The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen

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Harvard University Press, May 9, 2016 - History - 592 pages

Alexander Herzen--philosopher, novelist, essayist, political agitator, and one of the leading Russian intellectuals of the nineteenth century--was as famous in his day as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. While he is remembered for his masterpiece My Past and Thoughts and as the father of Russian socialism, his contributions to the history of ideas defy easy categorization because they are so numerous. Aileen Kelly presents the first fully rounded study of the farsighted genius whom Isaiah Berlin called "the forerunner of much twentieth-century thought."

In an era dominated by ideologies of human progress, Herzen resisted them because they conflicted with his sense of reality, a sense honed by his unusually comprehensive understanding of history, philosophy, and the natural sciences. Following his unconventional decision to study science at university, he came to recognize the implications of early evolutionary theory, not just for the natural world but for human history. In this respect, he was a Darwinian even before Darwin.

Socialism for Russia, as Herzen conceived it, was not an ideology--least of all Marxian "scientific socialism"--but a concrete means of grappling with unique historical circumstances, a way for Russians to combine the best of Western achievements with the possibilities of their own cultural milieu in order to move forward. In the same year that Marx declared communism to be the "solution to the riddle of history," Herzen denied that any such solution could exist. History, like nature, was contingent--an improvisation both constrained and encouraged by chance.

 

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Contents

Chapter 1 Who Was Herzen?
1
Chapter 2 Russia and the Romantic Revolution
8
Chapter 3 A Romantic Youth
24
Chapter 4 A Revolution in Science
35
Chapter 5 Science and History
54
Chapter 6 An Education in Method
67
Chapter 7 Science and SaintSimonism
88
Chapter 8 Prison and Exile
119
Chapter 15 Toward Another Shore
322
Chapter 16 View from the Other Shore
340
Chapter 17 The Living Truth
363
Chapter 18 In Defense of Inconsistency
382
Chapter 19 What Is History?
412
Chapter 20 The Polish Uprising
452
Chapter 21 True Nihilism
474
Chapter 22 The Last Years
500

Chapter 9 Awakening
138
Chapter 10 The Discovery of Chance
160
Nature and Time
187
Chapter 12 Man in the Middle
228
Chapter 13 A Conservative Revolution
261
Herzen and Proudhon
289
Epilogue
524
Notes
535
Illustration Credits
583
Index
585
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About the author (2016)

Aileen Kelly is Fellow of King's College and Reader in Intellectual History and Russian Culture, Emerita, at the University of Cambridge.

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