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The Power of Autocracy


Ultimately, it was the power of autocracy which bound different social strata and various ethnic groups of a gigantic empire together. Russian autocracy was a form of absolutist government which derived its sanctity and legitimacy from the concept of the traditional God-given power of the Russian tsar and from the claim of the right of succession to the great empires of antiquity. 

Ivan the Terrible 

An absolute monarch was the central element in the Russian political system. The Russian autocrat was a towering figure at the pinnacle of the pyramid of state, exercising total power in the country. There were no recognized formal limits on his political authority and no rule of law to curb his arbitrary will. The entire business of government was under his command, and individual liberties of his subjects existed only inasmuch as they were granted by the tsar.  

In Western Europe, even in the age of absolutism, monarchs had to reckon with the interests of powerful social groups such as the nobility and the bourgeoisie, and they often faced opposition in the form of a parliament, or municipal councils, or self-governing religious bodies. By contrast, the absolute rule of the Russian tsars met with no opposition from society.

A state like the Russian autocracy, which completely dominates society and treats its subjects as its property, stifles the freedom of private and public life, inhibits the development of mature civic consciousness in its subjects and prevents the emergence of organized associations and self-governing bodies which would represent interests of different sections of society. In short, it suppresses all those things which characterize modern forms of political life of the state. While modern pre-democratic structures began to evolve in Western Europe in the eighteenth century, and by the end of the nineteenth century parliamentary democracies and constitutional monarchies had been established throughout almost all of Europe, Russia, practically right to the very end of tsarism in 1917, remained firmly in the grip of autocracy.

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