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  • Sotsial′naia istoriia Rossii perioda imp erii (XVIII–nachalo XX v.) Genezis lichnosti, demokraticheskoi sem′i, grazhdanskogo obshchestva i pravovogo gosudarstva
  • Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter
Boris Nikolaevich Mironov, Sotsial′naia istoriia Rossii perioda imp erii (XVIII–nachalo XX v.) Genezis lichnosti, demokraticheskoi sem′i, grazhdanskogo obshchestva i pravovogo gosudarstva. 2 vols. St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 1999. 548 pp. ISBN 5-86007-151-5 (v. 1), 566 pp. ISBN 5-86007-170-1 (v. 2).

It is a truism that historians echo the concerns of the times in which they live as much as they describe past events. Even so, for Americans living in a period of relative calm, devoid of revolutionary change, Boris Mironov's Social History of Russia appears strikingly topical. As an effort to conceptualize the social history of imperial Russia, Mironov's study must be understood in relation to the contemporary Russian audience he explicitly addresses. The author has assimilated a large body of foreign scholarship – primarily "new social history" produced by Anglo-American authors, along with a sprinkling of more broadly European economic and demographic history from the 1970s and 1980s – which is effectively incorporated into his own very deep empirical knowledge. This exercise is useful for two reasons: 1) it frees Mironov's analysis of Soviet-era definitions and categories tainted by communist ideology, and 2) it gives Mironov's Russian audience a brief introduction to important scholarship long unavailable to the reading public of the former Soviet Union. The reader does not find in this extensively researched account the standard Soviet answers to specific historical questions. Mironov has abandoned most Soviet cliches, though he still assumes that laws of Russian history can be identified based on social science theory and quantitative analysis.

Mironov implicitly rejects a reading of his work as moral or philosophical commentary that employs historical knowledge to elucidate Russia's difficult transition from communism to capitalist democracy. His overarching purpose is stated at the outset and drives his analysis throughout: the basic tendencies and directions of Russian history are those of Europe. The result is a scholarly narrative that emphasizes potentialities rather than actualities – one that illuminates the direction towards which Russia was advancing at a given moment (the "genesis" of Mironov's title) rather than the dynamics of where the country actually stood. Thus, we learn that while the nuclear family became predominant in Russian society during the 18th and 19th centuries, a majority of peasants still spent most of their lives (youth and old age, it seems) in extended families. [End Page 183] Above all, Mironov describes in linear fashion what he believes to be the logical historical pattern that inevitably will be reached in the course of Russia's future development. The ultimate goals or developmental endpoints identified are those embraced by the liberal intelligentsia (both pre-revolutionary and post-Soviet) and broadly characteristic of modern European democracies: the rule of law, democratic politics, civil society, free enterprise, private property, the nuclear family, and individualism.

To approach the history of the empire in terms of a European spectrum has been characteristic of Russian and non-Russian scholarship since the 18th century. Only under communist rule did Russian exceptionalism strike deep roots and discourage attention to the larger European context. It is therefore highly significant when a Russian scholar who was trained and rose to high position in Soviet times self-consciously seeks to explain to his countrymen that they possess a "normal" history in European terms. In the words of Boris Mironov, the "normality of development is evidence that in time Russians will enjoy well-being, a state based on the rule of law, civil society, and all the other blessings of civilization" (1: 17). To that end Mironov calls upon historians to play the role of "social doctors" who point out to Russians (rossiiane) their "virtues and shortcomings." Russians, he comments, are in need of "cliotherapy," and like psychoanalysts, historians can free "the people" of the "complexes" that have developed in the course of their history. In the case of the Russian people these complexes result from late entry into the process of modernization and from the effort "to drive evaders/laggards (ushedshie) forward" (1:16...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 183-189
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-26
Open Access
No
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