The 'Szlachta' (Gentry) and their Ancestors in the Eighteenth Century
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The article deals with an issue of crucial importance for comprehending the political culture of the gentry (szlachta) during the eighteenth century, namely, the attitude towards supposed ancestors whose majority remained unidentified. The function fulfilled by this topos involved predominantly justifying the existing state of the Commonwealth, i.e. so-called golden freedom purportedly obtained thanks to the virtues and spilt blood of the ancestors. Constant reference to these factors endowed almost all institutions, functions and reflections of the gentry community with a strong emotional content which constituted an essential obstacle for the introduction of 'novelties', i.e. reforms. The author attempted to demonstrate the manner in which assorted writers, either pro-reform or conservative, tackled the problem of ancestors and the objectives which references of this sort served. At the end of the century men of letters who demanded changes applied the ancestor topos much more rarely or outright renounced it, aware of the ideological 'cul de sac' to which this particular slogan led.
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