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At the Crossroads: 1865–1918

A History of the Polish Intelligentsia – Part 3, Edited by Jerzy Jedlicki

Series:

Magdalena Micińska

The three-part work provides a first synthetic account of the history of the Polish intelligentsia from the days of its formation to World War I. The third part deals with the period between 1865 and 1918. It is the period of numerical growth of the intelligentsia, growth of its self-consciousness and at the same time of growing struggles and rivalries of various political streams. The study concludes with the moment when Poland regained the independence that had been lost in 1795. The work combines social and intellectual history, tracing both the formation of the intelligentsia as a social stratum and the forms of engagement of the intelligentsia in the public discourse. Thus, it offers a broad view of the group’s transformations which immensely influenced the course of the Polish history.

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Chapter 4: The ideological debates of the 2nd half of the 19th century

Extract

The experience of the downfall of the January Insurrection was one of the thresh- olds in the history of the Polish nation, and especially, for its intellectual elites� For them, the trauma of 1863 proved almost paralysing� A considerable amount of formulations, a number of thought-out programmes, many reasonable warn- ings and even more dispassionate and common sense recommendations have been developed upon the foundation of this experience� Nonetheless, this very experience, penetrating into the depths of the sensitivities of those individuals and embracing at least one whole generation, essentially boiled down to one cru- cial, and painfully concrete, question: how can a small nation, which had most recently been made acutely aware of its littleness, venture in order to physically survive, and to preserve its little individual identity? Is this identity preservable in the face of the actions taken by the efficient state apparatuses of the partition- ing powers? Will it really pay off to retain it, at the expense of the repressive measures descending upon the Polish people as Russia delivered its retort in response for the January Insurrection? Neither the Partition experience nor the lessons learned from the failed up- surges in search of the country’s independence in the former half of the nine- teenth century could have prepared the Polish intelligentsia for this blistering question� What testifies best to the dimensions of this trauma and the sense of this strength is the fact that those who had had the severest experience of it spoke the most...

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