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A Patrimonial State

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In Western Europe, particularly after the sixteenth-century Reformation, the Christian religion motivated individuals to engage in some kind of profitable economic activity. Economic success strengthened the belief of the faithful that they were the chosen ones, destined for future individual salvation. Western Christianity roused Europeans to seek economic prosperity. It encouraged them to develop civil society as a means of protecting their business interests and civil rights.  

By contrast, in Russia the Orthodox religion promised its people not individual but collectivist salvation. The Russian people were prescribed by their religion to engage in a centuries-long quest for a true Christian tsar, to pin their hopes on his ability to resolve their grievances in this world and ensure their salvation in the next.

The gradual secularization of these beliefs crystallized into two divergent value systems. In the West, professional success became one of the chief criteria for the evaluation of a persons activity. In Russia, the idea of bringing closer the existing, imperfect world to the divine order resulted in the rise of a collectivist movement in search of a better future based on collectivist foundations. This luminous future was to be achieved not through individual enrichment but by strict adherence to the ideal of social justice. With the collapse of tsarism in 1917, the charismatic power of the Communist leader replaced the divine authority of the emperor as the force that showed the way to the radiant collectivist future.

The Orthodox Church by its precepts greatly enhanced the sanctity and legitimacy of the Russian autocracy. The tsar was not merely an absolute ruler but one whose authority was derived from God. There were no recognized formal limits on his political authority and no rule of law to curb his arbitrary will.

The state, like the Russian autocracy, which completely dominates society and treats its subjects as its property, is sometimes referred to as patrimonial. It stifles the freedoms of private and public life and inhibits the emergence of organized associations and self-governing bodies that would represent the interests of different sections of society. In other words, it suppresses all those things that characterize modern forms of the political life of the state. Russia remained firmly in the grip of the autocracy practically right to the very end of tsarism in 1917, when it was supplanted by a Communist dictatorship.

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