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The Russian Demon

In the year 1818, Aleksandr Pushkin penned these lines in his well-known verse "To Chaadaev," addressed to his friend Peter Chaadaev, one of the leading Russian liberals of the period:

Comrade, believe: joy's star will leap

Upon our sight, a radiant token;

Russia will rouse from her long sleep;

And where autocracy lies, broken.

Our names shall yet be graven deep.

Though associated in his youth with the clandestine reformist organizations that came to be called the "Decembrists" after the failed anti-Czarist revolt of December 1825, Chaadaev came to doubt that Russia would ever "rouse from her long sleep." He became profoundly pessimistic about the future of his country, so pessimistic that he would one day write in his Philosophical Letters that Russia had "given nothing to the world." Russia, he thought in the late 1820's and early 30's, had "contributed nothing to the progress of the human spirit. And we have disfigured everything we have touched of that progress."

From the pessimism of the early Chaadaev, the radical intelligentsia of 19th-century Russia moved to outright Russophobia, a hatred and fear of all things distinctly Russian. In fact,...

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