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Shipwrecked: Patočka's Philosophy of Czech History

Aviezer Tucker
History and Theory
Vol. 35, No. 2 (May, 1996), pp. 196-216
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
DOI: 10.2307/2505361
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2505361
Page Count: 21
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Shipwrecked: Patočka's Philosophy of Czech History
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Abstract

Czech history defies dominant Western progressive historical narratives and moral evolutionism. Czech free-market democracy was defeated and betrayed three times: in 1938, 1948, and 1968. The Czech Protestants were defeated in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Consequently, Czechs have a different perspective on the traditional questions of speculative philosophy of history: Where are we coming from? Where are we going? What does it mean? They ask further: where and why did history go wrong? Jan Patočka (1907-1977), the leading Czech philosopher and the author of Charter 77 of human rights, traced the repeated historical tragedies of the Czechs to the origins of their national movement in the imperial liberation of the serfs in the eighteenth century, debating the dominant nationalist belief in national historical continuity, leading to linguistic nationalism. Patočka accused his nation of being "petty," of low social origins and interests, unlike their elitist neighbors. Despite his obsession with aristocracies bent on any transcendence, Patočka thought that the Czechs should have fought the Nazis in 1938 for the transcendental ideal of democracy. Linguistic nationalism led the Czechs and their leaders to choose life in slavery in their Hegelian conflict with the German masters. The Czech reception of Patočka's philosophy of Czech history has been mixed. I criticize the philosophical, political, and historical shortcomings of Patočka's discussion. Contemporary Czech attitudes to their history include: forgetfulness; new Czech historicism tracing a continuity from Jan Hus to Václav Havel; and a search for a historical truth and philosophical understanding of history that has political implications.

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