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Law and Church in Russia during the late middle ages

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  • Russian Pravda

The first arrival of the ‘Russian Pravda’ appeared to be in 1016 and reached its completion in 1170s. In fact, those series of documents were regarded as the most fundamental principle of Russian law until 1546.

The document started as a court handbook in order to provide protection of the people in Novgorod against the various Vikings’ oppression. Throughout the years, many new chapters took place in it , considering different aspects of the Russian society. For instance, Vladimir Monomakh’ (1113–25) was particularly concerned about the debts and how they were paid, since he introduced a new accretions to the document concerning that problem. Furthermore, around 1176, a new chapter was added regarding the status of the ‘slaves’ – which claimed for the first time that the slaves were not animals,but human beings like everyone else with true characters. Despite the existence of those fundamental affairs, it is quite astonishing the fact that by and large the document was consisted of oral evidences written down. But for Pravda, Russian law would have continued its path as providing only oral evidences with questionable faithfulness.

However, according to the document, the possibility of banishment and exile was as strong as the corporal punishment and execution. In its principle the Russian law was somewhat unfair regarding the women, for example if there were no heirs, the land was passed to the prince. It was not permitted to the wives to inherit anything, neither the children of female slaves. On the other hand, another major function of the law was to preserve the Christianity and protect it, facilitating male superiority, but providing protection towards the helpless women and enforcing the feeling of collective responsibility.

Indeed, as every political document, Russian Pravda took over questions as supporting the military power,private property and business trade.

 

  • Church law

The Church was another major body of the political and social structure of mediaeval Russia with its own laws and rules. The church of Russia was almost as powerful and with inhospitable predominance as in other places around Europe at that time, in terms of staying above the ruler of the country.

In fact, there are to major points ,which are worth to be mentioned in relation with the status of the church law. First of all, the Church people (which population consisted not only by the clergies, bishops,monks and priests, but also widows, beggars and free men) were not permitted to be juridical subjects. In other words , they were not allowed to impose decisions and making judgments regarding the crime in the country. As an quite opposition to the previous prohibition, the second point illustrated how the Church was given right to impose its judgment over some family and common issues, which was viewed by many people as sheer violation of the communal law.

During the 15th century, many questions were raised in close relation with the succession of the dynasty or in correlation with the conflicts between the representatives of the Old Testament, but above all the most important one was the role of the Orthodox Church in the world. Gaining more and more land, the Church in Russia at the very end of 15tth century owned around third of the populated land of Muscovy. This refracted with little sympathy and outrageous rage among many people, who urged that the major objective of the church should have been anything, but the souls’ salvation of the people.

As usual , there were two major views of those who accused the church of Godless by its actions and those who interceded it.  The first called themselves ‘nonpossessors’ , they believed in the holiness of the Church’s image, in the simplicity in which monks should have to lived and in the disengagement of everything, but searching for spirituality. On the second front were the so-called ‘possessors’ whose argument was that in possessing a land, the church was involved in responsibility of regulating society’s needs, those needs included in themselves the schools and the hospitals. Joseph Volokolamsky,fervent defender even said ‘God’s holy churches and monasteries must not suffer injury or violence, and their lands and belongings must not be taken away. … For all Church and monastery property, as well as the fruits of the monks’ labor, are dedicated to God. … He who takes away anything that belongs to a monastery is an offender, and the holy regulations curse him.’

However, we should not take those words as a face value and turn a blind eye on the situation, but consider the both sides with equal judgment. In 1508, Vasilii (Vasily or Basil) III (1479-1533) ascended the throne and became grand prince of Moscovy. According to the historical records, he made everything possible to expand the Church authority and refused to consider the ‘nonpossessors’ objections. It is pretty obvious, how his actions worked in completely unison with his intentions to reinforce his authority and secure his centralization at the same time.  Vassian (Ivan) Patrikieev, who appeared in the court of the prince in order to raise his voice against these misjudgments, said ‘Where in the tradition of the Gospels, Apostles, and Fathers are monks ordered to acquire populous villages and enslave peasants to the brotherhood? …. We look into the hands of the rich, fawn slavishly, flatter them to get out of them some little village. … We wrong and rob and sell Christians, our brothers. We torture them with scourges like wild beasts.

Here we have either one unsolved question whether one of the speculations was untrue and absolutely unfair or we could see how , not for the first time and surely not for the last, the authority works against the common good of the people.

Karl Marx -a man of clear vision

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Karl Marx- a philosopher, journalist, writer, economist, sociologist, historian-but who was the man behind these layers of labels? Behind them stood a dreamer with comparatively different perspective on the world for his time . Marx was born in 1818 in Prussia, his father was successful lawyer and also a Jew, who was find compelled to be baptized due to the anti-Jewish movements and laws in the country. Being well-educated in Benn and Berlin, studing philosophy, history and law, Marx was destined to receive great knowledge of the world and its government. Unfortunately, he was far from satisfied and quite disappointed and devoted to his radical convictions he went on the journalism. As a journalist, he shortly worked as an editor of e Rheinische Zeitung, until the newspaper was banned due to the censorship imposed by the Russian government. Therefore Prussia didnothing, but abided by the decision.

However, during his studies in Berlin, Marx became more and more interesting in philosophy, he was almost part of the so called “Young Hegelians ’’ society, in which he converted himself into passionate supporter of Hegel’s philosophy, but without accepting whole his concepts and making some criticizing remarks on his own. For example, according to Hegel the reality itself is composed by the vision of some Idea, while Marx argued that it is the Man, who is the true subject of the reality. However, despite being eager to achieve something new and impose justice where it was missed, the reality in which Marx lived was a harsh one. In his early years when he lived in London around 1850s, he and his wife experienced depravation of living in poverty. This is an fragment of letter, which he wrote to his friend Friedrich Engels, depicting explicitly clear about the situation –‘My house is a hospital and the crisis is so disrupting that it requires all my attention. My wife is ill, Jennychen is ill and Lenchen has a kind of nervous fever. I couldn’t and can’t call the doctor, because I have no money for the medicine. For ten days I have managed to feed the family on bread and potatoes, but it is doubtful whether I can get hold of any today. How can I deal with all this devilish filth? ‘. Fortunately enough, Engels helped him out to come though those struggles, setting up some king of pension for his friend.

Despite the fact that few people ,if not nobody, doubted the intelligence of Marx, he was a hard nut to crack. Indeed, his personality was not the most pleasant one when it comes down to accepting or acknowledge somebody ‘s opinion. Many people depicted him with an arrogant, stubborn and sarcastic personality without omniscient features. For instance, his Russian rival Mikhail Bakunin said ‘“He called me a sentimental idealist and he was right. I called him vain, treacherous, and morose; and I too was right.”

Nevertheless, in a long term, it do not matter the personality of the person,but his achievement, and Carl Marx did achieve much. His vision of the world laid to the foundation of the new order and new attitude towards the social class struggle. This struggle was one of the main points in the Marxism as a theoretical knowledge and vision. Briefly, Marx was fervent opponent of the capitalism with its ruthless exploitation and unfair treatment towards the classes. The explanation of that exploitation is quite simple –society in which people receive less than they produce is capitalistic one, indeed we could see how this regime is put into practice in many regions around the world, not only in the lest developed countries.

In one of his major works (Das Capital) Capital, Marx described in detail the vagueness of the vision of the capitalism and its true nature. He himself put it extremely clear how the capitalist’s society runs and what future implications brings with its actions. ‘The contradictions inherent in the movement of capitalist society impress themselves upon the practical bourgeois most strikingly in the changes of the periodic cycle, through which modern industry runs, and whose crowning point is the universal crisis.’ Karl Marx , London 1873 Marx had a vision of the world, where the universal class- labour struggle did not existed anymore and the private enterprises were converted into collective ownership. He called ‘socialism’, the one which would wipe out the furious capitalism once and for all. Being quite convince, Marx wrote that the new regime should be born from ashes of the old one as if the mankind needed to preserve its observations in the course of the formation of the new one. For instance, he provided clear explanation how the capitalist society could provide solid grounds and preparation for socialism in the end of ‘Das Capital’ Volume One.

The most distinctive character of the socialism, which made clear demarcation between itself and the capitalism, is the very principle of distribution. (‘. . . a community of free individuals, carrying on their labour with the means of production in common, in which the labour-power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour-power of the community.’ ‘Das Capital’). We could easily grasp the importance of the distribution of labour, once we understand its fundamental principle in which the individuals work together in the single body of the society as a whole. The motto of the capitalism is clear ‘everyone for himself ’ while the socialism tries to tighten up everyone in one single grasp. With these ‘grasp’ Marx claimed that the class differences and the coercive force over the people would disappear.

Some people flatly contradict and refuse to accept these ideas , as such concepts are implausible and even impossible to be accomplished. Could it be possible for us to live without being govern by no one, and what are the chances of our survival in such society? In its peak, the communism doctrine ended up like a new dictatorship and Engels was able to predict such an outcome by saying ‘`the government of people will be replaced by the administration of things’ (1884).

However, it is not clear whether someday we will succeed in achieving the most precise and absolute vision of Marx’s classless society. I would prefer to be optimistic, but the universal struggle and exploitation do not give much hope for our utopia.

What if…we were wrong about Machiavelli?

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Niccolò Machiavelli one of the most famous people who ever had lived on the Earth, is still well-known even today after 500 years since he wrote his infamous pamphlet “The Prince”.

Do you know what it says?  It is much more secure to be feared than to be loved, what do you think of that? Do you find it amusing,alluring,exiting or even provoking? The question is not how it is perceived or recognized in a certain ways ,but why? Why so much people regard that “Prince” as one of the most useful books of all the time ,especially the politicians or those who have a great influence?The answer is simple : because it is not only reveal the reality as it is ,but it opens the Pandora’s box – throwing away all virtues just to be substituted by the vices. This book is a perfect excuse why we should behave badly in certain ways ,even when it is confronting with our inner sense of morality,just in the name of our ambitions and goals.This book put into test our moral values and question  us how far we could go to fulfil our ambitious dreams.

Let’s make that clear,shall we? This book “teach” as two things : how to gain power and how to keep it. It was a scandalous spectacle for that time something like that to be written,even more it was regarded as a sin. Not surprisingly not only “The Prince” was banned by the Catholic Church ,but all Machiavelli’s writing.

But to whom was addressed the prince and who is the prince himself?

Interestingly, when it was first written the book did not have a title at all ,only the name of one person “To Lorenzo di Piero de‘ Medici “– the new ruler of Medici’s dynasty who gained control and power over Florence again around 16th century. The title of the book was invented five years after Machiavelli’s death ,after being widely published and copies were at dispense to many people.

What we could assert from that fact is something astounding ,something more than it meets the eye ,indeed. We have a person to whom the book is dedicated ,specific person who was an inspiration for it, without whom that “book of art” might have not existed at all.Two words only- devotion and dedication.

Why it was written?

 The book is written in 1513 ,where was Machiavelli at that time? He was imprisoned and ( subject of unfair treatment and falsely accused of conspiracy against the Medici’s family) and tortuned, he protested his innocence still the end. Being deprived from the office he retired to his estate and write political philosophy.  The reason of the pamphlet is hidden behind the false accusation ,in the face of humiliation and reasonable desire for revenge and justice. Machiavelli wanted vengeance and he knew how to get it!

He was traumatized by the sudden change that took place in his life ,it was not only sudden,but a big one. So ,it is absolutely probbable  after that for him to be angry and to hold resentment , he needed a way in which he could unleash all that negative thoughts in his mind. And so he did it.

Have you read the pamphlet?

 that Princes

who have set little store by their word, but have known how to

overreach men by their cunning, have accomplished great

thing, and in the end got the better of those who trusted to

honest dealing” .

Machiavelli extremely precisely depicted that prince as a cunning, deceitful and unmoral, that Medici’s bastard . It is quite understandable , since he was in favor of the Borgia ‘s family who made him well-known ambassador,suddenly out of nowhere the Medici came into power and they were not willing to show mercy. He was ambitious man with great ideas into his head ,he was clever and resilient and just like that he unfairly dispossessed from his rank. Such a pity,such a tragedy ! But he would mock that Medici’s son who deprived him  of everything, he would put a stain on his reputation and the justice might prevail!

“It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles.” He put emphasis on the corruption nature of the politics itself indeed ,but with his “lessons” how to be a good politician he expressed his disgust and repel against it rather anything else.

Since his heart was armed only with the hope of revenge and hatred.

How it is interpreted today?

 Awfully wrong! In my opinion ,of course, because of it many historians or philosophers might not look at me with  respect.I sincerely apologize!

As a matter of fact many worldwide leaders were genuinely aspired by “The Prince” ,possibly because they had perceived as “an ultimate guide how to concur the world and to be in power FOREVER”. Not surprisingly, among them were J.Stalin,Tacher and Musollini –not anyone loved by the people at all. What they represent –a great dictatorship , evilness and mercilessness. They were not at all Machiavellians ,they were Medici!

Since ,what if Machiavelli gave us an unique portrait of the cruel ruler ,possessing only vices and not a single goodness in his heart?

What if he ,with his cunning smile on one of portraits , said to us “I will give a tool how to conquer the world and an ample excuse why you should not to be good ,but evil?