Peter the Great, Reformer or Revolutionary?

By Marc Raeff | Go to book overview

III. REFORMS OF PETER THE GREAT

Peter's Program of Political Reform

M. M. BOGOSLOVSKII

Mikhail M. Bogoslovskii ( 1870-1925) was Kliuchevsky's successor in the
chair of Russian history at the University of Moscow. The outstanding spe-
cialist on Peter the Great, he devoted most of his life and work to the study
of Peter's reign. At the time of his death he was working on a definitive
biography of Peter, of which five volumes of preliminary essays and materials
were published posthumously in the 1930's and 1940's. The following pas-
sage is taken from his doctoral dissertation which dealt with the reforms in
local administration within the framework of Peter's reorganization of the
central government and its military needs. In the pages below (taken from
the introductory chapter), Bogoslovskii calls our attention to Peter's new ap-
proach and method of government. Peter's concept of government was dy-
namic; he believed that the State should act as leader and driving force in
transforming the country and its people. To his contemporaries, used to the
traditional and passive approach of the Muscovite administration, this seemed
a novel and revolutionary concept, and its all-encompassing nature provoked
strong resistance.

THE legislation of Peter the Great differs in many respects from that of the preceding epoch, the epoch of Muscovite Russia. One of these differences consists in its manifold, one might even say, its all-embracing character. In Muscovite Russia, the state set itself limited goals, going no further than foreign defense, the levying of means to maintain it, and the maintenance of courts for enforcing domestic security and order. Hence, its laws touched upon few aspects of the private individual's life, affecting it only to the extent necessary for the accomplishment of the few and uncomplicated objectives of the state. It is true that the state of the Muscovite epoch imposed a heavy burden on society: it bound a large part of this society to military duties or taxes; it restricted the freedom of the classes involved in these obligations, forbidding them to change their status and occupations, attaching them to specific communities, and shackling the communities themselves to responsibility for them; and, finally, it attached a certain portion of the taxpayers not only to communities, but also to individual persons. However, the state intervened in the daily life of the persons bound to render services or taxes only to the extent necessary for assuring proper compliance. Indeed, the state did not shun a pedagogical role, but it undertook such a role only on a modest scale, and chiefly in a negative form. It prohibited and prosecuted violations of the few simple norms on which domestic security and order rested, but it did not as

From M. Bogoslovskii, Oblastnaia Reforma Petra Velikogo -- Provintsiia, 1719-1727 [Peter the Great's Reform of the Regional Administration -- the Province in 1719-1727] ( Moscow, 1902), pp. 1-13, 19-20, 21-23. Translated by Mirra Ginsburg.

-22-

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