Justyna Melonowska
Maccabean Writings. Religion and Struggle

Melonowska’s philosophical work is marked by a relentless nonconformity

The history of Europe in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is overshadowed by the discourse of “struggle” (class struggle, the battle of the sexes, the fight for minority rights, the struggle of the colonised against the colonisers, the fight against Islamic terrorism, etc.). Yet the concept itself is not clearly defined, and appears to have led to a number of misunderstandings. The literature on the subject remains sparse, but it does sketch an outline of the discussion. Its axes are formed by two main approaches to the issue of struggle, focused around the categories of aggression and conflict. […]

The main problem today is that violence is mistaken for struggle, or rather that the two are conflated. The consequences of this error cannot be overstated. Whereas struggle can and ought to be something respectable and even beautiful, violence can never be regarded as such. It is nothing more than the manifestation and exploitation of one entity’s advantage over another. Violence is invariably disproportional; it is an expression of the power of one and the powerlessness of another. Naturally, it can be employed in the service of good (for example, I can use violence to give an unwilling child medicine that is critical to its health). Still, it is justifiable to regard violence with mistrust. While struggle, debate, and conflict are indispensable features of social life and consequences of society’s creative impulses, violence itself is an example of the dark and disgraceful elements of the social realm. One can think of it as a “technique”: the art of exploiting one’s own advantage to strike, hurt, or score against the adversary. In this perspective, violence is a component of struggle, or the method by which struggle is carried out. Outside of this narrow scope – when violence is no longer a means of struggle, but a way to achieve dominance and exercise power – there is a significant difference between the two. This matter warrants careful consideration, especially in twenty- first century Europe, where to mount a struggle against anyone is to invite accusations of violence or the intended use thereof.

Violence is employed by one person against another. Even this simple statement reveals that one entity is clearly less powerful, passive, powerless, or at least not resisting. The other, by contrast, is active and causative.

We should note here that it is possible for the weaker side to use violence against the stronger opponent. After all, the latter side may choose not to use its strength, and decide not to actively resist or counterattack. Struggle is different: one struggles with someone over something. It is thus an act that involves some basic solidarity between those engaged in it. The term “negative cooperation” is insufficient here because, as I mentioned previously, it fails to capture the axiological foundations of the covenant binding the adversaries. Struggle, on the other hand, presupposes the existence of truths worth fighting for. Paradoxically, it is therefore an alliance formed in pursuit of an idea. It occurs between subjects who are motivated and capable of action, ones whose spiritual worlds are circumscribed and possess their own measures and ideals. Violence is different. It is neither a form of solidarity nor covenant. It is fundamentally egocentric. A person engaged in struggle is guided by the will to determine the truth and by the desire for victory. Here, victory is, above all else, the triumph of the cause one is fighting for. In the case of violence, primacy is placed not on truth, but on demands; not on the desire for victory, but for domination. Struggle is also deeply linked to duty. First, to engage in struggle is (or can be) one’s duty. Second, struggle itself is waged with the goal of understanding the essence of one’s duty.

Excerpts translated by Arthur Barys

Justyna Melonowska
Maccabean Writings. Religion and Struggle

Melonowska’s philosophical work is marked by a relentless nonconformity

Publisher: Fundacja Augusta hr. Cieszkowskiego, Warszawa 2020
Translation rights: Fundacja Augusta hr. Cieszkowskiego,

Justyna Melonowska is one of Poland’s most interesting intellectuals, one whose philosophical work is marked by a relentless nonconformity. She emerged into the public consciousness as a critic of the anthropology of John Paul II, sparking interest in liberal circles. However, she soon redirected the barb of her criticism toward the liberal identity of contemporary Europe. Her interest in the decadence of Western culture resulted in the book Pisma machabejskie. Religia i walka [Maccabean Writings. Religion and Struggle], one of the main themes of which is the inability of Euro-American culture to fight for the very principles and values that shaped the West. This failure, Melonowska writes, is linked to the false conviction that instead of fighting for these values, it is enough to simply employ violence against those who consider the battle worth waging. In consequence, beneath the veneer of the anti-violence rhetoric that has gained such popularity in the West, there is a stifling of debate about the actual problems facing Western culture.

Melonowska argues that the belief – once shared throughout the classical West – that it was necessary to fight for the truth, both the internal truth of our civilization and the struggle with other cultures over the truth that would shape human existence, was a fundamental product of Western thought that has since been lost. The West today is preoccupied with the symbolically, economically, and politically violent imposition of new, ultraliberal social and political models onto the rest of the world – models that would fail, the author maintains, if tested in the fire of true intellectual battle.

Melonowska uses the Maccabean Revolt, a famous chapter in the history of Israel, as a stepping stone for further consideration of the range of actions that could be undertaken – including restoring the capacity for struggle without resorting to savage violence – to reclaim what the writer believes to be the truly universal elements of the West’s legacy. In Melonowska’s view, classical Europe, unlike its modern successor, was not an ideological monolith, but a culture that lay the groundwork for discussion among divergent strains of thought, from which good was subsequently extracted: good society, true religion, and mature liberty.

Tomasz Rowiński

Translated by Arthur Barys

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