Cover: Russia under Western Eyes: From the Bronze Horseman to the Lenin Mausoleum, from Harvard University PressCover: Russia under Western Eyes in PAPERBACK

Russia under Western Eyes

From the Bronze Horseman to the Lenin Mausoleum

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$31.00 • £26.95 • €28.95

ISBN 9780674002104

Publication Date: 04/07/2000


528 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Belknap Press


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The book of the year [is] Russia Under Western Eyes… Malia writes with stunning erudition, and moves comfortably through European philosophy, cultural history, economic developments and political movements. He is as much at home in discussing Baudelaire and Hegel as he is with Catherine the Great and Lenin… I think this book is a prerequisite to understanding the main historical events of the twentieth century.—John R. Searle, The Times Literary Supplement

In Russia Under Western Eyes Martin Malia takes on and demolishes…clichés that continue to infest our debate about what went wrong in Russia. Western opinion, he points out, has traditionally ‘demonized or divinized’ Russia ‘less because of her real role in Europe than because of the fears and frustrations, or the hopes and aspirations, generated within European society by its own domestic problems.’… Russia Under Western Eyes is the product of decades of research and thoughtful reflection by a historian as familiar with the intellectual history of modern Western and Central Europe as that of Russia itself. His broad perspective allows him to avoid the exaggeration of Russian distinctiveness frequently encountered in writings by those who know Russia better than the rest of Europe, or the rest of Europe better than Russia. His prose, though erudite and nuanced, is clear and straightforward. Refreshingly, Malia never leaves his reader in doubt of his views. In fact, he shouts out his key judgements with éclat… Russia Under Western Eyes is the most insightful book published in any language to date on Russia’s place in European intellectual and political history. It is likely to stand as the definitive treatment of the subject for years to come, a source of pithy questions for those who agree and of propositions to refute for those who don’t. But Malia has set a standard of proof that will be exceedingly difficult for his critics to match.—Jack F. Matlock, Jr., The New York Times Book Review

Where is Russia headed? Will the country somehow dig out from under the layers of communist rubble, or does another nightmarish historical chapter lie ahead? These questions lie at the heart of the inquiry undertaken by Martin Malia in Russia Under Western Eyes. But plotting Russia’s destiny from afar, he shows, has always been a task fraught with intellectual peril… Mr. Malia’s method here, in a history of ideas packed with dazzling aphorisms, is to chart not so much Russian reality as the oscillating Western perceptions of that reality over the past several centuries… [It is] a stunning display of erudition… The historical looking glass [Russia Under Western Eyes] wields is a powerful device.—Gabriel Schoenfeld, The Wall Street Journal

Russia Under Western Eyes, by one of the most distinguished Western historians of Russia, is a notable contribution to [the trend of revising judgements about Russian history]… [It is] an erudite and imaginative excursion through the intellectual history of Europe over the last three centuries, showing how the West’s perceptions of Russian realities have been refracted through the ideas that have shaped European culture—from Enlightenment rationalism, Hegelianism, and Marxism to varieties of positivism, utilitarianism, and pragmatism—and the sociopolitical ideologies, liberal, socialist, nationalist, and fascist, that those ideas have generated. In a lively argument Malia relates the changes in Europe’s perceptions of Russia to oscillations between Enlightenment (or rationalistic) and Romantic (or mythopoeic) currents of thought: the ‘contrapuntal forms of modern culture,’ which since the early nineteenth century have alternated, mutated, and combined. Malia is not suggesting that there is no ‘real’ Russia behind our shifting representations of it. He is attempting to resolve an old debate: by exposing concepts of Russian ‘otherness’ as mythical and pernicious projections of European hopes and fears, he aims to demonstrate that Russia is a European country ineluctably set on a path of political and economic convergence with its more advanced neighbors… Malia’s skills as a demythologizer make it hard to resist the conviction that whatever is spared his destructive critique must thereby be the objective and unassailable truth.—David Joravsky, The New York Review of Books

Malia is extraordinarily good on the Soviet period. He brings together, in a style of sustained, high-octane precision, such diverse themes as Soviet reality itself, the stirrings of dissidence and then its bursting-out, calibrating these with the political, intellectual and moral currents in the west. These were currents which transmuted the Soviet Union into a legion of visions, divided between the nightmarish and the utopian… In the sweep of European history and above all in its intellectual history, which Malia describes with brilliance, Russia has been seen alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) as a barbaric threat and a democratic saviour; as a fount of simple faith and as the quintessential political state; as a chaotic sink of corruption and the epitome of Prussian bureaucratic order.—John Lloyd, Financial Times

If the great unanswered question for Russia is whether to join the West, the reader will find no better book to explain the issues at stake. This is not because the author’s controversial thesis—that Russia has been part of the West since Peter the Great and has nowhere else to go—is self-evidently correct. Instead, the book’s merit is the brilliance with which Malia explores the intellectual and cultural links between Europe and Russia, from Voltaire to Nietzsche to Thomas Mann to Jean-Paul Sartre. When the West has gotten Russia wrong, as he believes it usually has, the reason resides less in Russia’s mysteriousness and more in the emotional and intellectual needs of Western thinkers. Much of the book reintroduces the key currents in European thought, from the Enlightenment through twentieth-century fascism, viewed through the looking glass of Russia. Every page shimmers with compressed and polished insight. His analysis towers over the conventional wisdoms about Russia, including both those spun by Russians seeking solace in the uniqueness of Russia and those propagated by others who see Russia as alien to the West.—Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs

For friends still unraveling the mysteries of how Russia came to be what it is, I am recommending Russia Under Western Eyes.—Carla Cohen, The New York Times

[Martin Malia] has written a book saying what is true, and what has been false, in the Western perception of Russia… This is a useful piece of background reading for anyone approaching the subject.—Norma Stone, The Times Literary Supplement

Malia’s book, scholarly in form and substance, eminently readable, intriguing, imaginative, controversial, has substantial lessons for Europeans and their sense of their world.—John Erickson, The Times Higher Education Supplement

For centuries, observers of Russia have fallen into two grand camps: those who view the vast country as ‘Eastern,’ the land of Seythians and Tatars, of obscurantism and despotism; and a minority that views it as part of the outer reaches of Europe, imbued with aspects of Western culture (though lacking liberal, democratic institutions), a backwater, to be sure, but not a riddle, mystery, or enigma incomprehensively alien to the West… In an elegant intellectual history that rubs the dust off those lenses, the historian Martin Malia turns his eye to the European cultural, political, and social traditions that have produced assessments of Russia within those two broad molds. Russia under Western Eyes holds up a two-way mirror that sheds light not just on Russia but on Europe’s own cultures and institutions, from the Enlightenment to Fascism.—Lynnley Browning, The Boston Globe

Russia Under Western Eyes may prove something of an icebreaker in the current debate on how to deal with post-communist Russia… Malia brings vast erudition to his assault on many ‘less rational Western reactions’ to Russia, insisting that only Bolshevism represented a true fusion of the state with a messianic idea. Even Russia’s Pan-Slavism, when it gathered momentum in the second half of the 19th century, originated outside the Winter Palace and never became the official objective of state policy. Only Lenin managed to turn Russia into something it has never been before—a revolutionary state determined to bring down the entire international system—and cut her off from her steady movement closer to the West. The subtext of Malia’s argument is that the Soviet period must be looked upon as ‘the great aberration’ in Russia’s development and that we should look upon her in a pan-European context as we define our relations with the post-Communist rulers.—Dusko Doder, The Washington Post Book World

The five lengthy but well-marked, subdivided and elegantly written chapters of [Russia Under Western Eyes] trace Russia’s history, and the West’s reaction to and interaction with Russia as she moves at a now-Oblomovian, now-frenetic pace from 1700 to 1991, when on Christmas Day the Russian tricolor—Peter the Great having copied the Dutch flag—again flew over the Kremlin. But there is much more here than a history of Russia’s interaction with the West. An intellectual historian of the first magnitude, Mr. Malia strides confidently through the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Neo-Romanticism, the ‘notion of “civilization,”’ modernization theory, ‘demotic tyrannies’ (the great threat to the democratic ideal), nationalism and the shaky phenomenon of systematic social science… [Russia Under Western Eyes] is one of the most intelligent, challenging, dynamic works ever from a Western scholar of Russian history.—Woodford McClellan, The Washington Times

If you read only one book on post-Soviet Russia, this might be it… Through a series of striking historical essays, the author helps European and American readers understand how they think about Russia, and the ways in which that process shapes what they think of the country. Martin Malia…is as much at home in the history of European politics and philosophy as he is in Russian history, which he has been studying for four decades… He urges us to acknowledge that the ‘West’ by which we choose to define ourselves is far broader, less rational, [and] more contradictory…than most of us would like to believe. And he challenges us to peer into ourselves before peering into Russia.—S. Frederick Starr, Wilson Quarterly

Martin Malia’s book addresses this huge, chaotic, generally depressing, often sinister but always interesting country from the viewpoint of ‘western’ observers, ranging from Peter’s admirers and detractors, through the viewers with alarm and fellow-travelers of the Communist era, up to current attempts, for the most part unsuccessful, to understand what is going on in Moscow and elsewhere in that huge country. This book delivers more than its title implies; it is not merely a recap of European and American perceptions of Russia, but an insightful history.—John Linsenmeyer, Greenwich Time [Greenwich, CT]

In Russia under Western Eyes, Malia investigates in detail the evolution of European and Anglo-American views of Russia in their intellectual and cultural context, relating a wide array of views, personalities, intellectual trends and political development over almost three centuries. Extraordinarily well read in history and in the literature in four or more languages, Malia has an eye for arresting quotations and striking formulations… Malia presents many curious facts and personalities discussing his varied themes, and he makes many stimulating comparisons between different periods… This book offers rich food for thought on many levels.—John T. Alexander, History [UK]

In his ambitious and thought-provoking book, Martin Malia takes as his subject ‘the West’s judgments about Russia as a power…but even more as a civilization.’ He challenges the view that Russia was perennially seen by Europeans as a despotic, alien, and threatening place… The author has astute things to say about the ‘surreal’ nature of the later Soviet Union, where an upside-down Leninist party-state substituted for a ‘social’ system… Malia offers some profound reflections on the prospects for Russia’s becoming a ‘normal’ society and on what he believes is the end of socialism.—S.A. Smith, Kritika

[Malia] has given us another typically challenging piece of work… The strength of Malia’s book is that he reminds us how often we have been wrong about Russia.—Hugh Ragsdale, Slavonic and Eastern European Review

[Malia] gives an insightful overview of European and American reaction to Russia’s internal and external policies over the past three centuries… This book is more than a short history of modern Russia, for to properly assess Western reaction to Russia, Malia reviews and discusses the concurrent political, economic, cultural, and intellectual changes in the West as well… Malia also tracks what he calls the West–East cultural gradient, the liberalization of the West, and the eastward spread of Marxism and its decline, and what it has all meant in terms of ongoing European–Russian relations.—Frank Caso, Booklist

The author’s ambitious project [is] that of examining how Russia’s path has converged with or diverged from that of Western Europe during the past three centuries. In a sweeping…narrative, Malia describes how various European nations (because the West was no monolith) have reacted to Russian/Soviet politics and culture… Those who already suspect the dangers in Russia’s import of things Western will find food for thought in this book that declares that, if Russia wants to be strong, she will have to Westernize.Kirkus Reviews

The basic conception is original and interesting; the issues are real and clearly conceived; the style is pungent and alive; and the entire treatment rests on an exceptional combination of perspicacity and sensitiveness, both of thought about, and of feeling for, Russia past and present.—Isaiah Berlin

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