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Alternating Modernities: the Case of Czechoslovakia

Written by Johann P. Arnason, this article appeared on the fourth issue of Volume 8 of the journal European Journal of Social Theory in 2005.
The relationship between multiple and successive patterns of modernity has emerged as a central issue in many debates. But the problem must be posed in different terms in different settings: there are regions and states where the sequence of patterns can be reconstructed in terms of an internal logic, whereas in other cases, it is conspicuously dependent on historical and geopolitical contexts.
This article deals with the history of the Czechoslovak state (1918–92) as an example of the latter kind. The discussion begins with reflections on the background: the path from a national movement to a multi-national state. Socio-political constellations within this state reflect unresolved tensions between liberal and organized modernity, but also between different versions of the latter. The state was destroyed by the briefly ascendant Fascist version of organized modernity and then reconstructed on the basis of the Communist one. The Communist takeover was due to geopolitical circumstances, but facilitated by a strong current of indigenous radicalism; at a later stage, however, this current found expression in the most ambitious attempt to reform the Communist version of organized modernity.


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