As liberal revolutions ignited across Europe in 1848, poet and diplomat Fyodor Tyutchev shared his thoughts on the situation in his April treatise Russia and the Revolution, both an incisive analysis of Western culture’s trajectory toward disintegration and a call for Russia to act as the guardian of Eastern Christendom and traditional order in Europe. The following is an excerpt translated by Mark Hackard.
For clarification on the enormous shock that has seized Europe today, it would follow to say thus. Long now in Europe there have existed only two actual forces- the Revolution and Russia. These two powers are now set against each other, and perhaps tomorrow they will enter into combat. Between them there are no negotiations, and all treaties are impossible; the existence of one is tantamount to the death of the other! Upon the outcome of the struggle that has arisen between them, the greatest struggle to which the world has been witness, depends the political and religious future of humanity for centuries.
The fact of such a confrontation is made obvious for all to see; however, the absence of reason in our age, its having grown stupefied from rationalistic syllogisms, is such that the present generation, living side by side with such a significant fact, is quite far from understanding its true character and genuine causes.
Until this time men have searched for an explanation in the sphere of purely political ideas; they have attempted to specify the differences in principles of a purely human order. But of course the strife that divides the Revolution and Russia is in completely another way connected with deeper causes, which we may generalize in two words.
Russia is first and foremost a Christian empire; the Russian people are Christian not only by the Orthodoxy of their belief, but in even greater measure due to something more intimate than beliefs. They are such due to that capability for self-denial and self-sacrifice that constitutes, in a way, the foundation of their moral nature. The Revolution is first and foremost the enemy of Christianity. The anti-Christian spirit is the soul of the Revolution, her essential differentiating characteristic. Those transformations to which it has consecutively been subjected, those slogans it without fail adopts, even its violence and crimes were of secondary nature and incidental; yet the one thing in it not of this order is the anti-Christian intent that inspires it, and it is this which has granted it dread mastery over the universe. He who cannot understand this is no more than a blind man present at a spectacle delivered to him by the world over the past 60 years.
The human ego, desiring dependence only upon itself and neither recognizing nor accepting any law except for the expression of its own will, in a word, the human ego that replaces God with itself, is of course not something new among men; what’s new is the despotism of human ego, elevated to political and social law and aspiring with its aid to master society. In 1789 this innovation received the name of the French Revolution.
From that time, the Revolution in all of its metamorphoses has maintained loyalty to its own nature and visibly has never felt itself so intimately anti-Christian than at the present time, having appropriated the Christian call to brotherhood. By that we may even suppose that it nears its apogee. And indeed, will not each man who hears the naively blasphemous orations, nearly the official language of our era, not pause to think that the new French Republic appeared to the world in order to fulfill the law of the Gospel? After all, the forces it created have ascribed to themselves namely an analogous vocation, although with one amendment that the Revolution set aside for itself – the spirit of humility and self-denial, composing the basis of Christianity, it seeks to replace with a spirit of pride and haughtiness, free and voluntary charity with compulsory philanthropy, and in exchange for preached and accepted brotherhood in God’s name, it attempts to establish a brotherhood imposed by the fear before Lord People. With the exception of the above-noted differences, its ascendancy promises to become Christ’s kingdom in actuality.
This contemptuous goodwill, evinced up to this time in relation to the Catholic Church and its servants, should delude no one. It is quite possibly the most important sign of the actual state of things and the most obvious indicator of the omnipotence the Revolution has achieved. In reality, why must the Revolution show itself hostile to clergy and Christian priests who not only suffer its dominion, but accept and assimilate it? They extol its depredations to prevent the threats it issues, not suspecting that they are joining in all of its untruths. If such behavior was only comprised of calculation, it would be apostasy, but when conviction is added to calculation, the apostasy is intensified to a much more considerable degree.
It is, however, permissible to foresee there won’t be any lack of persecution. On the very day when the limit of concessions will be exhausted and the Catholic Church considers the initiation of resistance its duty, it will be discovered that it is only capable of doing so by a return to martyrdom. One can depend on the Revolution: it is faithful to itself in every matter and thorough unto the end.
The paroxysms of February rendered the world a great service by shattering at their base all the illusory constructions that had masked genuine reality. Even the most myopic of men must now understand that the history of Europe over the course of the last 30 years constituted only a continuous mystification. And was not the recent past suddenly illuminated by a pitiless light when it had already been so far removed from us? Who, for example, does not now understand all the preposterousness of that wisdom of our age, which goodheartedly convinced itself that it had managed to tame the Revolution through constitutional incantations and harness its terrible energy with a legalistic formula? After everything that has transpired and given the penetration of the revolutionary principle into the social bloodstream, who could still doubt that all approaches and formulae for appeasement are only narcotic remedies capable of putting the patient to sleep, but powerless to prevent the further development of the disease itself?
It is unlikely that all of the seismic shocks laying waste to the West will stop at the threshold of the eastern lands. In such a ruthless war, in the upcoming unholy crusade against Russia by the forces of a Revolution that has already seized three quarters of Western Europe, how could it happen that the Christian East, the Slavic-Orthodox East whose existence is indivisibly tied with our own, would not move after us into the unfolding struggle? And war might begin from that point, since it is natural to suppose that all of the gnawing propaganda, mutually conflicting but united in a common feeling of hatred toward Russia, will take up its cause with even greater ardor than previously. One can be sure that they will not retreat before anything to achieve their objectives…Righteous God! What would be the fate of all these peoples, Christian as we are, if they became (as is happening) the target of every repulsive influence and were abandoned in their hour of need by the only power they appeal to in their prayers? In a word, what a horrible disarray would seize the nations of the East in their battle with the Revolution if our lawful Ruler, the Orthodox Emperor of the East, would delay his appearance any further!
No, this is impossible. Thousand-year premonitions are in no way deceiving us. Russia, a faithful land, will have her faith at the decisive moment. She will not be frightened by the greatness of her fate, nor will she retreat before her vocation.
And when was Russia’s vocation ever more clear and obvious? We can say that the Lord has engraved it with fiery arrows in the storm-darkened heavens. The West is departing the stage, and everything collapses and perishes in a general world-fire – Charlemagne’s Europe and the Europe of the treatises of 1815, the Roman Papacy and all the Western kingdoms, Catholicism and Protestantism, faith already long lost and reason brought to meaninglessness, a henceforth untenable order and a henceforth untenable liberty. And upon this entire heap of self-wrought ruins is a civilization murdering itself by its own hand…
And when we see over this vast wreckage an even more vast Empire arising like the Holy Arc, who will dare doubt Russia’s calling, and who are we, her children, to display unbelief and faintness of heart?