The Goals And Destiny Of The Romanian Bourgeoisie, 1942

The capitalist spirit of Romanians (...) Our spirit is far from representing any predisposition to capitalism. We are, by nature, rather anti-capitalists.That is why strangers have found it so easy to occupy the positions derived from capitalism. That is why Romanians only replace the capitalists when the situation calls for it, when it cannot be helped.In any case – and this is the basic fact any argument must start from – the Romanian was not destined to have bourgeois virtues.[1] Our peasant is, generally, as far away from capitalism as can be. Whenever he has money he uses it to make heavy necklaces to hang at the maidens' necks, but he does not "invest" it, or make financial speculations!In this respect, Sombart remarks that there are peoples that are destined to assimilate the bourgeois spirit and peoples that resist it completely.[2]There are but few peoples that display a primordial predisposition to capitalism; among them the Florentines, the Scots and the Jews. Conversely, peoples like the Goths and the Celts are characterized by a distinct opposition to the capitalist spirit. Just like individuals, peoples fall into two categories: mercantile or heroic.We, Romanians, fit in with the heroic, rather that the mercantile peoples. In Sombart's view genetic predestination is evident and surpasses by far the influence of the environment. But to us the controversy between blood and environment is irrelevant for the simple reason that neither blood nor environment predestinates us towards capitalism. By blood we are related to the Thracians, the Latins and the Slavs; by environment, we are a people of shepherds and farmers. Neither is likely to evince any special inclination towards capitalism and the bourgeois spirit. This sheds ample light on our contemporary history and explains the permanent inferiority – from a strictly capitalist perspective – we have shown to co-inhabiting nations.The original Romanian view on life could not be further from capitalism and bourgeoisie. Romanians are amateurish rather than systematic, poets rather than mercantile spirits, bohemian rather than bourgeois.We do not give document value to sayings – for any people has sayings that will confirm anything anytime – but we perceive nothing more than the picturesqueness and expressiveness of the words that claim to phrase a Romanian doctrine with respect to the running of business: "Better to share a loss with a clever man than a gain with a fool". Does any other people have a similar saying? It proves not a materialistic, but an aesthetic view on life: the joy derived from an intelligent man's company is more to Romanians than the very satisfaction of a gain!Individualism, though apparently a bourgeois trait, fails to find in Romanians that particular form that favors the promotion of bourgeois activities[3]. Romanians – true brothers of the French in this respect – wait, as we have heard to the point of exhaustion, for the State to give them everything they need. In this they mirror the French psychology as described by Desmolins in his celebrated work on Anglo-Saxon superiority. For millennia the Romanian farmer has waited for everything to come down from the skies. The mystique of the sky, frequent in the countryside, has its counterpart in the mystique of the State fabricated by the town dwellers. Western bourgeois psychology is woven from moderate desires and permanent fears. The bourgeois values his tranquility and steers clear of grand ambitions, and seeks, through a life of material ease, satisfactions one at a time. The kind of life he aspires to soars to no heights, but dreads abysses. The bourgeois view on life is quantitative; he seeks to ensure, through accumulation, a mediocre happiness stored in a well guarded reservoir that can be tapped daily.Quite to the contrary, the Romanian has a qualitative conception of life, even when the quality of their "ideals" is none the highest. The Romanian's life is not based on calculations and precaution; the Romanian gives no heed to tomorrow, much less to the day after. He does not save for his old days and finds it difficult to make his wages last till the end of the month. A whim that for a moment gave him the illusion of happiness is dearer to him than catering for the tedious daily necessities! Deep in his heart the Romanian despises money both when he has got any and, especially, when he has got none at all; lavishness and squandering have nothing to do with his income. But this half aesthetic, half bohemian view on life becomes obvious not only from his disregard for money, but also from his disregard for time. The Romanian's life is measured neither according to Mammon's scale, nor to Chronos's.Just like the endless span of the Danube's meadows, the Romanian knows no limitations and no dimensions. Whim and fantasy are behind most of his actions[4]. His soul gushes forth sometimes like a torrent high in the mountains, sometimes like a river lazily winding through the plains, free to indulge in the fantasy of countless meanders.Not even in his relation to society does the Romanian have any propensity towards bourgeoisie. Social conformism, which in the West is a terror especially to the bourgeois class, is less than strict in Romania.And still, alongside bourgeois institutions – and in as much as this import was inevitable – we had to import also certain bourgeois habits and virtues. These virtues were but simple accessories, firmly linked to the workshop, the commercial records, the bank. They were imported in an order dictated by the hedonistic rule of the minimum of effort. We first brought over from the West the fashions, then the novels and only in the end the life norms. This law is the same everywhere; one feels first attracted to beauty, then to spirit and only later to virtues, which prove so tiresome in practice. Typically bourgeois virtues, technical and compulsory, have been gained little by little and planted in the unsullied spiritual soil inherited from our merchants and artisans of old, brought up in the atmosphere of the guilds and with the fear of God. These utilitarian virtues – integrity, exactness and seriousness – are just as indispensable as machines if we are to make a factory work.Though inferior on the scale of ethical virtues, they have nonetheless a certain national value and need to be deemed part of the current assets of the bourgeoisie. Even the post-bourgeois or the evolved bourgeois epoch – which will open into the world with the establishment of the totalitarian spirit – will be unable to shake off these bourgeois virtues.Among them rigorousness is, obviously, one of the most necessary in the Romanian space. The holy bourgeois strictness is welcome in a country where fulfillment of duties is relatively lax and where the worst possible comparison for a bourgeois is with the State. The Bourgeoisie is a harsh regime for people who lack seriousness. In the business world mistakes never go unpunished and hardly ever does anyone redeem them out of generosity. If prudence be, as Anatole France put it, "la plus vile des vertus," then imprudence is certainly no merit in the bourgeois world. An English proverb goes that it takes three generations to make a gentleman; but how many generations does it take to make a genuine bourgeois? To us the issue is of little import because the future will require a different type of bourgeois than today's Western one. What exactly he will be like, who can tell for certain? But it will definitely be better.Fortunately, our power to adapt is limitless. To quote a Romanian saying which sounds rather ironic, "When God gives man a job He also gives him the sense he needs to get it done." The underlying meaning of this joke is that the Romanian has such spiritual elasticity and such an unusual adaptability that he can deal with the most unexpected of situations[5].Zeletin claims that many here have been rash enough to equal "the indelible shortcomings of our early bourgeoisie to as many national sins of the Romanian people and alleged proofs of our inferiority to Western peoples." There is undeniably some truth in this statement, but our "lack of inclination towards capitalism ought not to be reckoned as a mere phase of the Romanian soul." The spiritual revolution that Zeletin thought would complete the economic evolution will certainly bring along some transformation, albeit less fundamental that widely believed, to the very structure of the Romanian character.But it is not desirable that it should. For after all, does it stand anywhere written that the entire Romanian people should go through the bourgeois machine for twisting souls? The values of bourgeois life It is difficult to capture in a few lines the Romanian bourgeoisie's view on life. But, as with any other topic, a relative schematization might help. Even running the risk of sounding too dialectical, we shall characterize the Romanian bourgeoisie on the scales of egoistic and ideal values that it treasures and fosters. The hierarchy of life values defines individuals, society and class. The egoistic values of the Romanian bourgeoisie can be classified thus: the supreme value is rank; the second is comfort; the third, security. Among the ideal values, also from the top down, the family ranks above the country which, in turn, comes above religion.It is safe to state that the same categories and the same order are also true of the middle-class, which is completely ruled by bourgeois conceptions. It is unarguable, nonetheless, that the middle-class understanding and interpretation of the same values and ideals are relatively inferior. Egoistic bourgeois values 1. RankThe Romanian rankophilia Unarguably, all bourgeois regimes are familiar with the human aspiration towards achievement and growth. But while any bourgeois is by nature fond of rank, the Romanian bourgeois sets a record. There is nothing he would not sacrifice in order to climb the social ladder, to obtain ranks and honors.For instance, obtaining and defending a seat in the government is an "ideal" turning into an obsession. Politicians fall indeed into the two categories that an old French joke touched upon: those who still have not been ministers but want to be, and those have been ministers and would like to be again. As our bourgeois class is, generally, new and risen from below, it finds itself in a genuine upwards inertia. It is an axiom that the son must reach higher than the father, which leads to an exhaustion of the social hierarchy in two or three generations' time. Only with those born into the bourgeoisie – and, naturally, with those descended from our boyar class – does the upstart mentality take more nuanced and less morbid forms. Our Balkan neighbours have often referred to us, insultingly, as a people of upstarts. An objective observer would have to admit that upstart mentality is an idiosyncratic Romanian phenomenon and is to be found with all walks of life, but above all with the bourgeoisie. In the urban environment even servants[6] have parvenu prejudices. Filimon, in "Upstarts Old and New," shows how, when waiting for their masters to come out from the theatre, the places occupied by the servants mirrored exactly the ranks of the respective boyars they waited on!A stranger that chanced upon these lines might erroneously assume that the eagerness to obtain a rank also entails a considerable distance among the classes! This is precisely so. Here cordiality and "geniality" is a common occurrence in the relations between people of outstanding rank. One will not find here those social distances, marked by discernible signs, exhibited by the French society. A person occupying the highest position in the State will give the same friendly treatment to a high-school student who has just come from the countryside to study in the city, and even to the man who looks after his garden. Servants do not address their masters in the third person save in some families with false Western habits. Familiarity – even vulgar at times – gives the note of all social interactions. The Romanian's love for rank comes not from the need to put some distance between himself and the others, but rather from the desire to be respected, revered, envied. This upstart vanity of the rank betrays a spiritual emptiness and a lack of appreciation for inner joys, which are independent of one's position in tangible hierarchies.Status-seeking is the specific disease of the Romanian bourgeoisie. An important merchant perceives his social status as a humiliation and dreams to become the consul of some South American power so he can stick to the rear of his automobile – albeit illegally – the famous initials that signal his belonging to the diplomatic corps. As for his sons, his sole ideal is to see them evade the merchants' guild and break through the roof of the family shop.The academic who has never published any paper which foreign scientific circles might have heard of elbows his way towards a seat in the government or in one of our numerous academies, seeing his university title as a mere springboard to propel him to new social heights.The entire bourgeois class lives in a constant fret and bustle. It is only a collection of malcontents and egocentrics who feel all the more entitled to ask more of life as it has treated them better[7]. What characterizes the Romanian bourgeoisie is that it values rank above fortune and the very pursuit of wealth is but a means to obtaining social status. But a society in which the love of rank surpasses the love of money is, after all, more congenial and of higher spiritual standing than one driven exclusively by materialistic aims. For rank is, still, more spiritual a thing than wealth. The Romanian cultivates a sui generis materialism that we could call the materialism of social attitude. It comes closer to Zola's Nantas than to Balzac's Gobsek[8]. Bourgeois intellectualism Far from being a mere passion, the intellectualism characterizing Romanian bourgeoisie is a prejudice and sometimes even a mania. The intellectual hierarchy – be it purely formal – is deeply anchored in the soul of both the bourgeois and the pseudo-bourgeois. This upstart mentality of ours – ridiculous when it is grounded on social superiority – lingers still in the entire Romanian society and is unanimously accepted when it justifies itself through a (real or assumed) intellectual superiority.All pseudo-intellectuals, who read nothing but their daily newspaper and have never expressed a single idea of their own, never fail to begin their interventions in conversation with "we, intellectuals..." And they find it elegant to treat the bourgeois as philistines[9]. Romanian rankophilia is measured on three scales, corresponding to three different classification criteria: the political scale, the intellectual scale and the fortune scale. They are interwoven, but the order of their importance remains constant. Romanians desire first a seat in the government, then an academic chair, and only then great wealth. The pre-eminence of the intellectualist criterion and the extraordinary respect for cultural values is, unarguably, one of the endearing traits of Romanian society, but – as it always happens with things long coveted – the usurpers are not out of the picture. Just like the desire to amass large fortune spawns rogues, the aspiration to cultural status creates intellectual cheats[10]. 2. Comfort He is no bourgeois as does not love comfort and luxury[11]. But our bourgeoisie also sets a record in this respect.Of course, should we base our comparison on exterior evidence, we would find no reason to consider that our bourgeois live a life of more luxury that the bourgeois elsewhere. But the equal incomes of two members of the upper class in two different countries by no means imply that they be equally entitled to benefit from the social product. We elaborated on this point of view in the Appendix to Chapter V above: Production and Consumption with the Romanian Bourgeoisie.Unarguably, it is a specialty of the Romanian bourgeoisie, just like it used to be with the old boyars, to live a life of plenty.Could this propensity for an opulent life unbothered by a preoccupation with finance come from what we have called the Slavic dimension of the Romanian soul, and could it bear any similarities with the life style of the Russian nobility as depicted by Turgenev or Moruzi's wonderful Bessarabian evocations? Could it be a reflex of that careless Russian life style, "Balshaya russkaya zhisny," that the poets nostalgically sing?Once, this view on life was born out of the plentiful life of our boyars in a time when the fat, black soil – the caviar soil as it is still referred to in Bărăgan – offered everything one could ask for.Nowadays the aspiration to a life of plenty and the tendency to valorize today over tomorrow may have been fostered by the numerous bad experiences of those who saved, as compared to those who spent. The excessive inflation, ever growing since the war, the different conversions – as well as the land reform, which in itself was a sore blow to the accumulation mentality – led to a certain skepticism towards the possible benefits of amassed wealth.Out of everything that has happened in Romania since the war; a wise observer might conclude that it is more "worthwhile" to squander than to save and that life has joys and pleasant surprises in store for the debtor that are never the creditor's lot. Here, the last twenty years have certainly done justice more to the grasshopper than to the ant.Without praising willful waste, we could nonetheless underline some of the charming aspects the money spending ease in Romania[12]. The Romanian spares no admiration when talking about a man who "knows how to live his life" and the "life-loving chap" – typically Romanian – is of course merrier, more humane and more innocent than the type called "bon vivant" by the French and "Lebemann" by the Germans.In its vulgar understanding, to have an aesthetic view on life means to treat life as a never-ending party. The purely Romanian and untranslatable notion of "chef" (merrymaking) cannot be rendered exactly either through the French "la noce" or through the German "Bummel." It is a manifestation at once egoistic and generous; is means ignoring, for a short while, all cares and responsibility; it is the ultimate and symbolic expression of Petronius's psychology in its Romanian reading. A true Romanian is never mean and makes fun of his compatriots who prove sensible and cautious in the administration of their expenses. The Romanian has an Epicurean conception of wealth and income: their purpose is consumption and all its derived joys. The aspiration to luxury and comforts is irresistible, not only with the bourgeoisie, but also with the middle-class and the peasantry[13]. As often as he can afford it, the Romanian "jumps" at silk clothes, richly furbished houses and, especially, automobiles[14]. But a bourgeoisie that tries to imitate the boyar class of old and lives a supra-bourgeois life beyond its means leads to serious social instability and a large number of individual falls.This is why the Romanian bourgeoisie lacks one of the essential defining characteristics of the bourgeoisie: while the West values amassed wealth, security and the future, our bourgeoisie prizes spending, satisfactions and the present. The bourgeois in the West work and save for their children, while the Romanian bourgeois too often works only for himself. Our bourgeois are not cut out to plant walnut trees – as Petre Carp used to – when they are 70! They will rather fell the walnut trees their parents planted[15]. 3. Security We have now come to the third component of bourgeois egoism: security.It is no bourgeois he who does not seek, through solid and visible wealth, through a permanent, stable income, to ensure financial security for himself and his descendants.And still, for the Romanian bourgeoisie, the preoccupation with security is far less obsessive than in the West. We might even say that it is the middle-class with medium income that evinces a more intense concern about security – both those employed in economic dealings (craftsmen and small merchants) and the petty clerks, who find their security in salaries and retirement pensions.The lack of preoccupation with the future is mirrored above all by the low occurrence of a modern form of caution, the life insurance[16].But is our bourgeoisie going to make great progress in this respect, at least from now on? It seems to us that it is too late now to develop – in so different an environment from that of the 19th century – any qualities that built the power of the old bourgeoisie. Wealth as exclusive and absolute guarantee of security is obsolete. Today creation and leadership in the economic life are more rewarding and positive qualities than wealth itself. They ensure social control and offer greater security that wealth as revenue.At the same time, a bureaucratization process is at work both within the bourgeoisie and the middle-class and even the proletariat. Through a system of salaries and generalized social security, the entire society enters a pension system. Even liberal professions give in, as we have shown, to this tendency, so that the kind of financial security that was once guaranteed through wealth and revenue is less and less frequent. Thus disappears one of the essential characteristics of the bourgeoisie and one of the main components of the bourgeois spirit. But for fearing such a characterization to be exaggerated, we would say that the Romanian bourgeoisie evinces, to a great extent, a bohemian life style.This word, "bohemian," whose nuances in Romanian are difficult to capture, serves in the West to mark the contrast between the bourgeois' and the artists' (artists by profession or by temperament) view of life. A whole Western literature glorifies the bohemian and slanders the bourgeois.Here, quite to the contrary, there is no sharp contrast between bourgeois and bohemians, in terms of ideology and temperament, because the bourgeois has an irresistible inclination towards a bohemian life style, while the bohemian finds kinship and understanding with the bourgeois. He has no right to scorn and hate – as some bohemians will do out of a spirit of imitation – a bourgeoisie which, as often as not, is a faithful mirror of himself.For, while the Western bohemian is always a bourgeois who has fallen out of his nest, it is a fact that the Romanian bourgeois is a bohemian in a bird cage.
[1] "Romanian psychology records a passive anti-bourgeois attitude which, though unaware of itself, is nonetheless strong." (Vasile Băncilă, Ethnicity and Modern Logic).[2] ibid.[3] "This Romanian individualism implies no spirit of initiative in economic life and very little spirit of independence in political and social life, the two qualities that characterize the individualism of educated Western nations and that constitute the bourgeois spirit. For the most part, the population of Romanian countryside has nothing to do whatsoever with the bourgeois spirit." (Rădulescu-Motru, Psychology of the Romanian People).[4] "What is most profound and significant in the Romanian soul was formed in circumstances whose complexity the materialistic scheme fails to characterize and explain. (Ion Zamfirescu, Romanian Spiritualities)[5] Sombart also allows for this possibility. "Another law of psychology that has been verified is this: if responsibilities increase, then also abilities and will increase." Besides, in his last volume, Vom Menschen, Sombart demonstrates that temperament and national character are not immutable and throughout a century psychological "mutations" of the most important will occur.[6] We mean by this emphasis no offence to servants, these valuable and so often kind-hearted auxiliaries who facilitate, for the rest of us, superior intellectual and social activities. And we deem that there is nothing crueler than the pejorative epithet "flunkey" that even well-bred people employ with no heed to the suffering they cause to our good helpers. [7] Distinguished figures among the bourgeois evince a more elegant form of rankophilia: it is the desire to improve their social standing in order to be able to employ their spiritual resources in a wider context, more fitting to their personality. The rankophilia of a military man who wants to be in command of a larger unit, knowing he is capable of doing it; of the technician who desires to be manager of a powerful industry because he feels up to the task; of the professor who dreams of addressing a more elevated audience because he feels it is his calling – all these are completely legitimate and not to be mistaken for the vulgar, vanity-driven ambitions.[8] Which could possibly be the ethnic source of Romanian rankophilia? Could it be our own heritage or rather the result of external influences? Our Serbian and Bulgarian neighbours evince none of this frantic, excessive and unscrupulous rankophilia. The Poles are the most vainglorious people in the world, but their vanity is grounded, most of the times, on a familiar background and a certified origin. Our own rankophilia and vanity – for which we have a vile word, one denoting also a disease caused by uncleanness – is to a large extent of Greek origin. Admittedly, there is a sort of vanity and rankophilia also in Transylvania, although the region has hardly suffered any Greek influence. (...) But it is more innocent and puerile; and is rather the expression of an "inferiority complex" born out of the social retardation of the Romanian elite.[9] Mihail Manoilescu, The National Revolution.[10] During a speech I once gave at a reception abroad I suggested the following definition of the professor: "A professor is a person who all his life strives to discover something so that he himself can finally be discovered." Our pseudo-scholars do not even feel the urge to discover anything in order to ensure their official position in the cultural sphere. There are so many who have still to discover itching dust, but are instead good at throwing dust in everybody's eyes!