This book explores the possibilities for rich and varied social, cultural, and political development under the rule of an autocratic state.
Seventeenth-century Muscovite society was theocentric, highly traditional, largely illiterate, and deeply dependent on the state in all aspects of life, and therefore does not at all fit Western definitions of a civil society.
Nevertheless, Muscovites found interstices in the overarching autocratic culture in which to conduct their own affairs as they wished.
It is this arena of early-modern social autonomy that this book investigates, focusing on the nature and limits of autonomous activity among a small but important part of Muscovite society, the provincial gentry. The author situates Muscovite history within a comparative framework, demonstrating that seventeenth-century Russia was neither backward nor peculiar, but developed its own variant of the concurrent state-building processes of Western European monarchies.
The author's comparisons enable us to understand and appreciate what the gentry of the Muscovite provinces did and thought, illuminating how they typified early-modern petty nobilities, notably in attempting accommodation with rising states and carving out autonomous spaces within and beneath state control.