Lev Aleksandrovich Tikhomirov (1852-1923) became one of Russia’s great theoreticians of monarchism, yet in a former life he was a leading ideologue for the left-terrorist People’s Will. While underground in Paris, Tikhomirov recovered the Orthodox faith of his childhood. After a radical shift in worldview, he requested and was granted pardon from the Tsar. Originally published in Moskovskie Vedomosti, here is an excerpt from his 1894 post-mortem reflection on Alexander III, the man to whom he owed his freedom in Russia. Translated by Mark Hackard.
Our most pious Ruler truly died before us the death of the righteous, without fear or despair. He himself declared how he felt death’s approach. This day, the 20th of October, was the one day of his reign when he was not working for his country. The evening before, he was still giving his decisions to questions of governance, and on papers from the 19th of October our progeny will see the notes made by his hand: “Seen.” On the 20th he announced his forthcoming end, calming his weeping spouse. “Do not worry. I’m completely at peace.” Few are granted such an end; no horrors disturbed him before death. Once more the Monarch communed with the Holy Mysteries. He prayed with Father John. He bade farewell to everyone, and no one did he forget. Slowly that solemn minute advanced upon him, and the Ruler, clearly conscious the entire time, beheld the two worlds on whose frontiers he was standing. There his weakening gaze was enlivened, his weakened heart beat stronger…What did he see before him? Only faith reveals to us the secret of the final breath, and Orthodox Russia believes that radiant angels bore his pure soul to the throne of God.
Our Tsar is no more. And here the scales have fallen from our eyes, and before us has appeared the magnificently captivating image of the bearer of an ideal, made fit for immortality.
As in the painting of a great artist, the closer one looks, the more one learns, and so for many years, many intellects will discover in him ever newer exhortations. But already we see with clarity something he has sanctified.
We shall present to monarchs for study that which is especially important in their duty, and we shall turn our attention to what is especially important for the understanding of peoples, who should also assist the actions of their monarchs.
In what condition of mind did Alexander III find the world upon his coronation?
The entire intellectual movement of modernity and the whole course of political life have taken the European world and everything under its influence to the total collapse of the idea of monarchy. Only in autocracy does this idea mature to its full height, but the vicissitudes of historical fate directed European monarchy along the path of absolutism. Two great men laid the foundation of the Christian state: Constantine and Charlemagne. Yet history strangled the work of the one and distorted that of the other. Our age was appointed to witness a third Ruler who would explain to the world the idea of the first two.
“What a heavy cross is my life,” Charlemagne says in legend, standing at the apex of power and glory. The idea of the monarch’s Christian exploits ever more fell away and was replaced by the idea of simple absolutism, that is the concentration of power, and still worse, the absorption of the state by the prince, expressed in the deplorably false formula, “L’Etat c’est moi.” Instead of struggle and instead of the cross, there appears le bon plaisir of the king. This distortion of the monarchical ideal, given by Christianity, could only have brought monarchy to unavoidable degradation.
The fall of the idea was so total that its meaning was even forgotten, as was its significance as an eternal principle. Monarchy began to be conceived as a form of government characteristic of only one period in the development of nations. Even those who admired the beauty of this principle could not rid themselves of the false belief that it is no longer for us, as if it is something already “outlived” and inapplicable to contemporary conditions. This rendered a special connotation to all the political activity of the so-called period of “reforms,” when attending to what was necessary, we ruined our work by constantly fitting it into presumed future limits on the autocracy and the preparation of the people for a future democracy. The belief that the idea of monarchy is something “outlived” is still more painfully evident among monarchists themselves, who, during the rule of Emperor Nicholas Pavlovich, feared to allow any comparison of their principle with a foreign one. And in our days, how many penetrating minds, loving the monarchical principle, cannot imagine it outside a certain ancient or medieval environment, thereby spoiling the radiant ideal of the future with an aspiration to an impossible turning back.
The arrival of a great man was needed to show the true meaning of an eternal principle. This was done by our unforgettable Ruler, who showed the whole world that now as in the days of old, without any turn backwards, without any “reaction” or violation of “modern” requirements whatsoever, an autocrat is possible, and that now, as always, the autocrat represents a higher form of authority, the most wise and comprehensible to the hearts of Christian peoples.
We should understand all the value of this instruction. Alexander III not only gave thirteen years of prosperity to his people. He demonstrated not only that we have the highest form of supreme authority; he made something incomparably greater understood, and not only to us alone, but to the whole world.
The fact of the matter is that forgetting the meaning of monarchy has made it impossible for the restless peoples of Europe. And its impossibility precisely now, namely in contemporary conditions, threatens the nations with the downfall of European culture and their own disintegration.
Indeed, if monarchy is impossible, if higher authority standing outside and above that of the people is impossible, then the drive to such an arrangement of society where democracy would be possible is unavoidable. Everywhere efforts are directed toward this objective.
But according to natural conditions, the people, the nation, is not uniform; it is a complex whole composed of various layers, of a multitude of groups. All of this variety and stratification are unavoidable and necessary for life, and the higher the culture, the more defined and exclusive they become, the more capable they are of entering into struggle with one another. Yet they cannot live at odds with each other. They need national unification in something singular above this conflict and equally attentive all interests.
Popular rule tries unifying the country in parliaments – a sorry attempt that quickly suffers collapse. Instead of unity, it has transferred over to a concentration of power all the hostility and struggles there are in a nation, and the better the idea of representation is realized, the more that shameful scenes of wheel-dealing carry over to the center of power. The more interests are represented in parliament, the more disunity appears in authority itself, the meaning of which is only in unification.
If centuries were required for the fall of the idea of monarchy in the West, then for the fall of the idea of representative government, a few decades were sufficient. All attempts have been made; there is no unity. And here, completely unavoidably, there emerged into the world the notion of destroying the complexity of composition within the nation itself, that complexity that gives us the pathetic and shameful scenes of parliamentary impotence. The idea of total leveling is seizing the West – everything should be the same. Thus initially held liberal democracy, which must unavoidably pass into social democracy. Everything must become equal, the same and without any differences…
Yes, of course, unity would then come. But then also would come cultural death. This danger is already recognized, but the West sees no other path and with feverish haste rushes to direct all its “progress” and all its reforms where the final end awaits them.
There amongst such deplorable work of self-destruction, the world saw before itself Alexander III, and with him the meaning of his ideal realized.
How much confusion falls away with one look at this grand reign! How many forgotten truths it reveals! Monarchy is not dictatorship, not simple absolutism. Dictatorship is the personified fulfillment of the people’s imminent will, and absolutism is its negation. Monarchy – in its autocratic ideal – can sometimes do that which dictatorship does, and can, if necessary, act by rejecting popular will. But in itself it stands higher than whatever will of the people there might be. Monarchy is the idea of subordination of interests and desires to higher truth.
In monarchy the nation seeks sanctification of all the manifestations of its complex life through subordination to the truth. Personal authority is needed for this, as only a man has a conscience, and only a man answers before God. Unlimited authority is needed, for any restriction on the power of the Tsar by people would free him from answering to his conscience and to God. Surrounded by restrictions, he would already be subject not to truth, but certain interests, one or another earthly power.
However, the unlimited and individual nature of decision are not the essence of monarchy, but only a necessary condition so that all social interests, their conflicts and their struggles, may be brought to agreement before an authority of the same truth that is above them all.
This is why the bearer of the ideal came into the world, according to the conviction expressed by all the world in recent days, as a Tsar of truth and peace. He should have been namely such, for the essence of monarchy is in the reconciling power of higher truth.
The monarch does not break the social structure of life; he neither destroys any differences created by its diversity, nor does he dismantle the great or the small, but everything he directs so that the development of all classes, all groups and all institutions in no way violates truth. And thereby he gives the nation that unity which was vainly sought in “representation” and now is to be achieved in suicidal equalization.
The monarch does not destroy self-initiative, advice, the work of popular thought, and he doesn’t negate the popular will when it exists. He is higher than all this. He is given not for destruction, but for direction. For him there is neither the wise man nor the fool, neither the strong nor the powerless, neither the majority nor the minority. For him there is only conscience and truth. He should see everything, but will support only that in which there is truth.
Emperor Alexander III showed that monarchy in its true essence is not anything transitional, obsolete or compatible only with one phase of cultural development, but is an eternal principle, always possible, always necessary, and the highest of all political principles. If at any time this principle becomes impossible for some nation, then it is not because of the condition of its culture, but because of the moral degeneration of the nation itself. Where people want to live according to truth, autocracy is necessary and always possible under any degree of culture.
Being the authority of truth, monarchy is impossible without religion. Outside of religion, personal authority gives only dictatorship or absolutism, but not monarchy. Only as the instrument of God’s will does the autocrat possess his personal and unlimited authority. Religion in monarchy is needed not only for the people. The people should believe in God so they may desire to subject themselves to truth – yet the autocrat needs faith all the more so, for in matters of state power, he is the intermediary between God and the people. The autocrat is limited neither by human authority nor popular will, but he does not have his will and his desires. His autocracy is not a privilege, but a simple concentration of human authority, and it is a grave struggle, a great service, the height of human selflessness and a cross, not a pleasure. Therefore monarchy receives its full meaning only in heredity. There is no future autocrat if there is no will, no wish to choose between the lot of the Tsar and the plough-man, but it is already appointed him to deny himself and assume the cross of authority. Not according to desire or the calling of one’s capabilities, but according to God’s purpose does he stand at his post. And he should not ask himself whether he has the strength, but rather he should only believe that if God chose him, the hesitations of man have no place.
It is in the greatness of subordination to the will of God that sanctification of our political life is given in the ideal of monarchy.
In those epochs when this ideal is alive and universal, one does not need to be a great man for the dignified passage of the autocrat’s vocation. Not all warriors are heroes, but in a well-organized army even the ordinary man finds the strength to heroically conquer and heroically die. And so it is in everything else. But with the advance of the age of demoralization and the neglect of the ideal, only a great chosen one may resurrect it in human hearts. There is nowhere for him to learn, for everything about does not help him, but only hinders. He must draw upon everything from within himself, and not just in that measure necessary for the execution of his duty, but in that which is needed to enlighten all his surroundings. Indeed, what help would it be to the world if Alexander III confined himself only to giving Russia thirteen years of prosperity? The bearer of the ideal is sent not so we would enjoy prosperity, remaining unworthy of it, but to awaken within us the aspiration to be worthy of the ideal.