"We have been told since time immemorial [...] that Nicholas II was a feckless (but bloody) dictator, who ruled over a lumbering empire in which millions of people went starving on a daily basis. This was never true. Fortunately, this cartoonish take on that period of Russian history is likewise being viewed with scrutiny. . ."
It is an old cliche that “history is written by the victors”. This is particularly true of revolutionary regimes, who feel that they must blacken all that came before in the most horrible way possible; a sort of “you’re so bad” I must be “really good” fallacy of logic.
In reality, this is perhaps the central conceit of the Enlightenment; namely, that progress is all and all that came before was defective. C S Lewis called it “chronological snobbery”. For the eminences of this movement, the Renaissance was a “rebirth” of civilization from the so-called Dark Ages.
Unfortunately, these same devotees could not quite explain how the great cathedrals of Europe were crafted during those “Dark Ages” or how the scientific method was first postulated in the Franciscan priories in the twelfth century, or even how the great universities arose during that same time period.
Oh well, I guess we can file that under a foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds.
That being said, this type of magical thinking/historiography has never left us. This is even more true during the last century when we were consistently told that all that came before Year ‘X’ was particularly bad, evil, or retrograde. When critics reply that what came after appeared worse, well then we are told that the Great Men who ushered in the New Age had good intentions. That’s basically the standard argument. You know, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
Nevertheless, the truth will eventually “win out” as they say.
I will interject at this point that we may be seeing the end of the progressive ideology. The Fall of Kabul to the Taliban indicates to me that realism is starting to interject itself into the collective minds of the West. It is my considered opinion that the false religions of BLM, homosexualism and feminism are on their last legs. Hopefully, Wilsonian exceptionalism will dissipate as well.
This is particularly true of the Romanov dynasty, which we have been told since time immemorial was horrible; that Nicholas II was a feckless (but bloody) dictator, who ruled over a lumbering empire in which millions of people went starving on a daily basis. This was never true. Fortunately, this cartoonish take on that period of Russian history is likewise being viewed with scrutiny. It should be remembered that Nicholas reigned over a Russia that was in its “Silver Age”, a time of relative peace and ever-growing prosperity as well as astounding cultural accomplishments.
It is thus with great pleasure that I recommend the book The Romanov Royal Martyrs: What Silence Could not Conceal. To be sure, it is written from a decidedly pro-Romanov standpoint, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good history. It is. And it provides contexts that were never taken into consideration before (or were even known). Be that as it may, the previous anti-Romanov historiography makes that bias necessary.
But it is no hagiography. Nicholas and his family truly were the models of decency and rectitude. As a man, he took all slanders that were directed to him stoically and never responded. He expected the same from his family which was particularly difficult for his wife, the former Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt, who was regularly slandered as a German spy.
They were also the very picture of Orthodox piety and constantly gave their time and resources to help the less fortunate. During the Great War, Empress Alexandra and her two eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, were certified as nurses and cared for the wounded day and night, often living in squalid conditions and doing so uncomplainingly.
The Romanov dynasty has long fascinated me. Particularly the figure of Tsar Nicholas II and the brutal murder of him and his family in Ekaterinburg. I have been a staunch anti-communist all my life, but I bought into the idea that Nicholas II was a repressive ruler, governed by the reactionary mindset of his late father.
Little did I know that upon his accession to the throne, he called for the formation of an international court of justice to which the nations of the world could take their grievances. Further, he recommended that all of the powers of Europe disarm so as to prevent further wars. His dream of an international court came into fruition in The Hague; his idea for universal disarmament, unfortunately, was never realized. In any event, while these ideas sound naive –unworkable even–they are not the product of a reactionary mind.
Upon receiving word that Nicholas wanted to create a permanent peace conference at the Hague, some 4,665 American citizens from all over the United States wrote this laudatory letter to him:
“We, the undersigned, sovereign citizens of the United States of America, without regard to race, creed, or political affinity, desire to express our hearty sympathy with the Czar’s noble effort for the cause of God and humanity. Appreciating the difficulties which confront him at home and abroad, we admire the high moral courage with which he dares to face them, in the faith which, in all ages, has removed mountains. We think of no more fitting place can be found from which to start an American crusade, than this city of Philadelphia (Brotherly Love) in this state of Pennsylvania, whose founder, in 1693, published an appeal for arbitration to the nations of Europe, while war was raging among them, and practically gave them an illustrious example of what a colony can be whose chief defenses are arbitration and justice extended to all men. Here, from the cradle of liberty, where later we proclaimed that not only ourselves, but all the world, had a right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ we stretch forth the helping hand to Russia, our friend, when she ‘bringeth good tidings, when she publisheth peace’. The Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, has called a conference of all those nations which sent representatives to St Petersburg, to meet at the Hague, May 18th, 1899, to consider a plan to promote ‘Arbitration and Gradual Disarmament’. We desire to send him the enclosed address of sympathy, and invite all who will unite with us to add their signatures.”
In 1897, Nicholas had instituted reforms in working conditions, specifically protecting women and children under the age of 17 from having to work evening or night shifts. Surprisingly, his reforms predated all of the other Western nations, as President William Howard Taft remark in 1913: “. . . the Russian Emperor has enacted labor legislation which not a single democratic state could boast of”.
Other forward-thinking initiatives, like hospitalization and medical care, were implemented for all under various medical cooperatives, the cost of which was a single ruble, per person, per year.
None of this sounds like a repressive government. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is progressivism as rightly understood.
More can, and will be, said about the increase in living standards. The purpose of this post is to illustrate the degree of deceit that many historians cultivated to calumniate Nicholas regarding a specific incident is known as Bloody Sunday, wherein several thousand striking workers were massacred.
Simply put, the entire incident was stage-managed by professional agitators and communist infiltrators, who knew full well that the Tsar was not going to be at the Winter Palace to hear the complaints of the striking workers. They knew that Nicholas had retired to Tsarskoe Selo days before but did nothing to inform the vast majority of workers that this was the case. The majority of the protestants were essentially duped by professional agitators. Worse, these agitators and provocateurs did everything they could to ensure that violence would ensue.
The workers, the vast majority of whom were patriotic Orthodox Christians, fervently believed that their Batiushka (“little Father”) would listen to their grievances. The revolutionaries and terrorists on the other hand, did everything possible to do whatever they could to make the urban proletariat of St Petersburg believe otherwise.
I highly recommend that if you are interested in learning more details about “Blood Sunday” that you watch this short (20 minute) documentary.
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