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A Concept and its Meanders through 20th Century Historiography
by György Kövér
Preliminary paper for the Workshop ‘Social Thought and Political Change, 1945-2015’
CEU Budapest, 6-7 September 2016
In the autumn of 2010, a history conference entitled “Történelmi átértékelés” (“Historical
Transvaluation”) was organised by the city of Székesfehérvár, its City Archives, and
Kodolányi College. Timed to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the birth of Bálint
Hóman, the symposium set out to pave the road for the rehabilitation of the historian and
politician. Even though the conference title was borrowed from an essay by Hóman, the piece
itself was hardly discussed at any length during the conference, at least judging from the fact
that, in his epilogue to the conference proceedings, editor Gábor Ujváry says very little about
it: “The historical transvaluation of Hóman’s work is also inevitably necessary, which partly
explains why we decided to adopt the title of his contemporary article as the title of our
current volume of conference papers.”1
When interpreting the concept of transvaluation–a concept that time and again played a key
role in Hungarian historiography–one could undoubtedly trace the origin of the concept back
to Nietzsche (Umwertung). In that context, one might also mention the disputes surrounding
value-freedom in science and value judgments (see Max Weber and his reception of
“Werturteil-freiheit”).2 One might also discuss the views according to which World War I
represented a caesura as far as values are concerned (e.g. Spengler); then again, this would
take us too far afield here.3
Additionally, Hóman himself, who was among the first authors to bring the term into use in
Hungary, avoided making references to the predecessors. The first time he brought the
Történelmi átértékelés. Hóman Bálint, a történész és politikus (ed. Ujváry, Gábor), Budapest, 2011, 307. The
volume quotes Hóman’s concept of transvaluation. Szabados, György: Hóman Bálint, a korai magyar állam és
ethnogenezis kutatója, in: ibid. 2011, 19.
Nietzsche’s influence (even on Weber for that matter) is not easy to demonstrate at a textual level and has
generated much debate. However, the answers that are given in reaction to the questions raised–even when they
contradict one another–seem to be unambiguous in this respect. Fleury, Laurent: Max Weber sur les traces de
Nietzsche? Revue française de sociologie, 46 (2005) 4, 807-839. As far as Weber’s concept of value judgments
is concerned, a fundamental work is Erdélyi, Ágnes: Rickert és Weber (Az értékvonatkozástól az ideáltípusig),
in: Erdélyi, Ágnes: A társadalmi világ ideáltipikus felépítése. Tanulmányok, Budapest, 2003, 39-78.
On the critical reception of Spengler’s book throughout consecutive eras, see Dékány, István: Spengler
történetelmélete. Történeti Szemle, 11 (1922) 1-4, 165-175.
concept of “transvaluation” into the forefront was in a lecture he gave at the National Catholic
Congress in the autumn of 1925, in a context most appropriate to the venue. 4 “All across
Europe, it was the ideal of Enlightenment that first brought about the transvaluation of the
historical role of the Church and Catholicism and the emergence of an anti-Catholic view of
history among laymen, with romanticism, liberalism, positivism, and, eventually, radicalism
and materialism each adding their own characteristic touches to the new picture.”5 And while
this was obviously a universal phenomenon, in Hungary–unlike in Germany–there emerged
no “scholarly congregation” of Catholics and Protestants that “would have effectively
contributed to the revaluation and rehabilitation of the Catholic Middle Ages”. 6 It was in this
lecture that, having enumerated an array of historical precedents, Hóman launched a
campaign for “a new synthesis of Hungarian history. This is the task in which Hungary’s
Catholic historians demand to partake. In carrying it out, we must rely on the convincing
power of facts and on the instruments and methodology of pure science, avoiding all
tendentiousness or the fairground noise of empty slogans. The writer’s or scholar’s awareness
of his own era as well as his individual world view will inevitably and inadvertently manifest
themselves in how he reconstructs history and in how he evaluates and conceptualizes the
processes of the past. This subjective aspect–which is in no contradiction with the conscious
and consistent effort to acquire objective knowledge and to offer unbiased evaluation, or, in
other words, scientific objectivity–is something we cannot eliminate either. Despite the
rigorous self-criticism with which we try to hush our own egos, our Catholic faith, our
Hungarian conviction and our idealistic world view will find a way to express themselves in
the synthesis, our reconstruction of the greatest interconnections. However, we must, and we
shall, refrain from presenting facts in a tendentious manner.”7 This ideologically imbued
passage, which he revisited and further refined half a decade later, is the very root of Hóman’s
concept of “transvaluation”.
Hóman’s lecture delivered at the Catholic congress provoked a vigorous response from
Protestant circles. Using the militant voice typical of him, the first to enter the ring was Jenő
Zoványi (1865-1958), a Protestant church historian who had converted from Catholicism to
Calvinism as a young man only to be forced out of his ecclesiastical positions later on.8
Nonetheless, Zoványi continued to be one of the most tenacious opponents of transvaluation
concepts.9 But the real heavy artillery in the dispute was former undersecretary, Szeged
professor and pedagogical author Sándor Imre (1877-1945), a Protestant himself, who,
however, did not speak from a position informed by his religious affiliation. He
acknowledged that “today, many hunger for transvaluation in their souls–thus, to some
Történelem és katolicizmus. Elmondta Hóman Bálint a XVII. Országos Katolikus Nagygyűlésen 1925. évi
október hó 13-án. For the copy surviving in Hóman’s papers, see Collection of Manuscripts, National Széchényi
Library (OSzK Kt) Fond 15/4. For an ambivalent evaluation of the place that Hóman’s lecture fills in his
historiographical writing in the 1920s, complete with a discussion of its contradictions, see Erős, Vilmos: Hóman
Bálint és a historiográfia. Korunk, 21 (2010) 9, 62-70. For the references, see op. cit. 63, 65.
Hóman, 1925, 3.
Hóman, 1925, 6.
Hóman, 1925, 11-12. In mentioning the historian’s efforts to hush his own ego, Hóman refers to a maxim by
Leopold von Ranke (“Sich selbst auslöschen”).
Zoványi, Jenő: Történelmi átértékelés. Századunk, 3 (1928), Issue No 5, 270-271.
The texts, which often venture into libel, are compiled into a volume of papers. Cf. Zoványi, Jenő: Szekfű és
társai történetírása, Budapest, 1938.
extent, it must be justifiable; yet many are startled by the mere thought of it–consequently,
some sort of peril must be associated with it.”10 He went as far as speaking about a
“transvaluation movement” and sketching up the sociological background of such movement:
transvaluation “is in demand mainly among those who belong to a faction that is gradually
assuming or has already assumed power–one that, in any case, has aspirations to lead”.11 At
the same time, he believes that “the problem lies in the very slogan of »transvaluation«: this
word expresses more–and, indeed, is understood as saying more–than what it is justified, or
what it needs, to express when speaking with a scientific mindset [...]. From the onset, the
word transvaluation implies the idea that I apply a certain fully elaborated tenet with a
specific goal in mind; I do not strive to find out whether my doubt is well-founded and
whether my mistrust is justified, neither do I dedicate my efforts to finding out how things
actually are; I know all this already, and, on this basis, the only task I see for myself is to
point out my truth. [...] no scientific work can ever commence with such an objective in mind.
Here, transvaluation can only be a result, but it can never be the aim.”12 (Italics in the
original.) A defence attorney or a party politician may have transvaluation as his goal, but as
far as science is concerned, “there is no value whatsoever in a procedure that [...] commences
not with a question but with a statement; that is not an open inquiry but rather an exercise in
studied justification; that does not reason on the basis of facts but fumbles around for
1929 saw the publication of the first volumes of the synthesis Magyar Történet (“Hungarian
History”), one authored by Hóman and one by Szekfű. The first critiques were also published
(although the term “transvaluation” did not feature either in the synthetic work itself or in its
introduction). This was one of the reasons why Sándor Domanovszky, in his piece run by the
journal Századok (“Centuries”), commented on Hóman’s first volume voicing his
satisfaction: “In addition to the synthesis, Hóman also often mentioned transvaluation. In the
wake of all the dispute that recently surrounded the concept, one may be rightly interested in
seeing how Hóman actually carried out this transvaluation. To our satisfaction, even though
he treats prehistory in a novel manner, he makes no claim that would go spectacularly against
the grain of any previous perception of the era. There are two aspects where Hóman’s
transvaluation efforts might manifest themselves with some force. One of these is his
evaluation of the 9th and 10th century Hungarian invasions of Europe, where, despite his
resolute stance, some of the new arguments he presents actually support previous
interpretations of the era. The other is the case of Saint Stephen, where establishing a closer
link between Stephen’s thought and the Cluniac spirit is in fact nothing new. What is new is
that Hóman, in his discussion of Saint Stephen’s policies, should dedicate so much attention
to the Cluniac spirit. Thus, there is nothing in Hóman’s work based on which his term
»transvaluation« could be explained to have the wrong sort of meaning [...]. The word
»transvaluation« is only dangerous as a slogan. Where it is needed either because of research
considerations or in the light of novel critical results, it is nothing more than a natural
Imre, Sándor: Az „átértékelés” az irodalomban és a történelemben. Irodalomtörténet, 18 (1929) 1, 1.
Imre, 1929, 3.
Imre, 1929, 5.
Imre, 1929, 6.
scientific requirement; it is self-evident, and there is no need to exaggerate it.”14 In contrast,
Domanovszky’s evaluation of Szekfű’s first volumes on the early modern age are in quite a
different vein: “[...] the sort of transvaluation the outcome of which we discuss in our review
has not emerged from the collective forces put into relief; neither has it emerged from any
results of any new research or in-depth studies. Thus, Szekfű’s work does not shed a
favourable light on transvaluation. Szekfű’s stance against the accepted views is spectacularly
sharp; however, what the actual manifestations of this sharp stance reflect is not historical
matter but the author’s personality. Internally, his farfetched passages are at conflict with
those paragraphs that are better grounded in more detailed data; this in turn leads to
inconsistencies and clashes between the narrative parts of the work and the overriding concept
of its author.”15 Contrasting the two authors in this manner is rather surprising because while
Szekfű, as far as we know, did not use the concept of “transvaluation” as a slogan for his
programme, he, at least according to Domanovszky, practiced it to a much greater extent than
Hóman, even though it was the latter that launched the career of the concept. But the HómanSzekfű synthesis was not the only impulse behind Szekfű’s involvement in the transvaluation
dispute. Another factor that drew him into the dispute was the publication of his biography of
Bethlen.16 The opus drew vehement criticism from Debrecen professor István Rugonfalvi
Kiss (1881-1957), a friend of Szekfű’s youth. The first blow came in the form of the title of
his piece: “Az átértékelt Bethlen Gábor” (“Gábor Bethlen Transvalued”).17
The criticism coming from István R. Kiss compelled Szekfű to at least openly voice his
reservations. “Today, many speak of the »transvaluation« of Hungarian history, and even
those who do not think it necessary–such as, for example, Miklós Asztalos, who lets us know
in his essay published in Prot[estáns] Szemle (“Protestant Review”)–wish to »broaden and
deepen« the knowledge of our history. Any transvaluation (Umwertung) might be more of an
ethical or philosophical process and not a task for historical research, for which the problems
arise simply from the method, namely, its non-existence or its debility. Based on my
understanding of the history of Hungarian history writing, I do not see any unconquerable
difficulties–so long as historians finally ascend to the level of their era and dare to use
modern historical methods with unbiased courage, but also with ample knowledge and
assiduity. Historians whose training matches the standard of their age will reach similar
conclusions and can work alongside one another in mutual appreciation regardless of any
personal, political, or religious differences.” Later on he continues: “In the current situation,
the new method, if we put it to use now, will not broaden or deepen, let alone transvalue our
understanding of history, but will instead create a brand new history that will probably return,
in politicis, to László Szalay and his predecessors but that will have to create something
entirely new in each and every other aspect. Much that we saw as problems earlier will cease
Domanovszky, Sándor: Hóman Bálint és Szekfű Gyula: Magyar történet, Vol. I., Századok, 63 (1929), 9-10,
Domanovszky, Sándor: Hóman Bálint és Szekfű Gyula: Magyar történet, Vol. IV-V, Századok, 64 (1930), 910, 903. Domanovszky’s criticism of Szekfű’s transvaluations is interpreted in the context of the entire oeuvre
by Dénes, Iván Zoltán: A történelmi Magyarország eszménye. Szekfű Gyula a történetíró és ideológus,
Bratislava, 2015, 320-325.
Szekfű, Gyula: Bethlen Gábor, Budapest, 1929.
Rugonfalvi Kiss, István: Az átértékelt Bethlen Gábor. Válaszul Szekfű Gyulának, Debrecen, 1929. Published
again in Máriabesenyő-Gödöllő, 2008, by Attraktor as part of their series.
to be problems.”18 We do not know whether Hóman felt betrayed when Szekfű partly
disavowed the slogan of “transvaluation”. The fact remains, however, that they continued to
agree in that methodological innovation was necessary.
In February 1930, Hóman, inspired by the dispute, made an attempt at defining his position
more clearly. The venue he chose for this was the Országos Kaszinó, an association of the
Christian middle class. He laid out his objectives–which were certainly tailored to match the
occasion–already in the introductory passage of his lecture: “My aim is to explain the concept
and significance of historical transvaluation. I do not, however, wish to delve into detailed
scientific reasoning. All I attempt to do is briefly shed some light on this problem, which has
come into the forefront of public interest, and to dispel the misunderstandings that have
emerged around it.” As a new element of his argumentation, Hóman drew a comparison with
the expectations that characterise the realm of the natural sciences. 19 Keeping his ideological
motives in the background, this time he opted to enumerate a greater number of historical
examples in support of his propositions. However, he only identified two possible reasons for
transvaluation: “There are two sorts of reasons that may justify the transvaluation of historical
phenomena: either an expansion in the availability of historical sources, an emergence of new
data and a new interpretation of the old ones, or the emergence of new points of view in
research that arise from the application of new methods of inquiry either unknown to, or
ignored by, the historians of past periods.”20
In the light of the function (and audience) of his lecture, however, the thoughts cited above
only represent a diversion from the main plot: “[...] and now we come to the single most
delicate aspect of the problem of transvaluation. His conscious search for historical truth
compels the scholar to establish facts and to perform transvaluations that disprove publicly
held opinions on history and phenomena commonly accepted as verified facts.” 21 He leaves
no doubt that he is mostly interested in the problem in relation to “persons and institutions
that are in the focus of the national cult”.22 Also, he tries to reassure both himself and the
public opinion: “Let us not be afraid of subjecting them to the vetting scrutiny of scientific
evaluation, the searchlight that transilluminates men. Our great ones have no reason to hide
their deficiencies and no need for false glorification–just as the Hungarian nation has nothing
to hide.”23
In the summer of 1930, preparations already started for a future volume in a book series
published by Magyar Szemle Társaság (“The Hungarian Review Association”). This work led
Szekfű, Gyula: Kritika és terror II. Magyar Kultúra, 16 (1929) 7-12, 300-305. For the quote, see 304.
“Exact as the method of the natural sciences may seem to be and concrete as their statements of the facts may
appear, assumptions, hypotheses, and educated subjective reasoning are just as essential for them as for the
historical sciences.” Hóman, Bálint: Történelmi átértékelés, Napkelet, 8 (1930) 3, 246.
Hóman, 1930, 248. Hóman offers no explanation why the reference to “changing world views”–which carried
so much emphasis before–suddenly disappeared from the train of thought started in the previous paragraph.
Hóman, 1930, 253. The three examples that he repeatedly enumerates from the previous repertory are the
millennium-old constitution, the so-called Doctrine of the Holy Crown, and the case of Louis I of Hungary.
Hóman, 1930, 254.
Hóman, 1930, 255. In his talk, Árpád Markó supplemented Hóman’s lecture with a repertory of examples
taken from military history. Markó, Árpád: A történelmi átértékelés problémája a hadtörténetben. Magyar
Szemle, 10 (1930) 9, 24-32.
to the publication of a tome entitled ‘A magyar történetírás új útjai’ (‘New Routes in
Hungarian Historical Writing) in 1931. Authored by Bálint Hóman under the title A
történelem útja (“The Way of History”), the opening paper of the book once again revisits the
issue of transvaluation. So much so that the appropriate section of the typewritten copy
surviving in Hóman’s papers actually includes, pasted in, a proof sheet copy of his National
Casino lecture from the time of its publication in the journal Napkelet.24 Pasted in, as we said,
and rewritten. In the spirit of the genetic approach Hóman held so close to his heart, it may be
worth taking a good look at these corrections at least as far as the focal points are concerned.
There being no notes, Hóman did not indicate the source of the relevant passage. 25 In this
volume, both universal and Hungarian historiography receive a much more broad-brushed
treatment throughout the text than in any of his earlier commentary. However, the single most
important change is that by now he proudly flies the flag of Geistesgeschichte. His first attack
is metaphorical in nature. “To travel this route, we shall take as our vehicle the airplane of
Geistesgeschichte–or, to use a synonymous expression, cultural history, taken the term in its
correct sense–an airplane capable of approaching every region. We depend on an airplane–for
the motorcar of naturalistic historical writing only allows us to examine material phenomena
observable at ground level; it takes wings to approach the governing idea hiding behind them,
the very soul of man and his era. Then again, we will still need the motorcar in some parts of
our journey; in fact, we may have to resort to the horse-drawn carriage of yore whenever we
venture into the rugged fields of source research and data collection: following the trend of
the Geistesgeschichte can no way mean that we ignore the material phenomena of life
throughout history or any economic, social, and political phenomena or processes or certain
categories thereof, or that we neglect the source data that serve as the basis of our historical
There may be various plausible explanations as to the true significance of this intellectual and
linguistic metamorphosis. In his later years, Tivadar Thienemann wrote the following diary
entry in retrospect: “Hóman and Szekfű decided to join forces and publish a collection of
papers under the title A magyar történetírás új útjai (“New Routes in Hungarian Historical
Writing”) under the aegis of Magyar Szemle (“Hungarian Review”), a journal edited by
Szekfű. The introductory study was authored by Hóman; the closing summary by Szekfű; and
OSzK Kt Fol Hung. 3083, 132-172. For the proof sheet copy, cf. 170-171.
Hóman, Bálint: A történelem útja, in: A magyar történetírás új útjai, Budapest, 1931, 7-52. For the passage
taken over from the proof sheet copy left over from the article’s publication in Napvilág, cf. 44-50 in the
published volume. The phrase “legújabb korban uralkodóvá lett genetikus történetvizsgáló módszer” [“the
genetic method of historical inquiry that has gained dominance recently”] featuring in the 1930 proof sheet copy
became “modern történetvizsgáló módszer” [“the modern method of historical enquiry”] in 1931. As a result of
the expansion of the available historical sources, he was forced to sift through his materials, yet he reused his
comment in its original form: “ami egyébként a genetikus történeti felfogásból is szükségszerűen következett”
[“what also inevitably followed from the genetic approach to history”]. From the sentence including the phrase
“fejlődési folyamatok rekonstruálására törekvő genetikus történetírás” [“genetic history writing that aims at
reconstructing development processes”], the author simply deleted the adjective “genetic”. It also happened that
the original phrase “genetikus történeti módszer” [“genetic method of history”] became “új történeti módszer”
[“new method of history”] by 1931. And finally, there was one passage where the author, speaking of the history
writing practices of his own era, inserted the phrase “szellemtörténeti módszer” [“a method of
Geistesgeschichte”] in place of what had been “genetikus módszer” [“genetic method”] before. OSzK Kt Fol
Hung. 3083, 171.
Hóman, 1931, 42.
the papers in between by university professors of history. [...] The volume was not, and never
intended to be, a book of Geistesgeschichte. Granted, it does discuss the Gesitesgeschichte–
occasionally, en passant, at the level of principles; and Szekfű does name Dilthey among
several German historians, yet barely any mention is made either of him or of his view of
history. A characteristic trait of the book is that it is free of philosophy. Or at least the authors
thought so. [...] I myself also tried to write in a manner that was free of philosophy.”27
One of the best read authors of the volume on the new routes of history, social scientist István
Dékány (1886-1965), the master of eclecticism, also commented on the transvaluation dispute
two years later. On the one hand, he echoed the “official” position of the editor of the volume
and even employed similar tactics inasmuch as he would never directly react to claims made
by others involved in the dispute; at the same time, he shifted the focus to what had been
sorely missing from all the previous texts: namely, the nature of historical evaluation. It is
hardly a challenge to realise: it is impossible to say anything meaningful about transvaluation
without an understanding of what evaluation is to begin with.28 Dékány at least read Rickert
and was aware of the conceptual importance of “value-relevance” (Wertbeziehung), even
though he believed that Rickert “still failed to reach the essential”.29 Proposing the
introduction of an additional research aspect in the axiological study of values, he commented
that “today, we must consider causally based evaluation as obsolete; our standard should be
dual: cause-effect + value. Forgetting about the latter cuts deep into the flesh of the practice of
history writing.”30 The most important lesson that follows from this meandering train of
thought is that “actually, a peculiar, unintended mission of historical inquiry is to deepen and
purify otherwise wildly growing evaluations and emotions, distilling them into a historical
sense of value. [...] This unintended mission of historical inquiry would not be possible if the
historian were debarred from offering his evaluation and his sole task were to publish a
chronological lexicon of data.”31
Yet in this unusual–although not unique–dispute, where the authors would not explicitly
reflect on one another’s positions, the last word was not Dékány’s. It can be argued that a
synthesis of the position of the opposing camp emerged when at the end of the 1930s one of
the most prominent Hungarian (Protestant) representatives of Kant’s philosophy of value,
György Bartók (1882-1970) joined in and published a piece in his prestigious journal in
which he formulated a theoretical context for the discussion generating much media
attention.32 Sternly refusing historical relativism, he made his position even more clear when
commenting on transvaluation: “It is the wrong word to use to begin with. [...] The word
Thienemann, Tivadar: Bad Hall-i napló (1983), in: Az utókor címére. Thienemann Tivadar hátrahagyott
életrajzi feljegyzései (Prepared for press by Koncz, Lajos), Pannónia könyvek, Pécs, 2010, 28-78. For the quote,
see 70.
Dékány, István: Történelmi értékelés és átértékelés (A történetíró szellemi alkatának kérdéséhez), Századok,
67 (1933), 4-6, 128-162.
Dékány, 1933, 140-141. Rickert’s classic was published in Hungarian as early as the 1920, with Árpád
Posch’s translation most recently featuring in the volume entitled Történetelmélet: Rickert, Heinrich:
Kultúrtudomány és természettudomány, in: Történetelmélet II (ed. Gyurgyák, János – Kisantal, Tamás),
Budapest, 2006, 193-268.
Dékány, 1933, 136.
Dékány, 1933, 159-160.
Bartók, György: Történet és értékelés. Szellem és Élet, 3 (1939) 3, 99-112.
transvaluation [“átértékelés”] is obviously the Hungarian trans-interpretation [“át-fordítás”]
of the word Umwertung as used–and possibly coined–by Nietzsche. [...] Nietzsche applied
this word to morality and used it to express his demand that, instead of Christian moral
philosophy, a new moral philosophy be created, one that manifests strength and is suitable for
the masters. But he never applied it to science. In science, there is no place for transvaluation
of any sort–for there is no place for any evaluation to begin with. As we have pointed out on
multiple occasions, science does not attribute values to facts; instead, it establishes facts, it
analyses facts, it describes facts, and it arranges facts into a sequence, following the law of
cause and effect, everywhere and at all times. Transvaluation, in contrast, is a purely practical
activity, and since every practical activity is individual in nature and is different from one
individual to another, transvaluation also has an individual character under all circumstances.
Thus, even the mere name of »transvaluation« must be ousted from the realm of science. It
had better stay in the realm of the practical; even there, it often plays a rather dubious role.”33
The march of transvaluations came to a true halt during the 1940s. One might expect that after
the post-war Communist takeover the process we described above–a process rooted in the
genetic history of concepts–should come in handy when attempting to reconstruct the
“Marxist golden age” of transvaluation. Surprisingly, this is not the case. In her famed
presidential inaugural address delivered before the general meeting of the Hungarian
Historical Society in 1949, Erzsébet Andics, who certainly deserved the accolade “the great
transvaluer” several times over, seemed to consciously avoid using the term. Maybe her
unease was partly caused by the fact that Hóman was still around, albeit behind bars; maybe it
was that her Moscovite party lingo did not even have a nodding acquaintance with the jargon
of the Horthy era. Still, it serves us well to examine the ominous presidential inaugural
address more thoroughly to see whether we find an overlapping term. Andics started off by
saying that “unfortunately, Hungarian history writing–when compared to the other sciences
cultivated in the country–passed down relatively few traditions that have withstood the test of
time, that still represent a value, and that are worth carrying on.” 34 She hastened to add that
“in more than one aspect”, the Historical Society “has to start its work all over again from
scratch, and these aspects actually happen to be the most important questions. We cannot find
reassurance in the fact that plenty of material has already been collected, simply because this
material also needs to be critically re-examined.”35 (Italics in the original.) Transvaluation can
obviously not fill in the gaping void left behind by the values Andics declared non-existent.
Starting the work–the critical re-examination of the material already gathered–all over again
from scratch also leads into a different direction. Of course, Andics was fully aware of the
fact that her evaluation of the situation was false; however, she also had to face the fact that
the mere onset of a new era with a new world view, the reform of the scientific institutional
Bartók, 1939, 110-111.
Andics, Erzsébet: Elnöki székfoglaló a Magyar Történelmi Társulat 1949. március 27-i közgyűlésén,
Századok, 82 (1948) 1-4, 1.
Andics, 1948, 2.
system, the funding allocated for this purpose in the five-year plan, the working groups set up
to focus on a number of centrally identified research priorities, and the young historians “do
not yet master historical research and source-processing” had not automatically brought along
the new facts needed for the desired new synthesis.36
In 1956, during a debate of historians affiliated with Petőfi Circle, the concept of
transvaluation, deeply buried in the retrospective subconscious of the party elite, suddenly
surfaced again in face of the criticism they received. “We have accomplished little, but we
have accomplished little, comrades, because the Marxist transvaluation of Hungarian history
is a task that should be shouldered by hundreds and hundreds–if not, I dare say, thousands and
thousands–of historians. When I say we have accomplished little, I do not mean that we have
accomplished a lot [sic!]. Allow me to somewhat generalise this issue: it is not right that when
deficiencies are mentioned that is all we speak about because our life goes on. For building
socialism is enormously difficult. Just as difficult is to perform the Marxist transvaluation of
Hungarian history–it will take generations; what it takes is not the effort of two thousand or
twenty thousand historians instead of a hundred or two hundred–it will take entire
generations. Let us therefore learn to appreciate what we have accomplished.”37 Applying,
somewhat absurdly, Hóman’s criteria to the new situation, “Marxist transvaluation” did not
exclude–in fact, it encouraged–bringing out new data, and it did not forbid the use of new
methods, although, with the “new guard” available right after the country’s dramatic political
volte-face, there was not much of a chance for the latter. Yet already in 1948 Andics’s only
hope for transferring the old methods from one generation to another was to rely on the oldguard scholars who were allowed to stay in position, provided that they still had some
willingness to cooperate. Who in fact were allowed to stay in their positions, and on what
conditions, could be the subject matter of a separate research paper, but it is a topic we do not
wish to tackle here.38
It is much more promising to examine when the idea of “transvaluation”, gathering dust in the
lumber room of historical writing, emerged again, and why, especially because Hungarian
social scientists were rather swift in their reaction to the so-called positivism disputes of the
Two references to Engels seem to suggest that Andics may have suspected what the problem was: “It would
not be entirely useless for our historians of ideas to take to heart Engels’ warning: »all around, the task is no
longer for everyone to think up connections in their own minds but to uncover them in the facts«.” Also: “The
Marxist interpretation of history »is, above all, a guideline to inquiry and not a lever to construe«.” Andics, 1948,
Andics Erzsébet felszólalása, 1956. máj. 30. A Petőfi kör vitái hiteles jegyzőkönyvek alapján. III.
Történészvita (Ed. Hegedűs B., András and Rainer M., János), Budapest, 1990, 58. Incidentally, as far as the
issue of transvaluation is concerned, Andics found support in József Szigeti, who was, at least for a while, the
most prominent disciple of György Lukács. Ibid. 61.
The post-1945 reorganisation of Hungarian scientific life has been thoroughly researched by several authors
under several sets of terminologies: Péteri, György: Születésnapi ajándék Sztálinnak. Vázlat a Magyar
Tudományos Akadémia államosításának történetéhez. Századvég, 1989, 1-2, 18-35; Péteri, György: Academia
and State Socialism, Boulder, Colorado, 1998, 7-131; Pótó, János: Harmadik nekifutásra. A Magyar
Tudományos Akadémia „átszervezése”, 1948-1949. Történelmi Szemle, 1994, 1-2, 79-110; Huszár, Tibor: A
hatalom rejtett dimenziói. Magyar Tudományos Tanács 1948-1949, Budapest, 1995; Kónya, Sándor: A Magyar
Tudományos Tanács (1948-1949), Budapest, 1998. In his recent academic inaugural address, Ignác Romsics
tackles the topic specifically from the aspect of historical scholarship, using the term “the Gleichschaltung of
Hungarian history writing”. On this topic, see the relevant chapter of his grand synthesis entitled Clio
bűvöletében. Magyar történetírás a 19-20. században – nemzetközi kitekintéssel, Budapest, 2011, 356-377.
most recent waves of German sociology.39 It is also not without interest to underline that the
German disputes reflected–and in fact placed quite some emphasis on–the positions that
German historians assumed and that these were interpreted with ample theoretical scrutiny.40
In West Germany, this had much to do with rethinking the relationship between history and
the social sciences, the emergence of social science history (Historische Sozialwissenschaft).
As political history lost its dominance, the scientific limitations of using unreflected political
value premises became obvious.
In 1980, the year’s first issue of the journal Századok reported on the conference organised by
the Historical Society in the previous year. The keynote presentation, which discussed the
usefulness of historical scholarship for society, was presented by Iván Berend T. One of the
co-presentations, which focused on the rearrangement of historical values, was given by
Ferenc Glatz, head of the historiography department of the Institute of History of the
Hungarian Academy of Sciences.41 Glatz’s paper on the arrangement of values was published
in daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap (“Hungarian News”) in the spring of 1979, and later also
in a separate collection of political articles.42 A comparison between the report on the
conference and Glatz’s own paper suggests that the written text was probably delivered at the
conference as printed. The way the introduction outlines the general context may strike one as
familiar at first sight: amidst critical comments aimed at the social sciences and especially
historical scholarship, namely, that “seen from this point of view, the whole of historical
scholarship is the history of constant transvaluations, should not the reputation of the historian
as a scientist come into question?”43 Reading on, one realises that the initial impression of
familiarity is not by pure chance: “The history writing of earlier periods brought three
fundamental aspects of constant transvaluation into the forefront. Transvaluation due to newly
acquired knowledge was said to be the most self-evident of these. [...] It was just as simple to
demonstrate how the emergence of new methods within the realm of scientific inquiry also
spurred transvaluation. [...] It seemed somewhat more difficult to accurately point out how
continuous changes in the view of history affected inevitable transvaluations. The difficulty
arose partly from the fact that, first and foremost, they linked the view of history–a system of
The positivism dispute inspired a number of essays, a selection of which was also published in translation:
Tény, érték, ideológia. A pozitivizmus-vita a nyugatnémet szociológiában. Compiled by Papp, Zsolt (Translated
by Gelléri, András), Budapest, 1976. Sociology was also very interested in the issue of “value-freedom”, the
logic of which was laid out with outstanding clarity by Némedi, Dénes: Az értékmentesség elve a
szociológiában. Kísérlet a probléma felvázolására, Valóság, 27 (1984) 1, 30-43.
Junker, Detlef: Über die Legitimität von Werturteilen in den Sozialwissenschaften und der
Geschichtswissenschaft. Historische Zeitschrift 211 (1970) 1, 1-33; Von Der Dunk, Hermann: Werfreiheit und
Geschichtswissenschaft. Historische Zeitschrift 214 (1972) 1, 1-25; Rüsen, Jörn: Werturteilsstreit und
Erkenntnisfortschritt. Skizzen zur Typologie des Objektivitätsproblems in der Geschichtswissenschaft, in:
Historische Objektivität. Aufsätze zur Geschichtstheorie. Göttingen, 1975, 68-101. The disputes unambiguously
concluded that in earlier periods, historical scholarship did not contribute adequately to the theoretical debate on
value judgments, which, of course, did not mean that its positions were not informed by its own–possibly
unconscious–normative value judgments. This was made explicit through a number of examples from German
history (for example, the evaluation of Frederick II.)
Székely, Anna: Beszámoló, Századok, 114 (1980) 1, 110-126.
Glatz, Ferenc: A történeti értékek átrendezése, Magyar Hírlap, 18 March 1979, 9, in: A Politikai Vitakör
Kiskönyvtára. 7. Válogatás a politikai sajtóból. January-March 1979. Ed. Csibra, István; Mérő, Miklós; Tolnai,
László; and Vince, Gábor (series editor) 1979, 299–305.
Glatz, 1979, 299.
historical value judgments in a sense–with the progression of trends in the acquisition of
historical knowledge (positivism, Geistesgeschichte). In either way, bourgeois historians
focused on the role of factors internal to science.”44 (Italics in the original.) By the time of
this conference, Hóman had deceased, and so had Budapest-based professor of historiography
Emma Léderer; still, some may have witnessed with consternation the unexpected
resurrection of the spirit of Bálint Hóman. For, as we have seen, that is exactly what
happened. Surely, that is what supporters–and, even more so, opponents–would have thought.
Based on what we know about the antecedents, devoting some attention to shifts in emphasis
might be worthwhile. As we saw, changes in the view of history either formed part of
Hóman’s system of criteria or they did not, depending on the text we read. Eventually, he only
mentioned two cases: that of the sources and that of the methods. There was no mention of
either constant change or inevitable transvaluation. Glatz, in effect, “transvalued” Hóman.
What is much more interesting, however, is how he applied the concept to post-20th Congress
Marxist specialties within science. “In other words, it has become apparent that, for a Marxist
historian, transvaluation is not merely a critique of the results of bourgeois scientific inquiry;
there is also a form of transvaluation within Marxism: a Marxist historian must tackle
transvaluation itself as a problem within Marxist specialties within science.”45 He went on
posing the question he was most interested in: “What could be the external factors–the factors
external to science, that is–that the historian’s conceptualisation process is exposed to? Where
and how, in the acquisition of historical knowledge, do those subjective moments, the ones we
are so often chastised for letting slip into our work, actually act? [...] What can today’s history
writing contribute, by way of examining these personal, social-political motives behind the
historian’s formulation of value judgments, to the observations made during the bourgeois
era? Alternatively, to what extent does it seem [necessary] to modify the rather self-evident
transvaluation model we outlined earlier?”46
These are, then, the proposals that go beyond the earlier experiences of bourgeois history
writing (as listed in the article in Századok reporting on the conference):
a. “[...] the true factors driving transvaluation, which we mentioned above (new knowledge,
new methods, and approaches) do not manifest themselves on their own or one by one, but
rather in close unity with one another.”
b. “[...] the factors that initiate transvaluations are rarely new knowledge or new methods in
history writing; rather, they are changes in the views prevailing in the era that is the
historian’s present time.”
c. “[...] the view of history [...] always closely follows the social ideals of the time, the social
expectations concerning history writing, and an entire series of external influences that the
historian is exposed to (which we might call metafontic, that is, external to science).”
d. The relationship between history writing and the present time “is obviously based on the
continuity that connects series of events taking place in the past with those taking place in the
Glatz, 1979, 299-300.
Glatz, 1979, 301.
Glatz, 1979, 301.
present”, but, “paradoxically, the creative activity of the historian often finds its stimuli in a
certain discontinuity between the present and the past.”
e. “[...] the historian’s sense of the present, which is an element of his way of thinking–one
that is actually most dynamic in transvaluation–is politically highly sensitive.” And at this
point, the report published in Századok on the conference employs a slightly more
straightforward formulation of the closing thought: “[...] the healthy forming of the view of
history greatly depends on the fact that the social, political trends of the current era are
democratic in nature, and that they desire as well as endure scientific evaluation.” 47 The
phrases “desire” and “endure” speak clearly of the social-political power fields within which
the “transvaluation model” of bourgeois history writing can be transvalued. There is no way
to tell whether communist party headquarters ever realised what happened (if they did, they
were late: the publications of the booklet series fell under the competence of the propaganda
department). Nonetheless, it is a fact that a piece like this was either testing–or, in the belief
that it could afford to do so, trying to wear off–censorship’s threshold of “tolerability”.
In 1980, that threshold of “tolerability” was certainly transgressed by the publication, in
samizdat, of the István Bibó Memorial Volume. The incident certainly grabbed the attention
of the Communist Party Headquarters, so much so that it quickly became their primary
preoccupation. The reason, of course, was not that one of the studies published in the volume
also used the term “transvaluation” in its discussion of how Hungarian history writing saw the
Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867.48 The author of the paper, András Kovács, who had
been banned as the editor of the samizdat volume Marx a negyedik évtizedben (“Marx in the
Fourth Decade”), was obviously aware of the philosophical implications of value judgments
in social sciences–while clearly not a follower of Hóman, he wrote his doctoral thesis on Max
Weber’s concept of science.49
Anyone who starts out by contrasting Bibó’s normative criteria-based interpretation of the
Austro-Hungarian Compromise with the views that 1960s Hungarian history writing–claiming
to be “free of ideology”–held of the era of dualism will hardly be able to explain the
discrepancies just by citing “differences in argumentation and in the methods applied”. The
difference in the views held by the historians is difficult to grasp because, the author writes,
“in the history writing of the 1960s, world view dependent assumptions are hidden behind
objective argumentation”; if you like, they are not explicit, or at least they are eclectic. 50 In his
paper, the author attempted to outline the views held by the historians of the 1960s by creating
an “ideal type” and by applying the method of “logical reconstruction”. 51 In this effort, he
found much support in the fact that, in the early 1970s, Péter Hanák already reviewed the
historiography of the disputes surrounding the Compromise. This time, we will also avail
Glatz, 1979, 301-305; Székely, 1980, 122-123.
Kovács, András: Két kiegyezés. Magyar Füzetek, 12, Párizs, 1983, 32-61. The study features in the second
volume of the original typewritten (bound) version also. Bibó Emlékkönyv II, Budapest, 1980, 611-636.
Kovács, András: Tudományos racionalitás és kapitalista racionalizáció. Tudomány és történetfilozófia Max
Weber munkásságában I-II, Világosság, 12 (1971) 12, 717-725; 13 (1972) 1, 7-12. Just as a curiosity, the study
published in Világosság evokes György Lukács by making reference to “the permanent revolution of the
transvaluation of all values”. Ibid. 1971, 718.
Kovács, 1983, 34.
Kovács, 1983, 60.
ourselves of the chance to use Hanák’s conclusions as our starting point for developing an
authentic approach in the treatment of our topic.
Hanák did not use the term “transvaluation”. His approach was more nuanced both
conceptually and stylistically. In writing about the dispute of 1960, he wrote about “the
revision of several elements of the earlier concept”, “scientific re-examination”, and
„correction”. When reviewing the disputes in economic history, he actually used the term
“evaluation” in the very title of the chapter: “Here I must limit myself to discussing some of
their results in their interplay with the evaluation of the Compromise and with the changes in
that evaluation. During the re-examination of the old concept, the first necessary step was to
disconnect, both in terms of methodology and approach, the circuitry that directly linked the
cables of capitalist development to the Compromise, which constantly led to short circuits in
thinking about the matter. First of all, it had to be made clear that it was not the Compromise
that laid the foundations of capitalism in Hungary but the bourgeois revolution of 1848,
whose manoeuvring space in terms of economic policy was determined by the past few
centuries, the country’s place in East-Central Europe and in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy,
as well as its economic and social structure.”52 (Italics mine. – Gy. K.) Of course, the
Compromise did have an accelerating effect on the rate of progress. “Thus, as a first step, we
had to break free from the »public law« perspective and redirect research efforts to the time
series of actual development and to the factors of growth while refocusing our attention to the
new interconnections identified during the critical adaptation of current economic theories, to
the inevitable preconditions of industrialisation, and to the specific manner in which these
eventually emerged in Hungary.”53 He also drew lessons concerning the approach: “The train
of thought set out above may reveal that, in my view, what true historicity does, in sharp
contrast to any historization agenda, is not scrambling through the past–almost regardless
what era and in what questions–to find justification for the demands, programmes, or desires
of the present, but instead, starting out from a careful analysis of the immanent trends of the
past, it examines the resultant, the closing act of the era, which will then become one of the
components, starting points of the next era, in an endless sequence of partial processes and
partial results that will eventually lead to the present and, later on, to the future.”54 One of his
contemporary critics, who also applied the process of reconstructing historical thinking,
pointed out the internal contradictions of Hanák’s volume fairly early on.55
Coming back to András Kovács’s essay: here, once again, the lack of a “political element”,
the “reductionist” attitude is one of the most important points of criticism. “Political action
The study was originally published in two parts, with a year passing between the two publication dates. Cf.
Hanák, Péter: Historizálás és történetiség a kiegyezés vitájában, Valóság, 16 (1973) 12, 16-25; 17 (1974) 12, 1128. The same study was published in a volume in Hanák, Péter: Magyarország a Monarchiában. Tanulmányok,
Budapest, 1975. The above references are made to the latter edition: op. cit. 185, 194, 197.
Hanák, 1975, 198. Then again, he did not ignore the alternative either, albeit he uses the conditional: „Or could
it be that the process of capital formation in an independent Hungary was »better«, faster, and a stronger
stimulant of industrialisation? Probably so. One is justified in assuming this because as a second step of the
research work we once again had to link the cables of capitalist development–now connected into a safer circuit–
to the problems of the Compromise, namely, Hungarian statehood.” Ibid. 199.
Hanák, 1975, 209.
Dénes, Iván Zoltán: A történelmi szükségszerűség értelmezésének problémájához. Gondolatok Hanák Péter
tanulmánykötete kapcsán, Valóság, 1976, 8, 99-104.
cannot open alternatives; it is not autonomous in its movement; it is merely a shadow play of
the »big trends«.”56 As early as in Hanák’s retrospective, methodological innovation seems to
receive a new emphasis. “New history writing sharply contrasted ideology-free quantitative
procedures with the 1950s’ historicised attitude to history, which was one way to emphasize
that even though it set out on a journey to transvalue more than one question in Hungarian
history, it did not introduce new ideological points of view instead of the old ones but in fact
it championed the requirements of the scientific approach, rejecting history writing practices
governed by expectations of daily politics and ideology. And yet, we suspect that, behind the
program of desideologisation, there lurked a number of hidden ideological considerations.
Our suspicions are based on two things: first, on the way Hungarian history writing started to
apply the quantitative procedure; and second, on the way historians interpreted the
quantitative method.”57 As far as the former is concerned, he claimed that no quantitative
basic research was done in Hungary. This claim was obviously incorrect; the community of
historians was fully aware that the reviewer of the newly relaunched journal of European
economic history had reasons to write about “the triumph of quantitative economic history” in
Budapest.58 His second observation, on the relationship between the qualitative and
quantitative approaches, however, continues to be the subject of serious methodological
debate. On that note, this is how his critical reconstruction continued: “The triumph of the
economic history approach in the evaluation of the Compromise and of the era of Dualism did
not simply mean the continuation and reinforcement of the trends of transvaluation that had
started earlier. Certain values were affected by further shifts of emphasis. Previous research,
first and foremost, rehabilitated the act of compromise and the dualist regime, dismissing the
charges echoed by pro-independence historians and their followers in the 1950s. [...] The
argumentation rooted in economic history continued the above line of thinking and, in the
name of breaking free from the public law approach, separated the issues surrounding the
Compromise from the problems of capitalist development. Some of the tools found useful to
this end were, for example, the introduction of growth theory categories and of a new
periodization. However, as soon as the new situation arising from the Compromise became a
subject of inquiry, the Compromise itself was immediately evaluated as a beneficial political
development. As far as this position is concerned, the only standards are those set by
economic growth.”59 Faster growth became possible because of institutional changes, the
extensive integrated market of the Monarchy, and the limited sovereignty that was after all
achieved in the wake of the Compromise, even though there was no way to eliminate the
country’s structural underdevelopment. The standard evaluation associated with this stance
held that the Compromise had more advantages than disadvantages to it. However, it is not by
accident that, in line with Kovács’s inquiries in the critique of ideologies, “objectivity”
became the main criterion of evaluation. “While the historians of the 1960s never draw these
consequences [conclusions] in complete openness, they either hint at them or form their
Kovács, 1983, 52.
Kovács, 1983, 53-54.
Gross, Nachum T.: The Triumph of Quantitative Economic History in Budapest. Journal of European
Economic History, 1 (1972) 1, 153-161. While one can, of course, hardly speak of a triumph, but the article is
justified in concluding that, first and foremost, László Katus’ study, well founded on basic research, was a
Kovács, 1983, 54-55.
premises in ways that suggest their relevance.” Then, logical reconstruction helps convert this
suspicion into a claim: “[...] if there are certain chances for economic growth in Hungary but
no democratic trend can triumph in social struggle, then periods of social and political
upheaval, when viewed from the perspective of »realist«, »objective« chances, are
disadvantageous phenomena in Hungarian history: they disrupt, or, by provoking the
establishment of political regimes that are even more conservative than the existing one, even
set back economic, technical and cultural evolution, which can only play out in the long run
and therefore requires undisturbed, calm »times of peace«.”60 Methodologically, the
reconstruction of the suggested premises is a legitimate procedure; however, had he read this
passage, Weber would have probably frowned because of its value implications.
Hence, while history writing was proud–rightfully–both of its renewed evaluation based on
entirely new scientific results and of its success in making those in power accept that renewed
evaluation as a revision carried out within Marxism, in the eyes of the representatives of the
emerging democratic opposition pushed out of the first, official sphere of publicity, the
compromise achieved through transvaluation seemed to mean little more than the acceptance,
at all times, of the status quo, and the mere “ideological rationalisation” of giving up on any
significant political change. Which is a peculiar application of one of the lessons learned from
the German positivism dispute, namely that giving up on value judgments is unacceptable for
those who are unable to resign to the impossibility of changing the existing system.
Late in the summer of 1990, already in the context of the change of the political regime–and
in a way as a test of the “changes in the views prevailing in the era that is the historian’s
present time”–Ferenc Glatz had the chance to once again revisit the problem of
“transvaluation” in his foreword to a reprint edition of the Hóman-Szekfű synthesis.61 This
time, in addition to transvaluation, he also brought in the concept of “value-saving”. The piece
was published as a booklet, with the following highly topical question posed both in the
opening and in the closing passages, without offering any answer: “[...] when did the change
of the regime start, and when did transvaluation start? In 1956, in 1968, in 1989, or, in fact,
only in 1990? For the intelligentsia, there is more to life than creating intellectual products to
crown political systems. It must believe that political systems come and go, and that society,
as well as reason, which keeps society operating and which pushes it forward, stays. It must,
on behalf of the community, be the keeper of reasonableness and of expertise.” 62 It follows
from the genre of the foreword, not ignoring the influence of the then-current historical era
either, that this time the parallel biographies of the two historians (the materials of which
Glatz had processed in his earlier papers) were placed into a much wider context, with more
in-depth treatment and more criticism afforded to the 1949 takeover, which took place “in a
Bolshevik spirit”, and its own transvaluation (sparing no harsh words when discussing the
outright lies in Andics’s inaugural address before the Hungarian Historical Society). The main
Kovács, 1983, 58.
Glatz, Ferenc: Előszó a »Hóman-Szekfű«-höz. Rendszerváltás – átértékelés – szintézis, Budapest, 1990.
Twenty years later, the study was published once again under a different title in a journal (a special issue in
honour of Zoltán Szász): Glatz, Ferenc: Hóman Bálint és Szekfű Gyula párhuzamos életrajzai. Történetírás,
forradalom, rendszerváltások, Történelmi Szemle, 53 (2010) 4, 467-499.
Glatz, 1990, 7.
message, however, was about updating the earlier historiographical connections and proposals
and about outlining the makeup of “conservative transvaluation carried out in the bourgeois
spirit”: “[...] at the beginning of the century, Bálint Hóman and Gyula Szekfű, both young
men at the time, first started to criticise the views of the previous generations because of new
points of view emerging within the profession of historians. Transvaluation received its first
impetus from modern state history, social and economic history writing, and the synthetic
perspective that, relying on them, desired to grasp the spirit of the era in its entirety. This,
then, gradually becomes charged with current social policy implications when they realise to
what extent placing an emphasis on a specific topic or assuming a certain evaluative position
is interlinked with the social forces of the present time (such as the county [comitatus], the
gentry, the central power, or the Habsburg issue). However, transvaluation is eventually
triggered by a change shaking the entire community: the collapse of historical Hungary also
swept away a good part of the old questions posed by the historians of the era. Also, the fact
that new topics and new focal points came into the forefront in the new situation demands that
all the materials of our national history thus far collected must be interpreted anew.”63 This
interpretation, on the one hand, administers justice to the aptly adjusted self-image of
“bourgeois history writing” in that, after all, the initial impetus was given by professional
points of view and a desire for a synthetic approach, while, on the other hand, going way
beyond the concept of the old history writing, he attributes its completion to a number of
coercive external, more than “metafontic”, factors. After reviewing the reception and the
critical evaluation of the synthesis and discussing the split between the professional careers of
the two scholars, the author once again revisits the 1949 “change of the political guard”,
concluding that “this time, the aim of transvaluation was not to professionally supersede the
predecessors but to pave the road for the sort of Stalinized Marxism that the dictatorship of
the proletariat called for and for the new generation of cadres whose mission it was to bring it
to completion.”64 When he eventually introduces the slogan of “value-saving”, he does so in a
passage evaluating the condition of the profession of historians in the 1980s: “It was by the
first half of the 1980s that Hungarian history writing once again reached the heights it had
already conquered during the 1930s. For several years now, the entire profession has been
rearranging itself around new poles. And the points of view based on which this
rearrangement is playing out are no worse than in the history writing of any other country
around the world. The threats of decline come from entirely different directions. But with this,
dear Reader, we have arrived at concerns internal to a profession [...].”65 If we understand the
historiographical concept and the reading of the then-current situation correctly, the
publication of the reprint edition of the Hóman-Szekfű synthesis as a stage towards the
professional rehabilitation of the authors also offers [Glatz] an opportunity to warn the
“metafontic” forces of history to stay outside the perimeters of the profession of historians–for
even though these forces may occasionally create the conditions for making a monumental
synthesis, at other times they can destroy the internal infrastructure of the profession. All of a
sudden, these forces are suddenly very different from–or don very different attires than–those
Glatz, 1990, 27.
Glatz, 1990, 48.
Glatz, 1990, 51.
that had practiced “tolerance” under the system of “the three Ts”: “támogat” (“support”),
“tűr” (“tolerate”), and “tilt” (“ban”).
However, Hannibal is not in the habit of stopping once he is at the gates–just like the
profession itself had no choice but to join the transvaluation games of the period of the change
of the regime. Crossing borders to and fro is certainly not a new phenomenon among historian
either. It had happened before, and the politically most exposed areas were no exception. In
1992, speaking at the ceremonious occasion of the 125th session of the Hungarian Historical
Society, György Borsányi (1931-1997), whose biography of Béla Kun had been reported to,
and banned by, the Communist Party Headquarters, evaluated the trends of the last four
decades of research in party history as follows: “Party history had a peculiar place in our
history writing. It operated under direct party control, in a separate organisation, enjoying a
»monopoly« to research the labour movement. Its most prominent task was to prove the
historical continuity of political power [...]. This was one of those areas where the 1960s
brought a degree of loosening and some low-profile transvaluation work, the speaker stated.
However, the old taboos persisted [...], the control remained, and the Institute of Party History
retained its role as a censor. According to the speaker, it was the new wave of researchers
starting their careers in the 1970s and 1980s that, familiar with modern historical
methodologies, broke free from the limitations that a narrow interpretation of the history of
the labour movement represented and managed to once again incorporate the topic as an
integral part of Hungarian history writing.”66 As far as “the history of the movement” is
concerned, the speaker’s statement may well have been true; however, after so many wasted
years, the history of workers has still not managed to find its place.
The history of concepts cannot be taken out of its context, the history of institutions. This
overview seems to suggest that one of the conditional circumstances under which it became
possible to launch a transvaluation campaign was when those with a vested interest in offering
a “subjective” evaluation of the then-present era started to use positions of power in science to
strengthen the offensive thrust of their own particular views, aiming to universalize them.
These efforts were imbued–in fact, saturated–with straightforward value judgments, although
they abounded in references to new source materials and research methods. Of course, a
transvaluation of the prevailing views can also take place without any organised campaign.
There is more than one occasion in 20th century historiography when history writing–in the
spirit of “the dialectic of process and result”–decided to stay within the limitations of the
world view enjoying hegemony at the time and adopt the relative independence of scientific
inquiry as its slogan in an effort to defend itself against the disproportionate influence of
power. Of course, critical thinking saw nothing more than ideological rationalisation in this.
Not to mention the fact that whatever seemed defendable within the ideological hegemony
proved to be wholly ineffectual and of little consequence after the change of the political
regime. After all, Max Weber devised the concept of “Werturteilfreiheit” exactly for this sort
Kovács Éva: Beszámoló. 125 éves a Magyar Történelmi Társulat, Századok, 1993, 2, 341.
of situation. Then again, he is certainly not the one to blame for the fact that the practice of
Hungarian historiography failed to confirm the conceptual construct of “transvaluation”.
(Translated by Attila Török)
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