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The Historical Distinctiveness of Central Europe

A Study in the Philosophy of History


Krzysztof Brzechczyn

The aim of this book is to explain economic dualism in the history of modern Europe. The emergence of the manorial-serf economy in the Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary in the 16th and the 17th centuries was the result of a cumulative impact of various circumstantial factors. The weakness of cities in Central Europe disturbed the social balance – so characteristic for Western-European societies – between burghers and the nobility. The political dominance of the nobility hampered the development of cities and limited the influence of burghers, paving the way to the rise of serfdom and manorial farms. These processes were accompanied by increased demand for agricultural products in Western Europe

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An Individual and Two Approaches toward Political Revolution

Appendix II:

An Individual and Two Approaches toward Political Revolution

Non-Marxian historical materialism – a theory put forward by Leszek Nowak at the end of 1970s – constitutes one of few approaches toward revolution founded uniquely on political factors. The majority of theories of revolution emphasizes the economic reason and dimensions of these social phenomena.

The above-mentioned theory conceptualizes the mechanism of the outbreak of a political revolution with two approaches – termed by me “sociological” and “anthropological.” According to the sociological approach, an outbreak of revolution resulted from the processes of revalorization of autonomous social ties. Differently, according to the anthropological approach, the outbreak of a revolution is a consequence of an extreme increase of control exhorted by the authorities leading, in turn, to a rise of opposition constituted of citizens belonging to a certain category of individuals who refuse to subjugate, even under the most oppressive conditions.


According to the primary sociological approach originating from the end of 1970s, an outbreak of a revolution occurring in the stage of most severe oppression is a response to the revalorization of autonomous social ties. Nowak describes the mechanism as follows:

A long-lasting situation of political oppression leads people to gradually lose their primal sensitivity to danger, causes them to accustom to life under the conditions of political pressure and to habituate to these conditions. They accustom individually, learn how to avoid danger by themselves, and gradually realize that the most effective method of survival under the conditions of political pressure is founded on solidarity ←339 | 340→and willingness to help others, because every individual (every citizen, not every ruler) can find him/herself in a situation of repression, hence it is in the common interest that every individual is willing to offer help to his/her fellow citizens. As a result, autonomous interpersonal relations that had been dissolved by declassing citizens are being slowly rebuilt. Initially, they rebuilt on the elemental level as mutual help in avoiding individual danger, later, they rebuilt on the level of common undertakings, and finally the process concludes with mass opposition. This process can be described as the rebirth of civil society in a declassed populace leading to the restoration of the ability to fight for their political interests in the most repressed individuals.458

The final stage of oppression unfolds as follows:

[S];imultaneously as the ruling class oppresses the society from bottom to top, a process of restitution of human ties takes place in the lowest class, the civil class […]. The category of citizens most severely oppressed slowly becomes ready to fight with the oppression and, finally, this fight turns into a revolution. It enters a stage of civil freedom.459

The thesis based on this model can be expressed in the following way:

Sociological Thesis (ST*). Revolution is a result of processes of revalorization of autonomous social ties taken place within a civil class.


A non-Christian model of man introduced by Nowak in the end of 1980s supported the theory of political evolution based on more explicitly anthropological assumptions. According to this new approach, an outbreak of a revolution results from actions of individuals who take a peculiar attitude – an attitude of a revolutionist who refuses to subjugate:

This may be explained by the fact that in this kind of extreme condition, posing a threat of totalization, the social influence is acquired by one of the peculiar attitudes – that of the revolutionaries. When a situation threatens the total elimination of civil society (or the incorporation of the entire society by the structure of enslavement) the revolutionaries, which so far constitute a marginal minority, win support. The attitude of rebellion spreads, until it finally encompasses the masses. We could metaphorically say that the society, endangered by totalization, initiates a defense mechanism – a revolution.460

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The anthropological approach introduced significant corrections to the description of the evolution of the phase of enslavement. Most importantly, the phase of full subjugation cannot be reached, as a civil society, however small, cannot be entirely eliminated. Moreover, the process of enslavement develops the following order: civil masses, servants, lower circles of power:

When the lower ranks of power are totally enslaved, the class of rulers completely exhausts the possibilities of internal expansion. The only way to realize its interests – in the conditions of an isolated society S, of a constant level of technology, and so on – is to expand the sphere of regulation at the costs of the remnants of civil society. Social alienation grows even further and reaches the threshold of civil awakening. Finally, the revolution of the second type takes place.461

As we can see, the idea of revalorization of autonomous social ties is still present in the static part of the new version of the theory of power, however, it is not put to use in the explanation of the evolution of a political society. Therefore, the thesis of the model can be expressed in the following way:

Anthropological Thesis (AT*). Revolution is a result of an extreme increase of civil alienation causing resistance of citizens belonging to a peculiar category of a civil class.

To conclude: there are two approaches toward the model of revolution in the theory of political society. The first, “sociological” approach explains the outburst of a revolution with the mechanisms of revalorization of autonomous civil ties. The second, “anthropological” approach discusses the impact of a certain peculiar category of citizens rejecting enslavement. The difficulty with accommodating the two mechanisms lays in the definition of the role of the revolutionists in the process of revalorization of independent social ties.


The two concepts of the model of revolution were developed without taking the problem of accommodation of the two mechanisms into consideration the following critical analyses: the sociological and the anthropological approach.462 The latter essay predominantly questioned the idea of dissemination of revolutionary approach within the conditions of enslavement. According to anthropological approach:

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the core of the author’s [Nowak’s] explanation relies on the fact that in the enslaved society, people will suddenly come to accept revolutionary ideas. The question, how does the society come out from enslavement? Is thus replaced by the question: How is it possible for revolutionary ideas to spread among enslaved people? The latter question does not have a clear answer. In an almost totalized society, most people are enslaved; they love their oppressors. […] A person who is inclined to respond benevolently to a mean act of another will have to explain this phenomenon to himself and to others. And what better explanation is there than to claim – and believe – that one loves one’s malefactor? Consequently, if a given citizen is enslaved he will reject revolutionary ideas as endangering his vision of the world.463

Paprzycka and Paprzycki conclude their argument with the following statement:

Nowak’s reasoning leads to a dilemma: are the individuals who respond to revolutionist ideas not-subjugated and able to raise against their oppressors, or – as Nowak seems to assume – are they enslaved, but the nature of subjugation contains a mechanism, associated with influence by others, allowing them to escape enslavement.464

In their unfolding of the second alternative Paprzycka and Paprzycki offer a differentiation into two types of approach: of an intellectual and of a simple person. The approach of an intellectual is characterized by an ability to explain and justify every possible situation, including his/her own nonexistence. A simple person is deprived of such abilities; he/she applies common-sense knowledge and divides the world into good and evil.465 In general, the resistance line of an intellectual is compatible with the approach of an individual belonging to n-Cmm. An intellectual is capable of explaining and justifying everything, including self-enslavement. A simple person, on the contrary, accepts subjugation as long as he/she is capable of justifying it. Her/his abilities of self-delusion are limited, at some point he/she decides to revolt. According to Paprzycka and Paprzycki:

Given the fact that the majority of the society is comprised by simple people (most so-called intellectuals are simple in this sense), the phenomenon of revolution of the second type can be explained. When the level of civil alienation passes beyond the area of enslavement, the global level of resistance will increase because simple people will rise from enslavement into the area of the second rebellion. The rebellion will due to them and to a few revolutionaries. The majority of the intellectuals will be still enslaved. It is thus to the simplicity and down-to-earthness of simple people that the society owes its defense mechanism. It is small wonder then that it is precisely the simple people who have the power to move the social gears.466

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The anthropological thesis, as corrected by Paprzycka and Paprzycki, can be expressed in the following way:

AT**: revolution is a result of an extreme increase of civil alienation that causes members of a civil class without the ability of self-delusion to revolt.

Noteworthy, Paprzycka and Paprzycki criticize and modify only the static part of the theory under analysis. They omit the question of how, if at all, the introduction of the social category of a simple person impacts subsequent stages of political evolution. I find this highly regrettable. The authors assume that simple persons constitute the majority of a society. If this is the case, why does a visible social minority participate in a revolution? Moreover, if a revolution of simple persons results from their inability to deceive themselves, then the process of liberation would be unfolding in a reversed order. The first revolution, initiating the phase of cyclic declassation, would be mainstream, as at that point the system of enslavement is the most oppressive and provides more occasions to “self-delude.” Subsequently, under the influence of lost revolutions, the system gradually softens and provides fewer occasions to self-deceit. Hence, there would be fewer rebellious simple persons. However, in reality, we have an opposite situation. The first revolution is not mass and the following revolutions, erupting as the system softens and becomes more morally acceptable, are mainstream.


There are further questions to be posed with reference to the development of both approaches to revolution. The sociological approach does not provide answers to the following questions: why does revalorization of autonomous social ties happen? How does terror influence the process of revalorization of autonomous civil ties? And the anthropological model does not provide answers to the question: what happens when revolutionists had been eliminated? I will answer the first question by using Nowak’s modified differentiation between action and network of social relations within which action takes place. The definition offered by Nowak satisfies the following postulates:

all actions of a certain type are undertaken within a suitable network of social relations;

an individual exerts no influence on this social network; however, he/she can refrain from undertaking actions within the network, but others will undertake those actions;

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the structure can be modified only with a mass action resulting in substitution of one network of social ties with another;

persistency of a network of social relations is measured by a number of actions undertaken within it.467

All actions are undertaken within a network of social ties. Actions undertaken under the conditions of freedom are undertaken within a network of autonomous social ties. Actions controlled by the authorities are undertaken within a network of state-controlled social ties.

Let us introduce a concept of higher and lower, respectively, level of effectiveness of a network of social ties. Let us assume that the network of social ties S1 is more effective than the network of social ties S2 when the pursuit of action D1 within the network of social ties S1 requires less time, input and undertakings essential to complete the said action in comparison with the action D2 undertaken within the alternative network of social ties S2. This example allows us to answer the question of when a tendency to revalorize autonomous network of social ties occurs in a society.

The progressing bureaucratization of social life causes a decrease of effectiveness of state-controlled social ties. The increasing number of required stamps, signatures and seals prolongs the time of completion of an action within the framework of a bureaucratized social structure, and increases the input and number of actions essential to complete the action. The progressing bureaucratization of social ties causes the autonomous network of social ties to be more effective, in comparison to the bureaucratized network, and chosen for an increasing number of actions to be undertaken within it.

Example: The results of the research on informal economy in Peru conducted by Instituto Libertad y Democracia (ILD) directed by Hernando de Soto constitutes a suitable illustration for this situation.468 The ILD research team divided costs of functioning within formal structures into two categories of costs of access and costs of survival. The research team set up a small industrial plant in Lima in the summer of 1983 and took efforts to register the enterprise. During the registration procedure the representatives of the company had been approached ten times with a demand to pay a bribe in order to facilitate the registration, and they were twice forced to pay it. The conduced experiment proved that in order to receive 11 required concessions ←344 | 345→an individual with an average income has to devote 289 working days to administrative procedures. In general, the costs of registration amounted to $1231, which equals Peru’s 32 average monthly wages. It is noteworthy that during the 289-days-long registration procedure leading to acquisition of the necessary 11 independent concessions, the administrative authorities did not realize that they are dealing with a fictional company. After it received a legal status, the enterprise had to continue covering the costs of functioning within a formal economy. The ILD research team divided these costs into three categories: costs associated with taxes, legal tax burdens and general costs of services associated with the public sector. According to the estimation, 21.7 % of costs fall into the first category, 72.7 % – to the second category and 5.6 % – to the third category.469 The costs of survival of a small industrial plant constitute 347 % of income and 11.3 % of production costs. In order to calculate the time required to meet the demands imposed by the administration, ILD conducted research in 37 legal companies operating in various fields. It concluded that administrative employees of these companies devote around 40 % of their time to fulfil the obligations imposed by the administration. In Peru of the 1980s, the costs of operation within formal structures turned out to be significantly higher than the costs of operation within informal structures (bribes, lack of access to bank loans), therefore, informal businesses have flourished and amounted for the majority of the country’s gross national product.

The introduced modification allows for two observations. First, not all autonomous social ties are more effective than the state social ties. For example – apart from unique cases – state is more effective in fighting organized crime in comparison to citizens operating within bottom-up initiatives. Authorities usually prove to be more effective in the areas of defense policy and foreign policy. Hence, the process of revalorization of autonomous social ties does not cover all spheres of social life, and only those where autonomous social ties prove to be more effective. Therefore, a full boycott of the state, against the ideas of Polish anarchist, Edward Abramowski, is impossible, as state social ties – controlled by social minorities armed with coercive measures – are more effective in some areas of social life, than autonomous social ties.

Moving onto the second question: the process of restitution of independent social ties predominantly depends on the magnitude and severity of repressions implemented by rulers, and not only on the persistency of subjugation imposed on a society. The less violent the political terror implemented by the authorities, ←345 | 346→the shorter the process of revalorization of autonomous social ties. As political terror intensifies, the process of revalorization of autonomous social bonds becomes longer. In extreme cases, the process of restitution of independent social ties can block. This situation could be dubbed a civil collapse. The evidence indicates that Cuban and North-Korean societies remain in such situation, where the omnipotence of a party causes long-lasting social lifelessness. A stage of enslavement may conclude with a civil collapse or with a restitution of autonomous social ties. At this point we do not know which of the two options develops.

We are capable of doing so, to some extent, by basing the theory of power on the anthropological concept of a non-Christian model of man, as the category of revolutionists constitutes one of its peculiar categories. Revolutionists are individuals who, regardless of the amount of experienced wrongdoing, do not acquire an attitude of pathological benevolence toward their oppressor, and do not allow him/her to subjugate them. Their actions lead to the restitution of autonomous social ties. Regardless of the amount of repressions implemented by the authorities, these individuals do not “crack” and continue to resist, by initiating processes of revalorization of independent social ties. A society does not enter a permanent state of civil collapse, due to the presence of the representatives of this social category. Consequently, the sociological approach toward revolution corrected with the anthropological addendum of social processes can be expressed in the following way:

ST**: revolution is a result of processes of revalorization of autonomous social ties initially occurring among the members of the civil class characterized by a revolutionary attitude.

Accordingly, two factors result in an outburst of a revolution: the presence of a sufficient number of steadfast members of a society and the level of their organizational skills leading to their cooperation. After taking both approached into consideration – the anthropological and the social one, I have determined the course of enslavement in the following way: after the suppression of the revolution of the first kind, terror is introduced and destroys autonomous social ties, which, in turn, allows the authorities to increase the control zone to maximum without causing a rebellion of citizens. As soon as the authorities control all spheres of social life, the system reaches the state of totalitarianism. At this stage of evolution there are no antonymous social ties open to subjugation. As the mechanisms of power struggle continue to force a typical ruler to broaden his/her control zone, they result in political rivalry influencing the spheres of social life subjugated to other members of the ruling class. Initially, the power ←346 | 347→spheres subjugated to servants are subject to political rivalry. Afterwards, the rivalry moves onto the power spheres of other rulers. The course of subjugation is as follows: initially, citizens are subject to control by the authorities; afterwards, servants; finally, lower circles of power. This situation threatens to destroy the entire political system. It can be supported only with purges eliminating the surplus of candidates to power and allowing for further enslavement of social spheres abandoned by them. At this stage of social evolution, the periodical waves o terror, directed against the members of power structures, break the periods of totalitarianism.

I find it noteworthy to emphasize that this corrected course of the phase of enslavement assumes the possibility to entirely eliminate civil society. Would this be a permanent state, or does it depend on the presence of revolutionists within the civil class? We cannot exclude a possibility of a course of evolution of political society where rulers eliminate revolutionists beforehand, i.e. during a post-revolution terror. In this case, we would have an answer to the third question: absence of the social category of revolutionists leads to a situation where the process of revalorization of independent social ties does not begin, and a society remains stuck in a future-less civil collapse.

If this situation luckily does not happen, the process of revalorization of social ties independent from authorities begins. Initially, the phenomena are initiated by the category of revolutionists – individuals who resist subjugation. An increase of the capability of the civil class to revolt leads to a civil revolution of the second type, ended with defeat and forcing the authorities to implement concessions purported to prevent similar situation from happening in the future. As a result, the sphere of civil autonomy increases, ending the self-enslavement of the authorities that gain new areas of social life to be placed under control.

←347 | 348→←348 | 349→

457 The paper appears in English translation for the first time. The Polish original: Jednostka a dwa ujęcia rewolucji w nie-Marksowskim materializmie historycznym was published in: Jednostka w układzie społecznym. Próba teoretycznej konceptualizacji, eds. Krzysztof Brzechczyn, Mieszko Ciesielski, Eliza Karczyńska (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe WNS UAM, 2013), pp. 85–94.

458 Leszek Nowak, Wolność i władza. Przyczynek do nie-Marksowskiego materializmu historycznego (Poznań: NZS AR, 1981), p. 169.

459 Nowak, Wolność i władza, p. 182.

460 Nowak, Power and Civil Society, p. 36.

461 Nowak, Power and Civil Society, p. 60.

462 Krzysztof Brzechczyn, “Civil Loop and Absorption of Elites,” in: Social System, Rationality and Revolution, eds. Leszek Nowak and Marcin Paprzycki (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993), pp. 277–283.

463 Paprzycka, Paprzycki, “How Do Enslaved People,” p. 255.

464 Paprzycka, Paprzycki, “How Do Enslaved People,” p. 80.

465 Paprzycka, Paprzycki, “How Do Enslaved People,” pp. 260–261.

466 Paprzycka, Paprzycki, “How Do Enslaved People,” p. 261.

467 Nowak, Power and Civil Society, pp. 30–31.

468 Hernando de Soto, Inny szlak. Niewidzialna rewolucja w Trzecim Świecie (Warszawa: Polskie Towarzystwo Współpracy z Klubem Rzymskim, 1991), pp. 202–206, 22–224.

469 Soto, Inny szlak, p. 223.