The collective-man of res publica. Norwid and the civic society
The intellectually and politically tempestuous crystallization of the civic ideal in the nineteenth and twentieth century manifested not only in Europe (especially Western), but also in North and Middle America, and in time – all over the globe. An intense search for the “civic ideal” is clearly discernible in societies comprising the former Polish Republic, whose demise towards the end of the eighteenth century and the subsequent phases of its increasingdecompositionnot only failed to annihilate the republican tradition but in fact intensified authentic debate on possible roads toward modern society in the future independent state. A key role in this important dialogue was played by representatives of the landed gentry and the intelligentsia, the latter emerging in the nineteenth century as a new social formation that basically had no exact counterpart in other countries. In time, a few representatives of other classes also joined this dialogue on the shape of the future Polish state.
What is the meaning of the phrase “civic society”? Today, it is used almost naturallyby columnists and politicians representing various positions, but it was virtually non-existent during Norwid’s lifetime, although the very ideaof organizing collective life on the basis of “civic” virtues has an almost immemorial provenance. This article attempts to describe Norwid’s civic thought, mainly by analysing his discursive statements, chiefly in journalism. Norwid was decidedly opposed to any doctrinaire elevation of “humanity” (which he called a “holy abstraction”) over “nation” and “Church,” through which individuals can actually partake in “the work of ages.”
Another area in which Norwid struggled to develop clear civic categories comprises visions of humanity’s universal happiness and/or its apocalyptic fall, many of which were promulgated at the time. In his polemics with utopias of “fulfilled history” it is possible to discern clear echoes of ideological debates held at the time, especially ones between mystical and political visions used by various “prophets” to describe the ultimate perspectives for the development of current events whose subject is “humanity” – a category replacing “nations,” which would be thus seen as ending their historical “mission.”From this angle, Norwidwould criticise Skład zasad[A collection of principles] by Adam Mickiewicz– a manifesto of revolutionary transformations of civic rights, which are part of the legacy of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.In a letter to Józef Bohdan Zaleski, dated 24 April 1848, Norwid expressed his outrage at most theses contained in Skład, which he saw as undermining traditional values such as “homeland,” “property,” “lineage,” “nation,” etc.
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