In Search of A.C. Cuza

February 24, 2016

When Alexandru C. Cuza was born in Iași, Moldavia in 1857, Romania was not yet a unified country fully freed from Ottoman vassalage. Turkish rule had not been as direct or oppressive here as in the lower Balkans, but it left the young state and ancient nation with a host of social problems. Cuza was a child when Wallachia and Moldavia were united in 1866, and not yet twenty years old during the start of the war by which Romania would gain her independence. He would go on to study in France and earn doctorates in political science and law. In The Romanian Road to Independence, Frederick Kellogg describes the mostly economically driven anti-Semitism that existed in the nascent united and independent Romania, especially in the former principality of Moldavia, when A.C. Cuza came of age:

“Thrifty Jewish entrepreneurs earned distrust as well as profit from Romanian aristocrats and peasants. In Moldavia, Jews were bankers—moneylenders and moneychangers—innkeepers, lessees of taverns in villages: grocers, rug merchants, peddlers, besides being artisans—tailors, turners, glass makers, and carpet makers. Romanians reckoned Jewish money lenders in particular to be dangerous to the social order owing to their pervasive influence on impoverished farmers and perennially indebted landed proprietors. Boiers, or aristocrats, regarded commerce and industry to be beneath their dignity, thereby leaving the door open for their Jewish creditors to seize control of an important segment of the economy. An additional problem was the Jewish way of life in Moldavia. The Jews’ exclusive family circles and non-Romanian customs clearly identified them as outsiders. Romanians considered them to be aliens, and some were indeed foreign subjects protected by one or another of the great powers.”

It was in this atmosphere of decaying Ottoman suzerainty and Ashkenazi immigration that anti-Semitism such as A.C. Cuza’s was fostered. Nevertheless, historian Irina Liveneanu has labeled him “the father of Romanian anti-Semitism,” so influential was he on the younger generation of Romanians. He later became the dean and a popular lecturer at the law school in Iași University, and mentored Romanian students who feared the growing Jewish presence in higher education.

The most charismatic and influential of these students was Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. According to Codreanu scholar Dr. Rebecca Haynes, “Cuza became Codreanu’s godfather and acted as his mentor when Codreanu was a student at Iași University… In his attitude toward the Jewish minority, Codreanu was greatly influenced by his godfather, A.C. Cuza.” Together Cuza and Codreanu established the League of Christian Defense (Liga Apărării Național Creștine, L.A.N.C.) in 1923. This radical student group used the swastika as a symbol a full decade before Hitler came to power in Germany, where both Cuza and the half-German Codreanu had studied.

Internal administrative politics in the League soured Cuza and Codreanu’s relationship by 1927, a break which Dr. Haynes attributes also to Cuza’s being — at least at the time — “willing to work entirely within the parliamentary system.” Codreanu seems to have been more strongly anti-democratic than his mentor, and despised the parliamentary system as such. It wasn’t until after Codreanu’s paramilitary approach proved successful that Cuza adopted similar tactics.

This has sometimes been unconvincingly interpreted to mean their split occurred because Codreanu was essentially more violent than Cuza. In fact, Cuza’s own rival militia has been described by some scholars as more violent than Codreanu’s Iron Guard — at least while Codreanu was still alive. According to Ion Antonescu biographer Dennis Deletant, for example, A.C. Cuza’s lancieri (or “blue shirts”) consisted of nothing but “an army of thugs,” so in the 1930s, “it was not the Guard that posed the chief threat to public order.”

A.C. Cuza’s willingness to work within the parliamentary system paid off, at least for a time. In the 1930s he formed a new political party with the poet Octavian Goga, a coalition which was selected to rule the country by the increasingly autocratic king in response to Codreanu’s growing popularity. During the short-lived but influential Goga-Cuza period, anti-Jewish discriminatory laws and measures were enacted in Romania.

Cuza’s party was not as popular as Codreanu’s, and the Goga-Cuza government ruled only briefly in late 1937 and early 1938 before being forced out of power and replaced by King Carol II’s direct dictatorship. It was this monarchial dictatorship that had Codreanu imprisoned and assassinated in late 1938. Corneliu Zelea Codreanu had finally broken the parliamentary system he so despised, though at the cost of his own life.

In the 1940s, which saw the Communist takeover of Romania, Cuza had to leave Iași for Transylvania. However, he was apparently spared the notorious fate of Ion Antonescu, probably because he was considered too old to stand before a kangaroo court. Thus robbed of the martyrdom seen in other, more popular Romanian historical figures, A.C. Cuza has not generated as much attention among historians as he merits. This may explain the dearth of information on him in English. He passed away in 1947. One particularly hostile source, Romanian-Jewish historian I.C. Butnaru, laments that “A.C. Cuza died comfortably in his bed and was never judged for his misdeeds.”

Cuza’s body of work is not always consistent, except in its unapologetic anti-Semitism. Cuza’s 1905 publication Nationality in Art, or Nationality in the Arts (the book deals far more with literature than with the plastic arts), was first published in complete book form in 1908 and went through several revisions throughout his lifetime. This book demonstrates that Cuza began as an Indo-European chauvinist in the vein of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, although Cuza already included Persians as Aryan in that book.

In his 1922 article “The Science of Anti-Semitism,” which was approvingly reprinted in its entirety in Codreanu’s autobiography For My Legionaries, Cuza demonstrates that he had by then changed some of his opinions, such as his appraisal of Islam and the Arabs. While maintaining his lifelong opposition to “mixture of unrelated races,” Cuza, in “The Science of Anti-Semitism,” has now abandoned his racial chauvinism in favor of what might be called pan-antisemitism. However, Nationality in the Arts continued to be published in several editions long after “The Science of Anti-Semitism” first appeared.

One way in which A.C. Cuza remained consistent is that, unlike the traditionally Orthodox Christian Codreanu and another Cuza associate, unsung insulin discoverer Dr. Nicolae Paulescu, Cuza was interested in the sort of Bible revisionism similar to that which would in Germany later be dubbed “Positive Christianity.” In contrast to Codreanu and Dr. Paulescu, Cuza’s religious views were more Wagnerian than Orthodox, though this was not a reason for Cuza and Codreanu’s 1927 falling out. These ideas appear as early as Nationality in the Arts and are expanded upon in this 1925 book, The Teaching of Jesus.

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