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March 30, 2023

A Book of Metaphilosophy about a Long-Banned Metaphysician

By Daniel Deleanu

Ion Dur is a well-known name among the literati who have emerged onto the Romanian intellectual scene after the fall of the communist regime. A respected philosopher and academic, Ion Dur has authored over twenty books of essays, as well as monographs of Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica, Nae Ionescu and Horia Stamatu, and collaborated in the translation of two seminal works by Hannah Arendt: The Origins of Totalitarianism and Crises of the Republic, both published by Humanitas Press. He has also published countless essays, book reviews, studies and articles on philosophy, literature, aesthetics, as well as literary and media criticism in various Romanian and international journals. He has collaborated with the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Services and appeared on public and private television channels, always indefatigable in promoting highbrow culture in an age of intellectual conformity dominated by consumerism and the triviality of pop culture. Ion Dur is the recipient of many honours, among them the Mircea Florian Award for Philosophy from the Romanian Academy.

Vasile Băncilă: An Ethnic-spiritualist Metaphysics Banned by the Totalitarian Regime, the book which makes the object of this review, was published in the U.S. by Vernon Press in 2022, and is an analytical valuation of the original thinking of Vasile Băncilă (1897-1979), a philosopher who was proscribed during the Ceaușescu regime. It appears that Băncilă’s work extends to no less than 32 volumes, 17 of which have already been published. The proportions of Băncilă’s philosophical output and its uniqueness make him a major figure in contemporary Romanian culture whose texts still require a great deal of scholarly research. After all, Vasile Băncilă is the author of some of the most striking philosophical adages to have ever emerged in our culture, e.g.: “The best metaphysics is religion, and the noblest and ultimate function of philosophy is to introduce one to religion: the ancilla of religion.”; or: “Philosophy deals with integral reality based on the idea of the Absolute.”; or: “Spirit has existed from eternity both in matter and beyond it. Analogy with Jesus Christ incarnate; that is why He could also be perfect as a man. This is the only solution to the metaphysical problem.”; or: “I am not lost in matter, but in God. Yes, God is the great and only sufficient reason.”; or: “Matter is densified spirit.” The would-be irreconcilability between religion and science is, according to Ion Dur, resolved by Băncilă in an impartial way, since “the complete man needs both, even if he is always in one of them; he must not limit himself to religion (‘but there will always remain a coefficient of it’), but study science, stopping where he must, and then believing. And if he cannot be in any of them, let him forget. Therefore, instead of ‘believe and do not investigate’, the student Vasile Băncilă creates another injunction: ‘investigate, believe, stop, forget’!”

Vasile Băncilă is also the thinker who aimed at the philosophical elevation of the Bărăgan Plain to the level of the undulating Mioritic space of Blaga, considering it in no way inferior to the latter. With such a deep imprint in Romanian collective consciousness, Vasile Băncilă forms a special case, mainly because of the quality of the material he produced in excess of five decades, but also because of the intention of building his own original philosophical system. In this respect, the philosopher Lucian Blaga saw in Băncilă a storm threatening the calm seas of Romanian culture, and the historian of philosophy N. Bagdasar considered him “the most fruitful creator” of his generation.

Ion Dur’s book has eleven chapters, divided into three sections. The first section tackles the hermeneutics of Băncilă’s youthful works, and incorporates a study of his broodings on the role of philosophy in the education of young people, the strange relationship that exists between irony and education, as well as his thoughts on such greats as the Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu, Descartes and Schopenhauer. The second section deals with Băncilă’s attempts at building his own philosophical system, more precisely, an ethnic-spiritualist metaphysics which, upon completion, would have challenged the official ideology of the communist regime. In this respect, it is worth mentioning that Băncilă points to the tragedy that it brought about in Romania, a country that had been left culturally – and not only – devastated by the regime change following WWII: “The intellectual biography and the metaphysical-moral performance of Romanian philosopher Vasile Băncilă can be best understood through this historical lens focused on the axiological pyramid of Romanian spirituality, a lens turned upon itself, tainted with egoism and envy by the commodities experts of Romanian culture before 1989. An occultation operation involving not only Vasile Băncilă, but also other personalities of the Right-wing culture of Greater Romania.” Of this sad period in the recent history of Romania, Băncilă himself wrote: “My philosophy fights against the decline of the spirit: today, the values in which I believe, the classical values of man, are in decline, in danger of death; so my philosophy today is an agonistic philosophy: it fights against death.” Then, a decade and a half later, he spoke of the advent of that “new man, the demiurge of the laboratory and the planet, the human termite armed with ‘science’, the ‘original’ product of a miserable industrial and political romanticism.” It is no surprise thus that the poet, philosopher and theologian Nichifor Crainic appreciated Băncilă’s “intellectual honesty.” Last, but not least, Ion Dur surveys in the third section Băncilă’s oeuvre as a sum total, analyzing in detail the relation between part and whole (pars pro toto), as well as that between existence and metaphysics, which culminates with and the philosopher’s ruminations on the traits of Romanian life, a true “metaphysical curriculum vitae of Romanian existence,” as Dur ingeniously calls it, capable of turning the so-called “Romanian Idea” into a philosophical category in its own right.

According to Ion Dur, Vasile Băncilă starts from the bottom, from metaphysical reality, to climb to the top, that is, to the Absolute, the Great One, God. Băncilă’s is a philosophy which has a spiritual sense for what extends beyond the palpable. Or, as the author puts it, Băncilă has “a philosophical vocation manifested by a sense of the transcendent, in the general sense of the word.” Subsequently, when Băncilă meditates on wisdom, for example, he dichotomizes by either referring directly to philosophy, or, as Dur notes, “he has the philosopher by his side.” There are, however, instances wherein he expresses himself in an impersonal manner: “To create philosophy, therefore, requires a strong metaphysical temperament. Intelligence alone – sometimes greater than that of the authors of systems, but in the absence of deep metaphysical necessity – is not enough, serving only to criticise, or to compile histories of philosophy. Through the grid of a creator’s psychology, Vasile Băncilă placed a special emphasis on metaphysical necessity and on the metaphysical temperament with which the understanding of the world as a unitary whole was objectified – that is: the expression it acquired.” It is no surprise thus that Băncilă’s observations, which he put down on paper with the meticulousness of a metronome, detail, besides the 11 sections that comprise his own philosophical system, virtually all the great chapters of philosophy (ontology, gnoseology, axiology, praxeology), an aspect that is not missed by Dur.

The author also marks Băncilă’s literary aptitude. Thus, according to Ion Dur, “his reflections often have the gift of plasticizing ideas through the wording and examples given, sometimes reducing the degree of conceptual combustion by ambiguities of meaning. He is very interested in the intensity of expression, he is attracted by memorable forms and formulas, as concentrated (militant, as he says somewhere) and creative forms of aesthetic and, perhaps, metaphysical emotions.” Ion Dur also knows how to evince Băncilă’s protean personality, who is concurrently a metaphysician, an ethicist and a moralist, but not a creator of ideologies: “But if a society lacks saviours, great politicians, reformers or even political geniuses, such an absence – believes Băncilă – is made up for by the existence of philosophy, whose purpose is the careful study of human nature. That there is a need for such a discipline of the spirit is evident if we consider the fate of ideologies, theories and practices that balance between social good and social evil.”

The way in which Vasile Băncilă saw himself through the great piebald kaleidoscope of world philosophy is also discussed by the exegete. For example, on the relationship between Heidegger’s thought and that of the Romanian philosopher, Ion Dur notes: “Băncilă reduced most of the mechanism of Heidegger’s existentialist thought to that Sein-zum-Tode, translated by him as ‘the road to death’, with which he identified human life. In Romania, he says, there is no such thing as in Western individualism. He does not find the desperate pathos of existentialism in Romania, because ‘Romanians have osmosis with ontological reality and are well trapped in ontic, cosmic alveoli. For Romanians, ontic reality is not the studina of man, but it is light. The world is lumen’.” In the same context, Ion Dur analyzes Băncilă’s undergraduate thesis, which is dedicated to Schopenhauer and later melted into a potential PhD thesis on the ethics, sociology and politics of the German philosopher, and which brings to light fascinating observations about the latter’s reception in Maiorescu’s Romania. Furthermore, commenting on how the Romanian philosopher analyzed herein had received the works of Schopenhauer, Dur notes the following: “Băncilă portrays the world as a colourful and contradictory spectacle offered by the will, a world in which happiness is illusory and people are born to be simply devoured by sadness and other positive misfortunes.” However, Ion Dur very accurately observes that when Băncilă analyzes the particularities of “Romanian existence”, his attitude changes drastically. Dur in fact even places Băncilă alongside Constantin Rădulescu-Motru and Mihai Ralea, while the question according to which Transylvania presents a “differentiated ethnic psychology” is still a favourite topic today. The binomials that characterize Romanian space according to Băncilă – namely, individualism vs. communitarianism, moralism vs. aestheticism, lyricism vs. intellectualism – are referred by Ion Dur in terms of some psycho-cosmographic coordinates that “make up a spiritual harmonism with complexity, variation and dynamism.”

The goal of Ion Dur’s volume, which is in fact a book of metaphilosophy proper, has been to identify in Vasile Băncilă’s texts – both published and unpublished – the uncompleted project of an original metaphysics that effectively combines Romanians’ ethnicity with their spirituality, a subject also tackled by some of the latter’s contemporaries – suffice it to name here Blaga and Noica. The exegete’s goal has undoubtedly been accomplished, for Ion Dur has succeeded in pinpointing in this book the inmost reasons which make Vasile Băncilă worthy of a place amongst those who do matter in the area – so politically charged, and thus so oft-contentious – of Romanian philosophy.


About the author:


Daniel Deleanu is a Romanian-Canadian writer and academic who sways between Toronto and his native town of Sibiu.

He has published articles, reviews and critical studies in cultural journals and academic journals from Romania and abroad (USA, Canada and Great Britain).

He has also published more than 1,300 academic books (critical studies of universal and comparative literature, studies of philosophy of literature, theory of literature, etc.) in English language, most of them in Canada.






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