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2006 | 113 | 1 | 85-111

Article title

'Is There a Polish Nation?'. A Discussion held in the Paris-based 'Postep' in 1834


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The author outlined the discussion conducted in 1834 in 'Postep', a periodical edited in Paris by prominent members of the Polish democratic movement. The participants in the discussion included important figures in Polish democracy, and the debate illustrated the prime theoretical problems of Polish democratic thought. The democrats were firmly convinced that the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of a new type of a community - the nation - on the ruins of old estate societies. They maintained that the nation should be an egalitarian and culturally homogeneous community, composed of individuals aware of their affiliation and ready to make sacrifices for its sake. The national community was conceived as the outcome of centuries-long social and political processes. A large role in its origin was performed by the state which gradually liquidated estate barriers and involved increasingly large groups of citizens in the public domain (administration, courts of law, the army, education). A much lesser role was assigned to other factors, such as religion or ethnos. This was the point of departure for a negative assessment of the accomplishments of the former Polish state: the First Republic retained rigid estate divisions and had not expanded the administration or a universal school system. The overwhelming majority of the population remained outside the state framework. Moreover, the Polish state proved incapable of creating a Polish nation. In the opinion of the Polish democrats, the inhabitants of the former Commonwealth could be divided into two groups: the quasi-nation - the gentry, whose existence was, in their opinion, a grave obstacle for the creation of a modern nation (thus, the traditions of this social group should be refuted), and the divergent non-gentry and multiethnic groups devoid of all ties. The construction of a modern Polish nation was to be a task for the future. A foremost part was to be fulfilled by the Polish state which, by abolishing estate differences and granting equal political rights, was to turn the inhabitants of the former Commonwealth into a political community, which in time would change into a national community and, subsequently, into a cultural one. The decisive function was ascribed to the scarce Polish democrats whose functions would include overcoming the resistance of the post-gentry stratum and steering the people, as yet unprepared for independent activity. Since nineteenth-century national processes followed an extremely dynamic course, the democrats were convinced that they would be completed within the next ten, or so, years. Since a crucial role was played by the state, there appeared the threat that large groups of the population would be included into the range of the national communities of the partitioning states. This was the reason why the democrats opted for an insurrectionary programme and a rapid restitution of the Polish state.









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  • A. Sowinski, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Instytut Historyczny, ul. Krakowskie Przemiescie 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa, Poland


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Publication order reference


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