The Partitions of Poland, 1772–1795
The most critical factor in Poland’s fall from greatness was the state’s lack of a viable, unifying sociopolitical system to hold the country together. By the mid-17th century, Poland was disintegrating from within. The Polish nobility had grown so powerful vis-à-vis royal authority that no real unity of purpose existed among them to defend the interests of the state as a whole. Government through the sejm was paralyzed by the use of the liberum veto, which granted each individual member the right to defeat any resolution placed before it by voicing a lone protest. No governing assembly could function under such a condition. Although the vetoes of lesser nobles could be overcome effectively, those of the powerful magnates, as well as those with strong foreign backing, could not.