Turgenev’s Liberal Sensibility

wo newly coined words dominated Russian discussions in the early 1860s: intelligentsia and nihilism. The first referred not to educated people generally but to those professing a new radical ideology formulated by the critic Nicholas Chernyshevsky. The “new people,” as Chernyshevsky called his young followers, advocated materialism, determinism, utilitarianism, free love, and rude (they said “frank”) manners. In his great novel Fathers and Children, Ivan Turgenev called them “nihilists.” Although many young radicals first deemed this term slanderous, they soon adopted it with pride. When the assassin and writer Sergei Stepniak published a novel in 1889 celebrating terrorism, he entitled it The Career of a Nihilist.

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