31. Place in History

Thirty years have passed since the fall of ‘new order’ in Russia. The timid and inconsistent repulsion from socialism, combined with servility to everything foreign, has gone. It was replaced by a reverence for the ‘new order’ with complete and final poisoning by half-digested foreign influences. There is no government official who can express his thoughts in the Russian language; and the motto of the present reign is a kind of ‘conservatism’, but it is shallow: the values it protects go back only to the middle of the 20th century. 

Let’s talk today about modernity. Where are we; what are we witnessing; what is this place in history? Does Russia want to know where it is and where it is going?

1. The power of reinterpreting the past

Let us start from afar.

Not so long ago, in the ‘old world’, the nationally known (I don’t say understood) book was the Bible. It begins with the Old Testament. What is the Old Testament? The ancient scribes’ response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the demise of the Jewish kingdom; a system of concepts thought out and invented after the fall of the old order: the state and its religion. The Bible is concerned with reinterpreting the past for the sake of making sense of the present. Meaning was needed by the people who returned from captivity to the old ruins above all else. In fact, ‘ancient Israel’ was fantastically recreated twice: once by Old Testament authors, and once by yesterday’s European Gentiles who adopted biblical thinking and biblical meanings. Even three times, if we count the Reformation: a remarkable example of how life is inspired by pictures created by the imagination, by ancient ideology, i. e. by something extremely distant from the facts. In fact, the transformation of Romans and Hellenes into Christians was, mentally, a subordination to an ideology which, even at home, was based on arbitrarily selected, reinterpreted or invented facts.

The Jews who returned to the old ashes needed to restore tradition. The new order was to be a continuation, not an innovation; to be both modern and ancient. They boldly created the past… Of the European nations, so far only the Russians have survived the biblical experience of the destruction of the state. The destruction of historical Russia is a major source of questions for the Russian mind as that mind realises its place in history. We, too, are facing the need to re-establish the state. How do we respond to this need? And under what conditions will this re-establishing take place? What is happening to the Euro-American cultural world, of which Russia is also a part?

Let’s talk about this in more detail.

2. ‘Socialism of the Third Sex’

Perhaps the main phenomenon of our days is the liberal (essentially socialist) revolution taking place in the countries of the West. Among its most notable manifestations is the liberation of the ‘third sex’, the preaching of the equalisation of this sex, in all its varieties, with ordinary men and women. Russian observers are either amused or outraged by these demands, and few see behind them the failure of Western Christianity. In the emancipation of the ‘third sex’ some people in Russia even see a ‘capitalist conspiracy’ to limit population growth… This is an unsurprising line of thought, but it is also unfruitful.

In reality, of course, it is not ‘capitalists’ who are inventing something else to annoy the peoples. It is Christianity that is falling into the voids that have long been formed beneath it. The fire of socialism, albeit in its new incarnations, smoulders in the voids.

In a sense, if there were no Christianity, there would be no socialism. socialism is the hidden disease of a once Christian part of the world. It is a mine laid under any formerly Christian society. The connection between socialism and the ‘proletariat’ is conditional and temporary. The first sign of socialism is an ethical attitude to things that have no ethical dimension. The ethical stems from resentment and is fuelled by anger.

An ethical worldview is always a condemning worldview. Either we accept the world and act in it, or we engage in ethics. Ethics is ‘opposition’ to the world. Ethics is always negative. Prophets, as Jiovanni Garbini notes, talk more about what not to do and offer little in return. When the Ethical (as it manifests itself in public life) comes up with ‘positive values’, they turn out to be strange at best (the well-being of the ‘third sex’; the ‘cook’ ruling the state; the ‘triumph of the will’).

All socialisms (left-wing movements) embody in caricature form some biblical idea: that of love of neighbour or of a chosen people. The latter inspired both Class and National socialism; we see a caricature of love of neighbour in ‘politically correct’ liberalism, which understands man as a pitiful creature who can be offended by the utterance of a forbidden word. One should think that until the leftist idea is exhausted, there will be no farewell to the previous era.

If Christianity educated attention to the inner man, a silent and concentrated personality, then all its secular substitutes do not possess this attention to the inner, even on the contrary — they distract the personality from the inner, directing all its attention to the outer. But like Christian teaching, socialism wants to be all things to all people. The Left is universal, the Right is private. If you see a worldview that offers the last and final explanation or reordering of society or the universe, that view is leftist, whatever it calls itself. (It is laughable now to remember the ‘Union of Right Forces’ created in Russia by people alien to all religion and tradition.) Offensive universality is the distinctive feature of the ‘left’.

As historical experience has shown, socialism is a corrosive acid, and it threatens not only ‘thrones’.  Now it threatens liberal democracy — because it, like monarchy, is not elementary enough, too complex for a black-and-white moralistic worldview. Democracy knows no other ‘evil’ than a local and temporary electoral rival. It is not equipped to fight for ‘one truth..’.

But what does the ‘failure of Christianity’ mean: the loss of ‘faith’? the withdrawal of religion from public life? the inability to worry about ‘questions beyond geometry’? the desire to enjoy life without the ability to inquire about its meaning, origins, and future continuation? All of these things together, but first of all we see the loss of Christian values while preserving the mental structure created by Christianity. In this contradiction is the root of the socialism that has flared up again and again in Europe since the 19th century.

Why do the embers of socialism keep smouldering and never go out? Because the Christian psychological basis that makes socialism possible is still alive. I have already said that peoples who have not known Christianity are not susceptible to socialism either (although the ‘new order” has kindled large and small fires in the countries of the East and Africa). However, one should distinguish between the ground and the goals. The thirst for a “new world’ and moral pathos can be channelled in any direction. Now their goal is the liberation of the sex, or rather the third sex, the most constricted in Christian times.

Every action has its counteraction. The oppression of the European worker once led socialists to see in that worker the ‘chosen people’ of our day. Now the place of the ‘chosen people’ is with the third sex, and for the same reason: those who suffer are the chosen. The efficacy and power of suffering is not the main thing here; the main thing is the eternal urge to equalise the mountains and the valleys (in direct political application this means the advantage of the ‘valleys’ and the oppression of the ‘mountains’; no ‘defender of the oppressed’ will rest until the oppressed become oppressors, or rather, until the machine of oppression begins to swear by their name). Moreover: moral pathos demands not the actions that would be most justified and useful for the ‘oppressed’. What is needed is not usefulness, but a sense of struggle against the world evil, aggravation of division, intensification of enmity.

In fact, the fate of the ‘third sex’ has interested the latest socialism by pure chance. A whole worldview is going through a crisis, a ‘trial’ of its own. The view of things that sees ‘sin’ in everything — elusive, pervasive — is falling into the void. As the poet Boris Poplavsky says in his diaries: ‘Being and sin are identical; left without sin, I am left without being’. Life, understood as total sin in all its manifestations, except for a narrow circle of moral experiences and actions, can no longer continue.

3. An ethical ‘all or nothing’

Socialism, as an offensively ethical worldview, demands ‘all or nothing’. Here, as in so many other things, it is the direct heir of Christianity. Let us recall the main words of the New Testament, ‘be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’. ‘Be perfect’ is a divine sounding string that cannot help but burst. He who desires ‘all things’ leaves the unprepared to accept these demands with nothing. Christianity demands the tension of the whole personality; in relation to its values one can be either a slave or a Jacobin — there is no middle ground. And like any comprehensive worldview, it leaves an emptiness behind. The worldview of the ‘new order’ was also an earthly caricature of Christianity: the same all-encompassing, all-explaining worldview that leaves behind a void.

The world cannot recover from the dominance of the ‘one truth..’. It needs many private truths, but it still dreams of one. We need to learn to live for ourselves, and not for some ‘homeless idea..’. (This is especially important for Russians, who before had no other values than ‘ideas’, be it ‘holy Russia’ or ‘new world’). But it is difficult to get out from under the power of ideas. To walk away from Christianity would mean to walk out of the shadow that the Bible casts. The Bolsheviks, say, abolished the Bible while being entirely in its shadow. Someday, perhaps, we will learn to define human virtue on other than Christian grounds, but that time has not yet come.

4. Apocalypse as a refuge

Russia sees what is happening in the West, but does not know how to understand it. The closest opinion to the truth is that a revolution like Russian is taking place in Europe and America, and that ‘ideology’ is triumphing over facts. The background of this revolution, however, is not seen, except for a conspiracy of capitalists or ‘Trotskyists’ (there is such an opinion). In general, the belief in a conspiracy, in an evil will, is the most widespread among us. It agrees well with our apocalyptic view of things, and with the belief in the ‘rotting West’.

A favourite Russian fallacy of vision is to see apocalypse where there are only difficulties of development and growth, a ‘crisis’, i. e. a trial. It is now common to see apocalypse in the West. This eliminates judgement, reflection and searching for the meaning of events, and at the same time strengthens faith in one’s own righteousness.

The point of view according to which the West is ‘perishing’ and what is left of Russia should be fenced off from it is both convenient and incomplete. Firstly, it excuses all local vices, both indigenous and inherited from the ‘new order’; secondly, it blesses the rupture with the only source of culture possible for us; thirdly, it indulges the usual apocalyptic, or ‘historical’, thinking, which sees in every crisis a deserved punishment. Not to mention that even the struggling West is still richer and more complex in any of its parts than post-revolutionary Russia.

We don’t want to know that the ‘third-gender socialism’ the West is experiencing is historically conditioned by, among other things — the Christian abhorrence of sex (and certain shades of sexual relations). It is surprising that in a country where so-called ‘historical materialism’ has dominated for almost a century, no one sees the historical justifications for contemporary events. However, it is not surprising. Under the ‘historical’ façade of Marxism there was a belief in miracles and arbitrariness; just as in Lenin’s ‘teaching’ there was much more from Blanqui than from Marx.

5. False conservatism

So, ‘the West is perishing, and Russia should fence itself off from it’. Here grows a kind of conservatism, which, however, has almost nothing to defend on the exhausted domestic soil. The ideology of encouraged deviations is opposed to the ideology of equalitarian normality: ‘I am like everyone else, and everyone else is like me’. However, strength and depth are still behind inequality, and sexual normality is not a substitute for the national idea.

The new worldview only wants to appear conservative. In reality, it defends the superficial values of the middle, of socialist ‘allness’ — not poisonous, but alien to the cultural force. Konstantin Pobiedonostsev’s: ‘Russia must be frozen so that it does not rot’ is again contemporary. Russia is proclaimed the ‘guardian of the foundations’, although these ‘foundations’ are in fact the morality of the late revolutionary time, dating back at best to the middle of the 20th century.

The banner of this worldview is in a past not so long ago and hastily built on ruins. The revolution that created these ruins is proclaimed as the great heritage of the ancestors. Cultural continuity is not characteristic of this type of conservatism. Its ‘past’ is artificially created in the void, in the midst of the cut and torn roots of the former Russia. History knows examples of artificially created, fictitious pasts, on the basis of which tradition was created — such is the fictitious past of ‘Israel’ narrated in the Old Testament. Such a ‘past’ is now offered to us. The main stream of modern Russian history — the triumph of St. Petersburg, the cause of Peter the Great and his successors, the gradual erosion of the Empire by Slavophilism, the Great War, the White Movement and emigration — flows past this fictional history, without touching it in any way.

As a matter of fact, the task of creating a fictional past, according to Plato’s precepts, was already solved by the ‘new order’. What is being done today is secondary. The ideological picture of the world created by the ‘party’ in the middle of the 20th century, the artificiality of which was recognised by almost all witnesses of the events, is now recognised as ‘our great past’, which should be protected. Ideology is elevated to the rank of History.

However, this dubious conservatism has a reason: it solves real, not fictitious, historical problems. The fall of Russia in 1917, the subsequent grinding of its culture and people in the millstones of the ‘new order’, and then the destruction of this ‘new order’ — put us before the question of the re-establishment of the state. It is not a question of external forms. They are artificial in the present statehood, partly inherited from the ‘new order’, partly borrowed from the West, and under favourable circumstances will be replaced by something more national, i. e. rooted in the soil. It is a question of choosing tradition, i. e. the soil itself.

It is not by chance that I mentioned above how the Old Testament created a past for its people. This is a natural need of people who have been thrown out of the historical track and forced to build on an empty place. This task is also realised by the present rulers, and they solve it as they know how and can. Wishing to give the new Russia a fundamental past, they find it in the revolutionary order of the middle of the 20th century.

Since we value historical Russia, since we do not want the labours expended by the Russian state from the 18th century to the year 1918th to be in vain, we cannot accept such a choice.

The revolutionary past is not suitable for determining our place in history — because of its isolation and desolation. This dead period of time is not connected to world and national time. Revolutionary is a measure of groundlessness.

Russia underwent a ‘holocaust’ between 1917 and 1937, but few living people notice it, because the semblance of social and cultural ties was subsequently restored — but the restored ties are primitive, uncomplicated and not rooted in the past, affecting the last few decades, at most half a century, out of the entire length of Russian cultural history.

The fruitfulness of our cultural future — i. e. one that is not linked to borders, armies, the number of bombs, tractors and engineers — can only be ensured by linking it to the foundation laid by Romanov Russia.

6. Continuity

This will give us a continuity, a real and living continuity — a connection with the past that is full-blooded, still alive, active in our blood and mind. For nothing ever ‘passes away’. Every past is eternally alive in the personality nourished by the roots of its own and general cultural memories. The difference between primitive simplicity and culture is precisely in the depth and power of memories. The memory of the past is the lever that increases the power of the mind.

To return to history — where people think, believe in gods, feel and live, rather than ‘express themselves’ and ‘study questions’ — one must go back to basics. Semi-education is outgrown by inner focus, rootedness in the past, personal humility combined with the art of ‘honouring oneself’, the predominance of understanding over ‘knowledge’ (always elusive), of wisdom over scholarship. ‘Cultured’ one does not live a first life: others lived before him, whose language and thought he has internalised. This prolongation of life impressions (thanks to ancestors, by blood or by spirit — it does not matter) distinguishes him from the semi-educated. Culture is a kind of a small religion, i. e. an accession, if not to the eternal, then to the long-lived, in its way super-human, an exit beyond personal limits. Where there is no going beyond personal limits, there is no creative labour, no spirit. The spirit only becomes conscious of itself where it leaves the ‘here and now..’.

The ‘cultured’ one has already tasted the beginnings of immortality; he is not quite ‘here’ and not quite ‘now’; and therefore, perhaps, he is more inclined to a religious understanding of life than the one for whom the sun rose ‘yesterday’.

Let me make it clear — preventing a possible distortion of thought — that we are talking about the restoration not of the past, but of continuity. Continuity with the artificial enclosed world created by the revolution is impossible, even taking into account the fact that in time Pushkin and Dostoevsky were incorporated into this small world. The very ‘inclination’ of the mind and the soul nurtured by this world make it impossible to understand the former culture — only to ‘study’ it.

What is ‘continuity’? Continuity means that the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ will be used by Russians in relation to Russia at least from the 18th century to the year 1918 — which is possible only in the case of expanding the outlook, acquiring that ‘extended life experience’ which the life of blood and spiritual ancestors gives to a man of culture. I am not talking about the direct and simple political consequence of expanding one’s horizons beyond the world invented by the ‘new order’ — the condemnation of revolution. One cannot base oneself on the soil created by the exterminators of all soil.

Of course, we are talking about spiritual resettlement. So the Russian man of Peter the Great’s time moved to Europe while remaining in Russia; so the European of the times of Christian preaching moved to the fictitious biblical ‘Israel’; so in the time of the Renaissance people moved to Athens and Rome. This is not impossible and is extremely fruitful.

The transfer of values to a foreign soil is a rare but fruitful borrowing. This is how the values of the Old Testament were once transferred from Palestine to Europe; this is how European (Roman) values were later transferred to Romanov Russia. Such a transfer of values — from the meaning-rich past to the desert of artificial, emasculated existence, where one or two ‘ideas’ reign — is necessary for us. It has its opponents.  Our contemporaries see in ‘history’ something dark, alien, unnecessary; it does not inspire a person brought up by the ‘new order’, but only burdens him; what is most precious to him is the feeling of complete irresponsibility of his speeches (taken for freedom) given to him by the year 1991…

7. The power of resistance

The age does not want to reconnect with the past and resists it with all its might. Why do we need any history when we have modernity? The world began yesterday, everything is new, everything is yet to come… In addition, the ‘new order’ has over time created the appearance of a well-organised cultural world, and the fact that it is flat, lacking both depths and peaks, and not at all rooted in Russian history, does not embarrass anyone.

In the opinion of some people, tradition is something dark, outdated, and unnecessary for an ‘enlightened’ person. The mental world of such a person is exhausted by ‘knowledge’. However, the main benefit for the mind is joining some tradition. It gives both complex forms for expressing complex thoughts and correctly posed questions. The ‘self-made’ mind, brought up by the revolution and the break with the cultural soil, is eternally childish; it has neither means of expression nor deep questions; its level is determined by newspapers ( it is good if these are newspapers) and an unpretentious environment.

And many are still convinced that this level is worthy of pride. ‘The revolution lit the light of enlightenment!’ But the ‘hut-reading room’, ‘hobby groups’, and secondary education do not serve enlightenment as such. Enlightenment is inside, and these are, so to speak, external cures. A country of universal secondary education can be a country of universal lack of higher culture. The seed of that culture: mental discipline, the ability to judge, and the ability to refrain from judgement when necessary. The ‘average educated person’ judges everything and everyone, because he never feels that his knowledge is insufficient. However, it is not knowledge that develops the ability to judge.

When we think of ‘enlightenment’, we mean, as I have already said, the sum of knowledge, whereas it is primarily the sum of education and reflection. It would be good if it were the sum of knowledge; more often than not — especially in the field of human knowledge — knowledge is substituted by ready-made assessments, opinions that obviate the need to know and think about something.

Before one can judge any matter, one must know something about man and his history. The ancient world, the Middle Ages, the history of the Old World before its fall — all this is known to modern man only through a series of template assessments, empty words about ‘classes and masses’. How can we expect him to understand the times in which he lives? At best, he will see in contemporary events what textbooks have taught him to see in earlier events: ‘reaction and progress’, ‘revolution and tyrant’. He has never heard of the existence of the human soul, of the laws of internal and state life, of culture.

We will face the same obliquity of the educated class if we raise the question of the quality and content of education, which should be a) not the same for all, b) developing the thinking ability of at least part of the students — and not only the memory for schemes and templates (from chemistry to history presented from the Marxist point of view).

In addition to obliquity, there is another force that prevents the adoption of any spiritual values. These days it is vulgarity. What is the vulgar? Average, commonplace, but not ‘simple’ in any way. Nor does ‘vulgar’ mean ‘lowly’, ‘lewd’. (Vulgarity is not a moral characteristic at all.)

Vulgarity is the ability to understand not above a known level; in other words, an understanding limited by simplicity. There can be ‘scientific’ vulgarity just as there can be ‘musical’ vulgarity. The possibility of vulgarity is already hidden in the ‘scientific approach’ itself, because the scientific understanding of things is based on saving effort, on grasping the world with the help of a limited number of predetermined explanations. And — here we come closer to the subject — as soon as thought resorts to a ready-made, but from another area taken template, it falls victim to vulgarity.

Vulgarity is a magic key that opens all doors because it fits none of them; the vulgar is always satisfied with himself — there is no thing whose meaning he does not know; there are no more questions — only answers. If we see science without questions, with only private technical perplexities, which, of course, are ‘about to be solved’ — we have before us defective science, the appearance of cognition, in reality the labour of a technically-educated mind over questions superior to technology.

Vulgarity puts man in the best possible relationship with himself; it makes him one who says, ‘I can understand..’.

But let’s return to the inertia of the mind we mentioned above.

People may say to me: what is all this for? We have the daily tasks of economy, education — about the usefulness and necessity of which there is universal agreement; why do we need some other invented goals, understandable only to the chosen ones? It should be answered that nations and individuals are alive only with higher aims, which have no direct relation to utility and necessity. From the point of view of ‘business’ the higher culture is superfluous, or even ridiculous, and what is needed are — let us say — ‘tractors and engineers’. This is what the current preaching of the ‘new order’ in its second, more humane edition is all about. But the ‘new order’ is fruitless because, apart from ‘tractors and engineers’, it could not offer anything surviving its own epoch — and never did until its very end. Everything that survives was created under the Russian monarchy or in exile.

It can also be said that preaching ‘higher values’ leads to inequality. This can be answered in two ways. Firstly, inequality exists independently of our will, due to the accidents of birth and upbringing. People are born different, that is, unequal. Secondly, values are in any case hierarchical, and this is also independent of our will: either ‘boots are higher than Pushkin’, or Pushkin is still higher than boots. It is in our power only to redefine the highest and the lowest, but not to reject them altogether.

8. Conclusion

The return to history, if it takes place, is not a goal whose achievement will make new endeavours unnecessary. Rather, it is a condition for the fruitfulness of future endeavours — and a condition that will make these future endeavours possible, for without a ‘return’ we will never realise that culture is the path of greatest resistance.

For a nation is not given ready-made. It is brought up around certain values, not by ‘slogans’, not by marching, not by mass indoctrination, but only by appealing to the individual and the light that this individual brings into the lives of others. Enlightenment is addressed to the personality or it does not exist. Domestic habits, physical existence on earth — do not yet create a nation; they are only the soil on which a nation may grow. A country, borders, an army, a government is not yet a nation, not yet a cultural unity. Cultural unity is nurtured by the formative efforts of enlightenment and the individuals affected by it. Pushkin, say, is a great Russian enlightener.

An enlightened personality knows its place in the world, among generations and external events. A personality can determine its place only with the help of some fixed stars. These fixed stars, the support of self-determination, can be both real and fictional images — the individual and the nation is largely indifferent to what to lean on. [1] We Russians have no need to invent a fulcrum for ourselves — we have historical Russia, which survived the revolution and realised and thought it through in exile. ‘Outland Russia’ was in its own way happier than the indigenous one: the revolution became for it a experienced and comprehended event. ‘Mainland’ Russia has not spent a single effort so far to comprehend the revolution; everything from socialism and the ‘new order’ is still taken as a given…

But things are changing. Only destroyers and cynics believe that simplification, the loss of ground, is forever. They do not take into account the natural, all-conquering human desire for complexity. No ‘equality’ or ‘simplicity’ lasts forever. The desire for uniqueness and development will overcome everything.

As for national self-determination through ‘normality’, or through ‘justice’ (i. e. equalisation), or through military victories — all these are incomplete, do not bind and have no creative power. Without defining one’s place in history, one cannot remain in it.

[1] A nation creates a myth of its own origin or is created around a suitable myth, says Niels Lemche. ‘An ethnic group may probably also result simply from the existence of such myths with the ability to create identity among people’.

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