Peter the Great and the Modern World

Tsar Peter drew on the knowledge and experience of Western Europe to benefit a Russia 'still groping in the dark' and attempted to 'put other civilised nations to the blush'

Leaving aside any precise definition of modernity, let us agree that a desire for improvement, a predilection for novelty, an attitude of mind that is proper to the avant-garde in any generation or epoch, were essential aspects of the mentalite of Peter the Great. This frame of mind also owes something to a historical conception of human society, to the belief that its changing condition and the changing condition of mankind are the result of a process which is measured by time. For the optimists the change deliberately effected by the exertions of man is one for the better. 'Today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today'. The world is knowable, describable and capable of improvement. Society can be transformed by the labour of man, of homo faber who is not a passive object of the revolutions of the wheel of fortune but moves forward of his own volition on an upward path leading to a glorious future. One of the driving forces in his progress is the desire for novelty or innovation. A potent instrument of change for the better is the ruler who has the wisdom to plan, and the power to enforce, reform.

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