What is our own state worth to us
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Co warte dla nas własne państwo



From: Polska współczesna. Trud i wartość państwa polskiego, Kraków 1926, p. 25-43



Characterisation of the constitution

The Polish constitution of March 17, 1921 organizes the state as a parliamentary republic and implements this principle with a very far-reaching consequence. At the same time, it uses the old tradition of Polish constitutions, primarily, the constitution of May 3, 1791, and much less of the constitution of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807) and of the Congress Kingdom (1815). The first one, the constitution of 1791, although it created a constitutional monarchy, after all, it was very restrictive for the monarch and went very strongly towards giving advantage to the Sejm in the state; the new constitution is related to this one because both of them almost completely remove the head of state from participation in legislation (according to the constitution of 1791, the king had only one vote in the Senate and announced laws), subordinate the executive power to the legislative (constitution of 1791 was the first one in general – and for a long time the only one – that legally formulated the principle of political responsibility of ministers, in the event of their resignation being demanded by both houses, by a two-thirds majority, and did not leave this issue to be regulated only by common law), do not treat the senate equally with the lower house of parliament, but they treat it as inferior, only granting it the right of veto. The current constitution, however, has gone far beyond that, because it has reserved many matters only for the lower house of parliament and has not even recognized the Senate as part of the Sejm, keeping this name only for the former lower house of parliament. The unanimity of the two constitutions is also interesting in the context of provisions that reserve the replacement of the head of state under certain conditions (calling the special Sejm meetings, if he cannot or does not want to do so) for the Sejm Marshal. The March Constitution is also compatible with the Polish tradition of providing society with broad civil rights, although nowadays, it is obvious in a fuller dimension and to wider circles than it could have been manifested in earlier constitutions over a century older.

         While associated with Polish political tradition, at the same time, it is strongly connected with contemporary constitutions, especially those that were created after the great war. It belongs to this type of constitutions which refer to the French constitution of 1875[1]. The President of the Republic of Poland is therefore elected by the legislative body, the Sejm and the Senate, like in France and the Czech Republic; projects for the election of the president by a special electoral body or the by whole nation were rejected. He is selected for 7 years, like in France and Czechoslovakia. The legislative body consists of two houses, both of which the senate and the Sejm are elected, and the higher age census was prescribed for both passive and active electoral law. In this respect, our constitution comes closest to Czechoslovakian one (the only difference is the age census), and is different from those where the senate consists of members sent there either by legislative bodies or governments of federal states (America, Germany, Austria), or by self-government bodies (France, Prussia). The term of members of the lower house of parliament is as in France and Prussia, and in the case of the Senate, as short as in no other country – everywhere it is longer than the duration of the lower house of parliament.

         The Constitution does not provide the Sejm with stronger brakes than the possibility of resolving it, which cannot be implemented easily. It does not know the presidential veto, which is recognised by the French and Czechoslovakian constitutions; it does not know the referendum, which recently has been adopted in the German and Austrian constitutions (as well as in the constitution of the Free City of Gdańsk). It expressly excludes the possibility of examining the conformity of ordinary acts with the constitution by any court, whether it is a common court (like in the United States of America), or a special tribunal, like in Czechoslovakia and Austria.

         In more recent constitutions, regulations on lower administrative and self-government authorities, the judiciary and civil rights are generally rather scarce or vague; in this respect, the Polish constitution does not present a wider field for comparison either. It should only be noted that the Polish constitution, as far as its amendment is concerned, provides for not only a qualified majority of votes for it, as most other constitutions, but it distinguishes the change of individual provisions from the revision, with the prescribed deadline for revision of 25 years taken from the Polish constitution of 1791


Civic duties

         Chapter V of the Constitution of March 17, 1921 is entitled: “Common civil obligations and civil rights”. If we reach for the old constitutions that are separate legal acts, we find there – starting with the constitution of the United States from 1787 and the French one from 1791[2] — some extensive provisions on civil rights. But they did not say anything or almost anything about the duties of citizens. And it is easy to understand. The constitutions were developed as a result of the fight against the absolute monarch forced by the society to issue them; they were about guaranteeing the rights of this society, not about emphasizing the duties that constitutions were just about to limit, so that their monarch would not demand too much. Only the last post-war constitutions mention civic duties, not only rights. But usually in moderation. For example, the Czech constitution of February 29, 1920[3] only mentions (§ 127) the duty of military service; the constitution of the German Reich of August 11, 1919[4] has little bit more mentions, obliging citizens to provide personal services to the state and the commune, especially the military service (Article 133), to bear public burdens (Article 134) and to accept honorary dignities (Article 132). The Austrian Constitution of October 1, 1920, does not know such regulations at all. The Yugoslav Constitution of June 28, 1921, touches on this this case only in one article (21), stating the duties of obedience to laws, serving the interests of the national community, defending the homeland and bearing state burdens according to the earning powers. They are exceptionally extensively formulated in the constitution of the Free City of Gdańsk of August 11, 1920, as obligations: defence of the constitution (Article 87), personal services for the state and municipality (Article 89), public burdens (Article 86), accepting the honorary dignities (Article 90) and the proper upbringing of children (Article 81).

         The Polish constitution is superior to all others in this respect. It puts the duties at the beginning of Chapter V, while others put such provisions only after the enumeration of civil rights, and formulate a list of these obligations in a much richer way. They are as follows:

1) faithfulness to the Republic (Article 89);

2) respect and compliance with the constitution, state and local laws and regulations (Article 90);

3) respecting legitimate authority and facilitating its fulfilment of tasks (Article 93, item 1);

4) conscientious performance of public duties (Article 93, item 2);

5) military service (Article 91);

6) bearing burdens and public benefits (Article 92);

7) raising children to become righteous citizens and providing them with at least initial education (Article 94).

         This is one of the well-formed parts of the constitution. And it must be considered useful that these provisions are included in the constitution. The state can be healthy and strong only if its civic duties are met by its residents. Especially when it comes to the state basing its organization not on the violence against an individual: a monarch or group (an oligarchy), but on the principles of democracy. It is good, therefore, that the constitution, which is to be the gospel of state life, lists the obligations of citizens in a comprehensive manner. After all, the constitution should be known to every citizen; in Gdańsk, it was rightly provided for in its constitution (Article 108) that the so-called civic education (Staatsburgerkunde) »is to be the subject of education in schools and that every student graduating from school is to receive a copy of the constitution«.

In the Polish state, spreading knowledge about civic duties and creating a sense that these duties should be fulfilled is more needed than anywhere else. Because we are one of these nations that have far too little of this knowledge and feeling – as far as the whole society is concerned – in relation to how much this knowledge and feeling should be, due to our extremely difficult political situation and geographical location.

Why aren’t the knowledge and sense of civic duties strongly developed in Poland? It is not difficult to explain if we take into account the historical development of the nation, so strikingly different from the one other nations had, formed in such a knowledge and sense. The sense of duty towards the state was simply being formed in the entire modern Europe according to the same pattern. It was being formed by the absolute monarch's power, through the pressure of the offices enforcing the performance of duties, and the punishment in the event of failure. This way, people were taught what their duties were, the society was being accustomed to making the fulfilment of duties a habit, sometimes even a thoughtless habit of subjecting themselves to any order and direction from the authorities, like in Germany, especially in Prussia. It was a positive result of the period of absolute monarchy, which, actually, has left such a sad memory behind.

In the last centuries of the existence of the former Commonwealth, this obligation to perform the duties existed, but only in relation to one class: peasants. They had to listen to the lord of their village. And although the history of serfdom is considered a very sad card in our history, this one thing remained an advantage after that infamous institution – the fact that the peasants learned to listen to the authority. It is true that, because they dealt only with local authority, and were cut off from the state for over three centuries, their formation was very specific, led to the hatred of the state authority (1846![5]). After all, the society's habits when the power local lord was later transferred onto the state level have not changed that much. Civic virtues developed partly in the cities – but only partially, in the face of the weakness of the municipal authorities of the former Commonwealth in the newer era and too great depravation of these authorities, which was very visible in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in smaller towns. The nobility from the era of the end of the former state was even less conscious, though it had a broad knowledge and a strong sense of civic duties in the 16th century, that were considerably developed in the previous tough state school, and in this century, strengthened by humanism, by a broad and quite unpretentious education based on the knowledge of Roman history, which was the source of not only the models of republican liberties, but also the virtues of civis Romanus[6]. Jews who were foreign to the state and to the entire indigenous to Polish society, had the weaker feeling of civic status, with their own specific courtyard for their activity, they tried to gain a wider scope for it by evading regulations; in these conditions, they could not learn the virtue of obeying the laws; there were no attempts to make them serve in the military.

With such poor reserves of civic practice, we found ourselves under the rule of partitioners, which lasted for a century and a half; when considering the impact of this period, one can easily ignore the short rule of the Duchy of Warsaw[7] and the Kingdom of Poland[8], and the years of pseudo-freedom of the Republic of Krakow[9]. Under the foreign rule, the orders of state and national feeling dispersed, which in normal development are identical to each other and, in fact, the same, when the concept of state and national affiliation coincide with each other, and the state is only a form of organizing the nation. Our situation was different. The national and state feelings were often contradictory. After all, the betrayal of the partitioning state would sometimes constitute the highest national virtue – it is sufficient to point to the uprisings of 1831 or 1863, which were rebellions against the authorities. Respect for power, if it existed, did not result from one’s conviction, but only from fear. Failure to fulfil public duties, avoiding military service and paying taxes to a foreign ruler was not considered unethical or anti-national, on the contrary – it would be sometimes considered a patriotic act. The obligation to raise children was recognized, but only raising them to be the righteous sons of the nation, and not the obedient citizens of the state.

Thus, the period of partitions demoralized the sense of civic duties, although it would often extend the theoretical knowledge about them. This state of affairs was uneven. It had the smallest impact on a small class that was the highest one in terms of general knowledge and its nature, able to be well aware of the essence of these relations, and – fortunately – also on the wide peasant population, who understood the least and were best adopted to listen. The situation unfortunately looked the worst in the middle class, including various groups, more or less conscious and logical. However, it was different in different partitions. In the Austrian Partition, partial reconciliation of the effects of national and state factors was weakened – but only to some extent – by demoralizing elements. In the Prussian Partition, the excellent administration – of our enemies, after all – had positive effect on the habit of obeying, although by using the threat of repression. The worst situation was in the Russian partition – in the face of demoralization of the local authorities, their administrative ineptitude, and especially corruption.

After the reconstruction of the Polish state, the original enthusiasm had an effect like an antidote. But the enthusiasm factor (so the emotional one) can only work in the short term. At the same time, the weakness of the organization of the executive, the instability of its regulations, and then the inflation period, all this in connection with the post-war demoralization created awful conditions not so much for the consolidation of knowledge but of the sense of duty.

All these negative symptoms must be eradicated as fast as possible, and remove these false sounds in the notion of state and duties towards it, which can be heard every day so loudly, so sadly, when we look at our lives. One must work to educate the society in civic virtues in a shortened period of time, if the state is to feel its strength. As long as we have some peace, until our neighbours – we know how they look at Poland! – are occupied with their internal problems, and paralyzed by the results of the war, they cannot yet deal with the matter of destroying Poland.

What shall we do then? What paths lead to the goal – to the education of the public in knowledge and the sense of state duties, to the implementation of habit to preaching these virtues?

It is obvious that the state's activity is in the foreground. Unlike the Church and faith, the state cannot reach out to souls directly. But it can create an external obedience with its ordinances, which over time will change into the established conviction that you have to listen to the state, you have to give back to the state what is due, even with disgust, even without an internal feeling. The state can do this through its administration, through its courts. But this administration must be resilient, the courts must act justly and quickly. The law must recognized as lawful, and the infringement of laws as unlawful. The greatest harm to civic feelings is done by the authority, if it is not just, if it succumbs to political whispers – whether it allows the self-interest to prevail. Society, however, must come to the state’s rescue. It is a social crime to use personal or political relations to achieve some unlawful profit, to evade the law. A sound social opinion should condemn such facts, condemn those who do so, turn away from them. And it happens so rarely!

Right next to the state, there is school. The school reaches the soul directly – the soul of a child, which can be formed so easily for life, before it becomes the soul of a mature citizen. Schools can and should give civic knowledge and civic sense. How? Through:

Education on the theory of the state, underlining the benefits of statehood, especially the existence of the national state, and obligations to the state. Such education should exist in every elementary school, so that there is be no student who does not know the elements of this theory about the state – especially the section on obligations to the state. And universities – all of them, including vocational ones – should have provide such education, of course on a higher level. But that is not all. Elements of knowledge, especially of civic virtue, should penetrate the minds of young people through other subjects of science, as long as they are suitable for that. And there are a lot of them who do. History above all! Historical stories in books for the youngest children can give examples of civic virtues. Learning history should show the important relationship between the size of the state and the sense of civic, and vice versa, the relationship between the fall of states and the virtues of its inhabitants. This is not a tendency suggested as history; after all, it is supposed to give not only the facts, but also the pragmatic relationship. And since there is relationship between these factors exists, and a very strong one, it is enough to point specifically to the history of Poland. But it is not only history that can fulfil this task; learning Latin or Greek, etc. create a lot of possibilities in this respect.

For the older generation, this task can be performed through lectures and brochures. They should not be given a boring moralizing quality. Let the arguments speak for themselves, let them speak about the fact that an individual cannot find happiness if it cannot be found in their homeland and state, and this country – the state can be great: and its sons can be given happiness only if it is great thanks to the civic virtues.

And finally, to a very high degree – it can result in more civic activity and opinion of those groups that have a very strong sense of state. Let them help the state authority where they can, or when the state authority calls them to, or where they see such help can be useful. Let them act by example, by the fact that they themselves respect the laws of the state, scan their authorities, fulfil what they are obliged to fulfil, even beyond the scope of legal obligation. Let them also act through their opinion, that is strong and courageous, through loud, bold condemnation, wherever they come into contact with such facts of violations or failure to fulfil state duties. Let them call desertion a desertion, self-interest – a self-interest, tax fraud, that is so widespread – a fraud, i.e. robbing the state, which is of equal moral value as robbing your neighbour, even worse, because it harms the whole, when the theft harms the individual.

Such activity would be strengthened by the formation of civic self-study clubs, or section at the existing institutions. Let them discuss the provisions of the constitution and other laws, explain the conditions of the state's existence in general and the Polish one in particular. Let them deal with the theory of the state. By giving not only theoretical, but also practical knowledge, they can attract people who will come for benefits, to learn, for example, when and how to pay taxes, and in what amount. This will facilitate the activities of state authorities, when individuals will not need to ask what to do and when to do it. Providing a resource of knowledge about the state will initiate the growth of civic feeling in the souls of these people, which in many cases will be successful. Those who pass this knowledge should do it in the way which combines it with the seed of civic sense.

[1] The constitution of the Third Republic (1870-1940).

[2] The constitution adopted after the French Revolution. It defined the division of powers, divided the country into 83 departments and turned France into a constitutional monarchy.

[3] It is, of course, the constitution of Czechoslovakia formed in 1918.

[4] The constitution adopted by Germany after the fall of the monarchy. It transformed the state into a republic. It was contested by right-wing groups and the extreme left.

[5] An allusion to the Krakow Uprising, which was both a national and peasants uprising.

[6] Roman citizen (Latin).

[7] The Duchy of Warsaw – a Polish state (1807-1815) dependent on Napoleonic France.

[8] The Kingdom of Poland – a sovereign state created in 1815 on the territory of a part of the former Duchy of Warsaw, connected by personal union with Russia.

[9] The Republic of Krakow – Free City of Krakow (1815-1846) controlled by the three partitioners of Poland.

Recently added articles


This website is a part of the project entitled ‘Polish Political Thought and Independence: A Program for the Promotion of Polish Intellectual Heritage Abroad’, generously funded
by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as A part of ‘Public Diplomacy 2017’ programme, component ‘Collaboration in the field of Public Diplomacy 2017’.
Design by Stereoplan