Res Publica in the Imperial State
This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book's main themes. The book explores the development of the public sphere in the Russian Empire. It examines the shifting boundaries—in terms of concepts and actual legal practices—of property in Russia from the time of Catherine the Great to World War I and the Revolutions of 1917 to show the emergence of a new vision of society and new practices of treating “public things”—rivers, forests, historical monuments, art objects, and literary masterpieces. The main object of the present inquiry is a phenomenon that was never institutionalized in Russian laws but nevertheless existed in people's imagination, rhetoric, and politics—the concept of “public property,” the res publica—a world of things to be owned by the public yet managed by the state on the public's behalf. This vision in its general contours resembled the ideas of neo-liberals in Britain, the social philosophy of French solidaristes, and the legal concepts of late-nineteenth-century German and Austrian jurisprudence and sociology.
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