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Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev (Константин Иванович Победоносцев in Russian) (1827 - 1907) was a Russian jurist, statesman, and thinker. Usually regarded as a prime representative of the Russian conservatism, he was a gray cardinal of the imperial politics during the reign of his disciple Alexander III of Russia.
Pobedonostsev studied at the School of Law in St.Petersburg, and entered the public service as an official in one of the Moscow departments of the senate. From 1860 to 1865 he was professor of civil law in the Moscow State University, and instructed the sons of Alexander II in the theory of law and administration.
In 1868, he became a senator in St.Petersburg, in 1872 - a member of the Council of the Empire, and in 1880 - chief procurator of the Holy Synod. He always showed himself an uncompromising conservative and never shrank from expressing boldly his opinions. Consequently, in the liberal circles he was always denounced as an obscurantist and an enemy of progress.
After the death of Alexander III, he lost much of his influence for Nicholas II, while clinging to his father's Russification policy and even extending it to Finland, disliked the idea of systematic religious persecution, and was not wholly averse from the partial emancipation of the Russian Church from civil control.
During the revolutionary tumult, which followed the disastrous war with Japan, Pobedonostsev, being nearly 80 years of age, retired from public affairs. He died on March 23rd, 1907 and was fictionalized as old senator Ableukhov in the great novel of Andrey Bely called Petersburg (1912).
Pobedonostsev held the view that human nature is sinful. Consequently, he rejected the Western ideals of freedom and independence as "dangerous delusions of nihilistic youth". In his own works, he would often cite other writers without proper reference, assuming that "thoughts and words of one individual belong not to him, but to mankind in general".
In the early years of the reign of Alexander II Pobedonostsev maintained, though keeping aloof from the Slavophiles, that Western institutions were radically bad in themselves and totally inapplicable to Russia. At that period, he contributed several papers to Alexander Herzen's radical periodical Voices from Russia.
He denounced democracy as "the insupportable dictatorship of vulgar crowd". Parliamentary methods of administration, modern judicial organization and procedures, trial by jury, freedom of the press, secular education - these were among the principal objects of his aversion. He subjected all of them to a severe analysis in his Reflections of a Russian Statesman.
To these dangerous products of Western rationalism he found a counterpoise in popular vis ineriiae, and in the respect of the masses for institutions developed slowly and automatically during the past centuries of national life. In his view, human society evolves naturally, just like a tree grows. Human mind is not capable to perceive the logic of social development. Any attempt to reform society is a violence and a crime. Among the practical deductions drawn from these premises is the necessity of preserving the autocratic power, and of fostering among the people the traditional veneration for the ritual of the national Church.
In the sphere of practical politics he exercised considerable influence by inspiring and encouraging the Russification policy of Alexander III, which found expression in an administrative nationalist propaganda and led to Tsarist Russia's most elaborately justified and most thoroughly carried-out programs of religious persecution, largely centered upon Russia's Jews.
He articulated the systematic policy of discrimination against Jews known as the May Laws of 1882 as designed to "cause one-third of the Jews to emigrate, one-third to accept baptism, and one-third to starve". In the period from 1881 to 1920, about two million of Russian Jews emigrated, mostly to the United States.
Although Pobedonostsev, especially during the later years of his life, was generally detested, there was at least one man who not only shared his views but also sympathized with him personally. It was the novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Their correspondance is still read with the utmost interest. "I believe that he is the only man who can save Russia from the revolution", wrote the Russian novelist.
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