The Image of Peter the Great in Russian Culture, Part 1

by Gordon M. Hahn

In researching a new book on the Russian dilemma of having historically as its ‘significant Other’ the very West that also has been Russia’s main national security threat, I re-read Russian-American historian Nicholas V. Riasanovsky’s classic study The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought.[1] Published on the eve of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika era which eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet communist regime and, ultimately, the state itself, it was prescient in a distended sense, as it analyzed Russia’s great 18th century reformer on the precipice of the rise to power of a Soviet great reformer. Riasanovsky’s study analyzed Peter the Great’s image in Russian historiography and thought from Peter’s death to 1985 and ended noting that “at the age of about fifty the dominant Soviet Petrine image is clearly second in duration only to the Petrine image of the (18th century) Russian Enlightenment. What will the next Russian image of Peter the Great be like?”[2] This paper seeks to answer this question.

This paper provides an overview of the trends unearthed by Riasanovsky regarding Peter the Great’s image up to the perestroika period. It then focuses on its successor images in the late Soviet, perestroika culture as well as in both the Yeltsin-era and Putin-era post-Soviet periods. Finally, it examines the images of the main antipodes to Peter during his era, the Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa and Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich. Peter the Great’s ‘revolutionary’ and Westernizing role predominated his epoch and is no less a dissident one in relation to the pre-Petrine regime. Moreover, Peter’s image, its various interpretations and normative valences predominate the discursive and semiotic space regarding his epoch and its consequences for Russian history, culture, and contemporary politics. In comparison to Peter, tsarevich Alexei is relatively absent from Russia’s cultural discourse.[3] Therefore, the discussion of the sedimentation of dissident symbols relevant to the formation of Russian political and strategic culture below includes the discursive, semiotic images of both Peter and Alexei. However, Alexei’s presence in the historical literature, cultural discourse, and semiotic landscape is scarce.

However, for many Russians, both among Peter’s contemporaries and successors, the first emperor was no less, even more a dissident than tsarevich Alexei. This creates even more disbalance in the antipode between dissident (opposition) and regime (state) leader representation. Therefore, I supplement Alexei with the Cossack leader Mazepa (who like Alexei colluded with Westerners against Peter) in order to bolster the dissident half of the antipodal equation. Thus, this section on the symbols that represent the sedimentation of attitudes in Russian culture will focus on the semiotics of Peter, Alexei, and Mazepa.

The Petrine Legacy

By the end of Peter’s reign and throughout the 18th century, Russia was deep into the ‘displacement’ process (the re-orientation of Russian self-identity in persistent reference to another cultural identity – European) that came with the dislocation of its self-identity. Peter’s reign constituted a large-scale, if not fundamental dislocation of Russian self-identity through the displacement of previous Russian tradition by Western values and practices. This dislocation of Russian identity far outstripped all previous intakes of Western influence taken together. The dislocation carried with it internal contradictions which created cognitive dissonance, ambivalence and ambiguity in Russians’ attitude towards the West. The sun of enlightened reason, Peter had insisted, rose in the west, not in the east. Hence forward, Russia’s self-identity and discourse were defined, measured, and referenced only in terms of the West. Yet this very same West, Russia had perceived for more than century seen as harboring its most dangerous and forbidding enemies. Thus, with the spread of enlightenment and reason, Russian schizophrenia towards the West would only intensify. Some naturally began to question in the most robust form the advisability of borrowing in such large-scale fashion from your foreign foes.

Domestically, the ‘dislocation’ created by Peter’s reforms and the Russian Enlightenment century embedded the Russian security value’s dilemma into Russian history and culture. For ever more Russian leaders, elites and society would reference the West when engaged in discourse on Russia’s proper self-identity and destiny. They would repeatedly be torn between the need to modernize using its ‘constituent Other’s technological and therefore cultural know-how, while simultaneously seeking to prevent Westernization from too thoroughly transforming Russian society, culture, politics and economics. In short, borrowing from the West to fend off security threats from abroad and most notably from Western powers and coalitions risked inviting internal security risks arising from Westernizing cultural change in society. The political culture and discourse began to be nearly monopolized by aspirational or antagonistic reference to the West. Some Russians from Peter the Great forward would favor Westernization of some kind or power alliances with one or another Western faction. Others would wholly antagonistic to Westernization, the West, its enlightened monarchies, then democracies and differed either over with whom Russia should ally in Europe whether it should do so at all. This division in the menu of policy choices would forever shape the structure of political action in Russia.

In foreign affairs, Peter the Great’s foreign policy overturned an old European order in which Russia was an object – the target of Vatican, Polish and other Europeans’ designs. Post-Petrine Russia was now a subject – a player and a major one – in European geopolitics beginning a repeating cycle of alliance followed by alienation in Western-Russian relations per Tsymburskii. In addition, we find an approximation of Tsymburskii’s Move B in Europe’s galvanization against Russia’s strengthening position and Sweden’s recruitment of Mazepa, around the time of the Battle at Poltava and Peter’s conclusion of a dynastic alliance with the Prussians of Mecklenburg.

Under Peter, Russia’s relations with the West were already becoming an entangled web of contradictions and ambiguity. Peter’s travels West inspire his reforms but also his war against European power Sweden. For the first and perhaps only time in Russian history we meet the curious contradiction in which Russia simultaneously is both Westernizing and at war with a Western power. Ironically, just as Peter was waging war against Sweden on behalf and to some extent on behalf of other Western powers, he was adopting Sweden’s organization system of kollegii for administration in the Russian state in addition to other Western institutions such as such as the burgmisterskie palaty. Peter’s war with Protestant Sweden also contradicted his accommodation with Protestants at home, where his ‘right hand’ in religious affairs is Protestant-influenced Feofan Prokpovich and where the Holy Synod approves the right of Orthodox Christians to marry Protestants (and Catholics). At the same time anti-Catholicism is growing, Peter is allied with, and doing the bidding of Catholic Poland in warring against Sweden.

The Petrine Image

The Petrine image’s importance lies in Peter’s ambiguous legacy of partially modernizing Russia along European lines but doing so by using rather than dismantling tsarist autocracy and in its worst, most coercive variation along the lines of Ivan the Terrible. This ambiguous legacy yielded an ambivalent attitude towards Peter in Russian political and strategic culture. Autocrats and their ideologues during Russia’s 18th century Russian Enlightenment and to some extent in the 19th century defended their fellow Romanov’s brutal authoritarian means for the sake of the end of establishing Russia as an enlightened European monarchy and European geopolitical player. Westernizing dissidents, such as Aleksandr Radishchev, rejected Peter’s means as an example of worst kind of coercive autocratic power, but also criticized Peter for not going further in his reforms by establishing a constitutional monarchy or even republic. The great Russian poet and writer Aleksandr Pushkin created a ‘dualist’ image of Peter in a way similar to the Russian Enlightenment image, but his was decidedly, if cryptically more negative rather than positive. However, anti-Western Slavophiles and later Russian nationalists offered a negative image of little uncertainty as to the debilitating effects on Russian culture and society wrought by Peter’s ‘inorganic’ and divisive reforms; ones, moreover, implemented with cruelty, coercion, and no accounting for their alien nature relative previous Russian tradition. The short answer to Riasanovsky’s question is that all of these images coexist and compete in Russia’s national identity discourse and culture today.

Peter’s Image in Russia’s Imperial and Soviet Pre-Perestroika Cultural-Identity Discourse: Enlightened Autocrat, Cruel Enlightener, and Colluding Westernizer

The spectrum of views of Peter the Great’s image in Russia’s cultural and identity discourse can be decided with sufficient neatness into three perspectives: (1) autocratic acolytes, (2) ambivalent, even plurivalent balancers or ‘multivariates’, and (3) antagonistic critics. The autocratic acolytes supported a positive hagiography of Peter the Absolutist Autocrat, whose work strengthened Russia’s autocracy, state, military power and diplomatic influence. These are the only legitimate ends for the autocratic acolytes. For them, Westernization is means that have been valued only to the extent they served the aforementioned achievements. Acolytes have consisted almost entirely of Russian autocrats themselves, their propagandists and ideologists. The ambivalent ‘multivariates’ or ‘ambivalants’ tend to support both the image of Peter the Autocrat as well as the image of Peter the Westernizer or aspects of these two images. Critical antagonists rejected most elements of both these images. For them, Peter the Westernizer is often regarded as nearly Peter the Colluder with enemy Western powers. The acolytes, ambivalent, and antagonists were divided to different degrees among the three basic tendencies noted in Riasanovsky’s groundbreaking study The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, cited extensively herein, that emerged after the end of the pro-Petrine Enlightenment era image after the 1825 Decembrist revolt: the largely acolyte, pro-Petrine ‘Enlightenment’ official view; the mixed Westernizer assessment; and the largely antagonistic nationalist, traditionalist Slavophilism, later supplemented by the socialist class-based critique. Both Westernizers and official ideology (Official Nationality, as Riasanovsky refers to it) praised Peter more than condemned him, in contrast to the Slavophiles and other traditionalists. However, Westernizing intellectuals and activists emphasized Peter’s role as enlightener, while officialdom and its allied thinkers stressed Peter’s building of Russian autocratic and state power at home and abroad.[4] The Westernizers supported Peter’s Westernizing transformation inside Russia and for the most part took pride in his foreign policy success, but they decried the brutal methods of the enlightened autocrat then as well as those of his successors. They sought more Westernization: the end of serfdom, a constititional monarchy if not outright republican government, and freedom of speech and association.

The Old Believers’ vision of Peter as Antichrist overthrowing the Russian religious, cultural and social tradition had a near monopoly on the critique of Peter throughout the period of the Russian Enlightenment lasting through most of the reign of Alexander I (1801-1825). But they and their views were repressed and driven underground, so they had little to no impact on Russia’s discourse on Peter’s legacy and its implication for Russia’s past and future until the 19th century when repression was eased. The lack of an autonomous civil society under the autocracy strengthened by Peter left the discursive space entirely to officialdom and thus the acolytes of absolutism and autocracy: Peter’s autocratic successors and ideologist-acolytes of absolutism and Russia’s first emperor they sponsored. The ambivalent Westernizer view and the attacks from the Slavophile and others on the Right and later from the Left and Soviet power would come later.  Except for the brief reign of Paul I (1796-1801), “the triumphant image of a crowned reformer bringing light into the Russian darkness” gained strength, stature, and scope and predominated Russian discourse throughout the century from Peter the Great to Alexander I as the Enlightenment spread across the empire.[5]

To be sure, a few acolytes of Peter the Great could occasionally be found among opposition elements.[6] This was especially true of Leftists, who, unlike ‘other Westernizers’, regretted the knout less as an engine of historical materialism. It is important to note and for Westerners to understand that the less fruitful, radical ideas that would come to shape Russia’s sad fate in the 20th century were not indigenous ideas resulting from the backwardness of Russian culture but were imported into Russia. By the mid-19th century the autocratic state, though it still retained its admiration for Peter and maintained the Peter cult, found both the cult’s relevance and usefulness for political legitimation to be less robust. Now, the very Westernizaton and rationalism which Peter imported to Russia was allowing a pluralism and positivism that began to chip away at the view of Peter as a God-like Westernizer and benevolent traditional Russian autocrat. At least two new approaches to Peter’s legacy emerged beside the state-sponsored Enlightenment era hagiography: (1) an ambivalent critique from Westernizing critics of serfdom, autocracy, and/or Peter’s autocratic methods of modernization and serfdom and (2) a very antagonistic attack led by neo-traditionalist and pro-autocracy Slavophiles and ‘Westernizing’ radicals, including the socialist and anarchist Left.

The ‘Ambivalants’

A large partion of articulations towards the Petrine legacy over the centuries has been ambivalent. Ambivalence was expressed in ambiguous treatments of Peter and his reforms or evolving positions influenced by the course of contemporary events at home and/or abroad. For most Westernizers, Peter’s reforms were a step in the right direction but insufficient in both achievements and initial goals and far too coercive in their implementation. Although Westernizers tended to accept and even take some pride in Peter’s establishment of Russia as a European power, they did not relish in this beyond its potential for deepening ties with Europe, which they expected would push Russia further in the Western direction. Three early Russian Romantic age, Westernizer views of the Petrine legacy – those of the philosopher Alexander Radishchev, Russia’s greatest poet and perhaps greatest writer Alexander Pushkin, and Pushkin’s friend, the historical philosopher Pytor Chaadaev – gave birth to the ambivalent Westernizer critique of Peter.

The great Russian enlightenment philosopher and first modern dissident, Westernizer, the oft-called ‘father of the Russian intelligentsia,’ Alexander Radishchev (1749-1802), issued the first openly published criticisms of Peter the Great. Radishchev, an uncompromising republican opponent of absolutism, inherited aristocracy, and serfdom, called for Russia’s rapid adoption of Western-style republican government and civil rights such as freedom of speech and association.[7] Radishchev’s models for Russia’s political transformation were England and the United States. Like most Westernizers, Radishchev acknowledged Peter’s greatness in implementing major reforms, but Peter’s maintenance, even strengthening of absolutism prompted him to reject Peter’s failure to push further and dismantle autocracy. In Radishchev’s groundbreaking critique of serfdom and other Russian maladies, Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, for which he was exiled by Catherine the Great, Radishchev fully approved of Peter’s weakening of the inherited nobility and imposing meritocratic pathways to the nobility. He noted that Peter’s Table of Ranks “opened the way for everyone to obtain a noble title, and, so to speak, trampled the old nobility into the mud” and recommends that the old genealogical tables be sold as wrapping paper.[8] In his poem “The Eighteenth Century,” Radishchev described the reigns of the two great Westernizing reformers of the century, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, as periods when “ice fields of fallacy, many thousands of years old, melted” and associated them with the reformist early years in the reign of Alexander I.[9] However, while in exile he wrote an essay, Letter to a Friend Living in Tobolsk, in which he said Peter would be more praiseworthy if he had moved to protect individual liberty.[10]

More critical views began to emerge as Russia became more pluralistic and positivistic in the early 19th century, especially under the liberalizing tsar Alexander I. Quite logically, the critiques included three perspectives: (1) anti-Westernism; (2) anti-autocratic, pro-democratic Westernism; and (3) anti-instrumentalism or opposition to Peter’s means to his Westernizing, modernizing ends. This pluralism of opinion, however, gave rise not just to dissident thought but dissident behavior from below. These new Westernized oppositionists were not the superfluous men of Pushkin’s frightened clerk Yevgenii in The Bronze Horseman (see below) but men of action, revolutionaries, who emerged from the educated aristocracy and officer corps after the Patriotic War against Napoleon. The so-called ‘Decembrists’ radical activism was reflected in their creation of conspiratorial organizations dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of tsarist autocracy by way of a military coup.[11] As discussed in the next chapter, the Decembrists included a wide range of aristocrat officer dissidents, who had been influenced psychologically by their battle experience in the war against Napoleon and politically by their acquaintance with Europe and Paris that attended the war experience.

The Decembrist movement was deeply divided on Peter’s legacy, and the range of opinions covered that of all of Russian society’s non-Slavophile, enlightened opinion.[12] Some, particulary those, who supported the most rapid transition to Western-style democracy, were highly critical along the lines of Westernizers like Radishchev, condemning him as a foe of liberty and a cruel despot, whose reforms were at best of little to no benefit for the overwhelming majority of Russians—the peasantry. Some critics adopted the Slavophile line, castigating his mechanical ‘aping’ of Western practices and lifestyle. Others were more effusive in their praise, seeing Peter as having set the stage for further democratic transformations.[13] When Decembrist Nikolai Turgenev turned to codemnation of Peter from his early praise, another Decembrist, Nikolai Bestuzhev retorted: “I am out of my mind in love with that tyrant.”[14] The movement included two historians who knew of what they wrote about Peter and his reforms: Alexander Kornilovich (1800-1834) and Nicholas Bestuzhev (1791-1855). Kornilovich depicted Peter as a tireless worker devoted to his people in the traditional official view. However, he also produced a study of Tsarevich Alexei “to refute slander” that was refused publication and has since disappeared. Bestuzhev, who eventually became the Russian navy’s official historiographer, praised Peter and his reforms but acknowledged many of the shortcomings of his regin: the impossible tax burden that drove peasants to the Don and far north, the price paid in human lives to build Peter’s ‘Venice of the north’ and his navy in Voronezh.[15]

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) was the first of Russia’s three great literary prophets to seek to unravel the Petrine legacy, the other two – Fyodor Dostoevskii and Lev Tolstoy – coming half a century later and being far less prolific on the subject.[16] The great poet with African heritage was also a superb historian, praised for his History of the Pugachev Rebellion. Indeed, no less than the Emperor Nikolai I and the great Russian philosopher Semyon Frank regarded him as Russia’s “wisest mind” and “one of the most powerful, penetrating and original minds,” respectively.[17] According to Frank, Pushkin “assisted the development of the Russian historical consciousness more than anyone else.”[18]

Although his attitude towards Peter was, in Frank’s words, “the clearest expression” of Pushkin’s “undoubted Westernism (zapadnichestvo),” the poet/historian was not a Westernizing purist.[19] As Dostoevsky and Frank noted, Pushkin was a universalist, neither a narrow-minded nationalist Slavophile in love for Russia and hatred for Peter and the West, nor an indiscriminate Westernizing supporter of the entire Petrine legacy ashamed of everything Russian. He valued and was steeped in Western, particularly French and English, culture and both pre-Petrine and post-Petrine Russian culture. While he treasured Russian literature, including its rich fund of folk and fairy tales, his delivered a “deadly” blow to the Slavophiles’ rejection of Peter’s borrowing from Europe, reminding them that the Orthodox religion they held up as the foundation stone of Russian civilization had also been borrowed. If Peter the Great had to be rejected, so too must Vladimir the Great.[20] Thus, similar to his development of a deeper, subtler, and ultimately more revealing interpretation of Russia’s interactive development with Europe than either Westernizers or Slavophiles (see below) had to offer, so too did Pushkin develop a deeper, multifaceted vision of the complex ambiguity and moral contradictions of Peter’s work and legacy. Pushkin’s complex vision of Peter and his greatest material creation, St. Petersburg, resound down to us today in a myriad of interpretations, re-interpretations and new attempts to answer the questions he posed. Pushkin’s view of Peter in its most mature phase of development comes closer to Chaadaev in its historiosophical approach but nearer to Karamzin in its historico-political conservatism.

In December 1825, Russia’s first modern revolutionaries armed and marched into Senate Square, the home of The Bronze Horeseman monument to Peter. Pushkin was a close associate of the Decembrists but was rejected for membership because he associated with too many people not of like mind with their conspiratorial organization.[21] At the same time, he possibly had been in cahoots with another Decembrist sympathizer, Pyotr Chaadaev, to assassinate Tsar Alexander I.[22] Pushkin’s openness and own duality are keys to Pushkin’s deeper understanding of Peter and his legacy, and in the Russian historical memory Pushkin became even more closely associated with these Western-influenced revolutionaries. Volkov argues that Pushkin’s poem, The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale, interpreted by many at the time and later as a requiem for the movement’s hanged and exiled members, “further opened” the Decembrists’ “first crack in the façade of Petersburg’s neoclassical Empire.”[23]

One of Nicholas I’s early acts after quelling the revolt and consolidating his power was to call Pushkin to Petersburg for a private audience. Pushkin’s political libertinism, openness, sudden lack of revolutionary zeal was revealed. Perhaps mesmerized by the young emperor’s charisma, he ran from the imperial study after the audience with tears in his eyes, declaring: “How I would like to hate him! But what can I do? For what can I hate him?” The imprisoned and awaiting trial Decembrists, among others, surely had answers to that question, but Pushkin apparently did not. Nicholas, who declared after the audience that Pushkin was “the wisest person in Russia,” had asked the poet if he had been in St. Petersburg on the day of the uprising would he have taken part, to which Pushkin answered affirmatively.[24] The poet’s honesty was apparently appreciated by Nikolai, but the emperor also must have been taken Pushkin’s response into advisement. Pushkin should and would likely have suspected so, and this would have been reason for him to watch both his spoken and written words, especially if he hoped to get them by the censors.

In the last years of his short life, Pushkin was fully absorbed by Peter, composing four works focused or touching on the theme: “Stansy” or “Stanzas” (1826), a long narrative poem “Poltava” (1828), a short poem “The Feast of Peter the First” (1835), and his 1834 masterpiece narrative poem The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale. Moreover, the poet was beginning work on a major history of Peter the Great’s reign; a study so important to him that despite having tired of, even come to hate St. Petersburg, he canceled plans to leave it and his civil service position because Nicholas I warned he would terminate Pushkin’s access to the archives needed to write his history of Peter and his reforms.[25] This was not Pushkin’s first effort at historiography. His History of the Pugachev Rebellion is still an intriguing and important take on the subject.

There was considerable nuance, ambivalence and duality in Pushkin’s concept of Peter. Pushkin regarded Peter as a personality larger than life and a monumental, if flawed and despotic leader. But Russia’s greatest poet was able to hold in his head and heart simultaneously a disdain for Peter’s despotic leadership and respect for his political intentions and some of his most outstanding personal characteristics, such as his large capacity for work and his ability to take criticism, admit his mistakes and forgive enemies who crossed him. In his poem “Stansy,” he penned the “most celebrated description of all of the emperor” as an “academician,” “hero,” “seafarer,” “carpenter,” and “eternal worker” “on the throne,” “with an all-encompassing soul.” Riasanovsky notes the “programmatic” and, one might add, dualistic “Age of Reason statement” two lines before these praises: “With an autocratic hand/He daringly sowed enlightenment.” He encourages Nicholas I in the poem to “be in everything like your ancestor”: “tireless,” “firm,” and “remembering no evil.”[26] The last Petrine quality—‘remembering no evil’—would be developed and become a mainstay of Pushkin’s positive perceptions of Peter. In his 1835 “The Feast of Peter the First,” Pushkin gives us a Peter with whom “forgiveness triumphs as victory over an enemy.”[27] In the poem “Poltava” Peter is portrayed at another feast celebrating his victory over the Swedes and Hetman Mazepa’s Cossack forces, where “he hosts his own and alien commanders and caresses glorious prisoners.”[28] We see in “Poltava” a hint at perhaps the central strand in Pushkin’s conceptualization of Peter and his historical role: ambivalence, even plurivalence. In back-to-back lines Pushkin describes Peter as “terrifying” and “magnificent.”[29]

Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman, the great cultural historian Solomon Volkov concludes, gave birth to the “Petersburg mythos,” which “would not have existed without Peter the Great and Pushkin.”[30] It is perhaps not going to far to amend Volkov by adding that perhaps Russia’s greatest literary piece is the source of the modern Petrine mythos or legend. The duality of the city’s mythos is inextricably tied to the duality and plurivalence of its “miracle-working builder” and his transformative legacy. The Bronze Horseman’s status as the starting point of the modern Peter mythos is not diminished by its ambiguous incompleteness and mysteriousness but rather is raised higher and rendered more fruit-bearing for further interpretive analysis and meditation; some would say, even prophecy.

Cultural historians who have closely studied Pushkin and The Bronze Horseman are in near unanimity on Pushkin’s and his masterpiece’s ambivalence towards Peter and his legacy. Billington contends Pushkin transforms Falconet’s Bronze Horseman into “ambiguous symbol of imperial majesty and inhuman power.”[31] Solomon Volkov writes of the “duality” in Pushkin’s image of Peter, Peter’s historical role, and the St. Petersburg mythos. For Volkov, Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman “is the start of the Petersburg mythos,” a mythos based on the “duality of the city” whose founder’s image “has always been doubled.”[32] “Pushkin’s vision of the city was dualistic. His evaluation of the role of Peter and his reforms, of the civilizing effect of the city, and of the future of autocratic rule Ithat is, the past, present, and future of all Russia) seems in The Bronze Horseman to rest in balance. Neither took precedence. But their equilibrium was not clearly fixed: the scales trembled and vibrated.”[33] Volkov also argues that “Pushkin’s genius” lies in “that he does not present a clear-cut answer” to a, if not the central question the poem poses: “what is more important—the individual’s fate or the city’s and the state’s triumph?”[34] Riasanovsky notes that Pushin’s “extraordinary work” “remains a riddle;” the writing itself is “crystal clear,” but “not the meaning or the message.” “Pushkin’s Hamlet,” he observes, has as many interpretations as Shakespeare’s, suggesting a mystical – “realms beyond the dry light of the Age of Reason” – rather than rational sources for his creation.[35] Pushkin’s “remarkably rich, complex, and puzzling masterwork” may be the result of his views on Peter being “in transition.”[36]

Some major cultural historians deviate from this concensus. Lotman, for example, asserts that Pushkin intended The Bronze Horseman as a “terrible reproach” to the “historical ruthlessness” of Peter’s willful, cruel and violent forced modernization of late medieval Russia.[37] Lotman may be right, and we can suspect that Pushkin may have softened his public and even private written pronouncements at the implied behest of the authorities. He was keenly aware that Nikolai I and his secret police were focused on his political stance; there could be no doubt about that after his audience with Nikolai I. He also needed to get his writing past the emperor’s censors, and Nicholas I was an admirer of Peter the Great, seeing himself as his successor in magnificence, if not in ideology. On the other hand, Pushkin may have intended or conjured more than one message.

In his later conservative years, Pushkin’s admiration waned for a Peter he saw as “Robespierre and Napoleon in one person” and for policies he considered “embodied revolution.”[38] Specialists concur that the great poet and thinker became increasingly conservative and repulsed by the first emperor’s cruelty, as he became more expert as a historian on Peter’s work. The following quote from his notes for his history of Peter’s epoch reflects both that repulsion and yet ambivalence toward Peter’s ambiguous record and duality: “Worthy of wonder is the difference between Peter the Great’s state institutions and his temporary ukazes. The former are a product of a broad mind, full of benevolence and wisdom; the latter are cruel. Arbitrary, and, it would seem, written with a knout. The former were for eternity, or at least for the future; the latter escaped from an impatient despotic landowner.”[39]

Billington describes Pushkin’s open-minded, complex and objective approach as an observer and historian well:

“Pushkin was a relatively unpolemical writer, a man of shifting interests, tantalizing fragments, and elusive opinions. Yet he gradually developed an outlook that can be characterized as conservative in social and political matters and liberal in the realm of spiritual and creative culture. After a youth of many love affairs and close contact with the Decembrists and other romantic reformers, he became a supporter of autocracy in the 1820s’s and a half-domesticated paterfamilias in the 1830’s. He had always shatred the aristocratic distaste for the vulgarity and capriciousness of the common horde. He was a skeptical about the possibilities of democracy in America and tended to praise great men—Peter the Great, Lomonosov, and even at times Napoleon—who had disregarded majority opinion in order to lift standards and advance culture. Always a monarchist, he hailed Nicholas I in more cordial terms than he had Alexander I; praised Peter and derided his Ukrainian foe Mazepa in has Poltava of 1829; and endorsed the crushing of the Polish insurrection of 1830. Increasingly, he felt reverence for continuity and tradition. Violent change of any sort, he came to feel, would bring forth an inescapable revenge of fate. … The flood and madness which engulfs the poor clerk in ‘The Bronze Horseman’ are the revenge of fate for the precipitous reforms of Peter.”[40]

Pushkin’s poem crystallized in verse the contradictions between Peter’s laudable goal of Westernization and the coercive and violent means he deployed to achieve it as well as between the Russian Enlightenment era hagiography of Peter as ‘Great’ and his demonization as the ‘beast’ ushering in the apocalypse at least for the remnants of Old Muscovy preserved by the Old Believers and still valued by ancient boyar noble families and elements in the Church.

Pushkin’s introductory stanzas to The Bronze Horseman, are, as Riasanovsky suggests, the most shining example of the Enlightenment Petrine cult and may have been included to misdirect the censors. The narrative plot contrasts sharply with this panegyric. It depicts a low-level civil servant Yevgenii confronting a St. Petersburg cataclysmic flood and the Catherine the Great’s monument to Peter the Great, Falconet’s bronze horseman – that is, Peter the Great – come to life. The former takes the life of his beloved; the second appears to takw what remains of Yevgenii’s own. The bronze horseman as sculpture depicts Russia’s first emperor with his right arm extended out to the right and slightly upward riding a horse standing on its hind legs in fear of and prepared to stomp a snake slithering at its hooves. In the poem, Yevgenii is cut off from his love Parasha as the flood waters have forced the authorities to raise the bridges that connect the citiy’s various islands. Yevgeniy rides out the storm sitting atop one of the sculpted sentry lions along the granite banks of the Neva, and on the opposite embankment the bronze horseman sits arrogantly “on high” atop his steed: “Behold the Image sit, and ride upon the brazen horse astride.”[41]  The storm sweeps away the house and life of Parasha. When the weather receeds and the bridges are lowered, Yevgenii is able to seek out his love. Finding Parasha and her home have been swept away into eternity, he sinks half-mad into wandering homeless and aimless about the city—as if he were “something miscreated.” One night he stumbles into Senate Square and confronts the horseman of cold bronze still sitting atop his steed as if nothing had happened:

Him/Who, moveless and aloft and dim,

Our city by the sea had founded,

Whose will was fate. Appalling there

He sat, begirt with mist and air.

What thoughts engrave his brow! What hidden

Power and authority he claims!

What fire in younder charger flames!

Proud charger, wither art thou ridden,

Where leapest thou, and where, on whom,

Wilt plant thy hoof?—Ah, lord of doom

And potentate, t’was thus, appearing

Above the void, and in thy hold

A curb of iron, thou sat’st of old

O’er Russia, on her haunches rearing! [42]

Yevgenii threatens the “architect” of “marvels”: “Ah, beware of me!” With this the famous fire in Peter the Great’s eye explodes the bronze horseman forth in pursuit of the fleeing “madman” all night whereever he may turn. Hence forward, Yevgenii if he perchance accidentally turned into Senate Square took his cap in hand and slinked by looking away from Peter. The poem ends with Yevgenii’s dead body found washed up on a nearby island by a recent flood.[43]

We can speak of Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman as the finest expression of the not just the Petersburg myth but also of the Petrine legacy or ‘Peter myth’ to appear in literature up to that point. Central to both myths, as Volkov stresses in his groundbreaking culturological study St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, is a self-contradictory “duality.”[44] Each mythos can be said to include discourses on the following antipodal pairs: Pushkin’s hatred/love for Peter and his city; the inhumanity of means of the tyrant-Antichrist/the humanist, Western Enlightenment ends of the Great Reformer; creative triumph/tragic destruction; and state/individual.[45] Although Pushkin expresses directly neither hatred nor love for the city’s ‘architect,’ he expresses his “love” for the “city of Peter” five times in the introductory stanzas.[46] The introduction seems to accentuate Peter’s greatness, which shapes the reader’s perception thereafter of any allusion to power and grandeur as positive praise of Peter. However, the effect of the powerful emperor’s work is death and destruction, catastrophe and cataclysm, which gives way to a sense of fearful awe towards Peter rather than love, admiration, or even respect. However, here the verdict is unclear, ambiguous, balanced. Yet Yevgenii’s disastrous fate resonates with Pushkin’s characterization of Peter as “the lord of doom,” which suggests the Old Believer accusation of Peter as the Antichrist or his instrument rather than the image of a miracle-working builder or enlightening Great Reformer. Yevgenii’s ridicule of Peter’s “creation of marvels” invokes his creative triumph on the Neva with high sarcasm pointing up destruction and tragedy throughout the poem and indeed the city’s later history.

Crucially, Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman is the first artistic treatment in Russian history to address Russia’s cursed question about the conflict between, and relative value of the individual and the state, put squarely on the agenda by Radishchev. Yevgenii can be interpreted to represent the Russian people driven into quasi-modernity by Peter’s whip. Yevgenii’s threat to the high-riding bronze horseman to beware of this lowly, down-trodden clerk is nothing less than the holding up the individual as equal to the state in moral value. And if Yevgenii represents the people, not just the individual, but a society of indviduals of equal worth among themselves and in relation to the state, then his threat is the threat of revolution. If Yevgenii represents the Russian people, harrassed by Peter’s, indeed the autocracy’s willfulness and coercion, rather than just Petersburgers, harrowed by his northern Venice’s icy cold and floods, then Yevgenii’s threat seems to prophecy popular rejection of despotic autocracy—revolution—the revenge of fate for despotic rule. The struggle between the individual and the state and the writer and the state, which Pushkin experienced personally in his relations with Nikiolai and the censors, would have relevance for the fate of Russia and its form of government from The Bronze Horseman forward. In a way, Pushkin was the revenge of fate for Peter, sparking a debate about his role in Russian history and about the proper role of the writer and the individual vis-à-vis the state tyrants like Peter, enlightened or otherwise, that would last for centuries to come. Thus, this theme from The Bronze Horseman resounded down across the centuries into the Soviet era. Soviet Red Army Marshal Leonid Govorov, commander of the Leningrad Front during the Great Patritoic War against the Nazis, the city’s liberator, and, according to Volkov, “a quintessential Petersburger,” in a burst of passion perhaps for political change emotionally recited lines from Pushkin’s poem: “Where are you galloping, proud steed/And where will you plant your hoofs?”[47]

The duality or even plurality of Peter’s creative triumph and his creation’s tragic ‘revenge of fate’ for his inhumanity are reflected in both Volkov’s Petersburg mythos and Pushkin’s prophecy uttered through the Yevgenii. Volkov recounts the revenge against Peter’s city, with its world-historical cultural acheivements and heritage subsumed by cycles of cataclysmic nearly complete destruction: the elimination of Russia’s elite in St. Petersburg and the city’s briliiant cultural legacy during the Russian revolution, civil war, and aftermath; the 900-day blockade of ‘Leningrad’ in which a million starved, froze or otherwise were brought to death by Nazi Germany; Stalin’s pre- and post-war purges of its ‘Leningrad’ elite; and the city’s ultimate survival and triumph (to date), symbolized by the return of its original name as the USSR was collapsing in 1991 and the banishment of the Bolshevik-imposed ‘Leningrad.’ Petersburg’s dichotomy of fate in the 20th century reinforced the city’s dual image in Russian cultural discourse, one mirroring that of its miracle-working builder.

Some historians have been struck by the prophetic element in Pushkin’s poem. In his discussion of The Bronze Horseman, Riasanovsky alludes to, but chooses not to discuss “whether a supreme literary genius” such as Pushkin “can reflect, perhaps even foretell, the turbulent world around him much better than he knows it himself.”[48] Indeed, if Yevgenii’s threat to the horseman-emperor to beware of him was meant by Pushkin symbolize the threat of a future revolution, then Pushkin appears to have had a premonition about the fate of Russia and Petersburg’s giving birth to the February 1917 revolution. To be sure, his prophecy may have been more fear than hope or faith. That fear was shaped by his sympathies for his Decembrist friends’ failed uprising and by his growing discomfort, if not disdain for the increasingly pervasive bureaucratic-police autocracy Peter founded and the revenge it took on the aristocratic revolutionaries.

In 1826, a friend of Pushkin and a former military officer, Pytor Chaadaev (1794-1856), issued a clarion call to the emerging Russian intelligentsia in the first of eight self-published “Philosophical Letters.” Chaadaev charged that Russia had “no past, no present and no future” and that it neither had a history nor had played any historical role in the world. Chaadaev’s initial interpretation of Russian history and culture was a harsh version of the Westernizer critique. He viewed Europe as superior culturally, religiously, and ‘world-historically’ and saw Peter’s reforms as mechanically imitating or ‘aping’ the West rather than transforming Russia into a European country in any significant way. Since Chaadaev, writing in the 1840s, insisted that Russia remained a non-historical nation without a future, any changes resulting from Peter’s legacy logically had been insignificant. Although Russia’s lack of a history and any deeply rooted traditions might have functioned to justify Peter’s coercion and violence and legitimize his bureaucratic absolutism, Chaadaev believed these factors rendered Peter’s reform achievements – to the extent there were any – insignificant. Since they faced no real obstacles, given the absence of a pre-Petrine Russian tradition, any achievements in reform were no great feat and were no more likely to take root than superficial pre-Petrine cultural traits such as the similarly imported and mechanically imposed Orthodox Christianity.[49]

Chaadaev transformed at least his public view of Peter’s legacy after being censored, arrested and declared insane for his “Letters” in 1836 by Nicholas I’s secret police, the Third Department. Nicholas saw himself as the heir of the first emperor’s Enlightenment century image as a magnificent and omnisicient sovereign. He approved the police action against Chaadaev and demanded that he receive a report on Chaadaev’s ‘condition’ monthly. Essentially at the explicit behest of the authorities, Chaadaev issued “An Apology of a Madman” in 1837. In his “Apology”, he distanced himself from the purist Westernizers’ anti-absolutism and harsh view of Peter’s despotic methods. Chaadaev’s re-education transformed his interpretation of Peter from that of despot to that of “the greatest of our kings, our glory, our demigod,” his vision of a non-historical Russia aping Europe to a Russia that since Peter “belonged to Europe and the West,” and his view that Russia had no past, present, or future to a new view: the future belonged to Russia.[50] Chaadaev’s “Apology” reversed the causal arrows of cultural influence and change between Russia and its ‘Other.’ He now was arguing that although Russia had lost the past and it would participate in history’s future achievements and was positioned “to resolve most of the problems in the social order, to accomplish most of the ideas which arose in the old societies, to make a pronounce about those very grave questions which occupy humanity.”[51] In other words, now it was Russia that would transform the West and indeed the world, rather than the reverse. However, Chaadaev’s original “Letters” must be taken as reflective of his real views, and all scholars agree that the Westernism in the “Letters” not the quasi-messianism of the “Apology” constitutes the real Chaadaev. Moreover, the latter left unsullied Chaadaev’s earlier claims about pre-Petrine Russian backwardness and the need for modernizing the country along European lines. Chaadaev’s claims that Russia lacked a history, a deeply-rooted culture and firm traditions prompted a strong response from those who considered quite the contrary, that Russia had a unique and meaningful culture, history, and mission independent no less vital or universal than those of Europe and that Peter’s reforms had compromised their integrity and purpose.

Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) also had a complex and subtle view of Peter that changed over time. A Schillerian in his youth, then a Hegelian, Herzen evolved into a quasi-Saint Simonian socialist, who from the age of fourteen swore dedication to overthrow of the autocracy In 1834 he was exiled and eventually left Russia for Paris, then London, where he published the influential Russian journals Severnaya zvezda (The Nothern Star) and Kolokol (The Bell) and wrote commentary on Russian philosophy, history and politics. Herzen sought to marry philosophical thought, philosophy of history, and the real world of practical action by the autonomous individual in history.[52] Peter was Herzen’s philosophy of autonomous action in history brought from the abstract world of ideas into material world of historical development. Thus, for Herzen, the emperor transformed Russia solely by the power of his will and played a historical role in Russian and even world history equal to that of an entire philosophical-religious movement, that which the Reformation played in German history. As Riasanovsky puts it, Peter for Herzen was revoltion itself.[53] Peter had “assigned to himself the problem of transferring Europeanism into Russia, and he dedicated his life to the solution of that problem.” In the enormity of his role, he could be compared best to Napoleon. The same could be said about his pursuit of his idea “by all means, including even cruelties, as it was done by the Reformation, by the French Convention.” His “great” and unparallelled “originality” lie in that the “problem that he solved, although it was necessary, was not proposed by Russia, but by the genius of the Great one; it was not entrusted to him by the circumstance, but poured by him into the circumstances, brought by his genius into the realm of the ideas of humanity, and it was resolved also by him. … (L)ook and bend your knees to Peter.” Along with his cruelty, Peter did good, not like other leaders in passing or accidentally, but intentionally.[54] In Herzen’s article, “Moscow and Petersburg,” we get a glimpse into why Slavophiles, other Russian nationalists and traditionalist patriots condemn Peter and Petersburg: “Peter saw that there was only one salvation for Russia, to stop being Russian.”[55] Ultimately, he regarded Peter to be a revolutionary, “establishing a new order by blood … (B)y means of a knout and an ax in Russia, humanism is installed.”[56] After Herzen’s exile, his increasingly critical attitude towards Russian autocracy whittled away at his positive assessment of Peter, reshaping it into a predominantly negative one. Now, by virtue of the first emperor’s semi-Westernization of Russia, “Peter did infinite good and infinite evil to Russia.” Including Peter, “all the sovereigns of the house of the Romanovs” had never done anything for the Russian people.[57]

The young Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826) was intially an acolyte of the energetic Westernizing tsar. In a reversal of the results of Peter’s foreign travels that had disenchanted him further with Russian status quo, Karamzin’s travels in the West in 1789-1790 reinforced his adherence to the autocracy’s official view of Peter. Russia’s first emperor remained for him the great Westernizer, modernizer and enlightened autocrat.[58] Reconsidering Europe and the Enlightenment in the wake of the French revolution and then becoming in 1803 Russia’s official court historiographer, Karamzin’s view of the West and Peter’s Westernization darkened. Importantly, Karamzin’s criticisms of Peter did not enter the public square. Peter is missing in Karamzin’s public writing, including his monumental The History of the Russian State, which was left unfinished, the author dying having completed writing only through the period of the Smuta.

Behind the scenes, in an introduction to a political piece, “A Memoir of Ancient and Modern Russia,” submitted to Tsar Alexander I in 1810 for his consideration alone, Karamzin, while heaping praise on Peter’s accomplishments, also strongly criticized Peter’s “passion for foreign customs,” which “surely exceeded the bounds of reason.” Anticipating some of the Slavophile critique, he elaborated:

Peter was unable to realize that the national spirit constitutes the moral strength of states, which is as indispensable to their stability as is physical might. This national spirit, together with the faith, had saved Russia in the days of the Pretenders. It is nothing else than respect for our national dignity. By uprooting ancient customs, by exposing them to ridicule, by causing them to appear stupid, by praising and introducing foreign elements, the sovereign of the Russian humbled Russian hearts. Does humiliation predispose a man and a citizen to great deeds? … One state may borrow from another useful knowledge without borrowing its manners. These manners may change naturally, but to prescribe statutes for them is an act of violence, which is illegal for an autocratic monarch. The people, in their original covenant with the king, had told him: ‘Guard our safety abroad and at home, punish criminals, sacrifice a part to save the whole.’ They had not said: Fight the innocent inclinations and tastes of our domestic life.’ In this realm the sovereign may equitably act only by example, not by decree.

“… Until his reign all Russians, from the plow to the throne, had been alike insofar as they shared certain features of external appearance and of customs. After Peter, the higher classes separated themselves from the lower ones, and the Russian peasant, burgher, and merchant began to treat the Russian gentry as Germans, thus weakening the spirit of brotherly national unity binding the estates of the realm.[59]

In the non-italicized section in the quotation above, Karamzin is admonishing Alexander not just against Peter’s overzealousness. He is invoking the national security value as the central tenet in a foundational Russian ‘social contract’ between the Russian people and the Varangians – and by extension Alexander – whom they wished to be ruled by. Karamzin hints at the core Russian dilemma of orienting itself in relation to its powerful and often expansionist European ‘Other’ from Peter forward and the resulting rise of its internal and external security value:

Would we have today the audacity, after having spent over a century in the school of foreigners, to boast of our civic pride? Once upon a time we used to call all other Europeans infidels; now we call them brothers. For whom was it easier to conquer Russia—for infidels or for brothers? That is, whom was she likely to resist better? Was it conceivable in the reigns of Michael and Fedor for a Russian lord, who owed everything to his fatherland, gaily to abandon his tsar forever to sit in Paris, London, or Vienna and calmly read in newspapers of the perils confronting our country? We became citizens of the world but ceased in certain respects to be the citizens of Russia. The fault is Peter’s.[60]

The neo-traditionalist attack on Peter remained between Karamzin and Alexander until it uncovered in the state archives and published nearly a century and a half later. As such, it played no role in shaping Russian political culture until that time. Nevertheless, Karamzin’s critique may have contributed to Alexander I’s decision in 1821 to abandon his life-long plans to abdicate, radically democratize Russia by decreeing a constitution, and abolish serfdom (see Chapter 6). Karamzin’s critique of Peter’s polarization of Russian society and emphasis on the ‘Other’ nature of Europe in relation to traditional Russia presaged in some ways the broader and harsher analyses which came from Russia’s first wave of Petrine antagonists led by neo-traditionalist Slavophilism.

Antagonists of the Petrine Legacy

The turn of the 19th century and the lack of systemic censorship under the liberalizing tsar Alexander I brought sharp criticism of Peter’s modernizing legacy from two sharply opposed politico-philosophical perspectives: the ‘Right’ consisting of patriotic traditionalists and Slavophiles, on the one hand, and the new socialist ‘Left’ wing of the Westernizer faction, on the other. There was unpublished criticism of Peter’s reign in the 18th century, especially from the perspective of the traditionalist ancient Muscovite nobility that anticipates the later ‘Slavophile’ critique discussed below.[61] These critical perspectives’ emergence was determined by divisions within Russian state and society created by Peter’s reforms. The nobility had been split within by Westernization, with emergence of Westernizers and later an intelligentsia. As the entire nobility Westernized, it increasingly became isolated from the mass of the Russian people. Lower classes were split by the Raskol and Peter’s further removal of both the ROC and Old Believer factions from state affairs. Moreover, they were more thoroughly oppressed – albeit, on different, more secular grounds – by the growing effectiveness of the Petrine-made rationalized Russian state aparatus. Overlaying these divisions was a new secular ideological schism also generated by Peter’s reforms that produced what has remained for three centuries the central debate in one form or another within Russia’s identity discourse: the Slavophile-Westernizer debate.

Ironically, the Slavophiles’ worldview was itself influenced by a Western philosophical strain—German romanticism. Slavophiles typically leveled the harshest criticism of Peter and his reforms. Yet whereas the more nationalist-traditonalist Slavophile critique was given some space in Russia’s still miniscule public square, the Westernizers’ pro-reform critique was driven underground, as the fates of Radishchev, Chaadaev and others would demonstrate (see below). The greater freedom the autocracy allowed for the Slavophile critique was a consequence of the pass Slavophiles cometimes gave to autocratic absolutism; one not afforded by Westernizers’ critiques. This placed the Slavophile position closer on Russia’s political spectrum to the state, its ideologists, and Nicholas I’s “Official Nationality,” which dominated the official strand of thought on Peter, as noted above.[62]

Although Slavophiles and Westernizers both tended to be critical of the overall Russian condition of their time, the latter tended to be more condemnatory, often rejecting the continuing central role of autocracy and Christian Orthodoxy in society, which most Slavophiles accepted.  Whereas Westernizers regarded Peter’s domestic Europeanization efforts of Russia’s internal life as an unmitigated step towards the correct end if achieved by the wrong – specifically, autocratic – means. Slavophiles denigrated Peter’s Westernization as not political, but cultural collusion with an alien element. The result betrayed, transformed, corrupted and divided an idealized, organic Russian national tradition, even civilization. The Slavophiles were not official ideologists, by any means. Some of them and their writings were read by tsars of the 19th century and even with sympathy, but they were also subjected to repression like the Westernizers. As Semyon Frank wrote in his 1949 article ‘Pushkin on Relations Between Russia and the West,’ Westernizers agreed with the Slavophiles on one thing: they considered Peter’s reforms “inorganic, lacking any connection with Russia’s national spirit.” The caveat is that Westernizers saw this as unconditionally positive, seeking Russia’s full transformation into a European culture, while Slavophiles saw this almost exclusively as a negative, preferring the preservation of traditional Russian blagochestie and sobornost’.[63]

Russian Slavophiles argue that Peter the Great’s reforms broke a more evolutionary course of development that would have been more organic for Russia. Ironically, the Slavophilism’s own intellectual roots lay at least partially in Europe, where its leading proponents traveled and imbibed the German romanticism of the age. Alexander I’s Petrine-like Westernizing reformism in the first half of his reign saw a slew of new universities built and an influx of German professors. They brought with them the teachings of Immanuel Kant, who inspired Russian Westernizers, and of Freidrich Schelling, who shaped Slavophile (and revolutionary) thought. Russians, religious and lovers of nature, were taken by Schelling’s cosmology of an organic, unified natural world possessing a ‘world soul’ and diversity of beauty expressed in one way by the plurality of nationalities.[64]

A nucleus of Schelling admirers among the educated nobility arose in the philosophical ‘lovers of wisdom’ (mudrolyubovtsy) society, led by V. F. Odoevskii (1802-1839) and including the theologist-philosopher Ivan Kireevskii (1806-1856). The circle’s members, primarily interested in Schelling’s philosophies of art and nature, were romantic nationalists and “direct precursors” to, if not early Slavophiles. They saw the world as an evolving work of art and art as an expression of both unconscious intuition and conscious rationalism and pined for the emergence of a truly national Russian literature and art.[65] By valuing both Russian ‘intuition’ and Western rationalism, approximations of Russia’s traditionalist blagoshestie (a religious intuition) and Western khitrost’, the lovers of wisdom implied the one-sided nature of Peter’s Europeanizing reforms, if not the one-sided nature of post-Petrine Russia itself, which some argued had been somewhat rebalanced from its own excess of religiosity and superstition by way of Peter’s reforms and the country’s continuing Westernization and industrialization. Odoevsky himself differed from the Slavophiles in that he saw the aristocracy, not the peasantry as the salvation of the Russian tradition. Schelling’s stock among these early neo-Slavophiles rose when in 1839 Odoevskii was told that Schelling “held Russia in high esteem and expected her to do great things.”[66] Odoevskii went to Berlin in 1848 to hear Schelling’s lectures, and the German philosopher told him that Russia “was destined to to something great.”[67] The idea of a special Russian mission for the betterment if not salvation of mankind hed become popular in Russia again, and now Odoevskii had further motivation to develop the idea. In his 1844 Russian Nights he castigated Western commercialism (capitalism), from which only Russia still served as a refuge. Thus, the mission of Russia, the one-sided non-rationalism of which had been counterbalanced by Westernization under Peter and his 18th and early 19th century successors, was to save Western European culture from the ravages of one-sided rationalism, secularism, and commercialism. This should be accomplished, according to Odoevskii, through an injection of Eastern Slavonic spirituality, mysticism, and intuition delivered by a Western European Peter in order to balance Europe’s own one-sided path of development.[68] The relative parity in Odoevskii’s views reflected by the implication of convergence between Russia and the West would disappear in the Slavophilism that he helped to inspire.

Riasanovsky describes well Romanticist Slavophilism’s brief against Peter’s rationalizing Europeanism:

“(Slavophilism’s) central dichotomy was that of organic harmony against mechanistic division; of a unity in love, full understanding, and freedom against rationalism and compulsion; of the new ideal of Romaticism against the Age of Reason. Only the Romantic ideal became Russia (not Germany), and the Age of Reason became the West. …

“… (T)he Slavophiles were opposed to (Peter) and his work, to contemporary Russian government and society. Peter the Great was a despot, who interrupted the organic development of the country and who wanted to mold Russia like clay in accordance with his rationalistic and utilitarian notions and in direct imitation of the West. His reforms robbed Russia of its independent role in history and made it an appendix to the West, split educated society from the people, and led to such evils as formalism and bureaucracy.”[69]

The Slavophiles believed that Peter had torn asunder a uniquely Russian form of society, even civilization based on sobornost’, which could be translated in the Slavophilic sense as ‘organic human connectedness and collectiveness’—the free-willed unity of Christian believers absent of willful individualism and coercive restraint. Western society was the triumph of the latter two qualities. The separate willful individual in an atomized society required a network of formal laws and attendant coercive mechanisms and institutions to restrain him/her. European history, in Slavophile Ivan Kireevsky’s interpretation, was “the history of the struggle between ‘unity without freedom’ and ‘freedom without unity’.”[70]

The first generation of Slavophiles were themselves torn between Russian tradition and European offerings but categorical in condemning Peter than was Karamzin and far less categorical in criticizing Europe and Europeanization overall than their ideological opponents – the Westernizers – were in proselytzing them. They were almost to a man critical of Peter’s ‘aping’ of Europe and his rapid, indiscriminate and coercive implementation of Westernization. They had little to say about democratic institutions or process but were supportive of more democratic outcomes in Russian life. Thus, the Slavophiles often criticized Peter’s methods of Europeanization and his successors’ style of rule as much if not more than Europeanization itself.

Perhaps the foremost first-generation Slavophile thinker was Ivan Kireevsky. His views on Peter and his legacy evolved over time, but he ultimately came to regard the emperor-reformer as only superficially successful by dint of his artificial grafting of separate aspects of European life and its already artificial rationalism and individualism onto an integral, organic Russian spirit. Real Europeanization, in Kireevskii’s view, came only under Catherine II or the Great at the end of the century. Kireevskii was not a Russian nationalist in the sense of crediting characteristics peculiar only to Russia as proper. Rather, Russia was merely the beneficiary of not having its Christian orthodoxy in ways that he regarded Roman Catholicism to have been corrupted. Similarly, Kireevskii explained the changes implemented by Peter the Great despite Russia’s seeming lack of internal contradictions to facilitate their adoption by arguing that Nikon’s reforms of Orthodoxy and the rejection of the majority of belivers that the shismatic Old Believers constituted had essentially created contradictions and paved the way for state reforms. Even later in his philosophical evolution, Kireevskii turned to a new explanation that now implicated religious ossification reflected in the Old Believers’ extremism in orthodox practice, apocalypticism, and self-immolation. To this extreme followed another largely confined to the aristocracy, which began to reject a religious life for one brightened by the conceits, luxuries and attractions of European secularism, individualism and commercialism. It was the new nobility, already compromised by Westernization, that accepted and were affected by Peter’s reforms, not all Russians. Therefore, Kireevskii warned, Peter’s Westernization program created a rift or dualism that plagued the Polish-Lithuanian gentry-state. A vast cultural and economic divide between Poland’s highly educated gentry and the commoner majority engendered decline, disintegration, and partition by foreign powers.[71] Kireevskii did not prescribe a mechanical return to the pre-Petrine order which would be as corrupting as what he saw as Peter’s mechanical grafting of European norms onto the traditional Russian system. Rather, he proposed that the “principles of conduct preserved in the teachings of the holy Orthodox Church permeate the convictions of all sections of society and all estates.” These “higher principles” should not “supplant the European education grafted on to Russia, but…dominate and envelop it fully, to give it a higher meaning and the opportunity for further development, so that the inner integrity of ancient Russia is granted to a new, present, and future Orthodox Russia.”[72] Kireevskii’s younger brother, Peter (1808-1856), a pioneering collector of Russian folk songs, was an important Russian Slavophile thinker in his own right and a “fanatical opponent” of Peter the Great as well. He was said to be distraught that he shared the first name with the first emperor.[73]

Other prominent first generation Slavophiles such as the philosopher Alexei Khomyakov (1804-1860) and the historian Constantine Aksakov (1817-1860) also were influenced by the Schelling and leveled a harsh critique of Peter the Great’s work. Khomyakov, a direct successor of Kireevskii’s philosophical tendencies, was deeply religious, a strong supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian tradition, wearing a beard and traditional Russian dress. Nevertheless, he, like Kireevskii valued European civilization and values. Khomyakov was an Anglophile, who credited the British with attaining the highest level of the greatest European value—a balance between liberalism and traditionalism, between analytical rationalism and organic native development. He did not whitewash Russian realities, as did most other Slavophiles such as Kireevskii and Konstantin Aksakov, and called Russia to repentance, more faithful living out Orthodox teachings, and a more rational approach to acquiring knowledge. He saw Peter the Great’s reforms as hasty and reckless, having created a disbalance between the organic traditionalism and logical analysis. He regarded Peter’s penultimate construction project, St. Petersburg, to be “pagan.” Much as Protestant skepticism was threatening the very future of England, in his view, Peter’s secularizing reforms diverted Russians from the search for pure Orthodox living required in order to fulfill their historic mission of realizing the Christian ideal.[74]

Unlike Kireevskii and Khomyakov, Aksakov had an intense hatred of Europe. He wore a long beard, which the police forced him to shave off, and Russian traditional dress in the pre-Petrine style. On his hatred for Europe, he once said: “I am a Jew by nature: I cannot have friendly relations with the Philistines. He believed that the difference between Russia and Europe lay in the diverging paths they took in forming the state and the contrary system of state-society relations that occurred as a result. Peter’s reforms essentially put Russia in the European mode of state-building. In Europe, the state was formed through conquest and violence, while in Russia it was formed by the Russian people’s voluntary invitation to the Varyags to rule over them. This created an organic unity between the state and society that never existed in Europe outside of law. Ancient Russia had the tradition of the zemskii sobor, in which the ‘land’ had an advisory voice heard by the sovereign. Aksakov initially praised Peter from breaking the chains of “national limitedness,” but then turned against the first emperor and his reforms. They had made any return to organic unity of the state and people impossible.[75]

In a poem addressed to Peter, ‘Petru’, Aksakov averred that Peter’s work had been placed under a curse of inevitable retribution from the Russian people for having spilled their blood in order to Westernize them:

In the name of good and science,

From a country alien provided,

More than once your powerful hand

Was soiled by native blood. …

All Rus’, all life hitherto

You were despised,

And on your great work

The seal of a curse was layed.

Moscow you threw away cruelly

And from the people far,

You built a lonely city –

With the people you could not live! …

So, there will be a time when Rus will rise!

Dispersing the many years’ dream,

She will threateningly impinge the false, –

And your triumph was completed falsely!

The people will let out its wings,

Fear will betray traitors,

The nest and monument of violence –

Your city will crumble into dust!

The people will rise again after the battle

And again the justified people

with liberated Moscow –

Life a free course will take:

Everything false will fall away,

Love will crush all fetters,

The Fatherland happily will blossom –

And your people will forgive you.[76]

When Sergei Soloviev (see below) and other historians in the mid-19th century began demonstrating the limits of Peter the Great’s reforms and their roots in previous tsarist acts of Westernization, Aksakov issued a piercing critique:

“Peter was not merely a continuer, and precisely this forms the characteristic of his epoch. Before him only the useful had been taken from foreigners. Foreign life had not been borrowed, our principles of life had been left intact, and Russia had remained independent. Peter, on the other hand, to take everything from the foreigners, not only the useful and the universal, but also the particular and the national, foreign life itself with all its accidental details. … Therefore even the most useful, which had been accepted in Russia before Peter the Great, became of necessity not a free borrowing, but a Slavist imitation. Still another circumstance was added to this: namely coercion, an inalienable attribute of Peter’s actions. This coercion, in turn, changed the whole process; what had been done freely and naturally until then began to be performed through compulsion and force. Therefore, the reforms of Peter are definitely an overturning, a revolution; in this lies the originality and historical significance of his work. … National exclusiveness (which Russia had never known before) appeared on the part of Peter. It was Peter who stood for exclusive nationality, only not for that of his own people, but for those of the West; he attempted to destroy every manifestation of Russian life, everything Russian.”[77]

The second generation Slavophiles tended overall to be more generous to Peter and more inclined towards pan-Slavism, valuing Peter’s political and military successes in Europe and completely disregarding his Westernization policies. Nikolai Danilevskii (1822-1885), a botanist by education and the foremost thinker among the second generation Slavophiles, was perhaps the chief proponent of this neo-Slavophile school. For him nations and civilizations were akin to biological organisms and the states that they created were involved in a Darwinian and realist struggle for survival, self-interest, and supremacy. According to this theory, Russia and the Slavs they should lead constituted the nucleus of a new kind of civilization, not a universal one as Europe imagined itself and previous Slavophiles saw in Slavdom. Rather, like other nine civilizations he found to exist, Slavdom was a specific “historico-cultural” type.[78] Therefore, the “Slavic historico-cultural type” was inapplicable to a comparison as to which held universal significance, much as a search for the archetype among various tree types to designate as the best expression of “the concept of plant.”[79] Slavdom had a great historical mission if it could unite. Unlike other historico-cultural types of civilization, it had more than three unique foundational pillars: (1) religious (Orthodoxy); (2) political (autocracy); (3) economy (the peasant commune or obshchina); and (4) cultural (the typically Western scientific, technological and industrial aspects as well as both Western and Russian artistic elements).[80] Danilevskii saw Peter’s reforms as something that Russia suffered through and came out of stronger for having done so. Peter had created a powerful, historical empire that could fulfill the Slavic civilizational mission.[81] But Russia could become Europe no more than an oak could become an elm or an animal become a plant. Therefore, according to Danilevskii’s primordial concept of civilizational historico-cultural types, the effects of Peter’s Westernization inside Russia by definition could only be superficial and incapable of transforming Russia from a Slavic people into a European one.

The Slavophiles were a reaction not just against the 18th century’s Westernizing Russian autocrats. It also was a response to their radical Westernizing contemporaries and their successors. The latter, under the continued influence of Western thinking began to imbibe by the 19th century new socialist thought. Thus, in addition to the nationalist, traditionalist critique typified by the Slavophiles during the remaining centuries of imperial rule after Peter the great, a new socialist and occasional anarchist radical critique of Peter emerged among Westernizers. The lifting of censorship under Alexander II allowed a new pluralism in Russian articulations on the Petrine legacy that lasted until the fall of the Romanov dynasty. An explosion of varied critiques from new quarters, most prominently, from the radical socialist Left emerged. The radical Left in the second half of the 19th century, which helped spawn the likes of the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party (eventually split into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks), was imitally led by the moderately socialist-leaning Belinskii and Herzen. As the intelligentsia and youth radicalized, the most significant of the late 19th century Russian thinkers also represented extremist ideological trends on the Left: anarchism and socialism. Radical Left thought was led by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, the so-called ‘father of Russian Marxism’ Georgii Plekhanov, and the man who brought socialism to power in Russia, Vladimir Lenin. As Bakunin (1814-1876) radicalized in the 1830s and 1840s, his views evolved from admiration of Peter’s role as enlightener and agent of change through ‘revolution from above’ to condemnation of the first emperor as “a great oppressor of the Russian people” and creator of “a police state.” Bakunin transferred his disdain for Nikolai I’s real police state back on to Peter. The “system of the man of genius” and his state was never before “as threatening externally and as oppressive internally as precisely in our time.”[82]

The Marxist Plekhanov (1856-1918) developed “a complex and nuanced evaluation” of Peter’s legacy.[83] He positively assessed the Western and modernizing direction of Peter’s reforms and foresaging the destructive power of modernization on the Soviet Marxist party-state, he argued Peter’s own modernization laid the seeds for the destruction of the Russian authocratic state by introducing into Russia’s ancient Oriental despotic “Asiatic form of production” the industrial manufacturing and factory plants. By Plekhanov’s time there was “no hole, no wild corner in Russia, where this capitalist form of economic relations did not reach.[84] The liberation of the serfs in February 1861 released the peasant class into the capitalist sector of the Russian ecnomy, expanding it and hastening the coming of the socialist revolution.[85] Overall, Plekhanov’s assessment of Peter’s legacy was negative, emphasing the reforms’ incompleteness, failures, and resulting pain for the bulk of the Russian population.[86] Vladimir Lenin, beneficiary of the semi-bourgeous Russian revolution and Bolshevik mastermind of the October coup that hijacked it, wrote little and said even less about Peter. His most direct and substantial assessment of Peter’s legacy was largey negative: “Peter hastened the adoption of Western ways by barbarian Russia, not refraining from barbarian means to fight barbarism.”[87]

The Soviet view, with occasional shifts in nuance, largely coincided or at least varicated between these early Russian Marxist views of the Petrine legacy. The predominant pre-Stalinist view approximated that of Miklhail Pokrovskii (1869-1932), writing both before and after the Russian revolution, Pokrovskii was a student of the great historian Vasilii Klyuchevskii but in Soviet times built on Plekhanov’s less systematic analysis. 241 He came dominate the state and shrinking non-state sectors of academic historiography in early Soviet Russia. However, Pokrovskii’s was a strictly class-based approach combined with the growing national Bolshevik strain in Soviet culture. The pre-revolutionary revolutionaries’ respect for Peter’s Westernization efforts was wholly dispensed with in favor of a disdain for Peter’s kowtowing to the West as well as that of his successors who had studied Peter’s reforms and the centry of Russian enlightenment that followed. The European enlightenment was, after all, a product of capitalist bourgeois thought and had to be extinguished.[88] Thus, Peter’s “catastrophic” reforms were a mere function of the historical process: the product of European merchant class trade or “merchant capital.”[89]

With the rise to full power of Iosif Stalin by the 1930s, the now condemned ‘Pokrovskii school’ was replaced by, in Riasanovsky’s words, “a much more complex bipolar Petrine image,” which survived until the new era of pluralism during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.[90] Although the Stalinist view of Peter was largely positive, it also included a negative perspective.  The Stalinist and post-Stalin position resembled the official Tsarist imperial one, praising Peter’s strengthening of the state at home and abroad and supporting the personalist power wielded by Peter and, by projection, Stalin. Therefore, as discussed below, the Stalinist view justified Peter’s destruction of his son, tsarevich Alexei, and, by projection, Stalin’s destruction of his closest comrades along with millions of others. Soviet power even began signing on to the view that Westernization had its beneficial aspects. In accordance with the Soviet value of socioeconomic ‘development’ in advancing from feudalism to capitalism, socialism, then communism, Peter’s modernization in the forms of early industrialization, the expansion of science and education, and more extensive societal organization were respected as progressive. But predictably, as in earlier Marxist treatments, the Stalinist view emphasized the growing ‘class domination’ of the gentry and oppression of the working peasantry under Peter.[91]




[1] Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

[2] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 305.

[3] Pavlenko notes in the “Author’s Note’ in his 2008 study Tsarevich Aleksei that Russian historiography “is not rich in works devoted to” tsarevich Alexei. N. I. Pavlenko, Tsarevich Aleksei (Moscow: Prospekt, 2016), p. 1.

[4] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 135.

[5] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 25.

[6] One Peter acolyte in the opposition was the “most important Russian literary critic in Russian history, the socialist Westernizer, Vissarion Belinskii (1811-1848). ‘Furious’ Vissarion, as Belinskii was dubbed by contemporaries for his fiery temperament and texts, was “unqualified and uncompromising” in his “championing of Peter.” Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 125-31.

[7] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 35-52.

[8] A. N. Radishchev, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, translated by Leo Wiener, edited by Roderick Page Thaler (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1959), pp. 45 and115, cited in Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979), p. 43.

[9] A.N. Radishchev, “Osmnadtsatoe stoletie,” Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, 1907), volume I, pp. 462-4, at p. 462, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 58. See also Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 49-50.

[10] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 43 and A. N. Radishchev, “Pismo k drugu, zhitelstvuiushchemu v Tobolske, po dolgu zvaniia svego,” Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, 1907), volume I, pp. 67-75, at p. 75, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 59.

[11] The Decembrists were also products of the Romantic age in Russia. Romantic Polish ‘Slav’ ideas influenced the Decembrist-affiliated Union of Slavs and there was an idealization by some of the ancient Russian liberties and the commune—themes popular among the Slavophiles. See Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 65-7.

[12] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 66-7 and Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 68.

[13] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 66-7.

[14] S. S. Volk, Istoricheskie vzgliady dekabristov (Moscow and Leningrad, 1957), p. 413, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 67.

[15] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 66.

[16] Dostoevsky is famous for his rejection of Petersburg. This along with his traditionalist, anti-Western leanings suggests he was no admirer of Peter the Great. Tolstoy began preparing but eventually abandoned his plan write a novel addressing Pter and his era. Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 217 fn 194.

[17] S. L. Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” in S. L. Frank, Mirovozzrenie Rossii (St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1996), pp. 277-88, at p. 278.

[18] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 282.

[19] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 279.

[20] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” pp. 278-82.

[21] Yurii Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Biografiya pisatelya (St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2015), pp. 42-3.

[22] Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Biografiya pisatelya, pp. 57-61.

[23] Solomon Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History (New York: The Free Press, 1995), p. 23.

[24] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. 23-4.

[25] Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Biografiya pisatelya, p. 257.

[26] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 88.

[27] A. S. Pushkin, “Pir Petra Pervogo,”, last accessed on 25 July 2018.

[28] A. S. Pushkin, “Poltava,”, last accessed on 26 July 2018.

[29] Pushkin, “Poltava.”

[30] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiv-xv.

[31] James H. Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture (New York: Vintage, 1970), p. 332.

[32] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiii-xiv.

[33] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 25.

[34] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 6.

[35] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 87.

[36] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 92.

[37] Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: A Biography of a Writer, p. 262.

[38] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 280

[39] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 91 and Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 12.

[40] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 333-4.

[41] A. S. Pushkin, “Mednyi vsadnik: Peterburgskaya povest’,”Медный_всадник_(Пушкин).

[42] Pushkin, “Mednyi vsadnik: Peterburgskaya povest’.”

[43] Pushkin, “Mednyi vsadnik: Peterburgskaya povest.”

[44] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiv and 5.

[45] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiii-xv, 424-5, 547.

[46] Pushkin, “Mednyi sadnik: Peterburgskaya povest.”

[47] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. 448-9.

[48] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 87-8.

[49] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 88-9.

[50] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 98-103.

[51] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 103.

[52] Aleksandr Gertsen, Byloe i dumy (Moscow: EKSMO, 2007), pp. 146-7; Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: The History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 377-89; and Losskii, Istorii russkoi filosofii, pp. 62-5.

[53] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 138.

[54] A. I. Gertsen, “Dvadtsat osmoe ianvaria,” Sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, the Aacademy edition, volume 1, Proizvedeniia 1829-1841 godov (Moscow: 1954), pp. 32-33 quoted and cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 137.

[55] A. I. Gertsen, “Moskva i Petersburg,” Sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, the Aacademy edition, volume 2, Stati i feletony 1841-1846 godov (Moscow: 1954), p. 35 quoted and cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 138.

[56] Gertsen, “Moskva i Petersburg,” pp. 299-300 quoted and cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 139.

[57] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 140.

[58] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 68-70.

[59] Richard Pipes, Karamzin’s Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia, a translation and analysis by Richard Pipes (New York, 1966), pp. 121-2, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 71-2.

[60] Pipes, Karamzin’s Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia, pp. 123-4, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 72.

[61] An example is the very serious critique written by Prince Mikhail Shcherbatov (1733-1790) in his essay Discourse on the Corruption of Morals in Russia, which was never published during his lifetime. Shcherbatov argued that Peter’s opening to the West had transformed a simple, traditional society where family rank and religion kept human ambition and conceits in check with Western modernity’s tendency towards “voluptuousness” (strastoliubie) or the unfettered drive to satisfy each sensual appetite. The continuing manufacturing of increasingly sophisticated but nevertheless unnecessary and artificially inspired wants, producing an asocial ambition and egoism in individuals and society as a whole. Scherbatov pointed to the end of arranged marriages under Peter increased attention to personal appearance, with ‘dandies’ parading the promenades to display themselves. The new bureaucracy and meritocracy also sparked personal ambitions and conceits. Shcherbatov also emphasized the pressure the new bureaucracy exerted on Russians and the disappearance of faith along with superstititon and of love of God along with fear of hell. As Walicki notes, Shcherbatov’s analysis carries weight as “a historical document,” given his familiarity with many who lived during and even before Peter’s reforms and with the effects of the latter in the decades after the reforming emperor’s death. Shcherbatov’s essay was published for the first time in 1858 by the radical Alexander Herzen. Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 27-29. For more on Shcherbatov, see Andrzej Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 22-32.

[62] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 87.

[63] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 280.

[64] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 309-12.

[65] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 64 and 66.

[66] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 75.

[67] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 75.

[68] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 75-80.

[69] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 143-4.

[70] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 94-5.

[71] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 128 and 144-6.

[72] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 147.

[73] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 123 and Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 145.

[74] N. O. Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1991), pp. 29-42.

[75] Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, pp. 44-6.

[76] See Kontstantin Aksakov, “Petru,”,, last accessed on 17 July 2018.

[77] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 145-6.

[78] N. Ya. Danilevskii, Rossiya i Evropa (St. Petersburg: 1888), p. 125, cited in Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, pp. 79-80 and N. Ia. Danilevsky, Rossiia i Evropa, Vzgliad na kul’turnye i politicheskie otnosheniia slavianskogo mira k germane-romanskomu (4th ed.; St. Petersburg, 1889), pp. 113, cited in Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 292.

[79] Danilevsky, Rossiia i Evropa, Vzgliad na kul’turnye i politicheskie otnosheniia slavianskogo mira k germane-romanskomu, p. 33, cited in Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 293.

[80] Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, p. 80.

[81] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 504.

[82] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 135-6.

[83] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 238.

[84] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 239.

[85] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 238-9.

[86] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 239.

[87] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 236.

[88] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 242-54.

[89] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 244-5.

[90] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 305.

[91] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 255-302 and 305.



About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, Dr. Hahn’s most recent book is Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. He has authored three previous, well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.

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About Gordon M. Hahn