Essay
Marek Cichocki
The Beginning of the End of History: Political Traditions in the Nineteenth Century

A voice in the discussion on the topic of the identity of the old continent

Since the current situation of Europe and the West can be described as the end of the end of history, and thus as the end of belief in an unshakeable continuity of the European, modern civilisation in its uniform, universal and dominant character, it is thus obviously not possible to avoid questions of what this actually means. It’s also not possible to avoid the lack of answers that we are faced with. But it just might be that the lack of answers is the essence of the current state of affairs, and although this most frequently fills us – people created by the civilisation of the end of history – with uncontrollable fear and a sense of helplessness, this juncture is actually the source of possible hope: the fact that we no longer know the future. For perhaps what disappears is the greatest cause of our soothing comfort and increasingly disturbing lack of spiritual curiosity. Certainly the end of the end of history signifies that the knowledge we asked about at the onset, that is of the political history of the nineteenth and twentieth century, is becoming or is already “closed” knowledge. This does not by any measure mean it is useless knowledge. Derived from reflection upon various phenomena of the entire, combined nineteenth and twentieth century processes, it still allows us to understand what contemporary Europe became and where the roots of its current weaknesses lie; nevertheless, and this we must accept, it tells us less and less or even nothing at all about what the future holds for Europe. For it is knowledge that functions in a particular model of Western modernity, which on account of various factors such as internal crises and global forces is approaching its end – as the end of “the end of history”: a certain history. I don’t want to assert that the status of this knowledge is now similar to the knowledge of the complexity of events in ancient Greece in the times when it stopped being taken into account, while Rome became identified with the reality of the globalised world of that day. It’s not yet antique knowledge or at best classical knowledge. It continues to hold practical and deeper applicability, and for this reason should not be discarded.

The lack of historical sensitivity that is typical for the contemporary European is a source of political weakness. Thanks to historical knowledge there is still much that we can understand in existing and continually influential political phenomena. Thus, the political history of the nineteenth century still explains the complicated psychological state of relations between the Germans and the French, which remain till this day, but have their real genesis in the events of 1807; it uncovers the causes of unclear German-Italian relations, that are closely related to the circumstances of the emergence of both modern European states; it shows the secret alliance between Hungarians and Germans, as well as the intimacy between Czechs and Russians. It will prevent us from fantasising about Central Europe as remaining significant politically after the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy; make us aware of the inability to overcome the incompatibility of the British to continental matters; the strategic connection between France and Russia; as well as the unclear and uncertain character of American Prometheism in relation to Europe, as well as many other matters. That is enough for now concerning the practical meaning of various political questions. There are nevertheless issues that are more profound, which on the other hand make it possible to understand the irresoluble nature of Europe’s spiritual crisis, that is the result of developing European modernity, the civilisation of the end of history. I mean here such issues as the connections between capitalism, democracy and individualism, or the opposition between the civilisation of culture and religion, created by liberalism by means of modern imperialism: through the evolution of nationalism or the endless faith in scientific progress, with an undercurrent of nihilism. All this leads to the development of such an image of humanity and the world, which becomes the source of a spiritual crisis, and attempts at overcoming this crisis that rest on the notion of the inescapable end of history.

Translated by Christopher Garbowski

Essay
Marek Cichocki
The Beginning of the End of History: Political Traditions in the Nineteenth Century

A voice in the discussion on the topic of the identity of the old continent

Publisher: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 2021
Translation rights: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, e.szwagrzyk@piw.pl
Foreign language translations: Germany (Północ i południe), the Czech Republic (a selection of essays)

Instructive and competent, and, what is more, a highly readable essayistic story by a historian of ideas about the nineteenth century: the genetic period for the ideological character of contemporary Europe. This is a voice in the discussion on the topic of the identity of the old continent, the crisis it is experiencing and the chances of overcoming it. The eponymous play on words – “the beginning of the end” – refers to the observation that before our very eyes we are witnessing the exhaustion of a manner of thinking and acting, embodying the conviction of the end of history, brought to the attention of a broader public three decades ago by Francis Fukuyama.

A good idea of the view of the century presented in the  book can be gained from the  metaphors Ian Bostridge coined of those times: “volcanic” (the  Napoleonic era) and “winter” (the  post-Napoleonic period). The “volcanic” period of the first half of the century consists in the revivalism and prometheanism transforming the conditions of life in the spirit of what was best in the heritage of the French Revolution propagated by Napoleon. The “winter”, a metaphor taken from Schubert’s Winter Journey, was the spread of nihilism, manifested in the loss of faith in the ideal of emancipation of the individual in the spirit of an individualistic understanding of freedom.

A parallel current of reflection within the book is the Polish phenomenon of a nation modernising itself despite having lost its statehood as a result of the so-called partitions of the state toward the end of the eighteenth century. Cichocki discusses the views of the greatest Polish thinkers as well as the efforts undertaken in the nineteenth century by Poles in the new political circumstances – efforts that prepared them for the rebirth of the Polish state in a new form. The difficult experiences during the times of the loss of statehood are portrayed as a resource of political culture: invaluable in the political changes that are currently taking place. This resource includes a wealth of models of a nation managing itself in troubled times.

Tomasz Garbol

Translated by Christopher Garbowski

Selected samples

<
>
Urszula Honek
Honek
Radek Rak
Agla
Mariusz Staniszewski
Staniszewski_Kartel
Paweł Rzewuski
Adriana Szymańska
Kazimierz Orłoś
Orlos
Rafał Wojasiński
Tefil
Antonina Grzegorzewska
Grzegorzewska_drama
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Sprawa
Tobiasz Piątkowski, Marek Oleksicki
Piatkowski_Oleksicki_Ekspozytura
Daniel Odija
Bronisław Wildstein
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Droga
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Bunt-rojstow
Witold Szabłowski
Szablowski_Rosja-od-kuchni
Andrzej Muszyński
Muszynski_Dom-ojcow
Wiesław Helak
Helak
Bartosz Jastrzębski
Jastrzebski_Dies-irae
Dariusz Sośnicki
Sośnicki_Po-domu
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski_chodz
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_SO
אנדז'יי ספקובסקי
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jakub Małecki
Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
Bartosz Biedrzycki
Zyta Rudzka
Maciej Płaza
Wojciech Chmielewski
Paweł Huelle
Przemysław "Trust" Truściński
Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
Rembek
Krzysztof Karasek
Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
Jakub Szamałek
Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło

69

Marta Kwaśnicka
Piotr Mitzner
Paweł Sołtys
Wacław Holewiński
Anna Potyra
Wiesław Helak
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marek Stokowski
Stokowski
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
HKD
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_Horyzont
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Olanda
Wojciech Kudyba
Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Bienczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Majewski
Weronika Murek
Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Swietek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
Klicka
Anna Kamińska

She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”

Wojciech Chmielarz

First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”

Anna Kańtoch

A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”

Marek Krajewski

The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”

Ks. Tomasz Stępień

This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”

Jakub Małecki
Szczepan Twardoch
Wiesław Helak
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Anna Kańtoch
Rafał Kosik
Paweł Sołtys
Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Martyna Bunda
Olga Tokarczuk
Various authors
Mariola Kruszewska
Waldemar Bawołek
Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
Wojciech Tomczyk
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar
Ks. Robert Skrzypczak
Bronisław Wildstein
Anna Bikont
Magdalena Grzebałkowska
Wojciech Orliński
Klementyna Suchanow
Andrzej Franaszek
Natalia Budzyńska
Marian Sworzeń
Aleksandra Wójcik, Maciej Zdziarski
Józef Łobodowski

The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”

Piotr Zaremba
Wacław Holewiński
To the top

© 2022 The Polish Book Institute