The University of Wisconsin Press

History / Slavic Studies / Politics

Liberals under Autocracy
Modernization and Civil Society in Russia, 1866–1904
Anton A. Fedyashin

“An original and valuable contribution to illuminating another of those groups in imperial Russia who lost out in the game of history, but whose legacy is strikingly apropos at present in Russia’s shaky democracy. A major contribution.”
—Richard Stites, Georgetown University

With its rocky transition to democracy, post-Soviet Russia has made observers wonder whether a moderating liberalism could ever succeed in such a land of extremes. But in Liberals under Autocracy, Anton Fedyashin looks back at the vibrant Russian liberalism that flourished in the country’s late imperial era, chronicling its contributions to the evolution of Russia’s rich literary culture, socioeconomic thinking, and civil society.

For five decades prior to the revolutions of 1917, The Herald of Europe was the flagship journal of Russian liberalism, garnering a large readership. The journal articulated a distinctively Russian liberal agenda, one that encouraged social and economic modernization and civic participation through local self-government units (zemstvos) that defended individual rights and interests—especially those of the peasantry—in the face of increasing industrialization. Through the efforts of four men who turned The Herald into a cultural nexus in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg, the publication catalyzed the growing influence of journal culture and its formative effects on Russian politics and society.

Challenging deep-seated assumptions about Russia’s intellectual history, Fedyashin’s work casts the country’s nascent liberalism as a distinctly Russian blend of self-governance, populism, and other national, cultural traditions. As such, the book stands as a contribution to the growing literature on imperial Russia's non-revolutionary, intellectual movements that emphasized the role of local politics in both successful modernization and the evolution of civil society in an extraparliamentary environment.

Portrait of author Anton A. FedyashinAnton A. Fedyashin is assistant professor of history and executive director of the Initiative for Russian Culture at American University in Washington, DC.


“A clearly written, reliable, salutary and lively guide to moderate Russian liberalism . . . and also a valuable contribution to the history of late imperial Russian journalism.”

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Of Related Interest
Doubt, Atheism, and the Nineteenth-Century Russian Intelligentsia
Victoria Frede
“Frede offers an intriguing, complex, often subtle, and always well-documented answer to the question, How did Russian intellectuals (unlike their European counterparts) come to ground their systemic worldviews on an assertive atheism?”
—David McDonald, University of Wisconsin–Madison

June 2012
LC: 2011042001 DK
288 pp.    6 x 9

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Paper $26.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-28434-3
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"Anton Fedyashin’s Liberals under Autocracy is an important new study of Russian liberalism in a neglected period of its development. He deepens our appreciation of its characteristic humanism."
—Randall Poole, editor of Problems of Idealism: Essays in Russian Social Philosophy

A Mellon Slavic Studies Initiative Book
This book is part of a five-year initiative for publishing first books by scholars in the fields of Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Updated February 22, 2012

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