August 13, 2016
(republished on March 02, 2019)
A young civilization
confronts a dying one
the time will come
when ye shall
orthodox Russian faith is!
people scent it far and near.
A Tsar shall
arise from Russian soil,
and there shall
not be a power in the world
which shall not
submit to him!'
was a massive celebrity in pre-WW2 Europe and
America, whose book, "The
Decline of the West" was one of the most read ever at
that time, selling millions of copies.
This is a longer scholarly article, but is not at all dull, and
it is absolutely fascinating. Highly recommended.
This paper examines Spengler's views on Russia as a distinct
culture that had not yet fulfilled her destiny, while Western
civilization is about to take a final bow on the world
His views on Russia as an outsider are considered in relation to
the depiction of the Russian soul by seminal Russians such as
Spengler and Russia's Soul
May 11, 2015
Spengler regarded Russians as formed by the vastness of the
land-plain, as innately antagonistic to the Machine, as rooted in
the soil, irrepressibly peasant, religious, and 'primitive'.
Without a wider
understanding of Spengler's philosophy it appears that he was - like
Hitler - a Slavophobe.
However, when Spengler
wrote of these Russian characteristics he was referencing the
Russians as a still youthful people in contrats to the senile West.
Hence the 'primitive'
Russian is not synonymous with 'primitivity' as popularly understood
at that time in regard to 'primitive' tribal peoples. Nor was it to
be confounded with the Hitlerite perception of the 'primitive Slav'
incapable of building his own State.
To Spengler, the 'primitive peasant' is the well-spring from which a
race draws its healthiest elements during its epochs of cultural
Agriculture is the foundation of a High Culture, enabling stable
communities to diversify labor into specialization from which
However, according to Spengler, each people has its own soul, a
German conception derived from the German Idealism of Herder, Fichte
et al. A High culture reflects that soul, whether in its
mathematics, music, architecture; both in the arts and the physical
The Russian soul is not
the same as the Western Faustian, as Spengler called it, the 'Magian' of the Arabian civilization, or the Classical of the
Hellenes and Romans. The Western Culture that was imposed on Russia
by Peter the Great, what Spengler called Petrinism, is
The basis of the Russian soul is not infinite space - as in the
West's Faustian (Spengler, 1971, I, 183) imperative, but is,
'the plain without
(Spengler, 1971, I, 201)
The Russian soul
expresses its own type of infinity, albeit not that of the Western
which becomes even enslaved by its own technics at the end of its
life-cycle. (Spengler, 1971, II, 502).
(Although it could be
argued that Sovietism enslaved man to machine, a Spenglerian would
cite this as an example of Petrinism).
cannot do anything but follow their life's course, and one cannot
see Spengler's descriptions as moral judgments but as observations.
The finale for Western
Civilization according to Spengler cannot be to create further great
forms of art and music, which belong to the youthful or 'spring'
epoch of a civilization, but to dominate the world under a
technocratic-military dispensation, before declining into oblivion
that all prior world civilizations.
It is after this Western
decline that Spengler alluded to the next word civilization being
that of Russia. At that stage Spengler could only hint at the
Hence, according to Spengler, Russian Orthodox architecture does not
represent the infinity towards space that is symbolized by the
Western high culture's Gothic Cathedral spire, nor the enclosed
space of the Mosque of the Magian Culture, (Spengler, 1971,
I, 183-216) but the impression of sitting upon a horizon.
Spengler considered that
this Russian architecture is,
'not yet a style,
only the promise of a style that will awaken when the real
Russian religion awakens'.
(Spengler, 1971, I, p. 201.)
Spengler was writing of
the Russian culture as an outsider, and by his own reckoning must
have realized the limitations of that. It is therefore useful to
compare his thoughts on Russia with those of Russians of note.
Nikolai Berdyaev in The Russian Idea affirms what
There is that in the
Russian soul which corresponds to the immensity, the vagueness,
the infinitude of the Russian land, spiritual geography
corresponds with physical. In the Russian soul there is a sort
of immensity, a vagueness, a predilection for the infinite, such
as is suggested by the great plain of Russia.
Socialism', 'Russian Socialism'
Of the Russian soul, the ego/vanity of the Western culture-man is
missing; the persona seeks impersonal growth in service,
'in the brother-world
of the plain'.
condemns the 'I' as 'sin' (Spengler, 1971, I, 309).
Spengler wrote of
'Prussian Socialism', based on the Prussian ethos of duty to the
state, as the foundation of a new Western ethos under the return to
Faith and Authority during the final epoch of Western civilization.
He contrasted this with
the 'socialism' of Karl Marx, which he regarded as a product
of English economics, (Spengler, 1919) as distinct from the German
economics of Friedrich List for example, described as the '
national system of political economy', where nation is the raison
d'etre of the economy and not class or individual.
The Russian concept of 'we' rather than 'I', and of impersonal
service to the expanse of one's land implies another form socialism.
It is perhaps in this sense that Stalinism proceeded along lines
different and often antithetical to the Bolshevism envisaged by
Trotsky et al. (Trotsky, 1936), and established an enduring legacy
A recent comment by an American visitor to Russia, Barbara J.
Brothers, as part of a scientific delegation, states something
akin to Spengler's observation:
The Russians have a
sense of connectedness to themselves and to other human beings
that is just not a part of American reality.
It isn't that
competitiveness does not exist; it is just that there always
seems to be more consideration and respect for others in any
Of the Russian concept of
property and of capitalism, Berdyaev wrote:
The social theme
occupied a predominant place in Russian nineteenth century
It might even be said
that Russian thought in that century was to a remarkable extent
colored by socialistic ideas. If the word socialism is not taken
in its doctrinaire sense, one might say that socialism is deeply
rooted in the Russian nature.
There is already an
expression of this truth in the fact that the Russian people did
not recognize the Roman conception of property.
It has been said of
Muscovite Russia that it was innocent of the sin of ownership in
land, the one and only landed proprietor being the Tsar: there
was no freedom, but there was a greater sense of what was right.
This is of interest
in the light that it throws upon the rise of communism. The
Slavophils also repudiated the Western bourgeois interpretation
of private property equally with the socialists of a
revolutionary way of thinking.
Almost all of them
thought that the Russian people was called upon to give actual
effect to social troth and righteousness and to the brotherhood
One and all they
hoped that Russia would escape the wrongness and evil of
capitalism, that it would be able to pass over to a better
social order while avoiding the capitalist stage of economic
And they all
considered the backwardness of Russia as conferring upon her a
great advantage. It was the wisdom of the Russians to be
socialists during the period of serfdom and autocracy.
Of all peoples in the
world the Russians have the community spirit; in the highest
degree the Russian way of life and Russian manners, are of that
is an indication of this sense of community.
Here again, we see with
Berdyaev, as with Spengler, that there is a 'Russian Socialism'
based on what Spengler referred to as the Russian 'we' in contrast
to the Late Western 'I', and of the sense of brotherhood dramatized
by Gogol in
Taras Bulba, shaped not by
factories and money-thinking, but by the kinship that arises from a
people formed from the vastness of the plains, and forged through
the adversity of centuries of Muslim and Mongol invasions.
Soul - Русская душа
The connections between family, nation, birth, unity and motherland
are reflected in the Russian language.
family, kind, sort, genus
to give birth
to unite, bring together
Literature starting from the 1840s began to consciously express the
Vasilievich Gogol's Taras Bulba, which along with the poetry of
Pushkin, founded a Russian literary tradition; that is to
say, truly Russian, and distinct from the previous literature based
on German, French and English.
states of this in his introduction to Taras Bulba:
The spoken word, born
of the people, gave soul and wing to literature; only by coming
to earth, the native earth, was it enabled to soar.
Coming up from Little
Russia, the Ukraine, with Cossack blood in his veins, Gogol
injected his own healthy virus into an effete body, blew his own
virile spirit, the spirit of his race, into its nostrils, and
gave the Russian novel its direction to this very day.
Taras Bulba is a tale on the formation of the Cossack folk. In
this folk-formation the outer enemy plays a crucial role. The
Russian has been formed largely as the result of battling over
centuries with Tartars, Muslims and Mongols.
Cournos writes of the
Gogol myths in reference to the shaping of the Russian character
through adversity and landscape:
This same Prince Guedimin freed Kieff from the Tatar yoke. This
city had been laid waste by the golden hordes of Ghengis Khan
and hidden for a very long time from the Slavonic chronicler as
behind an impenetrable curtain.
A shrewd man,
Guedimin appointed a Slavonic prince to rule over the city and
permitted the inhabitants to practice their own faith, Greek
Prior to the Mongol
invasion, which brought conflagration and ruin, and subjected
Russia to a two-century bondage, cutting her off from Europe, a
state of chaos existed and the separate tribes fought with one
another constantly and for the most petty reasons.
were possible owing to the absence of mountain ranges; there
were no natural barriers against sudden attack.
The openness of the
steppe made the people war-like. But this very openness made it
possible later for Guedimin's pagan hosts, fresh from the fir
forests of what is now White Russia, to make a clean sweep of
the whole country between Lithuania and Poland, and thus give
the scattered princedoms a much-needed cohesion.
In this way Ukrainia
Their society and
nationality were defined by religiosity, as was the West's by Gothic
Christianity during its 'Spring' epoch.
The newcomer to a Setch
or permanent village was greeted by the Chief as a Christian and as
'Welcome! Do you
believe in Christ?'
'I do', replied the
'And do you believe
in the Holy Trinity?'
'And do you go to
'Now cross yourself'.
Gogol depicts the scorn
in which trade is held, and when commerce has entered among
Russians, rather than being confined to non-Russians associated with
trade, it is regarded as a symptom of decadence:
I know that baseness
has now made its way into our land.
Men care only to have
their ricks of grain and hay, and their droves of horses, and
that their mead may be safe in their cellars; they adopt, the
devil only knows what Mussulman customs. They speak scornfully
with their tongues.
They care not to
speak their real thoughts with their own countrymen. They sell
their own things to their own comrades, like soulless creatures
in the market-place.
The favor of a
foreign king, and not even a king, but the poor favor of a
Polish magnate, who beats them on the mouth with his yellow
shoe, is dearer to them than all brotherhood.
But the very meanest
of these vile men, whoever he may be, given over though he be to
vileness and slavishness, even he, brothers, has some grains of
Russian feeling; and they will assert themselves some day.
And then the wretched
man will beat his breast with his hands; and will tear his hair,
cursing his vile life loudly, and ready to expiate his
disgraceful deeds with torture.
Let them know what
brotherhood means on Russian soil!
(Spengler, 1971, II, 113).
Here we might see a
Russian socialism that is, so far form being the dialectical
materialism offered by Marx, the mystic we-feeling forged by the
vastness of the plains and the imperative for brotherhood above
economics, imposed by that landscape.
Russia's feeling of
world-mission has its own form of messianism whether expressed
through Christian Orthodoxy or the non-Marxian form of 'world
revolution' under Stalin, or both in combination, as suggested by
the later rapport between Stalinism and the Church from 1943 with
the creation of the Council for Russian Orthodox Church Affairs (Chumachenko,
In both senses, and even
in the embryonic forms taking place under Putin, Russia is conscious
of a world-mission, expressed today as Russia's role in forging a
multipolar world, with Russia as being pivotal in resisting
Commerce is the concern of foreigners, and the intrusions bring with
them the corruption of the Russian soul and culture in general:
in speech, social
interaction, servility, undermining Russian 'brotherhood', the
Russian 'we' feeling that Spengler described.
(Spengler 1971, I, 309).
However, Gogol also
states that this materialistic decay will eventually be purged even
from the soul of the most craven Russian.
And all the Setch
prayed in one church, and were willing to defend it to their
last drop of blood, although they would not hearken to aught
about fasting or abstinence.
Jews, Armenians, and
Tatars, inspired by strong avarice, took the liberty of living
and trading in the suburbs; for the Zaporozhtzi never cared for
bargaining, and paid whatever money their hand chanced to grasp
in their pocket.
Moreover, the lot of
these gain-loving traders was pitiable in the extreme.
They resembled people
settled at the foot of Vesuvius; for when the Zaporozhtzi lacked
money, these bold adventurers broke down their booths and took
The description of these
people shows that they would not stoop to haggling; they decided
what a merchant should receive. Money-talk is repugnant to them.
The Cossack brotherhood is portrayed by Gogol as the formative
process in the building up of the Russian people.
This process is,
significantly, not one of biology but of spirit, even transcending
the family bond. Spengler treated the matter of race as that of soul
rather than of zoology. (Spengler, 1971, II, 113-155).
To Spengler landscape was
crucial in determining what becomes 'race', and the duration of
families grouped in a particular landscape - including nomads who
have a defined range of wandering - form 'a character of duration',
which was Spengler's definition of 'race'. (Spengler, Vol. II, 113).
Gogol describes this
'race' forming process among the Russians. So far from being an
aggressive race nationalism it is an expanding mystic brotherhood
The father loves his
children, the mother loves her children, the children love their
father and mother; but this is not like that, brothers.
The wild beast also
loves its young. But a man can be related only by similarity of
mind and not of blood. There have been brotherhoods in other
lands, but never any such brotherhoods as on our Russian soil.
It has happened to many of you to be in foreign lands…
No, brothers, to love
as the Russian soul loves, is to love not with the mind or
anything else, but with all that God has given, all that is
within you. Ah!
The Russian soul is born
The Russian accepts the
fate of life in service to God and to his Motherland. Russia and
Faith are inseparable.
When the elderly warrior
Bovdug is mortally struck by a Turkish bullet his final words are
exhortations on the nobility of suffering, after which his spirit
soars to join his ancestors:
'I sorrow not to
part from the world. God grant every man such an end! May
the Russian land be forever glorious!'
And Bovdug's spirit
flew above, to tell the old men who had gone on long before that
men still knew how to fight on Russian soil, and better still,
that they knew how to die for it and the holy faith.
The depth and duration of
this cult of the martyrs attached to Holy Mother Russia was revived
under Stalin during the Great Patriotic War.
This is today as vigorous
as ever, as indicated by the celebration of Victory Day on 7 May
2015, and the absence of Western representatives indicating the
diverging course Russia is again taking from the West.
The mystique of death and suffering for the Motherland is described
in the death of Taras Bulba when he is captured and executed, his
final words being ones of resurrection:
'Wait, the time
will come when ye shall learn what the orthodox Russian
people scent it far and near. A czar shall arise from
Russian soil, and there shall not be a power in the world
which shall not submit to him!'
But fire had already
risen from the fagots; it lapped his feet, and the flame spread
to the tree...
But can any fire,
flames, or power be found on earth which are capable of
overpowering Russian strength?
The characteristics of
the Russian soul that run through Taras Bulba are those of faith,
fate, struggle, suffering, strength, brotherhood and resurrection.
Taras Bulba established
the Russian national literature that articulated the Russian soul.
A significant element of Spengler's culture morphology is 'Historic
Spengler drew an analogy
from geology, when crystals of a mineral are embedded in a
where 'clefts and cracks occur, water filters in, and
the crystals are gradually washed out so that in due course only
their hollow mould remains'.
(Spengler, II, 89)
Then comes volcanic outbursts which explode the mountain; molten
masses pour in, stiffen and crystallize out in their turn. But these
are not free to do so in their own special forms. They must fill out
the spaces that they find available.
Thus there arise distorted
forms, crystals whose inner structure contradicts their external
shape, stones of one kind presenting the appearance of stones of
The mineralogists call this phenomenon Pseudomorphosis.
By the term 'historical pseudomorphosis' I propose to designate
those cases in which an older alien Culture lies so massively over
the land that a young Culture, born in this land, cannot get its
breath and fails not only to achieve pure and specific
expression-forms, but even to develop its own fully
All that wells up from the depths of the young
soul is cast in the old moulds, young feelings stiffen in senile
works, and instead of rearing itself up in its own creative power,
it can only hate the distant power with a hate that grows to be monstrous.
Russia is the example of 'Historic Pseudomorphosis' given by
Spengler as being 'presented to our eyes to-day'.
A dichotomy has
existed for centuries, starting with Peter the Great, of attempts to
impose a Western veneer over Russia. This is called Petrinism. The
resistance of those attempts is what Spengler called 'Old Russia'.
Spengler, 1971, II, 192).
Spengler described this dichotomy:
…This Muscovite period of the great Boyar families and Patriarchs,
in which a constant element is the resistance of an Old Russia party
to the friends of Western Culture, is followed, from the founding of
Petersburg in 1703, by the pseudomorphosis which forced the
primitive Russian soul into an alien mould, first of full Baroque,
then of the Enlightenment, and then of the nineteenth century.
(Ibid., II, p. 192)
Spengler's view is again in accord with what is spoken of Russia by
Russians. Nikolai Berdyaev wrote in terms similar to Spengler's:
The inconsistency and complexity of the Russian soul may be due to
the fact that in Russia two streams of world history East and West
jostle and influence one another.
The Russian people is not purely
European and it is not purely Asiatic. Russia is a complete section
of the world a colossal East-West.
It unites two worlds, and within
the Russian soul two principles are always engaged in strife - the
Eastern and the Western.
With the orientation of Russian policy towards the West, 'Old
'forced into a false and artificial history'.
Spengler wrote that Russia had become dominated by Western
culture from its 'Late' epoch:
Late-period arts and sciences, enlightenment, social ethics, the
materialism of world-cities, were introduced, although in this
pre-cultural time religion was the only language in which man
understood himself and the world.
In the townless land with its
primitive peasantry, cities of alien type fixed themselves like
ulcers - false, unnatural, unconvincing. 'Petersburg', says
'it is the most abstract and artificial city in the
After this everything that arose around it was felt by the true
Russdom as lies and poison.
A truly apocalyptic hatred was directed
on Europe, and 'Europe' was all that was not Russia…
condition of emancipation for the Russian soul', wrote Aksakov
in 1863 to Dostoyevski, 'is that it should hate Petersburg with all
this might and all its soul'.
Moscow is holy, Petersburg Satanic.
widespread popular legend presents Peter the Great as Antichrist.
(Spengler, 1971, II, 193)
Berdyaev also discusses the introduction of Enlightenment doctrines
from France into Russia:
The Western culture of Russia in the eighteenth century was a
superficial aristocratic borrowing and imitation. Independent
thought had not yet awakened.
At first it was French influences
which prevailed among us and a superficial philosophy of
enlightenment was assimilated. The Russian aristocrats of the
eighteenth century absorbed Western culture in the form of a
miserable rehash of Voltaire.
Aksakov (1823-1886) a Pan-Slavic leader, established the
'Slavophil' group at Moscow to restore Russia to its pre-Petrine
for the sick.
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National Bolshevism: Stalinist culture and the Formation of
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Church and State in Soviet Russia, M. E. Sharpe Inc., New
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Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov, 1880
Fyodor. The Possessed, Oxford University Press, 1992.
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Prussian and Socialism, 1919.
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