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Chauvinism, Polish Style

The Case of Roman Dmowski (Beginnings: 1886–1905)

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Grzegorz Krzywiec

The book addresses the genesis of Polish integral nationalism and the role of Roman Dmowski as a co-founder of this phenomenon in the development of Polish political thought at the fin-de-siècle. Based on extensive documentary research, it attempts to show a broader picture of modern Polish political and social thinking in context of the late 19 th and early 20 th East Central Europe. The author reflects on the significance of racial thinking and Social Darwinism of the new nationalist imagination, arguing that its intellectual foundations came from anti-positivist and anti-Enlightenment tradition. He challenges the widespread assumption that Polish nationalism in its early version cherished somehow mild attitudes toward minorities, especially the Jews, claiming instead that enmity toward «Otherness» constitutes its ideological core. A major feature of the book is the contextualization of Polish nationalism against the backdrop of the fin-de-siècle European political thought.
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The case of Roman Dmowski as seen against the background of intellectual radicalism at the turn of the century is interesting for a number of reasons. Over the course of his life, Dmowski played a great many roles: a member of a secret schoolboy society and then a student activist; an active participant in the pro-independence movement, but also a deft cabinet politician, as well as a charismatic leader of an influential political movement, and finally an ideologue and political writer with aspirations to ‘educate’ his community and exercise over it a ‘government of souls’. For many members of his cultural generation, which appeared at the turn of the 1880s/1890s, especially participation in school self-study groups had a great formative significance. This school experience should be seen as a point of departure for the fortunes of this whole group of involved activists and intellectuals, for whom it was only the turn-of-the-century crisis that became a real challenge. In a well-known conversation with the editor of the young conservatives’ paper Bunt Młodych in the autumn of 1935, Dmowski supposedly said: ‘Yes, I am ambitious […] I have ambition […]. I believe that I have ploughed furrows in Polish life which are deeper than many people even today realize.’1

From the point of view of the development of his ideas, every correction that Dmowski made to his most important work from the beginning of the century – Myśli nowoczesnego Polaka – could appear to be a step backwards. If we...

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