How would a Russian serf feel about the idea of an absolute monarchy in Europe?Okay, let's say that this Russian Serf had an oppurtunity to confront people like Louis XIV, Phillip II,or Peter the...
Okay, let's say that this Russian Serf had an oppurtunity to confront people like Louis XIV, Phillip II,or Peter the great, (and maybe even Niccolo Machiavelli)--what would they say? Thanks! I just need to picture this in my head.
First of all, one would imagine that the Russian serf would be petrified out of his/her wits to be brought before someone like this and probably would actually have said something like "please don't kill me, just let me go back home." But I don't think that's really what you're asking.
If serfs could have given voice to their actual thoughts, I imagine there would have been a range of ideas. Some serfs would surely have believed that those above them truly were meant to be in exalted positions. It would probably be fairly easy for someone with little education and little experience of the world to truly feel inferior to their "betters." You or I might feel awed and intimidated by Bill Gates, for example, and many serfs might have felt the same way.
A second set of reactions might have been along the lines of "you are placed over us like parents over children. I accept this, but I think that you should treat us more like loving parents would." This would be an opinion that accepts the idea of absolute monarchy, but which also asserts that absolute monarchs have a responsibility to their subjects.
Finally, there would be those who were more radical. They would ask these monarchs why they deserved to rule. They would assert that there was no reason to think that God had made the monarchs to rule and the serfs to be ruled. They would assert that they were just as worthy in the sight of God as the monarch. They would ask, then, what gave the monarch a moral right to subjugate them.
Of course, this is what I think with my modern attitudes. It is hard to know what an actual serf might have thought.
I like Post #5! As a general rule, most serfs would be petrified of their ruler and probably would never dream of approaching them, meeting them face to face, let alone telling them what they think of their rule! But, we know there is always a few who don't fit the mold and go along with the rest of the crowd. They might turn pale, gulp a little bit, and tremble in the knees (maybe) before approaching their ruler. Then again, they might just break free from the ranks, run up to the monarch, and boldly have their say (almost getting themselves killed trying to talk to them). These are the types of people who have gotten things done all down through the ages; these are the ones who tend to break down the norms of the day, vary from tradition, and cause things to happen for the better. Sometimes it's the little guys who bring about change. And I think any ruler, no matter how tyrannical, couldn't help but admire the courage and conviction of a serf who wasn't afraid of him and told it like it was!
Pohnpei397's answer seems especially persuasive to me, because it suggests that different serfs would react in different ways. A surprising number of serfs might accept the right of monarchs to rule, because they had been indoctrinated to think in rigidly hierarchical terms. They might indeed see autocratic rulers as parental figures. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that many people throughout history have been willing to accept autocratic rule, even though we often assume that such rule would (and should) be repugnant to most people. Autocrats have often had many means at their disposal for impressing the people beneath them (such as elaborate ceremonies, support from the church, impressive palaces, handsome clothing, etc.). Yet the slow drift of human history seems to have been toward freedom, and so certainly some serfs, surely, would have resented autocrats, even if they might not have expressed such resentment very openly.
Aside from all the terror, etc. that have already been mentioned, a particularly politically astute Russian serf might be curious about the reasons that serfdom was declining into non-existence in Western Europe at the same time as it strengthened in Eastern Europe. Nobles in France, for example, had far fewer seigneurial rights over the peasants that lived on their lands than Russian nobles did, and the practice of serfdom was legally abolished (for Englishmen, at least) by Elizabeth I. While this was happening, tsars and other eastern absolutists secured the loyalty of their nobles by strengthening their prerogative over their serfs. It seems to me that your question points to that discrepancy.
We need to remember that we are talking about a radically different time and context from our own, and we need to be very careful about reading in too much our own views and beliefs into this time. I agree with other posters than the average Russian serf probably did not even consider there was anything wrong with absolute power. Although #9 is correct in identifying the serfs role in the Revolution, this was something that came only after a great period of time. Your average Russian serf accepted their lot and perhaps lacked the ability to imagine a different way of living.
Let us remember the educational level of the typical serf in this discussion. Russian serfs had no academic schooling, for all practical purposes. Any conversation a serf might have had with and absolute monarch (a highly unlikely scenario in the first place) would have involved a terrified serf who most probably would be unable to articulate any profound statements or requests if s/he even had an inkling of such thoughts. The life of the serf was centered around basic existence - there wasn't much time for meditating on the conditions of life and how they might be changed!
This is a question we don't need to do any speculating about. We know the answer: The Russian serfs were opposed to absolute monarchies and sought to overthrow them. How can I be so sure of my answer? Because of the Russian Revolution. It was the serfs who were gunned down on "Bloody Sunday" when they marched to the czar's Winter Palace to request reforms, and it was the serfs who starved when there were food shortages following World War I. The serfs had had enough. The czar was forced to abdicate, and a new government was formed.
I can't imagine that even an enlightened surf would be willing to speak frankly. Serfs had no power and no influence. I am not sure that they would be listened to even if they did take the time to say something, and there would be grave consequences if they did.
Pohnpei's post covers this ground pretty thoroughly. However, my first thought when I read the question was that the serf would probably be punished severely--or possibly gruesomely executed--for even speaking to royalty without permission.