EAST, WEST, ROME AND BYZANTIUM. TURAN. THE PRESSURE OF THE EAST UPON THE WEST. GERMANY
The West and Turan are absolute, contrary poles. The deepest root of this opposition is a fundamentally different attitude towards man and towards the position of an individual in the human group. Turan does not know man as a person; it does not know any dignity of a person; the individual has value and importance only is his role of a component part of the State’s organisation. In the Turanian civilisation and in its descendant, Muscovy-Russia, there is, legally, no such a thing as a “society” in existence: the Slate is everything. The European lives also in the Stale, the Turanian lives exclusively in it. Koneczny speaks of an “elephantiasis” of politics in the Turanian civilisation. Therein the whole social structure is directed purely towards the military factor.
Such were the Mongolian States of the middle ages; and through such a school Moscow has gone.
On the contrary, in the West, primacy belongs to the spirit, to the spiritual power.
Man as an individual, as a person, has his unalienable dignity. In the dignity of the person lies the root of freedom, and with it the demand for citizen’s freedoms; and correlated with freedom, as its source and as its consequence — both, because in the Western system of values both are organically interwoven — is the feeling of responsibility.
No other civilisation knows the notion of freedom, because no other has this high notion of human dignity. Even the most highly developed subdivision of Arabic civilisation, the one of Cordova, did not arrive as far. This Western principle of primacy of the spiritual element obtained the farthest formulation in the school of Cluny; the Pope as highest guardian of the Christian order, even in the political sphere. He had the right to watch the kings and to remove bad Christians from their thrones.
Such a thesis, in presence of the absolute subordination of the spiritual power below the temporal in the East, shows the whole contrast between Rome and Turan.
The teaching of the potestas directa in temporalibus (direct authority in temporal matters) is for the men of other civilisations a revolutionary monstrosity; but its foundation is simply the conviction that there cannot be a double morality and that also public life, the relation between one State to another, and that between every State and its citizens, are not subordinated to other moral commandments as private life; because the State is in the Western view not an aim in itself; it does not stand outside the notions of good and evil, but it is subject to natural law and has to serve the moral aims of humanity.
From all this flows the possibility, present only in the West, of the highest form of cultural progress: namely the possibility of raising from generation to generation the level of ethics in private as well as in public life: according to Koneczny this is the only real and true progress; it consists in this, that more and more portions of morality become transformed into law.
Byzantium stands exactly half way between the West and Turan, but it is nowhere — even if here and there it may show some Turanian features — as extreme as Turan. Also in Byzantium, form has priority over content. The mission of Byzantium was the introduction and spreading of uniformity. And the maintaining of uniformity demands compulsion, an external pressure. To exercise this pressure is the function of the State. The individual, the family, every social institution, is here strangled by the omnipotent state. A “society”, independent from the State and from the sphere of politics, does exist here, but is underdeveloped.
The tendency towards formality and uniformity can be found in Byzantium in all domains of culture, from the rigid rules in art, forbidding any novelties, down to the ceremonies of the court etiquette. Byzantium does not tolerate any individualism; neither does Byzantine Church approve of it.
Byzantium is always uniformist and centralist; because it cannot imagine any other unity except uniformity. That unity can also be articulate and multiform, without thereby losing its compactness and energy, this is according to Koneczny not a Byzantine, but a Western idea; Byzantium, or a State influenced by the Byzantine spirit, would not be able to conceive of it. A political conception such as federalism was unthinkable in Byzantium; whence derives the inability, until to-day, of all Byzantium-trained peoples to see the State otherwise as a centralistic unitarist body; whence also the tendency of the Byzantine Serbs to impose upon the Croats belonging to the Western civilisation, a centralist rule; the Serb wants to assimilate the Croat, and does not understand the desire of the latter to enjoy equality and freedom in a federation.
Byzantium took over from Rome the notion of a public law separate and different from the private one; but the sphere of the private law has become more and more limited because of the encroachments of the State, i.e. of bureaucracy. Byzantium is the home of State socialism, of State taxes and of State omnipotence.
In all that concerns the exterior cultural level, Byzantium stood, it is true, for centuries high above the West: — an admired, envied and imitated model. Paris was only a village when Byzantium glittered with gold and purple and put Western travellers into mute wonder by its splendours. It was the kingdom of elegant etiquette, of fashion and of good taste for the barbarians from the West.
But all this is not the most important; the important thing is that Byzantium is an alien and a substantially different cultural world from ours. Yet precisely the fact that Byzantium was superior to the West in external culture was the source of an immense danger for all the Western European peoples. All of them fell under the spell of the Byzantine temptation — and this temptation meant the danger of a very harmful influence.
For those who know with Koneczny, how in the middle ages Byzantine form-principles and legal views were penetrating into Europe and what far-reaching influence they were exercising, medieval history takes the shape of a dramatic struggle, conducted by the Western, the Roman spirit against the foreign, Byzantine forms and principles which were incessantly infiltrating.
Again, the medieval idea of the Sacrum Imperium appears according to Koneczny’s teaching no longer as the final crystallization of medieval Western thinking, but quite on the contrary, as something completely alien, as a “Byzantine” foreign body. Only through liquidating and overcoming the medieval imperial idea could Europe truly find herself.
The question had to emerge in the West again and again, why it was that — at least since Prussia took over the leading role in Germany — Germany represented a permanent, provincial rebellion against the Western world. It is true, it is impossible to say that it was all Germany. But if we think of the most recent history, it was from Germany that the most dangerous inward threats to the Western world came, even if on the other hand on other levels European consciousness of Germany remained quite alert. Whenever we wish to answer this question, we must go back quite far in time; the roots which we seek are to be found in the Middle Ages.
It is a mistake to see in the medieval imperial idea, of which medieval Germany was the bearer, a genuinely Western, or even the supremely Western idea. From the point of view of the history of ideas, this idea is without any doubt of Byzantine origin. It represented the endeavour — never put more than partially into practice — to introduce into the West the imperial idea of Byzantium. Genuinely Western was the self-defence of European peoples against every attempt to organise Europe on the basis of a hegemony.
It was not the imperial idea and the imperial mystique, but their complete opposite, the idea of a family of free and equal nations, which was really Western. At the Council of Constance these two ideas clashed with each other in a dramatic way; and it was there that one of the most genial forerunners of the idea of a federal Europe appeared, Paulus a Vladimiri (Paweł Włodkowic of Brudzeń). It is Koneczny who notes the permanent importance of this truly epoch-making political thinker.
It meant the end of the political Middle Ages when the Catholic Church dissociated itself in due form from the imperial mystique. It is true; the latter was not yet dead in consequence of the separation; political ideas are able to persist in an amazing way, they may even change their exterior appearance, their motivation and their apparent aims, and yet remain essentially the same. What dangers were brought into Europe by the secularised imperial idea, incorporated in Germany under Prussian leadership, we have all been able to learn sufficiently by now.
In Germany also warning voices were not lacking; unfortunately they were not as well heeded as they merited. I would like to mention here two men who already about forty years ago perceived the general shape of the contrast between a Western and anti-Western Germany: Herman Hefele and Hugo Ball. To-day, a whole chorus of voices can be heard in Germany, who with refreshing clarity utter all that is necessary on the theme Prussia-Germany-Europe-The West; I will only mention the “Leidensgeschichte des zivilen Geistes in Deutschland” by Karl Buchheim. It is a pity that all these men did not know the teaching of Feliks Koneczny; they would have found in his works a precise historical analysis and an explanation of what they already discerned in their acute minds for themselves. The teaching of Koneczny puts the importance of the Catholic Church in the whole complex of Western history in a light, which will disperse many prejudices also among non-Catholics. Every Westerner, in whatever ideological or political camp he stands to-day, is obliged to be thankful to the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages for having undertaken a struggle against the all-powerful Empire, and for having conducted this struggle until the end. Nothing is more typical than the alliance of the Lombard League of cities with Papacy against the Empire of the Hohenstaufen, which was equally menacing to both; religious and civic liberty had to be defended together. If the Catholic Church had not conducted a fight against the all-powerful Empire, which did not tolerate any sphere of liberty, no sphere of spiritual freedom would exist in which “free thought” in the modern sense could unfold itself; “free” thought, in the positive as well as in the slightly suspect sense, would never have been possible if Latin Church of the Middle Ages had not in the fight against the Empire, secured originally at least one sphere, to be in principle free from the grip and control of the State.
To such thoughts Koneczny conducts us. Even if the science of civilisations, as shaped by him, is yet to a great extent only a programme and a task, we can certainly say at least this: — that what he has already established and said is of such importance that no experiment in a universal historical synthesis, and no explanation of history, undertaken in future will be able to pass it by.
Koneczny was himself fully conscious that his experiment of a general survey of civilisations was not yet anything final and that it needed in many points completion, widening and correction; notwithstanding his conviction that a universal history has meaning only under the aspect of a history of civilisations struggling with each other. He regretted the decline of humanistic thinking at the transitional period from the 19th to the 20th century; but he saw many signs of a new revival and was convinced that the permeation of the humanities by the ways and methods of thinking of the natural sciences would not be of long duration. In the final words of his principal work he spoke out his strong faith in the revival of humanistic studies. He knew that he himself had penetrated into a new scientific field in humanities, and that he explored paths of which perhaps not all would lead to the end. Every overestimation of self was far from him; he wrote literally: “I console myself with the hope that the question which I put in this book will be studied by Polish scholarship. I shall not only be satisfied, but I shall be happy, if this will be so; without regarding how much of my own work will remain and how much, on the basis of the more accurate studies of my successors, will have to be withdrawn.”
ON THE PLURALITY
The publishers abridged Koneczny’s work slightly. The Polish original was published u quarter of u century ago — in 1935 — but the publishers resisted the temptation to modernise it.