Having fought with the victorious Entente Powers in World War I, the Kingdom of Romania was rewarded with long-sought territories from the collapsed Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. The ecstasy of victory would be short-lasting however, as the deeply fragmented reality of this new Romania quickly became apparent. Far from the envisioned strength of a finally united nation, the new Romania became marred by the difficulties of managing a culturally and economically disparate populace. Interwar Romania thus became a fertile ground for new intellectual and political movements, each seeking to offer their own vision of the future for its future.
The appeal of the idea of ‘rebirth’ and ‘renewal’, resting in turn on “an imperative of discontinuation between generations” became the constitutive element for The Generation of ’27, or later, Criterion, a group of Romanian intellectuals, scholars and authors (historian of religion and writer Mircea Eliade (1907 – 1986), legal theorist Petre Marcu-Pandrea (1904 – 1968), sociologist Mihai Ralea (1896 – 1964), essayist Mihail Sebastian (1907 – 1945), literary theorist Petru Comarnescu (1905 – 1970) philosopher and economist Mircea Vulcănescu (1904 – 1952), and writers Emil Cioran (1911 – 1995) and Eugene Ionescu (1909 – 1994)).
In the grouping’s two manifestos, A Spiritual Itinerary (1927) and The White Lily (1928), its affiliates announce themselves ‘anti-1848ers’, ‘parricidal’, ‘autochthonous’ and ‘experiential’. In scholarship, the ‘between’ of this young generation was perceived to open an original horizon of interrogation in the human sciences. Ethically, they rejected historical relativism and sought for a new normativity, as difficult as it was in an already intensely post-metaphysical age.
The political and cultural outlooks of the intellectuals associated with Criterion proved highly diverse. Some, such as Nae Ioenescu (1890 – 1940) and his followers, stood against the idea of a union of Romania with the Western European (primarily Francophone) cultural sphere, emphasising instead the unique spiritual essence of the Romanian nation, and championing a return to an ‘organic’ Orthodox Christian identity. Others, such as the essayist Emil Cioran, though still associated with the nationalist right, disregarded tradition and called for the rapid modernisation of Romanian society. The grouping included thinkers on the political left, such as the sociologist Mihai Ralea, who became associated with a distinctly agrarian form of socialism.