NEVER OUT OF STEP.

I started to read Sarah Young’s Russian thought lecture 3: The Westernizers and concepts of the self, and decided it would be a good occasion to haul down my copy of Isaiah Berlin’s Russian Thinkers and read his “A Remarkable Decade” (about the Russian thinkers and writers of the 1840s) to get some background. I hit on a Herzen quote I like very much (on p. 126 of my copy):

We are great doctrinaires and raisonneurs. To this German capacity we add our own national . . . element, ruthless, fanatically dry: we are only too willing to cut off heads . . . With fearless step we march to the very limit, and go beyond it; never out of step with the dialectic, only with the truth . . .

Of course I wanted to see the original; I tried googling various words from it in Russian but come up dry, and I was hoping someone out there might know the source. (Also, has anyone seen Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia? Is it worth the nine hours?)

Comments

  1. Jeffry House says:

    The original: Мы – большие доктринеры и raisonneurs. К этой немецкой вместимости мы добавляем наш собственный национальный […] элемент, фанатично сохнем: мы слишком желаем отключать головы […] С бесстрашным шагом, с которым мы граничим к самому пределу, и выходим за пределы этого; никогда из шага с диалектическим, только с правдой […]
    http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/published_works/rt/translations.doc
    But this just traces back to Berlin. Even though all thirty volumes of Herzen are on line, there seems to be no search engine included.

  2. J.W. Brewer says:
  3. The original quote seems to be:
    Мы большие доктринеры и резонеры. К этой немецкой способности у нас присоединяется свой национальный, так сказать аракчеевский элемент, беспощадный, страстно сухой и охотно палачествующий. Аракчеев засекал для своего идеала лейб-гвардейского гренадера – живых крестьян; мы засекаем идеи, искусства, гуманность, прошедших деятелей, все, что угодно. Неустрашимым фронтом идем мы, шаг в шаг, до чура и переходим его, не сбиваясь с диалектической ноги, а только с истины…
    (found e.g. here: http://libclub.com/G/GercenAI/GercenAI-91-59.htm)

  4. Herzen seems to be saying that “in step with the dialectic” is “out of step with the truth”. What do you take him to be referring to by “the dialectic” ? I’m guessing this is a swipe at Marx/Engels, not Hegel. Does Berlin say anything about this ?

  5. But this just traces back to Berlin
    And in fact it’s just a back-translation from Berlin.
    avm: Thanks very much! Here‘s a direct link; it turns out to be from the “Sazonov” chapter of Part V of his great memoir Былое и думы (inadequately translated “My Life and Thoughts”).
    What do you take him to be referring to by “the dialectic” ? I’m guessing this is a swipe at Marx/Engels, not Hegel.
    No, definitely Hegel, but he’s not swiping at him, he’s swiping at the Russians who eagerly gobbled down every bit of German philosophy they came across and took it to the extreme—his point in that section is that whereas Western Europeans were able to keep up with the changing intellectual environment, absorb the ideas by means of discussion, and place them in the context of the normal lives they were able to lead, Russians had no such context: “In this situation, ideas which in the west competed with a large number of other doctrines and attitudes, so that to become dominant they had to emerge victorious from a fierce struggle for survival, in Russia came to lodge in the minds of gifted individuals and, indeed, obsess them…”

  6. Ah, velly interesting ! Maybe I’ll find time to read Russian Thinkers. My only encounter with Isaiah Berlin up to now was in Two Concepts Of Liberty, which I found to be so muddled that I didn’t finish it. It’s not that I disagreed with his theses, but rather I couldn’t understand what they were.

  7. The phrase is from part V of Былое и думы (usually translated as Past and Thoughts). The original goes:
    Мы большие доктринеры и резонеры. К этой немецкой способности у нас присоединяется свой национальный, так сказать аракчеевский элемент, беспощадный, страстно сухой и охотно палачествующий. Аракчеев засекал для своего идеала леб-гвардейсокго гренадера – живых крестьян; мы засекаем идеи, искусства, гуманность, прошедших деятелей, все, что угодно. Неустрашимым фронтом идем мы, шаг в шаг, до чура и переходим его, не сбиваясь с диалектической ноги, а только с истины:
    Berlin’s translation – or rather rendering – is fairly correct. Herzen’s meaning is that the Russians follow the doctrine – any given doctrine, Hegelian or Marxist or liberal – to the limit and beyond the limit, keeping pace (the image is that of soldiers on the march) with the dialectics, but out of tune with the truth (Истина, not everyday truthfulness but Russian Supreme Veracity, not easily translated unto English).

  8. We talked about istina and pravda back in 2011. As I mentioned then, Anna Weetabix has a fine article on pravda and istina, which explains the difference as follows: pravda is truth that is spoken, istina is truth that is known (or, in practice, not known). A court swears its witnesses to speak pravda, so that it may ascertain istina as far as possible and within its scope — only God knows istina in full.

  9. That’s a really excellent article; I recommend it to anyone interested in Russian culture.

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