To what extent was Peter the Great's personality more of a disadvantage than an advantage in his attempts to reform Russia?

Essay by cheskiesCollege, UndergraduateB, May 2008

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Peter the Great’s manic will to implement his ideas was fundamental to his personality. His reign was therefore a metamorphosis for Russia. The army became effective, a navy was created, political stability was achieved, industry increased, old Russia- as exemplified by the Church and the Boyar tradition- were modernised and, through the creation of St Petersburg, the route to the west was opened both geographically and symbolically. The autocratic and rapid implementation of his reform was seldom based on sound planning due to a lack of consistency in his character. This led to economic suffering and in some cases the later reverse of the reform themselves.

Peter’s administrative and political reforms were not fundamentally radical. He may have borrowed ideas from the West but he also maintained part of the old Muscovite system. Lack of innovation becomes evident as the Petrine superstructure was frequently discarded by Peter’s successors to be replaced with their own institutions.

Peter’s simple-minded personality is the key factor behind such political failure. To quote the Empress Catherine as she thoroughly examined Peter’s papers ‘Peter did not know himself what laws were necessary to the state.’His constitutional reforms were short lived, and this was partly down to his authoritarian nature as well as a lack in political understanding. The Muscovite structure of central government was based on the autocracy of the Tsar surrounded by the Boyars’ parliamentary Duma, the Zemskii Sobor- who were influential nobles- and the Prikazi, the government departments under the Duma’s control. The institutions overalapped, Peter did not take their advice seriously and they were therefore inefficient. Peter replaced the Duma and the Zemskii Sobor with a Senate in 1711, with a mere 9 members. But for all his introduction of new institutions Peter preferred to rule as an autocrat and his successors bypassed...