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Research Paper on the Book Catherine The Great And The Russian Nobility

In Catherine The Great And The Russian Nobility, author Paul Dukes expands on his doctoral dissertation to describe the relationship between Catherine and the nobility, focusing particularly on the Legislative Commission convened in 1767. The work contends the following concerning Catherine:

  1. Catherine’s primary motive behind establishing the Commission was to create a more secular basis of authority for the crown without giving up absolutism or its religious foundation. 
  2. Dukes suggests that Catherine was interested in promoting the general welfare based on the principles of the Enlightenment suitably modified for Russian society. 

The book, however, fails to support this direct thesis offered at the outset. The subsequent discussion examines numerous possibilities regarding Catherine’s policies and motives for creating the Commission, and finally argues that that all of the possibilities are likely to have been a factor in her thinking. While the author mentions the argument that the Commission was intended to curtail some of the power of the nobility through the creation of a unified legal system and thereby strengthen the power of the crown, it is not given the relative weight that it appears to deserve. 

Catherine The Great And The Russian Nobility

Catherine The Great and Her Policies

Prior to discussing the Commission, Dukes attempts to outline Catherine’s general policies. He initially mentions preservation of the crown as the primary rationale of domestic policy, as suggested by the contemporary observations of William Richardson.  Yet he discounts this idea, suggesting that Catherine’s industrious and eclectic nature introduced a wide range of possible policy rationales that shifted according to her mood and circumstances. To a large measure, this uncertainty is the outcome of the frequent changes in domestic policy that occurred during Catherine’s reign.  While it may be difficult to identify a specific policy direction, it is apparent that she became increasingly conservative, as she grew older.

The Orthodox Faith and Catherine The Great

It is also apparent that regardless of her conversion to the Orthodox faith and adoption of Russian culture, she remained a social outsider who had to maintain power in the Byzantine circumstances of the Russian court. Like her predecessors, she had to depend primarily on the Guards to maintain her crown, which she insured through a romantic liaison with Gregory Orlov. Many of the nobility, including the powerful rival of the Orlov faction, Nikita Panin, believed that Catherine should be no more than regent and allow her son Paul to accede to power upon reaching his majority. In addition, much of the nobility remained suspicious of the continued introduction of Western ideas into Russian society, particularly republicanism that could potentially undermine the authority of the nobility. Catherine recognized that she had to tread carefully in this political quagmire.

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