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Jászi, Oszkár

(1875–1957), sociologist, political scientist, editor, and politician. Born in the town of Nagykároly (Rom., Carei or Careŭ Mare), Oszkár Jászi came from a family whose original name was Jakubovits. In 1881, the family converted to Calvinism. Jászi was brought up in this spirit and never considered himself a Jew.

Jászi studied at the faculty of law at Budapest University. He obtained a doctorate in 1896, and became a privatdozent (assistant professor) at the University of Kolozsvár (today in Cluj, Romania) in 1912 and a professor of sociology at Budapest University in 1919. In 1900, he was one of the founders of a modern review of social sciences, titled Huszadik Század (Twentieth Century); he served as its editor until his emigration in 1919.

In his writing and his teaching, Jászi sharply criticized the social and political conditions of his country. He became the leading proponent of so-called bourgeois radicalism, an offshoot of radical democracy that made demands for equality in political and national rights, secularization, the distribution of great feudal estates, and social emancipation. As president of the Országos Oilgári Radikális Párt (Radical Party), Jászi opposed World War I, and in 1918 (after the October Revolution), he became the minister of national minorities in the cabinet of Count Mihály Károlyi. Jászi resigned in January 1919, following the breakup of the country, and became foreign minister and government commissioner of Budapest University. A few weeks after the Communist takeover in March 1919, which he fiercely opposed, he left for Vienna.

During his exile in Vienna (1919–1925) Jászi was, together with Mihály Károlyi, leader of the democratic Hungarian emigrant community and editor of the Viennese Hungarian daily Bécsi Magyar Újság. He traveled to Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia, hoping to isolate and overthrow the counterrevolutionary Horthy regime in Hungary and prepare a democratic Danube Federation within the region. His lecture tour of 1923–1924 in the United States, during which he visited several universities, cities, and Hungarian communities, had the same goals. Experiencing the hopelessness of his political endeavors in the short run, he accepted an invitation from Oberlin College, Ohio, and became professor of political science from 1925 until his retirement in 1942.

Jászi became an American citizen in 1931. During World War II, as president of the American Federation of Democratic Hungarians, he tried to unite different political and social groups (with the exception of the followers of Horthy and the Habsburgs). After the war, in 1947, he visited Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, and in his report Danubia: Old and New (1949), he expressed deep pessimism about the future of the region. He died in Oberlin; in 1991 his ashes were sent to Hungary.

Suggested Reading

György Litván, A Twentieth-Century Prophet: Oscár Jászi, 1875–1957 (New York, 2006); János Pelle, “Jászi Oszkár és a zsidókérdés,” Múlt és Jövö 1 (2001): 74–80.