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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter I. Making of the modern state in a multi-national context

Political directives

Aleksander Świętochowski
Traduction de Zuzanna Ladyga

Texte intégral

1Title: Wskazania polityczne (Political directives)

2Originally published: Ognisko: książka zbiorowa wydana dla uczczenia 25 letniej pracy T. T. Jeża, Warsaw, K. Kowalewski, 1882

3Language: Polish
The excerpts used are from Janina Kulczycka-Saloni, Pozytywizm, (Warsaw: PZWS, 1971), pp. 235–240.

About the author

4Aleksander Świętochowski [1849, Stoczek (in Podlachia, present-day east Poland) – 1938, Gołotczyzna (central Poland)]: politician and writer. Aleksander Świetochowski, like many other adherents of Polish positivism, graduated from Szkoła Główna, a short-lived elite Polish high-school in Warsaw. Less typical, however, was his decision to enter the Russian Warsaw University that replaced the Szkoła Głowna in 1870. He was one of the leaders of the Przegląd Tygodniowy (Weekly review), organ of the liberal intelligentsia advocating principles of organic work and the modernization of Polish society. While working for Przegląd Tygodniowy, Świętochowski frequented supplementary courses in philosophy at the university in Leipzig. After his failure to enter Galician academic circles, Swiętochowski moved back to Warsaw. During the late 1870s and the 1880s, he became one of most innovative Polish playwrights, though gradually limiting his activities to political writings. From 1881 to 1902, he was the editor-in-chief of Prawda (Truth), one of the main journals of the young intelligentsia in Russian Poland. Together with other contributors, such as the sociologist Ludwik Krzywicki, Świętochowski maintained a critical dialogue with conservatives from Cracow. He thus tried to stick to his ideas after the introduction of censorship by the Russian authorities. Some of his writings were published anonymously in Galicia. During the 1905–1907 revolution, Swiętochowski organized a political party of liberal intellectuals supporting the reformatory attempts of Russian liberals. After the suppression of the revolution, he moved to the village of Gołotczyzna to organize an agricultural school. The education of Polish peasantry was one of his most consequential ideas, as was general social, economic and scientific progress to secure national existence. However, Swiętochowski did not sympathize at all with contemporary socialism. In addition, he was one of most aggressive critics of the Church. In his writings published in national-democratic periodicals during the inter-war period, Świętochowski criticized Józef Piłsudski and his adherents. Moreover, his interest in the peasantry allied him closely with the radical agrarian movement. Nevertheless, his ideology cannot be equaled with the extremism of modern political movements as it endorses the principles of modernization, social responsibility, and freedom of conscience.

5Main works: Niewinni [The innocents] (1875); Helvia (1876); Ojciec Makary [Father Makary] (1876); Poddanka [The subject] (1877); Piękna [The beautiful] (1878); O życie [For life] (1879); Klemens Boruta (1880); Na pogrzebie [During the funeral] (1881); Aspazja (1885); Aureli Wiszar (1888); Strachy Pentelikonu [The threats of Pentelikon] (1888); Hymn niemych [The anthem of mutes] (1888); Regina (1899); Duchy [Ghosts] (1895–1909).


6The article Wskazania polityczne is one of Świętochowski’s most controversial texts. It can be considered to be an outcome of the disappointment of the Polish intelligentsia after the suppression of the January uprising against Russia (1863–1864). The curtailing of Polish autonomy (to the extent that it was virtually eliminated) and the lack of any possibility of political action within the borders of the Russian Empire forced young, ambitious individuals to look to other means of expressing their discontent. At the same time, the idea of armed uprising lost its appeal for most of the young intelligentsia. The so-called positivists found inspiration in current European philosophical trends and chose to focus on the modernization of Polish society. It was also the period when most prominent writers of this new intellectual group published devastating descriptions of the material and intellectual underdevelopment of Poland. In the political sphere, it was often stated that, instead of continuous attempts to reestablish political independence, the example of the ‘peaceful’ Czech national movement should be emulated.

7It was Świętochowski who openly stated that Poles should end the tradition of insurrections. His appeals to Polish intellectuals to abandon the old slogans of political independence and start working for the modernization of the country were met with contradictory reactions. Some supported Świętochowski, but the so-called ‘wide patriotic circles’ condemned his text as an act of treason. After the publication of Świętochowski’s text, many others endorsed his ‘program,’ but the question of abandoning the principle of independence was not discussed in public (and in fact could not be discussed under Russian censorship). Thus Wskazania polityczne, as an outright rejection of insurrections, uprisings and conspiracies, became, for adherents of modern socialist and nationalist movements, an illustration of narrow-minded, materialist positivism. On the other hand, it was perceived as one of the most powerful appeals since the Enlightenment to ‘civilizational reunification’ with Europe.

8Swiętochowski managed to summarize the political ideology of Polish positivism and liberalism within the format of small feuilletons. His ideology had an impact on social criticism articulated by positivist writers such as Bolesław Prus and Eliza Orzeszkowa. They pointed to Polish backwardness and supported the principles of ‘organic work,’ which describes the attempts to stimulate social and economical development of all strata of Polish society and especially to work for the education of lower classes. The nation, understood as a living organism, was expected to function as a perfect collaboration of all its social parts. Despite important similarities (such as abandoning plans for another uprising against Russia), Swiętochowski’s points were not identical to Józef Szujski’s conservative ideology. Swiętochowski advocated social progress, liberal reforms and perceived ‘Westernization’ as social, economical and intellectual modernization, whereas the major representative of Cracow conservatism, Szujski, supported Catholicism, stressed the Latin character of Polish culture and referred to social issues only incidentally. Thus, Swiętochowski’s criticism of the Stańczycy (the conservative Cracow circle) was categorical, though both Warsaw and Cracow groupings rejected the idea of an armed struggle for national independence.

9Among followers of Polish positivist ideology, we come across figures from the inter-war period’s cultural milieu, (the popular writer Stefan Żerom-ski being the most prominent among them). In the Communist period, posi-tivists were highly esteemed as severe critics of archaic social order, but the solutions they offered for diverse social questions were perceived to be too ‘limited,’ liberal and thus not comparable to the Communist project of modernization. From the late 1950s, the positivists started to gain official recognition by the regime as adherents of social progress. The notions of civilizational progress, opening the ‘window to Europe’ and Westernization were commonly used after 1989 and became an important asset in the legitimization of Western-type modernization in Poland. The legacy of Polish liberal intelligentsia was examined within an academic format by the historian Jerzy Jedlicki and his pupils. In their interpretation (most prominently in the works by Maciej Janowski), Świetochowski and his intellectual allies were identified as the main representatives of Polish liberalism.


Political directives

11Disregarding how people are deliberately or unconsciously lured with fairytales of a charmed princess soon to be awaken from her death-like dream and destroy the magical power of her tyrants, providing that we consider the thoughtful and de-fantasized political directives for society, then, in all their scarcity, we shall discover one thread which runs through them all, namely, the idea of regeneration through civilizational development and abandonment of the tradition of armed interventions. Such is the accuracy with which this idea reflects our widely gathered experience that it has currently become a pennant of even the most adversarial parties. The ultramontane side, that is, the Galician Stańczycy, so aristocratic and soaked in refined legitimism, are of one mind on this issue with the free-thinking and democratic side of our society. The two fractions are divided by substantial differences in their understanding of this political idea, which nevertheless, from the formal point of view, remains one and the same. […]

12We wish to live a real life and to experience true happiness. And we have learned through painful experience that neither one nor the other can be gained from engaging in war gambling or depending on foreign countries ‘ charity, but can only be achieved through hard, steady and peaceful work. For a nation that still remembers the times of splendor, this sounds like a terrifying sentence, which it must nevertheless serve. Never in our entire history has there been a moment that would require more courage and sacrifice than we are demonstrating nowadays. Yet, undoubtedly, we have become capable of both, for the old tendency in our society to instigate armed conspiracies has been weakened and replaced with the growing trend of working peacefully. Indeed, it is a tendency that has only begun to gain momentum—not yet fully conscious, and still interrupted by the flow of past ideals. Yet, whoever is made impatient or angry by the unhurried pace of this process should verify the clarity of his conscience and grasp the importance of this undertaking. Doubtless, such conscience is not characteristic for those among foreign writers, who are hostile to our nation, and who rush us in this labor with lashes of their evil tongues.

13Nowhere is the disparity between our present situation and the tradition of military acts more strikingly visible than in political publications. Let us take into our hands political catechisms written a few dozen years ago and look for solutions to current problems—how useless is their advice! Today’s generations will neither be taught by messianic prophecies, legends about the nation’s mission, nor by predictions of the near fulfillment of divine plans, the judgment day for all nations or other extraordinary tales of drowning in the churning waves the pharaoh’s army which pursues the chosen nation. The advice we need ought to be different, more realistic. While the old political treatises roared with a war-like atmosphere, rumbled with the sound of battle drums and horns, every word being like a razor’s cut and a bullet’s swish, the current texts, if we find any, feed us with visions of the land brought under the plough, and with echoes of exhausted ploughmen’s calling voices. There we have the images of the eve before the battle, here, the labor of the sowing and harvest. […]

14The well-being of all peoples, as we see it, is not dependent strictly on the nation’s strength and political sovereignty, but on its ability to participate in the universal civilization and to develop its own. We all know about nations that are entirely independent but at the same time half-dead, retarded in their progress, and by no means leading a joyous life. If our eyes are to see an unfulfilled ideal of a society, they will not find it in a treacherous country, like a warrior clenched in its armor, but in such a system of relations which permits all individuals to develop naturally, to work peacefully, and to express their desires without restraint. […]

15Notwithstanding the advantages of physical power, the struggle for survival among societies is not merely a matter of serial armed clashes but of the nation’s spiritual resources, which in the end always determine victory or defeat. In Europe, there indeed exist independent countries, insignificant from the point of view of the entirety of civilization and born by sheer coincidence, yet, this coincidence, this fancy, or diplomatic ploy that created them, can just as easily bring them to an end—the nations that count in the political calculations are only the enlightened ones. Therefore, our nation should not merely grow in power, strengthen its character, and foster in people the feeling of love for the homeland, but also—inasmuch as it is possible—breath the fresh breeze of humanity’s general progress, feed it to the nation, absorb its creative energy. Until now, we have trusted and lived only in wearying conditions, conditions devoid of health-giving elements—now, as a result, the nation’s heart beats too slowly and its mind works too tediously. We ought to open our windows to Europe, to the winds of continental change and allow it to air our sultry home, since just as not all health comes from the inside, not all disease comes from the outside. It is true that we were born and bred in this home, that this home has witnessed our tears of joy and sorrow, the moments of our triumph and failure, and that here lies the treasures of our country’s civilization. It is true, yet insofar as these memories and symbols are so truly dear to us, we should not let ourselves to be suffocated among them, if living for real is what we desire. Like primitive tribes shouting away the solar eclipse, so are we now howling at new ideas which stand in the way of our traditions. Like children trying to brighten the darkness of the house we put up torches on the walls. We sip reluctantly from the springs of pure, unspoiled wisdom, preferring instead to gulp the muddy water from familiar swamps—let us not neglect even the most polluted local mire, but let us first purify its waters.


Zuzanna Ladyga (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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