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Russian philosophy of history

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E081-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2002
Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

In his classic book The Russian Idea Nikolai Berdiaev pointed out that ‘independent Russian thought was awakened by the problem of the philosophy of history’. It was because educated, Westernized Russians needed an answer to the problem of Russia’s whence and whither: Who are we? Where are we going? What is Russia’s place in universal history?

There were many reasons for this passionate search for the meaning of history. It was a means to define Russia’s national identity. It expressed the deeply felt need for modernization, stemming from increasing awareness of the contrast between Russia’s political power and its social backwardness. And – above all, perhaps – it was a result of the disintegration of Russia’s ecclesiastical culture, serving as a substitute for a religious world-view.

The central place in this secular religion of history was occupied by the notion of progress. It showed a direction, thus answering the ‘cursed question’ of what was to be done; therefore, the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia saw the commitment to progress as the most important constitutive part of its self-definition. But many conceptions of progress could also function as a secular theodicy, or rather historiodicy, explaining and justifying the sufferings of the past and present as a necessary price for the triumph of truth and justice in the future. Even more: in a historically retarded country the idea of inevitable stages of development could serve also as a justification for suffering in the immediate future, providing arguments for the view that present individuals, and entire generations, had to sacrifice themselves for the earthly salvation of their descendants. Hence it is understandable that the idea of inevitable, universal progress found in Russia not only enthusiastic advocates but also powerful critics.

Citing this article:
Walicki, Andrzej. Russian philosophy of history, 2002, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E081-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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