Synopses & Reviews
Sandwiched between the East and West, Russian intellectuals have for centuries been divided geographically, politically, and culturally into two distinct groups: the Slavophiles, who rejected Western-style democracy, preferring a more holistic and abstract vision, and the more rational and scientific-minded Westerniers. These two ideologies cut across the political spectrum of late nineteenth-century Russia and competed for dominance in the countrys intellectual life. The tension created between these two opposing groups caused the feeling that violent upheaval was Russias future. In turn, many began to think that Russia was possibly following the path of France and that a French-style revolution might be possible on Russian soil. In The French Revolution in Russian Intellectual Life, Dmitry Shlapentokh describes the role that the French democratic revolution played in Russias intellectual development by the end of the nineteenth century. The revolutionary upheaval in Russia at the beginning of twentieth century and the continuous expansion of the West convinced most Russian intellectuals that the French Revolution in its democratic reading was indeed the pathway of history. Yet the rise of totalitarian regimes and their expansion proved the validity of the sober vision of nineteenth-century Russian intellectuals. Some conservative Russian intellectuals believed that not only would Russia preserve its authoritarian regime but it would spread this regime all over the world. In this context, Shlapentokh argues the French Revolution with its democratic tradition was only a phenomenon of Western civiliation and hence transitory. The flirtation with Western ideology, with its democratic polity and market economy that followed in the wake of the collapse of the communist regime, culminated in an increasing push for corporate authoritarianism and nationalism. This work helps explain why Russia turned away from democratic to autocratic styles-economic pulls to capitalism notwithstanding. It has insight which helps to explain why Russia moved towards an authoritarian regime instead of democracy. Dmitry Shlapentokh is associate professor of history at the University of Indiana, South Bend. Among his books are The French Revolution and the Russian Anti-Democratic Tradition, The Proto-Totalitarian State, Soviet Cinematography, 1918-1991 (with Vladimir Shlapentokh), and East Against West, The First Encounter: The Life of Themistocles.
The interest of Russian intellectuals in the French Revolution demonstrates that some Russian thinkers of the 19th century had begun to question the concept of Russia's uniqueness. Yet most of them came to believe that the French Revolution (which they tended to equate with the Western experience) was irrelevant not only to Russia but to the rest of the world as well. They saw, perhaps correctly, that the Western experience, with the French Revolution as its symbol, was foreign to Russian destiny. Most of the Russian intellectuals of that time had rightly foreseen Russia, and to some degree the rest of the world's future, as following an authoritarian/totalitarian model of development.