Konstantin Aksakov

Coordinated with Russian text and SAC by Alan Kimball,
with boldface added to passages of particular relevance to our course

The Russian people is not a people concerned with government. That is to say, it has no aspiration toward self-government, no desire for political rights, and not so much as a trace of lust for power. The first proof of this is to be found in the beginnings of our history, when the Russians of their own free will invited foreigners to rule over them -- the Varangians, Riurik and his brothers. An even more telling proof is to be seen in the Russia of 1612, when there was no tsar, when the whole administrative structure of the state lay in ruins, and when the victorious people, still under arms, rejoiced at their triumph over their enemies after having set Moscow free. What did this mighty people do, having been defeated under the Tsar and the boyars, and having been victorious without the Tsar and the boyars, under the leadership of Prince Pozharskii and the butcher Koz'ma Minin, whom they had themselves elected? What did they do? Even as they had done in 862, in 1612 the people called upon others to rule them. They chose a tsar and, having wholly entrusted their fate to him, they peaceably laid down their arms and scattered to their various homes.

These two pieces of evidence are so striking that it hardly seems necessary to add anything more. But if we cast a glance over the whole of Russian history, the truth of the above will become even more manifest. Russian history does not record a single uprising against authority to obtain political rights for the people. Novgorod itself, once it had recognized the power of the Tsar of Muscovy, never attempted to restore its earlier form of government by rebellion. There are instances in Russian history of uprisings to defend the lawful authority against an unlawful one. The Russian people may at times have mistaken the lawful authority, yet nonetheless such uprisings testify to their law-abiding spirit. Never has there been a popular attempt to take any part in the government. There were pitiful attempts in that direction by the aristocracy under Ivan IV and Michael, but they were weak and of no import. A flagrant attempt was made later, in Anne's reign. But none of these found any sympathy among the people, and all disappeared quickly without leaving a trace.

Such is the evidence offered by history. Let us now turn from history to present conditions. Who ever heard of the common people in Russia rebelling or plotting against the tsar? No one, of course, for this has never happened and does not happen. In this connection, perhaps the best proof can be seen in the Schism [Raskol]. It is well known that schismatics are found among the common people -- among the peasants, the merchants, and the townspeople. The schism constitutes a tremendous power in Russia, for it commands many adherents and great wealth and is spread throughout the land and yet the schism has never been of any political significance, although one would imagine that it very easily could be. In England, for example, it would have been. This would happen in Russia, too, if only it possessed the slightest political element. But the Russian people has no sense of politics, and Russian schismatics resist only passively, although they have no lack of strength. Russian schismatics flee, go into hiding, are ready to accept martyrdom, but they never acquire political significance. Order has never been maintained in Russia by governmental measures, nor is it now, but it is not in the spirit of the people to wish to disturb it. Were it not for this circumstance, no repressive measures would have helped. Rather, they would have furnished a pretext for disturbances. The spirit of the people is the guarantee of tranquility in Russia and security for the government. Were it at all otherwise, Russia would have had a constitution long ago, for her history and internal conditions have provided enough opportunities for such a development. But the Russian people do not want to govern.

That such is the spirit of the Russian people is not open to question. Some may grieve and call it a slave mentality, while others rejoice and call it a spirit of law and order, but both sides will be mistaken, for these are views of Russia taken in the light of Western concepts of liberalism and conservatism. It is hard to understand Russia unless we renounce Western concepts, on the basis of which we seek in each country -- and hence in Russia as well -- revolutionary or conservative elements. Both the one and the other are alien to us. They are the opposite extremes of the political spirit. Neither is to be found in the Russian people, for the Russian people lack the very spirit of politics. We shall leave aside for the time being the various explanations and interpretations that might be put forward of the absence of political spirit in Russia and the consequent absolute power of the government. Suffice it to say that this is how Russia views the situation, that this is what Russia requires.

For Russia to fulfill her destiny, she must follow her own ideas and requirements, and not theories which are alien to her, whether imported or homemade -- theories which history so often explodes. It may be that Russia will put the theoreticians to shame and reveal an aspect of her greatness that no one has ever suspected.

The wisdom of a government consists in doing all it can to help the country it governs to fulfill its destiny and to do the good it was meant to do on earth. It consists in understanding the spirit of the people, by which the government should constantly be guided. Failure to understand the needs of that spirit and opposition to those needs result either in internal disturbances or in the slow exhaustion and disintegration of the forces both of the people and of the state.

Thus the first, and patently obvious, conclusion to be drawn from the history and characteristics of the Russian people is that the Russian people has no concern for government, that it does not seek to take part in the administration, that it has no desire to limit in any way the powers of authorities, and that, in a word, it is apolitical and consequently does not contain so much as an embryo of revolution or a trace of desire for a constitutional order.

Is it not strange, therefore, that the Russian government is forever taking measures to prevent the possibility of revolution and fears a political uprising -- events which would be contrary to the very essence of the Russian people? All such fears on the part of the government and also of society arise because those who harbor them do not know Russia and are more familiar with the history of Western Europe than with that of their own country. Hence they see in Russia specters from the West which cannot exist here. Such preventive measures by our government -- measures for which there is no need and no basis -- must of necessity be harmful, as drugs are to a healthy man who does not require them. Even if they do not produce the very thing they are needlessly seeking to avert, they destroy confidence between the government and the people; that in itself is a great harm, and a gratuitous one, for the Russian people, because of their very nature, will never encroach on the power of the government.


But what do the Russian people want for themselves? What is the basis, the aim, the preoccupation of their national life, if they are totally bereft of the sense of politics, which is so active a factor in other peoples? What did our people want when, of their own accord, they called upon the Varangian princes to "reign and rule" over them? What did they want to retain for themselves?

They wanted to retain not their political but their internal communal life, their customs, their way of life -- the peaceful life of the spirit.

Even before the coming of Christianity, being ready to accept it and having a foreknowledge of its great truths, our people developed a communal life, which Christianity later consecrated. Having renounced political government, the Russian people reserved for themselves the domain of communal life and entrusted the state with the task of enabling them to lead such a life. Without wishing to rule, our people wish to live, not in the animal sense alone, of course, but in the human sense. Without seeking political freedom, they seek moral freedom, the freedom of the spirit, communal freedom -- life in society within the confines of the people. Being perhaps the only Christian people on earth, in the true sense of the word, they remember the saying of Christ: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's". And this other saying, “My kingdom is not of this world". Hence, leaving the kingdom which is of this world to the state, the Russians, being a Christian people, set their feet on another path -- the path to inner freedom, to spiritual life, to the kingdom of Christ: “The Kingdom of God is within you." That is the reason for their unequaled submission to authority. That is the reason for the complete security of the Russian government. That is why there can be no revolution on the part of the Russian people. That is why there is tranquility within Russia.

That does not mean that the Russian people is composed wholly of righteous men. Russians are sinners, because man is sinful. But the essential qualities of the Russian people are good, its beliefs are holy, its way is righteous. Every Christian, being human, is a sinner, but the path he follows as a Christian is the path of righteousness.

Neither does it mean that the very nature of government and worldly power precludes those who exercise them from also treading the path of Christianity. Every government official, being a man and a Christian, is capable of human and Christian heroism. The feat of heroism performed by the government in the public sphere is to secure for the people their moral life and to protect their spiritual freedom from violation. It is a heroic deed to stand guard outside a temple while the divine service goes on within and the community prays together -- to stand guard and ward off any possible interference with the feat of prayer. But this analogy is not exact, for it is the institutions of government which stand apart from the nonpolitical life of society, whereas any government official, as a human being, may still take part in the life of the people as distinct from that of the state.

Thus, the Russian people, having renounced the political realm and given unlimited political powers to the government, reserved for themselves life -- their moral and communal freedom, the high purpose of which is to achieve a Christian society.

Although this statement requires no proof -- for a close look at Russian history and at the Russian people as they are today will suffice -- attention may yet be drawn to a few particularly striking features. One such feature is the ancient division, in the Russian mind, of all Russia, into the tsardom [gosudarstvo] and the land [zemlia], or the government and the people, which gave rise to the expressions, "tsar's business" [gosudarego delo] and "land business" [zemskoe delo]. "Tsar's business" meant all matters of state administration, both external and internal, and primarily military matters, as the most obvious expression of state power. The "tsar's service" is still the common people's name for military service. In a word, "tsar's business" referred to the government and the state in all their aspects. "Land business" referred to the people's whole way of life, their entire existence, and comprised, in addition to matters of spiritual and communal life, economic activities -- agriculture, industry, and trade. Hence "tsar's men", or "men of service", was the name given to all those who served the state, while "men of the land" were all those who were not in government service and who formed the core of the country: the peasants, the townspeople, and the merchants.

It is of interest to note that both the tsar's men of service and the men of the land also had official appellations; thus the former, in their petitions to the tsar, from the foremost boyar to the lowliest soldier, called themselves his "serfs" [kholopy, which some would soften in translation as "bondmen", others would harden as "slaves"]. The men of the land, in their petitions, called themselves the tsar's "wards" [siroty, orphans or foster children].

These appellations accurately reflected the status of each of the two classes. The word "serf" now seems to us derogatory and almost insulting, but originally it simply meant "servant." The tsar's serf signified a servant of the tsar. Hence it is not surprising that all men of service should have been called the tsar's servants, servants of the head of the state to whose sphere of activity they belonged. What then was the meaning of the word "ward"? In Russian the word does not merely mean "orphan," for it is frequently applied to parents who have lost their children. Hence it refers to a state of helplessness; a sirota is a helpless person in need of support and protection. We can now understand why the men of the land should be so designated. The land needs the protection of the state; and by calling the state its protector and itself the sirota of the state it indicates this need. Thus in 1612, before Michael ascended the throne and prior to the restoration of the state, the country called itself orphaned -- tsarless and grieved to be in that condition.

As further evidence of the essential qualities of the Russian people we may cite the opinions of the Poles in 1612. They reported with surprise that the Russian people talked only of religious matters, neglecting political conditions.


Thus the land of Russia entrusted its defense to the state, in the person of the tsar, that it might live under his shelter in peace and happiness. Having separated itself from the state, having made the distinction between the protected and the protector, the land, or the people, does not wish to cross the boundary that it has itself established; it does not wish to govern, but wishes instead to lead a rational life worthy of human beings. Can there be a juster or wiser relationship? How noble a task it is for the state to secure to the people a peaceful and untroubled existence based on moral freedom, the cultivation of Christian virtues, and the development of all their God-given talents! How noble is the people who. having renounced all ambition, all yearning for worldly power, desires not political freedom, but freedom to enjoy the life of the spirit and peaceful prosperity! Such an attitude is a guarantee of peace and tranquility. It is the attitude of Russia, and of Russia alone. All other peoples aspire to popular sovereignty.


Not only is such an order consonant with the spirit of Russia -- and therefore essential for her, if only for that reason -- but it may also be stated positively that it is the only proper order to be found on earth. The great question of the state versus the people cannot be better solved than it has been by the people of Russia. Man's vocation is to achieve a spiritual approach to God, to his Saviour; man's law is within him, and that law is unstinted love of God and of his neighbor. If men were like that, if they were saintly, there would be no need for the state, for we would have the Kingdom of God upon earth. But men fall short of this ideal and, what is more, fall short of it in different degrees; the law that is within them does not suffice and, once again, does not suffice in varying degrees. The cutthroat who has no law in his soul and who is not restrained by external law may kill an honest, virtuous man and commit all kinds of evil deeds. Therefore, because of the weakness and sinfulness of human nature, we need external law, we need a state as the embodiment of worldly power. But man's vocation still remains a moral, inner one; the state exists only to enable him to lead it. How then is the state conceived by a people which sets the highest value on moral development and aspires to freedom of the spirit, freedom in Christ -- in brief, how does a truly Christian people regard the state? As a protection, and by no means as an object of the desire for power.

Whenever a people aspires to political power, it is thereby distracted from its inner, its moral, endeavors, and external political freedom serves only to undermine inner freedom, the freedom of the spirit. The exercise of government then becomes the people's goal, while the higher aim -- inner truth, inner freedom, and spiritual striving -- disappears. The people should not be the government. When the people is the sovereign, when the people is the government, the people as such ceases to exist.

On the other hand, if the people conceive the state to be a protection and not a target for ambition, the state too must act as the protector of the people, the custodian of its freedom, so that its spiritual powers may reach their full development under its guardianship.


On the premise that the people should not meddle in government, the power of the state must be absolute. What form should such absolute authority take? The answer is not difficult -- it must be a monarchy. Any other form of government, such as a democracy or an aristocracy, allows the participation of the people to a greater or lesser extent, with a consequent limitation of state power, and consequently fails to meet either the requirement that the people should not meddle in government or the requirement that the government's authority should be absolute. Obviously a mixed constitution, like the English, will not answer these demands. Even if we were to elect ten archons -- as Athens did once -- and give them full powers, inasmuch as they would constitute a council they could not truly wield absolute power. They would become a governing group and hence would form a kind of national life; as a result, that vast society, the nation, would be ruled by a miniature of itself. A society, however, is subject to its own laws of development which alone can freely achieve unity. But the governing group can have no such unity, for any unity would be disrupted, be made impossible, or become compulsory because of the needs of government. It is obvious that a group cannot govern. Outside society, beyond the bounds of social life, there can only be the individual. Only an individual can possess unlimited authority, only he can free the nation from any participation in government. Hence we need a sovereign, a monarch. Only a monarch's power can be absolute. Only under an absolute monarchy can a people draw a line between itself and the state and, freeing itself from all participation in government, from all political significance, reserve unto itself a communal moral life and the pursuit of spiritual freedom. It is this very type of monarchy that was chosen by the Russian people.

This attitude on the part of the Russian shows him to be a free man. In recognizing the absolute power of the monarch, he retains complete independence of spirit, conscience, and thought. Since he is aware of his moral independence, the Russian, in all fairness, is not a slave but a free man. In his view, the absolute monarchy is not an enemy but a friend and protector of freedom -- that true freedom of the spirit the test of which is the open expression of opinion. Only when it enjoys such freedom to the fullest extent can the people be of use to the government. Political freedom is not freedom. True liberty, the liberty bestowed upon us by our Saviour "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" -- can exist on earth only when a people refuses to take any part in the government and places itself under the protection of an absolute monarchy which affords it full possibility of moral development.


Since the Russian people regard the government as a beneficent and necessary authority subject to no limitation, since they have recognized it not under duress, but freely and consciously, they consider it to be, in the Saviour's words, "the power of this world": only the Kingdom of God is not of this world. The Russian people render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's. Since the government is a worldly, man-made institution, they do not deem it to be perfect. Hence the Russian people do not pay divine homage to the tsar, do not make him into an idol, and are guiltless of that idolatry of authority which is shown by the excessive adulation that has come to Russia along with Western influences. The adulation invokes the most sacred notions -- the attributes of God -- to celebrate and glorify the monarchy and present them to the people, who, on the other hand, have a proper understanding of what is sacred. Thus, Lomonosov in one of his odes says of Peter the Great:

O Russian land, he was your God!
He clothed himself in human flesh
As he descended from on high.

The dissenters [Old Believers], however, cite those very lines of Lomonosov's as an argument against the Orthodox faith. Despite such adulation, which is greatly on the increase, the Russian people (in the mass) have not changed their proper concept of the government. This concept, on the one hand, secures the people's unfailing and unalterable submission to the government and, on the other, eliminates the egregious, impious radiance with which the government allows its adulators to surround it. Indeed, even in the Christian community the monarchy has acquired an aura of sanctity, so that although the phrase "God on earth" has not become one of the tsar's official titles, it is allowed as an interpretation of the tsar's power. The Christian faith bids its adherents to obey the authorities, and thereby supports them; but it does not give to the authorities that aura of excessive sanctity, which followed later. The Russian people understand this and take the same view of the authorities, no matter how hard the flatterers may try to convince both the tsar and his subjects that the latter hold him to be a god on earth. The Russian people know that there is no power but of God. Being Christians, they pray for the tsar, obey him, and honor him, but they do not worship him. That is the very reason why submission and respect are solidly ingrained in them, and why they are incapable of revolution.


Such is the sober view the Russian people take of government. But look at the West. The Western nations, having abandoned the spiritual path, the path of religion, have been lured by vanity into striving for power. Believing as they do in the possibility of a perfect government, they have formed republics, composed constitutions of every imaginable kind, embraced the vanity of worldly power, and become spiritually the poorer; they have lost their faith and, despite the ostensible perfection of their political order, are ready at any moment to totter and suffer dreadful upheavals, if not a final collapse.


It is now clear to us what the government and the people stand for in Russia. In other words, we see that Russia has two facets -- the tsardom and the land. Although the tsardom and the land -- or the government and the people -- are clearly demarcated in Russia, and although they do not mingle, they nevertheless impinge on each other. What is their mutual relationship? First of all, the people do not meddle in governmental or administrative matters; the state, for its part, does not meddle in the life and ways of the people, does not force them to live according to its rules. It would be strange indeed if the state required the people to rise at seven o'clock, eat dinner at two o'clock, and the like; and no less strange if it forced the people to comb their hair in a certain way or to wear a given kind of dress. Thus the first relationship between the government and the people is that of mutual noninterference. But this relationship (being negative) is incomplete; it must be supplemented by a positive relationship. The positive duty of the state to the people is to safeguard and protect their life, to give them material security, and to provide them with all the requisite means and ways to enable them to prosper, attain their full development, and fulfill their moral destiny on earth. Administration, justice, the making of laws -- all these, within their purely political limitations, are the inherent attributes of the government. It is an undisputed fact that the government exists for the people, rather than the people for the government. Having honestly accepted this principle, the government will never seek to violate the independence of the people's life and conscience.

The positive duty, which the people owe to the state is to carry out its demands, give it the strength it needs to put its plans into execution, and supply men and money when these are required. This relationship of the people to the state is merely the direct consequence of their recognition of the state. It is one of submission and not of independence, and it does not allow the state to see the people as such. What, then, is the independent relationship between an apolitical people and the state? When does a state see, so to say, the people as such? An independent relationship between a powerless people and an all-powerful state can take only one form -- that of public opinion. There is no political element in public or popular opinion; it has no force other than moral force, and therefore has no compelling, as contrasted to moral, power. Public opinion (which, naturally, must be openly expressed) shows the state what the country wants, how it conceives its purpose, what its moral needs are, and, consequently, by what principles the state must be guided, for we must not forget that the purpose of the state is to enable the Country to fulfill its vocation. It is thus one of the state's duties to protect freedom of public opinion, as an expression of the Country's moral activity. At important junctures in the life of the state and the land, the government itself must ask for the Country's opinion, but for its opinion only, which (it goes without saying) the government is free to accept or to reject. Public opinion constitutes the independent service, which the people can and must render to their government; it is the living, moral, and in no way political link which can and must exist between them.

Our wise tsars understood this, and for this we owe them eternal gratitude. They knew that those who sincerely and consciously want the country's weal and prosperity must know, and on some occasions ask for, its opinion. For this reason, our tsars often convoked Assemblies of the Land [Zemskie sobory], consisting of representatives of all the social classes, and invited them to discuss some particular question relating to the state and the land. Our tsars, Who understood Russia well, never hesitated to Convene such assemblies. The government knew that it would not forfeit or curtail any of its rights thereby, while the people knew that they would neither acquire nor confer any rights. The bond between the government and the people was not shaken, but only strengthened. This was a friendly relationship between the government and the people, based on mutual confidence.

The Assemblies of the Land were attended not only by men of the land but also by men of service or tsar's men -- boyars, Court dignitaries, and plain nobles. But these were summoned in their capacity as constituent members of the people, to give counsel. The clergy, too, was present, as an essential component of the whole Russian society. Thus it might be said that Russia herself foregathered in full at these assemblies and on these occasions, fulfilled its true meaning of land -- that is why these gatherings were called Assemblies of the Land.

When we consider these famous assemblies and the statements of the representatives who attended them, it becomes evident that their only purpose was to elicit expression of opinion. All statements began in this way: "0 Tsar, what should be done in this case is for you to decide. Do as it pleases you, but this is what we think." Thus to take action was a right of the state, and to hold an opinion was the country's. In the best interests of the Country, each side must be able to exercise its right -- the land must not hinder the action of the state, while the state must impose no restrictions on the opinion of the land.

Since the people of Russia gathered at these assemblies at the summons of their tsar, and not out of a vainglorious desire to orate, as they do in Parliament, or to seek power -- in a word, since they did not come of their own accord -- they often regarded attendance at the assemblies as an onerous duty and were in no hurry to come. Thus in the archives we find missives to outlying cities, such as Perm and Viatka, asking for representatives to be sent as soon as possible, as "on their account the tsar's business and the land's are at a standstill."

In addition to [convoking] these assemblies, our forever-remembered tsars, the founders of Russian might, would ask for the people's opinion wherever and whenever they could. The price of bread went up in Moscow, and tsar Aleksei summoned the merchants to Red Square to ask their advice on what was to be done. The government consulted public opinion on every suitable occasion. When it was necessary to prepare regulations for military service in village garrisons [stanichnyi] or in the field [polevoi], a boyar was ordered to consult the entire garrison force. When the government issued a decree, a boyar was instructed to find out what the people said about it. Our tsars gave free rein to public opinion among the peasantry as well, by asking them to elect judges, to order general perquisitions, which were of extreme importance in their day, by allowing, in addition to the elected judges, elected representatives of the people to be present in court, and, lastly, by giving full latitude to peasant meetings to decide all matters pertaining to their own administration.

In so doing, our tsars were able to leave to our emperors a Russia which had been freed from the Tatar yoke, had acquired three kingdoms, had emerged with glory from the year 1612, had reconquered the Ukraine, had produced a code of laws, and had done away with the nobles' disputes about the mestnichestvo system, which had so hindered governmental action. [They left our emperors] a renovated and reinvigorated Russia that was free from all elements of internal disintegration, a Russia strong and stalwart. Surely no one will question either that our tsars wielded absolute power or that the spirit of revolution was completely absent in ancient Russia. There was also much that our tsars did not have time to do. After the dreadful upheavals she had undergone, Russia needed strengthening for a long period. Unhurriedly, gradually, and solidly did our wise sovereigns perform their heroic task, without abandoning Russian principles, without changing Russia's course. They did not shun foreigners -- whom the Russian people have never shunned -- and they did their best to catch up with Europe in the matter of enlightenment, in which Russia had been left behind as a result of two centuries of the Mongol yoke. They knew that to achieve this, Russians need not cease to be Russians or renounce their customs, language, and dress, still less their essence. They knew that enlightenment is really useful only when a man acquires it not in a spirit of imitation but in one of independence. Tsar Alexis increased diplomatic contacts with European powers and read foreign journals. The first Russian ship, the Eagle (Orel), was built in his reign. His boyars were already men of culture. Enlightenment was beginning to spread quietly and peacefully. Tsar Theodore founded in Moscow an institution of higher learning, a university, albeit under another name: the Slavic-Greco-Latin Academy, whose statute was written by the famous Simeon of Polotsk.


We must now speak of a period when the government -- not the people -- violated the principles of Russia's civil order and swerved Russia from her course. The last of the tsars, Fedor, convoked two assemblies during his brief reign: an assembly of the men of service of the state, on matters of precedence which were of interest to the men of service only, and an Assembly of the Land, for the purpose of equalizing taxes and service obligations throughout Russia. While this second assembly was meeting, the tsar died. It will be remembered that in obedience to the tsar's will his youngest brother, Peter, was chosen to reign. It is probable that this same Assembly of the Land, which was then meeting in Moscow, confirmed Peter as tsar, following the wishes of Fedor. However that may be, this Assembly of the Land was dissolved in the name of Peter, then still a minor. But a few years later Peter began to act on his own.

I have no intention of relating in detail the story of Peter's revolution. No intention of disputing the greatness of that greatest of all great men. But the revolution wrought by Peter, despite all its outward brilliance, shows what immense spiritual evil can be done by the greatest genius as soon as he acts alone, draws away from the people, and regards them as an architect does bricks. Under Peter began that evil which is still the evil of our day. Like every evil that is not remedied, it grew worse with the passage of time, and is now a dangerous deep-lying cancer for Russia. I must define this evil.

If the people do not encroach upon the state, the state must not encroach upon the people. Then, and only then, is their union strong and beneficent. In the West there is constant conflict and contention between the state and the people, for they do not understand their proper relationship. Russia knew nothing of such conflict and contention. The people and the government, without mingling, lived in a happy union. Calamities either came from outside or were caused by the imperfections of human nature, and not by a mistaken choice of course or a confusion of concepts. The Russian people remained true to their views and did not encroach on the state. But the state, in the person of Peter, encroached upon the people, invaded their life and customs, and forcibly changed their manners and traditions and even their dress. Attendance at social gatherings was enforced by the police. Even tailors who made clothes in the old Russian style were exiled to Siberia. The men of service who previously, in their private capacity rather than as servants of the state, had identified themselves with the people by sharing their ideas, their way of life, their customs, and their manner of dress suffered more than anyone from Peter's encroachments upon the moral principles which governed their daily life, and bore the brunt of Peter's revolution. Although the government made the same demands upon all classes of society, including even the peasants, it made them less insistently, and the declared intention not to allow a single peasant to come to the city wearing a beard was later abandoned. Instead, beards were taxed. In the end, men of the land were permitted to live and dress as they had done before. But their position in Russia was completely changed. A cleavage had taken place in Russian society. The men of service, or the upper class, had been torn loose from Russian principles, concepts and customs, as well as from the Russian people. They began to live, dress, and speak like foreigners. The sovereign was displeased with Moscow, and transferred his capital to the edge of Russia, to a new city he had built himself and called by the German name of Sankt-Peterburg. In that city, Peter was surrounded by a whole immigrant population of newly transformed Russians -- officials deprived even of their native ground. The indigenous population of St. Petersburg is foreign.

That is how the breach between the tsar and the people occurred. That is how the ancient union of the land and the state was torn asunder and replaced by a domination of the state over the land. The land of Russia became, as it were, conquered territory and the state its conqueror. That is how the Russian monarch was transformed into a despot, and his willing subjects into slaves held captive in their own country!

Newly transformed Russians, in part driven by force, in part tempted, adopted foreign ways. Soon, they reconciled themselves to their condition. The license of their borrowed manners, the ostentation and brilliance of their new society and, lastly, the new rights accorded to the nobles strongly appealed to human passions and weaknesses. Contempt for Russia and for the Russian people soon became an attribute of every educated Russian intent upon aping Western Europe. At the same time the newly transformed Russians, now that their manners and morals were subject to state control and they themselves were in a new position vis-a-vis authorities -- that of slaves -- felt a stirring of political ambition. Among the social classes which had been sundered from the people, particularly among the nobility, a desire for power now manifested itself. Several revolutionary attempts were made, and -- a thing hitherto unknown -- the Russian throne became the illicit plaything of rival factions. Catherine I ascended to the throne unlawfully. Unlawful, too, was the ascent of Anne, and on that occasion the aristocracy even planned a constitution. But the attempt fortunately miscarried. Elizabeth came to the throne with the aid of soldiers. Is there any need to speak of the deposition of Peter 111? At last, the unRussian principles imported by Peter the Great found their fruition in the revolt of December 14, a revolt by the upper class, which had been severed from the people. The soldiers, as we know, were tricked into it.

Such was the conduct of the upper class, which had renounced its Russian principles. And how did the people, who had remained faithful to the Russian principles -- the merchants, the townspeople, and particularly the peasants, who more than anyone remained loyal to the Russian ways and spirit -- conduct themselves?

During all this time, the people, as should have been expected, remained calm. Is not this calm of theirs the best proof that revolution in any form is contrary to the Russian spirit? The nobles rebelled, but when did the peasants ever rebel against their sovereign? The clean-shaven face and German dress rebelled, but when did the Russian beard and the peasant coat [kaftan] rebel?

The mutiny of the musketeers [strel'tsy] under Peter is a special case. But it was an outbreak of lawlessness rather than a mutiny and, what is more, the strel'tsy found no support among the people. On the contrary, the army recruited from the people zealously fought the strel'tsy and defeated them. In order to win over the bondmen, the strel'tsy tore up the deeds of bondage and scattered them in the streets, but the bondmen declared that they would have none of this freedom, and fought the mutineers. Thus, the people were the first to be outraged by the willful violence of the strel'tsy, and, far from supporting, opposed them. There was, it is true, one terrible uprising in more recent times [ID], but whose name served as its deceptive banner? The name of Peter III, the lawful sovereign. Is not this the final proof that the Russian people -- the real mainstay of the throne -- are wholly antirevolutionary?

Indeed, so long as the Russian people remain Russian, internal tranquility and the security of the government are assured. But the system introduced by Peter the Great and the foreign influence which is inseparable from it continue to operate, and we have seen what effect they have had on those many Russians whom they have lured away from the fold. We have seen that the slave mentality -- which is generated when the government encroaches upon men's very lives -- is accompanied by a spirit of revolt, for a slave is not aware of that dividing line between himself and the government, a line which is perceived by the free man with an independent spiritual life. The slave sees only one difference between himself and the government: he is oppressed, and the government is the oppressor. His base servility can at a moment's notice change to insolent audacity. The slave of today is the rebel of tomorrow, and out of his chains are forged the merciless knives of revolt. The Russian people -- that is to say, the common people -- adhere to their ancient principles and still resist both the slave mentality and the foreign influence of the upper class. But Peter's system has been in effect for 150 years. It is at last beginning to penetrate to the people, and what reaches the people is its frivolous but harmful aspect. Already in some villages Russian dress is being discarded and even peasants start to talk of fashion. Along with such frivolous matters, an alien way of life and alien notions creep in, and Russian principles begin to totter.

As soon as the government takes away the people's inner communal freedom, it forces them to seek external, political freedom. Peter's system of government continues (although on the face of it, it is not as harsh as it was in his time). It is a system so alien to the Russian people that it infringes on the freedom of life of the community, restricts the freedom of conscience, thought, and opinion, and turns the subject into a slave. The longer Peter's system prevails, the more will foreign ideas infiltrate into Russia, the greater will be the number of people who lose touch with their native Russian soil, the more will the foundations of the Russian land be shaken, and the more terrible will be the revolutionary attempts. In the end, revolution will destroy Russia when she has ceased to be Russia. The only danger which threatens Russia is that she may cease to be Russia, and that is where Peter's system of government is leading her. God grant that this may not come to pass!

It will be said that Peter exalted Russia. It is true that he brought her much outward glory, but within her essential integrity he implanted corruption. He sowed the seeds of conflict and destruction in Russian life. Besides, he and his successors were able to perform their glorious exploits by mobilizing the strength of a Russia, which had grown and matured in an ancient tradition in another spirit. Our soldiers are still recruited from among the common people, and even the transformed Russians, subjected as they are to a foreign influence, have still not wholly forgotten Russian principles. Thus Peter's state is able to be victorious by drawing on the strength of pre-Petrine Russia. But strength is waning, for Peter's influence is increasingly felt among the people, despite the fact that the government has begun to talk of Russian nationality [ID], even to demand it. But in order for the government's good intention to be transformed into a good action, government must understand the spirit of Russia and embrace Russian principles, which have been rejected since Peter's day. Russia's outward glory, under the emperors, has been truly brilliant, but outward glory is durable only when it stems from inner greatness. The source must not be muddied, nor must it be allowed to dry up. Besides, how can any external brilliance compensate for the loss of inner well-being and inner harmony? What unstable outward glory and unreliable outward strength can compare with stable inner greatness and reliable inner strength? Outward strength can continue to exist only while inner strength, albeit undermined, persists. If a tree is rotten at the core, it does not matter how strong and thick its bark. One gust of wind and, to the general astonishment, the tree will fall. Russia has stood because her inner strength, which is the heritage of many centuries, has not yet disappeared despite constant abuse and attack, because pre-Petrine Russia still survives in her. Thus the first and highest aim of the people and, naturally, of the government, must be to maintain inner greatness.


Russia's present condition is one of internal dissension, glossed over by unscrupulous lies. The government -- and with it the upper classes -- has drawn away from the people and has become a stranger to them. The people and the government follow divergent paths and are guided by different principles. Not only is the people's opinion not sought, every private person is afraid to express an opinion. The people have no trust in the government.The government has no confidence in the people. The people are ready to see a new measure of oppression in each governmental act. The government is constantly afraid of revolution and senses mutiny in every independent expression of opinion. Petitions signed by many or even several persons are no longer permitted, whereas in ancient Russia such petitions would have received every consideration. The government and the people do not understand each other, and their relationship is not friendly. This inner dissension is the soil from which, like a weed, has sprung up a rich growth of unscrupulous adulation, which assures us that all is well and turns the respect due to the Emperor into idolatry by treating him as if he were a god. A writer in Vedomosti produced the following passage: "The children's hospital was consecrated according to the ritual of the Orthodox Church. It was consecrated a second time by the visit of His Majesty the Emperor." It is now customary to say that "His Majesty deigned to receive the Sacrament", whereas any Christian would say that he was permitted or privileged to receive it.

It may be said that these are isolated instances. No, this is the general attitude toward the government. I have chosen but insignificant examples of divine worship of earthly authorities, but examples thereof abound, both in words and in deeds. To list them all would fill a book. Frankness and mutual confidence having vanished, the lie has taken over and deception is everywhere. The government, for all its absolute power, cannot command honesty and truthfulness. Where there is no freedom of opinion, honesty and truthfulness are not to be had. Everyone lies to everyone else. Everyone knows it. Yet everyone continues to lie. Who knows where this will end? The general corruption and the weakening of moral principles in society have reached vast proportions. Bribery and organized robbery by officials are terrifying. They are now, so to speak, part of the air we breathe. Our Russian thieves are not always dishonest men. Nay, very often kind and excellent men, even in a sense honest men, are also thieves. Exceptions are few. Stealing is no longer a personal sin. It has become a social sin. It is a symptom of the immorality of our entire society, of our internal social order.


The main root of the evil is our repressive system of government -- repression of freedom of opinion and of moral freedom, since the Russian people do not even aspire to political freedom. The suppression of all opinion, of all expression of thought, has reached a point where some officials prohibit the expression even of opinion favorable to the government, because they prohibit the expression of any opinion. They will not even permit praise of steps taken by the authorities, holding that higher officials are not concerned with the approval of their underlings, and that these should not presume to exercise their own judgment and pronounce themselves in favor of something done by their superiors or by the government. What does such a system lead to? To total indifference, to the complete destruction of all human feeling. A man is not even expected to think right. He is expected not to think at all. If this system were to be successful, it would turn man into a beast, which obeys without reasoning and without conviction! But even if men could be reduced to that state, what government would set itself such a goal? All that is human in man would perish. And why does man live upon the earth if not in order to be human, in the fullest, the highest sense? Furthermore, men who have lost their human dignity will not come to the rescue of their government. In times of great trials, human beings in the true sense will be needed. Where will the government find them then? Where will it find the compassion it has taught them not to feel? Where will it find human talents, human inspiration, the human spirit?

But to reduce men to the level of beasts cannot be the conscious goal of any government. Besides, men cannot really sink to that level. But their human dignity can be destroyed, their minds dulled, and their feelings deadened, so that they come close to the level of the beasts. At any rate, that is what the system of stifling the originality of communal life, of thought, of expression, leads to. This system, with its injurious effects on man's mind, talents, all his moral powers and moral dignity, engenders inner discontent and despondency. That same repressive system of government makes the emperor an idol, to whom all moral convictions and aspirations are sacrificed.

"My conscience", says the man. "You have no conscience", he is told. "How dare you have a conscience of your own? The emperor is your conscience, and you may not question him."

"My country", says the man. "It is no business of yours", he is told. "What concerns Russia does not -- without special authorization -- concern you. The emperor is your country, and you may not even love him freely but must be slavishly devoted to him."

"My religion", says the man. "The emperor is the head of the Church", he is told (in contradiction to Orthodox doctrine, which holds that Christ is the head of the Church). "The emperor is your religion."

"My God", the man says at last. "The emperor is your God, for he is God on earth!"

Thus the emperor has become a mysterious force which may not be discussed or analyzed and which saps men of all their moral strength. As a result, men become dehumanized and, with instinctive cunning they cheat, rob, and steal wherever they can.

This system is not always brought out clearly and frankly. But such, without exaggeration, is the inner meaning the very spirit, of our present system.

Great is the rot at Russia's core, a rot which flattery attempts to conceal from the emperor's eyes. Deep is the gulf between the government and the people which loud professions of slavish adulation seek to mask. The intrusion of the authorities into the life of society continues. The people are becoming more contaminated daily and public corruption thrives in all its many forms. Among these, bribery and defrauding the government have become nearly universal and virtually accepted. Secret discontent among all classes of society is on the increase.


And why all this? For no good reason! Simply because the government does not understand the people and has violated that necessary frontier between the people and itself which alone makes a strong and mutually beneficial union possible. All this could easily be remedied at least in its essentials.

The specific remedy for the ills of modern Russia is to understand Russia and to revert to the essential principles, which are consonant with her spirit. The specific remedy for the disease caused by a course of action which is against Russia's nature is to abandon that unnatural course of action and to return to one which is in conformity with Russian concepts and the essence of Russia.

As soon as the government learns to understand Russia, it will realize that desire for political power is contrary to the spirit of the Russian people, that fear of revolution in Russia is utterly groundless, that multitudes of spies serve only to corrupt those with whom they come in contact, and that the government is absolute and secure because the Russian people wish it so. The people want these things only: freedom to lead their own life, spiritual freedom, freedom of speech. As they themselves do not meddle in matters of state, they do not want the state to interfere in their spiritual life and their ways, which the state has meddled with and has been repressing for 150 years -- even to the point of telling them what to wear. The government must once again grasp the basic relationship between itself and the people -- the ancient relationship between the state and the land -- and restore it. Nothing more is required. Since it was the government itself that violated this relationship when it encroached upon the people's rights, it can eliminate the violation. This is not difficult and calls for no forcible action. As soon as the oppression of the land by the state is done away with, it will be simple for the government to establish the true Russian relationship between itself and the people. A sincere union between the sovereign and the people, a union based on mutual trust, will then be brought about. Lastly, to crown this union, the government must not be content to know that popular opinion exists, but it must want to learn what that opinion is and on certain occasions must seek and demand that opinion, as it once did under the tsars in the old days.

I say that the government itself should on occasion seek the country's opinion. Does that mean that it should call an Assembly of the Land?

The answer is no. To convene an Assembly of the Land nowadays would be futile. Of whom would it be composed? Of nobles, merchants, townspeopIe, and peasants. But it is enough to name these classes of society to realize how far apart they have drawn, how little unity there is between them today. The nobility severed the bonds uniting them with the people 150 years ago, and now for the most part look down on the peasantry with haughty disdain or regard peasants solely as a source of their income. The merchants, on the one hand, imitate the nobles and, like them, look to the West. On the other hand, they cling to a kind of ancient tradition they seem themselves to have invented, wearing a waistcoat over a Russian blouse, a tie and a long-skirted coat with Russian boots. This costume is a symbol of their notions, which are a similar mixture. The townpeople are a pale imitation of the merchants. They are the most pitiful social class in Russia, and also the most heterogeneous. The peasants, long removed from any contact with history in the making, take part in it only by paying taxes and furnishing recruits for the army. They alone have largely preserved the essence of the Russian tradition in all its purity; but what could they say, who have so long been silent? The voice of the entire Russian land should make itself heard at an Assembly of the Land, but the different social classes cannot now speak with that voice.

Thus, at the present time an Assembly of the Land would serve no useful purpose and should not be convened. At present it might be possible, and would be truly useful, if the government were to convene separate gatherings of the social classes on certain occasions, to discuss some question of concern to some one class, as, for example, a meeting of elected representatives of the merchants on matters of trade. It is essential that the government convene such gatherings for a special purpose, setting forth one or another subject for discussion. During the past century and a half, the regular meetings of the nobility, the merchants, and the townspeople have acquired a particular character of their own, and it is not the habit of those who attend them to express their opinion frankly and truthfully. That attitude might well persist if the government should suddenly decide to put forward some topic for discussion at those meetings. Hence in my view it would be better to call extraordinary gatherings of some one social class whenever a question arises about which the government deems it necessary to ask for the opinion of that class. It should not be obligatory for the government to call such meetings, as well as Assemblies of the Land (when these become feasible), nor should they be called at regular intervals. The government should convene an assembly and elicit opinion whenever it sees fit.

At the present time, public opinion can to some extent serve as a substitute for an Assembly of the Land. At the present time, public opinion can give the government the requisite information and indication -- something which an Assembly of the Land, when it becomes possible to hold one, can supply in a clearer form. By giving the country social and spiritual freedom, the government also gives it freedom of public opinion. How can public opinion express itself? In speech and in writing. Consequently the repression of the spoken and the written word must cease. Let the state return to the land what belongs to the land -- freedom of thought and speech -- and the land will give back what belongs to the government -- its own confidence and strength. God created man as a being endowed with reason and the gift of speech. The exercise of reason and spiritual freedom are man's vocation. Spiritual freedom finds its fullest and worthiest expression in freedom of speech. Hence freedom of speech is an inalienable human right. At the present time the word -- the land's one means of expression -- is subject to severe repression. The greatest tyranny is exercised over the written word (by which I mean the printed word as well). It is natural that under such a system censorship should have reached the heights of absurdity. Many instances of incredible absurdities are, indeed, known to all. This dread repression of the word must cease.

Does that mean the abolition of censorship? It does not. Censorship must continue, to protect the individual person. But censorship must be liberal as possible in regard to every expression of thought and opinion so long as they do not concern personalities. I will not define the limits of this freedom beyond saying that the wider they are, the better. If there should be ill-intentioned people who desire to disseminate harmful ideas, there will also be well-intentioned people who will unmask the former, undo the harm, and, by making truth triumph, give it greater strength. The truth, when it has freedom of action, is always strong enough to defend itself and to refute any lie. If truth cannot defend itself, nothing can defend it. But not to believe in truth's power to triumph is not to believe in truth itself. That is a sort of godlessness, for God is truth.

In time, there must be complete freedom of the spoken and written word, once it has been realized that freedom of expression is indissolubly linked with the absolute monarchy -- that it is its mainstay, a pledge of peace and tranquility, and an inherent part of moral improvement and human dignity.

There are some sores in the body of Russia which cry out for special treatment -- such as religious dissent, serfdom, and bribery. I do not offer any views on them, for they are outside the scope of this memorandum. I have sought to analyze the basic causes of Russia's internal condition, which constitute the main problem and which profoundly influence Russia as a whole. Let me say only that the proper relationship between the state and the land, once it has been restored, and public opinion, once it is given free rein, will, by breathing new life into the body of Russia, have a healing effect on these sores as well -- and most particularly on bribery, which shrinks before publicity. In addition, public opinion can indicate remedies for the ills which beset the people and the state, as for all other ills.

May the ancient union between the government and the people, between the state and the land, be restored on the firm foundation of true traditional Russian principles.

Let there be reserved for the government unlimited freedom to rule, which is its prerogative, and for the people full freedom of social and spiritual life under the government's protection. Let the government have the right to action and consequently the power of the law. Let the people have the right of opinion and consequently freedom of speech.

That is the Russian civil order [grazhdanskoe ustroistvo]! That is the only true civil order!


Short Historical Sketch of the Zemskii Sobor
SAC editor has made a few brief adjustments in the excerpted text

The commune is the supreme, the true, principle which can no longer discover anything higher than itself but need only flourish, purify, and elevate itself....

The commune is an association of people who have renounced their egoism, their individuality, and who manifest their common accord: this is an act of love, a noble Christian act.... The commune thus represents a moral choir. And just as in a choir a voice is not lost but, subject to the general pattern, is heard in the harmony of all voices, so, in the commune, the individual is not lost. Renouncing his exclusiveness for the sake of general accord, the individual finds himself in a higher, purlfied state, in harmony with equally selfless individualities.... The commune is the triumph of the human spirit.

Concerning the Fundamental Principles of Russian History
SAC editor has made a few brief adjustments in the excerpted text

Russia is a completely original [samobytnaia] country, entirely unlike European states and nations.

The history of our native land is so original that it was different from its very first moments. It was there, in its very origins, that the Russian way diverged from the western European, until the moment when, strangely and forcibly, they were brought together, when Russia took a terrible detour, abandoned its own way and joined the West. [??link P-1]

All European states are formed by conquest. Their fundamental principle is enmity. Government appeared there as a hostile and armed power and established itself by force over subjugated peoples. One people, or more accurately a single armed band, would conquer a people and form a state whose fundamental principle was enmity, which has lasted throughout their history....

The Russian state, on the contrary, was founded, not by conquest, but by a voluntary invitation to govern. Hence, its basis is not hatred but peace and harmony. Our government came as a desirable, not as a hostile, authority, as a defender, and was established with the consent of the people. [??link Variagi]

And so, the Western state rests upon a foundation of coercion, slavery, and hostility. The Russian state is founded on free will, liberty, and peace. These principles represent an important and decisive difference between Russia and western Europe and determine the history of each.

Their paths are entirely different, so different that they can never converge, and the peoples following them can never agree in their attitudes. The West, turning from slavery to rebellion, mistakes rebellion for freedom, boasts of it, and sees slavery in Russia. [??link Enlightenment, FREV, srfom] Russia, on the other hand, has always kept the government she has herself acknowledged, has maintained it voluntarily and freely, and therefore regards the rebel merely as the reverse side of the slave.

And these paths diverged still further when a question of utmost importance to mankind was added -- the question of faith. Bliss descended on Russia. She adopted the Orthodox faith. [??link Xianization] The West took the road of Catholicism.

The land [zemlia] or people [narod] tilled the soil and engaged in its various occupations and commerce. It supported the state with money and, in case of need, it rallied to the banners. It constituted a vast entity [??wrd], which needed the state to enable it to live its own life and to preserve serenely and without interference its religion and its traditional way of life. The tsar [??link I-3], the first champion and protector of the land, supported the communal principle [??vlg.oxo], and the people governed itself, under the supreme authority of the sovereign. The village communes elected their own elders [??vlg.sta], sworn assistants, and other officials. From time to time the tsar summoned the land for council and made it a participant in political affairs. [??link Zemskii sobor]

The Russian people . . . is a Christian people in the true sense of the word, always aware of its sinfulness. The history of the Russian people is unique in the world. It is the history of a people that is Christian, not only in profession, but also in its life -- at any rate, in the aspirations of its life.






*1855:Aksakov,KS| “O vnutrennem sostoianii Rossii”| GRV:181-9 | ((AksKS SLF views submitted to A-2| Russkii narod est’ narod ne gosudarstvennyi, t.e. ne stremyawwiisya k gosudarstvennoi vlasti, ne jelayuwwii dlya sebya politiqeskix prav, ne imeyuwwi v sebe daje zarodywa narodnogo vlastolyubiya. For example, invitation to Varyagi, Rurik and his brt~. Even clearer indication was 1612, when people handed power back to new tsar and went home. [...] V russkoi istorii net ne odnogo vosstaniya protiv vlasti v pol’zu narodnyx politiqeskix prav. Sam Novgorod, raz preznav nad soboyu vlast’ tsarya moskovskogo, uje ne vosstaval protiv nego v pol’su svoego prejnego ustroistva. V russkoi istorii vstreqayutsya vosstaniya za zakonnuyu vlast’, protiv bezzakonnoi. [Pgq? pretending to be P-3 vs. usurping C-2?]