. . . Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me
and irony suddenly vanishes.
I love gazing at my wife’s face.
Every Sunday I call my father.
Every other week I meet with friends,
thus proving my fidelity.
My country freed itself from one evil. I wish
another liberation would follow. . .
–Adam Zagajewski, “Self-Portrait,” from Mysticism for Beginners
There will be plenty of talk about the Polish church’s central role in defeating communism during this World Youth Day in Krakow. It will be a much deserved day in the sun.
Poland has a unique view on real-existing liberal democracy, and its next of kin capitalism, because the country transitioned into it quickly enough to experience their major faults without a long adjustment period.
I’ve written previously about the youngest generation of Polish thinkers and their deeply theological reactions to these changes, along with earlier warnings from John Paul II and Cardinal Wyszynski (two of the country’s greatest ecclesiastical figures of the 20th century).
For a more complete account of these events you should read the recently published The Demons of Democracy by Polish political theorist, philosopher, and member of the European Parliament: Ryszard Legutko. By the by, he also penned a book with the delicious title Society as a Department Store: Critical Reflections on the Liberal State.
Legutko’s book starts with an unpleasant revelation that first dawned upon the future member of Europe’s Parliament during a visit to the West while Poland was still under communist rule:
The idea that such similarities [between communism and liberal democracy] exist started germinating timidly in my mind back in the seventies of the last century, when for the first time I managed to get out of the communist Poland to travel to the so-called West. To my unpleasant surprise, I discovered that many of my friends who consciously classified themselves as devoted supporters of liberal democracy, of a multiparty system, human rights, pluralism and everything that every liberal democrat proudly listed as his acts of faith, displayed extraordinary meekness and empathy towards communism.
Just as most Poles he was relieved to see totalitarian communism wither away. What he didn’t expect was how much the theory and practice of liberal democracy differ:
[In] liberal [democracies], the belief still lingers that [liberal democracy] is a system of breath-taking diversity, consisting of communities, groups, unorthodox types of behaviour, eccentrics, individualists. But this belief has deviated from reality so much that the opposite view seems now closer to the truth. Liberal democracy is a powerful unifying mechanism, blurring differences between people and imposing uniformity of views, behaviour and language.
As a citizen and politician Legutko felt all of this on his own skin during the late 80’s. He observed a disturbing process of declining freedoms in Poland after the transition into democracy . . .