28 June 2023

Concerned for the Soul of Poland

At the 2019 elections, Poland came within a hair's breadth of tipping over into the globalist, woke insanity of the rest of Europe (except Hungry!).

From The European Conservative

By Sebastian Morello

Poland very much feels like a country that’s accelerating towards the awful competition of ideologies that has engulfed the rest of the West.

Last week, I went to Poland for the first time in my life. I have long desired to visit Poland. My grandfather was Polish. He arrived here in the UK aged five as a refugee during World War II, quickly won a scholarship to Dulwich College, proceeded to train as an engineer, and had a successful if precarious career as a property developer. I’ve always regarded the Polish quarter of my heritage to be the best. Sometimes I entertain myself with the musing that, among those 3,000 Winged Hussars who led the 18,000-strong cavalry charge which routed the Anatolian infidels at Vienna in 1683, all following the bellowing war cries of their commander and King, Jan Sobieski—“Saviour of Europe,” as the pope named him—rode one of my ancestors. Perhaps not, but I hope so.

To Warsaw I came at the invitation of the conference organisers of President Duda’s annual Kongress 590, to sit on a panel and speak on “The Role of the Sacred in the Future of Poland and Europe,” a topic off which I was recurrently steered to discuss the conflict in Ukraine. The event was strange in many ways. Military personnel wandered around, engaging young people in conversations about life in their respective regiments; Polish entrepreneurs showed off the latest achievements of their businesses in flashy booths; attendees were treated to an exhibition of Arabian racehorses; and everyone was sustained with what seemed an unlimited supply of coffee and Polish cheesecake—all to the aural backdrop of a live jazz band dressed in black tie. I have no doubt, however, that there was much more to this prestigious two-day event than that to which I was exposed, as I was only there for a single afternoon.

What I did see, though, was a wonderful display of national confidence, an obvious demonstration that the Poles know who they are. (This was heart-warming, coming from a country where ordinary working-class patriots are publicly humiliated by senior Labour politicians for flying the St. George.) I’ve always loved the Poles and Polish history, and now having visited the country itself, I can confidently say that I love Poland. I was treated exceptionally well during my visit, by polite and generous people who seized every opportunity to make my stay easy and pleasant. In general, the women are pretty and the men are handsome, the food—in contradiction to my previously held prejudices—is delicious, and people behave quite convincingly as if they’re interested in you. Again, refreshing, coming from a country where people increasingly resemble sacks of potatoes, fast-food is ubiquitous, and fellow citizens are terrified to make eye-contact—alas, so it is in the neo-England that replaced the merry England of foxhunting, roast beef, and manners which I now only encounter in old books. But I digress.

If I may be permitted to communicate in generalities, Poland appears to be in keeping with other central and eastern European countries—and quite at odds with Southern, Western, and Northern European countries—in being characterised by genuine intellectual curiosity at the public level. The panel discussions at the congress ranged from the energy crisis to the dangers of AI technologies, from the future of the armed forces to the country’s food exportation, from Poland’s fast-approaching demographic crisis to its international relations, from its economy’s ‘digital transformation’ to the role of the sacred in modern society. Such a conference under the auspices of the head of state would be unthinkable in the UK.

Mired in late modernity

Nonetheless, despite its overt conservatism, I came away from the congress with the distinct feeling that Polish public life remains stuck in the paradigm of late modernity. During our panel discussion, I was asked about how Europe might defend the ‘liberal order’ in the face of rising autocratic regimes; how Europe might continue to unify itself on the foundation of universal human rights; how Left and Right might cooperate to address the ‘climate emergency’; and how Poland can continue to recover its identity “without going back.” Every one of these questions contained within it a presupposition that I wholly reject. I don’t want a defence of the liberal order, and I certainly don’t see liberalism as a remedy to the unfortunate rise of autocratic regimes, given that liberalism has its own species of autocracy. I do not believe in universal human rights, as if such abstract notions can be inferred from an examination of our nature—they cannot. I do not think there is a scientific consensus about the so-called ‘climate emergency,’ and I certainly don’t think we ought to assume the existence of a threat which hasn’t been verified but which would legitimate the greatest political power-grabs in history. And I don’t know what “going back” means in the context of cultural education, unless it implies that history has a particular temporal direction towards transnationalism and universalism, a notion I reject in entirety. Suffice to say, I do not think I gave the answers that were expected, or indeed were hoped for.

This, though, is precisely one of the greatest challenges that we face in the West today: we begin nearly all our conversations with a set of unexamined assumptions, and we don’t stop to consider that we may have begun our pursuit of answers from the wrong place altogether. We start not with reality, but with the idea—the notion—and then hope we’ll conjure up solutions to concrete realities from hours spent swimming in the treacherous sea of unanchored abstractions. We are so steeped in ideological modes of thinking, even the best of us, that we simply think ideologically out of habit. And attempting to place a reality before the mind’s eye of one’s interlocutor often feels like delivering a philosophical argument through the medium of interpretive dance: one is faced with a blank expression.

Sadly, Poland very much feels like a country that’s accelerating towards the awful competition of ideologies that has engulfed the rest of the West. Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) is known for its authentically conservative politics, its support of the Church, and its defence of Polish culture and heritage. But the supporter-base is almost wholly made up of middle-aged to elderly people. Unlike, say, Fidesz in Hungary, which has encouraged the growth of many creative and innovative projects to engage the young people of its country, the Law and Justice Party has failed properly to speak to the young—the majority of whom deeply dislike the party and its leading politicians. As much as in any other city in the West, the young people of Warsaw sport blue hair, have stretched out ears, have bullrings in their noses, and are covered in cheap tattoos. These young Poles aren’t having children either, and the party’s recent attempts to save Poland from an imminent demographic disaster by financially rewarding people for becoming parents, have failed to make a difference. It seems that Poles want the decadent and anxiety-driven decay of late modernity, and they want it now.

I wandered around Warsaw’s centre. It is very beautiful; the work of rebuilding the city following the destructive forces of World War II was an astonishing achievement. The signs, though, of globalism are there—in the glorious old market square, at whose centre stands a 17th century column topped with a statue of King Sigismund III, the largest restaurant is a McDonald’s. In Warsaw, the appetite for graffiti which is endemic across continental Europe (even more so than in London) is clearly a problem too. But the population feels proportionate to the size of the city, which is strange for a capital. London has a population of which over half were born abroad, and its overall populace is now larger than the entire population of Austria. In fact, London ruined the urban environment for me; and since the inhabitants of almost every UK city have fled to London for work, it has successfully ruined every other English city too, leaving those abandoned Georgian centres to become dwellings for arrivals from distant deserts. In my mind, the old towns of continental cities redeem urbanism, which I otherwise associate with that hell in south-east England. Walking among Warsaw’s church-scattered alleys and glorious squares—which are there for no other reason than to bring people together in a spirit of belonging and communion—I was reminded that it’s not only the countryside that can be a place of peace and contemplation.

As I left my hotel for the airport, I chatted with my twenty-something driver, a tall, elegantly dressed man with impeccable manners. I asked him about Poland and what he sees to be the future of his country. He wanted to talk about Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope who was canonised a decade ago, and he explained that John Paul’s popularity is rapidly decreasing in Poland due to the clerical abuse scandal—regarding which many now judge that John Paul reacted slowly and imprudently—and what is perceived as a continuing disordered relationship between bishops and politicians, seemingly involving the circulation of a lot of money. Whether my young driver’s analysis is correct or not isn’t what’s important, rather what matters is the fact that his account is one that is widespread among his age group. As he put it to me, “Poland, in a decade or two, will be much freer—just like Ireland.”

Recovering national genius

Far be it from me to tell the Poles how they should determine their shared, public life together. But at least a quarter of me has some claim, and anyway a lack of eligibility never stopped me in the past. In my view, the Polish desperately need to re-engage the young; stop trying to cosy up to Brussels and other expansionist, transnational organizations that despise the slightest hint of conservative sympathies; and get out of the ideological paradigm that presupposes the truth of errors that cannot be reconciled with a flourishing, traditional Poland that’s cognizant of its national identity. Poland, in short, needs to begin the long recovery of its national genius.

My own country of England once had a national genius, one that dazzled the world. Like that of the Minoans, the genius of Albion has now been abandoned to history. In his remarkable analysis of the Tractarians entitled The Spirit of the Oxford Movement, which I have been reading of late with much admiration, writing of the early 19th century, Christopher Dawson says: “That comparatively short period witnessed an extraordinary flowering of the national genius such as England had not known since the Elizabethan age.”

Of the mystery of national genius, Joseph de Maistre writes in his Study on Sovereignty

All peoples have been happy and powerful to the extent that they have faithfully obeyed this national reason, which is nothing but the annihilation of individual dogmas and the absolute and general reign of national dogmas … But this sacred fire which animates nations, is it you who can light it, insignificant man?

The contempt with which Maistre looks upon Rousseau’s doctrine of the pre-societal ‘authentic individual’ (he desires to annihilate that “individual dogma”), which he explicitly attacks by name in this work, screams at the reader through his bombastic prose.

Classically conceived, national genius is a gift providentially bestowed on a people by the Creator, which is weaved into their very fabric, and which tacitly emerges down the centuries. Poland, of course, has its own national genius. This genius has been frequently threatened but has stubbornly survived. It is a genius before which our whole civilisation once trembled in gratitude and awe as their hero-king shook our continent under the thundering steeds of his angelic lancers. The Polish, I hope, will rediscover their national genius and induct their young into its charism, for the alternative—after so many centuries of fighting merely to exist as a people—is to die in a ditch with stretched ears and neck tattoos.

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