Jan Hartman
Principia, 31-044 Kraków, ul. Grodzka 52

Jan Hartman

Transitive mind

My objective here is to share with you some intellectual experiences of East-European scholar living in a coutry full of noises about the transition to democracy. My country namely is Poland.

Well, it is really often said that post communist Europe experiences now the great transition or transformation. It is true, at least politically and historically, but not so much in terms of subjective or psychological perceiving of one's social environment. I would even say that we are hardly able to see anything like a true experience of transformation. There occures a public phenomenon of naturalness or evidency of all these new arrangements being nowdays witnessed by us. This feeling has been grasped in a term "return to normality", which is supposed to mean more than well known "normalisation". This expression involves a very deep conviction about the value of liberal rules and "normality" seems to be the most expressive compliment the world of liberty might ever be given by its stranger.

However, the "misperception" of the transformation has to do more with the weakness of our memory, than with some natural inclination to liberalism. The constitution of liberty as well as easy access to the previously lacking, relatively simple, goods has become obvious during the first few months after political break-through of 1989 - we get used to the good very quickly, don�t we? But there is still one more particular reason, that we perceive changes in our countries in that way, like they are not changes at all, but rather the restoration of an old order after a short period of troubles, not worth being remembered. This reason is a special ambition of the major part of our society, of Polish people with at least average education (let me talk directly about Poles, but it concerns probably also some other notions) - the ambition to know how it is in the West. Poles are the kind of people, who desire to appear very well informed and up to date. This is a kind of Polish national dignity mark. Poles have always believed themselves to understand how it is in the West, how people live there, what are the rules there, what is democracy, what are Western life-styles etc. Many people indeed think so, and only very few would likely confess that they have learned something really new through the last nine years.

The class of "omniscientes", ascribing itself this peculiar wisdom of the simultaneous familiarity with western liberty and eastern oppression (czarist and then communist), is called "intelligentsia" and should be qualified as a very special product of mainly Russian and Polish societies. This is a class of remarkable social, cultural and scientific merit, responsible for the amazingly high level of scientific and literary production in otherwise poor countries. However it has ever been subject to some mannerism, has been somewhat blas or even degenerated. Before World War II it used to stay under the recovering influence of socialist ideas, and nowadays its condition is determined by the material collapse and general corruption of its social status. However today's intelligentsia in Poland has managed to save its significant social role despite its decadence.

It is the intelligentsia who forwards the understanding of transformation as a return to normality and a widely accepted truism expressing the present-day's form of Polish dignity is as follows: "No reason to talk about our coming back to Europe, since we have never left it". Actually, this sentence does not render but the frustration of intelligentsia, which has always considered itself as a mainstay of the highest Western culture being unable to participate in it during last 50 years. After all, its conviction that its highly civilised status and familiarity with the world have remained untouched is an illusion and naivety. The truth in this respect is such that up to the recent times equally troubling for a Polish scholar and a Polish worker remained the problem how to use a modern lavatory in a Western hotel, what's going on when some artistic happening is taking place in a street, or what is a tax-declaration.

The great ambition to not to show the ignorance together with the strong illusion of being well acquainted with the Western world did not deprive Poles of the common sense. Deep in their souls, Poles realise that it is still a long, long way to the West before us and the best thing for us to do is to follow as efficiently as possible Western patterns. Therefore, Polish elites have a peculiar, or as it might be called: "intermediated" attitude towards the world: they can see not the contemporary problems, which need to be urgently resolved, but the problem of how efficiently reach standards of the "civilised world" in many domains of the social life. All Western troubles become then quite abstract in a way. With some dose of arrogance, a sophisticated Polish intellectual would say: "These are not real problems; I would like my country to have such problems as you have".

The members of intellectual elites in a whole world very much care for being perceived as people observing some intellectual standards in their talk about politics and other general issues. This may be called political correctness in a braod sense. Its bourders in different countries are different. In Poland standards are not very opressive and rightness of opinion is rather easy to be acheaved. To be a cultured man or woman means to obey some very general commonplaces, like affirmation of democracy, human rights, minorities rights and market economy. You need to declare a very general access to these values and such a conventional linguistic behaviour practically satisfies social expectations. Besides, you can say what you think and this relative freedom of speech seems to be a very precious feature of Polish cultured society in comparison to the USA or Germany. However, this is only one aspect of rather gloomy phenomenon of the general lack of restrictions and serious obligations in the post-communist world. It is easy to remain in a good feeling of omnicompetence determined by the supposed histriosophic and geopolitical reasons, it is even quite easy to make money through manifold institutions promoting democracy in undeveloped countries. But it is very difficult to acquire some real and useful expertise in the social and political field. Not many care about that - many pretend to.

Of course, I am not going to maintain that Poland is a country of ignorants and, say myself I am a exception. On the contrary - Poland is a country of great scientific potential, considering the poor conditions for science and culture in last six decades. My purpose is to indicate a characteristic social tendency of the scholastic life in Poland which does not affect so much its highest production but determines its average, "mass" production.

The criticism of the intellectual life has its splendid tradition, to mention only Schopenhauer and Nietzsche or Marquard among living authors. Therefore, irony and scepticism is equally allowed as pathos and sometimes is even in good taste. What's more - it does not make strong impression, like pathos doesn't. This state of matter can be described in terms of intellectual atmosphere as decadence or postmodernism. In principle, what's the case it is the fall of traditional intellectual class. This phenomenon is not so much distinctive in Poland, where the moral and intellectual potential of universities is still very high and the scientific world maintains relatively good condition due to the impact of some strong authorities. In some other countries of Eastern Europe however we meet a very deep and irreversible in short prospective demoralisation in humanities. There are countries there a university does not differ from other public institutions - is in the same way corrupted, ignorant, mediocre, overproud, lazy and disordered. It has become possible after the wave of freedom cleared out the rigors of the academic life and years of increasing poverty spoiled both the prestige of universities and ties of solidarity among scholars.

I am probably exposed to the objection that my criticism is vain, vague and doesn't lead to any useful conclusions. However it wasn't my objective. These words were nothing but an example of common and typical criticism. I intended to provided you an insight into the present-day's state of self-consciousness of Polish intellectual of certain popular species and, at the same time, to show you the logic of his social functioning shaping his real social position.

The self-consciousness and this logic are determined by powerless and illusion. Since as an well educated Pole living in the very middle of Europe with the good view on the West and on the East, I am best experienced politically and culturally and I and omniscient, then I do not need to learn and to read to much; I need no instruction. Since the problems of the West are in my perspective screened by the general problem how to follow the West, I have little motivation to contribute to resolving them. If I earn little working at the university and must take additional jobs, then I am not to much eager to perform my duties. If I prove my self-criticism realising that I am spoiled (and the others too) then apparently I am quite a wise man and nobody is able to tell me anything, also critical , which would be new to me. That means that I am a man of highest culture, the true European or even something more, as somebody responsible for spreading in the people the spiritual and political message of Europe. Well, that is just our logic - the logic of the transitive mind. It is lazy but has its very special claims for expertise.

Then we are back to the problem of transformation. This social, political, economic and legislative process of changes is sophisticated and rather dynamic but not very visible to people engrossed in everyday life. The intellectual class claims the authority to make the society aware of this process and to promote the ideals of the liberal West. It also claims the very new and special competence relying on the expertise in the "problems of transformation".

The educational activity of intelligentsia originates from its excitation by some discourses revealing and unmasking the superstitions and bad habits of a "sovietized" man. Intellectuals propagate these discourses creating the image of the "post communist world" and supplying society with a number of related warnings. It is for instance often said that people under socialism are used to the state that provides them everything and manages their life, whereas in capitalism and democracy everyone has to take his life in his own hands and get responsible for his well-being. It is often said that democracy is not a constitution without conflicts, but the constitution where all social conflicts are being resolved on the public stage through the free debate of all parts with respect for law, individual freedom and justice. No doubt that the educational significance of these and other commonplaces is high, but it is the case only if this propaganda reaches the heads of those who practically deal with politics. Meanwhile, the current political thought in Poland, which we can meet in cultural journals, only very rarely put itself beyond the safe clichés and only very rarely is brave enough to confront the political correctness whose borders are, as it has been said, quite liberally, though clumsy drown. In effect, Polish intelligentsia produces rather a kind of dull discursive pulp, often self referential, and propagates it through the usual channels of information, which we know well what we can expect from. The petite-bourgeois public of these media long time ago got interested in other things, much more connected with welfare. Therefore, intellectual subculture gets more and more isolated. It commits even something like a gentle suicide resigning from what C. Taylor recognises as a natural inclination of intellectual classes in countries regaining freedom - celebration of their country's cultural peculiarity and propagation of the nationalist ideas. I would say that Polish intelligentsia makes a sacrifice of itself on behalf of the idea of assimilation, the mimetic idea. Poland - this big country, led by the course of recent history (World War II and Stalinism) to the incredible and very sad cultural uniformity, deprived of any expressive features after - unequivocally and without reservations disires only one thing: to be accepted by the West. There is a kind of historic humility it this, humility avantgarded by the impaired Polish intellectual class. That is, in my opinion, its great merit.

The Polish transitive mind continuing to pretend that Poles entirely belong to the West create a dence veil of illusion, an atmosphere, where the real changes and developments - legal and economical, and then mental and social - find very good conditions. Many years will pass before life of the West becomes ours, but the determination in maintaining the illusion that the transformation was yet basically done helps a lot the real transformation to democracy and market economy. When this comes true at last, countries like Poland will probably be able to contribute to political life in Europe and to bring some new qualities resulting from their experiences with transformation. In the meantime our expertise in this domain is also one of the myths, because now we live like in a fog and nobody (fortunately) really controls the whole process of the constitutional transformation. However this may change in some years and we will become the true political and intellectual partner of the West.