The Emergence of Modern Russia, 1801-1917

By Sergei Pushkarev; Robert H. McNeal et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Robert H. McNeal

ON THE EVE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY the Russian Empire was officially considered an autocracy, and it was indeed true that Russia lacked any institutions, even expiring medieval bodies such as the diets of East Europe, that were designed to limit the power of the sovereign. It was also true that individual tsars and tsarinas from Peter the Great ( 1682-1725) to Paul I ( 1796- 1801) were able to establish justified reputations for capricious selfindulgence in drink, dress, palaces, and acts of sadistic vengeance or buffoonery. But it is one thing to be able to force a high nobleman to spend a mock wedding night in a palace of ice, as did Anna ( 1730-1740), and quite a different matter to have a system of central and regional administration that can function with even a vaguely satisfactory degree of regularity.

In practice the autocratic Russian empire of the eighteenth century lacked the institutions and personnel necessary to form such a system, despite the strenuous efforts of Peter the Great and the lesser attempts of some of his eighteenth-century successors. Peter successfully demolished the dilapidated administrative institutions of earlier Muscovy and tried valiantly to replace them with a kind of early modern bureaucracy that was modeled partly on Sweden. The sovereign was to be advised by a council called the Senate, and the execution of the tsar's policy was to be rationally divided among some

-xix-

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