Liberalism and Conservatism. From theory to practice

There is no fate! Shot from the movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

“There is no destiny, except for the one that we ourselves choose.”
Sarah Connor. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

History of Russian liberalism. Today’s part of the cycle on Russian liberalism should, I think, begin by defining what the liberal idea is in general. This can be done in one word: it is ideology. One of many. Ideologies are different, as are the people themselves. Although everyone wants the same thing: a reasonably arranged society, a just society, and, of course, all the best for everyone and for everyone.

It is interesting that for many centuries, but that there are centuries – millennia, mankind has not known any ideological disputes. People were born in a stable, absolutely unchanging world, life in which was determined by their family and social status, physical strength and occupation of their ancestors. It took a very long time (another proof that a person can be called a rational person with a big stretch) before people understood: a person can never be free from the society in which he lives, but he is free to make decisions. And if this is so, then neither the family, nor the tribal or peasant community, nor those in power can, instead of the person himself, decide his fate.

The basic principle of the ideology of liberalism is very simple: no one person in his rights can be higher than another, and society must not only declare this principle, but also fulfill it. If this principle is declared, but at the same time a certain part of people from this society dresses and eats in closed distributors and shops, and receives money, in addition to salaries, in envelopes, then this is a bad society, because there is a gap between word and deed. The options for the structure of such a society, of course, can be different, but there is a main condition: the freedom of each person can not be limited either by traditions, or by power, or by the opinion of the notorious majority, that is, by nothing but the freedom of some other person or people whom it does not. should hurt. In this case, the foundation of a person’s personal freedom is the inviolability of his private property. Well, the political one should be guaranteed by fair elections and the presence of a rule of law, in which the laws of the country are higher than the elective power existing in it, and the court cannot depend on government officials. The result is obvious: in such a society, the winner is the one who, with all other equal starting opportunities, turned out to be stronger, smarter and more energetic – this is the understanding of justice that exists in liberalism. It is clear that it distances itself from real life in a very noticeable way. An unnecessary argument again in favor of the fact that people only pretend to be rational beings, but in fact are not at all smart, or rather, unreasonable!

Moreover, people who turned to the ideology of liberalism were faced with the homespun truth of life: despite the rivers of spilled blood, the social structure of the same post-revolutionary France turned out to be very far from ideal. The ideas of equality turned into even greater inequality, the guaranteed stability of feudalism disappeared (and it was only violated by the plague, but after all, after it wages only increased!), And now everyone had to fight for existence on their own.

And people made the obvious conclusion: the freedom given to people leads only to chaos. It is clear that people are not equal from birth, but the strong, having power, should support the weak, and those should be responsible for this with their gratitude, obey the established order, believe in traditions, and put the public duty above their own personal talents and aspirations. Only then will prosperity and the longed-for stability come. And this is how another ideology was formed – the ideology of conservatism (from the Latin conservativus, that is, “protective”).

It is clear that the ruling strata of society seized upon such an ideology first of all, since it justified the inviolability of their power. However, she also liked the weakest and most dependent layers of the population, that is, all those who could not imagine their life without the tutelage of the “top”. And just in Russia, the unlimited power of the authorities on the one hand and the absolute lack of rights of the majority of the population, on the other, have made conservatism the most basic, understandable to everyone and, one might say, “natural” ideology.

“Ivan III tramples the khan’s letter and orders the khan’s ambassadors to be killed.” Painting by N. Shustov. The action was effectively presented by the artist, only in historical sources the murder of the Horde ambassadors in Moscow is not mentioned anywhere … On the contrary, it is known about Ivan that he was a very cautious ruler and never acted in a rage


It is interesting that in Russia there were also attempts to get the Russian “Charter of Liberties” from the tsars, but they usually ended in failure. The first such attempt took place even under … Ivan III, when a spiritual dispute flared up in the state over the right of the church to own land. The idea to deprive her of land tenure was of a reformatory nature, since the basis of freedom is precisely property, and first of all land. The seizure of property from the church meant its transfer to private ownership, the rapid growth of the nobility, its enrichment and the growth of independence with all the ensuing consequences. The supreme power also benefited from the deprivation of the church of its lands and the growth of small noble land tenure. But they managed to defend them at the cost of an important ideological “bribe”: the church declared the royal power to be divine in nature. “He rebelled against the king, the vesi was furious with God!” The subsequent attempt of Patriarch Nikon to prove that “the priesthood is higher than the kingdom, for from it it will be anointed with oil” failed. And it all ended with “gratitude”: when under Peter I in 1721, the church was deprived not only of its lands, not only the institution of the patriarchate, but also fell into direct subordination to the state authorities, headed by the Synod, whose head was the state chief prosecutor.

Liberalism and Conservatism.  From theory to practice

Vasily Shuisky. Portrait from the “Tsar’s Titular” in 1672


The second attempt to obtain the desired freedoms took place in 1606 when Vasily Shuisky was elected to the throne. Then the condition of his reign was a document in which the new tsar of All Russia swore an oath promise not to execute anyone without trial and the consent of the boyars, not to take property from the families of convicted criminals, not to accept verbal accusations without investigation, as well as not to torture during inquiry, and persecute for false denunciations. But he lasted only four years on the throne, after which the Polish prince Vladislav was invited to the throne. Moreover, the conditions for his accession to the Russian throne were 18 points, which the tsarevich signed. And this document just became for Russia the real “charter of freedom”. The tsarevich pledged to convert to Orthodoxy, refrain from interfering in the affairs of the church, and not build Catholic churches, respect the status of the boyars and his land property, transfer the lands of the childless owners to their closest relatives, and not take them in their favor, do not introduce new taxes without the boyars’ approval, and the peasants between Poland and Russia and inside the country “do not walk”. All these conditions saved Russia from autocratic arbitrariness, not to mention the fact that Vladislav (a foreigner) could not count on the support of his autocratic rule, that is, as in the case of the English barons, “freedom” would first come to the “top”, and then gradually began to descend to the common people. But this was the case in the West, but this attempt failed in our country, because Vladislav simply did not come to Russia!

Peter I read the works of many Western historians, in particular the same Pufendorf, whose book “On the position of man and citizen” he even ordered to be translated and published. In his manifestos, he began to explain his decisions (before him, all tsarist decrees bore the imprint of an absolute imperative) and said many times that the ruler and his subjects were mutually responsible for the good of the Fatherland, which was a real revelation for Russia at that time. That is, the ideas of liberalism began to seep into the spiritual life of Russia drop by drop precisely under Peter I, although he himself was more of an oriental despot than a modern European monarch.

Anna Ioannovna. Portrait by Louis Caravac (1684-1754)


The next attempt to limit autocratic rule in Russia took place in 1730. Then the famous conditions demanded that Anna Ioannovna rule only together with the Supreme Privy Council, declare war and conclude peace, again only with his consent, with a rank higher than a colonel without his consent, not to grant anyone, more than 500 thousand rubles from the treasury a year not to spend , not to introduce new taxes, not to distribute the land in anyone’s favor, not to subject anyone to court without due consideration of the case, especially not to execute anyone from the nobility at their whim, and not to deprive them of honor and property. She even had no right to marry without the permission of the “supreme leaders”, and if any of these provisions were violated, she also abdicated the throne.

Prince Dmitry Mikhailovich Golitsyn (1665-1737). One of the leaders of the Supreme Privy Council and inspirer of the first attempt to establish a constitutional monarchy in Russia. Unknown artist. Museum-Reserve “Dmitrov Kremlin”


And again, the nobility did not succeed in preserving all these “liberties” obtained by a lucky chance. Feeling the support of the petty serving nobility, whose demands were much easier to satisfy, Anna Ioannovna “tore” them. Moreover, even the possession of the very text of conditions has become a state crime in Russia! But she did relieve the nobility. So, for children of the upper class, special schools were opened, the graduates of which received the officer’s rank. Peter I, humiliating for the nobles, to begin compulsory service with the rank of a simple soldier was canceled. The noble families got the opportunity to leave one of the sons at home to look after the estate. It was indicated to go into the service of the sovereign from the age of twenty and only … for a quarter of a century, and not for life, as they served under Peter I. That is, the Russian nobility was finally able to get their first freedoms.

Prince Vasily Lukich Dolgorukov. For participation in the “conspiracy of the leaders” he was exiled to the Solovetsky monastery (1730), “tortured firmly” and beheaded (1739). Unknown artist. State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg


But the most important holiday for the Russian nobility was February 18, 1762, when Emperor Peter III issued his manifesto “On the granting of liberty and freedom to the entire Russian nobility.” To them, any arbitrariness of the imperial power in relation to a person who had the dignity of nobility was limited, while the nobleman himself had to independently choose his future: serve the monarch in military or civil service or, sitting on his estate, engage in agriculture. That is, service to the sovereign has ceased to be obligatory.

Peter III. Coronation portrait of 1761 by Pfandzelt Lucas Konrad (1716-1786). State Hermitage, St. Petersburg


Well, Catherine II, in her “Charter to the Russian nobility” (1785), even declared the land holdings of the nobles as private property. Thus, for the first time in the history of Russia, an estate appeared in the country that possessed civil liberties and owned private property protected by law. Now it was necessary to gradually extend these civil liberties to more and more new groups of the population. The task is obvious, but, as the historical experience of the 19th century has shown, it turned out to be extremely difficult for the Russian state power, so it could not fully fulfill its power.

To be continued…

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