Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

234 × 156 mm
224 pages
15 Sep 2017

Arc of Utopia The Beautiful Story of the Russian Revolution Lesley Chamberlain

The French Revolution of 1789 had grand humanitarian aims that would one day inspire the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Russians took the French revolutionary agenda and reinforced it with sturdy German philosophy to form a beautiful vision in which remnants of theology combined with the power of art as a force for change.

Arc of Utopia offers a fresh look at the German philosophical origins of the Russian Revolution. Lesley Chamberlain relates how the influential German philosophers Kant, Schiller and Hegel were dazzled by contemporary events in Paris, and how art and philosophy exploded on the streets of Russia, with a long-repressed people uniquely reinventing the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Some of the greatest names of nineteenth-century Russia, from Alexander Herzen to Mikhail Bakunin, Ivan Turgenev to Fyodor Dostoevsky, defined their visions for Russia in relation to the German enthusiasm for revolutionary France.

Published to tie in with the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Arc of Utopia provides an original view of the Revolution that links the final upheaval of October 1917 with an astonishing period in art, street drama and poetry.

INTERVIEW: Listen to author Lesley Chamberlain discuss the book on the Russia Blog podcast.

‘As we mark the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s triumph, Chamberlain’s book broadens our understanding of the roots of the Bolshevik Revolution, describing how German Idealism, which first emerged from Immanuel Kant’s reaction to the French Revolution, came to inspire philosophers and cultural figures throughout 19th-century Europe and Russia.’ – New York Times

‘So what does Arc of Utopia bring, besides its timeliness, to last year’s centenary party? Lenin was the first to emphasize the importance of interpreting Marx through the lenses of Hegel’s and Kant’s political thought; Chamberlain’s excellent grasp of German Idealism makes this relationship appear self-evident. Chapters with titles like “Good Men, Drama and Dialectic” and “Excitement in the Seminary” competently and entertainingly explain the march of dia­lectical thought from Hegel to the exiled Russian revolutionary Georgy Plekhanov, who “read Marx and knew what to do” (even if Lenin, as Chamberlain admits, chose to selectively dis­regard Plekhanov’s advice). Writers and thinkers, and their texts, are re-evaluated ima­ginatively and often innovatively’ – TLS

‘Chamberlain charts the 127-year-long intellectual and philosophical history of the Russian revolution in this brief, heady volume. She situates the revolution’s origins in the moral imagination born of the French Revolution, which influenced German philosophers Kant, Hegel, and Schiller. They in turn inspired major Russian thinkers such as Alexander Herzen and Mikhail Bakunin. Chamberlain argues that Russian revolutionaries, in addition to planning to abolish inequality, also sought to capture what Bakunin referred to as “our beautiful Russian life” – an ambitious vision that fused politics and aesthetics. Chamberlain impresses with her innovative approach to this much-covered topic’ – Publishers Weekly

‘Lesley Chamberlain’s latest book provides a series of fascinating reflections on how German Idealism influenced a range of Russian writers and artists from the 1830s to the early twentieth century . . . In the hands of Marxism-Leninism art was conceived as a political instrument, but, as Chamberlain shows, the blending of art and politics in Russian thinking had deeper and complex intellectual roots . . . Chamberlain provides a great deal of food for thought about how the ideologies and cultural projects that burst forth in the revolution were shaped by longer-term philosophical concerns.’ – Journal of European Studies

‘Chamberlain covers the German antecedents of the Russian revolution in such an engaging and interesting way. This is a very well written and much needed book that analyses the Romantic input so well. She brings the complexity of that input very much to the fore. This is a real contribution to the history of ideas, like her book on Nietzsche in Turin.’ – Roger Scruton, author of Art and Imagination: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind

‘Lesley Chamberlain’s articulation of the crucial role played by German philosophers in inspiring Russian minds with the ideals of the French Revolution is both imaginative and original. She succeeds brilliantly in her goal of restoring beauty and morality to Russia’s revolutionary dreams.’ – Rosamund Bartlett, author of Tolstoy: A Russian Life

‘This book is, in the author’s words, about “the Russian revolution as rooted in a vision of moral beauty”. It is this duplexity that attracts us and repels us in Russian history: on the one hand, the uncompromising search for beauty and the extraordinary art in which it resulted; on the other – the police state which was the outcome of the political realisation of an idea that aspired to cover all aspects of life. No one is more qualified to discuss these questions than Lesley Chamberlain, who in her previous books has examined both the influence of German idealism on Russian philosophy and Lenin’s Communist Utopia. The result is an ingenious, eye-opening, superbly told story arcing early 19th century Germany and the Russia of 1917.’ – Bengt Jangfeldt, author of Mayakovsky: A Biography

Show all

Lesley Chamberlain, a novelist and historian of ideas, lived and worked in Communist Russia and has been writing about Russian history and culture for forty years. Her books include Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia (2004) and The Philosophy Steamer (2006). She lives in London.

You can find out more about Lesley and her work via her website.