Written by Vladimir Moss



     Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev was from April, 1880 to October, 1905 the over-procurator of the Russian Holy Synod. He had been a chief adviser of Tsar Alexander III, and a tutor of his son, Tsar Nicholas II. He was one of the most far-sighted prophets of the revolution. Thus as early as 1873, Dostoyevsky's journal Grazhdanin published a series of articles of his entitled "Russian Leaflets from Abroad", in which he wrote: "A cloud can be seen on the horizon that will make things terrible, because we did not see it before. This is the fanaticism of unbelief and denial. It is not simple denial of God, but denial joined to mad hatred for God and for everyone who believes in God. May God grant that nobody lives to the time when fanaticism of this type gains power and receives the power to bind and to loose the human conscience." 

     And again: "There is no doubt that if the atheists of our time ever come to the triumph of the Commune and the complete removal of Christian services, they will create for themselves some kind of pagan cult, will raise some kind of statue to themselves or their ideal and will begin to honour it, while forcing others to do the same."[1]384

     Pobedonostsev’s was Orthodox conservative nationalism was dominant in Russia until the publication of the October manifesto in 1905. Dominic Lieven writes that “his view of human nature was even gloomier that of other European conservatives: the majority of human beings were weak, selfish, gullible and largely immune to the call of reason. Given this reality, democracy was likely to turn into a chaotic sham, with professional politicians, plutocrats and press pandering to the prejudices and short-sighted greed of the electorate. In the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries, with their centuries-old tradition of individualism, an educated and self-discipline citizenry had emerged which might just be able to sustain democratic politics, especially in a land of plentiful resources like the United States. Russian traditions were different, however, and the country was both more primitive and multi-national. In consequence, liberalism and democracy would bring disaster in their wake. Only the power and symbolism of an autocratic monarchy, advised by an elite of rational expert officials, could run the country effectively. Russia was built on communities – the peasant village, the Church and the nation – and these must be preserved and protected from the attacks of Western-style individualism. The educated classes, including the aristocracy, were bearers of this bacillus and were therefore dangerous. The religious and patriotic instincts of the peasantry were a firmer basis for political stability and Russian power, but the simple people must be protected from outside influences which would sow doubts among them about values and loyalties, thereby undermining the Russian national solidarity between ruler and people on which the empire’s future depended.”[2]


     Since Pobednostsev personified this policy of the supremacy of the Orthodox Autocracy perhaps even more than the tsars whom he served, and since his influence extended far beyond his role as over-procurator, he was reviled more than any other figure by the liberal press. He was portrayed as standing for the complete, tyrannical domination by the State of every aspect of Russian life; and among the epithets the press gave him were “prince of darkness, hatred and unbelief”, “state vampire”, “the great inquisitor” and “the greatest deicide in the whole of Russian history”.[3]


     These were vile slanders; for Pobedonostev was a pious man who believed in the Church, and educated the future Tsar Nicholas on the necessity of his being a servant of the Church. And although he never tried to correct the uncanonical state of Church-State relations, and even expressed the view that Peter the Great’s removal of the patriarchate was “completely lawful”, his work as over-procurator was in fact very beneficial. Thus he did a great deal for the development of parish schools, an essential counter-measure to the spread of liberal and atheist education in the secular schools, for the spread of the Word of God in various languages throughout the empire, for the improvement in the lot of the parish priest and for an enormous (fourfold) increase in the number of monks over the previous reign. [4]


     At the same time, it cannot be denied that the power that the tsars wielded over the Church through the over-procurators was anti-canonical. In the 16th and 17th centuries there had been something like real “symphony” between Church and State. However, the eighteenth century tsars from Peter the Great onwards succeeded, through the lay office of over-procurator, in making the Church dependent on the State to a large degree. Finally, through his decrees of November 13, 1817 and May 15, 1824 Alexander I made the Holy Synod into a department of State. Fortunately, the over-procurators of the 19th century were in general more Orthodox than those of the 18th century. But this did not change the essentially uncanonical nature of the situation…[5] 


     Some of the complaints about the State’s interference in Church affairs were exaggerated - for example, the Petrine decree that priests should report the contents of confession if they were seditious. As Pobedonostsev himself pointed out, this had long been a dead letter. Others, however, were serious and had major consequences – as, for example, the tendency of over-procurators to move bishops from one diocese to another.


     Firsov writes: “While K.P. Pobednostsev was over-procurator of the Most Holy Synod, the transfer of hierarchs from see to see was finally turned into a kind of ‘educational’ measure. The paradox consisted in the fact that ‘while exalting the position of bishops from an external point of view, he [Pobedonostsev] at the same time had to increase his control over them’. The over-procurator was quite unable to square this circle: he wanted an intensification of Episcopal activity and at the same time did not want to present the hierarchs with the freedom of action that was necessary for this. State control over the Church had to be kept up. It was precisely for this reason that the over-procurator so frequently moved Vladykos from see to see. According to the calculations of a contemporary investigator, ‘out of 49 diocesan bishops moved in 1881-1894, eight were moved twice and eight – three times. On average in one year three diocesan bishops were moved and three vicars; four vicars received appointments to independent sees’. In 1892-1893 alone 15 diocesan bishops and 7 vicar bishops were moved, while 14 vicar-bishops were raised to the rank of diocesan. At times the new place of their service and the composition of their flock differed strikingly from the former ones. In 1882, for example, a hierarch was transferred to Kishinev from Kazan, then in his place came the bishop of Ryazan, and he was followed by the bishop of Simbirsk.


     “One can understand that this ‘shuffling’ could not fail to affect the attitude of hierarchs to their archpastoral duties: they were more interested in smoothing relations with the secular authorities and in getting a ‘good’ diocese. One must recognise that serious blame for this must attach to the long-time over-procurator of the Most Holy Synod, K.P. Pobedonostev…”[6]


     Nevertheless, the theoretical works of Pobednostsev demonstrate a profound understanding of the importance of the Church in Russian life and indicate that, whether his views on Church-State relations were correct or not, he knew, as few others, what was truly in the Church’s interests, considering that the State could not without profound damage to itself and the nation as a whole touch upon the religious consciousness of the people, upon which its own power depended; for the people will support only that government which tries to incarnate its own “idea”. 

     Thus in an article attacking the doctrine of the complete separation of Church and State that was becoming popular in Europe and Russia he wrote: “However great the power of the State, it is confirmed by nothing other than the unity of the spiritual self-consciousness between the people and the government, on the faith of the people: the power is undermined from the moment this consciousness, founded on faith, begins to divide. The people in unity with the State can bear many hardships, they can concede and hand over much to State power. Only one thing does the State power have no right to demand, only one thing will they not hand over to it – that in which every believing soul individually and all together lay down as the foundation of their spiritual being, binding themselves with eternity. There are depths which State power cannot and must not touch, so as not to disturb the root sources of faith in the souls of each and every person…”[7]


     But in recent years a division has opened up between the faith of the people and the ideology of the State. “Political science has constructed a strictly worked out teaching on the decisive separation of Church and State, a teaching in consequence of which, according to the law that does not allow a division into two of the central forces, the Church unfailingly turns out to be in fact an institution subject to the State. Together with this, the State as an institution is, according to its political ideology, separated from every faithand indifferent to faith. Naturally, from this point of view, the Church is represented as being nothing other than an institution satisfying one of the needs of the population that is recognized by the State – the religious need, and the State in its most recent incarnation turns to it with its right of authorization, of supervision and control, with no concern for the faith. For the State as for the supreme political institution this theory is attractive, because it promises it complete autonomy, a decisive removal of every opposition, even spiritual opposition, and the simplification of the operations of its ecclesiastical politics.”[8]

     “If the issue consists in a more exact delineation of civil society from religious society, of the ecclesiastical and spiritual from the secular, of a direct and sincere separation, without cunning or violence – in this case everybody will be for such a separation. If, coming to practical matters, they want the State to renounce the right to place pastors of the Church and from the obligation to pay for them, this will be an ideal situation… When the question matures, the State, if it wishes to make such a decision, will be obliged to return to the person to whom it belongs the right to choose pastors and bishops; in such a case it will no longer be possible to give to the Pope what belongs to the clergy and people by historical and apostolic right…

     “But they say that we must understand separation in a different, broader sense. Clever, learned people define this as follows: the State must have nothing to do with the Church, and the Church – with the State, and so humanity must revolve in two broad spheres in such a way that in one sphere will be the body and in the other the spirit of humanity, and between the two spheres will be a space as great as between heaven and earth. But is that really possible? It is impossible to separate the body from the spirit; and spirit and body live one life. 

     “Can we expect that the Church – I’m not talking just about the Catholic, but any Church – should agree to remove from its consciousness civil society, familial society, human society - everything that is understood by the word ‘State’? Since when has it been decreed that the Church exists in order to form ascetics, fill up monasteries and express in churches the poetry of its rites and processions? No, all this is only a small part of that activity which the Church sets as her aim. She has been given another calling: teach all nations.  That is her business. The task set before her is to form people on earth so that people of the earthly city and earthly family should be made not quite unworthy to enter the heavenly city and the heavenly community. At birth, at marriage, at death – at the most important moments of human existence, the Church is there with her three triumphant sacraments, but they say that the family is none of her business! She has been entrusted with inspiring the people with respect for the law and the authorities, and to inspire the authorities with respect for human freedom, but they say that society is none of her business!

     “No, the moral principle is one. It cannot be divided in such a way that one is a private moral principle, and the other public, one secular and the other spiritual. The one moral principle embraces all relationships – private, in the home and political; and the Church, preserving the consciousness of her dignity, will never renounce her lawful influence in questions relations both to the family and to civil society. And so in demanding that the Church have nothing to do with civil society, they only give her greater strength.”[9]

     “The most ancient and best known system of Church-State relations is the system of the established or State Church. The State recognizes one confession out of all as being the true confession of faith and supports and protects one Church exclusively, to the prejudice of all other churches and confessions. This prejudice signifies in general that all remaining churches are not recognized as true or completely true; but it is expressed in practice in various forms and a multitude of all manner of variations, from non-recognition and alienation to, sometimes, persecution. In any case, under the influence of this system foreign confessions are subject to a certain more or less significant diminution in honour, in law and in privilege by comparison with the native, State confession. The State cannot be the representative only of the material interests of society; in such a case it would deprive itself of spiritual power and would renounce its spiritual unity with the people. The State is the stronger and more significant the clearer its spiritual representation is manifested. Only on this condition is the feeling of legality, respect for the law and trust in State power supported and strengthened in the midst of the people and in civil life. Neither the principle of the integrity or the good of the benefit of the State, nor even the principle of morality are sufficient in themselves to establish a firm bond between the people and State power; and the moral principle is unstable, shaky, deprived of its fundamental root when it renounces religious sanction. A State which in the name of an unbiased relationship to all beliefs will undoubtedly be deprived of this central, centrifugal force and will itself renounce every belief – whatever it may be. The trust of the people for their rulers is based on faith, that is, not only on the identity of the faith of the people and the government, but also on the simple conviction that the government has faith and acts according to faith. Therefore even pagans and Mohammedans have more trust and respect for a government which stands on the firm principles of belief, whatever it may be, than for a government which does not recognize its own faith and has an identical relationship to all beliefs.

     “That is the undeniable advantage of this system. But in the course of the centuries the circumstances under which this system received its beginning changed, and there arose new circumstances under which its functioning became more difficult than before. In the age when the first foundations of European civilization and politics were laid, the Christian State was a powerfully integral and unbroken bond with the one Christian Church. Then in the midst of the Christian Church itself the original unity was shattered into many kinds of sects and different faiths, each of which began to assume to itself the significance of the one true teaching and the one true Church. Thus the State had to deal with several different teachings between which the masses of the people were distributed. With the violation of the unity and integrity in faith a period may ensue when the dominant Church, which is supported by the State, turns out to be the Church of an insignificant minority, and herself enjoys only weak sympathy, or no sympathy at all, from the masses of the people. Then important difficulties may arise in the definition of the relations between the State and its Church and the churches to which the majority of the people belong.

     “From the beginning of the 18th century there begins in Western Europe a conversion from the old system to the system of the levelling of the Christian confessions in the State – with the removal, however, of sectarians and Jews from this levelling process. [However, it continues to be the case that] the State recognizes Christianity as the essential basis of its existence and of the public well-being, and belonging to this or that church, to this or that belief is obligatory for every citizen.

     “From 1848 this relationship of the State to the Church changes essentially: the flooding waves of liberalism break through the old dam and threaten to overthrow the ancient foundations of Christian statehood. The freedom of the State from the Church is proclaimed – it has nothing to do with the Church. The separation of the State by the Church is also proclaimed: every person is free to believe as he wants or not believe in anything. The symbol of this doctrine is the fundamental principles (Grundrechte) proclaimed by the Frankfurt parliament in 1848/1849. Although they soon cease to be considered valid legislation, they served and serve to this day as the ideal for the introduction of liberal principles into the most recent legislation of Western Europe. Legislation in line with these principles is everywhere now. Political and civil law is dissociated from faith and membership of this or that church or sect. The State asks nobody about his faith. The registration of marriage and acts of civil status are dissociated from the Church. Complete freedom of mixed marriages is proclaimed, and the Church principle of the indissolubility of marriage is violated by facilitating divorce, which is dissociated from the ecclesiastical courts…


     “Does it not follow from this that the unbelieving State is nothing other than a utopia that cannot be realized, for lack of faith is a direct denial of the State. Religion, and notably Christianity, is the spiritual basis of every law in State and civil life and of every true culture. That is why we see that the political parties that are the most hostile to the social order, the parties that radically deny the State, proclaim before everyone that religion is only a private, personal matter, of purely private and personal interest 

     “[Count Cavour’s] system of ‘a free Church in a free State’ is based on abstract principles, theoretically; at its foundation is laid not the principle of faith, but the principle of religious indifferentism, or indifference to the faith, and it is placed in a necessary bond with doctrines that often preach, not tolerance and respect for the faith, but open or implied contempt for the faith, as to a bygone moment in the psychological development of personal and national life. In the abstract construction of this system, which constitutes a fruit of the newest rationalism, the Church is represented as also being an abstractly constructed political institution…, built with a definite aim like other corporations recognized in the State 

     “… In fact, [however,] it is impossible for any soul that has preserved and experienced the demands of faith within its depths can agree without qualification, for itself personally, with the rule: ‘all churches and all faiths are equal; it doesn’t matter whether it is this faith or another’. Such a soul will unfailingly reply to itself: ‘Yes, all faiths are equal, but my faith is better than any other for myself.’ Let us suppose that today the State will proclaim the strictest and most exact equality of all churches and faiths before the law. Tomorrow signs will appear, from which it will be possible to conclude that the relative power of the faiths is by no means equal; and if we go 30 or 50 years on from the time of the legal equalization of the churches, it will then be discovered in fact, perhaps, that among the churches there is one which in essence has a predominant influence and rules over the minds and decisions [of men], either because it is closer to ecclesiastical truth, or because in its teaching or rites it more closely corresponds to the national character, or because its organization and discipline is more perfect and gives it more means for systematic activity, or because activists that are more lively and firm in their faith have arisen in its midst…

     “And so a free State can lay down that it has nothing to do with a free Church; only the free Church, if it is truly founded on faith, will not accept this decree and will not adopt an indifferent attitude to the free State. The Church cannot refuse to exert its influence on civil and social life; and the more active it is, the more it feels within itself an inner, active force, and the less is it able to adopt an indifferent attitude towards the State. The Church cannot adopt such an attitude without renouncing its own Divine calling, if it retains faith in it and the consciousness of duty bound up with it. On the Church there lies the duty to teach and instruct; to the Church there belongs the performance of the sacraments and the rites, some of which are bound up with the most important acts and civil life. In this activity the Church of necessity enters ceaselessly into touch with social and civil life (not to speak of other cases, it is sufficient to point to questions of marriage and education). And so to the degree that the State, in separating itself from the Church, retains for itself the administration exclusively of the civil part of all these matters and removes from itself the administration of the spiritual-moral part, the Church will of necessity enter into the function abandoned by the State, and in separation from it will little by little come to control completely and exclusively that spiritual-moral influence which constitutes a necessary, real force for the State. The State will retain only a material and, perhaps, a rational force, but both the one and the other will turn out to be insufficient when the power of faith does not unite with them. And so, little by little, instead of the imagined equalization of the functions of the State and the Church in political union, there will turn out to be inequality and opposition. A condition that is in any case abnormal, and which must lead either to the real dominance of the Church over the apparently predominant State or to revolution.

     “These are the real dangers hidden in the system of complete Church-State separation glorified by liberal thinkers. The system of the dominant or established Church has many defects, being linked with many inconveniences and difficulties, and does not exclude the possibility of conflicts and struggle. But in vain do they suppose that it has already outlived its time, and that Cavour’s formula alone gives the key to the resolution of all the difficulties of this most difficult of questions. Cavour’s formula is the fruit of political doctrinairism, which looks on questions of faith as merely political questions about the equalization of rights. There is no depth of spiritual knowledge in it, as there was not in that other famous political formula: freedom, equality and brotherhood, which up to now have weighed as a fateful burden on credulous minds. In the one case as in the other, passionate advocates of freedom are mistaken in supposing that there is freedom in equality. Or is our bitter experience not sufficient to confirm the fact that freedom does not depend on equality, and that equality is by no means freedom? It would be the same error to suppose that the very freedom of belief consists in the leveling of the churches and faiths and depends on their leveling. The whole of recent history shows that here, too, freedom and equality are not the same thing.”[10]


     Although a belief in liberal democracy was almost universal by now in the West, in some countries it was not obviously a success. Thus in France and Italy governments succeeded each other with bewildering rapidity.


     In his article "The New Democracy", Pobedonostsev expounded the view that modern democracy differed essentially from ancient democracy. In the ancient city-states, he said, the suffrage was far from universal, and the de facto rulers were those who were best suited to govern the State. In modern democracy, by contrast, the new aristocracy of the nouveaux riches buys power by bribing and manipulating the masses. "In broadening its foundation, the newest democracy places universal suffrage as the goal closest to its heart. This is a fatal error, one of the most striking in the history of mankind. The political power which democracy tries to attain so passionately is splintered in this form into a multitude of particles, and each citizen acquires an infinitely small part of this right."[11]     "History witnesses that the most essential and fruitful and stable measures and transformations for the people have proceeded from the central will of statesmen or from a minority enlightened by a great idea and deep knowledge. By contrast, with the broadening of the suffrage a lowering of State thought and a vulgarisation of opinion in the mass of the electors has taken place. This broadening in large States has either been introduced with the secret aim of concentrating power, or has itself led to dictatorship. In France universal suffrage was removed at the end of the last century with the cessation of the terror; but afterwards it was restored twice in order confirm the absolute rule in it of the two Napoleons. In Germany the introduction of universal suffrage was undoubtedly aimed at confirming the central power of the famous ruler [Bismarck] who acquired great popularity by the huge successes of his politics. What will happen after him, God only knows. "The game of collecting votes under the banner of democracy has become a common phenomenon in our time in almost all the European States, and it would seem that its lie has been displayed before all. However, nobody dares to rise up openly against this lie. The unfortunate people bears the burden, while the newspapers - the heralds of what is supposed to be public opinion - drown the cries of the people with their own shouts: 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' But for the unprejudiced mind it is clear that the whole of this game is nothing other than a struggle and fight of parties and a juggling with numbers and names. The votes - in themselves negligible quantities - receive a price in the hands of skilful agents. Their value is realized by various means and first of all by bribery in the various forms - from small cash and material payments to the handing out of profitable posts in excise and financial administration and in the civil service. Little by little a wholeText Box:  contingent of voters is formed, voters that are accustomed to sell their votes or their agents. It reaches the point, for example in France, where serious citizens, right-thinking and hard-working, turn away in huge numbers from the elections, feeling the complete impossibility of struggling with the gang of political agents. Besides bribery, violence and threats are put into play, and electoral terror is organized, by means of which the gang puts forward its candidate by force: we know the stormy pictures of electoral meetings at which weapons are taken up and killed and wounded remain on the field of battle."[12]

     In the new democracy, "the great lie of our age", reasoned argumentation is not needed to convince a mainly uneducated electorate. More important is the slick slogan. "The art of making generalizations serves for them [political activists pushing for power] as a most handy weapon. Every generalization comes about through a process of abstraction: out of a multitude of facts, some that do not serve the purpose are put aside completely, while others that do are grouped together and out of them a general formula is extracted. It is evident that the whole worthiness, that is, truthfulness and reliability, of this formula depends on the degree to which the facts from which it is drawn are of decisive importance, and the degree to which the facts which have been set aside as unsuitable are unimportant. The speed and facility with which general conclusions are drawn in our time are explained by the extremely cavalier way in which suitable facts are selected and generalized in this process. Hence the huge success of political orators and the striking influence of the general phrases on the masses into which they are cast. The crowd is quickly diverted by platitudes dressed up in loud phrases; it does not think to check them, for it is not able to do that: in this way unanimity in opinions is formed, a seeming, spectral unanimity. Nevertheless, it produces a striking result. This is called the voice of the people, with the addition - the voice of God. A sad and pitiful error! The facility with which [the people] is diverted by platitudes leads everywhere to the extreme demoralization of social thought, and to the weakening of the political nous of the whole nation. Present-day France presents a vivid example of this weakening. But even England is infected with the same illness.[13]


     "The basic principle of democracy is the equality of the citizens. But this word alone explains nothing. It is good if this equality is an equality of the right to serve one's country: each man is obliged to carry out this service according to his abilities and means, and participates to the degree that he is needed in administrative activity. That is how this concept was understood in the ancient democracies, especially in small States in which people could know each other, and public matters were discussed in the square. For the sake of self-preservation amidst the endless wars with neighbours, it was necessary to summon the best people to the government, and the best people were the most capable. Rome, which from the very beginning became a conquering republic, had to follow this same path, and its Senate became a gathering of the best people, who held in their hands the destinies of the State. 

     "But in modern democracies equality means the right of each and everyone to rule the affairs of his country - the right of a whole population of a large country to take part in the administration. On this is based the existing system of elections according to universal suffrage: in big States this leads to the preponderance of the masses, who belong to the least educated class and do not have a clear idea of State affairs, or of the people who are capable of administering them. It is evident that under this order the worthiness and ability of the elected person loses its significance: this is the essential difference between the new democracy and the old, and it is this that threatens destruction for the former. At the same time one should bear in mind that this mechanism of democracy is called to function in an epoch of an exceptional and unheard-of increase in the complexity of human affairs and relationships. Even one hundred years ago people did not dream of the present development of trade, industry and mechanisation, or of the present development of literature and the press with its huge significance, or of the present speed of communications, news and rumours of every kind. One can imagine how complicated all the functions of governmental and financial power, and the conditions in which they have to work, have become, and the innumerable quantity of facts and new ideas which the legislative power now has to reckon with.


     "In this condition of society democracy has a frightening task which it cannot cope with. On taking up the supreme power, it must take upon itself the affairs of the supreme power, and the most important of these is the choosing of men for posts and responsibilities. Everything depends on this; if it fails in this, every law, whatever it may be, loses its significance, and the fundamental order of the whole State institution is deprived of trust and wavers. For the people the government is an abstract idea insofar as it is not incarnated in agents of power who are in direct contact with the people and its justified needs: if these agents are chosen haphazardly or for wrong reasons, then the whole of their activity becomes a burning subject of rumours that disturb the opinion of the people, and a weapon in the hands of all opponents of firm authority, whatever it may be.


     "And so we see that from the time that the historical idea of people being called to State service in accordance with their estate and social position has lost all significance in democracy, service appointments have become a weapon in the hands of political parties which strengthen themselves by handing out posts. At the same time the number of posts increases exponentially, and this does not benefit, but burdens the people, since they serve not so much the general good as their own interests. But amidst general dissatisfaction, a passionate striving grows among the people to get well-paid and profitable posts. Everybody can see a picture of this fall in the new democracies in France, in Italy and in the United States. This fall is particularly evident in the higher and in the elective posts that have a political significance, sometimes even governors and members of legislative assemblies. Elective posts have a representative significance; administrative posts, by contrast, must in their essence be foreign to any such significance. But from the time of the French revolution the idea of this distinction has been completely muddied in the new democracy, and the contrary idea has become popular that administrative posts serve as a reward for people who have served this or that powerful party or who have this or that variety of opinions. Moreover, people do not ask whether the person is capable or not capable of carrying out the particular duties of his post. In the past everyone thought and believed that the ruler must be better than those whom he rules, and the experience of history has confirmed that all the achievements of civilization have been attained by the desires of the most capable people in spite of the opposition of the environment in which they had to work. But in the new democracy, in spite of this undoubted truth, the opinion has become entrenched that even a large State can be successfully administered by anyone, even someone unworthy. All this leads to demoralization, thanks to which the private interests of a party or company of people acquires a preponderant significance in society at the cost of the public interest.

     "A natural consequence of all this is the complete collapse of legislative assemblies or democratic parliaments [in contemporary France and Italy, for example]. According to the democratic theory the elected representative of the people is called to vote, not for what he recognizes to be useful for the people or reasonable and just, but for what the people of the party which has elected and sent him considers to be best and needed, even if this does not agree with his personal opinion. Thus the election of representative is turned into a game of parties, which is just as passionate as any competitive game - a game governed by intrigue, false promises and bribery. Thus even the legislature falls into the hands of unenlightened, undiscriminating, and often avaricious people, or people who are indifferent to everything that is not bound up with the interests of the party.[14] Little by little all the people of straight thinking, honourable spirit and higher culture withdraw from participating in this game, especially when each of them has in his hands the work of his own special calling. Parliament is turned into a machine pushing out of itself a mass of laws that have not been thought through or worked out, which contradict each other and are completely unnecessary, which do not protect freedom, but constrict it in the interests of one part or one company. 

     "Everybody to a greater or lesser degree feels and recognizes that the present democratic system of legislation is completely incoherent and based on a lie; and when a lie lies at the base of this institution, what is society to expect if not destruction? Democracy itself, we can say, has lost faith in its parliament, but is forced to be reconciled with it, because it has nothing to replace it with, and because everything that stood before has been destroyed, while democracy rejects in principle every idea of dictatorship. It is obvious to all that the falsely constructed building is wavering, is already shaking. But when and how it will fall, and what will arise on its ruins - that is the task of the sphinx that stands on the threshold of the twentieth century."[15]


     Pobedonostsev was right in what he rejected; but for all his good works and correct analyses he failed to provide a positive programme for the renewal of the empire. That was probably too much to ask of any man, however powerful. Nevertheless, there is truth in the remark made about him: “Like frost he inhibits any further decay, but nothing will grow under him…”[16]


October 11/24, 2018.

[1] Pobedonostev, in Protopriest Michael Ardov, "Arkhi-Kontrrevoliutsioner", Nasha Strana, N 2929, December 3, 2011, p. 3.

[2] Lieven, Nicholas II, London: Pimlico, 199, pp. 35-36.

[3] A.I. Peshkov, “’Kto razoriaet – mal vo Tsarstvii Khristovym’” (He who destroys is least in the Kingdom of Christ), in K.P. Pobedonostev, Sochinenia (Works), St. Petersburg, p. 3.

[4] Firsov, op. cit., pp. 42-43.

[5] Peshkov provides a certain, not very convincing correction to this point of view: “It is necessary to take into account that even in the Synod he did not have that direct administrative power which any minister in Russia’s Tsarist government possessed in the department subject to him, since the Most Holy Synod was a collegial organ, whose decision-making required the unanimity of its members. As Pobedonostev himself emphasized, ‘juridically I have no power to issue orders in the Church and the department. You have to refer to the Synod.’ In particular, when Metropolitan Isidore of St. Petersburg expressed himself against the publication in Russia of the New Testament in the translation of V.A. Zhukovsky, K.P. Pobedonostev had to publish it abroad, in Berlin…” (Peshkov, op. cit., p. 7)

[6] Firsov, op. cit., p. 77.

[7] Pobedonostev, Moskovskij Sbornik: Tserkov’ i Gosudarstvo (Moscow Anthology: Church and State),op. cit., p. 264.

[8] Pobedonostsev, op. cit., p. 266.

[9] Pobedonostsev, op. cit., pp. 268-269.

[10] Pobedonostsev, op. cit., pp. 271-275, 276-277.

[11] Pobedonostsev, "Novaia Demokratia" (The New Democracy), in Sochinenia (Works), St. Petersburg: "Nauka", 1996, p. 277.

[12] Pobedonostev, op. cit., pp. 278-279.

[13] Pobedonostsev, op. cit., pp. 279-280.

[14]As in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore: I always voted at my Party's call / And I never thought of thinking for myself at all. (V.M.)

15]Pobedonostsev, op. cit., pp. 281-283.

[16] Edvard Radzinsky, The Last Tsar, London: Arrow, 1992, p. 12.

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