Foreword by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The influence of liberalism in tsarist Russia is deeply problematic to most historians. In this highly original study, Victor Leontovitsch offers a reinterpretation of liberalism in a uniquely Russian form. He documents the struggles to develop civil society and individual liberties in imperial Russia up until their ultimate demise in the face of war, revolution, and the collapse of the old regime.
From Catherine the Great’s proposal of freedom for serfs born after a predetermined year, through the creation of zemstvos by Alexander II, and the emergence of the State Duma and a quasi-constitutional monarchy under Nicholas II, Leontovitsch chronicles the ebb and flow of liberal thought and action in the difficult circumstances of tsarist Russia. He cites numerous examples of debates over civil rights, property laws, emancipation, local jurisdiction, political rights, and constitutional proposals. Focusing on liberal reforms and reformers within the governing elite, Leontovitsch draws important distinctions between factions of radical (but fundamentally illiberal) progressives and true (but often concealed) liberalism.
This is the first English-language translation of Leontovitsch’s monumental work, which was originally published to critical acclaim in German in 1957. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn sponsored a Russian edition in 1980, and his introduction is translated for the foreword of this edition. With a wide readership in today’s Russia, The History of Liberalism in Russia continues to resonate as a penetrating analysis of the historical precedents of liberal thought and its potential as a counterweight to current autocratic tendencies and the uncertainties of Russia’s political future.