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Liberals under Autocracy

Modernization and Civil Society in Russia, 1866–1904

Anton A. Fedyashin

Publication Year: 2012

With its rocky transition to democracy, post-Soviet Russia has made observers wonder whether a moderating liberalism could ever succeed in such a land of extremes. But in Liberals under Autocracy, Anton A. Fedyashin looks back at the vibrant Russian liberalism that flourished in the country’s late imperial era, chronicling its contributions to the evolution of Russia’s rich literary culture, socioeconomic thinking, and civil society.
    For five decades prior to the revolutions of 1917, The Herald of Europe (Vestnik Evropy) was the flagship journal of Russian liberalism, garnering a large readership. The journal articulated a distinctively Russian liberal agenda, one that encouraged social and economic modernization and civic participation through local self-government units (zemstvos) that defended individual rights and interests—especially those of the peasantry—in the face of increasing industrialization. Through the efforts of four men who turned The Herald into a cultural nexus in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg, the publication catalyzed the growing influence of journal culture and its formative effects on Russian politics and society.
    Challenging deep-seated assumptions about Russia’s intellectual history, Fedyashin’s work casts the country’s nascent liberalism as a distinctly Russian blend of self-governance, populism, and other national, cultural traditions. As such, the book stands as a contribution to the growing literature on imperial Russia's nonrevolutionary, intellectual movements that emphasized the role of local politics in both successful modernization and the evolution of civil society in an extraparliamentary environment.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to thank my dissertation committee members—my advisor Cath erine Evtuhov, the late Richard Stites, and Harley Balzer—who made possible the metamorphosis of a graduate project into a book. James Shedel’s class on Central European politics subconsciously triggered this project...

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pp. 3-14

This book grew out of a keen interest in the political culture of contemporary Russia, whose post-Soviet transition made current many issues from the late imperial era. The long nineteenth century now speaks directly to the present and parallels between the late tsarist and...

Part I. The Men of the Herald of Europe

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1. Born under the Iron Tsar: Family and School

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pp. 17-32

No thorough treatment of the Herald of Europe can ignore the biographies of its founders—their family milieu, childhood, and formative years. The value of exploring the men’s social backgrounds, the emotional atmosphere in which they grew up, and the...

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2. Formative Years: The Birth of Ideas

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pp. 33-52

While family background and childhood provided the raw material for the Herald personalities, secondary education guided their formation by taking them away from the primary socializing institutions, which were their homes, and exposing them to peers. The...

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3. No Place for Talent: Academia and State Service

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pp. 53-68

After graduating, Stasiulevich, Pypin, and Arsen’ev entered the professional world during the thaw that followed the death of Tsar Nicholas I in 1855. All three entered promising fields during the Reform era, but all became disappointed with the rate and extent of the...

Part II. The Herald of Europe as the Flagship of Russian Liberalism

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4. Birth Pangs Full of Promise: The Literary Engine of Success

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pp. 71-85

The culture of thick journals was not unique to Russia in the nineteenth century. Studies of British literature and journalism have examined how temporal features of serialization created a Victorian ideological tendency towards conceptions of sequential and progressive development.1 The publication...

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5. Publishing as Philanthropy: Printing and Politics

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pp. 86-110

While the Herald of Europe laid the responsibility for Russia’s growing radicalism on government policies, the journal attempted to explore the origins of civil society through literary and historical studies. The state’s reaction demonstrated that even the reformist tsar’s government had trouble...

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6. A Parting of Ways: The Herald of Europe and Populism

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pp. 111-126

The Herald group saw no promise for agrarian socialism in Russia and treated the peasant commune as an economic necessity during the transition to capitalism, instead of a model of socialist relations as the Populists believed. Instead of utopian revolution, the liberals championed micro-credit...

Part III. The Emergence of a Liberal Program

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7. Challenging the Ideology of Progress: Russia and the Global Economy

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pp. 129-145

In the second half of the nineteenth century, when “state capitalism” was the norm and not a contradiction, Europe was enjoying the blessings of a global market. As John Maynard Keynes wrote of the decades preceding the Great War:..

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8. Solving the Agrarian Crisis: The Famine of 1891-1892 and the Zemstvo

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pp. 146-162

It is textbook knowledge that the famine of 1891–1892 marked a milestone in the evolution of the public sphere in Russia.1 After a series of localized crop failures in 1889 and 1890, a broader one struck sixteen of Russia’s European provinces in the autumn of 1891.2 Reports about rural conditions...

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9. From Marxist Apologetics to a Moral Economy

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pp. 163-196

Having achieved its greatest popularity and influence by the 1890s, the Herald of Europe also had to adjust itself to the rapidly changing trends of the dawning Silver Age of Russian literature and philosophy. After the closing of Notes of the Fatherland in 1884, the Herald of Europe became Russia’s...

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pp. 197-204

Although its popularity and impact noticeably decreased on the eve of the 1905 revolution, the Herald of Europe left an important legacy. The journal never questioned Russia’s belonging to European culture and never took the “us versus them” approach to it, although...


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pp. 205-248


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pp. 249-274


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pp. 275-282

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780299284336
E-ISBN-10: 0299284336
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299284343
Print-ISBN-10: 0299284344

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vi͡estnik Evropy (Saint Petersburg, Russia).
  • Russia -- Intellectual life -- 1801-1917.
  • Russia -- Politics and government -- 1801-1917.
  • Liberalism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
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