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Nietzsche: impact on Russian thought

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E071-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

Nietzsche’s thought had a massive influence on Russian literature and the arts, religious philosophy and political culture. His popularizers were writers, artists and political radicals who read his works through the prism of their own culture, highlighting the moral, psychological and mythopoetic aspects of his thought and their sociopolitical implications, and appropriating them for their own agendas. Literature addressed to a mass readership disseminated crude notions of a master morality and an amoral Superman.

Russians discovered Nietzsche in the early 1890s. His admirers regarded him as a proponent of self-fulfilment and an enemy of the ‘’slave morality’ of Christianity. Two of them, Dmitri Merezhkovskii (1865–1941) and Maksim Gor’kii (real name Aleksei Peshkov, 1868–1936), were the progenitors of the two main streams of Nietzsche appropriation – the religious and the secular. Merezhkovskii was the initiator of Russian Symbolism. In 1896 he began trying to reconcile Nietzsche and Christianity; this attempt led him to propound an apocalyptic Christianity in 1900 and to found the Religious-Philosophical Society of St Petersburg (1901–3, 1906–17). Its members, the so-called God-seekers, included artists and intellectuals who were also attracted to Nietzsche. As for Gor’kii, his early short stories featured vagrant protagonists who personified crude versions of the slave and the master morality. In 1895 Gor’kii began to dream of a Russian Superman who would lead the masses in a struggle for liberation and imbue them with respect for Man, which he always wrote with a capital letter. During the Revolution of 1905, he and Anatolii Lunacharskii (1875–1933), a Bolshevik admirer of Nietzsche, constructed a Marxist surrogate religion to inspire heroism and self-sacrifice. They believed, as did most Symbolists and some philosophers, that art could transform human consciousness.

New literary schools emerged after 1909. The Futurists exaggerated Nietzsche’s anti-rationalism, anti-historicism and cultural iconoclasm. The Acmeists propounded a non-tragic Apollonian Christianity and idealized classical antiquity and ‘world culture’. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Nietzsche was considered an ideologue of reaction and his books were removed from the People’s Libraries, but his ideas, not identified as such, continued to circulate and pervaded Soviet literature, the arts and political culture.

Citing this article:
Rosenthal, Bernice Glatzer. Nietzsche: impact on Russian thought, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E071-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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