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8 - Alexander Herzen

A Tragedy Both Collective and Personal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2021

Jonathan Beecher
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Cruz
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Summary

The Russian radical émigré Alexander Herzen left three works that focus on 1848: two volumes of essays, and his great autobiography, My Past and Thoughts, in which his life story pivots around 1848. Herzen, who emigrated in 1847, describes himself as arriving in Paris as pilgrims once arrived at Jerusalem. By his own account, he rapidly discovered the fundamentally bourgeois character of French civilization and then witnessed the crushing of the June insurrection. The political debacle was compounded by personal tragedy – the deaths of his mother and son and his wife Natalie. In all his writings we find Herzen seeking a perspective from which the collapse of his pre-revolutionary ideals would make sense. His most powerful essays are jeremiads lamenting his broken dreams, replaying the June insurrection, and reflecting on the powerlessness of historical actors to change the world. Attempting to explain what went wrong in 1848, Herzen insists on the inability of European radicals to get beyond models drawn from the first French Revolution or Christianity or both. For Herzen, as for Proudhon (whom he admired) and Marx (whom he did not admire) the fatal weakness of the left lay in its inability to emancipate itself from memories that served to justify and cloak the return of repressive centralized government.

Type
Chapter
Information
Writers and Revolution
Intellectuals and the French Revolution of 1848
, pp. 277 - 317
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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  • Alexander Herzen
  • Jonathan Beecher, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Book: Writers and Revolution
  • Online publication: 11 March 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108909792.010
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  • Alexander Herzen
  • Jonathan Beecher, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Book: Writers and Revolution
  • Online publication: 11 March 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108909792.010
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Alexander Herzen
  • Jonathan Beecher, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Book: Writers and Revolution
  • Online publication: 11 March 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108909792.010
Available formats
×