Adel und Elitenwandel in Ostmitteleuropa. Fragen an die polnische Adelsgeschichte im ausgehenden 18. und 19. Jahrhundert

Michael G. Müller


Throughout most of 19th-century East Central Europe, the nobility formed the economically, culturally and politically leading class, while the bourgeoisie remained in the shadow well into the last third of the Century. The transformation of the nobility and its part in the formation of new elites, however, have attracted little historiographical attention so far.
Focusing on Poland, the present article outlines key questions for the examination of the history of the nobility in the 19th Century. It discusses central crises in the transformation and identity of the Polish nobility: First, the crisis of the manorial System and the aristocratic State as experiences of the late 17th and 18th centuries; second, the way into absolutism, marked by the partitions of 1772, 1793 and 1795, and the corresponding experiences of political and constitutional loss; third, the drifting apart of State- and socially induced processes of elite formation in the first half of the 19thCentury; fourth, the Separation of modern elite formation from aristocratic leadership and socio-political concepts in the late 19th Century.
One central thesis of this article is that the Polish nobility made a constitutive contribution to the formation of modern elites: under the special conditions of the partition regime both the members of the old hereditary nobility (the inteligencja of noble descent), who were socially degraded and bound to find a new position in the bourgeoisie, and major groups of the landed gentry (obywatele ziemscy) participated in the development of the bourgeois structures of a national civil society.