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Chaadaev, Pëtr Iakovlevich (1794–1856)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E007-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 25, 2020, from

Article Summary

Pëtr Chaadaev was the first Russian thinker for whom his own country became a philosophical problem. His works initiated the powerful Russian tradition of reflecting on Russia’s whence and whither: that is to say, the meaning of Russian history, the character of Russian national identity, and the possible, or necessary, paths of Russian historical development in the future. However, Chaadaev’s answer to these questions was mostly negative: he defined Russia not by what it was, but by what it was not.

A paradoxical feature of Chaadaev’s s position was that his general philosophical views did not apply to his native country. He was a convinced Westernizer, identifying Western development with universal human history, but Russia was in his view the opposite of the West, an exception to the general rules. His general social philosophy, deeply influenced by the French theocratic traditionalists, was inherently conservative, stressing the importance of supra-individual unity and of continuous historical traditions; in contrast with this, his philosophy of Russian history defined Russia as a country without unity and without history, thus lacking the basic conditions for a genuine conservatism. This view provoked a strong reaction among Russian Romantic conservatives: they accepted some aspects of Chaadaev’s conservative critique of atomistic individualism but tried to refute his pessimistic view of Russia, by arguing that, in fact, not Russia but the West represented atomistic disintegration and incapacity for organic development.

Citing this article:
Walicki, Andrzej. Chaadaev, Pëtr Iakovlevich (1794–1856), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E007-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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