Poland’s Century of Rebirths: The Appeals of Positive and Negative Freedoms

I propose to use Isaiah Berlin’s well-known concepts of negative and positive freedom to understand the path of Poland’s state building project since 1989. I argue that the choices made reflect the inherent tension between full realization of one or the other kind of freedom. (I. Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, 1969) In Benedict Anderson’s terms, Poland’s is a case of a state-seeking nation rather than the more frequently studied instance of self-conscious nation building spearheaded by multiethnic or multi-confessional states (for example the United States in its formative history). Although it is natural to draw lessons from Poland’s interwar independence, the contemporary period of state building occurs in a radically different ‘hegemonic’ normative framework that that of 1918-1939; one where the concept of sovereignty (central to Berlin’s ‘positive freedom’) is conditioned by transnational cooperative undertaking and the ‘West’ as a value-laden concept. The defining particularity of the Polish case has been the internationalisation of its contemporary state-building project. This puts the traditional understanding of sovereignty at variance with the claims of individual autonomy and value pluralism.