Kovalevsky, Maksym

Image - Maksym Kovalevsky

Kovalevsky, Maksym [Ковалевський, Максим; Kovalevs’kyj], b 8 September 1851 in Kharkiv, d 5 April 1916 in Petrograd. (Photo: Maksym Kovalevsky.) Renowned historian, sociologist, ethnographer, jurist, and politician. As a law student at Kharkiv University, he was greatly influenced by Dmitrii Kachenovsky's lectures on the history of international law and state institutions. In 1877 he became a docent in European state law at Moscow University. In 1880 he received his doctorate and became a full professor. Because he promoted constitutional government and socioeconomic change in his lectures, he was forced to resign his post by the tsarist government in 1887. He went abroad and gave university lectures in Stockholm, Oxford, Paris, Brussels, and Chicago. He was one of the founders of the International Institute of Sociology and was elected its vice-president in 1895 and president in 1907. In 1901 he founded and directed the Russian Higher School of Social Sciences in Paris; many prominent figures, including Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovsky, Fedir Vovk, Petr Struve, Pavel Miliukov, and Vladimir Lenin, were guest lecturers there.

In 1905 Kovalevsky returned to Russia and was appointed a professor at the Saint Petersburg Polytechnical Institute. At the private Psycho-neurological Institute he taught the first systematic course in sociology to be offered at a post-secondary school in the Russian Empire. In 1906 he cofounded the Party of Constitutional Monarchy and Democratic Reforms and was elected to the First Russian State Duma as a representative of Kharkiv gubernia. In 1907 he was chosen as the representative of the academic curia in the State Council. From 1909 he also edited the prestigious journal Vestnik Evropy. In 1914 he was elected a full member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. Kovalevsky co-operated with the Ukrainian caucus in the Russian State Duma. In 1907 he became the head of the Shevchenko Philanthropic Society, which aided Ukrainian students in Saint Petersburg. He also headed the editorial committee of the encyclopedic Ukrainskii narod v ego proshlom i nastoiashchem (The Ukrainian People in Its Past and Present, 2 vols, 1914, 1916) and prepared a study of the origin of land ownership in Slobidska Ukraine for the third volume, which was never published.

As a scholar, Kovalevsky was fundamentally a Comtian positivist. His studies in comparative history and evolutionary sociology were based largely on the ethnographic approach. He wrote many internationally acclaimed studies on a vast range of subjects. In his empirical and theoretical works and formulations of a universal law of development, he took into account many factors: social and cultural forces, ethnocultural identity, language, psychology, and even biology. He generally believed in plural causation and firmly opposed Karl Marx's economic determinism and views of the state.

Kovalevsky's numerous works were published in many Russian and Western journals. He wrote, in Russian, monographs on primitive law (2 vols, 1876), Russian peasant-commune land ownership (1879), the historical-comparative method in jurisprudence and means for studying the history of law (1880), law and custom in Caucasia (2 vols, 1890), the origins of contemporary democracy (4 vols, 1895–7), economic growth in Europe to the appearance of capitalist economy (3 vols, 1898–1900; rev German edn, 7 vols, 1901–14), Russian political institutions (1902), family life in the past and present from the perspective of comparative ethnography and the history of law (2 vols, 1905), contemporary sociologists (1905), social evolution from direct to representational popular rule and from patriarchal monarchy to parliamentarism (3 vols, 1906), sociology (2 vols, 1910), and the origin of the family, clan, tribe, state, and religion (1914).

M.M. Kovalevskii—uchenyi, gosudarstvennyi i obshchestvennyi deiatel’ i grazhdanin: Sbornik statei (Petrograd 1917)
Safronov, B. M.M. Kovalevskii kak sotsiolog (Moscow 1960)
Vucinich, A. ‘Comparative History and Sociology: M.M. Kovalevskii,’ in his Social Thought in Tsarist Russia: The Quest for a General Science of Society, 1861–1917 (Chicago and London 1976)
Kaloev, B. M.M. Kovalevskii i ego issledovaniia gorskikh narodov Kavkaza (Moscow 1979)

Vasyl Markus, Roman Senkus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1988).]

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