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A Degenerate World

Series:

Jerzy Jedlicki

Edited By Elena Rozbicka

Modernism and pessimism seem to go hand in hand. What are the sources of the historical pessimism we see in the legions of writers and thinkers over the past three centuries who saw modern civilization as degenerate and despicable, happily marching to its own doom? Why did so many educated and intelligent people despise the innovations that were the work of their contemporaries? This book focuses on English and Polish thought during the 19 th and early 20 th centuries, a time of relative political stability and great success in science and industry, when many nevertheless voiced concern that Europe is moving in the wrong direction, to its own destruction. After WWI, these warnings became even more dire and have left their mark on the European culture of our times.
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Chapter 3. City on Trial

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Had this been a specifically Polish (or Russian, or Slavic) stance, the issue would have been a relatively simple one. We would say: here is an example of a culture and mentality typical of an agricultural country – one whose civilisational development was delayed – that opposes the bourgeois ethics of competition; through resisting it, warning against it, and despising it, this culture can find within itself, within its own traditions, indigenous values that could serve as a foundation for a different civilisational structure, one which would glisten with exemplary spirit, rather than with gold, and whose governing principle, rather than the combat and rivalry of everyone against everyone else, would be sacrifice and community. We would say that those hopes would turn out to be illusory, for the rural peripheries of Europe were doomed all the same to finally enter the same path of industrial revolution and bourgeois development, except they would always be behind, poor, and envious. And, we would point out that this grudge held against mercantile and rationalised civilisation tends invariably to appear in every country of the world after it has been exposed to its temptations; and, that such a response is a natural and psychologically understandable defence of the value of one’s own culture when threatened by the levelling steamroller of capitalism. We would obviously recall that in Poland this reluctance was additionally reinforced by the traditional age-old prejudices, popular amongst the nobility, against town and commerce, prejudices that a young master, born and...

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