Based on solid research, this erudite study is a first attempt at presenting a comprehensive analysis of nineteenth-century Polish liberalism. Polish liberal tradition has generally been considered weak or even nonexistent. Janowski, on the other hand, argues that nineteenth-century Poland inherited a strong protoliberal tradition from the nobility-based democracy, and that in the mid-nineteenth century, liberalism was a dominant trend in Polish intellectual life, even if it rarely appeared in its pure form and did not create political movements separating liberal aims from patriotic ones. The author maintains that the definition of liberalism in Central Europe should not be based on the Anglo-Saxon model, in view of the weakness of the middle classes and, in the case of partitioned Poland, the lack of independent statehood. This explains why there was a marked etatist trend among liberal thinkers, who saw the creation of a strong state as a tool of modernization. Janowski sees his subject in a broad comparative perspective, taking into account the historical experience of other nations of Central Europe.
His innovative interpretation may be the starting point for new debates in the ongoing discussion on the different perceptions of liberalism.
Maciej Janowski is at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences. His main field of interest is the intellectual and political history of the nineteenth century in Poland and East-Central Europe.