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

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

by Aileen M. Kelly


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674737112
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/09/2016
Pages: 608
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.90(d)

About the Author

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

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

1 Who Was Herzen? 1

2 Russia and the Romantic Revolution 8

3 A Romantic Youth 24

4 A Revolution in Science 35

5 Science and History 54

6 An Education in Method 67

7 Science and Saint-Simonism 88

8 Prison and Exile 119

9 Awakening 138

10 The Discovery of Chance 160

11 From Bacon to Feuerbach: Nature and Time 187

12 Man in the Middle 228

13 A Conservative Revolution 261

14 A Glowing Footprint: Herzen and Proudhon 289

15 Toward Another Shore 322

16 View from the Other Shore 340

17 The Living Truth 363

18 In Defense of Inconsistency 382

19 What Is History? 412

20 The Polish Uprising 452

21 True Nihilism 474

22 The Last Years 500

Epilogue 524

Notes 535

Illustration Credits 583

Index 585

Customer Reviews