“The state’s consciousness and the most conspicuous education are found in the middle-class, to which the state-officials belong. The members of this class, therefore, form the pillars of the state in regard to rectitude and intelligence. The state, if it has no middle-class, is still at a low stage of development. In Russia, for example, there is a multitude of serfs and a host of rulers.”
– Hegel, Philosophy of Right
As such a large proportion of present-day Hegelians are also Marxists, Philosophy of Right will be seen by many contemporary Hegel-readers as his most infuriatingly bourgeois text, as the above citation illustrates. In any case, this citation would immediately strike most Russians as absurd, as Russia’s own class of bourgeois petty-officials, judiciary, low-level politicians, etc, has almost always been singularly the weakest component of Russian statehood. Re-reading the text recently, I found myself occasionally suspecting that Hegel was sometimes making veiled references to Russia. This suspicion had not occurred to me upon my first reading of Philosophy of Right several years ago.
But then again, maybe that’s simply because I now live in Russia. After a few years here, all intellectual roads begin to lead to Veliky Novgorod. In any case, this is one excerpt in which, upon-re-reading it, I suspected that Hegel might be making an implicit reference to Russia:
“By patriotic feeling is frequently understood merely a readiness to submit to exceptional sacrifices or do exceptional acts. But in reality it is the sentiment which arises in ordinary circumstances and ways of life, and is wont to regard the commonweal as its substantive basis and end. This consciousness is kept intact in the routine of life, and upon it the readiness to submit to exceptional effort is based. But as men would rather be magnanimous than merely right, they easily persuade themselves that they possess this extraordinary patriotism, in order to spare themselves the burden of the true sentiment, and to excuse the lack of it.”
Writing these lines in 1820, Hegel doubtlessly knew of the Russian partisan-movement which had played such a key role in the Patriotic War of 1812 – he was well aware that Russians collectively were capable of great acts of heroism. And yet he distrusted this heroism, and doubted that it was always necessarily an indicator of authentic patriotism. To be authentically patriotic, in Hegel’s view, heroics in wartime were not enough – to be authentically patriotic, you had to care about what happened in peacetime too.
Historically, the Russian people have repeatedly demonstrated a capacity for heroism during their periods of most dire national emergency, and it makes sense to think of this capacity for heroism as having something to do with the stoicism and other-worldliness which inheres in their Orthodox Christian faith. In the Protestant reading of Calvary, the transcendental aspect of the deity himself is sacrificed. This is not so in Orthodoxy. And so, in Orthodoxy, human beings are still required to make great sacrifices. The problem is that it is precisely this stoicism, precisely this ability to forsake the world, which enables Russians to make great sacrifices in periods of national emergency, but which also makes it more difficult for them to become deeply invested in social and civic life in peacetime. In periods of dire national emergency, Russian stoicism has repeatedly proven to be a systemic strength, but in peacetime it is a weakness. In peacetime, it manifests as merely another culturally particular manifestation of what Nietzsche referred to as “European passive nihilism.”
In our own era of “hybrid-war,” wherein war is waged simultaneously on every conceivable level – military, economic, informational, diplomatic, machinations in the structures of international law, etc – and therefore wherein the line of demarcation between war and peace becomes increasingly blurred, this tendency toward heroism in war coupled with lethargy in peacetime poses a long-term existential threat to Russian civilization. For Russophiles, the question arises as to whether or for how long Russia can maintain the systemic rigor which she needs to withstand the external geo-strategic pressures with which she is perpetually faced. The fear is that, if Russia as social system does not overcome her tendency toward passive nihilism and moral inertia in peacetime, then it will simply be too late for the Russian people to once again become heroic when the next war comes in earnest.
Excluding Russian liberals (that is to say, almost universally), Russians understand clearly that the civilizational continuum of the Euro-Atlantic zone is now in the process of imploding very quickly. This process of implosion will be complete within one generation. The principal reason why Russians tend to understand this so well is that, true though it is, it still has a significant use-value as propaganda. Pro-Russian media assure them, quite correctly, that the Occident is not worth emulating. As a cultural continuum, the west is now in the process of transitioning from passive nihilism to active nihilism, and has therefore entered into a terminally self-destructive phase.
Yes, the vast majority of ordinary Russians understand this perfectly well.
If you ask them to itemize all the reasons why they don’t want to culturally emulate westerners, then they will go through the list – rampant narcissism, the absence of spirituality, infantilization, LGBT-nonsense, the homosexualization of western culture, etc, etc….
But how many Russians understand that their own civilization also has, more gradual, self-destructive tendencies?
Indeed, how many Russian people understand that their own culture’s particular manifestations of passive nihilism, although different to those found in the western world, are still analogous to those found in the western world?
One commonality between Russia’s particular form of passive nihilism and western passive nihilism is a socially corrosive culture of impunity. Insofar as almost every country in the industrial world shares this tendency toward impunity or excessive punitive leniency, we might reason that it exists in Russia for the same reason that it exists elsewhere – principally, leniency is a correlate of political authoritarianism. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the internal logic of punitive leniency is infantilization, and infantilization is a process which will obviously be promoted more deliberately in politically authoritarian societies. If the state punishes criminals harshly, then it does so on the basis of the implicit premise that they are morally competent agents, could reasonably have been expected to know better, and so on. On the other hand, the implicit premise of punitive leniency is that the state no longer addresses the rank-and-file citizenry as morally competent agents. Leniency is the hallmark of a “therapeutic society,” one which is recognizably authoritarian insofar as it seeks to infantilize the citizenry. In every way that really counts, the western world and Russia are as politically authoritarian as each other.
At the same time, it is also difficult not to suspect that the culture of impunity found within Russia’s juridical apparatus is also partially the result of a particularly Russian kind of cultural storm. Firstly, the emotional capacity for forgiveness tends to be radically overdeveloped in Russian people, partially owing to their Orthodox Christian other-worldliness. This is a very good example of what I mean when I say that, very often, Russians just don’t seem to care what happens in peacetime. Another aspect of Russia’s culture of impunity is the prevalence of a lazy, incompetent and easily corruptible judiciary, but this factor in itself is also partially explicable in terms of the kind of social disengagement which results from Russian stoicism – a secular analogue of Orthodox Christianity, manifested as a social pathology.
It must be admitted, in the interests of fairness, that this systemic weakness does not exist to the same degree of prevalence in all geographical regions of Russia – comparatively, people from northern Russia tend to be refreshingly serious-minded.
Furthermore, lest anybody should think that I am being anti-religious or anti-Orthodox here, a further clarification is required – certain pathologies, although they may be genealogically rooted in a people’s former religious consciousness, are almost always more socially destructive in their secularized form. One of the reasons why my closest friends in Russia tend to be either committed communists, or committed religious conservatives, or people who are both simultaneously, is that these two groups (which sometimes overlap) tend to exhibit a higher standard of social discipline than anybody else. I have gradually learned to keep my distance from Russians who personally believe in nothing.
In Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Nietzsche analyzes how civilizations become decadent. Regarding the issue of punishment in decadent societies, he argues:
“There comes a point of morbid mellowing and over-tenderness in the history of society at which it takes the side of even him who harms it, the criminal, and does so honestly and wholeheartedly.”
Well, this also seems to have happened just about everywhere in the industrial world, doesn’t it?
In Russia, it is rationalized through the Orthodox Christian language of humility, forgiveness and mercy.
That rationalization doesn’t change the point that it remains the hallmark of a society which is in the process of gradually destroying itself.
So yes, we can well understand why Russians make jokes about western decadence. In the context of the social, economic, cultural, geo-political and intellectual crises enveloping the Euro-Atlantic world, these jokes are appropriate – the Occident has become a joke.
But what makes Russian people think that their own culturally particular form of decadence is crucially different, or any less self-destructive in the long term?
A hypothetical Russian person may argue “We are different because we haven’t allowed the LGBT-mafia to hijack our culture. We haven’t allowed Russian culture to be homosexualized.”
That is perfectly true, but it still crucially misses the point, doesn’t it?
No, Russian civilization will not succumb to homosexualization.
Instead, it will succumb to gopnikization and babushkization.
Two social groups in Russia principally benefit from Russia’s culture of impunity – those wealthy enough to bribe judges and prosecutors, and gopniks. In the case of gopniks, this is partially the result of a cynical kind of trade-off. Just as a Marxist will analyze the welfare-state as a cynical ploy to pacify and therefore depoliticize the proles, the gopnik’s impunity-privileges may be analyzed in the same way – as long as he remains lumpen, his impunity-privileges will be respected by the state. His impunity-privileges are devised, partially, to keep him in an infantile, depoliticized state.
In any case, Russian civilization has simply chosen to grant interpersonal and social privileges to different groups of socially incompetent degenerates to those who are granted privileges in the Occident, and to thereby tolerate, normalize and incentivize their social incompetence and their degeneracy.
From where I’m standing, the differences between that and western decadence seem entirely incidental.
In the long term, who really thinks that will be any less socially or culturally detrimental than western decadence?
Once you trace the predictable cultural ripple-effect of the gopnikization and babushkization of Russian culture, can they really be seen as any less nihilistic than the homosexualization of culture in the Occident?
I grew up in a society, the Republic of Ireland, where nobody ever took socially incompetent people to task, because everybody believed that they were harmless. So reticence was considered to be always the best policy. Eventually, socially incompetent people took over the society’s entire managerial class. The rest is history. That society which I grew up in is a social and economic black hole now, just as it deserves to be. But even at the age of 13, over 30 years ago, I already knew that was inevitable. My country of origin is now also, de facto, a German-American protectorate
– curiously, a lot like Ukraine.
So I’ve seen this kind of socially corrosive reticence before – I’ve seen its social and cultural ripple-effect unfold over decades. And I see Russian people exhibit the same kind of socially corrosive reticence all too often for me to be confident about Russia’s chances of civilizational longevity.
A poorly educated, naively liberal NGO-bot gets parachuted into Crimea, zeroes in on the most sheltered local kids he can find, and starts laying on the schtick about freedom, democracy and human rights….
Everybody who knows better merely exchanges knowing smiles when their hear him. Nobody bothers demolishing him.
A drunken gopnik starts making a nuisance of himself in a restaurant. Nobody bothers cleaning him out either.
A babushka with a bad hairdo and a worse attitude starts arbitrarily lecturing a total stranger about some trivial aspect of their behavior of which she disapproves. It’s a power-thing. Nobody bothers telling her to just fuck off and quit wasting their time.
It should hardly require explanation that it’s socially corrosive if you don’t just tell people like that to fuck off.
As previously stated, the Occident’s process of civilizational meltdown will be done and dusted within one generation. The Occident’s death-spiral is so far along that it really can’t be much longer now.
Russia’s will be more gradual – it will take perhaps 3 or 4 more generations to come to completion.
The ideological glue of Russian patriotism – to be specific, “wartime-patriotism” – will delay the process somewhat, but not indefinitely. To be fair, some Crimeans tell me that they think this process of cultural deterioration could be delayed significantly if the more disciplined and serious-minded culture of Northern Russia could expand southward. Culturally, Russia’s north has to take the lead.
Contrary to what liberals think, Russia’s deepest systemic cultural weakness has nothing to do with Russia’s power-elite.
And contrary to what most patriotic Russians think, the greatest threat to the vitality of Russian civilization is not imported western decadence.
The greatest threat to the vitality of Russian civilization is Russia’s own, culturally particular form of passive nihilism, rooted in Orthodox Christian forgiveness and mercy, and in its secularized analogues. Even if I didn’t believe a single word of the Marxist canon, I might still be tempted to applaud the Bolsheviks for their use of state-terror. As far removed as they were from Nietzsche on the philosophical spectrum, they shared at least this much understanding with him – forgiveness and mercy are ultimately nihilistic.
It is not my place to make moral pronouncements about what Russia “should” or “should not” be
– foreigners do that far too often.
Russia simply is what it is.
So I have tried, inasmuch as possible, to avoid using moral language – nothing in this article should be interpreted as a recommendation. I have limited the scope of this article to prognosis.