Art Economics Low Politics Decline Political Theology Power Geopolitics

Poland and the Demon in Democracy

Poland and the Demon in Democracy
Liberal authoritarianism’s tusks have been bared across the Westt

“Democracy has won” in Poland following the election of a new government in October – or at least so declared the country’s new prime minister, Donald Tusk. The former top European Union official’s party only won 30% of the vote compared to the 36% of his incumbent conservative, EU-skeptical rivals, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, but was nonetheless able to assemble a coalition of leftists to take power. Since entering office, Tusk has moved quickly to prove his particular commitment to “democracy.” Which is to say that, in a particularly striking example of what all of us can now increasingly anticipate whenever “democracy” wins elections in the West these days, he immediately began trampling the constitution in order to jail his political opponents.

First, on January 9, he dispatched police to storm the presidential palace and arrest two opposition lawmakers seeking refuge there. These were former Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński and his deputy, Maciej Wąsik. Kamiński, a well-known anti-communist and a key figure in freeing Poland from Soviet domination, previously served as chief of Poland’s anti-corruption bureau. He was convicted during Tusk’s previous regime (2007-2014) for allegedly abusing his power while pursuing government corruption with “excessive zeal,” but was officially pardoned by then-new President Andrzej Duda in 2015 – a long-standing point of displeasure for the Polish left.

Duda, a former PiS member, is still Poland’s president, officially dividing executive power with Tusk. When, away for a meeting, he heard what was occurring at his own offices, he tried to intervene, but found his communications mysteriously jammed and his car’s route back to the palace mysteriously blocked by a Warsaw city transit bus (all surely a coincidence). The President was reduced to voicing his outrage online. Noting that the arrests appeared to have been conducted in outright violation of the Polish constitution, he said he was “deeply shocked that people who are honest and who have always fought for a free Poland have been arrested.”

When Duda pardoned the two men again on January 23, Tusk first stalled on releasing them from prison and then suggested that even though let go they would soon be held “responsible for other things.” Either way, Tusk seems to have won, since having been jailed for a crime the parliamentarians can now be stripped of their seats, consolidating Tusk’s balance of political power. Indeed Tusk is apparently just getting started, as he also arrested former Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk. Wawrzyk had already been sacked and placed under investigation by the PiS government in connection to a recent visa fraud scandal. But by escalating to an arrest Tusk signaled that he was only in the opening moves of a long-planned “step by step” campaign to purge opposition figures throughout the country.

For instance, Tusk immediately attempted to arrest and prosecute Poland’s serving central bank governor, Adam Glapiński. Tusk has a personal beef with Glapiński, having accused him last year of the unforgivable crime of making monetary policy decisions that made the right-wing government look good during the campaign. So now he wants him gone, even though Glapiński was appointed in 2022 to a second term of six years. Unfortunately for Tusk, Poland’s top constitutional court quickly ruled this particular revenge plot was most definitely illegal, so he had to back down for the moment – but declared rather ominously that “there are other ways to pursue” Glapiński regardless.

The courts themselves are Tusk’s top target. He campaigned on “restoring the rule of law” to Poland. By this he meant unlocking more than $100 billion in EU funds meant for Poland that the bloc has frozen on the grounds that PiS “politicized” the courts. These sanctions were imposed in response to PiS reforms to allow more judges to be appointed by elected officials – and therefore face at least some measure of democratic accountability, as in most Western countries – rather than be appointed by each other. This incestuous practice had led to Poland’s allegedly-former communist judges universally appointing new progressive allegedly-not-communists in an unbroken cycle of hegemonic left-wing institutional control. According to the EU, however, legally breaking this oligarchy was a form of “democratic backsliding.”

So Brussels set out to undermine Poland’s right-wing government as punishment. By freezing the funds ahead of the election, then blatantly signaling they would be restored only if Tusk was elected to implement his plans, the EU effectively held out a massive bribe to help induce the Polish people to vote correctly. Naturally, as soon as Tusk took power the EU quickly moved to release some $5 to 7 billion in initial funds for a job well done. This after Tusk’s coalition immediately began packing the National Council of the Judiciary (a constitutional body overseeing Polish judges) with its own partisans – despite the allegation of PiS doing something similar being exactly what provoked the EU’s howls about “undermining judicial independence” in the first place. But then, “There’s lot of appetite in Brussels to help Tusk out and release at least part of this money and ensure that this change in Poland is reflected not just in rhetoric but in some hard cash being handed out as incentive to continue with those reforms,” as Jakub Jaraczewski, some kind of NGO creature, accurately summed it up for the Financial Times.Subscribe

Tusk then only escalated his effort to rapidly take control of the legal system. His new justice minister and chief political attack dog, Adam Bodnar, attempted to fire and replace the country’s national prosecutor, Dariusz Barski – except that by law the appointment or removal of this position is contingent on agreement by the president, leading Duda to accuse Bodnar of engaging in “flagrant violation of the law.” Bodnar then simply declared that Barski had been appointed “without a proper legal basis” and therefore never actually held office at all. So now Barski exists in a state of quantum-political limbo, either national prosecutor or not, depending on who you ask.

Tusk’s government has openly stated that it intends to see the legitimacy of many more PiS appointees, especially judges, similarly cast into doubt, allowing all the rulings, laws, and regulations made under their tenure to be called into question. When Tusk began his “de-PiSisation” campaign early in January by seizing control of the state broadcaster (the only media friendly to the right) – sending the police to forcibly shutter their offices and purging all their staff – Poland’s constitutional court ruled that this was illegal, saying management decisions had to be made by Poland’s National Media Council instead of the government. In response, Tusk’s government dismissed the ruling by the court as illegitimate because it viewed at least one of the judges involved as having been politically appointed by PiS. The government said that it will now simply ignore all rulings from all bodies it considers to be filled with PiS sympathizers.

Poland therefore appears headed into a state of deep constitutional crisis instigated by Tusk’s merciless blitzkrieg to remove every trace of his nationalist opponents’ influence from the Polish political and cultural system and restore the purity of pro-EU left-wing hegemony. Duda has warned that this “arrogance” of Tusk’s government has turned the rule of law into an instrument of “terror,” while PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński has called for fresh elections, saying the country was in an “emergency situation” in which “the constitution is practically no longer valid.”1

Meanwhile, in recent days, tens of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets despite freezing winter weather to demonstrate their opposition to Tusk’s assaults on the rule of law conducted in the name of the rule of law, with many comparing the situation to their own experience during Poland’s communist era. In a speech to the nation, former Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned that while, “for more than three decades no one was persecuted in our country because of their political views,” this norm had now been broken. “For the first time since the dark days of totalitarian rule, we have political prisoners in Poland,” he said. One of the top constitutional court’s judges, Krystyna Pawłowicz, has been similarly blunt, lamenting on social media that “The neo-Bolshevik demolition of Poland is progressing.”

None of this has given pause to Tusk or his boosters in Brussels, however. Rather, his actions have been widely lauded in elite media as a model for other leaders to follow when confronting “populists” and the “far-right.” As Maciej Kisilowski, a law professor at the Soros-funded Central European University in Vienna, wrote in an opinion piece for the Financial Times, “These decisive, if heavy-handed, actions come at a time when democrats globally are searching for strategies to deal with populists.” Legal experts might, he said, be “questioning the procedural legality of some of the recent moves. But the results are notable.” “Tusk is proving that democracy can bite back. That will certainly not endear him to the rightwing electorate, but it can engender a measure of grudging respect and, ultimately, compliance.”

Liberal Managerialism Bares its Tusks

Most people in the West likely have little awareness about what’s happening in Poland. But then they don’t need to – they can already see much the same thing happening at home in their own countries, where they too are under increasingly relentless pressure to display “compliance.”

All over the world, the globalist liberal elite seem to be in an agitated state approaching panic. The cause of this panic is obvious, as they won’t stop talking about it: elections keep happening, and “populists” opposed to the policies of the establishment elite tend to keep winning them. This, we are told, is a dire threat to “democracy.” “Right-wing populism is set to sweep the West in 2024” in a “disaster for liberal democracy,” hyperventilates Foreign Policy. “Can democracy survive 2024?” asks the Financial Times. “Is democracy dying?” wonders the BBC.

A truly healthy “democracy” is when no one votes at all.

By “democracy” they do not, of course, mean democracy. As I described in The China Convergence, “democracy” has long since been redefined to mean the uninterrupted rule of the managerial elite and the undiluted supremacy of their ideological values:

From this point forward the definition of democracy itself would begin to change: “democracy” no longer meant self-government by the demos – the people – exercised through voting and elections; instead it would come to mean the institutions, processes, and progressive objectives of the managerial civil service itself. In turn, actual democracy became “populism.” Protecting the sanctity of “democracy” now required protecting the managerial state from the demos by making governance less democratic.

In this light the meaning of the “threats to our democracy” freak-out becomes much more obvious. When the people vote for “populists,” i.e. figures offering to govern in their interests, the hegemonic control of transnational managerial elites (“democrats”) and the progress of their various ideological colonial projects is threatened. This is the “threat to democracy”: that the people of democratic nation-states may take back control for themselves. The true crime against “democracy” committed by PiS was not that it in any way degraded the Polish people’s ability to vote in democratic elections (voter turnout in October was the highest on record, at 74%), but that when it took power the party began to vie for control of the unelected institutions of the managerial state in Poland, threatening to evict the dominant elite. This it sadly failed to do very thoroughly. Hence why, given the opportunity, that elite has retaliated with such icy fury and a firm determination to “bite back” and make a “decisive” example of its enemies.

But now the democratic infection in Poland is threatening to go global, since 2024 is indeed a year of many elections. That includes elections for the EU Parliament and of course – most horrifying of all – for the presidency of the United States, where Le Grande Menace Orange is polling well ahead.

Meanwhile popular dissatisfaction with oligarchic elite misrule is by now palpable almost everywhere. In fact, seemingly everywhere all at once, the peasants are literally revolting. But, in the minds of globalist technocrats, genuine grassroots popular resistance to what they consider their historic destiny is unimaginable, and so could only be the work of that most nefarious of metaphysical forces… the mysteriously omnipresent “far right.”

“In the run-up to an EU-wide election in June” indeed.

The “far right” is a spirit embodied by any and all those people, parties, powers, principalities, and probably animal species that demonstrate the slightest symptoms of being “anti-democratic” in nature – i.e. that they may threaten the undivided, unaccountable control of the incumbent managerial elite. Even members of the far left can sometimes become “far right” if they dare engage in such an outrageous affront.

So the view from Davos is dire: the rabble seem to be about to do democracy wrong, again, and empower the “far right” to challenge the managerial lock on power. All across the West, managerial regimes have therefore responded in the same way: with coordinated campaigns to “protect democracy” by curtailing democracy.

We see this not only in Poland but in countries as disparate as Israel, where the self-appointing courts have ruled that they have the power to cancel any government decisions that they alone consider “unreasonable,” including reforms to limit their ability to define what is “reasonable.”

Or in Ireland, where the regime has moved to implement totalitarian speech controls to silence public outcry over its immigration policies.

In Spain, where the far left government made a constitutionally illegal amnesty deal with separatists in order to avoid losing power to the right, then violently crushed public protests.

In Germany, where the state is openly flirting with banning outright the country’s only real opposition party, which now represents more than a fifth of the electorate.

Politico, just asking questions

In the European Union as a whole, where Ursula von der Leyen recently declared that “the insidious spread of misinformation and disinformation” (read: unpopular political opinions) represents the world’s biggest threat during “the biggest electoral year in history,” and that government must not “act too slowly” by hesitating to consider any “trade-off between preventing misinformation and protecting free speech.”

And of course in the United States, where the ruling party is actively attempting to imprison its leading political opponent, ban him from appearing on the ballot, designate his tens of millions of supporters as anti-democratic extremists and would-be domestic terrorists requiring surveillance and intimidation by the national security apparatus, and use lawfare to “fortify” elections before they happen. As Revolt of the Public author Martin Gurri has also recently written:

The malady now exposed is this: the elites have lost faith in representative democracy. To smash the nightmare image of themselves that Trump evokes, they are willing to twist and force our system until it breaks… The implications are clear. Not only Trump, but the nearly 75 million Americans who voted for him, must be silenced and crushed. To save democracy, it must be modified by a possessive: “our democracy.”

In short, the gloves are coming off everywhere in 2024; tusks are being bared for combat. Extending the example of early peasant-crushing pioneers like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the demagogues of managerial liberalism’s “extreme center” are demonstrating that they’re now willing to openly clarify friend-enemy distinctions, exercise raw power, and break any democratic norm or take any extra-constitutional action necessary to maintain their control.

This is all perfectly in line with the slide into a rapidly hardening “rule by law” managerial authoritarianism that I described in The China Convergence. As it happens, however, there was a Pole who predicted why it was going to go down like this in his country and across the whole Western world, and who did so well before I…Subscribe

The Demon in Democracy

In his 2016 book The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, the political philosopher Ryszard Legutko (now head of the PiS delegation to the European Parliament) made what at the time seemed like a startlingly provocative claim: liberalism was an ideology that shared nearly all of the same fundamental traits as communism and consequently was headed toward a similar embrace of totalitarianism.

The book opens with an epigraph from Dostoyevsky, who wrote that: “I have found from many observations that our liberals [in pre-revolutionary Russia] are incapable of allowing anyone to have his own convictions and immediately answer their opponent with abuse or something worse.” The book seeks to explain why this so often seems to be the case even in our “advanced” liberal-democratic societies today, despite liberalism’s claimed tolerance and openness to debate.

Legutko, a former anti-Soviet dissident who was once editor of the Solidarity movement’s underground philosophy journal, reflects on his experience in communist Poland to suggest that, at root, actually-existing liberalism shares at least several disturbing similarities with communism.

It is possessed by the same progressive conception of history, the same belief that history moves rationally and inevitably in only one direction: forward toward, in the liberal case, greater and greater freedom and equality for all. Like communism, liberalism believes in constant social improvement and the unravelling of historic injustices and inequities. And at the end of this arc of history lies the same utopian ideal of a perfected world. Just as the communists believed the utopia of a classless society and universal social justice was possible to achieve through worldly struggle, liberals believe that a completely equal, just, and peaceful world can ultimately be constructed by human managerial technique. That is to say that, like communism, liberalism is more than a political theory for understanding the world – rather, as I have also described, it is a grand political project that its followers consciously or subconsciously seek to instantiate.

“When we look at communism and liberal democracy from this point of view,” writes Legutko, “we can see that they are both fueled by the idea of modernization. In both systems a cult of technology translates itself into acceptance of social engineering as a proper approach to reforming society, changing human behavior, and solving existing social problems.’’ This is the managerial core that liberalism shares with its ideological siblings and rivals, communism and fascism.

Relatedly, both communism and liberalism necessarily display a distinct hostility to religion and belief in the transcendent or eternal and permanent things more broadly. Their progressivism dictates that the past, and the beliefs and customs of the past, be left behind in order to move closer to utopia; holding onto any such things, as in the case of religious traditions, is to resist the arrival of a better world. Moreover, religion posits higher authorities or laws that rule over and limit what good can be achieved through worldly power. To the utopian this is an artificial and baffling prohibition on “immanentizing the eschaton,” or the achievement of a perfected kingdom on earth in the here and now, and thus a hold-up to be eliminated.

Together, these traits make liberalism, like communism, both revolutionary and imperial. Revolutionary because there is no step too radical (“at the root”) for it to accept if seen as necessary to achieve its grand project. Imperial, because it is universalist in nature: liberal “rights” are universal and apply to everyone, everywhere; somewhere there will always be someone who does not enjoy every imaginable right; in order for the project of universal equality and freedom to finally be fulfilled, they too must be liberated to enjoy these rights – even if they don’t want to be.

As Legutko points out, both liberalism and communism adopt Rousseau’s justification for the practice of “coercion to freedom”: if someone, or some particular society, is unwilling to choose to be “free” (in whatever manner conceived) this can only be because they are unfree, and so forcing them into a state of “freedom” against their will is a liberation of their free choice. In the case of liberalism, “The need for building a liberal-democratic society thus implies the withdrawal of the guarantee of freedom for those whose actions and interests are said to be hostile to what the liberal democrats conceive as the cause of freedom.’’

In the end, just like communism, liberalism ultimately functions as an ideology. An ideology is more than a system of political organization; it is a belief structure that determines the perceived truth and justice of everything based fundamentally on how it either does or does not conform to and advance the ideology’s grand project. This leaves no room for accepting consideration or debate of its philosophical priors or any alternatives, because the end goal (utopia) of all political and social change has already been settled (and indeed is thought historically inevitable); only the means to achieve this goal can be open for discussion.

Why waste time, they think, arguing with someone whom the march of history condemned to nothingness and oblivion? Why should anyone seriously enter into a debate with the opponent who represents what is historically indefensible and what will sooner or later perish? People who are not liberal democrats are to be condemned, laughed at, and repelled, not debated… Debating with them is like debating with alchemists or geocentrists. Again, an analogy with communism immediately comes to one’s mind. The opponents of communism – e.g., those who believed free-market to be superior to planned economy – were at best enemies to be crushed, or laughingstocks to be humiliated: how else could any reasonable soul react to such anachronistic dangerous ravings of a deluded mind?

After the revolutionary egalitarian enthusiasms of the 1960s, liberals soon found it “no longer acceptable to wait serenely and patiently for the results that democratic mechanisms would bring.” Instead:

It became necessary to fight for a democracy that was more and more democratic as well as more and more liberal, a democracy liberated once and for all from all conservative burdens, a democracy that was certain to bring specific laws, norms, and mindsets. And if it fell short of these aims in any respect, it was generally understood that the system could be manipulated in order to bring what each dedicated liberal democrat considered to be an indisputable benefit. Within a short period of time Europeans changed their perception of democratic politics and became convinced that it was about modernization, progress, pluralism, tolerance, and other sacred aims, which were to be carried out regardless of what the voters decided during elections. [My emphasis added here and throughout.]

As a result of the general triumph of liberal ideology after the end of the Cold War, Legutko writes, “liberal democracy has become an all-permeating system. There is no, or in any case, cannot be, any segment of reality that would be arguably and acceptably non-liberal democratic” in the liberal mind.

This leads into what is I consider to be Legutko’s most insightful and important point: despite the repeated claim by liberals that liberalism’s genius is that it depoliticizes societies by setting up a neutral state that allows for open, pluralistic, democratic debate on the ends that society and its individuals should pursue, precisely the opposite is in fact the case:

[T]he hypothesis that a liberal man is a nonpolitical animal, however probable it may sound, is false and has never been true. As liberalism progressed, people did not withdraw from politics, much less abolish it, but, on the contrary, continued to empower it with prerogatives it had never had before… And it is easy to understand why. Liberalism is primarily a doctrine of power, both self-regarding and other-regarding: it aims to limit the power of other agents, and at the same time grants enormous prerogatives for itself. In a sense it is a super-theory of society, logically prior to and – by its own declaration of self-importance – higher than any other. It attributes to itself the right to be more general, more spacious, and more universal than any of its rivals. Its goal is – as the liberals say – to create a general framework within which others will be able to cooperate. The liberals will never voluntarily give up this admittedly highest of political prerogatives to anyone and will never agree to share it.

In truth, liberalism is actually, just like Lenin’s who/whom communism, hyper-political in nature. And today we are beginning to see that truth revealed more and more clearly as more and more spheres of life are relentlessly politicized by liberalism’s partisan passions.

Few liberals claim to be transparent nowadays. Most of them openly stand for a specific worldview, which they believe to be the most adequate of and for modern times, formulated in opposition to other worldviews and held to be uncompromisingly superior to them. They no longer hide themselves under the formula ‘we are creating only a general framework,’ but fight hard for their power over minds and institutions. This spirit of partisanship should not be surprising, as liberalism has always had a strong sense of the enemy, a direct consequence of its dualistic perception of the world. After all, liberalism is more about political struggle with non-liberal adversaries than deliberation with them. Although such words as ‘dialogue’ and ‘pluralism’ appear among its favorite motifs, as do ‘tolerance’ and other similarly hospitable notions, this overtly generous rhetorical orchestration covers up something entirely different. In its essence, liberalism is unabashedly aggressive because it is determined to hunt down all nonliberal agents and ideas, which it treats as a threat to itself and to humanity. The organizing principle of liberalism – as in all other philosophies aiming to change the world radically – is therefore dualism, not pluralism.

Liberalism is in reality an ideology of friend and enemy. Either one is for the utopian liberal project, or against it. No other categories can be seriously considered or permitted. And as the liberal project continually fails – as it must – to produce utopia, liberalism finds itself more and more desperately hunting for the shadowy ranks of non-liberal saboteurs that must be undermining the progress of the revolution. Legutko reflects on how both communists and liberals have displayed the same peculiar tendency: to somehow hold simultaneously to the idea that their ideals are invincible and will inevitably triumph at the end of history, and that they are a small, vulnerable, victimized, and desperately embattled minority. In what serves as a recognizably flawless description of the “far right”-fantasizing media and activist class in every liberal country today, he notes that:

A delusion to which the trackers of traitors to liberal democracy readily succumb is their belief that they are a brave small group struggling dauntlessly against an overwhelming enemy. And again, an analogy to communism seems irresistible. Under communism people were made to believe that they were involved in a never-ending fight against the enemy. This enemy had various faces and identities, all frighteningly powerful: international imperialism, the CIA, allied reactionary domestic and foreign forces… In a liberal democracy, the fight also goes on and the enemy too, represents the dark forces, always reviving despite a series of victories by the forces of light… The illusion they cherish of being a brave minority heroically facing the whole world, false as it is, gives them nevertheless a strange sense of comfort: they feel absolutely safe, being equipped with the most powerful political tools in today’s world but at the same time priding themselves on their courage and decency, which are more formidable the more awesome the image of the enemy becomes.

Because it sees itself as political truth at once beleaguered and inevitable, the ideology of liberalism has today “long since ceased to be open (if it ever was) and has entered a stage of rigid dogmatization,” Legutko writes. “The more conquests it makes, the less the victors are willing to show clemency to anyone outside the winning forces.”

This means it is only growing more aggressive and paranoid, and is more and more willing to abandon previously sacred principles like the rule of law in order to fight its perceived enemies and progress its ideological project.

Today’s [liberal] mainstream, like the erstwhile communist ruling class, takes over the mechanisms for creating laws and regards it as its exclusive property to be used for its own goals. The modern state [then] openly, even proudly carries out the policy of social engineering [using the law]… A markedly important function of the law, to act as a barrier to political hubris, was lost or significantly weakened. Instead, the law has become a sword against the unresponsiveness and sometimes resistance of society to the policy of aggressive social restructuring that is euphemistically called modernization. The law in liberal democracy – as under communism – is no longer blind.

Liberalism today departs historically from communism, however, as, in Legutko’s telling, at least “the influence of ideology in communism had a downward trend” over its lifespan. In contrast, in liberal democracies “we have been, unfortunately, observing a reverse trend.”

The ideological smokescreen is becoming more dense and more impenetrable than before. The entire system seems to have embarked on a great transformation. One would be tempted to say that the system created its own liberal-democratic version of the old communist theory that the building of a new society must coincide with the intensification of the campaign against its enemies.

This then is precisely what we are seeing all across the West today, including in Poland. The demon in liberal-democracy is a totalizing liberalism that is proving itself to ultimately be more than willing to kill off its democratic host-body in the attempt to once and for all finally destroy its ideological enemies and complete its utopian project. The time may soon come when the citizens of Western nations need to decide which half of this deeply fractured political chimera they wish to retain: liberalism or democracy – and unfortunately, they’re probably only going to be able to pick one.

Naturally, Tusk immediately accused Kaczyński of plotting to foment an “insurrection,” borrowing directly from the tried-and-true Washington playbook.

Support the author here