The French Revolution in Russian Intellectual Life, 1865-1905

The French Revolution in Russian Intellectual Life, 1865-1905

The French Revolution in Russian Intellectual Life, 1865-1905

The French Revolution in Russian Intellectual Life, 1865-1905

Synopsis

The interest of Russian intellectuals in the French Revolution demonstrates that some Russian thinkers of the 19th century had begun to question the concept of Russia's uniqueness. Yet most of them came to believe that the French Revolution (which they tended to equate with the Western experience) was irrelevant not only to Russia but to the rest of the world as well. They saw, perhaps correctly, that the Western experience, with the French Revolution as its symbol, was foreign to Russian destiny. Most of the Russian intellectuals of that time had rightly foreseen Russia, and to some degree the rest of the world's future, as following an authoritarian/totalitarian model of development.

Excerpt

Although all countries can claim a uniqueness from one point or another, Russia is unique from the point of its search for self-identification.

Geographically, politically, and culturally Russia is sandwiched between East and West, and for this reason Russian intellectuals have been divided for centuries between two distinct groups: the Slavophiles and the Westernizers. Today, the division between Slavophiles and Westernizers has reasserted itself in the political and intellectual discourse of post-Soviet Russia. In late nineteenth- century Russian history, the Slavophiles and Westernizers could be defined through their distinctive characteristics.

The Slavophiles assumed that there was a basic difference between Russia and the West. The difference lay not in the level of economic development, but in cultural substance. The representatives of Slavophilism had their own vision of historical reality, and this vision was connected with their overall philosophical paradigms. In their view, the rationalistic (scientific) approach to reality was connected with Western democracy. Their rejection of Western-style democracy was a rejection of the rationalistic/scientific way of explaining historical events. Their vision was holistic and abstract.

Slavophiles assumed that an authoritarian regime rather than a democracy would be mankind's future. Although most Slavophiles envisioned an authoritarian regime modeled after the Russian autocracy as the future for Russia and possibly for the entire world, some of them foresaw what would later be called a totalitarian regime. While most Slavophiles believed that the West and Russia were absolutely different, some believed that it was possible that Russia might absorb the West someday. Their belief was that Russian ideological influence would compel the West to accept Russia's leadership, although here the major stress was on Russia's military predominance.

Westernizers represented the other major group of Russian intellectuals. As . . .

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