How Russia was saved from the Enlightenment

Posted: June 15, 2010 by Scott Kistler in History
Tags: ,

Peter Leithart wrote a short post on a piece by 19th-century Russian philosopher Ivan Kireevsky.  Leithart notes that Kireevsky was a Slavophile, which from my understanding means a defender of the uniqueness and superiority of Slavic culture over Western European culture.  Russian Slavophiles often believed that Russia was the natural leader of the Slavic peoples (which is at least part of the explanation for Russia’s backing of Serbia before and during World War I).

According to Leithart, Kireevsky argued that the Greco-Roman world meant that “classical rationalism” or “formal reason” would control culture in Western Europe.  Here are Leithart’s summary and quotes from the article:

In Western Christendom, “the pope [became] the head of the church instead of Jesus Christ . . . the whole totality of faith was supported by syllogistic scholasticism; the Inquisition, Jesuitry, in one word, all the peculiarities of Catholicism developed through the power of the same formal process of reasoning, so that Protestantism itself, which the Catholics reproach with rationalism, developed directly out of the rationalism of Catholicism.”

Classical rationalism’s influence didn’t end there: “A perspicacious mind could see in advance, in this final triumph of formal reason over faith and tradition, the entire present fate of Europe, as a result of a fallacious principle: Strauss and the new philosophy in all of its aspects; industrialism as the mainspring of social life; philanthropy based on calculated self-interest; the system of education accelerated by the power of aroused jealousy; Goethe, the crown of German poesy, the literary Tallyrand, who changes his beauty as the other changes his governments; Napoleon, the hero of our time, the ideal of soulless calculation; the numerical majority, a fruit of nationalistic politics; and Louis Philippe, the latest result of such hopes and such expensive experiments.”

Russia was blessedly free from this whole process.  It had not been conquered by Greece and Rome, escaped the Papacy’s control, and had a different trajectory in modern life.

It’s an interesting contrast to Western views of history which see the Enlightenment and modern life as a fundamental break — good or bad depending on one’s perspective — from Christian and traditional culture.

  1. russianoc says:

    Very nice article. Being Russian Orthodox and somewhat familiar with its history, I agree with the fact that the East was not affected by Western culture or its thought and theology. Nor does the Reformation play any part in the doctrine of the Eastern Church.

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