Russia's Rulers Under the Old Regime

Dominic Lieven

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Who were the members of the Russian ruling elite during the reign of the last Tsar before the Revolution? How did high-level politics operate in Imperial Russia's last years? In this highly original book, Dominic Lieven probes deeply into the lives of the 215 men appointed by Nicholas II to the State Council, which contained all important members of the Russian governmental system of that era.
Basing his research on previously untouched Soviet archival sources, Dominic Lieven describes the social, ethnic, educational, and career backgrounds of these men, and he explores how their mentalities were shaped, what their political views were, and how their attitudes and opinions were influenced by their differing backgrounds and careers. Lieven looks not only forward to the causes of the collapse of the old regime but, in his introductory chapter, backward as well, tracing the history of the Russian ruling elite from its earliest origins and making comparisons with the ruling elite of other societies. His conclusions about the resilience of the old aristocratic Russian families and the operation of their self-protective, career-advancing network are striking and original.
Lieven's book serves many purposes. It tells us a great deal about the balance of power between the bureaucrats and their monarchs, it brings to life the members of the last ruling elite, and it reveals interesting information about the role and personality of the Emperor Nicholas II. By making regular comparisons with aristocratic elites elsewhere, it sets the Russian experience in a broader European context. And by looking at Russia's problems through the eyes of its ruling aristocracy, it enables us to understand a good deal that is otherwise incomprehensible about the coming of the Russian Revolution.

"This study is a collective biography of the 215 men appointed by Nicholas II to the Russian State Council. In the nineteenth century, this body stood at the summit of the Russian bureaucratic structure, operating as the chief advisory body on civil legislation and budget. In 1906, it was reconstituted as the upper house of the new ’parliamentary monarchy.’ In both phases, it played a major role in bureaucratic politics and policy-making. Although other scholars have examined the State Council, Lieven examines this body not for its own sake, but to identify the power elite in late Imperial Russia. His approach is based largely on the assumption that elevation to the State Council was the mark of success for a bureaucratic career. . . . Drawing upon an impressive array of printed and archival sources, the author provides a multifaceted portrait of this elite—origins, career paths, wealth, education, and the like. Particularly noteworthy is his meticulous use of the sources . . . enabling him to correct errors and invalidated assumptions in previous scholarship."—Gregory L. Freeze, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"By reminding us that tsarist officials could be intelligent, educated, cultured, humane and devoted to the interests of the state as they perceived them, Lieven provides a valuable corrective to the demonological portrait drawn by their opponents. . . . This well-produced book should become essential reading for all students of the social and political history of late tsarist Russia. It is both readable and scholarly, and the author’s arguments are thoughtful and thought-provoking."—Maureen Perrie, History

"An in-depth portrait of the Russian ruling elite in the last two decades before the revolution. . . . A cohesive picture of the last gasp of czardom."—Booklist

"Lieven has done a great service in collecting the service lists . . . of the members of the State Council and providing quantitative analyses of social background, landholding, education, and career patterns. The tables are supplemented with accounts of education and career patterns and brief biographies that give a sense of the members’ backgrounds and viewpoints. Rare photographs of members and meetings of the council are particularly interesting and well chosen."—Richard Wortman, American Historical Review

"[Lieven is able to give a composite and tabulated picture of the élite . . . . This carefully crafted social profile is combined with a rich profusion of detail about the upbringing, the foibles, the private lives, and above all the values and mentality of individual statesmen. . . . Written with imagination and panache the study makes a major contribution to our knowledge of tsarist politics, bureaucracy, education and society."—Edward Acton, Slavonic Review

"A fine book that provides important insights into the careers and political attitudes of the men who helped to shape Russia’s history during the quarter-century before the First World War."—W. Bruce Lincoln, Russian Review

"An in-depth portrait of the Russian ruling elite in the last two decades before the revolution. . . . Lieven presents a cohesive picture of the last gasp of czardom—politics, bureaucracy, education, and culture."—Booklist

"A brilliant book. In my opinion, no other work gives us such exceptional insights into the men and the milieu of Russia under Nicholas II. . . . A fascinating ’map’ of pre-1917 Russia’s social and political elite. . . . This is an important, intelligent, and thought-provoking book. It is based on Soviet archival holdings, on memoirs, and on a thorough knowledge of the secondary literature. Lieven’s footnotes are worth reading in themselves, as he discusses in the limitations of his data, outlines the difficulties of interpreting such data and provides fascinating nuggets of information about individuals whose lives do not fit into the neat generalization required for analysis. His three appendices—on sources, on the men appointed to the State Council, and on Russian state institutions—are mother lodes of information. . . . Russia’s Rulers Under the Old Regime gives the reader both a better understanding of its subject matter and the sense of having discussed it with an intelligent and humane person."—Keith Neilson, Canadian Journal of History

"[A] meticulously researched book. . . . Lieven offers a basis for understanding the men who were unseated in the fall of the old regime."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A sophisticated historical attempt to explain why Russia’s old rulers failed. . . . [This book] is guided by a historical imagination capable, for once, of pulling back from archival minutiae and asking the big question."—Michael Ignatieff, London Telegraph

"[A] meticulously researched book. . . . Lieven offers a basis for understanding the men who were unsealed in the fall of the old regime."—Sonja Bolle, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Russia’s Rulers is a labour of love, and only Dominic Lieven could have written it. . . . No one else could have written with such authority, charm and eloquence about figures like Prince Aleksei Lobanovsky . . . or Prince M.I. Khilkov. . . . Lieven has opened up a challenging new dimension in the study of late imperial Russia."—Orlando Figes, London Review of Books

"A comprehensive study of Tsar Nicholas II’s ruling elite. The author probes deeply into the live of the 215 men appointed by Nicholas II to the State Council. . . . Analyzing Russia’s problems, the book gives a fresh perspective on the situation that led to the Russian Revolution."—Orthodox Church

"Intrinsically fascinating information with well-written biographies. . . . The reader will benefit from this well-written and perceptive depiction of Russia’s oligarchs."—Choice

"A penetrating, path-breaking analysis."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"[This book] contains a wealth of information about the bureaucratic élite as a whole. . . . Lieven’s study vastly enlarges our knowledge of its subject."—John Keep, Times Literary Supplement

"A sophisticated historical attempt."—Michael Ignatieff, Daily Telegraph

"This thickly textured, intensely detailed book . . . is never for a moment dull."—T. J. Binyon, Sunday Times

"Today, perhaps, more than ever, we, . . . are in desperate need of the plain facts and statistical truths which Dominic Lieven has uncovered, collected, and published."—Andrei Navrozov, The Times

"A remarkable historical reconstruction, of which I do not know an equal in the context."—Norman Stone, New Statesman
ISBN: 9780300049374
Publication Date: March 27, 1991
429 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
35 b/w illus.

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