Early 19th Century Russia and Imperialism Essay

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Raeff, M. The Constitutionalism of Emperor Alexander I.

Raeff traces shifts in social and political culture in Russia at the start of the 19th century. Russian nationalism and federalism were beginning to become salient issues, leading to different expectations from Russian leaders. The people of the nation had a difficult relationship with the elite and the monarchy, exemplified in the "unabashed joy and happiness" that resulted from the death of Paul I (p. 1). New emperor Alexander faced a changing Russia that was becoming more aware of its role on the international arena and also more aware of its internal strife and diversity. Prior emperors like Paul had ruled with an iron fist and inspired mainly fear in the people. Alexander aimed to change public perception to garner support for federalist policies. Those policies included mending relationships with neighbors like Finland and Poland but it also included a more radical reformation in Russian governance: the creation of a constitution.

A system based on nobility and monarchy does not require a constitution but only controlled leadership. Federalism was a complex movement in Russia, at once representing an admission of global political trends
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and also representing the failure on the part of the imperial regime to manage the ethnically diverse realm. A constitutional monarchy appeared to be an apt and sensible middle ground during these tumultuous times. Developing a constitution that would fit the aims of the monarchy and suit its best interest required a close examination of other Slavic success stories.

Even success stories from further abroad helped to inspire Russian constitutionalism under Alexander I. Granting greater liberties, rights, and freedoms to the general population was proposed as a means to quell potential civil unrest and therefore enable a diverse and widely spread out population to become more manageable. A constitution and the federalism and nationalism it represented would ideally help to unify disparate people under a common cultural identity as being Russian.

2. Karamzin's "Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia"

Advisor to Alexander I, Karamzin penned numerous treatises outlining his beliefs about Russian culture and politics. His Memoir belies a strong tie to the monarchy and its ideals, whether motivated by personal genuineness or political expediency. He is known to have worked closely with Alexander and Catherine as well. The memoir is remarkably patriotic, supporting the integrity of the imperial regime as the cornerstone of Russian identity and the cement…

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3. Von Haxthausen on the peasant commune (1844)

One of von Haxthausen's most poignant observations and descriptions on his journey through Russia was on the peasant commune and its ubiquitous presence in the countryside. His travels were through disparate regions and he witnessed many different cultures and societies, all of which shared in common the lifestyle the author describes in this chapter of his memoir. Describing the peasant communes in an admiring light, von Haxthausen notes that this might have been what Europe had looked like just a few generations ago. Von Haxthausan romanticizes the peasant commune, which gives rise to the idealistic notion that peasant-led movements can and should characterize future revolutions in Russian political culture. Although he admires the organization evident in the society and its hierarchical stratification, von Haxthausen also critiques the aristocracy for being completely out of touch with the people they govern.

The peasant commune presents an alternative social model to the exploitation of serfs, which had been the mainstay of European societies throughout history. Economic and political reforms that would take place a few generations after von Haxthausen penned his work are based on similar principles that workers should take pride in their daily work and not become too distanced from the means of production, honoring traditional labor models like farming. Moreover, von Haxthausen echoed prevailing sentiments related to the social and political empowerment of peasant people by offering rich descriptions of what he saw through his travels and by tying in analogies to what he knows of European history. Von Haxthausen also waxes poetic about the patriarchal family structure and gendered role differentiation throughout the communal societies.

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