The influence of liberalism in tsarist Russia is deeply problematic to most historians. In this highly original study, Victor Leontovitsch offers a reinterpretation of liberalism in a uniquely Russian form. He documents the struggles to develop civil society and individual liberties in imperial Russia up until their ultimate demise in the face of war, revolution, and the collapse of the old regime.
From Catherine the Great’s proposal of freedom for serfs born after a predetermined year, through the creation of zemstvos by Alexander II, and the emergence of the State Duma and a quasi-constitutional monarchy under Nicholas II, Leontovitsch chronicles the ebb and flow of liberal thought and action in the difficult circumstances of tsarist Russia. He cites numerous examples of debates over civil rights, property laws, emancipation, local jurisdiction, political rights, and constitutional proposals. Focusing on liberal reforms and reformers within the governing elite, Leontovitsch draws important distinctions between factions of radical (but fundamentally illiberal) progressives and true (but often concealed) liberalism.
This is the first English-language translation of Leontovitsch’s monumental work, which was originally published to critical acclaim in German in 1957. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn sponsored a Russian edition in 1980, and his introduction is translated for the foreword of this edition. With a wide readership in today’s Russia, The History of Liberalism in Russia continues to resonate as a penetrating analysis of the historical precedents of liberal thought and its potential as a counterweight to current autocratic tendencies and the uncertainties of Russia’s political future.
The English translation of this seminal work, originally published in German in 1957, has appeared at a timely moment: liberal and radical elements are currently battling for the upper hand in a fragmented opposition movement against Russia's autocratic regime, just as they did just over 100 years ago. . . . An exceptionally illuminating work and will surely become a key text for students of both historical and contemporary politics in Russia. his book has enormous relevance not only for those studying the political history of the late Tsarist era, but also those wishing to embed the current chasm between state and society in historical context.
The legend still persists that there was never any choice in Russia between dark reaction and red revolution, and that liberal order was an alien plant which could never have taken root . . . Leontovitsch has done a great service by restoring some of the true perspective.
This book has that elegant quality of successful works that, while elucidating a specific subject, throw light in passing on other questions that are sometimes of greater significance. Thus, we find in this history of liberalism a profound analysis of some of the key factors that made revolution possible in Russia.