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The Polish Middle Class

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Henryk Domański

This book discusses the viability of «importing» the middle class to Poland. The 1990s were a step forward in the formation of the Polish middle class and, systematically yet barely discernible in daily life, the process was triggered by an increase in consumption and affluence. However, the changes of attitudes, life goals and value systems distinct for the Western middle class are ambiguous and rather slow in Poland. They ensue mainly from the changes in new social structures and the behavioral rationality of consumers. It appears that the middle class in Poland will not emerge as an exact copy of the original middle class – rather, it will be its contextually modified variant, affected by Polish cultural traditions.
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Chapter III: Self-Reliance: 1984–1998

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Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from that same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates…

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Individualistic orientations have become a signature token of Western societies confident in the power of success and espousing a realistic approach to life models. In a very basic sense, individualism is expressed in an agentive capacity to determine one’s career. In the wake of the dissolution of the feudal estate system, the triumph of individualism was first beaconed when outstanding commoners could simply ignore the unwanted presence of the upper-class members. In the political and occupational spheres, individualism found support in universal suffrage and the ideology of equal opportunity. If in the feudal system individualism could only be a high-minded call to respect individual rights advocated by the theorists of the social contract, after the dismantling of estate barriers, it could indeed materialise in practice.

Individualism was furnished with ideological justifications by economic liberalism and philosophical utilitarianism. A religious thrust was provided by Protestant ethics – Jean Calvin’s merits in this respect equal those of Jeremy Bentham, a founder of utilitarianism, and Adam Smith, the father of classical economy, in their respective domains. All three of them were fervent supporters of individualism and espoused the credo of giving everybody maximum freedom to pursue their...

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