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A Public Empire

A Public Empire: Property and the Quest for the Common Good in Imperial Russia

Ekaterina Pravilova
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    A Public Empire
    Book Description:

    "Property rights" and "Russia" do not usually belong in the same sentence. Rather, our general image of the nation is of insecurity of private ownership and defenselessness in the face of the state. Many scholars have attributed Russia's long-term development problems to a failure to advance property rights for the modern age and blamed Russian intellectuals for their indifference to the issues of ownership.A Public Empirerefutes this widely shared conventional wisdom and analyzes the emergence of Russian property regimes from the time of Catherine the Great through World War I and the revolutions of 1917. Most importantly,A Public Empireshows the emergence of the new practices of owning "public things" in imperial Russia and the attempts of Russian intellectuals to reconcile the security of property with the ideals of the common good.

    The book analyzes how the belief that certain objects-rivers, forests, minerals, historical monuments, icons, and Russian literary classics-should accede to some kind of public status developed in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Professional experts and liberal politicians advocated for a property reform that aimed at exempting public things from private ownership, while the tsars and the imperial government employed the rhetoric of protecting the sanctity of private property and resisted attempts at its limitation.

    Exploring the Russian ways of thinking about property,A Public Empirelooks at problems of state reform and the formation of civil society, which, as the book argues, should be rethought as a process of constructing "the public" through the reform of property rights.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5026-6
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-18)

    Europe’s long nineteenth century (1789–1914) was rich with bold innovations and great disappointments. The rise of nationalism, the “social question,” feminism, and new models of public administration and economic policy were accompanied by the demise of well-established concepts. Such was the fate of individualism, defined by Anthony Arblaster as the “metaphysical and ontological core” of classical liberalism.¹ Individualism and its corollary—the principle of inalienable private property—had been seen as the greatest conceptual achievement of post-revolutionary Europe. Yet by the end of the century, this crowning jewel of the liberal order found itself widely criticized and discredited in...

  6. PART I Whose Nature?: Environmentalism, Industrialization, and the Politics of Property

    • 1 The Meanings of Property
      (pp. 21-54)

      In early 1802, a few months after Alexander I’s accession to the throne, the Privy Council—an unofficial government consisting of the young emperor’s liberal friends—met to discuss an unusual issue: the alienation of lands at the mouth of the Emba River in the Astrakhan province and the fate of a fishing monopoly on the Caspian Sea in this area. The Emba River was itself a mystery: flowing down from the Mugodzar Hills in the Ural Mountains, the river was famous for its fickle course; its riverbed often moved, and only during high water in the spring did it...

    • 2 Forests, Minerals, and the Controversy over Property in Post-Emancipation Russia
      (pp. 55-92)

      The idea of private property, borrowed by Catherine the Great from Europe, was transplanted into an economic order based on serfdom and hierarchical patrimonial relations. The combined ideologies of autocracy and propertied individualism stripped the notion of private property of its political connotations. Moreover, the degree of autonomy granted to private owners was interpreted in romantic terms of intimacy and nontransferability of property. The façade of private property concealed the web of lord–peasants relations based on customs, traditions, and unwritten rules, while the connection between owners and the monarch also implied an unwritten contract of loyalty in return for...

    • 3 Nationalizing Rivers, Expropriating Lands
      (pp. 93-128)

      The story of fisheries on the Emba River, discussed in chapter 1, had an interesting ending. In 1802, the government ruled to expropriate Count Ivan Kutaisov’s lands and his monopoly of fishing on the Caspian seashore, and, notwithstanding the illegality of this acquisition, generously compensated the owner for the loss of property. In 1842, it decided to “nationalize” the Caspian fishing resources and to provide free public access to the sea, bought the entire seacoast, oneversta(1.06 kilometers) deep: for the expropriation of the entire Caspian coast, the treasury paid 1,005,146 rubles. The government addressed the issue very thoroughly:...

  7. PART II The Treasures of the Fatherland

    • 4 Inventing National Patrimony
      (pp. 131-177)

      The previous chapter traced the emergence of the notion of “public things” and “public property” applied to natural resources whose value had changed as a result of the growing demand for new sources of energy, the rise of the market, and the appearance of interest groups, experts, and industrialists. The idea of the public domain was being created: various actors, led mostly by scientists and professional experts, discursively founded this domain on Russian soil. For experts, creating the public domain was a path to power: theirs was the privilege to establish the rules of access, scientifically defined norms, and criteria...

    • 5 Private Possessions and National Art
      (pp. 178-212)

      The story of how icons were transformed into Russia’s national patrimony and came to symbolize its artistic heritage at first seems to suggest the exceptionality of the Russian case against the backdrop of the European historical preservation movement: the “aestheticization” of religious art occurred much later in Russia than in Europe, overlapping with artistic modernism. The relative youth of Russian painting meant that those searching for national artistic symbols turned naturally to icons. This celebration of religious art did not mean, however, that religion itself predominated as a theme in the formation of the cultural patrimony. Icons and churches were...

  8. PART III “Estates on Parnassus”:: Literary Property and Cultural Reform

    • 6 Writers and the Audience: LEGAL PROVISIONS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE
      (pp. 215-240)

      When it comes to art and culture, conventional legal notions are often moot. Objects of true art, although they have material value as things, take on additional significance, often discernable only to experts and connoisseurs, that makes them “special” and requires the invention of specific legal regulations for their treatment and transfer. No one is free in the disposal of his or her property if it relates to history or art, and the more valuable one’s possession is, the more responsibility it entails.

      “National heritage” is a relatively recent concept: the understanding of the “special” value of cultural objects was...

    • 7 The Private Letters of National Literature
      (pp. 241-269)

      One of the most shocking details in the story of Tolstoy’s will and its execution, analyzed in the previous chapter, was the unrestricted publicity of discussions on the intimate family issue of inheritance. The public was tacitly invited to participate in the debate since it was to become the “primary benefactor” of Tolstoy’s will. It received immediate and almost unlimited access to private documents concerning the will: as William Nickell comments, the public “laid claim” to diaries and letters “as if by eminent domain, and found itself arbitrating the family dispute over Tolstoy’s legacy.”¹

      Nickell considers these “shocking intrusions intro...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 270-290)

    The causes for the sweeping political transformations of 1914–1921¹ were deep and manifold, and it was not the malfunctions of property rights that led to the fall of the Old Regime and the emergence of a new order. Rather, in the crisis of war and revolution, the existing fractures in the system of property rights grew enlarged as through a magnifying glass. The experience of war exposed weaknesses and exacerbated problems that had been revealed in the debates on the reform of property decades before; the Bolshevik policy of nationalization in 1918–1921 was to a certain extent a...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 291-402)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 403-436)