Catherine The Great’s Enlightened Policies

From the minute Catherine the Great seized the thrown in 1762, enlightened policies were enacted. That very year, She published The Manifesto Freeing the Nobility From Compulsory Service. In this script she grants the release of all nobility from the Table of Ranks, and preserves this right for future generations to come. Within this document Catherine stresses the new right to travel, showing her desire for a more cultured and global perspective for the nobility. Although the Manifesto repeals Peter the Great’s Table of Ranks, it also praises his work for progressing the military as well as civil and educational affairs. These are certainly traits of Peter’s reformist campaign that Catherine wished to continue in later documents such as The State on Provincial Administration along with other enlightened values. In this document Catherine develops multiple administration positions within the Gubernii, after the Pugachev Revolution in the South revealed the lack of control the state had in these regions. She also creates programs that resemble a form of public welfare and programs that had never been offered to the lower class before. These structural adjustments include requiring a health care clinic to be in every region with at least one doctor and apprentice so the trait could be passed down. Education was now public and encouraged for all classes, and also in the control of the state by using administrative boards in each region. Article Sixty-Four includes the process of elections and terms in order to have new ideas always being in a position of authority. In 1785 the Charter to the Nobility provided many privileges to this group of people but also held them accountable for crimes committed as everyone in Russia was now under the law. Catherine’s vision of Russia was a perpetual state of progress where the Monarch continued to act as a patriarch for all of it’s citizens.

1.) Which one of Catherine’s reforms were most well perceived in Russia? How should the Nobility view Catherine after these laws were enacted?

2.) Is Catherine the Great the most effective Tsar in Russia’s History of reformist rulers?

18th Century Serfdom

Something that stood out to me in this chapter was the quote by Sumner at the beginning of the reading.  He states that serfdom lasted longer in Russia than in the West because “humanitarian and other ideas of the value of the individual spirit were little developed.”  It is strange to attempt to reconcile that fact that Catherine the Great set up a Noble Wardship and a Bureau of Public Welfare for the peasants but that she was also the monarch responsible for entrenching serfdom the most.  I understand that there was a division between peasants and serfs, but I do not agree with Sumner’s statement.  I think that in Russia, at least on a theoretical level, there was a conception of individual rights and social duty.  In the “Charter to the Towns” for example, the merchants were granted private property based on their individual right and under law.  Obviously the concept of individual rights applied more to the upper classes than to the peasants, but I would go as far to say that serfdom became so important because of the new Enlightenment value placed on the individual.  The serfs became the patrimony of the nobles and the merchants because the upper classes were entitled to them by virtue of being a human with an inalienable right to property.  It is hard to apply humanitarian and spiritual concerns to a group of people barely considered human by law.

On a related note, I was surprised to learn that merchant run factories had the ability to own their own peasants as “industrial serfs.”  I do not think of Russian factories at this time period to be mechanized enough to support unskilled labor and had assumed that there would be more unindustrialized craft involved.


In Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Women, she postulates that women are seen as being “under men” as they have been viewed as less important since the dawn of time. While I understand what she is saying and completely agree that women need to have more rights (especially in this day and age), women in general have let this “discrimination” happen to them over the course of history. What we think of as the classic housewife was what a woman strived to be for the majority of human history – a baby factory that would take care of the kids, clean the house and prepare the meals. It was only until the Age of Enlightenment where women became outspoken about their position in the social sector, and it wasn’t until much later (early 1900’s) where they began to make some serious progress in terms of being able to vote and garnering basic rights. This is obviously a topic that needs time to transform into a stronger entity before it can really push for more equality, but we are already starting to see some of the effects. There are more women CEO’s and managers of American business, and women salaries are as high as they have ever been. This is a process that will continue to evolve throughout time, but we can say without a doubt that the women of the world are finally getting recognized as “true members” of society (which is funny, because they outnumber the men).

The Great French Transition

The French Revolution was the first major upheaval of state run institutions that resulted in the under appreciated getting what they desired. As a result of the turnover from a Kingdom to a Republic, the first and second estate were brought to its knees by the populace, who in turn were able to demand a change in how they were governed. This transitionary period modified everything about French culture – everything had become more secular and new-age. The populace began to think for itself instead of being roped in with what the clergy and monarchs wanted them to believe. The tax system was thrown out the window as it unfairly put the burden on the poor and kept them under the foot of the rich in terms of finances. People began to realize that they deserved those “inalienable rights”, and if they fought for them, they would be able to live as freely as they desired. The fact that those people were beginning to think for themselves was the most important facet of the revolution – they began to realize that they didn’t need to be under they tyrannical system of government that they had suffered through so long.

This Age of Enlightenment allowed many great ideas to flow through Europe. Since they were encouraged to think freely and “outside of the box”, great minds (Locke, Voltaire, Newton, etc.) were able to express their new age ideas in public forums, making the community a more conscious set of individuals. As they were now able to come up with their own ideas and spread them without the threat of persecution or death, many people invented tools that we use today (metric system, art, scientific method). Being able to think freely allowed these special people to spur on the most revolutionary time period since the Renaissance, and we thank them for it.


Revolutionary Popular Thought and Culture in France

The French Revolution transformed France from a society based on the tradition of divine right rule of kings and fixed social status of clergy, nobility, and peasantry, to a new political order based on the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The new political order sought to change virtually everything the monarchy had established. The tax system was abolished and decision-making was taken out of the hands of the monarchy and clergy. The third estate was able to attain the rights to land ownership, which provided financial relief such that a larger more diverse population could now live prosperously. This empowered the people. The popular cultural mindset of the revolution was based on individual freedoms and equality.

The Age of Enlightenment brought significant changes to popular culture. Institutions were confiscated from the church and turned into secular based schools, and churches themselves became temples of reason. The old scientific academies were replaced with ones that used the new scientific method. The metric system was established and days of the week were extended from seven to ten. Society was moving away from a religious based culture to one of reason and virtue.

Music had the most significant influence on the people, and served to propel the revolution. Not only was the song culture a method to build solidarity among the working class and the illiterate, it delivered strong political messages. Songs played a vital roll in unifying the citizenry and ultimately created an early French feeling of nationalism. Music was so easily transferred and contagious that it became a revolutionary weapon. Through music, the people joined forces, regardless of social class, and became united in purpose. Today, the French populace continues to rally through song at social events, and will always find significance in their national anthem, La Marseillaise.

French Revolution Political and Cultural Ties

During the French Revolution, the political philosophies and the cultural identity of the people were very closely intertwined. Both influenced by the internalized philosophies of the Enlightenment, the transformations in each category was an attempt to influence the other. It is most apparent of these ties when looking at direct examples of revolutionary culture, and how basic elements of daily life transitioned so that even the smallest changes reflected the desired political philosophies.
The influences of the Enlightenment showed a mentality shift towards reason and progress- to Frenchmen at the time, this meant stepping away from the monarchy and towards democracy. Reason was represented through the presence of Greek culture – the birthplace of democracy- and showed their support of a new form of governing. Exemplified in revolutionary dress, there was a shift towards wearing more Greek- like clothing- embracing the average dress of those within a democratic state. Their progress meant that in daily culture any representation of the monarchy was removed so that nothing showed approval of that system. Simple games of chess, cards, and even names of children shifted in society so that no kings or queens were mentioned. Similarly, in attempts to rebrand the nation, new flags and festivals were created (such as Revolution Day). This obvious cultural transition was simultaneously a political statement- intertwining the use of culture as protest.
Enlightenment philosophies also displayed themselves in the acceptance of religion at the time.  Just as the nation was rebranded with new flags and festivals as its representation, so was religion remarketed to the public with deism. Robespierre needed to accomplish this so that he could use religion to connect with the people- allow them to accept the Enlightenment philosophies of science, yet not neglect the cultural undertones of religion that perpetually exist.
Essentially, the connections between the political and cultural elements of the French Revolution can be seen through Enlightenment principles. As both categories became more and more influenced by them, they simultaneously tried to use them to alter French society as a whole.


What is Enlightenment?

Kant defines enlightenment as “man’s release from self-incurred tutelage” with tutelage being “man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another.” More than anything, enlightenment is a state of mind. It requires the privilege to think freely and the mental acuity to take advantage of this acuity. Enlightenment comes solely from within and cannot be attained through the assistance of periphery sources. While it necessitates the ability to think critically and analytically for oneself, enlightenment only occurs when one makes full and total use of this ability. Once enlightenment is achieved, the enlightened individual experiences an objective awareness of his surroundings. He experiences a greater understanding of the natural or artificial constraints that had once restricted him, which can be a powerful asset.

What is Enlightenment?

Enlightenment is the abandonment of tutelage; the active seeking out of knowledge, freedom of thought, and the answers to earthly, religious, and spiritual queries. It is a process, not a state of being; to be truly and fully enlightened is a state of being that is unattainable. Enlightenment is particularly important in the presence of monarchs and despots who may restrict certain freedoms of their subjects. It is essential that the subjects of a monarchy question and argue in favor of freedom of thought, and not blindly obey in the face of an unjust and unenlightened tyrant. Kant argues that many people are unable or unwilling to seek enlightenment due to their self-incurred tutelage. He says that “a man may postpone enlightenment in what he ought to know, but to renounce it for posterity is to injure and trample on the rights of mankind.”

What is Enlightenment?

According to Immanual Kant enlightenment is defined as “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” Kant argues that a large majority of the population cannot experience enlightenment because of laziness and cowardice. “Have courage to use your reason” is the quote that is used which best describes what Kant was saying the challenges are. Kant is very critical of man saying that it is extremely difficult for them to reach enlightenment. What’s interesting is that he is saying all of this during his time, which would lead to an interesting discussion trying to determine if Kant thinks anyone can achieve enlightenment in today’s culture?

What is enlightenment?

Enlightenment is the ability to think for yourself instead of being guided by a ruler. It takes courage to step out from complacence and into enlightenment. According to Kant, certain political ramifications are necessary to achieve this. Public use of reason must not be restricted while private use of reason must be restricted. Therefore the people should question why they do what they do, but not necessarily change it. In fact, if changing it would overthrow the government, that is not enlightenment. Overthrowing the current rule leads right back into the chaos of anarchy. However, by thinking for themselves, then suggesting changes in a civil manner, people can better themselves and society thus achieving enlightenment. Kant insists that the leader must say, “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, but obey!” I believe there is a very fine line between having order and suppressing thought. As long as Kant only wishes to prevent riots, his belief that people must obey is justified. If to obey means to never question the monarch, that cannot be enlightenment. Frederick II ruled Prussia to his people’s and his own enlightenment by encouraging religious tolerance and open thought in general. He lead by example. His enlightenment allowed and even encouraged others to achieve the same. The enlightenment of the people is partly dependent on the on the government.