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The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in the Polish Social Safeguard System

The following article presents the social and cultural background behind the operations of the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in Poland. These social and cultural conditions have significant bearing on the application of the provisions of the Convention in Poland and on related political decisions. The first section of the article concerns the reception of the Convention in Poland. Subsequently, it discusses the social, economic and legal conditions of the functioning of women in Polish society, including legal standards of equality between men and women. These issues are presented against the backdrop of official statistics on violence against women and domestic violence. The next part of the article focuses on legal regulations of the CoE Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: the practical context of Poland. Of particular importance here is the protection of children. Observations concerning the influence of civil society on the functioning of the Convention in Poland conclude the article.


Reception of the Convention in Poland

Poland signed the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence on 18 December 2012, but this Act only came into force on 1 August 2015. Poland was the seventeenth country to ratify the Convention.

Ratified international agreements have the status of universally binding laws in Poland and are thus applied directly; therefore, the Convention is now an integral part of the apparatus for protection of human rights, including the safety of women and, in the broader context, also of children regardless of sex. This Act can also be considered part of the framework for combating and preventing domestic violence. Even prior to its accession to the Convention, Poland employed certain legal and institutional instruments that were in agreement with the spirit of the Act in question. Yet, the Convention introduces legal solutions that instil higher standards of protection, including specific means of responding to discrimination and acts of violence conditioned by culture.

The introduction of the Convention in Poland allows for closer examination of a situation in which socially important matters that arouse intense emotions become a tool in the struggle for political power. Examples may include debates and decisions of authorities both preceding and following the entry into force of the CoE Convention. To give one example, the signing and ratification of the Convention were accompanied by debates which questioned its purpose and validity. Shortly after the signing, the right-oriented Polish government took steps towards renunciation, which prompted strong reaction from the civil society. Such a strong social response was directly linked to the culturally conditioned position of women in Poland. It was also the proof that the contemporary opposition does not have to form a cohesive group, unified by shared political ideas. Contemporary opposition movements does not have to be a political party. It may be a social group without formalised bonds. Social issues have always been a factor that could unite communities of protest and such was the case in Poland. The ‘dispersed opposition’ was led by a strong need to protect the rights that had been to date guaranteed by law.


Culturally and Historically Conditioned Position of Women in Poland

The application of the Convention in Poland, the social reception of this Act and its consequences for public authorities and politicians are closely tied to the position of women in Polish society. Their current position arises from the conditions in which Polish society has operated in the last few hundred years and which can be seen as a conglomerate of historical, cultural, or – more specifically – religious, social and even geographical factors.

It seems clear that the social position of any group in any society is determined by both the history of the entire society as well as the roles that this group had to fulfil in the context of specific historical events. The same is true of the current situation of Polish women. It may be said that this position is and has been, relatively high; nevertheless, this does not mean that Poland is free from violence against women or its social consequences.

The primary factor worth considering is the impact of the Poland’s geographical location on its history and; consequently, on the social position of its female inhabitants. On closer inspection the history of the country appears to have been rather ‘drafty’ as Poland has been involved, willingly or not, in almost every major armed conflict in Europe, except, perhaps, for the religious wars. The spatial location of Poland is neither that of an island nor that of a peninsula and closer examination of the history of armed conflict in Central Europe reveals that the absence of significant natural barriers hindering free movement of troops is one of the reasons why wars were such an frequent occurrence in the Polish past. The country also happened to (literally) stand in the way of  its neighbours’ economic interests, which brought about the partition of Poland and the subsequent struggle for national independence.

Taking into account that it were usually men who participated in armed conflicts – at least until World War II – Polish women were forced to take the economy and welfare of their families into their own hands. The reason behind this were not  men’s wishes, but rather their absence; for decades they fought and died in wars, they were deported to Siberia or kept in Gulags. These events contributed to the relatively strong position of women with regard to their economic rights and their “social say”.

After the Second World War, Poland got into the orbit of socialism, which obviously had immense social consequences. Following World War II, the country was totally destroyed and the extermination of its population continued. Women were faced with very clear expectations regarding their social role. They were expected to engage in professional activity, but these expectations did not bring about equality in other spheres. On the home front, men might have helped, but women still bore the burden.

Lifestyle choices of the period also revealed the emancipation of women. The same tendency is described by A. G. Dijkstra and J. Plantega (2003) who claim that after the year 1950, socialist governments also emphasized the equality of men and women; they promoted the acquisition of the same education and the fulfilment of the same roles on the labour market. As a result, in 1985 the participation of women in the labour market in centrally planned economies was higher than in most of the OECD states. The average employment rate of women, in relation to men, amounted to 80% for Eastern Europe and 64% for developed industrial societies.

According to the authors – with whom it seems reasonable to agree – the idea of gender equality revolved around ensuring equal access to employment and equally low wages for both sexes. On the other hand, the distribution of responsibilities in the households remained unchanged. Nevertheless, the ideology, which may be summarized by the 50s slogan, ‘Women on tractors’, has been an important factor facilitating the present-day legitimization of equality on the labour market. As to gender equality, socialism clearly seemed to have levelled the chances, not only for women, but for other social groups as well. During the World War II and in the fifties, a substantial part of the Polish elite was exterminated. The aftermath of this massive cleansing is a post-peasant society, which, nevertheless, could benefit from those egalitarian tendencies in social life that became more prominent shortly afterwards.

Nowadays, Polish women enjoy a relatively strong position as regards their political rights and rights to participate in public life. They gained political rights when the country recovered its independence in 1918 and, compared to other parts of the globe, their situation was fairly good. Poland is the seventh country in the world to have granted these rights to women; the aforementioned circumstances were one of the primary reasons.

Regarding the culturally conditioned position of women in Poland, the question concerning respect for women proves to be a very interesting phenomenon of which two specific examples may be enumerated. One of the examples concerns a particular cultural artefact that comprises a specific behaviour that is often adopted by Polish men in dealing with women in general. This specific behaviour pertains to hand-kissing as a form of greeting and is common in all layers of society. According to the definition by E. Shein (1984), artefacts are the most visible external manifestations of a culture and they reflect specific tendencies characteristic of a given community. In Poland, the custom of kissing women on the hand is one of such visible manifestations of socially approved behaviours that are, in this case, used to show respect for women. Yet, outward displays of respect do not necessarily entail that respect would be present on deeper levels of organizational culture described by Stein, i.e. the level of norms, values and basic assumptions. Only then would it constitute a mental barrier preventing acts of violence against women.

Another noteworthy example related to respect for women may be difficult to observe directly; however, its numerous manifestations may be perceived in the broader context of social functioning. It is related to the specifically Polish framing of the essential elements of Catholicism and, particularly, their attitude towards the figure of Mother Mary. In Poland, Holy Mary is ‘forever a Virgin’; yet, the ‘Virgin’ is also a mother and these two facts are widely accepted as religious axioms, with the notion of undefiled conception helping to resolve this apparent contradiction. All in all, the glorification of Mother Mary and, indirectly, other mothers is clearly noticeable in Polish society.

This is confirmed by the analysis of the so-called homosocial cultures, i.e., cultures founded on male values and the community of men (e.g. men going to war), as conducted by M. Socha (2009), reveals an important role of the mother in such cultures. This conclusion is further reinforced by the observation that ‘idealized femininity’ safeguards male relationships and male history (qtd. in Ostrowska, 2004). According to Socha, the mother in Polish culture is conceived as Mother Poland or Mother Homeland. The author also notes that, on the symbolic plane, the Polish soul is a woman. The country is described in terms of Mater Polonia, while Mother Mary – the highest ideal of motherhood – becomes the spiritual patron of the nation (p. 81). Yet another proof of the importance of these two symbols may be the Resolution of the Polish Sejm of 15 December 2016, by virtue of which the year 2017 was considered the 300th anniversary of the coronation of the painting of the Mother Mary in Czestochowa (M.P. 2017, poz. 15) .

Since 1989, Polish Mother’s Memorial Hospital has operated in Poland. The history of the founding of this specialist medical unit, which deals with extremely severe maternity and childhood diseases provides an excellent illustration of how respect for women is conditioned by the homosocial culture. In 1982, when Poland strived for normalization after the imposition of martial law and during the celebration of Mother’s Day, the then-operating Military Council of National Salvation proposed that a monument of Poland Mother should be built, which was approved by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who represented the head of the national authority at the time. This monument, as Jaruzelski characterized it, was to be ‘a tribute to the Polish mothers, who made a tremendous contribution to the recovery of freedom by the Homeland’. Finally, the authorities decided that the monument to commemorate Polish mothers should be a hospital dedicated to them. A public collection to finance its construction managed to raise about 530 million zloties (which amounts to about 126 million euros) during the first year alone (See: http://www.dzienniklodzki.pl/artykul/3652770, 25lecie-instytutu-centrum-zdrowia-matki-polki-w-lodzi,id,t.html).

Another issue worth considering is how the problem of culturally conditioned violence towards women is actually perceived in Poland. In the Polish language, there exist numerous terms that condemn violence against women or express disapproval towards such acts. One example is a popular saying, ‘Don’t hit a woman even with a flower’. Another instance may be a negatively marked epithet, ‘woman beater’. It is a contemptuous name for a man who uses his superior position or strength to verbally or physically abuse women. To sum up, in Polish culture violence against women is not and will not be treated as self-explanatory, at least not to the same extent that violence against children has long been. In the national criminal law there is no lawful justification that would exclude criminal responsibility for abusing women; yet, up to 2010 there was a justification for corporal punishment of children.



Legal Standard of Equality between Men and Women

The equality of men and women in Poland is granted by the Constitution. The provisions of the CoE Convention are based on a legitimate assumption that the main cause of violence against women and domestic violence is the unequal socio-economic status of women and men (which is also true of Poland). Its provisions aim to implement the principles of equality de jure.

The Polish Constitution, in Article 33 proclaims expressis verbis the equality of women and men in family, political, social and economic life. As stated in paragraph (1) of this Article: ‘Men and women shall have equal rights in family, political, social and economic life in the Republic of Poland’. According to paragraph (2), ‘Men and women shall have equal rights, in particular, regarding education, employment and promotion, and shall have the right to equal compensation for work of similar value, to social security, to hold offices, and to receive public honours and decorations’.

What is more, Article 32 of the same document introduces the principle of equal treatment of all citizens by the public authorities as well the principle of non-discrimination in political, social or economic life for any reason whatsoever. These two regulations are the constitutional standard to which the ordinary and internally binding laws should be subjugated. They should regulate the operating practices of the public authorities and the patterns of social life.


Violence against Woman and Domestic Violence in Statistics

The following data, which illustrates the scale and extent of violence in Poland, has been taken from the Blue Card questionnaires dating from 2016. Consequently, it only reflects the range of situations in which the victims have broken the silence and decided to report the case to the police.

Total number of victims of violence 91 789


Total number of people suspected of violence 74 155


Number of female victims 66 930


Number of suspected women 5 461


Number of male victims 10 636


 Number of suspected men 68 321


Number of underage victims 14 223


Number of suspected minors 373


Compiled on the basis of the report “Przemoc w rodzinie”, retrieved from: http://statystyka.policja.pl/st/wybrane-statystyki/przemoc-w-rodzinie/50863,Przemoc-w-rodzinie.html

This report does not account for the grey zone of violence against women, that is, these occurrences of violence that have not been reported to the police. It seems unlikely; however, that the Polish statistics would differ significantly from the statistics of other European countries. Thus, the problem appears to be complex and multifaceted.

By contrast, the following data comes from the study on the level of domestic violence in the European Union, entitled ‘Violence against women: an EU wide survey’ and commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in March 2014. The results of the survey were as follows:

33% of women throughout the EU have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15;

22% women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner;

5% of all the women surveyed have been raped. This corresponds to more than 9 million women being raped in the EU;

55% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. In 32% of the cases the victims indicated their colleague, boss or client as a perpetrator;

75 % of women in top management positions have experienced sexual harassment at work;

33% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an adult in childhood;

12% of women experienced sexual violence in childhood. Half of them indicated that the perpetrator was a man they did not know before. The most common forms of violence were exposing genitals to children or touching their genitals or breasts.

(Source: http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-vaw-survey-at-a-glance-oct14_pl.pdf)

Surprisingly, this survey is often referenced by the opponents of the Convention in order to prove that Poland is not in the worst position and even that violence against women is actually a marginal phenomenon in this country (See: http://niezalezna.pl/62633-cala-prawda-o-konwencji-antyprzemocowej-wstrzasajacy-raport-zobacz-film). One of their ways to deprecate the Convention was to claim that it only presents the acts of physical or sexual violence against girls aged 15 and less or violence against woman perpetrated by their partners.

The survey also seems to prove that Poland, along with Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Croatia and Austria, is among the countries with the lowest levels of violence. More importantly, it claims that the highest levels of violence can be noted in Denmark, Finland and Latvia. These conclusions appear to be questionable on a number of grounds; for instance, all countries that reported relatively low violence are strongly catholic (even Spain, despite Zapatero’ s secularizing reforms). It may be argued; therefore, that culturally determined standards of public expression and understanding of violence as something that is “deserved”, might have significantly influenced the results.

Another reservation here may be linked to differing cultural convictions as to what words, gestures and other behaviours should be regarded as ‘violence’ and whether it is common to be open about it and publicly disclose such wrongdoings. Finally, one more phenomenon should be noted with regard to Poland; namely, the inferiority complex. The Poles who criticize the government in foreign press, for example, often face stigmatisation by the political forces. There exists a ‘social imperative’ to make a good impression on others because otherwise (perhaps due to economic reasons) Polish citizens might have thought of themselves as inferior; this may also have led the respondents to withhold certain facts.


Legal Regulations of the CoE Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence: The Practical Context of Poland.

Taking into account the specific context of Poland, it might be valuable to focus on these characteristics of the Convention that are important from the point of view of preventing violence in this country.

Firstly, the Convention interprets violence against women as the violation of human rights and as a form of discrimination. The law should clearly specify that certain social groups are also entitled to human rights. In the course of history, denying some people the status of full-fledged human beings always provided a justification to use violence towards them. Therefore, the law should hinder such practices.

Secondly, the Convention combats not only the effects but also the causes of violence against women. The financial independence of women – or the lack of it – is of fundamental importance. Articles 12 and 18 of the Convention have to be interpreted in the context of recent events in Poland. Since last year, there is a child benefit programme in Poland called 500+, in which the state gives families 500 zloties a month for each second and subsequent child. It was projected that this programme will make the position of women stronger.

For this reason, the publication of the Labour force survey in Poland in 2017 brought about a heated debate about the economic consequences of the 500+ programme for women. In this debate, the main argument against the programme was that 150,000 women decided to quit their jobs between March and September 2016, Indeed, the report revealed a tendency among women in working age to withdraw from employment for personal reasons, mostly related to family and household responsibilities. Family and household duties were the main reason for the lack of professional activity in the case of 45.9% unemployed women and only 9.1% unemployed men. Other reasons for unemployment included, e.g., education and improving qualifications, sickness or disability and retirement. Withdrawal from employment as a result of receiving unemployment benefits from the state will only weaken the position of women and make them more susceptible to violence. Negative consequences of employment withdrawal by women are illustrated by the model of household decisions, proposed by N. Ott (1992, 1995) and further analyzed in the context of G. Becker’s study by A.G. Dijkstra and J. Plantega. Ott’s model assumes that whenever a woman chooses to withdraw from employment and to produce goods and services for the benefit of the household, her utility (welfare) decreases as does her threat point, which is a parameter correlated directly with her earning capacity. At the same time, the threat point of her (male) partner increases. The woman thus exposes herself to the risk of losing occupational opportunities and/or the depreciation of her human capital. Ott claims that one consequence of such phenomenon is the loss of women’s power in the families, which will, as can easily be noted, negatively affect their decision-making powers not only in the household but also in the broader context of social life. Dijskra and Plantega add that political decisions leading to the increase in the bargaining power of men also have impact on the position of women. If a woman decides to bear a child and stay at home, her situation can be compared to a game called ‘the prisoner’s dilemma’. Although both partners sharing a household will benefit from this decision as the marginal utility will not be diminished; nevertheless, the female partner will still have lesser bargaining power in future negotiations.

Another positive consequence of the Convention is the introduction of regulations pertaining to the protection of children within families. The Convention forces the signatory states to adhere to high standards for the protection of children against violence. The provisions, which are presented in the figure below, establish a comprehensive protection system. This  is of fundamental importance from the point of view of societal developmentm since legal instruments ensuring children’s safety contribute to the development of a well-functioning society.




(The position of children: Holistic multidimensional protection. Prepared by: M. Tabernacka, on the basis of the provisions of the Convention.)


Protection of Children

Of particular significance to the Polish legal system is the commitment of the member states to the Convention to implement individual protection measures for children (adapted to the level of their emotional development) and to ensure that their best interests are served. The latter becomes even more important for these states in which the system of protecting children against violence does not have a long tradition, such as Poland.

It is thus of fundamental importance for such states that the Convention recognizes children who witness acts of domestic violence or violence against women as the victims of abuse. A key regulation that ensures the protection of children is Article 26, which requires all parties to the Convention to ‘take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that in the provision of protection and support services to victims, due account is taken of the rights and needs of child witnesses of all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention. [Moreover,] Measures taken pursuant to this Article (…) include age‐appropriate psychosocial counselling for child witnesses of all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention and (…) due regard to the best interests of the child’.

This regulation is supplemented by Article 56, paragraph 2, according to which a person who witness the commission of acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention or who has reasonable grounds to believe that such an act may be committed, or that further acts of violence are to be expected, shoulkd report this to the competent organisations or authorities. A child victim and child witness of violence against women and domestic violence shall be afforded, where appropriate, special protection measures taking into account the best interests of the child. Higher standards of protection become available also by virtue of the application of the provisions of Article 46, point d., which states that whenever ‘the offence was committed against or in the presence of a child, such a situation should be regarded] as aggravating circumstances in the determination of the sentence in relation to the offences established’.

In turn, Article 27 discusses the witnesses’ liability to report instances of violence to appropriate authorities and organizations: ‘person witness[es] to the commission of acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention or who has reasonable grounds to believe that such an act may be committed, or that further acts of violence are to be expected, to report this to the competent organisations or authorities.

Poland is a relatively homogeneous social area in terms of its culture and, as such, it does not have any established standards of response to problems resulting from conflicts of cultural diversity. The Convention takes the instances of such conflicts into account, which is particularly important from the perspective of children’s welfare. To provide with an example, Articles 37 and 38 establish an obligation for the parties to implement provisions that would assign legal responsibility for forcing children into early marriages and for ‘inciting, coercing or procuring a girl to undergo any of the acts [leading to] female genital mutilation’.


Convention as a Bargaining Chip in Political Debates in Poland

Signing and ratification of the Convention were preceded by a debate which questioned its purpose and validity; the Convention was even presented as harmful for Poland and for its culture. This debate was described in the liberal mass-media as absurd and many left wing thinkers perceived it as such. The alleged absurdity of objections raised against the Convention may denote that they were not substantive.

What is more, the signing and ratification proceedings were used by the then-opposition right wing parties to increase their political capital among the conservative minded voters, who tend to gravitate towards more ‘conventional’ modes of social functioning. The attachment to traditional Christian values and heterosexual family model often remain at the root of their convictions.

One should therefore expect that the main objections against the Convention were directed at the supposed promotion of homosexual values. Conservative communities claimed that the Convention contradicts the typically Polish and Christian traditions and that it may even be a threat to the current legal and systemic framework. Following are some examples of these accusations:

‘The anti-violence Convention fosters violence’ (See: http://www.deon.pl/wiadomosci/polska/art,21507,konwencja-antyprzemocowa-sprzyja-przemocy.html);

For corruption, for bureaucracy, for totalitarian regimes, not to mention ideologies that may get promoted along the way, this is a rare opportunity; It tries to smuggle gender ideology into our legal system. (See: http://niepoprawni.pl/blog/miarka/konwencja-przemocowa-6-niebezpieczne-zapisy-1zapisy 1);

The Poles would lose the right to protect basic natural and Christian values, in social and private life, in families and upbringing of their children (See: http://www.deon.pl/religia/kosciol-i-swiat/z-zycia-kosciola/art,18462,rzad-ratyfikuje-kontr-konwencje-przemocowa.html);

The axiological system of the Convention, which involves social engineering actions, is not compatible with the Polish constitutional order (J. Banasiuk 2014).

What is more, the critics of the Convention saw Article 14, paragraph (1) as a threat. This paragraph states that parties to the Convention shall take, where appropriate, the necessary steps to include teaching material on issues such as equality between women and men, non‐stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non‐violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender‐based violence against women and the right to personal integrity, adapted to the evolving capacity of learners, in formal curricula and at all levels of education.

Surprisingly, the biggest controversy was raised by the notion of gender itself. In this case, accusations mostly referred to Article 3 point (c.), which defines ‘gender’ as socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men. The notion of gender has been included in the Polish sociology textbooks for a couple of decades. In recent years, Polish society has become increasingly aware of the difference between the biological sex, indicated by ‘sex’, and socio-cultural sex, indicated by ‘gender’; yet, the distinction has not been questioned until recently.

Gender should be considered a normal social phenomenon. It can be noted that culturally conditioned expectations towards women are slightly different in Poland than, e.g., in Sweden or in Italy; they are defined specifically through the notion of ‘gender’. In Poland; however, this notion has in recent years become a kind of modern ‘witch’; a gateway to unload the frustrations of the conservative communities. As a result, the conflict that can be traced back to the division between the conservative right, actively influenced by the Catholic Church, and the progressive, pro-social left, was rekindled. In Poland, additional difficulty lies in the fact that the centre-right and the enlightened Catholic intellectual elite are not visible in the public sphere and, in debates, their voice simply disappears, which is the primary reason why the conflict is so polarized.

In December 2016, the Polish mass media informed about the alleged plans to renounce the Convention, something which had a very strong negative resonance. Its strength was further underscored by numerous social protests in November and December 2016, which were directed against political decisions limiting civil liberties. For example, the December strike was organized under the slogan, ‘Polite we already have been’ (e.g. http://strajkobywatelski.pl/event/strajk-obywatelski-gdansk-grzeczni-juz-bylismy/; https://pl-pl.facebook.com/events/340267749682840/)

The protests related to the plans of renouncing the Convention are a follow-up to the so-called black protests, which started in November 2016 in reaction to the attempts to tighten up the anti-abortion law. Political decisions pertaining to the Convention were thus taken in the situation in which the communities contesting the measures taken by public authorities had already been mobilised.

The Polish Ombudsman also reacted to the measures which could have resulted in renouncing the Convention. The official position of the state authorities presented to the Ombudsman by the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment also sheds some light on the developments. In the first statement it was noted that the renunciation project, prepared by the Ministry of Justice, has been sent for inter-ministry consultations. The subsequent statement; however, noted that the project of renunciation remains unprocessed and has not been proceeded upon. What is more, it has been reported that the Government has not and does not intend to carry out any actions leading to the renunciation of the Convention.

It seems apparent that further steps to renounce the Convention would incite Polish society and the widening gap between governmental actions and societal expectations would be difficult to overcome. All the more so, since further protests were scheduled to take place on 8 March (the so-called “Women’s strike”), and on the 14 February (the so-called anti-violence “dance” and part of a larger global action known as “One Billion Rising) (See: http://warszawa.ngo.pl/x/844332). The decision of the public authorities to terminate these plans should then be considered a reasonable step, in accordance with the public interest. Utilizing such a socially sensitive issue as violence against women and domestic violence for political purposes, especially by means of negating the existing legal and institutional solutions to counteract violence would not be of benefit to the society.





(Women’s strike on the Wrocław market, 8 March 2017’, photo by: M. Tabernacka)


The Convention and Civil Society in Poland

The validity of the Convention, its social consequences and measures taken by public authorities in relation to its introduction display a certain connection to the functioning of civil society and its institutions in Poland.

The provisions of the Convention envision a close and multidimensional cooperation with non-governmental organisations and the civil society. One example of an important regulation might be Article 9, entitled: ‘Non-governmental organisations and civil society’. According to this provision, ‘parties shall recognise, encourage and support, at all levels, the work of relevant non-governmental organisations and of civil society active in combating violence against women and establish effective co-operation with these organisations’. By contrast, Article 7 places non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations among the institutions which will pursue a comprehensive and coordinated anti-violence policy. More specifically, Article 7, paragraph (3) states that ‘measures taken pursuant to this article shall involve, where appropriate, all relevant actors, such as government agencies, the national, regional and local parliaments and authorities, national human rights institutions and civil society organisations’. A guarantee instrument in this respect is Article 8, according to which non-governmental organizations and the institutions of civil society should be eligible to participate in funds used by the state parties to the Convention for preventing and combating domestic violence and violence against women. According to this provision, Parties shall allocate appropriate financial and human resources for the adequate implementation of integrated policies, measures and programmes to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, including those carried out by non-governmental organisations and civil society.

The system of helping the victims of domestic violence and women experiencing violence in Poland in the last 20 years has been based on the effective and active engagement of NGOs. They have acquired a well-educated staff and are recognized in their local communities. One of the most important of their initiatives is the so-called blue line (See: http://www.niebieskalinia.pl). As of lately, the system based on NGOs has begun to collapse as a result of the financial decisions made by the government. This is part of the problem tied to the government’s way of dealing with NGOs (similar to that in Hungary). A further example could be the Centre for Women’s Rights, an NGO working to ensure equal status of women and men and provide assistance for the victims of domestic violence. This organization did not receive state funding in 2016 on the grounds that its activities were devoted to helping only one social group, i.e. women. It has encountered similar financing difficulties in 2017

(cf. http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/1,114871,20066209,rzad-odmowil-finansowania-centrow-praw-kobiet-bo-zawezaja.html, and https://oko.press/centrum-praw-kobiet-znow-srodkow-minister-dofinansuje-caritas/).)

In Poland, in view of the fact that a significant number of non-governmental organizations does not have its own accumulated capital, their operation is dependent on subsidies from the state. Yet, since NGOs work towards the fulfilment of public service objectives, which lie in the responsibility of the State, this is only to be understood.

Measures related to the plans of renouncing the Convention had a significant influence on the mobilization of the Polish civil society institutions. It can be noted that women’s grass-roots movements with significant potential began to form. One of the consequences of the mobilization of these social movements and their increasing activity is their inevitable institutionalization, which will have important influence on both social life and political conditions in Poland.

The illustration that follow provide examples of such activities. It is a website of a feminist movement called Gals4Gals. Its pejorative name is to reflect women’s anger. Some of the slogans to be found on this website are: “Stop violence against women” or “Hands off the anti-violence Convention”.




(“Gals4Gals” – Source: https://pl-pl.facebook.com/DziewuchyDziewuchomWroclaw/)



It can be noted that a real consequence of the attacks on the Convention is the unification and involvement in civic activity of social circles that have until now functioned rather separately. This may have a significant bearing on the question of legitimisation of political power in Poland.

The vigorous debate around the Convention seemed so unreasonable as to raise suspicions that this could be another “substitute” topic, used to divert the public’s attention from the real social, economic, and, recently, also systemic, problems. Perhaps this was indeed the case, but taking the situational context into account it appears that any measures taken to renounce the Convention should prove to be more detrimental than beneficial to the position of the Polish government. Moreover, developments concerning the plans of renouncing the Convention indicate that the government managed to retain its capacity to rationally evaluate the situation.

All things considered, the Convention is a wise document and, in the face of the current challenges for Europe, it lays out a uniform standard for dealing with violence. The latter is particularly important in the face of the crisis caused by the influx of refugees from various countries and cultures into Europe. The Convention is the foundation on which a common European framework of conduct may be developed and then adopted by individual European states, should they need to address the issues of culturally and religiously conditioned acts of violence. The culturally dependent position of women in European countries is generally similar, but fundamentally different from the position of women in Asia and Africa. The relatively high social position of women in Europe can be regarded as an essential component of the European identity. It is therefore justified to claim that the Convention may be one of the legal instruments to protect and maintain a shared European identity.




Banasiuk J.  (red.) (2014) Czy Polska powinna ratyfikować Konwencję Rady Europy o zapobieganiu i przeciwdziałaniu przemocy wobec kobiet i przemocy domowej? Raport Instytutu Ordo Iuris, Warszawa. Retrived from: http://www.ordoiuris.pl/public/pliki/dokumenty/Raport_przemoc_OI.pdf

Dijkstra A.G., Plantega J. (2003) Ekonmia i płeć. Pozycja zawodowa kobiet w Unii Europejskiej (Gender and Economics: A European perspective), Gdańsk: Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne.

Ostrowska E. (2004) Matki Polki i ich synowie. Kilka uwag o genezie obrazów kobiecości i męskości w kulturze polskiej, (in:) M. Radkiewicz (red.), Gender. Konteksty, Kraków: Rabid.

Ott N. (1992) Intrafamily Baring and Household Decisions, Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Ott N. (1995) Fertility and division of work in the family (in:) E. Kuiper, J. Sap. (red.) (in cooperation with) z S. Feiner, N. Ott,. Z. Tzannatos) Out of Margin: Feminist Perspectives on Economics, London-New York: Routledge.

Shein E.H., (1984, 2), Coming to a new awareness of organizational culture, Sloan Management Review 25

Socha M., (2009) Baba pruska. Etos Kobiety w XIX wieku wobec specyfiki etosu pruskiego, (in:) Kowalski P. Tabu, Etykieta, Dobre Obyczaje, Wrocław: Wydawnictwo uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego.

Labour force survey in Poland, Retrieved from: http://stat.gov.pl/obszary-tematyczne/rynek-pracy/pracujacy-bezrobotni-bierni-zawodowo-wg-bael/aktywnosc-ekonomiczna-ludnosci-polski-iv-kwartal-2016-roku,4,23.html

25-lecie Instytutu Centrum Zdrowia Matki Polki w Łodzi, Dziennik Łódzki, 19.11.2014, Retrieved from: http://www.dzienniklodzki.pl/artykul/3652770,25lecie-instytutu-centrum-zdrowia-matki-polki-w-lodzi,id,t.html



Authentic acts and sources of opinions:



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Walter Baier, Cornelia Hildebrandt, Franz Kronreif, Luisa Sello (eds.), Europe as a Common: Exploring Transversal Social Ethics, Volume I (Zürich: LIT Verlag, 2020)

The ongoing dialogue between Christianity and socialism, albeit soft and sometimes rather marginal is still going on and bears a genuine significance in the face of the newer problems of our changing world – the refugees ripples, the climate issues and the Corona virus crisis that menaces even more within a context of “globalization of profit and indifference” triggered by a multi-factor equation of recent developments and challenges. Two very different ethical and meaningful visions of the world and of the value of people come together again to address an imperative concern described by the negative consequences of globalization and environmental crisis. The book is an image of the works of the Christian-Marxist symposia summer school. It is a call for dialogue – for transversal dialogue – involving all concerned with the better future of the planet all men and women of good will and, especially, all who take the current environmental crisis seriously. Transversality avoid hierarchies of actors and themes in the actions engaged by this dialogue for recovery and development. Nowadays the labour movement seeks the fulfilment of goals within the capitalist society rather than against it. The seizure of power by revolutionary means is neither an acceptable or a fruitful path to follow. Christianity and socialism maintain newer revised antagonism, but address their specific aims via respectful cooperation and devotion to the rejection of oppression and exploitation.

The four chapters of the volume structure this multi-faced, complex approach reuniting mainly young people’s contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Vatican, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Tunisia and Greece meant to form a basis for university curriculum in Portugal (Coimbra), Spain (UNED), Austria (Innsbruck) and Italy (Sophia/Florence). The first chapter, “Backgrounds and Starting Points” gathers three topics: Towards a ‘Differentiated Consensus’ (Franz Kronreif); Socialism and Community (Walter Baier) and Europe’s Common Destiny (Angelo Vincenzo Zani). The concept of “differentiated consensus” is based on transversal social ethics and the complementarity of truth and reality. Humanity, society and world are equivalent interlocutors in this dialogical attempt to describe what is man and which are the undeniably common valuable aims and themes apt to sustain consensus and, eventually common hope and common actions for European and (ultimately) world transformation and development. “This transversal social ethic approach is meant to produce a radical transformation that goes to the root of the problems” (p. 30) in order to find solutions, not scapegoats, “envisioning economics, politics, growth and progress” (ibid.). Walter Baier interpreted the renewed connection between socialism and community via the renewed nexus of welfare and democracy despite the attacks of neoliberalism. Both socialism and Marxism share preoccupation for society, for the emancipation of the disempowered ones, for deeply meaningful personal relationships, for empathic standpoints and interests against collective and individual egoism (p. 36). This vein of Enlighted Marxism places the accent on the importance of the social and ethical dimension of human community and not only on the fulfilment of the necessary material conditions. Bearing duty and responsibility is crucial to the interpretations of Marxism by Antonio Gramsci, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Erich Fromm as well as to the interpretation of socialist freedom as a difficult but necessary leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom, in Karl Polanyi. In the Economic Philosophical Manuscripts communism was oblivious of human imperfection and described by the “positive transcendence of private property and human self-estrangement” provided by the manifestation of human essence, thus ending the conflict “between man and nature and between man and man”, which is not very far from the Christian view, but was neither verified by history, practice or socialism to this day.

There is a common European destiny. In the Vatican’s perspective, Angelo Vincenzo Zani underlines that this is not only a purpose or a metaphor, but the very framework to deal with the misadventures of globalisation, with the degradation of biosphere, with climatic disasters, with the massive migration ripples, or, with the threats of the developing nuclear, chemical or cyber weapons. (p. 44) The European method is dialogue for cooperation and responsibility, unconfined to a temporal horizon”, but expressing also the transcendent vocation of human reality. (p. 47) All in all, Europe’s destiny remains to “pursue ideals” and “contemplate heavens” in a way that maintains Europe as a referential for “the common good and of a world of fraternity and peace” (p. 49). The next part describes the performative and transformative twin dimensions of dialogue. Piero Coda proposes a new paradigm found in a “culture of encounter”. The ideal community is the “social treasure” of the community of Jesus – love of God and love for each other. Such a society sets the standard of “maximum ethical achievement”. This is way religion can be both a factor of stability conservative of the status quo and a potential transformative factor, in the spirit of love and emancipation from Mammon, the “idol of power and money”. (p. 55) There is a special understanding of the dialectic identity-alterity in the Christian thought which is powerful and subversive for adversity, very different from the understanding of philosophers such as Hegel, Marx or Feuerbach: there is always a fluid aspect reuniting identity and alterity in paradoxical ways, understandable only in the generous Christian perspective where oneself is to be found most authentically in the understanding and communion with another, in this perplexing dialectics of “per-dono”, which makes forgiving and the actions of giving the most genuine gain.

Bernhard Callebaut goes to the roots of transversal dialogue against the “violence” of individualist thinking, described by the fact that “thoughts become the absolute property of an individual, the other has nothing to say or add”. (p. 70) In Christian tradition of social thinking the thoughts of an individual cannot be absolute: “I cannot think if I do not listen to the other, if I am not able to be changed, modified by him or her. I experienced this so many times on occasions of sincere, open, authentic dialogue. I exposed strong convictions, but striving to offer them as a contribution, not as an imposition, and then I experienced inside, even as I spoke, that the quality of listening of my dialogue partners opened me up to new insights, moderating my convictions, deepening but also correcting and enriching them.” (p.70) Unity should not mean uniformity, for respectful open dialogic interaction reenforces transversal thinking. The importance of the acceptance of the fundamental reality of co-existence orients as well the chapter signed by Thomas Stuke, in “Experiencing «Otherness». On Dialogue between Christians and Marxists”. The author exploits the difficulties and possibilities of experiencing the other integrating differences of opinion into a shared view. In this endeavour, most interesting is the capitalisation upon the Lacanian approach of the ‘O/other’ opening to the identification of four kinds of communicative interactions and to the interpretation of the paramount role of silence in dialogue. There is a communication circle in (fruitful, genuine) communicative interactions, emphasizing the co-orientation of people and the co-ordination of mutual understanding in dialogical relations. This kind of genuine communication is transferred into real co-operation. (p. 76) From a Lacanian perspective, there are four ways of experiencing the other in a dialogue – superior, inferior, good or bad – these four aspects forming an interpretative matrix. Communicative interaction takes the shapes of dialogue discussion, debate or decision with the respective outcomes of co-existence, co-orientation, co-ordination and co-operation. The Other may be a Rival, a Venerable, or a feared and hatred Evil-Other, or a more manageable other (a rival, similar other, a feared other or a hatred enemy). The main outcome of communicative interaction are however empathic relationships, understanding and co-operation. These outcomes cannot be reached when someone is passively silent or actively silenced. However, the dynamics of communicative interaction should be reconsidered including contemplation and active self-assumed silence for qualitative listening, understanding and awareness (p. 85).

Definitely, the world has to be named in order to change it. Cornelia Hilderbrandt and Pál Tóth set Marxist-Christian dialogue at the foundation of a nonviolent strategy for interaction, necessary in a pluralistic world. This dialogue aims to bring closer another world a better one, which should be possible. Both Marxists and Christians welcome changes imagined “from the bottoms and margins of society”. The weakest, the “damned of this earth”, “the leftovers” are the first called into the project of emancipation. (p. 105) Both Marxists and Christians reject the idea that human beings could be treated as “consumer goods to be used and then discarded”, as the premise of Communist Manifesto underlines, “the free development of everyone is the condition for the free development of all” and dialogic interactions are to build the necessary “culture of sharing and economy of communion” (p. 106).

At stake to the future of the European Project is a process of re-thinking, L. Bekemans shows, as the process of European integration is so complex and varied in forms of intergovernmental and supranational cooperation. Pessimism vs. optimism, globalization vs. Europeanisation, such realities describe a challenging European context, best captured by the term crisis, within a generally, rapidly changing world. (p. 123) Europe is navigating a sea of hopes and fears. “The EU needs a renewed political project embedded in a long-term vision in the current era of globalisation. The increasing influence of national interests in European policy-making can only be blocked in this way, in favour of the ‘European commons’. Otherwise, faced with citizens’ growing frustration, criticism and even indifference, the danger is that the EU will become a mere union of economic interests or disintegrate into national and sub-regional entities.” (p. 135) The author highlights the importance of a mobilizing vision to inspire citizens and renew the rhetoric of the European narrative of ideals of peace, freedom and solidarity. The origin of Europe seems to function as well as purpose in Spyros Syropoulos’ view. The knowledgeable discussion of the great leaders Alexander and Philip II provide the pretext for a discussion of a historical greatness and the inherited “vision of an empire where the conquerors would not feel like conquerors and the conquered would not feel like conquered”. (p. 138) Here is a historical lesson of togetherness that overpasses antagonisms and differences. There is the legacy of a “secure central government”, of “satrapy as a basis for effective local administration”, of common currency and propagandistic power of coinage and, eventually, of a successful imagined community, formed and maintained, well before the interesting book of Benedict Anderson. (pp. 140-143) Common language and common traditions followed and the lessons of historical cultural policies meant to create solid cultural points of common reference should be revisited for a deeper understanding of the already drawn historical avenues for European unity.

Michael Löwy dedicates his chapter to the democratic destination of Europe and to the European future. Noticing a current decline of democracy, the author warns about several dangerous aspects that tend to pass undiscussed, such as the tricky non-majoritarian institutions which are not responsible to electors or elected officials, about the use of crisis as a Carl Schmittian “state of exception” (p. 151) that should excuse violations of democratic procedures and a very low level of democracy in Europe as exceptional accidents due to exceptional circumstances. Dangerous is also the fact that the governments in Europe tend to be oblivious to public protest, mass demonstrations and strikes and very attentive to the pulse of financial markets and to the opinions of such exponents, experts and representatives. The struggle for democracy should be taken more seriously, although it is increasingly a struggle against neoliberalism. The democratic, ecological and social Europe matters and this is the Europe worth fighting for, one that does not submit to onerous financial imperatives and to the fascist temptation to blame the crisis, the immigrants or the austerity policies. A Different Europe? Is it possible? Luciana Castellina indicates as well the deficit of democracy in Europe, for “intermediary bodies” (trade unions, parties, media, civil associations) ensuring greater degrees of democracy and the need for a Europe of nations, for a European citizenship with national roots, empowering Europeans as citizens entitled to “the common good called Europe” (p. 159).

“The Secular State as a Religious Necessity. An Islamic Perspective”, by Adnane Mokrani, approaches the civil and political maturity of the state from the perspective of emancipation from religious interference in democratic development. Ideology should not replace religion and religion should not replace ideology. Nowadays religion may contribute educate the good citizen and the state should be neutral to be legitimate in treating all citizens equally (p. 171). Fundamentalist governments adopted the worst of the state models – the totalitarian one. Alberto Lo Presti relates democracy, Christianity and pluralism. Democracy and political Catholicism are seen rather oppositional although many Catholic scholars have contributed to the literature on democracy. Certain theoretical views looked for the contribution of elites in democracy while others denounced the disguise of elites in democracy. Catholicism and democracy have in common lately (since Rerum Novarum) the preoccupation for the realization of the human person and the common good, concern for the limits of sovereign power and for ethical-religious pluralism: “the task of democracy is to encourage every single person (…) to represent their legitimate interests in the political community.” (p. 181)

The last part of the volume announces a future of common values. These common values are clearer in the twilight of neoliberalism, as Walter Baier shows. The ecological welfare state represents an ideal and a practical plan to exit the trap of the obsession with the maximization of profit. Profit, borders and weapons have never really saved anyone. The common grounds between Socialists and Christians are to be found in transversal dialogue on political, economic and ecological challenges. The dialogue between the Catholic social ethicist Petra Steinmair-Pösel and the Socialist philosopher Michael Brie emphasizes the jeopardized commons and the common solutions, the common Socialist and Catholic future strategies emerging from an understanding of the spiritual dimension (p. 225) and of mutual belonging in our shared home (p. 226).

The Manifesto of Hermoupolis emphasizes the importance of an economy that serves social equality, justice and ecological sustainability. Problems are to be transformed into solutions with the identification of new forms of participation, through creativity and a commitment to a universal culture of peace (p. 230). Governance in times of Covid-19 has to become a collaborative governance, shows Javier Andrés Baquero Maldonado (p. 239). People and their relationships determine the outcome of the governments and every public servant has to learn to see things through the eyes of the citizen to give more hope to people in dare times and to create a more trustworthy feeling of a human family in society. José Manuel Pureza approaches the topic of social rights and social exclusion, in the chapter titled “Three challenges to Deepen the Dialogue” (between Christians and Marxists). Alienation, individualism and poor spirituality are the challenges that, well-addressed, lead to critical thinking, solidarity and liberating spirituality that bring people together in improved dialogue and action despite their differences.

The volume concludes with “The Preferential Option for the Poor. A Key Criterion of Christian Authenticity”, a text where Pope Francis approaches the pandemic as a revealing agent for the stringent inequality ruling the world. The lessons of faith show that every Christian is meant to be an instrument of God in our common home, for care of creation, with the two main points of attention: the poor and the environment. To exit the pandemic in better shape we should place the peripheries at the centre. This is the most actual, clearest and simplest message that both Christians and Marxists could and should embrace.

Introductory note


This was the last symposium of our circle in a cycle of six symposia devoted to the discussion of ethics in cosmopolitan world society. We had selected the special theme of good governance for this workshop and the title Good Governance and Cosmopolitanism.

The headlines for the discussion of the topic of good governance were the following: What is good governance in a changing world of cosmopolitanism and globalization? What is the relation between network governance and good governance? How can we contribute to the democratization of governance within international institutions, political systems, civil society organizations and private businesses? The study group focused on the theory and practice of good governance in a historical, philosophical, managerial and international perspective.


We also elaborated additional discussions of theories and empirical sociological work about a variety of ethical problems arising in areas such as human responsibility towards the environment, international diplomacy and administrative bureaucracy. In connection with them, we continued our general discussions about democracy as a concept, its justification in jurisprudence and the relation between ethics, law and democracy. Here we also continued our general discussion on the classical theme of morality and the ethical life, in particular with emphasis on critical theory.


Indeed the study group worked also on the continued examination of the paradoxes, dilemmas and tensions in recent debates about ethical, political and social values in contemporary cosmopolitan societies, furthering the research pursued by its members over the past few years. With the papers presented in this special issue you have some examples of the content and output of these discussions. We are thankful to their participants in the working circle 3 in the Nordic Summer University for their constructive comments and contributions to the debates and work of the study circle. 

A note on the papers from the winter symposium of the Nordic Summer University held in Akureyri, Iceland, March, 1st-3rd 2013



Among the themes tackled at the symposium there was one that gained special prominence, namely the sociological study of contemporary ethics, given that different papers presented and discussed current sociological theories and empirical sociological work about practical ethical issues. This theme revolved in particular around the foundations of ethical values in today’s societies and focused upon some developments in Scandinavia, such as the Protestant ethics of the environment and the ethical challenges arising from ongoing scientific research.


Another important issue debated at the symposium was the foundation of the ethics of capitalism, in particular in relation to the current crisis of the global capitalist system. In this context we discussed the relation between ethics and economics and the possibility of developing an ethics of the common good in the capitalist system.


Further, the symposium included different papers on democracy and ethics within the context of critical political philosophy. This also extended to the debate about the relation between ethics, law and democracy, conceived from the perspective of different influential social and political philosophers.


Concerning the Arctic theme, the discussion focussed upon select aspects of the many environmental, ethical, political and legal issues facing the Arctic region today. We had in particular a discussion of the new Icelandic constitution and the challenges that Iceland faces as a member of the Arctic community.


In this special issue we have collected some of the papers from this wonderful meeting, which benefitted from intense and thought-provoking discussions. We hope that the reader will be able to feel the same enthusiasm as the participants did during the two days of presentations and discussions.

Mammonist Capitalism – Ubiquity, Immanence, Acceleration. And the Social Consequences


In this paper, I will elaborate on a conceptual sketch of nothing less than contemporary capitalism, whether we call it new capitalism, finance capitalism, flexible capitalism, or rentier capitalism, and some of its social and human consequences.


It is a bold undertaking. I put together concepts from both classical and contemporary social theory in order to develop images and conceptions of capitalism and what it does to society. I understand concepts as ”means of orientation”, as Weber (1988a, 536) defined his ideal types. Claims are on the one hand experimental or essayistic – an attempt, an outline that tries to approch this thing capitalism from different angles without enclosing it. I also will use the hyperbole – stretching descriptions, using generalizations. Brief, a reflection, an essay, certainly not founded on extensive research but on interest and extensions of other things I did. Hopefully, thus, the presentation will be a point of departure for an interesting discussion.


Some key concepts will be Mammonism, acceleration, ubiquity, self-dynamics, precariat, inertia, conformity, flexibility, specter of uselessness.


Among others, I will refer to classical modern thinkers like Marx, Simmel, Musil, Benjamin, and to contemporary ideas in the works of Deleuze, Rosa, Crouch, Illouz, Standing, Hochschild.







In his famous short essay on ”capitalism as religion”, Benjamin called capitalism a ”cult”, if not the cult, of modern culture. We all belong to it, and for all the differentiations it leads to, it also means a belonging – to which we cannot say no. Capitalism saturates and structures society and mentalities. It provides life with meaning – or it substitutes meaning for capitalist values and objectives. Capitalism also is the object of worship, the profit being its core ”ornament”.


Weber did not conceive of capitalism as a religion, not even a ”secular religion” (Voegelin 1993). But this prime manifestation of rationality, of the processes of rationalization which run through history and shape it, had one of its origins in religion – that is, in a most irrational phenomenon, if we limit rationalization to instrumental or goal-oriented rationalization.


Simmel talked less of capitalism and more of money – what we do with money and what money does to us. Money is an awesome instrument with which you may destroy and construct anything – ”creative destruction” in Schumpeter’s (1942) words.


But money emancipated itself from the mere function of an instrument a long time ago. It regulates life, it deprives everything of its inner value and attach to it an alien, quantitative value and so reduces everything to one and the same level. On the marketplace, everthing becomes a commodity, whether we talk of material goods, services, thoughts, bodies, competences, subjectivities. And money, according to Simmel (1999, 17), emerges as divinity: the Mammonism of modern, capitalist society.


Religion, says philosopher Hermann Lübbe (1975, 177), is first and foremost a ”praxis of coping with contingency”. Obviously, this would be a core definition of capitalism as well. Not the invalidation of contingency, but its optimal exploitation.







Capitalism and money replace society, community, religion. And they replace or at least define time. ”Time is money”, Benjamin Franklin wrote – a modern, quantifiable answer to that eternal question what is time. And inversely: ”money is time”, writes Samuel Weber (2009).


Time, especially when expressed through speed and acceleration, is a core element in contemporary capitalism, whether we talk of the productive or the non-productive, financial capitalism.


Trade with shares and other sophisticated, esoteric securities – funny label – are chiefly made by computers. Algorithms are the core component in selling and buying – not human decisions. The quicker the reactions, the more likely the profit; the closer the location of the computer to the main servers, the more milliseconds to gain. Average time of retaining shares has imploded to less than half a minute. (Who, then, is the owner of companies? Who is responsible for their business?) Wall Street rather employs mathematicians than financial analysts. Time is money. And the more resources, the more time to gain.


Since the financial crisis some five years ago, a financial crisis largely provoked by computers and algorithms, a number of studies have been made on this ”doomsday machine” (Lewis 2011), this ”monster” (Hudson 2010), which is financial capitalism. Frank Schirrmacher (2013) talks of the financial markets as a ”cyberwar” where players are predominantly machines and man himself has become an egoistic, narcissist machine nourished by self-interest, anxiety, distrust (bellum omnium contra omnes – also a core characteristic of Tönnies’ Gesellschaft). To understand this reality, a mere rational choice theory would do. In fact, Schirrmacher says, the influence of rational choice theories and of game theories have brought forward this new anthropological form which we call homo economicus. They are, like any other theory, especially economic theories, performative, are, in the words of Donald MacKenzie (2006, ), ”engines”, not ”cameras”. However, they change not just man, but the entire world: the world as ”arithmetical problem” (Simmel 1989, 612).


(Man becoming a machine…: he is attracted to machines since he resembles them, envies them, worships them – the machine as fetish. And: machines invade him, literally – drugs regulate his moods, communication devices govern his attention, channel his thoughts.)


German sociologist Hartmut Rosa (2003, 2006) talks of that ”acceleration” which is characteristic of a global and globalizing ”high-speed society”. Acceleration defines virtually all segments of society, but emerges as most significant in and through technology. Technology in turn, especially information and communication technology, penetrates and saturates social structures and individual lifeworlds – and occasionally invades or replaces subjectivity, ”the human factor”. Identity, Rosa says, becomes ”situative”, and actions are characterized by ”reactive situativity”. Brief, identity defined in subsequent situations and moments, actions being immediate responses to situations; identity, action and situation as elements of an immanent game without past and future.


Some variations of Rosa’s elaboration would be:


In his discussion on flexible capitalism, Richard Sennett (1998) portrays a fragmented, ”corroded” social character, by nature slow, now facing swift, permanent, uncontrolled and uncontrollable technological and organizational transformation that shapes a life in ”episodes”.


Philosopher Odo Marquard (1987, 126) side immediately with Rosa. Modernity is not merely permanent transformation, but permanently ”accelerated transformation”; accordingly the ”rate of obsolescence” increases. Acceleration has become the ”usance of modernity”, a modern commonplace.


Korean media theorist Han (2012), in turn, talks of ”hyperacceleration”: productivity and communication occur far beyond their ‘own’, ‘original’ goals and consist of ”hyper-productivity” and ”hyper-communication”. On an ordinary human level, uncontrolled behaviour in the form of ”hyper-activity” is a common characteristic. We may receive medical treatment for that. What about society?


Acceleration appears as a modern, contemporary category. Austrian novelist Robert Musil (1978, 402) conceived of it as ideal and ideology too as he talked of the ”accelerism” which characterized especially economic life. An ideology that promotes oblivion and undermines memory, cultural as well as individual.


Back in 1848, Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto stated that modernity turns everything that used to be solid into air.







Does acceleration move in a linear direction, does it mean progress? If we mean technological, logistical progress – obviously. With regard to other aspects of life – not necessarily. With regard to some issues, for instance climate – no.


Contemporary society and capitalism take place in what appears as an eternal present. Bauman and others have varied this fundamentally aesthetic view. Activities lack collective direction. They lack origin. They occur, they happen, the entire society is in permanent movement, a mobile society where social and economic and financial mobility is praised. An endless process of trial and error, an eternal and changing loop, a ”blind flight”, as Norbert Bolz (2005) writes.


Time not as linear, not as evolution and not as cycles, but in the shape of a expanding and contracting ”sphere”. (Bernd Alois Zimmermann) A sphere that contains, that consists of, that expresses emergences and disappearences, immense manifoldness and multiple movements. A sphere constituted by the simultaneousness of differences and of differerent times. (Cf. Koselleck [1992, 323ff] and Blumenberg [1986, 249]: Gleichzeitigkeit des Unglichzeitigen.) A temporal expression of Durkheim’s anomie.


Ivor Southwood (2011) discusses this state of contemporary capitalism with regards to individuals on the job market. The individual is constantly on the move. Navigating in a world of ”unknown unknowns” (Rumsfeld), he or she is working (at best) and simultaneously working for labour (more job, other job, securing job).  It’s a 24/7 activity, a hyper-activity – a ”non-stop inertia”, Southwood writes, a furious standstill, in the words of Paul Virilio (1999) a ”polar inertia” (cf. Rosa). Immobility is for those socially excluded only.


Individuals on the flexible labour market have to achieve this and that simultaneously, have to be proactive, to be able to ”let go”, have to live ”on the edge” (Sennett 1998). And capitalism and its transforming logics are present everywhere, all the time – un unstoppable chain reaction of the same and of differentiations. The ubiquity of capitalism.




Sovereignty, autonomy, self-sufficiency



Capitalism emerges as the perhaps most viable institution in world history. No institution has changed society that much, no institution has proven so able to adapt to new circumstances (those circumstances that capitalism itself brings forth). The entire classical sociology agreed on this. And was itself a response to the transformation which capitalism generated.


Classical sociology observed how capitalism was not merely an instrument in the hands of capitalists, but a force in itself, instrumentalizing the capitalists, for whom only the exploitation of the workers remained.


Simmel (1996) developed the dual notion of ”objective culture” and ”subjective culture”. Man created money, machines, laws etcetera in order to regulate and facilitate life. Yet money and machines tended to emancipate themselves from their creators. They developed a life on their own, manifested a self-dynamics, gained autonomy and sovereignty. Man was subordinated under his own creations – ”isolated”, ”alienated” (1996, 405). Simmel spoke of ”the tragedy of culture”.


After Simmel, who might not have been first, we have seen many conceptual variations of this theme. Simultaneously, experiences of the self-dynamics of institutions grow.


The most suggestive expression today might be the banking system. Banks are absolutely necessary and relevant for the system, we are told. Without them, the system fails – society, economy, family…


The financial and economic crisis in 2008 meant not the collaps of banks (except for the very worst), but their momentum. Colin Crouch (2011) speaks of their survival and in general of the ”strange non-death of neo-liberalism”. Banks and global enterprises under neo-liberalism are less interested in free markets and more in dominance and support. And in that very ideology which tells us they are necessary. It is an ideology that makes it possible to exploit states and tax payers and borrowers. Banks embrace states, states embrace banks – which in turn generate ever larger profits (the states taking the losses). Banks are at the heart of that financial capitalism which is non-productive.


Politics grant bad banks financial support. Power and responsibility are separated: banks make profits, tax-payers take the losses, there are the fortunate ones and those plagued with misfortune. Protests have been occasionally fervent, bu no cause for alarm. Foucault (2003) might explain. He writes about the nature of sovereign power: it is not essentially brought forward from above, but from below, by the subordinated, those who fear for their lives, their well-being. They manifest a ”radical will to life” just as the child does to its mother.


Money (banks, financial or rentier capitalism): ”a creative, specialised manifestation of violence”, Musil (1978, 508) wrote, emancipated from society, community, those 99 per cent of the individuals.


And too big to fail. There is no alternative – TINA. An insult to reason, to imagination.




Precarious life



A new social class is emerging, writes Guy Standing (2011): the precariat. It is described also by for instance Richard Sennett, Arlie Russel Hochschild, Saskia Sassen and Barbara Ehrenreich.


The precariat is swelling, differentiated and universal. It is populated by people coming from the dwindling middle class, from the working class and from the remainder – ”the outer class”, which Bill Clinton spoke of, Lumpenproletariat in Marx’ vocabulary, in the Weimar Republic the Luftmenschen, scattered characters living from this and that. It consists of people who have jobs and who may have lost them soon, and of people who have no jobs and weak prospects. Of the internship generation and the post-crash generation. Of the digital bohemians. Of people who are haunted by what Sennett (2005) calls ”the specter of uselessness”. Of people in permanent suspense. Of people accustomed to continuous availability and persistent debt (study loans, mortgages). They find themselves responsible for their own life but have insufficient means to govern this life.


Competition is sleepless and restless, fierce and global, right down to the simplest business. (On competition as permanent state, see Simmel 1995 and Rosa 2006.) Decisions about existing and potential positions are taken elsewhere. Labour hiring companies, providers of HR solutions are the specialists in managing that contingency which is flexibility (they may have peculiar names, for instance CoCo Job Touristik GmbH). They manifest contemporary labour life as ”space of flows” (Castells 2000) or it’s ”non-place” character (Augé 1995): work disembodied from local and geographical context and meaning and rather a matter of functional, contingent networks (shopping malls, internet retailers).


Precarious people have but insufficient means to master flexibility’s permanent instability. The salariat, in turn, the well-paid managers, professors and government officers, lives off flexibility and knows how to manage their lives and hearts; they also manage the precariat and its hearts, its habits. The elite, the upper one per cent, the oligarchs, is emancipated from social realities. Their conspicuous wealth is created out of wealth and smartness. Reality is abstracted and emerges as investment options.


”Rage” is growing, writes Peter Sloterdijk (2009). It grows with uncertainty, with increased ”unknown unknowns”. It may or it may not have obvious reasons, but the potential is massive. Spain and Greece, London and Paris have seen rage in different forms, some emptied of all meaning and legitimacy, but most expressing protest or despair of citizens threatened to become ”denizens” (Standing 2011).


The Occupy movement exists no more, but the context that brought it forth has changed little.


Where is the tipping point? Is there a tipping point?




Human optimization



A century ago, Max Weber (1998b, 521) described modern man as ”not an integrated human being but a combination of singular useful and functional qualities”.


His description easily fits as ideal and ideology today. Optimization is required everywhere – swift, complete, compliant, life-long, reactive, proactive optimization. (Makropoulos 2002) And possibly happy – ”smile or die” is our recurrent daily ultimatum, writes Ehrenreich (2010).


Optimization concerns individuals, concerns organizations, concerns markets, concerns societies (which turn in to markets). The functional, adaptive, compatible network is the general form. Man, organization, market, society and further products and consumers constitute unimpaired continua.


Niklas Luhmann (197) writes about what he calls the most significant social quality or competence today: ”connectivity”. We relentlessly re-apply for jobs, demonstrating our employability and our compatibility (to men and to machines); we persistently re-apply for social roles, adapt to social settings, using our ”radar” (Riesman 1950).


Gilles Deleuze (1990) develops the image of the dividual: a contemporary human form divided into different parts, functions, segments and optimized for different roles and settings. For multi-tasking. The disciplinary individual, of which Foucault talked, was a specialized, discontinuous producer whereas the dividual is ”undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network”. Contemporary man prefers ”surfing” rather than isolated, specialized sports, writes Deleuze (1990, 244).


No project is forever; any time is the time to move on.


To be undulatory, to adapt – to be conform. The large majority stay there. Some reside at the front edge of conformity. They are not the avantgarde, just hyper-active, hyper-functional, being the fittest and possessing the strongest impulses for survival. Those who are up for a career must be cunning cutting-edge conformists.


One indispensable quality in the optimization of individuals regards the competence to control and deploy emotions in the presentation of self and the management of impressions of the other. Eva Illouz (2007) and Arlie Hochschild (2011, 1983) discuss how emotions have become not merely elements in consumption and marketing, but a force of production to the extent that we may talk of capitalism as emotional capitalism, as capitalist emotionalization, especially in the service industry. Emotions become technically reproducible, varied, enhanced (Benjamin); they are no longer the adversary of reason and rationality, but their manifestation in the age of technology. Just as there are social and economic forms of capital, there is emotional capital, which may be individual or organizational. Emotional capitalism, capitalist emotionalization: manifestations of the collapse of the frontiers between private and public (labour life), manifestations of intimacy as means of optimization.


The classical modern assembly line produced material goods. It manifested standardization, routines, repetition, fragmentation, simplicity, and looked just about the same in Detroit, in Stalin’s factories and in the handbooks of the management schools.


A century later, an assembly line 2.0 has appeared, populated by the well-educated and continuously upgraded information engineers, project coordinators, symbolic analysts, and communicators, and below them the simple office executors. They are all functionaries absorbed in abstract processes and systems. Expected and actual results are blurred and replaced by evaluations. Informality (Informalism) is natural. Each and everyone has to be reachable anytime, everyone is armed with smartphone and laptop. Everything is temporary and everything that has been done can be, ought to be, will be made undone. The new assembly line: information processing and partial implementations, imperfection, dependence and ambiguous origins and goals, all of it ”lean”, naturally. Marx would have recognized it all: the executors of ”virtualism” (Crawford 2009) constitute a progressive derivative of the alienated working class.




Democracy, post-democracy, society, post-society…



At the end of these sweeping, uncompromising conceptual generalizations – a few questions.


How will society be possible when characterized, constituted by accelerism and fierce, increasing competition (individual, organizational, national)?


How will vast unemployment, insecure labour markets, and generational cleavages affect solidarity?


What are the alternatives when markets invade and replace politics and the public sphere?


What are the possibilities of civil society? (Perhaps a question most interesting in societies where previously a strong welfare state had marginalized civil society, and now neo-liberalism assumes this dominating role. I think of Sweden, for instance.)


How may individual lives hold together when torn to pieces by availability, employability, competition, flexibility? Relations, families?


What do political alternatives, alternative politics look like when established parties, from leftist to conservative parties, all embrace privatization, deregulation and new public management as both ideology and practical solution? When politics emancipate itself from responsibility and transfer it to enterprises and consultancies – none of which can be accused for having anything to do with democracy? Or when decision making actually becomes so complex that outlines of future societies are impossible?


What is, accordingly, the meaning of democracy, when alternatives are blurred, power diffused and responsibilities outsourced? What’s there to vote for? Are we entering a ”post-democratic” society? (Crouch 2004) What would be new forms of democracy – forms which would attract the interest of the 99 per cent.





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