Constituents of Political Theory

Selected Articles of the Warsaw School of Political Theory

by Mirosław Karwat (Volume editor) Filip Pierzchalski (Volume editor) Marcin Tobiasz (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 322 Pages


The book presents a collection of articles authored by several members of the Warsaw School of Political Theory, affiliated with the University of Warsaw. The team of scholars, whose roots extend to the 1970s when professor Artur Bodnar founded the Political Theory Research Group at University of Warsaw’s Methodical Centre for Political Science (COM SNP), has been conducting research under the leadership of professor Miros³aw Karwat. The school’s most distinguishing features include: the acceptance of the directives and principles of methodological holism, the acceptance and creative development of holistic integral definitions, the application of sociocentric spatial analyses, and a critical approach to the “cratocentric” tradition.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • PART I: Subject and scope of political science
  • Anthropological and sociological premises of political theory (Tadeusz Klementewicz)
  • Research subject of political science in light of the aspectuality principle (Mirosław Karwat)
  • Syndromatic nature of the subject of political science (Mirosław Karwat)
  • Politics as a fuzzy subject of research (Filip Pierzchalski)
  • Management as the metaphor of politics (Bohdan Kaczmarek)
  • PART II: Research process in political science
  • Ideological dilemmas of a contemporary political scientist (Tadeusz Klementewicz)
  • Nothing alive is a unity. Political science as a multi-paradigmatic structure of knowledge (Tadeusz Klementewicz)
  • Faultless disagreement: on analytical and research discrepancies in political science (Filip Pierzchalski)
  • PART III: Key concepts and assumptions of political theory
  • Politics as articulation of interests (Bohdan Kaczmarek)
  • Politics: the issue of power as the issue of property? Property as the condition of power (Bohdan Kaczmarek)
  • Subjects of politics: typology and gradation (Mirosław Karwat)
  • Needs of large social groups and goals of political organizations – explanatory model (Mirosław Karwat)
  • Credits
  • Abstracts
  • Series index


De omnibus dubitandum est

At the end I feel constrained to confess that there is nothing in all

that I formerly believed to be true, of which I cannot in some measure doubt,

and that not merely through want of thought or through levity, but for reasons which are very powerful and maturely considered.”


“… criticism is no passion of the head, it is the head of passion. …

It no longer assumes the quality of an end-in-itself, but only of a means. Its essential pathos is indignation, its essential work is denunciation.”

“Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem,

and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical.

To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man himself.”

Karl Marx2

One of the most important human motivations in conducting theoretical investigations on the subject of politics are various types of doubts, which are the root of intellectual nonconformism, conscious skepticism or scientific suspicion. To paraphrase the words of Karl Marx, doubts are equally related to the radical – free from an illusory sense of obviousness, based on a “search for a hole in the whole,” – view – both direct and indirect – on politics, as well as to the realization of the head of passion in the scientific creative process. We are talking about intellectual activities that, in their essence, question and undermine ←7 | 8→common beliefs, established superstitions, and binding habits or stereotypes. It is a scientific exposing, precise disenchantment of common, thoughtless, often banal or ordinary ways of thinking of, arguing or interpreting political reality. Simultaneously, theoretical political reflection is a mental activity, which does not occur in social isolation, therefore it is not based on the self-sufficiency of scientists, but is always (and only) realized – to use the argumentation of Ludwik Fleck – by functioning in a specific thought collective.

In other words, the contemporary theoretical reflection within the area of political science – more specifically, the emerging concepts, generalizations or theories – on the one hand, occurs in the space of scientific interpersonal communication, and, on the other hand, is the essence and, to some extent, an intentional consequence of the crystallization of certain currents and, consequently, communities of scientists. Members of such teams attempt to describe, explain or understand politics in a similar way with varying success. They are connected by a conceptual and even mental agreement in perceiving and exposing political phenomena. They recognize and accept common fundamental assumptions, conceptual apparatus, model schemes of description and explanation, systems of hypotheses or statements. Within this framework, they do not lose their individuality, but find an outlet for their specialization and rhetorical or polemical temperament. In this case, we are dealing with a school of science, or at least its beginning.

A theoretical school based on political theory, which constitutes a relatively coherent thought collective capable of formulating similar, coherent and intersubjective explanations or interpretations of certain phenomena, states of affairs or processes in politics, is to be understood as:

1.A community that has a directly or indirectly articulated level of theoretical and methodological self-knowledge and self-awareness related to the accepted paradigm or scope of axioms. Whereas, such auto-identification is the source and premise justifying the initiation or continuation of research projects – in particular intensive conceptual and theoretical, categorical or conceptual work – which constitutes a significant contribution to the development of a formalized discipline of knowledge.

2.A team of people who co-create, uphold or continue a certain tradition and/or an approach to conducting theoretical and cognitive reflection – from the meta-theoretical level, and from the lower-level analyses or theorization related to empirical research.

3.A community that has developed or is developing – including broadening and improving – a collective viewpoint (perception) of political reality. ←8 | 9→This is the moment when, due to the mutual exchange of thoughts, views, arguments or interpretations, and internal discussions and disputes between the members of a given school about various subject of examination (cognition), as Ludwik Fleck puts it, an intra-team journey takes place. A scientific journey which for the individual theoretical activity of the team members becomes ipso sociologico facto, a strengthening to verbalize a coherent and collective perspective or argumentation.3

4.A team of scientists whose creations of intellectual work constitute somehow similar diagnosis, assessment or prediction of specific political phenomena, which results in a clearly profiled and targeted theoretical output. These includes also scientific publications that reflect the collective awareness of the team members regarding complexity of judgements, statements and proposed theoretical solutions, including the recognition and/or challenge of the principles and ontological, epistemological and methodological rules or directives existing in political science.

5.A community, of which the conceptual apparatus, system of assumptions and scheme of phenomena interpretation is an alternative to other communities, especially those circulating and established by a fixed tradition, sometimes by revising such tradition and challenging it.

6.A community, of which theoretical activity has an institutional dimension. This means that it is organized within a formal academic community, as well as within a specific framework and legal order.

The above six boundary conditions allow us to conclude that we are dealing with such a thought collective in the case of the researchers, whose sample of works we present in this collection. Minding a somewhat pathetic overtone of the term, it may be called the Warsaw school of political theory. It comprises a team of several researchers working under the lead of Professor Mirosław Karwat in the Department of Political Theory and Political Thought in the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies of the University of Warsaw. This team consists of co-participants and successors of the Zespół Badawczy Teorii Polityki Centralnego Ośrodka Metodycznego Studiów Nauk Politycznych (COM SNP, Political Theory Research Team of the Central Methodological Center for Political Studies) at the University of Warsaw, alongside their students and partners of the next generation. The Center was established in the 1970s on the initiative of its long-term president, Professor Artur Bodnar. Initially, the school ←9 | 10→of political theory was inspired by the so-called Poznań school in the methodology of humanities – an anti-positivist, anti-naturalist intellectual formation also known in scientific discourse beyond Poland.

The COM SNP was a particular institution of great importance in the process of separating, establishing and institutionalizing political science in the systemic and ideological realities of People’s Poland. Its task was to coordinate work related to the program and methodology of educating students in the field of political and civic knowledge, and to assess and improve scientific and didactic qualification of the staff carrying out this completely new task. Initially, the staff was composed exclusively of graduates of faculties of other social sciences and humanities. It was only in the 1970s that the first generation of graduates with diplomas in political sciences appeared.

The COM SNP carried out its tasks under the pressure of the political state authorities, which expected a combination of didactic and indoctrinating effects. Therefore, it was “entangled in the system,” both in terms of its structure and desired by the authorities’ ideological orientation of most of its employees. On the other hand, the ambition of the staff (with Artur Bodnar as the head) was to give the research and didactics in political science an academic level and character. Above all, their aim was to introduce political science to the scope of academic disciplines, against all stereotypes and temptations to reduce its teaching to political agitation or press review. It should be remembered that among the countries in the socialist camp, political science was established as a scientific discipline and a subject of teaching only in Poland and Yugoslavia; other countries of this camp applied indoctrination programs of “scientific communism.” The Polish community of political scientists, although then still dominated by scientists belonging to the party, unanimously opposed such extreme propaganda ideologization in the transmission of political knowledge and consistently aspired to academic status.

The COM SNP research team formulated the conceptual categories and assumptions constituting an abstract-universal model (instead of one subordinated to the current state and political doctrine) of politics as such, remaining within the Marxist intellectual orientation and tradition. Although in the formula of open Marxism, not in the corset of orthodoxy. The scientific search of this team was surely not “subversive” or dissident, but “revisionist” from the point of view of dogmatic and ideological and propaganda interpretations of Marxism. They were an explicit polemic with a schematic presentation of the class character of state and politics, with an apologetic image of real socialism. And so, in terms of who was the subject (the driving force) of the politics, the emphasis was placed on the category of large social groups (variously divided, ←10 | 11→not only by class). In the analysis of the style of thought and political action of contemporary political forces, reference was made to the theory of historical and cultural background formulated, in reference to Marx, in the works of Ludwik Krzywicki, Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz and Antonio Gramsci, but also to the consuming reflection from the circle of formal sociology of Georg Simmel and other researchers, emphasizing the inertia of institutional forms and mental patterns, cyclical recurrences of only seemingly overcome tradition.

This inquiry has not been honored in any form of a canonical lecture in a single program work, although it was expressed in the formally scattered collection of essays, monographs and articles, and in collections of textbooks. Probably this is why they were “covered with dust” after years. The atmosphere of ideological exorcisms in the process of political transformation (the anti-communist obsession excluded Marxism itself, any terminology and rhetoric of Marxist provenance) was conducive to this “annulment.” However, the continuation of this trend confirmed that the conceptual and model apparatus of political theory outline in the research project of the COM SNP group proves to be successful both in the “historical accounts” (in explaining the conditions and mechanism of the collapse of real socialism), as well as in the analysis (in the diagnosis and the explanation) of numerous antinomies and paradoxes of political life in the Third Polish Republic.

Teoria polityki (political theory), in the convention adopted in the Polish academia, was initially pursued by the first and second generation of the COM SNP research team; later the following generation developed and continued it in the work of the Department of Philosophy and Political Theory of the Institute of Political Sciences at the University of Warsaw. Teoria polityki differs significantly from political theory in the convention adopted in the Anglo-Saxon circle, which has numerous adherents also among Polish political scientists or philosophers.

Political theory (sometimes also called political philosophy) is a reflection and narration of an axiomaticormative nature – both when it refers to the interpretation of key categories of political science and when it is an analysis (diagnosis, interpretation) of specific political phenomena – specific events or actions, trends, processes.

On the other hand, teoria polityki is an attempt to establish an explanatory theory, that is a system of statements explaining (in a logical mode of deductive reasoning) the determinants, mechanisms, regularities of political life and political action. It is a search for the essential distinctive features of political phenomena, their specificity in comparison with the social phenomena that are formally (based on their origin or form) non-political, an attempt to define the limits of the political sphere of social life (however, assuming that they are fluid, ←11 | 12→historically changeable, that the feature of politicalness of the phenomena is only to some extent a constant, and to a greater extent a contextual, occasional and syndromic feature).

The adherents of the theory understood in such way are aware that, on an axiomatic basis, it cannot exist as a system of statements that exhaust “once and for all” the characteristics and explanation of politics as a complex and changing conglomerate, a syndrome of phenomena. Such unambiguity, completeness and unconditional adequacy of political theory (and politics in general), at which we are aiming in the case of the theory of specific phenomena (such as decision theory, theory of political change, conflict theory) is impossible.

The subject of political theory understood in such a way, on the one hand, is the specificity of politics as such, the immanent mechanism of political game, political fight, ruling and social resistance, and, on the other hand, the conditionings of politics by economic, technological, cultural factors and the (regulatory, disruptive, instrumental) influence of politics on the sphere of economy, culture, and religious or scientific life.

In this approach, political theory has a double-layer character. It involves the elements of meta-theory and meta-language (definition arrangements, subject delimitation, methodological assumptions), but also directional theses on the status of the laws of science, which are a necessary component of the act of explanation (of the relations of interests, the meaning of values, ideas, of the conditions of socio-political balance, on the premises of maintaining or discounting the legal and political order, etc.).

Undoubtedly, it is possible to distinguish at least a few key characteristics of the Warsaw school of political theoreticians. This applies both to the theoretical achievements from the early formation of the analytical and research foundations of this school, as well as to the current theoretical research among the continuators of the COM tradition. Such distinctive features of the Warsaw school of political theoreticians include:

1.The intention to maintain an active critical and skeptical approach to the analysis of political matter, as well as to the overall research process, namely the individual stages, activities and products of that process. It involves an intellectual focus on the search for antinomies and paradoxes both in reality and in one’s own thinking, the pursuit of objectivity, the awareness of the pitfalls associated with one’s own commitment.

2.The acceptance of directives and assumptions of methodological holism, especially the methodology developed within historical materialism, as well as the later reception of Marxist dialectics and directives of historicism in the ←12 | 13→context of creating theoretical solutions, research strategies and the conceptual basis for contemporary political science; the adaptation of the theoretical constructs of different origins in a non-eclectic manner.

3.The acceptance and creative development of holistic explanations integral to science and politics, which emphasize the role and importance of holistic, subjective and objective dialectical, multifactorial, multidimensional explanatory schemes and interpretative approaches. This is accompanied by an emphasis on the syndromic nature of political phenomena and the very feature of politicalness.

4.The use of sociocentric spatial analyses in the theoretic and cognitive reflection, where political reality is a multi-level inter-subjective space, of which the nomological explanation hinges on the necessity to take into consideration the micro-, mezzo-, and macro-structural perspectives. In this approach, the political theoretical description, explanation or prediction is nothing more than an attempt to dialectically combine the intentional domain (human actions) with the causal (effects of actions related to the political process) and structural ones (specific historical circumstances).

5.A clear opposition to the single-sidedness in political science that dominates the “cratocentric” tradition (considering politics in terms of state power, struggle for power, mechanisms and techniques of governance), an emphasis on complementing it with the “sociocentric” optics – an analyses of bottom-up and spontaneous processes of social self-organization, social pressure on political parties, social resistance, an emphasis on taking into consideration forms of political influence other than formal or actual power.

6.Making theoretical judgements, while taking into consideration the fact that the political space consists of dynamic and emergent interweaving of processes, that is non-linear, non-directional (liquid) and morphogenetic. Its “driving force” are various contradictions, antagonisms, opposing tendencies, factors, rationale, values, norms, etc., occurring at different levels of complexity. In this sense, the creation of theories in the field of political science must take into consideration the fact that the essence of politics boils down to an in-depth reflection on both the contradictions and interdependencies within the inter-subjective political space. Thus, the guiding theme of this approach is the principle of emergence.

7.Completing factual terminology and poetics in describing and explaining phenomena using metaphors in model constructions allowing for the interpretation of politics in terms of a specific aspect or feature.

Biographical notes

Mirosław Karwat (Volume editor) Filip Pierzchalski (Volume editor) Marcin Tobiasz (Volume editor)

Mirosław Karwat is Professor of Humanities at the University of Warsaw. His research focuses on political science, political theory and social engineering. Filip Pierzchalski is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Warsaw. His current research interests are political theory and political leadership. Marcin Tobiasz – Ph.D. in Political Science, research fellow at the University of Warsaw. His research interests are democratic theory and political pluralism.


Title: Constituents of Political Theory