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Planning a "Regular" State


When discussing the pre-Petrine Muscovite state it was noted that by the seventeenth century a certain type of relationship between society and the State had evolved, when each social class had to perform certain duties and services assigned to it by the State. Russiaís traditional political and social structures enabled the State to exercise control over the entire economic and demographic resources of society and mobilize them for the attainment of its strategic objectives. Society on its own lacked any effective levers by which to bring about change. For these reasons, any major reform project could only be implemented by means of administrative intervention of the State. 

Peter I. Painting by V. Serov

The reform era of Peter the Great represents a state-driven modernization of this kind. The exigencies of the war with Sweden served only to enhance the Stateís role of the supreme coordinator of the war effort,  resolved on pushing through the reform measures necessary for the achievement of the final victory. The Petrine Reform is a classic example of a radical transformation of society, directed by the State, and implemented from above often against the wishes of the broad sections of the population and even in the face of their open resistance. The Reform was conceived as a broad program of major economic, social and political changes aimed at modernizing, rationalizing and Europeanizing Russian society. 

Not all historians are convinced of the planned nature of the Petrine Reform. There was much in it, they say, which was not pre-planned, which was improvisation or  simply an expedient in the conditions of the war with Sweden. Such assessments, however, do not give sufficient credit to Peterís calculated and life-long ambition to create a rational (or, to use Peterís own expression, Ďregularí) state. The foundations of a rationally governed state were to be laid with the help of an extensive legislative regulation of all aspects of  the life of society.

Planning a "regular" city: Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg 

A clear example of the purposeful planning by Peter was the construction of the new imperial capital of St. Petersburg. In contrast to the abandoned traditional capital of Moscow, a city which had been built gradually and without a general plan, the founding of St Petersburg was carefully planned.  

Peter had drawn up a whole series of  decrees which regulated in great detail the location of the city, specified the architecture of its buildings, laid down the duties of its inhabitants. Having conceived the blueprint of his new capital, he acted vigorously, resorting to unrestrained administrative coercion, to bring his ideal city into life. There is  in this an inescapable likeness to the Utopians with their vision of a perfect city, whose happy inhabitants have their life regulated down to the smallest detail.

Peterís approach to the task of creating a Ďregularí state was similar to the way he planned the founding of St Petersburg. He desired to build a State that  would rule by carefully thought-through laws which would ensure the effective functioning of the entire administrative mechanism and protect the population from the arbitrariness of  officials. To that end, Peter introduced legislation covering practically all aspects of social, economic and political life, including the definitions of the status of all social estates and classes that made up Russiaís social hierarchy, the regulation of industry with special provisions for its priority branches, the regulation of trade and, finally, the operation of the governmental apparatus and the state bureaucracy. All these measures appear to be part of Peterís comprehensive plan to create a Ďregularí state that would govern society utilizing progressive legislation adopted by leading Western European powers.

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Peter the Great


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
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