The Emperor Nicholas I is often portrayed as a martinet. That he certainly was, but Bruce Lincoln also tacitly makes the case that he was a tragic figure, that his successes led to his failures (most of them only apparent after his death), that he was imprisoned himself with an overpowering sense of duty. He believed firmly—I am tempted to say devoutly—in both Russia and the institution of its monarchy to the point that he convinced himself that they were equivalent. His faith in autocracy as the ultimate guardian of order, essential to government and society, may be understandable, if not pardoned: his grandfather and father perished in court intrigue, and his own murky succession was achieved by the repression of a revolt. He may have in fact been prescient—his son was assassinated and his grandson and namesake was the Tsar who lost everything—Empire, family, and life. In fact, much later grim history is foreshadowed by Nicholas’ international policy. He crushed Poland, allied himself with the monarchies he considered reliable, Prussia and Austria, and supported the feeble Ottomans before he turned on them. One can already see the beginnings of the complex web of alliances and enmities that caused World War I in Nicholas’ world. And like that war, Nicholas' Crimean War resulted from the same kind of missteps and miscalculations amid shifting alliances. It also exposed the hollowness of the mighty Russian Army, an untrained mass without real guns or an industry to manufacture them. Nicholas’ domestic policy was similarly a case of good if misguided intentions. He was initially curious about his vast realm, but his fear led him to rely on a tiny group of advisors, to encourage the censors and the domestic spies. The conspiracy that earned Dostoevsky a cruel mock execution appears to have been a debating society that was falling apart of its own volition. But what evidently started in curiosity turned into fear by the end of his reign; he created the infamous security apparatus known as the Third Section, and his censors were unhinged: they banned Plato and Tacitus, and mentions of a republic in classical works. Their hands squeezed Russian culture so tight that, Lincoln finds, culture virtually ceased. In his reliance on the security apparatus, his capricious application of punishment, and his faith in his own system, he provides an eerily accurate forecast of the Soviets.
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