, with no place for local distinctiveness. The processes of de-Stalinization, which took place after 1956 and were most advanced in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, reintroduced the notion of “Central Europe” into intellectual circles. Milan Kundera promoted the region in the 1980s with his famous essay The Tragedy of Central Europe.47

Political perturbations associated with the use of the notion of “Central Europe” notwithstanding, the concept has also been employed in a purely cognitive sense. ←43 | 44→However, even in the cognitive context, it has been used in an ambiguous and vague manner. This resulted from the fact that the investigated region has been distinguished according to two separate sets of criteria: geographical and historical/civilizational, which blended together frequently.48 In this book, the thesis presented above will be illustrated with examples of divisions of Europe made according to geographical criteria (Józef Wojtanowicz), geographical/civilizational criteria (Garrison Walters), and historical/civilizational criteria (George Schöpflin, Oskar Halecki, Peter Burke, Jeno Szűcs, Piotr Wandycz, Antoni Podraza). The above-mentioned types of divisions may appear in a dichotomous (adopting a division into East and West) and trichotomous variant. In the dichotomous variant the specific character of Central Europe disappears and this part of continent is treated as part of the East. The trichotomous variant allows for distinguishing Central Europe with reference to geographic criteria, historical/civilizational criteria, or both.

It is noteworthy that even by restricting the argument to geographical criteria, one does not necessarily receive an unambiguous definition of notion of “Central Europe.” Karl Sinnhuber compared maps of Central Europe created by twelve geographers from Great Britain, Germany, and France. It turned out that Czechoslovakia was the only country, which appeared on all of the maps, and Portugal and Spain were the only two countries that all geographers agreed to exclude from the map of Central Europe.49

Józef Wojtanowicz proposed an example of a recognition of Central Europe based entirely on the application of geographical criteria. He divided the European continent into four parts: eastern, western, southern, and northern. Eastern Europe spreads east of the rivers Dnieper and Daugava; Northern Europe covers the Scandinavian Peninsula, Iceland, and an area roughly matching the territory of Estonia; Southern Europe lies south of the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the line of the rivers Sava and Danube; finally, Western Europe covers the terrains west of Rhine, and north of the Alps and the Pyrenees.

←44 | 45→

Central Europe covers the terrain between two major narrowings of the European continent – the Baltic-Black Sea passage and the North-Adriatic passage. The distinctive features of the region include transitional climate and mosaic landscape, developed in the Neo-Pleistocene. The following geological forms appeared during glacial periods: moraines, kames, eskers, outwash plains, and Urstromtäler. Stone runs were a characteristic landform. Wojtanowicz divides Europe into the following four zones with reference to climate: “cold Scandinavian North, Mediterranean South, Atlantic West, and continental East. Between them lays a central part, not the smallest one, which cannot be included into any of the parts listed above. It is Central Europe.”50

A reliable indicator used to define the territory of Central Europe may also be the duration of frost lasting between two and four months. The region is currently characterized by a large geographical diversification, a variety of landscapes, and a diverse climate. Mixed forests prevail in the area under study, which favor the development of brown and podzolic soils, but there are also wetlands (Polesia) and forest steppe. This transitional character of Central Europe prevents a clear determination of its boundaries. However, in Józef Wojtanowicz’s opinion:

Central Europe borders with the Baltic Sea and the North Sea in the north, and it reaches the Black Sea in the southeast. The rivers confine its terrain: Rhine on the west, Dnieper-Daugava on the east and Danube-Sava on the south, and in the southwest it is limited by the ridge of Alps. The largest, or one of the largest rivers, and the highest European mountains determine the borders of Central Europe.51

Garrison E. Walters provides an example of a division according to two sets of criteria – geographical and historical/civilizational.52 He founds his division on a contrast – features and properties absent from Eastern Europe characterize the developmental path of Western Europe, and all the way round. According to Walters, the distinction between the East and West of Europe hinges on geographical differences.

Western Europe was characterized by a warmer climate, heavier rainfall, longer vegetation period of plants, more accessible navigable waterways and a possession of natural, easy to defend borders. As a result, Western-European agriculture was more productive and more efficient compared to Eastern-European ←45 | 46→agriculture. A longer shoreline and rivers navigable during most days in a year lowered the cost of transport in Western Europe. This, in turn, considerably contributed to the development of economy and the intensification of trade. Western-European societies easily defended against external aggressions due to natural water borders. Eastern-European societies developed under different conditions. More severe and longer winters, together with lower rainfall, created inferior conditions for the development of agriculture. A less-developed system of rivers hindered the communication between various parts of Eastern Europe. Moreover, natural borderlines did not protect Eastern-European societies against aggressive attacks of nomadic tribes. The above geographical/climate differences exerted an influence on the economic advancement of the two parts of the continent. In turn, geographical factors combined with economic advancement exerted an influence on political development and determined the formation of individual political systems in two parts of the continent. Culture and the model of education were common for entire Europe. Culture comprised of a certain common set of values present in philosophy, art, literature, and music. Church institutions were responsible for schooling in European countries – the Catholic Church and Protestant churches in Western Europe, and the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe. The era of the Enlightenment initiated the process of gradual secularization of schooling in the 19th century.

George Schöpflin offers a similar dichotomous division of Europe, but it is based solely on historical/civilizational criteria:

From the earliest period onwards, the West gradually evolved toward a position that power should be divided, that the different areas of power should be separated and the ruler should not be absolute either in his power or in his legitimization. The peculiarity of the Western pattern of development lay in separation of religious and secular legitimization.53

The competition between the Church and state made possible for third parties to emerge. In the consequence of tensions between secular and spiritual power, towns flourished and gained autonomy. The merchant estate became a decisive factor in social life, counterbalancing the influence of nobility. As Schöpflin points out:

In West European development a key role in evolution of autonomous organization and power was played the existence of a fairly dense network of towns. The West European ←46 | 47→town was a unique phenomenon in a number of ways – most significantly in its ability to develop autonomously of the ruler and the Church and to create specific political techniques intended to safeguard the basis of this autonomy, namely trade.54

Another aspect of the Western development path was emancipation of scientific activity from the tutelage of Church. The freedom of speech and thought was based on the concept of autonomy of universities, which started in the Middle Ages. In consequence – Schöpflin maintains – the characteristic feature of Western development was the following conviction:

The ruler was constrained to recognize that he did not exercise absolute power over his subjects, who retained politically, economically, etc. important spheres of autonomous action. Despite repeated attempts by various rulers – religious as well as secular – to extinguish or suppress these spheres of autonomy, whether in the name of order or routine or unity or rationalization, these were never completely successful. Autonomy and the separation of spheres remained a crucial feature of Western patterns and subsequently became the foundation for the extension of liberties.55

Eastern Europe took a different path of development. First of all, this part of Europe inherited Byzantine tradition of subordination of church by state. In addition, the towns in the East were weaker, and town dwellers were less numerous and less independent. Eastern towns served as a seat of administration or a garrison town. Therefore, unlike in Western Europe, the merchant estate was not able to counterbalance the nobility and state power. This social structure led to bigger concentration of power in the hands of state bureaucracy (Hapsburg empire) or the dominant social class (Poland, Hungary). The civilizational backwardness of Eastern Europe brought about its intellectual dependency on the West. As Schöpflin recognizes:

The backwardness of Eastern Europe vis-a-vis Western Europe, both real and perceived, had further ramification for political development. From the outset of the modern period, the late Enlightenment to the middle of the nineteenth century, East European elites took Western Europe as their criterion of modernity. It was immediately obvious that the task facing East European societies was to effect modernization. But the definition of this and the means to this end were not so obvious. Indeed, the East European elites tended to oversimplify the task by assuming that political and economic development to West European levels could be achieved quickly and by the practice of adopting West European political forms regardless of their local appropriateness.56

←47 | 48→

Under the conditions of no civil society, the state took on itself the task of modernization. This resulted in further social repercussion. The primary concern of state bureaucrats was the wellbeing of state machinery. Therefore, investments were allocated in military spheres or consumed by bureaucracy itself. As a result, a state-stimulated modernization was distorted. It did not bring about the emergence of a civil society, but strengthened the bureaucratic structures. In conclusion of his comparison of the West and the East of Europe, Schöpflin ascertains:

The Western political tradition always emphasized pluralism and the fragmentation of power. In Eastern Europe, which was politically backward, the state played a much more dominant role as the principal agent of change. This resulted in a politically preeminent bureaucracy and a weak society.57

After the Second World War, a Polish historian Oskar Halecki became the pioneer in American historiography of distinguishing Central Europe, apart from the West and the East. His view stemmed from a dichotomous division into Western and Eastern Europe. The division was, however, embedded in civilizational and not geographical grounds: a division into Rome and the Byzantine Empire, subsequently reinforced by the division into Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Halecki did not find the religious criterion to be sufficient, because he believed that:

Chronological divisions in history cannot be founded on stand-alone dates, but have to consider short and long transitional periods. Correspondingly, territorial divisions cannot ignore the existence of narrow and wide “transitional” passages, where cultural borders are always subject to fluctuation. It is a phenomenon typical for historical geography, a science, which has to take human evolution into consideration. One has to remember about it, when attempting to receive a clear definition of Europe as a whole, and of its individual regions.58

Halecki divided Europe into four regions: Western Europe, West-Central Europe, East-Central Europe, and Eastern Europe.59 Western Europe included countries subjected to the Roman rule, the northern part of Great Britain, Ireland, and the Netherlands. West-Central Europe encompassed Germany, Switzerland and Austria; and East-Central Europe included twelve countries situated between Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, and Russia. The latter country belonged to Eastern Europe.

←48 | 49→

The view presented by Peter Burke also originates from a dichotomous division based on historical/civilizational criteria.60 According to Burke, the territories of Western Europe were characterized with a higher level of population density, the domination of Roman and Germanic languages, and the supremacy of Catholicism and Protestantism. Additionally, the first components of a capitalist economy appeared in the region as early as in the 16th century. According to Burke’s division, a lower level of population density characterized the terrains of Eastern Europe. Moreover, Slavic languages dominated the terrains and Orthodoxy was the predominant religion. Additionally, this region experienced an introduction of second serfdom and the development of a manorial-serf economy in the 16th century. Nonetheless, Burke claims the two-fold division to be insufficient. He proclaims an intermediate terrain situated between the East and the West, Russia, and Germany. According to this division, the same features as Western or Eastern Europe characterize Central Europe, but the intensity of the features is different and it determined a developmental specificity of the region under investigation. As an example, Burke discusses the level of population density in Central Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. It was substantially higher, in comparison to the population density in Russia or Scandinavia, but it was lower than the population density in Western countries. In addition, Burke remarks that:

The power of the elected kings of Poland after 1572 was considerably less than that of, say, the tsar of Russia (…). Renaissance made relatively little impact on Russia and the Balkans, while (…) Hungary, Poland and Bohemia all participated actively in that movement. A similar point could be made about Reformation. Protestantism in various forms was a serious force in Bohemia, Poland and Hungary, as it was not in South-East Europe or in Russia.61

A trichotomous division, apart from Western and Eastern Europe, distinguishes East-Central or Central Europe (in this book, I shall consequently use the second term) is assumed, among others, by Jeno Szücs who emphasizes the “intermediate” character of Central Europe:

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Structures of the Western type can be detected everywhere, although they were deformed to some degree: either incomplete (as the towns were, for example) or disproportionately overgrown (as was the nobility).62

Yet in terms of the basic elements one feels there is an argument for applying even in the Middle Ages the notion ‘East-Central Europe’ to the entire region, in which inclusion ‘East’ means that modifications to the structure of the Western type of models and norms could be detected in almost everything. Of course there were minor differences – Bohemia showed forms rather more “Western” than Hungary’s and Croatia forms rather more archaic, while Poland was in most respects highly similar.63

Piotr Wandycz offered a similar trichotomous division based on historical/civilizational criteria. He lists a number of features defining the dissimilarity of Central Europe.64 The key features of the region definitely include its “civilizational youth” – it became part of the European civilization only in the 10th century. A civilizational delay resulted with disproportions in economic development between Central and Western Europe. Wandycz claims that the distance between the two parts of Europe was initially gradually decreasing. However, subsequently, at the turn of the 15th and the 16th centuries, the West evolved toward proto-industrialization, and Central Europe experienced an emergence of a manorial-serf economy. This led to another characteristic feature of the region, where backward socio-economic structures were no longer geared to the more advanced cultural and political development. An individual model of evolution of national consciousness was another feature of Central-European development. In Western Europe, a state created a nation. In contrast, in Central Europe a nation, understood as a social group sharing a common culture, created a state. For this reason, national minorities, such as Germans and Jews played a significant role in Central Europe. Long-lasting gaps in the development of statehood in Central-European societies brought about to a different model of shaping national consciousness. These gaps brought caused the history of Central-European nations to be filled with lengthy wars in defense of freedom or to regain freedom.65

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In a conclusion of the present recapitulation, it is noteworthy to discuss the division of Europe which is also based on historical/civilizational criteria offered by Antoni Podraza who attempted to combine the division along the circles of latitudes (along the North-South axis) and the division along the circles of longitudes (along the East-West axis). In the course of its history, Europe experienced three grand partitions.66 First, it was divided in Antiquity into the Roman Empire and the barbaric world, which spreaded north of Danube and east of Rhine. Since 395, the Roman Empire was experiencing a partition into an eastern, Hellenic part and a western part dominated by Latin and Roman influences. After the western part of the Empire fell in 476, the process of Romanization and Christianization of Germanic tribes took place. The monarchy of Charlemagne, who conquered and Christianized the Saxons in the second half of the 8th century, referred to the tradition of the Roman Empire. The river Elbe became the religious/cultural borderline at the turn of the 8th century.

As soon as Bohemia, Hungary (including Croatia), and Poland were Christianized, the division into Christian and pagan Europe, stemming from the division of the continent into “empire” and “barbarikon,” finally disappeared. At that time, the second division symbolized by the Great Schism of 1054 took place. It was founded on cultural and religious differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The eastern borders of Poland, Hungary, and subsequently Lithuania, Livonia and Finland became the borderlines of Western Europe. The new societies of the Western-European civilizational circle created a younger Europe characterized by absence of Ancient heritage and a delayed adoption of Christianity. In the 14th–15th centuries, these countries appeared to have reduced the civilizational backwardness to the Western-European countries. However, a third division took place during a transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era, founded on the difference in socio-economic relations. A capitalistic economy was initiated west of the river Elbe and a manorial-serf economy was established east of the river.

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3 On the Borders of Central Europe

Another problem – next to the issue of determination of the criteria of division of the European continent into regions and the issue of distinguishing Central Europe – is a clear demarcation of borders. There are three methods of demarcation: maximalist, minimalist and intermediate. In the maximalist approach, Central Europe roughly covers an area between Russia and Germany on one side, and North Cape and Cape Matapan on the other. According to Tomáš Masaryk, a Czech statesman and philosopher, Europe can be divided into Western, Eastern (Russia) and Central part. The latter is:

a peculiar zone of small nations, extending from the North Cape to Cape Matapan. Side by side we here find the Laplanders, Swedes, Norwegian and Danes, Finns, Estonian, Letts, Lithuanians, Poles, Lusatians, Czechs, and Slovaks, Magyars, Serbo-Croats and Slovenes, Roumanians, Bulgars, Albanians, Turks and Greeks. The largest of these nations are Poles; next to them come the Czechs and Slovaks, Serbo-Croats, Roumanians, and Magyars: the others are smaller. If the Little-Russians (Ruthenes, Ukrainians) were considered a separate nation, as distinct from Great-Russians, they would be the largest nation of this zone.67

Jan Kofman also represents a maximalist variant of the geographical demarcation of Central Europe. According to him, Baltic Sea is the northern borderline of Central-East Europe, Black Sea and the Adriatic – the southern borderline, Germany and Italy – the western borderline, and the territory of the successor states of USSR – the eastern borderline. Central-East Europe includes Albany, Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary. In comparison with Masaryk, Kofman excludes the Scandinavian countries, Turkey, Greece and Ukraine, but he includes Austria.68 Jerzy Tomaszewski, in turn, treats Central and South-West ←52 | 53→Europe as a homogenous area, in terms of economy and politics, including Albany, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary.69

In the minimalist tradition of demarcation of Central Europe, its territory is limited to areas that had been controlled by western Slavs and Hungarians in the past. For instance, Piotr Wandycz presents the history of Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary in his book on the history of Central Europe.70 In contemporary nomenclature, Central Europe spreads across member countries of the Visegrád Group.

A number of intermediate variants add either the territories inhabited by southern Slavs, or by Baltic nations: Latvia and Estonia, to the ingenious territory of Central Europe covering the area inhabited by western Slavs and Hungarians. Authors of such variants usually modify the adjective “Central” by adding two more: “East” or “South.”71

For example, Peter F. Sugar and Donald W. Treadgold, editors of the book series “A History of East-Central Europe,” define its borderlands in the following way:

The appropriateness of including the Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Belarusians and Ukrainians was consider, and it was decided not to attempt to cover them systematically, though they appear repeatedly in these books. Treated in depth are the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, Yugoslav peoples, Albanians, Bulgarians and Greeks.72

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In Jerzy Kłoczowski’s opinion, Central Europe covers the territory of former Republic of Poland, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, and Latvia.73 He claims the status of Estonia to be unclear. According to Podraza:

Central Europe covers the terrains situated between the river Elbe and its extension toward Istria, the eastern border of Poland and Hungary, and the southern border of Hungary and Croatia. Additionally, Central Europe encompasses three Baltic States, which have been for centuries associated with the West with regard to culture and religion, and with the East with regard to economy.74

4 On the Nature of the Distinctiveness of Central Europe

One of the landmark events, which determined the distinctiveness of Central Europe, was the development of a manorial-serf economy. It is believed to be the foundation for distinguishing two principal developmental lines in the evolution of European feudalism: a Western-European and a Central-European path. This developmental differentiation was finally established in the 16th century. The river Elbe became the borderline between the two developmental paths:

A rural economy, founded on large and average-size farms leased by peasants who worked on them, was established in the area west of the river Elbe. In contrast, east of Elbe, predominantly in the countries in Central-East Europe situated south of the Baltic Sea, the economic development headed toward the development of a manorial farm and production for sale. In the field of relations of production, a manorial-serf economy brought about an increase of servitude of peasants (introduction of the “second serfdom”) and of the scope of serfdom, in order to gain a villein service for a manorial estate.75

The serfdom of peasants was the foundation of the manorial-serf system. It manifested itself in the form of personal, economic, and judicial dependence. The personal aspect of serfdom reduced the freedom of peasants, who had to seek consent of the lord to leave their place of residence, enter marriage, or send ←54 | 55→children to schools located outside the village. Additionally, serfs and their children had to serve at manorial estates and perform duties designated by lords. Moreover, a lord had the right to sell landless peasants.

The economic aspect of serfdom minimized the freedom to decide about cultivated land. A peasant bound by perpetual lease could be deprived of land at any time. Peasants were more effectively protected by inherited lease, which allowed passing land to own children. Finally, the last aspect of feudal serfdom – judicial dependence, included a set of legal norms, which made peasants dependent on the judicial power of the landowner. According to Jeremy Blum, the difference between serfdom and slavery was that, although a serf could have been sold and bought without land, he maintained some personal rights at all times. In contrast, a slave, despite of his economic wealth, was deprived of all rights and could have been mutilated or killed by his owner without any consequences.76

In Western Europe, the above-mentioned aspects of serfdom were separated. Different owners implemented various forms of serfdom: one owner had a judicial authority over a peasant, another – economic authority, and yet another – personal authority. In contrast, in Central Europe unitary serfdom prevailed. All aspects of serfdom: personal, economic, and judicial were concentrated in the hand of one person.

The present book predominantly purports to explain the development of a manorial-serf system, which substantially influenced the historical distinctiveness of Central Europe. The following chapter will present the key concepts, which attempt to explain a developmental dualism of modern Europe.

←55 | 56→←56 | 57→

41 Jerzy Topolski, Jak się pisze i rozumie historię. Tajemnice narracji historycznej (Warszawa: Rytm, 1996), p. 146.

42 Topolski, Jak się pisze, pp. 147–148.

43 Gerard Delanty, “The Historical Regions of Europe: Civilizational Backgrounds and Multiply Routes to Modernity,” Historicka Sociologie, Nos. 1–2, (2012) pp. 15–16.

44 Joseph Partsch, Mitteleuropa. Die Lander und Volker von den Westalpen und dem Balkan bis an den Kanal und das Kurische Haff (Gotha: J. Perthes, 1904).

45 Friedrich Naumann, Central Europe (London: P.S. King & Son, Limited, 1916). On the concept of Central Europe in American historiography at the turn of the XIX and XX th century see: Tomasz Pawelec, Z drugiej strony Antlantyku. ‘Młodsza Europa’ w dawnych syntezach amerykańskich (Cieszyn: PTH 2013), pp. 43–113.

46 Sławomir Łukasiewicz, Trzecia Europa. Polska myśl federalistyczna w Stanach Zjednoczonych 1940–1971 (Warszawa-Lublin: IPN, 2010).

47 Milan Kundera, “The Tragedy of Central Europe,” The New York Review of Books (April 26, 1984), pp. 31–38.

48 Cf. Endre Bojtár, “Eastern of Central Europe?” Cross Currents. A Yearbook of Central European Culture, No. 7 (1988), p. 1; Danilo Kiš, “Variations on the Theme of Central Europe,” Cross Currents. A Yearbook of Central European Culture, No. 6 (1987), p. 1; Geörgy Konrád, “Is the Dream of Central Europe Still Alive?” Cross Currents. A Yearbook of Central European Culture, No. 5 (1985), p. 109; Robin Okey, “Central Europe/Eastern Europe: Behind Definitions,” Past and Present, No. 137 (1992), p. 103.

49 Karl Sinnhuber, “Central Europe, Mitteleuropa, L’Europe Centrale: An Analysis of a Geographical Term,” Transactions and Papers, Vol. 20 (1954), pp. 17–18, 20.

50 Józef Wojtanowicz, “Europa Środkowa jako region fizyczno-geograficzny – podstawy wydzielenia, granice,” Przegląd Geograficzny,” Vol. 52, No. 3 (1999), pp. 217.

51 Wojtanowicz, “Europa Środkowa,” p. 218.

52 Garrison E. Walters. The Other Europe. Eastern Europe to 1945 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1989), pp. 111–113.

53 George Schöpflin, “The Political Traditions of Eastern Europe,” in: Eastern Europe. . . Central Europe. . . Europe, ed. S.R. Graubard (San Francisco/Oxford: Boulder/Westview Press, 1991), p. 61.

54 Schöpflin, “The Political Traditions,” p. 71.

55 Schöpflin, “The Political Traditions,” p. 63.

56 Schöpflin, “The Political Traditions,” pp. 67–68.

57 Schöpflin, “The Political Traditions,” p. 59.

58 Oskar Halecki, Historia Europy – jej granice i podziały (Lublin: Instytut Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, 1994), p. 132.

59 Halecki, Historia Europy, p. 163.

60 Peter Burke, “Introduction: A Note on the Historiography of East-Central Europe,” in: Central Europe in Transition. From the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century, eds. Peter Burke, Antoni Mączak and Henryk Samsonowicz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 1–2.

61 Burke, “Introduction,” p. 2.

62 Jeno Szűcs, “The Three Historical Regions of Europe: An Outline,” Acta Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Vol. 29, No. 2/4 (1983), pp. 154–155.

63 Szűcs, “The Three Historical Regions,” p. 156.

64 Piotr Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present (London – New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 5–10.

65 This aspect of the history of Central Europe has been analysed in: Janusz Żarnowski, “W sprawie genezy systemu państw narodowych w Europie Środkowej i Południowo-Wschodniej,” Kwartalnik Historyczny, No. 3 (1970), p. 587; Piotr Machura, “Central-European Ethos: Equality, Social Emergence and Claims to Justice,” in: Central-European Ethos or Local Traditions: Equality, Justice, eds. Jarmila Jurová, Milan Jozek, Andrzej Kiepas and Piotr Machura (Brno: Albert, 2011), p. 19.

66 Antoni Podraza, “Europa Środkowa. Zakres przestrzenny i historia regionu,” Prace Komisji Środkowoeuropejskiej, Vol. 1 (1993), pp. 23–34.

67 Tomáš Masaryk, “Pangermanism and the Zone of Small Nations,” New Europe, No. 1 (1916), p. 272. On the shaping of Masaryk’s views on the borders of Central Europe, see: Tadayuki Hayashi, “Masaryk’s ‘Zone of Small Nations’ in His Discourse during World War I,” in: Regions in Central and Eastern Europe: Past and Present, eds. Tadayuki Hayashi and Hiroshi Fukuda (Sapporo: The Slavic Research Center, 2007), pp. 3–20; Roman Szporluk, “Defining ‘Central Europe:’ Power, Politics and Culture,” Cross Currents. A Yearbook of Central European Culture, No. 1 (1982), pp. 30–38; and for an overview of various concepts of demarcation of this part of Europe, see: Jerzy Stańczyk, “Europa Środkowa – kryteria wyodrębniania i cechy regionu,” Studia Polityczne, No. 12 (2001), pp. 197–211.

68 Jan Kofman, Nacjonalizm gospodarczy – szansa czy bariera rozwoju. Przypadek Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej w okresie międzywojennym (Warszawa: PWN, 1992) p. 224.

69 Jerzy Tomaszewski, “Europa Środkowa i Południowo-Wschodnia: cechy charakterystyczne i granice regionu” Ekonomia, No. 16 (1976), pp. 129–130, 138–139. On the distinctiveness of the Balkans, see: Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), chapter 6.

70 Burke and Kirschbaum share a similar view, see: Burke, “Introduction,” p. 1; Stanislav Kirschbaum, Historical Reflections on Central Europe (New York: St. Martin Press, 1999).

71 See i.e. the title of the book edited by Reginald R. Betts, Central and South East Europe, 1945–1948 (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1950) who represents the intermediate variant, because he adds also to Central Europe: Bohemia and Moravia, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, and to South-East Europe: Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia. Jean Sedlar shears this view, and adds the following countries to South-East Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Bohemia and Moravia, former Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, see: Jean W. Sedlar, “Introduction,” in: East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000–1500, ed. Jean W. Sedlar (Seatle/London: University of Washington Press, 1994), p. x.

72 Peter F. Sugar and Donald W. Treadgold, “Foreword,” in: East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000–1500, ed. Jean W. Sedlar (Seatle/London: University of Washington Press, 1994), p. vii.

73 Jerzy Kłoczowski, “Europa Środkowo-Wschodnia,” in: Historycy wobec problemów tożsamości narodowej i europejskiej – między nacjonalizmem a uniwersalizmem. XVIII-XX wiek (Lublin: Materiały Instytutu Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, 1992), Vol. 1, pp. 10–11.

74 Antoni Podraza, “Europa Środkowa jako region historyczny,” in: Materiały z 17 Powszechnego Zjazdu Historyków Polskich, 15–18 września 2004, in: http://jazon.hist.uj.edu.pl/zjazd (accessed: February 2, 2018).

75 Zbigniew Wójcik, Historia powszechna XVI–XVII w. (Warszawa: PWN, 1979), p. 326. Compare also: Tomaszewski, “Europa Środkowa,” p. 130.

76 Jerome Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom in Eastern Europe,” American Historical Review, Vol. 62 (1957), p. 809.

3 On the Distinctiveness of Central Europe

Theories developed to explain the developmental distinctiveness in Europe can be divided into three types.77 The first type of theories underlines the significance of factors external to a given society, the second type of conceptualization focuses on the importance of internal factors and the third type of explanations stresses significance of both types of factors, internal and external, to the emergence of the developmental distinctiveness of Europe. In the present overview, the theories put forward by Marian Małowist and Immanuel Wallerstein analyzed the impact of factors external to a given society. The concepts of Robert Brenner, Jerzy Topolski, and Benedykt Zientara stress the importance of internal factors. Finally, the views presented by Jeremy Blum, Daniel Chirot, Władysław Rusiński, and Jan Rutkowski represent the third, mixed type of conceptualizations emphasizing the indispensability of internal and external factors.

1 Theories Referring to External Factors

1.1 The Concept of Marian Małowist

Marian Małowist was one of the first authors who rooted his account of the developmental distinctiveness of Europe in an international context.78 He argued that developmental disproportions between the East and the West derived from the fact that the West benefited from the “great achievements of the Roman civilization.” On the contrary, the developmental capabilities of the East were limited by “more primitive social structures,” “low level of population density,” “worse ←57 | 58→geographical and climate conditions,” and “migrations of nomad tribes of Turkic origin” to the terrains of Central and Eastern Europe.79

Due to the civilizational advantage of Western Europe, Western-European economy reached its peak of development as early as in the 13th century. However, the continuous development of Western Europe was put on hold by an economic crisis. A substantial increase of the level of population density exceeded limited production capabilities of the economy. This brought about malnutrition of large layers of the population, which, in turn, weakened its immunity to epidemics caused by infectious diseases. In the 14th century, famines caused by incidental climate fluctuations and epidemics reduced the population of Western Europe by around 40 %. A devaluation of currency was another cause of the crisis. It was brought about by a growing trade in goods under the conditions of limited resources of bullion. It caused a drastic deprecation of currency in a large number of European countries. A decrease of the value of money resulted in a drop of the real value of taxes payable to the State Treasury and a drop of the real value of peasant services paid to the nobility.

Simultaneously, in the 13th and 14th centuries, the majority of Central-European countries was experiencing a phase of intensive development initiated at the turn of the 12th century, which lasted until the end of the 16th century. Central Europe experienced the most intensive development in the 14th century. German settlement with German Law was a significant stimulus for economic development. German Law, a modification of Western legal solutions adapted to the conditions of Central Europe, brought about an improvement of an economic and legal situation of the peasantry founded on it. Settlement with German Law boosted the productivity of the peasantry, which proved to be a substantial factor intensifying the economic development of Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary. The consequence of the German settlement undertaken by grand landowners was a stabilization of workforce. Previously, due to a small population density, increased compulsory service stimulated a rotation of workforce – cases of escapes were common among the peasantry. To increase their income, the ruling classes in the Central-European countries had to refer to economic stimuli, not to coercion. The ruling elites in Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary were becoming aware of their backwardness in comparison to the Western countries:

[T];he previous, relatively slow pace of economic growth of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia supported the evident disproportion of political and military forces between the above-listed countries and their stronger western neighbors, and the differences in ←58 | 59→the level of population density were significant. It was a dangerous situation for all social groups of the western countries under study.80

An additional factor, which accelerated the emerging process of colonization by grand ownership, was the political balance which had developed between Central-European countries, and which prevented them from gaining income from wars. Armed conflicts, where a victorious side would acquire looted goods and prisoners to supplement manpower, had been in fact a significant source of wealth for rulers and the nobility.

An intensification of Central-European economy contributed to the development of trade contacts with Western Europe. These contacts have existed since early Middle Ages; however, a significant increase of trade in goods took place only in the 13th century. At that time the Hanseatic League was crated and a number of towns, including Dubrovnik, Vienna, and Hamburg, developed into trade centers between Western and Central Europe. As a result, the structure of trade exchange between the two parts of Europe received a unilateral character:

[W];estern merchants, whose previous outlets have contracted and experienced severe structural transformations, perceived the developing Eastern countries as highly attractive. The number of luxury goods, let alone craft products of average sort, was growing, because local producers in Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia, not to mention Balkan countries, were unable to satisfy the demand.81

Consequently, the mechanisms of international trade and non-equivalent exchange brought about the following situation:

[A]; certain type of economic relations between Eastern and Western Europe was formed as early as in the late Middle Ages. Western Europe provided its Eastern partners with finished craft products, luxury goods, and capital, and to a certain extent also people, whereas Eastern countries predominantly exported raw materials, including such significant articles as bullions and other metals. The above contributed to a diversification of economy of the then developed North-West and South-West Europe, and to an acceleration of growth of craft production and, in a sense, industrial production on those terrains. (…) On the contrary, in the East, which was economically backward due to adverse starting conditions, trade with the West contributed to the civilizational advancement and increasing wealth of local and migrant merchants and feudal lords; however, it simultaneously brought about a certain economic unilateralism.82

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For this reason, the mechanisms of international trade consolidated the underdeveloped economic structure of Central-European countries. Its backwardness was a result of the late start of urban economy caused by an insufficient civilizational development of Central Europe and the civilizational advantage of the Western-European societies.

1.2 The Concept of Immanuel Wallerstein

In the perspective of the World-Capitalist System, the main analytic categories include a notion of the center, peripheries, and semi-peripheries connected with relationships of economic exchange. This perspective introduces a new understanding of the essence of capitalism and the category of transition from feudalism to market economy. Immanuel Wallerstein maintains that capitalism is an economic system, in which products are manufactured with an intention to be sold on a market for profit subsequently expropriated based on the law of ownership. The transition from feudalism to capitalism took place between 1450 and 1600.83 Wallerstein claims that it was a unique development, which happens only once in history. The phenomena of “proletarianization of workforce” and “commoditization of land” were the aspects of the process.

A transformation of feudalism into a global capitalistic system was a consequence of a crisis, which spread over feudal Europe between 1300 and 1450. In the Middle Ages, the European continent comprised a number of independent political organisms, not connected politically or commercially. Presence of a number of isolated economic entities was a characteristic feature of the feudal system of production. The system had enjoyed a period of expansion and advancement in the years 1150–1300. However, in the years 1300–1450, the feudal economy had gradually exhausted its internal reserves for development. A combination of three factors brought about a crisis:

after a thousand-years-long expropriation of economic surplus, exploitation had reached a level, at which the ruling class was no longer able to further increase exploitation of the peasantry;

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the level of production reached its peak at the given state of technology;

deterioration of climate conditions caused a decrease of fertility of soil.

Pressured by the developing crisis, the ruling classes in Europe were forced to invent a new system of expropriation of production surplus. Direct expropriation was replaced with indirect expropriation founded on the mechanism of international trade. At the international market, luxury goods were replaced with mass consumption ones.

As a result, there emerged a global capitalistic system covering North-West Europe, countries with a Mediterranean coastline, Central Europe and a number of non-European regions: New Spain, Antilles, Peru, Chile, Brazil, the Atlantic islands, and the coast of Africa.

In the 16th century, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the Far East were out of reach of the impact of the above system. The market mechanisms divided the global economic system into center, peripheries and semi-peripheries. As a consequence, North-West Europe became the center of the system, which specialized in production requiring highly qualified contract workforce. Eastern Europe and the agricultural regions of Western Europe turned into peripheries, which specialized in the export of crops and low-processed materials. Finally, the Mediterranean coastline became semi-peripheries involved in semi-industrial production of silk, and specializing in transfer of credits and trade. European peripheries slowly developed toward capitalism by introducing the commercialization of the land market and proletarianization of workforce, however only Scandinavian countries succeeded in joining the center.

Wallerstein ponders on the question why Eastern Europe became a periphery of the system and the North-West Europe – the center. The above differentiation is more interesting in light of earlier evolution of both parts of the continent in the 13th and the 14th centuries. In this period, both parts of Europe, eastern and western, developed analogically: feudal control over the peasantry lessened and the monetary economy prevailed. The development of global economic system in the 14th and the 15th centuries brought about an increase of developmental distinctiveness in the two parts of Europe because these two regions become complementary parts of a more complex whole – world economy system:

Northwest Europe emerged as the core area of this world-economy, specializing in agricultural production of higher skill levels, which favoured (. . .) tenancy and wage labor as the modes of labor control. Eastern Europe and Western Hemisphere became peripherial areas specializing in export of grains, bullion, wood, cotton, sugar – all of ←61 | 62→which favored the use of slavery and coerced cash-crop labor as the modes of labor control.84

Wallerstein ponders on the question why the situation was not opposite. Why did not Western Europe transform into a periphery of the system, and Eastern Europe – the center? The above situation developed as a result of a number of factors, which exerted a decisive influence on the evolution paths of the two parts of the continent. Wallerstein investigates the impact of these factors as follows:

Thus if, at a given moment in time, because of a series of factors at a previous time, one region has a slight edge over another in terms of one key factor, and there is a conjuncture of events which make this slight edge of central importance in terms of determining social action, then the slight edge is converted into a large disparity and the advantage holds even after the conjuncture has passed.85

The particular station mentioned above was the colonial expansion of Western Europe undertaken in the 15th century. The level of acquired profit depended on the degree of introduced specialization of economy in the Western Europe – the development of industry, sea transport, etc. The introduction of specialization required a lot of attention from the Western-European societies, to the detriment of the development of agriculture. As a result, Eastern Europe transformed into a food producer and the supplier of resources and crops for Western Europe. However, as Wallerstein claims, the situation could have been opposite. Western Europe could have specialized in agricultural production for Eastern Europe. According to him, in the 15th century an unsubstantial factor determined which part of the continent gained the advantage over the other, and decided on the implementation of one of the two alternatives. Due to this unsubstantial factor, in the 16th century the small advantage of Western Europe over Eastern Europe had been growing continually to finally bring about a distinction between countries situated in the center and those belonging to the peripheries. The system of compulsory labor in Eastern Europe, as Wallerstein names the manorial-serf system, developed in response to the impact of two factors: the opportunity to achieve a significant profit on the global market of agricultural products and a relative absence of manpower, when compared to large areas of uncultivated land.86 The relatively large abundance of uncultivated farmland allowed for a ←62 | 63→colonization of new terrains. And this, in turn, facilitated an introduction of the system of compulsory labor since, according to Wallerstein, it was easier to impose such system on the newly colonized areas, in comparison to areas with the old tradition of settlement. In his discussion of the remaining factors, which determined the course of historical development, Wallerstein lists weak condition of Eastern-European towns. While in the 13th century the difference between Eastern- and Western-European towns was insignificant, in the following centuries the distance had grown and brought about an indirect dependency of Eastern-European agriculture on the Western demand.

The approach of World-Capitalist System may provide a very useful explanation of the expansion of capitalism. However, according to the concept, the problem of the genesis of capitalism, and particularly of the differentiation of developmental paths of the countries in the center and the countries in the peripheries, is not subjected to a theoretical explanation, but merely to a historical analysis. According to such description, peripheral countries are usually treated as homogenous and internally undifferentiated objects of analysis. However, as demonstrated by Darius Žiemelis, the economic development of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania between the second half of the 16th century until the abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire in 1861, only roughly falls under the definition of the development of the peripheral capitalism assumed by Wallerstein’s model. In the first period from the mid-16th century to the mid-18th century, serfdom was just one of the many forms of feudal rent implemented mainly in the estates of the great magnates. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the main source of income for property owners was not the sale of agricultural products on the internal and external market, but the profits from the lease of taverns and mills.87 Moreover, the “received funds were invested [by the estate owners] not in maximizing the held resources, but to the expansion of the usage of the social elite,”88 which, according to the author, precludes the possibility of treating a manor as an enterprise operating in the conditions of peripheral capitalism. Furthermore, the intensification of serfdom in the second half of the 18th century was not, according to Žiemelis, the main source of income in the Grand ←63 | 64→Duchy of Lithuania.89 In 1795, the direction of export of agricultural products has also changed: “due to its incorporation into Russia from the end of the 18th century [Lithuania] became the agrarian periphery of the empire beginning with the 20th century. All of this ‘conserved’ even more the peasant production for family consumption in agriculture and determined the weak development of Lithuania’s cities.”90 Then, the economy of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was more in line with the model of peripheral development.

The World-Capitalist Economy approach, explaining the phenomenon of backwardness of peripheral countries, focuses on external rather than internal factors. There are reasonable doubts as to whether external factors are so significant.91 Topolski puts forward a critique of Wallerstein’s concept with relation to Poland:

In general, in the following years [of the 17th century], the Baltic region produced annually the maximum of 100,000 tons of grain (mostly wheat), which satisfied the demand of ca. 750,000 people. When compared to the level of population density in Europe of around 104,000,000 people in the beginning of the 17th century, it accounted for an unsubstantial percentage (less then 1%). […] When compared to the global grain production of Western Europe, the exported amount was also insignificant. Wyczański, an author of the most comprehensive estimations of grain production in the 16th century Poland, has recently stated that the export of Polish grain in the second half of the 16th century accounted for the maximum of 2.5% of global production.92

Certainly, economic relations consolidated the underdeveloped economic structure of Central Europe. However, they did not itself determine the pivotal direction of the social evolution, the tendencies of which had manifested in the past.

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2 Theories Referring to Internal Factors

2.1 The Concept of Robert Brenner

Robert Brenner put forward an alternative account of the dichotomy between developmental paths of Eastern (including Central-European countries) and Western Europe. Brenner devoted a number of papers to construct and subsequently develop a general model of feudalism with the purport to grasp the developmental differences between England and France, on the one hand, and Western and Eastern Europe, on the other.93

According to Brenner, the factor of class structure is the key category of social development. On the one hand, it encompasses organizational dependencies between direct producers and their approach to material tools used in the production process. On the other hand, a social class structure dictates ownership relations, which allow the nonworking class of owners to expropriate secondary production. Expropriation may be direct or indirect, but in the end it always depends on the factor of violence. Following from this, ownership relations determine the fundamental social division into the class of direct producers and the ruling class capable of expropriating secondary production.94

For this reason, a class structure is the basic category determining the mechanisms of social development. However, the category of class structure has taken on a number of forms within various socio-economic formations. For instance, feudalism and capitalism were two completely different social systems. Most importantly, the class of direct producers – the peasantry – had a direct, not mediated by market mechanisms, access to work tools and means of production. The peasant mode of production consisting in cultivation of land did not require intervention from lords. Moreover, the slight evolution of market relations brought about a self-sufficiency of peasant farms. As a result, in order to purchase goods the peasantry did not have to sell its products on the market. To be able to expropriate secondary production, a feudal lord had to have a political ←65 | 66→power over the peasantry. This way, by referring to the means of coercion, feudal lords could expropriate the production surplus. As Brenner claims:

“fusion” (to put it imprecisely) between “the economic” and “the political” was a distinguishing and a constitutive feature of the feudal class structure and system of production. This was manifested in the fact that the “economic” conditions for the reproduction of the ruling class – the income it required to carry out its life activities, including the continuing subjection of the peasantry – depended upon a system of extraction of surplus labor from the direct producers, which was characterized by extra-economic (“political”) compulsion.95

The above structural distinctiveness of the feudal system dictated feudal rules of reproduction, which determined the dynamics of the system. Brenner emphasizes that both, the lords and the peasants, had access to the means that guaranteed their survival. Additionally, the absence of market brought about a situation, in which economic entities were not forced to increase production to maximum.

Brenner discusses two sources of the dynamics of feudalism: colonization of new terrains and a so-called political accumulation. Colonization was a typical form of development of feudalism. The increase of the level of population density stimulated the process of land-use of new terrains. As a result, the economic situation of the peasantry improved and feudal lords became capable of conducing a mostly conflict-free expropriation of the production surplus brought forth by the class of peasants. However, the boundaries for colonization were set by the limited amount of land available for cultivation with the medieval production technique. After the land resources had been exhausted, political accumulation became the second source of dynamics of the feudal system. It consisted in an expansion of the private or state military-clerical apparatus purported to redistribute income or increase exploitation of the peasantry using imposed taxes. Additionally, Brenner studies mutual relations between two sources of the dynamics of the feudal formation. Political accumulation was the basic mechanism of the evolution of the feudal system on the central terrains of the European feudal society. There emerged centralized state monarchies and, subsequently, absolutist monarchies. Differently, on the peripheral terrains of European feudalism – in Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary, colonization dominated over accumulation. As a result, the ruling classes of the above-listed societies did not have to expand their centralized state apparatus.96

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The above-described internal tendencies embedded in the developmental mechanisms of feudalism brought the formation to an internal crisis. Due to absence of market mechanisms, an intensification of production was not required. Production grew in an extensive way – the evolution of the population led to land use of new terrains. However, a constant increase of the level of population density at the unchanging production technique brought about relative overpopulation and shrinkage of the area of cultivated land. In the middle of the 14th century, as a result of famine and the plague epidemic, the European population was significantly reduced. The crisis of feudalism had different consequences for various areas of Europe, depending on the ability of individual social classes to push across their interests. I will now discuss Brenner’s explanation of the developmental differences between Eastern and Western Europe.

In the 13th and the 14th centuries, the terrains of Eastern Europe were subject to colonization with German Law. By organizing German colonization, feudal lords attempted to expropriate production surplus. Since the 15th century, after the settlement stimulated by the migration of Western-European (particularly German) peasantry decreased, North-East Europe has experienced a rise of slavery. An enforcement of serfdom was purported to solve the problems brought about by a shortage of workforce. The problems appeared when the level of Western-European population density decreased and it became impossible to bring settlers from this area. In Brenner’s words, the decreasing population, and the growing possibility to purchase luxury goods and sell grain on the internal market brought about an increase of the control of the feudal lords over the peasantry. As a result of the above processes, the feudal lords introduced a limitation of free movement and an increase of the burdens of serfdom. Brenner ponders on why if a reorganization of class relations succeeded in the East, similar simultaneous tendencies proved unsuccessful in the West. According to him, absence of successful peasant revolutions allowed the Eastern-European nobility to increase the scope of their control over the peasantry. And on the contrary, the attempts to introduce serfdom in Western Europe were unsuccessful, due to effective resistance of the peasantry. According to Brenner, it was a consequence of varied class relations on the East and the West of Europe, which resulted from different models of evolution implemented in the two parts of the continent.

On the East, the nobility organized and controlled the process of settlement, and granted privileges and economic rights to the peasantry. On the West, on the contrary, the colonization of new terrains was in general a bottom-up initiative of the peasantry, only top-down controlled by the feudal lords. From this source, the freedom of the Western-European peasantry was a result of a long-lasting class struggle, which led to the creation of common peasant institutions. On the ←67 | 68→East, the same scope of freedom was granted in a top-down way, as a result of German settlement organized by the feudal lords. Therefore, when it became impossible to bring settlers due to the population crisis on the West of Europe, the nobility introduced a more rigorous system of management of the peasantry.97 Eastern-European peasantry – less organized and with no tradition of class resistance, was unable to effectively oppose the policy of the feudal class.

Introduction of serfdom exerted significant influence on the socio-economic evolution of Eastern Europe. Most importantly, the economic system based on compulsory labor of the peasantry brought about a technological stagnation in agriculture. Additionally, a decline of income of the peasants brought about a decrease of demand of this social group for craft goods produced in towns. Limitation of the mobility of the peasantry deprived towns from access to cheap workforce. The above two factors combined with anti-town policy of the nobility led to a degradation of towns and a long-lasting socio-economic backwardness of Eastern Europe.

According to Brenner, the principal factor differentiating the development of Eastern and Western Europe resulted from the character of class resistance of the peasantry: effective in Western and ineffective in Eastern Europe. The above difference was a consequence of the impact of institutional and consciousness-related factors: Western-European peasantry, in contrast to the Eastern peasantry, was better organized and had longer traditions of class struggle. However, within the presented conceptual model, the category of effectiveness or ineffectiveness of class struggle is highly unclear. It may be understood in two ways: an effective resistance of the peasantry directly leads to a transformation of a class structure of a society or brings about an improvement of the financial situation of the peasantry within a given class structure. Nonetheless, if we adopt the first understanding of the notion, then the class struggle of the peasantry in both, Western and Eastern Europe, was ineffective, since it did not bring about a transformation of the structure of ownership. The second understanding of the category must refer to a social context. If the balance between social classes of a feudal society: rulers, burghers, and the nobility, prevailed, then resistance of the peasantry forced the feudal class to grant concessions and led to an improvement of the economic situation of the peasantry. The above-described social conditions were present in the Western Europe. This, however, puts an emphasis ←68 | 69→on the impact of the urban sphere, which Brenner deprives of any significance to the process of European distinctiveness.

Another unclear point in Brenner’s concept is the link between the end of the settlement processes in the Eastern Europe, which ended in the 2nd half of the 14th century, and the introduction of serfdom. According to his theory, the shortage of manpower was the only factor, which influenced the evolution of the manorial-serf system. However, a manorial-serf economy emerged in Central Europe over 150 years after the plague epidemic and the ending of the settlement processes (symbolically, a manorial-serf economy in Poland was initiated with the decisions of the Piotrków Sejm from 1496 and the Bydgoszcz-Toruń Statutes from 1520; in Hungary with the completion of the Tripartitum in 1514 and in Bohemia with land statutes in 1627/28). Brenner’s reference to the Teutonic State as an example, which already at the beginning of the 15th century issued regulations targeting the desertion of the peasantry, is unconvincing. The Teutonic State had a different social structure then the rest of the countries in the region. In the Teutonic society, there was a significant concentration of power and ownership (and the means of spiritual production, too)98 in the hands of a single social class able to implement the means of state coercion to regulate work relations. In Central-European societies, social conditions were different, since the political power was independent from the nobility and burghers balanced the influence of the nobility. Over 150 years had to pass before the nobility in the Central-European countries became capable of subjugating the state to its needs and of limiting the rights of burghers. The introduction of serfdom is a reaction to the deficiency of workforce; however, this holds true only in a situation when the class of owners gains dominance in the state and limits the influence of the urban labor market. Otherwise, the only strategy available to owners is granting concessions. The above conclusion becomes clear only if one adopts a different theoretical perspective, in which the state is not only a servant of ownership but also an institution hiding a social class with a separate social interest than the owners.

2.2 The Concept of Jerzy Topolski

Topolski discusses a problem of the development of the feudal system and its differentiation in a series of books and papers published during his entire academic carrier.99 In the area covered by the Carolingian Empire, the feudal ←69 | 70→system emerged as a result of the dissolution of slavery and the introduction of the social institution of Germanic tribal communities. Differently, in the East – in Germany, Poland, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, and Belarus – the emergence of feudalism was a consequence of the dissolution of agrarian communities, the gradual development of private property and the rise of the nobility. In this part of Europe, the state was the factor, which stimulated feudal transformations, since it supported the process of development of the class of owners. In the period of early-feudal monarchy, the institution of state set up its own economic sector where the peasantry, which was grouped in special servicing villages, performed specialized services and produced the needed goods. The ruler identified with the state and treated the entire state, including the land, as his patrimonial property. However, subsequently, the development of the nobility brought about dissolution of the primal system of the state economy. State authorities granted privileges and immunity concessions, which led to the development of a feudal layer of landowners, who were solely interested in management. As a result, the processes of increasing the significance of the nobility brought about a collapse of the institution of state. While in the 10th and the 11th centuries the state constituted the principal factor, which stimulated the economy, in the 13th and the 14th centuries the feudal lords replaced it. This class organized grubbing-up forests, set up new villages and towns, brought in settlers. The action of grand ownership created favorable conditions for the development of peasant farms, which in the 14th and the 15th centuries constituted the primary factor of economic growth.

Differently, until the second half of the 13th century Western Europe was experiencing a period of rapid economic development, which was put to an abrupt halt in the middle of the 13th century. The economic stagnation was caused ←70 | 71→by the discrepancy between the rapidly growing level of population density and the production capabilities of medieval agriculture. The above phenomenon brought about the fragmentation of farmland, increase of prices of agricultural products, decrease of industrial prices, and drop of agricultural productivity. A further increase of the level of population density above the production capabilities of the economy led to food crises, and a decreased immunity of the population against epidemics and diseases. The relationship between the population and the production potential of the economy begun to stabilize around 1369 after a series of famine and epidemics, which drastically reduced the population of Western Europe.

The above-described disruptions of the economic evolution brought about an emergence of a particular tendency in the entire Europe, namely a drop of income of the European nobility. The reasons for the reduction of income were various but, according to Jerzy Topolski, they were in general associated with the consequences of the development of the money-goods economy:

[D];ifferent social classes and social layers had differently benefited from the evolution of this economy. At first, the nobility had also profited. However, their benefits soon proved to be apparent because they were not connected with direct production activity, but with a certain reorganization of the system of expropriation of feudal rent. By implicating an increase of money-goods relations, this reorganization consisted, as we know, in a shift from various types of serfdom and compulsory serf labor (pańszczyzna), and various tributes in kind to paid rent.100

The income of the nobility decreased due to the resistance of the peasantry, which precluded a further increase of villein service. Moreover, the processes of depreciation and devaluation of currency constituted a permanent feature of the medieval economy. This brought about a decrease of real (but not necessarily nominal) income of the nobility. Additionally, at the turn of the 14th and the 15th centuries, the wages of paid workers in agriculture increased. Moreover, the expansion of burghers posed a risk for the nobility. At that time, burghers in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland took over a number of the nobility’s estates. The economic expansion of the Church brought about similar consequences. Due to donations, grants and legacies made in testaments, many land estates were transferred into the possession of church institutions. Additionally, at that time there was much devastation connected with wars and defeats. Topolski also mentions a biological factor – an increase of the level of population of the nobility caused a growing fragmentation of demesne of this social group.

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The reduction of income forced the nobility to launch a counter-action. Jerzy Topolski lists four principal ways, in which the nobility enlarged its income: by increasing the income expropriated form the peasantry, by seizing part of the income of burghers, by changing the division of profit inside the feudal class and by undertaking an economic activity.101 Attempts to increase exploitation of the peasantry brought about a series of revolts and revolutions, which had swept throughout Europe from the 2nd half of the 14th century until the beginning of the 16th century. Moreover, burghers successfully hindered the acquisition of their income. The only way to seize it was via relationships and family ties. A more effective method of preventing a decrease of income of the nobility was to change of the method of distribution within the feudal class. In the current period, the nobility, supported by the state, was seizing church assets.

Nonetheless, in a long-term perspective, the economic activity of the nobility was the only successful method of increasing income or at least preventing a reduction of income. It took on various forms, depending on local conditions, i.e. the English nobility took up sheep farming, in Bohemia the nobility set up ponds and engaged in fish farming, and in Poland this social class took up grain production. In Western Europe, the strength of burghers and the existing capitalistic system directed the economic activity of the nobility toward money-goods economy using paid workforce.

The socio-economic conditions of Central Europe gave grounds for the diffusion of a manorial-serf economy. According to Topolski, it was a different manifestation of the same economic process:

The nobility took up various forms of economic activity, particularly if we compare the situation in the countries west and east of the river Elbe. However, all of these activities were a response to the common situation of the process of decreasing income. In this sense, there is a new explanation of the emergence of a manorial-serf economy in Poland and in other countries. It is not a manifestation of the developmental distinctiveness of Europe, west and east of the river Elbe, but predominantly a consequence of the common processes of activation born on the common ground. Both the English enclosure and the development of villein manors (folwarki pańszczyźniane) belong to the same larger process. The forms of economic activity of the nobility predominantly depended on the natural conditions of a given terrain (i.e. location, climate, etc., level of manpower, which was associated with the level of dissolution of slavery in the end of the Middle Ages) and with the character of the market available to the production connected with the increased economic activity of the nobility.102

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Topolski provides a more detailed description of factors, which determined the forms of economic activity of the nobility. He divides them into three groups associated with: (1) relationship between land and workforce; (2) potential to sell crops; (3) natural conditions. On areas where the existence of the urban market dictated high wages for workers and where the peasantry enjoyed personal freedom, the nobility chose forms of production not requiring a lot of manpower (e.g. sheep grazing in England). Differently, in Poland and other Central-European countries where serfdom prevailed and towns were underdeveloped, the nobility could introduce more labor-intensive forms of production (e.g. the production of grain in Poland). Another group of factors was associated with the possibility to sell crops. For instance, because of the weak internal urban market, the Polish nobility could only sell its products to the West. Polish producers specialized in production of grain and other agricultural products to answer the demand of Western Europe on these goods. Finally, the third group of climate and geographical factors exerted additional influence on the economic decisions of the nobility. Topolski lists location, climate, class of soil, etc. A combination of factors belonging to the above-described three groups brought about the development of a number of types of villein manors specializing in production of grain, cattle, sheep, fish and wine.

Topolski distinguishes between two stages of re-feudalization of economic relations in Central Europe. The first stage, lasting from the end of the 15th century until the first decades of the 17th century, was characterized by:

development and spread of a manorial-serf economy and the so-called second serfdom. During the period the economic structure underwent a significant transformation. Peasant farms […] lost their independence and became a mere part of a whole, in which a manorial estate had a domineering position. This position was associated with the non-economic (political) power of the nobility.103

The second stage of re-feudalization was associated with the influence of the manorial system on the economic life. Manorial-serf economy put the process of development of capitalistic elements in the economic structure of Central Europe to a long halt. In the social sphere, the process of concentration of feudal ownership and aristocracization of the nobility accompanied it in the Central Europe in the 15th and the 18th centuries. It was not until the agrarian reforms of the 19th century, which granted landownership to the peasantry and abolished their dependency from landowners, that the development of a capitalistic economy became possible.

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The key idea of Topolski’s concept is his statement on the reduction of income of the nobility. This decrease led to a counteraction of this social class, which in consequence brought about a dichotomy in the development of Europe and a rise of the manorial-serf system in Central Europe, among other things. However, Topolski’s thesis has an empirical and not a theoretical character. It does not derive from a more general model of feudalism. Therefore, it is not clear whether the decrease of income of the nobility – the principal factor, which brought about capitalistic transformations in the West – resulted from internal developmental mechanisms of the feudal formation, or was caused by pure coincidence. Topolski does investigate the phenomenon, however he offers a historical analysis, not a theoretical one. If the drop of income of the nobility was caused by coincidental factors, then it is necessary to pose the following question: what would have happened if the reduction of wealth of the nobility had not taken place at all? Would there have been no capitalism and no developmental diversification in Europe? Without embedding the phenomena described by Topolski in a more general theory, it is difficult to provide a reasonably supported answer to the above question.

2.3 The Concept of Benedykt Zientara

Benedykt Zientara claims that, as distinct from the situation in Western Europe, the agrarian relations east of the river Elbe were characterized by the concentration of all aspects of feudal sovereignty over the peasantry in few hands.104 As a result, feudal lords were able to enforce service of unpaid labor on the peasantry. A noble’s demesne (folwark szlachecki), instead of an independent peasant farm, was the basic production unit. According to Zientara, the underdevelopment of the urban sphere was decisive in the rise of a manorial-serf system:

[T];owns were weak economically and politically divided, and as such unable of uniting around common interests and of becoming a factor capable of balancing the influence of feudal lords to a certain degree. Therefore, absolutist monarchy could not arise in the Central-European countries […] Instead, there developed a “democracy of the nobility” with more or less concealed superiority of the great magnates – the owners of latifundia, who were gradually pushing towns to the margins of political life (in Poland earlier than in other countries).105

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The underdevelopment of towns allowed the nobility and magnates to dominate state power, using the system of the democracy of the nobility, and to introduce the so-called “second serfdom.” Zientara stresses the significance of the internal factors responsible for the social development of Central Europe.106 Zientara concludes his reflections with the opinion that “the structure of class power […] based on economic premises” exerted a decisive influence on the development of a manorial-serf economy:

Economic and political weakness of towns, the association of some of them with the nobility’s economic interests, the relatively weak development of the internal market – all of these factors allowed feudal lords to gain a much stronger social position than they had in Western Europe and prevented the development of absolutist monarchies.107

3 Combined Theories

3.1 The Concept of Daniel Chirot

When analyzing the genesis of manorial-serf economy in Central Europe, Daniel Chirot states that this type of production – based on compulsory labor performed by farm workers, where the effects of production are sold on the market – differs from classic serfdom in feudalism and from the system of slavery.108 In these economic systems the greater part of products manufactured by direct producers was intended for consumption by owners, and not for the market.

The system of compulsory labor came to existence as a consequence of the impact of four factors. The first factor was the presence of the class of grand landowners. This social category did not descend from the class of small landowners, but mostly stemmed from the war aristocracy or the ruling elite, which first conquered and later economically subordinated the native peasantry. Following from this, the presence of the layer of grand landowners was one of the causative factors of the system of compulsory labor in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The existence of this social category brought about economic polarization of the society: concentration of land ownership in the hands of a small minority and emergence of landless layer of farm workers.

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A shortage of manpower was the second factor which enabled the development of the system of compulsory labor. If there is surplus manpower in comparison to the amount of farmed land cultivated with a given level of technique, then “labor will compete for work on the large estates and laborers will be free to leave since landlords will always be able to find new labor. A free tenancy system or a wage labor system (generally with cheap wages will prevail.”109

Differently, if there is a shortage of workforce in comparison to cultivated land, than “laborers will tend to migrate to areas where less of their products is taken from them, and landlords will be hard put to find easily exploitable labor. In such situation, if landlords control the political process, they will tend to reduce labor mobility by law and force.”110

An agricultural system based on cultivation of only one species of plants was the third factor enhancing the development of the system of compulsory labor. Agriculture based on monoculture brought about demand for unqualified workforce, which could have been provided only via the system of compulsory labor. Mechanization and technological advancement associated with a more diverse system of crops created demand for qualified workers.

Finally, the last factor was the presence of a market, internal or external, which created demand for production manufactured under the system of compulsory labor. Therefore, a reorganization of the production mode depended on the impact of market forces, among other factors.

According to Chirot, Poland was one of the classic examples of an economic transformation. In the 16th century, trade contacts between Poland and Western countries have developed significantly. Demand for grain, production of which did not require an advanced technology, was one of the conditions for reorganization of the mode of agricultural production. Presence of the class of owners, which controlled political life, and the state of deficiency of workforce allowed for a reorganization of the system of production into a manorial-serf economy. This system prevailed until the middle of the 19th century when a growing level of the population density and technological advancement led to the substitution of the analyzed mode of production in favor of a capitalist economy. Analogical systems of production came to existence in Latin America, Asia and Africa. According to Chirot,

[t];he combination of markets for agricultural products, labor shortages and concentration of landowning into relatively few hands produced servile labor systems in other ←76 | 77→parts of the world as well as in Eastern Europe. Thus, the key reason for the growth of slavery in Americas was the acute labor shortage on the European owned sugar, cotton, and tobacco plantations.111

Chirot ponders on the question of the status of the system of compulsory labor. He perceives it as a system of production different from the system of slavery, feudalism or capitalism:

Agrarian servile labor systems oriented to the market have enough similarities that they can be viewed collectively as a distinct mode of production with its own economic and social characteristics. This mode of production does not fit into classical Marxist modes of production (communal, city, Asiatic, feudal, capitalist, socialist) any more than it fits into traditional stereotypes of “peasant economies” characterized by subsistence economies and more or less pure “folk cultures.”112

The above-presented model displays a connection between Eastern Europe and other underdeveloped countries. What is questionable in Chirot’s concept is the decisive role attributed to grand ownership. In Poland, and more broadly in Central Europe, grand ownership did not descend from war aristocracy, which conquered the native population. Moreover, the area occupied by a noble’s demesne was not large – ca. 60–80 ha. It follows that the concentration of ownership and the rise of magnates was not so much a cause as a consequence of the development of the manorial-serf system.

3.2 The Concept of Władysław Rusiński

Władysław Rusiński claims that villein manors had already existed in the Middle Ages.113 A noble’s demesne descended from the feudal lords’ own farm (praedium, allodium), which was intended for subsistence farming. During settlement with German Law, these farms begun to employ paid labor. Gradually, as the absorbency of the internal market and the development of towns grew, farm ←77 | 78→production shifted to commercial production. The internal market was rather limited, hence

further expansion of production is possible with expansion of foreign outlets. Profitability of commodity production dictates entrance into these markets. The peasantry is forced to work more, in order to acquire profit. As a result, commercial production for expanded markets leads to the so-called second serfdom. The process is slow and gradual; praedia gradually specialize, focus on grain production and transform into villein manors.114

The acreage of villein manors was enlarged at the expense of fallow, uncultivated lands. Another way to expand a manor was through acquiring a better land farmed by the peasantry in exchange for lower-quality land and buying out village headmen’ manors (folwarki sołtysie). Two factors brought about the rise and development of manorial-serf economy: political superiority of the nobility and the increased demand for agricultural products of Western Europe. According to Rusiński, the development of the nobleman’s demesne would be impossible without a broad outlet. The internal market, even in the period of the most intense boom of towns, was restricted within certain limits; therefore, the development of a manor depended on sale of grain in Western-European countries. The evolution of industry, the rise of population employed in non-agricultural sectors, the growing prosperity, and the general growth of the population density, particularly in the years 1450–1600, brought about an increased demand for grain in Western-European countries. During this period, Western-European agriculture fell into a technological stagnation. According to Rusiński,

[t];he demand for Polish grain and in part for other products offered by the agricultural and livestock farming economy (meat, fur, etc.) in Western Europe is possibly one of the most significant reasons for the development of a manorial-serf economy. Other reasons […] had a secondary character (internal market, fallow land, access to the sea).115

There was also another factor which brought about the rise and development of the manorial-serf economy: “the nobility in Eastern-European countries exerted a decisive influence on the state affairs and a free hand with the peasantry.”116

The above is associated with a question posed by Rusiński: Why the increase of demand for grain was not satisfied with agriculture in England or the Netherlands, countries where the developments could have unfolded in a similar way? He answers in the following way:

←78 | 79→

[T];he significant increase of productive forces in the industry, the improved standard of living and the global increase of population caused the indigenous agricultural production to lag behind the evolution of industry; due to higher rate of income in the industry, people moved from rural areas to towns, agricultural land turned into pastures and became a resource base for textile industry – there was no material stimulus for the development of agriculture, since imported agricultural products were less expensive.117

Imported products were less expensive because the nobility was able to increase the extent of serfdom, using vassal relationships gained through political superiority. On account of unpaid work of the peasantry, the export of grain to the West was cost-effective. According to Rusiński, the fundamental factors, which brought about the distinctiveness of Central Europe, were both intersocial and external. Political dominance of the nobility in the state was essential to the process of reintroduction of serfdom and the expansion of villein manors. It was accompanied by a demand for grain of the Western-European countries, which consolidated the backward structure of the Central-European countries.

3.3 The Concept of Jeremy Blum

When presenting his account of the history of serfdom in Western and Eastern Europe, Jeremy Blum points out that the disappearance or emergence of serfdom depended on the level of state interference into economic life:

A sign of the waning of serfdom was when the central power began to intrude itself between lord and serf, chipping away at the formers’ legal and administrative powers and establishing norms for the obligations he could demand of his peasants. Conversely, the withdrawal of the sovereign from interference in the lord-peasant relation doomed free peasantry to serfdom.118

At the beginning of the 12th century, the greater part of peasants in Western Europe were serfs. In the 13th century, a substantial part of rural population enjoyed freedom, and at the dawn of the 16th century its majority was free. The process of liberation of Western-European peasantry took place in various economic conditions: in the period of prosperity and economic boom (the 12th and the 13th centuries) or stagnation and economic collapse (the 14th and the 15th centuries). In Eastern Europe, in the period preceding settlement with on German Law, the peasantry was losing the remnants of its freedom and was becoming more dependent on feudal lords. However, German settlement reversed this trend because:

←79 | 80→

The sovereigns and seigneurs of the countries to which the German colonists migrated were eager for the new settlers to come, not only because they would increase the population but also because the technical skill of the Germans, gained from the experience with the more experienced with the more advanced state of economic development of the West, was superior to that of native population. That meant there would be greater yields from the land and thus increased revenues for the princes and the seigneurs and the establishment of new towns and the growth of the old ones would be promoted. The colonists for their part, could be persuaded to come only if they received assurances that they would be rid of princely and seigneurial burdens that weighed upon them at home and that they would get more land for themselves, under better terms.119

These inducements, combined with the pressure of growing population west of the Elbe, persuaded great number of Germans to seek new homes in the broad eastern reaches of the Baltic plain, and in Bohemia and Hungary. The native population of these regions was small and little of the soil was tilled, and that poorly, so that there was plenty of room for newcomers.120

Concessions granted to settlers were being gradually extended to the local population. As a result, in the 13th and the 14th centuries the peasantry of eastern Germany, Latvia, Bohemia, Silesia, Poland, part of Lithuania, and Hungary enjoyed more freedom than the substantial majority of the peasantry in these countries had enjoyed in the previous centuries and the centuries that followed after the period of colonization.

In the 13th and the 14th centuries, both in the East and the West of Europe, the situation of the peasantry was successfully improving. However, in the second half of the 14th century and particularly in the 15th century, a process of differentiation in the situation of this social class in both parts of Europe took place. While in the Western Europe the living conditions of the peasant class continued to improve, in the Eastern Europe the social conditions of the peasant class begun to gradually deteriorate. This resulted from a socio-economic crisis, which affected both parts of Europe in the 14th century. Eastern-European nobility attempted to take measures to protect itself against degradation. Some of the actions undertaken by this social group were similar to the actions undertaken by its western counterpart: setting maximal wages for paid farm workers and maximal prices on craft products, etc. However, Eastern-European nobility took additional measures, which did not have a reflection in the behavior of the Western-European nobility and were, in fact, significantly dissimilar. Instead of:

←80 | 81→

reducing obligations as was the general practice in the West where the lords tried to hold their peasants and attract new ones by asking less of them, seigneurs in Bohemia, Silesia, Poland, Brandenburg, Prussia and Lithuania imposed new and heavier obligations, notably in the form of labor dues and cash payments.121

Between the end of the 15th century and the dawn of the 16th century, the greater part of the peasantry living between the rivers Elbe and Volga was once more turned into serfs. Blum ponders on the question why, although the Eastern- and Western-European peasantry had the same starting point, namely an economic collapse and stagnation of the 14th and the 15th centuries, they met so different fates. He lists four factors, which influenced the development of Eastern Europe: increased political power of the nobility in all countries of the region, increased legal power of the nobility over the peasantry, high demand for grain, and weak condition of towns and burghers.

According to Blum, the key factor in the development of serfdom in Eastern Europe was the downfall of the authority of central power brought about by wars, dynastic conflicts, etc., because:

The growth of the political influence of the nobles was of critical importance for the ultimate appearance of serfdom in Eastern Europe. It gave them the power to make successful demand of their sovereigns for a freer hands in dealing with their peasants. As a consequence, there was a progressive withdrawal of the state from the lord-peasant relationship in the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This left the way open for the seigneurs to solve labor problems raised by the depression of the fifteenth and the prosperity of the sixteenth centuries by gradually converting their erstwhile free tenants into serfs.122

The second factor, directly associated with the first one, was a rise of the administrative and legal power of lords over peasants. Owing to this, a typical nobleman could, without the approval of the state, set obligations of the rural population as he pleased. During the heyday of serfdom, a lord or his proxy acted as a judge, a policeman, a prison warden, and a tax collector and even selected a parish priest. In fact, a peasant was a vassal of a feudal lord, rather than of a king.

The third factor listed by Blum, which decisively influenced the emergence of the developmental distinctiveness of Eastern Europe, was the increase of demand for grain in Western Europe. This favorable economic situation forced the nobility to reorganize farmsteads and accelerated a transformation of the form of feudal rent – from quitrent to socage. The fourth factor, which complemented ←81 | 82→the three above-described circumstances, was the underdevelopment of Eastern-European towns. The weak condition of towns was caused by external factors, such as a collapse of the Hanseatic League, the competition with English and Dutch merchants, and internal factors, such as, most significantly, an anti-urban policy of the Polish and Bohemian nobility. The underdevelopment of Eastern-European towns was among the most significant factors because:

the experience of Western Europe suggests that the enserfment of the peasantry and its corollary, the economic and political supremacy of the landed nobility, might have been avoided if the burghers of the East had been as powerful as their opposite numbers in the Western Europe.123

In Blum’s conceptual framework the factor of the weak condition of towns allowed the nobility to gain political supremacy in particular Eastern-European societies, which, in turn, was essential for the rise and subsequent development of serfdom:

it seems to me that the most important reason for this divergence in the evolution of the lord-peasant relation in the two regions lay in their differences in political evolution. In the struggle for domination of the state, the nobility of the East won out over the princes and the town […] As a result, the Eastern nobility, in pursuit of what it conceived to be its own best interests, was able to establish economic and social control over the peasantry and to dominate over the townsmen.124

3.4 The Concept of Jan Rutkowski

Jan Rutkowski was one of the first scholars to put forward an explanation of developmental dualism of Modern Europe.125 Rutkowski claims that:

To answer the question concerning the genesis of dualism in the agrarian development of Europe in the dawn of the Middle Ages, one has to set it against a broad comparative background. This way, factors influencing economic development can be divided into principal, which presence was the necessary condition for the expansion of a manorial-serf economy, and secondary, which accelerated the process, but did not bring about an overturn in the agricultural system by themselves, without the impact of principal factors.126

←82 | 83→

According to Rutkowski, the system of rent prevailed in the greater part of European countries until the 14th century. It was not until the 15th century and, more particularly, the 16th century, that the manorial-serf system begun to popularize in Poland and its neighboring countries, including northeast Germany, Denmark, Bohemia, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic countries, as far as the Gulf of Finland. Rutkowski lists two principal factors contributing to the process: the ease of selling agricultural products and the serfdom of the peasantry.127

High demand for grain was a necessary condition for emergence of the manorial economy specialized in providing products for a mass market. The demand for grain developed in Western Europe at the turn of the 15th century, as a result of the rise of urban economy in the West. However, this factor is not the only driving force behind the emergence of the manorial economy. The second factor was the existence of the serfdom of peasants exacerbated to a certain level, which enabled a transformation of the agricultural system in the European countries under study. The system of serfdom allowed the nobility to decrease the costs of agricultural production. Employment of unpaid peasants-serfs, who supported themselves with their own farms, exerted a decisive impact on the profitability of the economic activity of a manor. Additionally, the owner did not have to worry for agricultural tools or draught animals because the peasantry used its own resources when working for a manor. Rutkowski recapitulates his analysis with a conclusion that serfdom decreased the amount of financial capital required to start production and guaranteed profitability of the economic activity of a manor.

Rutkowski also ponders on the question why the nobility decided to reorganize the agricultural system, instead of, e.g., increasing quitrent in the rent system. The necessity to reorganize the agricultural system resulted from the specificity of the process of production in the rent system, where a peasant controlled agricultural production. He decided which part of the production – after rent, tax and tithe – were paid, was to be devoted to further production, and which to consumption. If rent exceeded a certain amount, a peasant would devote a decreasingly smaller part of income for investment, which resulted in a drop of agricultural production. This phenomenon did not exist in the manorial-serf system, where a lord controlled the process of production.

The coexistence of the serfdom of the peasantry and outlets on agricultural producers was a sufficient factor, which influenced a transformation of a rent system into a manorial-serf system. Apart from the above principal factors, ←83 | 84→a number of secondary factors exerted a varied influence on the processes of European distinctiveness, discussed by Rutkowski. He lists:

factors of geographical nature, such as fertility of soil, navigable waterways, which facilitated trade beneficial for manorial estates, changes in military organization, such as wars devastating the country and, finally, factors of a physical nature, such as traditionalism, influence of religion and Church, national sentiment, etc.128

However, the greater part of the above-listed factors exerted only local influence, and neither of them was necessary for a manorial-serf economy to develop. According to Rutkowski, these factors were also present outside Central Europe where a manorial-serf economy did not emerge.

4 A Recapitulation

If one takes the method of idealization under consideration when developing a theory explaining particular facts and historical trends, one is obliged to disclose the range of idealizing assumptions, based on which the primary model reduces the influence of some factors to establish a hierarchy of factors determining the phenomenon under study and determine a strategy of concretization. This way, one can avoid arbitrariness and randomness in selecting factors to explain the phenomenon under investigation. However, the greater part of the presented concepts can be charged with the above to a greater or lesser extent. For instance, Blum explains the emergence of the manorial-serf system with four factors: the increased political impact of the lesser nobility, rise of legal power of this stratum of nobility over the peasantry, high demand on grain and weakness of towns.

Blum’s concept does not have a strategy of concretization, because the factors present in a given period are not clearly prioritized. Moreover, it is difficult to determine relations between the distinguished factors – i.e. we do not know the relations between the increase of demand for grain in the Western-European countries and the consolidation of legal power of the nobility over the peasantry. Furthermore, the genesis of the weakness of towns is also unclear: was it a result of political supremacy of the nobility in the Central-European countries, or did the underdevelopment of the urban sphere result from other causes, which allowed the nobility to gain political dominance?129

←84 | 85→

A reference to a more general theory of historical development gives an advantage of the possibility to determine mutual relations between more detailed concepts. For instance, Rusiński in an analysis of internal factors, which contributed to the development of a manorial-serf economy, claims that political supremacy of the nobility enabled the introduction of an exacerbated serfdom of the peasantry (i). Zientara, in turn, puts forward a more developed explanation. He states that it was the weakness of towns, which allowed the nobility to introduce the manorial-serf system (ii). Absence of theoretical control in putting forward such accounts brings about problems in determining the character of relationships between then. We do not know if statement (ii) is an alternative explanation to statement (i) – it would be, if the political supremacy of the nobility resulted from other causes than the weakness of towns – or is statement (ii) an extension of statement (i) pointing toward further, less direct links in a chain of working factors.

Additionally, if certain explanations do not refer to a broader theory of a historical process, a substantive inconsequence appears. For example, the factor of shortage of workforce initiated the process of developmental differentiation in Europe. Source literature on European modern history regularly underlines the significance of this factor. When combined with the interference of political power on behalf of the owners, this factor brought about an introduction of the system of exacerbated serfdom in Europe. One can often come across the following statements about Central-East Europe in the literature on the subject-matter:

The land/labor ratio had been a permanent historical problem in the East, and after the demographic collapse of the 14th and 15th centuries, labor shortages were even more pronounced. As late as 1600, population density totaled a mere to 3 to 7 person per square kilometer, equivalent to the land/labor ratio some 10 times higher than that of Western Europe. Faced with vastly underpopulated spaces, the Eastern nobility saw serfdom as the most effective method to squeeze from the potentially productive lands; and with an enserfed labor force, cereal cultivation become the obvious avenue for production within the Eastern environment.130

←85 | 86→

However, an alternative view that the shortage of manpower brought about counter results is also very popular. Namely, that the factor of shortage of manpower, caused by the plague epidemic, contributed to the relaxation and later disappearance of serfdom:

Scarcity of peasants meant a decline not only in the level of rent, but equally in the lord’s ability to restrict peasant mobility, and peasant freedom in general. With competition among lords to obtain scarce peasant tenants, one gets according to the laws of supply and demand, not only declining rents in general, and labor services in particular, but giving up by the lords of their rights to control the peasantry. Demographic catastrophe determines the fall of serfdom.131

The aforementioned lack of consistency in explaining the consequences of depopulation and the low population density in both parts of the continent is also noted by I. Schöffler. In the eastern part of the continent, the introduction of second serfdom was seen as a reaction to the shortage of manpower, “the landlords in Eastern Europe tried by force to keep the few laborers left to them.”132 Why did the same factor bring about opposing effects in different parts of Europe: the disappearance of serfdom in the Western part of the European continent and its emergence in Central Europe. According to Schöffler: “In the West the landlords were only able to keep the laborers on their lands by offering them more favourable conditions, i.e. rents instead of labor services.”133 This, however, leads to another question: why the landlords in Western Europe were willing to ease the conditions of labor, while in Eastern Europe they were not.

This type of inconsequence can be found in the works of the most distinguished historians. For instance, Marian Małowist claims that the shortage of manpower in the 13th and the 14th centuries pushed feudal lords to grant concessions to the peasantry, a process which manifested by the founding of villages with German Law:

Certainly, in the 13th century the state and the magnates succeeded in bringing the greater part of the peasantry in these countries [of Central Europe] to serfdom, however the income from their obligations was unsubstantial, while the needs of the senior group were growing. Internal and external circumstances and the growing level of culture required an increase of its income. It had to gain more work from the serfs, but increased compulsory work was almost impossible under the then existing circumstances. Depending on the population, still very volatile in some places, the peasantry could avoid compulsory work by escaping from the most demanding lords, particularly if ←86 | 87→there was a high competition for workforce. […] For this reason, the local population and foreign colonists had to become interested in a reorganization of economy, particularly in an intensification of agriculture. This objective could have been reached by introducing strong economic stimuli, which were supposed to attract immigrants and encourage the local population to replace old methods of work with more productive ones. […] Simultaneously, a reorganization of peasant obligations toward the lords and a reduction of their duties toward the state were conducted everywhere. In Bohemia, and shortly thereafter in Poland, it became possible to introduce quit-rent. This giant step forward gave peasants more freedom and encouraged them to work harder.134

However, the same factor brought about opposite results three centuries later. According to Małowist: “because of the absence of workforce and financial resources,” the nobility “was forced to impose serfdom on the peasantry.”135

Interestingly, the two above-presented theses seem incompatible, however, under certain dissimilar social circumstances may be true. A owner deprived of the support of the state may behave differently than a owner who can ask the state for help in a situation of conflict with direct producers. However, to systematically investigate the problem, one should build a model of an economic society, which eliminates the influence of the distorting factors. Then, one may interrogate the circumstances under which a shortage of manpower stimulates economic concessions and may determine the factors, which bring about a counter-tendency – an increase of exploitation.

←87 | 88→←88 | 89→

77 Jerzy Topolski puts forward another typology of theories explaining the genesis of socio-economic dualism in the development of modern Europe. He distinguishes two groups of theories. The first group includes theories, which search for common factors in the emergence of capitalism and the manorial-serf system. The second group includes theories, which treat the above phenomena individually and search for separate reasons to explain them, see: Jerzy Topolski, “Causes of Dualism in the Economic Development of Modem Europe (A Tentative New Theory),” Studia Historiae Oeconomicae, No. 3 (1969), pp. 3–4.

78 Marian Małowist, “Z problematyki dziejów gospodarczych strefy bałtyckiej we wczesnym średniowieczu,” Roczniki Dziejów Społecznych i Gospodarczych, Vol. 10 (1948), pp. 81–120; Marian Małowist, Wschód a Zachód Europy w XIII–XVI w. Konfrontacja struktur społeczno-gospodarczych (Warszawa: PWN, 1973).

79 Małowist, Wschód a Zachód, p. 7.

80 Małowist, Wschód a Zachód, p. 21.

81 Małowist, Wschód a Zachód, pp. 373–374.

82 Małowist, Wschód a Zachód, pp. 375–376.

83 See his trilogy: Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System. Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the XVIth Century (New York: Academic Press, 1974); Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System II. Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600–1750 (New York – London: Academic Press, 1981); Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System III. The Second Era of Great Expansion of the Capitalist World-Economy, 1730–1840 (New York – London: Academic Press, 1989).

84 Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Rise and Future Demise of World Capitalist System: Concepts of Comparative Analysis,” in: The Essential Wallerstein (New York: The New Press, 2000), p. 86.

85 Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, p. 98, original emphasis.

86 Wallerstein, The Modern World – System, p. 99.

87 Darius Žiemelis, “The Socio-Economic History of Lithuania from the 16th to the 19th Century (until 1861) from the Perspective of Economic Development Concepts,” Romanian Journal for Baltic and Nordic Studies, No. 2 (2013), p. 79.

88 Darius Žiemelis, “The Problem of Application of the term second serfdom in the history of Central Eastern Europe,” Romanian Journal for Baltic and Nordic Studies, No. 1 (2015), p. 136).

89 Žiemelis, “The Problem of Application,” p. 138.

90 Žiemelis, “The Problem,” p. 142.

91 Compare for example with Hunt who claims that war devastations of the 16th and the 17th centuries substantially contributed to the developmental backwardness of Central Europe, see: Verl F. Hunt, “The Rise of Feudalism in Eastern Europe: A Critical Appraisal of the Wallerstein ‘Word – System’ Thesis,” Science and Society. An Independent Journal of Marxism, Vol. 42, No. 1 (1978), pp. 43–61. Also, according to Nerijus Babinskas, the external factors (selling grain on the international market) were not decisive in introduction of second serfdom in Moldova and Wallachia at the turn of the 16th and the 17th centuries, see: Nerijus Babinskas, “Economic Challenges in Early Modern Ages and Different Responses of European Margins. Comparative Considerations Based on Historiography: The Cases of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Moldovian Principality,” Romanian Journal for Baltic and Nordic Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (2012), pp. 57–60.

92 Jerzy Topolski, Prawda i model w historiografii (Łódź: Wyd. Łódzkie, 1982), pp. 309–310.

93 Robert Brenner, “Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe,” Past and Present, Vol. 70 (1976), pp. 30–75, Robert Brenner, “The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism,” Past and Present, Vol. 97 (1982), pp. 16–111; Robert Brenner, “Economic Backwardness in Eastern Europe in Light of Developments in the West,” in: The Origins of Backwardness in Eastern Europe. Economics and Politics from the Middle Ages until the Early Twentieth Century, ed. Daniel Chirot. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 15–51.

94 Brenner, “Agrarian Class Structure,” p. 31, original emphasis.

95 Brenner, “The Agrarian Roots,” p. 28.

96 Brenner, “The Agrarian Roots,” pp. 27–30.

97 Brenner, “Agrarian Class Structure,” pp. 53–60; Brenner, “The Agrarian Roots,” pp. 69–76, Brenner, “Economic Backwardness,” pp. 42–45.

98 See chapter: “The Basic Ideas of non-Marxian Historical Materialism”).

99 Jerzy Topolski, “Causes of Dualism in the Economic Development of Modem Europe (A Tentative New Theory),” Studia Historiae Oeconomicae, No. 3 (1968), pp. 3–12, Jerzy Topolski, “The Manorial – Serf Economy in Central and Eastern Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries,” Agricultural History, Vol. 3, No. 48 (1974), pp. 347–348, Jerzy Topolski, Prawda i model w historiografii (Łódź: Wyd. Łódzkie, 1982), Jerzy Topolski, Narodziny kapitalizmu w Europie XIV-XVII wieku (Warszawa: PWN, 1987), Jerzy Topolski, “The Development and the Crisis of the Manorial System Based on Serf Labour: A Tentative Explanation,” in: Entrepreneurship and the Transformation of the Economy (10th–20th Centuries). Essays in Honour of Herman Von der Wee, eds. Paul Klep, Eddy Van Cauwenberghe (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1994), pp. 135–147, Jerzy Topolski, Polska w czasach nowożytnych Od środkowoeuropejskiej potęgi do utraty niepodległości (1501–1795) (Poznań: Wyd. UAM, 1994), pp. 19–47, and posthumously: Jerzy Topolski, Przełom gospodarczy w Polsce XVI wieku i jego następstwa (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1998).

100 Topolski, Narodziny kapitalizmu, p. 68.

101 Topolski, Narodziny kapitalizmu, p. 72.

102 Topolski, Narodziny kapitalizmu, p. 182.

103 Topolski, Prawda i model, p. 320.

104 Benedykt Zientara, “Z zagadnień spornych tzw. ‘wtórnego poddaństwa’ w Europie środkowej,” Przegląd Historyczny, Vol. 1, No. 47 (1956), pp. 3–4.

105 Zientara, “Z zagadnień spornych,” p. 44.

106 Compare with Tymieniecki’s argument stressing the importance of internal factors, see: Kazimierz Tymieniecki, “W sprawie zaostrzonego poddaństwa w Polsce i Europie Środkowej,” Roczniki Historyczne, Vol. 24 (1958), pp. 283–328.

107 Zientara, “Z zagadnień spornych,” p. 46.

108 Daniel Chirot, “The Growth of the Market and Service Labour Systems in Agriculture,” The Journal of Social History, No. 2 (1975), pp. 67–80.

109 Chirot, “The Growth of the Market,” p. 68.

110 Chirot, “The Growth of the Market,” p. 68.

111 Chirot, “The Growth of the Market,” p. 69.

112 Chirot, “The Growth of the Market,” pp. 75–76.

113 Władysław Rusiński, “Drogi rozwojowe folwarku pańszczyźnianego,” Przegląd Historyczny, Vol. 47 (1958), pp. 617–655; Władysław Rusiński, “ ‘Pustki’ – problem agrarny feudalnej Europy,” Roczniki Dziejów Społecznych i Gospodarczych, Vol. 23 (1961), pp. 9–50; Władysław Rusiński, Rozwój gospodarczy ziem polskich w zarysie (Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1969); Władysław Rusiński, “Rugi chłopskie w Europie środkowo-wschodniej w XVI–XVI1I w.,” Roczniki Dziejów Społecznych i Gospodarczych, Vol. 38 (1977), pp. 1–47.

114 Rusiński, “Drogi rozwojowe,” pp. 623–624.

115 Rusiński, Rozwój gospodarczy, p. 74.

116 Rusiński, Rozwój gospodarczy, p. 646.

117 Rusiński, Rozwój gospodarczy, p. 642.

118 Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom,” p. 809.

119 Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom,” p. 814.

120 Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom,” p. 816.

121 Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom,” p. 820.

122 Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom,” p. 823.

123 Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom,” p. 833.

124 Blum, “The Rise of Serfdom,” p. 836.

125 Jan Rutkowski, Historia gospodarcza Polski (do 1864 r.) (Warszawa: PWN, 1953), Jan Rutkowski, Studia z dziejów wsi polskiej w XVI–XVIII w. (Warszawa: PWN, 1956); Jan Rutkowski, Wieś europejska późnego feudalizmu (Warszawa: PWN, 1986); see also: Jerzy Topolski, Jan Rutkowski (1886–1949). O nowy model historii (Warszawa: PWN, 1986).

126 Rutkowski, Historia gospodarcza, pp. 91–92; Rutkowski, Wieś europejska, p. 219.

127 Rutkowski, Historia gospodarcza, p. 91.

128 Rutkowski, Wieś europejska, pp. 222–223.

129 According to I. Schöffer, also relation between the rise of the lesser nobility and introduction of serfdom is unclear: “There is a danger here that the rise of the nobility may be used as a part of explanation of the increase in serfdom at the same time as serfdom is used to explain the rise of the nobility. Blum avoids this pitfall. It is only fair to state here, that Blum prefers to talk about ‘corollaries,’ ‘inter-related,’ ‘developments,’ instead of explanations. Even so, one remains a little dissatisfied” (I. Schöffer, “The Second Serfdom in Eastern Europe as a Problem of Historical Explanation,” Historical Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1959) p. 48.

130 Hunt, “The Rise of Feudalism in Eastern Europe,” p. 55; see also: Schöffler, “The Second Serfdom,” p. 48.

131 Brenner, “Agrarian Class Structure,” pp. 38–39.

132 Schöffler, “The Second Serfdom,” p. 48.

133 Schöffler, “The Second Serfdom,” p. 48.

134 Marian Małowist, Europa i jej ekspansja XIV-XVI w. (Warszawa: PWN, 1993), pp. 18–19.

135 Małowist, Europa i jej ekspansja, p. 136.

4 The Method of Idealization in the Historical Sciences

1 Idealization in the Social Sciences: Case Studies

Idealization of the investigated reality is one of the principal methods of research in the contemporary methodology of science. On the force of adopted assumptions, a theoretician examining a given phenomenon does not approach the object of research in all its complexity and complication, but focuses on those aspects of the researched phenomenon recognized from his or her theoretical perspective as principal and substantial, and excludes others, recognized as secondary. Hence, scientific cognition does not depend on faithful imitation of reality, but on its deformation that is able to detect the most significant relations and dependencies. Then, at the second stage of scientific research, the deformed reality becomes more realistic, as the researcher introduces into the simplified approach of the investigated object the secondary aspects, which were omitted in the preliminary model, and which modify the primary laws and dependencies.

The natural sciences have adopted the method of idealization most effectively. For instance, the method of idealization is applied by physicists who create models of point mass, perfect gas or models of black body. They omit the less important aspects of the researched phenomenon and focus on the aspects most essential from their perspective. In the humanities, the procedure of idealization was first and is most broadly used in economics. Therefore, I will present the methodological principles employed by researchers developing economic theories, by analyzing a simple multiplier model of economic growth.136

The model comprises two statements:

Ct = c0 + mYt

Yt = Ct + It

Key: Y – national product; C – consumption, I – investment, t – period of time; m and c – constants.137

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Lawrence R. Klein concludes his analysis of the model with the following words: “The simple multiplier model is useful in demonstrating some basic principles, but it is hardly a realistic model of a modern economy.”138

In the above-presented example, the following factors: the consumption level (Ct), the investment volume (It), the difference between import and export (Ft − Et) and the difference between budget expenses and incomes (Gt − Tt) are the determinants that exert impact on the value of the national product (Yt) and the consumption level (Ct). It is obvious that not all from, the above-listed factors influence the variables under study in the same way. We could make a reasonable assumption that the consumption level and the investment level from the initial statement of the multiplier model exert more influence on the value of the national product, in comparison to the difference between export and import, and the difference between budget expenses and incomes. The investment level is also more essential for the consumption level than the above-mentioned difference between export and import, and the difference between budget expenses and incomes. In consequence, to investigate the dependency of variables from the most essential magnitudes, we have to adopt certain simplifying assumptions and exclude less significant factors. The assumptions of the model include the following:

(a1) – the investigated variables Yt and C are not influenced by factors not explicitly expressed in the multiplier model; any arbitrary factor external to the model is marked as P, hence (Pt (x) = 0);

(a2) – the economy under study is an economy with balanced foreign exchange, hence the value of export equals the value of import (Ft (x) − Et (x) = 0);

(a3) – national budget is balanced – tax income equals national expenses (Gt (x) − Tt (x) = 0).

The reconstruction of the simplifying procedure of the entire idealizational law that demonstrates the dependency of the social product and the consumption level from the principal factors, can be shown symbolically in the following way:

Pt(x)= 0 ^ Ft(x) − E t(x) = 0 ^ G t(x) − Tt(x) = 0 → Yt(x) = Ct(x) + It(x)

Pt(x)= 0 ^ Ft(x) − E t(x) = 0 ^ G t(x) − Tt(x) = 0 → Ct(x) = c0+ mYt(x)

The theses of the model apply when we adopt a certain type of simplifying assumptions that are rarely met in real economy.

In the course of further extension of the model, the initially adopted simplifying assumptions are gradually removed. First, we assume that the export value (Et(x)) is different from the import value (Ft (x)). After this assumption is ←92 | 93→removed, the independent variable – the national product (Yt) becomes under influence on other dependent variables in the following way:

Pt(x) = 0 ^ Ft(x) − E t(x) ≠ 0 ^ Gt(x) − Tt(x) = 0 → Yt(x) = Ct(x) + It(x) + E t(x) − Ft(x)

In a similar way, it is considered the question of how the functioning of an open economy influences the consumption value (Ct). A peculiarity of this form of concretization consists in the fact that a removal of the first assumption does not bring about an introduction of amendments to the formulated statement:

Pt (x)= 0 ^ Ft (x) − E t(x) ≠ 0 ^ Gt(x) − Tt (x) = 0 → Ct(x) = c0 + mYt(x)

Subsequently, we waive the assumption that the budget of the studied economy is balanced. After this assumption is removed, the value of budget incomes (Tt) does not equal budget expenses (Gt). In this more realistic model of economy, the value of the social product is established in the following way:

Pt(x) = 0 ^ F(x) − E(x) ≠ 0 ^ G(x) − T(x) ≠ 0 → Yt (x)= Ct (x) + It (x) + G(x) + Et (x) − Ft(x)

The removal of the second assumption on the balanced budget of the economy under analysis causes a modification of the previously formulated second dependency. Then, the level of consumption depends on the following factors in the following way:

Pt (x) = 0 ^ Ft(x) − Et (x) ≠ 0 ^ Gt (x) − Tt(x) ≠ 0 → Ct(x) = c0 + m(Yt(x) − Tt(x))

The economic theory under study is a sequence of models. The designated simple multiplier model consists of a pair of statements that demonstrate the dependency of two investigated quantities Yt and Ct from the most essential factors Yt, Ct and It. Following from this, the simple multiplier model applies when we are dealing with a number of simplifying assumptions that cause it to be directly inapplicable to real economic systems. However, developed variants of the multiplier model include less simplifying assumptions and demonstrate the dependency of magnitudes under study from the principal and side determinants, such as the difference between export and import, between budget incomes and expenses, and many other that were excluded from the present simplified presentation. In consequence, the developed variants of the multiplier model are closer to real economies, in comparison to the more simplified version of that model.

The two procedures introduced in the above example – the idealization and concretization of the investigated dependencies – are systematically developed ←93 | 94→and analyzed by the idealizational theory of science (hereinafter as ITS). In the present chapter, I will refer to the above example in an attempt to present the principal ideas of the theory and its application to the historical sciences.

2 The Method of Idealization

Let us now outline the principal ideas of ITS employed in the present book.139 According to ITS, before creating a theory, a researcher identifies factors that influence the phenomenon under analysis. According to his or her empirical knowledge, every magnitude under study F has an array of determinants {H, pk, …, p2, p1} that influence it in a number of ways. All determinants of a given magnitude F create a space of influence. Naturally, these factors influence the studied magnitude to varied degrees. In consequence, we could say that these factors differ with reference to essentiality. The term “essential” and “more essential” are among the most important terms of the idealizational theory of science. According to this conception, magnitude H is essential to magnitude F if the adoption of a certain value by H excludes the possibility of the adoption of any value by F.140 The influence of one factor on another is, hence, determined by a ←94 | 95→set of values WF(H) that the magnitude studied cannot adopt. The set WF(H) can be also named a strength or power of influence of factor H on magnitude F under analysis. I am going to use these terms alternatively. Such an account of essentiality also makes it possible to explain the concept of being “more essential.” Magnitude H is more essential to F if the power of influence of magnitude H on F exceeds the power of influence of the factor p on F. This can be demonstrated graphically in the following way:

Thus, the above figure demonstrates the power of influence of factors H and p on the phenomenon under study. The power of influence of the factor H is greater than the power of influence of the factor p if the set WF(H) is composed of more elements than the set WF(p); hence, the factor H is more essential to the magnitude F than the factor p.

With the use of the terms “essential” and “more essential,” it is possible to reconstruct the essential structure of the studied magnitude by distinguishing three kinds of influence exerted by any factor ni on the magnitude F:

maximal – if a factor ni adopting a value ai excludes NF-1 of the values assumed by the magnitude F, what means that the value adopted by F is strictly determined by factor ni;

predominant – if the factor ni assuming value ai, excludes the majority of values adopted by the magnitude F from the set NF;

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minimal – if the factor ni excludes the minority of values of the magnitude F from the set NF (in extreme situations only one value).

In the conceptual apparatus of ITS, the principal factors exert maximal and predominant, influence, whereas secondary factors exert the minimal influence. This enables recreation of a hierarchy of influence of individual factors and, in turn, reconstruction of the essential structure of a phenomenon under investigation. The procedure depends on the identification of factors that affect the analyzed magnitude in any way and on the ordering of the power of influence from the strongest to the weakest. The order of the power of influence of several factors on the phenomenon under study can be demonstrated graphically in the following way:

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The essential hierarchy of determinants in the space of factors essential to F makes it possible to recreate the essential structure of the magnitude under investigation. If in the structure, the strength of influence of the factor H exceeds the strength of influence of the other factors pk, . . ., p2, p1, then the factor H is the principal factor for the studied magnitude and the other factors belong to the class of secondary factors – each one of them eliminates the minority of values of the magnitude F from the set NF. The essential structure of the magnitude can be presented in the following way:

SF:    (k) H

(k1) H, pk

. …. …. …. …. …. …. ….

(1) H, pk, p2

(0) H, pk, p2, p1

There is only one principal factor H at the deepest internal level of essentiality of the essential structure of the magnitude F. Further levels of essentiality of the essential structure of the magnitude F(k−1), . . ., (1) include a number of secondary factors. The surface level (0) of the essential structure includes all factors that somewhat influence the magnitude F under study.

Let us notice that in the example under study, the determining factors of the national product (Y) are ordered in a similar way. The deepest level of essentiality of the essential structure of the national product (Yt) contains the following factors: the consumption level (Ct) and the investment level (I). The surface level of essentiality, apart from these two factors, additionally contains the difference between import and export (EF) and the difference between the amount of budget incomes and expenses (G–T).

Additionally, the distinction between the power of influence of individual factors enables to differentiate two basic kinds of essential structures:

(1) dominated by the essence, with the power of influence of the principal factor (exerting maximal or predominant influence) higher than the sum of the strength of powers of influence of all secondary factors;

(2) dominated by accidentals where the sum of the strength of power of influence of secondary factors is higher than the power of influence of the principal factor.

Biographical notes

Krzysztof Brzechczyn (Author)

Krzysztof Brzechczyn is a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozna´n. He has authored several books and papers in different languages. His fields of interest include modern history, intellectual history, philosophy of history, social philosophy, and theory of historiography.


Title: The Historical Distinctiveness of Central Europe