The Fall of Poland

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Charles Lemos at MYDD has me reconsidering my position on the role of Poland’s odd political institutions in its disappearance as a state at the end of the 18th century. Lemos’ point is that while the fix may have been in for geographic and strategic reasons by the time of the Partitions of Poland, the Liberum Veto played a big role in Poland’s decline in the mid-17th Century, the series of events that set the stage for the later extinguishment of the state:

It is true that Poland’s geography, not just its location but the fact that the country is a flat hard to defend plain, made it ripe for invasion. Nonetheless, Poland had historically been able to fend off successive foreign invaders including the Mongols (three times), the Teutonic Knights, and the Russians without much difficulty before 1650. The country, however, had a harder time throwing off the Swedes. This was due to the introduction of the Liberum Veto in 1652 just three years before the start of the seven decade on and off war with Sweden. […]

Based on the assumption that all members of the Polish nobility were absolutely equal politically, the Liberum Veto meant, in practice, that every bill introduced into the Sejm had to be passed unanimously. The political system found itself in a prolonged crisis that prevented Poland from developing a fiscal-military state, the model that allowed other European countries to wage war and defend themselves. The paralysis that enveloped the Polish state made it easy prey for rising powers who had developed centralized fiscal-militarty states to take advantage of Poland’s weakness.

Obviously, I’m not really well-versed in these events but that seems cogent enough to me. The story of Sweden’s 17th century moment in the sun as a great power is pretty interesting. I’ve read C.V. Wedgewood’s old book on The Thirty Years War but don’t know of much else on the subject that’s accessible.