Russian "Otherness" from Chaadaev to the Present Day Vesa Oittinen



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Russian “Otherness” – from Chaadaev to the Present Day


Vesa Oittinen

To describe Russia and Russian culture as the “Other” in comparison to Western Europe is a commonplace. In the universitary level, the impact of this mode of thinking can be seen in the fact that there exists overall in the Western world special institutions of research focusing on Russia (as, for example, my “own” institute, the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki), or that there are special scientific journals on “Russian issues”, often parallel to their Western counterparts – so, for example, the journal Studies in East European Thought, which published materials on philosophy like any other philosophic journal, but concentrating on Russia and Eastern Europe exclusively. One might conclude from these examples that Russian language and Russian culture is considered so alien to the West, that it cannot be researched at the same level with the corresponding Western phenomena but has to be relegated to a special sphere of its own.


However, a second look on the problem of Russian “otherness” reveals intricate anomalies. To begin with, Russia has not always been considered as “The Other”. In order to prove this, one needs not to resort to the old days of Kievan Rus, which was treated by the (true, then yet semi-barbaric) European states as al pari with them. In fact, the thesis put forward by the American historician of ideas, Larry Wolff, that the whole concept of an “Eastern Europe/Russia” as a contrast to the West was invented as late as in the 18th century,1 is, although a bit provocative, not at all ill-founded. Wolff remarks that earlier, in the Antiquity and Middle Ages, the main cultural divide of Europe was seen in the difference between the barbaric North and the civilized, Mediterranean South. The North was populated by such frightening or pitiful people as the Goths, Vandals or Fenni, whilst crafts, arts and philosophy thrived among the Greeks and Romans. Only so late as during the 18th century, this traditional divide broke down to be replaced with another, this time “vertical” divide between West and East. Wolff interprets this process as a “construction of Eastern Europe” during the Enlightenment.
Although Wolff’s basic observation – the radical shift of European cultural divide – is convincing, he does not, however, ask which the deeper socio-historical reasons of the process might be. I would, for my part, suggest an obvious candidate for the explanation: this new geographical grouping is a result of the development of the modern world since the 1500’s, a process during which the economic, political and demographic point of gravity of the Old Continent shifted from the Mediterranean area to the north-west, to the areas surrounding the Northern Sea, where the new, modern nations began to emerge, through the suggestive stages of Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment (as indicated by Jürgen Habermas in his seminal studies on the subject).
However, although this explanation at a first glance seems obvious, indeed almost trivial, its consequences are not, or at least they have not been thematized in the field of the “Russian studies” to the extent they deserve. Of course, the geopolitical aspects of modernity have been discussed in many “centre-periphery” models of world economy, such as the theory of Immanuel Wallerstein. But despite the fact that Wallerstein himself has stressed that these global centre-periphery structures are very persistent (according to him, the present world order began to form over 500 years ago), the impact of these structures on local civilizations and cultures surprisingly often gets neglected in the macro-sociological and historical analyses of modernity, which, so to say, put its economic conditions in the brackets. The “geographical factor” which expresses itself in the international division of labor has been considered as something more or less external and contingent in relation to the more essential constituents of a social order and culture.
Thus the manner the modernity has emerged seems to have produced an insolvable contradiction: on the one side, it has been brought forth in a geographically limited area of Western Europe (and North America), bearing even today the hallmarks of this restricted cultural area; but on the other side, the values of modernity are conceived as universal, to be shared by the entire humanity.
Antinomity of Russian modernization I:

the rencontre of Diderot and Empress Catherine



Already in the heyday of the Enlightenment this antinomy could be discerned as Denis Diderot made his famous visit to Russia in the 1770’s. Almost immediately having arrived to St. Petersburg, Diderot reminded Empress Catherine II of the fact that she was but a representant of the “people”, demanded her to give up autocratic rule, liberate the serfs and to call for parlamentary elections. When Catherine was not straightway amused about the suggestions of the philosopher, Diderot got disappointed and said that instead the enlightened ruler he had expexted, he had found a tyrant instead. Catherine, on her side, reproached Diderot: “In order to please M. Diderot, my Nakaz [the sketch for a Russian Constitution – V. O.] should have turned whole Russia upside down”. Already after a couple of months since their first meeting Diderot ceased to talk about politics with the Empress and their meetings became less frequent. In the last turn, however, both Diderot and Catherine kept up the appearances, and the Emprerss gave to the philosopher 3000 roubles to cover travel costs in the way back to Paris, plus an elegant fur, a golden ring and a bust depicting her. Back in France, Diderot summed up his experiences of Russia saying that the Russians “seem always to live as if they were expecting an earthquake to happen or as if it just had happened, and they look always like they were trying to unravel whether they really had solid ground beneath the feet”. Diderot refers here to the social tensions which soon were to lead to the mutiny of Pugachëv, but his comment can be generalized: the inconsequent modernization of Russian society, droven violently “from above”, produced a constant threat to the social equilibrium.
Diderot’s and Catherine’s meeting thus showed the two-horned dilemma of attempts to apply ideas of a modern social order in a geographic periphery. The one horn of the dilemma, represented by Diderot, was the assertion of the universality of the ideas of the Enlightenment and the modernity, that is the convinction that its ideas are generally applicable for all men, no matter which their ethnic, geographic or cultural background might be. The other horn was defended by the Russian Empress, who maintaned – with equal credibility – that Diderot’s ideas would have hurled her country in chaos. Catherine had little illusions about the true nature of the Russian peasants, later so much idealized by the naïve Slavophiles, and she regarded the rebel Pugachëv as an ogre which must be suppressed cost it whatever it may.
But where Diderot, and following him, the Western Enlightenment tradition saw in Russia only a despotic country stubbornly resisting liberal reforms and free individuality (even Marx shared before the 1870’s this general Enlightenment view, denouncing in one of his pamphlets Russian society “a bloody marass of Mongol servitude”2), the Russian thinkers themselves became more and more conscious about the specific character of their country, as the Enlightenment discourse produced an “Eastern Europe” as the Other of the modern West. This Other, Eastern Europe, seemed to have some constant traits in its social structures and culture, which in turn led to the necessary conclusion, that the precepts of reason, yet naively held by the 18th century Enlightenment as universal, could not immediately be applied to the realities of these societies. The suppression of the Decabrist insurrection in 1825 only seemed to reinforce the assesment, that Russia and substantial parts of Eastern Europe attached to it would remain long into future a world where all was “otherwise” than in the enlightened West.

Antinomy of Russian modernization II:



Paradoxes of Chaadaev
The first Russian thinker of merit, which clearly recognized the antinomy of Russian culture and life, was Pëtr Chaadaev. His Philosophical letters, on which he had begun to work – in French – already in the 1820’s, immediately after the defeat of the Decabrists, amounted to the entrée of “Russian thematics” to the world philosophical literature and were in this sense something unprecedented. The first and only Letter, which Chaadaev managed to publish in 1836 in the journal Teleskop, was a scandal, as his opinion concerning the state of Russia was in no way a flattering one. There is something highly ironic in the fact, that the first work of truly original Russian philosophy begins with a writing where the non-originality of the Russians is strongly underscored:
[W]e have never advanced along with other people; we are not related to any of the great human families; we belong neither to the West nor to the Est, and we possess the traditions of neither. Placed, as it were, outside of the times, we have not been affected by the universal education of mankind. This [...] history of the human spirit which led men to the position which they occupy in the rest of the world today, had no effect upon us.
Chaadaev characterizes the Western development as the “mouvement universel de l’humanité”,3 as the model of a “normal” history, and gives a sketch of the “average”, enlightened “homme de l’Europe”. Among the European nations,
there is a common bond which unites them in one whole, evident to anyone who has profoundly studied their history [...] So you want to know what these ideas are? They are ideas of duty, justice, law and order. They originate in the very events which have built up society; they are the integral elements in the social world of these countries.This is the atmosphere of the West; it is more than history, more than psychology; it is the physiology of the European. What have you to substitute for that in our country? 4
In contrast to this picture of the “occidental”, rational Man, the Russians seem to possess a devious form of civilization:
As a result, you will find that we all lack a certain self-confidence [applomb], method of thought, and logic. We are unfamiliar with the western syllogism. There is something close to frivolity in our best minds. The best ideas are paralyzed like sterile visions in our heads for lack of any relationship and consistency [...] There are some of those lost souls in every land, but in ours it is a common characteristic [...]; it is really the carelessness of a life without experience and conjecture [létourderie d’une vie sans expérience et sans prévision], one which is unrelated to anything more than the ephemeral existence of the individual detached from the species.5
These became the classical formulations, which fixed the opposition of Russian and Western/Modern civilization, staking out the path of development of Russian “historiosophic” thought from the Slavophiles to the later Russian Idealists, Narodniki, Marxists and Eurasianists. The first reaction of the Russian public to Chaadaev’s Philosophical Letter consisted, however, of consternation and indignation. Only few would agree with the views of this thinker who had soiled his own nest. The first Letter became the last which was published, since the Czar Nicholas I in his own person got infuriated both to Chaadaev and to the entire journal, which immediately was laid down by degree and Chaadaev himself was officially declared insane.
This humiliating treatment (which, by the way, has become a tradition in Russian history – it suffices to recall the political use of psychiatry against the dissidents in the Soviet Union) did not, however, break Chaadaev, who, although he was a complex and extravagant personality,6 nevertheless insisted on his right to think independently. He continued to write down his thoughts which circulated in handwritten copies in the circles of St. Petersburg and Moscow intelligentsia. His interpretation of history challenged the picture of Russia as depicted by the official historiography, for example in the extensive work Istorija gosudarstva Rossijskogo (1816—1824, 1829) by Nikolaj Karamzin, the court historian of Alexander I and favorite of Nicholas I, or by the well-known triple formula “Autocracy – Orthodoxy – Nationalism”7 of the Minister of People’s Education, Count Uvarov. The view sketched by Chaadaev in his Letters was novatory not only in the sense that it in the first time brought forth the “Russian theme” to the level of philosophical discussion, but because it put the question in the context of universal history. It was just Chaadaev who gave to the original Russian philosophy that “historiosophic” touch it has since his days retained. It is not an exaggeration to say that for Chaadaev the philosophy of history is – in contrast to Western wiew of philosophy – the proper philosophia prima, the clue to the explanation of the world.
Russia’s place in history presents itself to Chaadaev as a series of paradoxes, which might be interpreted as further deductions from the “original paradox” known at least since the rencontre of Diderot and Catherine. They are formulated already in the only published Letter of 1836, where Chaadaev repeatedly compares Russia with its counterpart the “West”, the happy continent favoured by history. He never tries to give any geographically accurate definition of what he means with “West” or “Europe”, showing thus that they are for him historico-philosophical, not geographic categories:
1) The first paradox lies already there, that Russia seems not to follow even the fundamental law of the development of Mankind. History is led by “a divine, eternal power”, and to becomer aware of it makes the deepest essence of Christian faith. By this the Providence gives to every nation its specific and historic task which it has to realize. But Russia does not have any such historical task; “la loi général de l’humanité” does not apply to Russia, and the Providence has seemingly not given to Russia any task.
2) The Providence is leading the nations of the West by certain spiritual leaders, which represent “l’intelligence collective de la nation” and make it to progress. But in Russia there are no such persons. “[J]e vous le demande, où sont nos sages, où sont nos penseurs?”
3) The nations of the West are developing by accumulating a tradition which is transmitted from one generation to another, ans so every individual feels that he is in contact with the entire humanity. But the Russians? “Nous [...], venus au monde comme des enfants illégitimes, sans héritage, sans lien avec les hommes qui nous ont précédés sur la terre”.
4) It is characteristic for the normally developing nations (and Western Europe is for Chaadaev the measure of normality), that after an intense, effervescent and romantic juvenile phase, from which they even later may draw material for their poetry, a phase of mature, regular and serene life. In Russia it is, again, otherwise: Russia is lacking as well the heroic early period as the subsequent period of peaceful and even development. The “moral world” (i.e. the world of civic life) is in Russia yet in a state of “chaotic fermentation”, a state “semblable aux révolutions du globe qui ont précédé l’état actuel de la planète” (one sees, by the way, here the echo of Diderot’s observation of the Russians, made fifty years earlier, “as if they were expecting an earthquake to happen or as if it just had happened“).
5) Whereas the nations of the West gathered around the one, universal and catholic Church, Russia adopted the Christian faith from the “miserable Byzance”, a country profoundly despised by the builders of modern European civilization, and clung to its own schismatic orthodoxy under the pretext of petty theological disputes. So even a deviant form of religion separated Russia from Europe. “Nous n’avons rien à démêler avec la grande affaire du monde”.8
After the catastrophe of the Philosophical Letters Chaadaev continued for two decades, until his death in 1856, the analysis of the “Russian problem” in his letters and article drafts. Sometimes he seemed to become more optimistic about the prospectives of Russia, as in his next article Apologie d’un fou (1837), where he now toyed with the idea that Russia’s sharelessness of Western culture might even become an advantage: Russia has remained a blank sheet,9 on which the History can write something quite new and unprecented.10
But this optimism does not last long: already in the mid-1840’s Chaadaev begins to return to his original austere views. In a fragment composed a couple of years before his death (1854) there is no mention of Russia’s limitless perspectives: now he sees Russia as “un fait tout nu”, and this fact, stripped of all wishful thinking, is that Russia “tend à se dérouler sur la carte du globe en proportions de jour en jour plus gigantesques”. Chaadaev’s conclusion is clear: the growth of Russia must be stopped and its attack against the old civilized world reverted.11 The deepening reaction of the later years of Nicholas’ reign and the international role of Russia as a self-assumed “gendarm of Europe” in the spirit of the Holy Alliance, for example in suppressing the revolutionary movement of 1848 in Poland and Austria, made Chaadaev to think that Russia has no hope without a profound renewal of its social structure and culture.
Despite of his critique towards Russian backwardness and the politics of the autocracy, Chaadaev cannot be called a radical, not to mention a revolutionary. Already his great veneration towards the religion is a trait distinguishing him as well from the Enlightenment atheism or deism as from the early socialists of the 19th century. In Chaadaev’s view, the religion – albeit in its Western, Catholic form – was a central constituing factor of the civilization. This manner of stressing the importance of religion for the emergence of modernity makes him to foreshadow Sergei Bulgakov, who later in the beginning of the 20th century would renew national Russian way of life and economy by means of a “reformed” Orthodoxy. It sems beyond doubt that Chaadaev has been influenced by such French catholic and conservative thinkers of the restauration period as Bonald, Lamennais and de Maistre. But was Chaadaev a conservative? For a Conservative, he was too a scandalous person in his home country. As Andrzej Walicki remarks, although “the author of the Philosophical Letters would undoubtely have been a conservative seen against the background of the European milieu, he could not be such one in his native country: on the contrary, he stresses that there are not to be found the fundamental requisites of a real conservativism in Russia: a feeling of traditions and stability, deep historical ties” (again, by the way, here turns up Diderot’s observation of Russians as if expecting an earthquake every day!). Thus the ideas of Chaadaev, instead of having backed up the Russian status quo, on the contrary threatened to destroy it.12
A special trait in Chaadaev was, as the editors of the latest Russian edition of his works point out in their excellent introduction, his situation as a kind of “free-floating” intellectual between the positions of Czarist autocracy, on the one side, and of the revolutionary democrats, on the other, so that “leaving the shore of his home he did not find a new haven”.13 But just thanks to this ambivalence, both the conservatives and the radicals could appeal to him and his writings with equal right. That Chaadaev remains to this day an enigmatic thinker, whose message has not been successfully “deciphered” but remains instead constantly stuck in the clichés of ideological interpretations, is very eloquently shown by the fact that in the 1990’s, during the demolition of Soviet system, the old disputes of the 19th century on “what Chaadaev really said” again emerged as if no consensus had ever been obtained in this question.14
To my mind, it is obvious that Chaadaev has not been studied to the extent he deserves. He is a quite extraordinary figure in the history of Russian thought. But much in the same manner the Russians never have thoroughly analyzed the Pugachëv phenomen, even Chaadaev has remained more an icon in the Russian intellectual history than become the object of a really critical study. It became possible to publish Chaadaev’s papers only after the revolution of 1905, and until today, Mikhail Gershenzon’s P. Ja. Chaadaev – Zhizn’ i myshlenie, published already in 1908, remains the main comprehensive biography. Although a valuable collection of facts, Gershenzon’s biography suffered from many flaws in its interpretation of Chaadaev’s position, which were later remarked by some Russian scholars, as, for example, by Dmitri Shakhovskoj, an early Soviet Marxist student of literature, already in the turn of the 1920’s and 1930’s.15
The Slavophiles
In Chaadaev’s Apologie d’un fou there are some allusions to “our fanatical Slavs”, who are dugging up “all kinds of curiosities” from the Russian history – in vain, for the “emptiness of the Russian soul” will not be overcome by such stuff. Chaadaev was here speaking about the movement which later became to be called the Slavophiles and which represented the next generation of original Russian thinkers. Already by the 1840’s, the complex of Chaadaev’s ideas was divided along “conservative” and a “progressive” lines, whose first form was the well-known dichotomy of the Slavophiles and the Zapadniki. There is available so much special literature on this theme, that I will not go here to details. The main point to be remembered is that the Slavophile and Zapadnik interpretations of Russia’s place in universal history are complementary and that both rely on Chaadaev, only stressing different sides of his intellectual heritage. But while the Zapadniks saw Russia’s “otherness” as something epiphenomenal, accidental, which would be overcome in the subsequent course of history, the Slavophiles made the Russianness of Russia the affair of their heart. Russia was to them essentially different from the Western modernity. Moreover, the Slavophiles conceived the “otherness” of Russia in comparison to the West now in a quite positive sense, not as an occasion to lament the backwardness of Russia, as Chaadaev yet had done. In his now classical study, Andrzei Walicki has characterized the thought of the Slavophiles as a “conservative utopy”.16
Slavophilism should not be confounded with other conservative and “nationalist” movements in Russia, such as with the Panslavism, or the pochvennichestvo of Dostoevskij, not to mention the Great Russian chauvinism of the end of 19th and early 20th century. Slavophilism proper existed in fact only a rather short period, from the last years of the 1830’s to 1861, when the reforms initiated by the regime of Alexander II started a new cycle of modernization which finally showed the utopianism of Slavophile constructions..
The ideological roots of Russian Slavophilism are often, especially in Western reference literature, seen in Romanticism. It is of course true, that German idealism, above all the middle and late periods of Schelling, were an important point of reference for the Slavophiles. Ivan Kireevskij was in his young days a member of the so-called ljubomudry circle in Moscow, to which the well-known Schellingians V. F. Odoevskij and D. V. Venetinov belonged, too.17 But despite of all respect towards Schelling and German idealism, Kireevskij and other Slavophiles thought that the Russians should distance themselves from Western rationalism and instead develop their original ways of thinking, drawing from the experience of Russian “life”. In fact, there are quite definite differences between Slavophilism and Western Romanticism. It suffices here to say that despite of all their admiration towards the Middle Ages, the German romantics reverted to the then “top-modern” philosophy, namely on Kantian-Fichtean transcendentalism (so especially Novalis) and German idealism. The relation of the Slavophiles to modernity is clearly much more retrograde than that of the Western romantics. The Slavophiles would in all earnest have a return to the pre-Petrine life forms of old Russia, and despite of the (rather superficial) influences from Schelling they believe that it is possible to find from the Orthodox tradition solutions even for the intricate problems of modern Western philosophy, which according to them had gone astray since Descartes, who put the individual subject in the centre of his contemplations.
Walicki’s characterization of Slavophilism as a form of “conservative utopism” is more to the point. His analyses remain to this day indispensable for everyone who starts to study the in many respects so extravagant phenomen of Russian Slavophilism. However, it should be borne in mind that such concepts as “radicalism” and “conservativism”, like the “right” and “left” in politics, having been formed in the West during and after the French Revolution, do reflect the conditions of the modern political and social order – conditions, which did not exist in Russia yet at the time the Slavophilism proper was thriving. If we accept the thesis of Russia’s “otherness” in comparision to the West, it is obvious that Western political categories and classifications cannot be directly applied to Russian circumstances. So even the Slavophile conservativism is a “conservativism” sui generis, as already a quick overview of the chief aspects of their ideas will show.
Russia and her historical role was the focus of Slavophile thought. According to them, Russia differed from the West in several decisive points. First, there was not private property on soil, as in the West, but the peasants lived in the so-called obshchinas, autonomous agricultural communities which owned the soil collectively. (Actually, however, this system, so admired by the Slavophile ideologists, encouraged the tendency towards serfdom: because the authorities had not to cope with the resistance of independent land-owning peasants, but the Russian peasant already was tied to his community, it was easy to turn him into a serf by making the landlords the heads of the communities). A second point of difference was, according to the Slavophiles, that in Russia there had not been such severe inner conflicts and wars of conquerst wehich were characteriustic to teh history of Europe. In most European countries the elite was formed of conquerors from abroad (the Franks in France, Normans in Italy and England), whilst Russia was ethnically homogeneous. Even this assertion was clearly a product of wishful thinking, as it is well known that Russia was and is an ethnically extremely various country, and the foreign conquests have played a central role in Russian history – one needs only to mention the Varyags, Mongols and Tatars. A third point of divergence was the religion; already Chaadaev had mentioned this, but had seen in it a negative factor, isolating Russia from the West. For the Slavophiles, on the contrary, the Orthodox Christianity was the A and O of all Russianness. Thanks to Orthodoxy, the Russian culture and even the modes of thinking and morality are – in a positive sense – different from the Western forms. The Russians have preserved the original, genuine forms of sociality, whereas the West has alienated itself from the true values of life.
These points might give reason to classify Slavophilism simply as a form of conservatism – and moreover, not a very bright such one, when one considers their self-deceptious views which totally ignored the realities of Russian peasant life. But there are other components in their ideology, which make the picture more complicated. Although keenly Orthodox, the Slavophiles had a problematic and tense relation to the official church. The cause of the dissent was not only that the Slavophiles criticized the collaboration of the church with the state power, but even because the church thought that the Slavophiles tried to domineer the doctrines of Orthodox faith. Attempts to reform the received Orthodox faith in accordance to the utopistic social concepts of the Slavophiles as the main ideological expression of “Russianness” (even at the cost of the universal Christian concerns of the church) was during then whole 19th century a distinctive trait of Russian idealistic philosophy. Seen from a Weberian perspective, which stressed the connection between Protestant rationality and the birth of capitalism, one could say that in this respect the Russian idealist thinkers nolens volens assumed a similar function towards orthodoxy than the Protestant reformators in the West of the 16th century towards the traditional catholicism. A remarkable document of this line of thought was the book by the already mentioned Sergei Bulgakov, Filosofija khozjajstva (1912), a grandiose attempt to sketch a kind of Orthodox “counterpart” to Max Weber’s theory of Protestantism as the world outlook of modern capitalism. Bulgakov wanted a Russian industrial capitalism which would differ from its Western counterpart in that it rejects the “Benthamian” idea of homo oeconomicus and builds instead on the religious idea of “service”, which it should take from the Orthodox monachs and apply to the social and industrial life. So the Russian industrial society wouild have a moral foundation which would make it quite different from the Western capitalism and the supremacy of the (merely) formal rationalism described by Weber. By this work Bulgakov brought the Slavophile idea of Russia as a parallel world and alternative to Western modernity into its logical completion.18 The big difference to the Protestant reformators was, however, that the attempts to renew the orthodoxy with philosophical ideas did not lead to any significant cxhanges in the religious consciousness of the ordinary Russian people, but remained an ideological toying of a small circle of intellectuals.
But maybe the most exotic trait of Slavophile thought was the so called sobornost’ principle. It was launched by Aleksej Khomjakov, who was its main theoretician. The term comes from the Russian sobor (‘meeting’, later even ‘ecclesiastical council’, ‘cathedral’, from the verb sobirat’, ‘to collect’, ‘to come together’). According to Khomjakov, the Orthodox church had succeeded in creating an “unity in multiplicity”, a situation in which every member of the church retains his individuality and liberty, but at the same time remains a part of the community – this in contrast to the Roman Catholic church, which is organized as an autoriatrian hierarchy led from the Vatican. Khomjakov and other Slavophiles extended this concept, which originally referred to a form or religious life, to an universal measure in the service of their cultural critique and retrospective utopy. Its significance as a philosophical category explaining the innermost essence of Slavophilism has been much discussed in Russian literature. A recent description of the sobornost’ principle, given by T. I. Blagova in her monography on Khomjakov gives a good summary:
In his philosophical production, Khomjakov did not depart from an ontological interpretation of the world, in order to proceed from it to epistemological questions concerning the faith. Instead, he departed from the Church doctrine of the faith and proceeded from it to an interpretation of the reality. “The truth, inattainable to singular individuals”, wrote Khomjakov, “can be attained only by a totality of such thinking individuals, who are united by love”. This thesis can be interpreted so that the sobornost’ of the Church, the universal ecclesiastical consciousness, forms the point of departure of epistemology, anthropology and social philosophy. In other words, to such cardinal questions of philosophy like: What is the truth? can it be attained? what is Man? how should an ideal society be construed? Khomjakov answers: the truth will be found by a social Man in a community-bound collective [sobornyj chelovek v sobornom obshchestve].19
Another theoretician of Slavophilism, Konstantin Aksakov, extended ther concept of sobornost’ to the Russian peasant village community, where according to him “a person is free like a singer in a choir”. Because the Russians had their sobornost’, it was no need to import to the country Western-style legalism with its formalistic definitions and classifications, because it would only atomize the people and dissolve their unity.
The sobornost’ principle is the part of Slavophile heritage which has continued to exert its influence in Russian intellectual history even after the movement itself rather soon had declined. Protagonists of an “original” Russian philosophy have tried to overcome the individualistic concept of subjectivity of modern Western thought, which ultimately recurs to Descartes and Kant, by applying the sobornost’ idea. This principle stresses, that Man never is an isolated individual, but always a product of the collective forces of society and culture. At a first glance, ,the “sobornost’ viewpoint” thus seems to have anticipated those tendencies in 20th century Western philosophy, which in a like manner have criticized the Cartesian-Kantian idea of a singular subject and stressed, more or less “sociologically” the social nature of thought and subjectivity (so especially the various forms of Marxism, but even the philosophies of the “linguistic turn”, which see the individuals as constituted through communication by language with other individuals). However, it is obvious that this likeness of the sobornost’ principle with the critique of individualism in later Western modern thought is apparent only. Both the starting point and the goals of this Slavophile core principle are quite different from the Western anti-individualism. Whilst the Western critique of isolated individual departs from an already given fact of a developed subjectivity, the sobornost’-theory lacks an analogous “deep” concept of subjectivity.20 The collectivistic moment is from the beginning in a determining position.
Slavophiles and the Modern World
Following the exposition by a recent Russian researcher, A. M. Peskov,21 one could draw a table of cultural oppositions depicting the differences between East and West in the Slavophile imagination:








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