Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Catherine II was Russia’s first ruler, who was considered as enlightened

Catherine II was Russia's first ruler, who was considered as enlightened. As a child growing up in Germany, she was given an enlightened education. She enthusiastically read ‘enlightened' literature, and soon became a disciple of the enlightenment. As Empress she continued to read the works of Locke, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. Although it is widely accepted that Catherine II was an enlightened despot, it has also been argued that she did nothing more than allow the continuation of policies that had began in the reign of Peter I; â€Å"Although she claimed to be an enlightened despot, Catherine II did no more than continue the policies of her predecessors. † Another argument as to why Catherine didn't carry out more enlightened reforms was due to her not wanting to make these enlightened reforms; the policies that Catherine II adopted were not adopted because of her beliefs, and/or her desire to create an ‘enlightened society', but were instead taken out to maintain her power, and to satisfy her vanity. Historians like Harris claim that Catherine only appeared to be enlightened to enhance her reputation with the philosophes. This view is also taken by R. Charques, who states that the â€Å"enlightenment in Catherine was not much deeper than her vanity; despotism on the other hand was implicit in her ambition. â€Å"1 There has also been the case that Catherine had recognised the danger of going too far and/or too fast. She had experience the downfall of her husband for doing just that. As H. Nickelson puts it â€Å"No despot was ever more subtly aware that politics is the art of the possible and that everything can be lost if a states mangoes too far, or too fast† Another valid argument is that Catherine became more conservative, and less willing to change the laws of Russia, on the lines of the enlightenment, as she got older, and had come to realise the scale of problems which faced Russia. The enthusiasm with which she began her reign soon faded as the reality of Russian backwardness and it's intolerance to change sank in. Harris sums up this point: â€Å"she coarsened with the exercise of power, her early idealism was abandoned as she learnt to understand the complexities of the Russian situation, and thus her enlightenment was only skin deep† A Key limitation to her ‘enlightening' Russia was the role that the nobility played in supporting and maintaining her power. Although the aristocracy were glad to be rid of the ‘insane' Peter III, Catherine had no claim to the throne. Many in Russia believed that she should only be regent for her son Paul, or that the ex Tsar Ivan IV should be re appointed. However with the support of the nobility Catherine could retain power for herself. But without the support of the nobility there was always the danger of the army who had so easily placed her on the throne could just as easily displace her. With all these limitations on her power Oppenheim asks: â€Å"would she attempt to put into practice some of her modern ideas about which she had read, or would she continue to govern Russia in the traditional mannor. â€Å"4 Since the death of Peter I, the nobles had slowly begun to increase their powers. Their compulsory state service, which Peter I had set up, was firstly cut to twenty-five years in the reign of Anna, and later in the reign of Peter III it was completely abolished, for that of hereditary peers, thus securing the role of the nobility in Russian society. Immediately after the death of Peter I there was an attempt by some nobles to restrict the power of the crown, via a supreme secret council. Cowie claims, † It consisted of six members drawn from the old and the new nobility. It's powers included complete control of legislation, but it aroused such opposition from the nobility that these had to be restricted. â€Å"5 It is clear to see that the nobility then were powerful enough to attempt to limit the autocracy, which Peter I had established. However their own class opposed them, which left the councils power restricted. The supreme council tried some years later to limit the power of the monarchy. Upon the nomination of Anna as Empress, she was presented with a document that she had to sign in order to be crowned. This document would have allowed the nobles to have a share in how the state was run. â€Å"This would have been to turn her into a constitutional monarch. â€Å"6 Cowie also agrees with this statement; â€Å"If put into practice these proposals would have replaced Russian autocracy by an oligarchy. â€Å"7 However the document didn't carry the mass support of the nobility. Again the nobility, which had the power to initiate a constitution, also had the power to stop its implementation. The ‘constitutional rights' they requested in 1730 were more restrictive on the crown than those they had asked for in 1725, which supports the idea that the nobles had increasingly gained power after the death of Peter I. In 1730 the Privy Council itself went against the wish of Empress Catherine I (who had nominated her daughter Elizabeth if Peter II should die) and instead choose and crowned Anna Duchess of Courland. Not only was central government under more influence from the nobility, but local government too was rapidly falling back into the hands of the nobility. During the reign of Peter II the nobles who ruled on behalf of the boy- tsar, began to take back some powers in local government which Peter I had taken away. As Harris Puts it † if Peter II had lived long, all of the work Peter the great had done would have been undone. â€Å"8 Cowie also argues this point; â€Å"the reign of this boy czar was a triumph for the conservative nobility. † After the death of the Empress Elizabeth in 1762, Peter III became Tsar, and Catherine became his Tsarina. During his short reign Peter managed to alienate the Russian nobility in particular the guards and the army. He even antagonised the church and the senate. Dukes claims, â€Å"the guards could still make an empress or break an emperor. â€Å"10 He goes on to say that Catherine had the support of these valuable guards and could control them through Orlov, her lover at the time, and that she used this power to overthrow her husband Peter III. Madarianga agrees with Duke's statement, she claims that â€Å"Catherine's many friends in the army joined in a plot to dethrone Peter III, and seized power with her full approval and participation†11 During the coup of 1762 the support of the nobility ensured the quick and efficient disposition of Peter III, which according to Oppenheim was virtually bloodless, and an easy victory for Catherine, in which the crown was practically offered to Catherine. Oppenheim the claims that the experiences of a poor ruler like Peter III meant that â€Å"Catherine could only expect to retain as long as she able to demonstrate that she was an effective ruler. This argument has also been supported by Lentin; â€Å"as such she remained permanently dependant on the good will of the nobility who could dethrone her as easily as they had raised her up. â€Å"13 I too agree with both Lentin and Oppenheim, as Catherine's first priority was to safeguard her own position, because those who had enthroned her could just as easily dispose of her. Harris on the other hand claims that Catherine could rely on the devotion of those who had gotten her in to power, and also on the fact that Russia was accustomed to an autocracy, and therefore would not have had to worry about appeasing the nobility. I disagree with this claim, although Catherine could rely on the devotion of the conspirators she still had to maintain the support of the rest of the nobility. As Lentin writes â€Å"It was after all, for antagonising the nobility that her husband and her son each met his death. â€Å"14 Catherine had watched the downfall of Peter III, and wasn't going to make his mistakes. On coming to power Catherine had inherited a nation whose workforce was predominantly conscripted. The serfs worked for the nobles, and although in theory Catherine was against serfdom, she knew few nobles would support her in any move to free the serfs. Oppenheim claims that Catherine knew that â€Å"abolishing or even reducing serfdom would entail enormous social upheaval and violent protests from the nobles; and that she lacked the administrative machinery and armed forces to enforce such a reform against their wishes. â€Å"15 Princess Dashkora also tells of the noble's unwillingness to emancipate the serfs she wrote, â€Å"a noble would have to be out of his mind to voluntarily surrender the source of his own prosperity. Madarianga disagrees with Oppenheim she says that Catherine is criticised â€Å"for giving away thousands of free peasants to her favourites and public savants, thus enserfing them†. This view is also taken by Harris who claims that the Russian occupation of the Ukraine â€Å"brought with it the oppressions of state power, taxation, forced labour and serfdom†17 Lentin takes neither views he instead takes the view that the circumstances prevented Catherine from helping the serfs not the nobles; â€Å"The gulf between noble and serf was had grown too wide for Catherine to bridge it. Faced with such an impasse she could do nothing. â€Å"18 I agree with both Harris and Madarianga because Catherine introduced serfdom to parts of her empire where it did not exist, where the nobles would not have pushed for it. On her own estates and lands the condition of the serf also worsened. By the end of her reign over a million people were enserfed by Catherine. Catherine was brought closer to the nobility in 1773-75, during the Pugachev revolt. Lentin states that the revolt made the â€Å"autocracy and the nobility wield together in a common self defence. â€Å"20 Harris also suggests that the Pugachev revolt aligned Catherine with the nobility; â€Å"her autocracy had been shown to rest squarely upon the support of the nobility. Stephen Lee has commented that the Pugachev revolt was an important stage in her reign, which made her see the extent of Russia's problems. This is said to have forced her to abandon radical social reform, and instead maintain the existing social structure. Oppenheim has also claimed that the Pugachev revolt made Catherine more dependent on the nobility â€Å"the revolt undoubtedly increased social division and made both Catherine and the nobles aware of their dependence on each other. â€Å"21 The Pugachev revolt prompted Catherine to declare that she was â€Å"an aristocrat, it is my duty, and my profession. † The Pugachev revolt showed Catherine that she needed the nobility to maintain peace, stability, law and order. Thus at this point much of her enlightened were abandoned in order to appease the nobility and to reward them. The Pugachev revolt showed the need for a more efficient local government, as Pugachev's early successes were due to poor local administration. Catherine changed Peter I' system of government, which brought the nobility under the central government, to a system which enlisted the co-operation of the nobility in the running of local government. This gave the nobles the authority to govern the provinces in co-operation with central government. Harris sums up this point â€Å"Central government was recruiting from the nobility; they appointed the nobility to be governors and councillors, and the latter ruled the provinces in co-operation with the local nobility. â€Å"22 Oppenheim argues that Catherine had not given away any significant power away in the reforms of 1775 â€Å"since it was still the governor appointed by her who made all the noteworthy decisions at a local level. â€Å"23 Treasure sums up Oppenhiem's point â€Å"skilfully Catherine presented the with the semblance of government†¦. She preserved the real power for those she chose the governors. † I agree with Treasure that Catherine retained the real power herself, while appearing to appease/ give in to the nobles. The reforms of 1775 bound the nobles to the crown closer than ever before. The reforms of 1775 led directly to the charter of the nobility 1785. â€Å"Her recognition of the shared interests of Tsar and the nobles was made explicit in the charter of the nobility. â€Å"24 The charter established the social pre-eminence of the nobility, and recognised them as a privileged caste with defined rights. Harris claims that â€Å"by recognising the privileges of the nobility, her own autocracy was left unchallenged, and with the support of the nobility she made Russia the dominant state in Eastern Europe†25 Oppenheim takes the viewpoint that â€Å"to her the charter meant that there was a firm legal basis for the social structure in Russia, instead of the archaic social system of Peter the great. For a ruler intent on giving Russia an enlightened and rational system of government this was a necessity. â€Å"26 Alexander claims that the charter didn't increase the power of the nobility it merely confirmed in law the power they already had. I agree with Harris that the charter had aligned Catherine with the nobility. Any threats of a coup by the noble receded. The nobles had received what they wanted, secured privileges and status. Catherine had ensured that she retained all significant power. As Oppenheim puts it â€Å"The nobles now worked as willing junior partners of state, instead of unwilling servants of Peter I. Catherine II's achievements in her reign were coniderable. However she is often critised for being insincere e. g for not bring about the sweeping reforms that she had advocated at the start of her riegn. Many of her critics question just how genuine Catherine really was. Many historians now believe that Catherine wasn't a true disciple of the enlightenment, but instead used the principles of the enlightenment to advance her own popularity, and to satify her own vanity. Lentin supports the idea that Catherine wasn't a genuine enlightened despot. He goes as far to say that Catherine was a hypocrite, who used â€Å"enlightened slogans as amask to conceal unenlightened policies†27 Harris supports the notion that Catherine was not truly an enlightened despot, but was instead concerned with her reputation with the philosophes and Western Europe. He tells us that Catherine was at great pains to show herself as an apt pupil of the disciples. Oppenhiem also agrees with Harris that her policies contradicted many of her writings. The Nakaz in particular was hypocritical, designed purely to impress the western philosophes. This helps to explain why very few of her ideals which shehad once read about were ever put in to practice. In some cases Catherine actually did the opposite to what the enlightenment proposed. Catherine made Russian society even more unfair. She cemented the privileges of the Russian nobility in law. As Shennen puts it â€Å"The liberties of the nobles constituted the liberties of a state or class and had significance precisely because other segments of the population, notably serfs, did not share them†28 On the other hand Blackwood suggests that Catherine was a genuine reformer, however the problems that faced Russia prevented her ideas from becoming a reality. James White supports Blackwoods claim, and he writes â€Å"altogether it is fair to describe Catherine as almost certainly enlightened in her wishes. 29 Andrews sums up both Blackwood and white's argument; â€Å"Catherine was evidently influenced by the ideas of the philosophes but the size of Russia, the political power of the nobles and her own programme of conquest all prevented their being put into practice. † I personally agree with the argument that Catherine was genuinely ‘enlightened', and that the reason why she couldn't incorporate enlightened reform into Russian law was the complexities of the Russian situation. Catherine herself put this predicament well, when she wrote to Diderot; â€Å"With all your great principles which I understand very well, one would make fine books but very bad business. You forget in all your plans of reform the diference in our positions; you only work on paper which endures all things, but I poor Empress, work on the human skin which is irritable and ticklish to a very different degree. † â€Å"The most important reason why Catherine II could not achieve her enlightened ambitions was her dependence on the nobility. † To what extent do you agree with this view?

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