Localism According to Korab-Karpowicz

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Tractatus Politico-Philosophicus. W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz. Kęty: Marek Derewiecki, 2015.


Tractatus Politico-Philosophicus (Political-Philosophical Treatise), the new book by W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, could be entitled Localism and Philosophy. [1] This is because the book offers a comprehensive philosophical alternative to the one-way logic of globalization and the neoliberal consensus that combines the ideology of the new left with corporate interests. One may call this philosophical approach, as I often do in my own analyses, “localism.” Korab-Karpowicz’s book, for me, is particularly valuable since it appears in the rare moment when this new approach to politics is still not theoretically mature, at least not in Europe, and often becomes rejected as crude populism.

An Audacious Philosopher

At least since the 1970’s, there were few real philosophical treatises in Western political thought, both in its conservative and progressive guise. Progressives sink their philosophy in the mire of intertextuality and conservatives in obscure antiquarianism. What both these camps have in common is the belief that academic political philosophy is sterile and incapable of generating comprehensive general treatises on politics.

In this land of “hollowed men” Korab-Karpowicz acts as if he were the proverbial “Poor Richard” from Franklin’s Almanac. He simply takes his philosophical “plough” and toils the dry soil of our concepts. He acts with complete freshness, almost as if he were a young novice to his discipline and politics in general, which he is not. Professor Korab-Karpowicz graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Oxford and apart from the academy has had a successful career in municipal authorities, diplomacy and business. As an academic he has worked and lectured in many countries including the USA, Korea and Turkey. Currently, he divides his time between Dubai and Warsaw. He has also recently published a comprehensive academic study in the history of philosophy entitled: On the History of Political Philosophy.[2]

These experiences helped Korab-Karpowicz find the confidence many other thinkers have lost. He simply rejects the status of an academic expert and just like Socrates, starts by asking simple maieutic questions. He looks for answers with only scant referencing.

With provocative sincerity Korab-Karpowicz admits that his “special thanks are due to all of the authors who have contributed to the development of political philosophy.” And in the same sentence he lists absolute classics such as Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hugo Grotius, and John Locke, as well as Confucius and Al-Farabi.” (p. 7) Later his work becomes even more interesting when the author freely admits that he is also grateful to “the thinkers with whom he does not fully agree, but a debate with whom has shaped his views.” And “these are Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes and Hans Morgenthau.” (p.8)

And among his compatriots the Polish thinker gives special credit to “Bronislaw Malinowski, Feliks Koneczny and Slanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.” This last name is particularly noteworthy since it belongs to a brilliant artist and writer known for his rampant individualism, audaciousness, independence and self- confidence[3]. All those traits are clearly visible also in Korab-Karpowicz’s writing. An American reader could perhaps compare this type of philosophising to Emerson’s essays, especially the American Scholar.

Just like Witkacy (the pen name of S.I. Witkiewicz) or Emerson, Korab-Karpowicz also has no intentions to bore his readers with detailed reference and antiquarian debates. He goes straight to the philosophical crux of the issue, he simply and openly starts by laying sown his theory of the good state and the just society. From those basic Platonic insights, the treatise evolves in the direction of complicated issues such as globalization and religion in politics. All this is offered in a simple, lucid form of numbered theses that creates a hierarchical structure clearly modelled after the famous treatises of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The text is also bilingual, Polish on the left, and English on the right.

Such an open and bold method of philosophising will surely raise some eyebrows, and some readers and colleagues may even accuse the author of being megalomaniac. But I actually suspect that baffling his reader is the author’s full intention. Korab-Karpowicz is a truly audacious philosopher-artist, a gadfly, which wants to wake his readers from their postmodern slumber. He wants to show them how much they have grown accustomed to using other persons’ thoughts. Readers simply can no longer imagine a book on philosophy simply, rather than on the philosophy of Hobbes, Aristotle, Machiavelli or Plato.

A Localist Manifesto

But how can one be sure that this philosopher is not simply detached from reality? That he does not feign originality on par with the classics with no justification? There is no simple answer to this question; it is history that ultimately separates the philosophy from the madness. However, it is my contention that even if history will not make Korab-Karpowicz famous, it will admit that he indeed was a part of something larger than his own, short treatise. This something is a philosophical critique of the neoliberal globalism or postmodernity with a clear separation of this critique from the old ideologies of Marxism, Fascism or narrowly construed conservatism.  At the same time, unlike the Alasdair McIntyre and other communitarians, Korab-Karpowicz does not abandon the international level of political theory and strives to adumbrate a new “localist” global order.

The treatise, in short, attempts to move beyond the opposition between the old ideologies and the postmodern “tower of Babel.” It tries to find a new platonic answer to the age old question of the “good state.”

Of course in this search one is bound to come across many banalities and dead ends. For instance, I am still not convinced that the philosopher is consistent in his use of the terms like “culture”, “epoch” and “civilization.” Similarly, the connection between Feliks Koneczny[4] and Samuel Huntington is probably not established with enough clarity. In spite of those shortcomings, however, for me the greatest value of the book is its ability to help me in defining new phenomena that are still in statu nascendi. In my own essayistic work, for instance, I have developed the concept of “localism” and “globalism” as the two political camps which in modern global politics may soon supersede the traditional “left” and “right” wing.[5] However, what I have missed in my work is a good theoretical model of what “localism” is at a less intuitive and more theoretical level. For that matter, what should and could “localism” be at a normative level? How can the current anti-globalist impulses be refined and put to good political use?   Now I have found many valuable guidelines in Korab-Karpowicz’s book.

What is especially praiseworthy is the fact that the author valiantly strives to distinguish his philosophical localism from the primitive xenophobia, essentialism and excessively cynical realism (thesis 5.42, p. 90). What Korab-Karpowicz takes as a given is that although humans need to show solidarity in the face of global challenges they also need to be able to pursue different avenues leading to their vision of the “good life” in their smaller and larger communities.

In this respect I am inclined to point to the central importance of thesis 9.53 (p. 204) that is preceded by an evaluation of both Marxian political criticism and the postmodern individualism. In short, this critique consists in the observation that although Marxism was right to see economic exploitation as threat to liberty and postmodernity was right in observing that liberty requires diversity, they both missed something.  Both critical theorists with their class-oriented approach and the postmodernists with their individualism missed the importance of nations, states and cultures both as a source of global diversity and solidarity.

In contrast, thesis 9.53 states openly:

Human beings can fully develop and reach happiness in conditions of freedom and the diversity ensuing from freedom. The multiplicity of countries and cultures should be preserved. An imposed uniformity is contradictory to humanity’s yearning for development (p. 204).

The State of Korab-Karpowicz

But is politics always about choosing the lesser evils and always sacrificing one form of diversity or liberty in favour of another?  A philosopher’s response to such a question can only consist in adding further “footnotes”[6] (as Whitehead famously puts it) to Plato.  A philosopher needs to propose a model of the “city in speech” and although it cannot be immanentized, it serves as a signpost for politics.

What is the perfect “city” in Korab-Karpowicz’s speech? Firstly, it is not monadic and closed. It resembles the classic nation-state but it also understands the need to cooperate internationally. It forswears the modernistic militarism and despotic “Byzantism” (See p. 101). It strives for peace among religions and civilizations. If it conducts wars, they are not total conflicts and remain defensive in nature. At the same its leaders understand that every country is a part of the global system and such a system cannot be based on pure consent and equality. If fact, the global system has always been, up to point, hegemonic. However, the state expects the hegemon to be “decent” and rule based on ”moral authority”, “ideas and values” rather than just “hard power” (thesis 9.832, p. 212).

Internally the state, however, understand that it owes its stability to a consensus about what Korab-Karpowicz dubs “nativeculturalism” (p. 184).  This means that the dominant culture shapes politics and its symbols but just like the global hegemon in international politics, the state needs to leave some room for tolerance and divergent life choices (within the confines of the common good). Nevertheless, what Korab-Karpowicz rejects is treating the dominant culture as a whipping boy and substituting it with a bland, sterile relativism. As thesis 7.6232 states, the goal of such actions is often “the reduction of human beings to the same kind of individuals, motivated only by primitive lust”. Moreover, modern global business elites, sadly, welcome this process. As Korab-Karpowicz states “such [motivated only by lust] individuals make ideal consumers, whether for commercial goods or for sex, and are at the same time (as persons deprived of higher values, such as virtues), easy to manipulate to instigate to quarrel” (p. 156).

The ideal state also sees the need for active protection from poverty. According to Korab-Karpowicz this, nevertheless, should not be achieved through typical bureaucratic redistribution but through ensuring that all citizens have access to capital. He is, therefore, clearly influenced by Louis Kelso’s concept[7] of binary economics. The aim seems to be to turn as many ordinary citizens into entrepreneurs as possible.  At the same time the ideal society of Korab-Karpowicz preserves class division, however, as in the case of Aristotle’s philosophy, those divisions are a result of different virtues (or life’s aims), not cast-like reproduction. As for religion, the state understands that “the removal of religion from public life leads to an impoverishment of the public sphere” (p. 156). However, the state also rejects fanaticism and intolerance.

The philosopher puts forward difficult theses that seem justified in the light of the collapse of Arab Spring and its aftermath, especially the tragedy of Syria and the migration crisis. In the manner of Samuel Huntington, Korab-Karpowicz claims that there are cases in which a civilizational divide within the country may make dictatorship the “only way to make cooperation possible.” This is because, as thesis 10.753 states: “a dictatorship that is tolerant of cultural diversity, or an authoritarian government whose purpose is to ensure social peace, is a better regime than an illusory democracy riven by civilizational conflict that ends in civil war” (p. 234).  As for procedural democracy, although it is a desirable form of government for Korab-Karpowicz, it can exist only when combined with civic education and an agreement on the fundamental elements of political culture.

The Reality of Idealism

But can the ideal state of Korab- Karpowicz come into existence? The authors himself admits there are some limits to the reality of this idealism and those are imposed by globalization. In the theses 8.89-8.9 he makes the following statements:

8.89 The process of globalization cannot be stopped. It is inevitable that we will live in an increasingly interconnected world.

8.891 What can be avoided is the presentation of globalization and the ideas of postmodernity as positive normative values.

8.9 To solve contemporary problems creatively and to go beyond post-modernity, humanity needs to return to the tradition of classical rationality.

One may argue that some of the above theses seem too banal and the analysis is too concise for a topic so vast. Nevertheless, big ideas need to be put into a concise form if they are to reach many readers and thus make a significant impact. Without a doubt Korab-Karpowicz can feel that something new is taking shape in the world of politics. And it seems that he wants to be a part of it. He realizes that neoliberalism is losing its ground and it is becoming substituted by a multifaceted localism. At the same time the localist backlash still lacks self-consciousness and philosophical refinement. Korab-Karpowicz seems to want to produce that refinement and draw a clear line between his normative concepts and an old-style collectivistic attack on liberal democracy.

In order to do that the philosopher presents his own vision of the internal and international political order. He also makes sure that this order moves beyond parochialism and narrowmindedness. He is well aware that “global solidarity results from the existence of brotherhood among people and is an expression of unity arising from diversity” (thesis 5.64, p. 110).

It is also hard not to notice that Korab-Karpowicz remains a Polish patriot but his patriotism is intellectually mature. It is fixed more to a set of ideas than to a specific territory, although, it does not completely abandon the notion of a nation state as an entity tied to a specific land and embedded in a specific network of local communities.

Certain individuals, as Korab Karpowcz rightly notices, may become cosmopolitan and choose to „forsake family and safety, and embrace solitude, adventure, and risk to reach their goals.” But although “solitude, adventure and risk can, indeed, become a private life for some people,” “a sustainable life cannot be built on them” (thesis 5.6621, p. 106). Needless to say, the main problem with the globalized world and postmodernity is that it seems to assume that humankind will embrace precisely that unsustainable model of life. The whole global economy and, increasingly, global politics is predicated on the assumption that we humans can and will become increasingly flexible, willing to give up old ties and open themselves to new experiences as well as welcome droves of new persons amidst their communities.

Simple Aristotelian logic will hint that although becoming more flexible and open may be a positive thing for some people, some of the time, there must also be a natural limit to this process. Unfortunately, the practise of (post)modern life seems to not to accept this conclusion. Hence (post)modern life is, as Korab-Karpowicz acknowledges, a source of suffering in which, for all their personal and ideological differences[8], he seems to share the fundamental insights of Zygmunt Bauman.[9]

Of course not all of Korab-Karpowicz’s solutions are consistent. But as one looks at the new political movements and candidates cropping up in the developed world, from the Polish Kukiz Movement or Spanish Podemos to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, one cannot help but think that the new global politics that is taking shape before our very eyes will be much akin to this philosopher’s ideas.

Karl Marx’s Manifesto, which was also put into a concise and simple form, has ultimately failed to create an alternative to the liberal and neoliberal globalization.  Neoliberalism has with all probability reached an anthropological limit it cannot breach without completely altering human nature. Humans cannot be feasibly expected to be any more flexible, open or mobile, and pushing them to the limits of their tolerance will result in more violent extremism. Let us hope that there is a better future, that as Korab-Karpowicz puts it: “we were not born here on Earth to become consumers or militants” (thesis 7.76, p. 160).



[1] The following review is based on a Polish-language review I have written for Nowa Konfederacja, an internet magazine. See Michal Kuz. “Localizm wegłu Korab-Karpowicza”. Nowa Konfederacja 5 (71)/2016, http://www.nowakonfederacja.pl/lokalizm-wedlug-koraba-karpowicza/   (Accessed: August 24, 2016).

[2] W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz. On the History of Political Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2012.

[3] See Daniel Gerould. Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz as an Imaginative Writer. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.

[4] See Felikst Koneczny. On the Plurality of Civilizations. Forward by Arnold Toynbee. London: Polonica Publications, 1962.

[5] Michał Kuź. “Globaliści vs. lokaliści”.  Nowa Konfederacja 3 (57)/2015, http://www.nowakonfederacja.pl/globalisci-vs-lokalisci/ (Accessed: August 24, 2016).

[6]Alfred North Whitehead. Process and Reality. New York: Free Press, 1979, p. 39.

[7] Louis O. Kelso. Democracy and Economic Power: Extending the ESOP Revolution through Binary Economics. Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Pub., 1986.  

[8] Bauman admitted that in his youth he served in the communist military intelligence service (the ill-famed KBW) in Poland, while Korab-Karpowicz’s family was persecuted by the regime. Later Bauman’s philosophical ideas became favoured by authors and activists associated with the new left, while Korab-Karpowicz’s readers tend to be situated on the right.  See Aida Edemariam, “Professor with a past”, The Guardian, April 28, 2007, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/apr/28/academicexperts.highereducation (Accessed: August 24. 2016).

[9] See Zygmunt Bauman. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity, 2000.

Michal Kuz

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Michal Kuz works at Lazarski University in Poland.