Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tsarist Russia 1812. Republican America 2012?

"Moscow in 1812 was a sprawling city of about 250,000 inhabitants in fall. Throughout the winter months, when the nobles and their serfs returned from their country estates the population would increase by about 100,000. Rising out of a sea of single story wooden houses, many of them little more than huts, were the great stone palaces of the aristocracy. . . The palaces situated in large gardens were not nearly so numerous as the 6 cathedrals and 1500 churches that tended to the souls of the Muscovites. As elsewhere in Russia a citizen. . . either had everything or nothing. Everyone was either connected to the great families or served them. The small middle class consisted mainly of merchants and those who provided skilled services for the nobles or for the government. Many of these people were foreigners.

"To describe the Russian aristocrats are “conspicuous consumers” would be something of an understatement. . . This was underlined by the summer exodus of the nobility; when the nobles took their service entourages along, the population of the city was reduced by 28%. Yet even this statistic does not iclude everyone connected with the palaces, because staff remained behind to look after these empty “townhouses”.

"In addition to maintaining residences in St Petersburg (and Moscow). . . the great families duplicated their lavish domiciles in their summer residences outside Moscow and often on their vast agricultural domains. There, amid thousands of serfs, they lived in a grand style. To put it plainly, this very thin elite layer atop the Russian social strata was all the counted. The rest of the population were considered of little consequence. . .

"When word of what had happened at Borodino got around, the nobles at once put their serfs to work stripping their Moscow residences of all valuables. . . About 10,000 soldiers, wounded in battle needed to be moved but there were no wagons or draft teams left because everything that had wheels had been used to transport the property of the wealthy."

"Invoking the name of God, the aroused peasants committed unspeakable cruelties and almost every kind of torture imaginable to prolong the agony of their victims. In this they were morally abetted by the fact that the average Russian believed that all west Europeans were unbaptized heathens who had been led into holy Russia by the anti-Christ. This was the way the situation had been presented to the uneducated population; from St. Petersburg, Moscow and the Russian army headquarters, manifestos attesting to these “facts” were circulated in every market square."

From: 1812: Napoleon’s Russian Campaign by Richard K Riehn. McGraw Hill 1990.


  1. Yes, things never change. Minor amendments to the details, but no significant change.


  2. The names may have changed but the game is the same.

  3. Rob hates the signature I use at the bottom of my email, but it's as true today as it ever was:

    Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
    Blaise Pascal

    For Rob, I tried to remove it from my email but it won't delete.

  4. As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents more and more closely the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

    H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

  5. Coyote, that is a fabulous quotation. I thought Bush was it but Palen has him beat.


Comments are encouraged. But if you include a commercial link, it will be deleted. If you comment anonymously, please use a name or something to identify yourself.