Russian Identities: A Historical Survey

Russian Identities: A Historical Survey

Russian Identities: A Historical Survey

Russian Identities: A Historical Survey


This book investigates the question of Russian identity, looking at changes and continues over a huge territory, many centuries, and a variety of political, social, and economic structures. Its main emphases are on the struggle against the steppe peoples, Orthodox Christianity, autocraticmonarchy, and Westernization.


—F.I. Tiutchev, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii

When I asked an eminent political scientist during the question period that followed his lecture on nationalism what he thought of the influence of the Hundred Years' War on the nationalisms of England and France, he first ascertained that I was speaking of the war that had been fought from 1337 to 1453 A.D. and after that dismissed my question in two words: “Forget it.” However, he explained later that he had responded as he had not because that war could not have any appreciable impact on those nationalisms but because the present state of scholarship offered no way to establish or trace such an impact reliably. The explanation has its point, and it becomes more convincing as we go further back in time.

There is an enormous and ever-growing literature on nationalism as a modern phenomenon, linked usually to the French Revolution, or to the Industrial Revolution, or to German Idealistic philosophy and Romanticism as a whole, or to general education and “the rise of the masses,” or to any combination of these and still other major recent historical developments. To cite one leading writer on the subject, Ernest Gellner argues roughly as follows: modern economy develops dynamically and irreversibly, the only alternative being collapse, and at a certain stage in its development it needs critical elements of support. These include sufficient size, centralization, discipline, an educated population, and an ideology to tie closely together and inspire all components of the economic unit. Nationalism supplies or helps to supply all these needs; and teachers, publicists, writers, professors, philosophers, and intellectuals in general serve as its natural and effective agents. Gellner's scheme, like many others, aims not only to explain nationalism but also to determine its course and pace.

Predicating nationalism on major recent historical developments has led to another principal characteristic of contemporary scholarship on that subject, namely the emphasis on the artificiality, the constructed nature, of nationalism. Far from being treated as immemorial, if not eternal, and based forever on ethnicity or on some transcendent mission, nationalism has been described as a device applied . . .

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