Autocracy rested on the premise that it alone was able to mediate the interests of the social groups it governed. Social and political networks in an autocracy tended, therefore, to be vertical. Horizontal civic integration could be achieved only in moments of rapid transition or crisis, when the state lacked the knowledge or ability to isolate and direct its subjects’ activities at the lowest level. The 1861 emancipation of the serfs was such a moment of transition and crisis. The state was determined to modernize the Russian economy in the wake of the Crimean defeat, but feared its own inability to maintain social order while the transition was made. The emancipation, whatever the moral or philosophical arguments in its support, required the mass expropriation of both land and manorial authority at the lowest level. Not only would the expropriation incite noble opposition, but it would also rouse the dark ambitions of the peasant masses. But the state possessed few resources to control the outcome of its social engineering. State personnel in the provinces were few, and in any case inefficient and poorly integrated. As a result, the state knew very little about political, economic, or even social conditions in the countryside. Some sort of local authority was needed to arbitrate disputes and to bridge the gap between old ways of administration and the still-unrealized new. To complicate matters further, hints of impending reform sparked a genu-

ine political awakening in rural society. Noisy, confused, and disorganized, noble organizations came to life in a welter of conflicting opinions and issues. The writer Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin described the scene this way:

Today … everybody talks. At times it seems the world is going to drown in a flood of words, groans, and clamor. … We now have reactionaries, we have red liberals, and moderate liberals; we even have people who agree with all three and hope somehow to wriggle through somewhere in the middle.1