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The Flow of Ideas

Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to the Religious-Philosophical Renaissance


Andrzej Walicki

This history of Russian thought was first published in Polish in 1973 and subsequently appeared 2005 in a revised and expanded publication. The current volume begins with Enlightenment thought and Westernization in Russia in the 17 th century and moves to the religious-philosophical renaissance of first decade of the 20 th century. This book provides readers with an exhaustive account of relationships between various Russian thinkers with an examination of how those thinkers relate to a number of figures and trends in Western philosophy and in the broader history of ideas.
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Chapter 8: Belinsky and Different Variants of Westernism


Chapter 8Belinsky and Different Variants of Westernism

In contrast to the Slavophiles, their opponents, the so-called “Westernizers” [zapadniki], did not form a homogeneous movement with a single cohesive ideology and social philosophy. Westernism was only a loose alliance of potentially divergent trends, a platform where democrats and liberals in the 1840s found common ground in their opposition to Slavophilism. The controversial issue that divided the two groups was the “idea of personality,” the key issue for the Philosophical Left, which the Slavophiles attacked as a Western misconception, the result of the false road taken by Western Europe. Slavophilism was therefore a philosophy that demanded an answer, especially since in the early 1840s the Slavophiles had already contributed an original interpretation of Russian history. The Westernizers, as Herzen later admitted, were increasingly aware of the need to “master the themes and issues put into circulation by the Slavophiles.”1

Contemporary commentators were unanimous in ascribing the main role in the public debate with the Slavophiles to Belinsky. Herzen confined himself to private discussions, which he sometimes noted down in his Diary. In his philosophical ideas – and especially in his conception of “action” and “personality” – he was a determined opponent of the Slavophiles, but he was not an unequivocal supporter of “Europeanism.” He was impressed, to some extent, by Slavophile criticism of Western Europe, which seemed to him to have much in common with socialist criticisms of capitalism. Herzen clearly felt that Belinsky’s attitude to the Slavophiles was...

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