GEOGRAPHY, ASSIMILATION, AND DIALOGUE: Universalism and Particularism in Central-European Thought

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There are many advantages and disadvantages to central locations. These have shown themselves in the long course of European history. In times of peace, there are important economic and cultural advantages (to illustrate: the present area of the Czech Republic was the richest country in Europe between the two World Wars). There are cross-currents of trade and culture in central Europe of great advantage. For, cultural cross-currents represent a potential benefit in comprehension and cultural growth. But under threat of large-scale conflict, these locations have proved extremely dangerous. Historically, Germany and Austria may be regarded as having had two chief models of their relationships to Europe. In the Holy Roman Empire, Germany was at the center of an aspiring “universalistic” European cosmopolitanism. (In some ways similar to the present situation of the European Union.) Austria maintained a great multi¬cultural empire, until it was destroyed in the First Word War. Generally, middle-European powers have promoted the integration of European diversity, when peace and stability have been plausible objectives. But when European diversity has declined toward ethnic or national conflict, Germany has drawn away from Europe and into itself, seeking inner unity and distinctness to protect it against possible combinations of enemies. This is true of central Europe generally, in degree, but interest often centers on Germany. Generally, central Europe is a cultural pressure cooker.
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