On our way to the Language of Liberty campsite in Sulejow, Poland, we were told that religion is the greatest antidote to government power. Our guide, Konrad, is from the Polish-American Foundation for Economic Research Education (PAFERE). He was kind enough to take us on the hour-long bus ride from the industrial city of Lodz (pop. 780,000) to Sulejow, a tiny town surrounded by farms and forests.
Konrad told us that Catholicism is what keeps the people of Poland together. He said, the government is afraid of the church, because the church is more powerful than the government. Later, at the camp, we had a beer with a Polish businessman who was here to give a guest lecture on entrepreneurship. He agreed with Konrad. “Even if you don’t believe in God,” he said, “the Ten Commandments give us values. There is a God-value in life, and it is separate from government.”
The Catholicism of the Polish students is interesting. The Catholic Church almost acts like a government itself, yet unlike governments, membership in the Church is voluntary. In a sense, there is competition in Poland between the Church and the State. Almost everyone in Poland is Catholic, thus giving the church great power and influence. Because of this, the church and its members keep government power in check. Even the most skeptical agnostic and atheist libertarians might see some value in this.
This division of power is not a new concept for Poland. For nearly 1,000 years, the Catholic Church, royalty (government), and szlachta (nobility/property owners) were powerful political forces in Poland. Poland has spent much of its history fighting off larger neighboring powers. When the people weren’t being terrorized by Russia, they were being brutalized by Germany. The only constant throughout all of this was the Catholic Church. One student said, “When the communists ruled Poland, the Catholic Church was the center of the resistance. The priests were leaders of the resistance and the churches were the meeting places.”
The communists were fearful of the Catholic Church of its power. When I asked why the communists didn’t abolish the Church, another student smiled and said, “Abolishing the religion was impossible, everyone in the country was a Catholic and you can’t do that.”
Many priests and resistance members were killed by the communists, but the resistance movement was too big to eradicate. The Catholic Church was the main force behind the Solidarity movement and Pope John Paul II (born in Poland) was a huge supporter of Solidarity. The businessman who lived under communist rule in Poland said, “When the Pope visits, it gave us much hope for the Solidarity movement.”
The result of this history is a unique Polish brand of libertarianism. The Polish students at the Sulejow Language of Liberty camp are largely anti-government and believe in the liberating power of capitalism. Unlike the students in Portugal, these students are not interested in political careers. They’re interested in entrepreneurship. They’re interested in money as a medium that improves exchange and thus their lives and their country’s place in the world. Their voluntary membership in the Catholic Church is not only for religious guidance, but also an organization that will resist oppressive and tyrannical government.