EXCERPTS (top to bottom = ca. 30 screens)
World Views: A Study in Comparative History

W. Warren Wagar
State University of New York at Binghamton

[SAC editor has changed some spellings better to conform to current professional usage, e.g., czar is tsar. The reader will notice that SAC editor has "a thing" about the phrase "The West", but quickly he acknowledges that the Russians are as much to blame as anyone for loosing this abomination on the world (see below).]

[Wagar arranges in an odd way his four main sections and the key terms that describe them. First, he describes each key word as expressed in the histories of various specific cultures. Only then does he offer summations that define each key word that has already been the subject of the preceding text. In these excerpts here, SAC editor has turned things around. Each summary has been placed before the individual descriptions of the Russian and American experiences. Here is a table of contents for the SAC excerpts, indicating first the summary section for each of the four main intellectual trends, then the account of how these trends expressed themselves in Russia and USA = ]


1. Rationalism (The Enlightenment) ... in Russia & USA
2. Romanticism...    in Russia & USA
3. Positivism...        in Russia & USA
4. Irrationalism...    in Russia... in USA & Great Britain



[Rationalism (The Enlightenment)] [Wagar:49-60]

For considerably more than a hundred years [ca. 1650-1800], rationalism was the prevailing world view of Western [European] civilization. It furnished much of the structure and substance of what we call modern consciousness. Whether in alliance or rivalry with the Christian and Hellenic sources of Western [European] culture, it enabled the Western [European] mind to liberate itself once and for all from subservience to the thought-world of antiquity. It proclaimed that the universe, and everything within it, conformed to reason. It proclaimed that man, as a rational being, could understand how the world-machine operated and from his knowledge design a simple, natural, reasonable social order purged of the superstition and tyranny of past ages. The manifest triumphs of natural science in the seventeenth century [ID], which had the effect of overthrowing both biblical and Hellenic tradition, gave the claims of the rationalist philosophers a credibility that little could shake.


At the outset rationalism was more a British than a French invention. Britain played a decisive part in the march of natural science in the seventeenth century, and her greatest minds[Francis] Bacon [ID], [Thomas] Hobbes [ID], [John] Locke [ID], [Isaac] Newton [ID] did more than anyone, with the possible exceptions of Descartes and Leibniz, to prepare the way for the thought of the eighteenth century. Rationalism in the British context took a distinctively empirical turn, defining sensory experience as the ultimate source of all human knowledge, and through shrewd critical analysis that brings to memory the Scotist and Ockhamist movements in medieval British philosophy, sharply delimiting the epistemological claims of pure reason. Nevertheless, the universe as viewed by British thinkers was a thoroughly reasonable place in which to live. Such strictly rationalist movements as deism and the science of political economy [EG] made great progress in Enlightened Britain, and those who saw furthest beyond rationalism, like David Hume, remained loyal to its spirit and objectives.

France contributed relatively little at first to the Scientific Revolution, but the long reign of Paris as the capital city of scholasticism, the powerful neo-classical movement in seventeenth-century French letters, and the general prosperity of the age all helped to make the French receptive to the new rationalism. Guided by the thought of Rene Descartes and his disciples, France had become, by the death of Louis XIV, the cultural and intellectual heartland of Europe. Although self-proclaimed converts to Lockean and Newtonian empiricism, French thinkers dominated the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. In practice French rationalism was a mixture of Descartes' brittle philosophy of pure reason and the empiricism of Locke, with the Cartesian component usually more powerful. The differences between British and French society ensured that the spirit of Descartes would not be so easily dispelled.

In Germany rationalism came late, unable to assert itself until the wounds inflicted on central Europe by the Thirty Years War [ID] had healed. German social and economic backwardness, in any case, determined that when rationalism did reach Germany, it would take on a more introverted quality than in the West [of Europe]. From the beginning German thinkers accepted from Western [European] philosophy its conception of the cosmos as a rational order, but they reinterpreted reason to exclude the claims of empiricism and to insinuate a quasi-mystical view of the way in which reason works. Even the Western [European] idea of the universe as a machine offended German sensibilities. The chief mentor of the Aufklarung [German for Enlightenment], G. W. Leibniz, may be described as a rationalist. Yet the theological and proto-romantic aspects of his thought harked back, on the one hand, to a Christian past that survived more vigorously in Germany than in France or Britain and looked forward, on the other hand, to a nativist intellectual movement that would produce a defiantly anti-Western [??!!] and anti-rationalist vision of reality even before the end of the eighteenth century. In Germany rationalism came late and left early.

Finally, [...] rationalism penetrated the Russian and North American thought-worlds. Here, rationalism arrived still later, in the opening decades of the eighteenth century. Neither Russia nor the American colonies made a major contribution to rationalist philosophy, as one might expect of countries far removed from the political and economic centers of Western [European] civilization in this period, but both ingested heavy doses of rationalist thought from European tutors. The Russians learned most from their German neighbors, and the North Americans from the British. Because of the German influence and because of Russia's own national tradition, the Russian Enlightenment followed a conservative course, so much so that one can ask whether it deserves the label of "Enlightenment" at all. The North Americans, on the whole, accepted rationalism much more enthusiastically. But the mighty grip of Protestant scholasticism and the Puritan conscience on the colonial mind helped to set limits to its tolerance of the full range of rationalist teaching.

In summary, the world view of modern rationalism gained its most advanced formulations in Britain and France, with the British seizing the initiative early in the seventeenth century and the French early in the eighteenth. French rationalism, thanks in part to the greater instability of French society under the ancien regime [the old regime before the French Revolution], tended to arrive at positions more extreme than those taken by the pragmatic British, but in some ways British thought broke more cleanly with Christian and Hellenic tradition. Germany, Russia, and North America brought up the rear, and of the three perhaps only the Americans truly empathized with the new world view. The Germans and Russians were reluctant rationalists; in the end, after having traveled part of the way on a turnpike built from imported materials they entered the modern age by circuitous mountain detours of their own making. What they created was the romantic world view, and to it our attention must now shift.


[in Russia & USA = ]

The Frontiers of Reason: Russia and North America
[Rationalism (The Enlightenment)]

The "backwardness" that embarrassed Germany in the age of rationalism was as nothing compared to the socio-economic and cultural situation of the countries on the far fringes of Western civilization. In the remote east, Muscovite Russia had begun the phenomenal expansion that would soon make it the largest and most populous of Christian powers. But it shared only superficially in the Enlightenment. In the remote west across the Atlantic, the British colonies of North America were undergoing comparable growth with the help of a vigorous stream of European immigrants and European ideas. Rationalism had a deeper impact on American life, but the American contribution was slight.


Russia and North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were similar in many ways. Both stood at a great distance from the centers of European civilization. Both had sparsely peopled frontiers that absorbed much of their energy. Both depended on western Europe for their further cultural development. [NB! Wagar does not write Both depended on The West. Why? The discussion here is about Russia and USA. It might have easily rolled off the pen to write "Russia depended on The West". But those who are unconsciously afflicted with the term "the West" choke up when the trajectory of their narrative leads toward the following unacceptable phrase = "USA depended on The West"] In both, intellectual life was dominated to an unusual degree by religion: Russia by its own Orthodox Church, constructed on the Byzantine model, and North America by the Protestant Reformation, which thrived superbly in the soil of the New World long after it had sickened and withered in Europe's. [Consider Max Weber's ideas about Protestantism in European and USA life]

Both countries were also far from wealthy during the age of rationalism. Russia, with few towns and fair-to-poor agricultural land, lagged well behind Germany in its economic development. Only 3 percent of its people lived in cities at the beginning of the eighteenth century when its total population stood at 12 million. As late as 1790 only two American cities had more than 20,000 inhabitants, and the astonishing affluence of later times was still unknown. But both countries grew spectacularly during the eighteenth century. Russia shot up to 29 million by 1800, and the North American states rose from a population of 325,000 in 1713 to 4 million at the time of the first national census of 1790.

The differences between Russia and America were also very great and dictated radically dissimilar responses to the challenge of the European Enlightenment. Russia, with its mixture of Byzantine [ID], Mongol [LOOP], and Prussian [ID] absolutism, had a closed society in which all wealth and power centered in the crown and the aristocracy. The minuscule bourgeoisie counted for little, and a serfdom [ID], more grinding than anything known in western Europe for centuries, engulfed the peasantry. America, by contrast, was a society of farmers [LOOP] and merchants [ID] (except for the planter-slave economy [LOOP] of the Old South) with a high degree of social mobility, by European standards, and extensive opportunity for citizen involvement in politics and enterprise. The structure of Russian society encouraged an inward-turning, mystical view of life, whereas the structure of American society promoted an outgoing, optimistic, exploitative view. [Compare with Brzezinski's evaluation of Russian and American world views]

The chief influences on Russian and North American thought further strengthened these differences. After the Byzantine example, the Russian Church left politics to the secular power and served the tsars loyally as a virtual department of state [ID]: its real interest was the life of the spirit, where it had long followed the mystical, Platonizing bent of Eastern Christianity. In North America the single strongest religious influence came from the Calvinists with their theocratic activism. America's Calvinists had no doubt that the world, and the New World in particular, was a building site for God's temporal kingdom. Like their European brethren they attached high value to work and thrift, little value to the contemplative life.

Russian introversion and American extraversion were also intensified by the countries through which Russians and Americans made contact with the thought-world of the Enlightenment. For Russia the teacher was its near neighbor Germany. German thinkers had a much deeper influence on Russian thought than those of France and Britain, and if a young Russian went abroad to study, it was almost invariably to a German university. Russian took on a German coloration. The Americans, of course, were mostly of British origin and learned the Enlightenment from British thinkers; French thinkers had a lesser impact, and German least of all.


But the world view of the Russian Enlightenment was another matter. The nascent Russian intelligentsia found it much easier to borrow the forms of Western thought than the substance [meaning what?]. When Russian thinkers did borrow the substance, they preferred what was furthest removed from rationalism in Western culture: the mysticism of Eckhart, German Pietism, British Freemasonry [ID], the vitalist and proto-romantic aspects of the philosophy of Leibniz. Locke and Voltaire were read, but few Russian thinkers of the eighteenth century adopted their world view. Even more emphatically than in Germany, empiricism, materialism, and mechanistic theories of the universe met with coldness and mistrust [in Russia]. [By implication, they were met with warmness and trust in "The West".] In a sense the Russian Enlightenment amounted to little more than a partial secularization of an already deeply embedded Christian mystical world view. Thinkers strove to harmonize or reconcile the essentials of Christian faith with the stock ideas of the Western [European] Enlightenment. The dramatic polarities of later Russian thought could hardly have been foreseen.


[Rationalism (Enlightenment) in Russia]

The Russian Enlightenment (like the North American one) also came very late. Nearly all of it can be fitted into the seventy-five years that followed the death of Tsar Peter in 1725. His Academy of Science [ID], inspired by the Royal Society of London, was founded in that year. The first institution of higher learning not exclusively theological in its studies, the Kharkov Collegium, dates from 1727, and the first university was established in Moscow in 1755 [ID].

These same years gave rise to a generation of at least superficially westernized [NB!] Russian intellectualschiefly of aristocratic blood, speaking French and German, and including two or three thinkers of real distinction. Among these were G. S. Skovoroda [ID], the father of Russian philosophy, a wandering ascetic who denounced worldliness with the passion of a Meister Eckhart, and M. V. Lomonosov [ID], who studied in Germany and helped to disseminate the scientific thought of Leibniz and Wolff in his native land. Lomonosov, alone among eighteenth-century Russians, made major original contributions to both theoretical and experimental physics. He was also a poet and a grammarian and the founder of the University of Moscow. Incredibly [!?], he had started out in life as a poor fisherman, one of the few men not of noble lineage to penetrate the upper layers of Russian society in his time.

The liveliest period of the Russian Enlightenment took place during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-96) [ID]. German by birth, French by predilection, [and thoroughly Russian by personal choice] the tsarina made a considerable to-do about the thought of les philosophes, corresponded with Voltaire, patronized Diderot [ID], and presided over a court that she transformed almost overnight from half-barbaric quaintness to Gallic sophistication. But most of the outstanding intellectuals of her reign were no more Gallic at heart than their counterparts in Germany.  The gallomania of courtly fashion disgusted them and called forth a kind of incipient Russian nationalism by way of reply.

The great publisher and journalist, N. I. Novikov [ID]perhaps the most representative of the philosophes of Catherine's erais a case in point. We remember him best as the Voltairean satirist who ran afoul of the censors because he exposed the condition of the serfs, but he inveighed against Western, i.e., French thought, as well. He found its atheist and materialist tendencies repulsive, praised the Russian people for being steadier than the shallow French, and preached a sentimental, humanitarian mysticism derived from Freemasonry. A similar line on gallomania was adopted by his contemporary, the playwright D. I. Fonvizin. Catherine's still better known literary opponent, A. N. Radishchev [ID], whose masterpiece A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (1790) earned him banishment to Siberia, was another child of the German Enlightenment. Educated at Leipzig, he championed the thought of Leibniz and Herder [ID]. In French letters, Radishchev took his inspiration not from Descartes or Voltaire but from the harbinger of romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau [ID].

Russia was unresponsive to the full range of Western rationalist thinking for the same reasons that Germany held out against it. In effect Russia was a more "German" Germany further removed than the Germans from the mainstream of European life, with poorer land, less commerce, a smaller and more isolated bourgeoisie, less well defined natural boundaries, fiercer enemies, more need for autocracy in order to survive at all as a state. Anything short of an intensely conservative spiritual-intellectual orientation as Russia finally entered the European world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have been surprising.

As V. V. Zenkovsky points out, even theology was somewhat alien to the Russian tradition since medieval Russian churchmen had felt little need or challenge to explicate their faith in systematic form. There was nothing like the intimate contact with ancient philosophy that existed in Western Europe during the medieval period with its universal Latin learning and its paganic links with Rome, the Islamic world, and Byzantium. Ironically, Western Europe enjoyed closer ties with Byzantium than Byzantium's own Slavic offspring; it is no coincidence that when the old Eastern empire began to disintegrate [ID] during the Turkish onslaught, the Greek scholars fled to Italy and the West, not to Russia. Theology and philosophy were also less needed in traditional Russia because the schism between state and church power that stimulated so much controversy in the West failed to occur in Russia. Nor did "leftish" heresies or a Protestant Reformation [ID] erupt in the Russian experience to test the wits of Russia's prelates and monks. Russian religious feeling ran deep, but the scholasticism that schooled Western clergymen to avail themselves of the powers of reason, and thereby helped to make rationalism such a seductive world view later on, had no real analogue in pre-modern Russian cultural history.

[Rationalism (Enlightenment) in USA]

The American colonies participated more actively in the Enlightenment and drank directly from its purest waters, the leading philosophers of England, Scotland, and France. In one sense the new polities of the New World were laboratory experiments in the social physics of the Enlightenment. Certainly many admiring Europeans so regarded them, and in no part of the Western world in the eighteenth century did such an intimate connection exist between Enlightenment philosophy and the ruling class. The roster of American illuminati reads almost like a roster of its greatest politicians and revolutionary leaders: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Alien, John Adams, and Thomas Paine [ID] were all thinkers as well as men of action and affairs, and all revealed in their writings the profound impact of the Anglo-French Enlightenment on the American mind. [Wagar has nothing to say about James Madison (ID)]

At the same time there was another America, an America of divines and professors ensconced in churches and colleges very much like the intellectual class in the German-speaking world, who struck on the whole a somewhat more conservative note. In the absence of vast cosmopolitan cities or glittering courts, this other America did much to establish the spirit of colonial intellectualism.

The parallel with Germany in the eighteenth century is not far-fetched. As in Germany, academic centers were abundant. By 1776 the colonies boasted ten university colleges, and twelve others joined them during the next quarter-century. A remarkable array of thinkers earned degrees in these colleges, and some went on to teach there. Cotton Mather received his M.A. from Harvard, where his father was president. Jonathan Edwards was a Yale graduate who stayed on to teach at Yale for three years before taking a church in Massachusetts. The idealist philosopher Samuel Johnson taught at Yale also and later became the first president of King's College, New York (forerunner of Columbia University). The champion of Scottish realism in America, John Witherspoon, was a president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), one of whose early graduates, Benjamin Rush, contributed important work in the fields of medicine and psychology. The statesmen, too, maintained close ties with academeJefferson, who studied at William and Mary, founded the University of Virginia; Hamilton was a brilliant student at King's College; Franklin helped found the University of Pennsylvania; Adams earned his degree at Harvard. In colonial America the rapport between government, education, religion, and intellectual life could scarcely have been more intimate.


Whatever their school, most American philosophers were celebrants of reason. The deists and idealists, reacting vigorously against the denigration of human power in seventeenth-century Puritanism, saw God as a benevolent intelligence presiding over a reasonable world. The scientific materialists centered their attention on studies of nature but clung to much the same idea of God. In their political and legal thought, the fathers of the new republic leaned heavily on the rationalist politics of Locke [ID] and Montesquieu [ID] with a generous admixture of seventeenth-century English democratic radicalism. The constitutional structure they designed was like a piece of Newtonian cosmic machinery brought down to earth: self-regulating, superbly balanced, and set forth in crystalline prose.

There were, of course, eccentrics beyond the pale such as the formidable Jonathan Edwards, a mystic who bears comparison with his Russian contemporary, G. S. Skovoroda [ID], and who carried to one possible conclusion the alliance of Platonism and Calvinism first negotiated by Peter Ramus in sixteenth-century France. Although the Enlightenment touched Edwards, it did little to shape his mind. But the archetypical figures of the American Enlightenment were everything that one could expect of colonial philosophes, both in the content of their thought and in its temperateness. They assimilated Anglo-French rationalism without severing their Protestant roots or accepting the more extreme implications of rationalism uncovered by the avant-garde in Britain and France.

Thus, men like Franklin and Jefferson could expound deism, undertake important scientific work, found academies and universities, hobnob with the keenest minds of France, sire a successful revolutionary republic, and still remain well in the rear of the rationalist line of march. Their academic colleagues, if anything, lagged even further behind. [Consider what meaning might be attached to the notion that ideas can lag behind.] In only one sense could the North Americans claim to be more advanced than the Europeans. Intellectual life and practical life were more fully integrated, and even here the difference was one of degree only.

In fact colonial North America teemed with contradictions: a society of aggressive yeomen and frontiersmen and businessmen unburdened by European feudalism welded to a slaveholding society reminiscent of late Rome; a society under the direct influence of the most emphatically modern thinkers of Europe, but at the same time a society in which the Reformation remained hot and militant; a society of glorious intellectual amateurs that was also thickly populated with clergymen and academicians actively involved in the making of the public mind. To confuse matters even more, it was the Roman and aristocratic South (along with Philadelphia) where the Reformation sat most lightly and the socio-economically modernized North where the clerical and academic establishment flourished above all. Materialism and free thought had, in the main, an easier time among the gentry of Virginia and the Carolinas than among the farmers and burghers of New England. Depending on where one looks and what one looks for, the colonial Enlightenment can appear almost purely British, at least half French, remarkably like the Aufklarung [German for Enlightenment], or a close analogue of the Russian Enlightenment. A distinctively North American mind had yet to emerge.



[Romanticism] [Wagar:92-95]

We must see romanticism as a desperately needed spiritual exercise for the mind of Western [European] man [and woman, of course; lighten up]. Romanticism forced him back to his sources: his passions, his ancestors, his religious heritage, his childhood, his dreams, his grounding in a nature directly experienced. At the same time, romanticism helped project him into the future, a future of swiftly changing social relations, new loyalties, uprooted egos, and proletarized masses.

The new Weltanschauung wielded its greatest influence between the French Revolution and the middle of the nineteenth century, but it was long in coming. All through the eighteenth century, the rationalism of the Enlightenment had encountered challenges to its ascendancy, some of them originating within the Enlightenment itself. The Germans were especially reluctant to embrace rationalism, but Hanoverian England had its sentimental novelists, its aficionados of medieval poetry, and its intuitionist schools of ethics and aesthetics; and even France had to contend with the rudely dissenting voice of that extraordinary genevois [citizen of Geneva, Switzerland], Jean-Jacques Rousseau [ID].

Romanticism enjoyed a continuous history in Germany from the 1770s, with the Sturm und Drang [German for storm and strife] period in literature, the philosophies of Kant [ID] and Herder [ID], and the new appreciation of Shakespeare. The ignition point was reached in Britain in the 1790s, in France and Russia in the 1820s, and in the United States not until the 1830s. Romanticism generated a great literary and artistic culture that released the Western world from the cold enchantments of neoclassicism. It inspired the idealist movement in German philosophy, which directly or indirectly affected serious thought in every other Western country. It was the moving force in French Eclecticism and American Transcendentalism [ID]. It provided most of the intellectual substance of the political ideologies of the time, from conservatism and nationalism to democratic radicalism and Utopian socialism. Only the liberals owed more to other world views, and even they were hardly untouched by the romanticist flood tide.

In all of its impact, romanticism conveyed the message that reality was mind-like (or spirit-like) and that men could best perceive it by intuition and feeling. Because of its affinity with human consciousness, reality was also viewed by the romanticists as a stream of events flowing in time, not the logico-mechanical structure of rational analysis. Romanticism was thus a world view peculiarly well suited to expression in literary and artistic form, in works of narrative history, or in historically grounded ideologies. It flattered the artist, the man of imagination and passion, at the expense of the logician and the mathematician. It favored the Christian, the man of super-rational and historical faith, at the expense of the skeptic and the materialist.

Germany, seeking a national identity different from that of its formidable neighbor across the Rhine, found in romanticism the perfect answer to its needs, and in Germany romanticism underwent its fullest development. Romanticism was of special value in its power to connect modern Germany spiritually with the Germany of happier days: of medieval wealth, of Christian mysticism and piety, of the old Teutonic folk culture. It also had deep resonances with the trends in early modern German philosophy, from Paracelsus to Leibniz. Only in Germany, and to some extent in Russia, were professional philosophers, theologians, and scientists able to establish organic ties with the formal thought of their own immediate past. In Great Britain and the United States, romanticism carried little weight in the academic world; romanticism did invade the French academy, but its achievements there were anything but spectacular. As a result, the romanticisms of Britain, France, and the United States appear lopsidedly aesthetic and anti-intellectual by contrast with Germany's. This is especially true of Britain, where many of the keenest intellects of the period were not romantics at all.

Nevertheless, in each country romanticism supplied invaluable help in achieving a definition of national character and goals in an age of ever-growing nationalist fervor. It gave the Germans pride in their past and, since it offered them the chance to assume the cultural leadership of Europe, pride in their present. It gave the British new faith in the wisdom of their constitution and the French an opportunity to work out new conceptions of self and society in an age of revolution. For the Russians it furnished the contrasting visions of a Holy Russia that would save Europe's soul and a Westernizing Russia that would redeem Slavdom from centuries of despotism. For Americans it provided the ideal of a robust, expanding democracy destined to be the light of the world. The romanticists were dreamers; but so, in their own style and vein, were the philosophies of the Enlightenment. Later generations would dismiss them both as incorrigible utopists.


[in Russia & USA = ]

The Coming of Age: Russia and the United States
[Romanticism] [Wagar:85-92]

For the colonial cultures of Romanov Russia and the new American republic the Age of Revolution was a time of national liberation. Romanticism helped both to burst the shackles of their adolescent dependency on the thought and art of Europe. They remained closely aligned to European civilization, and in some ways their development continued to lag, but by the middle of the nineteenth century they had established identities of their own. They had also begun to produce creative work of worldwide importance. Colonialism was on the wane, if not yet entirely dead.

In both Russia and the United States, the growth of population and wealth went unchecked during the half-century. With 73 million people in 1858, Russia became the largest country in the Western [the European?] world, and the United States, with 23 million in 1850, had at last overtaken the mother country, Great Britain. The proportion of Russians living in cities doubled between 1800 and 1850. Steady progress was recorded in trade, manufactures (chiefly on the domestic system), and standards of living. American economic growth was much more spectacular. Hundreds of factories sprang up in the Northeast, westward migration occurred at a dizzy pace (not paralleled in Russian history by eastward migration until the 1880s), and the movement to the cities became a veritable stampede. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, with a combined population of only 95,000 in 1790, had nearly one million people in 1850. In addition, thousands of new Americans were arriving each year from Ireland, Britain, Germany, and other parts of Europe.

In a material sense the point of closest comparison between Russia and the United States at this time was their common dependence on servile labor: feudalism in most of rural Russia and the plantation economy of the American Old South. But the Old South was only an anomalous fragment of the republic, containing not more than a third of its total population (and less than a fourth of its free citizens). Eight Russians in ten were enserfed peasants; well over half the American population consisted of yeoman farmers, artisans, and bourgeois. Russia remained, in this period, a fundamentally poor, immobile society, in which especially under Tsar Nicholas I [ID] government became increasingly authoritarian and repressive. Although stratified, American society by European standards was remarkably open, with abundant opportunity for private enrichment and for climbing the social ladder. Under Andrew Jackson and his successors it achieved a measure of political democratization that made the young republic the most equalitarian of the world's great powers in mid-century.

In searching for a national identity, Americans understandably inclined to an optimistic, expansive, liberal image of themselves, stressing the power of the individual to control his own destiny and the goodness of nature and society. "Progress" and "democracy" became holy words. The reality of class, sectional, and racial conflict in American society was often ignored or explained away. Flaming rebellion, so characteristic of romanticists elsewhere, was rare in the American context because the circumstances of American life persuaded thinkers and writers that old orders could be reformed or evaded with relatively little difficulty. "Doubt of enlarging Good," declared William Ellery Channing in 1843, "is virtual Atheism, and Fear of Progress the unpardonable Sin."

If America, in Goethe's familiar judgment, "had it better," Russia had it worse. Economically far behind the West, plagued with accelerating peasant unrest, saddled with an unresponsive and ineffectual governmental apparatus, Russians felt no temptation to believe in automatic progress along established lines. Strong medicine alone, they argued, could save the body social from its diseases. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Russian intelligentsia had divided into two opposing camps [ID], those who despaired of traditional Russia and preached Westernization and those who despaired of Westernization and preached a return to the morally authentic Russia of the Orthodox Middle Ages. Both camps were initially romanticist in outlook, crying for radical changes with a passion as hot as any summoned up by their contemporaries in France and Germany. As a result Russia by mid-century had two national identities. The Westernizers saw it as a slate to be wiped clean and filled with fresh writing of Western origins; the nativists saw it as an icon resplendent with the higher truth of Holy Russia that had been defiled with false Western images which they could remove with the powerful solvents of their Slavic faith. It was a case of Rousseauian utopism pitted against Rousseauian primitivism.

Rousseau [ID] himself was the principal foreign influence on the first major Russian romanticist, the novelist and historian Nikolai Karamzin [ID]. After travels in western Europe during the year of the French Revolution, Karamzin returned home and published Poor Liza (1792), a sentimental novel full of poetic sighs and effusions; later he turned to history, writing a twelve-volume history of medieval Russia (1819-26). The seeds of both Westernism and Slavophilism [ID] were clearly present in Karamzin's work. On the one hand he was an enthusiast of Rousseau and the French Revolution; on the other hand he patriotically celebrated the glories of the Russian past.

Three poets brought Russia fully into the mainstream of literary romanticism during the first quarter of the new century. Vasilii Zhukovskii introduced the Russian public to the writings of many Western [European] romanticists including Rousseau, Schiller, and Chateaubriand. Significantly enough, he also wrote the words of the Russian national anthem, "God Save the Tsar." During his lifetime two younger poets far surpassed him, Alexander Pushkin [ID] and Mikhail Lermontov [ID]. Pushkin and Lermontov nurtured Russian cultural nationalism by using Russian history and folklore extensively in their work. They also created vivid portraits of estranged romantic egos in the Byronist manner, such as Pushkin's character of Eugene Onegin in the long poem of the same name (1832) and Lermontov's Pechorin in his autobiographical novel A Hero of Our Time (1839). Much of the best prose of the period was written by their gifted contemporary Nikolai Gogol [ID]. By 1840 Russia had at last acquired a secular literary culture of European significance.

There was also a romanticist movement in early nineteenth-century Russian art and music, well represented by the canvasses of Karl Briullov and the operas based on native Russian themes of Mikhail Glinka. But Russian romanticism did not by any means confine itself to the aesthetic dimension. Very much as in the German experience, but unlike the British and French, romanticism in Russia involved a massive intellectual awakening. As in Germany, much of the new thought maintained close spiritual affinities with earlier tendencies in religion and philosophy. But since the Russian philosophical tradition was at best embryonic at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was natural for Russian thinkers to look westward for help.

Inevitably they looked to Germany itself. Most young Russians who studied abroad went to German universities, and most of the foreign scholars living in Russia at this time were Germans. But the crucial point is that German philosophy and theology during the romanticist period responded to the same kinds of needs that Russians felt in their own national situation. Like Germany, and much more than Germany, Russia was a country with an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the West [of Europe], a country in search of a distinctive national soul. With no significant commercial tradition, with almost no citizen involvement in government, with a politically impotent state church and a growing stratum of alienated intellectuals, the same natural proclivity existed in Russia for introverted world views as in Germany. Eighteenth-century Russian thinkers had already found inspiration in the writings of the German mystics and the philosophy of Leibniz. From the 1790s onward, first Kant, then Fichte and Schelling, and finally Hegel [ID] were eagerly received by the Russian intelligentsia, not only by those who saw Russia's salvation in "Westernizing" but also by the Slavophiles. Without the German contribution, Russia's intellectual awakening might well have been delayed by several decades.


The awakening began, like certain literary movements in the West [of Europe], with the organizing of a circle of enthusiastic and very young men, in this instance the Society of Wisdom-Lovers formed in 1823 in Moscow under the "presidency" of Prince V. F. Odoevskii. When the Society dissolved in 1825 during the Decembrist revolt, its members had found time to do no more than conduct a sweeping study of Western [European] philosophy, chiefly German. Spinoza and Schelling were their heroes. But most of them continued their philosophizing in later years, and as their thought matured, it often turned to the great question of the place of Russia in the modern world.

Odoevskii, the former president of the Moscow Society, was one of the major voices in the Russian philosophical awakening in his own right. A disciple of Schelling and both Western and Russian mysticism, he developed the view, which became almost ritualistic in nineteenth-century Russian thought, that the West was exhausted. Its soul had become enfeebled through the decay of faith and the overspecialization of the sciences. Only Russia, with its still fresh spirit and untapped energies, could rescue the soul of Europe at this stage in world history.

The debate on Russia continued with the notorious Philosophical Letters of Petr Chaadaev [ID]. The publication of one of the "letters" in 1836 led to an official ban on Chaadaev's literary activity. The writer himself was declared insane by the tsarist authorities. But even this single essay and its companion pieces, which circulated privately among the literati, had a galvanizing effect on Russian thinking at the time. Under the influence of Schelling and the conservative French romanticists (de Bonald, Chateaubriand, Ballanche), Chaadaev took the position that only Christianity, by which he meant primarily Roman Catholic Christianity, could have created the civilization of Europe. The glories of European history were the visible marks of divine providence, a providence that had mysteriously overlooked Russia. Chaadaev scathingly denounced the sterility of the Russian past; yet in his posthumously published work, he also indicated that this very emptiness would prove a blessing in disguise. Unfettered by the past, Russia could now take up the project of teaching Europe "an infinity of things which she could not understand without us. ... A day will come when we shall place ourselves at the intellectual focus of Europe. . . . Our universal mission has begun."

In Odoevskii and Chaadaev the themes of the controversy that unfolded in the middle decades of the century about Russia and the West are nearly all anticipated. The two camps that we have already mentioned, of Slavophiles and Westernizers, were influenced by both men, and the ideational content of their programs was patently romanticist.


The chief philosophers in the Slavophile camp included Ivan Kireevskii [ID], in his youth a member of the Moscow Society of Wisdom-Lovers, and the redoubtable Aleksei Khomiakov [ID]. The novelist [Nikolai] Gogol [ID] also contributed to the Slavophile cause in some of his later writing. Tutored in their student years by the thought of Schelling and Hegel [ID], the Slavophiles agreed with Chaadaev in assigning to civilization a spiritual foundation. But they chose, very much in keeping with the nationalist tendencies in later romanticism in Germany and France, to give their spiritual interpretation of history a peculiarly Russian twist. The West, they contended, had even in medieval times fallen under the spell of an arid rationalism that desiccated its soul and deprived it of the organic wholeness still present in the more authentic Christian culture of Orthodox Russia. "In its inception," as Sidney Harcave writes, "Slavophilism looked toward a never-never land of Russian people united by the brotherly love of the Church, working together in spontaneous and free association under the protection of a benevolent emperor." Like Rousseau, the Slavophiles advocated a primitive communitarian order of society purged of the sophisticated faithlessness of modern civilization.

But the mid-century thinkers who denounced the Slavophiles as obscurantists and urged Russia forward into the modern age, the so-called Westernizers, shared the basic Weltanschauung [German for world view] of their opponents. On the one hand they partially accepted Chaadaev's depreciation of the Russian past, contrasting it unfavorably with Western Europe. On the other they were the products of the same intellectual ferment in the Russia of the 1820s and 1830s, learning their philosophy from Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel and articulating a fundamentally idealist world view that was not specifically Christian like the world view of the Slavophiles but bore many resemblances to it.

Despite their sympathies with the West and their anticlerical posture, the great Westernizers, men such as Nikolai Stankevich, Vissarion Belinskii [ID], and at least in the first part of their lives, Alexander Herzen [ID] and Mikhail Bakunin [ID], were by no means adherents of Western [European] rationalism or positivism. What they took from the West was its romanticism, initially of the German variety, and the Utopian socialism of France. Their thought, like that of the early Slavophiles, was thoroughly idealistic and in the Russian context countercultural, rejecting the institutions of modern tsarist Russia in favor of a Utopian vision that had little in common with Russian realities. It comes as no shock, then, to discover that after the failure of the Revolution of 1848 in France [ID] the leading WesternizerHerzenbitterly denounced Western [European] civilization and proposed in place of his earlier doctrine a new Slavic socialism resting its faith in the vitality of the Russian village commune. Herzen's post-revolutionary gospel was simply Slavophilism without Christianity.

After the stormy oscillations of Russian romanticism, the American version seems gentle almost to the point of blandness. Yet in terms of the American experience, it was passionate and, at times, capable of touching depths not explored again in American cultural history until the twentieth century. For some critics the romanticist period is still the only golden age in American letters.

American romanticism got off to a late and not particularly glorious start. As in France, the Enlightenment reigned through the 1800s, a fact well symbolized by the presidency (1801-9) of its most remarkable philosopher-statesman, Thomas Jefferson. The first substantial American man of letters, Washington Irving, started his career writing in the vein of the eighteenth-century English neo-classical satirists. After living and traveling in Europe he converted, more or less, to romanticism. But his best work was his earliest, his tales and sketches of old New York, and even here romanticism of a sort prevailed, if not in the style, at least in the atmosphere of whimsy and sentimentality that Irving conjured up, so far removed from the gray reality of colonial Dutch life.

A fuller-blooded romanticism emerged in the 1820s in the "Leatherstocking" novels of James Fenimore Cooper, the American Sir Walter Scott. Wordsworth's adoration of nature found echoes in the verse of William Cullen Bryant and the landscapes of Thomas Cole.

Up to this point American romanticism had rarely addressed itself to the big questions arising out of American life, nor had it seriously challenged the definition of the republic offered by its eighteenth-century statesmen, philosophers, and divines. But in the 1830s the romanticist conscience deepened and matured. The nation itself was changing fundamentally, from a chain of cozy seaboard colonies to a continental democratic republic of endlessly advancing frontiers. New men, self-made, penetrated the ruling class, and a new mass electorate demanded a new politics. The time had come for stock-taking and the setting of fresh goals.

One sign of the times was the transformation of Cooper, the novelist of the noble savage and the rugged frontiersman, into an amateur political philosopher after his return in 1833 from a seven-year stay in Europe. In The American Democrat (1838) and other works, he aligned himself with the rising democracy, but not with its undercurrents of capitalistic greed and ruthless exploitation of nature and labor. His democratic ideal was Rousseau's [ID], joining the splendid natural ego with the sovereignty of the people so that no crack remained for vulgar, over-civilized opportunists to wriggle through and spoil things. But in real life, as Cooper was too shrewd not to see, this ideal democratic order might prove impossible to construct. He entertained many of the same hopes and fears as his French contemporary Alexis de Tocqueville [ID].


Meanwhile, the most powerful intellectual movement of American romanticism arose in New England, the "Transcendentalism" of Ralph Waldo Emerson [ID] and Henry David Thoreau [ID]. Anyone who would understand the American national psyche must also understand Transcendentalism. The Transcendentalists were the Slavophiles and the Westernizers [ID] of nineteenth-century America. In them, the Enlightenment was simultaneously refuted and reaffirmed at deeper levels of consciousness. Transcendentalism, in its origins, was a secession from the Unitarian movement in Yankee Protestantism. Its principal guru, Emerson, signaled that secession by resigning from the Unitarian ministry in 1832. Sailing to England, he met personally with the three writers who had already become his literary and moral heroesWordsworth, Coleridge, and Carlyle. In the mid-1830s he settled in the little town of Concord, which became for the next ten years or so the American Weimar [ID]. Around him gathered many other luminaries of the movement, including Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, and Margaret Fuller [ID]. Also in the Transcendentalist ranks were two outstanding Unitarian clergymen, Theodore Parker, one of the most popular preachers of his generation, and George Ripley, who left the ministry in 1841 to direct the Transcendentalist and later Fourierist [ID] Utopian community of Brook Farm, near Boston.

The forming premise of Transcendentalism was the conviction that American religion had grown too cold and that American life as a consequence had become morally and spiritually undernourished. With much of the content of the old Enlightenment gospel the Transcendentalists had no quarrel. They proclaimed the intrinsic goodness of man and nature with greater fervor than any philsosophes. Like the founders of the republic, they were optimists, liberals, humanists, and unswerving foes of superstition and fanaticism in religion. But they found the rationalism of their Unitarian fathers powerless to inspire faith and action. It did not speak to the individual conscience, to the men and women who had the task of creating a new democratic society in nineteenth-century America. Emerson and his colleagues were particularly disturbed by the adherence of the Unitarian clergy to the Lockean theory of knowledge, with its view of the mind as a mere machine for processing sensory data. From Coleridge they adopted the romanticist position that, on the contrary, human consciousness was the seat of a divinely implanted faculty (Coleridge's capitalized Reason) through which man apprehended God's truth intuitively. Each of us possessed divinity in the depths of his own heart.

The Transcendentalists went on to develop an organismic view of the unity of man and nature, a philosophy of education not unlike Rousseau's, and a joyful theology as fluid and formless as the rest of their thought. But none of it was thought for thought's sake. The whole point of thinking, in the Transcendentalist outlook, was to shape character and inspire action. In the pragmatic spirit of American life, they were unable to summon up enthusiasm for prolonged abstract speculation.

As it evolved the Transcendentalist movement struck out in many directions. It celebrated spiritual self-reliance, as in Emerson's essay of 1841 and Thoreau's record of his monkish communion with nature, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854). It pressed for reformation of the schools and churches, for women's rights, for the abolition of slavery. It inspired experiments in Utopian communalism. It taught democracy, since all men and women were, by its doctrine, children of the same universally indwelling God, but it warned against the spread of an amoral capitalism that might destroy democracy by turning free workers into little more than slaves. As one Transcendentalist minister (Orestes Brownson) put the matter in 1840, the division of the community into two classes, owners and workers, was "the great evil of all modern society.... Universal suffrage is little better than a mockery where the voters are not socially equal.... To be rendered efficient, it must be coupled with something like equality of fortunes." The abolition of all inequality, social and economic as well as political, was the very "premise" of the American system, said Brownson, without which America would become only a second Europe.

The Transcendentalists were too tender-minded for the world they hoped to convert, and the movement faded out of view in the 1850s and 1860s, but they left behind a heritage of reformist idealism that has made a tangible difference in American life. Their efforts to spiritualize the young democracy were continued most forcefully in the next generation by the greatest American romantic poet, Walt Whitman [ID]. His Leaves of Grass (1855 and later editions), although it appeared in the twilight years of romanticism, has all the freshness of vision, all the ecstasy and anarchy of romanticism at its purest. No writer did more to define the democratic conscience, and none better personified it in the style of his own living, than the good gray bard from Brooklyn.

As in the France of Jules Michelet, historians had their share in the promulgation of romanticist politics in America. Hoping to furnish the young with inspiring heroes, America's first professional historian, Jared Sparks of Harvard, compiled patriotic lives of Washington, Franklin, and Gouverneur Morris. At the same time that Michelet was writing his many-volumed histories of France and the French Revolution, George Bancroft produced the ten volumes of the first comprehensive history of the United States (1834-76), a work of far greater scholarly integrity than those of Sparks but no less romantic and political than Michelet's. The Frenchman had represented France as the champion of liberty and the popular will in modern history; Bancroft, an ardent Jacksonian democrat, idealized the American republic in much the same terms. It was the highest form of polity in world history, and its democratic society, whose character was evident from earliest colonial times, showed all humanity the path to virtue. Democratic drama also filled the pages of J. L. Motley's The Rise of the Dutch Republic (1856), plotted as the glorious triumph of liberty over the despotism of imperial Spain.

The roster of great American romanticists includes many other familiar names: W. H. Prescott, the brilliant historian of the conquests of Mexico and Peru; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the most popular of nineteenth-century American poets; John Greenleaf Whittier, his nearest rival; Harriet Beecher Stowe [ID], the sentimental Puritan whose Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) helped prepare the mind of the nation for [the struggle against slavery before the] civil war; and even a scattering of American Byronists, writers outside the consensus who grappled obsessively with the problems of evil, estrangement, and human destiny. Edgar Alien Poe's tales of horror, Nathaniel Hawthorne's brooding studies of Puritan New England [ID], and Herman Melville's novels of cosmic adventure on the high seas [ID] all belonged to the climactic years of American romanticism, but they lacked the exuberance of the American literary mainstream. Poe wrote with the morbid intensity of the young Coleridge or his own French contemporary Gerard de Nerval. Hawthorne and Melville were essentially psychologists, closer in spirit to Dostoevsky [ID] than to Whitman. Be this as it may, one cannot doubt that in the romanticist era American thought and literary culture came of age. Optimism, energy, faith in democracy and the free man, a love of nature, and repeated warnings against the perils of materialism characterize most of its best work. Occasionally its writers caught glimpses of perils still more terrible, of red deaths and white whales. But by and large they had confidence in the American mission. Like their Russian contemporaries, but without Russia's schizophrenia, they saw a great place for their land and people in the sun of the new century.




Even during the palmiest days of the romanticist rebellion, forces were at work in Western [European] civilization that made the replacement of romanticism as its dominant world view inevitable. On the heels of political revolution and reaction came the culminating event in centuries of capitalist enterprise: the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in Great Britain and spreading throughout the continents of Europe and North America in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the industrialization process completed the destruction of the feudal-aristocratic system. But in so doing, it rehabilitated the values of the avant-garde of the preceding century: the modernizing values of reason, science, objectivity, secularism, and utility. At the same time, a second Scientific Revolution occurred in France and Britain, reaching academic Germany in mid-century, yielding fundamentally new knowledge of the material universe, and especially the organic universe, which further undermined the authority of the romanticist world view.

We have defined the successor of romanticism as "positivism," the world view that limits human knowledge to the data of experience as organized by the empirical sciences, thereby ruling theology and metaphysics invalid, or subsuming their problems into physics, biology, and sociology. Positivism is the rationalism of the Enlightenment in a somewhat less ambitious but also more radically "modern" form: more consistently humanistic, secularist, utilitarian, and keyed to the methods of natural science. An alternative label for it, perhaps equally appropriate, is "scientism."

Positivism originated in France and Britain during the romanticist period as an organic continuation of the thought of the late Enlightenment. Its founders were natural scientists, political economists, and social philosophers, of whom the most seminal figures were Saint-Simon [ID] in France and [Jeremy] Bentham [ID] in Britain. The first full generation of positivists emerged in mid-century; their intellectual leaders were [Auguste] Comte [ID] and [John Stuart] Mill [ID]. In Germany positivism began as a radical offshoot of the Hegelian movement of the 1830s [ID] headed by Strauss and Feuerbach. German positivism soon hardened into the "materialism" of the 1850s. Positivism invaded Russia in the mid-1850s and the United States after the Civil War. In the arts and letters, positivism expressed itself as a "realist" rebellion against romanticism. Flaubert and Courbet were the Hugo and the Delacroix, respectively, of the new realist sensibility in France. They had counterparts in every country.

As the positivist world view unfolded, it became involved in a variety of causes. Its left wing took up the advancement of an ideology born under romanticist stars, socialism, and gave it harder-headed formulations, especially in the so-called scientific socialism of Marx and Engels [ID]. Theological radicals used positivism as a weapon against Christian faith, seeking to ground the Western psyche in the atheistic humanism implicit, so they believed, in the findings of modern science. Positivism also served the needs of the rising bourgeoisie. It was enlisted in allegedly scientific defenses of capitalism, civil liberties, racism, and imperialism. The biological theory of evolution, which dominated social thought in the second half of the positivist era, especially in the English-speaking and German-speaking worlds, similarly cut leftward and rightward. Both camps found aid and comfort in its putative ethical consequences. Aesthetic culture moved in the 1870s and 1880s from the earlier realism to a "naturalism" that emphasized the determination of man's fate by environment, heredity, and chance.

Of the five great national cultures, the French and British were best suited by their histories and situations to warm to the positivist message. They assimilated it with little struggle, the French showing a greater interest in its applications in government and social reconstruction, the British rejoicing in its support of capitalism, liberalism, andlaterthe British imperial mission. American positivism closely resembled the British variety. It diffused widely through American life, although it seldom generated creative work of a caliber comparable to the culture of romanticism. 



[in Russia & USA = ]

Gilded Ages: Russia and the United States

Having discovered national missions during the romantic era, Russia and the United States continued on their separate and increasingly divergent paths in the second half of the nineteenth century. Russia failed to complete the transition to a mature industrial economy, despite vigorous prodding by the tsarist regime; the United States became the world's greatest economic power in little more than a generation. The Russian body politic was more and more painfully racked by irreconcilable differences of interest and ideology; American society, after the crushing of the rebellion of the Southern states, underwent an accelerating process of both real and imaginary embourgeoisement [middle-class transformation] that had a dampening effect on class struggle. Reactions to positivism in Russia were mixed; Americans welcomed it with enthusiasm.

Not every basis of comparison disappeared. As happened before, with romanticism, Russia and the United States lagged behind western Europe in assimilating the new world view, Russia by at least ten years, the United States by at least twenty. Yet both countries by this time were culturally autonomous, able to make original contributions of internationally recognized value. The same was true of Scandinavia, which embraced positivism relatively late but, having done so, gave to the world thought and literature of high distinction.

Russia and the United States also continued their phenomenal growth in both population and territory. By 1897 Russia was a sprawling Eurasian empire of 129 million people. By 1900, after the conquests of the Mexican and Spanish-American wars and an influx during the preceding half-century of 17 million immigrants (chiefly from Ireland and from eastern and southern Europe), the United States had become a polyglot empire in its own right of 76 million people, with possessions from the Bering Strait to the West Indies, and from Maine to the South China Sea.

It is a further curiosity that both Russia and the United States had chiefs of state who in the early 1860s formally emancipated their servile agricultural workers (serfs in Russia, slaves in America) [ID], suppressed civil insurrections (the Polish uprising of 1863-64, the Civil War of 1861-65), and were later assassinated by outraged fanatics (Alexander II in 1881, Abraham Lincoln in 1865).

But, next to the contrasts, the comparisons are almost trivial. At the close of the nineteenth century tsarist Russia was a terminally sick society, with only a few years to live before the great revolution that would put it out of its misery forever. The flush on its cheeks was the fever of a wasting disease, not the ruddy glow of health. America, meanwhile, had reached the prime of life, the richest and most fully developed capitalist society in history, with many possibilities for good and evil still untested, "from sea to shining sea." Europe had never seen its like, not even the lusty Reich of Wilhelm II.

All the same, Russia in the reigns of Alexander II and III was not without its glories. Scientists appeared who still enjoy worldwide fame. Russian social philosophers, especially advocates of the new gospel of anarchism, became European celebrities. In literature, Russian writers of the period produced some of the greatest novels in the history of belles lettres, and Russian composers wrote music that equaled the work of their best European contemporaries. It was a different sort of Gilded Age from the one portrayed in Mark Twain's novel of American life, but a Gilded Age no less.

The role of the positivist world view in shaping Russian culture during these years is something else again. That positivism did reach and influence Russian minds can hardly be questioned. But it clashed with the fundamental tendencies in the Russian tradition, and too little had changed in Russian life since the days of Napoleon and Alexander I to give it the kind of support it was winning, at least temporarily, in Germany. The Germans, too, were ill-prepared by the facts of their own cultural history to find positivism convincing. But the transformation of Germany from a society of princes and peasants into a society of businessmen and workers during the course of the nineteenth century created a climate of opinion in which the veneration of science, technology, and the methods of both could thrive very well indeed.

Russia, by contrast, remained essentially what it had been ever since the time of Peter the Great: a nation of peasants, with a ruling class of bureaucrats and landowners at the top, and little in between. Only 8 percent of the population lived in towns and cities in 1851, and by 1897 the percentage had risen to only 13. Although some industrialization occurred, especially between 1890 and 1905, Russia lagged behind all the other great powers in industrial output. In the last year before the First World War, even France (with one-fourth as many people) still mined more coal and produced more pig iron than Russia. In the absence of large middle and working classes, the natural constituencies of positivist thought, positivism could not hope to drum up the broad support that it attracted in the West.

Wherever positivism did flourish in Russian thought in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was typically associated with radical political causes, carrying on the labors of the Westernizers of the romantic era. The old Westernizers had been earnest Hegelians; the new Westernizers not unnaturally turned to the post-Hegelian generation in Western philosophy for their inspiration. Feuerbach, Comte, Marx, and Spencer were among their principal mentors. Their Slavophile enemies retained a basically romanticist world view, but became more and more closely identified with the ideological defense of tsarism. In the middle, a small party of liberals representing commercial and professional interests pressed for moderate reform. But the keenest minds veered either to the extreme Right or the extreme Left.

The turn to positivism occurred in the mid-1850s, at a time when the Crimean War had dramatized Russia's weakness vis-a-vis the Western powers and the death of the despotic Nicholas I had rekindled hopes for fundamental changes in the whole structure of Russian life. The loudest voices on the Left were at first the so-called nihilists, a band of thinkers expounding materialism in the German manner. Their most effective spokesman was Nikolai Chernyshevskii [ID], a devotee of Feuerbach, whose arrest and exile to Siberia in 1862 electrified the radicals and in the long run aided their cause. Still more militant was Dmitrii Pisarev [ID]. A religious mystic in his university days, Pisarev converted to the materialism of Moleschott and Bchner soon thereafter, but his death in 1868 at the age of twenty-seven cut short what promised to be a brilliant career. Later in the century came the humanistic positivism of Petr Lavrov [ID] and Nikolai Mikhailovskii, intellectual leaders of Russian agrarian socialism. Critical positivism was represented by Vladimir Lesevich, an early disciple of Comte and Littre who fell toward the end of his life under the influence of Avenarius.

None of these thinkers can be ranked as a philosophical giant. Nor was their positivism entirely pure. Although they upheld an empiricist theory of knowledge, reveled in the possibilities of science for human enlightenment and betterment, and scorned theology and metaphysics as proudly as Auguste Comte himself, it is tempting to argue that the Russian positivist philosophers of the nineteenth century were simply idealists in disguise. What seems to have gripped them, above all, was the hope for sociopolitical reform or revolution in Russia. In their ethical thought, they nearly all ignored the deterministic implications of science to maintain a passionately libertarian doctrine that asserted the fundamental goodness of each man's moral instincts. The generous spirit of Jean-Jacques lingered on, together with a goodly measure of German ethical idealism. Unshackle the natural man from the chains of despotism and reaction, andso they believedhe would save the world. As Zenkovsky comments, Russian positivism arose from "a need to satisfy religious demands." Even its atheism was a "stormy and passionate atheism" that concealed a deep longing for faith.

It goes without saying that many Western positivists harbored similar motives for rallying to the cause of science and enlightenment, not the least of them Comte himself. But in their view of human nature they were further removed from the romanticist outlook than their Russian colleagues and more inclined to put their trust in cosmic processes. Face to face with the crushing might of tsarist state power, Russian radicals could not afford a moment's complacency; progress was for them scarcely guaranteed by "cosmic processes." In the absence of cosmic or divine aid, they had to assume that man himself was instinctively good and only prevented from leading a righteous life (shades of Rousseau! [ID]!) by the evils of the sociopolitical order. Overthrow that order, and all would be well.

The Utopian and ethical idealism of Russian social thought was nowhere more evident than in its most notorious radical credo, the anarchism of Mikhail Bakunin [ID]. Starting out in life a Hegelian, Bakunin formally renounced his Hegelianism in the 1860s, when it was no longer fashionable, to become a self-professed atheistic materialist. Whatever party label he adopted, however, he remained the same passionate foe of laws and governments and the same passionate believer in the instinctive virtue of the natural man. His place in the anarchist movement was taken later in the century by another Russian, Prince Petr Kropotkin [ID], who discovered a scientific basis for anarchism in his reading of the function of "mutual aid" in both animal and human evolution.

In the natural sciences themselves, Russians made outstanding contributions throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, which had some effect, as elsewhere, in making positivism more acceptable to the intelligentsia. The great names included Ivan Sechenov [ID] and Ivan Pavlov, the founders of modern behaviorist psychology; Dmitrii Mendeleev [ID], the chief proponent of the periodic law of the elements; the comparative embryologist Aleksandr Kovalevskii; and the bacteriologist Ilya Metchnikov. Several notable Russians also turned to positivist sociology during the Age of Improvement, but they did most of their work abroad and published in French or German.

Of course the most notable Russians of all were the novelists and the composers, an incomparable array of virtuosos. We may leave out the composersMussorgsky, Rimskii-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and the rest since their music was unambiguously romantic, like most of the music of nineteenth-century Europe. But the realist movement did penetrate Russian letters in some of the last works of Gogol [ID] and in the novels of three mid-century masters who easily rank with Balzac, Flaubert, and Dickens.

The oldest and the most straightforwardly realistic of the trio was Ivan Turgenev [LOOP], author of Fathers and Sons (1862), whose hero Bazarov was modeled on the young "nihilists" of the period (Turgenev coined the term himself). A great and sensitive craftsman, he was soon eclipsed by two younger men, Fedor Dostoevsky [LOOP] and Leo Tolstoy [LOOP]. In Dostoevsky most of the tendencies of European literary realism are clearly in evidence: the tragic episodes from contemporary life, the obsession with crime and poverty, and the gift for careful observation of detail. His early work Poor Folk (1846) was also perhaps the first Russian "social" novel, a vivid rendering of life among the poor. But as Dostoevsky's career unfolded, and especially after the religious experiences of his prison years in the early 1860s, he turned to a heterodox Christian mysticism that reached its artistic apotheosis in the pages of his greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80). Realistic techniques, and a psychological method all his own, were enlisted by Dostoevsky in the service of a world view far removed from positivism. In retrospect his work seems more like a prolegomenon to twentieth-century irrationalism than anything else; it was also a powerful literary expression of the Slavophile doctrine of the sacred mission of Holy Russia.

The youngest of the three, Tolstoy, followed a still different course. After writing his colossal realistic masterwork, War and Peace (1865-69), which he himself explained as an illustration of the strict determinism of historical processes, he underwent a personal crisis that transformed him into a tender-minded Christian anarchist. All his writing after 1880, and some of it is artistically comparable to his realistic fiction, breathes the gentle spirit of Tolstoy's conversion [ID], but as with the bulk of Dostoevsky's work, it leaves the positivist world view well behind.

Positivism, clearly, did not answer all the needs of Russian artists and intellectuals during the Age of Improvement. Much of it was an imported product, imperfectly digested, and used for purposes not consistent with its own inner value structure. In any event, few Russians swallowed it raw. More than elsewhere, it was heavily adulterated with romanticist, Christian, and Utopian ideas. Positivism helped drive Russian society toward the apocalypse of 1917, but only in league with other tendencies in thought for which it can bear no responsibility and which had no doubt a firmer grip on the Russian national soul.

In the United States, the great divide between romanticism and positivism came significantly later than in the Old World. When [Charles] Darwin [ID] was writing his On the Origin of Species and Bchner his Force and Matter, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman were still in the prime of life. Not until the Civil War and the industrial boom that followed it did Americans begin to shift their allegiance to positivism. The period from 1865 to 1900 or even 1910 was the American Age of Improvement, the Gilded Age, a long and virtually uninterrupted time of spectacular economic and demographic growth, of imperial expansion, of social reform, of adventure and exuberance surpassing the enlightened optimism of Jeffersonian America and the democratic ardors of the Jacksonians. In mid-century the republic, as Tocqueville understood only too well, was up and coming. But by the end of the century, the United States had almost suddenly outstripped every great power in the world. Per capita income was twice that of any continental European country. Total industrial output increased tenfold between 1860 and 1910.

Rapid growth had always been a prominent feature of American life, but the vast population, world economic leadership, and high-heaped wealth of the Gilded Age were something new. So too was the influx of immigrants of chiefly peasant stock from the poorest countries of Europe and Asia, the conquest of the deserts and mountains of the Far West, the invasion of the Pacific, and the shift from an overwhelmingly rural to a preponderantly urban society that took place during the second half of the century. In no country at any time had material change occurred more rapidly or more fully absorbed the energies of a people. In its Gilded Age, America was a study in growth and transformation.

So much change was not necessarily conducive to the progress of thought and art. It is interesting to note that even in science the heroes of Gilded America were not giants of pure research but men of invention and technology. One is hard-pressed to think of any American scientist equal to Darwin or Pasteur or Helmholtz during this period, but who is likely to forget Bell and his telephone, Edison and his electric light, the Wrights and their airplane, Ford and his assembly-line automobiles? Americans of the half-century invented the typewriter, the phonograph, the submarine, the machine gun, and a variety of other technological curiosities from air conditioning to zippers.

Fortuitously, by the time romanticism had run its course in American culture, the most widely discussed variety of positivist thought accessible to readers in the English-speaking world was Darwinian biology. With its timely emphasis on change, progress, struggle, and material forces, Darwinism became an instant success in the American thought-world, more so than anywhere else in Western civilization, not excluding Britain itself. The evolutionist gospel also reached America in the variant form of the synthetic philosophy of Herbert Spencer [ID], and Spencer, too, was received with more enthusiasm in the New World than in his own.

In the result, the idea of evolution became the common denominator of practically all the philosophical, theological, and social thought of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although very little of that thought has survived the scrutiny of later generations. A typical evolutionist and fervent admirer of Spencer [ID] was John Fiske, whose Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy (1874) and later writings earned him a reputation as a deep thinker that he probably did not deserve. The Berkeley geologist Joseph Le Conte was another prophet, hailing evolution as "glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all peoples. Woe is me, if I preach not the Gospel." Both men extracted from their faith in evolution a confirmation at higher levels of the core truths of Christian theism, as did the numerous evolutionary theologians of the day, such as Francis Howe Johnson and Minot J. Savage.

The quasi-idealist belief that evolution was God's true mode of creation, now at last revealed by the Book of Nature, enjoyed wide currency in the Gilded Age. It reveals a thick residue of romanticism in the late nineteenth-century American psyche, but it also reminds us once again of the fundamental difference between the European and American ecclesiastical establishments. In Europe the churches remained for the most part hopelessly entangled in reactionary politics; in America the many denominations were like rival corporations or trade unions, well integrated into the structure of modern life. The defiant atheism and anticlericalism of European radicals and even many liberals had few echoes in the United States. The American God was as smart and up-to-date as a Model T.

The social thinkers of the positivist age in the United States offered rather more substantial fare than the philosophers of evolutionary naturalism, but Darwin and Spencer inspired them to much the same degree. American anthropology was founded by Lewis Henry Morgan, whose Ancient Society (1877) deeply impressed Marx and Engels and was the first serious effort to explain the origins of civilization from an evolutionary perspective. Morgan's counterparts in economics and sociology were William Graham Sumner and Lester Ward, shortly followed by Albion Small, F. H. Giddings, and Thorstein Veblen [ID], a constellation of intellects comparable to the social scientists of any European country during the Age of Improvement.

At the same time positivism made deep inroads into American historiography. The turn from romanticism began with German-trained scholars such as Herbert Baxter Adams, who brought the methods of German scientific history to the New World. The outstanding historians of the positivist era were Adams's student Frederick Jackson Turner [ID], well remembered for his geographical explanation of the regional differences in American history, and another Adams, the formidable Henry Adams, who attempted to derive laws of historical development from physics. Positivism was further represented in American social thought by the Marxism of Daniel De Leon, the legal naturalism of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and the racism of Josiah Strong and Nathaniel Shaler.


One more strand in the thought of the positivist era in America requires special mention: the emergence of pragmatism [ID]. Although science and evolution counted for as much in the development of pragmatism as of any other school of thought during the period, pragmatism moved along lines that were uniquely its own, anticipating both the logical empiricism and the existentialism of twentieth-century philosophy. In the context of the late nineteenth century, pragmatism was an American cousin of the critical positivism of Mach and Avenarius.

Founded by the mathematician and logician Charles Sanders Peirce, and continued by William James and John Dewey, the pragmatist school dismissed as fallacious the assumption of the more naive varieties of positivism that the natural sciences could give human beings a finished portrait, as it were, of the material universe. Evolutionary theory itself disputed such a view of the cosmos. The cosmoslike Gilded America!was not a frozen chunk of matter, but a fluid process of unending change, a complex of phenomena in action and movement with no predetermined goal. In James's phrase, both materialism and idealism had posited a "block universe." But the pragmatists preferred the image of an evolving universe, open to the play of chance and will, in which almost anything could happen. At the bottom of their thought rested the familiar dictum of Anglo-Saxon empiricism that all knowledge consisted of experience. If so, why not say that reality itself consisted of experience, defined not as consciousness in the manner of subjective idealism, but as something objectively real?

But if we can agree that the world can be reduced to experience, then we must be able to submit all theories of it, including ethical theories, to the test of practicality, and herein lay the philosophical scandal of pragmatism. The pragmatists proposed that the proof of human knowledge was in the doing rather than in the thinking. In Peirce's original formula, which James and Dewey expanded, the meaning of a concept was our idea of its consequences. If no practical difference could be discovered between two concepts, if they made no difference in the real world of experience, then there was no difference between the concepts at all. As Dewey later phrased it, the true is the successful.

At one level, pragmatism was only a more radical form of empiricism, and fully in accordas its protagonists always claimedwith scientific method, which requires that every theory "work," that its predictions be correct when tested in the world of measurable experience. At another level, one cannot overlook the European criticism of pragmatism that it was only a clever way of gaining the endorsement of philosophy for the American worship of profit and progress, and in particular for the anti-intellectualism of the Gilded Age, which cared little how a thing was done so long as it made money. Pragmatism was the philosophy of a society of inventors rather than a society of scientists. It also, in the Jamesian version, bordered perilously on idealism in its emphasis on the power of the will and in its doctrine of the "finite God," the deity who struggles alongside man to make a better world. At James's end of pragmatism, it merged with Bergsonian vitalism [ID] and became part of the irrationalist rebellion against positivism, although Dewey did much to give it a more credibly scientific basis.

As for literature and art, few critics have made extravagant claims for the aesthetic culture of positivist America, but its showing was at least as good as Germany's during the same period, and perhaps better. Realism arrived in American letters in the 1860s with the first published works of Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Henry James. Howells and James excelled in fastidious analyses of middle-class life; Twain was almost an American Dickens. America's "naturalist" generation came much later, in the 1890s, with the measurably lesser work of Hamlin Garland, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, and Theodore Dreiser. Most surprising was the plethora of first-rate American painters. Although several of them lived and worked chiefly in Europe, they were a brilliant group. Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer painted American life with uncompromising objectivity. Among the expatriates, James Whistler and John Singer Sargent worked chiefly in London, on the outer fringes of realism, and Mary Cassatt joined the French Impressionists, painting in a style not unlike that of her friend Degas.

All things considered, the minor figures together with the major, freelancers and journalists as well as academicians, both migrs and those who clung to the native sod, positivism enjoyed a deep and broad success in American life. Despite both French and German influence, the closest comparison was still with British thought. Evolution came to America from Britain; pragmatism recalled British Utilitarianism and was even successfully exported to Britain, where F. C. S. Schiller taught his own version of it for many years at Oxford. Both countries were rich, powerful, and heavily industrialized during the Age of Improvement, reflecting their affluence in schools of social thought that identified capitalism with the natural order of things. It cannot be a coincidence that when irrationalism began to challenge positivism for the mastery of the Western mind, it was the two English-speaking countries that provided the stoniest soil for its growth.



[Irrationalism] [Would it be better to say "Spiritualism"?]

Although the twentieth century has been a time of rising affluence for most Western [European] peoples, the dominant note of its intellectual and artistic life has been discontent. The events of the century have eroded Western man's faith in progress, in the nation-state as the guardian of peace and liberty, and in the systems of value that have helped to sustain our civilization for more than a thousand years. Both traditional values and their modern surrogates have not weathered well in our mental climate. The world view most fully expressive of our discontents is "irrationalism," which argues that man and his cosmos are fundamentally non-rational, moved by forces beyond the ken of empirical science, and comprehensible (if at all) only by direct intuitive perception or some other non-rational mode of knowing.

Irrationalism is thus a new form of romanticism, a new attempt to resist the march of modern scientific civilization. Like romanticism, it has often spurred the progress of modernity, by its internal contradictions, its radical experiments with traditional forms of thought and art, its tendency to rush impatiently from savior to savior, and its moral excesses. But more than romanticism, it has sought deliberately to reverse the course of mankind's historical development in defense of personal, tribal, or sectarian values. Even more than romanticism, it views reality in subjective terms, taking whatever meaning it hasand it may have nonefrom action, will, and striving, and not from any scientifically definable essence or nature. In its most extreme forms, irrationalism does not hesitate to declare reality wholly meaningless.

Even much of the positivist thought of the twentieth century, continuing its development from nineteenth-century origins, has reached conclusions that are congruent with the tenets of irrationalism. This is especially true of the neo-positivist philosophies that envisage no role for their discipline apart from logical analysis of science and language. All the other traditional problems of philosophy are ruled invalid and entrusted for "solution" to the preferences and feelings of individuals.

Irrationalism seldom exists in its purest form, but it has inspired such characteristic recent systems of thought as vitalism, existentialism [ID], and neo-orthodox theology [ID], and such movements in the arts and letters as symbolism [ID], expressionism, surrealism [ID], and the theater of the absurd. Its greatest nineteenth-century heralds were Nietzsche [ID], Baudelaire, and Dostoevsky [LOOP]; among its major twentieth-century exponents are Bergson [ID], Heidegger [ID], and Berdiaev [ID]. In political thought, its disciples have ranged all the way from Mussolini [ID] to Sartre [ID] and radical segments of the new American counterculture.

The most obvious contrasts in national expressions of irrationalism are those between the countries of continental Europe and those of the English-speaking world. Europe has suffered more acutely from the political and social problems of the century and has felt more urgently drawn to the kinds of interpretations and remedies supplied by the irrationalist world view. The German-speaking countries, France, and pre-Bolshevik Russia were the natural homelands of irrationalism. Britain and the United States have shared in its later development, but it has tended to assume weaker forms in Anglo-Saxondom, above all in philosophy and social thought.

Of the three major continental countries, irrationalism was especially powerful in Germany (together with Austria) during its first two generations, consisting of men and women born between 1850 and 1900. The German academic elite set the pace, feeling its special position in German society threatened by the onrush of industrialism and social democracy. The most malevolent offspring of German irrationalism was the fascism of Hitler [LOOP]. France also came to irrationalism early, disappointed by the decline of her world power and torn by class struggle. The first French irrationalists were poets and artists; France led Europe in the versatility and radicalism of its avant-garde aesthetic culture. Russia, too, found irrationalism congenial to its national spirit. Most Russian irrationalists centered their hopes on a revival of Orthodox Christianity. But with the collapse of the autocracy in 1917, irrationalism was officially proscribed on Russian soil and its place taken by Marxism-Leninism. It survived for another generation among the many White migrs living in the West.


[in Russia = ]

The Kingdom of God: Russia

"Russian thought," writes V. V. Zenkovsky, "has been condemned by history to a deep bifurcation." One branch of the Russian intellectual road has led westward, toward rationalism, the other eastward [??southward], toward the mystical Christianity of the Russian Middle Ages. The two branches have sometimes threatened to reunite, as both Westernizers and Slavophiles [ID] have found inspiration in the Christian, idealistic, mystical, and romantic tendencies of Western [European] thought, but in the second half of the nineteenth century they parted forever. First the positivists and then the Marxists made a clean break with Russia Christianity. Following the Revolution of 1917, Marxism became the official world view of the new Soviet state. On the branch leading eastward [southward], irrationalism joined forces with the Slavophile and Christian heritage to gain a clear ascendancy in the intellectual and artistic life of tsarist Russia during its last quarter century. After the collapse of tsarism and the expulsion of its supporters and fellow travelers from Russian soil, irrationalism continued to flourish for a time among the White migrs in various Western countries.

Russian irrationalism was nevertheless during its heyday a vigorous movement of thought and taste. With little Western [European] influence, it followed its own distinctive course, generally marked by an impassioned commitment to traditional Christian values. It was also the most irrationalist of irrationalisms, the most extreme in its opposition to positivism in all its forms, and the most politically reactionary.

The cause of this national schizophrenia was the persistent and finally incurable failure of the tsarist old order to bring Russia into the modern age. The process of industrialization that at last began to gather momentum in the 1890s came too late. The emancipated serfs remained alienated and depressed, except for a scattering of comfortable small farmers ("kulaks") who emerged to fatten on their flesh, especially after the encouragement they received from the Stolypin Law of 1906 [ID]. The liberal bourgeoisie was small and ineffectual, the tsarist regime unimaginative, the Russian army too poorly supplied, and the Russian economy too weak to fight the kind of total war that had to be fought in 1914-18. The Central Powers soon brought Russia to the verge of total national exhaustion and made revolution inescapable.

In Russia's desperate situation under its last two monarchs the response of its intellectuals and artists was, predictably, to turn to extreme remedies. A minority of irreconcilable revolutionists made preparations for the overthrow of tsardom and its replacement by a socialist state. The majority clung all the more passionately to Holy Russia and the mystical genius of the Russian national soul, as if Russia could be saved only by becoming more and more single-mindedly Russian. German irrationalism adopted comparable strategies, but Germany already had the industrial and military might to translate its folkish fantasies into something like reality. For Russia it was all moonshine.

The father of Russian irrationalism in the nineteenth century was its greatest novelist, Fedor [pronounced FYOdor] Dostoevsky [LOOP]. Despite his use of realistic techniques, Dostoevsky had no spiritual affinities with the positivist generation to which he belonged. Like his exact French contemporary Baudelaire, he was a prototypical irrationalist, profoundly Russian in his espousal of the idea of Russia's mission of world redemption and his devotion to the Orthodox faith. The boldly drawn characters who inhabit his pages are monsters, like Stavrogin in The Possessed (1872), who have allowed modern ideas to destroy their faith in God, moral weaklings torn by sin and doubt, or men who have found the narrow path to peace through mystical illumination, such as Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80). Dostoevsky wielded an enormous influence for many years, but it was a conservative influence that strengthened the hand of the autocracy and widened the gulf between Left and Right in Russian thought. Although Lenin once dismissed Dostoevsky's work as "trash," it unintendingly helped bring him to power. The mystical pacifism to which Tolstoy turned [ID] in his last years was also a factor in the diffusion of irrationalism in late nineteenth-century Russia. Tolstoy avoided Dostoevsky's political alliance with tsardom, but he became no less fervently an enemy of positivism and the modern age. At about the same time, other contemporaries of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were preparing the ground for the triumph of irrationalism in philosophy and social thought. In a variant form of the Slavophile argument, Nikolai Danilevskii [ID] (who was later to influence Spengler) preached a vitalistic philosophy of history and evolution that hailed the Slavs as the next great world people, destined to establish a mighty Eastern federation with its capital at Constantinople. Boris Chicherin continued the attempts of the Russian romanticists to build a philosophy on Hegelian foundations, and Nikolai Fedorov [ID] proposed the establishment of a brotherly kingdom of God on earth whose government would be neither autocratic nor democratic, but "psychocratic," the rule of consciousness redeemed by Christ. Outside the Russian mainstream, yet no less thoroughly irrationalist, was the worldwide Theosophical movement founded in Russia in 1858 by Helena Blavatsky [ID]. All this activity during the positivist era provides ample evidence that Russia had by no means fully embraced the positivist creed even then. The initiatives of Dostoevsky and his contemporaries led to a virtual explosion of irrationalist thought and art near the close of the nineteenth century. In philosophy and theology, art and music, poetry and fiction, two generations of irrationalists testify to the peculiar affinity of the Russian national spirit for the irrationalist world view.

The figure who stands as the cornerstone of the edifice of irrationalist thought in Russia during its first generation is Vladimir Soloviev [Solov'ev] [LOOP]. The son of the historian Sergei Soloviev, Vladimir was born in Moscow in 1853 and recapitulated during a stormy adolescence the whole recent history of Russian thought. At fourteen he lost his religious faith, becoming in the words of an old friend "a typical nihilist of the 'sixties," [ID] a follower of Pisarev [ID] and the German materialists. This phase ended with Soloviev's exposure to the thought of Spinoza [W ID] at the age of sixteen. Spinoza led him back to theism and a sense of cosmic unity, as well as to the idealism of Hegel and Schelling. But his spiritual discoveries were not yet over. After submitting a brilliant master's thesis in 1874 on "The Crisis of Western Philosophy," subtitled "Against the Positivists," the precocious philosopher went abroad, first to London, then to Egypt in a search for occult wisdom reminiscent of the journeys of Mme. Blavatsky [ID]. Christian and mystical ideas blended with the teachings of his philosophical masters to produce, by 1880, a fully developed world view to which he adhered for the remaining twenty years of his life.

Soloviev argued that Western philosophies, such as empiricism and rationalism, mistakenly limited themselves to the knowledge that comes when the mind is detached from the being of what it seeks to know. In brief, the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of the senses were too subjective. Severely limited by the structure of the human mind and sensorium, they could not by themselves apprehend reality in its fullness. Only the direct mystical intuition of objective reality through faith could do this. Faith would make possible the organic integration of all the types of knowledge and bring us to what Soloviev termed "Godmanhood," divinity and human-ness united in Christ. From his theory of integral knowledge Soloviev went on to contend that world history moved Ideologically toward the realization of the Kingdom of God, to be achieved when the Orthodox and Western churches joined hands once more and the Russian nation, by the good example of its own holistic witness to being and truth, inspired the building of a universal theocratic society.

The fusion of religion, philosophy, historical thought, and apocalyptic utopianism in Soloviev's eloquent volumes won many converts among the younger thinkers who followed him. One of his most devoted friends and interpreters was Prince Evgenii Trubetskoi [ID], a substantial philosopher in his own right. Trubetskoi's major works included a two-volume analysis and criticism of Soloviev's thought, published in 1912, which he used as a springboard for presenting his own, more strictly Russian Orthodox views of God's action in the world. Trubetskoi's own action, when the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, was to join a White army and participate in the counterrevolution. He died of typhus in 1920 just before the evacuation of his comrades from Russia, Still younger men who carried on Soloviev's spiritual and philosophical mission were the Orthodox priests Pavel Florenskii and Sergei Bulgakov [ID].

Better known in the West, however, were the lay philosophers Leo Shestov and Nikolai Berdiaev, both of whom wrote extensively during the years of their exile in Western Europe after the Revolution. Both were deeply religious thinkers, disciples of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche who stressed the nonrationality of life and its moral struggle. As Shestov warned in his last book, Athens and Jerusalem (1938), the time had come for mankind to transcend the narrow limits of Hellenic rationalism and yield to the living truth of Revelation. Working along lines parallel to the existentialists and neo-orthodox theologians in Germany, Shestov and Berdiaev took the part of Jerusalem against a merely human Athens.

Russian aesthetic culture during the irrationalist ascendancy rivaled French and German, although unfamiliarity with the Russian language prevented the poets, in particular, from gaining the hearing in the West that they deserved. Symbolism reached Russia about the same time as it reached the German-speaking world. Dmitrii Merezhkovskii and his wife Zinaida Hippius [ID], both poets, led the symbolist movement in Russia in the 1890s and 1900s. Merezhkovskii was also something of a religious thinker, the founder of an important society of religious philosophers in St. Petersburg in 1901 [ID]. He accused traditional Christianity of excessive otherworldliness and looked forward to the establishment of a millennial new order combining Christian and secular values in a consecrated unity, a Joachite reign of the Holy Ghost embodying both the divine and the human principle. The Revolution of 1905 found in Merezhkovskii and Hippius ardent supporters, but they opposed Bolshevism. Leaving Russia in 1919, they settled in Paris, developing fascist sympathies in their old age.

By the mid-1900s, Merezhkovskii had already been eclipsed as Russia's leading symbolist poet by a much younger man, Aleksandr Blok [ID]. He, too, invested symbolism at first with religious content, under the inspiration of Soloviev; later he turned to Slavophile themes, became involved in the defense of the Bolsheviks (who had little use for him), and died at the age of forty in 1921, steeped in melancholy and doubt. Also of the second irrationalist generation were the neo-romantic poet and novelist Boris Pasternak [ID], whose Dr. Zhivago (1956) outraged Soviet authorities because of its antirevolutionary sentiments, and the migr novelist Vladimir Nabokov [ID], [who became] an American writer, although before he became an American citizen in 1945, he wrote his books in Russian for the Russian migr communities of Western Europe. [...] Working rich veins of allegory and sardonic humor, he takes as his themes the perennial problems of art and love. A comparison with Thomas Mann [ID] is not, perhaps, wide of the mark.

In painting, music, and dance, the Russian irrationalists have surpassed themselves. Their musical achievement was no doubt to be expected, after the triumphs of the romantic and national schools of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov in the nineteenth century. Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninov followed the romantic impulse to its furthest limits, in Scriabin's case with the help of mystical ideas derived from Theosophy. The migr composer Igor Stravinsky [ID] defies classification, like most universal geniuses. His early ballets were neo-romantic. He then entered an austere neo-classical phase. In old age, after settling in California, he wrote in every style from jazz to church music to atonal works in the manner of Schonberg and von Webern. But despite the terseness and mathematical rigor of his musical language, Stravinsky's work grew organically out of late Russian romanticism. In its exoticism, demonic energy, religious feeling, and compulsive avant-gardism, it belongs more to the irrationalist world view than to any other.

Some of Stravinsky's best scores were originally written for the remarkable productions of the impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Founder of the Ballets Russes and a prodigy of taste and organization, Diaghilev integrated the talents not only of the leading dancers of the early twentieth century (most of them Russian), but also many of its greatest artists and composers. His seasons with the Ballets Russes from 1909 to 1929 were triumphs of artistic synthesis and innovation. Among the other Russians whose work he commissioned were the composer Sergei Prokofiev, the choreographers Mikhail Fokine and Leonid Massine, and the artists and designers Leo Bakst, Alexander Benois, Nikolai Roerich, and Pavel Chelishev. Diaghilev's aesthetic hedonism could have found no place in Soviet life, but in France and elsewhere in the Western world he filled a need for twenty surprising years.

Most surprising of all was the appearance of artists of international stature in Russia during the irrationalist period. Russian art had remained derivative and second-rate throughout [sic!!] the nineteenth century, but early in the twentieth it found itself. Some of this self-discovery was aided by the commissions of Diaghilev. Independently, the Russian painter Vasilii Kandinsky [ID] became the first modern artist to execute purely abstract canvasses (about 1910), reflecting his mystical view of the artist's role. Somewhat later, Marc Chagall developed a highly personalized form of symbolic expressionism, a graphic "remembrance of things past" to which he has added in recent years the spiritual vision of his windows for the cathedrals of Metz and Reims and the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew Medical Center in Jerusalem [lxt].

But of course irrationalism did not exhaust the fertility of the Russian mind or its artistic sensibilities in the twentieth century. Outside our purview here is the evolution of Marxist thought and socialist realism in the arts and letters in the U.S.S.R. The Marxism of Georgii Plekhanov and Vladimir Lenin, the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein [ID], the poetry of Vladimir Maiakovskii [ID] and Evgenii Yevtushenko, the novels of Maxim Gorky and Mikhail Sholokhov, and the music of Sergei Prokofiev (after his return to Russia in 1933) and Dmitrii Shostakovich take us into a world of quite different values from those of the Russian irrationalists. The irrationalists created their works chiefly for a privileged elite; they are hypersensitive, introverted, richly imaginative, and often otherworldly. Soviet culture is for the people and for this world. Even today [1977] in the Soviet Union an "underground" of irrationatist writers and artists thrives; examples of its protest against the ruling Marxist orthodoxy are the essays and tales of the imprisoned writer Andrei Sinyavsky [ID], who used the pseudonym of Abram Terts. But on the whole Russia has become a Marxist country, embarked on a course that separates it in the most definitive way from the culture of the capitalist West. [...]


[in USA & Great Britain = ]

Above the Fray: Great Britain and the United States


Lacking even a well-entrenched national tradition of anti-scientific and anti-modernist thought, the Anglo-Saxon countries have participated only marginally in the irrationalist rebellion. Where irrationalism has shown itself at all, it has often arrived in the form of an imported delicacy, German or French or Russian in origin, freely adapted and blended to suit Anglo-Saxon tastes. Even as a home-grown product, it has tended to be significantly milder than its continental equivalent.

Whatever acceptance irrationalism has gained in Britain and America is due to a variety of situations more or less unrelated to one another. An obvious point, important also in explaining the origins of Anglo-American romanticism, is the relatively smaller weight in the Anglo-American intellectual tradition of the purely rationalist component of what we have called the rationalist world view. Enlightenment rationalism was an amalgam of two distinct metals: Baconian empiricism [ID] and Cartesian rationalism. [...] To the extent that irrationalism is just what the word means literally, the rejection of reason, the Anglo-American mind was already programmed to find it less offensive than the French mind. Perhaps man and his universe were, after all, less reasonable, less logical, less orderly than the philosophes had thought. It was not such a loss!

The very ease with which the Anglo-American could accommodate himself to some of the premises of irrationalism greatly diminished its shock value. Edmund Wilson's observation that the French symbolists had to fight their way to the freedoms of wild self-expression that English poets untrammeled by the iron laws of prosody of the Academie Franaise [French Academy, elevated official arbiters of high intellectual culture in France]had always enjoyed, goes right to the heart of the matter. The Anglo-Saxon thinker and writer felt less need than his French contemporary to enlist in the twentieth-century rebellion against reason, but he could do so with less embarrassment and self-consciousness, at the cost of making less difference.

Irrationalism also owes some of its appeal (such as it is) in the English-speaking countries to the irruption of the outside world into British and American society. The steady flow of immigrants from the European mainland at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, followed by the exodus of mainland Jewish intellectuals and other fugitives from fascism and communism, has overloaded the assimilative powers of Anglo-Saxon culture and pumped alien values into it, including some of the irrationalism of modern Europe. The vogue in Anglo-Saxondom of Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis, neo-orthodox theology, and existentialism has been due as much to the presence of Continental migrs in its midst as to the presence of Continental works of thought and art in its bookstalls, museums, and concert halls. From Einstein, Mann, and Tillich to Schonberg, Mannheim, and Stravinsky, many of Europe's best minds have lived a good part of their lives in the English-speaking world, affecting it more powerfully than they could otherwise have done.


In recent decades, I must add, the luck of the Anglo-Saxons has begun to dissipate. The British have lost their empire and fallen on hard times that find them, after many centuries of European leadership, lagging behind the major Continental powers in per capita wealth. Their American cousins remain prosperous. But much has gone wrong since 1945, beginning with the subhuman decision to obliterate two Japanese cities with atomic bombs that summer, and continuing with massive national resistance to the long overdue liberation of racial minorities at home, the consistent policy of military and economic support of reactionary regimes throughout the Third World, and the swift evolution of American capitalism to the status of a new monopolistic-imperialist world power. The metamorphosis of the old sylvan republic of the eighteenth century into the missile-rattling racist empire of the late twentieth is nothing mysterious. Every step of the change can be understood historically and was no doubt unavoidable. But as more and more Americans come to realize what has happened, both rational and irrational responses on the part of the freshly enlightened can be expected to follow. The "Beats" of the 1950s and the "Hippies" of the 1960s represented the first waves in the progressively deepening alienation of thinkers and artists in American society from its capitalist ancien regime. In their own day they were also prime examples of a native American irrationalism that had little to do with European influence.

Of the two major English-speaking cultures, the British and the American, the greater complexity and variety of America may give the impression that it has been more vulnerable to the seductions of irrationalism, but I would guess not. On the whole, the sufferings of Great Britain have been significantly greater in our century than those of the United States. It has lost more in war. US power and wealth have dwindled all too visibly since the splendors of the nineteenth century, and a mote openly and consciously fought class struggle has produced sharper contrasts in political thought. Beginning with the only half-serious weltschmerz [world-weariness] of the Decadents of the 1890s, British culture has displayed a consistently greater receptivity to the irrationalist world view than its counterpart across the Atlantic.

As during the romanticist era, the chief glory of British irrationalist culture is not philosophy or the social sciences, where it has performed indifferently, but literature. C. P. Snow's thesis of the "two cultures" bears a special relevance to twentieth-century Britain. By and large, science, philosophy, and the social sciences have gone one way, nurtured by the national genius, whereas avant-garde literature, with the fine arts and music in tow, has moved in the opposite direction, toward irrationalism. [...]

The first generation of British literary irrationalists consisted almost exclusively of writers not of English birth. Fusing the aesthetics of the late Victorian romantics with French symbolism and Celtic mysticism, the Irish poets William Butler Yeats and George William Russell ("A. E.") initiated a renaissance in Irish letters whose influence reverberated throughout the English-speaking world. [...]

For Britain the second irrationalist generation, born between 1875 and 1900, was the most venturesome and the most successful by the canons of present-day criticism. It included the author of Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), the inimitable Dubliner James Joyce [ID]. His novels are cornucopias of symbolism and linguistic wizardry, rich enough to furnish full-time employment to hundreds of professors of English on both sides of the Atlantic. Two scholarly periodicals are entirely devoted to Joyce studies, one of the greatest academic industries of all time.

Other masters of the second generation deserving notice are Virginia Woolf [ID], who like Joyce made effective use of the "stream of consciousness" technique in her novels; the neo-romanticists E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence, trenchant critics of modern civilization; the American-born poet and dramatist T. S. Eliot, a convert in middle life to Anglicanism, which permeated all his best work after 1930; and the novelist, essayist, and (in his last years) literary impresario of mysticism, Aldous Huxley [ID]. The first and second generations were also prolific in writers of fantasy, such as Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis.


In Britain the fountainheads of the new philosophy were two Cambridge men of the first irrationalist generation, G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell. [...] For the analysts, philosophy must limit itself to the elucidation of concepts and words. It is the science of thinking clearly and knowing what we meanor, to quote Wittgenstein, "the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language." The other principal school, which soon joined forces with Viennese logical positivism, took its cues from Russell and his project for the formal logical analysis of scientific discourse. Its best known advocate in the second generation has been A. J. Ayer.


The twentieth century has not been a great era in political philosophy and the social sciences for Britain. Most of the best thought in any case has been utilitarian and positivist along already well established national lines. The conspicuous exceptions manifest a half-hearted, eclectic irrationalism with little influence outside the Anglo-American world, as in ... the historicism (based on the thought of the Italian idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce) of R. G. Collingwood, and the stupefying mlange [mixture] of Spengler, St. Augustine, Jung, and British empiricism in Arnold J. Toynbee's A Study of History (1934-61). Although Toynbee's efforts to enunciate empirically verified laws of historical change evoke memories of Buckle and Spencer, his true calling, which he is too British to admit, is that of the prophet of world spiritual regeneration. The contradiction between his self-image as a commonsensical British social scientist and his real vocation as a messianic irrationalist philosopher has caused his work, in the eyes of all but a few (mostly American) devotees, to fall between two stools. Had he been born German, or Russian, he might have cut a much wider swath through the intellectual history of the twentieth century.

American irrationalism is simply a gentler version of British, with surprisingly few harkings-back to the powerful romanticist movements of the mid-nineteenth century. As in Britain, the writers and artists have represented it more faithfully than the thinkers. Lagging twenty or thirty years behind Europe, American literature missed the fin-de-siecle [French for end of the era] mood and joined the surge to irrationalism in the years just before World War 1. The American first generation consisted of men and women born between 1875 and 1900: the cubist of prose Gertrude Stein (born 1874), who brought her eccentric art to full fruition as an migr to Paris; the symbolist poet Ezra Pound, most seminal of modern American writers, who did his best work in England and Italy; the neo-romanticist poet e.e. cummings; and the symbolist novelist William Faulkner.

Alongside these distinguished innovators appeared an assortment of more traditional writers. Realists and romantic realists of the type of Zola or Dreiser, they were among America's leading playwrights and novelists in the 1920s and 1930s, but not members in good standing of the irrationalist avant-garde. I refer now to Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, all of the first American generation, and a few writers born soon after 1900, such as John Steinbeck and James T. Farrell. Even after World War II, realism continued to thrive, as in the plays of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, or in the novels of Norman Mailer and John Updike. But the second American generation has included writers closer to the European mainstream. William Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959), the surrealistic memoirs of a former heroin addict, opened a new era in American literature. His friend, the poet Allen Ginsberg, is another influential avant-gardist of the new wave. Also important are the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and John Barth, and the absurdist theater of Edward Albee.

The irrationalist era has finally seen the appearance of serious American composers, struggling with modest success against the unmusicality of Anglo-Saxon culture. Charles Ives (born 1874) was the first substantial figure, followed by a variety of essentially neo-romantic musicians, such as Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. The second American generation has proved bolder, especially in the experimental scores of John Cage, whose work excels the Dadaists [ID] in its droll determination to pater le bourgeois [amaze the bourgeoisie]. Cage's experiments with randomly produced and electronic sounds constitute an almost complete break with Western musical tradition. A typical Cage opus is his "Imaginary Landscape" for twelve radios. The performers twiddle the dials of their radios at will, duplicating the chaos of sonic "reality."

But the major American achievement has been jazz, country, and rock music [and blues]. Despite merciless commercial exploitation, these are all powerful folk idioms drawn from the culture of blacks, rural poor whites, and other minorities on the outer fringes of the great American social consensus. The proof of their intrinsic vitality is their appeal far beyond America's frontiers. No product of American culture has traveled so well.

Americans have been similarly inventive in the realm of the fine arts. After a beginning even slower than in literature, a swarm of gifted artists born since about 1900 have filled galleries and museums with work of international reputation. The older realism hung on tenaciously through the 1930s, but since then Americans have achieved great success in abstract expressionism and the new schools of "pop" (popular) and "op" (optical) art. The luminaries include Alexander Calder, the inventor of "kinetic" sculpture; Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the founders of "action" painting; and the "pop" artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Whereas the abstract expressionists probe the innermost self, pop art directly represents the objects of popular culture, sometimes in a sarcastic or mocking vein adapted from Dada, sometimes with a seemingly uncritical detachment that mocks only the elitist art of the past. For all its calculated banality, there is an ultimate irrationalism in pop art that surpasses even that of the symbolists and surrealists. Pop art is anti-art, a confession (which in some cases needs to be taken seriously) that the artist no longer has anything to express, that reason and emotion both are extinct, that (in Warhol's slogan) "everybody should be a machine."

In philosophy, after the plunge toward a uniquely American school of irrationalism taken by William James [ID] at the turn of the century, the leading minds have worked their way back toward positions closer to positivism than to irrationalism. The evolutionary naturalism of James's successor John Dewey [ID] retained much of the Jamesian concern for human subjectivity and attempted a synthesis of world views that would eliminate the traditional dichotomy between subject and object. But Dewey did so in a way that brought him into psychic harmony with the goals and methods of modern scientific civilization. He was the epitome of the liberal progressive who has no fear of science or technology because he sees them as mere instrumentalities, man-made and therefore at man's service. Of Dewey's best known contemporaries, George Santayana constructed an eclectic system from fundamentally naturalist premises, and Josiah Royce expounded an American version of Hegelian idealism. Again, the irrationalist world view exerted some influence, but both philosophers were too attached to what Santayana called "the life of reason" to take a radically irrationalist stance in the European manner.

American philosophy since Dewey, Santayana, and Royce has been rigorously academic and close to its roots in American and British thought. [...] Irrationalism operates only in selected portions of the thought of a few recent American philosophers: in the Whiteheadian philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, in the existentialism of John Wild, in the neo-orthodox Christianity of Reinhold Niebuhr [ID]. There is also a generous residue of the old Emersonian [ID] spirit in the romantic social philosophy of Lewis Mumford [ID].

But this is to consider only the genteel and the academic. In the last two decades [1960s-1970s], beyond gentility, an irrationalist "counterculture" has arisen that few American academic philosophers are able to understand, much less join. With its rejection of technology and bureaucracy, its neo-Rousseauian [ID] cry for a return to nature, and its fascination with the consciousness-expanding potentialities of Eastern religions and psychedelic drugs, the counterculture displays an irrationalist passion alien to American culture, except perhaps for the more extreme forms of New England Transcendentalism. Too anti-intellectual to generate a philosophy of its own, the counterculture has expressed its values most convincingly in its rock and folk music, improvisatory theater, underground journalism, free verse, and experimental lifestyles. Only rarely, as in Charles Reich's The Greening of America (1970), has it tried to articulate its world view in a more or less conventional prose medium.

The American irrationalist counterculture has been painfully amorphous and youth-centered. It is perhaps not assimilable by the still younger generation now arriving on the scene. Nevertheless it has been a phenomenon of the highest importance. As in Europe many years earlier, the penetration of radical irrationalism into the national soul expresses profound dissent from the premises under which life is lived in a modern industrial urbanized society. American irrationalism was at first either too eclectic to have much impact, restricted to migrs and a few avant-gardists, or drowned out by the voices of confident positivists. The counterculture of the 1960s, despite its failure to produce "great books," touched American life at deeper levels. America, too, has discovered the worms in the fruit of modernity. Whatever happens to the specific complex of values adopted by the irrationalists of the 1960s, it seems improbable that Anglo-American thought and art will ever be able to return to the relative insularity of the first half of the twentieth century. America, and Britain also, are "above the fray" no longer.