The paper examines the formation of the intellectual phenomenon of early Russian liberalism and various historiographical versions of its genesis. Within the framework of political approach, the author defines personal composition of the founders of Russian liberal tradition, analyzes the reception of classical liberal ideas and their adaptation to the adverse conditions of autocratic Russia, reveals the nuances of early liberal concept through the study of Russian liberals’ discussions with their democratic and conservative opponents. Kavelin and Chicherin were acknowledged leaders and founders of national liberal tradition. However, there was also a second line of early Russian liberals, such as Annenkov, Babst, Botkin, Druzhinin, Korsch, who formulated political, economic and socio-cultural postulates of Russian initial liberal doctrine. The phenomenon of early Russian liberalism includes not only an apology of classical liberal values, such as freedom, individualism, property, but also the elements of conservative axiology – monarchism, elitism, and etatism, due to the process of adaptation of the well-known European ideas to the political conditions of Russia of the mid-19th century. The proposed text considers early Russian liberalism as a particular historical narrative, where all sufficient academic interpretive models are constructed.
Key words: early Russian liberalism, intellectual history, freedom, history of Russia, tradition, history of ideas, liberalism.