Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to the Religious-Philosophical Renaissance
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...