As Russia moved further into the nineteenth century, the rise of nationalism in and around Russia caused a major schism between those of nationalistic ideals and those who still clung to Western ideals. Some sought to divorce Russia from Western culture and influence entirely and become a uniquely Russian nation; these would be known as Slavophiles. Others preferred not to separate from Western culture since they saw it more intellectually superior than their own Russian culture and therefore the only way for Russia to advance into the modern world was through Western influence. Those who sought to separate Russia from the Western world wrote treatises on solving problems that faced Russia’s move toward nationalism. Men such as Ivan Vasil’evich Kireevski and Alesei Stepanovich Khomiakov, being Slavophiles to certain degrees, saw quite a few major problems facing Russia and this essay will seek to explore those problems, their solutions, and how they differ in their methods of solving the problems since some of them have Westernizing tendencies.
Kireevski in his treatise, “On the Nature of European Culture and Its Relation to the Culture of Russia,” wrote extensively on the comparison of Russian culture to Western culture and how to reconcile Russia’s own distinctiveness after being influenced by the “destructive rationality” of the West (177). Kireevski began his treatise by reminding his audience that the manner in which they “pose and resolve it [the relationship between Russian culture and Western culture] in our minds may determine not only the dominant trend of our literature but the entire orientation of our intellectual activity, the meaning of our private lives, and the nature of our social relationships” (175). Then according to Kireevski, this is not a matter to be taken lightly and is perhaps the reason why he spends 32 pages discussing this relationship and how dissimilar Russia’s culture is from the West. Due to the vastness of his treatise, I will endeavor to describe one problem Kireevski describes in this relationship crisis and his solution to the problem. His solution is first mentioned in connection with a proposition for Western Europe since it has become “subject to the disintegrating action of abstract reason” and therefore they must return to their foundations to reconcile their independence from reason” (178-9). While he states this may help Western Europe, this practice had a different effect on Russia. He states that the result of exploring one’s past has made Russia condemn its own history and culture as barbaric in contrast to Western culture (179). This condemnation has been seen through other Russian writings and often some of them, such as Chadaaev’s letters, were banned for their harshness. His solution to the problem comes much later in his treatise. His solution and hope for Russian nationalism is found in the Russian Orthodox Church. His basis for this is that “the essence of Russian civilization still lives on among the people…in the Holy Orthodox Church” (206). The strength of this church will prosper the Russian enlightenment and that can only happen when the populace “becomes at last fully convinced of the one-sidedness of European culture” (207). They must throw off Western philosophy for the philosophy of the Russian church leaders and then Russian education will surely spread (207). That is his solution to this immense issue.
Alesei Stepanovich Khomiakov wrote a treatise, “On Humboldt” which describes several theories of history and the one-sided development of the mind called Whiggism. Kireevski also warned about this one-sided mindset yet these two Russian authors seek to recover Russia in different manners. Khomiakov discusses Whiggism in both Russia and England and describes how the former is less favorable than the latter. Whiggism in England, according to Khomiakov, was created from a series of “inherent deficiencies and fallacies of spiritual laws” that developed from a certain type of genius (217). This whiggism kept its bonds with the people and the spiritual essence of the nation even through it broke from its historical past (217). Contrariwise, Russia’s brand of whiggism is not generated by any spiritual law but “merely by the historical chance of Russia’s foreign relations and the passing despotism of local custom” (217). Instead of becoming the essence of people’s lives, it protested that desire and broke away from Russian principles (218). This dilemma Khomiakov describes as enslavement to the West and a consequential hatred to everything Russian (218). His solution to the problem is self education; it is only through this process that the influence of French and German learning, speech, and arts may be overwhelmed by Russian thought (229). Attached to this solution is the factor of unity; they will never achieve enlightenment successfully if they are disunited (229).
The Slavophiles we have discussed in this essay stood on the common ground that the influence of Western enlightenment whether rationality or whiggism was destructive to the essence of the Russian people. As evidenced in Kireevski’s writings, there were some major obstacles in the way of making Russian and Western culture mesh. While the West was bound by the commonalities of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman world, and the universal desire for city states, Russia’s lack of egalitarianism and lack of political interest in revolution against the tsars made the two cultures polar opposites wherein one or the other monopolized Russia. While both writers stated that these factors destroyed Russian culture, they differed in their methods of reforming Russian culture. Kireevski wanted to do it through the Orthodox Church but Khomiakov desired to reform through self education. From my knowledge of how Russia works during this time period and how it worked in the past, I would guess that Kireevski’s method was perhaps more promising than Khomiakov’s.