35. The “real” against the “classical”

The dispute between real and classical education is thought to have been resolved long ago; in fact, it was simply interrupted by the revolution, as were many other disputes. Classical education was destroyed in favor of real education — not because real education was better, but because it was easier to simplify and ‘unify’ thinking.

Recall the arguments of Mikhail Katkov, a fighter for classical secondary education in Russia. Gymnasium, according to Katkov, was not the place to provide children with information from all possible fields of knowledge. What is acquired at school and will be lost at school as soon as the pupil’s attention is distracted by new subjects, or immediately thereafter. Moreover, the universal knowledge taught before the ability to think only teaches the mind to be superficial, to use words without any concepts behind them. Concepts, says Katkov, are developed only by studying those subjects which make the mind work and not just memorise.

‘The direct and primary aim of the school […] is to educate the mind, and the concentration of studies is a necessary means to this end. The school of adolescence must seek not to impart to its pupils more varied knowledge, whose essence inevitably eludes young subjects, leaving them only husks and rubbish — no, its concern is to train young minds gradually, without tension and physical effort, to earnest and concentrated effort, to summon all the qualities needed for complete mental organization, to develop them as equally as possible, and to strengthen and multiply them, establish in their minds the best skills, which must become their second nature, inculcate in them healthy instincts, introduce them to all the processes and methods of human thought not in words, but in action, on their own work, to inculcate in the young mind a sense of truth, a sense of positive knowledge, a sense of a clear concept, so that it can clearly and vividly distinguish the known from the unknowable, the understandable from the incomprehensible, the learned from the unlearned’.

‘The educated and mature mind, without the aid of teachers, will easily acquire all the diverse knowledge it requires. Therefore, in the European school, which has as its primary goal the cultivation of the mind, the imparting of different types of knowledge, polyhistory, is a secondary matter, for which only as much time is set aside as remains of the main task’.

Katkov saw the study of classical languages: Ancient Greek and Latin, and the reading of ancient authors inseparable from this study, as a means of cultivation of intellectual work.

Yes, Katkov’s syllogism (‘In Europe there is classical education; in Europe sciences flourish; hence, classical education is the basis of sciences’) is not quite correct. Rather, both are the merit of a solid cultural foundation inherited from the pagan world. In Russia, classical education was another (after Peter the Great’s statehood) grafting of Greco-Roman cultural soil, and an exceptionally beneficial one at that. Russian ‘Silver Age’ was created by minds who had passed through the Katkov’s school, as was the general technical and economic rise of Imperial Russia in its final decades.

And one more correction to the Katkov’s views: yes, a ‘science’ that is not based on clarity of thought and expression, on a common European cultural stock is also possible: that science which creates bombs and aeroplanes, i. e. technology. But a fruitful culture, not just technology, cannot be built on real education. This education discourages the mind from asking questions, because all answers are assumed to be already obtained and contained in reference books.

The removal of classical education opened the way to semi-education — that is, as Katkov so aptly put it, the inability to distinguish ‘the known from the unknown, the intelligible from the incomprehensible, the learned from the unlearned’. Only technology in the service of war (the only thing about which the ‘new order’ was really deeply concerned) did not seem to suffer from the general decline. But that is the nature of technology: it does not affect the human personality deeply, nor does it require a high degree of development.

Those branches of knowledge which deal with the life of ideas have fallen and, up to now, have been unable to rise. This is inevitable. The life of ideas, abstract ideas, is more difficult to understand than the data of applied sciences reported by real education. Ideas have to be experienced, sprouted with one’s own mind, so to speak. They cannot be ‘learned’. An idea, unlike some chemical truth, educates — and is learned only through education.

A kind of age of ‘dark rationalism’ has arrived. Reason, if not killed, has been reduced to silence; on its throne is mental laziness combined with worship of the unconscious in man and the senseless in nature. ‘The soul of science is proof’, says Katkov. Of the modern dark twin of science we may say otherwise: ‘the soul of science is faith’. In oblivion is now thought itself — not a single worldview. “Knowledge” frees one from the need to think: the fundamental and most important is considered to be known. Everything is in reference books. It is not any particular worldview that needs protection today, but the ability to have a worldview as such.

The victory of ‘real education’ eventually led to the victory of ‘flat man’. It was not an instant, one-off event like the biblical flood. But like the Flood, it changed the face, if not of the earth, then of the country. (With the usual caveat: all the events of the Russian 20th century also took place in the West, but there, Socialism and simplification worked less with violence and more with temptation.)

What is this plane? It is not difficult to describe its attributes: impenetrability for poetry, based wholly on the nocturnal half of the soul, on the perceptible but difficult to express; half-education combined with a lack of experience of soul life; elementary means of expression along with elementary perceptions… As you can see, it appears most strongly in the human, ‘humanitarian’ sphere, in the life of ideas. I am certain, however, that in the field of knowledge about nature, too, this inability to think properly has caused immense damage — covered, however, by the individual achievements of military technology (which under the new order was commonly referred to as ‘science’).

During the reign of the ‘new order’ whole generations have grown up weaned from intellectual solitude, independence of opinion and, consequently, from thought. Of course, some semblance of cultural life existed in the most ‘flat’ times. There were writers and poets… However, the type of the thinking author and philosopher has disappeared in Russian literature. Thought has become something distant and unnecessary. It is possible to ‘study’ something (in abstruse jargon, for the sake of a scholarly degree), but there is no need to think, for ‘everything is clear’. To think, one needs a critique of the existing order; to criticize, one needs an independent mind — but where does it come from? (I do not mean by criticism — our eternal ‘opposition’ to any state order simply because it is an order.)

With every decade, the type of semi-educated person became more and more powerful — until it reached its peak in our days. We have spoken about semi-educated people more than once; we will say a few more words. This evil is too great and makes rubbish of everything it undertakes — as opposed to what was said about the Jewish prophet: ‘if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as the mouth of the Lord’.

A semi-educated person treats culture like a poor man treats someone else’s treasure. He may admire it from afar, or he may hate it. The latter is more common. It’s a quieter way to live.

The semi-educated is perpetually immature. He not only lacks knowledge; the possibility of a complex, deep soul life is hidden from him. In the realm of the spirit he is an eternal infant. There is nothing here for him. Some glimmer of light he sees only where it is possible to discuss other words, i.e. to engage in something that does not require personal spiritual experience. Spirit for him is only a word. To address the semi-educated with essays based on experience of the soul is completely useless: children know nothing about the soul, but only about the funny and boring, pleasant and unpleasant. It is for this reader that the literature of ‘heels tickling’ has blossomed in Russia.

The semi-educated man has a relationship to the true world (i.e. the world in which one believes in God, strives for cultural and historical goals), which allows this true world only to be studied, not joined to its values.

We have to admit that both revolution and democracy are murderous for the soul. If life is a process of gradual education, raising of the soul, then entire generations raised by revolution and democracy have gone and will go to the grave without learning anything about themselves, affected, at best, only by the flat education of the mind, not to say semi-education.

Our graceless time is marked by the silence of the soul with an inactive mind. What is now given space to be called neither soul nor mind — these are instincts of mind and body, behind which there is neither deep soul life, nor mental work. Labour and pleasure, and not a moment to reflect on them and make sense of them. Thought and experience are withdrawn from circulation.

The extinction of prose, the numbing of poetry, the death of philosophy… But besides these consequences there were others, so to speak, affecting from within the process of enlightenment itself, the very machine of the transmission and assimilation of knowledge. Enlightenment itself had been undermined.

Children want the ‘truth’, the only truth, and they find it. However, there are many ‘truths’. One of them is that you have to think first, then believe. Thought is rewarded and rewards. But it is from thought that a whole generation has been weaned.

Emphasis has shifted from developing one’s own habit of thinking — to assimilating a series of pre-prepared insights. An unexpected but inevitable consequence of this transfer was the strengthening not of knowledge, but of belief. From something that could be thought about, defined precisely, proved, school science became something that could be believed in the first place, and on believing it, remembered. The new school, unlike the old one, was above all about faith and memory. The second consequence was a loss of sensitivity to ‘the proved and the unproved, the known and the unknown’, as Katkov put it. The textbook taken on faith inevitably became sacred. In the place of conclusions came faith, for which everything outside the circle of school knowledge “does not exist”.

The choice of subjects and their coverage in the real school predetermined the spirit of this belief: materialism.

Classical education had delayed the reproduction of the intelligentsia or at least had introduced into every intelligentsia generation a certain number of cultured people, i. e. guided by thought and not by faith, who were intellectually connected with the previous generations. With the victory of the real education firstly, faith overcame thought, and secondly, a definite separation from cultural roots took place.

It is out of faith combined with a certain kind of knowledge that school materialism, a worldview of simplified answers to difficult questions, is born. ‘Real’ school instills it in the pupil by the very selection and illumination of the subjects. Materialism combined with doctrinalism gives ‘scientism’: faith in science — the source of truth and in ‘history’ — whose judgments are always righteous… Doctrinalism is the inevitable companion of materialist beliefs. Materialism in the presence of the Christian stamp of personality and higher interests necessarily leads to utopian dreams, to the desire to reshape humanity according to a new plan.

Man, in renouncing Christianity, renounces only theology, the thought of God in general, but not the Christian values of life. So the materialist, as soon as he is convinced that there is nothing in the world but his own mind, embarks on a crusade for an idea, moreover, for ‘absolute truth’. Few come to flabby scepticism and tolerance. ‘Freed from religious prejudice’ thought has no tolerance inherent in it. It sees in itself the only true worldview.

A European of Christian upbringing always believes that he has the truth, be it the opinion of the Pope, the Protestant catechism, or the writings of Marx (or Freud, or — substitute what you wish). Having overthrown the idea of God, the materialist immediately finds the absolute truth, which should be preached to the ends of the earth, i. e. he becomes a scientific believer. He knows everything precisely and spares his scepticism only for ideas alien to him. As a matter of fact, the state of a man who ‘knows everything precisely’ is faith.

But is not materialism natural for an ‘enlightened’ man? No, it is not. Not for nothing does it go hand in hand with the shortcomings of enlightenment. The mystery of the world is intolerable to the average state of mind — between ignorance and enlightenment. ‘How can there be something in the world that is incomprehensible to me?’ Pride does not tolerate the thought of a world mystery.

We should also say this: we are receptive only to those arguments which correspond to our state of mind. The materialist picture of the world, like any other, is not ‘freely’ chosen, but according to the inner feeling of the person who chooses it. God-abandonment and despair are covered by ‘free reasoning choice’.

And scientism, with its conclusions about man and the world, is the last stage of God-abandonment. The conclusions of a mind in a deep, incurable longing, while denying any influence of both historical and psychological circumstances on its conclusions, i. e. attributing to itself unconditional perfection. Critical attitude, understanding of the place of history and psychology in human judgement — this mind does not apply to itself. On the banner of this worldview it is written: ‘reason’, but it applies rational methods only to the distant and the external.

And to tell the truth, the bases for the joyful-rationalistic worldview, about which Belinsky wrote with such pathos (‘now there are positive, reasonable values!’), are lost now. Reason has lost its credit after the highly ‘rational’ arrangement of life by the two Socialisms, national and class one. But Christianity, too, has lost ground due to the same events, for Christianity is rationalism in religion. (Christianity is a composite whole, of course. The layer of rationalism in it neighbours with the layer of thirst for the miraculous and with the pure romanticism of the inner life of soul, which the Gospel speaks about.) More than that: all references to ‘reason in general’ must be dismissed, because no one knows any other reason than his own; and most people don’t know their own…

Regarding the popular argument — ‘science has studied nature, found it quite uncomplicated and explained it quite well’ — a few words must be said.

A distinction must be made between ‘universe’ and ‘nature’. Nature is the part of the universe that can be seen and studied. Man is so constructed that he sees himself and his society first of all in nature and in the universe. If the Empire worships the Almighty, the time of ‘democracy’ and fragmentation worships impersonal forces, which in mutual enmity unconsciously create more and more complex unities — up to the mind of an atheistic scientist. The power of the mind is not in creation, but in analogies. It draws itself an image of the world by looking at the society in which it is placed. Hence there is no ‘objective knowledge’. There is only a search for numerical regularities to which more or less daring assumptions are fitted.

And is the materialist explanation of the world really all that good? It gives (short-term) power over nature; as for man and society, man, explained in material terms, turns into a wooden puppet and is less and less suitable for social life the further he goes. A society devoid of religion is gradually disintegrating. As for power over nature, its limits are already visible.

Because we do not worship ‘history’, we do not have to accept any of its verdicts: we know how evil and unfair they can be. This is also the case with the dispute between the ‘real’ and the ‘classical’. It is impossible to enter the same river twice, i. e. to revive the classical education in the form we owe to Katkov. However, we can and must restore his idea: thought before knowledge.

Even if the building of the Romanov culture, which is great for us, Russians, is not large from the European point of view, and the density of the cultural fabric in the old Russia is insignificantly low in comparison with the Western world, this fabric is still superior to all the material, woven under the ‘new order,” as the higher forms of mental activity are involved. Consequently, to restore — in our case means to move forward.

‘Classicism’ is certainly right in that it educates the mind by forcing it to work on the word. The point of writing is to express and encourage complex mental activity. The most general definition of culture is: the means of expression and education. What the destroyers considered unnecessary junk are not just the garments of the spirit, but its tools and educators.

By raising a person capable of understanding and expressing complex ideas, we are raising a solitary person. The miracle of education is only where a person is set apart from the crowd. Otherwise, we only raise a new member of the pack; in particular, we kill the person’s ability to ask questions. The crowd is a community of having answers to all questions, whatever those answers may be. In the ability and willingness to be alone in one’s ways, man only grows.

The educators of ‘collectivism’, expressed in the simplest way by these questions: ‘are you smarter than everyone else? do you need more than everyone else?’ — may be reminded of the excellent words of Gustav Meyrink:

‘„Self-denial“ they call this phosphorous light by which they succeed in outsmarting their victim. All hell rejoices, when they light up with this light any person entrusted to them. What they want to destroy is the highest good that a being can achieve: an eternal awareness of oneself as a Personality. What they teach is destruction’.

A man will have to be secluded, pulled out of the herd. Only then will the possession of thought return to him. The lightness of deep thought, its subterranean yet weightless roots — stretching into the night region of the soul, into the non-Freudian ‘unconscious’, all this is unknown to the heavy-minded times which can only judge words with words. It is time, by the way, to free the unconscious from the heavy stamp of Freudianism that lies upon it. Creativity is undoubtedly rooted in the underground life of the soul, in its gentle stream, flowing not at all from the source of offence and humiliation, carrying not at all bitter waters. Soul life is light; oppression and melancholy are not signs of soul life as such but of detachment from it, the sad loneliness of the mind detached from its soul. Personality consists of the mind and the melodic part; the life of the soul is a melody, without which ‘the millstones of the mind grind up emptiness’.

Let us not wonder about the possibility of such a reversal. If peace in the state is long enough; if Socialism in any form does not return; if natural development, i. e. development towards greater complexity, is resumed; in short, if Russia finds itself on the rise again — anything is possible.

The development of the individual and the nation is a struggle for self-realisation. All creativity comes from abundance. The creator feels a surplus of possibilities which must be consolidated in being; it is the same with the birth of a nation. A new power bursts out of the realm of the possible but not realised, and hastens to take root in the world. Sometimes it achieves a rise or even a flowering, however temporary.

Certainly, in the life of peoples and individuals, the Greek ‘ἀκμή’ (acme) is not simply ‘the flourishing of strength’. It would be more accurate to say that it is a combination of fullness of strength with breadth of possibility, development and destiny, i. e. external, beyond the control of the individual. (The flourishing of the American States in the mid-twentieth century and the gradual decline thereafter; the first Russian flourishing under Catherine and Alexander I; the second Russian flourishing under Nicholas II). ‘Development’ and its successes are half, at least, the fruits of external circumstances, i. e. fate. Around every island of development ‘a vengeful chaos does not sleep’, to use the words of Count Alexei K. Tolstoy.

We have to work, and circumstances will either help our cause or destroy it.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

Back to Twilight Time

Views: 28