Underground Man

Was it fair of Solzhenitsyn to call Peter the Great “a mediocre man, if not a barbarian”?  I honestly don’t know.  What I do know is that history didn’t begin with the Cold War, and that long before Solzhenitsyn, renowned novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky expressed reservations of his own about the historical impact of Russia’s most zealously pro-Western czar.  So if they were really interested in getting to the bottom of things, American journalists would spend less time worrying about the reincarnation of Stalin and more time considering the Petrine legacy.

In his provocative contribution to Dostoevsky’s Political Thought (“Dostoevsky’s Discovery of a Christian Foundation to Politics”), David Walsh argues that the Petrine legacy is one of social and spiritual schism, as from the 17th century onward Russian elites sought to distance themselves from their roots:

A process that began with the Europeanizing reforms of Peter the Great culminated in the liberation of the serfs, as the severing of the final link with the life of the people.  Even the Russian language was abandoned in favor of French and the cultural heritage of the West in general.  The disconnected gentry looked disdainfully on the rudeness of the Russian peasant with his superstitious attachment to Orthodoxy and his tendency toward reckless excess.  As a modern...

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