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Oppressive Europeanization


The greatest paradox of Peters reform was that by shaking up Russian society, by introducing efficient and up-to-date methods, by equipping Russia with the military and economic might - and achieving all this mainly  by force and administrative coercion - Peter not only preserved the most salient features of traditional Muscovite society, but actually strengthened and reinvigorated them. 


The Petrine paradox  was forcefully expressed by the Russian philosopher George Plekhanov: In his Europeanization of Russia Peter developed to its final, logical conclusion the condition of complete helplessness of the population vis-à-vis the State that is characteristic of Oriental despotism. Some analysts even deny Peter the Europeanizing substance of his innovations. Alexander Kizevetter, for instance, argued that: Far from reducing, Peter increased ever more the burdens, imposed by the State on society... Having considerably modified the external forms of state institutions, Peter left completely untouched the basic principles of the old system of social  organization...   

The Reform considerably expanded the authority and influence of the Russian government over its own population. The power of the despotic, centralized state was made even more absolute and  its arbitrary rule was elevated into the basic principle of government. Society  was subjected to yet more rigid regimentation, with the heavy burden of  state service made compulsory for all classes of the population. The church was subordinated to the state, and the bondage of peasants was strengthened and made even harsher. In effect, Westernized Russia was in many respects more Russian than before.

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Peter the Great


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