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Identity, Tradition, Utopia: Conservatism as Political Culture in Russia and Europe, 1800

Dr. Roland Cvetkovski

The research project is situated in the transition phase between pre-modern and modern period and addresses intellectual history in the “deferred end of the 18th century” (Aleksandr I. Kupriianov). It particularly focuses on genesis, formulations and manifestations of conceptions which were usually held being the origin for Russia’s political as well cultural continual ossification in the long 19th century. Most of the bearers of this so-called conservative ideology acted both on behalf of the state and were regarded as those who wanted to re-establish the ancien régime. This is why conservatism in the classical understanding is so closely connected with the tenacity as well as traditionalism of the Russian state. But at the same time all important protagonists promoting this allegedly defensive concept of society firmly stood in European intellectual contexts. Their protagonists regarded this period of upheaval after 1800 an opportunity of a comprehensive societal regeneration and initiated the first political discussion of values in general.

This project is concerned with early conservatism in a broader sense. First it is understood as part of an intellectual strand starting from Russian orthodox enlightenment which includes the world of the provincial elite. On the other hand conservatism is an early expression of a political culture which is embedded in a European as well as cosmopolitan context. Against this backdrop the so-called conservatives actually appear as taking part in the utopian discourse developing early in the 19th century. Although they made use of topoi as family, history, state, and belief as tradition-bound values which could solely consolidate the body politic they in fact were the first to coin them as conflictual terms in an overall debate about political and societal regeneration.