Golden Liberty

Golden Liberty

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Golden Liberty sometimes referred to as Golden Freedoms, Nobles' Democracy or Nobles' Commonwealth ( or Złota wolność szlachecka) refers to a unique aristocratic
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

 political system
Political system
A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems...

 in the Kingdom of Poland
Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569)
The Kingdom of Poland of the Jagiellons was the Polish state created by the accession of Jogaila , Grand Duke of Lithuania, to the Polish throne in 1386. The Union of Krewo or Krėva Act, united Poland and Lithuania under the rule of a single monarch...

 and later, after the Union of Lublin
Union of Lublin
The Union of Lublin replaced the personal union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with a real union and an elective monarchy, since Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellons, remained childless after three marriages. In addition, the autonomy of Royal Prussia was...

 (1569), in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

. Under that system, all nobles (szlachta
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

), regardless of economic status, were considered to have equal legal status and enjoyed extensive legal rights and privileges. The nobility controlled the legislature (Sejm
Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

 — the Polish Parliament
Parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

) and the Commonwealth's elected king
Elective monarchy
An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected rather than hereditary monarch. The manner of election, the nature of the candidacy and the electors vary from case to case...

.

Development


This political system, unique within Europe, stemmed from the consolidation of power by the szlachta
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

 (noble class
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

) over other social classes and over the political system
Political system
A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems...

 of monarchy
Monarchy
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

. In time, the szlachta accumulated enough privileges (such as those established by the Nihil novi
Nihil novi
Nihil novi nisi commune consensu is the original Latin title of a 1505 act adopted by the Polish Sejm , meeting in the royal castle at Radom.-History:...

 Act of 1505, King Henry's Articles of 1573 and later through various Pacta conventa
Pacta conventa (Poland)
Pacta conventa was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764 entered into between the "Polish nation" and a newly-elected king upon his "free election" to the throne.The pacta conventa affirmed the king-elect's pledge to respect the laws of the...

 ― see Szlachta history and political privileges) that no monarch could hope to break the szlachta's grip on power.

The political doctrine of the Commonwealth of Both Nations was: our state is a republic under the presidency of the King. Chancellor
Kanclerz
Kanclerz was one of the highest officials in the historic Poland. This office functioned from the early Polish kingdom of the 12th century until the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795. A respective office also existed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the 16th...

 Jan Zamoyski
Jan Zamoyski
Jan Zamoyski , was a Polish-Lithuanian nobleman, magnate, 1st duke/ordynat of Zamość. Royal Secretary since 1566, Lesser Kanclerz ) of the Crown since 1576, Lord Grand-Chancellor of the Crown since 1578, and Grand Hetman of the Crown since 1581...

 summed up this doctrine when he said that "Rex regnat et non gubernat" ("The King reigns but does not govern"). The Commonwealth had a parliament, the Sejm, as well as a Senat and an elected king. The king was obliged to respect citizens' rights specified in King Henry's Articles as well as in pacta conventa
Pacta conventa (Poland)
Pacta conventa was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764 entered into between the "Polish nation" and a newly-elected king upon his "free election" to the throne.The pacta conventa affirmed the king-elect's pledge to respect the laws of the...

negotiated at the time of his election.

The monarch's power was limited, in favor of the sizable noble class. Each new king had to subscribe to King Henry's Articles, which were the basis of Poland's political system (and included almost unprecedented guarantees of religious tolerance). Over time, King Henry's Articles were merged with the pacta conventa, specific pledges agreed to by the king-elect. From that point, the king was effectively a partner with the noble class and was constantly supervised by a group of senators.

The foundation of the Commonwealth's political system, the "Golden Liberty" , included:
  • the election of the king by all nobles wishing to participate, known as wolna elekcja (free election);
  • Sejm
    Sejm
    The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

    , the Commonwealth parliament which the king was required to hold every two years;
  • pacta conventa
    Pacta conventa (Poland)
    Pacta conventa was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764 entered into between the "Polish nation" and a newly-elected king upon his "free election" to the throne.The pacta conventa affirmed the king-elect's pledge to respect the laws of the...

    (Latin
    Latin
    Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

    ), "agreed-to agreements" negotiated with the king-elect, including a bill of rights, binding on the king, derived from the earlier King Henry's Articles;
  • rokosz
    Rokosz
    A rokosz originally was a gathering of all the Polish szlachta , not merely of deputies, for a sejm. The term was introduced to the Polish language from Hungary, where analogous gatherings took place at a field called Rákos....

    (insurrection), the right of szlachta to form a legal rebellion against a king who violated their guaranteed freedoms;
  • religious freedom
    Religious toleration
    Toleration is "the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves. One can meaningfully speak of tolerating, ie of allowing or permitting, only if one is in a position to disallow”. It has also been defined as "to bear or endure" or "to nourish, sustain or preserve"...

    guaranted by Warsaw Confederation Act 1573
    Warsaw Confederation
    The Warsaw Confederation , an important development in the history of Poland and Lithuania that extended religious tolerance to nobility and free persons within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. , is considered the formal beginning of religious freedom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and...

    ,
  • liberum veto
    Liberum veto
    The liberum veto was a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It allowed any member of the Sejm to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting Nie pozwalam! .From the mid-16th to the late 18th...

    (Latin
    Latin
    Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

    ), the right of an individual land envoy to oppose a decision by the majority in a Sejm session; the voicing of such a "free veto" nullified all the legislation that had been passed at that session; during the crisis of the second half of the 17th century, Polish nobles could also use the liberum veto
    Liberum veto
    The liberum veto was a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It allowed any member of the Sejm to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting Nie pozwalam! .From the mid-16th to the late 18th...

     in provincial sejmik
    Sejmik
    A sejmik was a regional assembly in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and earlier in the Kingdom of Poland. Sejmiks existed until the end of the Commonwealth in 1795 following the partitions of the Commonwealth...

    s;
  • konfederacja (from the Latin
    Latin
    Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

     confederatio), the right to form an organization to force through a common political aim.


The Commonwealth's political system is difficult to fit into a simple category, but it can be tentatively described as a mixture of:
  • confederation
    Confederation
    A confederation in modern political terms is a permanent union of political units for common action in relation to other units. Usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defense, foreign...

     and federation
    Federation
    A federation , also known as a federal state, is a type of sovereign state characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central government...

    , with regard to the broad autonomy of its regions. It is however difficult to decisively call the Commonwealth either confederation or federation, as it had some qualities of both of them;
  • oligarchy
    Oligarchy
    Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with an elite class distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, commercial, and/or military legitimacy...

    , as only the szlachta—around 10% of the population—had political rights;
  • democracy, since all the szlachta were equal in rights and privileges, and the Sejm could veto the king on important matters, including legislation
    Legislation
    Legislation is law which has been promulgated by a legislature or other governing body, or the process of making it...

     (the adoption of new laws), foreign affairs, declaration of war, and taxation (changes of existing taxes or the levying of new ones). Also, the 10% of Commonwealth population who enjoyed those political rights (the szlachta) was a substantially larger percentage than in any other European country; note that in 1831 in France only about 1% of the population had the right to vote, and in 1832 in the United Kingdom, only about 14% of Male adults;
  • elective monarchy
    Elective monarchy
    An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected rather than hereditary monarch. The manner of election, the nature of the candidacy and the electors vary from case to case...

    , since the monarch, elected by the szlachta, was Head of State;
  • constitutional monarchy
    Constitutional monarchy
    Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

    , since the monarch was bound by pacta conventa
    Pacta conventa (Poland)
    Pacta conventa was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764 entered into between the "Polish nation" and a newly-elected king upon his "free election" to the throne.The pacta conventa affirmed the king-elect's pledge to respect the laws of the...

     and other laws, and the szlachta could disobey any king's decrees they deemed illegal.

Assessment


The "Golden Liberty" was a unique and controversial feature of Poland's political system. It was an exception, characterized by a strong aristocracy and a feeble king, in an age when absolutism was developing in the principal countries of Europe ― an exception, however, characterized by a striking similarity to certain modern values. At a time when most European countries were headed toward centralization
Centralization
Centralisation, or centralization , is the process by which the activities of an organisation, particularly those regarding planning and decision-making, become concentrated within a particular location and/or group....

, absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

 and religious and dynastic warfare, the Commonwealth experimented with decentralization
Decentralization
__FORCETOC__Decentralization or decentralisation is the process of dispersing decision-making governance closer to the people and/or citizens. It includes the dispersal of administration or governance in sectors or areas like engineering, management science, political science, political economy,...

, confederation
Confederation
A confederation in modern political terms is a permanent union of political units for common action in relation to other units. Usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defense, foreign...

 and federation
Federation
A federation , also known as a federal state, is a type of sovereign state characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central government...

, democracy, religious tolerance and even pacifism
Pacifism
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

. Since the Sejm usually vetoed a monarch's plans for war, this constitutes a notable argument for the democratic peace theory
Democratic peace theory
Democratic peace theory is the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other. How well the theory matches reality depends a great deal on one's definition of "democracy" and "war"...

. This system was a precursor of the modern concepts of broader democracy
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 and constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

 as well as federation
Federation
A federation , also known as a federal state, is a type of sovereign state characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central government...

. The szlachta
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

 citizens of the Commonwealth praised the right of resistance, the social contract, the liberty of the individual, the principle of government by consent, the value of self-reliance ― all widespread concepts found in the modern, liberal democracies. Just as liberal democrats of the 19th and 20th century, the Polish noblemen were concerned about the power of the state. The Polish noblemen were strongly opposed to the very concept of the authoritarian state.

Perhaps the closest parallels to Poland's 'Noble Democracy' can be found outside Europe altogether ― in America ― among the slave-owning aristocracy of The South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

, where slave-owning democrats and founding fathers of the USA such as Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 or George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 had many values in common with the reformist noblemen of the Commonwealth.

Others however criticize the Golden Liberty, pointing out it was limited only to the nobility, excluding peasants or townsfolk and gave no legal system to grant freedom
Freedom (political)
Political freedom is a central philosophy in Western history and political thought, and one of the most important features of democratic societies...

 and liberty
Liberty
Liberty is a moral and political principle, or Right, that identifies the condition in which human beings are able to govern themselves, to behave according to their own free will, and take responsibility for their actions...

 to the majority of the population, failing them by failing to protect them from the excesses of the nobility, resulting in the slow development of cities and the second serfdom among the peasants. The Commonwealth was called Noble's Paradise, sometimes ― the Jewish Paradise, but also Purgatory for the Townsfolk (Burghers
Bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

)
and Hell for the Peasants. And even among the nobility (szlachta
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

), the Golden Liberty became abused and twisted by the most powerful of them (magnates). However, one should note that this “the Jewish Paradise, but also Purgatory for the Townsfolk and Hell for the Peasants” was first said by a 20th century Jewish-German novelist Alfred Döblin
Alfred Döblin
Alfred Döblin was a German expressionist novelist, best known for the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz .- 1878–1918:...

, not by the people of that time, and it should be evaluated whether this really reflects the fact of the age. In fact it is also true that a number of Russian peasants fled from their brutal lords to settle in liberal Poland, which is a typical example of counterevidence to the "Hell for the Peasants" claim.

In its extreme the Golden Liberty has been criticized as being responsible for "civil wars and invasions, national weakness, irresolution, and poverty of spirit". Failing to evolve into the "modern
Modern Age
Modern Age is an American conservative academic quarterly journal, founded in 1957 by Russell Kirk in close collaboration with Henry Regnery...

" system of an absolutist
Absolutism (European history)
Absolutism or The Age of Absolutism is a historiographical term used to describe a form of monarchical power that is unrestrained by all other institutions, such as churches, legislatures, or social elites...

 and national monarchy, the Commonwealth suffered a gradual decline down to the brink of anarchy, through liberum veto
Liberum veto
The liberum veto was a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It allowed any member of the Sejm to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting Nie pozwalam! .From the mid-16th to the late 18th...

 and other abuses of the system. With majority of szlachta, believing that they live in the perfect state, too few questioned the Golden Liberty and the Sarmatism
Sarmatism
"Sarmatism" is a term designating the dominant lifestyle, culture and ideology of the szlachta of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Together with "Golden Liberty," it formed a central aspect of the Commonwealth's culture...

 philosophy, until it was too late. With szlachta refusing to pay taxes for a larger and modern army, and magnates bribed by foreign powers paralyzing the Commonwealth political system, the Commonwealth was unable to keep up with its increasingly militarized and efficient (through bureaucratization) neighbors, becoming a tempting target for foreign aggression. It was eventually partitioned
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 and annexed by stronger absolutist neighboring countries in the late-18th-century partitions of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

.

Similar systems


Golden Liberty created a state that was unusual for its time, although somewhat similar political system
Political system
A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems...

s existed in the contemporary city-state
City-state
A city-state is an independent or autonomous entity whose territory consists of a city which is not administered as a part of another local government.-Historical city-states:...

s like the Republic of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

. (interestingly both states were styled the "Most Serene Republic
Most Serene Republic
Most Serene Republic is a title attached to the following countries:* Republic of Venice , city-state that existed from 697 to 1797 based in the city of Venice with continuously controlled territory along the eastern Adriatic at its strongest period...

.")

A similar fate was averted by Italy; first due to a secular inability of the kings of France and Spain, and the Papacy, to come to terms on how to divide the country, then through the reaction against Habsburg
Habsburg
The House of Habsburg , also found as Hapsburg, and also known as House of Austria is one of the most important royal houses of Europe and is best known for being an origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, as well as rulers of the Austrian Empire and...

 domination which, as late as 1861, finally aligned most of the country's states in support of a national monarchy under King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy
House of Savoy
The House of Savoy was formed in the early 11th century in the historical Savoy region. Through gradual expansion, it grew from ruling a small county in that region to eventually rule the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until the end of World War II, king of Croatia and King of Armenia...

, hitherto king of Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

.

Notably, neither the Republic of Venice nor Italy had a liberum veto
Liberum veto
The liberum veto was a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It allowed any member of the Sejm to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting Nie pozwalam! .From the mid-16th to the late 18th...

among their institutions.

Proverb


The rights and privileges of the Polish(-Lithuanian)
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 nobility
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

 became proverb
Proverb
A proverb is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim...

ial. A popular Polish saying avers:
—literally,
In Poland to these days it means that there is no man that a freeman (a better, philosophical meaning of 'szlachcic') would think of as a superior.

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