What is the main thesis of the book?
Isabel de Madariaga's Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great explains that Catherine fostered a different kind of relationship between herself and her subjects than had previous rulers. This helped move Russia forward into a more modern society.
It's clear that de Madariaga admires the choices Catherine the Great made, even if she doesn't support all of them. Catherine was a ruler who wanted to reign like a Western monarch rather than a despot. In order to do so, she encouraged cultural growth, attempted to give people access to justice, and learned much about politics and philosophy.
Though Catherine didn't change the nature of Serfdom, she did expand her territory and change the way that her people lived. De Madariaga shows how she worked to bring new ideas to the Russian population. She didn't believe that justice should be brutal and thought that, instead, inquests should be committed without duress.
She also held the Legislative Commission of 1767, where people from most parts of society came together to discuss a new code of laws. This kind of political participation was unheard of in Russia at the time. It's a very strong example that supports de Madariaga's thesis that Catherine was working toward creating a more Westernized society.
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