Document Type


Date of Award



Poli︠e︡novʺ, Aleksi︠e︡ĭ I︠A︡kovlevichʺ, 1738-1816 Social reformers, Russia, Intellectual life Russia, History, Catherine II, 1762-1796

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sidney S. Harcave

Second Advisor

Norman F. Cantor

Third Advisor

Alton S. Donnelly


Overall, it might be said that the search for the causes of gentry alienation in the eighteenth century; while contributing much to our understanding of the Russian intelligentsia, has left many questions unanswered in regard to the nature both of the intelligentsia and of the Russian social reform movement. Insofar as social critics were non-noble, un-"alienated" and active prior to the last decades of the century, they constitute a relatively unexplored chapter in the history of Russian social thought. It is this problem which provides the focus for the dissertation which follows.


For the student seeking to understand the evolution of Russian social thought in the eighteenth century, the life and works of Aleksei Polenov hold much the same interest as they did for Russian social reformers of a century ago. It is not possible, of course, to view his reforms from the same perspective as his descendants. Dmitrii Vasil'evich supposed that his grandfather had taken a major step in the process which had led to a successful resolution of Russia's social ills. The historian can better see in the reform thought of the 1760's early examples of what was ultimately an unsuccessful effort to confront the immense complexities of social change in Russia. The difficulties of Russian social reform, however, though clearly foreshadowed in the proposals of Aleksei Polenov, should not detract from the insights which can be gained from his works into those crucial years of the 1760's, when, as the literature of the Alexandrine era suggests. educated and socially conscious Russians turned to the problems of social change and the resistance to it posed by the age-old traditions of Muscovite culture. I have thus confined m analysis of the contradictions and shortcomings in Polenov's proposals to a final section in the Conclusion, and have instead sought to understand the circumstances, ideas and attitudes which made reform seem desirable and possible to Polenov in the 1760's.It should be made clear from the very beginning that a complete biograppy of Polenov is not what has been undertaken in the chapters that follow. Given the small amount of material available. such a biography is not possible. Rather, I have let Polenov's essay serve as the main object of inquiry and have explored, in the context of both European and Russian thought, the sources of the suppositions and opinions on which his proposals were based. I have also given detailed consideration to the institutional circumstances surrounding Polenov's early intellectual development and the opportunity which presented itself to compose and submit a comprehensive essay on social reform. Thus, I treat such topics as Polenov's early academic training at the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, his five years at Strasbourg University, the founding of the Free Economic Society and the relationship of this to the essay competition to which Polenov responded, the intellectual milieu at Court which encouraged public social criticism during this period, and finally, the nature of Polenov's essay itself as a reflection of this myriad of intellectual and institutional influences. Almost by accident this material sheds light on the otherwise completely abscure personality of Polenov, a personality which nonetheless reveals, particularly in the context of his political struggles with the Academy of Sciences Chancellery, sufficient elements of impulsiveness, combativemess and personal frustration to place in better perspective the impassioned alienation of civil servants such as Alexander Radishchev a generation later.

I should make it clear that I have not explored the general question of Polenov's influence on his comtemporaries or on the subsequent development of Russian social thought. It is worth noting, however, that Dmitrii Polenov was of the opinion that Aleksei Iakovlevich's views had 3 meaningful impact on social criticism and reform movements in the later period. If, in this case, Dmitrii Vasil'evich's admiration of his grandfather seems to cloud his objectivity, it might be recollected that Aleksei's contacts with Russia's better-known social critics included a period of time spent in close proximity to the young Radishchev in the Senate Chancellery. Dmitrii's claim, therefore, that Aleksei played a significant role in the evolution of a Russian reform tradition may yet prove to have merit.