Cover image for Russia's rulers under the old regime
Russia's rulers under the old regime
Lieven, D. C. B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, 1989.
Physical Description:
xxii, 407 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes indexes.

Format :


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DK253 .L54 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

Dominic Lieven, a former Kennedy scholar at Harvard University, is professor of Russian government at the London School of Economics.

Dominic Lieven, a former Kennedy scholar at Harvard University, is professor of Russian government at the London School of Economics.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Lieven, a lecturer in Russian government at the London School of Economics, offers an in-depth portrait of the Russian ruling elite in the last two decades before the revolution. His method is to delve into the lives of the 215 men appointed by Czar Nicholas II to the State Council, and he includes lengthy biographies of several especially significant members (the brothers Obolensky, among others). In the process, Lieven presents a cohesive picture of the last gasp of czardom--politics, bureaucracy, education, and culture. By demonstrating how the ruling elite was gradually "de-authoritarianized" (forming 40 percent of the military leadership in 1906, only 20 percent in 1914), the author concludes that the gradual retreat of the power of the elite ironically played a major role in allowing the revolutionary socialists more room to maneuver. Bibliography and index appended. --Allen Weakland

Choice Review

Lieven offers this study of 215 appointees to the State Council from 1894 to 1914 as a picture of Russia's ruling elite although he admits that other historians might have chosen ministers or the 5,417 top officials in 1914. Lieven's group was mostly of noble birth, owned sizable but not huge estates, and were former officials of the ministries of interior, justice, and finance. Frequently they were graduates of elite cadet corps, the Alexander lycee, or the School of Law. Merit governed their promotion in the service but family, school, regiment, and patrons eased their paths. Politically the elite, dominated by an aristocracy that was pre-Patrine in origin, were divided between liberals and extreme conservatives. Lieven supplements this intrinsically fascinating information with well-written biographies and then reconsiders the fall of the empire. The bureaucracy, as shown by his elite, was competent. Russia's dilemma was sufficiently grim, according to Lieven, that only a harsh repressive government could have averted revolution. On occasion Lieven retreats from this conclusion, implying that some land expropriation might have prevented revolution. In any case, the reader will benefit from this well-written and perceptive depiction of Russia's oligarchs. College, university, and public libraries. -D. Balmuth, Skidmore College