Bakunin and the Psychobiographers: The Anarchist as
Mythical and Historical Object
Robert M. Cutler
[In press in Russian translation in Klio
(St. Petersburg). See colophon at bottom of page for copyright and reprint information.]
Biographies typically rely more heavily upon personal
documents than do other kinds of history, but subtleties in the use of such
documents for psychological interpretation have long been recognized as
pitfalls for misinterpretation even when contemporaries are the subject of
study. Psychobiography is most persuasive and successful when its hypotheses
and interpretations weave together the individual with broader social
phenomena and unify these two levels of analysis with any necessary
intermediate levels. However, in practice psychobiography rarely connects the
individual with phenomena of a social-psychological scale. Psychobiography is
probably the only field of historical study more problematic than
psychohistory in general, principally because questions of interpretation are
so much more difficult. Russian revolutionaries and have been one of the
groups most fascinating to historians for the application of psychological
approaches, and among these revolutionaries Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin
stands out as the most captivating and attention-getting personality. A
comparison of two late twentieth-century psychobiographies of the
nineteenth-century Russian anarchist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin (Aileen
Kelly, Mikhail Bakunin: A Study in the Psychology and Politics of
Utopianism [New York: Oxford University Press, 1982]; and Arthur P.
Mendel, Michael Bakunin: Roots of Apocalypse [New York: Praeger,
1981]) reveals some key problems of psychohistorical interpretation and also
sheds light on important issues in the historiography of the great
citation for this webpage:
Robert M. Cutler, "Bakunin and the
Psychobiographers: The Anarchist as Mythical and Historical Object,"
Klio (St. Petersburg), [Abstract of English original of article] in
press [in Russian translation], available at
25 February 2018.
Dr. Robert M. Cutler [ website — email ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.
Text: Copyright © Robert M.
First Web-published: 16 March 2009
modified: 16 March 2009
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