Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, one of the more influential intellectuals of Russia in the eighteenth century, wrote three essays or treatises on Russian nationalism, each of which deal with some aspect of Russian intellectualism and Enlightenment. His first, “Love of Country and National Pride”, is a great example of the Romantic Movement in Russia as he writes about three kinds of love for ones country. “Love of country may be physical, moral and spiritual”, wrote Karamzin; however, he wrote nearly the whole treatise, except for maybe three paragraphs on the physical love for ones country. This is indeed a very good example of the Romantic Movement. He began by illustrating this love through the national’s expressions of missing his motherland when he was in some distant land. He also made the interesting point (though this can be read between the lines) that such a national pride is subjective; that is, each national is proud about his or her country in a way that no foreigner could understand. Enter the example of the Laplander. “The Laplander, born almost in the grave of nature, nonetheless loves the cold gloom of his land. Move him to happy Italy, and his eye and heart will turn to the north as does a magnet” (107). While to the author, Italy may be a “happy” place, the Laplander would not think so. This whole treatise is replete with heart oriented sentiments toward the love for Russia. Yet how did this article challenge the authority of the autocracy? While the autocracy may not be challenged directly, there are some rather “republican” ideas floating in this article which make it seem like the growth of national pride rests in the people’s hands, rather than the tsar’s. Firstly, Karamzin presses for an atmosphere of uprightness which requires humility. While humility is one of the greatest virtues, humility before other Western nations (another theme replete in Karamzin’s articles) is most likely not what a Russian autocrat wants to pursue. Yet there is one slight poke at Alexander toward the middle of this treatise when he hints that Alexander is not too fond of having a memorial made to Nizhnii Novgorod, a Russian national. It seems Alexander and Karamzin differ on the manner of how to broadcast or promote national pride.
Karamzin’s second treatise is concerned with the book industry in Russia. It might seem odd to us Westerners that such a topic would be used to promote nationalism but we must remember that Russia entered the Enlightenment Age later than Western Europe. This was certainly an exciting time for someone like Karamzin who saw the printing of large numbers of books as a sign of “progress and knowledge”. Karamzin humbly states many times how their book industry and novels do not exceed that of the French or the English but yet he is still very proud of them. The only bit of this article that may have to do with the question posed is in the end where he expresses joy that the public is reading novels (116). While this may not seem like much harm, novels can do strange things to the public and if there were any kind of anti-autocratic propaganda in it; it might get the populace to rise up.
Karamzin’s third article is actually a foreword to a book known as “History of the Russian State”. In this foreword he describes the need for history to be broadcasted to the public. He also speaks of how other nations have done this and thus reasons that Russia should do the same. In respect to the aforementioned question, Karamzin makes a point which may seem rather threatening to the authority of the tsars. First of all he states that “rulers and legislators act according to what history teaches, and consult its pages as does a navigator at his charts” (117). He is certainly right but it seems like his language may be such that he is saying that the rulers should consult history for their guides how to rule.
From looking at these articles, there is little evidence of animosity toward the autocracy yet perhaps these texts are not opposing in their tone but they do embody the spirit of Russian nationalism. Perhaps the influence of French nationalism might produce some thoughts of revolution or democracy; both of which would be counterproductive to the reign of the tsars. There were revolutions in Russia at this time but from looking at these articles they don’t seem to be anti-autocracy.