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The Enigmatic Tsar and His Empire

Russia under Alexander I. 1801–1825


Edited By Alexander Kaplunovsky, Jan Kusber and Benjamin Conrad

In many ways Russia under Alexander I was an epoch of exploration and revision of empire and state-building. The authors of this volume explore the Alexandrine-era Russia not from the traditional vantage point of the emperor and his inner circle but from the point of view of experts and elites. These «men on the spot» drafted «maps» of the empire and its collective subjects and constructed social, political, and economic imaginaries of the empire. All these revisions and projects did not necessarily lead to an immediate and consistent (re)organization of the political, social, and cultural structures of imperial space. The Alexandrine Russia may be interpreted much more as a «laboratory» in which different potential scenarios for modernization were designed, discussed, and tested—but also rejected and forgotten.

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The Concepts of Constitution and Fundamental Laws in Russian Political Discourse at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century (Sergei Polskoy)


Sergei Polskoy

The Concepts of Constitution and Fundamental Laws in Russian Political Discourse at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century

Our young men lie and prate, they understand nothing and do not know what they want when they see both the constitution and liberal rules all awry—but are we mature enough to think of constitutions?

V.P. Kochubei to M.M. Speransky, November 2, 18201

Speaking of intellectual unrest among the nobility after the end of serfdom, Konstantin Dmitrievich Kavelin (1818–85) noted that it was the constitution that “noblemen dream both in secret and openly [of] and put their hopes on.” However, the problem as he saw it was that people were discussing “constitution” at crosshairs, conflating two meanings of the word: some saw it as “representative governance,” and others as “internal improvement.” The historian believed that “confusing the ideas of ‘constitution’ in these distinct meanings breeds thousands of misunderstandings among governments and nations, and even more so among people who with equal force wish happiness to their motherlands.”2 Kavelin’s observation seems to hold true for the early nineteenth century as well—a time when differing notions of constitution led to differing views of political reality. The political lexicon of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century contained several meanings of this word, meanings that more often than not remained distinct. When reading texts of the Alexandrine period, it is important to recognize how specific authors understood “constitution” and “fundamental laws...

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