Saturday, 9 January 2016

Aleksandr Herzen; - "Happiness has to be conquered. If you are strong, take it. If you are weak, hold your tongue"

Aleksandr Herzen (1812 – 1870) was a liberal Russian writer and thinker . Herzen was born in Moscow on April 6, 1812, some months before the great fire that destroyed the city during Napoleon's invasion of Russia and after the battle of Borodino. He is held responsible for creating a political climate leading to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. His autobiography My Past and Thoughts, written with grace, energy, and ease, is often considered the best specimen of that genre in Russian literature. He also published the important social novel 'Who is to Blame?'.  Herzen was civilized, imaginative, self-critical free and open  and ironical mind, a fiery and poetical temperament "He was a man of extreme refinement and sensibility, great intellectual energy and biting wit, and a great taste for polemical writing; he was addicted to analysis, investigation, exposure; he saw himself as an expert “unmasker” of appearances and conventions, and dramatized himself as a devastating discoverer of their social and moral core. He believed in reason, scientific method, individual action, empirically discovered truth.
He began as an extreme “Westerner,” but he preserved his links with his Slavophile adversaries. He regarded the best among them as romantic reactionaries, misguided nationalists, but honorable allies against the Tsarist bureaucracy. He promoted liberal socialism and individualism, arguing that the full flowering of the individual could best be realized in a socialist order.
As a political writer that Herzen gained his reputation. Having founded in London his Free Russian Press, he published a large number of Russian works, all against the system of government prevailing in Russia.
As the first independent Russian political publisher, Herzen began publishing The Polar Star, a review which appeared infrequently and was later joined by The Bell in 1857, a journal issued between 1857 and 1867 at Herzen's personal expense.  Both publications gave Herzen influence in Russia reporting from a liberal perspective about the incompetence of the Tsar and the Russian bureaucracy. Herzen fought a propaganda war through the journals that had the goal of attaining individual liberty for Russians.  

Herzen wrote of the inhumanity of the ruling monarchies of Europe but also the excesses perpetrated by revolutionary governments.
  Herzen refused to trust any government and believed in the right for people to make their own choices, with minimal state intervention......
Alongside populism, Herzen is also remembered for his rejection of corrupt government of any political persuasion and for his support for individual rights.  He believed that 'values were not found in an impersonal, objective realm, but were literally created by human beings and changed with the generations of men, but were nonetheless binding upon those who lived in their light; that suffering was inescapable, and infallible knowledge neither attainable nor needed.
The year 1855 gave Herzen reason to be optimistic; Alexander II had ascended the throne and reforms seemed possible. The Bell broke the story that the government was considering serf emancipation in July 1857, adding that the government lacked the ability to resolve the issue. Herzen urged the Tsarist regime 'Onward, onward' towards reform in The Polar Star in 1856, yet by 1858, full serf emancipation had not been achieved. Herzen grew impatient with reform and by May 1858 The Bell restarted its campaign to for the comprehensive emancipation the serfs. Once the Emancipation reform of 1861 in Russia was achieved, The Bell's campaign changed to 'Liberty and Land', a program that tried to achieve further social change in support of serf rights. Alexander II granted serfs their freedom, the law courts were remodelled, trial by jury was established, and liberty was to, a great extent, conceded to the press.

Herzen fought against Christian hypocrisy and for individual self-expression, he argued that ' All religions have based morality on obedience, that is to say, on voluntary slavery. That is why they have always been more pernicious than any political organization. For the latter makes use of violence, the former - of the corruption of the will."
Herzen spent time in London organising with the International Workingmen's Association, becoming well acquainted with revolutionary circles including the likes of Bakunin and Marx.  It was during his time in London that Herzen began to make a name for himself for "scandal-mongering" when he told Bakunin, freshly arrived having escaped imprisonment in Siberia, that Marx had accused him of being a Russian agent; The radicals described Herzen as 'a liberal for not wanting immediate change', but Herzen rejects their pleas arguing for change at a pace that will ensure success.  Herzen was disliked by Russian radicals as too moderate. Radicals such as Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Nikolay Dobrolyubov wanted more commitment towards violent revolution from Herzen and the withdrawal of any hope in the reformist Tsar.  Radicals asked Herzen to use The Bell as a mouthpiece for violent radical revolution, but Herzen rejected these requests. He argued that the Russian Radicals were not united and strong enough to seek successful political change, stating, "You want happiness, I suppose? I dare say you do! Happiness has to be conquered. If you are strong, take it. If you are weak, hold your tongue".  Herzen feared the new revolutionary government would merely replace the dictatorship with another dictatorship.
Herzen was a hero of the 20th century Riga born British  philosopher Isaiah Berlin. The words of Herzen that Berlin repeated most insistently were those condemning the sacrifice of human beings on the altar of abstractions, the subordination of the realities of individual happiness or unhappiness in the present to glorious dreams of the future.  Berlin, like Herzen, believed that "the end of life is life itself" and that each life and each age should be regarded as its own end and not as a means to some future goal. Berlin called his autobiography "My Past and Thoughts" one of the great monuments to Russian literary and psychological genius,  a literary masterpiece to be placed by the side of the novels of his contemporaries and countrymen, berlin wrote ' My Past and Thoughts is the Noah’s ark in which he saved himself, and not himself alone, from the destructive flood in which many idealistic radicals of the Forties were drowned".  Russian great writer Leo Tolstoy said that he had never met another man "with so rare a combination of scintillating brilliance and depth".


   Alexander Herzen Views; 
* Slavery is the first step towards civilization. In order to develop it is necessary that things should be much better for some and much worse for others, then those who are better off can develop at the expense of others.

* No one is to blame. It is neither their fault nor ours. It is the misfortune of being born when a whole world is dying.
 *  You want happiness, I suppose? I dare say you do! Happiness has to be conquered. If you are strong, take it. If you are weak, hold your tongue
* Nothing is done by itself, without efforts and will, without sacrifice and labor
* Without equality there is no marriage.
                        
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