A German dictionary

Hegel - Berlin

“In an attempt to explain Russian Bolshevism to Lady Ottoline Morrell, Bertrand Russell once remarked that, appalling though it was, it seemed the right sort of government for Russia: “If you ask yourself how Dostoevsky’s characters should be governed, you will understand”. (Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers,1978).

I remember reading (long time ago) the letters that Dostoevsky sent to his brother after having been released from Siberia. He requested a German grammar and dictionary, in order to study that language. In “The Possessed” Stavrogin is said to have studied in Germany if I recall. (As an aside, that same request was made by Antonio Gramsci in jail to Tatiana as well as Francesco De Sanctis in jail -Castel Dell’Ovo- in 1850: he translated Hegel “Wissenschaft der Logik” there, but this is another story).

The reason why German Idealism influenced so much of Russia’s intellectual history has a very good explanation in Isaiah Berlin‘s “Russian Thinkers”. Hegel and Schelling (plus their followers) were the real drivers of the intellectual life of Russia  from the years 1840 till the October 1917. Here it goes.

First, Tzar Peter the Great created a society, says Berlin, where a small collection of Western educated intellectuals drove the entire government machine in a country where the biggest part of the population lived in a material and intellectual condition equal to Europe’s 13th century. That created the first structural break and led to December 1825. Russia created the word ‘intelligentzia’, at the end of the day.

Secondly, (Berlin again) French culture – the traditional home of educated Russians- was severed off by the autocracy because the Tzar realized that it was too risky to have links with the country of 1789. That drove the educated Russians to the universities where Fichte, Schelling and Hegel taught. No mystery that Ivan Karamazov speaks about the very same questions that Ludwig Feuerbach or David Strauss were debating.
See also Karl Löwith, “From Hegel to Nietzsche”.

A superb seminar on this is the one below by Massimo Cacciari (in Italian):

Categories: Society

3 replies


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