Peter the Great’s top-down reforms

Peter the Great sought to create a nuanced hierarchy of the Russian population. This goal is evident in his system of ranks and orders, which outlines military grades and created a new basis for determining social status. The system represents Peter’s efforts for top-down modernization of his population: he believed that by catering to the needs of the elite classes and bringing them up to pace with Western Europe, he would create a class of leaders that would then bring change to the common and peasant classes. To borrow a term from the Reagan administration, Peter executed his reforms with the belief that an organized court, military, and bureaucracy would create a “trickle-down” effect of lawfulness and order among his whole population.

This “trickle down” system of modernization meant that Peter had to identify and differentiate between the members of the upper, middle, and lower classes of the population. In order to mobilize his administration, he also had to create a hierarchy of command and different grades of civil servants. The Table of Ranks explain the duties of each rank and create a pecking order within the army, navy, and civil sectors. Such a system ensures that each member of the state and political structures know their place within a larger system of governance, eliminating any reasonable grounds for challenging the authority of those with higher power.




Food for thought….Were Peter’s reforms more successful than Reaganomics?

Modernization or Neo-traditionalism?

Did the Soviet Union achieve their goal to modernize? According to Terry Martin, author of the article Modernization or Neo-traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism, argues the Soviet Union went did not achieve modernization instead they went to Neotradiononalism. What exactly is needed to reach modernization? Ernest Gellner believes modernization results from industrialization and to have a successful pre-industrial state you must achieve nationalism. Gellner believes one of the reasons the Soviet Union did not become a modernized state was Stalin forced industrialization on to the Soviets to rapidly which destroys cultures necessary to build a new high culture which is needed as the basis for a national identity needed to industrialize. Gellner also states the Bolsheviks follow an interpretation of nationality was to move the Soviets nationalist thoughts to the Bolsheviks sociological concept. In order to do this the Bolsheviks worked to remove national identity from the new high culture, with the idea of socialism not nationalism. But according to Gellner to achieve modernization is nationalism is needed. I found it interesting that even though the Soviet Union was culturally and ethically labeled and divided they were still unified on the ideas of Stalinism. And it was the Soviet Union’s devotion Stalinism and belief in socialism over nationalism prevented them from achieving modernization; instead they became a Neo-traditionalism state.

The Soviet Union and Failed Modernization

In its efforts to achieve modernization, the Soviet Union again faced the problem of failed execution. What Stalin and Lenin imagined for their new nation did not occur in reality. In his chapter, “Modernization or Neo-traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism,” Terry Martin discusses the Soviet government’s methods for creating nationalism within the Soviet Union among the various nationalities included in the newly formed Soviet Union. Using quotations from Stalin’s 1913 pamphlet and a 1938 article from the Bolshevik journal, Martin argues that the Party’s shift in its understanding of nationalism as a by-production of modernization to its emphasis on nationalism’s connection with primordial roots.[1] Through a comparison with the ideas of a modern theorist on nationalism, Ernest Gellner, and an analysis of the government’s practices, Martin draws conclusions regarding the outcome of the Soviet attempts at modernization through establishing multiple forms of nationalism throughout the country.

It must be noted that the Soviet government sought to emphasize and support nationalism in order to transcend nationalism. By allowing various ethnic groups within the Soviet Union to create national schools and maintain their national languages, the government believed they could indoctrinate the diverse groups into one nation as Soviet citizens.[2] However, similar to its collectivization process, the Soviet government’s intended implementation and outcome for modernization did not occur in reality. Martin concludes that the main reason for this stems from the government’s practice of determining that ethnicity was inherited and thus connected to a person’s nationality. Therefore, national identity must be primordial.

Throughout the chapter, Martin declares that the actual execution of using nationalism as a path towards modernization fails in the Soviet Union. Instead, the Soviet Union achieved neo-traditionalism, an alternative form of modernization. Neo-traditionalism possess the characteristics of pre-modern societies but consists of all the processes associated with modernization including industrialization, urbanization, secularization, and universal literacy and education.[3] Due to its failure of implementing its desired system of nationalism, the Soviet government did not fully obtain the form of modernization they were seeking. Instead they achieved a modified form, neo-traditionalism.

[1] Terry Martin, “Modernization or Neo-traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism.” In Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices edited by David L. Hoffman and Yanni Kotsonis. London: Macmillan Press, 2000: 162.

[2] Ibid., 167.

[3] Ibid., 175.

Peter the Reformer

In general, Peter’s desire to modernize and Europeanize Russia led him to enact changes too quickly without enough thought of the effects on the peasantry. By focusing only on the upper classes of society, Peter created an even sharper division between the elites and the general population. While the elites were forced to embrace modern practices and assimilate these into everyday life, the general population had no understanding of why changes were being enacted, and found the changes to be irrelevant to them. The modernization of Russia was confined to a small group of people in a small area, leaving the rest of the population separate and uninvolved. Peter’s modernization was unnatural in that he did not make plans for it to occur gradually and widespread, but instead imposed many changes extremely quickly, focusing on only a small fraction of the Russian population.

By establishing the Table of Ranks, Peter intended to tie personal interests more closely to the interests of the state. By giving high rank and status to those he deemed to be most useful to society, Peter exercised authority not only over state matters but also over the definition of personal self worth. People were working for the approval of the tsar.

Ways to Strength and Beauty

Felix Hollaender’s “Ways to Strength and Beauty” focuses on the importance of the human body’s physical being. He stresses the interconnectivity of the human body and mind, and how they function synergistically. When one improves their physical abilities, he or she also improve their mental attributes at the same time. He frequently references the Greek and Roman perceptions surrounding physical fitness and the aesthetically appreciation of the human form, both male and female included. The human body should not be viewed in solely a sexual manner, but instead celebrated as another human sense that is a representation of the human soul and spirit.

Hollaender describes how certain people within society had difficulty finding the time to train their bodies because their jobs interfered. Modernization has created sedentary desk jobs that do not engage the body physically. These modern office environments did not exist in the past and have replaced jobs were physical exertion was a critical component of the type of work. Hard laborers became fit through the type of work that they did. Since jobs requiring physical assertion have been waning with modernization, the population as a whole must find other ways to maintain their bodies. In order to address this newly developing trend, Hollaender emphasizes the need for sport and other varying forms of physical competition in order to offset the sedentary trend of new forms of employment that has developed.

Do you believe that the Nazi’s were in accordance with Hallaender’s beliefs about the human body and how physical fitness could strengthen the connectedness of the human sole? Or do you believe that they simply viewed human fitness as a means to create better soldiers who would be more adept in battle?

Neo-Traditionalism from Modernization

In the 1930’s, the Soviet Union’s intentions were to create a more strongly collected, unified nation. While nations were an inevitable product of modernization through the massive uprooting and relocation of the working classes, there was a shift from a nation being modern in it’s fundamentals to focusing on the primordial roots of the citizen. What spawned from creating a national identity through the conduit of modernization was Neo-traditionalism. Neo-traditionalism in essence is the simultaneous cooperation of both modern and traditional aspects, and was the Soviet Union’s unexpected outcome. A pre-industrial state could not be considered a modern nation, because modernity cannot exist without the technology. However, industrialization exterminates old folk culture and is a catalyst for new culture. As the sense of nationalism developed, the game began to change with shifting ideologies with the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks saw nationalism as something which was on a different plane than class, and socialism would be the unifying principle. However, Soviet affirmative action made class and ethnicity an issue because of discriminatory institutions, a product generated by over zealous statism. The Neo-traditional outcome of modernization is what shaped Soviet nationalities.

This article made me think of how we view the ethnicity of each other in America. When people ask me what I am in regards to ethnic background, I say I am South African and Irish. Most people would answer this way I believe, even though all who were born in America are Americans. What is the line between immigration and a true, newfound sense of nationality? Why do many of us feel a sense of pride to our ethnic backgrounds despite the fact that we have never experienced the culture?

An Unnatural Return to Roots

Governing policies in the Soviet Union consistently blended new ideas with standing tradition. As such, the conflict between the role of the modern ‘nation’ and the primordial ethnicities  is very similar to other conflicts: the role of the government and the church, emphasis on peasantry and the quest to modernize, and Western culture and Soviet traditions.

While the idea of a ‘nation’ was a modern construct, the Soviets hoped to supersede that with the identity of class. From the piece by Fitzpatrick, the origin of the ‘nation’ was developed from the villages uniting under feudal systems and then, eventually, identifying as a singular nation. The role of the clergy was the uniting fashion for these early villages and feudal city-states where religion was a large facet of identity,  but some of this was lost in becoming a nation, when nationality became the strongest identification. In the Soviet Union, both class and nationality were prioritized as identifying factors. But, like many of the Soviet programs, this was a top-down forcing of a process that should have been natural, if it was to happen at all.


As Nationalism and Class-ism was standardized, they became stratified and eliminated mobility. This had a special impact given that in the USSR class and nationality came with certain privileges, along with obligations and restrictions. Stratifying the population to such an extent actually damaged the ability for demographics to identify with each other, getting in the way of the Soviet dream of a unified class-consciousness. By trying to influence class and ethnic development toward a homogeneous culture, the Soviets created a number of dissatisfied and unique nations.  This collection of independent mentalities would slowly fracture the Soviet Union.