“Truth Prevails” and Other Exotic Ideals
My great uncle Stefan Moldovan was born into nascent Czechoslovakia, a democracy founded on high ideals by a leader, T.G. Masaryk, known for his integrity, intelligence, and ethics. His country’s motto, “Truth Prevails,” reveals much about his aspirations for his nation and humanity as a whole.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh
Two agreements key to the formation of the First Czechoslovak Republic were signed in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. The Pittsburgh Agreement of 1918 includes the significant provision, “The Czechoslovak State shall be a republic, and its constitution a democratic one.”
Though some of its central events happened on American soil, the history of Czechoslovakia exists, today, outside the awareness of most Americans. But it is important to consider both because of the historical connection to the U.S. and, especially, in light of our country’s current leadership and political climate.
T.G. Masaryk, one of the signatories of the Pittsburgh Agreement and the first president of Czechoslovakia, set a high standard for political leadership. His philosophy concerned not only administration, power, and politics, but also personal liberty, human rights, and the evolution of individual consciousness as important elements of national strength and success.
Masaryk was known, among other things, as an academic iconoclast, a champion of democracy, a defender of the Jewish people, and even a radical feminist. In 1918, The Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence included, “Our democracy shall rest on universal suffrage; women shall be placed on equal footing with men politically, socially, and culturally.”
He adopted “truth prevails” as the national motto of Czechoslovakia, reflecting his emphasis on ethics and integrity–and the idea that true power is always and only based in truth. In the July, 1925, edition of Foreign Affairs, he wrote:
“When in a nation the leading men and classes begin to rely upon power and force, eschewing sympathy, people cease to have any interest in finding out about the feelings and thoughts of those who are near to them, and finally of foreigners; for all contact with them is made through the state mechanism. They cease to think freely, and knowledge becomes devoid of living ideas.”
Masaryk represented a powerful threat to contemporaneous regimes and philosophies, including Marxism. But within his own republic, he was widely beloved. Many affectionately referred to him as their “president-liberator.”
Perfection in a leader or a nation is an impossibility, but in the case of Masaryk and the new Czechoslovak republic he founded, both were guided by considered ideals and a sense of integrity. His vision was of a republic that contributed ultimately to the unity of all people, in every nation.
It’s an apt time to remember Masaryk. He founded a great experiment in democracy largely based on the American model–itself an ongoing experiment that currently is in peril. We need to remember the greatness leaders can and should aspire to–a greatness both of deed and of character. He based his actions on a philosophy in which power and truth were connected inextricably. And his aspirations were high–as high as the elevation of consciousness and the unity of all humankind.
Here’s a short film on Masaryk’s return from exile in 1918, as president of the newly formed democratic Czechoslovakia:
- Masaryk, Thomas G. “Reflections on the Question of War Guilt.” Foreign Affairs 4.3 (July 1925): 529-540. Print.
- Skilling, Gordon H. T.G. Masaryk: Against the Current, 1882-1914. (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)
- Jesina, Cestmir, ed., The Birth of Czechoslovakia. (Washington, DC.: Czechoslovak National Council of America, 1968)
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