Russia’s historical alternatives to European rationalism

After my 2007 interview with author Lesley Chamberlain, I became a sucker for any article that talks about Russian intellectual history, including the one from which the following excerpt was taken:

It’s worth referring to the fact that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the “Russian idea” was a catchphrase that any member of the intelligentsia would have found familiar. In Russian intellectual history, starting with Pushkin and Gogol and running on through Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, the emigre religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev and even into the Stalinist era, the Russian idea referred to a vague set of communalist, usually spiritual alternatives to European rationalism and legalism. It was a fuzzy mixture of philosophical, moral, political and aesthetic notions, along with a certain vision of what “the good life” looked like—much like the American dream. And, for a while, a version of the Russian idea attracted people from all over the world. Though, unfortunately, the disastrous political and economic system Russia settled on in the 20th century pretty much ended that attraction.


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