Published on 2 August 2022 by Europe Books
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Amidst the conflict and strife that has plagued much of Russian history, the dream and pursuit of integrality and unity has persisted in Russian thought and culture. In theology, philosophy, arts, even the sciences, Russian thinkers and actors have believed in, aspired to, and urged the pursuit of tselostnost’ – an integrality or wholeness – in all being, existence, between the material and divine, for all mankind, all society, or all Russia. Gordon M. Hahn’s Russian Tselostnost’ tells the story of Russians’ spiritual, intellectual, artistic, scientific, social and political quest for the unity of Heaven and Earth, of God and humankind, of spirit and matter, of the peoples of the world, of society’s disparate groups and classes, and of Russia herself. Russian Tselostnost’ examines the Russian value of and aspiration to wholeness in Russian culture through articulations expressing tselostnost’ across nearly a millennium of Russian history in such areas as theology, philosophy, literature and the arts, science, historiography, and political, social, and economic sciences, ideologies and structures.
Hahn hypothesizes that there is robust belief in, aspiration to, and pursuit of ‘wholeness’ present in Russian discourse which emerged with the arrival of Orthodox Christianity to Kievan Rus and strengthened, diversified, and evolved over the centuries to encompass four kinds of tselostnost’ still valued in Russian culture to this day: monism, universalism, communalism/collectivism, and solidarity. ‘Monism’ is defined as the aspiration to or assumption of integrality in religious theology (Orthodox Christianity) and philosophy, including the truly formal philosophy that emerged in late 19th century Russia. Monism is reflected in the Christian, in particular Orthodox Christian, theology and ideas regarding the unity of Heaven and Earth, God and humankind, and matter and spirit, much of which has been expressed in Russian secular philosophy, most robustly by the late Imperial era’s idealist ‘God-seekers’ and ‘intuitivists.’ The second form of tselostnost’, universalism, is defined as an aspiration to world or human unity or a Russian unification with some external subset of the world or human community: Slavdom, the Orthodox world, the Christian world, Europe, the West, and Eurasia. Communalism or collectivism has political implications here, but it is primarily socio-cultural and centers around the subordination of the individual’s being, identity, interests and/or preferences to those of some larger societal group. Communalism encompasses Russian ideas such as Christian and Orthodox ‘conciliarity’ (sobornost’), the pre-Soviet village institutions the obshchina and mir, and pre-Soviet and Soviet ideas and practices of collectivism. Finally, solidarity represents the belief in, aspiration to, and pursuit of national unity – particularly political, cultural, and ideological integrality – and has greater political (and political-cultural) implications than the other forms of tselostnost’. Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet articulations of these four types of tselostnost’ are presented from Russian thought and culture and demonstrate that the existence and power of these forms of wholeness are interrelated and highly salient in post-Soviet Russia.
This historical-cultural, qualitative, thick description research study analyzes and interpret primary source materials, including: the ancient Russian chronicles; ancient Russian Orthodox texts; the works of the 17th century Old Believer schismatics and the establishment trends they opposed; the works of pietist, theosophists, and other foreign religious thinkers that influenced Russian theology and early secular philosophy; the works of Russia’s great writers from Alexander Pushkin and Fedor Tuitchev to Nikolai Gogol, Fedor Dostoevskii, and Leo Tolstoy, among many others; the Slavophile-Westernizer debate; the writing of the first formal philosophers and of religious-philosophical idealist school typified by Vladimir Solovev, the various ‘God-seekers’ (Pavel Florenskii, Sergei Bulgakov, and others), ‘intuitivists’ (Nikolai Losskii, Semyon Frank, Lev Karsavin, and others), and other Russian philosophical schools of the late 19th century Russian Religious Renaissance and Silver Age; the artistic and philosophical works of the symbolists and futurists (Andrei Belyi, Alexander Blok, Dmitrii Merezhkovskii, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Velemir Khlebnikov, and Alexander Scriabin), the more traditional theological works of Georgii Florovskii and Vasilii Zenkovskii; the historical-cultural works by Nikolai Berdyaev (and other ‘Landmarkers’ or ‘Vekhi’ and their critics) and Georgii Fedotov; the cosmism of Nikolai Fedorov, Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, and Vladimir Vernadskii; the various monarchist, socialist, anarchist, and liberal political thinkers of the late 19th century; Bolshevik and Soviet ideology, art, science and practice; the remnants of Orthodox tselostnost’; and the reemergence of pre-Soviet thought, the survival of communist thought, and the emergence of new trends such as transhumanism in post-Soviet-Russia.
These texts give evidence of the emergence, development, and evolution of the four types of tselostnost’ through a millennium of Russian history. Hahn demonstrates that monism and universalism originated from Russian Orthodox eschatology. With Christ’s anticipated second coming, humankind would be united and be integrated with the Divine in the world’s transformation into the Heavenly Kingdom. Russia’s assumption of the status of the religious ‘Third Rome’ imparted a strong strain of universalism to Russian religious and overall culture. Nineteenth century Slavophile thought ‘geopoliticized’ Orthodox eschatology to read that Russia would unite the world in Russian Orthodoxy before the second coming, expanding Russian universalism from the religious into the political realm. This mixed with ideas of pre-Petrine Russia’s supposed communal unity manifested by the spiritual unity of the believers under the ‘cupola’ of the Church and Christian grace or sobornost’ and the collectivism of the supposedly ‘ancient’ Russian village obshchina and mir. Russian tselostnost’ was reinforced by Western trends such as German Pietism, Jacob Boehme’s mystical theosophy, as well as Freemasonry. We see the Church, Russian thinkers, and sometimes even the state professing several, even all forms of tselostnost’ in their articulations simultaneously, giving integrality a robust presence in Russian civilization’s discourse.
Religious eschatological monism and utopian universalism were invigorated with new energy in the late 19th century by the God-seekers’ (Vladimir Solovoev, Pavel Florenskii, and Sergei Bulgakov) and intuitivists’ (Nikolai Losskii and Semyon Frank) ideas regarding ‘all-unity’ (vseedinstvo), which refashioned and even reified the ideas of Heaven-earth, God-humankind, spirit-matter integrality in 19th century Russian discourse. Theosophists such as Yelena Blavatskaya, traditionalist theologians such as Georgii Florovskii and Georgii Fedotov, and liberal Christians like Fyodor Stepun and Pyotr Struve also issued monist, universalist, communalist, and solidarist ideas. An advancing Russian scientific tradition mixed with these mystical theologies and idealist philosophies to produce a distinctive Russian cosmism in Nikolai Fyodorov, who also articulated tselostnost’ in several forms. Russia’s great writers from Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol’ to Lev Tolstoy and most of all Fyodor Dostoevskii, and even composers such as Alexander Scriabin articulated in poetry, prose, and music a longing for or faith in monism, universalism, communalism, and solidarism with a Russian face.
During the revolutionary and Soviet eras, monist beliefs in cosmism and immortalism merged with philosophical and dialectical materialism and were grafted on to agrarian and even industrial-proletarian revolutionary eschatology, utopian universalism, promethean communalism, and proletarian solidarism, producing trends such as the Bolshevik fellow traveling ‘God-builders’ (Anatolii Lunacharskii and Alexander Bogdanov), the Soviet scientific cosmism of Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, the literary cosmims of Yegenii Zamyatin, and the socialist realism of Andrei Platonov, and other trends and their propagators, who imagined the revolution would unify the world proletariat, transform humankind beyond all recognition, and merge it physically with the entire universe. At the same time, leftovers from Imperial Russia and Soviet dissidents such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Father Alexander Men’ kept old Orthodox and Russian monist, universalist, communalist, and even solidarist elements alive. In the post-Soviet era, the new openness has permitted a revival of Imperial era thinkers, the survival of Soviet ones, and the rise of new Western and indigenous variations on all of the above to give all forms of tselostnost’ a new birth within Russia’s discourse. We see them in disparate Russian ecosystems from the Orthodox Christian communities to neo-Eurasianism and neo-Slavophilism among Russian nationalists and statists to revived cosmism and immortalism in the form of transhumanism.
Hahn posits that monism gives birth to the tendency towards universalism, which in turn tends to generate a value of communal and national unity. This is often intermixed with Russian messianic aspirations, which require a united Russia, communally (societally) and nationally, in order for her to fulfill the mission of building world unity, whether Orthodox, communist, or under some other belief.
A sub-hypothesis of Hahn’s Russian Tselostnost’ is that the great political division, strife, and conflict extant throughout Russian history from Kievan Rus through the Soviet period has transmitted this desire for integrality to Russian political culture. The threat of schism and the accompanying one of foreign manipulation of disunities in Russia gave birth to a norm valuing maximization of national political and ontological (cultural and identity) unity or ‘solidarity’ as early as immediate post-Kievan Rus. Thus, Russian President Vladimir Putin has restored the state-driven discourse on the need for national political, socio-cultural, and ontological (identity) unity or ‘solidarism’ in the face of Western encroachment in all these areas in addition to military encroachment by way of NATO expansion. The return to robust tselostnost’ after the great break of the Russian revolution and seven decades of harsh Soviet rule testifies to its adaptability, vitality, and centrality in Russian culture.