Homo seriosus and homo rhetoricus in the political discourse
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Homo seriosus and homo rhetoricus in the political discourse

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Homo seriosus and homo rhetoricus in the political discourse. The argumentative strategies of janusz palikot and his opponents.

Oliwia Tarasewicz-Gryt
College of Management „Edukacja”, Wrocław

This article is an analysis of rhetorical and eristic mechanisms in the addresses of an MP, Janusz Palikot, and his opponents – the politicians from the circle of politicians from PiS. The political discourse is in nature rhetorical, although the PiS politicians do their argumentation in such a way that it should remind the “serious” discourse, referring to the highest values, norms and obligations. At the same time they ruthlessly attack their enemies, most often with help of eristic measures. Their way of speaking reminds of “the rhetoric of hatred”. The attitude of PiS politicians is described here as a strategy of homo seriosus. MP Palikot openly manifests his rhetoricy and the distance to reality – as homo rhetoricus. After looking through the part of the spectacular speeches of the politician, one can find there some kind of coherence and show how with using rhetorical argumentation of a fortiori he tries to suggest the audience some irregularities in the conduct and the way of communication of PiS politicians. The analyzed statements are taken from the Polish media and from Janusz Polycot’s blog, which is understood here as a special case of political statement in the area of political discourse, because it shifts in unusual way the border of what one can say in public.

The political discourse is inseparable connected with the rhetoricy and the pondering about the rhetoric of political discourse is accompanied from some time with a reflection on the level of this discourse. From the side of commentators, politicians and journalists there are some accusations of lowering the standards of the debate. In 2009 most often the addressee was a MP of Platforma Obywatelska of that time, Janusz Palikot and after his leaving PO, from 2011 – the leader of Ruch Palikota (Palikot’s Movement). The following concerns mostly his discussions in 2009 with the Prawo I Sprawiedliwość. In the last part the author elaborates also his actual way of political Communications. Janusz Palikot claims that he is only adjusting to the standards. While answering the charges of Jan Rokita concerning giving the Polish politics an „infantile bottom” – the states, using the same Gombrowicz style as the attacker:

„(…) I am the effect, not the cause. I am the very effect of the nonfeasance in the building politics of i.a. Jan Rokita and the gaggling elite who were reddening at the smell of the fart let go out in the main hall but instead of putting the redneck out the door – they invited him to sit on the couch. (Palikot 2009).

The analysis fund below of Palikot’s rhetoric and argumentation is a trial of solving the problem if “palikotization” of the public debate, “feigned politics” or, as claims Paweł Śpiewak (2009) the politics based on media attractive “image events”, on negative campaigns and mutual accusation is characteristic only to the first decade of XXI century and if the creator, an MP from Lublin, of such a reality is really exceptionally well media-visible, staging spectator’s attractive plays. In search of the answer we will analyze, despite of chosen speeches and statements of PO politician, also the strategies used by his opponents – the politicians from Prawo I Sprawiedliwość. Their chosen leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, the Polish president Lech Kaczyński and one MP, Marek Migalski. The Kaczynski brothers appear in the statements of Palikot on a regular basis and Marek Migalski decided that on his blog he will be polemizing with his articles and ideas and these facts substantiate my thesis.


The authors of the paper called Rytualny chaos – studium dyskursu publicznego (Czyżewski, Kowalski, Piotrowski 1997: 34-36) claim that the political discourse was once a discussion intended to convince the opponent. Its background was created by such values as objective truth, right or goodness. It should then lead to the agreement (consensus) and from three described by Cicero duties of the speaker the first one was the belief (probare) gained with help of ad fi dem arguments. This kind of discourse was changed (as changed the media, especially the television with its journalism) and lead to its ritualization. The discussion became something like a spectacle played for the listeners, in which every of the players speak his parts independently on the argumentation of the opponent.

The sides demand the right to only one truth and the final right. The arguments are worn out and they have no persuasive power whatsoever and instead of a discussion, as claim the authors of the study, we have the “expression of identity” – a situation when everybody has their right and don’t bother to change the position. Instead of an agreement or convincing the opponent the rivals aim at reaching the global audience. They want to have a non-critical reply on the slogan in place of the critical evaluation of the arguments, Amongst three of the ciceronian duties of the „speaker” the most import ant are now delectare and flectere, which goal is to evoke the interest of the media and use them as a middle way to the broader circle of listeners and “moving” them what is easiest to achieve by the provocation.

By organizing political happenings when he throws a pig’s head on the table or waves with a rubber dildo, Janusz Palikot seeks recognition in the public and not in his own argumentation. The real arguments needed to persuading by justification his own ideas are used in the Parliament or on his internet blog (twice published in form of a book). According to Marek Czyżewski the characteristic background for the contemporary political discourse of the “discussion” are no more the values but the “ritual chaos”, relevance, lack of the superior value. If nobody even tries to convert the dissensus in the consensus the most important thing is the interest of the media and this is easily achieved by some spectacular actions.

One can suppose that the political opponents of Palikot wouldn’t let a Real discussion to happen even when he used only the ad rem argumentation, which lacks of rhetorical or eristic ornamentation of any kind, because that’s the essence of the ritual of the contemporary political debate. The politicians of PiS claim otherwise – their aversion to Palikot or the trials of disgracing or depreciating him is explained by the low level of the argumentation presented by the opponent.

If we agree with Guy Debordem (1999: 11), that we’re living in the society of a spectacle – and, as writes Tomasz Olczyk (2009: 90) „every social institution is a subject of the process of spectacularization and every act is subjected to the logic of commerce spectacle” – then we can also agree that the politics, although it dealt with “important” things, it may be conducted in style which we knew only from cabaret. Olczyk (2009: 87), quoting Thomas Meyer, claims, that the politic, constructed and colonized by the media, changes into „politainment”. This is a process which cannot be stopped and one can see it very clearly in Polish politic, especially in the debates presented by the media. One should mention at this moment that Cicero had written about the theatralisation and spectacular nature of speeches and public statements in De oratore, what reminds us Lawrence D. Green (2008). While pondering about the category of pathos, Cicero called for the speaker to feel the same emotions he wants to evoke in the listener, explaining it with both the practical reasons and ethical or theatrical. From the practical point of view according to Cicero evoking the emotions when one’s actually feeling them, is simply easier – and from the ethical one sharing these emotions and convincing while being not sure of the rightness of one’ s own idea – it’s immoral; from the theatrical one – it leads to over-theatralisation and in consequence the way of creating the speech is evaluated equally with the pragmatic argumentation and often the theatre measures veil the content.

The help for it is then the sincerity and belief in the rightness of the cause. Can a politician, wanting to create his image in minds of the audience, persuading only with arguments he believes in and is, in fact, feeling the same emotions he wants to evoke in the listeners of his statement? If we assume that he is a homo seriosus, we can be sure of his honesty, but if we assume that the politician is a homo rhetoricus, skilled in the art of persuasion, we can assume also that not every emotion and argument is in full accordance with his real beliefs, because the superior goal will the spectacle and seduction of the audience.


Stanley Fish (2008: 422), thinking about antirhetorical topoi and the eternal conflict between the postulates concerning the necessity of persuading with the arguments that can be not Real in nature, but convincing and agreeable with the common knowledge, uses the terminology of Richard Lanham: homo seriosus i homo rhetoricus. The first type can be characterized as having the central I and communicates the facts and ideas concerning nature and the society – objectively existing reality. It’s a serious person. A rhetorical man is an actor concentrated on the “local situation”, on “here and now”. He skillfully changes the orientation, has many structures of values and accepts the running paradigm and uses its resources. He perfectly knows how to manipulate the reality. The reality is not considered as an objective but as an utility.(Lanham 1976: 4).

The attitudes of homo seriosus and homo rhetoricus seem to be contradictory but for the „rhetorical man”, the “seriousness” is one of the roles one can choose to play to achieve the goal, so it’s a one of rhetorical masks – homo seriosus is a role which homo rhetoricus can play.

The political spectacle is based on this very opposition, the unsolvable conflict between the „serious” and the „rhetorical” view of the word, truth, and even of oneself. Homo seriosus seduces the voters waiting for the “serious” attitude of dealing with the reality and the problems concerned with the position of power in the country. Homo rhetoricus possesses a broader spectrum of actions because he can play different roles, freely form his own identity and reach the audience with help of appropriately chosen and ordered arguments. It can be the strategy of “a hero”, “a chosen one”, “one of you”, or a strategy of “an expert”, close to homo seriosus, because the expert most often uses the arguments of merit, such as numbers, graphs, and complicated data being in function of the reference to the authority. The strategy of an expert was chosen for example by Leszek Balcerowicz (who had found it really hard to convince the society to financial reform with a matter of fact argumentation). Janusz Palikot also often uses it and, being one of the richest people in Poland, it helps him to be an authority in commerce business. His matter of fact arguments are rarely quoted by the sources.

One should also mention that the abovementioned dilemmas connected with adulating “vulgar gestures” were known even by the classics. They are visible i.a. in the opposition between the positions of Cato who was claiming that if one focuses on the good and truth we will always find a way to effective persuasion of the audience and Gorgias who thought that the mastering the techniques of effective persuasion has nothing in common with the truth and the morals. The classic discussions seem to be mirroring the reflections of contemporary researchers, pondering about adulating the tastes of the public, the society of the spectacle, the idea of “entertainment” connected with information or politic (infotainment or politainment) and adapting to the demands made by the publishers and the owners of media concern.

The dilemma concerns really the question of the rightness of pragmatic attitude that is why Fish, when he was elaborating the serious and rhetorical strategy, quotes Richard Rorty as a summary:

„It is a difference between the recognition of truth, goodness and beauty as eternal things we want to place and show and recognizing them as artificial creations which the basis conception should be often changed”. (Rorty 1998: 135).

So maybe the fears imagined i.a. by Neil Postman (2002) for the condition of the society which, blinded by the entertainment, moves away the questions of the nature of things and on the truth, are a bit exaggerated, because the society functions in a relative balance from the centuries and knowledge of “the truth” is not necessary to survive and develop further.


The opposition between a serious man and a rhetorical one can be easily illustrated by analyzing the argumentative strategies of the “jester of Polish political arena” – Janusz Palikot and politicians of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość. Both the PO MP and PiS MPs play specific roles. The linking element is the rhetorical argumentation used both in the public acts and in the statements. The politicians have mutual goals: they want the listener to believe their thesis. They differ in the fact, that Palikot openly and consequently plays the role of a jester, manifesting his rhetoric and provoking by it and the PiS politicians are trying to hide their own rhetoric and mask it in any way possible, becoming homo seriosus. The rhetoric is then depreciated, being called manipulation of PR specialists. It seems that the PO MP knows that the easiest way of attracting attention of the media and social interest is a spectacle and the entertainment, while the politicians from the circle of PiS are distancing themselves from the politics – the very name of the party can be a proof of that, referring to the highest values.

We should then see more closely the “serious” argumentation used by the Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński. On the meeting in Gdansk shipyard on 1st of October 2006, despite the words: “We are where the ZOMO was standing” (these winged words are more memorable because the use of the chiasm). Providing the realization by the former Prime Minister the communicative strategy based on the rhetoric, called by Michał Głowiński (2009: 237) rhetoric of hatred” together with other explanations:

„We don’t need harsh words, we need the truth. This truth speaks for us. And them are afraid of it, afraid of the truth that everyone knows but wasn’t functioning so good in the public area and are more and more afraid of the truth that was hidden and which, as I repeat with all the determination, we want to reveal, because the Polish people have the right to know.”

In such a short fragment the word “truth” is repeated 6 times. This accumulation has to strengthen the listener’s impression that the politicians of PiS („us”) are referring to the real and highest values, what is very characteristic to the “serious” attitude. There are also “them” – not the opponents, not partners in the dialogue about the future of the country but an enemy. The enemy is, as claims Głowiński, somebody with whom one does not discuss. You can only fight the enemy.

One year later on PiS convention Kaczyński expressed himself thusly:

“Our opponents are great in force and have one mutual weapon. That weapon is lying. Lying, lying, and lying. But our opponents do not appreciate the Polish people, don’t appreciate the cleverness of our nation” (Gazeta)

Here we have a “lie” present 4 times. The author used anadiplosis to emphasize the importance of spoken words.. The opposition was described as „our enemy” but one should not attribute it with anti-values such as lying proves that in the eyes of the author of these words the opponent equals the enemy. The goal of such a speech act, addressed not to the opponent but to the audience, is an embarrassment of the opposition. Kaczyński tries also to gain some liking from the audience by adulating it. The mask of homo seriosus put by the PiS leader is a skillful use of the rhetoric of hatred, where the speaker uses the dichotomical diversion to “us” – representing real values and “them” – lacking these very values, contemptuously described as “PR government”, a creation made by the specialists of manipulation and efficient communication – rhetoric. About the rhetoric of hatred Głowiński says that it’s rhetoric of absolute rights. One cannot discuss it or comment on it, there is no place for persuasion, debate and reflection. He observes that it is indeed very rarely used by the opposition. Rather the people who are in power try to embarrass and disgrace the opposition by using contemptuous descriptions (eristic type number 12 in Schopenhauer).


The political debate is completely dependent on the media. It changes together with the new communicative tools. The important shift was done by the appearance of blogging. In its foundations it is a type of common (private) discourse, but in reality a blog is a diary published online. Especially a blog published by a politician is one of the simplest tools that one can use to communicate with the media. The proof may be the fact, that the blog of Janusz Palikot, Poletko pana P., was quoted many dozens of times by the leading newspapers. Another widely read and quoted blog is the diary of Marek Migalski, MP of PiS. The fragments which were in the news are the elements of polemics with Palikot.

Piotrowski, Czyżewski and Kowalski (1997) had set out the distinctive features of the discourse: politic, political and public. A political discourse includes public speeches of the politicians, spoken outside of the real context of power. This type includes also the political speeches of people who are not politicians.

The discourse of the politic is the statements of the politician spoken inside their roles given them by the political institutions. It’s connected with roles and political functions.

The public discourse is the broadest idea, including the set of institutional discourses on different subjects. In opposition to the public discourse there is a common discourse (non-institutional one), it is really hard though to set a border between these types of the discourse (Piotrowski, Kowalski, Czyżewski 1997: 11-13).

In his blog Palikot writes about the politics together with going fishing or choosing the right wines. It is a mélange of political discourse and the common one (sometimes also scientific, because the MP publishes his remarks on philosophy), but the fact that there impressions are public (and additionally published in a form of a book) lets the blog to be put into the area of the public discourse. This is a very specific tool of communication, giving the author full control over creating his own image and one can then foresee which posts will be interesting to the reader and in consequence – one can adjust the content to the expectation of the audience. A skillfully written blog can partially free the politician from the necessity of attracting attention of the media. The published posts are important Or – more often – controversial to the point that the media decide on their own to publish it. The blog seems to be also one of the tools typical for the “ritual chaos”. It’s a form of self-presentation, in can be used also as a strategy of seducing the reader and trying to win his trust (Czyżewski 1997: 35).

One should also remember that in times of simple approach to the technology things that should remain private very often become public, even if it wasn’t published on a blog for example. Józef Oleksy was a really good example when his words spoken on a private party at Aleksander Gudzowaty were quoted by every Polish media.

There’s a fair chance that one hears the voices of “lowering the standards of the debate”. The responsibility of this state is often put on the shoulders of Janusz Palikot – both by the politician of PiS and PO and by some of the journalists. Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz in a radio broadcast has severely criticized her party friend, accusing him of the very thing – lowering the standards of discussion. One of the journalists of Gazeta Wyborcza, Dominika Wielowieyska (2010) calls a “scandalous” an expression of “sexual lustration” thought up by Janusz Palikot. One should ponder for a Chile on this opinion, Publisher in Gazeta Wyborcza. The author writes:

„Janusz Palikot is a mendacious type. He tweets that he has nothing against homosexuality but he plays on the disdain of the people who are against them. Because what is the dreams of a tracker of sexual orientation of Ziobro? His compromitation. (Wielowieyska 2010).

If we assume that Palikot is a homo rhetoricus, we will not see his statement in cathegories of truth or false and we won’t be expecting that everything what he says will correspond with his real opinions. A person tolerant to different sexual orientation can use the argumentation coherent with the opinions of the audience and not to his own, if he wants to achieve a success.

Michał Głowiński (2009: 247) claims that the indication of lowering the level of political discourse in contemporary Poland is used by PiS and earlier by PRL and it’s called the rhetoric of hatred. After a close look of the strategies used by Janusz Palikot one can tell that part of his behavior is an implicit try of accusing the PiS of … lowering the standards of political debate in Poland.

The most important goal seems to be rather seeking for interest of the media, provoking and teasing the political opponents. When we would like to categorize the action of Janusz Palikot, we should include them to the epideictic type. The person who should be praised is the very author of the words – what is typical for the “self-promotion spectacle” present in Polish politics. One can also see elements of the court type. The most often judged people are the PiS MPs (and Palikot tries to depreciate and embarrass them by using Marsh eristic measures), although that’s not all.

The fragment of the blog put below is concerning the movie about general Jaruzelski and it is an evaluation – of both the movie and the Polish leftist party and – indirectly – PiS:

„The final evaluation of the General I prefer to leave for the historians, because it’s not the case I find very tempting right now. But no, because on one or the other hand, the evaluation of the first president of Poland after ’89 is very interesting to me. The key is the easiness with which the left accepted the fact that the coalition partner of SLD in the public media – PiS had spitted with this movie, this “Comrade General” one of the heroes of the formation. One could say that they’ve spitted on the creation myth of the SLD. Because the legitimization of the functioning in the democratical system was brought by this fact that Jaruzelski, according the leftist leaders, have chosen the lesser evil. And the broadcasted movie is questioning it. And nothing! No reaction, no breaking of the coalition, no threat of breaking! (Palikot, 2009)

There is also the advisory type present in both variants – when the audience is persuaded to do something contradictory – when it is told not to do so. It concerns mostly the propositions of new bills – that is one of the less media-visible thread of political discourse of Janusz Palikot. Here are some examples:

„How to deal with this case? Let through the project of the chimney bill, works here stopped a dozen of months ago. Nobody – even the MPs of PiS – wants to say harshly: let’s free the payment of the manages and give them work, let’s wait for the results, control them and evaluate them – but also let them make some money. Then the results of the national companies will be better and better and the government (any government PO creates) will have use of the law of dividend and adds to the national budget and the companies will get the best managers. (Palikot, 2007).


Part of the behavior of the controversial MP is beyond the rational analysis. These include: a suggestion that one of the MPs of the opposition is a homosexual and the president – an alcoholic. Eristic argumentation ad personam doesn’t seem to serve anything but disgracing the opponent. Some of the actions like using unusual props can be considered as tricks to make the audience laugh and in this way, win it. This is the eristic trick number 28 by Schopenhauer and argumentation ad auditors – the element of the spectacle fitted for the contemporary politics.

The lecture of Poletko pana P. tells us that Janusz Palikot is very skillful in rhetorical “exercises” (progymnasmata), because he uses the measure like fibula – stories about animals, Esopus fairytales, functioning as an argumentation taken by some folk wisdom (for example a humoristic tale “A badger came out of his den”, telling a story about the leader of PiS); chreia, or a story told to be true concerning a well-known authority (example: stories about alcoholism and homosexuality of some politicians), historia or a story about real events – which is understandable, because a blog is a diary. There is also praise (encomium), as a story about the first meeting of the author with the leader of PO:

„I came from the meeting like enchanted. From many reasons. I was astonished at his wit, lightness, modesty and charm. And above all at his… nose! Donald Tusk knows all about wines! He Has the nose! He differs not only good and Bad, what is not an easy task, but he describes the bouquet, catches the nuances of maturing and hits the nail in a head with the origin. It’s a complete rarity in Poland and in politic, despite him, it doesn’t exist. (Palikot, 2007)

Palikot uses also the maxims (“Po should defend people from SLD, gays and Jews”), most often the irony (here the examples are numerous). Abovementioned rhetorical measures prove the good rhetorical preparation of the MP. This type of rhetoric cannot be categorized into Any of the three basic types” advisory, court and epideictic because in every post there appears and leads the different type of argumentation. Blog is a commentary of the reality, so the author realizes different goals with it every time he uses it: advices, advices against, criticizes, praises i.e. Although the superior goal of writing a blog, described by the author, proves the role of a jester or the irritating enfant terrible of Polish politics and again, proves the dominance of the showpiece function:

„Oh, how do I love throwing you out of balance! How my belly moves with laughter and the tears of joy run down my cheeks when I read your indignant commentaries. When you engage in battle with the epithets, advices and moral or esthetic judgments. (…) There is in me a bit of Gombrowicz’s opinion, that the man thrown out from balance is more interesting and above all, alive. The existence comes out of you and gallops for a moment. There’s only one condition: it has to be for real!” (Palikot, 2007)

Now, knowing about the abovementioned words, we are sure that the superior goal of the politician is provocation and indignation of the society – not probare or delectare but flectere, characteristic to a third person wanting to attract attention to himself and his opinion.

One should mention that in contemporary politic nobody uses the rule of decorum and does try, as Cicero Said: „say simply about something simple, solemnly about solemn in a moderate way about something moderate” (Obremski 2004: 31). Similar like in a commercial, which is set to draw attention for a dozen seconds, in politics the styles are being mixed in a free way just to achieve the goal.

One can find in some of the actions of Palikot the common elements what can suggest that besides provocation and self-presentation he has other goals. This is a coherence, which I presume is the most interesting in his strategy. He often uses ideas thought up by his opponents and brings them almost to the edge of absurd:

“X is similar to Y or Y is less acceptable than X. If you’re angry at X, why did you do Y earlier?” and X is the action Or statement of Palikot, Y is an action Or statement of a politician of PiS. It’s the argumentation characteristic to the court of a simili and a fortiori. Let’s see how is it constructed – the table below shows the action of PiS politicians and the following action Or speeches of Janusz Palikot:

PiS/President RP Janusz Palikot
Renting by the president of RP a villa in Klarysew for the PiS leader, because he needs a quiet place to work with the plan of his party The idea of renting the villa in Klarysew for a scientific conference. Refusal.
Statement: “prostituted lawyers” Statement: “prostituted MP”
Statements: “they remind me of the killers of Popiełuszko”, “they remind me of communist “Trybuna Ludu”, they were standing where ZOMO did”, “the document case of the president is in Moscow” The happening in Puławy with the reading of the Marxist PhD of Lech Kaczyński
Alcohol in the office of the President Kaczyński Public drinking of alcohol in the streets of Lublin.









Let’s look closer to the data from the table and the reactions of Palikot on the earlier words or actions of the politicians of PiS. Janusz Palikot, as we can think, considers inappropriate that the leader of any party got the accept for the renting of the presidential villa for political reasons “on commercial rules”. When he got the word that the villa can be rented by anybody, he gave his offer. The refusal was for him like a violating the democratic rules. His argumentation (based on the following scheme of thinking: “Anyone can rent the villa. Jarosław Kaczyński can rent a villa. So Janusz Palikot can also rent a villa.”) looks the following: „If Jarosław Kaczyński can rent a Villa from the president, why Janusz Palikot cannot do it?” The answer to this questions is only suggested: not anyone can use the national property for the goals of the party, and the PiS is ruled by the net – so much hated by its politicians.

The statement of political prostitution of Grażyna Gęsicka was given by Janusz Palikot after the MP fabricated some data concerning the use of the funds received from the European Union. The medial storm was unleashed but not Palikot used this statement for the first time. The leader of PiS in the Parliament used the expression of “prostituted lawyers”. Other winged words were said by his brother, president Lech Kaczyński and were similarly offensive. It’s the famous “monkey in red” (about the TVN journalist) or used for many times by the opponents of PiS the expression of “Fuck off, old man!”. Lech Kaczynski was explaining then in “Rzeczpospolita” (6XI2002) that he was protecting his dignity in a very nice way for this district of the city. One could ask a question again – why a MP of PO cannot use vulgarism and the president can?

The similar goal – use the a fortiori argumentation to show the imperfections of the opposition – motivated Janusz Palikot when he decided to organize a happening where the actors characterized as Marx, Engels and Lenin were reading some Marxist fragments of the PhD paper of the president.

These actions, as one can think, interpreting them as a rhetorical argumentation, were aimed at the connections between the stigmatized by PiS and the president position of a “post communist” and the scientific background of the president. According to the president Kaczyński was a Marxist and the radicalism in lighting against post communism arises from the connections of Kaczyński brothers with PRL. That’s only the opinion of the organizer of the happening, but considering the rhetoric of hatred used by PiS, comparing the politicians of the opposition to the murderers of Popiełuszko, to ZOMO, charging the president Kwaśniewski with having “a document case in Moscow” it’s hard to overlook the similarities in the way of communication. The a fortiori argumentation, based on the following line of thought: “If one cannot be honest, being a former communist, that one cannot also be honest writing a PhD based on theories of Charles Marx” we can also read in terms of the eristic as using the ad hominem argumentation: “How can one stigmatize the opposition and call it post communistic, if one has written a Marxist paper? This is the next question asked indirectly – it was only suggested.

The similar argumentation was used by Janusz Palikot again in April of 2009 when in public, during the press conference in Lublin , he drank alcohol from little bottles. It was a reaction for the information, reputedly the Office of the president have bought hundreds of such bottlers. A fortiori argumentation, specifically its variant of a maiori ad minus, was used in the following way: If the president can buy, on the expense of the country, big amounts of alcohol for the office, I can drink one on a street.”

There were more „alcohol incidents” in the discussion of the PO politician and PiS. The reaction for the numerous posts on the blog that the president has some alcohol problems, was a gesture form Paweł Poncyliusz, who presented Palikot with a basket of cheap fruit wines. “It would be something disgraceful to engage in a discussion with the producer of such wines” – the PiS MP, Joachim Brudziński, said earlier, using the typical for this party strategy of referring to values as dignity or honor. To engage in a discussion on the cesspit level would be an affront to one’s dignity. The choice of many descriptions denoting a businessman is exactly “a producer of cheap wines” – is another example of use of the 12th eristic way of arguing according to Schopenhauer.


If Janusz Palikot is accused of lowering the standards of the debate, one could assume that the party using the rhetoric of the highest values would be consequent and wouldn’t let to “lower the discussion to the level of the cesspit”.

The very strategy is used by Jarosław Kaczyński, who cuts the discussion and at the same time tries to depreciate the opponent, using the eristic argumentation ad personam. “This is a statement of Mr. Clown MP” – he commented in a radio broadcast on one of the posts which put him in a bad light. He then elaborated this thought, referring to, characteristically for homo seriosus, for some norms and obligations: „I say <clown> because we remember many shows of Mr. Palikot which shouldn’t be described by the president”.

Not so elegant strategy was used by other MPs from PiS, who decided to use a polemic, based on offending and open accusation of PO MP. One should admit that they lacked the characteristic for Palikot blunt finesse. The example may be the polemic of Marek Migalski, written on his blog. The PiS politician in reaction on categorizing to female MPs to the circle of men, writes:

„In the shoes of the husbands of both the ladies I Gould Just hit Palikot. Exactly – coarse and Old Polish way, as one should hit a lout. Because the MP from Lublin don’t have any honor and one shouldn’t challenge him to a duel. Dueling is for gentlemen, and this vulgar and filthy lout should be swiped across the mouth.”

We see here a typical for PiS MP referring to norms and obligations as to the tradition (Old Poland), and some arguments ad personam which should depreciate Palikot. Migalski understands “lack of honor” as itself, using presupposition. In the next part of his post he attacks not only the politician, but tries to humiliate the female part of PO electorate. Paradoxically – he does it in a name of „leveling the standards of public debate”:

„In the last parliamentary election 3.5 million women voted for PO. The absolute laws of statistics show that in this mass there should be at least one brave female for whom Palikot seems not revolting. I call you to sacrifice for the country and start a relationship with him. He doesn’t look like he likes to say “no”. And this solution would be a relief both for him and for us. The leveling of the political debate demands sacrifices! I did my thing, I spend the last half an hour writing about him. It’s time for some sacrifice on PO’s side. (Migalski, 2009)

Apart from the typical from PiS politicians ad personam argumentation, Migalski uses also irony and some feigned scientific persuasion, referring to statistics. “Sacrificing“ some time for Palikot, who – it’s a guess – is not worth any discussion, the author of the blog calls a “sacrifice” that is demanded to heal Polish public debate.

Palikot himself is grateful to Migalski that he started the mission of „getting rid of Palikot” and states in one of the journals:

„Migalski makes me more import ant and I’m grateful for it. I think, however, that he treats it very seriously – and this is so very PiS, without practice, distance to himself and to his opponent (…) but I’m happy, because one way of the other his actions will provoke my presence, and there’s nothing more valuable than presence”. (Wojciechowska, 2009)

The statements in this interview are valuable because they DirectX the attention on the background of the political discussion. Palikot tells about the most valuable thing in the political discourse: “the presence” in public area, in the media. He tells also about „promoting” of Migalski and „sticking to the popularity of Palikot” by using some marketing criteria – he recalls the goal which is for him the raising of recognizablity from the 15% level up to 30-40%. There are the categories that the classic rhetoric did not know, unknown also to the debate “on the high level”, because such a debate shouldn’t have to force through the informational white noise in the media and the speaker did not try to measure the level of his recognition in the percentage. Palikot directs the attention also for characteristic tendency (for this party) to treat the politic much too serious. He doesn’t try to attack his opponent thought. He names him “his graceful adversary”.

Migalski uses antonomasia and makes a Benny Hill out of Palikot, and other MP, Ryszard Czarnecki, names him „a effeminate macho from Biłgoraj” (in opposition to “real men from PiS”) and evaluates him with help of unsophisticated measures, using common language so the statement, despite the ornaments as metaphor and synecdoche, it sounds vulgar: “Palikot drew in his horns, he is cross-dressing, and should use a straitjacket. His place is in Warsaw, but in a room without door handles”.

The first sentence the MP formulated in a very bunt way, the second one is a bit softer thanks to the euphemism „building without door handles” in opposition to the „building in Warsaw” – the Parliament.


Summing up the abovementioned statements of the opponent of Janusz Palikot, saying very seriously about the reality and using a strategy of homo serious – a serious man of power, who shouldn’t use the polemic with a court jester of the ruling coalition we can say, that they use rhetorical measures as often as the MP of PO. One can assume that the argumentation of the MP of PiS, showing their outrage with the behavior of Janusz Palikot, will not rather be a good thing to a Polish political debate, because the measures used by them are definitely lowering its standards.

The analysis done above shows that, despite different roles they play before different groups of the public – the members of their own party and the coalition party, the electorate, the opponents, the media and not involved public, the politicians use very similar argumentation, similar rhetorical and eristic measures. What is the difference between Palikot and the PiS politicians? The biggest difference is in his relationship with the opposition. Palikot rarely answers to provocation, although he’s being constantly provoked. He doesn’t refer to norms, does not tell, what should be done and what shouldn’t – and what he considers inappropriate for his image he just doesn’t do. He doesn’t polemize with offensive statements on the blog of Marek Migalski, he doesn’t start a dialogue, only ironically expresses his gratitude for additional popularization of his own statements. The politicians of PiS, with their leader on top, are gladly emphasizing that one shouldn’t polemize with Palikot and one can just “hit him in the face”. They can be provoked, contrary to Palikot. Both of the sides are rhetorical in the same way and in the same way not so serious. Palikot explains his motives himself (in the fragments of the interview quoted above). His statements show that he is fully aware of the role of the media in creating of the image of politician and politic. He perfectly knows how to provoke the media, how to draw their attention in the perfect moment and when to start the show.

He knows also the meaning of political marketing. He knows also the mechanisms ruling the public opinion and states “I will always provoke some situation and people will just have to speak about it”. He uses his internet blog as a tool of political media relations with efficiency that the Polish political discourse didn’t know before. The statements from his blog are quoted by the majority of the media, even the president polemicizes with them.

In the activities of Janusz Palikot one can also find some regularity – he uses the argumentation of the court type, to unmask the irregularities. This regularity also shows that the spectacle of Janusz Palikot is not only a show of self-presentation. It’s rather a trial of perversely directed attention to the absurds of Polish politics, trial of showing the politicians their mistakes.

It’s hard to decide who really lowered the standards of public debate – if guilty are the politicians using common language and image exempla, populist arguments and spectacular tools of self-promoting, or – as Głowiński wants – the politicians using the rhetoric of hatred, looking for the weak points of the opponents, attracting and trying to embarrass their opponents. In light of abovementioned analysis it would seem that Palikot uses the weapon of his opponents to ridicule them.

Maybe the question should be different – and the answer is not in this article. Is the strategy of homo seriosus a more efficient tool of persuasion? Maybe a diligent unmasking of irregularities and as king DirectX questions, without the show which can be incomprehensible for the masses, Could let the Polish political debate heal itself?


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FAR 2011 No. 3 (26) July-September

Rhetoric and political polemics



(Instytut Polonistyki Stosowanej UW)