Into Infantile Society

Jan Miense Molenaer: Children Playing and Merrymaking // Public domain

The solemnly proclaimed “Polish Order” confirms the philosophy of the Law and Justice government. Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s speech had the usual paternalistic character, in which he assured about the strength of the country under the rule of the Law and Justice party. Moreover, in his speech, he promised more social transfers, sprinkling it with well-known patriotic platitudes.

The obvious purpose of the “Polish Order” is to strengthen the leadership of the Law and Justice. In order to achieve it, they use the promise of distribution of money at the expense of the middle class and the self-employed, the promise of centralization of power by sacrificing local governments, and ideologization of the school at the expense of historical truth.

The “Polish Order” is nothing less than the beginning of the election campaign of the Law and Justice. PM Mateusz Morawiecki deliberately popularizes the assumptions of the “Polish Order” touring the country in a car with the Law and Justice logo.

The strategy of Law and Justice consistently aims to weaken civil society and to strengthen an infantile society because it is easy to rule. Civil society consists of socially mature people. Maturity is defined by two characteristics: independence and responsibility.

Independence refers to the willingness to take things into one’s own hands without looking at the authorities, and sometimes even against their decisions. Responsibility, on the other hand,  means being sensitive not only to the consequences of one’s own actions, but to everything that matters in the modern world. The lack of these qualities or their insufficient development is evidence of social immaturity.

The socially immature people are those who expect the state to take care of them, and those who are closed within the narrow circle of their environment. The more socially immature people, the more infantile the society becomes (to the satisfaction of the authoritarian power). The degree of social maturity or immaturity depends on the attitude towards two important values, which are the sense of security and the sense of identity.

Attitude towards the Sense of Security

The sense of security can be derived in two ways. Firstly, from satisfying the need for care, when we are aware that someone is looking out for our safety. Secondly, from satisfying the need for agency, when we are aware of our own influence over the course of events.

According to Julian Rotter’s theory, people differ in their attitude towards the locus of control. There are those who believe that they have no control over their actions as its effect does not depend on them but on some external forces to which they are subject. This is how children and socially immature people behave.

Such people tend to be demanding and expect the state authority to help them solve their problems. They judge this authority solely on the degree to which it meets their expectations, and sometimes only on the basis of what the authority promises them. People who see themselves as dependent on forces external to them perceive these forces as omnipotent. To them they turn in the face of threats while blaming them for their misfortunes.

The old Russian saying “God Save the Tsar!” captures well the sense of hope and helplessness. The external locus of control over one’s own actions diminishes interest in public affairs, the process of coming to power by political parties, or the question of the rule of law. This is because social infantilism consists in the belief that these are matters over which ordinary people have no influence.

Contrarily to this first type, people with an internal sense of control have a strong sense of agency and derive a sense of security from this. They often reiterate that everyone is the architect of his own fortune. Moreover, they believe that even the most ambitious goals are achievable if one is determined enough, patient enough, and effective in gaining allies.

Those people perceive themselves as partners with the authorities whose decisions they are able to criticize and, if they disagree, to fight in order to change them. The internal sense of control over their own actions mobilizes them to achieve the desired goals without looking at the institutions of power. Furthermore, this approach is an inspiration to create non-governmental organizations or participate in existing ones.

In this case,  interest in the public affairs, the activities of the authorities, and the process of gaining power is very high. Their particular interest concerns the way the law is made and the content of legal acts, on which depends the possibility of independent actions which are autonomous from the authorities.

Since 1989, a gradual development of civil society has been observed in Poland. This is evidenced by the growing sense of influence on public affairs. Voter turnout in Poland is gradually increasing, although compared to other European countries it is quite low. In the last European elections it was 45.68%, in the parliamentary elections – 61.74%, and in the second round of the presidential elections – 68.18%.

In its research, The Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS) shows that in 1992 Poles who were convinced that they had the ability to influence the public affairs constituted only 7%. On contrary, in 2018 the number increased to 38%. The awareness of influence on city or municipal affairs is increasing even better: 16% in 1992 and 59% in 2018. Moreover, the research shows that the sense of lack of empowerment is the greater the older the age, the lower the level of education and the worse the material situation.

Another indication of civil society was the rapid formation of numerous non-governmental organizations in the form of associations, movements, clubs or foundations. Active participation within these organizations was reported by 67% on the local level, and 48% on the national level. In many cases, however, this activity could only be incidental as it could limit to casting a vote in a neighborhood council poll or participating in The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity.

Moreover, 27% of Polish citizens describes themselves as formal members of the non-governmental organizations, which puts Poland in twenty first place among the EU countries. Generally, according to CBOS data from 2018, the percentage of people in the EU associated with these organizations is 43%.

The results of a survey conducted among young people (aged 16-29) in 2020 by the Institute of Public Affairs seem to be optimistic from the point of view of the development of civil society. 66% of respondents agreed that the democracy is the best way to govern. 72% rejected the thesis that it does not matter whether the power is democratic or not.

At the same time, 71% of respondents claimed that the threat of authoritarianism is the most important issue in Poland. This is related to the belief of 63% of respondents that the current situation in Poland does not satisfy them. The mass participation of young people in the protests of the Women’s Strike confirms these results.

Unfortunately, the situation looks much worse in terms of the attitude towards the law-abidingness. The blatant violation of the law and disregard for the Constitution, which the authorities of the United Right have been committing since the beginning of their rule, arouses strong opposition in relatively few circles, mainly from the intellectuals.

The circle of attorneys is the first to rebel as they are directly affected by this situation. The Committee for Defense of Democracy, which was a reaction of the civil society to the authoritarian actions of the government, has clearly lost its initial momentum. Consequently, it is now the organization of no great significance.

The majority of citizens seem to be indifferent to the devastation of the legal order in Poland, which shows, on the one hand, ignorance in matters concerning the state system, and on the other, indifference to its system. Apparently, democratic values have not been rooted in Polish society since the authoritarian aspirations of the government do not deter the majority of its voters.

One must admit that the Law and Justice government has done a lot to make the Polish society more infantile than civic. Statements of the United Right politicians and propaganda created by the government media have effectively downgraded systematic values, such as the quality of democracy or freedom of speech and assembly by putting tax policy, social policy and social transfers in the foreground. Consequently, clientelism has developed and the citizens’ sense of dependence on the state has strengthened.

The Law and Justice has devaluated the importance of law by putting the political will of the ruling party first. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has repeatedly condemned the legal impossibilism that hinders the implementation of desired changes. For the same reasons, the Law and Justice does not agree with any sharing of power.

Moreover, it is consistently towards a centralist model of the state in order to have everything under its control. Therefore, the local and non-governmental organizations are its natural enemy. The central government fights this organizations by limiting subsidies or not giving them at all. On financial support can count only those who support the Law and Justice and those who are infiltrated by the party’s activists or its coalition members.

This unfair distribution of financial resources is done with shameless ostentation. Its aim is to draw people’s attention to how much they lose by electing representatives of the opposition in local elections or by engaging in activities of organizations which the Law and Justice party does not like. Thus, the generous support of organizations friendly to the authorities serves to suppress independence and develop clientelism on a mass scale. These actions are well from the communist period, which are creatively developed by the Law and Justice.

Attitude towards the Sense of Identity

The relation to identity is the second criterion for distinguishing the social maturity of civil society from the social immaturity of an infantile society. This attitude may be divided into closed and open identity. The first one comes from the membership in a strictly defined social environment. The second one, on the other hand, has the boundaries determined by the system of recognized values related to the conscious choice.

Open identity is typical for members of an open society, which civil society should be. This type of identity greatly expands the possibilities for interaction among people who, while differing in many ways, agree on the values they hold dear and strive to realize them.  These values make them sensitive to universal problems of a human nature.

Consequently, it is conducive to getting involved in issues that go beyond the borders of one’s own country or cultural circle, such as helping refugees, international charity or rescue operations. Furthermore, local activism is also inspired by universal values, such as human rights, law-abidingness, or environmental protection. Activist groups of this kind are characterized by inclusiveness which excludes the use of any other criteria for membership than commitment to common goals.

Closed identities draw a clear line between their community and other social groups. These other groups, being foreign, may not be of interest. Moreover, a person with this type of identity may be indifferent to what happens in them. However, it may also happen that they will treat these groups as a threat to their community and then they will be hostile to them.

In either case, their social sensitivity will be limited exclusively to members of their own community. However, when xenophobia is added to this, hatred of strangers and the desire to dominate also appears. Rivalry between social groups characterized by closed identities has no rational basis. It results from the need to be proud of one’s uniqueness and superiority over others.

Group chauvinism is particularly strong where individuals are aware of their mediocrity and lack of individual achievement because they seek compensation in the strength and uniqueness of their group. In contrast to open identity, which is an essential feature of civil society, closed identity characterizes an infantile society that is xenophobic and in love with myths of its own greatness.

In Poland the dispute between the supporters of closed and open identity has continued since the eighteenth century. In the last century the representatives of these strands are the National Democrats and the liberals. This first group tells stories about the greatness of the martyred Polish nation and about the glory of its weapon or its messianic duty. The liberals, on the other hand, are characterized by the progressive and universalistic orientation.

The nationalists want to close Poland to foreign influences, which is believed to be helpful to obtain their desired superpower. The progressives want to open Poland, which is viewed as a chance for its civilizational development and friendly cooperation with other countries without rivalry.

This dispute has become very visible after 1989. It seemed that Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004, its adoption of liberal values and awareness of the need for European citizenship, would finally tip the scales in favor of the progressives and consolidate the patterns of open Western culture in Polish society.

The counteroffensive of the conservative-nationalist side, however, proved to be surprisingly effective. The ease with which Jaroslaw Kaczynski convinced a significant part of the society to the old national democracy values indicates an extremely shallow rooting of the new cultural patterns. The Law and Justice propaganda was able to combine dignity and self-esteem with closed identity, and to present the open European identity as a threat to Polishness.

Often repeated slogans: “It is good to be Polish” or “I am proud to be Polish” are nationalistic poison that inflates the national ego, deprives people of humanistic sensitivity and makes them treat others with superiority. Pride distances us from others, closing us tightly in a narrow circle of ideas about our own perfection. Others become indifferent, but at the same time their attitude to us is no indifferent.

So it is not worth worrying about the fate of the refugees. After all, it is their problem that they find themselves in this situation. Why should we help them by accepting them at home, bearing the costs and exposing ourselves to the diseases they bring with them, terrorist attacks and customs that are alien to our traditions? Why should we get rid of coal as a source of energy when we have it in abundance? Let others take care of the environment if they care so much about it. Why do they want to do it at our expense?

The pristine image of our nation must be taken care of. Therefore, we should cut ourselves off from all those who deviate from the model Pole. These are various minorities who usurp the right to belong to our nation, such as people of other nationalities, dissenters, LGBT perverts and their defenders. Our pride does not allow us to accept criticism of Poland or to attribute to members of our nation criminal and unworthy acts committed at any time in the past.

The propaganda of the United Right and the actions taken by its government shape such attitudes of the apologists of proud Polishness. The tolerant attitude towards foreigners, including refugees from Syria and Chechnya, quickly turned into hatred.

According to a CBOS poll conducted in 2015, before the Law and Justice took power 72% of Poles declared support for refugees accepted from countries in armed conflict, while only 21% were against. A year later, those against accepting refugees were already 57%, and in 2017 – 60%.

The attempt by the former Institute of National Remembrance and previous governments to fairly judge the crimes at Jedwabne and other places of Jewish massacre has been abandoned by the current government. Instead, the Parliament dominated by the Right paid tribute to the memory of the National Armed Forces, which became famous mainly for killing Jews and Soviet partisans during the war.

Moreover, in Munich, Prime Minister Morawiecki laid a wreath on the grave of the soldiers of  The Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, which escaped there along with the retreating Nazi army.

By forming a united front with the Catholic Church in the fight against LGBT people, the Polish government has taken the side of the most diehard and obscurantist circles. As a result, Poland ranks last among EU countries in the ILGA-Europe ranking, which measures LGBT equality.

The government promotes national pride among Poles with passion. It was manifested forcefully with the amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance prepared by the Ministry of Justice, which provided the criminal sanctions throughout the world for critical opinions about Poland, especially concerning Polish participation in the Holocaust.

Apparently, megalomania and stupidity have no meaning when one tries to be a defender of the good name of the Polish nation. Under the pressure of the USA and Israel the act was withdrawn. Nevertheless, this does not stop them from harassing historians who are trying to find objective truth about the Holocaust with lawsuits.

By the way, what is the understanding of patriotism among the representatives of the democratic opposition, who experience intestinal cramps at the sound of this word and vote under the dictates of the United Right on the issue of the tribute to the National Armed Forces and the amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance that compromises Poland?

The scary thing is that in the poll conducted in 2020 by (a nonprofit investigative journal and fact-checking project) as many as 39% of Poles want to censor Polish complicity in the Holocaust and bring historians who write about it to justice, while 11% of respondents had no opinion on the matter. As you can see, for many Poles the truth ceases to be important when it can be a detriment to pride.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Przemyslaw Czarnek (a member of Law and Justice) understand this perfectly when they talk about the need to teach history in school in line with Polish historical policy. Education is to be directed at “strengthening Polish identity” and patriotism.

The governments of the United Right have therefore done much to infantilize the Polish society. The model Pole is supposed to have the mentality of a football hooligan who is not guided by the principles of objective truth and universal justice, but by blind love for his nation.

One should also, like a child, satiate himself with tales of its greatness and power. A closed identity in the modern world means only isolation and pushing the country off the path of civilizational development. While others will rejoice at the rising standard of living in material and spiritual terms, Poland will be left with pride.

However, there are signs that Poles are trying to free themselves from the ideological pressure of the conservative-national right. This is evidenced, for example, by the fundamental change in the attitude towards refugees. According to a Kantar survey in 2021 for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 77% of Poles are in favor of helping refugees, including 62% who believe that Poland should accept refugees.

Another optimistic prediction is the position of young people on the most important threats to our country. In the previously cited study from 2020 conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs, respondents indicated that these threats include ecological threats in the form of environmental pollution (78%) and progressive climate change (74%).

Furthermore, the percentage of indications of threats promoted by the current government was significantly lower. Threats posed by immigration were mentioned by 59% of respondents, threats to traditional culture by 50%, and threats posed by gender ideology by 43%.

The sooner we free ourselves from National Democracy myths and the more we feel like citizens of Europe, the better off we will be in the modern world.

Written by:

Czeslaw Sikorski – Professor at the Faculty of Management of the University of Lodz. He deals with social problems of management, especially issues of organizational culture. Moreover, he is interested in analyzes and diagnoses of changes taking place in the Polish society

The article was originally published in Polish at:

Translated by Natalia Banaś

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