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Burghers versus Bureaucrats:: Enlightened Centralism, the Royal Towns, and the Case of the Propinacja Law in Poland-Lithuania, 1776–1793

Curtis G. Murphy
Slavic Review
Vol. 71, No. 2 (SUMMER 2012), pp. 385-409
DOI: 10.5612/slavicreview.71.2.0385
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Page Count: 25
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In the eighteenth-century, European rulers embraced a common policy of enlightened centralism aimed at undermining the prerogatives of local self-government, a trend that even reached the decentralized Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In this article, Curtis G. Murphy investigates an example of an Enlightenment centralist policy that failed. A new reformist king sought to convert the burghers’ right to produce alcohol, known as propinacja, into a state-controlled monopoly, but the effort produced only chaos and the diminishment of self-government. Contrary to the center’s complaint that insufficient force undermined a beneficial effort, Murphy argues that the law failed because the priorities of the locals did not align with the government’s goals and the habits of self-government clashed with the bureaucratic methods of enlightened centralism. Historians of Poland have often praised the centralizing reforms of the late-eighteenth century, but the case of the propinacja law questions whether such efforts justified the costs of destroying self-government in the towns.

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