Evauluate Peter the Great's westernization of Russia during the 17th and early 18th centuries.

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larrygates's profile pic

larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Actually, it is a bit inaccurate to argue that Peter only applied Westernization to those areas which he wanted and which would increase his power. Unlike previous Czars, Peter believed that the state's interest were more important than his own; and that his actions were for the good of the entire country. He was the first Czar to distinguish between himself as a person and as the state. Previous Czars had spoken as if they were the state, not as ruler of the state.  He required all nobles to subscribe to two oaths; one to the government, the other to himself as ruler. He was the first Czar to attach explanations to his decrees, in an attempt to gain the support of the common people, not just the Boyars. Also, unlike previous Czars, Peter had no love of finery; he often wore darned socks and old worn clothing.

It is true that his policies placed a greater burden on the peasants, but this was primarily for soldiers in his military, not taxes. The Boyars were taxed heavily; in fact they were required to pay a "beard tax" if they wanted to keep their beards, which many did. The only serious attempts to overthrow Peter was not a peasant revolt, but primarily of nobles: the first was a revolt of the palace guard, or Strelski, organized by his sister who had previously been his regent; and the second was actually led by his son Alexis, whom he ordered executed.

Peter's demands on his people to maintain his new military were often exorbitant. He was the first ruler to tax people rather than land. Peasants were often forced to work in factories in which all work was done for the military. If one were drafted into the military, it was considered a lifetime assignment, so much so that if a young peasant was drafted, his family held a funeral for him before he departed.

Harsh as his measures were, Peter sincerely believed he was acting in and for the benefit of the Russian people, not to increase his own prestige or power. Professor Gerhard Rempel has said of Peter's fascination with the West:

Peter has often been accused of being a blind and inveterate Westerner who admired everything foreign, not because it was unlike anything Russian, and it was believed that he wanted rather to assimilate Russia to Western Europe than to make Russia resemble Western Europe. It is difficult to believe that as sensible a man as Peter was troubled by such fantasies.

 Peter believed he was acting for the benefit of the nation as a whole, not to increase his own power. He did not extend liberties to his people; but this was a concept entirely alien to the Russian people, who did not demand reforms on their own until the Revolutions of 1917.

 

 

 

 

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Peter the Great's Westernization of Russia really only applied to the areas he wanted it to.  It only applied to areas that could increase his power and the power of the country, not to any areas that would allow for any sort of freedoms for his people.

Peter mostly wanted to Westernize his country in terms of technology and organization.  He felt that doing so would increase Russia's military strength.  To that end, he tried to import Western technological know-how.  He also tried to create a more Western and efficient government bureaucracy.  Peter succeeded for the most part in these efforts and was able to create a more powerful Russia.

However, Peter's reforms did nothing for anyone below the upper classes.  In fact, by making Russia's military more powerful, they also led to a need for more tax revenue.  This led, in turn, to more demands upon the lower classes to produce more to provide tax revenues for Peter's armies.

In this way, Peter the Great Westernized Russia in a technical and organizational sense, but not in any way that would have led to Western-style political freedoms such as those enjoyed in England.

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