ADAMOVSKY Ezequiel Agustin
Russia as a Space of Hope: Nineteenth-Century French Challenges to the Liberal
European History Quarterly
Lugar: Londres; Año: 2003 vol. 33 p. 411 - 450
Beginning with Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois, a particularperception of Russia emerged in France. To the traditional negativeimage of Russia as a space of brutality and backwardness,Montesquieu now added a new insight into her ‘sociological’otherness. In De l’esprit des lois Russia was characterized as aspace marked by an absence. The missing element in Russiansociety was the independent intermediate corps that in other partsof Europe were the guardians of freedom. Thus, Russia’s backwardnesswas explained by the lack of the very element that madeWestern Europe’s superiority. A similar conceptual frame was tobecome predominant in the French liberal tradition’s perceptionof Russia. After the disillusion in the progressive role of enlighteneddespotism — one must remember here Voltaire and themyth of Peter the Great and Catherine II — the French liberalswent back to ‘sociological’ explanations of Russia’s backwardness.However, for later liberals such as Diderot, Volney, Mably,Levesque or Louis-Philippe de Ségur the missing element wasnot so much the intermediate corps as the ‘third estate’.1 In theturn of liberalism from noble to bourgeois, the third estate — andlater the ‘middle class’ — was thought to be the ‘yeast of freedom’and the origin of progress and civilization. In the nineteenthcentury this liberal-bourgeois dichotomy of barbarian Russia(lacking a middle class) vs civilized Western Europe (the home ofthe middle class) became hegemonic in the mental map of Frenchthought. However, after the French Revolution and for the whole nineteenthcentury, a group of different sets of images of Russiaemerged, challenging what we have called the ‘liberal’ representationof that country in France. Representations of Russiawere intimately tied to the making of European identity. For thatreason, struggles for the definition of ‘Europe’ often involvedquite different — sometimes opposite — representations ofRussia. Conversely, defining Russia was often a way of assertinga certain identity for France or, more generally, for Europe.