Philosophical and historical aspect of the individual's role in social modernization as exemplified by “the era of great reforms”

This article examines the philosophical and historical aspect of the role of the individual in the process of social modernization through the example of “the era of great reforms” in Russia in the second half of the XIX century. The authors analyze the modernization of the society as a complex multidimensional process that includes a number of factors and problems, and advocate the need to keep distance from various ideological constructs applied to the definition of modernization. The philosophical foundations of the problem of the individual in the process of modernization are considered in the scope of an institutional approach. The necessity of social transformation acknowledged by the society elite as a public demand reveals itself in personal representation. The personality of the reformer becomes one of the main driving forces of social changes. This aspect is considered through the example of the modernization of Russia in the second half of the XIX century and the personality of the initiator of “the era of great reforms" - Emperor Alexander II. The article concludes that the reforms carried out during the reign of Alexander II generally met the challenges of the period and were aimed at solving urgent socio-economic problems. They laid foundation for further development of the country, expanded boundaries of the civil society and the law-governed state. However, the process of modernization was incomplete, for the introduction of constitutional government elements as the logical result of all previous changes, was not implemented. The role of the individual in the modernization process is shown through the example of the reformer. As a result of the death of the reformer, the modernization of the country did not blend seamlessly, as his followers held traditionalist views, and the country embarked on a revolutionary course.


Modernization of a society is a complex multi-faceted process that includes a number of factors and problems. If we try to distance ourselves as much as possible from various ideological constructs, this phenomenon can be defined as a complex renewal of the socio-economic, political, and spiritual foundations of the society through the implementation of innovations and improvements.

Traditionally, there is a distinction between organic and inorganic modernization. The first is the result of the authentic development of the country and takes place in the course of a natural historical process. This type of modernization is based primarily on mental foundations; it is rooted in culture and the natural transformation of social consciousness, which is followed by certain economic changes. Inorganic modernization is an attempt to reach the level of the most economically developed countries. In this case, there is a “overtaking development” forced by the ruling elite in order to overcome the country's economic backwardness. In this case, the transformation is not caused by the deep needs of the society itself, by the course of its historical development, the principles of modernization do not have time to reach a large part of the population, as a result, they do not receive strong social support.

Inorganic modernization is not inherently doomed to failure. Many societies have set a successful example: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. But when this type of change is carried out, the role of the individual who initiates and implements changes in the society increases significantly. The success greatly depends on the talents, skills, and will of the reformer.


In social philosophy, there are two main approaches to this phenomenon – classical and non-classical.

The classical approach assumes that the spread of advanced technologies, a liberal economy and the corresponding socio-political organization of all societies should follow the path of the Western world as the most competitive civilizational type. In this regard, modernization is sometimes considered synonymous with Westernization: "Historically, modernization is a process of change in the direction of the types of social, economic, and political systems that were developed in Western Europe and North America from the 17th to the 19th centuries and then expanded to other countries and continents." [1; 31]

In the second half of the last century, this approach was increasingly subjected to reasonable criticism on a number of aspects, as a result of which the philosophical understanding of the theory of modernization was radically reconsidered.

"What was the main drawback of the Western models of modernization of the XX century in relation to the realities of our time? They transferred their unique experience to all peoples and civilizations without taking into account their peculiarities. Even largely modernized societies are affected to the codes of culture whose origins are traced back to the past." [2, p. 1]

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the countries of South-East Asia took the leading position in terms of modernization indicators. "Modernization increasingly faces various cultural obstacles that destroy the universality of the original European modernization." [3; 82] As a result, a methodologically more complex non-classical paradigm of modernization has been established, which denies universalism and recognizes the differences in modernization of different societies.

The search for the philosophical foundations of the problem of personality in the process of modernization involves an institutional approach. As S. Black states, "modernization can be defined as the process by which historically evolved institutions adapt to rapidly changing functions, which reflects the unprecedented expansion of human knowledge to exercise control over the environment that accompanied the scientific revolution. This process of adaptation had its roots and initial influence in the societies of Western Europe, but in the XIX-XX centuries these changes spread to other societies and resulted in a global transformation that affected all human relationships." [4] It is the need for social transformation realized by the elite of society and recognized as a social need that is revealed in personal representation. The personality of the reformer becomes one of the main driving forces of social changes. In this article, this aspect is considered through the example of the modernization of Russia in the second half of the XIX century and the personality of the initiator of "the era of great reforms" - the Emperor Alexander II.

Results and Discussion

By the middle of the XIX century, the Russian Empire experienced a complicated situation. The Crimean war, unsuccessful for the country, was going on, finances were disordered, and tensions in the society were increasing. Russia remained a feudal state longer than other European countries, which greatly hindered the development of the country, especially the development of its economy. Serfdom was completely irrelative by the beginning of the century and the main reason for Russia's economic and social lagging behind other "great powers" of that time.

The industrial revolution that took place in advanced countries at the end of the XVIII century, which also affected Russia, led to a devaluation of manual labor; technologies were developed, factories were opened that did not have enough skilled workers. Russia remained a predominantly agricultural country, so its economic lag increased. Households ceased to bring high profits, but the peasants were still not free, were attached to the landlords, which caused an increasing discontent and even riots. On the other hand, landowners' farms also suffered losses, serfdom in the new economic conditions ceased to be profitable. Accordingly, revenues to the state budget were reduced, which had a negative impact on the country's economy.

The Crimean war showed that Russia's military and economic system did not meet the requirements of the time. The defeat suffered within the country's borders and by the states forced to wage war separately from the mother countries was recognized in the society as unacceptable and humiliating for the status of a great world power. “The enlightened society seemed to see clearly, having discovered all the inconsistency and rottenness of the state system that was severely protected in the reign of Nicholas I. The Crimean war opened up all the sores of Russia's serfdom.” [5; 149]

The war finally undermined the economy, which already had a little safety margin. Recruitment and conscription to the militia excluded up to 1.5 million people from agricultural production (10%) male employees. The number of livestock decreased by 13%, and in the southern regions by 34%. Amounts of crops in the landowner's village fell by 35%. During the war, the export of bread, compared to the pre-war period, dropped by 13 times, the export of flax by 8, hemp by 6, fat by 4 times. The volume of machinery imports decreased by 10 times. Industry did not have enough labour supply, as up to 35% of the country's population was in serfdom. Regular requisitions of livestock, forage and food, the growth of monetary and conscription homage further impoverished the people [5; 150].

The country's finances were in a desperate state. During the war, from 1853 to 1856, the total deficit increased by 6 times (from 52 million to 307 million rubles). The gold backing of the currency decreased by more than 50%. Among the income items, the share of wine purchases increased – from 33% in 1845 to 43% in the war years. In two years, from July 1857 to July 1859, the cash of the banks fell from 150 to 13 million rubles [5; 150].

The economic decline led to an increase in popular discontent. In the period from 1859 to 1861, peasant uprisings broke out all over Russia and reached their apogee, which also affected the developing of the reforms, but their role was somewhat exaggerated in Soviet historiography [6]. According to the available data, in 1856 there were 66 peasant protests against unbearable forced labour and servage, cruelty of landlords, etc., in 1859 there were already 797 ones [7].

The country needed to be reformed – this was understood by the Emperor Alexander II, who came to the throne on February, 18 (March 2), 1855, by the government and people.

Thus, the main reasons for the reforms were the need to abolish serfdom, which greatly hindered the country's economy and caused the growth of peasant unrest, as well as the lost Crimean war. The moral aspect and the matter of state prestige also played a significant role in the abolition of serfdom. The personality of the Emperor Alexander II, who initiated the overdue reforms, is also one of the most important factors.

The eldest son of Emperor Nicholas I, he was born on April 17 (29), 1818. He received an excellent home education under the personal supervision of his father, who paid particular attention to raising the heir. His mentor (whose responsibility was to direct the entire process of upbringing and education and to draw up a “plan of learning”), the famous poet and enlightened person V.A. Zhukovsky was also a teacher of the Russian language. Famous scientists and political figures of that time taught various disciplines. Upon reaching the age of majority, the heir-Tsarevich was introduced by his father to the main state institutions of the Empire: in 1834 - to the Senate, in 1835-to the Holy Governing Synod, in 1841 he became a member of the State Council, in 1842 – of the Committee of Ministers.

He took the helm of state after the death of his father in 1855. "By the nature his outlook, character, and temperament, Alexander II was not a reformer. He became one by force of circumstances... In the main task of his reign-the abolition of serfdom and the reforms of the 1860s and 1870s-he was forced, faced with the fact of a severe defeat in the war and general discontent in the country, to take as a basis a liberal program, a liberal concept of large-scale reform of the country, its general reconstruction" [7].

Another succinct evaluation of the reformer was given by the outstanding Russian historian V. O. Klyuchevsky in his last scientific article, written in 1911: "Alexander II inherited a legacy burdened with belated reform issues, long-overdue promises and recent heavy losses... Alexander II had to drag through his reforms. He differed markedly from his immediate predecessors by his lack of inclination to play the king. <...> He did not want to seem better than he was, and often was better than he seemed." [quoted after 8]

According to those who knew the young Emperor intimately, at the beginning of his reign, he was no less conservative than his father, but in the name of saving the state, Alexander II had to look for new solutions and new people. Back in the spring of 1856, he openly declared that it is much better and safer for the state to carry out transformations "from above" than to wait for them to be carried out "from below" [9]. The ability to prioritize public benefit over his own beliefs characterized the Emperor Alexander II as an outstanding political figure.

The poverty of the people, the decline of the country's productive forces, the lack of railways that already covered Europe, judicial and administrative inefficiency, the backwardness of the army, and many social problems are not a complete list of what the Emperor Alexander II had to face.

The essence of Alexander II's reforms was in restructure of the society and the management system and developing a new type of state.

One of the most important reforms, and chronologically the first of them, is the peasant reform, the abolition of serfdom in 1861. The reform was been preparing during several years and, despite the resistance of a large part of the nobility, was carried out, largely thanks to the will of the Emperor himself.

The main document of the reform - "The general provision on peasants who came out of serfdom" – presented its main issues, summarized as follows [5. P.175-192]. Peasant gained personal freedom and the right to freely dispose of their property. They were granted the right of elective self-government, the lowest (economic) unit of self-government was a rural society, and the highest (administrative) unit was a parish. The landlords retained ownership of all the land they owned, but were obliged to grant the use of the peasants "homesteads settlement" and field allotment; the land of the field allotment was provided not personally to the peasants, but to the collective use of rural societies, which could distribute them among the peasant farms at their discretion. The minimum size of the peasant allotment for each locality was established by law. For the use of allotment land, the peasants had to serve husbandry service or pay a chief-rent which they could not refuse to do for 9 years. The size of the field allotment and duties were to be recorded in the charters, which were drawn up by the landlords for each estate and checked by chief conciliator. Rural communities were granted the right to buy out the estate and, by agreement with the landowner, the field allotment, after which all obligations of the peasants to the landowner were terminated. The government provided the landlords with financial guarantees to receive the redemption payments on preferential terms, accordingly, the peasants had to pay the redemption payments to the government.

At the same time, although abolition of serfdom gave the peasants the personal freedom, but they did not gain land for private use, and had to work off or pay to get it. The terms of land purchase were not the favorable for peasants, which contributed to the stratification of rural communities. In addition, private peasant economic enterprise was largely limited by the communal nature of land ownership.

In 1863, financial reform was carried out. The need for changes in this area was particularly clear after the devastating Crimean war. Under Alexander II, the exact procedure for drawing up annual parish and expenditure estimates for all departments was established. The general state record of revenues and expenditures was published annually for public information. The “treasury unity” was introduced, subordinating all public expenditures to the control of the Minister of Finance, whereas previously each Ministry had its own special treasury and managed it itself. The newly reorganized state control was supposed to monitor the accuracy of the estimates.

The tax system was also reformed. One of the most important innovations in this area was the abolition of wine tax in 1863. Alcohol taxes were a significant part of the budget in Russia. Since 1826, the government began to hand over the right to sell wine in a particular area to narrow groups of entrepreneurs, but since 1863, alcohol could be sold by any private person on condition of payment of excise duty to the Treasury.

The large-scale construction of railways and the rapid growth of banking activities also helped to improve the state of the finances.

At the very beginning of his reign, the Emperor Alexander II abolished the restrictive measures that had been taken against educational institutions in the last years of his father's reign. The University Charter of 1863 was published, granting self-government to the professorial corporation. The Board of professors at each University elected all University officials and managed the University's economy; the Trustee of the academic district was only responsible for overseeing the legality of the Board's actions. But students did not get the right to run corporate institutions. In 1871, the classical system of education was introduced in the humanities high schools, and technical high schools were replaced by real schools. The era of Alexander II was marked by the rapid development of women's education, including higher education. Under the leadership of Professor K. N. Bestuzhev-Ryumin, the famous "higher women's courses" ("Bestuzhev's") were opened in St. Petersburg (in 1878). Notable successes were also achieved in the field of lower, public, education. In addition to parochial schools, a new type of secular primary school has emerged. By the end of the reign, tens of thousands of these new schools were opened [10].

The Zemstvo reform, the main document of which was the "Regulations on provincial and district Zemstvo institutions," published on January 1, 1864, improved local self-government in Russia, replacing the former estate institutions with non-class ones. All landowners, merchants and industrialists who have a certain property qualification, as well as (collectively) peasant societies, had the right to elect (for three years) representatives to the district Zemstvo assemblies. These assemblies met in full only from time to time, but they also had their own permanent body – the district Zemstvo Council, elected from the members of the assemblies. The Zemstvos had a fairly wide range of authorities. They included: public education, public health care, food, road maintenance, and veterinary care. All this required monetary funds, so the Zemstvo institutions were given the right to tax the population with fees and duties for local needs. In 1870, local government was extended to cities in addition to parishes and provinces

Participation in Zemstvo elections was not equal for everyone, it was based on property, but it was still rather extensive (the peasantry participated in the elections almost entirely, although not in "equal numerical proportion" with the wealthier people). Some researchers consider the disadvantages of the Zemstvo reform to be the limitations of the taxation law, which did not provide local authorities with considerable funds, as well as the absence of an all – Russian Zemstvo along with the provincial and parish ones [5; 221].

On November 20, 1864, the "Judicial statutes" were issued, which changed the old forms of Russian legal proceedings. Instead of the estate courts that had been in operation since the time of Catherine II, a nonestate court was established. It was open and transparent, with the participation of the parties – whereas the former courts decided cases behind closed doors, in the absence of the claimant and the defendant. In both civil and criminal cases, the judicial reform of 1864 introduced an adversarial process, with a prosecutor and a lawyer. Appointed from among ordinary citizens, the jury had to listen to the court materials and answer the question: is the defendant guilty? Based on the verdict of the jury, the court decided either to invocate an appropriate punitive article of law, or to release an acquitted defendant. (The jurisdiction of the jury, however, did not cover cases of state and certain official crimes, as well as cases of the press). Judges were granted irremovability and independence from the Executive branch.

Another reform of Alexander II is the reform of the press. In the Empire, transparency and freedom of the press (relative) were encouraged, newspapers were supposed to discuss events held by the government and even criticize individual Ministers, but without affecting the Emperor. The "iron curtain" was also removed, and people could leave the country more freely. As soon as he took the throne, Alexander II mitigated the censorship of printed publications, which in the last years of his father's reign was very strict. On April 6, 1865, the "Provisional rules on the press" were promulgated. According to this law, censorship was preserved only for pamphlets and small works. Books (more than 160 pages for original texts and more than 320 pages for translated texts), as well as magazines and newspapers could be published without prior censorship, although publishers and editors were responsible to the court if anything illegal was found in the books and articles. For harsh anti-social actions, magazines and newspapers got "warnings". After the third warning, the publishing organization was forbidden [11].

January 1, 1874 was published "The Regulation of universal military service", developed under the leadership of the Minister of War D. A. Milutin. Instead of the previous recruiting, the army was replenished with an annual call-up of young men of 21 years of age. They were in the military service for 15 years: 6 years of full military service and 9 in reserve. Benefits were introduced for various categories of the population, including those granted by marital status and level of education. Thus, for those with higher education, the six-year service period was reduced to six months; for those with secondary education, it was reduced to two years. For those who graduated from a city parish school, the service was for three years, and those who graduated from primary schools were in the army for four years. Instead of the harsh military drill based on penalties and punishments that flourished in the army in the time of Nikolay, a reasonable and humane education of the soldier was practiced, presented not as a heavy duty, but a sacred civil duty of Fatherland protection. The army was re-equipped and some branches of the armed forces were restructured, the training of military personnel was significantly improved, and the system of military administration was reorganized [5; 335-350].

World history knows few rulers who would make such a noticeable contribution to all spheres of state life of their peoples as Alexander II. His reign fell on the 50-70s of the XIX century – a time of great social upheavals and deep spiritual shifts in Russia and abroad.

With the active participation of the Emperor, grandiose transformations were carried out in almost all branches of the state system, so the era of Alexander II is rightly called the era of great reforms. "Each of these reforms could have glorified any reign. The greatness of these reforms is that each of them, without exception, has the same idea-to involve the society to help the ruler. No matter how different the peasant reform was from the city one or the judicial reform from the Zemstvo reform, they all share one great idea – the participation of public initiative in the management of the state." [12; 233-234]

The most significant of Alexander II's reforms was the peasant reform, since it abolished serfdom, thereby giving the peasants personal freedom and property rights. This made it possible for peasant to rent land plots and get jobs in factories, which contributed to the development of the labor market. Personal freedom allowed the peasants to choose their own profession. These rights made the peasants full members of the society, they could now apply to the General courts (except for minor issues and disputes that were subjected to peasant judicial organizations). It is not for nothing that in the pre-revolutionary historiography, the Emperor Alexander II was described with an honorary epithet-Liberator.

The Zemstvo and city reforms accelerated the formation of the civil society; opening of new Zemstvo schools increased the overall level of education; the opening of new hospitals led to the improvement and development of the health system. These new social institutions contributed to the formation of a "raznochinets intelligentsia" that included doctors, teachers, and agronomists. Active development of infrastructure in the nearest settlements, road construction developed the industrial and commercial sphere.

As a result of the education reform, new schools and gymnasiums were opened, and non-classical secondary schools were established. Peasant children had access to primary education. Women have also gained access to education through the active opening of women's high schools. A liberal University Charter was adopted, which stipulated the universities autonomy.

As a result of the judicial reform, new principles of legal proceedings were laid down, such as transparency, independence, and competition. These principles had a strong impact on progress in the public life, and their effectiveness can be evidenced by the fact that the main ones are still used in judicial proceedings.

As a result of the military reform in Russia, the modern grass roots army was created. Its combat capability was strengthened, which played a role in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. Some measures to reorganize the army went beyond the Military Department. They contributed to the development of the national railway network, which significantly increased the country's mobilization readiness. The benefits related to the military service duration were also promoted the spread of public education.

Despite the overall positive impact of the reforms on the society, they were not without a number of significant drawbacks. As a result of the abolition of serfdom, the peasants did not receive land immediately, but were forced to buy it on unfavorable terms. In the Zemstvos and city administration, representatives of the upper strata of the society prevailed, which often allowed them to ignore the interests of the lower classes. Progressive judicial reform also had its drawback, the judicial bureaucracy dragged the judicial proceedings. Despite the fact that education was formally considered non-estates, tuition fees limited the chance for children from the lower classes to get a proper education above primary level. Despite the positive impact of the military transformation, in the army, a lot of remnants of serfdom remained: protectionism, caste officership hierarchy, disenfranchisement of soldiers.

However, "thanks to the reforms carried out, a qualitative leap was achieved in the development of Russia, which allowed it to approach the level of the leading powers of the world, to the rule of law. The social essence of these changes was in the gradual transformation of the feudal monarchy into a bourgeois one." [12; 234]

After 1861, the socio-economic development of Russia was impressive and it occupied the first place in the world in terms of industrial growth. For a few decades it reached the stage that other great European countries did for centuries. During the reign of Alexander II, the total productivity of factories and factories in Russia increased (according to official data) by almost 4 times. A number of new industries have emerged, such as oil production and refining, and mechanical engineering. Coal and oil production grew at the fastest pace in the world. Tsarist Russia, in contrast to our time, exported grain. The export of various grains in 1876-1880 was almost 3 times more than in 1860, and amounted to 287 million poods [12; 235].

In general, during the reign of Alexander II, the foreign trade turnover increased by 4 times. The domestic trade turnover increased by more than 3 times. The number of joint-stock companies or partnerships on shares has increased by 10 times. The means of transport and communication developed rapidly. While in 1861, there were less than 2 thousand km of railway lines in Russia, by the early 80's the network already amounted to more than 22 thousand km. In those years, a modern postal service was also developed. While in 1852, there was only one public telegraph connection between Moscow and St. Petersburg, by the beginning of the 70s, the telegraph network covered almost all provincial and even parish cities. The longest line in the world was created connecting the center of the country and Vladivostok. In the late 70s, in St. Petersburg and in the early 80's in Moscow electric lighting was used. Water supply and intra-city transport were improved. Noticeable changes in the economy caused a demographic boom: the population of Russia for 37 years (from 1860 to 1897) grew by 52 million people (from 74 to 126 million), mainly as a result of natural growth. The urban population in the country almost doubled, but its share in the total population did not rise above 13% by 1897. The rural population grew one and a half times over the same time [12; 235].

During the reign of Alexander II, there was an unprecedented in the history of Russia flourishing of culture and education: outstanding scientists, writers, artists, and composers lived and created at this time.

The figurative result of Alexander's reforms was summed up by the French diplomat and writer E. M. de Voguë in his description of the monarch: "He was a great king and was worthy of a better fate... He was not a brilliant mind, but he was generous, noble and straightforward. He loved his people and had infinite pity for the humiliated and insulted… Think of his reforms. Peter the Great did not do more... remember all the difficulties that he had to overcome to destroy slavery and create a new basis for agriculture. Consider that thirty million people owe their liberation to him… And his administrative reforms! After all, he tried to destroy official arbitrariness and social injustice. In the structure of the court, he created equality before the law, established the independence of judges, abolished corporal punishment, and introduced a jury.” [quoted after 13; 10].


The reforms carried out during the reign of Alexander II were aimed at solving urgent socio-economic problems, paved a way for further development of the country, and expanded the boundaries of the civil society and the rule of law. However, much remained incomplete, and the introduction of elements of constitutional government, intended to be the logical result of all previous transformations, was never implemented. It was due to the death of the monarch at the hands of terrorists and the position of his heir – Alexander III. As a result, the transition to organic modernization was not implemented.

The example of the personality of this reformer shows how important the personal aspect is in the modernization process. As a result of the death of the reformer, the modernization of the country remained incomplete, since its followers adhered to traditionalist views. As a result, the path of evolutionary transformation was lost, and the country in its development embarked on a course of revolution.



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Year: 2020
City: Karaganda
Category: Philosophy