Online ISSN 2286-0266
Print ISSN 1223-0685
Copyright © 2021
Œconomica by SOREC
Universitatea "Transilvania" din Braşov
“Letters from Russia. Russia in 1839” is a book about the relationship between power and knowledge, seen in a Foucauldian perspective: “in knowledge there is no adaptation to the object, no assimilation, there is rather a relationship based on distance and domination; in knowledge, instead of happiness or love, there is hate and hostility; instead of unification there is a precarious system of power”. The framework of his speech exposes a geopolitical underpinning: “I cannot forget the fact that first and foremost I am writing for France; I think it is my duty towards France to reveal facts which are useful and profound”. As the idea of territorial expansion continues into the 19th century, Russia is turning into an ever more visible force in Europe. By applying a Pareto-reading, we can try to gauge the ophelimity of this situation: does Russia’s maximal utility correspond to the maximal utility of its population? This issue is relevant presently as well since there are a number of countries whose strength is not complemented by their population’s well-being, quite to the contrary. The strong reactions the tsarist power exhibits toward Custine’s writing are not coincidental. Shortly after the book’s publication, during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, a committee was set up with the task of issuing a response. The first decision the committee took was banning the book. As it often happens in such situations, the prohibition arouses interest, leading to a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy which results in the exact opposite of what was expected: the book ends up being read by the Russian aristocracy and it makes a significant impression; at the time, not having read it is being looked down upon. We can also address another dimension of Custine’s work: the relationship between governance and society, between the world of power and the world of ordinary life in such a vast country. Power, in authoritarian governments, has to stretch in order to cover the entire social and physical space. We can find these same issues but a different approach in the American society of the time. A valuable source of information for this comparison is Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”, a work which was published around the same time as Custine’s writing. Both authors are addressing the urgent sociological question of whether governance expresses the individual personality or whether individual personality is a product of governance. Finally, we can attend to the fact that this work testifies to a political option which is based on the philosophy of Enlightenment. Two such ideas we can identify in his writing are the question of the present and the importance of values in governance. Custine states: “I had gone to Russia in order to gather arguments against representative government, but I have returned as a defender of constitutions”. As for the relationship between values and governance, Custine believes that for any government preserving values, human rights and the rights of the citizen are of vital importance. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to define a political subject, a process which can only take place if the entirety of the economic, social and political practices is centred on the production of truth. Since the Russia Custine witnesses is not centred on the production of truth, it is not a favourable environment for the development of political subjects. Consequently, the issue of values, human rights and the rights of the citizen is unapproachable. The strength Russia exhibits towards its Western counterparts is founded on a reality which French society had, as Custine points out, already left behind.

ŒCONOMICA no. 3-4/2020
Keywords: domination, simulation, sovereign power, violence, subject, truth
JEL: A14, D72, P48, Z13
Power and Knowledge. An Exercise in Historical Sociology [Putere şi cunoaştere. Un exerciţiu de sociologie istorică]