John Gray

Romantic Rebel?

The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen

By Aileen M Kelly

Harvard University Press 592pp £29.95 order from our bookshop

Born the illegitimate son of a wealthy Russian landowner and a young German Protestant in 1812, Alexander Herzen was part of a generation of intellectuals who grew up under the spell of Hegel. There are many strands in Hegel’s thought, which at times seems wilfully obscure, but what most attracted the philosopher’s Russian admirers was his dictum ‘What is real is rational, and what is rational is real.’ For Hegel, history was not a jumble of events but a rational process culminating in the emergence of the modern state. True freedom was not the arbitrary assertion of human will but submission to this process.

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