The Idiot was conceived and created in the late 1860s when the enthusiasm over the liberal reforms of Alexander II was beginning to wane and their results were proving to be unfavorable to many. The emancipation of serfs in 1861 and subsequent reforms of judicial, civil, and military administrations moved Russia toward a modern Rechsstaat and a capitalist society. Especially in Petersburg, where the action of The Idiot takes place, the effects of the reforms were eminent: money economy, symbolized by the stock exchange, prevailed with many financial institutions and industrial plants; the legal profession began to gain in importance and prestige; a positivist and materialist worldview was becoming the norm among the educated and, therefore, Russia's progress was being perceived by these people in terms of emulation of Western standards.
The radicalism and nihilism of the youth of the sixties were quite unprecedented. Those dissapointed with the outcomes of the reforms turned to organized subversion and violence. The attempt on the tsar's life in 1866 by Dmitri Karakozov, a student, was just one of the many phenomena in the late 1860s Russia that Dostoevsky observed with astonishment as the consequences of the diversion of the upper class elite from Russian cultural traditions and spiritual resources embodied in the Christian faith of the simple Russian people.