Vivos Voco: Herzen's Past, Present, and Future
AbstractA close reading of the journalism, correspondence, and memoirs of Alexander Herzen (1812–1870) yields a finely tuned relationship to past, present, and future, but not a complete philosophy of history. Herzen described no system, but repeated key metaphors (e.g., the libretto) and concepts (e.g. contingency) that reflected his understanding of the historical process. For Herzen, history became interesting when it was relieved of predetermined plots and algebraic formulas. However much he studied Russia’s past and planned its future, his preference was for the present, where freedom is most fully experienced in debate and in the need to choose a path forward. He understood the instrumentality of history in how the lives of ordinary people were affected, which remained his measure of progress. Herzen was a “historian of the present,” and his insights are remarkably applicable to twenty-first-century Russia.
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