Political Romanticism of Adam Mickiewicz in 1832-1833
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Andrzej Waśko


From: Temat polemiki Polska. Najwazniejsze polskie spory ideowo-polityczne, Ośrodek Myśli Politycznej, Kraków 2012.



The origins and application of the notion of political Romanticism in Poland is more journalistic than academic. For a long time, it has been fnctioning more as a negative epithet in the heat of immediate polemics than a historical descriptive category. However, as a term from the history of ideas, this concept took root in German and Anglo-Saxon land, mainly due to the classical book by Carl Schmitt, Politische Romantik (whose first edition was published in 1919)[1]. It was also in Polish literature on the history of political doctrines where “political Romanticism” has recently appeared as a term to describe a particular trend in German Romanticism[2].

However, if we look at the history of Polish social and political thought of the Romantic era, Stanisław Kozicki, for example, in the title of his monograph published in 1947, uses the term “political heritage of the Three Bards”, and Andrzej Walicki in his English-language synthesis: Philosophy and Romantic Nationalism. The Case of Poland (1994) reduces the political thought of our Romantics to the role of a chapter in the history of the phenomenon of nationalism (which is understood by him, in accordance with the Anglo-Saxon tradition, in a wide and non-evaluative way)[3].

Historians of the idea of the Polish 19th century, therefore, avoid identifying the political views of Polish Romantics as a political Romanticism, which seems to have a double justification. First of all, in Poland, the term is usually used as a deprecating epithet in the criticisms of national uprisings and the practice described after Józef Szujski as liberum conspiro[4]. Researchers, therefore, avoid using this term as being too burdened with ad hoc meanings and polemic emotions. Secondly, in the sense of the notion set by Schmitt, political Romanticism is the opposite of what is colloquially regarded as political Romanticism in Poland. Because, according to Schmitt, this is, above all, a specific, subjective attitude to politics that is characteristic of Romantics – an attitude boiling down to the subjectivization and aestheticization of real political dilemmas, which the Romantics never settle practically, but make them the subject of their own experiences, which are then discussed by them in never-ending literary deliberations. As a rule, this discussion does not lead to any real political action, and instead it provides the Romantics with a unique opportunity to play some kind of aesthetic game with the world. In this game, the poeticised political conflicts become only a background to the narcissistic autocracy of a romantic subject, sticking to the attitude that Sören Kierkegaard called the aesthetic stage of life. According to Schmitt, a Romantic has an attitude towards politics similar to the one the main character of Seducer’s Diary has towards love[5]. He plays with it but never makes any real binding decisions. The political Romatic is also a nineteenth-century bourgeois by nature, benefiting from the liberal separation of the public sphere from the private sphere, transferring the image of political conflicts to the field of their imagination, and thus retreating from engaging in real politics here and now. Political Romanticism understood in such a way is, according to Schmitt, an attitude objectively conducive to the preservation of the political status quo; a form of sublime political inaction, aversion and inability to make practical decisions in the real world.

As we can see, the concept of political Romanticism adopted after Schmitt is completely contrary to what is meant by political Romanticism in Polish journalism. The essence of this attitude is considered to be the exact opposite: an excessive tendency to make decisions with great practical consequences (insurrection), the imperative of acting in all conditions (regardless of the costs and sacrifices), disregarding the political status quo and negation of the status quo taking specific forms – underground activity and uprising. Therefore, political Romanticism is colloquially understood in Poland not so much as a certain type of human attitudes towards politics, but rather a romantic policy, or specific actions (uprisings, conspiracies, riots against the partitioners) as a result of a romantic attitude. However, the primary origin of this attitude is thought to lie in the views expressed in the literary output of Polish bards and their followers.

When recognizing this discrepancy in the meanings of the notion of political Romanticism in practical use, it is impossible not to notice that the participation of the Polish historian of ideas exploring the relationship between Romanticism and politics is characterised by a conceptual confusion at the starting point. On the one hand, the influence of Romanticism on the way politics is practiced by Poles is a truism and a fact that cannot be challenged. But the reason for this is the fact that the attitude called political Romanticism by Schmitt was almost imperceptible in Poland and it seems that it was not essential for people engaging in romantic policies.

In this situation, there are two paths opening up before historians of ideas. The first one leads to the already mentioned replacement of political Romanticism with a less controversial term, e.g. the “political heritage of the bards” suggested by Kozicki. This allows us to avoid short-term, journalistic associations in a factual scientific analysis. But it takes place at the cost of taking the views of our Romantics out of the cultural context of the European era and context, which in the long run makes it impossible to determine the permanent paradigm of such research and narrows their cognitive horizons.

The second option is to assume that political Romanticism as such has simply never existed in Poland, so it makes no sense to use the term. However, this makes it necessary for the scholar making the assumption to pigeonhole the views and attitudes represented by Polish Romantics as one of classical schools of political thinking: liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, socialism, and socio-religious theories: messianism, missionism and millenarianism. And this seems to be an impossible task, even with the possible and occasional crossing of these terms with the concept of Romanticism. All these analyses, by revealing the essential aspects of Romantic ideology, leave aside the rest (elusive in philosophical and political language), which results from the literary, aesthetic character of Romanticism and it is closely intertwined with this cultural character of the current in Romantic politics.

With this in mind, I would therefore suggest accepting the assumption that political Romanticism existed in Poland but had a peculiar nature connected with the situation of the Polish nation. This means that the universal unity of Romanticism as a European current should be supplemented with recognition of the multiplicity of its national varieties; it is not only political Romanticism as such that should be examine, but also political Romanticism of individual nations, in all their rich pluralism and diversity.

Secondly, in these studies, three aspects of political Romanticism should be clearly distinguished in order to avoid misunderstandings. The first one is the subjective “attitude” of Romantics distinguished by Schmitt, that is, the specific Romantic attitude adopted by them in politics or suggested as a model of behaviour. The second aspect of political Romanticism is a group of formulated ideas and views on goals and means of political action: political theory that is specifically Romantic, unsystematic and diverse in its content and form of the expression. The third aspect of the analysed phenomenon is Romantic politics, or all specific practical activities inspired by Romantic doctrine and expressing the Romantic attitude of individuals and groups undertaking these actions. Distinguishing between attitude, theory and practice of political Romanticism can organize the academic discussion on political Romanticism in Poland and make it cognitively fruitful. It also seems to be a condition for formulating conclusions that are acceptable to both advocates and opponents of this phenomenon.

Political Romanticism defined by Schmitt's method as a kind of subjective-aesthetic, passive attitude of a Romantic towards political reality can be noticed in Poland as well. It seems that such a political Romanticism can be found in young Zygmunt Krasiński, hamletising in Geneva during the November Uprising, or Juliusz Słowacki leaving Warsaw during the uprising, where after some time he carries out a critical evaluation of all factions of the pre-November epoch (Kordian). But such documented behaviours transferring political disputes into the field of literary imagination, statistically, are in minority and do not determine our political face of the era. To capture the specificity of Polish political Romanticism, however, we can use the method of its objective definition as a specific set of ideas and attitudes. Let us add: a set of ideas and attitudes adopted more or less consciously in opposition to other political doctrines that are currently in circulation.

An attempt to create such a specific, Romantic theory and model of political behaviour in a narrower than colloquial sense of the word can be found in Adam Mickiewicz, in the first period of his activity in exile, after the fall of the November Uprising. The specificity of this attempt, which I will try to justify below, lies in the “translation” (done by the author of The Books of the Polish People and of the Polish Pilgrimage) of the literary idea of Romanticism into a language of specific political ethics, suitable for practical application in a specific situation of the Polish case and Polish emigration in France in 1832. Even Mickiewicz himself, if he can serve as a model of the Polish political Romantic, was not one from the beginning, and started to be one only in the period of his emigration in France, when he publishes The Books of the Polish People and of the Polish Pilgrimage, Forefathers’ Eve Part III, and then edits and writes articles for “Pielgrzym Polski”. Earlier, however, as Wiktor Weintraub rightly points out, the poet does not show such an attitude of this type. The ideology of the Philomathic movement, if we are to subject it to political interpretation at all, falls within the model of organic work, while the organizational formula of the Philomaths’ activity is very rationalized. Experiences of the process and his stay in exile, where Mickiewicz, on the one hand, meets the atmosphere of the Decembrist movement and on the other, closely observes the power and efficiency of the state machine of the Russian empire, makes it practically political realism. Although this may seem strange, on the eve of the uprising, Mickiewicz, according to the testimony of Władysław Zamoyski quoted by Weintraub, absolutely condemned the Warsaw opposition as pointless and dangerous:


He reprimanded the ventures of the Warsaw opposition on the path of half-baked parliamentarism. He lamented the struggle leading to the inevitable defeat with such power imbalance. I heard similar opinion in Warsaw just from my father. Such unexpected political expertise of the bard amazed me.[6]


Of course, the realism and even the far-reaching pragmatism, which – despite the verdict – allowed the poet to happily leave Russia's borders in 1829, was accompanied by contemplating regaining independence and the role of the poet as the spiritual leader of the conquered nation. These problems, disguised in a historical costume, appear in Konrad Wallenrod, published in St. Petersburg in 1828, whose famous motto comes from The Prince by Machiavelli. The problem that the author is faced with lies in the tragic conflict of political and ethical reasons. The transformation of Mickiewicz from a political realist into a political romantic did not take place until 1832, on the wave of a profound personal breakthrough caused by the experiences of the uprising period and the beginning of emigration. In today’s social perception, however, this transformation remained unnoticeable, because the masses of fascinated readers made their conclusions about the poet’s political views on the basis of Ode to Youth and selected fragments of Konrad Wallenrod, the general perception of which was the calling to grasp the “Archangel’s sword” in the name of earlier arrival of the “dawn of liberty”, which was indeed done in Warsaw on November 29, 1830[7].

On the other hand, even for the contemporary historians of ideas, recognition of Mickiewicz as a political thinker turns out to be troublesome. It is believed, and rightly so, that the poet's ideas and political behaviours do not place him unequivocally in either the conservative-liberal camp, or the conservative-liberal camp, or in the left wing. Mickiewicz seems to partly represent all these attitudes, but he does not identify with any of them in the way that the modern political parties of the Great Emigration did. In his description of this attitude, Walicki resorted to the paradox by speaking of his “subversive conservatism.” Some historians of political thought generally do not mention him as a political thinker (this applies to the popular book of M. Król and M. Karpiński, Sylwetki polityczne XX wieku). Others try to reconstruct the views of the author of Sir Thaddeus, and come to the conclusion that the works of the poet simply reflect the colloquial, traditionally Polish ways of thinking about politics. And so they attribute to Mickiewicz the slogan of Judge from Sir Thaddeus: “we’ll manage”, a good-natured calling for peace, downplaying the real size of disputes over the future system of Poland and the carefree calling of emigration to “any act whatsoever.”[8].

However, such opinion is contradictory to our knowledge that the poet was not ignorant in terms of political and even economic thought of his time. He was reading the literature in this field as early as in the Philomathic period. Later, we have testimonies of the poet's acquaintance with such classics of liberalism and political economy as Jeremy Bentham, Benjamin Constant, Jean Baptiste Say and David Ricardo. I do not mention the reading of Machiavelli’s The Prince that was confirmed in Konrad Wallenrod, the knowledge of modern philosophy, including French Enlightenment, writings of Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Essai sur la diplomatie by Prince Adam Czartoryski, Lelewel's historical works, orientation on the contemporary political scene in France, etc. A glance at the books read by Mickiewicz makes us realize that it is not appropriate to simply identify his own political thinking with the opinions of the main characters of his works.

But it needs to be emphasized here that from a certain point in his life, the poet questioned all of his ideas and styles of political thinking in a conscious way. He did not go into the detailed differences of individual doctrines and did not discuss with them on the conceptual level on which these doctrines had been formulated. He interpreted them collectively as the mutually exclusive results of rationalist philosophy, and the economic doctrines – as its epigonic uses, instrumentally treated by various political forces to justify (in need) their real economic interests. This type of criticism of the modern spectrum of political doctrines appeared just at the time when the poet got closer to real participation in a free political debate on emigration, in 1832-1833. The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage, articles from the “Pielgrzym Polski” journal and contemporary speeches and memorials are its main expression.

The negation of philosophy and political economy contained in them is a kind of extension of criticism of rationalism and the worldview of the Enlightenment (“dead truths”) known from the earlier literary works of the author of the ballad called Romanticism. The critical postulates accompanying the criticism also have a reference to such ideas, which in the poetry were categorized as “living truths”. Due to this clear reference exactly, “political Romanticism” is the most appropriate category of the description of the poet’s political philosophy. Not as an evaluative epithet, but a theoretical framework necessary for a more thorough analysis of the views and political attitude of Mickiewicz in the period in question.

As Zbigniew Przychodniak writes when summarizing the previous findings of historians of literature on this subject:


The researchers emphasized the Romantic nature of the poet's political philosophy, resulting from references of political practice to the sphere of emotional experiences and moral judgments. Historians have said the important determinants of Mickiewicz's views included combining politics with ethical values, traditionalism referring to the ideals of nativeness (...), reluctance to spin political theories and antimonarchic republican vision of the republican and federated Europe of nations (...), they also pointed to the essential elements of provincialism and the aura of millenarism.[9]


In accordance with our goal, let us try to develop this short list of the most peculiar features of Mickiewicz's political thought and to check whether it really has a Romantic nature and how this political Romanticism of Mickiewicz manifests itself. The poet felt bad during political emigration meetings in Paris, which he repeated many times in the letters and in a playful poem titled To Franciszek Grzymała, a journalist and an émigré speaker:


         Dear Franciszek! On the sea of public deliberation

         I followed you like a boat following a ship.

         My sail made of paper, my ropes made of silk,

         I saw the enemy! Take me to your ship

         Clutch me with my boat to your bosom (…)[10]


Mickiewicz was irritated by the Jacobin radicalism of the democrats, especially the anti-noble diatribes of Tadeusz Krępowiecki. He could not capture the sense of factional fights between the democrats, he was also a stranger to the language of discussion in which the Polish dilemmas were attempted to be described by references to contemporary English and French liberal ideology or Saint-Simonianism:


Walerian complains about my political sluggishness. I admit that I do not like playing with jetons and empty nuts (...). For the most part, they forget about the Polish cause and argue only about the rhetoric of politics, about future forms, about the skeleton of some future nation, without thinking whether a child whose bones are to be undressed will be born.[11]


But Mickiewicz himself, as a speaker and publicist, spoke confidentially and emphatically in The Books of the Polish People and of the Polish Pilgrimage, even adopting the attitude of a revelator of the most important political truths, which – in his opinion – were invisible in the émigré discussion. He gained this strength and certainty of his tone thanks to his own definition of the situation of Poles after the fall of the uprising, that was completely different from the language of the political emigration debate. The poet included all this new, complicated and dramatic experience in the framework of his Romantic worldview which he formulated and developed in his poetry, starting from Romanticism that was essential in this respect, through Konrad Wallenrod and reading of Saint-Martin in Russia, priest de Lamennais in Rome, a poem Do matki Polski and Forefathers’ Eve Part III and the accompanying insurgent and religious poems. The basis of this Romantic philosophy of Mickiewicz’s worldview lied in anti-rationalism in the field of the philosophy of cognition, opposing “the feeling and faith” to the scientific “lenses and eye”. The idea of irrational cognition returned with a new strength in the third part of Forefathers’ Eve written in Dresden. In Paris, Mickiewicz translated his most Romantic cognitive attitude into political journalism. The struggle against the cold mind of the sage-rationalists took here the form of the fundamental denial and rejection of all properly modern pre-and post-revolutionary political doctrines. The poet was interested in them, but in their systemic form and one-sidedness, he recognized the essential contamination of autonomous reason, which never reached the essence of things, and despite his claims for universality, he always “has an eccentric movement”, creating a multiplicity of mutually exclusive theories, flattering the vainglory of their creators:


…the enlightened people differ enormously from each other: supporters of Benjamin quarrel with the newer Benthamists, and those – with the Saint-Simonianists, both are being condemned by the followers of Owen. It is difficult to reconcile them on the principle of reason, because a single reason, if it is based on itself, is not only difficult to reconcile with others, but is inherently impossible to reconcile due to its own nature; it is always eccentric and wants to detach itself from everyone.[12]


The philosophical reason also cannot be defended against the inevitable slipping into ordinary sophistry, always used – as history advises – to instrumentally justify the interests of the authorities. We see it in The Books of the Polish People, where the motif of philosophers who praise the suppression of freedom and tyranny by the Roman emperors, and in modern times, discouraging the Christian nations from the fight for faith, and approving the absolutism of kings, waging war in the name of their particular interests, returns three times.

The negative part of the Mickiewicz’s system also emphasizes the criticism of the pre-revolutionary elites, and more importantly, the post-revolutionary ones. The latter are represented by fashionable philosophers, politicians and intellectuals. In The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage, the poet condemns the “teaching of Voltair and Hegel, which are as poison” and “the teaching of Guizot and Cousin, which are empty like mills”[13]. This is where we can see how Mickiewicz translates the central ideas of his manifesto poems into the language of social particulars: rejected doctrines include: “dead truths, unknown to the people” (Romanticism); philosophers and historians from the political establishment are “sages” (see the poems: Reason and Faith, Sages).

It is not the philosophers or their modern ideologies, therefore, that, according to the poet, answer the question of how to behave in current politics, but the sources of cognition that are more sure for the Romantic, contained in the poetic formula of “feeling and faith”. Mickiewicz indicates and specifies these Romantic sources of knowledge in his writings from 1832-1833. And they are identified in such a way in The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage with native works on Polish history, with oral tradition of morally “pious and those making sacrifices for their homeland, martyrs, believers and pilgrims” and with what is received “by God's grace” through individual revelation. In his lecture, On the National Spirit, Mickiewicz extends this enumeration with the apology of a multigenerational national tradition, and in the articles from the “Pielgrzym” journal, he emphasizes the importance of direct observation of the current mood of the people. His article called O ludziach rozsądnych i ludziach szalonych is also a manifesto of Romantic anti-rationalism, it is a praise of “madness” that is wiser than reason, because in particular situations it means listening to the voice of conscience above all. The political infallibility of this attitude is attested in the recent history of Poland empirically, by facts, which the author of the mentioned article underlines scrupulously. From the non-doctrinal, irrational and empirical sources of knowledge, Mickiewicz extracts his teachings for emigrants – the political “living truths”.

         Mickiewicz therefore proclaims the need to subject politics to the rules higher than reason. This is accompanied, similarly to the German Romantics who were inspired by the views of Edmund Burke, by the conviction that the social existence and political system of a given nation are the result of an organic work of history and cannot be arbitrarily transformed by reformers-revolutionaries exclusively equipped with abstract theories. That is why the poet is particularly reluctant about the manifestations of political constructivism and the so-called legal worldview, characteristic of enlightenment and the French Revolution, and based on the utopian conviction that the “perfect society” can be created on the basis of the theoretically deduced and theoretically expounded constitutional project[14]. In Part III of Forefathers’ Eve the poet is similarly critical of the method of modernization of Russia applied by Peter I, in isolation from the native tradition and organic laws of social development.

         In the positive part of the system, we notice that the poetic apology of the people known from the Ballades and Forefathers’ Eve is similarly “translated”. It is present not only in the content, but also in the stylized form of The Books and the Pilgrimage of the Polish Nation addressed, as we known, to the military part of emigration, in particular, to ordinary soldiers out in barracks by the French government in several cities outside of Paris. The idea that the lecture of thoughts expressed in Forefathers’ Eve should be addressed to soldiers-émigrés does not resemble anything typical of “literature for the people” at the time, nor the Jacobin's agitation to awaken the revolutionary consciousness among the proletarians. Mickiewicz neither goes to the people carrying the torch of enlightenment nor calls them to rebel against the nobility. As the people are also considered by him as a depositary of true wisdom, that is rooted in tradition, and these people, understood in a supra-state way, are a true historical layer of the nation for the poet. This concept of the people is ubiquitous in the “Pielgrzym” journal and it has a key role in the arguments from the reading of O duchu narodowym. Genetically, it has nothing to do with the ideology of the émigré democrats. On the other hand, the key to it should be sought in the poetical works of the author: in Forefathers’ Eve Part III and insurgent poems from the first period of emigration (Overnight, Ordon's Redoubt, A Soldier's Song), whose lyrical subject is an ordinary insurgent, a simple man. This lyrical empowerment of the folk hero in poetry, and not the views of future artists of the Polish Democratic Society, hated by the poet, seems to be the intellectual and psychological key to the radical democratism of the political writings of the poet from the period in question.

Mickiewicz has a different concept of the people than the theoreticians of the democratic camp. His “people” are, on the one hand, the bearers of the highest ethical values, they preserve oral tales of ancestors expressing the national spirit (“living truths”). The people, who also include small gentry, are guided by unwritten laws, internalized in the form of norms and models handed down from generation to generation. The people are capable of real and sincere feelings, which result in the deeds of civil sacrifice.

The lyrical democratism of Mickiewicz does not determine whether Mickiewicz unequivocally accepts the democratic system understood as a system of procedures for the emergence of power, its control and separation. This is not the case, as evidenced by articles from the “Pielgrzym” journal: O konstytucji powstańskiej and O przyszłym wielkim człowieku. On the background of the program's reluctance to consider the political system,[15] the first of these texts presents Mickiewicz as a supporter of revolutionary methods in the uprising, with all its consequences; the other opens to the idea of basing political power on the outside and over-legal relationship of the masses and the charismatic leader. Mickiewicz, as a political writer in the years 1832-1833, however, does not have and does not proclaim any particular constitutional concept. The inconsistency, astonishing to the researchers, prompting the poet to speak with the praise of the revolution, and other times to point to the advantages of the parliament (Myśli moje o sejmie polskim) or even to persuade Prince Adam Czartoryski to proclaim himself king[16], in a sense consistently stems from the Romantic assumption that systemic problems are of secondary nature in the current situation, and after regaining independence, they can be simply entrusted to professional politicians.

         Thus, without settling these “secondary” disputes over the form of power, the poet puts enormous pressure on the making politics and public life ethical in general. This can be seen in the characteristics of the “future great man” ideal. It is a turn towards pre-modern understanding of political writing as a method of creating moral patterns of a good ruler. Political moralism of Mickiewicz is directed both towards the future Polish authority, as well as towards modern parties and towards the press (a text called O artykule „Trybuny” tudzież o starej taktyce stronnictw). This is also evident in the postulate of basing politics on the truth[17]. The actual moralism is characteristic of the editor of the “Pielgrzym” journal and distinguishes it from Maurycy Mochnacki (the then editor of the “Pamiętnik emigracji” journal). Mochnacki was also inclined to accept the dictatorship (at least for the time of the revolution), but only because of the realistic criterion of political effectiveness. He did not moralize, like Mickiewicz, he did not dream about a mysterious relationship of the charismatic individual with the masses.

         Another distinguishing feature of Mickiewicz's views, especially in the “Pielgrzym Polski” journal refers to the imperative of deed, activism, any type of specific action here and now. Wiktor Weintraub rightly noticed that this has a special personal background for Mickiewicz: it results from a desire to moral expiation for the poet's hesitation and passivity during the uprising. The poet's misleading, but widely shared, expectation of a revolutionary outbreak in the whole Europe also prompted him to practice the publicist apology of deeds. The calls to action were associated with the postulated ethical ideal of an integral attitude, which Mickiewicz himself tried to meet from now on. The action was also to be a “sacrifice” of individual interests for the cause of freedom and the opposite of futile political theorizing. This preference of a political “deed” over planning and a detailed political system was supported by Mickiewicz with historical arguments from the times of Stanisław August Poniatowski, especially the negative assessment of endless debates during the Four-Year Sejm (article: Konstytucja 3 maja).

In this context, we must also consider Weintraub's thesis that the action, and especially the fight and shedding blood for your country, had a value in itself for Mickiewicz – moral or even “mystical” value. By stating that “applying the science of redemption to politics is the most striking and best known feature of Mickiewicz's political ideology”, the great scholar is too unambiguous in ascribing this messianic phrase in the poet's views to the influence of the political writings of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, known from his eschatological interpretation of the French Revolution as the “Last Judgment in miniature” and “purification by blood”[18]. In fact, in the manifesto article called O bezpolitykowcach i polityce „Pielgrzyma”, Mickiewicz contrasts the moral value of the struggle for the homeland – even a lost one – with futile theorizing, using the wording associated with the concepts of “salvation by blood” (salut par le Sang) by Joseph de Maistre:


Without talent, you can lose in bold undertakings aimed against enemies, even with all the good intentions (...) but a man full of sacrifice can only be mistaken about himself, he can lose his way: he is infallible about his Fatherland! He puts the blood on the scales of destiny so that it turns in his favour.[19]


It is not easy to settle whether this is a mystical theory, or rather only a pathetic military rhetoric (“blood wedded to the homeland”, as it is mentioned in further parts of the quoted statement, by soldiers making an oath). The more so because this pathos is intertwined here closely with the reminder of the first partition, to which the contemporary Poles – as the editor of the “Pielgrzym” notes – did not react with armed resistance, after all:


We often hear: “there has been enough blood shed for Poland”. Oh, if that were the case! but we forget that our forefathers gave away Belarus without shedding a drop of blood, the whole Galicia, and such big part of Greater Poland. They wanted to die peacefully in their homes, not anticipating that they were sentencing their grandchildren to death, to exile.[20]


One should not, therefore, absolutize the “mystical” character of Mickiewicz's political theory, while excessively extending the notion of mysticism and mystique. In fact, this theory seems to have been stretched between the worlds of poetic messianism in Forefathers’ Eve Part III, where the author speaks of Christ shedding “innocent blood for the salvation of the world”,[21] and an insurrectionary attitude that first took the floor in Poland in the Kosciuszko Uprising, not for mystical reasons, but on the ground of the negative experiences of the first partitions. And Mickiewicz relies mainly on the Kosciuszko’s and legionary traditions, referring to its representatives and to the fresh historical remembrance as political sources of “living truths”. The Mickiewicz’s defence of unsuccessful actions, such as the expedition of Poles from the Beçancon plant to Germany ended with internment in Switzerland, would therefore not be rooted (only) in the mysticism of the messianic sacrifice, but in the strict conviction that the Poles lost their homeland and freedom in the 18th century because their military effort was disproportionate to both the needs and the potential they had at that time. Contemporary sacrifices and failures in this context turn out to be a consequence of the old pacifism of the nobility.

It should be emphasized, however, that the action was usually presented by Adam Mickiewicz as a temporary result of a moral reflex, as a one-off reaction to a crisis situation, not as a consistent, permanent and professional activity in politics or in the organization of state life. The post-uprising manifesto of Mickiewicz was tailored for political amateurs, volunteers gathered around the Polish cause, in exile and in the country (To My Galician Friends). He was characterized by a kind of occasionalism, only in this case it was not an aesthetic occasionalism that Schmitt saw in German Romantics, but an ethical one. Freedom was to be restored by a one-off, collective effort of individuals and of all the people, and this was supposed to be the final solution to the problem of freedom.

And this is also where the finalist and eschatological style of thinking about politics was revealed. The general war for the freedom of peoples is to be the “final” war. Fighting in it should be against “all” the kings and cabinets at the same time. “The matter of freedom” is not a matter of one nation, it is a “European matter”. Poland can regain freedom only as a result of the total collapse of ancien régime in Europe, “it does not matter whether it will happen in a year or in a hundred years”; the rebirth of Poland “must” cause a complete transformation of European politics, etc. The current political postulates refer to the visionary poet's historiosophy laced religious and moral element. Current policy has a quasi-eschatological dimension for their author, political goals are defined in a maximalist manner, not written down into stages, and in their implementation, the poet does not seem to accept any compromises.



According to the initial assumption, let us try to analyse the outlines of attitudes and political views of Mickiewicz from 1832-1833 as a kind of articulation of political Romanticism in the Polish edition. The above characteristics indicates that there are several important reasons for this. First, the political views of Mickiewicz from the discussed period have an original, specifically Romantic genesis. They constitute an interpretation (transferred into the current political context, into the language of journalism) of general epistemological, anthropological, ethical and historiosophical assumptions developed earlier by the poet in his Romantic literary output. Political journalism of Mickiewicz really derives from his poetry, and to a certain extent, in Forefathers’ Eve and The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage, Romantic poetry and journalism permeate each other. Without deciding whether Mickiewicz was an “aesthetic occasionalist” in politics, it allows to conclude that the genesis of his ideology was indeed “aesthetic”, i.e. literary and not philosophical.

         Indeed, Schmitt accused the Romantics of “aesthetic occasionalism”, and Mickiewicz himself accused the representatives of contemporary schools of political thinking of the same thing, especially the émigré democrats and socialists. In “professional” legal and political disputes about the future regime, the poet saw only the empty rhetoric; he supported and approved of meaningful action; however, contrary to the stereotype, depending on different circumstances, apart from armed actions, it could also be organic work and educational activities. In formulating his political views, Mickiewicz drew inspiration from various sources, but the crucial point is that he constantly and unequivocally cut himself off from any ideological orthodoxy propagated in exile. The negation of all schools of political thinking indicates that Mickiewicz had his own competitive proposal in this respect, which was an alternative to liberalism and socialism. Political Romanticism is the best name for this proposal.

         An important feature of this political Romanticism was associated with the fact that, along with modern theories condemned as manifestations of rationalism in politics, Mickiewicz generally rejected thinking in terms of party divisions. What he saw in political émigré practice was contrary to his vision of the nation as a historical community pervaded by the same immortal “spirit”. This gave birth to his resistance to imitating French or English theories and political patterns by the Poles, it prompted him to think about the restitution of the native, pre-partition political tradition of the Commonwealth, which over time also became the political slogan of other Polish Romantics, with Słowacki and Krasiński at the forefront.

         None of the forms of the political Romanticism of Mickiewicz were a school of political passivity or an aesthetic mask of sophisticated conformism – it was quite the opposite. The poet cannot be accused of “aesthetic occasionalism”, but he can be accused of “ethical occasionalism”. The essence of politics according to the author of The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage is represented by collective moral reflexes: no debate over the system, law or administration. In the eyes of the poet, these are shallow issues, especially against the depth of the reality of the “national spirit”: collective memory, tradition, religion and custom, which were and should be the main mechanisms of social regulation in the future. The poetic hope that the people's revolution against the order of the Holy Alliance will result in a great moral civilization breakthrough in the near future, has also led the editor of the “Pielgrzym” journal to utopian dreams about the future system of voluntary taxation[22].

         Therefore, the political Romanticism of Mickiewicz shows itself in all three aspects of this trend distinguished at the beginning. It is, first of all, a political theory: a set of specific theoretical assumptions, ideas and postulates. Secondly – according to Schmitt's concept – attitude towards politics. Political journalism of Mickiewicz, marginalizing legal and political issues, is in its entirety a characteristic of the political attitude postulated by the poet: an attitude based on subordinating political action to ethical imperatives and national feelings. The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage are particularly representative in this respect, as they are a literary lecture on political ethics, which, like leitmotiv, permeates all other political writings of the poet. Contrary to conventional stereotypes, these writings are not, however, an exclusive praise of Romantic politics understood as armed struggle, but they are a praise of tangible policy, in various situations choosing the various forms of action. The political Romanticism of Mickiewicz is not contradictory to the stereotypes about him, but he is definitely richer and more complicated than them.

[1] C. Schmitt, Politische Romantik, the first edition of this repeatedly reprinted and translated book appeared in 1919.

[2] A. Citkowska-Kimla, Romantyzm polityczny w Niemczech. Reprezentanci, idee, model, Kraków 2010.

[3] Compare: S Kozicki, Dziedzictwo polityczne trzech wieszczów, Warsaw 1949; A. Walicki, Philosophy and Romantic Nationalism. The Case of Poland Notre Dame Univ. Press, 1994.

[4] Compare: J. Szujski, Kilka prawd z dziejów naszych ku rozważeniu w chwili obecnej (1867), reprint [in:] Stańczycy. Antologia myśli społecznej i polityczne konserwatystów krakowskich, ed. M. Król, Warsaw 1985, p. 64-65.

[5] See: G. Oakes, Translators Introduction, [in:] C. Schmitt, Political Romanticism, Cambridge-Massachusetts 1986, p. XIV-XXI.

[6] A. Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, vol. XVI, Rozmowy i myśli, Warsaw 1933, p. 96. Quote after: W. Weintraub, Mickiewicz – mistyczny polityk, Warsaw 1998, p. 20.

[7] The political reception of Mickiewicz's poetry in the Congress Kingdom and during the uprising is accurately described by Zdzisław Szeląg in his article Mickiewicz w prasie powstania listopadowego, [in:] Mickiewicz i polityka, Grójec 1996, p. 5-18.

[8] “Mickiewicz shows (…) an incentive to – in fact – any kind of action, and the forward-thinking about politics can be summarized by the ‘we’ll manage’ formula”. A. Bobko, Idee polityczne w twórczości Mickiewicza, [in:] Adam Mickiewicz – dwa wieki kultury polskiej, (ed.) K. Maciąg, M. Stanisz, Rzeszów 2007.

[9] Z. Przychodniak, Walka o rząd dusz. O strategii i stylu artykułów politycznych w „Pielgrzymie Polskim”, [in:] Walka o rząd dusz. Studia o literaturze i polityce Wielkiej Emigracji, Poznań 2001.

[10] A. Mickiewicz, Dzieła, Warsaw 1955, vol. I, p. 375.

[11] A letter to Stefan Garczyński, Paris, 5 March 1833, [in:] Dzieła, op. cit. vol. XV, p. 60. It concerns Walerian Pietkiewicz, the then secretary of the Polish National Committee.

[12] O bezpolitykowcach i polityce „Pielgrzyma”, Wyd. Jub., Vol. VI, p. 71.

[13] VI, p. 22 The words roi, lord and par (aristocratic titles) (in the fourth chapter of The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage are synonymous with the word “oppressor”, and the word “professor” has the same meaning as “fraudster”. “Your mission”, continues the author of The Books of the Polish Pilgrimage, “is to go back to respecting the office and science in your country and in all Christianity” (ibidem).

[14] For Mickiewicz, the negative example of such utopian constructivism could be found in the work of Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès.

[15] The poet repeatedly states that, at present, they are not needed, and he does not even determine whether the future Poland is to be a republic or a monarchy.

[16] M. Handelsman, Adam Czartoryski, Warsaw 1948, vol. I, p. 271.

[17] O artykule „Trybuny” tudzież o starej taktyce stronnictw, [in:] Dzieła, vol. VI, p. 144-146.

[18] W. Weintraub, op. cit., p. 22.

[19] Dzieła, op. cit., vol. VI, p. 131-132.

[20] Ibid., p. 132.

[21] Dzieła, op. cit., vol. III.

[22] O dążeniu ludów ku nowemu systematowi podatkowania tudzież o ekonomistach, kameralistach, statystykach, administratorach, [in:] Dzieła, vol. VI, p. 147-153.

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