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Encounters with Isaiah Berlin

Story of an Intellectual Friendship


Andrzej Walicki

The volume contains Isaiah Berlin’s letters to his Polish friend, Andrzej Walicki, and Walicki’s detailed account of Berlin’s role in his life. Berlin actively promoted Walicki’s books on Russian intellectual history not only because of his own interest in the subject. Above all he wanted to promote Russian intellectual history as a separate, internationally recognized field of study and, therefore, warmly welcomed Walicki’s firm intention to study it in a systematic way, with the aim of providing a comprehensive synthesis of all important currents in pre-Revolutionary Russian thought. Already at their meeting Berlin discovered in Walicki a promising candidate to help him in laying foundations for Russian intellectual history as a legitimate part of the universal history of ideas; as a discipline rewarding in itself and particularly relevant for rediscovering the great traditions of the Russian intelligentsia and setting them against the stifling dogmas of Soviet totalitarianism.


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Berlin and the Intellectual History of the Russian Intelligentsia 189


Berlin and the Intellectual history of the the Russian Intelligentsia At the end of his visit to the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1945, Berlin, then an official of the British Foreign Office, wrote a long memorandum, since published as ‘The Arts in Russia under Stalin’. This extraordinary document does not re- semble routine intelligence reports: it is a brilliant essay on the tragic-fate of Rus- sian culture under Stalin’s totalitarian regime, carefully distinguishing between the ‘Soviet aspects’ and the ‘Russian aspects’ of Soviet Russia. It ends with an impressive declaration of faith in Russia’s spiritual revival: The principal hope of a new flowering of the liberated Russian genius lies in the still unexhausted vitality, the omnivorous curiosity, the astonishingly undiminished moral and intellectual appetite of this most imaginative and least narrow of peoples, which in the long—perhaps very long—run, and despite the appalling damage done to it by the chains which bind it at present, still shows greater promise of gigantic achievement in the use of its vast material resources, and, by the same token, pari passu, in the arts and sciences, than any other contemporary society. 1 I fully shared this attitude and this faith. During my studies at the Warsaw Faculty of Russian Philology in the early 1950s I saw the pre-Revolutionary Russian writ- ers and thinkers (especially Herzen) as my allies in resisting totalitarian indoctri- nation. I felt indignant that Russian culture was being kept in manacles and its past shamelessly falsified. During...

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