Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev (Константин Петрович Победоносцев in Russian) (May 21, 1827 - March 23, 1907) was a Russian jurist, statesman, and adviser to three Tsars. Usually regarded as a prime representative of Russian conservatism, he was the "gray cardinal" of imperial politics during the reign of his disciple Alexander III of Russia, holding the position of the Ober-Procurator of the Holy Synod, the highest position of the supervision of the Russian Orthodox Church by the state.
In 1868, he became a senator in St. Petersburg, in 1874 - a member of the Council of the Empire, and in 1880 - chief procurator of the Holy Synod. In the latter office Pobedonostsev was de facto head of the Russian Orthodox Church. During the reign of Alexander III he was one of the most influential men in the empire. He is considered the mastermind of Alexander's Manifesto of April 29, 1881. The Manifesto proclaimed that the absolute power of the tsar in Russia was unshakable thus putting an end to Loris-Melikov's endeavours to establish a representative body in the empire. Actually, Pobedonostsev's ascension in the first days after the assassination of Alexander II resulted in subsequent resignation of Loris-Melikov and other ministers eager for liberal reforms. He always showed himself to be an uncompromising conservative and never shrank from boldly expressing his staunch opinions. Consequently, in the liberal circles he was always denounced as an obscurantist, pedant, and an enemy of progress.
After the death of Alexander III, he lost much of his influence over Nicholas II. While Alexander III clung to his father's Russification policy and even extending it to Finland, he generally disliked the idea of systematic religious persecution, and was not wholly averse to the partial emancipation of the Russian Church from civil control.
In 1901, Nikolai Lagovsky, a supporter of socialist ideas, tried to kill Pobedonostsev. He shot in the window of Pobedonostsev's office but missed. Lagovsky was sentenced to 6 years of katorga.
During the revolutionary tumult, which followed the disastrous war with Japan, Pobedonostsev, being nearly 80 years of age, retired from public affairs. He died on March 23, 1907 and was fictionalized as old senator Ableukhov in the great novel of Andrey Bely called Petersburg (1912). Arguably he was also depicted in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina as Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin. Perhaps in revenge, he ordered Tolstoy's excommunication in 1901. (Tolstoy had in fact left the Russian Orthodox Church voluntarily years earlier.)
Before the October Revolution the Course was reprinted several times with minor changes. The Course was regarded as outstanding guide for practising lawyers. Quotations from the Course are reported to have been used as a ground for decisions of the Civil Board of the Senate. The author's profound knowledge of Russian civil law resulted in description of many previously insufficiently explored institutions such as communal land law.
In addition, Pobedonostsev published in 1865 in Moskovskie Vedomosti several anonymous articles on the judicial reform of Alexander II. He criticized the reform because, as he thought, Russia lacked highly qualified judges and in that situation the creation of an independent judicial branch was unreasonable.
Pobedonostsev held the view that human nature is sinful, rejecting the Western ideals of freedom and independence as "dangerous delusions of nihilistic youth." In his "Reflections of a Russian Statesman" (1869) , he promoted autocracy and condemned elections, representation and democracy, the jury system, the press, free education, charities, and social reforms. Of representative government, he wrote, "It is terrible to think of our condition if destiny had sent us the fatal gift—the all-Russian Parliament."
He also condemned Darwinism (Darwin's Theory of Evolution) and scientific thought in general. Nor did Pobedonostsev particularly care about acknowledging the scholarship of others, often citing other writers without proper reference, assuming that "thoughts and words of one individual belong not to him, but to mankind in general".
In the early years of the reign of Alexander II Pobedonostsev maintained, though keeping aloof from the Slavophiles, that Western institutions were radically bad in themselves and totally inapplicable to Russia since they had no roots in Russian history and culture and did not correspond to the spirit of Russian people. At that period, he contributed several papers to Alexander Herzen's radical periodical Voices from Russia.
He denounced democracy as "the insupportable dictatorship of vulgar crowd". Parliamentary methods of administration, modern judicial organization and procedures, trial by jury, freedom of the press, secular education - these were among the principal objects of his aversion. He subjected all of them to a severe analysis in his Reflections of a Russian Statesman.
To these dangerous products of Western rationalism he found a counterpoise in popular vis inertiae, and in the respect of the masses for institutions developed slowly and automatically during the past centuries of national life. In his view, human society evolves naturally, just like a tree grows. Human mind is not capable to perceive the logic of social development. Any attempt to reform society is a violence and a crime. Among the practical deductions drawn from these premises is the necessity of preserving the autocratic power, and of fostering among the people the traditional veneration for the ritual of the national Church.
In the sphere of practical politics he exercised considerable influence by inspiring and encouraging the Russification policy of Alexander III, which found expression in an administrative nationalist propaganda and led to Tsarist Russia's most elaborately justified and most thoroughly carried-out programs of religious persecution, largely centered upon Russia's Jews. These policies were implemented by "May Laws" that banned Jews from rural areas and shtetls even within Pale of Settlement.
Although Pobedonostsev, especially during the later years of his life, was generally detested, there was at least one man who not only shared his views but also sympathized with him personally. It was the novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Their correspondence is still read with the utmost interest. "I believe that he is the only man who can save Russia from the revolution", wrote the Russian novelist.