Peter the Great and Progress

In an attempt to create a more progressive and modern Russia, Peter the Great consolidated his own power by successfully subjugating the aristocracy and Russian Orthodox Church.  A group of perpetual troublemakers, the gentry were given official duties and rank according to the Table of Ranks.  Futhermore the rank of the noble was directly related to that individuals relationship with the Emperor, completely discounting the traditional hereditary mestnichestvo.  By establishing a meritocracy the best and brightest would in theory have the highest ranks in the government.  Peter the Great even established harsh punishments for any transgressors beyond their prescribed social boundaries.  Anyone caught behaving above their grade was publicly humiliated, beaten and then stripped of grade and title.  Although the system does in many ways ignore the hereditary power of the gentry, for the most part only elites had the time or resources to serve in the higher grades.  The educational prerequisites and necessity of travel excluded most of the serf peasantry.  Most notably this measure forced the gentry into a service position and increased the power of the state, with a minimal increase of social movement.

In a similar attempt to consolidate state power, Peter the Great inhibited the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and instead established the Holy Synod.  Following this drastic reconstruction, the Emperor also outlined the guidelines for the clergy under this new church government.  By gaining state control over the highly influential church, Peter I attempted to open Russia to progress and the presence of Western innovations.  The twenty-seventh and twenty-ninth article in particular enumerate the progressive reforms of the Emperor.  Similar to the Table of Ranks, education is now necessary for clergy and subsequently the recording of deaths, marriages, and baptisms.  By organizing the bureacracy of the church, and involving the state, Peter the Great eliminated any despotic or unsuitable priests.  The pressure and responsibility of the parish priest increased, while the power of the bishops decreased.

A major problem that hindered the effectiveness of Peter the Great’s reforms were the swiftness of the new statutes and the lack of preparation preceding these changes.  These western innovations that adapted over centuries were instituted immediately in Russia.  Furthermore, using principles that worked in western countries did not fit for some Russian institutions.  The move for progress in many cases outstripped Russian capabilities.