Dissertation Defense: Stanislav Tarasov
Candiatate Name: Stanislav Tarasov
Advisor: Michael David-Fox, Ph.D. and Catherine Evtuhov, Ph.D.
Title: Noble Feelings of Dissent: Russian Emotional Culture and the Decembrist Revolt of 1825
This dissertation explores two intertwined topics of the Russian elites’ emotional culture at the turn of the 19th century and its role in the failed military revolution in December 1825. The unusual and tragic outcome of Russia’s first revolutionary attempt has long puzzled scholars, who traditionally dwell on politics and leaders of this revolt. This project shifts the focus to the sociocultural environment of the protest movements – how dissent emanates from and transgresses the established norms and ideas. Utilizing the methodological tools of history of emotions, it stresses the intellectual debt of the “Decembrist rebels” to their fathers and contemporaries as expressed in the emotional culture of the nobility. The “letters” of the late 18th century reveal the Russian appropriation of the European philosophy of “moral sentiments” and Sentimentalism. The Russian Enlightenment equated moral virtues with sensibility and redefined “nobleness” as built on “noble
feelings” of compassionate patriotism, and honor that became a cornerstone of service ethic and a part of public debate. The Decembrist generation of the early 19th century imbibed these emotional ideas from their own fathers and public education. The Napoleonic Wars further transformed noble emotional culture, shifting the aims of patriotism from the monarch to the nation and drawing attention to the “people.”
The Decembrists’ story is also about the transformation of the nobility’s ethos of service and attitudes towards the throne. The late eighteenth-century discovery of the inner world of moral virtues and emotional nobleness led Russian nobility to perceive their monarchs as possessing human emotions and weaknesses as well. The state educational efforts to create a moral and useful citizen prompted the nobility to expect the same from the monarch and prioritize the nation and its people as the main objects of service and patriotic devotion. The same culture of moral “noble feelings” engendered the noblemen’s and officers’ disappointment with policies of Alexander I (1801-1825), served as a unifying factor for the politically divergent secret societies and provided
a script for a non-violent sacrificial mode of military rebellion.