The price of classics

Count Sergey S. Uvarov, the inventor of the official triad, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality”, was a renowned classicist and the founder of the classics-based gymnasium system in Russia. For more than twenty years Uvarov corresponded with Goethe, who predictably influenced the younger man’s thinking. But here’s what the prominent historian Sergey M. Soloviev says in his Notes for My Children (and If Possible, For Others) [incomplete text]:

Uvarov was a brilliantly gifted man, no doubt; and those gifts, together with his education and liberal mode of thinking… made him capable for the position of a minister of education, a president of the academy of sciences, etc. etc., but there was a great discrepancy between the talents of his heart and of his mind. Playing the part of a patrician landowner, Uvarov had nothing truly aristocratic in himself: on the contrary, he was a servant who had adopted decent manners in the house of a decent master (Alexander I) but remained a servant at heart. He spared no means, no flattery to please the new master (emperor Nicholas), inculcating in him the thought that he, Nicholas, was the originator of a new kind of education based on new elements; Uvarov actually invented these elements, i.e., the words Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality — Orthodoxy, although an atheist, not believing in Christ even in a Protestant way; autocracy, being a liberal; nationality, not having read a single Russian book in his life, always writing in French or German.

Uvarov did not invent classical gymnasia – was it Wilhelm von Humboldt? – and of course they were not based on the OAN triad at all. Perhaps it was a marketing trick that helped Uvarov sell the educational novelty to Nicholas I. That system, later complemented by comprehensive and commercial schools, worked out rather well in pre-1917 Russia. Classics in Russia 1700-1855: Between Two Bronze Horsemen by the Dutch scholar M.A. Wes appears to be an excellent source on Uvarov and his work.


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