Radek Szymanski

Szymanski is completing a doctoral dissertation in the Department of History at the University of Lausanne. His research is centred on the education of the brothers Mniszech, two aspiring Polish statesmen who studied under tutelage of a Vaudois pastor Élie Bertrand. Between 1762 and 1768, the Mniszechs engaged in a sustained effort to analyse and compare the political, economic and administrative frameworks of major and minor European states, with the intention of developing expertise relevant to the planned reforms of the Polish state. Poland was unique among European states in terms of its constitution and economic profile. It was a republic, but, unlike Europe’s territorially compact eighteenth-century merchant republics, it did not have a unified corporate sovereign or corresponding governmental apparatus. Instead, its sovereignty was fragmented among semi-autonomous privately-held estates. Its decentralised political institutions, as foreign visitors were wont to observe, were reminiscent of bygone feudalism. At the same time, Poland’s economy was predominantly agrarian and, consequently, was heavily dependent on imported manufactured goods. This double predicament made the amelioration of its situation a major challenge for Enlightenment reform theorists, as well as for would-be reform practitioners such as the Mniszechs.

The 1764 election of the hopeful reformer, king Stanislas Poniatowski, along with an ensuing series of domestic political crises, fuelled internal Polish debates and attracted international attention to the question of reform in Poland. Among the most notable interventions were that of Mably, the Physiocrats Baudeau and Lemercier de la Rivière, and Rousseau. Szymanski has previously worked on the reception of the latter’s Considerations on the Government of Poland, confirming that it was read not as musings of a philosopher, but instead as a realistic project of constitutional reform, whose feasibility was inopportunely compromised by extraneous factors.

Szymanski’s research seeks to place the extensive travels undertaken by the Mniszechs, up until now studied mostly as an example of the late-eighteenth-century art of traveling, within this political and economic context. In his dissertation, he explores the link assumed by Bertrand and the Mniszechs between Poland and the Bernese Republic – the latter conceived as the starting point and the frame of reference for their subsequent survey of European governments which included France, England, Germany and Italy. He seeks to show how their reflections on their economies, administrative apparata and political constitutions were conditioned by the dual framework of the Bernese constitutional matrix and the exigencies of Polish reforms.

Szymanski is therefore particularly interested in how the Mniszechs attempted to conceptualise the distinctive place of Poland in eighteenth-century Europe and to adapt the knowledge that they obtained abroad to local circumstances. He seeks to place their reform-oriented insights in the context of Physiocracy, with which they critically engaged in the course of their studies, and of Cameralism, which they helped to disseminate in Poland by publishing a first major Polish translation of Justi. The dissertation reconstructs their resulting outlook on reforms, necessarily fragmented and heterogeneous, in order to contribute to the study of how theorists and practitioners of reform understood how the various facets of the modern state, such as its power to regulate commerce, to tax and to enforce the law, impacted economic processes and welfare of the people.