Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 17, 2019, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/enlightenment-russian/v-1
When Russia embraced secular European ways of thought under Peter the Great, its educated elite came into contact first with the German Enlightenment, which combined the rationalism of Descartes and Leibniz with the emotionalism of Protestant pietism. With its acknowledgement of established authority, and emphasis on a person’s responsibility to the community rather than individual rights, this strand of early Enlightenment thought suited the state-building of Peter.
By the second half of the eighteenth century, the universality of the French language, the influence of geniuses such as Montesquieu and Voltaire, and the formation of a conscious Enlightenment party among the French philosophes meant that their polemical writings carried the mainstream of progressive thought. It was this Enlightenment that was embraced by Catherine the Great, who professed its tenets: tolerance and the conviction that perfecting social organization would ensure human happiness. She encouraged the growth of an intellectual elite to spread the ideas of the philosophes and form an enlightened public opinion.
Russia’s tradition of absolutism and the institution of serfdom, however, proved inimical to Enlightenment values. Nevertheless, the Russian Enlightenment engendered an elite of individuals eager to act as critics and moral leaders of their society who would determine the future course of Russian social thought.
Jones, W. Gareth. Enlightenment, Russian, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E043-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/enlightenment-russian/v-1.
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