Frirst edition: Na drodze walki, 4 October 1927.
Nationalism, in its present-day chauvinistic sense, was born out of two completely opposite tendencies: out of self-defence of weaker nations against the invasion of hostile and generally alien factors, and out of greedy imperialism of strong nations, trying to control and absorb either the weaker neighbours or national minorities in their own country. Thus, the same nationalism adopts either a defensive or a possessive character, depending on the centre and the conditions in which it operates.
There is no doubt that imperialist nationalism is not only immoral but also thoroughly wrong in terms of politics. This has been more than proved by the historical experience, since the weaker nations, sometimes oppressed by the powerful invaders for long periods of time, would finally gain freedom, and at least force them to grant far-reaching autonomy. The last decade in particular has brought a number of outstanding examples around the world. We know it best ourselves. Anyway, the growing level of culture and self-awareness in recent decades, even in the smallest nations, that were almost politically dead until recently, makes all attempts to deprive the weaker of their national identities by the stronger more and more pointless. Today, even the greatest power cannot deny national rights to even the poorest nomadic tribes, and if it wanted to do so, sooner or later it would certainly fail in this struggle.
The matter becomes more difficult when it comes to forming a judgement on defensive nationalism, as it cannot be denied to any nationally conscious society. It is synonymous with patriotism, it is a natural expression of the self-preservation instinct, a support of the national idea in the struggle for existence. It intensifies the creative forces of society to the highest level, it produces the highest deeds in the field of struggle and work, and is the biggest inspiration for art and literature. But in this noble, creative form, it has certain limits that it cannot cross with impunity, and the transgression takes place when the nation struggling for its existence prevails and turns from the oppressed to the ruler of others. Then its defence nationalism easily becomes the imperialist nationalism if it is not modernized through a rational, predictable policy.
The modern raison d'être of nations occupying the dominant position within the state, should rely, therefore, on maintaining its nationalistic aspirations within such limits so that they would not lose the character of rational and creative patriotism and would not turn into vicious and always harmful, chauvinist, imperialist nationalism.
Chauvinism is a political disease that strikes people with blindness and deafness towards reality. It has an external, superficial appearance of good, because it takes on the bright colours of the love of the homeland and ethical principles, and yet it is severely harmful to those who it infects and to the whole state. Because – like any extravagance – it changes into one-sidedness and exaggeration. Chauvinism attributes itself with the right to the monopoly of perfection, patriotism, morality, denying that others have them, stigmatizing all those who will not blindly submit to it by accusing them of national treason and any other offenses. There is no slander at which it would stop. It causes envy and national, religious and social struggle, it incites hatred in the bosom of the nation itself, thus damaging its vital foundations, of which it would like to be the sole and a reliable protector.
At the same time, it is fruitless, even if it temporarily takes control of the state. Because its soul lives for struggle, a ruthless, stubborn struggle and uncritical opposition against all that is beyond it. It is not able to create, because in the face of creative and real tasks, it loses all foundation, it ceases to be itself. Hence, the programs and slogans of the followers of militant nationalism are usually the most unreliable for society. During the fights and opposition, they can rouse and disturb, they can attract crowds of unenlightened and credulous people, playing skilfully with their better or worse instincts. When they win they become helpless and weak in the face of positive tasks and they blindly rush the state edifice into the deep, where they soon drown themselves, leaving inertia, economic collapse and anarchy behind them.
And this scenery is repeated again and again in a vicious circle of the political kaleidoscope. Combat nationalism, alternately rising and falling, constantly hampers the healthy, normal development of states and the productive work of society. It disturbs the sound concepts and hinders the formation of rational state-creative principles in the nation. It creates an artificial gap between the components of society, making it difficult for them to consolidate the state. It continually inflames and incites nationalities and denominations against each other, fuelling artificial irredentism. Its purpose is not the real good of the state, because it never takes into account the state’s real needs and conditions of the situation, but imposes conditions on it, disregarding the reality. It is completely unethical, because its goals and methods would not be able to stand up to basic postulates of political ethics and social harmony. Its seemingly lofty theses are soap bubbles that burst when put to the slightest test. Out of all political trends, chauvinism is always the most prone to diametric changes of beliefs and conscience, and to the most contradictory compromises. It is the epitome of the Scottish proverb “He has one face to God and another to the devil”.
In addition, it might have contributed most to the hypotrophy of parliamentarism everywhere, especially in Poland. Being the depositor of relatively more intelligent elements, it could and should have exerted a positive, mitigating effect on the swelling waves of radicalism of the broad masses, spoiling for a fight over the helm. It did not and could not fulfil this role, because it is in itself the embodiment of blind political radicalism, in its assumptions and tactics, adapting to the most radical requirements of popularity with serpent flexibility.
But it seems that its time has already come. It can still hinder and damage the life, threatening with a partitioning war, or an internal struggle and a coup. But it will not regain its former importance. General awareness about real national and state interests, about social and economic interdependence, about the indispensable need of internal-state harmony and international agreement, grows day by day, coordinating itself into healthy concepts of creative patriotism and removing the unbridled relics of the past from the arena of public life.