Russia's Missing Middle Class: The Professions in Russian History

By Harley D. Balzer | Go to book overview

2
Reflections on Russian Professions

KENDALL E. BAILES

A comparative perspective helps bring into focus some of the issues raised by a study of the professions in late imperial Russia. William Bouwsma, in an article on the emergence of lawyers as a profession in early modern Europe, suggests studying the professions is "an opportunity unique in its concreteness to study the sources and nature of social change."1 The modern British historian Harold Perkin would concur. In his controversial book, The Origins of Modern English Society, 1780-1880, he makes the rise of the professions a major theme of late nineteenth-century British history. Perkin agrees with the traditional emphasis on the importance of the middle class in the historiography of the nineteenth century, but he thinks that the middle class has been an amorphous concept which needs more empirical investigation and analytical sharpness to make it useful. He makes a distinction between the capitalist or entrepreneurial middle class, with its emphasis on economic growth, individual competition, profit making, and laissez-faire in nineteenthcentury Britain, and what he calls a noncapitalist or professional middle class, which he sees emerging after the 1840s and 1850s.

He considers the professionals to be "a class curiously neglected in the social theories of the age but one which played a part out of all proportion to its numbers."2 For example, he sees the great social reforms of the middle decades of the nineteenth century in Britain as mainly the result of the initiatives of professionals such as physicians, statisticians, lawyers, and civil servants. This he believes was true of reforms in the legal system, factory inspection, police and prisons, public health, education, control of emigration traffic, and so on. The great social and administrative reforms were part of the professionalization of government which he calls "the greatest political achievement of nineteenth century Britain."3

But perhaps even more important than that achievement, in terms of its lasting consequences, is what Perkin perceives as the divergence of "the professional ideal from the entrepreneurial in social policy, which was ultimately to help to undermine entrepreneurial society."4 The mid-Victorian age was, for him, a key period for the emergence and consolidation of the leading

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