In 1930s Bucharest, some of the country’s most brilliant young intellectuals converged to form the Criterion Association. Bound by friendship and the dream of a new, modern Romania, their members included historian Mircea Eliade, critic Petru Comarnescu, Jewish playwright Mihail Sebastian and a host of other philosophers and artists. Together, they built a vibrant cultural scene that flourished for a few short years, before fascism and scandal splintered their ranks. Cristina A. Bejan asks how the far-right Iron Guard came to eclipse the appeal of liberalism for so many of Romania’s intellectual elite, drawing on diaries, memoirs and other writings to examine the collision of culture and extremism in the interwar years. The first English-language study of Criterion and the most thorough to date in any language, this book grapples with the complexities of Romanian intellectual life in the moments before collapse.


“A gripping analysis not only of Romanian culture but also of Romanian politics. In a time when many interwar ideas seem to have rematerialized, this book could not be more necessary or timely.” (Marius Turda, author of Modernism and Eugenics and co-author of Historicizing Race)

“Bejan’s meticulous study joins a handful of books that recognize that the quest for a dynamic new modernity animated both modernism and fascism. Incorporating extensive research in secret police archives, this book casts important new light on the unique ideological texture of Romanian fascism.” (Roger Griffin, author of Modernism and Fascism and The Nature of Fascism)

“A fascinating narrative. Superbly researched, it offers a new perspective on Romania’s (and Eastern Europe’s) interwar major political and cultural tensions. Nothing was simple with the Criterion Association, which was engaged in an excruciating search for existential authenticity. This book wonderfully reveals these agonizing complexities.” (From the foreword by Vladimir Tismaneanu, author of The Devil in History)

“Why did writers such as Emil Cioran and Mircea Eliade succumb to the lure of the Iron Guard? And what of those figures, such as Eugène Ionesco, who resisted? These are some of the questions addressed in this unique, persuasively argued study.” (Dennis Deletant, author of Romania under Communism: Paradox and Degeneration)

About the Author
Image of Cristina Bejan
Cristina Bejan

Cristina Bejan worked on this book as a Title VIII Scholar with the Wilson Center's Global Europe Program in 2011. Bejan currently oversees the arts and culture collective Bucharest Inside the Beltway, based in Denver, Colorado and Bucharest, Romania. Read More