Russian history can be described as a series of efforts to unite and advance its highly traditional civilization. Plagued by invasions and hindered by its vast distances, lack of communication, and extensive ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, Russian society was aptly called socially backward. Following its patriarchic heritage, two institutions arose that characterized Russian culture, the autocracy and serfdom. However, its unique society can be seen as the primary impediment to Russia's attempts to modernize during the late 1700's and 1800's. The wishes of the tsars were just incompatible with the cultural heritage that dominated life for the peasant majority. This failure in domestic policy engendered widespread discontent in the educated minority, known as the intelligensia, who would eventually organize the social revolutionary movements that would end the tsarist regimes.
Due to its insular and xenophobic ideology, Russian society was excluded from the social movements that progressed European civilization such as the Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution.
As a result of their technological achievements and economic prosperity, the nations of Western Europe flourished as they began to claim spheres of influence in undeveloped countries where wealth was generated by exploiting their markets. Influenced by the accomplishments of Western Europe, Peter the Great yearned for Russia to surpass its western neighbors. During his reign in the 1700's, he encouraged his country's culture to emulate the West, even building a new capital in the western most part of his country and fashioning its architecture after French design. Yet, the Russian populace had no desire for social change, they were seeped in their traditions. Realizing this impasse, Peter tried to achieve his goal through force and repression. He did so by reorganizing the tsarist government and subjugating the nobility to make it serve the state.
Years later, Nicholas I realized...