Thinking about Elite:
Personal and Epistemological Meanings of the “Short” Twenty-First and “Long” Nineteenth Centuries in Russian History
P. A. Olkhov
Belgorod National Research University
308015, Pobedy st. 85, Belgorod, Russia
The term “elite” is widespread in the academic speech of post-Soviet Russia. This article presents the results of research into the history of this term and a comparative analysis of its semantic relevance in the social (primarily historical) sciences of the 2000s-2010s. It demonstates that “elite” is a specific abstract concept of a high order with no direct analogues in the earlier historical sciences of Russia; the semantically rich term is better grouped within the natural languages. The term, a reflection of the post-Soviet climate in Russian intellectual culture, makes clear the era’s metasocial and epistemological aspirations for new cognitive practices and conceptual reforms as opposed to earlier Marxist historicism. Morever, a study of the pre-Soviet “golden age” of historical thinking does not confirm any conceptual presence of the “elite” in any kind of semantic field of social and historical research during that “long” nineteenth century.
This article details the ethical-existential peculiarities of Russian thought in the nineteenth century, when Russian historical self-awareness blossomed. The concept of “l’élite,” an active term in French, was not conceptualized or used in literary-historical spaces in Russian society of this era. Ethical and existential constellations of Russian thought from that era did not give this term any credence nor conceptually transform it in various speech practices. This article pays special attention to the semantic settings of the normotive language of N. M. Karamzin and and A. S. Lappo-Danilevsky, who are otherwise methodologically polar opposites as Russian historians.
Keywords: elite, Russian historical self-awareness, the history of the concept, long 19th century, N.M. Karamzin, A.S. Lappo-Danilevsky
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