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

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n 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 selfgovernment 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-409
JournalSlavic Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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