Calling liberalism to Russia: the history of the national liberal tradition

On 27 May, the Centre for Comparative History and Political Studies hosted a lecture by Konstantin Schneider: “Calling liberalism to Russia: the history of the national liberal tradition”.

  • Konstantin Schneider - Doctor of History, Professor of Ancient and Modern History of Russia at PSU, an expert in the field of intellectual history.

According to Konstantin Schneider, the history of Russian liberalism resembles a labyrinth, which is easier to leave than to find an entrance to. In other words, lots of researchers of intellectual history in Russia are familiar with the final period of the Russian liberal tradition existing at the beginning of the previous century, whereas the problem of its genesis remains an attractive academic question for modern professionals. Therefore, Schneider was trying to find when and how the formation process of liberalism took place in Russia and what was the first version of Russian liberalism.

According to Schneider, there are several periods in the history of Russian liberalism. The first one began in the second half of the 18th century, and was closely related to the epoch of Catherine II, the second one took place in the first quarter of the 19th century, the third was from the 1830's to the mid 1850's, and the fourth—the most important period, according to Schneider—lasted from the second half of the 1850's to the 1860's. It was the approach, which the researcher called political, that made him come up with these periods. This approach stands in opposition to the philosophical one used in studies of Russian liberalism. According to the latter, the birth of liberalism in Russia was much earlier.

Schneider stressed that liberalism in Russia, as in any other country, has a number of unique features that distinguish it greatly from the Western liberal model. For example, in addition to the classical liberal values, the Russian version combines an attraction to monarchism, the support for the preservation of the peasant community, an aristocratic elitism and the idea of the nobility’s civilizing role.