Konstantin Kavelin

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kavelin, Konstantin Dmitrievich


Born Nov. 4 (16), 1818, in St. Petersburg; died May 3 (15), 1885, in St. Petersburg. Russian historian, lawyer, sociologist. Bourgeois liberal publicist. Member of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry).

Kavelin graduated from the law department of Moscow University in 1839. He was a professor at the University of St. Petersburg from 1857 to 1861. Close to T. N. Granovskii and A. I. Herzen, Kavelin was a Westernizer during the 1840’s. In 1855 he composed and distributed copies of his Notes proposing the state-aided emancipation of the peasants with land in return for a redemption fee paid to the landlords. The Notes were published by A. I. Herzen in Voices From Russia (1857, book 3) and N. G. Chernyshevskii in Sovremennik (1858, book 4). As a result, Kavelin was dismissed from his position as lecturer in history and law to the heir to the throne.

During the preparation and implementation of the peasant reforms of 1861, Kavelin supported the government’s undertakings from a liberal standpoint. However, by the end of 1861, Kavelin’s moderate liberalism became transformed into outright opposition to revolutionary democratic forces. In his pamphlet The Nobility and the Emancipation of the Peasants (1862), Kavelin opposed the idea of a constitution and defended strong autocratic power. Beginning in the late 1850’s he moved closer to the point of view of the Slavophiles. In 1866 he presented the profoundly conservative notes On Nihilism and the Essential Measures to Be Taken Against It to the tsar. From the 1860’s through the 1880’s he opposed the materialist approach in questions of psychology and ethics.

The historical views of Kavelin, who, along with B. N. Chicherin, became a founder of the “state school,” were formulated most clearly in A Look at the Legal Life of Old Russia (1847), A Brief Look at Russian History (1887), and Thoughts and Notes on Russian History (1866). Kavelin developed the notion of the crucial role of the state in the life of the people. According to Kavelin the state was the highest form of social life in the history of Russia. In his works, Kavelin characteristically dealt with the general questions of history through the prism of legal relations, an approach that tended to give his analyses (which took a publicistic form) a highly political nature.


Sobr. soch., vols. 1–4. St. Petersburg, 1897–1900.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See reference volume, part 2, p. 404.)
Rozental’, V. N. “Ideinye tsentry liberal’nogo dvizheniia v Rossii nakanune revoliutsionnoi situatsii.” In the collection Revoliutsionnaia situatsiia v Rossii v 1859–1861 gg. (vol. 3). Moscow, 1963.
Rozental’, V. N. “Pervoe otkrytoe vystuplenie russkikh liberalov v 1855–1856 gg.” Istoriia SSSR, 1958, no. 2.
Ocherki istorii istoricheskoi nauki v SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Four years later, Konstantin Kavelin published a more famous essay on a similar topic, "A Survey of Juridical Life in Old Russia," one of the defining statements of Russian Westernism.
Russian Westernism of the 1840s and 1850s produced three of the country's great liberals: Timofei Granovskii, Konstantin Kavelin, and Boris Chicherin.
A much better known figure is Novikov, whose implicit linkage of freedom of conscience and human dignity in his essay "On Human Dignity in Relation to God and the World" anticipates to a certain extent the thought of Konstantin Kavelin, Boris Chicherin, and Vladimir Solov'ev (on them, see below).
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