Riasonovsky on the Slavophiles

Critics of Slavophilism are quick to point out that it was simply a romantic movement irrelevant to serious scholarship.  Anyone who writes on Slavophilism is accused of largely the same thing.  To counter that I quote from a doyen of Russian studies, a man entrenched in the liberal American academy and quite hostile to the concept of medieval Holy Russia:  N. Riasanovsky, Russia and the West in the  Teaching of the Slavophiles.  A more in depth analysis of this book will have to wait a few weeks.

Background of Slavophilism

Russian nationalism was stimulated by the Napoleonic Wars (3).  Until then Russia’s role in world history was theoretical, but since Russia had played the main role in defeating the forces of revolution, it was undeniable that she would not shape European history.  As Riasanovsky states, “Russia had faced the West and defeated the West.”  1812 joined the list of dates defining Russian history:  862, the calling of the Varangians; 988, the Conversion of Russia; 1613, the defeat of the Catholic Poles (3-4).

A Healthy Nationalism?

Interestingly, Riasanovsky says that the Slavophiles detested extreme and chauvinistic nationalism (5).  Important to the Slavophile narrative is the work of Karamzin.  Karamzin’s historiography affirmed the worth of Russia, her past, and basic princiles, which included autocracy.  Riasanovsky notes that Karamzin’s Russia stood for “established order, for autocracy, and for Christianity (8).”  This represented a change from Karamzin’s previous liberalism.  (The connection between Karamzin’s ideology and the later policies of Tsar Nicholas I is quite clear.)

Riasanovsky has a curious paragraph on p. 11.  He says that the Slavophiles scorned “The Official Nationality,” by which the latter sought the subservience of the former, who were largely free-thinkers.   There’s probably some truth to this.  For all of the good of Nicholas I, and I consider him a good monarch, he wasn’t entirely separated from the decay of Peter I.  In any case, Riasanovsky notes that extreme nationalism really didn’t form the basis of Slavophile thought.

Summarizing the Introduction

Slavophilism should not be primarily read as a romantic throwback to some non-existence “Holy Russia.”  It is simply stating the obvious:  given that Russia stopped the military power of the West, and later outnumbered 3-1 by the West, fighting them to a standstill, it makes sense to say that Russian philosophers would articulate a narrative different from the West.  Every culture does this.  This “narrative” is Slavophilism.

My Remarks

Slavophilism is interesting today because many of the same characters are there: nihilism vs a resurgent (if often bumbling) Christian faith; globalism vs localism, and again The West (NATO, EU) vs. the East.  Stating this is not pining for some nostalgic Third Rome, though that is a legitimate area of discussion.  It is simply point out the facts.

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