Chapter 7 of the history course A New Imperial History of Northern Eurasia is titled “The Long Eighteenth Century and the Rise of Modernizing Empire.” In the course of the eighteenth century the newly founded Russian Empire had consumed almost the entire region loosely defined as Northern Eurasia, from the Far East to the Baltics. It conquered and annexed former rival regional powers, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Crimean Khanate, and became the sole, overwhelming political force in place of the hitherto decentralized system of polities. This brought about an unprecedented situation: the process of political and cultural self-organization of the “ahistorical” region of Northern Eurasia became largely confined to the borders of one political entity. The structural “imperial situation” of overlapping and contesting local cultures, social hierarchies, and regimes of difference coincided with an actual empire. From then on, the stability of the imperial regime became conditioned by its ability to accommodate and rationalize spontaneous self-organization processes of the societies and cultures that it had incorporated. This predetermined the systematically reformist and modernizing character of the Russian Empire, regardless of the reactionary political views of some of its rulers: only constant customization of the social and political order sustained the legitimacy of the regime in the eyes of various social elites.
Part 1 of the chapter, “From a Gunpowder Empire to a Modern State,” traces the rise of the Russian Empire. Its success is explained by the adaptation of the Cameralist concept of a modern “well-ordered” state: more a political ideal than an actual phenomenon, it allowed a regional military power to develop a new political culture. This political culture, arguably absent in the rival societies of Poland-Lithuania and the Crimean Khanate, was a sine qua non for the entire complex of modern institutes and techniques of governance and population mobilization. Even a weak modern state promoted the Baroque tsardom of Muscovy to the position of a European great power, while the structural failure of modern state-building by its peers in the region explained their demise by the nineteenth century.