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East European Perspectives: January 7, 2004


7 January 2004, Volume 6, Number 1

THE NEO-EURASIAN TEMPTATION: RELIGION AND POLITICS (Part 1)

By Boris Gubman

Eurasians And Neo-Eurasians: Religion, Culture, And Political Power

The revival of the Eurasian philosophy in postcommunist Russia is a significant event, illustrating how extreme isolationist and nationalist tendencies can influence the practice of politics. No wonder religion plays a key role in the writings of the Neo-Eurasians, who feel that it has a growing importance in the country's political life. Politics and religion, according to adherents of this doctrine, should be tied firmly together, complementing each other in solving the problem of the new postcommunist Russian identity.

Located on the territory of two continents, Russia belongs to both Europe and Asia. This marginal position has long made the country the focus of debate concerning its destiny. The debate has become quite intense over the course of the past two centuries, beginning with disputes between Westernizers and Slavophiles that continue even today in academic and non-academic circles alike. During the upheavals of the late-Soviet period of perestroika, the slogan "to become Europe" expressed the desire among people of democratic orientation to change the path of Russia's development; but this aspiration was never fulfilled, due to internal factors and to the unwillingness of the West to embrace its Eastern neighbor, doubtful of its ability to abide by civilized standards of behavior. During the same period, a national-patriotic movement emerged -- a movement that rapidly gained strength after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It found an ally in the communist opposition. The ideological vacuum once filled by the communist doctrine -- together with economic disorder, mass deprivation, and political instability -- brought about an atmosphere of nostalgia and collective depression, along with a desire for a universal vision of Russian history that could show some way out of the crisis. The Neo-Eurasian philosophy claims to be just such a vision. Preserving its central feature, entrenched on the blending of conservative-nationalist interpretations of religion and politics, this philosophy nonetheless underwent a considerable evolution -- from a militant opponent of Boris Yeltsin's reforms to support for Vladimir Putin's politics, although its aspiration to influence considerably the current president's politics remains unfulfilled.

Constituting a remarkable part of the Russian intellectual history of the first half of the 20th century, the Eurasian philosophy is often regarded by its students as the only ideological and political doctrine of the post-1917 emigration that was able to create a synthesis of the old messianic-nationalist Russian idea and the experience of Bolshevism. Based on the postrevolutionary experience and the assumption that Bolshevism was merely a transitory stage in the country's development toward national revival, the Eurasian doctrine was focused on the problem of relations between religion, culture, and political power.

Bringing together a group of prominent Russian intellectuals that included Nikolai Alekseev, Petr Bicilli, Nikolai Trubetskoi, Petr Savitskii, Lev Karsavin, the Eurasian movement appeared with its unified ideological program in 1921. In Eurasian thought, Russia was portrayed as a country combining both European and Asian cultural traditions, regardless of whether reference was made to tsarist rule or to the Soviet period. Savitskii wrote that Russia created a highly productive synthesis of the European and Asian cultural legacies -- one that, far from being divided between the two continents, represented a third and independent cultural sphere (Savitskii, 1993, p. 101). This synthesis, it was claimed, had its origins in the legacy of Byzantium and the tradition stemming from the Tartars, both of which had a profound influence on the development of the early Muscovite state, the growth the Russian empire, and the later history of the country under communism.

The Eurasians considered their own doctrine the climax of a powerful national tradition in the philosophy of history that began with the Slavophiles and was further developed by Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nikolai Danilevskii, and Konstantin Leontiev. Despite the efforts of some Eurasians to show the independence of their ideas from those of German philosopher Oswald Spengler, the philosophical vision of history they developed was strongly influenced by his theory of local cultures. Spengler's militant opposition to the idea of progress and the spirit of the Enlightenment, as well as his political ideas, have much in common with the Eurasian interpretation of history. At the same time, the Eurasians believed that their notion of a uniqueness of each culture was entirely compatible with the Christian vision of history as governed by God's providence.

Opposition to Western civilization and its value system, the Eurasians claimed, was at the very heart of the original character of Russian culture. Whereas the West treasures the value of the individual, the basis of Russian culture lies in the idea of the symphonic personality -- a sort of collective subject (family, estate, class, or nation) that overcomes any and all individual particularity, according to the Eurasians. Karsavin believed that the "symphonic subject is no less a reality than the individual, but something even more important" (Karsavin, 1993a, p. 177). Thus, the individual subject becomes totally immersed in the anonymous choir of the collective body.

Although from a methodological point of view such an interpretation seems justified, and might even be considered to be opening up new horizons for more advanced approaches to collective history, one should not overlook its ideological coloring, its manner of opposing Western individualism with a collective Russian unity with God (Sobornost). Culture, according to the Eurasians, is a unity, a hierarchical body with the church at its center. Among the historically known Christian denominations, the Eurasians believed, only the Russian Orthodox Church was able to bring the highest degree of harmony to the culture of the nation. Karsavin expressed this idea in the following way:

"The acceptance of the limited character of historical Christianity is not tantamount to historical relativism, and, likewise, the recognition of the presence of absolute values in Catholicism and Protestantism is not tantamount to denying that the Russian Orthodox Church is the most complete and perfect expression of the Christian Church" (Karsavin, 1993b, p. 174).

Presenting his arguments against historical relativism, Karsavin claimed that the Russian Orthodox Church should play the role of a spiritual nucleus in the hierarchy of culture and social life. Such an approach became conventional among the Eurasians and led to definite political implications.

In opposition to Western democratic and multiparty ideas, the Eurasians proclaimed the urgent necessity of building a typically Russian ideocracy and of abolishing all partisan political forces for the sake of national unity (Karsavin, 1993a, p. 203). Such a state should be dependent on culture and express its spiritual-religious nucleus. The implementation of the political ideal of an ideocracy providing unity of all citizens in the name of supreme values might well serve as doctrinaire justification for authoritarian and totalitarian practices that suppress individual freedom and human rights, however.

The internal contradictions within the Eurasian movement resulted in a split by the end of the 1920s. This split emerged out of a series of debates concerning the publications of Karsavin, Dmitrii Svyatopolk-Mirskii, Savitskii, and others in the weekly "Eurasia." These authors considered the Soviet state as a prerequisite for the establishment of the national deocracy, and thus viewed the Bolsheviks as being a positive political force. Bicilli and Giorgii Florovskii, the founders of the Eurasian movement, completely disagreed with such conclusions. Florovskii rightly pointed out that the Eurasians want to be the followers of contemporary Bolshevism, sharing with it "a common psychology and basic pattern, a common pathos and inner structure" (Florovskii, 1993, p. 242). His critical assessment of the "Eurasian temptation" was in accord with the opinions of such Christian-socialist analysts as Nikolai Berdyaev and Giorgii Fedotov.

The contemporary resurrection of the Eurasian philosophy reveals that this paradigm of thought corresponds to the aspirations of some theorists and of some politicians to find a justification for an isolationist and at times an extreme nationalist vision of the country's future. In the perestroika and postcommunist periods, the Eurasian vision of history has been enlisting support from such different forces as antiliberal centrists exhibiting their reverence to the traditionally strong Russian state, communists, and national patriots. It has been perceived as a positive alternative to liberalism in the philosophical and political essays of Aleksandr Dugin, Aleksandr Prohanov, Eduard Limonov, and Viktor Stepa, and is positively evaluated by such politicians as Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Sergei Baburin, and "the last colonel of the empire," Viktor Alksnis. In their academic publications, Aleksei Boldyrev, Aleksandr Vodolagin, Aleksandr Panarin, and other scholars of moderate nationalist and statist orientation also praise Eurasian ideas. They are expressed in newspapers like "Den" (The Day), "Zavtra" (Tomorrow), and sometimes even in the respectable "Nezavisimaya gazeta" (Independent Newspaper); in journals such as "Nash Sovremennik" (Our Contemporary) and "Elementii" (Elements); and one can easily find them as well in "Svobodnaya Misl" (The Free Thought) and other periodicals.

The cardinal point of the Neo-Eurasian philosophy is its militant opposition to the Western liberal value system. Appealing to their potential theoretical allies, the Neo-Eurasians reveal the real substance of their thought. This is the reason why some of the Neo-Eurasian theorists are inclined to avoid mentioning their predecessors, vaguely suggesting that they are devoted to the traditional Russian idea. However, those among them who are ready to gain scandalous popularity and mass support are openly admitting their conservative and sometimes even fascist ideational ties to Russian and Western thought. Perhaps the most clear-cut representation of this last trend that one can find is in Dugin's "confessions" from the time of his struggle with Gorbachev's and Yeltsin's regimes prior to becoming a Putin supporter. Examining the list of those mentioned among his theoretical mentors would further the understanding of the roots of the contemporary Eurasian worldview.

Like many supporters of the new Eurasian consciousness, Dugin considers it to be an ideology of a "third way" -- an alternative to both capitalist and communist patterns in the structuring of society. In his article "The Conservative Revolution: A Short History Of The Ideology Of The Third Way," published in "Elementii," Dugin, who is editor in chief of that journal, declared his opposition to the ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, as well as his solidarity with Josephe de Maistre, Louis Bonald, Donoso Cortez, and other conservative European thinkers. These names are followed by those of Russian Slavophiles and soil worshipers. But the author is even more interested in the practical attempts of conservative revolutionaries to realize their ideas. His preferences are evident:

"In our century the Third Way...is becoming an important factor determining the political panorama of our civilization. Some elements of the Third Way can be found during the Russian Revolution, when populists and late right socialist-revolutionaries attempted to implement an extreme variant of this doctrine. It sounds like a paradox, but in Russian Bolshevism itself one could easily uncover a lot of ideas which are not at all left-wing, but which have a direct relationship with the conservative revolution (in particular everything that is accepted as Russian 'National Bolshevism' from the Change of Milestones movement to the new Stalinists). Italian fascism during its early period and also under the Italian social republic in the North of Italy (the Republic of Salo) was almost totally based on the principles of the conservative revolution. But the most complete and total (if not the most orthodox) representative of the Third Way was German National Socialism" (Dugin, 1992, p. 16).

Dugin places the Russian Eurasians in the same category as the German and Italian fascists, Spanish Falangists, and Romanian Iron Guardists, viewing all these phenomena as associated with the struggle for a social and cultural renewal in the allegedly traditionalist "Third Way." The history of fascism is interpreted as a struggle of romanticist traditionalists aiming to establish genuine values. Nazi hangmen and perpetrators of crimes against humanity are thus transformed into inspiring models. The head of the Nazi SS, Heinrich Himmler, for example, is depicted as being a leader who cultivated intellectual freedom and pluralism within his organization (Dugin, 1992, p. 53). And while some clement commentators of Dugin's views might object to this interpretation and emphasize that he has changed considerably and become a respectable mainstream politician and scholar, these "confessions" speak volumes on the origin of his philosophical views. Dugin's books are popular, sold by the thousands, and recommended by many political-science professors as required reading for the study of political thought.

The Neo-Eurasian Dugin's group established strong ties with the European "new right" movement headed by Alain de Benoist. Looking for theoretical support for their arguments, the Neo-Eurasians often appeal to the classics of geopolitics and to the legacy of famous traditionalist thinkers like Julius Evola, Rene Ghennon, Claudio Mutti, and others. This set of ideas is still present in recent publications by Dugin and his followers (Dugin, 1999, p. 33-164). At the same time, it is clear that Dugin and representatives of his group have become more moderate and sophisticated in expressing their theoretical position during the period of Putin's presidency. That is explained by Dugin's attempt to move from radical denial of Yeltsin's reforms to moderate support for Putin's course.

The veiled intent of this change was the aspiration to influence the official course, remodeling it in the style of Neo-Eurasian ideology. Dugin became an adviser to State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and participated in the creation of the Yedinstvo (Unity), the predecessor to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia. However, Dugin and his team proved unable -- as is evident from President Putin's foreign and domestic politics -- to influence the official presidential program in any significant way. It might well be the understanding of this fact that recently led Dugin to more active participation in politics and the creation of his own political movement, Eurasia (Dugin, 2001, p. 8). At Eurasia's first congress, held on 21 April 2001, Dugin was elected to head the movement's political council. On 30 May 2002, he became the leader of the newly formed Eurasia Party.

As a theoretical and political leader of the Neo-Eurasians, Dugin is determined to use religion as an efficient political tool. Despite his friendship with Alain de Benoist, he is not among the supporters of a paganism revival. Even during the creation of the Neo-Eurasian movement, he believed that the fundamentalist forces of the Russian Orthodox Church allied with conservative Islamic clergy should become the main source of the cultural and political revival of Russia-Eurasia. In this respect, Geydar Jemal, Muslim fundamentalist leader in Russia, fully agreed with this understanding of the mission of religion. At the moment, somewhat deviating from the traditional Eurasian doctrine, Dugin and his followers are seeking popularity by embarking on a new strategy of unifying all traditional Russian faiths against the Catholic-Protestant West. This Russian-Eurasian fundamentalism is presented as an effective instrument of resistance to the alleged "global conspiracy" aimed at undermining Russia-Eurasia's power. It should be mentioned that not everyone in the Neo-Eurasianist movement is openly siding with Dugin on this issue; for reasons of academic and political correctness, some prefer to express such views only when they believe themselves to be among "safe" and sympathetic audiences.

Professor Boris Gubman, PhD, is chairman of the Department of Theory and History of Culture at Tver State University, Russia.

SOURCES

Dugin, A., 1992, "Conservativnaya revolutsia: Kratkaya istoria ideologii tretiego puti" [The Conservative Revoution: A Short History of the Third Way Ideology], in "Elementii," No. 1, pp. 15-56.

Dugin, A., 1999, "Osnovi geopolitiki" [Foundations of Geopolitics] (Moscow: Arktogeja-centre).

Dugin, A., 2001, "Evrasijstvo: ot philosophiji k politike" [The Eurasian Movement: From Philosophy to Politics], "Nezavisimaja gazeta," 30 May.

Florovskii, G., 1993, "Evrasiiksi sovlazn" [The Eurasian Temptation], in "Rossiya mejdu Evropoy i Aziey: evraiziisky soblazn" [Russia Between Europe and Asia: The Eurasian Temptation] (Moscow: Nauka), pp. 237-265.

Karsavin, L., 1993a, "Osnovi politiki" [Foundations of Politics], "Rossiya mejdu Evropoy i Aziey: Evraiziisky soblazn" [Russia Between Europe and Asia: The Eurasian Temptation], (Moscow: Nauka), pp. 174-216.

Karsavin, L., 1993b, "Philosophija Istoriji" [The Philosophy of History] (St. Petersburg: Komplekt).

Savitskii, P., 1993, "Evrasiistvo" [The Eurasian Movement], "Rossiya mejdu Evropoy i Aziey: Evraiziisky soblazn" [Russia Between Europe and Asia: The Eurasian Temptation), (Moscow: Nauka), pp. 100-113.

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