Jefferson and Madison in Warsaw:What Would They Do Author of this text: Kaz Dziamka
what can be the benefit of the sectarian, Catholic indoctrination in public
schools other than to serve the religious, financial, and political interests of
the Catholic clergy and the Vatican? And what are the benefits to Polish
democracy of countless other privileges enjoyed by this powerful supranational
ecclesiastical organization? According to Madison, there will be only
superstition, bigotry, and persecution.
only remedy against the tyranny of the Polish Catholic faction — any faction -
according to Madison, to construct a government that would have the power to
defuse the destructive effects of majority — based factionalism. (A minority -
factionalism is never sufficiently strong to pose a lasting threat to the civic
rights of the citizens.) Such a government must be both secular
and neutral. As Madison said in a letter to Jefferson:
great desideratum in Government is, so to modify the sovereignty as that it may
be sufficiently neutral between different parts of the Society to controul [sic]
one part from invading the right of another, and at the same time sufficiently
controuled itself, from setting up an interest adverse to that of the entire
(Letter to Jefferson, Padover 43)
is very regrettable to realize that the present government of Poland is not such a government: it is neither neutral nor secular enough because both its
neutrality and secularity have been seriously compromised by the Concordat and
the traditional privileged position of the Catholic Church.
Perhaps the bondage that now exists between the Polish government and the
Polish Catholic Church precludes calling Poland a democracy. Rather, Poland's
current political system is a Catholic neo-theocracy with some democratic
underpinnings, like popular elections and a multi-party system in which all
parties, however, pay political homage to the Catholic Church in one way or
another. Such a combination of democracy and theocracy is a denial of genuine
freedom of religion and from religion;
it is a return to endless entanglements of politics and religion and to
religious disputes and possibly wars.
Poland's Third Republic is not, then, a modern secular democracy, in
which church and state are separated because in order to be democratic, a government must first be secular.
It is not a democracy in which the wall of separation between the
government and the Catholic Church would ensure both freedom of religion and
freedom from religion for all Poles.
Poland is not a free democratic country. Not yet. It is a Catholic republic in
which both Catholics and non-Catholics pay taxes to support the Catholic Church
and in which non-Catholics — particularly
agnostics and atheists — often
have to compromise their intellectual and professional integrity not to offend
powerful Catholic politicians and Catholic priests and bishops.
is the sad consequence of what happens when we don't remember the legacy of
the past — when
we don't remember the obvious historical truth stated by Madison in
In no instance have [ecclesiastical
establishments] been seen the guardians of
the liberties of the people.
As we know, those who don't remember the mistakes of the past are
bound to make them again.
P.S. As I began my
presentation, arguing for the necessity of separating state and church in a modern democracy, a Polish professor (who used to be one of my teachers at the
time I was a student at Jagiellonian University) left in ostentatious
disapproval. Another one argued,
rather hysterically, that „this is Poland, not the U.S." and that I got all
my „facts wrong." To that
Polish professor — and to
other such Catholic Poles — even facts can apparently be wrong.
What seems right, though, is the comforting myth of a free, democratic, secular
Selected papers (mine included) from
the Conference were supposed to have been published by Jagiellonian University
after the conference. So far, my paper has not been published.
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Jefferson, Thomas. Notes
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"The Tenth Federalist." Federalist
Papers. Introduced by Clinton Rossiter.
York: New American Library, 1961.
Padover, Saul K., ed. The
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(1784-1796), pp. 16-20. Published by Encyclopaedia Britannica,
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Polish Myth: Zadruga). Wroc³aw: Toporze³, 1991.
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Buffalo: Prometheus, 1989.
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