A history of political thinking in Russia. Karamzin on ancient and modern Russia
N. M. Karamzin's essay on ancient and modern Russia is one of the very first and significant products of Russian political philosophy. N. M. Karamzin's intellectual stance evolved in the atmosphere of the profound changes that started under the reign of Peter the Great. His versatile activity fostered the thorough and conscious adoption of western culture in Russia as well as the making of the new Russian culture, whose peculiarity lay in the unification of the old Russian traditions and the impulses of western-bred modernization. Following his apprentice years and a brief military service, Karamzin joined Moscow's Free Masonic Lodge led by notable writer, journalist and publisher, N. I. Novikov. The four years he spent in Moscow was also a time of reading and intensive studying of West European literature. This was when the foundations of Karamzin's literary style and taste evolved. By 1788, young writer Karamzin gradually distanced himself away from Free Masonry, and on 18th May 1789 he set off on his thirteen-month-long tour abroad, which made a decisive impact on his intellectual development. There is little official data available concerning this tour, the main source for researchers being a book entitled Letters of a Russian Traveller, 1789-90, which earned fame for Karamzin. In the Letters he draws the figure of an 'awakening' traveller 'coming to his senses.' Once an enthusiastic admirer of western civilization, he becomes a writer who judges western civilization in a sober manner, recognizing its complexity and multifarious nature, and once glorifying universal humanity, he turns into a thinker taking note of the importance of national traits. It seems as if this change had prefigured Karamzin's whole writerly career: he started out as a literary scholar, implanting the forms and ideas of western literature in Russia, ending up his life as a historian studying the Russian tradition. This change began with his western tour and nearly took another ten years, European events being its major impulse, especially the need to understand the morals of the French Revolution. Similarly to many of his contemporaries, the Revolution made Karamzin hopeful primarily about the quick realization of the ideas of the Enlightenment and the victory of liberty and philanthropy. This personal experience in revolutionary France is not likely to have changed his way of thinking, yet, at any rate, in contrast with other Russian-published works, in the Moskovsky Zhurnal, published by Karamzin, we cannot find any views critical of the events in France. Nevertheless, the 'French parts' of the Letters reflect the writer's later, considerably modified stance. This change becomes fully tangible by 1794: this is borne witness to by a historico-philosophical essay by Karamzin, published in 1795, which is an invented dialogue between the 'Poet' and the 'Philosopher' about the French Revolution, about progress and the fate of the Enlightenment. However, almost every scholar regards it as a work containing obvious biographical references. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Karamzin could openly write about the lessons and consequences of the French Revolution, which – like before – served as a starting point for all of his trains of thought. In these writings the most important role is played by Karamzin's thought – already known to us – about the failure of the Revolution and the great sacrifices made in the name of the Revolution. The dreams cherished about liberty did not come true, and the ten year's war seemed futile as well. Karamzin identified the only benefit of the French Revolution as the general conviction that the lack of order brings more trouble for the people than the abuses of the most imperfect power: therefore, any transformation in society must take place from above and not as a result of revolutions. It was these conclusions that Karamzin utilized in his study, Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia, which he completed at the request of Ekaterina Pavlova, younger sister of the tzar, an influential opponent of the reforms of Alexander and Speransky. The assessment of the reforms is a logical consequence of Karamzin's general views about the European events and Russia's place in Europe. The present article analyses the major claims of Karamzin's study, its general design, his rather sharp critique of Alexander I's reign, as well as his views about autocracy, the limitation of autocratic power and the question of serfdom.
The 'Eurasian' historical paradigm
The 'Eurasian' world view was an anti-bolshevik conservative utopia born among the young generations of the Russian intelligentsia that emigrated from Soviet-Russia after 1917. Its proponents proudly claimed to be the renovators of the traditions of the nineteenth-century 'Russian Idea.' Their crisis labelled them as the 'Slavophiles of the age futurism.' The 'Eurasians' dismissed the unified regularities and one-directional nature of the historical process. They held the simultaneous existence of indigenous civilizations. Of the 'Eurasian' historians only George Vernadsky left behind a complete 'Eurasian' oeuvre. His views took final shape under the intellectual influence of linguist-cultural theorist Nikolai Trubetskoy and geographer-economist Piotr Savitsky. The central category of Eurasianism is the concept 'place of development.' It denotes the collection of the geomorphological-climatic-biological environment and the human communities living in it. Its very components keep changing in a strong interaction with each other, and as a whole, it comprises a geographically individual entity, distinct from the other 'places of development.' The history of the Russian people is a process of the endeavour fully to integrate the Eurasian 'place of development,' driven by the compulsion to accommodate. According to Vernadsky, understanding the fatal problems of his country is furthered by the correct assessment of the Tartar heritage. On the one hand, 'Pax Mongolica' nipped in the bud democratic development and militarized the society. The price of survival was autocracy and the adoption of the institution of serfdom. On the other hand, tolerating the Orthodox Church contributed to the preservation of national identity, and ensured a stable home territory for defence against the Catholic popes. A natural and enduring alliance was forged between the eastern Slavs and the Asian ethnic groups belonging to one empire. The survival of their shared civilization was endangered mainly from the West even afterwards. The importation of European ideas, which was started with the reign of Peter I, was completed through the bolshevik seizure of power. The majority of the emigrant Russian intellectuals sharply set themselves against the 'Eurasians.' The Soviet culturo-political establishment denounced them for their anti-Marxist stance. Lev Gumilev is often categorized as one of the late 'Eurasians,' because he dismissed the view that positioned the nomadic peoples as primitive and he named the Mongolic period of the Russian past 'fertile symbiosis.' His views, at the same time, are the products of an autonomous system of thought. At the centre of his theory evolving on the borderline of the natural and social sciences was the concept of 'passionarnost' (Drive), moving the ethnic history of peoples. According to Gumilev, the Russian-dominated 'Eurasian'empire, emerging from the fifteenth century, became the counterpoint of the neighbouring 'superethnic units' (the European, Chinese and the Muslim world). The civilization-based approach is extraordinarily popular in today's Russian historiography. The renaissance of the 'Eurasian' idea, indeed, greatly contributed to the development of this phenomenon.
The 'White Idea' and the 'White Guard.' The birth of the Russian white guard movement, its ideology and organizations
This study deals with the so-called white guard of the 1917-21 Russian civil war, focussing on its ideology, intellectual historical background and its power strategy. The Russian white movement is understood here as only one, though quite significant segment of the wide-ranging anti-bolshevik camp, since the white movement comprised the centre and right of this camp. At the same time, the Russian white guard was not totally homogeneous. A central role was played by the body of officers extremely disappointed by the revolution, the politicians of the Kadet Party as well as the right of various shades. With regard to its ideology, it was characterized principally by the radical anti-bolshevik and anti-revolutionary stance, imperial Russian nationalism, religious and social traditionalism as well as Russian statism with the ambitions of a great power. Yet, the whites of Russia were incapable of creating a unified and consistent ideology. The 'White Idea' was rather only reflective in nature, responding to concrete challenges. To the very last, it was characterized by certain indeterminacy, especially regarding the acceptance of the social consequences of the revolution and the question of power. Moreover, the Russian whites even created an ideological theorem out of this indeterminacy, the theory of so-called 'non-predetermination,' which was to postpone the solution of every important problem until the period after the presupposed civil war victory. As far as the question of power is concerned, there was more or less consensus on that after the hopeful crushing of the bolsheviks there was a need for a 'strong power.' This expression which was originally simply a response to the chaos of the first months of the revolution, started a life of its own in due time, and an ideological system developed around it. The majority of the Russian white guards' ideologues daydreamed about some authoritarian, more or less dictatorial power structure. Generals leading the white regimes also strove to establish such 'strong power,' but ultimately failed, because they were unable to harness their own inferiors' autocracy and terror. The white camp's heterogeneity and antipathy to parties also implied that they were never able to establish a unified political movement or party which could have represented the 'white alternative' in politics. Most characteristically, the centres or amalgamations that developed on the 'white' side united politicians, experts and military officers formerly belonging to various groupings within the movement. These competed with one another for the grace of leading generals, and hence, indirectly, also for power. Throughout, the Russian white guard movement struggled with a great number of internal contradictions which it was unable to manage, and this was also to contribute to its failure to provide an alternative of the Russian revolution and civil war.
En route to a new ideology of power. The elements of Moscow's conception of power and western influences in the 'copy books of friar Avraamy' (1696)
When, in the autumn of 1696, Peter the Great was paying a visit to the monastery of Andreyevsky near Moscow, one of the friars, Avraamy handed a brief manuscript over to him. Beholding the appearance of the script, Peter handed it back to Avraamy, asking him to prepare a more legible copy for him. Indeed, the friar had someone to get the work to Peter, with a cover letter in which he claimed that it was in the tzar's interest to visit him. However, Avraamy made a serious miscalculation, since by order of the tzar, his interrogation soon began: the charge was political crime, in contemporary Russian terms, the committing of slovo y delo gosudarevo ('word and deed with regard to the ruler'). The manuscript, known in the literature as 'the copy books of Avraamy', although with an intention of betterment, criticized the tzar's manners and his governing activity until then. This, however, bore all the marks of political crime. Historians usually regard Avraamy's copybooks as a source that scrutinizes phenomena deemed harmful in the early period of Peter's reign. This assessment, however, in my view, is only partly correct: in Avraamy's writing the old principles are combined with such elements that would soon become the indispensable ingredients of a new, western-like ideology. For me, Avraamy's work is rather more to be seen as an indicator to what a great extent certain concepts of the western political thinking had gained ground in Russian religious circles by the end of the seventeenth century. We have to think of such concepts as jus naturale or the public good. In spite of these we must not exaggerate the western influences in Avraamy's work. In order to assess the significance of the writing, it is in place to point out that the work is not a theoretical treatise about the nature of the ruler's power, but is a reflection of a transitory period of the Russian ideology of power. At the same time, it is also to be made clear that Avraamy's conception of power significantly differed from the official ideology the major document of which came to light in 1722, toward the end of Peter's reign. The latter, in the name of the public good, defended the tzar's unlimited, we can say, totalitarian power. In Avraamy's piece, however, there was a strong presence of such traditional elements of Moscow's ideology whose function was to lessen the tzar's power – these, nonetheless, of course, did not fit in with Peter's conception of sovereign power.
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