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Contemporary Philosophy

Main Trends of Contemporary Russian Thought (1)

Mikhail Epstein
Emory University

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ABSTRACT: This paper focuses on the most recent period in the development of Russian thought (1960s-1990s). Proceeding from the cyclical patterns of Russian intellectual history, I propose to name it 'the third philosophical awakening.' I define the main tendency of this period as 'the struggle of thought against ideocracy.' I then suggest a classification of main trends in Russian thought of this period: (1) Dialectical materialism in its evolution from late Stalinism to neo-communist mysticism; (2) Neorationalism and Structuralism; (3) Neo-Slavophilism, or the Philosophy of National Spirit; (4) Personalism and Liberalism; (5) Religious Philosophy and Mysticism, both Christian Orthodox and Non-Traditional; (6) Culturology or the Philosophy of Culture; (7) Conceptualism or the Philosophy of Postmodernity.

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"The Karamazovs are not scoundrels but philosophers, because all real Russian people are philosophers..."

Dmitry Karamazov, in Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov

It is a property of the Russian people to indulge in philosophy. ...The fate of the philosopher in Russia is painful and tragic.

Nikolai Berdyaev. The Russian Idea

The fact that one can annihilate a philosophy . ... or that one can prove that a philosophy annihilates itself is of little consequence. If it's really philosophy, then, like the phoenix, it will always rise again from its own ashes.

Friedrich Schlegel. Athenaeum Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow, 103.

The last period of the Soviet ideocracy, approximately from the early 1970s through the late 1980s, can be characterized as a period of "philosophical awakening," to use the felicitous expression of the theologian Georgy Florovsky (1893 - 1979). "Such awakening is usually preceded by a more or less complicated historical fate, the abundant and long historical experience and ordeal, which now becomes the object of interpretation and discussion. Philosophical life begins as a new mode or a new stage of national existence... One can feel in the generation of that epoch some irresistible attraction to philosophy, a philosophical passion and thirst, a kind of magical gravitation toward philosophical themes and issues." (2) Florovsky refers here to the first "philosophical awakening" of Russia in the span of years from 1830s to 1840s: roughly, the generation of Chaadaev, early Westernizers and Slavophiles, such as Belinsky, Herzen, Bakunin, Khomiakov, the brothers Aksakov, and the brothers Kireevsky. (3)

Russia's second philosophical awakening occurred in the first two decades of the 20th century, following in the wake of the unsuccessful revolution of 1905 and disenchantment of the most refined part of intelligentsia with the low intellectual level of populism, Marxism and other socialist theories. This intellectual renaissance is associated with the philosophical collection Signposts (1909) and the work of Merezhkovsky, Rozanov, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Frank, Florensky, Shestov, and other outstanding representatives of the so-called Silver Age.

Finally, after the soporific years of Soviet materialist scholasticism, a third philosophical awakening occurred in the 1970s-80s. In this period, philosophical works were circulated in various forms of "samizdat" ("self-publishing"), "tamizdat" ("there-publishing," i.e., in the West) and "togdaizdat " ("then-publishing," i.e., in prerevolutionary Russia). Such works conveyed a mysterious charm that could not be explained in terms of "truth or falsity," "persuasiveness or dubiousness." The very touch of these books, by such authors as Berdyaev, Shestov, and Bakhtin, made one feel involved in the joy and mystery of self-reflective existence.

Over the past forty years, several "philosophical" schools have emerged to challenge the ideocratic principles of Soviet Marxism which itself has undergone remarkable changes. Below, I will briefly outline seven principal trends of Russian thought of the 1950s-1980s.

1. Marxism. One principal vector of its transformation in the post-war period was the infusion of nationalism into Marxism, undertaken first by Stalin in his work on linguistics, where the class categories of traditional Marxism were abolished in favor of a notion of national unity, as exemplified in the integrity of national language. This tendency resurfaced in the 1980s, with the increasing rapprochement of official Marxism and grass-roots, nativist ideology, which later grew into a political alliance of communists and neo-fascists. Another revisionist tendency, toward the humanization of Marxism, emerged in the mid-1950s with the publication of Marx's early Philosophical-Economical Manuscripts, and found expression in the writings of Evald Ilyenkov, Genrikh Batishchev, and Yakov Mil'ner-Irinin. This tendency suffered a severe political blow with the 1968 failure to build "socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia, which revealed the incompatibility of humanism and Soviet Marxism.

Later, in the 1980s, three new approaches to Marxism emerge. The first is an attempt to revitalize and modify Marxism in the wake of the failure of the Soviet communist project. This version of post-communist Marxism, exemplified in the work of Sergei Platonov, proposes the purification of Marxism from its Leninist and especially Stalinist contaminations and the incorporation of new realities, such as the persistent success of market economics. The second approach argues that Leninism and Stalinism are consistent with the premises of Marxism, which must therefore be held responsible for all of communism's crimes against humanity. This version, developed in the writings of Aleksandr Yakovlev, the chief official ideologist of perestroika, involves the radical criticism of Marxism as a non-scientific and anti-humanist theory which, with its all-inclusive determinism, underestimates the sovereignty of consciousness, reducing personality to a function of social circumstances. The third approach, which can be called post-Marxist communism (as distinct from post-communist Marxism), glorifies the religious aspects of communism, which were abandoned by classical Marxism in favor of a quasi-scientific materialism. This position, articulated in the works of Sergei Kurginian and, to a lesser extent, Aleksandr Zinoviev, promotes a renewal of communism as a religious doctrine encompassing the deepest insights of many Eastern and Western faiths and opposed to the soulless hedonism and consumerism of capitalist civilization. Thus Marxism is presented as the latest form of "humanist religion" that might save humanity from the pitfalls of bourgeois individualism through high spiritual ideals and collectivist aspirations.

2. A number of new methodological approaches starting from the late 1950s may be united under the title of neo-rationalism. Yury Lotman (1922-1993), the founder of the Tartu school of Russian structuralism, undertook comprehensive research on what he calls the "semiosphere" — the universe of signs. He offers many penetrating methodological insights on the role of sign systems throughout history and culture. This project of rapprochement between the sciences and humanities was also developed in the Moscow school of structuralism (Vladimir Toporov, Vyacheslav Ivanov and others). Merab Mamardashvili (1930-90) and Aleksandr Piatigorsky (some of their works were written in collaboration) undertook a phenomenological analysis of consciousness, with a special interest in non-classical, post-rationalist and Oriental types of logic. The theory of systems and general methodology, as related to the philosophical problems of artificial intelligence and cybernetics, have been elaborated in the works of Georgy Shchedrovitsky, Vasily Nalimov, Yuly Shreider, and Georgy Mel'nikov. Neo-rationalism, and especially structuralism, achieved its greatest impact in the 1960s and 1970s when it boldly challenged the social mysticism of orthodox Soviet Marxism; but later, in the 1980s, the role of the primary philosophical alternative passed from structuralism to religious thought, which increasingly opposed itself to old-fashioned Marxist rationalism.

3. Among the most influential intellectual trends in the 1970s - 1980s are varieties of religious Orthodox thought. Christian visions of history and contemporary society were powerfully expressed by such major writers as Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who inspired many other thinkers. Father Aleksandr Men. (1935-1990) was by far the most influential Russian theologian and Orthodox spiritual leader of the 1970s-80s. In his seven-volume treatise, In the Search of the Way, Truth, and Life, as well as in his other books, he elaborates a philosophy of spiritual ascension that leads humanity from paganism to the Christian revelation of Godmanhood. The next generation of Orthodox thinkers is represented by Tatiana Goricheva (who writes on the topics connecting and contrasting Orthodox spirituality with postmodernism and feminism), Sergei Khoruzhii, Evgeny Barabanov, and Vladislav Zelinsky. A remarkable feature of this new religious thought is its sharp critique of the Platonic traditions of Russian religious philosophy (including Vladimir Solovyov's "total-unity" and its numerous repercussions). According to Khoruzhii, genuinely Christian philosophy would abandon such Platonic and Neo-Platonic conceptions as the total unity and would focus instead on existential intercourse between man and God, meditating on such spiritual processes as prayer, repentance, grace, introspection, silence, the unification of mind and heart — those acts of free will that truly mediate between the human and divine as distinct entities.

Marxist philosophers used to criticize Russian religious thought ('idealism') as the manifestation of a reactionary, bourgeois or feudalist worldview, incompatible with scientific and social progress. New critics, including Barabanov, Khoruzhii, and Boris Paramonov, on the contrary, blame Russian idealism for its secret or unconscious complicity with the communist Revolution, by supposedly preparing the ground for this social cataclysm through the dissemination of apocalyptic forebodings and totalitarian metaphysics ("total unity"). In this view, Russian society proved so receptive to the messianic revelations of Marxism and the mystique of the last bloody battle and coming golden age, precisely because Solovyov, Fyodorov, Berdyaev, and Merezhkovsky had already tuned the soul of the nation to the key of eschatological expectations that would be fulfilled, or at least precipitated, by their contemporaries and compatriots — by Russia as the vanguard of post-history.

4. Synthetic and spiritualist teachings proliferated in Russia since 1970s. Some of them, occult and para-scientific, are close to what in the USA is called "New Age." The most unified and solid among them is Cosmism (sometimes called "Anthropo-Cosmism") originating in Nikolai Fyodorov's (1829-1903) "the philosophy of the common cause" and his ideas about the universal resurrection of the dead, physical immortality, and the technological transformation of the cosmos. Such outstanding scientists as the father of Soviet cosmonautics Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and the pioneer of biogeochemistry Vladimir Vernadsky are considered the major authorities in Cosmism. Cosmism is a philosophy of active evolutionism, presupposing the possibility and necessity for the human mind to regulate and transform the laws of nature. Cosmism explains historical, social and psychological processes by the influences of cosmic energies and asserts a reciprocal dependency of the fates of the universe on the activity of human mind. A leading exponent of this movement, Svetlana Semyonova, is one among very few women engaged in contemporary philosophical debates in Russia. Paradoxically, Fyodorov's system which she advocates is based on extremely patriarchal views and denigrates the role of women as "seducers" of men preventing them from fulfilling their duties of resurrection toward the "fathers." Contemporary Cosmism is also related to the metaphysics of environment and ecological and neopaganist mysticism in the works of Fyodor Giryonok.

A different, more explicitly ecumenical and synthetic trend was expressed by Daniil Andreev (1906-1959) in his treatise The Rose of the World (1950-1958). Andreev develops an original "meta-historic" and "trans-physical" vision that attempts to absorb the religious wisdom of both West and East and to pave a way for a future "inter-religion" and harmonious world order based on a universal theocracy. Nikolai Roerikh's (1874-1947) and his wife Elena Roerikh's (1879-1955) version of Oriental-Occidental esoteric synthesis — Agni-Yoga — is also being intensely promoted and publicized by hundreds of intellectual groups famous as "Roerikh centers" in Russia. (4)

5. Many thinkers and intellectual writers represent various trends of personalist philosophy whose supreme values are freedom and the individual. Owing to Dostoevsky's overwhelming domestic influence and further contributions by Rozanov, Berdyaev and Shestov, Russian philosophy started on the existentialist path sooner than its Western counterparts. No comprehensive systematic treatises have been produced in this field, but there are numerous essays, articles and philosophical diaries by Mikhail Prishvin (1873-1954), Iakov Druskin (1902 - 1980), Lidiia Ginzburg (1902-90), Andrei Siniavsky, Grigory Pomerants, Boris Khazanov, Mikhailo Mikhailov, and Boris Paramonov. The formation and self-awareness of personality, its attitudes towards nature and society, love and death, and time and fate are the central motifs of personalist thought. This tradition of philosophical liberalism and pluralism has attracted influential supporters in the field of politics, such as academician Andrei Sakharov and historian Natan Eidel'man (1930-89), as well as outstanding proponents in poetry and fiction, including Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) and Andrei Bitov, both of whom express personalist views in their essayistic writings and philosophical prose.

6. Nationalist ideology, which emerged in the early 1970s and escalated rapidly in post-communist Russia, has produced its own intellectual elite: writers, critics, historians, and scientists who attempt to create a philosophy of national spirit (which is routinely, though not necessarily, linked to rightist views). Its major intellectual predecessors include the Russian Slavophiles of the 19th century and the Eurasianists of the 1920s. 20th-century German, French and Italian sources, such as René Guénon (1886-1951) and Julius Evola (1898-1974), the founders of contemporary traditionalism as a metaphysical system, are also abundantly cited. The influential publicistic writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the historio-ethnographic treatises of Lev Gumilev (1912-90) can be placed in this category insofar as they concern general philosophical issues, such as the relation between culture and nation, collective responsibility and guilt, biological energy and the moral patterns of ethnic groups. For example, Gumilev advances an original theory (which sometimes echoes Oswald Spengler's "morphology of culture") that explains the rise and decline of ethnic formations by biological rather than social factors, namely by disproportionate infusions of cosmic energies into the biological mass of humankind. Gumilev's key concept is "drive," or "passionality," which accumulates in the "heroic personalities" of certain nations and epochs, accounting for their historical accomplishments. Even more extreme representatives of the same conservative nationalism are critic Vadim Kozhinov and mathematician Igor Shafarevich, who have developed a pessimistic view on Russian and Soviet history as permanently threatened and undermined from within by non-Russians, particularly Jews.

Finally, two modifications of nationalism surfaced in the 1980s-90s. One presented by Viktor Aksiuchits is moderate conservatism, claiming the timeless values of Orthodox Christianity as a specifically Russian legacy destined to introduce the spirit of national reconciliation into a society torn apart by militant pluralism and partisanship. The other promoted by Aleksandr Dugin is radical traditionalism, proclaiming the restoration of a paganist, esoteric legacy and the unification of Eurasia into one Empire under Russian guidance with the aim of waging spiritual war on the secularized and materialist West. Unlike other conservatives, with their exclusively Russian or Slavic nationalism, traditionalists attempt to unite the extreme Rightist movements of the entire world, which reveals that they are more indebted to German, French, and Italian fascist or para-fascist ideologists than to the nineteenth-century Russian Slavophiles. Radical traditionalists believe that after the fundamentally leftist and democratic revolutions in France, America and Russia, the world abandoned Tradition and sold its soul to the devil of material prosperity. That is why a new, metaphysical revolution is needed, this time a rightist one, antithetical to the conventional revolutionary formula insofar as it pursues the restoration of the spiritual foundations of the world that were buried by decadent civilization in its pursuit] of "progress."

7. Another important trend of the 1970s-1980s is culturology, the philosophy of cultural dialogue and self-determination through "otherness." Culturology approaches culture as the integral system of various cultures-national, professional, racial, sexual. Thus culturology can be defined as a metadiscipline investigating the interconnections among the various phenomena of culture-in the realms of politics, science, art, literature, and religion. One reason for the ascendancy of culturology is the traditional tendency of Russian culture to overcome the extreme specialization of various disciplines and professions so characteristic of Western modes of cultural production. In communist Russia this unification was achieved on ideological grounds that submitted the entire range of cultural activities to the domination of politics. Culturology became a field of interdisciplinary interaction, posing an alternative both to excesses of scholarly specialization and to the pressures of ideological totalization. In culturology, "culture" is treated as a descriptive rather than a normative concept, the term itself being used both in the singular and in the plural. Culture as the ultimate unity of disciplinary spheres presupposes the diversity of cultures as multiple national and historical types, each having its own formative principle irreducible to others. Culturology attempts to approach culture on its own specific terms and to develop a holistic language that avoids lapsing into politicism, scientism, aestheticism, moralism, or the absolutization of any single aspect of culture.

Culturology received powerful impetus from Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), who asserted in his later works that "a culture exists only on the border of other cultures." Another strong influence came from Aleksei Losev (1893-1988), who developed his philosophy of "dialectical idealism" and "absolute mythology" primarily on the material of classical antiquity (History of Classical Aesthetics, in 8 volumes, 1963-1988). Representatives of culturology include Vladimir Bibler who managed to create his own methodological school of "dialogical logic" in the history of sciences and humanities; and Sergei Averintsev, a brilliant scholar in the field of antiquity and Byzantine civilization who has elaborated the philosophical aspects of cultural heritage and innovation, giving special emphasis to the problems of symbol and the interaction between religious and secular types of culture.

8. Poststructuralism. The latest trend worthy of mention corresponds to the post-structuralist paradigm in the West. One of its most original versions may be identified as conceptualism. This name usually refers to a well-known movement in Russian arts and literature of the 1970s and 1980s, but it can also be aptly applied to a broad spectrum of critical and philosophical ideas that complement and highlight this movement. Conceptualism assumes that certain conceptual schemes underlie the ideological construction of reality and determine its artificial, conventionalized character. Conceptual thinking is imbued with irony, parody, and a sense of relativity, since "truth" and "reality" are considered to be empty categories. The relationship between conceptualism and Marxism is somewhat reminiscent of the dispute between nominalists and realists in the epoch of the medieval scholastics: whereas Marxists assert the historical reality of such concepts as collectivism, equality, and freedom, conceptualists demonstrate that these notions are either contingent on mental structures or derived from linguistic structures. Every cultural form is conceived in terms of combinations of pre-established codes, such as Soviet ideological language or the code of the Russian psychological novel. The general approaches of conceptualism can be found in theoretical and artistic works by Andrei Siniavsky, (5) Ilya Kabakov, Vitaly Komar and Aleksandr Melamid, and Boris Groys.

Another version of philosophical poststructuralism is presented by the Laboratory of Non-Classical Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy in Moscow, in particular, by such authors as Valery Podoroga, Mikhail Ryklin, and Mikhail Yampolsky. They publish a philosophical collection Ad Marginem (book series and an annual) which is methodologically inspired by contemporary French thinkers (Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and others). Podoroga's works represent an original combination of phenomenological, hermeneutical and deconstructionist readings of German philosophers and Russian writers, with a special emphasis on the "communicational strategy" of writing and reading and corporeal and spatial quality of texts as "landscapes."

Of course, the above-mentioned eight movements do not exhaust the entire complexity of intellectual life in Russia, nor do they even account for the "hybrid" work of some individual thinkers. For example, Georgy Gachev has created an original holistic genre of writing that includes such components as "living-thinking" (zhiznemyslie ), "national images of the world," and a "humanitarian approach to natural sciences." His thinking combines peculiar qualities of such disparate trends as culturology, personalism, and the philosophy of national spirit. Contemporary Russian thought is polyphonic, not just pluralistic, in the sense that different positions and voices interact in the consciousnesses of the most creative individual thinkers.

Rarely in the history of thought has philosophy represented such a liberating force as it did in Russia from the 1960s through the 1980s. The Soviet State had generated a rigid system of "once and forever proven" ideas that aimed to perpetuate its mastery over the individual mind. For this reason, philosophical thinking, which by its nature transcends the limits of the existing order and questions sanctioned practices, was under permanent suspicion as an anti-State activity: to philosophize was an act of self-liberation via an awareness of the relativity of the dominant ideological discourse. Philosophical ideas in the Soviet Union rarely matured into well-balanced, self-sufficient systems, because the State arrogated to itself the privilege of consummating and elaborating ideas in a systematic way. The fate of non-Marxist thinkers was to dissolve these ideocratic systems in a stream of critical, spontaneous thinking that attempted to go beyond all possible systems, in order to undermine rather than consolidate them. Since official philosophy functioned as a tool of power, it was the task and merit of non-official philosophy to advance anti-totalitarian modes of thinking, thus de-centralizing the structure of discourse and deconstructing any possible principle of systematization. Thought tried to free itself from ideocracy by putting down roots in authentic, concrete entities beyond ideological generalizations, such as faith in a living God, the existential uniqueness of personality, the organic soul of the nation, the empirical credibility of science, the symbolic meanings of culture, or, finally, by challenging the master-discourse of Soviet ideology through its parodic imitation and exaggeration. All of these trends in philosophy — neo-rationalist, religious, personalistic, national, culturological, post-structuralist — were initially and intentionally forms of intellectual self-liberation. The internal logic of development, however, has led some of these schools of thought, especially the philosophies of national spirit and religious syncretism, to renovated and "improved" projects of postcommunist ideocracy

Indeed, if we attempt to summarize the most recent developments in Russian thought (the 1990s), we discover a general tendency for the radicalization of its metaphysical ambitions. This tendency may be identified in such diverse movements as Marxism, with the eschatological communism of Sergei Kurginyan; nationalism, with the radical traditionalism of Aleksandr Dugin; religious philosophy, with the increasing popularity of Nikolai Fyodorov's Cosmism and Daniil Andreev's "interreligious" teaching of The Rose of the World. Even the movements that would seem to be the most resistant to metaphysical assumptions, such as Structuralism, culturology and conceptualism, reveal a growing propensity for universalist claims. For example, the later works of Yury Lotman and Vasily Nalimov are rife with a metaphysics of chance, contiguity, indeterminism. Georgy Gachev builds much more ambitious cosmosophical constructions than did his predecessors in culturology, Bakhtin, Losev and Likhachev. Is it a coincidence that this proliferation of new, radical metaphysical discourses has arisen with the degradation and collapse of the ideocratic system of Soviet power?

The Soviet system was not merely a political and legislative entity but was founded on a metaphysical, even eschatological, vision, officially called Marxism but stemming also from the prophetic philosophizing of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hence the collapse of the Soviet regime left something more than just a need for governmental reform: it left a metaphysical vacuum, eager to be filled. If the prevailing mood among intellectuals in the late Soviet period was to challenge and demystify ideocracy, then the collapse of that ideocracy generated numerous emulations and simulations among various intellectual groups, which attempted, at least in theory, to build a new ideocratic regime on a more firm, nationalistic, technological and/or religious foundation. Traditionally in Russia, political platforms have been constructed on a framework of the most general, "filosofical" ideas; in the early 1990s, competing metaphysical theories were rushing in to fill the demolished and excavated site with a foundation for a new political architecture. The death of one "big" totalitarianism gave birth to a number of smaller ones. Many politicians, of both leftist and rightist orientation, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Aleksandr Rutskoi, and even the new communist leader Gennady Zyuganov more or less consistently wielded metaphysical ideas to justify their ambitions for intellectual leadership.

This overall tendency, characteristic of the Russian mentality in general but aggravated in the early 1990s by increasing political instability, can be called "metaphysical radicalism." Political radicalism flows from the very core of this type of metaphysics, which, following Marxist paradigm, does not limit itself to explaining the world but attempts to change it. At the same time, any politics with pretensions to radically transforming the world cannot limit itself to the social, economic, and legislative dimensions, but must entail metaphysical assumptions. In the contemporary West, politics usually pursues less expansive goals of partially improving existing systems, and therefore, it is divorced from metaphysical considerations, or at least pretends to be. Since Russia's historical dynamics are not evolutionary but disruptive and catastrophic, each break in political continuity necessitates renewed metaphysical speculation and indoctrination designed to justify the entirely new social order. It is the privilege of metaphysics to address the world as a whole, as it is the objective of political radicalism to transform this whole completely. Thus metaphysical and political radicalism are mutually dependent, as the totalitarian experiments of the 20th century have shown: both communist and fascist radicalism advanced strong metaphysical claims. Russian philosophy, which during the 1950s-80s had resisted the stranglehold of Soviet ideocracy, may now be preparing the foundation for a new type of ideocracy, potentially based on the ideas of Cosmism, universal theocracy, radical traditionalism, Eurasianism or eschatological communism. The options are varied.

Metaphysical radicalism is a specific type of philosophical discourse that ignores the Kantian critique of metaphysics and claims to "transcend" the epistemological limits imposed on human cognitive capacities. It relies on 'revealed', 'self-evident' or 'generally accepted' truth or values that are directly accessible for human mind. However, this philosophical mode cannot be identified with the naive metaphysics that Kant criticized; it aspires not to adequate knowledge but to the practical transformation of the world, not to truth but to power. For metaphysical radicalism, epistemological limits remain effective, but irrelevant, since they can be transcended politically, volitionally, as the projection of a different world is implemented by the forces of social, national and technological revolution. This is not a pre-critical, descriptive but a post-critical, prescriptive metaphysics, one that draws on suppressed desires and taps the collective unconscious. Western intellectuals are familiar with this type of fiery speculation through the works of New Left thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse, but the principal distinction of the majority of contemporary Russian "New Right" thinkers is their appeal to the absolute past, to the resurrection of ancestors or the restoration of Tradition.

It is known that sentences in the imperative mood cannot be subjected to the criteria of verification. As Roman Jakobson puts it, "The imperative sentences cardinally differ from declarative sentences: the latter are and the former are not liable to a truth test." (6) "Do this!" as distinct from "S/he has done this" or "This is done," cannot be challenged by the question "Is it true or not?" The same may be said of "metaphysics in the imperative mood," which, unlike the "indicative mood" of pre-Kantian metaphysics, evades critical challenges to its truthfulness. Kant's critique of philosophical dogmatism was crucially conclusive in respect to metaphysical "declarations," but to what extent can it help to demystify the metaphysical "imperatives" that began proliferate in the 19th and 20th centuries precisely as a result of Kantian limitations on theoretical reason?

The alliance between metaphysics and politics has benefits for both of them: as practice, it concentrates on one goal, on one direction of change; as philosophy, it posits itself beyond truth and falsehood. A diversity of positions is possible in philosophy only insofar as it interprets the world, but the task of changing the world leaves one position — the one that is sanctioned as correct and mandatory. One of the most famous Karl Marx's statements on the tasks of philosophy is his 11th thesis on Feuerbach: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." There is a curious asymmetry in this proposition: the transition from "interpreting" to "changing" is achieved at the price of "variability" which is dropped in the second part of the thesis. It is possible to interpret the world in various ways, but presumably there is only one way or direction of its practical transformation. This is how totalitarian implications are inherent in the very project of the philosophy as the practical/political action.

There are strong tensions, originating from diverse ideological sources, among the representative trends of metaphysical radicalism. For example, radical traditionalists inspired by such extreme rightist thinkers as René Guénon and Julius Evola, condemn Fyodorovian Cosmism as a leftist, technocratic heresy obsessed with the idea of progress and active, self-governed human evolution. Neo-fascist ideologists of Zhirinovsky's camp condemn radical traditionalists for their romantic alienation from the contemporary scene and their obsession with the past. (7) Nonetheless, these antagonisms serve to underscore the substantial unity of metaphysical radicalism, not in the specific contents of the individual projects that fall within its scope, but in the very mode of projective thinking that establishes a set of ideas about what the world should be, while utterly rejecting the world as it is. Fyodorov, the founder of Russian Cosmism, wrote: "...philosophy must become the knowledge not only of what is but of what ought to be, that is, from the passive, speculative explanation of existence it must become an active project of what must be, the project of universal action." (8) Not only Fyodorovians but radical traditionalists and Neomarxist utopians could subscribe to this statement of what philosophy should do in the face of the world problems and what the world should become in the name of philosophical ideas. The formula for the political implications of this metaphysical radicalism can be found in Nietzsche's prophecy: "The time of the struggle for domination of the globe is upon us; it will be undertaken in the name of basic philosophical teachings." (9) Russian metaphysical radicals invoke as model the fate of Nietzsche's own teachings: German recruits going into the trenches of the first World War with volumes of Zarathustra in their rucksacks.

The ideological incompatibility among Marxist, nationalist and religious discourses, which sharply divided them in the late Soviet period, now becomes more and more irrelevant as these positions merge in the overarching type of radical discourse. Consider the words of Sergei Kurginyan, one of the chief ideologist of post-Marxist revival of communism who was the principal political advisor of the conservative, pro-communist forces in the Soviet leadership that organized the failed putsch of August, 1991, and attempted to preserve the Soviet Union as a communist superpower: "We regard communism not only as a theory but as a new metaphysics which leads to the creation of a new, global religious teaching... It contains many fundamental features vitally important for civilization, features of a new world religion with its own saints and martyrs, apostles and creed. ...Among the indisputable predecessors of communism we identify Isaiah and Jesus, Buddha and Lao Tse, Confucius and Socrates... [...] Today there is no alternative to the communist meta-religion..." (10) Further, Kurginyan insists that Russia, since its ancient history "has experienced a need for an idea with global-messianic potential capable of unifying Eurasia. She found this in communism. [...] The red field, Communist eschatology and Communist mysticism existed, exist and will exist in Russia and, most probably, these ideas... will find their place within Eurasian expanses, merging with Orthodox, Sufi, Buddhist, and possibly, Catholic mysticism." (11)

This example of the discourse of "metaphysical radicalism" reduces or even erases any difference among communist, nationalist and religious rhetoric. Another example comes from the head of the renovated Communist party, Gennady Zyuganov, the strongest contender for Russian political and ideological leadership in Russia today: "From the standpoint of ideology and world view, Russia is the keeper of the ancient spiritual tradition: its fundamental values are sobornost' (12) (collectivism), the supreme power of the State [derzhavnost' ], sovereignty [literally: self-sufficiency of statehood], and the goal of implementing the highest 'heavenly' ideals of justice and brotherhood in earthly reality." (13) Within a single sentence, phrases imbued with religious meaning — "spiritual tradition," "sobornost'" and "heavenly ideals," merge together with "derzhavnost'" and "statehood," taken from the vocabulary of nationalists, and with "collectivism" and "brotherhood," the key words of communist jargon.

Thus we can single out metaphysical radicalism as one of the most powerful tendencies in contemporary Russian thought, as a kind of metadiscursive strategy transcending the ideological differences among previously oppositional movements.

Russian intellectual history is a history of thought that fights desperately to escape the prison of an ideocratic system created by the strenuous and sacrificial efforts of thought itself. What makes Russian thought so unique is its internal tension, its struggle against itself, against its own ideational constructions and social extensions.

In the West, the field of philosophy is more or less clearly divided into ontology, the theory of being, and epistemology, the theory of knowledge. In Russia, such a division is almost irrelevant since philosophy addresses a conception of being that is itself constructed by thinking. Beginning with Chaadaev, and the Westernizers and Slavophiles, Russian philosophy focused on the secondary reality, one created by ideas. In Russia, thought tried to confront the triumph of thought. One speculative capacity, "intelligentsia," opposed itself to another speculative capacity, "ideocracy, " — but the former also created the latter. This self-contradictory movement of thought, shattering its own foundations, gives an unprecedented, sometimes "suicidal" quality to Russian philosophy. It may have been "derivative" and "secondary," but not so much in respect to Western thought, as in relation to properly Russian, utterly artificial, fabricated, and "ideational" reality.

Till now, Russia never played an important role in world philosophy, but philosophy did play an enormous role in Russia, especially in the 20th century. Now that the system of ideocracy is not only theoretically deconstructed but, hopefully, historically transcended, one can envision the reversal of these tendencies. As philosophy will play a lesser role in a Russian society increasingly motivated by materialistic, economic goals, Russian philosophy, rethinking its unique experience of self-denial and self-liberation, will assume a more prominent role on the international scene.

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(1) This paper is based on my book length research Russian Philosophical and Humanistic Thought 1950-1991 on which I have been working since 1992 under the contract with the National Council for Soviet and East European Research (Washington DC).

(2) Rev. Georgy Florovsky. Puti russkogo bogosloviia (1937). 4th ed. Paris: YMCA-PRESS, 1988, pp. 234, 235.

(3) According to Florovsky, for the previous generation of Russian intelligentsia, of the 1810s-1820s, it was poetry (Zhukovsky, Batyushkov, Griboedov, Pushkin) that played the role of cultural magnet. The same is true about Soviet intelligentsia which in the late 1950s - early 1960s was obsessed with poetry and whose idols were Evtushenko, Voznesensky, Akhmadulina, and Okudzhava. Already in the late 1960s - early 1970s they surrendered their influence not to other poets, but to thinkers and scholars, such as Mikhail Bakhtin, Yury Lotman, and Sergei Averintsev. Florovsky has coined a formula for such a process of maturation: "From the poetical stage Russian cultural-creative consciousness transfers into the philosophical stage" (Florovsky, op.cit., p. 236).

(4) The range of these teachings and their role in both traditional and contemporary Russian thought is presented in the recent volume The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, ed. by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1997.

(5) On the relationship between existentialist and postmodernist elements in Sinyavsky's thought see my article "Siniavsky kak Myslitel'" (Siniavsky as a Thinker). Zvezda (S.-Petersburg), 1998, No. 2, 151-171.

(6) Roman Jakobson. Language in Literature , ed. by Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy. Cambridge, Mass., London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987, p. 68.

(7) See, for example, the criticism of radical traditionalism in the neo-fascist journal Ataka (no date and place, No. 12, pp. 32-34) whose editor Sergei Zharikov was the main ideologist and the minister of culture in the "shadow" government of Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

(8) N.Fyodorov. Filosofiia obshchego dela. Cited in V. V. Zenkovsky. Istoriia russkoi filosofii, Paris: IMKA-PRESS, 1950, Vol. 2, s. 135.

(9) F. Nietzsche. Schriften und Entwürfe 1881-1885. Werke/Hrsg. von F.Koegel. 2. Abt. Bd.12. Leipzig, 1897, S.110.

(10) S. E. Kurginian, B. R. Autenshlius, P. S. Goncharov, Yu. V. Gromyko, I. Yu. Sundiev, V. S. Ovchinsky. Postperestroika, Moscow: Politizdat, 1990, pp. 59-60, 66.

(11) Sergei Kurginian. Sed'moi stsenarii. Moscow: Eksperimental'nyi tvorcheskii tsentr, 1992, vol.3, pp. 201, 228.

(12) In Russian, the term "sobornost'" means "togetherness," "the spirit of communality" and has theological origin and connotations (the spiritual experience of Russian Orthodox church). By adding "collectivism" as its synonym, Zyuganov wants to equate religious and communist views which is one of the central points of his ideological program ("Christ as the first communist").

(13) Published in the newspaper "Soviet Russia," September 24, 1994.

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