Chicherin, Boris Nikolaevich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chicherin, Boris Nikolaevich


Born May 26 (June 7), 1828, in Tambov; died Feb. 3 (16), 1904, in the village of Karaul, Tambov Province. Russian philosopher, historian, publicist, and public figure.

Chicherin was of noble birth. He studied under T. N. Granovskii and graduated from the law faculty of the University of Moscow in 1849. In 1853 he successfully defended his master’s thesis, Regional Institutions of Russia in the 17th Century (published 1856); he was retained at the university, where he was named professor of Russian law in 1861. In 1866 he defended his doctoral dissertation, On Popular Representation, which was published in book form (1866). In 1868, Chicherin was one of a group of professors who resigned in protest against violation of the university statute; he then lived in the village of Karaul, where he carried on his research work and participated in zemstvo activities. In 1882–83 he was mayor of Moscow; he was forced to resign by order of the emperor Alexander III because of a speech at the coronation in which the tsar misinterpreted an allusion made by Chicherin to the demand for a constitution.

From the mid-1850’s, Chicherin was a leader of the liberal Westernizers’ wing of the Russian social movement. Chicherin and K. D. Ravelin’s joint “Letter to the Editor” (published in Voices From Russia, vol. 1) was the first document to appear in print as a program of Russian liberalism. In September 1858, Chicherin traveled to London to talk with A. I. Herzen about changing the line of propaganda of the Free Russian Printing House. His attempt to persuade Herzen to make concessions to the liberals ended in complete rupture, thus initiating the separation of liberalism and democracy that marked Russian social thought in the second half of the 19th century.

Chicherin described the Peasant Reform of 1861 as “the greatest monument of Russian legislation,” and he took an extremely negative view of the revolutionary democrats’ activities; in the fall of 1861 he spoke out against the student movement, and he supported the government’s reactionary policy on Poland and the Polish Uprising of 1863–64. The political principle formulated by Chicherin—”liberal measures and strong rule”—was supported in governmental circles. In his works he developed the idea of gradual transition, through reforms, from autocracy to constitutional monarchy, which he considered the ideal form of government for Russia.

Chicherin was the most prominent theoretician of the current known as the state school of Russian historiography; he was the originator of the theory of “enslavement and emancipation of the estates,” which held that in the 16th and 17th centuries the government had created the estates and subordinated them to state interests; in the subsequent course of historical development, when the need for the “forcible lifelong service of the estates” had passed, the government supposedly began to emancipate them. This notion was the theoretical basis of the bourgeoisie’s and nobility’s liberalism, which was grounded in the idea of reforms “from the top.”

As a philosopher, Chicherin was the most notable representative of right-wing Hegelianism in Russia. In his later years he wrote various works on the natural sciences (chemistry, zoology, and descriptive geometry). His Memoirs (parts 1–4, Moscow, 1929–34) are a valuable source of historical information on social life and social movement in the second half of the 19th century.


Istoriia politicheskikh uchenii, parts 1–5. Moscow, 1869–1902.
Sobstvennost’ i gosudarstvo, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1882–83.
Kurs gosudarstvennoi nauki, parts 1–3. Moscow, 1894–98.
Filosofii aprava. Moscow, 1900.
Voprosy filosofii. Moscow, 1904.
Sistema khimicheskikh elementov. Moscow, 1911.


Kitaev, V. A. Ot frondy k okhranitel’stvu. Moscow, 1972.
Zor’kin, V. D. Iz istorii burzhuazno-liberal’not politicheskoi mysli Rossii 2-i poloviny XIX-nachala XX v. (B. N. Chicherin). Moscow, 1975.
Gul’binskii, I. B. N. Chicherin: Biobibliografich. ocherk. Moscow, 1914.
Porokh, I. V. “Polemika Gertsena s Chicherinym i otklik na nee v ’Sovremennike’.” In Istoriograficheskii sbornik, no. 2, [Saratov] 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.