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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 IV: Aspirations and Value Systems

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A fever of newness has been everywhere confused with the spirit of progress.

Henry Ford

The West looks on the world through the eyes of the middle class; that is, in the optics of class divisions, because to say that it looks on the world through the eyes of eco-activists or New-Left dissenters would be equally pertinent if another perspective were assumed. The universalist tradition of Western societies champions rationalism, democracy, faith in progress and respect for individual rights. Trying to identify such qualities in Poland, we will analyse changes in values which are more general than both individualism and the drive to succeed examined in the previous chapter.

American society puts a high premium on equality. This is manifest, for example, in dispensing with stiff formal manners, a practice popularly regarded as distinctly American. Employees and managers address each other as “you,” camaraderie is fostered at workplace, and titles are dropped. The egalitarian model prevails in family and at school. Middle-class spouses tend to emphasise their equal partnership in marriage, important decisions are made jointly in the spirit of mutual understanding, and relationships with children are permeated with kind familiarity, eschewing authoritarianism and patriarchal gestures. In February 2001, when America celebrated Ronald Reagan’s 90th birthday, the considerable media coverage of the event featured many guests who shared their memories. One of the renowned speakers was George Schultz, a former Secretary of the Defence, whom the host kept addressing as “George,” which,...

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