Patriotism and raison d'etat
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Patriotyzm a racja stanu,

From: Patriotyzm Polaków. Studia z historii idei, Ośrodek Myśli Politycznej, Kraków 2007



The condition of the contemporary Polish state and the disappearance of the “Polish spirit” is one of the greatest enemies of Polish patriotism. Such spirit is the awareness of what Polishness is, what traditions and experiences it derives from, and what characterizes the specific Polish vision of the world. Meanwhile, without rebuilding conscious Polishness, not only all attempts to improve institutions, law, and finally the state will fail, but also the lives of Poles will be somewhat incomplete, devoid of affirmation and full experience.

Talking about patriotism, or a very strong emotional bond with your homeland, is not easy, because it concerns an extremely intimate relationship. Władysław Bartoszewski said that in his generation, the generation of scouts and Home Army, there was no mention of the Homeland or Poland, and consequently, young people would not ponder over issues such as patriotism. As Bartoszewski recalls – if someone had started talking about Poland or the homeland, “we would have thought that they were crazy. It was as obvious as the fact that we breathe. Do you talk to someone about breathing? No, you do not talk about it. It is probably a madman who says such things. Poland was a breath. The homeland – it was our reality, we would not talk about it.”[1]. Nevertheless, it was the generation of Władysław Bartoszewski, Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, Stanisław Broniewski, Jerzy Giedroyc, Tomasz Strzembosz and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński that could use such concepts as patriotism, homeland, and own state without pathos, but also without this ironic tinge, which appeared in Poland in the nineties.

         The title’s juxtaposition of patriotism and the raison d'etat shows a slight friction. Although we intuitively feel that it is impossible to speak about love of the Homeland without reference to the state, some dissonance is clear. On the one hand, a beautiful feeling and attitude, praised by writers since ancient times, and on the other hand, raison d'etat, or… what is it exactly? In other modern European languages, this friction would be even greater, because in most countries of the Old Continent, the notion of raison d'etat is treated with great suspicion, or it is considered an archaic notion that is not compatible with modern globalization and integration processes.

In the modern times, the sources of the notion of raison d'état can be found in the views proclaimed by Niccolo Machiavelli, who, however, did not use this term even once. Meanwhile, it is in his writings, and especially in The Prince, where we can find advice on how to gain power and maintain it, advice on how to build a strong, independent state. Machiavelli introduced the category of lo stato (“state”) to define all entities having territory, population, power and seeking independence from external influences[2]. In the 16th century, the notion of raison d'état was popularized in Italy mainly by the historian Francesco Guicciardini and the Jesuit Giovanni Bolero who, with the help of Christian understanding of raison d'etat, tried to fight the vision of politics contained in the works of the author of The Prince. Then, mainly thanks to Cardinal Richelieu, the category of raison d'état became one of the key references describing the political world in the era of absolute monarchies, in the framework of the international order born after the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, based on the existence of sovereign national states. In the 19th century, by contrast, the notion of raison d'état was revisited by weaker nations and states, seeking either to leave the state of collapse (like Spain), or to unite (like Italy or Germany), or to regain independence and then strengthen the statehood – as in the case of Poland or Hungary. The use of the concept of raison d'état in contemporary Poland is a kind of continuation of the nineteenth-century tradition. By using and even misusing the concept of raison d'état, perhaps even subconsciously, we express our conviction about the weakness of the Polish state, since we still need to emphasize the importance of its fundamental, vital interests.

The long tradition associated with the notion of raison d'état is the cause for its many definitions and interpretations, both pejorative and positive[3]. In this text, I would like to use a neutral definition, defining raison d'être as the reason for the existence of the state, and thus emphasizing those interests which are crucial for the survival and development of the state.

Modern Polish patriotism is clearly broken. When speaking of love for the homeland or the country, it is difficult to escape the question about the attitude to the Polish state. However, while love for the Homeland is still something natural in the Polish consciousness, while we often have problems with expressing it, the combination of words such as ‘love’ and ‘state’ sounds much worse. Meanwhile, it is impossible to escape the state, it is an important element of our identity, the more so that it has been an independent state again since 1989. What is more, the condition of the contemporary Polish state is one of the main threats to Polish consciousness and Polish patriotism. The weakness of the state, its institutions, the sense of injustice resulting from the imperfect legal system, the malfunctioning judiciary system, but also the unsightliness of Polish political life – all this makes it difficult for Poles to identify with Polishness. If there were any major ideas in Polish society, constituting a national community, defining the idea of Polishness, the situation would not be so dangerous. After all, in the past, Poles were deprived of their own state, and Polishness turned out to be extremely attractive, because, for example, in the 19th century, it was obvious, even on a subconscious level, on what principles its idea was based, how it differed from the Russian, Prussian or Austrian ideas.

Unfortunately, in the 1990s, Polish consciousness became impoverished. The globalization processes were superimposed with the superficial fascination with Western culture identified with modernity, which initiated imitative processes. The imitation concerned everything that was not Polish and was extremely well received by the Polish society, and in particular by the broadly understood Polish elites, due to the fact that it has emerged from communism with very strong complexes, with a sense of inferiority resulting from the dramatically low economic level and poor material culture. However, what Poles had was the awareness of their own history, their own identity and a sense of moral victory in the fight that began on September 1 and 17, 1939. Meanwhile, not only political, but also artistic and literary elites, and even a large part of Polish intelligentsia can be accused not only of not building a state whose basic principle would be freedom and justice, but above all, of disarming patriotic consciousness of Poles. The elite and the aforementioned part of the intelligentsia not only mimicked the “fashionable” Western patterns, but the imitation was accompanied by contempt or disregard for what was original and specific in the Polish culture. It was the done thing in some environments to demonstrate the lack of faith in the importance of: Polish heritage, Polish history, and Polish possibilities. Instead of referring to the idea of freedom, which was the most precious one for Poles, constituting Polish identity from the Middle Ages, the focus was on introducing a “normal state”, introducing imported, often unreflective and shallowly understood democracy and capitalism.

Meanwhile, Polish republican traditions are among the oldest ones in Europe, Polish traditions of combining individual freedom with republican freedom may still be the foundation of political thought and the foundation of the political system. Polish respect for private property has a couple of centuries of tradition. Teaching Poles what democracy and capitalism is by means of patterns drawn from countries with a despotic, or even a totalitarian past, was a manifestation of pride and, what is worse, ignorance about Polish traditions. In this way, great harm was done, particularly to the young generation of Poles who, when leaving for England, Ireland, France or Germany, sees the differences between their way of thinking and behaviour, and the inhabitants of a given country, but often they do not understand these differences, and what is worse, without knowledge about the idea constituting Polishness for centuries, often they do not see anything enriching, anything valuable in their identity.

We are now living in times of “blind patriotism.” On the one hand, many Poles instinctively feel the need to affirm “Polishness” – the Polish customs, religiousness, history, views on reality, and finally the Polish way of living. On the other hand, the image of Polishness that dominated in the nineties – and today it can be seen quite often in various media – alienated people, treated Polishness with tongue in cheek, ironically, perceived it as a certain immaturity, parochialism, often as embarrassment – let us recall the title of a well-known article by Ryszard Legutko in the “Rzeczpospolita” newspaper called Poland as an embarrassment[4]. Lack of the sense of importance and originality of Polish experience and heritage was one of the reasons for building a state without a foundation. The changes after 1989 were to be a “transformation”, and transformation only. Instead of building a state of freedom and liberation resulting from the best Polish traditions, we only imitated the West, striving to achieve a “normal” state, “normal democracy”, “normal capitalism”. Normality became the key word.

When we ask a modern American what the main idea – the foundation of the American state, is, it can be assumed with high probability that they will answer that it is freedom. The United States is treated by its citizens, as well as by many immigrants, as a state of freedom; the idea of freedom is also the foundation of American identity. This is despite the fact that it is not difficult to give examples of American life in which practice in many places and in many matters does not fit the idea of freedom. Nevertheless, every American is convinced that the existence of American law, American institutions, first and foremost, is to protect the freedom of citizens and safeguard justice. Meanwhile, it was “Polishness” that was a synonym of freedom for centuries, and the entire political nation – composed mainly of nobility – was convinced, which was confirmed by many foreigners, that freedom was the main idea of the Republic, that the Commonwealth was – as Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski wrote – the third incarnation of a “free country” – after the Roman Republic and the Republic of Venice. This main component of Polish identity – freedom – was understood in an extremely original way. It is worth returning to the concept of freedom, which in the 16th century – more than one hundred years before the publication of the first comprehensive liberal doctrine: John Locke's Two Treatises on Civil Government – linked individual freedom, and thus the freedom to possess a certain sphere of privacy, freedom of conscience and religion, to republican freedom –taking responsibility for the common good, represented both by the local community and the Republic[5]. It was the perspective of freedom that should be the first thought that comes to mind of Poles and foreigners when they think about the Polish past and Polish identity.

However, after 17 years after regaining independence, we still face an extremely difficult dilemma of reconciling Poles with their own state. The problem is: How can we achieve this? We can say that all previous attempts at top-down reconciliation of Poles with their own state came to nothing, especially as the actions of the state administration or the administration of justice very often prove to be neither libertarian nor just. In this situation, the world of politics, the malfunctioning of the political apparatus, the inefficient police, the terrible health service, the tax system, they all deter and hinder the reconstruction of patriotic, communal or even national consciousness. Therefore, in the foreseeable future, the Poles will not become “constitutional patriots” – proud of the efficiency of the political system and administration, or “economic patriots” – satisfied with the economic conditions created for enterprises and civic activity. What shall we do then? First, we should realize that it was much, much worse in the past, and yet Polishness turned out to be an extremely attractive and fascinating idea. In other words, the solution to the problem lies primarily in our heads, in the minds of Poles.

Individual citizens should have a strong, positive vision of Polishness, which will include the most important elements of Polish modern specificity. First of all, it is necessary to look at the heritage of generations and emphasize these lofty elements that should form the basis of Polishness at the beginning of the 21st century. The key idea of freedom can be supplemented with the idea of solidarity which is a development of the idea of brotherhood of a political nation that was so important in the First Polish Republic. Let us mention the tradition of tolerance for differences that underlies the creation of a multinational, multicultural and multi-religious state in the world of absolutism and religious wars. There is also a metaphysical sense, religiosity, so characteristic for Poles, which manifests itself in a fairly common belief on the existence of non-worldly references and the order that was not created by man. Finally, let us mention the idea of justice that is almost inseparable from the idea of freedom – Poles are characterized by a huge longing for a just order, as well as a conviction of the importance of morality, not only in private life, but also public and even international[6]. Such a reconstruction of the most important positive ideas that should constitute Polishness at the beginning of the 21st century, and which are deeply rooted in the Polish collective experience, shows even more clearly how much the state, that we have been building since 1989, lacks these basic features of Polishness. Let us be honest: in the contemporary Polish state, there is not enough spirit of Polishness! Poles do not perceive this country as a libertarian state, whose most important institutions and laws have been established and are passed to secure the freedom of citizens; they do not feel that it is a just state, and especially public life is where they cannot see references to deeper principles and values. They also do not have the feeling that this country is a common good.

A strong internal vision of Polishness, a conviction about the value of our own traditions and the most sublime longings should be a starting point to implement it step by step and raise the awareness of individual citizens. We need organic effort again, work at the foundations, including not only the underprivileged, the poorest and those most loosely associated with the circulation of culture, but also, and perhaps even first of all, the elite: journalists (including local ones), priests, actors, teachers, scientists, school and university students, etc.

In the mid-1990s, Stanisław Grodziski noted that the understanding of the raison d'état completely disappeared in Polish society. This statement meant the disappearance of the civic idea, the disappearance of attachment and joint responsibility for the fate of the common state, for the fate of common matter, the commonwealth. It was an extremely acute thought from which one can conclude that there is no such thing as the Polish raison d'etat without citizens. Polish tradition is soaked in the republican idea! First, we must rebuild our inner Homeland, our internal patriotism, and then try to influence others. It would be best if the allegories of the Polish emigration, or allegories of freedom, would hang in the homes of teachers, scholars, journalists, and then also in offices, editorial offices, schools. Over time, it will turn out that the promotion of the idea of Polishness leads to the reconstruction of the republican state – free, solidary and tolerant. Patriotism is like faith: the appearances are less important, your own testimony, your own attachment and attitude are the ones that matter.

Of course, all this is a difficult task, the more so as the weakening of community ties that took place in the nineties overlapped with globalization processes worldwide, which resulted in something that Jadwiga Staniszkis called “the dusk of the metaphysics of the state”[7], when its “disenchantment” took place. In my opinion, knocking the state off the pedestal, depriving it of a certain aura of extraordinariness, does not necessarily hinder the task of rebuilding Polish consciousness. All the more we should first distinguish between the idea of Polishness (idealized Polishness), and the reality (the reality of the Polish state). Nevertheless, building a state that will be an emanation of the idea of Polishness will remain an important goal, but one that cannot be implemented quickly.

The first steps towards making Poles aware of their own heritage, their own originality, have already been made. “Climate change” which happened after December 27, 2002, after revealing the Rywin affair, facilitated the emergence of a wider reflection on the Polish specifics, on the almost completely overlooked and underrated experience of the Republic, reflection on the libertarian traditions and the ailments of the contemporary Polish state[8]. In a situation where we are aware of the richness of Polish tradition, when we manage to instil respect for our ancestors – both distant and close ones – for the unsolvable entanglement of the idea of Polishness with the idea of freedom, not only we will not lose the young generation, but it will be a starting point for expressing discord in relation to a lot of minor, but extremely vexing injustices, and thus it will be the starting point for the state's repair. Patriotism, understood as attachment to Polishness, not only does not contradict the raison d'être, but it is the basis, the foundation of the existence of the state. The fate of the state without the spirit of Polishness will be indifferent to most Poles. Spreading of the idea of Polishness will not only strengthen the raison d'état, in the sense that it is a condition for starting the repairing of the state in every corner of the country, but in addition, Polishness will again become an unusual magnet attracting the noblest minds, from other countries as well. It will become as attractive as it was in the 19th century, when, despite the lack of Poles’ own state, there was such rapid assimilation of representatives of various nations.

[1] W. Bartoszewski, Patriotyzm czasu wojny i pokoju, [in:] Patriotyzm Polski, Jaki jest? Jaki winien być?, Warsaw 2001, p. 18-19.

[2] Compare: Q. Skinner, The State, [in:] T. Ball (ed.), Political Innovation and Conceptual Change, Cambridge 1989; B. A. Markiewicz, Państwo albo stan, czyli o podstawie nowożytnej polityki, [in:] A. Rzegocki (ed.), Państwo jako wyzwanie, Kraków 2000.

[3] In Słownik społeczny, I mention eight areas of meaning that have been associated with the notion of raison d'état over the centuries. A. Rzegocki, Racja stanu, [in:] B. Szlachta (ed.), Słownik społeczny, Kraków 2004, p. 1043-1053.

[4] R. Legutko, Polska jako obciach, “Rzeczpospolita”, November 13, 2003.

[5] See: Z. Ogonowski, Filozofia polityczna w Polsce XVII wieku i tradycje demokracji europejskiej, Warsaw 1999, p. 78 – 81; A. Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, Regina Libertas. Wolność w polskiej myśli politycznej XVIII wieku, Gdańsk 2006.

[6] Compare: Jan Paweł II, Pamięć i tożsamość. Rozmowy na przełomie tysiącleci, Kraków 2005, p. 71-73, 95.

[7] J. Staniszkis, Początek i kres metafizyki państwa, “Praktyka Polityczna”, No. 1, 2004.

[8] Compare “Pressje”, Teka piąta, pt. Pokolenie JP II o III Rzeczpospolitej, Kraków 2005.

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