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2020 Vol. 11 № 3

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“The point of departure of peoples determines their fate”: Peter Chaadaev and Alexis de Tocqueville

DOI
10.5922/2225-5346-2020-3-3
Pages
42-56

Abstract

In 1836, Peter Chaadaev in his private letter to Alexander Turgenev mentioned that the French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville had stolen from him a “deep thought” that the point of departure of peoples determined their fate. Russian and foreign scholars interpreted these words differently, trying to assess the seriousness of Chaadaev’s reproach. The article explores the history of the expression ‘le point de départ’ and the use of it in the works by Tocqueville (“Democracy in America”) and Chaadaev (“Philosophical Letters”, “Apology of a Mad­man”). The author argues that the concept of the ‘point of departure’, which had special sig­nificance for Tocqueville, was also important for Chaadaev, who used this phrase in different contexts. Having compared Russian translations of the texts by Tocqueville and Chaadaev, the author concludes that although the translators used different strategies to convey the meaning of the phrase in Russian, in all cases, to a greater or lesser extent, there was a threat of violation of the intentions of both authors. Based on the analysis of the word usage in the texts of both thinkers, the author suggests a number of recommendations aimed to clarify the translations of Chaadaev and Tocqueville works into Russian. The article also notes possible sources of the image “the point of departure of peoples” in the text by Tocqueville (from François Guizot to American interlocutors).

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