Alexander Radishchev

Alexander Radishchev

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Alexander Nikolayevich Radishchev was a Russian
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

 author and social critic who was arrested and exiled under Catherine the Great. He brought the tradition of radicalism
Radicalism (historical)
The term Radical was used during the late 18th century for proponents of the Radical Movement. It later became a general pejorative term for those favoring or seeking political reforms which include dramatic changes to the social order...

 in Russian literature
Russian literature
Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia or its émigrés, and to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part of what was historically Russia or the Soviet Union...

 to prominence with the publication in 1790 of his Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow
Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow
The Journey From St. Petersburg to Moscow , published in 1790, was the most famous work by the Russian writer Aleksandr Nikolayevich Radishchev....

. His depiction of socio-economic conditions in Russia earned him exile to Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 until 1797.

Radishchev was born into a minor noble family on an estate just outside of Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

. His youth was spent with a relative in Moscow, where he was allowed to spend time at the newly established Moscow University. His family connections provided him with an opportunity to serve as a page in Catherine's court, where his exceptional service and intellectual capabilities set him apart. Because of his exceptional academic promise, Radishchev was chosen of one of a dozen young students to be sent abroad to acquire Western learning. For several years he studied at the University of Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

. His foreign education influenced his approach to Russian society, and upon his return he hoped to incorporate Enlightenment philosophies such as natural law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

 and the social contract
Social contract
The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept...

 to Russian conditions. He lauded revolutionaries like George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 and praised the early stages of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

. His most famous work - A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow - is a critique of Russian society. He was especially critical of serfdom and the limits to personal freedom imposed by the autocracy.

Catherine the Great
Catherine II of Russia
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great , Empress of Russia, was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg...

 read the work, viewed Radishchev's calls for reform as evidence of Jacobin
Jacobin (politics)
A Jacobin , in the context of the French Revolution, was a member of the Jacobin Club, a revolutionary far-left political movement. The Jacobin Club was the most famous political club of the French Revolution. So called from the Dominican convent where they originally met, in the Rue St. Jacques ,...

-style radicalism, and ordered copies of the text confiscated and destroyed. He was arrested and condemned to death. This sentence was later commuted to exile to Ilimsk
Ilimsk was a small town in Siberia, within today's Irkutsk Oblast of Russia. The town was flooded by the Ust-Ilimsk Reservoir in the mid-1970s....

 in Siberia, though before his exile he underwent both physical and psychological torture.

Radishchev was freed by Catherine's successor Tsar Paul, and attempted again to push for reforms in Russia's government. Under the reign of Alexander I, Radishchev was briefly employed to help revise Russian law, a realization of his lifelong dream. Unfortunately, his tenure in this administrative body was short and unsuccessful. In 1802 a despondent Radishchev - possibly threatened with another Siberian exile - committed suicide by drinking poison
In the context of biology, poisons are substances that can cause disturbances to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism....


See also

  • Nikolay Novikov
    Nikolay Novikov
    Nikolay Ivanovich Novikov was a Russian writer and philanthropist most representative of his country's Enlightenment. Frequently considered to be the first Russian journalist, he aimed at advancing the cultural and educational level of the Russian public....

  • the Decembrists