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Birth of the Intelligentsia – 1750–1831

A History of the Polish Intelligentsia – Part 1, edited by Jerzy Jedlicki


Maciej Janowski

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. Part one (1750–1831) traces the formation of the intelligentsia as a social class in the epoch of Enlightenment. It stresses the importance of the birth of bureaucratic institutions that created the demand for the educated stratum. It analyses the results of the collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795 – the ominous event that transformed the political geography of East Central Europe. 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 5: Toward a revolution


The youth posed a serious political problem in the nineteenth century. It was a dangerous group, by its very nature and essence. All adults would share this view at that time, regardless of their worldview. University-level students, they would say, ought to live in apartments, their landlords being model citizens; “it is better for a young man to watch the exemplary life of a married couple from his early youth years than to stay confined within a monastery school with numerous youth inclined for fickleness and disorderly passions”, Hugo Kołłątaj warned. Exact sciences “protect the youth against erroneous daydreams and illusions” whereas “moral sciences”, such as philosophy, literature or history, lead “inexperienced young people and imaginations” astray to “atheism, […] materialism, […] liberal sedition and theories that tumble the social order down”, conservative Józef-Kalasanty Szaniawski216 alerted from the other extreme of the political spectrum. “The greatest resoluteness should be used […] in order to estrange for ever those young bedlamites from such conducts”, Prince Adam-Jerzy Czartoryski added in an 1823 letter to Józef Twardowski., ← 219 | 220 → Youth should, simply put, be kept on a short leash, so that their innate inclination for outbursts and rebelling do not shake, some day, the very foundation of the social order.

When we read university rules and regulations, our impression of deterrence reaches a fever pitch. It is hard to imagine anything a young man could have done without breaching or infringing some of those hugely detailed provisions. Not only was he...

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