Alexander I triumphantly enters Paris bringing freedom (but not democracy) to Europe in turmoil after the Napoleonic Wars. Russian Empire emerges as one of the great powers.
However, with new political realities also new challenges arose. The Bourbon Restoration was not enough, and anxiety about political instability in Europe and further possible revolutions against European monarchies made the Russian Empire assume the role of what was later dubbed gendarme of Europe. This anxiety had a solid ground: in the coming years liberal revolutions occurred in Spain and Portugal. July revolution in France, uprisings in German states and Poland (the part of Russian Empire) reminded Nicholas I, Alexander’s successor, of the Decembrist revolt and the fact that his was not immune to the strengthening of liberal sentiment. His legitimacy being based largely on allegiance of the nobility, he found himself in a precarious position. Therefore, he had to simultaneously manage two tasks: hold Russian revolutionary movement at bay and maintain status quo in Europe, both its political and ideological aspects contributing to stability at home.
Military power alone was not enough: after all, Decembrist uprising was carried out by Russian officers infected with European liberal ideas. Thus the need for state ideology arose. This was supplied by Graf Uvarov. Assuming office of the Minister of Public Enlightenment he formulated a famous doctrine incorporating three fundamental pillars of Russian existence: Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality (pravoslavie, samoderzhavie, narodnost’). This was intended to mirror the ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ of the Révolution française, and indeed had a comparably profound impact on the Russian culture and consciousness. This inherently conformist and reactionary doctrine was well suited to counteract European decay into liberal humanistic ideals having shifted the focus from individual to higher collective values and, effectively, renouncing any opposition to the governing order.
The sword though had two edges. It successfully delayed civil uprisings, secured the throne for Nicholas I, and proved instrumental in curbing influence of foreign ideas. Easy and concise, it appealed to general public. At the same time, it slowed down socio-political and technological development: young people were not allowed to study abroad for ‘our imperfection is in many ways better than their perfection’, words attributed to Nicholas I. Such exceptionalism...