"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, November 27, 2020

God, Tsar, and People: The Political Culture of Early Modern Russia

I went through a monarchist phase in my youth, and still have something of a soft spot for various royalist and monarchist movements and histories. Though related to them by inter-marriage, the Romanov monarchs of Russia seem to have singularly and tragically lacked the ruthlessly pragmatic streak that their Windsor cousins used to survive the Great War and down to the present day. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of change and upheaval in Russia before this period, some of it told in this new book: Daniel B. Rowland, God, Tsar, and People: The Political Culture of Early Modern Russia (Northern Illinois University Press, 2020), 420pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

God, Tsar, and People brings together in one volume essays written over a period of fifty years, using a wide variety of evidence―texts, icons, architecture, and ritual―to reveal how early modern Russians (1450–1700) imagined their rapidly changing political world.

This volume presents a more nuanced picture of Russian political thought during the two centuries before Peter the Great came to power than is typically available. The state was expanding at a dizzying rate, and atop Russia's traditional political structure sat a ruler who supposedly reflected God's will. The problem facing Russians was that actual rulers seldom―or never―exhibited the required perfection. Daniel Rowland argues that this contradictory set of ideas was far less autocratic in both theory and practice than modern stereotypes would have us believe. In comparing and contrasting Russian history with that of Western European states, Rowland is also questioning the notion that Russia has always been, and always viewed itself as, an authoritarian country. God, Tsar, and People explores how the Russian state in this period kept its vast lands and diverse subjects united in a common view of a Christian polity, defending its long frontier against powerful enemies from the East and from the West.

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