Cynthia Whittaker explores how the autocracy changed their own definition of a traditional ruling body into that of one that changes and reforms Russia. Whittaker claims that the fact that the Russian Autocracy was one of reformist ideals was one of the major reasons why autocracy was allowed to be the predominant governing body for over a century.
Whittaker begins her argument stating that the reforms that the autocracy put in place were “dynamic and progressive” in nature. Peter was able to intertwine the the crown and the new reforms that he was putting into place and that this tradition would continue with each new generation. The Tsar would see to the needs of the people and reform the laws as he/she saw fit. This way of thinking paved the way to the idea of an enlightened absolutist that would be emulated across Europe.
Whittaker also points out that while other ruler such as Louis XIV named ‘Divine Right’ and Reason d’ etat as the reason why he was allowed to rule, Peter cast away the divine right aspect of his right to rule, instead replacing it with “divine duty”, giving him a more secular and enlightened approach to absolutism. Peters impressive work ethic also made him stand out among other despots.
Whittaker continues, stating that with this removal of the autocracy and religion, Peter changed the idea of the Tsar of being a paternal ruler, to that of one that is a servant to the state. With this in mind, the populace now was not solely serving Peter, but they were serving the state that “he was entrusted with”. He even forced his subjects to swear an oath to the ruler, as well as one to the state. Additionally, Peter decided that he must determine who is to be the next Tsar and that it may not necessarily be his son. This supported the idea that Peter was doing everything in his power to strengthen the state, even if it meant he must sacrifice some himself.
What other comparisons and contrasts can be drawn to other European Rulers at the time?
Do you agree with Whittaker? Was the idea of reformation of law the predominant reason why Tsar’s were able to rule for about a century after Peter’s death?