The theme of this book is the political system of Russia. It traces the growth of the Russian state from its beginnings in the ninth century to the end of the nineteenth, and the parallel development of the principal social orders: peasantry, nobility, middle class and clergy. The question which it poses is why in Russia — unlike the rest of Europe to which Russia belongs by virtue of her location, race and religion — society has proven unable to impose on political authority any kind of effective restraints. After suggesting some answers to this problem, I go on to show how in Russia the opposition to absolutism tended to assume the form of a struggle for ideals rather than for class interests, and how the imperial government, challenged in this manner, responded by devising administrative practices that clearly anticipate those of the modern police state. Unlike most historians who seek the roots of twentieth-century totalitarianism in western ideas, I look for them in Russian institutions. Although I do make occasional allusions to later events, my narrative largely terminates in the 1800s because, as the concluding chapter points out, the ancien régime in the traditionally understood sense died a quiet death in Russia at that time, yielding to a bureaucratic police regime which in effect has been in power there ever since.
Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. Forward, xxi. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974.
BackChannels editor has embarked on what has started out as an extraordinary journey through the Russian experience starting with Pipes’ observations about early agricultural yields, extended family-dependent farming practices, migrations to virgin soil and lands with soil more rich, and the impacts of related economic struggles, such as that of wintering-over cottage industries against industrial production, on the cultural, social, and political character of the Russian enterprise.
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