Balicki Classic: Are Poles Chauvinistic?
Nowadays, Poles are sometimes faulted for adhering to “nationalism”–a buzzword.
Endek thinker Zygmunt Balicki, in his classic 1902 work, NATIONAL EGOISM, examines the premise behind this kind of criticism.
Review of Zygmunt Balicki: Ideolog Narodowej Demokracji, by Bogumil Grott. 1995. Krakow.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
A Selection of The Original Writings of Pioneering Endek Thinker Zygmunt Balicki (1858-1916), With Analysis by Bogumil Grott
ZYGMUNT BALICKI: NATIONAL DEMOCRAT IDEOLOGUE, is the title of this two-part book. In the first part, Bogumil Grott analyzes Balicki (pp. 5-80). In the latter part, the author provides a selection of Balicki’s writings (pp. 83-175), including a slightly abridged version of NATIONAL EGOISM (1902). (pp. 114-143). I have read the original, unabridged version of NATIONAL EGOISM, and mention some of the relevant omitted parts in this review.
Consistent with my oft-repeated premise that Endek thinkers should be understood according to what they said, and not what others say about them, I first read and reviewed Balicki’s writings, and wrote down my comments in this review. Only then did I go back and read Grott. My review is sequenced accordingly: 1) General Comments on Balicki’s Original Writings, 2) Balicki’s EGOIZM NARODOWY WOBEC ETYKI (NATIONAL EGOISM IN THE LIGHT OF ETHICS), 3) Other Original Works by Balicki, and 4). Bogumil Grott’s assessment of Balicki.
1) General Comments on Balicki’s Original Writings
Contrary to the usual leftist demonization of the Endeks as fire-breathing haters, Balicki is nothing of the sort. All of his writing is conspicuously low-keyed, and most of his writing is abstract and philosophical, in fact, bland at times. In addition, relatively little of it directly addresses the situation facing Poles and foreign-ruled Poland.
Balicki is clearly a deep thinker, juxtaposing his ideas with other thinkers, such as Spencer, Epicurus, Bentham, Tolstoy, Krasinski, de Maistre, Goethe, etc. This broad-based thinking adds to the misportrayal of Endeks as some kind of insular xenophobes.
Ironic to the characterization of Endeks as Social Darwinists, Balicki mentions and discusses Herbert Spencer in only 4 pages of text out of the 92 pages of his text (pp. 83-175)! Even then, he does not dwell on it, and never gives an unqualified endorsement of such thinking.
Although Endeks are best known, and condemned, for their ideas about Jews, Balicki mentions Jews only once in 92 pages of text, and then only in reference to Jewish separatism, not Jews per se. (p. 162). More on this later.
2) Balicki’s EGOIZM NARODOWY WOBEC ETYKI (NATIONAL EGOISM IN THE LIGHT OF ETHICS)
To begin with, one must not confuse egoism with egotism. They are not synonyms. The former refers to self-interest, while the latter refers to selfish behavior. It is obvious, from this and other writings by Balicki, that he is not advocating that Poles be belligerent, vainglorious, or looking down on other peoples. He is simply advocating that Poles engage in common-sense self-interest.
There even different forms of national egoism within the context of imperialistic nationalism [not be confused with the emancipatory nationalism being practiced by Poles]. Balicki contrasts the relatively benign nature of American and British imperialism with the imperialism of Prussia (Germany) and Russia. The Americans and British respect their subject peoples, and do not drift into barbarism. The Prussians and Russians, whether in peace or war, have no such respect for subject peoples, and are prone to perfidy, lawlessness, and barbarism. (p. 138).
Balicki scorns militarism, as well as those soldiers who commit atrocities against civilians. Instead, he praises the knightly conduct of the Polish citizen soldier who, in 1848, refused to perform an Austrian order to fire on Polish civilians, preferring to draw the punishment upon himself. (p. 141).
Consider utilitarianism. An example would be a nation that allows another freely to occupy a small area of its territory, based on the consideration that the territory is small, of little value, and otherwise not worth fighting over. Balicki rejects utilitarianism. He notes that, yielding a “small” amount of low-worth territory only emboldens the enemy to take the rest. Even if that did not happen, it would violate the nation’s essential character. (p. 133).
It is obvious from his NATIONAL EGOISM that Balicki is not opposed to altruism. He is in favor of what he calls rational altruism, an altruism that has limits, and is cognizant of the results of its actions. (p. 119). Balicki opposes altruism when it is misguided. For instance, he points to the fact that Poles support missionary work among the Africans and Chinese while not even thinking about organizing and supporting domestic charities that would rescue Polish factory workers from corruption and paganization. (p. 136). Clearly, were Poles to support their own, Polish altruism would coexist with Polish national egoism.
Balicki condemns those who hide under the banner of “humanitarianism” to attack Polish patriotism as “Polish Hakatism”, etc. He recognizes Polish patriotism as a defense of Polish rights and status (under foreign rule at the time). (p. 136).
Consistent with Balicki’s concept of NATIONAL EGOISM as nothing more than enlightened self-interest, he chides Poles for unilaterally supporting others’ interests. For instance, in a part that was edited out (ellipses on p. 136 of Grott; is located on p. 47 in original), he brings up the case of Polish youth supporting Russian claims to equal status in the Polish universities of Russian-ruled Poland.
The author of NATIONAL EGOISM spends little time talking about other nations within the old Polish Commonwealth. In a part that was edited out (ellipses on p. 137 of Grott; is located on p. 50 in original), Balicki considers the Ukrainians as ones who prefer subjugation by Russia to freedom under Poland.
3) Other Original Works by Balicki
In DEMOKRATYZM I LIBERALIZM (DEMOCRACY AND LIBERALISM), Balicki points to the amorphousness of political labels. For instance, every new movement has thought of itself as progressive. (p. 84). As for the French Revolution, who was “liberal” and who was “reactionary” was also not clear-cut. (p. 83).
Balicki’s NASZ “SZOWINIZM” (OUR “CHAUVINISM”)(1896) is eye opening. He notes the supreme irony of the Russian conquerors calling the conquered Poles chauvinists. (p. 92). [The reader may note a similar irony: The big-power members of the European Union talk down to Poles, telling them that they must “outgrow their religious and patriotic traditions”, and “start thinking like Europeans”, while those very nations engage in unambiguous self-interest.] Balicki notes that, far from being chauvinistic, Poles lacked sufficient chauvinism even to head off their being partitioned. (p. 93). He asks what other peoples would be so self-effacing as to let the literature of other nations dominate their own. (p. 92). In a situation astonishingly similar to that of today, Balicki points out that Poles have a mortal fear of epithets such as “chauvinism” hurled by outsiders (in this case, the Russian rulers). (p. 91). [The informed reader can think of Polish timorousness in the face of the modern left-wing buzzwords directed against Polish patriotism, such as “fascism” (what else?), “nationalism”, and “xenophobia”.]
In a further assessment of the Poles failing to exercise even elementary self-interest, Balicki, in his NIEPODLEGLOSC WEWNETRZNA (INTERNAL INDEPENDENCE)(1898), asks this: Why do Poles, living under Prussian occupation, agree to sell their farms to Germans, and other Poles do not stop them? (p. 100). In a pithy lesson for today, Balicki stresses the fact that private and public morality cannot be dichotomized. (p. 101).
In NACJONALIZM I PATRIOTYZM (NATIONALISM AND PATRIOTISM)(1912), Balicki faults Poles for being too accepting of the decades-old Polish-foreign and Polish-hostile Jewish and Ruthenian movements. (p. 162). In NASZA NIEZALEZNOSC DUCHOWA (OUR SPIRITUAL INDEPENDENCE)(1916), Balicki states that Poles have been far too trusting of the big powers, and that Russian Pan-Slavic ideology is just a cover for Russian hegemony. (p. 167).
In ZASADY WYCHOWANIA NARODOWEGO (PRINCIPLES OF NATIONAL PEDAGOGY)(1909), Balicki quotes Roman Dmowski. Dmowski complains that Poles teach their children what they must not do, when they should also be teaching them what they should be doing. (p. 155).
4). Bogumil Grott’s assessment of Balicki.
Grott has a detailed history of the early Endek movement. He discusses how the early personages met, and got together to formulate their ideas.
Grott considers Balicki as without doubt one of the most prominent political activists in the latter years of foreign rule over Poland. He also cites from some other of Balicki’s works. Balicki opposed cosmopolitanism, socialism, and liberalism because they were anti-national. (p. 41, 45). Balicki and other Endeks believed that Germany was Poland’s main enemy because, unlike backwards Russia, Germany had a dynamic civilization. Thus, apart from military and imperial power, Germany was in a position to do greater harm to Poland.
We learn that Balicki was not interested in religion as part of his concept of a national movement. (p. 37). Jedrzej Giertych, one of the younger Endeks, was. Giertych, who came decades later, considered Balicki’s ideas somewhat outdated, and warned that NATIONAL EGOISM could lead to paganism. (pp. 66-67). Giertych’s concept was one of Christian Nationalism.