The Rise and Fall of the Citizen Class: A History of Civil Society in Europe

At first glance, “Confessions of a Citizen” by the Hungarian writer Marloy Sandor looks like a mourning book for the bourgeoisie, just like “The World of Yesterday” by his Austrian “brother” Zweig. The two have many similarities, whether it is their growth environment, pan-European and overseas travel, literature or even their life in exile. However, they also have huge differences. Apart from age, this is more reflected in Malloy Sandor’s more optimistic and stoic attitude towards the ill-fated fate.

Before Malloy Sandor went into exile, he not only experienced the unbearable crushing of Nazism by Zweig, but also had to face the prospect that his motherland would fall into a long night of totalitarian rule. It is commendable to still have optimistic expectations for the historical role of the burghers.

In his view, the world will not be better in the future without the civic class. The humanism of the bourgeoisie is an effective weapon against totalitarianism, just as it helped the bourgeoisie pull down princes and generals in the past, and through its insistence on freedom, science, rationality, freedom and progress, it eased the situation to a considerable extent. The negative effects of capitalism, and help the lower classes achieve political status and economic well-being. Shortly after his death, Eastern Europe experienced a political and economic transformation that caught the world’s attention at the end of the last century. From Malloy Sandor to Milosz, Milan Kundera, Havel, etc., since the Enlightenment, the ideals of humanism and humanism have undergone repeated changes and have continued to sing, once again demonstrating the strength of civil society inherited.

What is the citizen class? In fact, it is difficult to have an accurate portrait, and many times it can only be defined by what it is not, for example, it is not the masses of workers and peasants, it is not the aristocratic big bourgeoisie, and so on. The bourgeoisie is the middle class of the last century, and their occupations are mostly senior white-collar workers, small business owners, and small shopkeepers. For example, Britain, where the bourgeoisie is the backbone, is nicknamed the country of small shopkeepers. Its spiritual spokespersons are Max Weber, Benjamin, etc., and its lifestyle presenters are Thomas Mann, Zweig, Proust, etc.

Most of these children of the bourgeoisie are tolerant and kind, full of sympathy for the lower class people, and narcissistic and self-pitying, satirizing the hypocrisy and vanity of their class and being merciless, but facing the stormy waves of the coming era, they obviously lack all kinds of spirit Preparedness and Response. Most of them belong to the class that emerged with industrialization and urbanization during the economic upswing period. Most of them rely on their own professional ability. They lack awareness of the direction and vision of the political and economic trends, let alone take the initiative to plan them.

In addition to the mottled and diverse identities, due to living in different countries, different political traditions and different growth cycles, the civil society born from the citizen class also presents complex tones. When Zweig and others sang the elegy of European civil society, those societies that embraced late modernization and modernity ushered in the dawn of civil society, such as the “Taisho Spring” in Japan. They also encountered different forms of stigma, but when their respective societies restarted the process of modernization, this history of civil society was activated as a cultural and conceptual resource. In fact, broadening the horizon of history, the modernization process of a society is seldom achieved overnight. The degree of twists and turns or smoothness depends on the strength of the tradition of civil society in its history. A comparison of the transformations of Eastern Europe and Latin America at the end of the last century provides a glimpse into the mystery.

This kind of polyphony of civil society has always been the norm in history. Just as emerging economies began to practice their yearning for the middle-class lifestyle in Europe and the United States and build their own middle-class societies on a large scale, Europe and the United States began another round of disintegration of middle-class societies— —The American scholar George Parker described this process in “The Age of Sinking”, and the literal translation of its English title is “The Age of Disintegration”.

Civil society at the same stage also has different appearances due to differences in political and economic structures and historical inheritance. In the second part of his “Confessions of a Citizen” trilogy “Under the Sky of Europe”, Malloy Sandor made various comparisons between French and British civil society, which is quite inspiring to read. For example, the citizens of France are not as conservative and orderly as Germany, they prefer fresh clothes and delicious food, and their personal lives are scattered and disorderly, but they are extremely clear-headed in the face of major issues. Feeling seldom sure. As for the apparent indifference and sense of proportion of the British citizenry, it actually represents tolerance and respect for the rights of others. Juxtaposing Malloy Sandor’s observations of British and American civil society with those of Zweig, Kantorowitz, Thomas Mann, etc., it is not difficult to find that these exiles experienced roughly the same culture” Shock”, at least admitting that their previous view that compared with the superficial material culture of Britain and France, the culture of Central and Eastern Europe is deeper, richer, more spiritual and transcendent, is not tenable.

In contrast, the middle and eastern European citizens at that time were weaker. On the one hand, this is due to the lagging of social and political processes in Central and Eastern Europe. The democracy of the few people who came slowly is more a product of top-down. Facing the powerful class that still holds great power, especially military power, the toughness of the citizen class Of course, the level cannot be compared with that of the French counterparts who are prone to barricades, and the British counterparts who have experienced a long constitutional experience and have just undergone the test of the Chartist Movement. On the other hand, the masses who should be led by them, especially the broad peasantry, often chose to ally with the dynastic ruling group, which was particularly evident in the so-called “revolutionary year” of 1848. This feeling of being flanked by the enemy and being pinched from top to bottom can be said to have run through the history of the growth and decline of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. However, during the brief flashback period between the two world wars, the pincers from top to bottom were gradually replaced by pincers from left and right.

Even more paradoxically, if the First World War meant the demise of the aristocracy and the re-strengthening of the mass society for Britain, in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the trauma of the First World War was mainly borne by the civil society.
In fact, long before World War I, the decline of the middle and eastern European bourgeoisie was already an indisputable fact. The broad masses involved in industrialization and urbanization have great economic and political aspirations, but it is difficult to fully satisfy them. Even in the period of economic upswing, socialized large-scale production makes it difficult for the citizens themselves to be safe, so that they cannot continue to become the masses. Advanced role model. And the power they released in the name of freedom and progress has become a weapon against themselves. They were no match for nationalism, no match for popular politics. In a sense, the decline of the bourgeoisie and the disintegration of civil society were one of the driving forces behind the outbreak of World War I.

Of course, not all members of the bourgeoisie are sitting still. For example, Mussolini and Hitler, who are the “rebellious sons” of the bourgeoisie, coerced the young people of the bourgeoisie to launch a Jedi against the ruling group after they were familiar with the mysteries of mass politics. fight back. The children of the civic class are not all risk-takers. In stark contrast, those young people who fell from the middle class during the Great Depression in the United States have become powerful promoters of the New Deal by virtue of their familiarity with political operations. and new force. Therefore, in the final analysis, it is still a matter of social structure and political structure.

After the war, the citizen class around the world ushered in round after round of expansion. Due to the expansion of scale and the stigmatization before the war, the title of civil society was gradually replaced by the label of middle-class society. The middle class or the new bourgeoisie are still facing up and down and left and right attacks, and the history of partial demise of the bourgeoisie or middle class society is repeated over and over again. Whether this partial demise will expand, or whether it will achieve phased stability through the expansion of new citizens or the middle class, is still uncertain.

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