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In the Mirror of War

2023-01-13
Time to read: 20 min

I

War allows one to see better. Although treating it as the definitive probe of human affairs would be misleading. The most recognised theorist of war in our cultural circle, Claus von Clausewitz, declared: “War is part of human relations”. It is, therefore, not the entirety, but it allows most fundamental human problems to be seen in the right and clear light. Above all, it proves once again that it is a communal entity.

It is not a matter of the trivial recognition that people live in a community to which everyone must agree, as well as the fact that there are consequences to be drawn from this, although these are already open to dispute. It is about a fundamental issue, the acceptance of the primacy of community life, i.e. the understanding that contrary to prevailing convictions, collective existence precedes individual existence. To our contemporaries, this appears absurd and contrary to our elementary experience. After all, we experience, perceive, and live as individual existences from our subjective perspectives. But are the forms of our perception or understanding and the life practice coupled with them and the models of existence that grow out of them, as well as how we experience it, our individual creation? Are we capable of imagining an understanding of reality without language and the whole process of acculturation, thanks to which we can organise the stream of impressions into which our cognition breaks down? Only a small percentage of our actions can be considered to be the result of individual decisions, and even these seem to be the only choices among the set offered to us by civilisation.

Man is a social being because his human potentials are fulfilled and developed only thanks to culture, which is communal in nature. Admittedly, there is a universal dimension to it, allowing us to recognise ourselves as human beings as a result of our common nature - not everyone, especially today, wants to recognise it, but even if they deny its existence, their thinking and actions refer to it. Otherwise, it would be impossible to speak of the specific being that is the man. It is nature that makes it possible for people to understand each other to a certain extent and recognise each other as fellow human beings bound by a single morality, as Christianity strongly emphasises. It is inscribed in certain circles of civilisation until it descends to the level of the nation, the broadest community with which we can realistically identify today.

It is a community of destiny which fundamentally determines our existence. It is not a matter of choice. The particularisation of culture does not stop there and goes beyond; nevertheless, it is a nationality that today defines our elementary identification, translates into the institution of the state and is the expression of the collective will that should be implemented in politics. National differences, which manifest in language and symbols, art, and customs, grow out of the collective experience recorded in them, i.e. history. They make it possible to distinguish and differentiate even neighbouring nations such as Germans, Poles, Russians, or Czechs. Naturally, this affiliation, especially nowadays in the age of globalisation, does not ultimately determine the attitudes of all its members but marks them by allowing statistically to talk about nations even independently of their political institutions, which are of significant importance and further strengthen their identification. Although it is possible, the rejection of national belonging usually involves an attempt to replace it with another because, without some broader form of identification, a person cannot exist. Such a process is extremely difficult, often unattainable, and always fraught with consequences. Questioning one’s identity, therefore, paradoxically confirms its importance.

All these meanings of a nation at war are revealed particularly violently. The current conflict revolves around its question. The Russians do not want to recognise the existence of the Ukrainian nation. Surrendering to Moscow’s violence would mean for Ukrainians to renounce their national identity. So they defend it at the greatest personal risk. In the name of national survival, they accept even individual death because that is what it means to take part in an armed struggle.


        II


Understanding the communal character of human existence does not only mean its synchronic ad hoc dimension but the discovery of a diachronic, historical rootedness. We grow out of history, and even individual existence transcends the time of its physical presence and is imprinted on the fate of the generations to come. Awareness of this should not lead to passive fatalism or idle rebellion but affirmation or recognition of reality, which only opens up the perspective of understanding and action. In the extreme war experience, these truths impose themselves with particular sharpness and reveal their inevitability. At the same time, they show the superficiality, not to say the falsity of the prevailing ideology in the West, which infects and restricts the prevalent mentality. For it, all the conditions mentioned above appear as rules of enslavement. Apparently, liberation from them, and thus emancipation from all traditional identities, will allow people to develop previously unseen potencies and achieve true freedom. The experience of the contemporary West shows the opposite: emancipated from stable communities, we become not so much free as lonely and defenceless against forces that we can only oppose through institutions developed in the course of human history.

The fact that our civilisation is still going on is because an ideology which takes the shape of an aggressive counterculture has not succeeded in finally destroying its foundations, although it has been able to damage them significantly. As a result, we function in a hybrid system of contiguous, fundamentally contradictory ideas and forms of life, which unsettle the still existing traditional institutions and hollow them out of their elementary meaning.


III


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, first of all, exposes the fiction of imagining a completely new stage of human development that we have supposedly reached in our era. It fits in with the declaration of the “end of history” triumphantly proclaimed in 1989 by Francis Fukuyama. He claimed that the collapse of communism ended the dispute between the various models of human order, which grew out of different hierarchies of ideas. The defeat of communism marked the victory of the liberal order, which Fukuyama regarded as the foundation of human freedom and subjectivity; it was to be the result of progress, the struggle of the human individual for recognition and emancipation. The article that announced this news grew out of an erroneous recognition, inherent in liberalism, of the essence of totalitarianism and in his thinking; the author modelled himself on Hegel as interpreted by Alexander Kojève. Regardless of this, his theses were within the commonly accepted and generally binding opposition of individualism and collectivism, in which the representative of the first positive pole was to be liberalism and one of the incarnations of the second – totalitarianism. Real and concrete human collectivism was to subordinate the real and concrete human individual to abstract ideals, leading to his enslavement and alienation. A classic of this approach was Isaiah Berlin, particularly in his “Two Concepts of Freedom” and, to some extent, the early Leszek Kołakowski with essays such as “On the Priest and the Jester” or “Ethics without a code”, but they were accompanied by a legion of authors who dominated the intellectual scene of the West.

However, the very analysis of the phenomenon of totalitarianism shows that the opposition of individualism-collectivism is a mystification. Naturally, it is necessary to treat totalitarianism as a phenomenon in its own right rather than reduce it to a synonym for despotism or an oppressive system in general, as is done today. If we understand, however, that totalitarianism is a specific system, par excellence modern - otherwise, there would be no point in dealing with it separately - it will become clear that it is different from traditional tyrannies and worthy of special attention. Totalitarianism is a system of control over all aspects of social life, i.e., the complete subjugation of the subjects to the centre of power exercising it in the name of an ideology whose aim is the fundamental reconstruction of human reality. The condition for this is the dismantling of all pre-existing social structures and the establishment of new ones in their place, which will serve a utopian purpose and be inscribed in a totalitarian system. This means the complete atomisation of the human collective because only then do unorganised individuals, deprived of the institutions that defend them, transform into institutions; individuals are transformed into a human mass sluggish to the plans of the social engineers. The fulfilment of totalitarianism is thus a collection of defenceless because lonely individuals are unable to resist those in power. The current ideal of emancipation from traditional forms of culture leads to the same thing, i.e. the helplessness of individuals in the face of dominant centres, which, admittedly, do not constitute a vertical power structure as in communism but as a network of cooperating but autonomous centres less violently but more effectively exercise control over the society.

Probably nowhere has the totalitarian model been fully implemented for any length of time, and today, in the West, it is more of a threat than a reality. The liberal democracy model is becoming more and more apparent. The individualism-collectivism opposition grows entirely out of the ideology guiding it and makes it impossible to recognise the real danger that is increasingly threatening our civilisation and enslaving its modern inhabitants.

Among the successes of liberalism is the widespread belief that the freedom that has formed European culture is its creation. In fact, its various forms have been inscribed in successive chapters of Western civilisation and are mainly present in Christianity with its idea of the dignity of man as a being created in the image and likeness of God. Modern democracy is the heir to the old concept of republicanism, and liberalism itself is often and justifiably regarded as a parasitic creation which grew out of European civilisation but consumes it leading to decline and self-destruction.


IV


After the defeat of communism, the success of liberal democracy was to be unquestionable, and the social model developed in the West was to prove to be without an alternative. However, it soon became apparent that it was not universally accepted and underwent a fundamental evolution towards self-contradiction. The ideology, increasingly aggressively imposed on Western nations, increasingly ostentatiously rejected the basis of the culture out of which it grew. This was proclaimed, in fact, explicitly:  in the moderate version, Western civilisation was a ladder to serve progress and was now to be discarded as unnecessary or even obstructive. The extreme version was to be a system of enslavement of man responsible for all crimes and iniquities and thus was only to be condemned. The broadest social laboratory in which the countercultural ideology is gradually being put into practice is the European Union.

For almost four decades, the former project of the community, which was brought to life in the early 1950s by its predominantly Christian founding fathers and which, through the removal of barriers and joint ventures, was to lead to the progressive integration of the continent, has been replaced by a constructivist version. Despite appearances, it contradicts the ideas of Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi and implements the post-communist vision of another designer of one Europe, Altiero Spinelli. The order of European culture replaces its oppositional, emancipatory version with an organic, bottom-up method with a project of unification and integration of the continent imposed from above. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 officially declared the initiation of this project. All national identities were to be subordinated to the dominant ideology and melted into the Union as a completely new project. All particularisms and national interests were to give way to a universal, in this case, still only European, community, which was to show the way to others. Hence, the absurd ecological projects such as the transition to a CO2-free economy in the EU, which, although on a global scale releases less than 10% of this gas, but in this way is to set an example to the entire world, which will be ashamed and follow it.

No, these are not stupid jokes; although elementary reflection would treat them this way, this is how the undertaking is officially motivated, the implementation of which would be an economic shock for the entire Union and a disaster for the countries of our region, especially Polish. This example reveals well the reality of utopian intentions. Since their goal is to build an ideal project, they must postulate a fundamental reconstruction of the human reality, which is fundamentally flawed in all its aspects; otherwise, the errors of the old world would have to block the construction of the new. To this end, the enlightened, emancipated elites carrying out this transformation must be given full power. In utopia, then, lies the seed of totalitarianism. The EU's rulers are demanding more new powers that enter more and more spheres of life and try to regulate them with ever tighter laws, thus replacing politics, i.e. the choices of citizens, with an ideological corset written on legal norms which also destroys the very idea of law.

The ideological defence of the climate, which has little to do with actual ecology, exposes the mechanism of utopian projects. It gives the most powerful in the EU new instruments of power and serves the interests of the most powerful corporations. Further, costly and demanding standards eliminate their weaker competition and increase the advantage of economic leaders. In political terms, the radical reduction of CO2 emissions gives additional advantages to the EU hegemon that Germany is increasingly becoming. Admittedly one of the reasons for the establishment of the European Community was the intention to harness the power of this country, which since Bismarckian unification did not fit into the traditional European set-up, but the logic of the utopian thinking constituting the Union resulted in the transformation of continental Europe into a German imperial project.

Because just as the totalitarian order is inscribed in the implementation of utopian projects, the elimination of civilisational mechanisms developed by generations, toning down conflicts, which belongs to an ideological undertaking, intensifies the ailments it was supposed to put an end to. Communism, which was supposed to abolish the exploitation of workers, led to its intensification unknown elsewhere. The system which was supposed to express the will of the working class incorporated into its monopoly structure the trade unions, which, instead of defending the workers, reinforced the control of those in power. The traditional ethical order, to which it was possible to appeal against exploitation, although not always, as in human reality, was successfully rejected in the name of the new communist morality. Etc. The European Union, by setting up supranational structures, made it possible for their takeover by the stronger states, especially the Berlin hegemon, and made the interest of Germany presented as a European good.


V


The official parting with the policy that the “end of history” had heralded only resulted in hiding its mechanisms and thus a much more brutal - because covert - competition and consequently the domination of the more powerful. Such is the nature of the “liberal democracy” project, which is an oligarchy using ideological justification. Throughout the West, but especially in Europe, dominant left-liberal elites have conquered the entire political scene and colonised the traditional parties of the right, which today are distinguished from the left almost exclusively by their names. This is presented as another symptom of the end of history, the next stage of progress. According to this interpretation, enlightened people have reached a consensus and therefore stopped arguing about fundamental issues, against which protest only immature, closed-minded communities locked in traditional prejudices or populists who take advantage of their ignorance to seize power in this way. This approach still does not meet with full approval, although it deforms an already increasingly conventional democracy. Groups and politicians outside the official public scene who oppose the oligarchic status quo are gaining, albeit with problems, more and more support from people increasingly aware that they cannot find their true representatives across the spectrum of the political establishment. Consequently, a ruthless battle has been unleashed against the contesters: they are considered populists and pushed out of the official public scene, and the chance of their democratic success is extremely hindered.

The oligarchy, i.e. big business, powerful corporations, especially lawyers, the media and opinion-forming centres, and the political establishment proclaim an increasingly coherent ideological project that claims to be a rational world order. It is supposed to transcend traditional beliefs and superstitions in the name of a rational order, which in the Union is supposed to express “European values”. Their catalogue has not been formulated anywhere, but it can be deduced from the Union’s rhetoric.

These values are supposed to be freedom and equality, the rule of law and democracy, tolerance, pluralism, and openness. In reality, all these ideas have been reduced to the role of fetishes, hollowed out of their rational content, and led to self-denial. Freedom, but not for the enemies of freedom that are branded by the establishment, similarly tolerance and openness; democracy, but only in its liberal, i.e. oligarchic form; equality serves the destruction of cultural hierarchies replaced by new ones set by the spokesmen of liberalism; the rule of law turns out to be the power of a caste of lawyers in the service of a new ideology under the banner of dynamically developed “human rights” arbitrarily designing a legal order over which citizens have no influence. These fetishes of liberal democracy are supplemented by the reverse, i.e. a taboo sphere into which relegated are ideas in opposition to its ideology. Anyone who refers to them is exposed to condemnation and exclusion from the public sphere. Symbolic violence, which is expressed in the disavowal of those who do not accept the official status quo, evolves into actual violence manifested in laws criminalising the criticism and alternative solutions under the slogans of combating hate speech or the promotion of fascism and rulings that are awarded as a result, as well as in the increasingly official action of militant groups such as Antifa or BLM, physically attacking their opponents, preventing them from proclaiming their views and generally persecuting them.

Liberal orthodoxy increasingly explicitly refers to the strategy of the Stalinist People’s Front. The communists, who officially formed it against the Nazis, counted anyone who refused to join their formation as part of the “fascist camp”. Today, fascists do not constitute any significant force, but the fewer of them, the more sweepingly the baton of anti-fascism is being played by the liberal-leftist elites. This is a parallel action to the “denazification” campaign in Ukraine that Putin has announced. The anti-fascist attitude of the Western elites can be seen in it as in a distorting mirror.


VI


The war against Ukraine has compromised the EU’s foreign policy, which has appeared to serve German interests, the more ruthlessly pursued, the more tightly obscured the declared common good of Europe while at the same time serving the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions. In 2008, Putin attacked and annexed part of Georgia’s territory (as usual, establishing as “independent”: South Ossetia and Abkhazia); six years later, he occupied Ukrainian territories: Crimea, Donbas and Lugansk, in fact, started and continued the war against this country; has dismantled in Ukraine the remnants of democracy, locks up and murders political opponents, kills them in Europe, and during this time Germany has fundamentally increased its imports of Russian energy resources, followed by the entire EU.

Europe, and therefore mainly Germany, has had the opportunity to block Putin’s appetites on several occasions. The Russian leader has nothing of the desperado about him. He checks the consequences of his aggressive steps, and only when it turns out that they do not involve any danger for him does he proceed further. The mistake he made in attacking Ukraine on 24.02 was tactical. Observing the embarrassment of the United States in Afghanistan and analysing the policy of the EU, i.e. Berlin, Putin came to the conclusion that after a swift action in Ukraine, he would only be met with rhetorical condemnation and insignificant sanctions, which would be quickly lifted anyway in the name of “dialogue”. He underestimated the determination of the Ukrainians and their leader, the new President Volodymyr Zelensky. He underestimated the policy of the US, in which representatives of the deep state realised that leaving Ukraine to Moscow would spell disaster for American foreign policy and were able to convince President Biden of this. On the other hand, Putin correctly assessed the EU, and thus mainly the Berlin-Paris tandem that dominates it. After the Russian attack, the German authorities refused to talk to the Ukrainian ambassador, stating that the state he represented would no longer exist within a few days.
It was the policy of the EU under the leadership of the German-French tandem that built Russia’s economic potential, i.e. mainly military potential, and accustomed it to the West’s passivity in the face of its neo-imperial policy. After the invasion of Ukraine, the EU tried to behave similarly. Even today, the leaders of Germany, France, and Italy, bending a bit under the pressure of their societies and the United States, are trying to do what they can to preserve the possibility of returning to their former political and economic interests. Countries such as Poland, which have done a disproportionate amount compared to their potential for Ukraine and its people, have not lived to see help from EU structures. Putin’s imperial appetites could have been contained for many years. Economic ties in the age of globalisation are so intense, and the superiority of democratic states over Russia in all fields is so great that no military activity was required for a long time. At the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, Lech Kaczyński, in agreement with the US, proposed to Ukraine and Georgia measures to join the Alliance, which they enthusiastically accepted. Unfortunately, Germany and France effectively blocked them. Had the door been opened to these countries, they would likely have already been members of the Alliance, and their fate would have turned out differently. The Kremlin halted the campaign in Georgia on the decisive initiative of President Kaczyński, who was supported by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

When it turned out that the assassinations of Putin’s opponents in Western countries involved no risk, we were faced with their continuation. The same is true of cyber-attacks. It started with the Baltic states, and, as these actions did not meet with a more serious response from the West, they are being carried out on a different scale against other countries, including the US.

Also, after the occupation of Crimea, Putin used the “wait and see” method. When it became clear that the protests of the West were reduced to rhetoric, he attacked the Donbas. Chancellor Merkel played a fundamental role in the acceptance of this neo-imperial policy. It was on her initiative that the Normandy Format was set up (once again, this shows that Berlin completely disregards the EU institutions and, on its behalf, takes measures agreed only with selected countries, especially Paris), grouping together Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and France. The main summit took place under the patronage of Lukashenko in Minsk and actually led to the acceptance of the status quo, i.e. the recognition of Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian territory. During the time of increasing Russian pressure, Germany sought at all costs to launch Nord Stream 2, which, combined with a climate strategy, would make the EU dependent on Berlin for energy. Germany surrendered Ukraine to Russia at this price and sought to neutralise its defence capabilities. They blocked its rearmament and more severe sanctions against Moscow (which they still do today) while they sold weapons to the aggressor. France behaved identically.

Germany’s policy towards Russia is the result of its imperial ambitions, the realisation of which is made possible by the present shape of the Union. In attempting to play on a global level, Berlin must distance itself from the US, in relation to which it would always be a subordinate partner. Hence the attempt to place the Union controlled by Berlin with the support of Paris at an equal distance from the Sino-Russian bloc and the United States. Assuming the role of an energy hub, which supplies all of Europe with Russian gas, would further make it dependent on Berlin, and the economic relationship between Germany and Russia, from which it buys energy resources and sells technology, is particularly advantageous for them. The war exposed this state of affairs, and it also revealed the infantilism of the dominant ideology in Europe.


VII


The doctrine of emancipation presupposes extraordinary potentials which are supposed to lie dormant in man and be tied up by traditional culture. It must, therefore, also assume man’s natural and thoroughgoing goodness. Otherwise, an emancipatory attitude would be perilous and even irresponsible. A whole host of consequences arise out of this stance, including a liberal approach to the law, in which punishment has a rehabilitation function exclusively, and the conviction that war and aggression can be avoided by appealing to the better side of the man and replacing every conflict with dialogue. An extreme manifestation of this attitude is pacifism. Another side of this approach is the questioning of masculine virtues. Besides, in emancipatory orthodoxy, the mere association of particular virtues with sex is already heresy because the difference between a woman and a man in the sphere of the psyche is to have mainly (in the harsher version – exclusively) a cultural character. It is striking that an ideology that refers to materialism rejects the influence that radically different conditions generated by the physiology of sex must exert on the psyche. This attitude is full of contradictions that its followers are unaware of.

They condemn war and aggression as such but rarely distinguish between victim and aggressor because this would have to lead to the adoption of a concept of just war, which is hardly compatible with the ideology of emancipation. Hence the infantile demonstrations, for example, after a terrorist attack, whose participants paint blue pacifist signs on the pavements and play the new Internationale, which the song “Imagine” has become. The attitude of the Ukrainians can be described as the antithesis of what Lennon calls for. “Imagine”, he exhorts, so let us follow his call and imagine that the intelligent Kremlin propagandist decides that Lennon’s song should be conveyed widely among Ukraine’s defenders. “Imagine there’s no countries and nothing to kill or die for”. Imagine that there is no Ukraine and therefore no point in fighting for it because it means to kill and die, especially since one should “live today”. Moreover, if there is only a sky above us, but purely as a natural phenomenon - and this is the only way to understand Lennon’s apostrophes – then dying for some ideal (for anything) makes no sense. The other thing is that life, too, seems then to be meaningless.

What are the Ukrainians defending? That which is their own. And yet the Beatles call for there to be no ownership. It is the Russians who are proposing fraternity in the Russian world (of peace). Admittedly, it is not yet a fraternity of all people that Lennon calls for, but always a step towards its realisation. It is the Ukrainians who defend their particular identity, what should belong to them, and yet in the world proposed by the author of the new Internationale, there would be no room for this. The defenders of “Imagine” could argue that its creator is, after all, about “the brotherhood of all people sharing the whole world”. Only that this is undoubtedly not what Zelensky and the nation he leads are claiming today, indeed quite the opposite. When confronted with an elementary threat, they defend their ordinary existence, which the adherents of utopian mirages deny. With views such that Lennon presents, it would be impossible to do so. It is difficult to imagine him on the frontline in Donetsk. The future utopia is the perfect alibi for refusing to show solidarity with the imperfect world in which we live, and it can be a justification for its destruction, which we experienced not only in the era of communism but also now we are confronted with it in the West in a less brutal way, but also destructive.

“Imagine” and similar “protest songs” are marked by the stigma of infantilism. It is the level of puerile sensitivity that discovers the existence of evil that seemingly contradicts the pedagogical hierarchy that is and should be the educational process’s axis. The discovery of the tension between normative order and human reality is the first stage of human maturation and the first crisis with which the immature must be confronted. It is difficult to deal with it without the help of an experienced educator embedded in the wisdom of a multigenerational culture. However, what if the culture questions its experience and sinks into infantile fantasies? We then lose the ability to confront the world and face its complex and, in the extreme version, tragic dilemmas. The brutal lesson of reality awakens from infantile dreams.

It is also a lesson regarding the significance of basic principles. The ideology of emancipation challenges them on the ill-considered principle of indicating their incomplete validity. Immature people, discovering that the truths they absorbed in the educational process in human reality are realised in different shapes, constantly contested, and exposed to doubts, experience a shock. The next stage in the proper course of adolescence is to overcome it and strengthen cultural attitudes so that the crisis can play a positive role. If not overcome, it leads to the opposite consequences and creates neurotic and weak personalities. The ideology of emancipation is their breeding ground. The war only makes its suicidal potential particularly clear. Is Ukrainian identity not pluralistic and, in borderline cases, questionable? Absolutely. Can the history of this nation easily be reduced to a unified idiom? Naturally not. War shows the fundamental (despite all the diversity) sense of national belonging, which arises from a common culture.


VIII


Today, when Ukrainians are fighting against the overwhelming forces of the Russian aggressor, when they display masculine virtues and generally try to keep women out of the line of battle and entrust them with the care of their children, the whole emancipatory narrative collapses like a house of cards. In a situation of existential threat, it is difficult to weave ideological and contradictory malarkey about the cultural origins of gender and their plurality, the need to recognise successive versions and to take special care of them, as dictated by “human rights”.

Defending the basic order of human existence, i.e. national identity and the right to self-determination, namely, positive liberty in a state of ontological emergency, turns out to be so unequivocal that even the staunchest defenders of the ideology of emancipation have fallen temporarily silent.

Naturally, voices are raised on their part that Ukrainians are defending a liberal and European order, but the toning down of such claims in relation to the intensity of the propaganda to which we have been accustomed is that even their spokesmen are aware that ideological clichés are breaking down when confronted with the reality of war.

Yes, one can agree that Ukraine is defending Europe, but this means that it is referring to the civilisation which built the greatness of our continent, but which is denied by the ideology and practice of the present European Union. The war in Ukraine again proves that purely negative freedom can only be a component of this idea, and absolutized freedom leads to its negation. What would happen if Ukrainians refused to submit to the regime of the community under threat? It would not have survived, so they, as its members, could not have existed. They could live under conditions imposed by strangers or in a state of constant flight, which would also condemn them to submission to the alien collectivities that constitute their temporary refuge.


IX


Ukraine’s experience is peculiar. Before the Russian aggression, it was regarded almost and often even as a failed state. There were justifications for this. Just as there were grounds to fear that the Ukrainians would not choose to defend their identity and especially the heroism we see today. Mass emigration, distrust of the structures of a state supposedly their own, yet seized by an oligarchic state, internal tensions, all this and many other factors suggested that the already arduous struggle for independence could only be fought by a small minority, condemned to imminent defeat. The opposite has happened. This awakening of Ukraine is proof of the importance of the national community and its culture. It has shown that Ukraine is not Russia and has a permanent awareness of this. The vitality of deep cultural structures has been exposed, resulting in the fact that, despite more than three hundred years of incorporation into Russia and the policy of imposing a new identity on it, the Ukrainians have preserved their difference, of which they are not fully aware. Today, while defending it, they are forging it anew. They are building a myth in the positive sense of the word. They prove the necessity of the symbolic creation of the human community, which must find expression in mythical images that precede rational divagations.


X


“I dare to think that most of us have only now experienced what can be called an absolute situation. Whatever circumstances we were in before had something relative about them; they were decided by judgements of “more or less”, by considerations of “on which side does this or that depend?”. Now, none of this is an option; faced with absolute decisions, we are mobilised, aware of the imminent danger, and ready to make sacrifices; there is no question of any balancing of losses and gains, no If and no But, no compromise, no gradation /.../ Here it is only decided - including by someone who has never heard the word “idea” or has never understood it -  that supreme instance of our being which Kant called the “capacity of ideas”, that is, the ability to grasp the unconditioned. Everything individual and conditioned, which has hitherto defined us, is beyond us. We stand on the ground of the absolute/.../ and that, to the hell, with all the “objective” justification of this readiness: in the past, only a few were allowed by life to do so life used to allow it or require it of a few/.../ Whenever I get into such justifications, I fear, that these objective values will turn out to be a fiction, that my justifications will be refuted. Irrefutable is only that which is unprovable - our devotion to Germany, which is not subject to any deductions.”  

Here is an excerpt from a dissertation by the classic German sociologist Georg Simmel, written at the time of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The crisis of modernity that we are experiencing in its extreme form in Europe today has a decidedly longer lineage, and today’s counterculture is only in its final stage. To a considerable extent, Simmel was an exponent of this crisis and, like his friend Max Weber, struggled to question the cultural order of Europe that came with the modern variant of Western civilisation. The quoted text is an expression of the euphoria shared by the vast majority of Germans at the time and, by the French, on the other hand. The war was to become a cure for the disease of modernity, a return to unity in the “unconditioned”, and the birth of a new order. It turned out to be the negation of these hopes.

In the following years of the war, Simmel fundamentally reduces them to finally abandon them. Then comes defeat. And still later, the congealing of national ideas into Nazi racism, which, fortunately for him, Simmel, who was of Jewish origin, did not live to see.

An advocate of emancipation might have found this intellectual adventure an excellent argument in favour of his convictions. Communitarian exaltations lead to nationalism and chauvinism, only to unveil their even more terrifying form after defeat. However, I have consciously chosen this risky example to illustrate the role of community, which reveals itself, especially in an extreme situation such as war. The human need and desire to transcend one’s interests-driven individual existence expresses the fundamental imperative of his nature. The fact that it can become warped, and degenerate is inevitable. Here is a commentary on Simmel’s text quoted above published by the contemporary sociologist Hans Joas in his book “The Genesis of Values”.

“When, under conditions of social differentiation, the individual lives above all in his or her difference from others, in wartime he is incorporated into a stultifying communal experience, he finds the mother ground from which he grew and regains his inner flexibility. All these wartime experiences intensify the intensity of life dreamt of by cultural criticism in the pre-war times. Thus, if one is looking for experiences that shape values, it is not at all necessary to turn to the history of previous eras or the potential of religion in the modern age. War at a stroke solves puzzles that to the intellectual schools seemed unsolvable.”

One can question the fundamental thought of Simmel cited by Joas. Today an individual does not so much live in his otherness from others as he imagines it, and this imagining is distant from reality. In reality, he lives in collective convictions, which he inscribes in his experiences and short-sighted interests. Such an individual is extremely easy to manipulate. However, the need for identification and belonging is its impassable horizon.


XI


As Aristotle wrote in “Nicomachean Ethics”, human existence is exposed to fundamental dangers, and all human virtues can lead to their negation. It is absurd to negate them for this reason, however, since the only way out would, in effect, be nihilism. We must accept them together with an awareness of the danger they entail. There is no escape from the drama of human fate except in a suicidal infantilism that makes us turn our backs on reality and bury our heads in the sand.

The war in Ukraine is one of the not-so-rare unambiguous conflicts in human history in which there is a clash of good and evil, with the victim defending himself against the aggressor trying to destroy him.

However, even this will not invalidate the sense of challenge undertaken by its people. To give it up, i.e. to give in, would mean the death of a nation, not in the sense of the physical annihilation of its members, but the annihilation of their national identity. It would leave them alive but spiritually mutilated. For to exist solely in an individual monad only here and now is a state of far-reaching reduction of humanity. How individual history is inscribed in the fate of the collective is eloquently demonstrated by Polish history and culture. Even the painful defeat of the Ukrainians in the current war means, paradoxically, that they are forging a new identity which will enrich their existence.

A new identity is paradoxically being forged, which will enrich the existence of its participants - of course, it would be far better if it emerged from triumph. Nevertheless, the fundamental victory, i.e. the defence of their national identity, the Ukrainians have already won.

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