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Noble Mentality

The three decades following the Compromise became a kind of golden age of the Hungarian gentry. Imbued with a self-confidence born out of the compromise with the Habsburgs and the Austrian bourgeoisie, secure in its powers, without enemies in sight capable of challenging its primacy, the gentry settled down to enjoy the good life offered by the new age. Its political experience seemed to confirm that the noble identity and national ideology remained functional; it merely had to be adjusted, not abandoned. Thus attitudes, hierarchies, and values of an agrarian society, the old self-image of the nobility, and their traditional dicta of social intercourse, all remained firmly entrenched in the minds and character of the gentry. If, at times, these seemed anachronistic and even quixotic, they nevertheless continued to form the basis of a functional and secure noble identity.

Thus in its new capacity as member of a bureaucracy, the Hungarian gentry remained first and foremost gentlemen of noble birth. If there existed a collegiate spirit among the officials, similar to that which prevailed in some Western bureaucracies, it still formed part of a broader noble corporate consciousness. The gentry officials did not adopt the mentality, work ethic, or frugal habits of the Western bureaucrats. They executed the duties of their office with the typical casualness of their group, acting as if the bureaucratic chores were merely incidental to their true function. Their behavior was marked by arrogance toward their social inferiors, tempered at times by paternalism, and by a self-confidence typical of men who believed that it was their birth right to rule over others.

The gentry bureaucrats were free from some of the worst shortcomings of their Western counterparts, but they also lacked some of their virtues. We search in vain for that typical bureaucratic mentality, for petty narrow-mindedness and corruption, for servility, pedantry, and love of routinized work. The Hungarian officials, since they did not derive their sense of importance from the office but from their birth and family connections, did not feel compelled to elaborate on their work or to enlarge the importance of their office through red tape. In them the prime virtues of the Western bureaucrats, their "sense of duty, industry, love of the common welfare, and simple loyalty," [14] as characterized by Eugene N. Anderson, were also absent.

The Hungarian bureaucracy was not a modern civil service in the sense that it equated public interest with the general welfare. Nor did it serve dynastic interests as in Prussia and Austria. It was a class bureaucracy. It was not an impersonal mechanism, rigidly structured by rules, regulations, and hierarchies. The bureaucracy resembled, instead, a large fraternity of equals, held together by personal relations. Excessive servility, the hallmark of the Austrian bureaucracy, was missing in Hungary.

They were generally well paid, especially in the higher grades, which partly explains the relative honesty of the Hungarian officials. They exploited their office to the fullest, but more to aid friends and relatives than to enrich themselves. Petty corruption and bribery on a small scale were considered unbecoming to a gentleman; acceptance of a small bribe would have indicated a character weakness in that it betrayed acquisitiveness.[15]

Though the gentry moved to urban areas it never severed emotional ties with the countryside. For them land ownership retained a special mystique. A country squire's life remained their ideal. Only if we appreciate the powerful hold land ownership exercised on the minds of the gentry can we understand the exaggerated emotional response to loss of landed estates in the Successor States. Land reforms represented not only a financial loss to some land owners; it was a loss to the entire nobility. It ended the "Hungarian style of life," and the dream of return to the land.

The Hungarian nobility was not attracted to army life. Most nobles, during the Dualist Era, after fulfilling their minimum military obligations, returned to civilian life. The discipline and tedium of army life was far too restrictive for the casual Hungarian gentry. Those who joined the army were concentrated in the cavalry regiments where nobles and aristocrats formed the dominant group. The rest of the Hungarian professional officers corps, in fact, was mostly made up of assimilated Germans and other minorities, or of men from the nonnoble classes. In its social origins the corps was decidedly lower middle class: children of lower officials, teachers, noncommissioned officers, craftsmen, or more prosperous peasants. Military schools, however, trained them to identify with the noble national ideology and to adopt the mentality, social habits, virtues, and even vices of the gentry.[16]

Manifestations in civilian life of these characteristics are numerous. The colorful national dress with sword at side, designed to accentuate masculine qualities, were worn on public occasions until 1945. A gentleman was expected to adhere to a chivalric code; its violation, or an insult to name or honor, often resulted in a duel.

Women were generally excluded from such pleasures of men as hunting, horseback riding, and card playing, but this did not mean that they were excluded from society. Unlike Germany, where the authoritarian family structure tended to force women into submissive roles, in Hungary, women were expected to serve as a constant challenge to men. Strong female character, therefore, offered the greatest challenge, greatest triumph, and much admiration.

Crisis and Radicalization of the Nobility

Until the mid-nineteenth century the Hungarian political nation was largely limited to the nobility. Even after 1867, and in spite of rapid industrialization and economic transformation of the country, opposition to the noble ideology and noble domination was slow in emerging. As long as the nobility was able to offer a spectrum of ideas sufficiently broad to satisfy most of the politically conscious population, its identity remained secure.

The new bourgeoisie, in general. seemed incapable of developing a coherent ideology and a stable identity of their own. Its insecurity stemmed mostly from its own origins. For, the Hungarian bourgeoisie around the turn of the century was largely made up of recently assimilated Germans, Jews. and. to a lesser degree, Slovaks and Serbs. who were eager to prove their newly found loyalty to the Hungarian nation. Instead of challenging and offering a realistic alternative to the prevailing agrarian noble political and social ideology, they adopted it unquestioningly. They identified with the nobility, imitated their behavior, sent their children to Hungarian schools, adopted ancient Hungarian noble names, and, at times, became champions of the most virulent forms of Hungarian nationalism.[17] Yet, the identity of the new middle class was not secure. It was artificial, corresponding only outwardly to the trappings of the nobility. It was not legitimate, nor was it rooted in traditional society; its ties with the agrarian community and mentality were superficial. The gentry-imitating, or, as expression sometimes goes, the gentroid class, whose adherence to the noble values was only tenuous, formed an unstable part of Hungarian society.

Around the 1890s, the gentry, itself, began to lose its old confidence. In spite of its successes in capturing the state machinery it remained a declining group. Weak and insecure as the bourgeoisie itself was, its growing cultural and economic influence presented a direct threat to the gentry middle class. Perceiving its decline the gentry responded with a shift in political attitudes. It turned its back on the tradition of 1848 with its liberal nationalism; the nationalism of the gentry ceased to be liberal; its liberalism became only selectively democratic. In an attempt to revitalize itself the gentry reaffirmed its traditional agrarian ideology, became anticapitalist, and succeeded only in becoming further removed from objective reality.[18] Between 1900 and the early 1920s the nobility, and especially those who became refugees after 1918, were further traumatized by a series of events which completely shattered their old identity.

First, a challenge to noble ideology came from the radical intelligentsia and national minorities; second, a powerful blow was dealt by the war and the defeat. This was followed by a political and social revolution in Hungary carried out by the radical intelligentsia and then by the Communists. And, finally, the most crippling blow, the loss of territories, which dispossessed and forced a retreat of the nobility from two-thirds of of Hungary's former territory.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century two new groups came to maturity whose views could be no longer fitted into the noble political spectrum; they could be neither brought under the control of nobility, nor reconciled with the noble ideology. The radical intelligentsia, strongly influenced by Western socialist and radical thought, attempted to counter the gentry's sham parliamentary liberalism with democratic radicalism. Their demands for a genuine democracy, radical social and land reforms, and their conciliatory attitude toward national minorities ran counter to every interest and inclination of the nobility. Similarly, views of another, and more important group, the politically articulate leaders of the national minorities who resisted the forces of assimilation, developed a national consciousness of their own, and challenged directly the Hungarian noble national and social ideology.

The nobility reacted to this dual challenge with predictable aggressiveness, especially toward the minorities. In response to this challenge around this time, the heady dream of an ''Empire of thirty million Hungarians" was born. This was popular not only among the members of the new middle class, where this ideas was conceived, but also among the gentry, who spread it in bureaucratic and government chambers. The assertion of Hungarian cultural superiority and national vitality made assimilation a viable solution.[19]

The nobility was not uniform in its response to threats of social revolution and of the national minorities. In inner Hungary, with its predominantly Hungarian population, the danger from the nationalities appeared somewhat remote. It seemed less important than the radical or socialist agitation in urban areas and among the rural proletariat. There the danger from the minority areas was treated legalistically, without much realism, largely as an academic question of the legal rights of the Hungarian nation and Hungarian state; as essentially a problem of statistics. Official census figures, which showed that between 1860 and 1910 the ratio of Hungarians to non-Hungarians was reversed, seemed to encourage optimism about the viability of the assimilation policies. To the casual observer these figures were proof of the greater virility of the Hungarians and of the attraction of the Hungarian culture; but, in fact, they mostly reflected only the assimilation of urban Germans and Jews.[20]

[]In the minority areas, however, and especially in Transylvania, official optimism and official statistics were meaningless in the face of a much more tangible personal experience. As we have noted earlier, in Transylvania, during the first decade of the twentieth century, a quiet agrarian revolution had begun in the predominantly Romanian counties. With the disappearance of the Hungarian middle- and small-sized estates and the gentry landlords, control of the rural countryside through the traditional methods became increasingly difficult. In Transylvania, therefore, the old sense of self-confidence and security gradually gave way to anxieties, fears, and even panic, to a sense of impotence before the rising tide of Romanians. The nobles reactions increasingly took extreme forms. They began to oscillate between exaggerated pessimism and fatalistic passivity, and aggressive rage born of panic. Their mood became somber as if they were preparing for certain impending doom: the conflict between the Hungarians and Romanians. to them. was a'' life and death struggle" of two nations.[21] If in this battle the Hungarian nation had to perish. its death was to be a noble, heroic death, worthy of a race of warriors.

That syndrome is a relatively common psychological phenomenon. Generalized social danger and status anxiety, brought about by the challenge of the nationalities, and the inability of the nobility to cope with the danger, created a sense of powerlessness. These anxieties were especially accentuated among the younger generations, that is, among those born during and after the 1880s. The older generation was emotionally less affected. Its members grew up in a secure age; their identities were stable, rooted in the values of a traditional society. The younger generation began to reach maturity, define themselves, acquire a conceptual framework, during a period of crisis, when the values and methods to deal with problems of the traditional society were besieged from every side. Though they wished to emulate their elders' attitudes, say, their natural authoritativeness, they were able to do so only superficially. The negative characteristics of the older generation appeared, in them, naked, without the counterbalancing positive features of poise, casualness, paternalism, and self-confidence.

Thus the younger noble generation in its emotional makeup increasingly resembled that of the new middle class, with which after 1919 they indeed formed an alliance. To bridge the gulf between their imperfectly formed identities and what they wished to be, they were increasingly more receptive to radical ideas and solutions of the problems of society. They were more inclined to counter the revolutionary forces within Hungary with a revolution of their own.

This generation of the 1880s reached maturity and entered the state and county bureaucracies during the first decade of the twentieth century. They were immediately confronted with the growing problem of nationalities and the burning issue of the Hungarian "national resistance," issuing from the constitutional crisis of 1904-1906. Many young men who rose to political prominence during the early 1920s served their apprenticeship in the state administration during this tense decade. Thus, when the war broke out in 1914, it did not shatter a tranquil society, rather it fractured a society that was filled with revolutionary tensions--a society at an impasse, unable to transform itself, unable to abandon old habits.

The gentry accepted and welcomed the challenge of war. War with Serbia was popular. As Leslie Tihany aptly characterized Hungarian attitudes toward Serbs: they "had an ingrained habit of considering Serbs political upstarts and cultural inferiors. Yet, at the same time, contempt was mixed with a certain amount of admiration for the manly virtues, especially military valor. The Serbs were the Hungarians' favorite enemies."[22] The Hungarian nobles expected quick victory, much honor; they lived up to their martial self-image, flocking to the colors by the thousands.

In the first euphoric weeks of the war it was hoped that victory, which seemed certain, would act as a catharsis, as a purification and revitalization of society, and would strengthen Hungarian domination over the country. The war offered avenues of release for tensions built up during the previous two decades. It may sound paradoxical, but in these early hours of war when emotions no longer had to be under strict control. the capacity for love of fellow nationals increased greatly. Earlier differences and resentments vanished, and, at the moment when free aggression became possible again, the people behaved as if suddenly total freedom had been gained.

This sense of freedom, however, was illusory. To maximize the power of the state, far greater restrictions upon life had to be imposed than ever existed before. Thus, to the people of Hungary, the end of war brought a sudden liberation from prolonged tension, and from the strict discipline of the war as well as from the structure and formalities of the old civilization. To the nobility it was a defeat and a confirmation of their powerlessness.

With the collapse of the armies on the front and the outbreak of the revolution at home, the whole fabric of society began to disintegrate. Old spectrums, gradations, those fine subliminal forms and subtle nuances so essential for civilized existence became meaningless. Hierarchies of the old order, social, economic, and moral restrictions, which defined the existence of a social being, abruptly became inoperative.

Life became less civilized; survival more precarious. Revolutions always seem to bring about a simplification of life, a reduction to its most elemental forms, marked by extremes and contradictions. Violence and brutality may exist side by side with compassion and selfsacrifice. Some respond to the atomization of society with introversion and paralysis of will; others with lively aggression.

Atomization of society did not affect the entire population with uniform severity. Social structures based on immediate personal relationships seemed to be more enduring than more complex but less personal systems. Thus less differentiated rural communities were far more resilient than urban society. In villages preservation of the existing structures was a precondition of survival; ties with the external world. identification with the greater social units, incidental. Collapse of the larger community. therefore, did not necessarily create an immediate crisis. Thus the peasantry, in spite of its initial assault upon the old rural elite, was far less radicalized. It merely withdrew into a passive, protective isolation, and restricted its limited revolutionary fervor to local affairs.

Survival of urban society, on the other hand, depended on a smooth and coordinated functioning of most social, economic, and political institutions. With the collapse of the old order, therefore, the urbanized classes themselves were thrown into confusion.

The most traumatized urban group was the official class, the urbanized gentry and, in general, the old ruling class. That is, the class whose identification with the old regime and the old civilization was the most intense. The revolution destroyed their old status, prestige, the threat of land reform and wholesale personnel changes in the bureaucracy undermined their economic position. With the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic they became the hated class enemy; thereafter even their personal safety was no longer assured. Some of them left the cities and went into hiding in more remote parts of the country, but tens of thousands of others, landowners, magnates, politicians, officials, and army officers fled to Vienna or to areas under French occupation.

In Vienna and in Szeged these refugees from Soviet Hungary met with refugees pouring out of the minority areas, where the revolutionary transformation of the old society and the destruction of the old values were brought about by the transfer of power to the subject nationalities. Welded together, these two refugee groups became the driving force behind the Hungarian counterrevolution.

Both these refugee groups were under extreme emotional stress. Cut off from their roots they felt isolated, disoriented, and powerless. These refugees, in fact, were defending themselves against a set of triple-tiered anxiety, against dangers growing out of their uprooting and the turbulance of the times; against anxieties issuing from the shattered synthesis and challenge to the functionality of their old identity; and, against anxieties arising from an unconscious admission that they, as individuals, and as a class, had failed to live up to their self-image. A defense against these anxieties was found within the framework of a radical movement. This movement was brought to life as a substitute for the disintegrating old community, in which the old and now endangered noble identities were rooted. Thus the suddenly intensified ethnocentricism of the refugees, and their embracing of right-wing ideologies and the cause of the counterrevolution, served a vital psychological purpose.

One further source of anxiety among the refugees cannot be ignored. This was the fear of physical ethnic extinction. This fear is virtually unknown among larger nations. It is peculiar to small nations, who either live under the domination of a larger nation or surrounded by larger and hostile nations. The danger is real for many small nations or national minorities especially in modern times. Whether extinction takes place benignly, through a process of slow assimilation, or through violent means, the end result is all the same; the extinction of the nation, its culture, and language. To members of an endangered nation this is far more frightening to contemplate than the death of the individual.

The Hungarians had lived long with this fear. The idea of assimilation of the non-Hungarian population became popular around the turn of the century precisely for this reason. They wished to reverse the assimilation process by the national minorities, which in their eyes threatened them with certain extinction. All measures seemed justified in order to save the small Hungarian nation, which was gradually being engulfed by the Slavic, Germanic, and Romanian sea around it.

With the loss of a third of the Hungarian nation and nearly two-thirds of Hungary's territory, the pessimistic conclusion that the nation once more faced the danger of extermination came easily. The danger was a double one. Reduced in numbers, Hungary could not defend itself against its hostile neighbors. It was also feared that in the lost territories the Hungarian minorities would be subjected to extreme pressures to assimilate. Once a nation, or a national minority begins to decline in numbers, according to the argument of the Hungarian Eugenic Society, it is only a matter of time before the critical point is reached, beyond which there is no possibility of reversing the downward course, and the minority is doomed to oblivion.[23] The minorities in all of the lost territories were already seriously weakened by the flight of the refugees. Especially those elements fled which, in the past, were the strongest protectors of the national consciousness, and which would have been most able to preserve the vitality of the minority culture against the inroad of the majority culture.

To the refugees this presented an extreme dilemma. They, by their actions, were actually dooming their fellow nationals to a more rapid decline. This aroused an enormous feeling of guilt. The contemporary press relentlessly urged all refugees to return to their native lands to strengthen the resistance of the minority and, incidentally, to ease the great economic burden which their presence in the reduced territory of Hungary represented. Their return was also necessary lest Hungary should lose all claims to the lost areas by the disappearance of the Hungarian minorities.

The refugees, therefore, had to justify both to themselves and to fellow countrymen their departures. It would have been insufficient merely to argue that they departed, for example, for personal economic reasons, or that their chances of success or economic status were better assured in reduced Hungary than in the occupied areas. Their departure had to be justified by higher, more moral, or more compelling, reasons. The danger of real physical harm had to be conjured up if it was absent. Or the refugees had to prove that their absence from their native land was only temporary, that, in fact, they were working for the return of these lands. They had to prove that their presence in Hungary was desirable by demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the reconquest of these territories. The most effective way to demonstrate this was by joining the counterrevolutionary movement or one of the many militant irredentist groups.

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