Liberalism and the Meaning of Life

flickr || CC

Not all kinds of liberealism shall be defended so fiercely as if it were independence. Yet, let us defend liberalism with the face of solidarity as a remedy that might help us restore trust in the Polish state and bring to life a decent society on the rubble of a community after the Law and Justice government. A government which destroys the country.

In Poland, liberalism is not very popular. There are at least two reasons for such a state of affairs: first, due to its affinity to procedures, individual rights, consensus, and restraint in telling people how to live, liberalism is a project that is best descibed as distanced. Every attempt to bring it closer to the people is therefore as challenging as trying to get closer to the sun.

Secondly, it is a common belief that a liberal is by definition a supporter of capitalism, believes in the effectiveness of the “invisible hand of free market” so strongly just like a Catholic believes in the “invisible hand of God”.

The thing is that both of these convictions serve as a means for poking fun at liberalism. Of coure, it is not entirely pointless according to those who on a daily basis cow people into believing that liberalism is the worse plague there is – next to leftism, of course.

Is it therefore possibe to present liberal ideas in such a way so that Poles might stop fearing it? It is indeed, and I’d like to see the following key values of liberalism in Poland: modesty, compromise, trust, freedom, and happiness.

Liberals are characterized by modesty. They are unlikely to claim that they acquired god-like features and thus are infallible. They do not believe that they know better what people need and truly desire. The only thing that they might be sure of is that even their political adversaries sometimes make some good points. And that is why liberals – in contrast to full of themselves ideologists of the right wing – will base their actions on their uncertainty. Yet, what’s uncertain is usually unstable.

Liberals must defend – especially now, when fundamentalisms win people’s minds – the idea of a compromise. And of a dialogue. All this in the name of “carrying each other’s burdens”, as John Paul II would say. This is why a compromise will not always be rotten and that manning the barricades does not necessarily imply that it’s a manifestation of one’s strong conviction.

Liberals may see in people with different views opponents, yet they will never perceive them as enemies nor enter with them in a fight to the death. Humility is therefore deemed as a virtue that liberals should never loose sight of, wherever a liberal holds power – in a voivodeship, a city, a municipality…

Liberals work hard to make trust the axis of all human relations: between a citizen and a state, and vice versa. Trust is much cheaper than distrust, and much better than envy.

A liberal government might thus tell you where you should place the pavement in your municipaity or city, where to locate a nursery or a school. At the same time, liberals will not rest until they create the best possible conditions for you and your family so that you can decide on your own where to place the said pavement in your municipaity or city, where to locate a nursery or a school. Only by cooperating for a common good may we experience firsthand that trust pays off.

What for do liberals need a state? Only for one thing: a state is a tool for providing citizens with such conditions and possibilities of a further development so that they can create themselves and pursuit their own goals – regardless of their background, skin color or sexual preferences.

In other words: a liberal state will never stand in the way of your self-realization and pursuit of happiness. Such a state will also, however, not turn its back on people affected by misfortune, injustice or suffer from any other harm.

Liberalism does not want to (and it cannot) resort solely to trivial economic matters. After all, we already know that the connection between the increase in GDP does not translate that much into individual’s happiness.

It is precisely this false correlation that Robert Kennedy was attacking. He used to state that GDP “counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. (…) It counts (..) the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.

If we want Poles to take liking to liberalism once again, we – the liberals – must make it more appealing than presenting liberalism as relating solely to economic indicators (like GDP). We must place at its core such values as happiness, equality, and solidarity – which, after all, give meaning to our lives.

The aricle was originally published in Polish at:

Jaroslaw Makowski