Putin and the Spiritual Fate of Eurasia – Part I

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Russia and Europe: Subjective Notes on Paths of Spiritual Development

The current international situation in the post-Christian world is called a politically correct term – “identity crisis”. In the language of free philosophy, this state can be expressed more directly: Europe (and all of “modern” humanity) has rejected its spiritual roots in Christianity.

In the history of Russian philosophy, this idea was first expressed by an outstanding Russian thinker who ironically, in his time was a “Westernizer” (a supporter of the European path of development for Russia), Ivan Kirievsky (1806-1856), who would later become one of the pillars of Slavophilia. If the ideas of another Slavophile leader, Alexey Khomyakov, are largely outdated, then the abstract religious and philosophical ideas of Kirievsky have turned out to not be subordinate to the winds of time. Even the journal which the young Kirievsky published bore the characteristic name: The European.

One article, “The Nineteenth Century”, published in The European has not only retained its meaning, but is of even greater relevance in the 21st century. In this programmatic philosophical article brilliantly, the learned Kirievsky, a disciple of Hegel and Schelling who was highly valued by both of them, traced the genesis and development of the Western world from late antiquity to the present.

Kirievsky came to the conclusion of that Europe is in deep crisis. By Europe, Kirievsky understood a civilizational-geographical concept including the countries of the Roman Catholic and Protestant confessions. It must be emphasized that this conclusion was deduced by a Westernizer and “Europeanist”, who foresaw that the future of Europe would be atheism, followed by the cult of corporeality and the cult of material production – in other words, the primacy of carnal, physical needs over spiritual ones. This idea was subsequently embodied in the poem of the Grand Inquisitor about the “wagons that bring bread” in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

In fact, the best minds of the Russian ‘Westernizers’ stood firmly on the foundation of a religious understanding of life. Subsequently, when socialism moved to the forefront of social and political life, it was perceived not as a rational system, but a quasi-religion. Russian socialism (or, more precisely, Russian socialisms) what is important is not thought, social-economic or political specifics, but moral sensibility.

When the great Norwegian author Knut Hamsun wrote in his fairyland book Pan (1903) dedicated to dedicated to journeying across Russia, that the Russians have hardly produced one major thinker, Hamsun was a bit exaggerating. He was not familiar with the works of his Russian alter-ego Konstantin Leontiev, or the works of  Kirievsky, as these and others were poorly known even in Russia. Meanwhile, there were the geniuses Kirievsky, Leontiev, and the creator of the theory of  “cultural-historical types” (the precursor to the civilizational theories of Arnold Toynbee) Nikolai Danilevsky.

A number of other brilliant Russian philosophers could be listed, not to mention the outstanding contributions of Russian science in the second half of the 19th and 20th centuries. To a certain extent, the twentieth century was the century of Russian science. And yet, overall, in my opinion, Hamsun was right. The history of Russian thought is not primarily the history of academic philosophy. Russian and generally Slavic genius is pronounced more in feeling, not in the rational, logical thought. This is why the emotional Poles are much mentally closer to Russians than the rational Czechs. Indeed, Russified Poles gave Russia a whole constellation of great names. It is high time to reconsider the thesis that these two leading Slavic peoples are antagonistic. The political clashes between Russians Poles are explainable precisely by too great of similarity than difference in psychological make-up.

The main contribution of Russians to the spiritual treasury of mankind was the creation of a practical ideal of social life. The Russian Orthodox Church, unlike the Greek one, was not intellectual (all the Fathers and great theologians of the Christian faith were Greeks, partially Syrians), but practical and “applied.”

In the 19th century, already rather secular, Russian Orthodoxy yielded unexpected and very rich literature. 19th century Russian literature was not European belles-lettres or art for art’s sake. It was a real, applied form of philosophy. Unlike Europe, philosophy did not (until Marxism) play a significant socio-political role. Writers, especially Dotoevsky and Tolstoy, played the role of teachers of life. Tolstoy, through the power of his literary talent, became the Homer of the modern era, and invented his own quasi-religion, albeit intellectually weak and philosophically unconvincing. But most important of all, it expressed the recovery or search for a moral ideal and motive, not content.

Even 100 years after the collapse of the Christian monarchy and seven decades of the atheist Communist experiment, plus 27 years of Russia’s subsequent development in a liberal Western experiment (alas, today’s Russia is still dependent on the West intellectually and in world view!) the nature of Russian society has not changed.

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On August 6, the data of a public opinion poll of the residents of Rostov-on-Don (the administrative center of the Rostov region with a million-strong population) were published. The authorities of Rostov published the results of this sociological survey conducted in 2017 among citizens on their attitudes towards representatives of other nationalities.

The data was subsequently presented in the Strategy for the Socio-economic Development of Rostov until 2035. 65.6% of respondents called themselves Orthodox, 29.2% — atheists, 28% — profess Islam, 2.4% — other denominations.

I believe that the results of this measurement of regional urban public opinion roughly correlate with data across the country. About two-thirds of Russian society (perhaps a little more) consider themselves Orthodox.

But even those who consider themselves to be atheists are largely bearers of a morality developed within the Orthodox spiritual tradition. Although the number of Russian “Europeans” – or more precisely, quasi-Europeans is growing rapidly especially in the capitals and major cities, Russia is fortunately very, very far from “progressive” Europe in the field of morality. That is why it was both ridiculous and outrageous to read during the World Cup the “teachings” of the British and German media about human rights.

First, this does not comply with the rules of etiquette – to criticize warm hosts at their own home. Secondly, Europeans have neither the moral nor the legal right to impose their view of the world, and right or wrong, on other peoples. The author of these lines was not rooting for any European team (not counting the Serbs) in the World Cup. All his sympathies were on the side of the participating countries from Latin America. This poor continent has great spiritual potential and can become a continent of the future – in this sense it is similar to Russia. Any I mean a future that Europe is depriving itself of.

Perhaps I am not familiar enough with the latest European fiction and philosophy. But since World War II, I haven’t found anything really interesting there. But Latin America provides a wealth of material for study. In Russia, politics is boring and not intellectual, while political philosophy is secondary and not independent. But literary Russia is still very interesting. Out of writers of the second half of the twentieth century to the beginning of this century, I read Russian and Latin American authors.

I would like to stress once again that my reasoning is subjective and therefore open to criticism. Yet it seems that modern Europe looks to the educated Russian like a more or less interesting museum of antiquities – what Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov called the cemetery where the dear dead are buried, the creators of the great European culture to which all educated Russians deservedly bowed. For uneducated Russians, Europe is a big shop window. For both educated and uneducated Russians, it is clear that Europe is not the place of spiritual pilgrimage towards which Russians once rushed for advanced knowledge. Modern Europe and the West as a whole no longer bear a cultural or spiritual alternative. We have nothing to learn from Europe, and perhaps one of the functions of Russians will be conveying to Europeans themselves fragments of their great cultural heritage.

The main difference between Russia and Europe is vitality. Russia lives despite numerous problems and an unfair socio-economic, liberal-Western and political model. The most terrible condition for a person and society is spiritual satiety. We Russians have fortunately not yet been threatened by this, with the exception of rather small strata of “spiritually-hardened ‘Europeans’” of the megacities. On the other hand, Europe is much more developed economically and domestically (the level of comfort in Europe and in Russia as a whole is not comparable). But I would never trade my life in poor and “backwards” Russia for a life in prosperous – in my opinion, deadly-prosperous – Europe.

I am very critical of my state and society. And I cherish the hope that this gives me some right to criticize my neighbors and friends. Because I still hope to consider Europe a friend of Russia – not the Europe of governments, but the Europe of peoples.

These subjective considerations on the existential state of Europe and Russia have direct political and geopolitical dimensions. In fact, on July 28th, these very same “ideological” or “worldview”  veins were addressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus.

We will examine this historic speech of Putin’s and its relation to the identities of Europe and Russia in part two.

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