26 October 2012

The Red and the White 1: Introduction

I know I am not the first conservative to look to Russian thinkers and see tremendous benefit for American conservatism and, indeed, Western moral and political thought in general. Five years ago, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute published an excellent collection of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s works under the title The Solzhenitsyn Reader. I hope more such volumes find their way into the libraries of Western intellectuals – they serve to keep those of us who have not fallen to moral and ideological Nihilism, and may yet reclaim those who have.

Russia is a foreign place to Westerners—even after two centuries of Westernisation under Peter I and his successors, it remained, like Slavic Europe, a strange and distant land. The nature of Western Civilization has a great deal to do with this; rooted as we are in the combination of Germanic cultural sensibilities and Roman Catholic religious ethics, the Slavic and Orthodox East inevitably seems forever hidden behind a veil – a cultural iconostasis that prevents us from penetrating into the heart of Eastern identity. The Iron Curtain did not descend from the void, nor is it purely of Soviet manufacture: rather, it is something inherited from the days of the Tsars and twisted and hardened to serve Bolshevik ends, like so many institutions of Soviet rule.

It is for this reason, I believe, that Spengler wrote in the 1920s of Bolshevism “reclaiming Russia” for the East: it was not that Bolshevism was somehow inherently foreign to the West or barbaric—far from it, in fact. Rather, it was that the Asiatic roots of Russian civilisation would have the opportunity to reassert themselves because of Bolshevik isolationism. How right Spengler has proved! He did not live to see Stalin’s reinstatement of the Patriarch of Moscow and the birth of the “Red Church”—but his predictions ring true in the rebirth of Russian religious fervour that has reclaimed nearly eight-tenths of its population from the abyss of godlessness.

The rise of Russian conservatism was deeply informed and driven by Soviet rule—both because of the broader world-historical significance of cultural isolationism as well as a far simpler reason: tyranny provokes resistance. When we write of Russian conservatism, inevitably we are writing about the conservatism of the Gulag. This is not a “conservatism” like that of the West, which eagerly abandons moral grounding in favour of Capitalist excess, and embraces the Welfare State and all its inherent flaws. It is not a conservatism that has been pampered in the warmly secular bosom of bourgeois suburbia, commenting on society from a comfort that is mostly accidental and only partially earned. Russian conservatism grows from the same seed of moral outrage as all true conservatism: from the blood spilt by resisters and innocent bystanders alike in the face of the beast of radicalism. It has been beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and mocked by the proletarian mob whose leaders, as the leaders of the Israelites in the days of Jehoikim, cry “peace, peace”and there is no peace.

This brief series over the next two weeks will engage the question of Russian Conservatism in the person of two particular thinkers: Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn and Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin, considering their influences, their predecessors, and the future possibilities and problems they may pose for Western conservatism and traditionalism. Ultimately, it is my belief that Russian conservatism will lead the way out of the trap in which we are presently caught whereby the only way for conservatism to survive in the Western political discourse is to further and further dilute and abandon its principles of hierarchy (anti-egalitarianism) and particularism (anti-cosmopolitanism), i.e. become more and more thoroughly part of the new Religion of Liberalism and its tradition and less and less part of Europe’s true religion, Christianity, and the Tradition of the Church. This is not merely a matter of shaping a “kind” of conservatism: it is about the loss of the meaning of the word “conservatism” in political and social discourse. Conservative must either mean a principled defence of Tradition and morality, or it must be an arbitrary designation for someone who fears change and is attached to the status quo no matter what. 

Below are some of the biggest names that you will encounter in the course of this series, though others will appear, including Lev Tolstoy, Lev Gumilev, Nikolai Gogol, and others.

Bearded Conservatism: The 19th-20th Century Russian Right
Nikolai Yakovlevich Danilevsky
Fyodor  Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Konstantin Nikolayevich Leont'ev

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

1 comment:

  1. Stephen, this has whetted my appetite.

    How about parenthesizing their names in Cyrillic? It addition to acclimatizing one to a foreign alphabet - and giving you practice on a Russian keyboard - it could be a way of getting your site to appear among the search results of Russians and Russian-speakers who are fellow travelers, and who also speak - or at least read - English.

    E.g. Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn - Александр Исаевич Солженицын

    I could do the rest for you if you like.