Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671-1725

Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671-1725

Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671-1725

Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671-1725

Synopsis

This book is a history of Russian politics during a fifty-year period that saw the transformation of Russia into a European monarchy by Peter the Great. Bushkovitch demonstrates that the interaction of the tsar and the ruling elite was at the core of Russian politics as Peter managed to largely master the contentious elite by a series of compromises, ultimately toward one that favored new men without excluding the aristocrats entirely. The outcome was a new balance of power at the center, and a new Europeanized culture.

Excerpt

After three hundred years Peter the Great retains his hold over the imagination of Russia as well as the rest of the world. For Russians in particular, the absorbing issue is the significance of his reign and of what are usually called his reforms. Did they really change Russia? Were they a good thing or a bad thing? Did they lead to democracy? To 1917? To the participation of Russia in European culture? To the alienation of Russia from its spiritual home in Orthodoxy? These are the questions which the story of Peter the Great will elicit in Russia and probably always has elicited, and this book will offer a direct answer to none of them.

I will offer no direct answer because it is my argument that Peter's reign has remained in large and crucial areas unknown. We cannot evaluate the significance of Peter's actions until we know what they were, and the traditional accounts have this in common that they do not tell us enough about those actions. It is my aim to rewrite the political narrative of the reign and its antecedents, using sources which have been largely bypassed or underutilized in the study of the period. The principal result of a new narrative of the politics of Peter's time will be to elucidate the informal structures of power in the Russian state.

Russian and Western historiography of Peter reflects the grand divisions of thought on the Russian past, perhaps more thoroughly than any other subject. To a large extent it breaks down into the “state” school and its opponents, including but not restricted to the Slavophiles. The state school looked at Russian history as the development of statehood (gosudarstvennost'), by which it meant formal bureaucratic institutions. The leading idea was the development of legal order, essentially of the Rechtsstaat, which would supposedly lay the foundations for representative government. Not surprisingly, the state school crystallized in the era of the Great . . .

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