Maciej Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918; Budapest, New York: CEU Press; 2004; 282 p.; ISBN 963-9241-18-0*
This book of intellectual history, originally published in Polish in 1998, seeks to reconstruct the `Liberal idea` in Polish lands starting with the theorists of Polish Enlightenment, admirers of the French physiocrats or centralists of the same era, and ending with the radicals, nationalists or socialists who saw in the `laissez-faire-ism` of the classic Liberalism an outdated tool for fighting against the new `commandments` of the age: social welfare or the canonization of ethnic and territorial claims. Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 comprises personalities, programmatic articles, currents of thought, or simple intellectual dispositions, and all are presented along seven chapters, bearing one major interest: to identify the attitude of these actors towards generic principles and concepts of Liberalism such as individual liberty, civil society, economic competition, rule of law. The attitudes of the Polish elite concerned with Liberal ideals are depicted in their interaction with the specific political and social environment in which these ideas were born.
The peculiar situation of Poland in the nineteenth century (the absence of a state), as well as the intricate nature of the ideologies of this period, as they sought to accommodate the political context with the need for the modernization of the country, put forward the premises for defining a typical `Polish Liberalism`. In this respect, the author speaks of a collectivist and nation-oriented nucleus inside the Liberal ideas. Yet we will not develop these characteristics, since they are a logical companion to the political situation, and, moreover, Patrice Dabrowski in a review essay dedicated to Polish national issue in the nineteenth century, when talking about the Positivist elite (see chapter five), spoke of their `conscious and selective Occidentalism` in the sense that Positivists [not only them, R.G.] employed those Western sources which would stress the importance of local peculiarities (e.g. Th. Buckle, H. Spencer). Other particularities are related to the economic sphere of Liberalism, hence Janowski observes the co-existence of discourses praising the individual with those of economic interventionism, which searched justification for the accommodating idea that political Liberalism does not go hand in hand with the economic one (p. 12). Starting with the 1840s, the stress on economic growth would sometime replace the philosophy of individual freedom (see chapter three).
Furthermore, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 is a book which depicts specificities of the `Liberal idea` in Central and Eastern Europe. Janowski is cautious to any generalization related to the birth and maturation of Western based precepts and their local responses to the challenges of modernization in our `periphery`, and in this sense he speaks of Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 as `an extended definition` (p.viii-Introduction) of Liberalism. As Polish Liberal Weltanschauung had its own dynamics, so had a regional one (although we should be careful to the degree of generalization that a notion like `Central and Eastern Europe` presupposes). Thus, a `Liberal sensitivity` of this region could be characterized by sympathy showed to state centralization, to the `national idea`, and to modernization as a rather abstract concept if compared with the freedom of the individual (p. 259).
Let us now elaborate on the `Liberal idea` advanced in the first paragraph, since it is a working concept of the book. One novelty of Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 comes from the author`s primary intention to collect those contributions of intellectuals and of circles of thought which served to the construction of a unitary and continuous doctrine called Liberalism. Hence, Janowski speaks of a `soft` selection of the actors of this book (discourses or persons). The scope of this endeavor rests in that that Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 is not a book fragmented by the ambition of exhausting the ideas of a person/circle of thought previously considered in historiography as Liberals, but to bring together instances which at times would not coin themselves as Liberals, but which provide intellectual support to a one general `Liberal idea`.
With the above paragraph, we entered partially in the issue concerning the method(s) employed in this book. As Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 is dealing with the adaptation and transformation of a cluster of ideas in their interaction with a particular environment, the underlying methodological preference of the author is the rejection of a too tight labeling of ideas and currents of thought under generalizing names. This manner of approaching the history of ideas proves particularly rewarding in the case of Central and Eastern Europe, in a context of a `mutual osmosis` (p. 258) between Western paradigms and local dynamics. Since we spoke of the author`s care for a proper contextualization of the ideas under focus, in the same time we have to mention his awareness on the `dictatorship` that the social environment can exert on the ideas: `I very much dislike a history of ideas that considers (…) the thoughts (…) as a function of the intellectual, social, political or economical situation of the period` (p. 265).
Some remarks on the manner of argumentation in Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 should be mentioned. A controversial or complex situation at home (e.g. the tendency to localism in the detriment of centralization) is compared with its counterpart from Western Europe. This comparative endeavor is faithful to the conviction that a dynamic exchange took part between East and West and this situation is supported theoretically through the concept of `migrant ideas` coined by the Polish sociologist L. Krzywicki. The active transfer West-East, more visible at the level of ideas than at the institutional one, was a feature of modernization in the `periphery`. The depiction of this phenomenon is part of the ultimate ambition of comparison West-East and East-East, namely, to `treat Central and Eastern European liberalism as a historical phenomenon`.
The sources of Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 come mainly from `press and journalism` (p.ix). There is an entire range of printed materials explored (the canonical texts of Polish Liberalism included): from the Monitor (1764), one of the first magazines of Polish Enlightenment, up to Nowa Gazeta, the newspaper influential in the post-Positivist era. It is worth mentioning the function that the author himself ascribes to a source, thus he conceives of it as subjected to `an ahistorical interpretation` in the sense that sources should be treated indiscriminately in which regards their temporal (not to mention special) origin.
As related to the significant literature in the domain, two works of J. Jedlicki deserve to be called into attention here: the first, an essay written in 1978, integrates Polish Positivism in the wider `European` Liberalism; the second is the classic book A Suburb of Europe, whose merit is that it depicted the interaction of Polish modernizing attitudes with their Western counterparts. The work of J. Szacki Liberalism after Communism traces possible continuities between our days and the Liberalism of the nineteenth century.
Let us exemplify what it has been stated above with a closer description of the contents of Polish Liberal Thought before 1918. The first chapter, entitled `Two Sources of Liberal Thought`, roughly ranges from 1760s to 1815 (thus including the Napoleonic creation-Duchy of Warsaw). Janowski presents the intellectual debate between the supporters of the estate system of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the winning camp known under the name of Polish Enlightenment. The federalist tendencies of the Commonwealth reunited under the ideology of `gentry democracy` were challenged by writings which promoted the creation of a centralized state and of a state administration. Examples in this sense were provided by the ideas of Konarski, who attacked the liberum veto principle (p.9), of J.F. Nax who, following Montesquieu, pleaded for the division of powers (p.12), of Staszic who expressed the need that Poles should catch up with the West in institutions and manners (p. 14), of Kołłątaj who envisaged the creation of an executive government and of a permanent army (p.14), and of Surowiecki who described the advantages of industrial development (p. 30). These visions, attracted by the ideal of a modern bureaucratic state, were institutionalized to some extent by the Constitution of 3rd May 1791. Adopting the same spirit, the latter introduced civil rights that shifted the emphasis from the nobiliary nation to the entire population. To sum up the aforementioned debate, the two sources of Polish Liberal thinking drew inspiration, firstly, from some proto-liberal features of the gentry democracy (freedom applied to the individual; rule of law; Commonwealth as a separate body from the ruler), and secondly, from the French Enlightenment.
The second chapter, under the name `The Rise and Decline of Enlightened Liberality`, explores the period up to 1830 (the late phase of Polish Enlightenment), when, in the context of November Uprising, the `enlightened liberality` was seen at work. By `enlightened liberality` it is designated a branch of Liberalism of German and French influence that pleaded for the decentralization of the political system and for priority of the countryside in front of the city. The supporter of this ideology (a gentry version of the Liberal thought) was the so-called Kalisz group, landowners from the Western part of the Polish Kingdom who succeeded to condense in their political actions in the Diet of the Kingdom principles of Liberal thinking which were previously advanced: personal freedom, freedom of press, autonomy of the judiciary (p. 43). `Enlightened liberality` existed side by side with the centralizing credos of the Duchy of Warsaw. As an illustration of the latter influence, one can quote the attitude of Staszic towards the `Jewish question`, that can be characterized as the forced assimilation of the Jews pursued by the state (p 51).
The confrontation between this local version of Liberalism and the one inspired by the French Enlightenment is visible in the meanings attributed to the word `liberal`: in 1815, under this word were designated the abolutistic measures of Frederick the Great (p. 37); one year later, an article attributed to St. K. Potocki moved the emphasis from the state to the individual (p. 39). The existence of these `old` (centralizing) and `young` (local) liberalisms was summarized by an article of 1831, bearing the same title, which predicted that the future belong to the local version of Liberalism because it nurtures the nation(p. 63).
The following chapter, `Romantic Liberalism`, comprises the period from 1830 up to 1848, characterized by the master narrative of the Polish Romanticism, and it concentrates on Liberal ideas issued by the `Great Emigration` and on those which were circulating at home. The `Great Emigration` was known for its ideas of socialist extraction, yet the author mentions also the more conservative circle of A. Czartoryski. This thinker pleaded for the voluntary enfranchisement of the peasant by the gentry, and explained the November Uprising in terms of the lawlessness of the monarch towards his people. Other figure of Czartoryski`s circle, K. Boromeusz Hoffman contended that the pre-1795 Commonwealth failed the test of Liberal principles, since its estate-system did not cherish the common interest. This critical stance would be shadowed later in the writings of Liberal journalism by the competing claim of Lelewel according to which gentry democracy represented the source of the modern Liberal idea.
The `Great Emigration` included theorizers of the third estate in the persons of J. Czyñski or H. Kamieñski.
The Liberal ideas at home were presented under the label of the `organic work`. This programme developed in the Prussian partition and it represented the shift from the paradigm of Enlightened absolutism, and from the philosophy of the rights of the individual, to economic development. Associations and journals were issued with the aim of promoting the advance of Polish civilization `through work and industry` (p. 83). Because of the increased political repression, Polish Liberals would ascribe from now on to economic change a central place in their ideas.
The next part, `Liberalism as the Ideology of Intelligentsia`, concerns the period 1850-1870. Previously considered just an era of transition to the epoch of Positivism, this sequence of time is significant as it marks the emergence of a social group with a coherent worldview, this is intelligentsia and heir beliefs evolve around Liberalism. Intelligentsia will compete with nobility in their task as `teachers of society`, and this confrontation signifies the departure from the cherished localism and individualism of the gentry democracy to pragmatic aims, among which material advance.
The next two chapters deal with the Polish version of Liberalism, known as Positivism. Positivism, whose ideological stance could be summed up as `work at the foundations` (praca u podstaw), continued in its first phase the programme of `organic work` developed in Poland under Prussian partition. Positivism set forth as early as 1864, in an article of L. Powidaj (p. 148), its priorities: the increase of wealth of society, and this was possible through education, the latter would cultivate the national consciousness; only by nurturing these ideals would be viable, in the end, the consolidation of political position. Indeed, the emphasis of Positivists is clear: education accompanied by the reform in the mores of the people, who would gradually realize that the natural inclination for material prosperity was not a `sham` ideal, when compared with the intangible national priorities from the Romantic epoch. The emancipation of the individuals noticeable in their economic advance was preached with journalistic gift and backed by coherent intellectual arguments by A. Świętochowski in his Weekly Review (Przegląd Tygodniowy). This paper mainly was the instrument of a social criticism exerted in an environment of political repression; the latter would provide to the Liberal idea one important intellectual element: the anti-etatism. Based on anti-etatist Western sources, Positivism in Świętochowski`s version was the closest to its British model. Yet, as one could expect, the reasons were different, hence the disappearance of the anti-etatist tendencies of the Polish political framework once with the radicalization of political sphere (after 1905).
The Weekly Review was the laboratory for other significant turn in the intellectual history of Polish Liberalism, and it consisted in the position of Positivists towards the Church and religion. To put it briefly, Positivism in the pages of this review promoted a radical anti-religious vocabulary (continuing in this way some previous attempts present in the discourse of the `Great Emigration`). Contrary to the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who thought of the clerics as disseminators of education (via state), religion was made responsible for backwardness.
As it has been said, Positivists were faithful students of H. Spencer, and this made them internalize the latter focus on the conflict as a central actor in history. This view was cherished as well by the would-be radicals, hence the gradual mutation of the Positivist discourse towards adopting some features of the camp which in the end would undermine Liberalism. Perhaps the most important of these features is the tendency of exclusion. In their commitment to social uniformity engineered under the banner of reason, Positivists ended up by leveling the differences, either cultural or ethnic (e.g. the Jew and his traditions were the remnants of barbarian times, unless he would agree to his forced assimilation).
The final chapter, `In a World of Alien Ideals`, describes the context in which Liberalism as an ideology previously able to gather the programmes of the intelligentsia, starts now to fade away. The particularity here is that Liberalism became to be contested from the inside, by people who would coin themselves as belonging to a Liberal tradition, yet who, once with the advent of mass society, thought of Socialism or Nationalism as better manners to face the challenges of the day: the new shift from individualism to collectivism.
The Conclusions summarizes the issues introduced in the book, namely the definition of Polish Liberalism and the role of this ideology in the history of Poland in the nineteenth century; the internal causes of the depreciation of Liberalism as master narrative. The recapitulation is inventive as it does not restrict itself to repetition, but it stresses the main points by using new sources: an intellectual history of the Liberal idea in Poland ends up with a quote from Prus` Doll.
Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 can be further read as an elaboration on `grand themes` of Polish historiography and their relation to the doctrine of Liberalism. The first of these themes would be the `national question`: while to the Conservatives nation was the symbol of unchangeable modes of existence, and to the radical Nationalists nation was a vehicle of ethnic hatred, to Liberals nation was the instrument of modernization. Other theme is connected with the tendencies of assimilation that Polish Liberal elite, from the supporters of Enlightenment up to Positivists had towards the `Jewish question`.
Overall, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 has a merit that, in a way, sums up everything which was previously stated: it succeeds to connect ideas to their original source in the framework of Polish political thinking.
* I write in most of the cases the word `liberalism` with capital letter, although it is not in the spirit of this book, since the author speaks rather of `liberalisms`, of ideas which, bearing some general resemblances with parallel ideas from the West, were shaped by the local contexts. However, I chose to do this in order to differentiate a Liberal Weltanschauung from other ideologies and intellectual dispositions.
Credentials for the cover photo use din this material: https://www.amazon.com/Polish-Liberal-Thought-Before-1918/dp/9639241180
 Patrice Dabrowski, `Review Article: `What Kind of Modernity Did Poles Need? A Look at Nineteenth Century Nation-Making`, in Nationalities Papers, vol. 29, no. 3, 2001.
 Patrice Dabrowski, op. cit., p. 514.