Home to the palace to die… Alexander II of Russia


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Verhoeven argues that terrorism as a phenomenon inextricably linked to the foundations of the modern world: capitalism, enlightened law and scientific reason, ideology, technology, new media, and above all, people’s participation in politics and in the making of history.

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What is entirely missing from the perspective is how the so called enlightened law that supposed sprang from scientific reason led to not only capitalism but also marxism – both of which have in common that they are philosophies of materialism. While the cant of Kant and his descendents turned theology into ideology and materialism spawned technology, new media the ideas of rational government were dismissed in favor of the people’s participation in politics and in the making of history.

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Just as so many have argued that older civilizations used the trappings of religion to keep the people under control it may be argued that the new order of materialism keeps them every bit as much under control. The only real difference is that they no longer fear the loss of Heaven and the pain of Hell but fear the loss of comfort and the pain of falling through a social safety net.

Reproduction of print showing Axarian Pleasure Garden, Saint Petersburg, Russia. View to trellis. Photograph of a copper plate engraving, "Prospectus Horti Deliciarum Axariani," from the workshop of Giovanni Antonio Remondini, Bassano, Italy, 1780.

Reproduction of print showing Axarian Pleasure Garden, Saint Petersburg, Russia. View to trellis. Photograph of a copper plate engraving, “Prospectus Horti Deliciarum Axariani,” from the workshop of Giovanni Antonio Remondini, Bassano, Italy, 1780.

The phenomena of terrorism is a by product of the skepticism that was used to effect the rational revolution – if there is no longer any objectively knowable truth there are no longer any absolute standards of conduct. Society can not function with that doubt and so some men look into the abyss, see nothing, lose whatever tenous grasp on reason they may have had, become nihilist and, voilà, you have a terrorist. The irony to the true student of history is that this unstable crackpot is no proof of the people’s participation in politics and in the making of history but more often is proof that Cain may still be tempted to murder Abel.

Print shows the Warsaw railway station and Church of the Resurrection of Christ along the Obvodny Canal in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Print shows the Warsaw railway station and Church of the Resurrection of Christ along the Obvodny Canal in St. Petersburg, Russia.

While this book contains a very worthwhile recitation of the known facts surrounding Karakozov, his attempt on the tsar’s life and the subsequent trial we do not accept her arguments regarding terrorism.

Print shows a grand hall of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Print shows a grand hall of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The odd man Karakozov : Imperial Russia, modernity, and the birth of terrorism  Claudia Verhoeven  Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. x, 231 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [219]-225) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Print shows New York Herald editor James Gordon Bennett, holding a shotgun and carrying a bag labeled "Game Bag for Sensations J.G. Bennett", standing next to a scarecrow labeled "$500.00 Herald Cheque" and "This is not the Original Hartman"; the scarecrow, armed with bombs, a knife and a handgun, looks like Leo Hartmann who was apparently involved in the 1879 assassination attempt of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia. Looking over a stone wall is Secretary of State James G. Blaine who stated in the press that he could not make a statement regarding the extradition of Hartmann prior to a request for such action by Russian authorities. In the background, on a mound of earth labeled "Russia", Alexander III, Emperor of Russia, is sitting on a large chair labeled "Chair of Alexander III", reading the "New York Herald"; an opening in the chair is labeled "The Real and Only Hartman Private Office" and shows a man who also looks like Leo Hartmann, waving.

Print shows New York Herald editor James Gordon Bennett, holding a shotgun and carrying a bag labeled “Game Bag for Sensations J.G. Bennett”, standing next to a scarecrow labeled “$500.00 Herald Cheque” and “This is not the Original Hartman”; the scarecrow, armed with bombs, a knife and a handgun, looks like Leo Hartmann who was apparently involved in the 1879 assassination attempt of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia. Looking over a stone wall is Secretary of State James G. Blaine who stated in the press that he could not make a statement regarding the extradition of Hartmann prior to a request for such action by Russian authorities. In the background, on a mound of earth labeled “Russia”, Alexander III, Emperor of Russia, is sitting on a large chair labeled “Chair of Alexander III”, reading the “New York Herald”; an opening in the chair is labeled “The Real and Only Hartman Private Office” and shows a man who also looks like Leo Hartmann, waving.

On April 4, 1866, just as Alexander II stepped out of Saint Petersburg‘s Summer Garden and onto the boulevard, a young man named Dmitry Karakozov pulled out a pistol and shot at the tsar. He missed, but his “unheard-of act” changed the course of Russian history — and gave birth to the revolutionary political violence known as terrorism.

Print shows several European rulers standing next to signposts labeled "France, Turkey, England, Germany, Italy, Austria, [and] Russia" lining the sides of a dirt road, with "Servia" and "Roumania" in the background; the rulers are all keeping an eye on William II, the German Emperor, as he walks down the road between them.

Print shows several European rulers standing next to signposts labeled “France, Turkey, England, Germany, Italy, Austria, [and] Russia” lining the sides of a dirt road, with “Servia” and “Roumania” in the background; the rulers are all keeping an eye on William II, the German Emperor, as he walks down the road between them.

Based on clues pulled out of the pockets of Karakozov’s peasant disguise, investigators concluded that there had been a conspiracy so extensive as to have sprawled across the entirety of the Russian empire and the European continent. Karakozov was said to have been a member of “The Organization,” a socialist network at the center of which sat a secret cell of suicide-assassins: “Hell.”

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It is still unclear how much of this “conspiracy” theory was actually true, but of the thirty-six defendants who stood accused during what was Russia’s first modern political trial, all but a few were exiled to Siberia, and Karakozov himself was publicly hanged on September 3, 1866. Because Karakozov was decidedly strange, sick, and suicidal, his failed act of political violence has long been relegated to a footnote of Russian history.

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In The Odd Man Karakozov Verhoeven argues that it is this neglected, exceptional case that sheds a new light on the origins of terrorism. The book argues that the idea of terrorism first emerged from the reception of Karakozov’s attack, but also, importantly, what was really at stake in this novel form of political violence, namely, the birth of a new, modern political subject. Along the way, in characterizing Karakozov’s as an essentially modernist crime, Verhoeven traces how his act profoundly impacted Russian culture, including such touchstones as Repin’s art and Dostoevsky’s literature.

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