24. On the Return to History

This book deals mainly with two questions. One: why was the ‘Old World’ so culturally fruitful and so nourishing to the individual? The second: whether, and to what extent, a ‘restoration’ of the old culture is possible — not in the sense of a literal restoration of the former, but in the sense of a return to History. History is the Whole, the ‘new order’ is a part. social revolution is a revolt of the part against the Whole. Sometimes such a revolt succeeds, Christianity is an example, but in our case the success was incomplete and short-lived. While the first question has been answered in many and varied ways, we have said very little about the second question. There are two answers to this question: both yes and no.

‘No’ — because it is impossible to restore the unique combination of hostile and yet mutually nourishing sources of truths, and it was this unique combination that gave rise to the old cultural order.  It was born not from the choice of a ‘single truth’, but from the combination of soil and successful, and at the same time heterogeneous and even warring, influences that fertilised this soil. The fruitfulness of the ancient, pagan world (when the ‘one truth’ had not yet entered the world) and of the new time (when it was already leaving) is an example of the fact that ‘Truth’ does not liberate, ‘truths’ do liberate. We should not, however, confuse the plurality of truths with nihilism and the universal relativity of concepts (which is where our age has stopped so far).

‘Yes’ — because what is impossible for society is possible for the individual. We cannot restore the old order, but we can return, mentally, to the historical ground. There can be no other restoration than cultural restoration. Moreover, I think that unless as many thinking individuals as possible return to this soil, the once great Russian culture will have no future, but only a brilliant past.

Europe has also experienced the loss of soil in its own way, but here I am talking primarily about Russia. The victory of the ‘new order’ in Europe was short-lived (12 years of national socialism in Germany), and no European country has ever experienced anything comparable to the wholesale removal of the former cultural class from life as Russia knows it (emigration, expulsion, extermination, silencing). There the old cultural ground is weakening, too, but humanitarian knowledge in the West has not yet turned into an empty set of words, as it happened in our country, and classical philology, history of religion (I speak about what I know) — are alive and continue to search for the truth about man…

Under present conditions, such a return can only be the personal effort by a lone individual. The circumstances of contemporary culture are utterly hostile to it. However, such an effort is possible, and on the basis of personal experience I will try to describe it.

What kind of ‘soil’ are we talking about here? First of all, the soil for mental and spiritual life, i. e. for the education of the individual. The dispute about the old and new orders is a dispute about man, about the conditions favourable to the development of personality. 

The experience of the last century has resolved this dispute unequivocally: ‘advanced’, ‘true-scientific’, ‘Socialist’, ‘Liberal’ leads only to the simplification and stultification of man. Not because all the named sources are poisoned. But because all the forces listed wish to be, each one, ‘the one truth’. The one truth enslaves. The one truth means man-killing. All kinds of ‘advanced worldviews’ are as intolerant as Christianity, but lack its Hellenic core — attention to the individual expressing himself in words.

It should be mentioned that the notion of ‘soil’ in Russia has been obscured by the perennial delusions of the Populists (Russian admirers of the ‘simple people’). The worship of the ‘poor and simple’ (consistently Christian in its essence) has done us much harm. Under no circumstances will the ‘poor and simple’ make the rich and complex. It is the ‘complex’ behaviours that gradually accumulate, not the ‘simple’ ones that are refined into complex ones. Complexity is inherent in man from the beginning, from birth. Poverty and simplicity are always forced.

If we can feed on the juices of a certain soil, the forms that once stood on that soil — everyday life, the state system, religious life — cannot be restored. Historical forms, for all their charm, have grown historically, from century to century. They can be inherited and inspired, but they cannot be recreated. Neither everyday life, nor the state system, nor religion can be ‘introduced’ by order; or rather, one may do so (and such attempts are called revolutions), but only at the cost of general destruction.

It may be said that the return to the cultural ground is impossible for the majority. However, the majority is not offered a programme for the creation of culture; the majority has nothing to do with it. ‘Equal education for all’ is a great delusion. The nation-wide educator gets, in the end, a multitude of people incapable of both mental and physical labour. To the former they are incapable, from the latter they are weaned. This is the environment in which semi-education spills over.

Cultural labour is the business of a small part of the nation, the ‘elite’. The very meaning of this word is unclear today. We call the ‘elite’ the rich and powerful. The whole meaning of selection, screening, chosenness, discernible in the French élite, has disappeared in our country. Who selected these strong ones? No one, they came and took everything by force. 

One more objection must be averted. They often say: ‘The majority does not need it, they are quite satisfied with what they have.“ But, firstly, the majority has no voice in these matters, and secondly, what is, never and under no circumstances has coercive power. As Vladislav Khodasevich said:

‘There is a tragic misunderstanding in our perception of history. For a long time now, not since yesterday, we have been accustomed to assessing its warring and shifting epochs not on their essence, not on their objective properties, but on the basis of their chronological succession. It is as if we have agreed in advance to consider everything that follows to be better than everything that preceded it, to reverently prefer everything new to everything old. We know the fallibility of man and humanity, we see the errors and mistakes of whole periods of historical epochs, we observe the fall of high kingdoms and cultures — and yet, in spite of everything, we secretly or explicitly profess something like a dogma about the infallibility of history. Hence what one art historian calls “servility to modernity’, which is always the last, and therefore in our eyes the supposedly ‘best’ stage of history… We worship all modernity without understanding it, because for us, idolaters of historicism, everything factual has become blessed.’

History is not ‘infallible’. History is what happens to those who are tired of fighting. All superior culture is created apart from, if not against, the will of the majority. The majority wants to be entertained, and all semi-culture, counterfeit culture satisfies that very desire above all else.

One could argue that I am raising my hand ‘against history’. However, the pathos of destroying history is peculiar to the ‘new order’. It tried not only to destroy but also to slander the Old World, making its return impossible (here socialism unconsciously repeated Christianity, which it hated; the One Truth is demanding and tolerates only dead rivals). As one of the figures of the revolution said, ‘those who will build after us will have to build in the graveyard’. He was hardly mistaken. The once fertile field of culture has become a graveyard.

The greatest misconception about the past is to believe that it is really ‘past’. In times of decline, the past is a living and effective force for whoever manages to appeal to it. The only virtue of the present is that it requires no effort on our part, it is simply there, just reach out. Unfortunately, the virtues of our present end there.

Some mental ties we will have to sever, some we will have to create; many evaluations we will have to reevaluate; much we will have to recoil from. But it’s not all labour, and it’s not violence against ourselves at all. Tradition, everything that is complex and rich, can evoke love, so it is not difficult to strive for it, especially if this striving is from the soil of the poor and dark — and otherwise the soil of the ‘new order’ cannot be defined. Yes, not everyone is attracted to the difficult and beautiful, but still its charm is natural and universal.

Culture is not based on ‘rational grounds’ but on certain beliefs. A number of contemporary cultural beliefs make it difficult to return to historical ground. These are mostly beliefs imposed by the ‘new order’ through extra-cultural coercion — or those that led to the emergence of the ‘new order’. These beliefs will either have to be transformed or outright discarded. There are epochs that are not nourishing to the soul, that are impossible to love — they can only be taken note of, despite all the drumbeat and all the noise they produced. The cultural legacy of the revolution will have to be, as Gennady Barabtarlo said, ‘recoiled from’:

‘The general revival not only of literature, but also of Russian civilisation in general, could be aided by an unconditional and massive recoil from everything produced by Soviet power, as one recoils with disgust from spoilage or contagion, and this applies first and foremost to speech, in all its forms, including writing (literary language is the last and least concern)’.

To the admirers of ‘historical continuity’ in its reduced form, limited only by the ‘new order’, we should say: yes, after the end of the Old World, there were events on the map of Russia, many of them, and they were frightening, but the history of Russian culture stopped here. Self-conscious mental development stopped in our country in the 1930s, and the last centre of it was the White emigration. The questions posed by the Russian mind in ‘off-mainland Russia’ (Nikolai Chebyshov’s expression) retained their dazzling topicality. Russia, however, has been swallowed up by the twilight of thoughtlessness, from which no way out is yet visible. This twilight was in no way hindered by the development of technology, which the ‘people’s power’ so boasted of.

One can say, of course, that the Russian man does not need self-consciousness and freedom, that this is a poisonous gift of the Romanovs, from which we were freed by the ‘new order’… But this is an empty excuse. Higher abilities are natural. Where there are no higher abilities — they are either suppressed, or lost, or have not had the opportunity to develop. ‘Zerocracy’ (as Pavel Muratov says) is always unnatural and achieved only by violence.

Another, more reasonable objection is possible: the majority has no leisure for higher abilities, it is absorbed in the struggle for existence, so why put forward an ideal accessible only to the minority? There are two answers to this. Firstly, all the highest ideals are the ideals of the minority, since they are achieved by labour and effort, and require abilities and the faceting of these abilities by education. Secondly… culture has its own law of ‘communicating vessels’, thanks to which the highest forms are generated by individual minds, assimilated by the minority and then spread outwards and downwards. The ‘top-down’ spillage of culture stops either where artificial obstacles are placed in its way, or where the ‘top’ itself is destroyed (the case of the ‘new order’).

Today, thinking man in Russia needs to live the last century anew in his mind, as Russian thought would have lived it, preserving freedom and life. It is necessary to purify the mind from all the spawns of the ‘new order’ in word and thought. He who thinks of nourishing the mind with ‘Soviet’ — will be left without language and thought. Of Russian authors, one should read only those who wrote in historical Russia or in off-mainland Russia, and of the latter — those who were culturally connected with the Old World (because the loss of soil in those years was a widespread phenomenon; even the White emigration had a mostly liberal and socialist appearance, except for its golden remnant, from whom we can learn today).

The belief in ‘progress’, in technical improvements of life as a path to happiness — that ‘blind fondness for novelty’ mentioned by Pushkin in relation to Radishchev — will also have to be discarded. We will have to abandon all illusions of equality and democracy. In general, we will have to abandon the belief in the salvific power of ‘formulas’, ‘ideas’, including the political ideas of the Old World.

Restoration of former forms of statehood and religion cannot be our goal. Yes, the monarchy in Russian history was a culture-forming force, unlike the ‘new order’, but our future is not inextricably linked to it. At the same time, we must recognise that there has never been a republic on Russian soil, except for Novgorod. And after 1917 this word was used to call direct anarchy, oligarchy, tyranny, and (recently) constitutional monarchy. Let me say one thing: there is no viable republic without the pride and ambition of its citizens. This condition was fulfilled in Rome and Novgorod and is not fulfilled in the Russia we know. In our country, unfortunately, pride and ambition are combined only with a lack of soil and morality.

We have to forget all prejudices about aristocracy and aristocratic. Culture is all aristocratic. Every form is aristocratic. Aristocracy is the principle of selection and growth. Aristocracy means demanding of oneself and others for the sake of a better, higher type of human being. It is the antidote to the poison spilled by the revolution, expressed in the words ‘be like everyone else!’

Therefore, among the things we will have to give up will be the contemptuous attitude towards the individual, which is characteristic of socialism, and the worship of the ‘masses’, which is also characteristic of socialism. The masses do not need and do not care about cultural questions, that is why they live in a reality not created by them.

We will also have to give up the fundamental intellectual conviction expressed in the words ‘the authorities must be hated’. ‘Let the authorities be judged by their deeds’, said General Wrangel, and so should we do. It is inadmissible to hate the authorities, the country, everything Russian just because they are not foreign.

The attitude to the fatherland will have to be reconsidered. ‘The Fatherland must be hated’ — this did not start yesterday in Russia, but under the new order it has blossomed more than ever before, due to its obvious inferiority multiplied by false self-esteem. When an intellectual idol sings about ‘the ugly homeland’, he confesses that for him the homeland is not generations, not history, not the eternally living past, but this moment right now, so different from a brilliant foreign country. The notion of the ‘Western’ as a more authentic, full-blooded, original source from which all Russian is only a copy of a list is not new to us either, but it reached its peak under the ‘new order’ with its militant sterility in everything…

We will have to give up both the belief in the always sinister role of religion and the ‘only true’ materialistic worldview — as one whose predictions never come true and whose explanations of man and society are inadequate (however, it should be said at once that religion is a product of inner experience, it cannot be acquired by a willful decision. Only humility and a sense of the world’s mystery, from which any semi-education leads away) can be acquired.

It must be said and emphasised: liberation from socialism does not mean a mechanical restoration, for example, of the ‘Christian worldview’, moreover: Christianity is the soil of socialism, and socialism is the fruit of the decomposition of Christianity.

Some people think that the reverse transformation of socialism into Christianity will change something for the better. However, Christianity has already completed its journey. Since the 15th century in Europe, since the 18th century in Russia, we have seen a rich and flourishing pagan Restoration. All the cultural forms that nourish us are pagan forms. The desire to ‘restore Christian statehood’ is pious, but devoid of historical sense, since it has long ago, for many centuries, been many-sided, Christian only in one of its parts.

The Christian life of the Old World, bound together by the Church’s custom, now catches the eye and seems to be the defining feature of the epoch — but this is a false impression. The culture of the Old World was by no means defined by Christianity. Dostoevsky, say, is considered a Christian thinker. In reality, Dostoevsky could only have emerged on the breaking point of the ‘one truth’. The strength of his thought lies in doubt. The cultural class of the late 19th and early 20th century was deeply affected by Christianity, but not formed by it. Thus, in regard to the ‘one truth’, I preach nothing that was not already there in the last centuries of the Old World. It has given this world religion and a powerful, independent source of truths; this place will not remain empty…

Moreover, the reaction against socialism cannot be a reaction in favour of another ‘one truth’ at all (otherwise there would be no point in it). We need a return to the breadth and richness of life; the ‘one truth’ is hostile to both. Any truths can be accepted by us only locally and in a limited way, to the extent of their usefulness. As Pavel Muratov said:

‘We undoubtedly live in the era of political pragmatism, maybe even only political practicalism. Thus, democracy, which is prescribed to us as an absolute truth, provokes our rejection in advance. But a democratic system, viewed from the point of view of its practical applicability to the needs of Russia, from the point of view of its useful service to Russia, can be calmly discussed as one of the possibilities that have both for and against themselves vital data. Russia should serve neither Communism, nor socialism, nor democracy, nor federation, nor empire. But a vital refraction of one of these general social and political ideas may at some point serve Russia’.

One should also renounce the intolerable moralism that is inseparable from Populism in the Russian sense of the word, i. e., not just the prevalence of moral judgements, but the glorification of the poor and the simple. This moralism is deeply rooted in Christianity and is its last ( secular) transformation — and at the same time the basis and soil for socialism.

A change of attitude towards science awaits us. We will have to recognise that much of what the semi-education believes to be ‘science’ (especially as far as knowledge of the human being is concerned) is nothing more than a set of scholarly words with no knowledge behind them, at best half-knowledge hastily applied to a subject not fully understood.

As for the science that gives mankind bombs and aeroplanes, its name is rather ‘technology’, and it is inappropriate to worship it, to expect from it the solution of the world’s questions, as it was not so long ago. As a source of values, it has failed; as a provider of goods, likewise, since all these goods are poisoned, involving hidden losses that are not commonly thought of.

All those things that must be given up for the sake of a return to historical ground are, by some wicked irony, included in the list of virtues of intelligentsia, or more correctly, the virtues of the semi-educated class. The intellectual (of the coinage we are speaking of) stands outside history. He has no past, only hopes for the future. To return to history is to leave the intelligentsia and enter the cultural class growing on national and historical soil.

One should not confound the ‘intelligentsia’ and the cultural class. The intelligentsia is only a preparatory step on the way to the cultural class. For a number of reasons (too rapid spillage of enlightenment, elimination of higher culture) this stage saw itself as an end, not a means. The intellectual (using the word with the same reservation) is a temporary phenomenon, a military ‘rank of accelerated production’.

A man of ‘intelligentsia’ is not the same as a ‘man of culture’. He is primarily a man who has lost the content of his religion, but not its attitude to things. As a former Christian, he believes in the one truth and expects its victory. As a materialist, he seeks this truth on earth. Not long ago his faith was called ‘Socialism’; only the failure of the ‘New Order’ has undermined the credibility of the word. He believes that the past is repugnant; that the future alone has value; that one can only move from the past to the future through repentance and self-deprecation. The strong will not enter the ‘realm of the future’. It should be noted that ‘repentance’ and ‘self- deprecation’ in this construction — always refer to others. The intellectual knows no other world order but the moral one, but he does not apply moral judgements to himself.

He partly resembles a good, ‘spiritual’ Christian in some other respects as well. The biblical ‘strangers, and sojourners’ applies to both. I speak of the ‘spiritual’ Christian for a reason. The worthiness of the Christian standing firmly on his historical ground is indeed under some suspicion; ‘is he not a heathen’? And it is true: patriotism is always smuggled into Christianity from paganism, that eternal source of love for one’s fatherland and one’s gods. Such an imperfect Christian may consider both God the Creator and the Christian saints as belonging, in their own way, to his people… There is a contradiction here like the one pointed out by Rozanov long ago:

‘A monk may fornicate with a young lady; a monk may have a child; but it must be thrown into the water. As soon as the monk holds on to the child, and says: ‘I won’t give it away’; as soon as he holds on to the young lady, and says: ‘I love you and will never stop loving you’ — Christianity is over.”

It is one thing when ‘we are waiting for the forthcoming Jerusalem’, and another when we are attached to our own country and its soil, and we do not need another. Such Christianity is always doubtful, because it is not universal (and Leo Shestov looks suspiciously at the secret pagan Dostoevsky for a reason: why does he talk about ‘Orthodoxy’ and nothing about ‘Christianity in general’?)

Nationality in Christianity is always treason, secret paganism. The conscientious Christian is ashamed of the rich, the opulent, the colourful in the religion of his country, saying: ‘Nationalism and paganism’ (Pater Dobrovolsky, mentioned by Natalia Trauberg). Yet this ‘treason’ is the strongest in Christianity, more solid than the the church councils held ‘beyond the sea’. Only the national is strong. The intellectual is like the Christian; he is conscientiously universal. The source of his faith is ‘beyond the sea’, the saints are ‘beyond the sea’, miracles are ‘beyond the sea’. On this side of the sea he has only an ‘ugly homeland’ — something unrelated to his personality, an ‘accident of birth’. Like the hero of an old comedy, he can say of himself:

‘My body was born in Russia, it is true; but my spirit belongs to the French crown’.

However, the similarity between the intellectual and the Christian is incomplete. Self-deepening is characteristic of only one of them, and self-deepening, belief in one’s personal worth, is the beginning of culture. The intellectual does not value himself, and therefore easily squanders the gift he has received and his very personality. But worst of all, he sees himself as the end and the summit of development. It is no longer possible to be higher than the intellectual, one can only climb, if one is lucky, to his height. 

…Despite all that has been said, the cultural ascent through a return to historical soil does not require us to fight against something external, be it ‘intelligentsia’ or ‘the legacy of the revolution’. In the field of culture, the question is not what to fight against, but what to be. This is how culture differs from politics, which is all the art of properly targeted enmity. I noticed at the beginning of this essay that it describes a path of personal liberation. The fact that the layer of those who have passed through secondary and higher education is hostile to the very idea of such liberation, because they are satisfied with the status quo, cannot stop us if we have the desire to approach the old culture and continue it with our labours.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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