Ivan the Terrible
Free to Reward and Free to Punish
Ivan’s name had long been synonymous with sadism and pointless destruction. As Charles J. Halperin remarks in his new book, Ivan the Terrible: Free to Reward and Free to Punish, Ivan is ‘a card-carrying member of the Historical Hall of Shame—a dubious pantheon of mostly rulers . . . that includes Nero, Caligula, Attila the Hun, Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), Caesare Borgia, and the Marquis de Sade.’ . . . Was he really so terrible? Russian nationalists, who routinely accuse Western historians of ‘Russophobia,’ claim Ivan has been slandered, and Halperin, for different reasons, agrees that ‘Ivan's evil reputation . . . prejudices scholarship, and distorts history.’ All those descriptions of ‘the putative homicidal maniac’ in literature, film, and historical scholarship simply ‘enshrine the myth.’ In Halperin’s view, Ivan was bad, but no worse than other rulers of his time.