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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 Alexandrine Commission for the Compilation of Laws: In Search for Codifying Models for the Russian Empire (Alexander Kaplunovsky)


Alexander Kaplunovsky

The Alexandrine Commission for the Compilation of Laws: In Search for Codifying Models for the Russian Empire

It was in this institution that the fanciful and idyllic style so typical of Alexander I’s early reign revealed itself with utmost clarity. There were high hopes laid on this commission, broadest and most vague objectives set for it, and when they had been achieved, the “commonweal,” “general happiness,” and “universal bliss” would have set in. Just as did many other undertakings of the same age, it suffered a devastating blow. It could never have achieved the expected results because the plan it had set out for itself was infeasible, and the de facto means that it had at its disposal were insufficient. Rather than the speculations that the commission’s program was stock full of, the way of things was the ultimate triumphant.1

Such was the tough sentence that Aleksandr Nol’de, a lawyer and historian of law, pronounced to the 1804–26 Commission for the Compilation of Laws in his Sketches on the History of Codifying Local Civil Law under Count Speransky (1914). Nol’de’s negative assessment rests on a simple formal criterion: the commission failed to set out or fully implement a complete legal code.2 This criterion is usually taken as the ultimate measure of the commission’s inefficiency and its lack of historical importance. However, in this article I will strive to demonstrate that the case of the Alexandrine Commission for the Compilation of Laws...

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