THE LAWFUL REVOLUTION: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848-1849 by Istvan Deak

THE LAWFUL REVOLUTION: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848-1849

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In the first full-length account in English of the Hungarian War of 1848-49, Istvan Deak (Professor of History at Columbia and himself a Hungarian) has focused on Kossuth, the legendary figure who became the ""pivot on which all politics turned."" A petty nobleman, Kossuth rose to power during the heady days before 1848 by virtue of his oratorical skill, his inexhaustible energy, and the power of his progressive vision of a new Hungary. There were many flaws, both in Kossuth's character (a certain opportunism, for example, especially after his exile in 1849) and in his political vision (his liberalism was severely limited by his Magyar nationalism), but by merely recounting the facts of Kossuth's career--his typical day, what he accomplished in creating a Hungarian army--Deak leaves the reader with a firmer understanding of the solid foundation of Kossuth's achievement. And, by making use of hitherto untapped sources in the Budapest National Archives, Deak is able to describe fully both the complex revolutionary events and Kossuth's role in them. He traces the Hungarian Revolution as it moved from a legal and liberal affair dominated by aristocratic reformers, to its later stages of ""illegality,"" when, as in the rest of Europe, the tide turned in favor of reaction, and Kossuth and his government were faced with the impossible task of staving off the two-pronged invasion from Imperial Austria and Russia. Despite Kossuth's desperate attempts, the Hungarian Revolution failed; indeed, as Deak paints the social and economic composition of Hungary (dominated by the aristocracy and without a sizable middle class), there was little chance that the attempt to break away from Austria would succeed. Deak's vision is broad and he shuns simplistic explanations (Kossuth's alleged radicalism or conservatism) for a debacle rooted in complicated class, social, and political crosscurrents. To his credit, too, he makes the critical distinction between Kossuth's true greatness and the Kossuth ""cult [which] has remained a tool in the hands of politicians."" The book's only flaw is very much a part of its major virtue. Deak's scrupulous scholarship results in his giving both Austria and Hungary their due, but his own point of view is hard to detect. And while he is fair to a fault in his judgments, he is never exciting. Nonetheless, this is an essential book in the historical canon.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press