1/ Russians were always obsessed with “catching up with the West” or “being equal with the West”. This became particularly evident after the Enlightenment. Wanted to see Russian autocrat as an equivalent of other European monarchs. This created a movement among the educated elite toward greater participation in politics and an appraisal of the character of Russian autocracy as a legitimate form of government.
2/ Russian historians were all amateurs. Catherine II (1729-1796) herself published “Notes Concerning Russian History”. Russian historians adopted the Western model of writing history as centred on the ruler. They intended to prove that Russia after Peter the Great was in the process of “Europeanization” and had adopted the Enlightened principles of progress and secular causation. Peter the Great (1682-1725) was held up as the model of an elightened ruler. The rulers of Russia also gave these historians a duty to “do battle” with Western historians who tried to show Russia a primitive or barbarous.
3/ The dominant figure in the century was Voltaire (1694-1778). Voltaire claimed that it was “the great actions of kings that have changed the face of the earth”. Russia was obsessed by Voltaire. When, in 1756, his Essai sur les Moeurs et l ’Esprit des Nations (Essay on the Morals and Spirit of Nations) went on sale in St-Petersburg , it sold 3,000 copies on the first day.
4/ The secular role of the Tsar as the primary figure in raising the cultural level of the people was to take precedence over his religious role as the defender of Orthodoxy. The ideal Tsar became the reforming Tsar. Thus all Russian history came to be written in a retrospective perspective according to the Enlightenment principles of reform and progress.
5/ Various interpretations of legitimate autocracy . The focus of the debate was “whether autocracy, despite the risk of despotism, might still be preferable in Russia to aristocracy or democracy, with their threat of becoming oligarchic or anarchic. ” ( p36)
6/ The Dynastic Interpretation of Russian autocracy.Peter’s reign as the “culmination of Russian history” (p 37). “Dynastic historians presented the Russian educated pulic an autocracy the equal of any ruling house of Europe, an important desideratum when the country was just entering the Western family of nations”.
7/ The Empirical ModelThe historians who defended the Empirical model , “concluded like most European thinkers, that democracies are appropriate only in small states, aristocracies only where there are an educated population ...and limited monarchy of the British variety...where people are both enlightened and well acquainted with notions of individualism. None of these characteristics applied to Russia. Without such conditions a state headed by a strong ruler who would wield unlimited powers and work through a bureaucracy to effect the common good”. (p 40).The source of autocratic power was the idea that the monarch was like father . This was very similar to the Ottoman formulation of the sultan as “peder-i müşfik” or “affectionate father”.
8/ The Nondespotic Interpretation.The focus shifted in the 1770’s from the benefits of unlimited power to the danger of its becoming despotic and the danger of power wielded in an unjust, cruel or arbitrary manner. The Ottoman equivalent would be “istibdat” as was used by the opponents of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909).
9/ Love-hate relationship between Russia and Europe.From the 18th century onwards the Russian intelligentsia (a Russian word) tried to prove that it was “European”. At first the achievements of Peter the Great and later Catherine II seemed to show that Russia had taken its place in the Western family of nations.
10/ The Shock of Napoleon.After the French Revolution had illustrated that the Enlightenment had turned fundamentally against autocracy this came as shock to Russia. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, was to create another shock. But Russia was on the winning side and Russian troops marched into Paris in 1814. It seemed that Russia had actually rescued the West from despotism.
11/ The Revolution of December 1825.In December 1825 a group of young military officers inspired by the ideas of radicalism of the French Revolution, tried to stage a revolution in St Petersburg. The attempt was a fiasco.The TsarNicholas I was extremely harsh with these youg aristocrats, hanging some and sending others into exile in Siberia. Russia seemed once again to have become a despotism.
12/ The Crimean War 1854-1856.The defeat of Russia by the alliance of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France. Once again Russia seemed to be thrown out of the European family of nations. The love hate relationship with Europe continued.
13/ Slavophiles and Westerners.Russia had two capitals. St Petersbug and Moscow. Two cities symbolizing two different worlds. St Petersburg Russia’s window on the West. Moscow, mystic Orthodox Russia.Slavophiles rejected the West and beleived that Russia was superior. One of the most famous slovophiles was Dosteyevski. Another major figure who beleived in the basic goodness of the Russian peasant was Tolstoy.
14/ The Attraction of the West vs. the “Russian Soul”.The way in which the Russian intelligentsia overcame its feeling of inferiority towards Europe was to argue that the West had technological progress etc. But that it was materialistic and shallow whereas Russia was great because it had the “Russian Soul”. Nobody was very clear about just what this was.