Patrons of Enlightenment

The Free Economic Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia

By (author) Colum Leckey

Hardback - £74.00

Publication date:

05 August 2011

Length of book:

224 pages

Publisher

University of Delaware Press

ISBN-13: 9781611493429

Patrons of Enlightenment is the first English language study of the St. Petersburg Free Economic Study, one of the most prestigious and influential public associations in Imperial Russian history. Established in 1765 under the personal protection of Catherine the Great, its mission was to enlighten the villages and country estates of the Russian Empire by spreading the gospel of scientific agriculture to noble landowners and the peasants working their land. Emulating the patriotic associations of Western and Central Europe, it also sought to put the finishing touches on the cultural westernization of Russia initiated by the reforming tsar Peter the Great. Within the walls of its meeting house in St. Petersburg, it offered a neutral space where people of different rank, status, and lineage assembled to debate the great issues of the day, above all else the role of a privileged and enlightened nobility in a society anchored in serfdom. For its network of readers and correspondents in the provinces, it provided an opportunity to earn distinction on Russia's public stage through its voluminous publications and its flagship journal, the Transactions of the Free Economic Society. The Society provided the template for public activity and initiative in Imperial Russia, as hundreds of other organizations in the nineteenth century would emulate its example.
In Patrons of Enlightenment, Colum Leckey presents a history of the Free Economic Society during the reign of Catherine the Great, a brief history that he ties both to the longer history of public associations in Russia, and to the concept of a Russian Enlightenment…. Leckey describes well how the members of the Society developed a strand of Enlightenment thought that moved far away from the usual conceptions of the Enlightenment. He discusses proposals to alter radically peasant agriculture in ways that placed yet more control over Russia’s serfs, from those that wished to create new work units, to those that claimed to speak directly to peasants. And in the end, he describes what probably was the Russian version of the Enlightenment.