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Renovating Russia

The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880–1930

Daniel Beer

Publication Year: 2008

Renovating Russia is a richly comparative investigation of late Imperial and early Soviet medico-scientific theories of moral and social disorder. Daniel Beer argues that in the late Imperial years liberal psychiatrists, psychologists, and criminologists grappled with an intractable dilemma. They sought to renovate Russia, to forge a modern enlightened society governed by the rule of law, but they feared the backwardness, irrationality, and violent potential of the Russian masses. Situating their studies of degeneration, crime, mental illness, and crowd psychology in a pan-European context, Beer shows how liberals' fears of societal catastrophe were only heightened by the effects of industrial modernization and the rise of mass politics.

In the wake of the orgy of violence that swept the Empire in the 1905 Revolution, these intellectual elites increasingly put their faith in coercive programs of scientific social engineering. Their theories survived liberalism's political defeat in 1917 and meshed with the Bolsheviks' radical project for social transformation. They came to sanction the application of violent transformative measures against entire classes, culminating in the waves of state repression that accompanied forced industrialization and collectivization. Renovating Russia thus offers a powerful revisionist challenge to established views of the fate of liberalism in the Russian Revolution.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Research and writing were generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and King’s College, Cambridge, but above all by a three-year research fellowship from Downing College, Cambridge, which enabled me to undertake substantial new research. ...

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pp. 1-26

In their rejection of the inevitability and permanence of the status quo, revolutionaries seek to identify, understand, and overcome their own inheritance. The Bolshevik Revolution was no exception. The Bolsheviks were obsessed with the legacy of both the tsarist social order and the economic and cultural forces of capital ...

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1. “Morel’s Children”

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pp. 27-58

It might seem paradoxical that the degenerative model came to exert such a fascination over educated Russians in late Imperial Russia in the midst of the astonishing technological and material achievements of the empire’s industrialization drive.1 ...

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2. The Etiology of Degeneration

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pp. 59-96

By the end of the nineteenth century, a consensus of sorts had emerged within the human sciences in Russia that degenerates did not constitute a separate species of humanity. Rather, they were the fallen, or the children of the fallen, firmly embedded in the matrix of sociohistorical forces that had shaped both their milieu and their heredity.1 ...

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3. “The Flesh and Blood of Society”

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pp. 97-130

In 1913, the psychiatrist Samuel L'vovich Tsetlin (1878–?) reported in the influential Sovremennaia psikhiatriia on the case of a young man who had killed his father. Sergei Martionov had entered his father’s room very early one morning in 1911 and stabbed the sleeping man to death with a dagger. ...

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4. “Microbes of the Mind”

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pp. 131-164

Lev Tolstoi’s War and Peace, published in 1869, contains an arresting scene depicting the lynching of a young man. Vereshchagin stands accused of disseminating defeatist literature in Moscow as Napoleon’s army sweeps eastward. ...

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5. Social Isolation and CoerciveTreatment after the Revolution

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pp. 165-204

In 1927, the criminologist G. N. Udal'tsov published a study entitled “Criminal Offenses in the Armed Forces from the Perspective of Pathological Physiology” in the authoritative Obozrenie psikhiatrii, nevrologii i refleksologii. The study related the case of a student at a technical college. ...

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pp. 205-210

Vvedenskii’s statement offers a distilled expression of the axis of intellectual continuity that runs throughout the revolutionary era in Russia. Confronting a still overwhelmingly peasant society at the turn of the twentieth century, Russian liberal practitioners of the human sciences struggled to articulate the conditions necessary for the modernization of the country, ...

Bibliography of Primary Sources

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pp. 211-224


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pp. 225-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780801468476
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801446276

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 798794093
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Renovating Russia

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Subject Headings

  • Social sciences -- Russia -- History
  • Social sciences -- Soviet Union -- History
  • Medical sciences -- Russia -- History.
  • Medical sciences -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Social engineering -- Russia -- History.
  • Social engineering -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Liberalism -- Russia -- History.
  • Russia -- Intellectual life -- 1801-1917.
  • Soviet Union -- Intellectual life -- 1917-1970.
  • Russia -- Moral conditions.
  • Soviet Union -- Moral conditions.
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