Renovating Russia is a richly comparative investigation
of late Imperial and early Soviet medico-scientific theories of
moral and social disorder. Daniel Beer argues that in the late
Imperial years liberal psychiatrists, psychologists, and
criminologists grappled with an intractable dilemma. They sought to
renovate Russia, to forge a modern enlightened society governed by
the rule of law, but they feared the backwardness, irrationality,
and violent potential of the Russian masses. Situating their
studies of degeneration, crime, mental illness, and crowd
psychology in a pan-European context, Beer shows how liberals'
fears of societal catastrophe were only heightened by the effects
of industrial modernization and the rise of mass politics.
In the wake of the orgy of violence that swept the Empire in the
1905 Revolution, these intellectual elites increasingly put their
faith in coercive programs of scientific social engineering. Their
theories survived liberalism's political defeat in 1917 and meshed
with the Bolsheviks' radical project for social transformation.
They came to sanction the application of violent transformative
measures against entire classes, culminating in the waves of state
repression that accompanied forced industrialization and
collectivization. Renovating Russia thus offers a powerful
revisionist challenge to established views of the fate of
liberalism in the Russian Revolution.
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