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henryk krzeczkowskiAt first glance, a homosexual Soviet intelligence officer and communist soldier who fought in Stalin’s army may not be the most obvious candidate to grace the pantheon of imaginative conservatism alongside eminent figures like Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis. Nevertheless, a particular sense of duty to the dearly departed moves me to introduce readers to the obscure person of my postmortem patron, Mr. Henryk Krzeczkowski (1921-1985). Though I have no recollections of meeting the man, who died while I was a young boy, chance would have it that I am likely the sole living owner of his literary estate. Interestingly enough, as if a sign of Divine Providence, Mr. Krzeczkowski happens to have been one of the two founding fathers of post-war Polish conservatism, and the Polish conservative movement that came to maturity in the 1980s was in many ways a function of his work. Called “the most intelligent man in Warsaw” by the late Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski, many a Polish conservative who went on to serve in public office, including the former Minister of Culture in Poland’s short lived conservative government circa 2006 as well as the leader of what was the III Republic’s first conservative party, sat at Mr. Krzeczkowski’s feet to learn from the man’s great erudition and refined wisdom. To this day, books and theatre spectacles translated by Mr. Krzeczkowski are enjoyed by a public that likely does not know him.

For Polish conservatives, Mr. Krzeczkowski was, like Leo Strauss in America, a gateway to the Great Books and Great Ideas of Western Civilization. Like Strauss, Krzeczkowski was a careful translator and excellent essayist. Learned in multiple languages, Mr. Krzeczkowski translated much that was worthwhile in English and American prose, as well as sharing his considerable love of classical texts with his friends. He re-introduced many a young Polish conservative to the humane letters and awakened their appreciation for the moral imagination. Amongst the writers Mr. Krzeczkowski translated into Polish were Dwight Eisenhower, Joseph Conrad, Byron, John Updike, Goethe, Karl Marx, Pierre la Mure and Isaiah Berlin. His writing is reminiscent of Leo Strauss’s Persecution and the Art of Writing, if for no other reason than the fact that Mr. Krzeczkowski wrote under conditions of systemic persecution. His preference for translating Great Books and writing essays about Great Writers rather than crafting any original oeuvre also betrays a disposition reminiscent of Leo Strauss.

I should like to begin this general introduction of his person with a brief discussion of Mr. Krzeczkowski’s homosexuality, because I find accounts of it to be so delightfully at odds with the laughable narrative of the modern “homosexual rights” movement that plagues the West, and that particularly scorns conservative sensibilities and imputes to conservative ideas an “anti-homosexual” mentality. Mr. Krzeczkowski seems to stand athwart the progressive liberal narrative of “gay” liberation not so much on account of his ideas, as on account of his very life. While there have been homosexuals like Allan Bloom whose work has inspired conservative thought, Bloom was careful to disassociate himself from conservatism. Mr. Krzeczkowski, on the other hand, was a conservative par excellence, not afraid to call himself one amidst the Communist system. By the accounts I have read, his homosexuality was Socratic insofar as he remarked (no doubt purposefully echoing a similar sentiment to Socrates from the first book of The Republic) that “I am happy to find old age dulling the tyranny of the passions within me,” a remark seldom made by heterosexual men, for whom the loss of this passion is no cause for celebration because it distances them not from eros as such, but from their wives.

Mr. Krzeczkowski, furthermore, was noted for sometimes attempting heterosexuality. Like the ancient Athenians, his homosexuality was rather limited to an erotic love of young men coupled with a Platonic love of intelligent men. His attempt at loving women apparently failed. His personal lot, like the lot of many condemned by genetic accident to homosexuality, was not”gay”, but frighteningly lonely. In this loneliness, judging from his work and some accounts of his person, it appears there is some hope that he found the company of Christ.

Furthermore, unlike Allan Bloom who was ambiguous with regard to Christianity, apparently treating it with scholarly respect and personal distance, Mr. Krzeczkowski grew to hold Christianity in high regard and, we might even say, came to be a Christian, finding in the meditation over Christ the answer to much of the woes that besmirched his life. As the jacket to one of the few volumes of his penmanship, a series of literary essays, After-Thoughts, proclaims: “Krzeczkowski attempts to demonstrate that the necessary condition for fruitful communion with culture is the application of moral criteria. The Christian view of Man’s place in the world illuminates for the author the various choices made by the writers he reviews.” Mr. Krzeczkowski took great pains to explore this Christian worldview and apply moral criteria to culture. His work appeared in a Catholic weekly tied to Pope John Paul II and his books carry imaginative content with decidedly conservative titles like “On the place of Prudence” and “Simple Truths”. From the sparce public accounts of those who knew him, his attachment to conservative imagination, Christianity and national patriotism only grew with age.

From what I have learned of Mr. Krzeczkowski, he would likely consider the modern “LGBTQ” movement not merely immoral and incorrect, but above all an ugly literary abomination, a neologism making of a not particularly happy sexual predisposition a caricature impersonating happiness. The very term “LGBT” would likely offend his aesthetic sense because it is reminiscent of vulgar jargon and not beautiful linguistic sensibilities. Equally offensive, I think, would be the laughable contemporary bastardization of language according to which the perfectly nice English word “gay” has been applied to a condition that, as Harry Jaffa pointed out, is usually anything but.

The tendency in the West to consider “gay marriage” legitimate would no doubt make Mr. Krzeczkowski laugh. I highly doubt he would consider his sexual friendships with young men the equivalent of a social institution made for men and women to become one flesh and for the rearing of children. Perhaps in his longing for some semblance of sexual and personal normalcy, Mr. Krzeczkowski was nice enough to make what in effect was a fatherly gesture towards me when he left me his estate? Who knows. Like Strauss, accounts of whom are sparce, Mr. Krzeczkowski was a mystery in many ways, though there is little doubt he was a philosopher, a conservative and a gentleman who happened to be afflicted with homosexuality. Unlike modern liberals who aspire to make a virtue of their vices at the expense of real virtues, Mr. Krzeczkowski appeared to appreciate the value of hypocrisy and discretion to moral health.

In the words of professor Bartyzel, who compares Henryk Krzeczkowski to Michael Oakeshott:

“According to Krzeczkowski, the primacy of ethics binds us even in those spheres of human activity which modern culture tries vigorously (and largely successfully) to emancipate from said ethics: in the areas of law, politics, intellectual and artistic creativity. Where ever the clear distinctions between good and evil are blurred, or ignored as being too ‘over-simplified’, there in essence, under the venire of deep analysis, an attempt is made to castrate the conscience.”

It is the awakening of conscience in his intelligent pupils, through an introduction to and dialogue with Great Writers that was the guiding passion of Mr. Krzeczkowski’s postwar life. Conservatism being above all a predisposition that is acquired, Mr. Krzeczkowski aquired his conservative predispositions in ways that made him a particularly astute man. He was apparently born with some Jewish lineage, and apparently—for reasons I have not yet discovered—changed his name in 1948 from its original: Herman Gerner to the Polish name with which he remained until the end of his life. He was deported by the Soviets deep into Siberia, but re-emerged fighting against NAZI Germany alongside the Polish communist General Bering. Bering, a complex man in his own right, had fought against the Bolsheviks when the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1920, but was recruited into the NKVD and even composed the loyalty oath that soldiers would later swear to Stalin. Bering managed to avoid the fate of the 20,000 Polish officers slaughtered by Stalin in Katyn and helped cover the matter up, propagating the official version according to which the NAZIs were responsible for the killings. Together with Bering, Herman Gerner—later Henryk Krzeczkowski—fought on the Eastern Front, eventually reaching Berlin. Following the war, Krzeczkowski was posted to a Polish embassy within one of the component parts of the Soviet Union and worked as an intelligence officer. After leaving the army, he devoted himself to the Great Books, and in this devotion was born his conservatism and his Christian sensibility. A cursory examination of Mr. Krzeczkowski’s essays reveals an esoteric style, a classical imagination and an attempt at seeking transcendence.

An excellent example of Mr. Krzeczkowski’s imaginative conservatism can be found, amongst other places, in his fine essay “Guilt, Punishment, Repentance,” published in Krakow in 1977. There, Mr. Krzeczkowski takes esoteric aim at Communist totalitarianism and the ethical political challenges faced by the intellectual by way of an exoteric consideration of German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg and German philosopher Martin Heidegger; the former a scientist working on the atom bomb for Adolf Hitler, the latter the prominent philosopher of Fascism. Krzeczkowski implies the moral dilemma embodied by these two men by way of a quote from the poet, Zbigniew Herbet:

“What should be done with the silver coins tossed at the feet of Judas?”

The problem is clear: Heisenberg and Heidegger were great men of high value; just like the silver paid to Judas, they retained their value even after the they were paid for the blood of the innocent. What should be done with them? Can they be used again for anything good? Can they be redeemed? What, Krzeczkowski asks via the poet, should be done with the value of Intellectuals who pursued their craft at the expense of the blood of the innocent? Though he never once mentions the Soviet Union in his essay, nor his own part in Soviet history, Krzeczkowski’s entire analysis of Fascism is clearly applicable to not only the Soviet system, but to his own soul. Krzeczkowski makes the following choice observations, taken from the introduction and conclusion of his essay:

“History has never wanted for good and enlightened intentions, yet they have blossomed with particular fruitfulness in the two centuries following the Enlightenment, when Reason, freed from the restrictions of conscience, found itself enthroned as the arbitrator of all thought and the lawgiver for all behavior. Over the course of these two hundred years, Reason has succeeded in a variety of ways. Embodied in Philosophes and Men of Letters, it undertook the French Revolution. Thanks to it, scientists tamed steam, electricity and finally nuclear power; painters overthrew the age old order of the visual world, built over time with great hardship, musicians effected the same coup in the audible world. But there were failures as well. The greatest having been the totalitarianism of the XXth century which, contrary to popular belief, certainly did not appeal to irrationality, but to the constants of effective reason, free of ethical and moral prejudices, ruled by its own practicality. The intellectuals became the Guardians of the new Gods of Reason; they became the new Ecclesiastical class, possessed of the gift of understanding and interpreting the laws passed down by the Idol…the earlier differentiation between Good and Evil, between Right and licentiousness, virtue and vice were based on a priori imperatives. Emancipated Reason rejected them in their totality, and in their place called into being historical processes subject to the needs of physiology. Even the equality of death was overturned by the laws of Eugenics. Reason, free of prejudice, liberated the conscience. History rejected irritating moralizers, physiology rejected the chains of unfounded prohibitions. The guilty conscience was silenced with scientific arguments.”

Following this splendid consolidation of the genesis of modern totalitarianism, and a lengthy analysis of Heisenberg and Heidegger, Mr. Krzeczkowski once again gives voice to the great depth of his conservative imagination as he concludes his ruminations on guilt, punishment and repentance thus:

“[The intellectuals] betrayed their highest calling: the necessity to act as guardians of human memory. Memory, both individual and collective, is selective, as is necessitated by the instinct of self-preservation. But it is also defective, because Human Nature is defective. We forget not only that which can be categorized as the garbage of the mind, but we also try to forget that which burdens our memory. For ages, starting long before this knowledge was codified in the language of psychoanalysis, humanity knew that every attempt to push bitter experiences out of our memories and outside of our knowledge was a dangerous procedure, which risks the sterilization of our conscience and ends with the sickening explosions of a raped memory. Artists, historians, philosophers and intellectuals thus were charged with the protection of humanity against the recklessness of forgetting the past. They never strived for things unattainable, like the complete overcoming of the defects of human nature, they merely tried to show us ways of tempering it. By helping us remember the past, they attempted to halt the rush to evil. They could do so, because they differentiated between good and evil, because they harkened to criteria of judgment that were not the result of speculation, but were gifted, uncontested, revealed. Only this can help explain to us the existence of barriers that could not be crossed, which Man always—in the end—rediscovered, which protected Man from total lawlessness, total cruelty, total catastrophe.”

The above ruminations are only a minor sample of the amazing work of the forgotten father of post-war Polish conservatism. Mr. Krzeczkowski, unfortunate in many ways, was fortunate in one way: he did not live in a world where anyone would ever take seriously the proposal that his homosexuality could or should be sanctified by Civil and Religious laws as a correct basis for the political functions inherent in marriage. I highly doubt he would want to. He also did not live in a world where material comforts blinded him to the reality of man’s Fallen Nature. Men like Henryk Krzeczkowski are little remembered by the young firebrands who now constitute what passes for the Right in Poland, many of whom would doubtless label him a communist agent and Soviet tool, given his complex past.

Though Polish prejudice is still Catholic and conservative in character, it is struggling—for lack of a more thorough understanding of itself—under the duress of Western liberal ideologies alien to Polish and traditionally European and Russian culture. Materialism, pop culture, economic atomization—all of this is slowly eroding the memory that Krzeczkowski worked so hard to rekindle in his countrymen. The intellectuals who Krzeczkowski considered duty bound guardians of the Wisdom of the Ages have been systematically eroded and purged by Western liberalism far more effectively than by Stalin and Hitler. Their present effect on society and status in society is negligible. They are not as important as film stars and pop singers; and those who wish to remain moderately important must accept the orthodoxy of anti-intellectualism and the ridiculous rules of democratic life which demand partisanship and rhetoric at the expense of all other virtues. Still, it is exciting to read Mr. Krzeczkowski and comforting to know that men like him existed. It is also important that men of intelligence take seriously Mr. Krzeczkowski’s notion of the intellectual as duty bound to serve as the reservoir of humanity’s memory about those things which it longs, in its’ hubris, to forget.

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14 replies to this post
  1. one of the two founding fathers of post-war Polish conservatism”

    Forgive me, but who is the other?

    Milosz? Wojtyla? Other?

  2. Mr. Cole,

    With all due respect to Prof. Milosz, but it is probably against the laws of physics for a UC Berkley professor to be a conservative.

    The other of the two was the Polish composer and philosopher, Mr. Stefan Kisielewski. Mr. Kisielewski was actually more of a classical liberal, and he is more well known in Poland because he was more of a public figure and he wrote quite a bit. Mr. Krzeczkowski was a conservative proper, and almost Socratic insofar as he apparently wrote almost nothing and mainly conducted symposiums and dialogues which ran late into the night. He is not well known at all. Of their friendship, Mr. Kisielewski wrote:

    “I met Henryk in 1952…I recall how we talked the whole night through…the next morning, I met another friend and I told him that I had met a new interesting friend, Henryk Krzeczkowski. To which he said ‘have you gone insane!? The guy is an agent of the Communist secret police!’ I continued on my way and ran into Henryk. I told him: ‘I have been told that you are an agent of the Communist secret police and here I’ve gone and told you so many things…’. Henryk Krzeczkowski replied: ‘Indeed sir, I am an agent of the Communist secret police, but I seem to have forgotten everything you told me.”

  3. Mr. Krzeczkowski’s work has never been translated into english, and is long out of print in Poland. I am presently reading what little of it I have collected and hope to be able to present the man’s ideas in the near future.

  4. Thank you, this was well worth reading, and I am looking forward to your next essay on him.

    (1) “He devoted himself to the Great Books.” There are many great books and many kinds of great books. What authors in his personal canon mattered most? Tacitus? Gibbon? St Augustine? Pascal? Spinoza? Freud? St John of the Cross? Husserl? Foucault? Popper?…

    (2) What contemporary Poles did he read? Kolakowsky? Świrszczyńska?

    (2) It sounds as though he translated plays and non-fiction, and composed memoirs and confessions disguised as essays on cultural history. Did he write any fiction or poetry? So far as you can tell, did his style change with the retreat of Communism?

    (3) He lived during an interesting era in Catholic theology. Do you detect any partiality toward, say, nouvelle theologie over neo-Thomism, or vice versa? Had he any sympathy for liberation theology or “the preferential option for the poor?”

    Bibliophiles collect books and adventures.

  5. Mr. Bowman,

    1) I do not know what authors in his personal canon mattered most, because he wrote only three books and none of them can be summarized in a snazzy sentence (I have only read two of them – I just bought the third one). In fact – to be more accurate – he wrote numerous articles and essays, of which many have been collected in the two books I have read…I will see what’s in the third one when I get it…He translated so many works from English to Polish, that I am at a loss to guess which ones mattered more or less for him. I am, for the moment, focusing on his writings about Russia and foriegn affairs, because I think that his views on this matter are most important for present American reflection – especially because he predicted the path that Russia would take almost to the dot, and his views on what Polish Policy should be are…well…distant…from what present policy is.

    Also, because Mr. Krzeczkowski – like Socrates – primarily conveyed his most important thoughts in symposiums – there is no written record of the many thoughts and ideas he shared, only the testimony of people.

    2) You will note in the article that Kolakowski called him the “most intelligent man alive in Warsaw” – that pretty much means he probably read everything. Most impressive (to me) is his very detailed knowledge of the politics of Communism from 1945-1979 and of World War II, because I have never encountered the kind of perspective he presents – namely: how does Conservative build a conservative politics in Stalinist times without resorting to simple revolution/counter-revolution? People like him – intelligent men who fought in the war on the Soviet side, and survived the Stalinist purges to then go on to write about politics in the Soviet Sphere are extremely rare and what he knows about Russia is a gold mine because he is also a conservative, so in his policy analysis, he takes his vast knowledge of Russia and crafts policy proposals based on it.

    If and when I get a chance to sit down and focus on less political questions, like what writers he enjoyed etc etc – then I willl write about it. For now – I’m focusing on getting to know his politics.

    3) No. I detect no sympathy for any of the liberationist theology garbage. I detect in him only a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to restore Christendom to Europe; his vision of a United Europe in the future is the vision of a Christian Europe, led by a revived and powerful Vatican. I think he would utterly hate the modern European Union.

  6. Mr. Bowman,

    Sorry – forgot to answer this question:

    “It sounds as though he translated plays and non-fiction, and composed memoirs and confessions disguised as essays on cultural history. Did he write any fiction or poetry? So far as you can tell, did his style change with the retreat of Communism?”

    That’s a very hard question because I have only started to read him and it is not easy reading. It’s like Machiavelli – who litters references to present Florentine politics all over the place, and makes you feel like you can’t understand him unless you know the details of Italian politics as well as he does. It’s dense and gives me a head ache sometimes.

    As to his style – no. Not really – he was able to stand to the side and observe his fellow Poles with the wisdom of a foriegn observer. He was, after all, not “really” Polish – his name had been Herman Gerner and he was a Jew who became a Catholic convert, not to mention a homosexual and a Soviet intelligence officer. None of these make him your “typical” Pole.

    He had a crop of red hair, and sounded (from the descriptions I’ve read) like he was some kind of ugly Irish Boxer (in fact, he apparently hung out with boxers and athletes and liked to arm-wrestle and act the tough guy). He also wore a tweed jacket and carried himself like an Englishman (to the extent that was possible in the post-war rubble of Warsaw). I don’t know. Before the war, Poland was a multi-ethnic society. Maybe he had some English blood in him? I have no clue. Really. He seemed to write with the pathos of distance of an English gentleman looking at his fellow Poles running to and fro, trying to practice the difficult art of politics in the most difficult of situations and resigned to the tragic nature of the effort. His prose – all of them that I have read – are all realistic. From time to time, here and there, his realism is penetrated by an understanding that everything is in the hands of God, but by and large – he is not a typically romantic Polish writer, nor can you say that his style reminds you of this or that. I have never encountered anything quite like it. He is grim, realistic and has little patience for non-Machiavellian politics. You won’t catch him writing a Rothbardian tractatus on what the world should look like. From what I know, he was also not an academic. He finished high school before the war – and that’s it (although pre-World War II high school in Poland was like getting three doctorates at Harvard nowadays).

    He apparently once told one of his younger friends who was working on a Masters or Doctorate and wanted to write about Stalinist atrocities that “history shouldn’t be reduced to a detective novel about who killed who” He was sick and tired of people writing about how many people died in purges and pogroms and wanted to write about politics and political action.

    This is reflected in his work. It’s calm, analytical, calculated and shorn of romantic pretense. You will not find him whining about Communism, nor about the victims of Communism. He accepts that in politics, as in war – vast numbers of people die. The Christian’s duty is not to write books recording the deaths, but to effect a politics that makes sure those deaths are not in vein. In this sense, he is not a “realist” who rejects ethics; on the contrary – he is someone who thinks so highly of ethics in politics that they must take account of real conditions.

    But I don’t know…these are just impressions…he’s a tough writer to crack without a mentor!

  7. Mr. Rieth’s Polish background must have receded very far into the background if he credits a former major in the communist army with being a leading figure in Polish conservatism. Professor Bartyzel happened to be Krzeczkowski’s student, but this does not prove anything. Bartyzel himself is a rather lonesome figure, so far as I can see from my regular perusals of Polish conservative journals. Today’s conservatives are centered around such periodicals as Teologia Polityczna and Arcana, and such portals as ; there are many others, and the eyebrows of their editors and users would go up very high if they were told that Krzeczkowski was in any way their ideological relative.

    Perhaps Mr. Rieth’s erroneous assumption that Leszek Kolakowski was a conservative has led him astray. Even more humorous is a commentator’s assertion that Czeslaw Milosz was a conservative. He was leftist to boot. The fact that someone is against communism does not mean that he/she is a conservative. Vide Tygodnik Powszechny, a flamingly leftist Catholic weekly, and the publishing house Znak associated with that weekly. Mr. Krzeczkowski had many friends there and Znak published one of his fewbooks (Krzeczkowski was mostly known as a translator).

    As to Polish conservatism, it goes back to the republican tradition of the seventeenth century whose outline has been ably presented by Krzysztof Koehler at http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~sarmatia/412/412koehle.pdf. Let us not forget that since the 16th century, Polish kings were elected just as today’s presidents are, and that any nobleman could aspire to being elected king. The conservative tradition is the principal Polish intellectual tradition that goes back to writers such as Wincenty Kadlubek (14th century) and Piotr Skarga (16th-17th century). One of the characteristics of Polish conservatism has been its remarkable religious tolerance: writers such as Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, Krzysztof Warszewicki, Stanislaw Orzechowski, or Wawrzyniec Goslicki (all of them lived in the 16th century) disputed freely their diverse religious opinions and even switched from Protestantism to Catholicism, and vice versa.

    There are few people competent to comment on Polish conservatism in the English-speaking world, and planting Krzeczkowski in the memory of those who do not read Polish but are interested in Polish intellectual life is misleading. I congratulate Mr. Rieth on inheriting Krzeczkowski’s archives; he was an interesting man. This does not make him a close relative of Polish conservatists.

  8. Thank you for your comments, Dr. Thompson.

    1) Your insinuation that my “Polish background must have receeded very far to the background” if I credit a former major in the Communist army with being a leading figure in Polish conservatism presumes that former communists cannot become conservatives. In the case of Henryk Krzeczkowski, I am not aware of him ever having even been a communist insofar as ideas are concerned, though who knows? He might have been. Certainly he, like mamy Poles in World War II was conscripted to fight in the Polish army under Joseph Stalin which defeated Hitlerism. It is, in my opinion, a tragedy of Polish political life that a Polish person who fights Nazism under the banner of Berings’ army is somehow less Polish than a Polish person who fights Nazism under the banner of the National or Home Army. All of them were Poles and all of them did what they could, under the circumstances, to defend Poland. We can criticize them and wonder whether their activities were noble or not, but the tendency to divide Poles into “real Poles” and “not real Poles” only serves to weaken Poland. I realize there are many views about these soldiers: my view is that we can honor the dead without reviling them for being forced to fight under terrible and difficult circumstances.

    Henryk Krzeczkowski was a veteren who fought for Polish liberty. The crimes of Stalinism amd the crimes of the Soviet Army are not on his head, nor on the head of most of the 200,000 Poles who fought for Poland in the East. They deserve to be honored just as much as the Home Army or the Poles fighting in Britain and Africa. All of them were Poles madame.

    If President Reagan could lay a wreath on the grave of German soldiers who fought against America, I am sure it is not too much to ask that Polish conservatives at least acknowledge that a Polish person who fought on the side of the Allies, against Hitler in Poland and later in Germany might at least deserve some respect for his military service.

    2) As to Tygodnik Powszechny (the Catholic weekly Krzeczkowski wrote for): Madame, you are correct that it is a “flaming leftist Catholic weekly” – except Mr. Krzeczkowski published there in the 1970s, when it was a flaming right wing Catholic weekly.

    Its’ Editor in Chief became the first non-communist Prime Minister in 1989, and its’ second editor in chief was none other than the leader of Poland’s largest conservative party, Law & Justice, Mr. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was conservative Prime Minister in 2006. Thus madame, you see clearly that Mr. Krzeczkowski, by writing at Tygodnik Powszechny, was associating with the top level of post-war Polish conservatism. Suggesting that just because this magazine is now left wing, 45 years later, then Henryk Krzeczkowski’s association with it in the 1970s somehow discredits him is rather misleading.

    3) The history of Polish conservatism from the middle ages that you outline is of course wonderful, but please note that I wrote Henryk Krzeczkowski was the “father of postwar Polish conservatism”, not Polish conservatism in general.

    4) Simply because you apparently disagree with Henryk Krzeczkowski’s conservatism and simply because other people have different ideas nowadays about what constitutes a conservative in Poland does not mean we can erase history. The facts of history are that in post war Poland, it was Henryk Krzeczkowski who was a principle force behind the birth of Polish conservatism. I do not think saying this is misleading, nor am I “planting” anything in anybody’s mind. I am simply writing the historical truth.

  9. Thank you for your comments, Dr. Thompson.

    1) Your insinuation that my “Polish background must have receeded very far to the background” if I credit a former major in the Communist army with being a leading figure in Polish conservatism presumes that former communists cannot become conservatives. In the case of Henryk Krzeczkowski, I am not aware of him ever having even been a communist insofar as ideas are concerned, though who knows? He might have been. Certainly he, like mamy Poles in World War II was conscripted to fight in the Polish army under Joseph Stalin which defeated Hitlerism. It is, in my opinion, a tragedy of Polish political life that a Polish person who fights Nazism under the banner of Berings’ army is somehow less Polish than a Polish person who fights Nazism under the banner of the National or Home Army. All of them were Poles and all of them did what they could, under the circumstances, to defend Poland. We can criticize them and wonder whether their activities were noble or not, but the tendency to divide Poles into “real Poles” and “not real Poles” only serves to weaken Poland. I realize there are many views about these soldiers: my view is that we can honor the dead without reviling them for being forced to fight under terrible and difficult circumstances.

    Henryk Krzeczkowski was a veteren who fought for Polish liberty. The crimes of Stalinism and the crimes of the Soviet Army are not on his head, nor on the head of most of the 200,000 Poles who fought for Poland in the East. They deserve to be honored just as much as the Home Army or the Poles fighting in Britain and Africa. All of them were Poles madame.

    If President Reagan could lay a wreath on the grave of German soldiers who fought against America, I am sure it is not too much to ask that Polish conservatives at least acknowledge that a Polish person who fought on the side of the Allies, against Hitler in Poland and later in Germany might at least deserve some respect for his military service.

    2) As to Tygodnik Powszechny (the Catholic weekly Krzeczkowski wrote for): Madame, you are correct that it is a “flaming leftist Catholic weekly” – except Mr. Krzeczkowski published there in the 1970s, when it was a flaming right wing Catholic weekly.

    Its’ Editor in Chief became the first non-communist Prime Minister in 1989, and its’ second editor in chief was none other than the leader of Poland’s largest conservative party, Law & Justice, Mr. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was conservative Prime Minister in 2006. Thus madame, you see clearly that Mr. Krzeczkowski, by writing at Tygodnik Powszechny, was associating with the top level of post-war Polish conservatism. Suggesting that just because this magazine is now left wing, 45 years later, then Henryk Krzeczkowski’s association with it in the 1970s somehow discredits him is rather misleading.

    3) The history of Polish conservatism from the middle ages that you outline is of course wonderful, but please note that I wrote Henryk Krzeczkowski was the “father of postwar Polish conservatism”, not Polish conservatism in general.

    4) Simply because you apparently disagree with Henryk Krzeczkowski’s conservatism and simply because other people have different ideas nowadays about what constitutes a conservative in Poland does not mean we can erase history. The facts of history are that in post war Poland, it was Henryk Krzeczkowski who was a principle force behind the birth of Polish conservatism. I do not think saying this is misleading, nor am I “planting” anything in anybody’s mind. I am simply writing the historical truth.

  10. I must correct myself with a mea culpa:

    The editorial staff I refered to was from Tygodnik Solidarnosc, not Powszechny. Still, the people from both of these periodicals were, in the 70s, political allies on the right, and the point still stands that Tygodnik Powszechny in the 1970s was a right wing Catholic periodical whose members and writers were not “flaming left wingers” – certainly Henryk Krzeczkowski was not. Trying to discredit Mr. Krzeczkowski as a conservative by citing the leftist leanings of the current magazine as it is remains misleading, and trying to imply that the magazine, in the context of the 70s was not conservative is also incorrect.

    My mistake was the result of conflating these two magazines since the people who worked in both were generally on the same side of political affairs.

  11. One final point to Dr. Thompson’s post: The magazine Henryk Krzeczkowski wrote for in the 1970s was of course under the direction of Mr. Jerzy Turowicz, a distinguished Catholic intellectual. Mr. Turowicz was removed as editor when he refused to publish a eulogy for Joseph Stalin, and upon his restoration to the magazine continued to lead it as an advocate for Christian political philosophy and against communist ideology.It is true that Mr. Turowicz was theologically a proponent of the reforms undertaken during the II Vatican council, but then again so was Joseph Ratzinger (to an extent), so that’s neither here nor there and certainly not a disqualification for being conservative. Turowicz and his magazine were active in Catholic anticommunist circles and Mr. Turowicz himself was a great enthusiast, friend and supporter of Poland’s first noncommunist Catholic conservative Prime minister, who in turn nominated some conservatives to his cabinet.

    While it perfectly fine to criticize this magazine now, since it has decidedly taken a turn for the left, and has little to do with political conservatism, I really don’t see how anyone can honestly deny the immemse impact that Turowicz’s magazine had in bringing down communism. That Henryk Krzeczkowski wrote in that magazine, which was the pre-eminent Catholic inteligensia magazine of its time, working under extreme persecution by the communists only indicates how respectable a conservative Mr. Krzeczkowski was.

    Also, no where in the article do I presume that Mr. Kolakowski was a conservative, I merely quote him and reference the quote with a hyperlink. I quoted him because he is an emminent Polish philosopher who had high regard for Mr. Krzeczkowski.

    As for Prof. Bartyzel – he may be “lonely” amomgst Polish conservatives, but he also happens to be right about many things. Being “alone” in politics is not exactly an experience foriegn to true conservatives, who are always waging an uphill battle.

    Again, my point was not to suggest that Mr. Krzeczkowski is the be all and end all of Polish conservatism, but the “Prophet from Czapskiego Street” was a beacon of authentic conservatism at a dark time in Polish history, an immemse intellect and in postwar Poland, one of the few who openly propagated not merely anticommunism or Catholicism, but a conservatism that would be immediaely recognizable to Russel Kirk.

    It is indeed a pity that his work is not available in English, it would defend itself very well. That contemporary Polish conservatives are, as Dr. Thompson puts it “not close relatives” of Henryk Krzeczkowski merely speaks poorly of them, not him.

    I note that in the entire post, Madame, you never quote anything that Mr. Krzeczkowski wrote to demonstrate that he was not a conservative or not worthy of praise as one of the two fathers of postwar Polish conservatism, but rather insinuate that he was a “major in the communist army” and that the magazine he wrote in 40 years ago is “flaming left wing” (now), thereby implying it always was.

    Nothing in Mr. Krzeczkowski’s published works could be used to demonstrate that he was not a conservative, and nothing in his political biography could be used to challenge his honesty. In fact, if you read the obituaries written by prominent conservatives in his honor, you will note that he was likely tortured in Soviet captivity and to my mind it is astonishing that despite exile, torture, fighting on the Eastern front and being a major in the communist army, his moral and intellectual compass was so clear that he not only worked against communism, but for conservatism – not an easy task in the 60s and 70s.

  12. Another clarification for American readers, as I simply cannot let the number of misleading statements made by Dr. Thompson go:

    Regarding Tygodnik Powszechny, the so-called “flaming left wing Catholic” periodical that Mr. Krzeczkowski wrote in (translated loosely as “The Common Weekly” or “General Weekly”):

    As I explained, when Mr. Krzeczkowski wrote there 40 years ago, it was a “flaming right wing Catholic” periodical. But it would serve readers to understand what has changed and what Tygodnik Powszechny is and always has been. Tygodnik Powszechny was initiated as a journal under the Catholic Church in Krakow and has always been, above all, a Church newspaper.

    In the days of Communism, it was considered radical right wing because the idea that educated people with university degrees could be Catholics and believe that Christianity had important teachings in it qualified one as a radical right wing reactionary who wanted to take us back to the dark ages – that was the Communist party line against Tygodnik Powszechny.

    Now, what gave Tygodnik Powszechny its strength was its adherance to the teachings of the II Vatican council which encouraged Catholic priests and the Catholic Church to become more involved in the lives of the people.

    I realize how much damage aspects of the II Vatican council did to the Church in the West, but Americans must understand how important these reforms were for bringing down Communism. The Priesthood in Poland was given greater license to become involved in political affairs.

    Now, in the present day, Tygodnik Powszechny is “flaming left wing” because it defends certain priests who speak out against their Bishops and against what they percieve to be excessively rigid dogma. Personally, I agree with the Bishops and do not suppprt these priests, which puts me on the “right wing” of the Catholic Communion in the Poland of 2014. But the Poland of 2014 is not the Poland of the 1970s.

    Need I really remind Dr. Thompson of a certain priest who refused to temper his radicalism, who refused to be “prudent” as Primate Glemp advised, who refused to heed the council of his Bishops, and who took full advantage of the II Vatican council reforms to stand squarely in the center of public affairs? Madame – do you really think that without the spirit of the II Vatican council as it was defended by Tygodnik Powszechny, it would have been possible for the Blessed Martyr Father Jerzy Popieluszko to have lead Poles against Communism?

    Can you not see that it was this “flaming left wing” Catholic modernism which made possible such great activity on the part of the Polish Catholic communion in the 70s and 80s?

    So madame, even by calling the current Tygodnik Powszechny a “flaming left wing” Catholic magazine, you mislead readers. To be “left wing” in the context of the Catholic communion in Poland would put one at the equivalent political level of Billy Graham in America – hardly a flaming “left winger”.

    Also, the specific nature of Tygodnik Powszechny’s “leftism” is its acceptance and interest in modern Continental philosophy.

    By writing that they are “flaming left wing” without contextualizing, you mislead Americans madame.

    Tygodnik Powszechny is just as “flaming left wing”  as The Imaginative Conservative’s Dr. Peter Blum, which hardly makes it what you imply it to be. Dr. Blum does a great service to American conservative thought by using his abundant knowledge about postmodern and continental philosophers to help conservatives get their bearings. Dr. Lawler does the same with his forrays into modernism, and his articles at TIC are pretty much what would pass for common fair at Tygodnik Powszechny under Father Boniecki, let alone under Turowicz.

    Tygodnik Powszechny, whether in the 70s or now, has basically done the same thing, only the context has radically changed and thus conservative thought once associated with it in the 70s is now at the opposite spectrum to it.

    Now, Henryk Krzeczkowski did not have an ounce of postmodernism in his writings. They were pure, old fashioned high Toryism combined with realism in the mould of Dmowski and a very pronounced anti-modernism. He published his very conservarive articles in Tygodnik Powszechny in the 1970s because under Mr. Turowicz, the magazine was above all an intellectual journal without a “party line” and dedicated to open dialogue.

    Under Father Boniecki, who took over from Mr. Turowicz long after the fall of communism, the magazine has in a sense remained true to its reformist Catholicism, but in the context of modern politics, that puts it to the left of mainstream politics.

    Thus madame, in all fairness, you should not even, to use your words “plant” into the American mind the notion that a magazine run by the Catholic Church is “flaming left wing” without contextualizing the matter. It is left wing within the Catholic communion, which made it politically radically right wing in the 1970s when anything Catholic was “reactionary” and makes it politically left wing now when Catholic Poland finds itself dealing with Western cultural influences.

    None of this, of course, changes the fact that Henryk Krzeczkowski was a conservative in a distinctly Kirkean mould who worked tirelessly to teach this sort of conservatism to his pupils, mamy of whom were instrumental in bringing down communism and building the new republic. Tygodnik Powszechny was also instrumental in bringing down Communism. Present political differences amongst conservatives in Poland ought not retroactively alter history, nor alter the fact that in the 1970s, it was Pope John Paul II himself who was closest to Tygodnik Powszechny, particularly to father Joseph Tischner with whom he shared a philosophicsl friendship. That some Polish Catholics today prefer to pretend this was not so is tough luck.

    Thus madame, while I agree with you that “there are few people competent to comment on Polish conservatism in the English-speaking world”, I certainly do not agree that “planting Krzeczkowski in the memory of those who do not read Polish but are interested in Polish intellectual life is misleading.”

  13. And one other point to Dr. Thompson’s post, which readers will have prohably noted annoyed me to no end:

    While there is indeed much to be honored and emulated in the traditions of the 16th and 17th century, and indeed in the entire history of the Polish United Kingdom all the way up to the I Republic, it would be worthwhile to recall that at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century which you so praise, Madame, Polish foriegn policy happened to take it upon itself to intervene in a civil war in Russia with the aim of conquering Russia. You no doubt recall that Polish forces even occupied Moscow.

    Now, I bring this up because Polish conservatives tend to be proud of this in proportion to how paranoid Russians are about western invasion. In fact, the Polish policy of intervening in a foriegn civil war and then invading this foriegn country, no matter what the supposed benefits, motives and justifications at the time has haunted Poland for the last three hundred years and been a blemish on Polish honor, not something to be upheld. It has also done immense harm to Poland by giving Russia a historical pretext to nurture its particular phobias.

    If Poland had not invaded Russia in the early 1600s, the Russians would not have the powerful propaganda tool, which they use to this day, which is scaring Russians with potential “Polish aggression” to create support for Russian aggression. This propaganda tool was used by the Soviet Union in 1920, and is used now.

    Given that the war in Ukraine, as much as some people don’t want to acknowledge it, is in point of fact a low scale Russian civil war between Ruses, Lower Russians and Russians, and given that Poland, in the tradition of the 1600s is intervening in that war, I get the feeling that contemporary Polish conservatives have learned the wrong lessons from the 1600s which you point to.

    Henryk Krzeczkowski’s firsthand knowledge of Russian affairs, his keen sense of Russian paranoias, phobias, thinking amd mentality would – under normal circumstances – be considered positive contributions not only to Polish conservatism, but to the national security of Poland and to elevating the debate over foriegn policy.

    I am not surprised, therefore, with your reaction to Mr. Krzeczkowski, Madame, only with the fact that you thought for one minute that such a low blow as insinuating anyone who supports his views is not really Polish, making political capital of his connection to the communist aparatus (which he never hid nor denied) and then smearing a Catholic magazine carte blanche with the phrase “flaming left wing” without contextualizing would actually work rather than eliciting a lengthy clarification.

    And lastly – as much as I tried to dismiss the matter with some lightness, I am simply upset, if not to say insulted, madame, by your opening sentence which I will quote here again:

    “Mr. Rieth’s Polish background must have receded very far into the background if he credits a former major in the communist army with being a leading figure in Polish conservatism. ”

    Madame – with all due respect – you may think your little missive to have been quite smart, but I strongly protest and am, frankly, insulted by your gaul.

    For someome who apparently writes so much about the negative impact of “postcolonial mentality” in Poland, you surely see the supreme irony of YOU, a person born in Lithuania and named “Thompson” lecturing ME, a person born in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, named “Strzelecki” about how far his Polish background has receeded.

    I simply will not stand for it. You can make your points madame without resorting to questioning how Polish I am, particularly since Warsaw has slightly more in common with Polish nationhood than your birthplace of Koven which happens not to even be in Poland. I understand that the Polish minorities in Lithuania and Bielorus are very patriotic, but I highly advise you Dr. “Thompson” to refrain in futute from implying that people from Warsaw named “Strzelecki” are not Polish, for such a crude line of argumentation – put forward as your opening saldo – frankly is unbecoming of an academic. Stick to arguments and facts Dr. Thompson, leave the insinuations aside.

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