In the year 1818, Aleksandr Pushkin penned these lines in his well-known verse “To Chaadaev,” addressed to his friend Peter Chaadaev, one of the leading Russian liberals of the period:
Comrade, believe: joy’s star will leap
Upon our sight, a radiant token;
Russia will rouse from her long sleep;
And where autocracy lies, broken.
Our names shall yet be graven deep.
Though associated in his youth with the clandestine reformist organizations that came to be called the “Decembrists” after the failed anti-Czarist revolt of December 1825, Chaadaev came to doubt that Russia would ever “rouse from her long sleep.” He became profoundly pessimistic about the future of his country, so pessimistic that he would one day write in his Philosophical Letters that Russia had “given nothing to the world.” Russia, he thought in the late 1820’s and early 30’s, had “contributed nothing to the progress of the human spirit. And we have disfigured everything we have touched of that progress.”
From the pessimism of the early Chaadaev, the radical intelligentsia of 19th-century Russia moved to outright Russophobia, a hatred and fear of all things distinctly Russian. In fact, V.S. Pecherin, a Moscow University professor whose views were quite similar to Chaadaev’s (he left Russia for good in 1836), wrote this bit of verse that foreshadowed the development of Russophobia within Russia itself:
How sweet it is to hate one’s country
And eagerly await her destruction
And to see in the destruction of one’s country
The dawn of a world reborn.
Russian liberalism and radicalism had grown from the seeds planted by the Petrine reforms of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Peter, Czar of Russia from 1682 to 1725 (he took the more Western-sounding title “Emperor” in 1721), had recognized that “Westernization,” in this case the centralization of political power and a modernization of the military, as well as of trade, industry, and education, was necessary if Russia were not to be either dominated by the Western powers or isolated and left out of the Great Came of European imperialism. His opening of a “window to the West,” however, opened up Russia to an intellectual and ideological ferment that the “revolutionary Czar” had not intended. Like Peter himself, the nascent Russian intelligentsia traveled to Europe (Chaadaev had sojourned there for three years, 1823-1826), borrowing especially the intellectual framework of the German Romantic Idealists, among whom Hegel eventually became the most important for Russian thinkers of the first half of the 19th century. It is this intellectual, cultural, and sociopolitical “Westernization” that the conservative historian Nikolai Karamzin had in mind when he wrote, disapprovingly, that during Peter’s reign “We began to be citizens of the world, but we ceased in some measure to be citizens of Russia.”
The intellectual encounter with the German romantics, as well as with the reformist-revolutionary impulse encouraged by many army officers’ contacts with the West in the Napoleonic wars, fused in a liberal-radical mindset that proclaimed that Russia had been left outside “history,” that Russia was a barbaric country inhabited by a primitive people who were psychologically and culturally unable to join Europe (all non-European countries and peoples were viewed as outside “history”), and that only dramatic reforms—or radical revolution—could reconnect Russia with Europe (the Great Schism had cut off Russia from the source of her potential development). Once reformed, Russia could join in the dialectic of progress. The “end of history” might be constitutional government, as many of the patriotic “right” Hegelian persuasion contended, but others, unsatisfied with the notion of liberalism as the teleological aim of historical development, turned to a “philosophy of action” and materialism as the justification for revolutionary anarchism, terrorism, and the eventual adoption of Marxism as the creed of the radical intelligentsia. “Negation,” particularly the negation and hatred of one’s own country or people, became the watchword of the atheistic nihilists.
For the radicals, Russia was a nation of slaves, of superstitious (Orthodoxy was judged a particularly primitive form of “religious cult”), drunken, envious peasants who worshiped cruelty and hated everything foreign or that even smacked of advanced culture. Russia was the home of despotism (it is important to note here that, Ivan the Terrible notwithstanding, Peter borrowed the absolutist model from the West; Marxism was not the only Western import that attacked traditional society) and was a danger to the rest of the world, a roadblock on the path marked “progress.” The only solution was the destruction of Russia and the transformation of the half-human Russians into “New Soviet Men.” To that end, the Bolshevik leadership, after seizing power in 1917, attacked Russia with a vengeance. Church property was confiscated and religious instruction in the schools terminated, priests executed, churches and other historically significant buildings defaced, history rewritten, and Russian cultural traditions denigrated. The destruction of the peasant village and the rape of the land by the Soviets is well known, and the mass murder of millions by the regime is today an acknowledged historical truth.
Such an acknowledgment was not always forthcoming in certain radical and Marxist quarters in the West, a fact that returns us to an examination of the sources of Russia’s homegrown epidemic of “Russophobia,” a term popularized by the mathematician Igor Shafarevich in the 1980’s. The feeling of inferiority among the Russian intelligentsia engendered by the encounter with the technologically and materially superior West—a West, we must recognize, that was already moving away from the “enlightened despotism” more or less copied by Peter toward liberalism, something that made comparisons of “Russian” despotism with Western liberty all the more grating—were strengthened by their reading of European philosophers’ opinions of Russia. The French traditionalist De Bonald, for instance, who influenced the development of Chaadaev’s views, once wrote that Russia, geographically situated between East and West, was neither, but rather an undeveloped society without deep roots, a nation of Scythian-like nomads.
Indeed, with some exceptions, the view of Russia as a primitive or “undeveloped” society (read “inferior”) with little to offer the world—or even as representing a threat to the advanced nations of Europe, like the hordes of Attila or Genghis Khan, rather than as a bulwark of Christian civilization, as the Russians often viewed themselves—was and is a view widely held on both the right and the left of the Western political spectrum. True, the far left may have learned Russian in the salad days of the Soviet “experiment,” when the Russian demon was judged to have been exorcised or transformed by the stern but enlightened hand of Lenin or the Great Leader of the Peoples himself, Stalin, and the right might have lauded the anti-Soviet works of Solzhenitsyn during the Cold War (while largely ignoring his doubts about Western consumerism), or shed crocodile tears for a traditional Russia they knew nothing about, but the majority view on Russia was evident even then.
The Russophobic consensus of today’s West is, however, neither the far left’s Marxist-Leninist hatred of old-regime Russia nor the Nazis’ racist view of Russians as Untermenschen, but rather something more akin to that of the Cold War anticommunist coalition as it emerged in the 1960’s and 70’s, and mutated into a sort of middling neoliberal/neoconservative conglomerate in the 1980’s. Who, after all, on the “left” could object to the globalist propaganda for a new internationalist order dedicated to the “democratic revolution,” the global hegemony of “democratic capitalism,” i.e., mass democracy combined with welfare-state consumerism, of today’s mainstream right? This is the very same system that the neoconservatives’ mentor, Ronald Reagan, thought the most revolutionary in human history, a force that fuses the radical egalitarianism of the “left” with the consumerist ideology of the “right.” In a word, we are back to the Hegelian question of “history,” and the prospect of its end.
Francis Fukuyama, the prophet of a universal “democratic capitalism” that embraces the economism of the conventional right and the democratism of the mainstream left, has written that the modernization of non-Western countries in the past few centuries has put the world on a path of global evolution that will make possible the writing of a “universal history.” As non-Western countries modernized themselves by employing Western techniques and technologies, goes the argument, they bought into a mode of development whose logical endpoint is universalism and homogenization. In Mr. Fukuyama’s estimation, all countries that “modernize,” i.e., that follow the path taken by “democratic capitalist” societies, pass through two developmental stages, first a stage that roughly corresponds to the process developmental theorists have called “nation building,” and then, at a later time, a stage the First World appears to be in now, the stage of globalization. In the latter stage, the nation-state “unbuilds” itself and becomes tied to the emerging global system. In the end, no country will be—indeed, no country can be—left “outside history.” The emerging global monoculture demands, in typical “democratic capitalist” style, that the particular peoples and the unique cultures they generate must be dissolved in the universal stew, a stew whose only spice is the variety of goods and services available to the atomized mass of consumers that will remain.
Sir James Goldsmith, in his book The Trap, dissected the “democratic capitalist” tendency to view any rejection of the global monoculture as “a sign of either dementia or evil.” The globalists, including, one might add, the Russian radicals and nihilists of an earlier time as well as some of their epigones (by temperament much milder, to be sure) still active in Russian public life today, “[are] convinced that. . . [they] have discovered the only model of society which benefits humanity, and [that they] have a moral duty to ensure that the whole world adopts that model.” All those who oppose—or even criticize—the globalist trinity (liberalism, democratism, consumerism) are de facto agents of the Evil One.
Russian nationalism, then, is something of an impediment to the globalist project, as the Russian right has so long maintained. Such a gigantic chunk of the earth’s surface, such an influential nation, could not be left out of the Grand Design. Any assertion of Russian uniqueness, of a distinctly Russian mission, of a right to a “third way” between communism and “democratic capitalism,” is therefore xenophobic, racist, obscurantist, etc., etc. So much then for the alleged uniqueness of Russian messianism, for the supposedly pronounced dogmatism of Orthodoxy, for the special Russian hatred of all things foreign—for what thing that is particular and distinct is not foreign to the globalist?—or for the assumed particularly aggressive quality of Russian imperialism. For that matter, so much for the uniqueness of Russophobia (and I do not mean to say that it does not have its own peculiar features or special significance for the Russians themselves), for it is but one manifestation of the real phobia that grips the globalist mind, the fear and hatred of all things that are distinct, organic, and particular. In the mind of the globalist exponent of “democratic capitalism,” it is not merely nation-states that are obsolete, but the nations, tribes, clans, and in some cases even the families through which most of us make sense of the world that are also doomed to be tossed on the oft-mentioned dustbin of history.
One Russian nationalist has observed and commented at some length on the bizarre behavior of those afflicted with the spiritual disease known to us as “consumerism.” Aleksandr Rutskoi, the former Russian vice president, has lamented his countrymen’s headlong rush to join the blocks-long line snaking its way past the statue of Russia’s greatest man of letters to Moscow’s Pushkin Square McDonald’s. The line, he noted, “probably perplexes Aleksandr Sergeyevich [Pushkin], frozen on his pedestal” across the street. There were times, after all, when Pushkin’s compatriots “formed similar massive crowds to catch a glimpse of the miraculous Iverskaya icon of the Holy Mother,” or had waited outside the Pushkin Museum to view treasured works of art. Unchecked “Westernization” (one winces at the notion that the Golden Arches are the prime symbol of what many now call the “West”) may be in its own way just as bad as communism. What “hurts me” the most, Rutskoi confessed, was the unexamined fascination of many of his countrymen with the trinkets of consumerism. This was “not like waiting for food,” it was “like waiting for Holy Communion.” Russia’s spiritual decline is, for him, “more terrifying than the feebleness of our semi-ruined economy.” The prophets of Russian revival—he singled out Solzhenitsyn—could “hardly be heard in today’s babble of voices.” Whatever his faults—and there is more than a grain of truth in the charge that his particular brand of Russian nationalism tends toward statism—who among us can deny the insight of Rutskoi’s remarks?
It might interest Russian nationalists to know that even some globalist ideologues have expressed doubts about the results of the destruction of organic societies that is a doctrinal necessity of the globalist faith. Fukuyama himself is troubled by the prospect of a world of Nietzschean “last men.” Mr. Fukuyama calls the “last man” a “human being who is content with himself, and with a life of endless material accumulation, a being without striving, sacrifice, risk, or ideals.” The problem of the “last man” is, according to Fukuyama, “the deepest problem of liberal democracy,” which is in danger of leaving its citizens with “stunted souls.” The “last man” with his “stunted soul” is, in fact, the enlightened consumer that Fukuyama’s followers have tried to sell to us as the model citizen of their brave new world. The only world in which “freedom” can really exist in their eyes is a world without culture, without art, without true spirituality, and without the passionate attachments of real people to their own nation, country, family, or neighborhood. A friend of mine, upon observing the frenzied reaction of a crowd of Russian youths to a Michael Jackson concert in Moscow, once quipped, “No wonder they [in this case, the Russian nationalists] hate us.” No wonder, indeed. The eccentric Mr. Jackson, “Western” fast-food outlets, and trashy films and television shows, among other things, are nowadays treated as signs of progress by many (but not all) neo-Westernizers. How far we have come from Chaadaev, whose Western model was Greco-Romanized Christendom!
On the subject of history and Russia’s place in it, Peter Chaadaev not only influenced the budding Westernizer intellectual current in Russia, but the conservative Slavophiles as well. As the eminent Polish scholar of the Westernizer-Slavophile controversy, Andrzej Walicki, has noted, Chaadaev was “horrified” by the July Revolution in France, something that undermined, for a time at least, his faith in Europe. Walicki relates that Chaadaev, after discussing the events with future members of the Slavophile current, particularly Ivan Kireevsky, began to see Russia “as a force reserved by Providence for a special mission and therefore kept apart from the great family of nations that had participated in history.” Russia could borrow from Europe, but learn from, and avoid, Europe’s mistakes. The end of history would be foreshadowed by Russia’s answering “the most important questions facing humanity.”
Chaadaev’s theme was later taken up by the Slavophiles. The West had taken many “wrong turns,” but Russia, which had avoided them by remaining true to the purity of Orthodoxy, would one day, after borrowing carefully from among the West’s undoubted achievements, create a new synthesis that would shine as an example to the world. The Slavophile end of history would be the reunification of Christendom as the West, in turn, learned from Russia. Russians, therefore, are, as Dostoyevsky later maintained, “drawn toward brotherhood.” For the Slavophiles, Russia was destined to be the carrier of a message of reconciliation to suffering humanity, but a carrier that should, indeed must, respect the distinctiveness of the world’s peoples. If the classical Slavophiles’ philosophy of history was distorted by many of their epigones—emerging as either imperialistic Pan-Slavism later in the 19th century or an Hegelianized Marxism for communists of the “National Bolshevik” persuasion in the 20th—we can at least recognize that their messianic tendencies were surely not unique in the annals of human history, or that the unity they envisioned was a unity of distinct nations, each a unique facet of God’s design. The Russians are hardly demons, but flawed human beings who suffer from the same fallen condition as the rest of humanity. If the decline of civilizations can be measured in stages of cultural decay, then the decline from the Cross as unifying symbol to that of the Golden Arches has indeed been a precipitous one. If imperialism must be our destiny, then we should find more heroic banners to march under.