The Revolutionary Reforms Of Peter The Great

Peter the Great (1672-1725) was one of the pivotal figures of Russian history.  His reforms were a product of his personality and his vision for what he wanted Russia to become; and sometimes in history, personality matters more than those vague “historical forces” that professional historians like to imagine as controlling the destinies of men.

Russia in his day was still half-barbarous.  To rule her he had to be an absolute monarch, and never for a moment doubted his right to be so.  His personal habits say much about him: he had little need for sleep, regularly working for fourteen hours (or more) per day.  Alcohol was considered, then as now, an acceptable escape from the drudgery of rule; but he knew when to limit his intake, and forbade his ministers from excessive consumption.  His sexual appetites were as normal as any man’s, but he showed little interest in the kind of conspicuous indulgence that characterized most of his contemporaries in western Europe.

He did make a point of choosing mistresses of lowly origin, rather than from titled families; he had no desire for intellectual competition in the bedroom.  When Frederick II of Denmark teased him about the type of women he chose, his response was “Brother, my women do not cost me much, but yours cost you thousands of crowns which might be better spent elsewhere.”

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He chose to spend most of his time in the city that bore his name, St. Petersburg.  He liked maritime affairs, and wanted to be near the sea.  He disliked the atmosphere of Moscow, with its abundance of clergy and freezing winters. It was the army that first felt the effect of his modernization programs.  Peter introduced conscription, a professional officer class, and defined periods of service; his naval program was less effective, and most of the vessels built during his reign were not of high quality.

He realized that he would never be able to make Russia into a great power unless he changed the mentality and outlook of the people.  And like many rulers before and after him, he underestimated just how difficult this task would prove to be.  After his death, many of his reforms were permitted to wither on the vine; but at least some tentative first steps had been made that future monarchs might draw inspiration from.  By imperial decree he banished beards in 1698 (an exception was made for the Orthodox Patriarch); this was a shocking step in a country where whiskers had become a symbol of piety and fidelity.  Those who insisted on keeping them could do so by paying an income-adjusted annual tax.  We are told that some distraught peasants obsessively saved their shaved facial hair, lest they incur some disfavor from the saints.

But there was method to Peter’s apparent madness.  He understood that appearance and thought are connected, and that if a man wished to change one, he had to change the other.  In 1700 Peter decreed that all royal officials had to adopt Western-style clothing.  Trousers and cloaks were acceptable; caftans or overly “oriental” garb was not.  Like Kemal Ataturk two centuries later, he had no patience for backsliders or protesters, whom he swept aside ruthlessly.  In social relations, he ended for good the traditional practice of secluding women from public intercourse with men, a habit that had probably been an inheritance from the Mongols.

These reforms gained Peter some bitter enemies among the clergy.  For centuries the Russian ecclesiastic establishment had held a near monopoly on education and rural social life; Peter’s reforms threatened to erode this base, and they saw in him an implacable enemy of traditional belief.  They also suspected him of having had too much contact with western Europeans, a fact that–it seemed to them–made him nearly an atheist.  Peter did not help matters by openly mocking their rituals and folkways; as he saw matters, it was his responsibility to bring Russia up to par with the other advanced nations of the day, and resistance from obscurantist clerics could not be tolerated.

Peter solved this problem for a time by making himself the head of the Orthodox Church in 1700 when Patriarch Adrian died.  He did not appoint a successor, and went one step further in 1721 by abolishing the title of patriarch altogether.  In its place he formed a council of clerics that he himself would appoint; with this measure, the Church effectively became an arm of the state.  Ecclesiastical grumbling was audible, but Peter wisely refused to venture into disputes with the priests over religious doctrine.  He cared about power, not theology.

Slowly he made progress in industrialization.  This frankly could only be done with dictatorial power, and to this end he reorganized the traditional Russian boyar system.  In place of the old aristocracy, a new one arose that was based on military and civil function.  His rule saw some success in mining and textile work:  when Peter died in 1725, Russia was exporting iron, and state-sponsored factories made modest gains in cloth manufacture.  Protective tariffs were used to shelter the new industries from suffocating foreign competition.To pay for all this, Peter unashamedly taxed everyone in his realm to the limits of their tolerance.  State tax revenues rose from 1.4 million rubles in 1680 to 8.5 million in 1724.  The majority of this revenue went to the military.

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A Russian boyar

Ambitious plans existed for education, too.  Peter ordered the old Slavonic alphabet used by the Church to be replaced by a new system (based on Greek letters).  He imported printing presses, founded institutes, and organized professional associations to spread the ideas that were current at the time in western Europe.

What was the net result of all this effort?  The picture was a mixed one.  Reformers are not usually popular, as by their very nature they are required to focus attentions in different directions.  Men and horses do not appreciate new stirrups.  The peasantry–already used to a harsh existence–found themselves taxed to exhaustion; Moscow became filled with paupers who alternated between banditry and begging.  The nobles hated him with the same ferocity as the French nobles hated Richelieu, and for the very same reason:  because he forced them to serve the nation rather than each other.

As his unpopularity grew, Peter resorted more and more to the whip and the dungeon to implement his designs.  Perhaps there was no other way.  But at the very least, his example pointed the way for future authoritarian leaders who would drag Russia, kicking and screaming, into the modern era.  Some of his achievements were lasting and significant, and some were not.   In history, even great men must contend with the limitations of their era, and try to balance their own vision with the possibilities granted them by circumstance.  It is on this precarious tightrope that all great men walk.

Read More: 4 More Countries To Emigrate To If The West Collapses

44 thoughts on “The Revolutionary Reforms Of Peter The Great”

  1. Great article about one of my absolute favorite historic figures. This well written article (by necessity) only touches the tip of the kratomberg of awesomeness that was Peter.

    1. Mine too! Also Catherine the Great was a worthy successor!
      On Peter again, he litteraly took the most backwards state in Europe and boosted it to its day, setting the foundation for the last standing European Empire (unlike France or England Russia still has Siberia under its control).

  2. There is no doubt that Peter the Great did some great things for Russia, he shaped its future to become part of Europe, but he also shaped its future by thoroughly establishing the tradition of autocracy. Peter the Great and Joseph Stalin both had great visions for Russia and both committed terrible deeds to get Russia to submit to their vision.
    Not to mention that he was the first feminist in Russia.

    1. And like Stalin, Peter made the mistake of emulating western Europe instead of fostering and developing a truly Russian identity.

      1. And causing the infection since the French Revolution to come to Russia which would end up destroying the Romanovs and the entire Tsarist order and all who represent it.
        Plunging them into a century+ of darkness.

      2. Stalin was a pure Mongol (Georgian) to the marrow, although oddly he like drinking white wine from his own land rather than vodka and had a perchance for Mozart’s music, which set him somewhat apart from the gallery of lackeys that followed him unctuously around the Kremlin each day.
        It’s said he also spoke extremely quietly, so much so, that it was difficult to make out what he was saying in public and rarely raised his voice. I suppose Monsters, like Gods and Humans come in a variety of permutations and combinations.

        1. Georgians are not Mongols, they are Caucasians in the true meaning of the term. They might have some mongol blood mixed in but who doesn’t in those areas of the world.

        2. There is plenty of Mongol and Tatar blood in the veins of these so-called Caucasians. You can pick out asiatic traits in peoples as far west as Poland.

        3. I saw a clip of Stalin speaking on youtube. A very soft, weak voice for a man. It was a let down kind of because I was expecting a strong voice, kind of like the character of Stalin that Robert Duvall shaped in some HBO movie made decades ago about Stalin (I don’t remember if it was any good or not its been so long).
          Compare that with Mussolini, who had by far the most lion-like, powerful voice of the leaders of that era. I can understand why the British thought he was such a great find, initially: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOv-Ncs7vQk

        4. Now that I think of it, the term Transcaucasus that refers to south caucasus region could easily be interpreted differently in this day and age

    2. Stalin had great visions for Russia? Yeah and FEMEN is the paragon of femininity. That is how absurd your statement is. Stalin is a hoggish, narcissistic, and most importantly an irredeemable moron. The man who was responsible for Holodomor, the man who became extremely paranoid that even his close associates bites the dust and he is a man who let emotions rule his actions like a typical woman. In the end, he faced a fitting death. He was found dead with his pajamas drenched in urine and he was sprawled on the floor like a pig that he is! Lol

  3. What the west requires is a man like Peter a man to reform the institutions so that they will start working again for the mutual benefit of the people and the NEW elite (not the current one) so that our countries may again prosper and take their natural positions in the world. Peter the Great did this to the outmost possible level for his country, let’s hope that Trump will be an example for imitation for the emerging European leaders of the right.

  4. Poor girls, rich girls…it doesn’t matter, a woman’s financial situation, is of little relevance, in determining how she is choosen or the degree of her desirability (for most situations). “Oh, wow, she is one smokin’ hot chick, ..well…she is poor, so i guess i’ll have to pass” said No Man ever.
    Peter saved himself some cash, and he was still probably surrounded by the most beautiful women Russia had to offer…smart move.

    1. I’d disagree, considering the time period. Being poor means being weak from disease and undernourishment. Filthy, covered in sores, pustules and acne. Stinking. Perhaps missing teeth and having physical deformities and blemishes.

      1. Perhaps in that time period, but in modern times, and in general, no guy is gonna pass on a hot chick, just because she’s poor.

        1. Of course. When I lived in Central America, you’d see model-caliber women with the male-equivalent of a 4. Why? Because the men had money. They’d marry and raise up the poor babes to their level, and this would repeat itself over the generations. Eventually the entire wealthy class is gorgeous, and the poor class is short, fat and ugly.

      2. Agreed.
        Poverty in 1725 meant something completely different from today’s type of poverty.
        Poverty then meant not having an education and not coming from a rich family.
        Poverty today means living in an area with zero jobs.

        1. Take your head out of your ass.
          The enemy of USA has not yet revealed herself.
          But all of the clues are fucking before your eyes to see, yet you won’t see it.

        2. Wow dude, I was simply referencing the film of your namesake and that’s it, that’s all. You, uh, have seen it ever, riiiiiight?
          Thanks, still.

        3. I know man.
          But please become aware, man.
          It fucking hurts us European countries to see USA getting fucked while blinded.
          Remove the blinds. See who’s fucking you.
          Clue: It spawned communism.

  5. Nice read…Peter the Great must have had vision. Speaking of which, as the character Le Chiffre said in the James Bond film, “Casino Royale”, when he called what he thought was a bluff by James Bond and went all-in on the final hand – “Well…heh…I think I am going to have to call you on that one.”
    Monday Night Football tonight, take Cincinnati on the spread side for -110 (PK, the line is even, neither team is favored) at the NY Giants, for $330. You will have to spend $330 for a chance to win $300. If I lose this wager, I won’t mind at all. But there’s no way in hell I’m not going to jump at it. The game starts in about two hours and 15 minutes (it’s 6:15 p.m. EST as of this writing).
    ***Note: I got Cincinnati +1 by kickoff. So the wager is now Cincinnati +1 on the spread, for $330 ($300 plus 10% juice), for the chance to win $300.
    ***Update: Well, the Giants won by one point. So it was a push and I got my money back. No loss or gain.

  6. The coolest part about Peter the Great — he used to swap identities with a grunt in his army when he went travelling in Europe. The grunt would sit in the boring state dinners, dressed in Peter’s clothing, listening to heads of state. Meanwhile, King Peter went out on the town dressed in the soldier’s uniform, drinking in the pubs, seeing how the people really lived.
    Before he was king, he also worked as a shipbuilder in Amsterdam for a year — he literally (Hitler) made boats by hand.

    1. I do admire how he really dug into shipbuilding. What better place to start when you aspire to build a great navy (which he did!)

    2. There’s a very pleasant operetta “Tzar und Zimmerman” by Lortzing on Peter’s adventures in Holland learning to build ships. I don’t know if it made it over to CD.

  7. When you visit Saint Peterburg you realize the sheer will and vision of what he accomplished. The natural geography of this area combined with the often inhospitable climate most of the year make it even a greater feat of sheer will against all the odds.

    1. We might want to remember the hundreds of powerless Russian peasants who died fulfilling this vision they did not even understand, much less supported. It was his version of Stalin’s White Sea Canal. How much blood are the powerful allowed to spill in pursuit of their visions?

  8. Peter had done some great things, but he is guilty of bringing some early seeds of Liberalism from Western Europe to Russia

    1. I agree, the greatest that may be attributed to him was that when he helped to create the inteligentsiya and his constant attack on the Church he planted the seeds for the November Revolution, which lead to the one everyone knows something about. The problem with the inteligentsiya was that it sent it’s children to study abroad, specifically France and England, where the institutions were allready spewing early liberals (not to be confused with the modern ones, still they were the seed for them but they tended to be law-abiding and civil). Only exception to this rule was Germany and Italy from where the biggest reactionaries and rightists came (Ilyin and Berdyaev were highly influenced by the school of the conservative revolution). These people though were exception and the inteligentsia tended to work against the Russian state, demanding, constantly, it’s reform.
      On the other hand Peter the Great did create the basis for making Russia into a successful land-based empire and even opened the window to industrialisation, for theses he is deserving of praise.

  9. With all the hatred one can have for a conquering country one can but admire and learn from these vodka drinking ice reptilians:
    From the guy’s testament:
    ,,Dupa ce Suedia se va dezmembra, Persia se va birui, Polonia se va subjuga si Turcia se va supune … a propune foarte tainic la curtea Frantei, apoi la cea a Austriei, de a impartii cu ele imperia lumii, magulindu-se ambitia si iubirea lor de sine… Rusia sa se ajute cu ele pentru a le desfiinta pe urma …
    Daca amandoua aceste curti vor refuza propunerea Rusiei, atunci trebuie sa se stie cum sa imparta intre ele galceava si a le face sa se slabeasca una pe alta … Apoi Rusia, folosindu-se de un prilej hotarator, va navali asupra Germaniei, pornind totodata cu doua flote mari ce vor napadi Franta. Aceste doua tari biruindu-se, celelalte parti ale Europei vor trece lesne si fara impotrivire sub jugul Rusiei.”
    ,,After Sweden falls, Persia will provail, Poland will submit and Turkey will submit…we will quietly propose at the courts of France and then those of Austria, to share with them the empires of the world while flattering their ambition and their self-love…Russia is to help them in ending themselves ( to be understood ).
    If both these courts will refuse Russia’s proposal, then they will have to share their quarrel between themselves and make them weaken one another…Then Russia, using a favoring moment will conquer Germany while sending two large fleets that are to conquer France. After the fall of these two countries, the other parts of Europe will bow down by themselves under our rule.”
    Genius writing that goes to show that countries were being spied upon since very long ago.
    What we can take from this is that history is showing us that:
    Ofensive Tactics 1 – Defensive 0

    1. Oh…and one more thing, how could have I forgoten this?
      Peter Alekseyevich Romanov –
      Dinasty ended in 1918, murder at the hands of bolshevik iudeo-reptilians or some sort.
      ,,The Tsar ( Nicholas II ) and his family ( Alexandra, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana) were killed by Bolshevik troops led by Yakov Yurovsky under the orders of the Ural Regional Soviet. Their bodies were then mutilated and buried in a field.”
      One can find a peculiar coincidence in the initiative area.
      The Romanovs wanted Europe.
      The Bolsheviks ( jews ? ) murdered the Romanovs.
      The Neo-Bolsheviks want Europe.
      Either there’s some fat lies around history or they mystically felt the same way after killing them – go figure.

      1. After the Romanovs resorted to the Progroms to take their people’s minds of the Empire’s failings, why would it be hard to understand why some Joos (Jooz, whatever) might want to polish off the Romanovs? The Romanovs never failed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

        1. Agreed but, it becomes curious because even though the leadership changed to a completely new player ( jooz/ different ethnicity / different goals ) they still push the same agenda – to destabilize Europe;
          They started with the Romanovs, they re-began with Marxism, and how today it is through NEO-Marxism ( feminism, globalism, George Sorosism, Hillary-ism etc. )
          The goal remained the same = to Fuck Europe, by fucking the USA.
          How could have they fucked Europe by themselves, answer = they couldn’t, so they brought in a third player with the same high goals as them….Turkey and the arabs countries.
          Merkel ( KGB ) gave the signal ( ,,unleash the sand-people !!!”)
          And Turkey supplied them ( Arabs, Afgans, Pakistani, Somali, Nigerians, Africans etc etc etc ) with food, boats, transport, maps, guidance AND MONEY.
          The fuck are we talking about here ?
          What Turkey and Russia have done is infiltrate the decision points of Europe (Merkel) and USA( George Soros – Hillary etc) and flooded armies into Europe.
          That, in basic layman terms would be called ACTS OF WAR.
          ACTS OF WAR !!!!

  10. Peter literally created Russia. It was the Grand Duchy of Moscow prior to him. He took Ukrainian history for his own, renamed the country Rus-sia after the Rus who had created the civilization in Kiev (not Moscow), and tried to Westernize the country from its Golden Horde background creating St. Petersburg and making it his Imperial capitol. He was a truly great man.

  11. Stalin hated Saint Petersburg because it apparently reminded him of Peter the Great and his accomplishments. It’s a shame it never became the capital of Russia, but, the same could be said of Veliky Novgorod more accurately, the actual authentic soul of Russia in many ways. It’s a shame it was overrun by the Mongols and then the Tartars, and then the Slavic tribes from the west….

      1. Agree. What I found especially helpful about it was the story of the Swedish invasion, which most of Europe expected to end in the overthrow of Peter. Instead, Poltava happened and so leading to Russia emerging as an European power. I can’t remember any more how many times I read Massie’s book. My copy is pretty beat up, so I guess alot. Your note will probably get me to read it again soon.

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