The Russian Variant of Enlightenment.
For many years now, a range of historians have made the case for abandoning the idea of "the Enlightenment" as a monolithic concept. Not least in the light of postcolonial research, "the Enlightenment" is now seen instead as a collection of narratives based on the idea of progress and essentially held together by a new, self-reflexive understanding of the individual.
The Enlightenment hence no longer serves as an analytical category per se but instead is regarded as a polyphonic reaction to global questions by numerous authors in different parts of the world. This brings the different forms of reception of Enlightenment narratives from all over the globe into center focus and liberates the phenomenon from its long-predominant appropriation exclusively for the history of ideas in the West European context.
Gary M. Hamburg's 900-page monograph Russia's Path toward Enlightenment reflects this new direction in recent historiography. Hamburg sets out to comprehend Russia's intellectual history of the early modern era and its reception of intellectual influences from Western Europe against the background of the initially Eastern Slavic, later Russian Orthodox political culture that had evolved over centuries and out of which the specifically Russian form of Enlightenment developed.
To say it right from the start--this is a great achievement. Not only in terms of its breadth, but in terms of its structure, it would be difficult to name a work of comparable stature in the literature on Russian intellectual history. Indeed, to find such a profound, text-based examination of the authors of political ideas in Russia pre-1800 with this kind of epochal sweep, one would need to go back to the prerevolutionary era and read Vladimir Val'denberg's Old Russian Teachings on the Limits of Royal Authority, published in 1916. But even Val'denberg's broad survey only covers the period up to 1700 and does not include the "classic epoch of the Enlightenment," the 18th century. By extending the timespan to the early 19th century, Hamburg follows a more recent trend in Russian historiography, in which the Petrine period is no longer considered a watershed, and traces strong lines of continuity starting around 1500 and running right the way through the era of Peter the Great and beyond to the end of the reign of Paul I in 1801.
The enormous span of the period dealt with is all the more astonishing if we recall that the author, who teaches history at Claremont McKenna College in California, was previously known chiefly for his work on early Russian liberalism and for his contributions on the history of political ideas between 1700 and 1917. Contrary to what the title suggests, Hamburg does not begin in 1500 but instead uses writings from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries as a basis for his analysis of works written in subsequent centuries. Framed by a brief introduction and conclusion, the book is divided into three parts and a total of 17 chapters. Indexes of people and subjects aid the reader in locating central authors and topics.
The longest period, from around 1500 to 1689, is covered by part 1, which takes up just under a third of the book and is divided into four chapters. Its analysis of Orthodox Christian writings on good governance and the power of the prince illustrates the strong link between Orthodoxy and political thinking in Rus' or in what was gradually becoming Russia. It also addresses the extent to which Russian political thinkers conceded to subservient subjects a right to resistance in the case of tyranny (Agapetos, Iosif Volotskii, Domostroi, Ivan Peresvetov, Andrei Kurbskii, etc.).
Part 2 covers the period from 1689 to 1762, beginning with the era of Peter the Great and concluding with the end of Elizabeth's reign. It consists of only two chapters and accounts for just under a fifth of the book. Here Hamburg discusses key figures and their works such as Stefan Iavor'skii, Feofan Prokopovych, Ivan Pososhkov, Dmitrii Golitsyn, and Vasilii Tatishchev.
By far the largest portion of the book (more than half of it) is occupied by part 3- While it deals with only 39 years in the history of ideas, this is also the period traditionally regarded as the heyday of the Russian Enlightenment, when a Russian public sphere began to evolve (Catherine the Great, Nikita Panin, Denis Fonvizin, Gavriil Derzhavin, Ivan Tret 'iakov, Semen Desnitskii, Nikolai Novikov, Aleksandr Radishchev, Mikhail Shcherbatov, Nikolai Karamzin). Hamburg's approach is not to portray the history of political thought in Russia in terms of generalized major lines of development and to support his theses with references to textual sources. Rather, he follows the tradition of the "Warsaw school of the history of ideas" and seeks to comprehend major works on their own terms, expounding their most important strands of thought, examining their logical coherence, and comparing the new ideas he finds with those of previous texts. In each case, his analysis of the work itself--which remains close to the text--is followed by a brief characterization of its authors significance and a detailed examination of his or her biography and the circumstances under which the work was written. Subsequently, Hamburg presents a comprehensive contextualization of the work in the general history of ideas and political history. These three steps are repeated for each text as Hamburg works his way through the centuries.
By presenting what could be perceived simply as a long series of individual portraits of works and their authors, Hamburg does not provide a quick overview of the epochs intellectual currents. Yet this disadvantage is by far outweighed by the chance for the reader to obtain a comprehensive picture of each author and his or her major works and to identify continuities in political thinking as well as both innovations and breaks with the author's predecessors. What is more, an interpretation that sticks as closely to the text in question as this one does allows Hamburg to do justice to the very wide range of material that he is dealing with.
Hamburg's choice of texts on the political history of ideas in Russia pre-1800 is comprehensive: alongside sermons, liturgical and literary texts, letters, odes, draft legislation, university lectures, and newspaper essays he also includes works such as the political manifestos of the Time of Troubles (smuta), which contain no fundamental political reflection but allow conclusions about contemporary attitudes toward the three central themes of the book: faith, politics, and reason.
The way that Hamburg defines the notion of reason in his introduction reflects the central thesis of the entire book--namely, that for Russian thinkers through the late 18th century the concept of reason either remained embedded in a religious context or was at least conceived of as compatible with religious thought. Even the Petrine transformation did not culminate in discrediting the Orthodox Christian system of values that had developed over the preceding centuries, or in an abandonment of religious thought as such. Rather, the reception of the ideas of the Enlightenment aided Russian thinkers in continuing to espouse, albeit in a new and nuanced form, ideas about virtue, morality, and politics that had been developed in a pre-18th-century Orthodox context.
With this point Hamburg shows that the opening up of the later Moscow and early Petersburg empire to the west did not go hand in hand with a transition from religious to secular thinking. One of the many authors Hamburg discusses to illustrate his thesis is the Orthodox priest Simeon Polotskii (1629-80), who grew up in the Belorussian and Ukrainian regions and whose thinking was schooled by the theological debates that took place in the course of the Jesuit counterreformation. Although Simeons ideas, as expounded in his poems "Polity," "Magistrate," and "A Distinction" as well as in his "comedies" On King Nebuchadnezzar and The Comedy of the Prodigal Son, reflect the kinds of problems (like that of political injustice) that were being discussed in Western Europe in an increasingly secular context at that time, Polotskii's intention was not to secularize political thought. Rather, he examined how the Orthodox Church could assert and justify its position against the background of the traditionally close link between politics and the church and in the light of contemporary thinking about tyranny and freedom in Russia (201).
Another case in point comes from Catherine the Greats era. In her time, the debate about the best political system and about the right relationship between church and state remained bound to categories of virtue--like obedience to the sovereign, lair conduct, charity toward the poor, reason, and wisdom--that were synonymous with Christian virtues or derived from them. "Russia's path toward enlightenment had Orthodox Christian origins, and the energy behind enlightenment before Catherine came mostly from Orthodox sources. Even under Catherine, most thinkers visualized the enlightened Russian state of the friture as an Orthodox polity" (742).
The evidence Hamburg cites for this basic thesis is convincing; however, the idea as such is not new. Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter, in Religion and Enlightenment in Catherinian Russia, traced the connection between enlightened thinking and the Orthodox Enlightenment, citing the teachings of the important figure of Metropolitan Platon, yet Hamburg does not refer to her main work. This is a pity, as the reader would have benefited from a discussion of Wirtschafters points on the Russian Enlightenment focusing more on the moral perfection of the individual than on questions of social and political change.
What makes Hamburg's book so special is the strategy not to portray ideas in isolation from their political and social environment but instead to trace how the history of ideas and actual history interacted. In the case of the poet Gavriil Derzhavin (1743-1816), Hamburg makes clear what a key influence the events of the Pugachev Rebellion of 1773-75 had on Derzhavin's political ideas (esp. 476-78). In the case of the Byzantine priest Agapetos Hamburg looks at the political impact of the latter's work Advice to the Emperor and warns against a one-dimensional interpretation: "If Agapetos drove Ivan IV toward absolutism, as some historians have believed, that 'influence' was the result of a selective reading of the Advice" (38).
In the case of the Time of Troubles (1598-1613) and the election of a new ruler by the assemblies of the land, Hamburg undertakes a fundamental analysis of the connection between the history of ideas and political history. Taking earlier Muscovite medieval political history of ideas as his baseline, he plumbs the limits of what it was possible to think and say and contradicts the interpretation according to which--from the perspective of modern Western political theory--during this phase an opportunity was missed to introduce a representative form of state. To support his argument, Hamburg discusses the Muscovite elite's organic way of thinking as a factor that restricted the latitude for political action. They saw their role in carrying out God's will and attached little value to the novel procedure for deciding on a new ruler. For them the goal was to restore a dynastic line of succession, and this "restoration" of the old order was considered impossible if the assembly had tried to impose new conditions on the elected tsar (111). Nevertheless, Hamburg describes as a "missed opportunity" the fact that the elite, following the election of a Romanov tsar in 1613, did not manage to use this event to establish a procedure for the future that, alongside the hereditary principle, could have served as a further source of sovereign rule.
Hamburg's reflections about the dovetailing of the history of ideas and political history in connection with Feofan Prokopovych's Spiritual Regulation (1721) are likewise fruitful. Hamburg asks why Feofans work prompted hardly any protest, despite the astonishing fact that a man of the church was making a case for abolishing the autonomy of this very church and integrating it in the state administration. Hamburg explains this with the deceptive impression of stability that naive observers might have gained from the aspect of personal continuity: the church was still to be headed by members of the clergy. In addition, Hamburg points out the explosive nature of criticizing the abolition of the office of patriarch. The only obvious candidate for this office would have been Stefan Iavors'kyi, until then the exarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. But through writings in which he defended the autonomy of the church Stefan had fallen out of favor with Peter the Great. To advocate the appointment of a new patriarch would thus have been tantamount to opposing the tsar (278-79).
Hamburg's questioning of silences, omissions, and things that failed to happen and his attempts to interpret them is just as much a strength of the book as the intellectual acuteness with which he takes the ideas of the various authors to their logical conclusion and imagines what would have happened had these political ideas been translated into practice. Thus in his analysis of Ivan Pososhkov's work he comes to the conclusion that if Peter the Great had listened to his suggestions, the government would have engaged in a "more invasive tyranny than that of Ivan IV or Boris Godunov" (302).
Hamburg's insistent differentiation between author and work fulfills his ambition of not wanting to reduce the writers to the texts they once wrote and to interpret them pars pro toto. Instead, Hamburg tries to trace the thought paths along which the authors have traveled and to find reasons for why they may in some cases have changed their minds. This is illustrated particularly well by the case of the Russian diplomat Grigorii Kotoshikhin, who after serving for many years in the Russian state administration fled via Poland to Sweden in 1664 where he wrote his magnum opus On Russia in the Reign of Aleksei Mikhailovich. This work displayed his extensive knowledge of Russian political and administrative habits and practices but was also laced with biting sarcasm. Hamburg investigates how Kotoshikhin reviewed and judged the political circumstances in his homeland once he was able to do so from an outside perspective, having experienced the political circumstances in other countries.
Given the enormous number of authors, works, and epochs covered by the book, it is understandable that Hamburg has kept his examination of secondary literature to a minimum. Less comprehensible, however, is why this reduced examination focuses mainly on authors who either lived in the 19th century or wrote their books 40 years ago or even earlier. Thus he fails to include new publications such as the already mentioned work by Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter or the writings by Mark Okenfuss and Andrei S. Riazhev. This neglect of recent scholarly literature means that the reader is often left wondering how Hamburg's interpretations fit into current scholarly debates. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the book also lacks a comprehensive bibliography.
Compared with this probably greatest point of criticism, other weaknesses may seem more trivial, especially given the fact that Hamburg's book is the most far-ranging monograph on the Russian history of ideas to have been published to date. Nevertheless, some themes and facets of the history of political ideas that have been neglected, passed over, or distorted should be pointed out. For instance, when Hamburg deals with the medieval and early modern history of the East Slavic peoples, he equates Kievan Rus' with "Russia" instead describing it as a political entity that constituted the source of three East Slavic nations: Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Russians. Hamburg simply cites the English translation of the term 'Russian nation from an 11th-century Russian text without questioning it (27) and refers to the time of Kievan Rus' as "Old Russia" (68). He also avoids questioning the conception in the Stepennaia kniga tsarskogo rodosloviia (Book of Royal Degrees), according to which the inhabitants of the Kievan empire were "Russians" (76).
This approach of simply blanking out Ukrainian (pre-)history until the end of the 17th century continues when he refers to the Belorussian-Ukrainian areas of settlement in the 17th century using Moscow's term "western periphery" (203) and to the Kievan Academy founded by Petr Mohyla, which is considered to be the fount of Ukrainian scholarship, as one of the "'western' Church schools" (191). Moreover, he describes the move of many Ukrainian political thinkers to the Russian capital following the incorporation of Hetmanats-Ukraine into the Muscovite empire as a move "to Russia proper" (191). Only when he comes to consider the texts and authors of the 18th century does Hamburg speak of "Ukrainian clerics" (251, 253) and of "Ukraine" (253, 254), but this time in a rather unfortunate juxtaposition with "Central Russia," where Ukraine is cast in the role of "West Russia."
A second neglected facet, in some ways connected with the first, is the tension between the notion of a Russian protonational state and a multiethnic Russian Empire, which was beginning to play an increasingly important role especially for the 18th-century authors that Hamburg discusses. While here and there Hamburg mentions the imperial dimension in his sources (e.g., 163, 264, 338, 341, 393), he rarely brings out properly the relationship between the protonational and imperial dimensions, which began to gain in significance particularly in 18th-century Russia. This is notably evident in his treatment of Ivan Pososhkov. While Hamburg addresses Pososhkov's religious intolerance toward non-Christians in his own country, he overlooks what is actually new in Pososhkov's text: namely, that in linking Russian identity with Orthodoxy, Pososhkov concludes that the Russian state not only should missionize but also "Russianize" (obruset ') its non-Christian subjects. Together with the writings of Fedor Saltykov this marked the beginning of a discourse of Russification (in the sense of active assimilation) that was to continue until well into the 20th century.
But the greater desideratum with respect to the neglect of the imperial dimension lies in the omission of another facet of the Petrine epoch: the paradigm of civilization, and with it the dichotomy between civilization and barbarism, was introduced by Peter the Great and his contemporaries--a paradigm that not only in Western Europe but also in Russia was to be central and far-reaching for the Age of the Enlightenment. Although in his examination of the 1717 work Razsuzhdenie kakie zakonnye prichiny ego tsarskoe Velichestvo Petr Pervyi Tsar ' i Povelitel ' vserossiskii Hamburg describes how the two authors, Petr Shafirov and Peter the Great, referred to the idea of "civilized peoples," he fails to inform the reader that the notion and concept of "civilization" was something new in Russian political thinking or to set them in the context of the adoption of the first universally conceived framework of international law as introduced by Samuel Pufendorf and Hugo Grotius.
Accordingly, he also fails to notice the consequences that the adoption of the civilization paradigm had for Petrine religious policy toward non-Russians in the east and south of the empire. Not only the Christianization campaigns that Peter the Great launched, with his orders to missionize non-Christian subjects, and continued to pursue for more than two decades fall by the wayside. Above all, with the exception of anti-Jewish thinking, which Hamburg certainly does take into account, he ignores the outcome that emerged from the Enlightenment narrative of progress and stadial theory as it was applied to imperial policy. Drawing a closer connection between intellectual and political history could have revealed the unfolding of a comprehensive Russian "civilizing" mission vis-a-vis the non-Christian and nomadic subjects in the east and south. The connection between Enlightenment and colonialism, which is discussed so intensively worldwide, thus remains a blank spot in Hamburg's book as regards 18th-century Russia.
But in view of his achievement of having selected lor discussion the most important texts on the history of political ideas in Russia from well over three centuries of history and having analyzed in detail the specifics of the Russian Enlightenment, the weaknesses identified here play only a minor role. Russia's Path toward Enlightenment remains a great work and deservedly won the Marc Raeff Prize for Best Book in Eighteenth-Century Russian Studies in 2016. As a comprehensive reference work on Russian intellectual history, it belongs on the bookshelves of any historian of the early modern period in the Moscow and Petersburg empires.
Historisches Seminar der LMU
Geschichte Ost- und Sudosteuropas
80539 Munich, Germany
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|Title Annotation:||Russia's Path Toward Enlightenment: Faith, Politics, and Reason, 1500-1810|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2019|
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