19. ‘Left-wing’ Worldview as an Echo of Religion

‘An enlightened man can have no religion’, such, or nearly such, is the prevailing opinion in Europe at present. At the same time, the pride and duty of the European are his left-wing, i. e. ‘advanced’, political views. The prevalence of these views rivals the prevalence of Christianity in the former Europe and cannot but disturb the observer: are they exactly the opinions that are reasonably chosen, reasonably justified, derived from an understanding of the essence of things?..

Sergei Bulgakov more than 100 years ago said:

‘The masses of people, who, even in the most cultured countries, of course, neither by their way of life nor by their training, can assimilate socialism as a scientific doctrine based on scientific argumentation, accept it as a new faith, a new religion designed to replace and eliminate the old Christian one. Thus, we are witnessing a struggle between two faiths, a clash between two religions.‘

Even then the attentive observer saw in socialism the rival of Christianity, and in Marx the author of the modern Apocalypse with all its horrors and prophecies.

With the emergence of new political winds, to which classical socialism is succumbing before our eyes, the same observer cannot fail to notice that the content of the teachings, the aims, the idea of ‘world evil’ change, but the inner mental structure, if we can say so about the mass movement, remains unchanged, and still resembles the inner structure of religion, and not religion ‘in general’, but a certain variety of it. Let us call this variety ‘prophetic’ or ‘ethical’.

Since we are talking about the ‘right-wing’ and the ‘left-wing’, let us briefly discuss their difference. The ‘left-wing’ looks to the future, does not value the present, and certainly does not see the good in the past. ‘Right-wing’ values the past, approves of the present provided it is faithful to the past, and does not seek change for change’s sake. Destruction is hated by the ‘Right-wing’ and warms the heart of the ‘Left-wing’. Note also that the victorious ‘leftists’ become conservatives, retaining the manner of expression characteristic of the destroyers.

A person of ‘leftist’ views sees in the world order something wrong, false, not moral; something that must be eliminated and replaced by the correct, moral. ‘Leftist’ worldview is first and foremost an ethical worldview. If even a person of advanced views speaks of ‘classes and masses’, it is primarily a question of the moral and the immoral. The opponents of the ‘left-wing’ are not just political opponents, but those who are morally repugnant. In their political preaching they always appeal to the passions; they find supporters among the ‘indifferent’, i. e. the passionate, rather than among the sensible…

This worldview is nowadays inseparable from ‘activism’. In the essay ‘Activism and Religion’ I said:

‘Bringing excitement to the masses is not difficult and can always be repeated; all that is needed is a class of relatively educated and sufficiently free people who have submitted their minds to this or that salutary idea, i. e. to that set of values which should be imposed on society at any cost for its own good. These people can be called ‘political activists’, and their worldview can be called ‘activism’. Activism exists (at least originated) only in the Christian world, and in some ways complements Christianity and simultaneously repels it’.

The ‘left-wing’ worldview is a stock of thoughts and feelings inherited from prophetic (or ethical) religion multiplied by the aforementioned activism, i. e., the abolition of hope, the power of which formerly restrained human aspirations in the intervals between revolutions, postponing them to an uncertain future. The prophetic religion that inspires the ‘left-wing’ is the religion of the Bible, or rather, one of the religions hidden in this book, saturated with expectations of a general overturning (and subsequently the establishment of a new, unprecedented order of things).  (The reason for the tenaciousness, the adaptability of Christianity is its complexity, its internal incoherence. The doctrine of the world as an rational enterprise led by a wise Master is in no way connected with the doctrine of the fall of the strong and the rise of the weak. Moreover, in modern times the heirs of the latter doctrine are in no way at enmity with anything so vehemently as with this former).

The following passages from the Christian Scriptures speak best of the worldview that may be called ‘prophetic’:

‘For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low: and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan, and upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up, and upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures. And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day, and the idols he shall utterly abolish’ (Isaiah 2:12 – 18).

‘And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible’ (Isaiah 13:11).

‘And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:1,5).

It is, if you think about it, an all-decomposing acid: the teaching of the prophets about ‘the strong who will be humbled,” about ‘the mountains that will be equal to the valleys’. It is astonishing that on a book of such a spirit was founded the firmest authority in the world: the authority of the Church. For a long time this doctrine of the triumph of truth and the downfall of the strong was limited, counterbalanced by the power of hope that postpones all change to an uncertain ‘tomorrow’, if not to a future life; but now the power of hope has dried up… We shall speak of this further on.

The very possibility of political ‘leftism’ is given by the Bible. ‘Leftist’ thinking is religious, biblical, prophetic thinking. The set of concepts that define ‘leftist’ thought is taken from Scripture. The belief in ‘progress’ is ethical monotheism applied to history. ‘History’, the ‘advanced worldview’ does not say, but implies, ‘is ultimate justice, which is God’. Progress is a deity, bringing down the strong and raising up the weak. In the search for more and more ‘weak’ is the meaning of the ‘left-wing’ movement in the 20th and 21st centuries.

A moral (or prophetic) worldview inevitably imposes belief in a one truth on the one hand, and moralising thinking on the other. Morally speaking, there cannot be two judgements about the same thing. An act is either moral or immoral; if one is right, the other is at fault.  He who judges wrongly about the moral or immoral is not moral himself. The correctness of judgement is replaced by its conformity to the prevailing morality, and the depth of thought by the force of moral indignation.

The opposite of the One Truth and moral thinking is philosophy. A people may have either philosophers or prophets, but usually not both together. Philosophy is the search for subtle connections between things; prophecy is the solitary knowledge of the one truth. It is tempting to think that here the difference between the ways of reason and the ways of faith is manifested, but, firstly, both the philosopher and the prophet are formed by the conception of the Unseen accepted in their society, and secondly, the worldview which may be called ‘prophetic’ is peculiar not to religion in general, but only to a certain variety of it.

Either philosophy or ‘universal truth..’. Where there is philosophy, truths are private; it is not a question of finding the one and final truth, but of developing correct thinking. Universal truth means the banishment not only of poets (as Plato promised in his ‘Republic’), but also of philosophers. Where there is a one and final truth, there is no need for correct thinking, but only for thinking that is ‘morally correct’ (or, to use the language of modern times, ‘politically correct’).

The philosopher is not concerned with evaluative judgements, while the prophet is predominantly occupied with them. The one is concerned with the meaning of things, the other with their value and, moreover, with their justification, and from a superhuman point of view. Prophetic judgements are judgements from God’s point of view. The philosopher judges things by looking at them from below —  not from above.

A one and all-applicable truth must be applied to the whole world, otherwise its all-applicability is in doubt. The field of application of such a truth must be endlessly expanding. Universalism inevitably embarks on a conquest against the world. Undoubtedly, at first it gives life some mitigating amendments, but as a guiding idea it proves destructive. Consistently applied to life, universalism yields simplification and Tolstoyism, ‘repentant nobles’ and ‘repentant white men…’ For there is only one truth, and one must disarm oneself before it.

Living life wants to have differences. Reproducible personal differences create culture. Universalism fights against living life. It wants to merge hot and cold into a single warm mass. Living life wants different gods, and peoples (cultures), and classes —  universalism says: ‘there is neither Greek nor Jew’.

Let me remind you that I wrote about this in ‘Essays on Culture’:

‘Culture is produced by the desire to possess permanent and reproducible differences. Where man is not different from man by anything but natural differences, there is no culture. For it to appear, there must be a desire to be special. This can be desired by an individual or by an entire society, and where we see persistent and reproducible otherness, we see culture. This otherness may be peculiar to a certain class of persons; or to a certain society; or to an entire country —  in fact, many ‘othernesses’ are superimposed on each other, defining the face of countries and peoples. Where there are no differences, there is no culture’.

Living life wants a man and a woman —  the latest universalism preaches the two-sexed ‘it’. The pathos that inspires the preachers of unisexuality is the same pathos that inspired Apostle Paul —  the pathos of universal fusion. However, living life is all about particularity, difference, and boundaries. The Christian revolution could not stop the accumulation of differences (private cultural values) in Europe. It gave a one-time mixing, at first even fruitful, then the accumulation of differences, i. e. culture, continued…

It is important to realise that the struggle against the notion of norm, as it is led by a generation raised by Christianity, i. e. a prophetic worldview, is a struggle for a new ‘one truth’. Speeches about ‘diversity’ are only a cover and a tribute to the tradition of J. St. Mill; in essence, it is a question of establishing a new norm that excludes the others, and a harsh norm that does not forgive those who are not ready to accept it.

But let us return to the origin of the ‘leftist’ worldview. We said above that hopes for great changes, for judgement on the world in its present state, for a ‘new life’ were balanced during the Christian centuries by a hope that constantly postponed the fulfilment of these promises.

‘The philosophy of hope’ is a philosophy of waiting. ‘He who waits will be rewarded’, it says. Christianity contributed to people’s patience, but also to the accumulation of hidden forces of expectation in society, which one day burst to the surface, demanding fulfilment. The European revolutions are phenomena of Christian psychology, albeit negative and destructive in their consequences.

If the Old World was an amalgam of heterogeneous influences (and is therefore irrecoverable), Christianity was also an amalgam. The pressure of destructive aspirations (‘the day of the Lord… on every high tower’) was held back by the thought that all this would be ‘on a new earth, under a new heaven’), or at least sometime ‘afterwards’.  The power of this endless, millennial ‘afterwards’ has dried up…

What was left of an intensely ethical religion, painfully aware of any ‘untruth’, true or invented, when the bonds of hope burst and the desire for change poured into earthly life? Together with hope, thoughts about the posthumous fate of the soul were also gone; since it became commonplace that afterlife is the retribution for ethical behaviour, the discretion of the judging deity (‘I don’t need salvation, I need truth!’ said about it Turgenev), with the passing of hope, this horizon was also closed. However, self-assessment through righteousness, i. e., actions approved by ethics, wherever it came from, did not disappear. The whole ardour for the salvation of the soul is invested in ‘politically correct’ deeds in the era of mass moral movements.

The worldview, the main part of which is moral indignation about certain things, is easily made secular, retaining all the original features of ethical religion without religion itself. Already Dickens in ‘The Pickwick Club’ shows a non-religious sect, the United Great Ebenezer Society of Sobriety.

Therefore, the confrontation between ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ is an intra-Christian division and does not exist outside the Christian world (and if it exists, it exists only as a phenomenon imported, having no local soil). As for the enmity of the ‘left-wing’ to Christianity, it is a rivalry between the sect and the church that produced it. Every small fragment of the ‘one truth’ wants to become the one truth itself. socialism excludes the Christian faith not by caprice, but by its very essence: one cannot believe in two exclusive truths at once. As soon as a socialist declares that ‘Religion ist Privatsache’, [1] he ceases to be a true socialist.

When the European Church hid the Bible in the chest of a foreign language, it thereby bought time. Upheavals were postponed until the Scriptures were translated into a commonly understood language. When that chest or case collapsed, the prophetic worldview went out into the world. As experience has shown, the desire for ‘further liberation’ is stronger than the desire to enjoy reasonable freedom. It’s not even desire here —  passion… Since then, since the beginning of the time of revolutions, the equalitarian worldview has been looking for someone else to liberate. Among its successive targets: the third estate, the proletariat, the oppressed peoples, individuals with a complicated sexual identity… The crisis that the West is experiencing today is religious in origin. It is inspired by the same pathos of the equalisation of mountains and valleys, the biblical pathos.

The Christian upheaval (the victory of Christianity in the Roman Empire and then beyond) is the first example of a revolution inspired by a prophetic worldview, but not the last. The newest and most direct parallel to the Christian revolution is the Russian one, for all the opposites of its goals. The fervour, the passion of both —  in enmity to the past, to the whole diversity of the former culture. And despite the consistent application of equalising ideas, each successive revolution in the Christian world proves insufficient: not everything is equalised yet!

Revolution demands ‘freedom from’ (idols, slavery to passions, the yoke of capital) and destroys ‘freedom for’, because this latter needs privacy, particularity, independence, small gods. The one truth is jealous: ‘let there be no gods but Me’. The fruit of revolution is the destruction of private life. The great idea does not tolerate competition. Konstantin Leontiev admired in vain Byzantine princesses discussing theological questions. This is as unnatural as mentioned by Osip Mandelstam: ‘the whole country is only talking about how to fulfil the five-year plan in three years’. A great idea begins by taking away the individual’s home, independence, and driving him into service. The suppression of personal uniqueness is the key to power. Revolution wants power over the individual to a far greater extent than the rulers it overthrows. The idea is not man —  man is weak, lazy and sometimes good-natured; the idea needs everything.

Whom exactly to liberate and ‘equalise’ with the powerful ones is not so important for people seized by moral pathos. This pathos is ignited, according to some hidden laws, in difficult times, when the personality loses its support, and it is ignited in Christian or once Christian countries. The East looks with amazement at the ever-new waves of ‘equalisation’ coming over Europe. Even where Asia has been directly influenced by socialism, up to and including the coups and the establishment of the ‘new order’, this influence has been very superficial.

The spirit of universal equalisation is not ‘bourgeois’, as Leontiev, who fought against it, thought, but biblical. Its banner was raised many times before the emergence of the bourgeoisie, and after it passed to the ‘proletariat’ (or rather, its representatives), now it is being raised by the defenders of ‘minorities’. At the same time, throughout the history of Christian Europe, the beginning of separation, isolation, the culture-generating beginning —  was non-Christian in its origin (pagan, chivalric, national). Universalism wanted to merge all the streams into one sea —  the streams stubbornly spilled over.

The Euro-American world today is experiencing a new onslaught of universalism. The One Truth is at the door, and not one, but two at once: Islam is breathing down the back of the new transformation of the ‘leftist’ idea. In itself, it is not a great threat. Born as a negation of Christianity, its ‘purified’, reformed version —  now that Christianity is fading, it has lost the meaning of life. So Protestantism lost meaning after the fading of the papacy, and the liberal West lost meaning after the fall of Bolshevism in Russia…

It is not Islam that is strong, but Europe that is weak. The decomposition and weathering of Christianity is taking place before our eyes, with the transformation of the remnants of its religious energy into ever new shades of ‘leftism’. The decomposition of Christianity takes repulsive forms, but let us not forget, looking at it, that Christianity was (albeit fruitful) a violence on the soul, a ‘yoke and a burden’, and that from under this yoke emerges not the firm and collected personality of the man of antiquity, but a personality relaxed and losing its milestones… Whole layers of education (and hypocrisy) come off the individual and society, and beneath them are areas of emptiness. The challenge, the main difficulty of the moment, is to ensure that the flabby, relaxed modern Euro-American does not find himself under the burden of the new ‘one truth’.

There will be no strength and understanding of the meaning of events until we consciously step out of the Christian era. It will not return, no matter how much we wish otherwise. But coming out is not easy. It is not enough to turn Christian values inside out (as many people think), or simply to give up veneration of saints, or icons, or even monotheism. It takes something much more difficult: changing our opinions about the divine. Conservatism as the preservation and restoration of the values of a past great age is practically useful, but insufficient to meet the new cultural challenges. The cultural conservatism of our days must be about the future, not the past. And now, unfortunately, decomposition struggles with attempts either to preserve the worthless or to revitalise separately taken parts of the past, which are not viable without other parts.

[1] ‘Religion is a private matter’.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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