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Stud East Eur Thought (2010) 62:331352

DOI 10.1007/s11212-010-9120-0

Intellectuals as missionaries: the liberal opposition


in Russia and their notion of culture
Igor Narskij

Published online: 2 October 2010


 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Abstract The present article is primarily concerned with the imagined community
of liberal intellectuals (starting with the Westernizers, in the 1840s, and ending with
the Kadets and the participants of the October Revolution in the early twentieth
century), rather than the community that objectively existed. This imaginary
community constructed notions of the collective identity of their own group as well
as that of Russian society. For this purpose, they instrumentalized the notions of
progress, backwardness, culturedness (kulturnost) and benightedness
(temnota), thereby creating hierarchies in which the constructors of collective
identities granted themselves the important role of intermediaries between state and
society. Special attention is paid to the prominent role Russias liberal historians
played in this process insofar as historians possessed great power in nineteenthcentury Europethe power to tell their states and societies about their past, present,
and futureand this transformed them into professional producers of (national)
identities. Their work combined expert knowledge and ideological cliches in a
highly complex manner. The central question posed is to what extent and in what
respect the reality constructed by Russian intellectuals coincided with the actions of
intellectuals in other European regions or, on the contrary, to what extent their
discursive activities had a specifically local character.
Keywords

European intellectuals  Russian liberalism  Culture  Backwardness

Writing about liberalism in general, and Russian liberalism in particular, is an


exceedingly difficult, thankless, and nearly hopeless task. Despite the immense
research on liberalism as a philosophical and political doctrine, political movement,
I. Narskij (&)
Center for Cultural History Studies, South Ural State University, Prospect Pobedy 290, Office 602,
454138 Chelyabinsk, Russia
e-mail: inarsky@mail.ru

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system of governance, and cultural practice, most questions surrounding it remain


extremely tangled. Fruitful progress towards understanding this phenomenon is
hardly possible without clear answers to these questions. Amongst philosophers,
sociologists, and historians there is no clarity about this phenomenons definition, its
substantive core, the time of its emergence and the stages of its development, its
social bases, its interactions with the state and radical political opposition groups,
and how borrowings shaped its national invariants.1
This interpretive discord is probably explained not only by scholarships
evolving epistemological characteristics and the political circumstances in which
liberalism is studied, but also by the objective characteristics of this phenomenons maturation and daily existence in various parts of Europe: the duration of the
use of the term itself in the pre- and extrapolitical realms, as well the variability of
the political phenomenon described by it and its adaptability to a variety of
geographic and temporal historical contexts. Even today it is hard not to agree with
the view expressed a quarter of a century ago by Marc Raeff, the well-known
historian of Russia: neither an absolute definition which would set forth very
clearly and precisely the specific, unchangeable, and essential components and
characteristics of an ideology or political movement nor a relativistic,
historicist, pragmatic definition, which alters its set of traits depending on the
specific situation, has proved adequate for liberalism (Raeff 1959: 220221).
Raeff was addressing Russian liberalism, which for a number of well-known reasons
has been studied much less systematically than its Western and Central European
counterparts. The phenomenon, which was perceived by educated contemporaries in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (according to their own ideological biases and
political temperaments) as the embodiment of either free thinking or cowardice,
magnanimity or selfishness, evades clear definitions and melts into the air like a
phantom when attempts are made to analyze it scientifically. Some scholars see the
origins of Russian liberalism in the reforms of Catherine the Great and the work of
Freemasons and representatives of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, while
others doubt that it existed before 1905. A number of scholars hold that the agent of
Russian liberalism was the bureaucracy, not society, as opposed to those scholars who
express fundamental doubts about the expediency of attributing administrative
liberalism to the liberal movement.
Despite the concerted efforts of western and Soviet/Russian scholars in this area,
it has ironically proved most problematic to find convincing answers to the question
of Russian liberalisms specific character. Russian liberalisms difference from its
western analogues is usually attributed to adverse conditions for its development
within an autocratic political regime and a complex web of unresolved issues that
were successfully solved in Western European countries in stages over a long period
of time; the borrowed nature of liberal doctrine; the weakness of its social base,
represented mainly by the enfranchised intelligentsia; the ideological contradictions and radicalism of political liberal programs; and illegal activism and sympathy
1

I have had occasion to write before on this topic. See Narskij, I.V. Rossijskij liberalizm v evropejskom i
nacionalnom kontekste. In Istorija nacionalnykh politiceskikh partij Rossii: Materialy mezdunarodnoj
konferencii. Moscow: 1997, 335355.

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for revolutionaries. Closer examination reveals that none of the specifically


Russian parameters of Russian liberalism is purely Russian, and that each of them
has parallels in the history (at very least) of Central and East European liberalisms.
Russian liberalism is not the focus of the present article. In this case, reference to
the problems involved in studying it is not meant to underscore the complexities of
the phenomenon (along with other, more complicated problems that we will
encounter later in this article) and thus laud the authors courage or outstanding
services to scholarship. This brief introduction to the problematic of Russian
liberalism aims to outline the content and chronological framework of the present
mini-study. The liberal opposition is understood to mean a Russian intellectual
community whose members (whether historians or lawyers, doctors or teachers,
writers or engineers) politicized their professional spheres as a means of achieving
in the near or distant future (with the cooperation of a state capable of emancipatory
reforms) the autonomy of society (the people) by enlightening and educating it to
the level of personality. Despite the schematic nature and vagueness of this
definition, it seems suitable for outlining the chronological boundaries both of the
subject we are analyzing and the questions posed in the present article. The
discussion that follows deals not with an objectively existing but an imaginary
community of liberal intellectuals (ranging from the Westernizers of the 1840s to
the Kadets and Octobrists of the early twentieth century) that constructed notions
about the collective identity of its own group and Russian society using the concepts
of progress and backwardness, culturedness and benightedness, and thus
attempted to create a hierarchy in which the constructors of collective identities
reserved for themselves the important role of intermediaries between state and
society. We pay particular attention to the preeminent role of liberally oriented
Russian historians in this process. In what follows, we must answer the question of
how and to what degree this construction of reality by Russian intellectuals
(members of the intelligentsia) coincided with the actions of intellectuals in other
European regions, and what the specific features of their discursive work were.
In order to obtain ideal-type benchmarks for comparative analysis, we must turn
to contemporary sociological notions of intellectuals, of their functions and place in
European societies.

Intellectuals as complaining heroes


In the context of the task we have set ourselves, it is expedient to omit the subtle
conceptual differences that have formed within the sociology of knowledge2 and
focus on the typical features of intellectuals as systematically set out in the research
2

For further information on European intellectuals see: Geiger, T. Aufgaben und Stellung der Intelligenz
in der Gesellschaft. Stuttgart, 1949; Mannheim, K. Ideologie und Utopie. Frankfurt, 1952; Dahrendorf, R.
Gesellschaft und Demokratie in Deutschland. Munich, 1965; Shils, E. Intellectuals, Tradition and the
Tradition of Intellectuals, in E. Shils (Ed.), Center and Periphery. Essays in Macro-Sociology. Chicago,
1975; Michels, R. Masse, Fuhrer, Intellektuelle. FrankfurtNY, 1987; Lepsius, M.R. Interessen, Ideen
und Institutionen. Oplade, 1990; Giesen, B. Die Intellektuellen und die Nation: eine deutsche Achsenzeit.
Frankfurt, 1993; Giesen, B. Kollektive Identitat: Die Intellektuellen und die Nation 2. Frankfurt, 1999.

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of German sociologist Bernhard Giesen, who sees his task in elaborating and
reformulating the sociological study of intellectuals. Above all, he regards
intellectuals as a purely European phenomenon: Although other great civilizations
also brought forth significant groups of intellectuals, intellectuals occupy a unique
position within the European tradition, as a critical reflexion elite in highly tense
opposition to the political elite (Giesen 1998: 40).
Giesens definition of intellectuals differs from ordinary usage of the term. He
does not include such indicators as high IQ, educational status, level of erudition,
and possession of expert knowledge in his list of characteristics indispensable for
intellectuals. According to his concept, intellectuals constitute discursive communities that lay claim to the mission of constructing the collective past, present, and
future, that is, the production of collective identitiesnational, class, gender, etc. It
should be especially emphasized that intellectuals see themselves as the vehicles,
custodians, and heralds of sacred knowledge concerning prospects for the
development of society (whether manifested, for example, in the ideology of
nationalism or the futurology of a classless society), a knowledge that as a rule lies
beyond their professional competence. In addition, the characteristic features of
European intellectuals include an ambivalent attitude towards state and society that
combines distancing and the effort to overcome this distance, as well as the
maintenance of their own self-isolation as a group.
Giesen examines groups of intellectualsconstructors of national identityvia
the example of Germans during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At
some distance from the surrounding society, often reflecting (and constructing) their
isolation and social rootlessness, they created images of people and nation that
offered a sense of unity and wholeness amidst the uncertainty and insecurity
generated by modernity. Although they initially emerged and circulated in narrow
intellectual circles (Phase A of the national movement, to invoke Miroslav
Hrochs terminology),3 their concepts were popularized in society in simplified
form, forcing the next generation of intellectuals to distance themselves from these
trivializations and construct new national identity projects. Among nineteenthcentury Germans, Giesen distinguishes four intellectual patterns for national
identity: educational, romantic, democratic, and real-political.
The uneven development of European countries is one of the most important
factors in the construction of national identity. Thus, advanced nations have
employed political and economic markers for their national uniqueness, whereas
backward nations (not only in Central and Eastern Europe) have used the idea of
the moral superiority or cultural maturity of the pure and unspoiled people. (The
opposition of cultural nations to political nations can be traced in German
philosophical thought to Herder and the Romantics.)
Giesen distinguishes the types of coding used to construct community:
primordial coding, which is based on primary, natural traits such as skin color,
sex, and other anthropological and physiological differences; conventional coding,
3

Cf. Hroch, M. Die Vorkampfer der nationalen Bewegung bei den kleinen Volkern Europas. Eine
vergleichende Analyse zur gesellschaftlichen Entwicklung der patriotischen Gruppen. Prague, 1968;
Hroch, M. Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe. A Comparative Analysis of the Social
Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European Nations. Cambridge, 1985.

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which is based on everyday peculiarities of communication that enable its bearers to


differentiate insiders from outsiders; and, finally, cultural coding, which construct[s] borders by connecting to the immutable and eternal realm of the sacred and
sublimequite apart from whether this is defined as God or Reason, progress or
rationality (Giesen 1998: 34).
Since intellectuals constitute a discursive community, the speech acts with which
they perform classifications and typologies, generate hierarchies and ascribe
qualities, are their principal weapon. The final, cultural type of coding is the main
tool of intellectuals.
As society grows and becomes more complex, cultural coding can take on
aggressive traits. In a growing community, cultural coding opens borders to the
practice of conquest, mission, and pedagogy. The codes are reoriented to
substantiate collective identity as all-encompassing, as responsible for everything.
[] The missionary zeal of universally constructed communities does not just open
the borders to include outsiders, but insists on overcoming all borders and
differences. Those who resist the universalist mission are not only different and
inferior, but also misled and mistaken. Unaware of their true identity, they must if
necessary be converted against their wills. Outsiders are viewed here as empty
natural objects that first achieve identity and subjectivity through the appropriate
cultural education (Giesen 1998: 3536).
Constructing a cohesive society by defining its outer limits is, however, not
enough to consolidate the status of intellectuals as its political or moral teachers. In
this connection, intellectuals are condemned to generate not only external borders
but also internal ones, using the tool of attributing cultural differences to this end:
The most important institutional mechanism to protect the sacred center is cultural
stratification. Here, the universalistic openness of the boundaries is compensated by
a stratified and layered access to the center. Boundaries are thereby leveled and
multiplied at the same time. Complex rituals of initiation and education, the burdens
and toils of learning and instruction, have to be accepted in order to approach the
center of a universalist community; only the select few, the virtuosi who have
endured all hardships and have devoted themselves entirely and without reservation
to the service of the sacred and sublime, are finally allowed to enter the central core,
and to see the secrets of the sacred revealed (Giesen 1998: 3637). Thus, the unity
and specificity of intellectuals as a social group is supported by specific institutional
agreementscomplex procedures of education and internal debates that impede
entry into the group (and departure from it). The forms of communication employed
by intellectuals are varied, ranging from monastic interpretation of sacred texts and
academic disputes to interactions in salons and public debate.
The contradictory task of distributing secret knowledge within society while
preserving the status of intellectuals as its custodians generates that complex
dialectic that characterizes the birth and progress of intellectual doctrines: As soon
as the expansive movement of the cultural mission prevails against the defensive
and conservative tendencies of stratification, then the secret of the center is
communicated by education and instruction up to the periphery. Stratification itself
does not suffice to break the inclusive movement of cultural communities and to
stabilize the constitutive tension between the sacred center and the profane outside.

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In this case, the position of the center is sometimes supported by a new pattern:
mediated and constructed by the virtuosi, ever-new interpretations and imaginations
of the sacred are invented and elaborated in the center (Giesen 1998: 37). Thus, the
abundance of conceptual proposals made by intellectuals (which patriotic
consciousness often proudly figures as a sign of the wealth of national thought)
perhaps, aside from other things, signals the desire of intellectuals to maintain their
distance from society whatever the cost.
Of course, other factors also lie behind the dynamics of proposals made by
intellectuals. Among these, of considerable importance, for example, is the
development of forms of communication with a public, which in turn can reflect the
relative success of intellectuals missionary efforts and influence the extent to which
their message to potential recipients is radicalized. Such transformations can be
observed (including in the Russian historical record) in the ideological provision of
national movements, which, according to Miroslav Hrochs model, transit from
Phase A (academic interest on the part of limited groups of intellectuals in the
language, folklore, and history of ethnic groups), through Phase B (nationalist
agitation via periodicals addressed to a more broadly educated public), to Phase C
(mass mobilization of the population, as embodied in the formation of political
parties and democratization of the means of indoctrination).4
Cultural coding is a matter of acquiring and maintaining power. Hence, the
problem of interactions with official political elites is crucial for intellectuals: If
the power of the intellectuals is based on the external safeguarding of an interpretive
monopoly, then their relations to political elites and counter-elites gain a critical
significance. This is all the more so in the construction of collective identity, for the
political center attempts to substantiate itself precisely by protecting and administering collective identity. The power of intellectuals can thus always be observed
in their relation to elites. This has exceptional impact upon the sociostructural
position of intellectuals, i.e., upon their relations to other social groups (Giesen
1998: 41).
The inconsistency of intellectuals relationship with the state arises from the
ambivalence of their tasks. In order to preserve their uniqueness, they must balance
between unconditional cooperation with the powers that be and radical opposition to
them. Admittedly, both radical dissidence and complete convergence must be seen
as extremes. Usually the simple circumstance that a political elite is never entirely
homogenous, and cannot prevent power conflicts permanently, facilitates limited
coalitions between intellectuals and fractions of the political elite. In favorable
cases, intellectuals can end up in the position of a mediating third party, whose
judgment is made in the name of God, Reason, or Progress, and determines whether
particular claims to power can be substantiated (Giesen 1998: 42).
Moreover, duality marks not only the relationship of intellectuals to the state, but
also to their own public, to which the intellectual community appeals: [On the one
hand,] intellectuals bewail the lack of understanding from a public that is unaware,
4

Cf. Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe. On the evolution of this process in the
Russian Empire, see Kappeler, A. Russland als Vielvolkerreich: Entstehung Geschichte Zerfall. 2.
Aufl. Munich, 1993, 177202.

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insufficiently aware, or even hostile to their interpretations. On the other hand,


precisely this rejection by the public typically creates the tension that can be
understood as the interpretative head start of the intellectual avant-garde. In his or
her complaint about the public, the intellectual initially constructs the basic structure
within which he or she can gain exceptionality as an intellectual. Conversely, the
adoption of intellectual interpretations by a wider public always poses a danger to
the distinction of an intellectual (Giesen 1998: 43). It is this specific feature in the
relationship of European intellectuals to their public that prompted Wolf Lepenies
to dub them the complaining class (Lepenies 1992).
It should be emphasized that in order to justify their exclusive position,
intellectuals are forced to keep aloof from practical interests and thus focus on
general problems, to disclaim responsibility for details while also declaring their
willingness to assume responsibility for the community as a whole. A consequence
of this position is that they rarely have practical access to what they interpret. As
they construct and hierarchize society, intellectuals simultaneously organize their
own marginality and isolation: Intellectuals should isolate themselves not only
from other social groups, but also from the this-worldly requirements of situation
and thus generate their free-floating position themselves (Giesen 1998: 50).

Russia is still in all respects a sad wasteland: backwardness as the basis


for the civilizing mission of intellectuals
As they familiarize themselves with the ideal-type of the European intellectual,
readers with a little knowledge of Russian history will hardly be able to shake the
feeling that it has been cribbed from a portrait of a member of the nineteenthcentury Russian intelligentsia and, in places, from that of a militant Bolshevik of the
Leninist or Stalinist mold. Like their European counterparts, Russian intellectuals of
the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries structured society and justified their
prominent place in it by defining its external and internal cultural boundaries. They
maintained these lines of demarcation by distancing themselves from official power,
the public per se, and the people, thus practically fortifying their marginal
position and well-balanced self-isolation.
For Russian intellectuals, the image of Russian backwardness served as the
launching pad and starting point for validating their historic mission. Russia [] is
still in all respects a sad wasteland; it must first plow this soil, starting from the
bottom and not the top, wrote Konstantin Kavelin, one of the acknowledged
founders of Russian liberalism, in 1862 (Alafaev and Sekirinskij 2001: 67).
Researching the debates within Russian agricultural cooperatives during the postreforms period, Yanni Kotsonis has asked why irreconcilable groups of government
officials, zemstvo leaders, and popular health and education professionals could
engage in dialogue on the peasant question. According to Kotsonis, a minimum
consensus was achievable thanks to a common belief in the backwardness of the
peasantry: It became clear that the main reason why these diverse and antagonistic
groups could work together in cooperatives and often elide their differences was that
their understandings of peasants were strikingly similar: peasants were silent, but

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the silent peasant was their common ground for debate, agreement, disagreement
(Kotsonis 1999: 3).
Strictly speaking, there was nothing specifically Russian about the thesis of
Russian backwardness in general and peasant backwardness in particular. Here we
encounter a serious epistemological problem: the basis of objective judgments on
any subject is the generation of distance between the analyzed object and the
analyzing subject. In the social sciences and humanities, this operation means that
the researcher creates a hierarchy between himself and the object of his researcha
procedure typical for the intellectual. Incidentally, this procedure should be equally
applied to the study of European (including Russian) intellectuals, something that is
unfortunately often ignored by Russian scholars of the intelligentsia. The study of
this phenomenon is also impossible without self-reflection on the part of the
researcher, without some distancing from the culture to which the researcher
himself belongs.
Thus, the attribution of backwardness to Russian peasants was not an exclusively
Russian phenomenon nor it is solely something that belongs to the archived past:
Any statement about social reality requires eliding diversity in generalization, and
dissolving personality into abstraction. The resulting conclusion that nothing
should be done as well as a proposal that something must be done required
abstraction and generalization, and as such were commentaries on what peasants
were, what they were not, and how, if at all, they might change. Nor was the
insistent drive to define peasants in absentia and then transform them in practice
specific to any one agenda or, indeed, any one country. In this sense, the othering
that historians, literary critics, and social scientists have come to identify as an
ominous exercise in power applies to any statement on reality and change; in its
broad form, othering is a word for defining and speaking (Kotsonis 1999: 3).
The idea of backwardness is not a self-sufficient construction, but only one
element in a binary opposition that serves to validate action (or inaction): The key
to analyzing such diverse groups lies in the one foundation on which they all rested,
a perception of backwardnessthe assumption that the peasantry was backward,
and the conclusion that backwardness necessitated the intervention or passive
benevolence of those who were not. [] If backwardness and progress as a
construction was pervasive among these groups, it was as an opposition and a
taxonomy sooner than as a trajectory promising universal progress. Progress was
used to posit that most of the population was backward, and in the process
precluded the emergence of an ideology in which peasants might understand
themselves, and which they might use as a basis for participation as legitimate
actors in one or another vision of a political order (Kotsonis 1999: 4). The idea of
backwardness thus not only reflected reality but also generated it, sweeping aside
alternative ideologies and means of solving current problems.
The formative impact of the backwardness of the people thesis on practice is
vividly illustrated by the debates among Russian doctors during the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries on the nonvenereal origins and spread of syphilis in the
Russian countryside, as researched and described by Laura Engelstein. This medical
problem still remains unresolved, and in the context of the present article the
question of whether endemic syphilis existed in the Russian village is irrelevant.

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Much more important is the persistence with which Russian doctors during this
period denied the origin of venereal syphilis in the countryside, moreover, by
drawing on ideas outside their professional competence.
The participants in this protracted discussion took the Slavophile view of the
peasantry, whose traditional customs had allegedly not been affected by progress.
They imagined rural women as unblemished paragons of peasant virtue. Not virtue
but cultural deprivation was at issue. Rural practitioners blamed the prevalence of
syphilis on poverty, ignorance, and traditional customs. They called it the Russian
peoples everyday disease (Engelstein 1986: 178). As befit intellectuals, Russian
doctors politicized a purely medical problem, defending their particular mission and
taking an ambivalent stance towards the state. Physicians had insisted that syphilis
was a question of state, a matter of national importance to be tackled by the joint
efforts of government and society (Engelstein 1986: 192). At the same time they
criticized government interference in matters of public health, stressing that official
regulation should be replaced by the authority of medicine, and the police by local
government. Only the events of 1905 undermined doctors notions of the simple
folk as passive victims of social circumstances and disease, and their faith in the
moral purity of the countryside. Laura Engelstein argues that it was precisely in this
connection that discussions on the nature of syphilis in Russia waned (Engelstein
1986: 198).
The allegation of Russian backwardness made by many historians was not of
course an invention of the west or a product of the Cold War. Nineteenth and
twentieth-century Russian sources teem with references to the backwardness of
Russia, and the progressive authors of these texts found evidence for this
everywhere, including in the accounts of peasants, who skillfully exploited the
stereotype of their own ignorance. The problem, however, is that the cliches created
by educated subjects of the late Russian Empire became both a standard of
culturedness and part of international historiography, evolving from a research
subject into a well-established cultural and scholarly argument. In studies of
Russian history, backwardness is ubiquitous, used to lend meaning to information
which in turn illustrates backwardness. In this sense, backwardness as a framework
of explanation is circular. [] [W]hen a fact takes its place alongside the myriad of
other facts that explain and are explained by backwardness, it becomes part of an
ideology in its own right, a framework of belief and explanation, and a basis to
prescribe and evaluate action and historical phenomena (Kotsonis 1999: 45).
The stability of the concept of Russian backwardness as a weighty scholarly
argument is attested by its popularity in the literature on Russian modernization,
despite a number of publications by historians in recent years which have
convincingly demonstrated that post-reform era Russian peasants had their own
tools and motives for discovering their civic and national identity.5
Of course, the conviction that Russia was backward was a symbol of the faith not
only amongst Russian liberals, but was also a support structure for all Russian
5

See, for example, Burbank, J. Legal Culture, Citizenship, and Peasant Jurisprudence: Perspectives from
the Early Twentieth Century. In P.H. Solomon, Jr. (Ed.), Reforming Justice in Russia, 18641996.
Armonk, NY, 1997, 82106; Norris, S. A War of Images: Russian Popular Prints, Wartime Culture, and
National Identity, 18121945. DeKalb, 2006.

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intellectuals: The Marxist and populist, as much as the classical liberal and
conservative, proceed from the premise that Russia was backward, and then debate
what is to be done about a backwardness that they all perceived (Kotsonis 1999:
5). But its conscious ideological application by Russian intellectuals began with the
debates of the Westernizers and the Slavophiles in the 1840s and 1850s, during
which the framework of the Russian liberal and conservative opposition was first
articulated.
The historical flesh and blood of the backwardness-progress controversy was
found in the opposition Russia-Europe. The polemics between Slavophiles and
Westernizers was a discussion between philosophers of history, on the one hand,
and historians and legal scholars, on the other. Both sides opposed Russia to Europe
and, moreover, did not reject the possibility of considering Europe as a role model.
Yet it was less a matter of whether to adopt something generally, and more
[a matter] of what and in what order (Tauber 1990: 571). This binary opposition
was entrenched in the Russian intellectual tradition for decades to come, becoming a
constant topic of discussion amongst Russian liberal ideologues. Moreover, in these
discussions the upper hand was gained by the Westernizing conviction that,
according to Pavel Miljukov, Historical development moves us in the same
direction that it moves every place in Europe, with the proviso that the
resemblance will never reach [] the point of total identity. True, it is a bit strange
to hear from this historian and leader of the Constitutional Democrats the following
opinion on the ballast-like nature of Russian history and its bearing on the countrys
present and future: We should not deceive ourselves and others with fear of an
imaginary betrayal of our national tradition. If our past is bound up with the present,
then only as ballast pulling us downwards, although more and more feebly with
every passing day (Miljukov 1992: 29, 30, 31).
Europe and Russia remained contrasting images of progress and backwardness in
public and official Russian discourse during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Generations of intellectuals, including historians, were raised on these images, and
not only in Russia and the Soviet Union. The antithesis Europe (the west)Russia
(USSR) was transformed from a subject of historicization into a weighty historical
argument. The whole question of Russia and the west is hampered by the fact
that a generalized image of the west played a significant role within Russia,
writes American scholar Jane Burbank. It is difficult to give up the comparison
with the west, and particularly the idea of backwardness, when these comparisons
were and are part of Russian culture. The elite of the imperial period themselves
made use of western ideal types in order to imagine what Russia could become or to
describe their actions. This is usually a reference to their behavior in the Russian
political and cultural context. Thus, the adoption by Russian public figures
(policymakers and public intellectuals) of the idea of the west as the model of
progress and modernity (as opposed to backwardness) and the idea of Russia as
an object of transformation to a great extent predetermined Russias historical path.
The imaginary west became a model or anti-model for an imaginary Russia, and
this binary rhetoric closed the doors to other possibilities, to other categories of
culture. From [this] point of view, the cultural concepts of Russia and the west

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should be an object of historical research, not a tool (theory) of historical


interpretation (Burbank 1999: 63).
In Russian intellectual discourse, Russian backwardness became (and remains)
a starting point for elaborating the concept of culturedness. Within the liberal
opposition, discussions of culture resulted in a futile search for the autonomous
personality.

Culture has barely touched them: in search of the developed personality


The article Personality, written by Vladimir Solovev for the Brockhaus and
Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, published at the end of the nineteenth century,
opens with the following definition: Personality (philosophy) is the internal
definition of an individual being in its independence, as [a being] possessing mind,
will, and a unique character unified by self-consciousness. Since the mind and the
will are (potentially) forms of an infinite content (for we can more and more fully
understand truth and seek to implement a more and more perfect goodness), human
P[ersonality] theoretically possesses an unconditional dignity that is the basis of its
inalienable rights, which are increasingly recognized in proportion to historical
progress (Brokgauz and Efron 1896: 898).
The concept of the person as a conscious, mature creature endowed with reason
and will was a commonplace in the worldview of educated society in the late
Russian Empire and a matter of particular concern for Russian liberals. The
European liberal answer to the question of whether a rational political order was
possible in principle consisted in the belief that it was feasible only by assuming the
freedom of the human personalitythat is, a person that has reached a certain
level of developmentand not simply of the individual per se. Russian liberal
intellectuals shared this belief. According to Konstantin Kavelin, [F]or peoples
called to universal historical action in the new world, such existence is impossible
without the principle of personality. [] The personality, recognizing in and of
itself its infinite, unconditional dignity, is a necessary condition of any spiritual
development of a people (Kantor 1999: 451). Only a personality can participate
actively in historical events: [P]ersonalities are the official or moral leaders of the
masses, noted Pavel Miljukov (Miljukov 1992: 57).
Moreover, we should emphasize that in their definition of personality Russian
liberals were far from a purely elite understanding of it. Thus, Konstantin Kavelin
underscored that in his reflections on the condition of personality in Russia, he was
not referring to moral personality in the highest sense of the word, that is, as the
result of a well-developed intellectual life. This kind of personality is everywhere an
exception to the general rule. No, I take personality in the most simple, everyday
sense, as a clear understanding of ones social standing and vocation, ones external
rights and external responsibilities, as the rational setting of immediate practical
aims and the equally rational and persistent pursuit of them (Kavelin 1989: 314).
Thus, liberals sought out in Russias past and present a personality that was the
result of rationalization in the Weberian sense or the product of the civilizing
process, to use Norbert Eliass term.

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The problem, however, was that Russian liberals, unlike intellectuals in other
European countries (in particular, German intellectuals), did not consider the Great
Russian nation cultural or even generally formed, that is, as consisting of
individual personalities aware of their own identity (including national identity).
Thus, as he elaborated the concept of the Russian national interest, Kavelin
proceeded from the impossibly low degree of culture of the entire dominant Great
Russian tribe, of all strata and classes of Russian society without exception
Culture has barely touched them. Even the characteristic traits of this tribe have not
yet been formed and are developing before our eyes (Alafaev and Sekirinskij 2001:
75). Decades later, Miljukov also unambiguously sided with this idea: [T]he most
outstanding features of the Russian national treasury have proven to be complete
vagueness and the lack of a pronounced Russian national appearance. Abroad, one
often stumbles upon indirect corroboration of this conclusion. Our compatriots are
frequently recognized as Russians simply because none of the pronounced national
characteristics that would distinguish a Frenchman, an Englishman, a German or,
generally, a member of any other cultural nation of Europe can be remarked in
them. If you like, this observation contains not only a negative but also a certain
positive characterization. A people on whom culture has not made a distinct
impression, a people with a wealth of all manner of inclinations, but in elementary,
embryonic form, and, moreover, with a predominance of primitive virtues and vices,
is obviously the same people in whose social order we found so much that is
unfinished and elementary. If you wish you can interpret this as a promise for the
future. But this is already a matter of faith, not precise knowledge (Miljukov 1994:
1415).
Liberal Russian intellectuals believed that Russia urgently needed to develop the
personal element, the individuation of the person, to use Kavelins expression.
They saw culturewhich, according to the generally accepted conviction registered
in the reference books of the day, was the active element, the living
crystallization of human activity (Granat: 173)as the instrument for creating
personality. Moreover, the term culture was used in two sensesculturedness,
i.e., a certain degree of education, and way of life or inner condition (Brokgauz
and Efron 1896). And yet historians who were adherents of cultural history (such as
Nikolaj Kareev and Pavel Miljukov) as often as not regarded their approach as a
history of daily life, refusing to see any signs of culturedness in the past of the
Russian people. In other words, in scholarly and political discourse, Russian
intellectuals used different concepts of culture: in support of their public mission,
they used a notion of culture (borrowed from German literature) in the narrow
sense of the word, whose meaning the British and French conveyed with the term
civilization. The dissemination of culture was associated with progress, defined
(in Kareevs formulation) as the process of the gradual improvement of the cultural
and social life of humanity (Brokgauz and Efron 1898: 351).
Thus, Russian liberal intellectuals saw their primary mission in overcoming
backwardness and spreading culturedness as the main tool for the development
of personality in Russia. Analyzing the debates among the arbiters of peasant fates
in agricultural cooperatives during the last decades of the empire, Yanni Kotsonis
concludes: Their mission was to educate peasants in one way or another, and there

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was nothing neutral about that education: it presumed that something was wrong
with peasant culture (ignorance that bred disease, insularity that perpetuated
indifference to progress, submission to amoral authority, or suspicion of moral
authority), and these agents prescribed an approximation of their own urban culture
to replace it (science, rationality, literacy, written law, or consciousness of ones
position in the regime at large) (Kotsonis 1999: 12).
The zeal for enlightenment permeated not only programs for the development of
public education, but also the solution of all pressing issues in Russian life,
including proposals for political and agrarian reforms. Thus, on the eve of the Great
Reforms, Konstantin Kavelin was convinced that they were preparing and
educating the people for political representation (Kavelin 1989: 153). In the early
icerin (a principled opponent, in the 1860s, of reorganizing the
1880s, Boris C
autocracy) saw parliament as a powerful educational tool: Parliament [] is
needed more for public education than for state administration. One of the
founders of Russian liberalism, Cicerin believed that given the immaturity of
Russian society, not much will come of it; but only in this way can it be itself
educated towards political life. It is necessary to establish a body in which public
opinion and the public will can be developed. This goal can be achieved by
attaching delegates from the nobility and zemstvo to the State Council (Sekirinskij
2001: 104, 106). A quarter century later, the program of the liberal conservative
Union of October 17 made political reform in Russia directly dependent on the
culturedness of the masses: [O]nly given an increase in the intellectual level
of the people and the dissemination of education in their midst can we expect that
they will achieve political maturity and economic prosperity. [] The very fate of
the current political reform depends to a significant degree on the consciousness
with which the population reacts to the exercise of the rights granted to them
(October 1992: 145).
Enlightenment and the formation of the conscious personality were also seen
to have an analogous function in agrarian reform. Konstantin Kavelin, for example,
detected an educational aim in the liberal land organization of the peasants, which
without breaking or violating their way of life, would make all sorts of successes
and improvements contingent on their gradual intellectual, moral, and economic
development (Alafaev and Sekirinskij 2001: 7677).
But who could implement a civilizing mission in a country where the
development of the autonomous personality was so belated? Liberally oriented
intellectuals saw themselves in this role. Konstantin Kavelin, for example,
considered the consolidation of intellectual forces an obligatory prerequisite for
the development of national self-consciousness and other progressive changes,
stressing the need to create a single, close-ranked Russian national intelligentsia
(Alafaev and Sekirinskij 2001: 76). Recalling, in the 1870s, the literary and
philosophical circles of the 1830s and 1840s in which the battles between the early
Slavophiles and Westernizers were played out, Kavelin described them as follows:
Our educated circles then represented oases amidst the Russian people in which
the best intellectual and cultural forces were concentratedartificial centers, with
their own particular atmosphere, in which elegant, deeply enlightened, and moral
personalities developed (Kavelin 1989: 333).

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Russian liberals of the following generation identified themselves with


enlightened societywhich was likewise an imagined community, the product
of cultural coding, the antipode of Russian backwardness, benightedness, and
ignorance: In this same frameworklegitimacyone may interrogate the host
of terms and binary oppositions that historical actors employed as a matter of
commonsensical and transparent language. The casual reference to a benighted
(temnyi) group referred to the writers enlightenment (prosveshchenie). Society
(obshchestvo) as used in 1914 rarely meant the whole population, as it would at a
later time, but implied membership in a small educated or propertied elite that was
cultured (kulturnyi) and civilized (tsivilizatsionnyi), and was used in contradistinction to the people (narod) or the depersonalized masses (massy) (Kotsonis
1999: 7).
The liberal conservative Boris Cicerin, a contemporary of Kavelin, saw
preservation of the state-supported privileged nobility as guaranteeing the success
of pro-European reforms. His motives for preserving the class privileges of the
nobility stemmed from a notion of the special moral maturity of the class, which,
according to Cicerin, consists in a hereditary political status, in the traditions that
follow from this, in constant participation in state and elected service combined with
an independent position, in the habit of power acquired through age-old domination
of the serfs, in the education that is the privilege of the highest estate, and in the
estates concept of honor, which combines a sense of political duty with a
icerin believed that
consciousness of personal dignity (Sekirinskij 2001: 96). C
maintaining the privileged state of the nobility would constrain bureaucratic misrule
and thus, as the bulwark of the throne and the defender of freedom, the nobility
could become one of the most useful political elements of Russia (Sekirinskij
2001: 97). It is true, however, that Cicerin intended to transform the nobility into a
more obvious cohort of intellectuals. He proposed introducing property and
educational qualifications for noblemen: 500 desyatinas of land and completion of a
course of study at university.
The problem of Russian intellectuals was, however, that the search for
conscious personality in Russia ended in disappointment. Not only for the
Bolsheviks did the civilizing mission turn into contempt for the uncivilized. In
the early 1860s, Kavelin enthusiastically wrote that in Russia there is material in
the nobility, as like as two peas to [the nobility] that reigned in England in the
eighteenth century and produced its brilliant parliamentary government. By the
mid-1860s, however, his mood was no longer suffused with the same optimism:
But it is not the Russian popular masses that alone lack personality. Domestic and
public life, intellectual and all other activity, even of the educated strata of our
society, exude a lack of personality and a lack of character. Living a long time
abroad, in Europe, where individuality was defined so sharply and so temperamentally, you easily learn to pick out Russians by a kind of vagueness in everythingin
outward appearance, movements, conversation, and in their very views on things
(Kavelin 1989: 228). Ten years later, the Russian nobility seemed to him a kind of
patina, which so long impeded and continues to impede the development of the
masses (Alafaev and Sekirinskij 2001: 67, 72). A few more years later, he would
write without any hope: Personalities face the prospect of being turned into

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345

impersonal human units deprived in their moral existence of any foothold and
therefore easily replaced one by the other (Kantor 1999: 456).
Such also was the position of the Russian doctors who defended the hypothesis of
the nonvenereal spread of syphilis in the countryside despite the fact that this claim
called into question the very possibility of overcoming the disease: In the vast
majority of cases with which Russian physicians dealt, traditional mores seemed
still intact and syphilis appeared not as the result of sexual promiscuity, the egotistic
search for private pleasure in disregard of the collective norm, but as the result of
social promiscuity, a reflection of collective tyranny and the weakness of self. This
was a weakness the physicians deplored, for it inspired them with a sense of their
own helplessness. Yet they persistently rejected evidence of sexual misbehavior that
testified to the crumbling of traditional bonds. Eager for signs of personal autonomy
that could be disciplined in nontraditional ways, through self-regulation guided by
medical expertise, the sexualization of syphilis was nevertheless a strategy most
Russian physicians did not willingly embrace (Engelstein 1986: 177). The
civilizing mission of liberal intellectuals in Russia was blocked by their adherence
to the idea of the hopeless backwardness of the people, which deprived the
intellectuals themselves of the hope of validating their role as its leader and
educator.

In our historiography there are more opinions than scientifically valid facts:
the role of Sacral ideologemes in the professional knowledge of liberal
historians
I remind readers that it is characteristic of intellectuals to claim to possess certain
knowledge that, as a rule, is not within the scope of their professional competencies.
Members of the historiographical profession were an important exception to this
rule, however. The science of history was perceived in nineteenth-century Europe
the era of the discovery of nations, the flourishing of national movements, and the
construction of nation-statesas magistra vitae; governments and societies
expected from it clearly formulated and well-founded guideposts not only for the
road traveled but also for the road ahead. Historians found themselves possessors of
colossal powerthe power to tell states and societies about their past, present, and
futureand they became professional creators of (national) identity. Unsurprisingly, expert knowledge and ideological cliches were intertwined in their work in
complex ways.
Of course, Russian liberal historians were aware of the intimate relationship of
their profession with life, with the political, social and cultural demands and
expectations of state and society. Konstantin Kavelin emphasized, for example, that
interpretations of the village commune were influenced by common notions of folk
life in general and [Russian folk life] in particular (Kavelin 1989: 95). Pavel
Vinogradov acknowledged the ideological nature of the idea of progress.6 As
follows from the passage quoted above, Pavel Miljukov distinguished matters of
6

See Korzun 2000: 167.

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I. Narskij

faith and precise knowledge in his own arguments about the level of individual
personal development in Russia.
Some historians viewed nonscientific influences on professional research work as
a stimulus, whereas others saw it as an obstacle to the development of scholarship.
Thus, Nikolaj Kareev argued that the public mission of Russian scholars generated
that selfsame discursive-group autonomy that intellectuals cared so much about:
The social position of the Russian scholar, who recognizes himself as a man of the
intelligentsia, removes him from the dead learnedness of corporate scholarship, but
at the same time he is removed from the mundane bustle which allows him to
stand not outside of life nor in the middle of its turmoil, but above it, that is, where
the very attitude to life can be more objective and peaceful (Korzun 2000: 125). As
of an obvious virtue possessed by the work of Russian scholars, Aleksandr LappoDanilevskij wrote about its connection with that that we in Russia call the idea; for
the Russian scholar there is no science outside of life and without life (Korzun
2000: 136).
Vasilij Kljucevskij took a different stance, stating with some irritation: In our
historiography there are more opinions than scientifically valid facts, more doctrines
than disciplines. This part of the literature gives more material for characterizing the
contemporary development of Russian society than directions for studying our
past (Kljucevskij 1983: 160). Pavel Miljukov, who was both a politician and a
scholar, held an ambiguous and shifting point of view. Before the 1905 Revolution
he considered the influence of the historian on the politician beneficial and the
reverse influence undesirable. In the years of the first Russian revolution, the fusion
of history and politics (with the loss of autonomy this entailed for scholarship)
seemed invigorating to him. In emigration, he again contrasted the gaze of the
historian with the blindness of the politician.7
The historians inability to attain absolute objectivity, the view from nowhere,
the position of God has long been an undisputed maxim of historiographical and
general scientific self-reflection. The course and outcome of research is impacted by
numerous factorsfrom socialization and ideological preconceptions to personal
experience and the passing moods of the scholar. And yet there is still reason to
distinguish prescientific influences or prejudices (Gadamer) and impulses coming
from other disciplines.
The impact of prescientific preconceptions on the work of Russian historians is
perfectly illustrated by Boris Cicerins recollections about his acquaintance with
Slavophilism. The memoirist writes honestly that to understand Slavophile views at
a young age was too much for him. In his skeptical attitude towards them he was
influenced by his own provincial experience, common sense, and the position of his
icerin, who had just arrived in Moscow, the preaching of the
father. For C
Slavophiles ran counter to all notions that could develop in my youthful soul. []
They wanted to convince me that the entire upper echelon of Russian society, which
had submitted to the influence of the Petrine reforms, despised all things Russian
and blindly worshipped everything foreignwhich I, living within Russia, had
never seen in my life. They assured me that the highest ideal of humanity was those
7

For more details, see Korzun 2000: 160, 162, 163.

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347

same peasants among whom I lived and had known since childhood, and this
seemed to me absolutely absurd. [] All this to such an extent contradicted the
promptings of the simplest common sense, that for outsiders who had come, like us,
from the provinces, and were not clouded by the logomachies of the Moscow salons,
the Slavophile party seemed like some sort of strange sect (Cicerin 1991: 20, 21).
It was precisely this skepticism about the cultural conditions of the peasantry,
icerin an instantaneous, almost automatic
acquired in his youth, that prompted in C
negative reaction to any attempt to idealize them, whether Slavophilism, populism
or the quest of Lev Tolstoy, about whom Cicerin wrote somewhat ironically:
Everything came down finally to the worship of the mind and activity of the
muzhik. The muzhiks wisdom was passed off as the height of human wisdom;
physical labor was deemed the only useful and normal form (Cicerin 1991: 153).
But prescientific prejudices could be transformed into professional knowledge.
icerin is telling because he was hugely
And here, too, the example of Boris C
influenced by Hegelianism. The young historical science of the nineteenth century
remained in thrall to philosophy, which since the mid-century had caused legitimate
doubts among historians such as Johann Droysen. In 1844, Timofej Granovskijs
thesis that the true meaning of history lay in the gradual development of various
aspects of the human spirit (Cicerin 1991: 16) had made a strong impression on
Cicerin, who was then planning to enter university. During his student years, Cicerin
earnestly studied the philosophy of Hegel, which earned him the nickname Hegel
among his peers and gradually transformed the initial symbol of faith into his own
professional knowledge, developed with painstaking labor: At this time that
philosophical-historical knowledge which formed, one might say, the skeleton of all
my subsequent works and whose construction was the main task of my life, had
already begun to take shape in me. It arose from a comparison of the philosophical
and political development of mankind. [] The entire historical development of
mankind gained meaning for me. History seemed to me like a real image of the
spirit, which expounded its decisions in accordance with the eternal laws of reason
intrinsic to it. This was not a general idea that I accepted on faith, but a fact that
revealed itself in phenomena. The sheer variety of events and peoples composed a
general tableau vivant in which each detail became an organic member of the
combined whole. All my subsequent works have served only to confirm this view.
Of course, with ever-greater study of the sources, particularities were presented in a
different light, but each thoroughly researched detail not only did not refute the
basic principles of my views, but also provided new reinforcement for them as it
were. The meager sketch was filled with more and more content (Cicerin 1991:
66, 67).
Konstantin Kavelin followed a similar trajectory, from accepting an idea on faith
to expert knowledge. With some certainty we can state that the catalyst of all his
professional work was Chaadaevs speculative thesis (which Kavelin took on faith)
that history is moved by the developed personality, and that the absence of the latter
explains the alleged immobility of the Russian past. Kavelin attempted to affirm the
lack of the personalitys development in Russian history by citing the unprovable
(from a scientific point of view) difference evinced by the Germanic tribes, who
apparently developed a deep sense of personality early as a result of protracted

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wars and migrations, which the Eastern Slavs did not experience. The RussianSlavic tribes represent a completely different phenomenon. Quiet and peaceful, they
have lived continuously on their lands. The personality principle did not exist for
them. Family life and relations could not foster in Russian Slavdom the sense of
uniqueness, of concentration, that compel a man to draw a sharp line between
himself and others, and always and in all things to distinguish himself from others.
[] Here man is somehow blurred; his powers, not concentrated by anything, are
bereft of elasticity, of energy, and are dissolved in a sea of intimate, peaceful
relations. Here man is lulled: he gives himself up to rest and morally slumbers. He is
trusting, weak, and carefree, like a child. A deep sense of personality is out of the
question (Kavelin 1989: 20, 22).
In the works of Konstantin Kavelin, all of Russian history is transformed into a
master narrative about the metamorphoses of personality, which explain ancient
Russian history, the career of Peter the Great, and the rapprochement with Europe:
We did not have the personality principle: ancient Russian life created it; from the
eighteenth century it began to act and develop. That is why we have grown so close
to Europe; for, by a completely different path, it had at this time arrived at the same
goal with us. Having developed the personality principle to the utmost in all its
historical, narrow, exclusive definitions, [Europe] sought to give free range to man
in civil society and recreated this society. In [Europe] there also ensued a new order
of things that was opposite to the previous historical order, which had been national
in the narrow sense of the word. But here, along with the personality principle, man
entered the scene of historical action directly because personality did not exist in
ancient Russia and consequently had no historical definitions. The one and the other
should not be forgotten when speaking about borrowing and the reforms of Russia
in the eighteenth century: we did not borrow from Europe her exclusively national
elements; they had then disappeared or were in the process of disappearing. In both
Europe and Russia then it was a question of man; whether consciously or
unconsciously does not matter (Kavelin 1989: 66).
In this regard, the specific character of Kavelins notion of culture should be
noted, as it is closely linked with his view of Russian history and the lack of
development of personality in modern Russia. The harshness of his remark, for
example, that when the Great Russians moved eastwards in the eleventh and twelfth
centuries they did not bring with them any culture: neither intellectual nor civic
(Kavelin 1989: 197) ceases to seem strange if we bear in mind that Kavelin
considered urban communities, feudal relations, aristocratic strata, and the division
of property to be elements of culture. For him, culture was synonymous with
society and was imagined as a kind of universal and cumulative process that was
inextricably linked with progress. It is not by chance that Kavelin used the phrase
degree of culture, whose presence in the vocabulary of a contemporary proponent
of cultural history is difficult to imagine.
In Pavel Miljukovs historiographical work, belief in the idea of progress was
closely bound with the notion of culture and the history of culture. He himself
admitted in the 1930s, 40 years after the first edition of Outlines of Russian Culture,
that in that work the very concept of culture [was] not fully clarified (Miljukov
1992: 57). Following Humboldt, Miljukov separated culture into material and

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spiritual, denoting them with the terms culture and civilization. In accordance
with tradition, he defines internal history as the subject of everyday or cultural
history, while external history is the subject of pragmatic, political history.
The failure to define the scope of cultural history led to inevitable discord in
determining cultural historys content. One group of historians included state
development among the objects of cultural history, a second group, social
dynamics; and a third group, economic evolution. Finally, some scholars narrowed
culture to spiritual culture and interpreted its history as the history of the
intellectual, moral, religious, and aesthetic life of mankind (Miljukov 1909: 3).
Miljukov extracted himself from a difficult situation by expanding the list of
objects of cultural history to its limit, elegantly rejecting the building of
hierarchies among individual aspects of culture, and firmly welding culture to
progress. In light of this, it seems best of all to return to the original use of the term
cultural history, i.e., to use it in the broader sense in which it embraces all aspects of
internal history: economic, social, state, intellectual, moral, religious, and aesthetic.
This will, of course, eliminate only some of the terminological confusion; the
question of which of these aspects of social life must be considered central or
fundamental, and which secondary or derivative, remains open. Not so long ago,
historians assumed that development of the spiritual element was the basis of the
historical process; recently, the opposite view has dominated, according to which the
material conditions of production determine the entire content of history. Both these
views seem equally one-sided to us, and arguing over the primacy of one or another
element of cultural history also does not seem particularly fruitful to us. We must, of
course, distinguish the simpler phenomena of social development from the more
complex, but we consider entirely hopeless attempts to reduce the abovementioned
aspects of historical evolution to any single one of them. If simple and complex can
be distinguished anywhere, then it is not in the different aspects of human nature but
in the various stages of its development. In this latter sense, the development of each
aspect of historical life begins from the simple and ends in the complex. The closer to
the beginning of the process, the more elementary are manifestations of the various
aspects of life, material and spiritual, and the closer these aspects are bound to each
other. The farther the process evolves, the more do different aspects of the process
detach themselves from each other, and the more complicated the product of their
interaction becomes (Miljukov 1909: 34).
Liberally oriented Russian historians professionally performed tasks that other
groups of intellectuals took upon themselves without being experts in the production
of identities. Moreover, liberal historians marshaled master narratives, coherent
messages claiming to be the authoritative account of some segment of history
say, the history of a nation (Megill 2007: 67). The core of these narratives was
constituted by ideologemes that had themselves become an integral part of Russian
culture: belief in the irreversibility and creative power of progress, and in European
scholarship and enlightenment, which sooner or later would ensure the formation of
a full-fledged personality, worthy of freedom, independence, and corresponding
state and legal institutions. Moreover, as befits intellectuals, liberal historians
assigned their own corporation a preeminent and even decisive role in solving societys most pressing problems. They saw scholarly work as the highest manifestation

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of the developed personality, and historiography as the principal mentor of


personality, which according to them was so scarce in Russia: Henceforth, only
deep study of ourselves in the present and past can balance intellectual and moral
strengths with reality, and unite thought and life into one harmonious body. There is
and can be no other way (Kavelin 1989: 255). Any Russian historian of the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would definitely have seconded Kavelins
decisive opinion.
The characterization of the liberal in the broad sense as a supporter of social
progress in the form of evolution (Stepanskij 1999: 169) is probably sufficient for
political history and the traditional history of ideas, but can hardly be considered
exhaustive for the new cultural and intellectual history. As we consider Russian
liberalism we should not forget that it was neither classical nor post-classical. It
was a type of intellectual liberalism that emerged and was formed primarily on a
theoretical level within an inadequate environment (Selokhaev 1999: 31).
The functions and rituals of Russian liberals as an intellectual movement did not
differ from the functions and rituals of similar groups in Western, Central, and
Eastern Europe. Like their counterparts in other European societies, Russian
intellectuals constructed a national identity, structured and hierarchized an
imaginary community, maintained a distance from the state, and complained about
the publics lack of understanding. Like German intellectuals, who were the first to
recognize the tardiness of their nation in comparison to their western neighbors and
in a certain sense prepared the most easily adoptable version of modernizing
innovations for new arrivals (Visnevskij 1998: 31), Russian liberal intellectuals
sensed and maintained their loneliness, self-isolation, and exclusion from participation in political decisions.
However, in support of their civilizing mission, a mission that also typified
western intellectuals of the nineteenth century, Russian liberals went too far. Their
concept of Russian backwardness became a universally normative explanation
for various problems of Russian reality, and the foundation for cultural coding of
their own identity: The fact that few stepped forward to identify themselves as
backward should alert us to some of the rhetorical and legitimizing functions of the
term. The person wielding the term in an arsenal of vocabulary posits that he or she
is advanced and able to comment on others who are rendered illegitimate by their
backwardness (Kotsonis 1999: 7).
The position of Russian liberal intellectuals was particularly vulnerable in the
late Russian Empire, when the masses of the Russian population began to stir. In
this situation, the concept of the countrys backwardness and the immaturity of
the population blocked the very idea of recruiting the population to political
activism. It was the fact of mass mobilization that gave left and right a common
arena and a common foundation for activity in much of Europe, so that a modern
politics could emerge in the guise of conservatism and reaction as well as liberalism
and socialism, introducing mass participation if only in order to argue against it.
This crucial element, paradox and all, was beginning to make an appearance in
urban Russia, where socialist mass mobilization, as well as an unmistakable
dirigisme, was discernable in the early twentieth century. Dirigisme was certainly a
characteristic of the educated groups involved in rural affairs, but mobilization was

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not to be found even among the one groupthe professionalsthat spoke about
peasants in the language of citizenship. There was little effort at enlistment of
village elites, little attempt to cultivate a new elite, and little negotiation and
compromise with rural populations (Kotsonis 1999: 185).
Arguably, Russian liberals felt even more isolated than their German counterparts. A lack of attention from state institutions and the populations indifference
only exacerbated their belief both in the backwardness of their potential audience
and the absence in Russia of a cultural personality in sufficient quantities to
constitute the Great Russian nation. As a result of attempts to validate their moral
leadership and civilizing mission, they sooner or later came to naught over their own
reluctance to rally the greater public to their cause, much more the masses of the
(rural) population, which they deemed insufficiently cultured.
Translated from the Russian by Thomas Campbell

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