Polonica Publications have done a service to the study of human affairs in publishing the recent English translation of Feliks Koneczny’s greatest work. It is one of several mutually independent studies of the structure of human affairs on the largest scale that have appeared in different parts of the Western World within the last two generations. Koneczny published the original Polish edition of this book after he had turned seventy, and he had the leisure to write it because he had been compulsorily retired from his chair as a penalty for having been outspoken in the cause of civic freedom. In short compass, Koneczny has discussed the fundamental questions raised by the study of civilizations, and he arrives at definite and valuable conclusions. After sketching the structure of society, he considers and rejects the thesis that differences in civilization are byproducts of differences in physical race. Indeed, he rejects the suggestion that these physical differences are in any way correlated with the spiritual ones. Turning to language, he does conclude that different languages are of unequal value for serving as vehicles for civilisations, but he refrains from taking these qualitative differences between different languages as being the explanation of the differences that he finds in the spiritual value of different civilizations. Turning to religion, he insists on the mutual independence of the “higher” religions and the civilizations.
Koneczny believed in the possibility, and value, of a general study of human affairs. His own important contribution to this was the crown of his life-work as an historian. He approached his generalisations from the four standpoints of a student of East European and Central Asian history, a Pole, a Roman Catholic Christian, and a Westerner. Since the tenth century, Poland has been one of the eastern marches of the Western World. Koneczny’s specialist studies as an historian worked together with his national heritage as a Pole to make him sensitive to the differences between civilizations, and this inspired him to study the sum of human history from the standpoint of the plurality of civilizations. It also made him an ardent patriot of the Western World. This did not prevent Koneczny from being also a patriotic Pole and a devout Roman Catholic Christian. But, for him, Poland’s national culture has value as one of a number of national versions of a common Western or, as he prefers to call it, Latin culture; and Roman Catholic Christianity has value as being the Western form of Christianity par excellence.
This has made Koneczny generous-minded towards Protestants. He sees in them, not dissenters from the Catholic fold but Western Christians who, in ceasing to be Catholics, have continued to be Western, fortunately for the West and for themselves. The same standpoint has made it difficult for Koneczny to appreciate Eastern Orthodox, Monophysite, and Nestorian Christianity and the non-Christian higher religions. He appreciates Ancient Rome perhaps excessively, to the detriment of Ancient Greece. And he is hard on both the Byzantine and the Turanian (i.e. the Eurasian nomad) civilization. He classifies the civilization of Muscovite Russia as being Turanian; but, if Russia had been classified by him as being Byzantine, she probably would not have fared much better.
Every student of human affairs, however eminent, is a child of his own social and cultural environment, besides being a unique personality with his own individual outlook on the Universe. He is limited, besides being stimulated, by his own particular historical standing-ground, which has been imposed on him by the accident that he has been born at a particular date in a particular place. Naturally, Koneczny’s highly individual approach to his work is partly conditioned — like for instance, Danilevsky’s and Spengler’s and Vico’s — by his cultural environment. It is fortunate that there should have been a number of thinkers wrestling with the same problem from different standing-grounds in time and space. It is also fortunate that one of these voices should have been a Polish voice, since Poland has a word to say to the present-day West, as Mr. Giertych points out in the Publisher’s Preface to the present English translation of Koneczny’s major work.
Koneczny achieved all that he did achieve in a life that was stormy and tragic yet long. This Polish thinker’s personal history is an epitome of the Polish nation’s history. ‘Indomitable’ is the adjective that the name ‘Poland’ calls up in non-Polish minds.
This foreword can, and should, be brief, because the Publisher’s Preface, together with the illuminating introduction by my friend and colleague Professor Anton Hilckman, are all that is required for introducing Koneczny’s work to the English-reading public.