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Karamzin's Turn to History

In the superb prefatory essay to his 1959 edition of Karamzin’s Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia , ‘The Background and Growth of Karamzin’s Political Ideas Down to 1810’, Richard Pipes defines Russian conservatism at the start of the nineteenth-century as being ‘as yet more a defence of interest than an expression of a philosophy, more a social than an intellectual movement’. As principally a defence of the gentry’s vested interests, Russian social conservatism was the result of what Pipes describes as ‘an exceptionally close interdependence between the monarchy and the gentry’. This relationship, ‘brought into being in the eighteenth century’ – as the product of state service – had become ‘firmly cemented by the challenge flung to the monarchy and nobility alike by the French Revolution’. [i] Before 1789 the Russian monarchy had endorsed Enlightenment ideology: during the eighteenth-century it had ‘continued nominally to act in a critical spirit’ and ‘the court paid lip service to

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