Abram Reitblat. Rhetorical strategies of justification of serfdom in the first half of the 19th century

In the first time of the 19th century, most of the Russian nobles considered serfdom, that was the basis of economical and social structure of that period, to be quite normal and natural. But in the small stratum of Russian intellectuals who reflected upon the  consistent pattern of one part of the country being enslaved by the other, there were serious contradictions on that matter. The representatives of Enlightenment ideology (A.S. Kaysarov, I.P. Pnin, A.P. Kunitsyn, M.M. Speransky, V.F. Malinovsky, etc.) criticized it from economical and moral points of view and insisted it should immediately be abolished. Others justified it. In this paper we will consider the rhetorical strategies of the latter. There were two versions. 

Representatives of the first one, in general, shared the ideas of enlightenment (N.S. Mordvinov, A.S. Pushkin, F.V. Bulgarin, etc.). Within the framework of the enlightenment paradigm they considered peasants to be salvage Peale who need to be civilized (i.e. enlightened). They said it was a long process, so they were not against the liberation of peasants but believed that it was only possible in the remote future. 

The representatives of the second version criticized the ideology of Enlightenment, though they were influenced by it a lot  (V.N. Karazin, F.V. Rostopchin, A.S. Shishkov, N.M. Karamzin, O.A. Pozdeev, Pravdin, etc.). So they also were basing on the idea of general welfare, but they combined it with the feudalistic idea of the "natural" character of class inequality, and the different functions of each class of the society. They opposed the thesis on the contractual origin of the state with the thesis of its religious and sacred roots and patriarchality (the monarch was perceived as the father of his citizens, and the noble, as the father for his peasants). 

The proposed scheme is of ideal and typical character. In practice, concrete philosophers could combine the propositions and arguments of both versions.  

Both champions and opponents of the serfdom for a long time considered the peasant to be an object, not a subject of action. Such theoretical argumentation could not attract most of the reading audience. Things changed when in the 1840s, a number of writers (D.V. Grigorovich, I.S. Turgenev and others) described the peasant "from inside" like a creature that can love, suffer etc. A new interpretation of the peasants' image in the Culture followed by social changes in the country after the Crimean War changed the attitude of the majority of nobles towards the serfdom and allowed to abolish it in 1861.