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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 17th century and moves to the religious-philosophical renaissance of first decade of the 20th 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 9: The Petrashevtsy


Chapter 9The Petrashevtsy

On December 22, 1849, the inhabitants of St. Petersburg were witness to a curious spectacle: twenty-one political prisoners were brought from the Peter and Paul Fortress to Semenovsky Square and lined up in front of a scaffold draped in crepe. An official read out the death sentences, a priest called on the prisoners to repent, and soldiers dressed each man in the white cloak and hood traditionally associated with executions. The first three men were tied to posts, their faces were covered, the drums began to roll, and the command was given for the soldiers to shoulder arms – but at that very moment an imperial adjutant appeared with a last-minute reprieve. The death sentences were commuted to hard labor in Siberia, prison, or banishment. The condemned men were now ordered to kneel on the scaffold and executioners in colorful robes began the symbolic ceremonial of breaking swords over their bare heads. The leading prisoner was immediately placed in shackles and put in the covered cart that was to take him to Siberia.

This was the method chosen by Nicholas I to deal with the secret discussion groups active in St. Petersburg in the years 1845–49. The main circle from which most of the others had branched off was founded and led by MIKHAIL BUTASHEVICH-PETRASHEVSKY (1821–66). It was he who was publicly shackled in Semenovsky Square; the other two men who had to face the firing squad were two officers, N. P....

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