He was born on 16 January 1829 in Rechytsa (Minsk Governorate) and attended schools in Minsk, and then studied law at the University of St. Petersburg. In 1857, he became Professor of Criminal Law in St. Petersburg, but resigned after four years when the tsarist authorities brutally suppressed student protests. He maintained contacts with many radical groups and defended their activists in political trials, including in the famous First Proletariat trial. He was one of the editors of Vestnik Evropy, and from 1876 he edited the Ateneum monthly, which was published in Warsaw. Together with Erazm Piltz, he also edited the St. Petersburg Kraj [“Country”] weekly (1882–1909, daily from 1907), which was addressed primarily to Poles who lived on the eastern side of the Bug River. In Kraj, he promoted a pro-Russian, conciliatory option. From St. Petersburg, Spasowicz promoted Polish literature, but at the same time he believed that Poles should only be separate from Russia in cultural and linguistic terms. Despite being a Russophile and an advocate of rapprochement, he was seen as an outstanding figure and considered himself a patriot. He wrote a comprehensive study on the policies of Aleksander Wielopolski whom he valued and respected, thinking of himself as Wielopolski’s supporter. His research interests included Polish Romanticism. However, he studied it from the positivist standpoint and was a strong critic of Romanticism, although in his youth he had considered it an important factor that reinforced national consciousness. In keeping with the spirit of his era, he divided literary and intellectual currents into progressive (democratic) and reactive (based on negation). Studying the theory of the nation, he considered this concept to be purely formal, devoid of content and compatible with both “progressive” and “negative” trends. Spasowicz believed that national aspirations could mask various interests of individual social groups. From that position, he criticised Zygmunt Balicki as well as all those who supported Poland’s independence aspirations. However, he adopted a completely different position as a legal philosopher and expert on legal aspects of freedom of will and moral responsibility; here, he criticised legal positivism and the Lombroso school. It is often noted that he was one of the first theoreticians who tried to incorporate elements of Bergson’s philosophy into legal analyses. He also drew considerable inspiration from the work of his friend Vladimir Solovyov. He died on 27 October 1906 in Warsaw. He published, among others: Studia nie z natury [“Non-nature studies”] (1881); Dzieje literatury polskiej [“History of Polish literature”] (in: Obzor istorii slavyanskykh literatur 1865, Polish edition 1885); Pisma [“Writings”] (vols. 1–9, Petersburg 1892–1908); A. Wielopolski i polityczni jego spadkobiercy [“A. Wielopolski and his political heirs”] (Polish edition 1881); new edition of selected writings: Pisma krytycznoliterackie [“Literary criticism”] (1981).
This website is a part of the project entitled ‘Polish Political Thought and Independence: A Program for the Promotion of Polish Intellectual Heritage Abroad’, generously funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as A part of ‘Public Diplomacy 2017’ programme, component ‘Collaboration in the field of Public Diplomacy 2017’.