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Slavonic and Eastern European Review
[Malia] has given us another typically challenging piece of work...The strength of Malia's book is that he reminds us how often we have been wrong about Russia.
— Hugh Ragsdale
As the dust clears from the fall of Communism, will Western eyes see Russia, the unclaimed orphan of Western history or Russia as she truly is, a perplexing but undeniable member of the European family? A dazzling work of intellectual history by a world-renowned scholar, spanning the years from Peter the Great to the fall of the Soviet Union, this book gives us a clear and sweeping view of Russia not as an eternal barbarian menace but as an outermost, if laggard, member in the continuum of European nations.
The Russian troika hurtles through these pages. The Spectre, modernity's belief in salvation by revolutionary ideology, haunts them. Alice's looking glass greets us at this turn and that. Throughout, Martin Malia's inspired use of these devices aptly conveys the surreality of the whole Soviet Russian phenomenon and the West's unbalanced perception of it. He shows us the usually distorted images and stereotypes that have dominated Western ideas about Russia since the eighteenth century. And once these emerge as projections of the West's own internal anxieties, he shifts his focus to the institutional structures and cultural forms Russia shares with her neighbors.
Here modern Europe is depicted as an East-West cultural gradient in which the central and eastern portions respond to the Atlantic West's challenge in delayed and generally skewed fashion. Thus Russia, after two centuries of building then painfully liberalizing its Old Regime, in 1917 tried to leap to a socialism that would be more advanced and democratic than European capitalism. The result was a cruel caricature of European civilization, which mesmerized and polarized the West for most of this century. As the old East-West gradient reappears in genuinely modern guise, this brilliantly imaginative work shows us the reality that has for so long tantalized--and eluded--Western eyes.
[Malia] has given us another typically challenging piece of work...The strength of Malia's book is that he reminds us how often we have been wrong about Russia.
— Hugh Ragsdale
In Russia under Western Eyes, Malia investigates in detail the evolution of European and Anglo-American views of Russia in their intellectual and cultural context, relating a wide array of views, personalities, intellectual trends and political development over almost three centuries. Extraordinarily well read in history and in the literature in four or more languages, Malia has an eye for arresting quotations and striking formulations...Malia presents many curious facts and personalities discussing his varied themes, and he makes many stimulating comparisons between different periods...This book offers rich food for thought on many levels.
— John T. Alexander
Malia is extraordinarily good on the Soviet period. He brings together, in a style of sustained, high-octane precision, such diverse themes as Soviet reality itself, the stirrings of dissidence and then its bursting-out, calibrating these with the political , intellectual and moral currents in the west. These were currents which transmuted the Soviet Union into a legion of visions, divided between the nightmarish and the utopian...In the sweep of European history and above all in its intellectual history, which Malia describes with brilliance, Russia has been seen alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) as a barbaric threat and a democratic saviour; as a fount of simple faith and as the quintessential political state; as a chaotic sink of corruption and the epitome of Prussian bureaucratic order.
— John Lloyd
In Russia Under Western Eyes Martin Malia takes on and demolishes...clichés that continue to infest our debate about what went wrong in Russia. Western opinion, he points out, has traditionally 'demonized or divinized' Russia 'less because of her real role in Europe than because of the fears and frustrations, or the hopes and aspirations, generated within European society by its own domestic problems.'...Russia Under Western Eyes is the product of decades of research and thoughtful reflection by a historian as familiar with the intellectual history of modern Western and Central Europe as that of Russia itself. His broad perspective allows him to avoid the exaggeration of Russian distinctiveness frequently encountered in writings by those who know Russia better than the rest of Europe, or the rest of Europe better than Russia. His prose, though erudite and nuanced, is clear and straightforward. Refreshingly, Malia never leaves his reader in doubt of his views. In fact, he shouts out his key judgements with éclat...Russia Under Western Eyes is the most insightful book published in any language to date on Russia's place in European intellectual and political history. It is likely to stand as the definitive treatment of the subject for years to come, a source of pithy questions for those who agree and of propositions to refute for those who don't. But Malia has set a standard of proof that will be exceedingly difficult for his critics to match.
— Jack F. Matlock, Jr
Malia's book, scholarly in form and substance, eminently readable, intriguing, imaginative, controversial, has substantial lessons for Europeans and their sense of their world.
— John Erickson
In his ambitious and thought-provoking book, Martin Malia takes as his subject "the West's judgments about Russia as a power but even more as a civilization." He challenges the view that Russia was perennially seen by Europeans as a despotic, alien, and threatening place The author has astute things to say about the "surreal" nature of the later Soviet Union, where an upside-down Leninist party-state substituted for a "social" system Malia offers some profound reflections on the prospects for Russia's becoming a "normal" society and on what he believes is the end of socialism.
— S. A. Smith
Where is Russia headed? Will the country somehow dig out from under the layers of communist rubble, or does another nightmarish historical chapter lie ahead? These questions lie at the heart of the inquiry undertaken by Martin Malia in Russia Under Western Eyes. But plotting Russia's destiny from afar, he shows, has always been a task fraught with intellectual peril...Mr. Malia's method here, in a history of ideas packed with dazzling aphorisms, is to chart not so much Russian reality as the oscillating Western perceptions of that reality over the past several centuries...[It is] a stunning display of erudition...The historical looking glass [Russia Under Western Eyes] wields is a powerful device.
— Gabriel Schoenfeld
[Martin Malia] has written a book saying what is true, and what has been false, in the Western perception of Russia...This is a useful piece of background reading for anyone approaching the subject.
— Norma Stone
Russia Under Western Eyes may prove something of an icebreaker in the current debate on how to deal with post-communist Russia...Malia brings vast erudition to his assault on many 'less rational Western reactions' to Russia, insisting that only Bolshevism represented a true fusion of the state with a messianic idea. Even Russia's Pan-Slavism, when it gathered momentum in the second half of the 19th century, originated outside the Winter Palace and never became the official objective of state policy. Only Lenin managed to turn Russia into something it has never been before—a revolutionary state determined to bring down the entire international system—and cut her off from her steady movement closer to the West. The subtext of Malia's argument is that the Soviet period must be looked upon as 'the great aberration' in Russia's development and that we should look upon her in a pan-European context as we define our relations with the post-Communist rulers.
— Dusko Doder
[Malia] gives an insightful overview of European and American reaction to Russia's internal and external policies over the past three centuries...This book is more than a short history of modern Russia, for to properly assess Western reaction to Russia, Malia reviews and discusses the concurrent political, economic, cultural, and intellectual changes in the West as well...Malia also tracks what he calls the West-East cultural gradient, the liberalization of the West, and the eastward spread of Marxism and its decline, and what it has all meant in terms of ongoing European-Russian relations.
— Frank Caso
Russia Under Western Eyes, by one of the most distinguished Western historians of Russia, is a notable contribution to [the trend of revising judgements about Russian history]...[It is] an erudite and imaginative excursion through the intellectual history of Europe over the last three centuries, showing how the West's perceptions of Russian realities have been refracted through the ideas that have shaped European culture—from Enlightenment rationalism, Hegelianism, and Marxism to varieties of positivism, utilitarianism, and pragmatism—and the sociopolitical ideologies, liberal, socialist, nationalist, and fascist, that those ideas have generated. In a lively argument Malia relates the changes in Europe's perceptions of Russia to oscillations between Enlightenment (or rationalistic) and Romantic (or mythopoeic) currents of thought: the 'contrapuntal forms of modern culture,' which since the early nineteenth century have alternated, mutated, and combined. Malia is not suggesting that there is no 'real' Russia behind our shifting representations of it. He is attempting to resolve an old debate: by exposing concepts of Russian 'otherness' as mythical and pernicious projections of European hopes and fears, he aims to demonstrate that Russia is a European country ineluctably set on a path of political and economic convergence with its more advanced neighbors...Malia's skills as a demythologizer make it hard to resist the conviction that whatever is spared his destructive critique must thereby be the objective and unassailable truth.
— David Joravsky
The five lengthy but well-marked, subdivided and elegantly written chapters of [Russia Under Western Eyes] trace Russia's history, and the West's reaction to and interaction with Russia as she moves at a now-Oblomovian, now-frenetic pace from 1700 to 1991, when on Christmas Day the Russian tricolor—Peter the Great having copied the Dutch flag—again flew over the Kremlin. But there is much more here than a history of Russia's interaction with the West. An intellectual historian of the first magnitude, Mr. Malia strides confidently through the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Neo-Romanticism, the 'notion of "civilization,"' modernization theory, 'demotic tyrannies' (the great threat to the democratic ideal), nationalism and the shaky phenomenon of systematic social science...[Russia Under Western Eyes] is one of the most intelligent, challenging, dynamic works ever from a Western scholar of Russian history.
— Woodford McClellan
For friends still unraveling the mysteries of how Russia came to be what it is, I am recommending Russia Under Western Eyes.
— Carla Cohen
For centuries, observers of Russia have fallen into two grand camps: those who view the vast country as 'Eastern,' the land of Seythians and Tatars, of obscurantism and despotism; and a minority that views it as part of the outer reaches of Europe, imbued with aspects of Western culture (though lacking liberal, democratic institutions), a backwater, to be sure, but not a riddle, mystery, or enigma incomprehensively alien to the West...In an elegant intellectual history that rubs the dust off those lenses, the historian Martin Malia turns his eye to the European cultural, political, and social traditions that have produced assessments of Russia within those two broad molds. Russia under Western Eyes holds up a two-way mirror that sheds light not just on Russia but on Europe's own cultures and institutions, from the Enlightenment to Fascism.
— Lynnley Browning
If you read only one book on post-Soviet Russia, this might be it...Through a series of striking historical essays, the author helps European and American readers understand how they think about Russia, and the ways in which that process shapes what they think of the country. Martin Malia...is as much at home in the history of European politics and philosophy as he is in Russian history, which he has been studying for four decades...He urges us to acknowledge that the 'West' by which we choose to define ourselves is far broader, less rational, [and] more contradictory...than most of us would like to believe. And he challenges us to peer into ourselves before peering into Russia.
— S. Frederick Starr
If the great unanswered question for Russia is whether to join the West, the reader will find no better book to explain the issues at stake. This is not because the author's controversial thesis—that Russia has been part of the West since Peter the Great and has nowhere else to go—is self-evidently correct. Instead, the book's merit is the brilliance with which Malia explores the intellectual and cultural links between Europe and Russia, from Voltaire to Nietzsche to Thomas Mann to Jean-Paul Sartre. When the West has gotten Russia wrong, as he believes it usually has, the reason resides less in Russia's mysteriousness and more in the emotional and intellectual needs of Western thinkers. Much of the book reintroduces the key currents in European thought, from the Enlightenment through twentieth-century fascism, viewed through the looking glass of Russia. Every page shimmers with compressed and polished insight. Her analysis towers over the conventional wisdoms about Russia, including both those spun by Russians seeking solace in the uniqueness of Russia and those propagated by others who see Russia as alien to the West.
— Robert Legvold
— S. A. Smith
THE RUSSIAN RIDDLE
Yes, we are Scythians! Yes, we are Asiatics,
With slanted, greedy eyes! ...
Oh old world! so long as you have not yet
Halt, perplexed, like Oedipus,
Before the Sphinx with its ancient riddle!
--Aleksandr Blok, "The Scythians" (1918)
After a thousand years of marching in the laggard Eastern train of Europe, forever hobbled by the double burden of poverty and despotism, Russia in 1917 had thrust upon her an improbable vanguard destiny. In the wake of Lenin's Red October, the "Spectre of Communism" proclaimed by Marx in 1848 to be haunting Europe at last received a local habitation and a name: Soviet Socialist Russia. For the next three-quarters of a century, the Soviet-Russian hybrid stood as the prime catalyst of both the hopes and the fears of the West, indeed of mankind.
Henceforth the Soviet "experiment" loomed as the great Other in terms of which the world was obliged to define itself. To the hopeful, it represented the socialist antithesis to capitalism, and the future as against the past. To the fearful, it became the totalitarian menace to the free world of the West, and the enemy of civilization. And for everyone, it figured as the pivotal second world setting off the first world of advanced nations from the third world of colonized peoples. Yet the very multiplicity of these perceptions meant that the newfound land of the Soviets would always remain in large measure an enigma.
The riddle the Red Sphinx posed to Western wayfarers, therefore, was often facilely resolved by declaring the spectre of Communism to be little more than the new face of eternal Russia. For those hostile to the experiment, Communism was simply a mutation of tsarist autocracy and thus an enduring menace to Western freedom. For those friendly to the brave new Soviet world, its difficulties, its shortcomings, and at times its crimes were to be explained away by the same tsarist heritage; and if the Socialist state appeared menacing, this was only because it was unfairly treated by a hostile world. Yet both evaluations presupposed, in some measure, an inherent difference of civilizations between "Russia" and the "West."
Although the modern sense of this difference was created by the shock of Lenin's October and Stalin's "construction of socialism" in the 1930s, this did not as yet make Red Russia a global force; for the prewar Soviet Union remained only one of six or seven major powers, and hardly in the first rank among them at that. The full measure of Soviet Russia's otherness did not strike the world until a second shock, her victory in the Second World War, made it seem that one day she might well overwhelm the West. And that victory, in truth, marked one of the most profound changes of the world equilibrium in modern history.
During the three hundred fifty years since the failure of the Habsburgs' aspirations to universal empire in the sixteenth century, Europe had lived under a multistate system of international relations, eventually designated as the concert of Europe and held to be founded on a balance of power. This order, though challenged successively by Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Wilhelmian Germany, nonetheless invariably reemerged. Then, suddenly the Second World War, consummating a development begun during its predecessor of 1914-1918, precipitated what has been called the "political collapse of Europe. The European masters of the international arena, the victors no less than the vanquished, not only forfeited their continent's hegemony in world affairs, but even lost full control over their own national destinies. Global power shifted to the peripheries of the former system--the United States and the Soviet Union while Europe itself was partitioned by the newcomers into two zones of allied or dependent states, which in the East were transformed into outright satellites. Although the passage of time blurred this sharp division of the world, notably with the Chinese secession of 1959-1962 in the East, the polarization of international politics inaugurated in 1945 was institutionalized for half a century in the Cold War.
This polarization was reinforced by the institutional and cultural gulf that the experiment had opened between East and West. For the two superpowers, together with their respective associates in the "free world" and the "bloc," represented radically contrasting systems--the one democratic and open, the other autocratic and totalitarian. Nor was this circumstance changed by the Sino-Soviet break, for until 1980 China's internal order remained resolutely socialist, while Russia retained her role as the archetype of Communist societies everywhere, even in dissident form. Although world Communism as a unitary movement came to an end in the early 1960s, Communism as a world force was still very much alive as the antithesis to Western civilization. Its enduring ascendancy from the Elbe to the China Seas gave the West apparently good reason throughout the Cold War to view Red Russia as irredeemably "Oriental."
Not content to derive this category from Communism alone, some commentators pursued the roots of the Soviet Union's otherness back to distinctively Russian institutions and national traits of character. Accordingly, the herdlike collectivism of the Communist kolkhoz was attributed to the servile tradition of the old Russian peasant commune; or the Soviet police state was held to descend from the Third Section of spies and gendarmes maintained by Nicholas I; or Stalinism was traced to the autocracy of Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible, indeed to the khans of the Golden Horde. And some writers, in their quest for the key to the Soviet Kremlin, eventually wound up in the Sacred Palace of Byzantium. For was this not the source of the Eastern autocratic tradition descending from Constantine the Great to Stalin? Surely, the argument went, the Byzantine ideal of Caesaro-papism was the prototype of that fusion of absolute state power, ideological orthodoxy, and messianic zeal which, in secular guise, was the essence of Soviet totalitarianism.
The application of such reasoning to Russia's international behavior yielded an equally static explanation. Supposedly, absolute power in internal affairs fuels a drive for absolute power in relations with other nations. Thus conquest has always been Russia's goal, beginning in the fifteenth century, when the monk Philotheus of Pskov, speaking for the first Russian prince to call himself tsar, or Caesar, boasted that Moscow was the Third Rome predestined to be the final seat of world empire-- an ambition continued into the twentieth century by the conspiracy of the Third International intended to give Moscow universal dominion through world revolution. In short, the inevitable concomitant of autocracy, whether white or red, is aggression and imperialism.
Not even Communism's great crash in the years 1989-1991 effaced this sense of otherness. True, for some, that event was enough to proclaim the "end of history," as socialist Russia rallied to market democracy. Yet for others, Communism's fall meant not so much Russia redeemed as eternal Russia's return in native garb. This suspicion was aggravated when it became apparent that the Soviet mode of modernization had hardly ended Russia's economic backwardness, and still less had it readied her for democracy.
The world's troubles with Russia thus were clearly not over with the eclipse of the Spectre. At the least, the new situation foreboded the prospect of anarchy and ethnic strife over much of Eurasia; at the worst, it presaged revived Muscovite aggression throughout the same area, indeed into Central Europe. These apprehensions were magnified by the fear that nationalism had superseded Communism worldwide as the menace to liberal civilization: for did not twentieth-century history teach that nationalism is the antechamber to fascism? Many in the West therefore responded to the reborn Russia with a Pavlovian reaction of yesteryear: the "Russian tradition," whether white, red, or now white-blue-and-red, was despotism and chauvinism at home leading to expansionism and imperialism abroad.
Such persistent recourse to the dichotomy of Russia versus Europe points up its derivation from a still broader antithesis: the Occident versus the Orient, understood as civilization versus barbarism. In this venerable perspective the West is the home of freedom, reason, and dynamism; and its obverse is the realm of despotism, obscurantism, and stagnation known as Asia--a barren society in which an omnipotent state is the proprietor of the land and all its inhabitants. "Eternal Russia" thus is a subspecies of "Oriental despotism," a trope as old as Herodotus's epic account of the struggle of free Greece against Persia's King of Kings.
In the modern age, Montesquieu made Oriental despotism a sociological category designating the most primitive type of polity; Hegel made it a metaphysical category defining the most servile stage of World History; and Marx recast it as "the Asiatic mode of production," the lowest form of economic life. Leaving aside the relevance of such thinking for understanding the Vastness and variety of "Asias" since the time of the Great King of Persia, suffice it to note that this heavy conceptual baggage inevitably accompanies the dichotomy of Russia versus the West.
Yet how valid is this "essentialist" perception of Russian history? And how real is the cultural determinism underlying it? In other words, is the antithesis of Russia and the West a given of history? Or is it itself relative to historical circumstances? The purpose of this study is to answer these questions by exploring the three centuries since Peter the Great--in Pushkin's famous phrase from The Bronze Horseman--first "cut a window through to Europe."
For a start, the elementary historical facts of the last three centuries are distinctly more complex than the vulgate of eternal Russia would have it--as indeed should be obvious to anyone who has perused a survey of Russian history beyond the prophecies of Philotheus of Pskov to, say, Voltaire's cult of Catherine the Great. In reality, the West's sense of difference from Russia has rarely attained the acute pitch of the Cold War years. Instead, from the time Russia entered the modern European world under Peter, this sense of difference has registered dramatic fluctuations in intensity. And during considerable periods, and for important segments of Western opinion, it has faded away entirely, to be replaced by a sentiment of kinship, even of adulation.
Much less obvious is the fact that these fluctuations do not coincide, in any simple or commonsense pattern, with the real trends of divergence or convergence between the practical interests of Russia and Western nations. A heightened sense of hostility toward Russia is not inevitably caused by aggressiveness on her part; nor are periods of Russian reasonableness invariably rewarded by more kindly sentiments on the part of the West. A case in point is, again, Voltaire's apologias for Catherine's voracious expansionism in contrast to the panicked reaction of a later Left to the great status quo sovereign of his day, Nicholas I. It is thus an illusion to suppose either that the West's attitude toward Russia has always represented a rational response to real conflicts of interest, or that Europe's periodic bouts of Russophobia can be accounted for by the objective threat of Russian power. Quite to the contrary, the West is not necessarily most alarmed when Russia is in reality most alarming, nor most reassured when Russia is in fact most reassuring.
Because Russia's behavior offers only a partial explanation for the uneven response to her presence in Europe since Peter, the full explanation must be sought in forces acting within the body politic of the West. Russia has at different times been demonized or divinized by Western opinion less because of her real role in Europe than because of the fears and frustrations, or the hopes and aspirations, generated within European society by its own domestic problems. The prime example of Russia refracted through the prism of Western crises and contradictions is, of course, the combined attraction-repulsion of the Red Spectre in the twentieth century.
Yet is it even possible to speak of the "West" in the singular? Or are the fluctuating European images of Russia the reflection of a number of contending "Wests"? Indeed, we find that the Left and the Right, the rationalists and the romantics, or in another sphere, the English, the French, the Germans and the Poles, have simultaneously perceived the same Russia in different ways. In the eyes of one Western nation or ideological camp, Russia's international actions have seemed menacing; yet in a different period, or in the eyes of another Western social or political constellation, essentially similar actions have inspired indifference or even admiration. Thus, during the Cold War the Western Left and Right had very different perceptions of the Soviet system and its international intentions; nor was the relative weight of the two ideological camps the same in vulnerable Europe and imperial America.
The present study, therefore, is concerned only secondarily with questions of Realpolitik, that is, with the "rational" responses of the various European powers to concrete conflicts of interest between them and Russia. The primary concern here, rather, is the cultural and social context, the affective and intellectual climate, in which Europe's political relations with Russia have been conducted, an ambiance which more often than not produced "irrational" international results. Our subject thus is the West's judgments about Russia as a power, to be sure, but even more as a civilization.
Indeed, perception of Russia as a civilization has often influenced her status as a power--as in the irrationality of the West's underreaction to Catherine II and its overreaction to Nicholas I. A central task of this discussion is to contrast the fluctuations of these less rational Western reactions to Russia with the quite different pattern of conflict or concordance in the real interests of both parties. In fact, so great is the discrepancy between Russian reality and Western reaction that at times the European climate of opinion, as distinct from relations of force, has itself become a force that weighs in the balance of power between Russia and her neighbors--as, again, the global swath cut by the late great Soviet Spectre amply illustrates.
In sum, any judgment of Russia's position in Europe must begin with recognition of the great weight of subjectivity that has always governed it. The necessary emphasis given here to this fact, however, entails nothing so recondite as claiming Russia to be a "construct" of the Western mind. In the present context, "subjectivity" has only the ordinary meaning of an inner predisposition to view the world through the feelings and temperament of the subject rather than the attributes of the object observed. It is by such all-too-human subjectivity that we have, to a significant degree, produced our images of Russia out of ourselves.
It is the chronicle of the West's varying assessments of Russia, therefore--taken in conjunction with their origins in internal Western conditions--that furnishes the narrative structure of the chapters which follow. This narrative commences with Russia's dramatic impact on Europe following Peter's victory over Sweden at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, and it unfolds in four phases.
The first extends from Poltava to the Congress of Vienna in 1814- 15, a period when Russia presents, in the guise of the "enlightened despotism" of Peter I, Catherine II, and the young Alexander I, the most benign visage she has ever displayed to the West. The second, begun in 1815 by Alexander's Holy Alliance and brought to its climax by the most unbending autocrat of the century, Nicholas I, offers the antithesis of the first, with Russia plunging to the nadir of her fortunes under Western eyes in her role as the "gendarme of Europe." During the third phase, opened by the Great Reforms of Alexander II following the Crimean debacle of 1854-1856 and closed by the fall of the imperial regime in 1917, the West's negative opinion of Russia is progressively nuanced and attenuated to the point where, by the early twentieth century, most observers again viewed her as an integral, though no longer idealized, part of Europe. The last chapter of the story, begun with the October Revolution, defies all clear characterization, for it offers the starkest antitheses of white and black, reproducing simultaneously the idealization of the eighteenth century and the denigration of the early nineteenth, yet, despite a constantly shifting balance, never fusing these extremes into a coherent image, capable of dominating Western opinion.
The method to be followed here can only be as eclectic as the subject matter itself is varied. This method is, in the first instance, comparative. For tracing the West's evolving perceptions of Russia inevitably entails assessing the West's own evolution. And, since the West is no monolith, defining it means contrasting the national evolutions of its components, for example distinguishing Germany from France as sharply as Russia is usually distinguished from the two together. It is only by such comparisons that one can determine what is lacking--or present--in Russia to qualify her for European status. And this exercise, in turn, means posing the question of the nature, or the essence, of European civilization as such, as well as of the modern world it produced. For modernity, if no longer Eurocentric, was indubitably born in Europe before going on to revolutionize the rest of the planet.
A second point of method relates to the already mentioned fact that in Western-Russian relations the cultural climate has often translated into political power. "Climate" here, however, does not mean public opinion at any given moment; nor does "culture" designate the mentalites of the population at large, which before the twentieth century played little role in Europe's assessment of Russia. What is significant in the present context, rather, is high or elite culture--those long-term constellations of ideas that have been conventionally treated under the rubric "intellectual history," which privileges such luminaries as Voltaire and Hegel, or Marx and Nietzsche. For it is this level of discourse that has governed the West's representations of Russia.
The relevant constellations of ideas are such classical cultural currents as the Enlightenment and Romanticism and, later, positivism, Marxism, and symbolism. These movements--as well as the key concepts they invoke, from "reason," to "people," to "nation," to "art"--must be treated in two stages. They are discussed first in their own right, as an exercise in Begriffsgeschichte, or the history of concepts, to clarify which of the meanings they have accumulated over time is relevant here. Yet, since ideas assume full significance for this study only when they become forms of power, in the second stage they are explored at their intersection with politics, where they are transformed into ideologies capable of acting on the world. Culture, then, is ultimately examined here in the form of those great sociopolitical ideologies of modernity: liberalism, nationalism, socialism, and fascism.
Moreover, since ideas and ideologies in modern Europe clearly vary from one institutional or national situation to another (J. S. Mill could hardly have been Russian or Fedor Dostoevsky English), they must be treated in concrete historical context. This approach, however, is not meant to privilege social environment, of which ideas would in some sense be the "superstructure"; nor is the looser, but still reductionist, framework of a hypothetical "sociology of knowledge" appropriate. The relevant historical context, rather, is a multifaceted one: political, social, economic, and indeed geographic, all at once. In this nexus each element functions as an independent variable; and connections among them are seen not as causes but as correlations--an unsatisfyingly imprecise model no doubt, but still the most expedient way to square the circle of defining history's motive forces.
Given so extensive an agenda, and so varied a methodology, a selective sampling of European opinion regarding Russia is unavoidable; yet if the catalog offered can hardly pretend to be comprehensive, it may at least hope to be representative. Thus what follows is an "essay" in the basic meaning of that term--an attempt, a testing or a trying out of concepts--in an effort to stake out the overall pattern of Russia's relation to the West.
Subjective and diverse though Western images of Russia have been, their mutations are not arbitrary nor is their sequence accidental, since all may be grounded in one basic perspective which gives us a third point of method. That perspective is furnished by the degree to which institutions and culture evolve in similar, or in different, ways at the western and eastern ends of Europe. During times when internal developments at these two poles converge, the West's evaluation of Russia tends toward the positive; when these evolutionary paths diverge, Europe's judgment veers to the negative.
Now the term "convergence," when applied to Soviet Russia and the West, requires circumspect definition. In the post-Stalin years, when the Cold War was mellowing while the Soviet economy still appeared imposing, the illusion was born in many quarters that Western political liberty could be fused with Soviet socialism to produce a society both affluent and just--an illusion which returned briefly during Gorbachev's perestroika. This "convergence theory," as it was called, was of course resoundingly refuted by events, and nothing like it is intended here.
The failure of Soviet-Western convergence, however, does not mean that Russian-Western convergence was not underway before 1917, or that it is impossible in the post-Soviet present. Indeed, the thesis advanced here is that Russian Russia since Peter the Great has generally moved toward convergence, however halting, with the West, and that it is Marxist-Leninist, Soviet Russia that represents both maximal divergence from European norms and the great aberration in Russia's own development. Seen in this perspective, therefore, Russia threatened the West most when she was least distinctively Russian--under Communism.
So the possibility of a new convergence with Russia returns us to the problem of Europe's own essence. The comparative method, however, permits us to transcend habitual essentialist thinking, since, if comparison is systematically pursued, it presents geographic Europe not as two cultural zones--a West and an East--but as a spectrum of zones graded in level of development from the former to the latter. Recent German historiography, reflecting a most uncomfortable national position between modern Europe's two extremities, expresses this perception as das West-ostliches Kulturgefalle, the West-East cultural gradient or declivity. It is this perspective that is followed here--with Russia at the bottom of the slope to be sure, but part of Europe nevertheless.
Viewing Europe in terms of such a differential, however, parallels what is generally known as the transition from traditional to modern society. To frame matters, then, in these familiar (and at bottom economic) categories, the fluctuations in Western-Russian relations are due to the fact that Russia embarked on her modernization later than the rest of Europe and, because of the persistent drag of "backwardness," pursued her development either out of phase with, or less smoothly than, her neighbors. There is surely much value in this mode of explanation, and it will be partially employed here. Still, it should not be forgotten that the kindred category of "industrial society" gave us the illusion of Western democracy's convergence with Communism. Our standard social-science categories--which apply as readily to Turkey or China as to Europe--clearly omit something from the conceptual framework necessary for the purposes of this study. And the variable they lack is those specifically European cultural and institutional coordinates which have governed Russia's relation to the West.
The discussion here, therefore, will be conducted less in terms of general social-science concepts than with respect to historical categories specific to European institutions and culture. Such a distinctively European mold is most succinctly designated by the name it received when, in 1789, it at last gave way to what is now called modernity: Ancien Regime. And this Old Regime is by no means a designation for an age when Europe itself was backward, or underdeveloped, or unenlightened. It designates rather a millennial order--sacred, hierarchical, and monarchical--that became the matrix of our dynamic modernity. It is this distinctive Old-Regime world, and its revolutionary transition to a secular, liberal, and democratic order, that furnishes the conceptual axis of this study. This general transition, though of course related to economic development, is not reducible to it. In fact, the economic dimension of the process is the one least relevant to deciding modern Russia's fate; ideology has been much more crucial.
So, from one question to another, this study arrives at its ultimate purpose. And that is to transcend the presumed polarity between Russia and Europe by proposing a definition of Russia's place within Europe. In the narrative that follows, charting Russia's appearances under Western eyes is not an end in itself; it is a means for situating her in pan-European context. Indeed, the title of this book might well have been, precisely, "Russia in European Perspective." Yet since Russia viewed in this manner changes the customary contours of Europe itself, another alternative title could easily be "Europe: The View from the East" or, better yet, "Europe in the Russian Mirror."
And perhaps the reflection that this inverted approach sends back can yield an answer to the riddle of the Russian Sphinx--and thus provoke the demise of that fabulous creature.
Excerpted from Russia Under Western Eyes by Martin Edward Malia Copyright © 2000 by Martin Edward Malia.
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Prologue: In Scythia
Introduction: The Russian Riddle
Russia as Enlightened Despotism: 1700-1815
The Birth of the Concert of Europe
Russia as Old Regime
The Ottoman Control
Russia as Philosophic Fable
Exegi Monumentum Aereum Perennum I
The Legend Redux
Enlightenment and the Police State
The Twilight of the Old Regime
Russia as Oriental Despotism: 1815-1855
Europe as the Two and the Three
Culture and the German Sonderweg
The Romantic Chiaroscuro
The New Historical Canon
A Fractured Image
The Russian Sonderweg
Russia as Europe Regained: 1855-1914
Obverse: The Curve of Convergence
Russia for Liberals
Russia for Socialists
Russia for Nationalists
Reverse: Fin de Siècle and Russian Soul
Art for Art's Sake
From Symbolism to Modernism
The Russian Prophets
Soul for Export
The Roots of Aesthetic Nihilism
War and Revolution: 1914-1917
The Hinge of Darkness
A Dawn amidst the Night?
The Socialist Riddle
Socialism as an Ideal Type, or, the DNA of a Unicorn
Through the Soviet-Russian Looking-Glass, and What the West Found There: 1917-1991
Prologue: In the Eye of the Beholder
Heads, the Experiment: 1917-1945
The Ride of the Troika
Exegi Monumentum II
The Fascist Counterpoint
Where the Twain Meet
The Ride of Rozinante
International Class Struggle
Tails, The Empire: 1945-1991
The Cold War
The Road to Dètente
The Waltz of the Models
Over and Out: Gorbachev
Whither the Troika Now?
And Whither the Spectre?