The Noble Dreams of Don Quixote
”This 19th-century book by Teodor Korwin-Szymanowski, with its vision of European integration, is chiefly a record of its time, containing certain ideas and concepts that were generally later developed in the next century, becoming an element of the reality we are witnessing today,” says professor Radosław Żurawski vel Grajewski of the University of Łódź in a conversation with Poland.pl. An event marking the international promotional campaign for the new Polish-French edition of Korwin-Szymanowski’s "L’Avenir économique, social et politique en Europe" ("Europe’s Future in Economic, Social, & Political Contexts") was held at the College of Europe in Bruges on 25 January.
Poland.pl: Neither the book itself - L’Avenir économique, social et politique en Europe - nor Teodor Korwin-Szymanowski, the author, are known today…
Professor Radosław Żurawski vel Grajewski: That is true. While the author of the work in question hailed from the gentry, his ancestors, having included knights who fought in the Thirteen Years’ War in the 15th century, as well as delegates to Poland’s general parliament and diplomats and senators of the First Republic, the family’s former glory began slipping into magnificent oblivion in the 19th century. Albeit the Szymanowskis had, since the 18th century, been related by affinity to Victor Emanuel II – that is, to the House of Savoy, an Italian family of rulers as of 1860 – and continued moving within the circles of the most distinguished Polish magnate families, their material status was visibly diminishing. Teodor Korwin-Szymanowski himself, born in 1846, spent his early years in his birthplace of Cygów near Warsaw and then moved to the capital with his parents. Having received basic education at home, he was sent for further schooling to the St Clement Gymnasium in Metz, which was run by Jesuits. This was his first contact with the France he would always remain strongly sentimental about. Upon his father’s death, he took over as administrator of the estate in Cygów, which the family would finally lose by the mid-1880s. Teodor’s participation in public life was apparently rather limited, at least in Poland, yet he remained in close contact with political circles of the Third French Republic. Furthermore, he had extensive social and economic interests and – it goes without saying – a certain will to be very active in the field. In September 1890, he attended the Paris anti-slavery congress held under the auspices of Pope Leo XIII. The event yielded L’Esclavage africain, a work Korwin-Szymanowski wrote and had published in Paris in 1891. In the early 1890s, he published a number of social, economic and political treatises, having also attempted poetry. Yet he achieved no major success in any of these fields, with his works remaining largely unknown: rather symbolic of the writer himself, who was facing ever-increasing financial problems. A similar fate befell the aforementioned treatise L’Avenir économique, social et politique en Europe.
Why did Teodor Korwin-Szymanowski write a book about Europe?
His interest in public life ran deep, extending beyond the issues of his country of birth. He had a vivid interest in international politics and corresponded with deputies to the French parliament, debating contemporary political matters (in light of the newly arising French-Russian alliance), as well as the festering social issues tied to the circumstances of the working classes and the slowly mushrooming socialist ideas. These problems were international in nature and provoked deeper thought concerning the overall direction of social, economic and political changes throughout the continent. I would also be inclined to associate a certain measure of universalism visible in the author’s take on the problems of the surrounding world with his profound religious beliefs and fervent Catholicism, which led him to a broader reflection on the moment in history that European civilisation had found itself in. His aristocratic origins and intellectual traditions were probably of importance as well, as they became an imperative – with a somewhat paternalistic element – in considering the future of societies that the ‘higher classes’ (at least those with a continued sense of mission) felt continuously responsible for. Korwin-Szymanowski realised that appropriate answers to the arising challenges and threats could not be sought in the limited public space of a single country or in several countries even – they could only be identified on the scale of the entire continent, already then seeped through with similar social and economic processes or ideological and political policies, which had become a pan-European presence, albeit on a varying scale and with varying dynamics.
The book was written at a time when Poland was partitioned, the Kingdom of Poland formally and in practice subordinate to the Russian Empire and ruled by Tsar Alexander III. Yet Korwin-Szymanowski does not writing anything about Poland reclaiming its independence. Why do you think that is?
I think there are a number of reasons. Despite spending several years studying in France and a number of episodes involving travel to Western Europe, Korwin-Szymanowski remained the tsar’s subject, resided within the boundaries of the Russian Empire and (he) had to conform to its laws. He had never become a political émigré who could have – severing all ties with the partitioning regime – openly proclaimed a programme of Poland regaining independence and produced political treatises on measures for reclaiming it, regardless of any consequences to his fellow countrymen back home. Moreover, this had not been the purpose of his deliberations. While certainly a patriot, he was primarily searching for a solution that would have allowed the vision of danger looming over the continent to be dispersed – the introduction of international (chiefly economic) institutions that would have made it possible to reorganise Europe and prepare it for extensive development projects promising economic prosperity and material well-being, and, in consequence, political stability and everlasting peace among nations.
In the afterword to the book, you mention other European integration projects that arose during that time. How does L’Avenir économique, social et politique en Europe compare?
I daresay we can regard it as quite original – primarily due to the reasons linked to the fundamental economic and financial dimension within the proposed project to universally reform the continent. That dimension remains the sole base and point of reference in Korwin-Szymanowski’s deliberations. He refers to the economic foundations of operating a society, perceiving them as the lever and mechanism of all changes suggested, as well as the vital mechanism of their introduction. Other European integration projects I reference in the afterword are primarily political in nature. Concepts penned by 19th-century writers – such as Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and Wojciech Bogumił Jastrzębowski, for example – involved proposals of new political arrangements for the European continent with ethnic and geographical communities at their foundations. The ultimate purpose was to organise the international community in a way that secured sound conditions for the development of the national life of the various ethnic communities and prevented the threat of war. This was a recipe for everlasting peace throughout the continent, as well as a method of liberating Poland from the oppression of foreign powers. The aforementioned continental peace was also a leitmotif inspiring the majority of contemporary foreign political thinkers, especially before 1850. The economic factor, on the other hand, appeared in concepts penned by German authors as a stimulant of processes integrating the continent. Yet, in such writings, it formed a strict part of – and a theoretical excuse for – political and economic expansion plans. No proof exists of Szymanowski having tapped into the oeuvre of German integration thought.
Teodor Korwin-Szymanowski’s book assume the the form of a constitutional treatise in two parts: the Social & Economic Code and the Political & Administrative Code. How can readers interpret the record today, 130 years later?
Chiefly as a record of its times, containing certain ideas or concepts that were generally further developed in the next century, becoming an element of the reality we are witnessing today, albeit obviously not in the format suggested by Korwin-Szymanowski. In all probability, the most interesting reflection accompanying the process of reading the book involves the extent of the social and economic issues that Europe was facing at the time – issues the author brilliantly realised. Solutions he offers mirror the nature of the times he lived in, the education he received and the culture he was raised in. All these factors deeply affected his mentality and his way of thinking. Raised in an atmosphere of profound religiosity, Szymanowski perceived the surrounding world through the prism of Christian ethics. He saw Christianity as the cornerstone of a morality that should also apply to international relations. Such a take on international reality resembles the idealised world of the ancien régime, to a certain extent, a world that never existed. Even more so, at the time Szymanowski chose to table his proposals, Europe – while still, by and large, a Europe of monarchs – was already openly walking down the path of other systemic solutions and value systems. Ever-swifter social changes, mainly arising from economic development, forced governments and formerly dominant classes to face increasingly present and urgent challenges tied to the living conditions of societies as well as to their progressively more forceful political aspirations. These involved more intense participation in authority, achievable, for instance, through the democratisation of elections, and changes in mentality introduced by ever more popular ideologies: socialism and nationalism. Hence, Szymanowski’s vision of international relations based on Christian ethics resembles Don Quixote’s noble dreams rather than the opinions of a political reality analyst with ambitions of designing a realistic action programme for his contemporaries. Today, Europe and the world are facing equally serious and complex challenges, also requiring responses on a global or continental scale. Their general nature – be it economic, social or political – remains largely the same. Yet one would be hard-pressed to search Korwin-Szymanowski’s proposals for direct ideas or guidelines adaptable to our world. As I said before, his deliberations are a mere record of his time, albeit inspiring and conducive to consideration of the current options, benefits and threats arising from any choice or, possibly, the general justifiability of such a choice, and of alternative solutions to the direction taken by the author of L’Avenir... in his fundamental ponderings.
The EU’s founding fathers were not only Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and Alcide de Gaspari. There were also perhaps lesser known Poles who had given serious thought to the concept of European integration even before the 1951 Paris Treaty created the European Community of Coal and Steel.
Their legacy is being promoted by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which for nearly a decade has been publishing a series titled European Unity Library (Biblioteka Jedności Europejskiej), regardless of the political option in power.
A publicist from the "Rzeczpospolita" daily, Filip Memches, writes that Teodor Korwin-Szymanowski’s vision "can be seen as groundbreaking in comparison with the integration project implemented by contemporary Eurocrats, in terms of the common currency and customs union in particular”. Would this be your opinion too?
Were we to perceive the common currency and customs union as a general slogan accompanying the European integration project, I would be inclined to agree with the statement. The fundamental question we would have to answer before accepting it unconditionally does not – as I see it – concern Korwin-Szymanowski’s concepts but rather the motives behind ideas coined by these contemporary ‘Eurocrats’. I dare not, at this point, initiate any debate on whether and to what extent they applied economic premises to their decisions – as undoubtedly the author of L’Avenir... had – or whether they were actually driven by ideological and political influence wherein the customs and currency union was but a tool. Similarly, the ultimate consequences of both projects – tabled by Korwin-Szymanowski in the 19th century and by the contemporary European Union, respectively – are equally difficult to assess. While having emphasised before that Szymanowski was much less concerned with political compared to economic issues, the final consequences of changes he suggested – however general – yield a project of a European super-state, in the banking and financial dimension at least. Such a state obviously exerts a huge influence over the autonomous decision-making processes of individual national governments. We are witnessing similar trends today, trends recognised as the basic reason for concern among contemporary Eurosceptics. On the other hand, the author of L’Avenir… made no suggestions about appointing a pan-European government of any kind, in the political and administrative dimension at least, although he did predict the formation of an international council of ministers of associated states, which could well have evolved in such a direction. In general, he avoided any direct confrontation with the emerging problem, not perceiving it as a major question mark within the concept he had created. Possibly also in this aspect, his integration project resembles the one we are facing today, wherein – out of fear of potential discord – any debate on whether we will be facing a European super-state as a result of current developments is summarily sidestepped.
In recent years, a number of books have been published that recall the Polish contribution to the development of Polish European thought. Prince Adam Czartoryski’s Essay on Diplomacy was published, as was Stefan Buszczyński’s Decline of Europe; Wojciech Jastrzębowski’s Constitution for Europe even became the theme of a historical play staged by Olgierd Łukaszewicz. For a few years now, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been looking back at Polish reflections on the Old Continent by means of the European Unity Library (Biblioteka Jedności Europejskiej). What other titles do you believe should be restored to public memory? Which Europe-focused Poles ought to be summoned?
A number of such books could be listed, such as Leszek Dunin-Borkowski’s Un Programme de paix européenne fondé sur le droit chrétien (Dunin-Borkowski published in Paris in 1867 as Abbé Ambroise), or the map of united Europe designed by Henryk Nakwaski, actually related to Teodor Korwin-Szymanowski by affinity. I also believe it would be worthwhile to recall Karol Boromeusz Hoffman’s Cztery powstania, czyli krótki wykład sposobów jakimi dobijały się o niepodległość Grecja, Holandia, Portugalia i Polska (Four Insurgencies, or a Brief Dissertation on how Greece, Holland, Portugal & Poland Fought for their Freedom), as well as works by other forgotten 19th-century military theoreticians: Ludwik Bystrzonowski and Wojciech Chrzanowski.
Radosław Żurawski vel Grajewski, Ph.D. Hab. teaches at the Institute of History at the University of Łódź. He is the head of the Faculty of Contemporary World History. His fields of research include the history of 19th-century diplomacy (with a special focus on the British Empire before 1850), the history of the Great Emigration and the history of diplomacy in World War II. He is the author of multiple books: Działalność księcia Adama Jerzego Czartoryskiego w Wielkiej Brytanii (Prince Adam Czartoryski’s Activities in Great Britain, 1999); Wielka Brytania w dyplomacji księcia Adama Jerzego Czartoryskiego wobec kryzysu wschodniego (Great Britain in Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski’s diplomacy vs. the Eastern Crisis, 1999); Księżna Dorothea Lieven wobec Polski i Polaków. Pojedynek za kulisami wielkiej dyplomacji (Duchess Dorothea Lieven on Poland & the Poles: The Duel Behind World Diplomacy, 2005); Brytyjsko-czechosłowackie stosunki dyplomatyczne październik 1938 r. - maj 1945 r. (British-Czechoslovak Diplomatic Relations, October 1938–May 1945, 2008); and of numerous articles and scientific works.