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The truths of Alexander Herzen

One of the things I used to enjoy the most was to browse in good book stores and buy a stock of books to read and add to my library. I cannot think of a more peaceful, pleasurable, and satisfying occupation.To get more news about herzen review, you can visit official website.

Once, employed in this pursuit, I found waiting for me over the years, among the usual multitude of treasures, the Oxford University Press edition of Alexander Herzen’s memoirs, My Past and Thoughts. Friends whom I greatly respect had told me about Herzen’s classic quality, but until then I had not read anything by him. I soon found that his memoirs are among the greatest and most stimulating books I ever read.
Alexander Herzen (1812-70) is known as the founder of Russian socialism and the greatest opponent in his time of Czarist autocracy and, I suppose, he is studied by political scientists and historians for that reason. But in his memoirs, for me anyway, he eludes all political classification and simply becomes a superbly inspiring, original, and thought-provoking writer. I found myself, page after page, letting his book fall for a moment to think about what Herzen has written – letting the insights and the truth sink in before reading on expectantly.

Let me give one example of this. Throughout his memoirs Herzen insists again and again that to look at the end and not the action itself is a cardinal error in life. At every point man must achieve what he can achieve, must be the best he can be, in that moment. So when Herzen writes about his childhood he says something which we adults too often forget in the lives of our own children: ‘We think that the purpose of the child is to grow up because it does grow up. But its purpose is to play, to enjoy itself, to be a child. If we merely look to the end of the process, the purpose of all life is death’.

On page after page Herzen makes you think: ‘Yes, that’s true, I must remember that’. I wish I had read his book when I was a young man, I wish everybody could read him.In Guyana at present it is Herzen’s political perceptions that may be of most immediate interest. Every politician should read Herzen’s memoirs and the brilliant essay by the English philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) which introduces the book.

Herzen believes that men and women are not simple enough, human lives and relationships are too complex, for the standard formulas and neat solutions beloved of politicians. Attempts to fit people and their aspirations into generalised rational schemes, conceived in terms of theoretical ideals – however high-minded the motive – inevitably lead to a terrible maiming of human beings. The process always culminates in the benefit of a few only at the expense of the majority.

Every person now with access to political power in Guyana might read a lesson in Herzen’s views, expressed so passionately on the side of the precious individuality of men and women. He loathed ideological, political and racial abstractions with their terrifying power over human lives. He hated the despotism of formulas which inevitably focus on ‘sacrifices today, the fruits of tomorrow’. Immediate human demands must never be abandoned in the name of abstractions, fanatical généralisations, stereotyped catégorisations of people, empty sound-bites, idealised sets of words.
In this jovial and apparently casual passage Herzen embodies his central principle – that the goal of life is life itself, that to sacrifice the present to some vague and unpredictable future is a form of delusion which leads to the destruction of all that is valuable in men and societies – leads to the sacrifice of the flesh and blood of live human beings on the altar of idealised abstractions.

The political actors in any nation should be looking for the spirit of Alexander Herzen. We must all hope that the actions of those who are now in touch with political power are informed by the wonderful humanity expressed by Alexander Herzen in his memoirs written so long ago but true for any age in any country.

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