Similar Reasoning between Radishchev and Catherine

The Madariaga reading seems to suggest that Empress Catherine II believed that education and free inquiry would lead people to support her absolute monarchy. She attacked vices such as “ignorance” (92), she had the power to censor books but did not use it much before the french revolution (94), and she even had French political works translated into Russian (95) which increased the audience within Russia. Radishchev seems to look at things is a similar way, even saying in “Torzhok” that “To prohibit foolishness is to encourage it. Give it free reign; everyone will see what is foolish and what is wise. What is prohibited is coveted.”

Seeing these two agree fundamentally on how information should be treated is surprising given Catherine II prosecuted him and sent him into exile. It also seems to indicate that Catherine may have become less confident in her belief that, through education, people would realize that absolute rule is what is best for Russia. Was this a reflection of her own realization, or a lack of belief in her own people being able to see the same “truth” that she saw?

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1 Response to Similar Reasoning between Radishchev and Catherine

  1. micguthr says:

    While I would argue that it is impossible to determine the extent to which Catherine II truly believed that her subjects would recognize the virtues of an absolute monarchy, I would also assert that Catherine’s extreme response to Radishchev can be best understood in the context of the French Revolution and its political repercussions. As Madariaga notes in chapter 15:

    “Radishchev could not have chosen a worse time to publish his book. Peace talks with the Turks had failed, and Catherine knew that the [Russo-Turkish War] would last for at least another campaigning season. At the beginning of June a great naval battle between the Russian and Swedish fleets took place in the Baltic, and the gunfire was clearly audible in St. Petersburg” (193).

    Considering that Russia was currently waging war on two fronts, it seems understandable that the central government would take a particularly dim view of (supposedly) subversive material that might undermine public morale and the war effort. This tense atmosphere was further inflamed by the declaration of a new constitution in Poland in 1791, a phenomenon, Madariaga states, that Catherine II attributed to Jacobin influence.

    Consequently, I would argue that Catherine’s severe response to Radishchev’s writings and subsequent move towards censorship was born out of her belief that the absolutist model, and Russia itself, was under siege.

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