Rhapsody of emancipation: the interventions of Gáspár Miklós Tamás

Ferenc Laczó

An anarchist philosopher turned right-leaning libertarian and anti-capitalist critic of the illiberal order, Gáspár Miklós Tamás (1948–2023) embodied what east European thinkers have tended to be best at: making paradoxes intelligible.

Democracy is ‘an odd thing to be glad about all on one’s own,’ Gáspár Miklós Tamás quipped in the late 1990s, and his sensation must have been reinforced in later years. An erudite philosopher, formidable public intellectual and accomplished stylist in multiple languages, Tamás – widely known as TGM – was a prolific essayist of unique stature in Hungarian public life, preoccupied with theoretical ideas, cultural and national traditions, and revolutionary prospects. His writings typically combined philosophical insights with historical breadth to offer counter-intuitive reflections on political ideas and processes.

‘A key question is how the Marxist, critical theory of history was lost in Bolshevism, how both social democracy and Bolshevism returned from Hegel through late nineteenth-century neo-Kantians and empiricists to a radical form of positivism while forgetting even about Kant,’ he incisively pondered in one of his characteristic sentences. 

A rare feat for an irreverent thinker with mainly theoretical interests, Tamás was also an insightful and fair-minded portraitist. He developed some of the most profound biographical and intellectual sketches of his contemporaries, including of people he had long been politically alienated from. Culture to him apparently meant the democratic sum of knowledge and experience, collected to counter oppression and reject stigmatization….