Catherine the Great

Throughout history, Russia has been viewed as a regressive cluster of barely civilized people on the verge of barbarism.In the eighteenth century, ideas of science and secularism grasped hold of Europe, and Russian Czars, realizing how behind Muscovite culture was, sought out this knowledge, attempting to imbed it into Russian society.Catherine II was one of these Czars.She listened to both the ideas of the philosophes and the problems of her people and strove to enlighten Russia by codifying the laws, establishing an elected government, funding hospitals, and forming a functioning school board.Her attempts, however, were met with only partial success.Her reforms received much criticism, especially from the serfs, and Catherine was forced to realize, through the Pugachev Rebellion in 1773, that enlightening all of Russia was an impossibility.Catherine II's greatest glory was seen in her foreign policies, as she solved two fundamental problems for Russia by winning victories over Turkey and Poland.As well, she established a League of Armed Neutrality and spoke out against the French Revolution. Catherine's reign created both prosperity and poverty for Russia.In order to decide whether she was truly great, one must evaluate her accomplishments upon the foundation of Russian ideals.
At the end of the seventeenth century, Russia was a country in transition.The death of Czar Alexis in 1676 marked a change in Russian society, a movement from traditional Muscovite culture toward new, educated concepts.Reforms in the 1650s divided and weakened the Russian Orthodox Church, and a few bold individuals began to adopt a semi-westernized lifestyle.By western standards, however, Russia still seem backward, and at best, "a fringe nation of Europe…without benefit of middle class, universities, academies, or secular culture" (Oblensky and Stone 144).The rebellion of the musketeers, or streltsy, in 1682 ex…