Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Deja vu (Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, pp. 240-241)

"Finally, no assessment of Russia's overall capacities in this period can avoid some comments on the regime itself. Although certain foreign conservatives admired its autocratic and centralized system, arguing that it gave a greater consistency and strength to national policies than the western democracies were capable of, a closer examination would have revealed innumerable flaws. Czar Nicholas II was a Potemkin village in person, simple-minded, reclusive, disliking difficult decisions, and blindly convinced of his sacred relationship with the Russian people (in whose real welfare, of course, he showed no interest). The methods of governmental decision-making at the higher levels were enough to give 'Byzantinism' a bad name: irresponsible grand dukes, the emotionally unbalanced empress, reactionary generals, and corrupt speculators, outweighing by far the number of diligent and intelligent ministers whom the regime could recruit and who, only occasionally, could reach the czar's ear. The lack of consultation and understanding between, say, the foreign ministry and the military was at times frightening. The court's attitude to the assembly (the Duma) was one of unconcealed contempt. Achieving radical reforms in this atmosphere was impossible, when the aristocracy cared only for its privileges and czar cared only for his peace of mind."

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