Arguments concerning the beginning of modern European history, like arguments concerning the origin of the universe, fall into two broad categories, the initial ‘big bang’ and subsequent evolution. The ‘big bang’ consists of the ‘general crisis’ thesis, which maintains that in the years around 1650 the continent of Europe was subject to a series of political, economic and cultural shocks which gave birth to absolutism, capitalism and the secular outlook. Moscow was both the taker and giver of such blows, as we shall see. The core of the evolutionary process is described by E. N. Williams in the following manner: ‘… absolute monarchy arose out of the need for internal and external security which made a standing army as a royal monopoly essential. This army required higher revenues; the revenues required economic growth; they all required the formation of a royal bureaucracy to eliminate, or push aside, the manifestations of the corporate state‘.1 Generally speaking, Moscow conforms to such a pattern, although it also possesses peculiar features. Among these is the enserfment of the peasantry, a phenomenon occurring throughout much of central and eastern Europe at a time when the western part of the continent was developing a freer form of society.
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