White Russian émigré philosopher and geopolitician Pyotr Nikolaevich Savitsky (1895-1968) was a leading figure of the classical Eurasianist movement that flourished after the Bolshevik Revolution and during the inter-war years. In this excerpt from a 1925 essay, Savitsky expounds the Eurasianist worldview, one based on traditional spiritual values rather than the modern materialists’ reign of quantity. Translated by Mark Hackard.
Eurasianists join those thinkers who reject the existence of universal progress…If a line of evolution runs differently through various spheres, then there can be no general ascending movement, no gradual and unbending general improvement; one or another cultural medium, improving in one area (from one point of view), often degrades in another and from another point of view. This position is applicable, in particular, to the European cultural medium: it has bought its scientific and technical “perfection,” from the point of view of the Eurasianists, with ideological and most of all religious impoverishment. The duality of its achievements is distinctly expressed in relation to the economy. Over the course of long centuries in the history of the Old World, there existed a certain singular correlation between the ideological-moral-religious principle on the one hand and the economic principle on the other. More precisely, there existed some ideological subordination of the latter principle to the former.
Namely the permeation of the whole approach to economic issues by the religious-moral moment allows some historians of economic theories (for example, the old mid-nineteenth century German-Hungarian historian Kautz, whose works up to now haven’t lost a certain significance) to unite into one group – by their relation to economic problems – such varying texts as Chinese literary fragments, the Iranian code of the Vendidad, the Mosaic law, the works of Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle and the medieval Western theologians. The economic philosophy of these texts is in a well-known sense the philosophy of a “subordinate economy;” the connection between satisfaction of our economic requirements with the general principles of morality and religion is emphasized within all of them as something necessary and proper.
The economic philosophy of the European “new era” is opposed to these views. Not always by direct words, but more often by the foundations of worldview, the new European economic philosophy asserts the cycle of economic phenomena as something self-sufficient and of autonomous value, containing and drawing from within itself the objectives of human existence. It would be a sign of spiritual blindness to negate the enormity of those purely cognitive achievements and successes in understanding and viewing economic phenomena that the new political economy has accomplished and accumulated. Yet acting as an empirical science and indeed in a certain and greater degree being such, in a whole host of its attitudes, the new political economy has influenced intellects and epochs as a metaphysic…
Just as the economic ideas of the ancient legislators, philosophers and theologians are tied to certain metaphysical conceptions, the economic ideas of the new economists are also tied to them. But if the metaphysics of the first was a philosophy of “subordinate economics,” then the metaphysics of the second is a philosophy of “militant economism.” The latter is in some way the ideological price that the new Europe has paid for the quantitatively tremendous economic growth she has experienced in modernity, especially in the last century. There is something instructive in this picture – both at the close of the Middle Ages and in the course of the new era, the ancient wisdom of moral testament, immemorial and restraining the egotistical instincts of man through words of exhortation and denunciation, the philosophy of “subordinate economics” is crumbling under the offensive of the new modern ideas, with the theory and practice of militant economism conceitedly asserting itself.
Historical materialism is the most consummate and dramatic expression of the latter. There is far from an accidental link between the philosophy of subordinated economics on the one hand and militant economism on the other, as we observe in empirical reality, with a certain attitude to questions of religion. If the philosophy of subordinated economics always serves as an appendage to one or another theistic worldview, then historical materialism is ideologically bound to atheism.
Like a wolf in fairy tales, the atheistic essence once hiding in historical materialism has now cast off the diversionary sheepskin of empirical science that had covered it: the atheist worldview is perpetrating its historical triumph in Russia, and state power in the hands of atheists has become an instrument for atheist propaganda. Not examining the question of historical responsibility for what has happened in Russia and not wishing to relieve anyone of this responsibility, the Eurasianists at the same time understand that the essence Russia assimilated and implemented, due to the susceptibility and excitability of her spiritual being, is not a Russian essence at its source and spiritual origin. The Communist witches’ Sabbath ensued in Russia as the completion of a more than two-hundred year period of europeanization.
To admit that the spiritual essence of Communist rule in Russia is, in a special manner, the reflected ideological essence of Europe’s new era is to make an assertion that is empirically founded to a high degree. (Here we must consider the following: the origin of Russian atheism in the ideas of the European Enlightenment; the importation of socialist ideas into Russia from the West; the connection of Russian Communist “methodology” with the ideas of French Syndicalists; and the significance and “cult” of Marx in Russia.) But having seen the ideological essence of European modernity in the form that was brought to its logical conclusion, Russians, not accepting Communism and at the same time not having lost the ability to think logically, cannot return to the basis of Europe’s latest ideology.
In the consciousness of the Eurasianists, there flows from the experience of the Communist Revolution a certain truth, simultaneously old and new – a healthy social community can be based only upon the indissoluble tie of man with God. An irreligious community and an irreligious sovereignty must be rejected; this rejection predetermines nothing in relation to concrete legal-constitutional forms, and there may exist as such a form, in the conception of the Eurasianists, of “separation of Church and state,” for example. Yet essentially, it is nevertheless highly significant that perhaps the first government by a consistently atheistic Communist power that had turned atheism into the official faith proved to be an “organized torment,” in the prophetic words of the profound nineteenth-century philosopher Konstantin Leontiev, a system of shock and destruction of “the common good” (in the name of which Communist power was established) and such an outrage upon the human person that all images pale and all words are powerless in the portrayal of a terrible, unprecedented and blasphemously bestial reality.
And we reiterate: the circumstance that the first consistently atheist power proved itself the dominion of the bestial is hardly an accident. Historical materialism, and the atheism that supplements it, deprives man’s primarily animal instincts of their restraint (including the primarily economic instincts, which amount to robbery). The basic defining force of social existence in the conditions of materialism and atheism’s ideological dominance turns out to be hate and delivers its deserved fruits: torment for everyone. And sooner or later it cannot but bring the final fruit – torment to the tormenters.
Russia enacted the triumph of historical materialism and atheism, but those laws that manifested in the course of her Revolution concern far from her alone. The cult of primarily economic interest and every sort of animal primacy has also germinated abundantly in the consciousness of peoples outside of Russia, and neither can it be the basis for a long-lived and successful society beyond her borders. The destructive forces gathering in these conditions will sooner or later overcome the power of social creation here, as well. One has to approach the problem in all its depth and breadth. The pressure of the materialist and atheist outlook must be opposed with an ideological essence overflowing with valuable and weighty content. There can be no hesitation. With still unheard-of directness and unbending resolve, on the broadest front and everywhere, it is necessary initiate and lead the struggle with everything associated even in the slightest degree with materialism and atheism. The evil must be traced back to its roots; we need to literally uproot it. It would be a superficial and powerless attempt to fight only with the most pronounced manifestations of historical materialism and atheism, or Communism alone. The problem is set deeper and at a more essential level. War must be declared upon militant economism wherever it might reveal itself. In the name of our religious worldview we must gather our forces, and with ardent feeling, clear thought and the fullness of understanding, combat the specific spirit of the new Europe.
Since the Continent has arrived at that historical and ideological frontier where it is at present, we can assert with great probability that in some period of the future, one of two outcomes will occur. Either the cultural medium of the new Europe will perish and scatter as smoke in tortuously tragic upheaval, or that “critical,” in the terminology of the Saint-Simonians, epoch that began in Europe with the close of the Middle Ages should come to an end and be replaced by an “organic” age, an “age of faith.” Past a certain measure, one cannot trample with impunity ancient wisdom, for in it is truth – not on the basis of elevating primarily selfish human instincts into the higher principle upheld in the philosophy of militant economism, but on the basis of an enlightened religious feeling of restraint and control of these instincts, thereby achieving a practicable higher measure of the “common good” on earth. A society given over to exclusive concern for worldly goods will sooner or later be deprived of them; such is the terrible lesson that shows through from the experience of the Russian Revolution.
The Eurasianists attempt to conclusively and thoroughly clarify and comprehend this experience, extract all the lessons streaming out of it, and be fearless in the matter. This is in contradistinction to those who have in confusion and timidity reeled from Communism’s beastly image, yet have not refused that which composes the basis or root of Communism; those who seizing the plough, look back; who try and pour new wine into old skins; who, having seen the new truth of Communism’s repulsiveness, are not strong enough to denounce the old abomination of militant economism, whatever forms the latter might assume.
Private faith is insufficient – the believing person should be conciliar. The Eurasianists are men of Orthodoxy. And the Orthodox Church is the lamp that illuminates them; they call their compatriots to Her, to Her Sacraments and Her Grace. And they are not troubled by the terrible sedition that has arisen in the heart of the Russian Church through the incitement of the atheists and theomachists. Spiritual strength will be sufficient, the Eurasianists believe; the struggle leads to enlightenment.
The Orthodox Church is the realization of higher freedom; its principle is concord, as opposed to the principle of authority that dominates in the Roman Church that separated from her. And it seems to the Eurasianists that in the stern matters of the world, one cannot make do without stern authority, but in matters of spirit and the Church, only grace-filled freedom and concord are good instructors. In some spheres of its worldly affairs, Europe demolishes the efficacy of authority and introduces a tyrannical power. The Orthodox Church has for long centuries been a light only to those nations who stayed faithful to her; she shined with the truths of her dogma and with the exploits of her ascetics.
At present, perhaps, a different period approaches: the contemporary Orthodox Church, continuing the succession of the ancient Eastern Church, received from her a whole unprejudiced approach to forms of economic life (so contradictory to the techniques of the Western Church, for example, which for long centuries fought against the collection of interest) and to the achievements of human thought. And therefore, it may be that within the framework of the new religious epoch, namely the Orthodox Church in the greatest measure is called to consecrate the achievements of the latest economic technology and science, having purified them from the ideological “superstructure” of militant economism, materialism and atheism, just as in her time, in the age of Constantine, Theodosius and Justinian, within the framework of a genuine and inspired “age of faith,” the ancient Church was able to consecrate a quite complex and developed economic way of life and considerable freedom in theological and philosophical thought. In contemporary economic life and empirical science, whatever its development, there is nothing that would exclude the possibility of their existence and prosperity in the depths of the new epoch of faith. The combination of modern technology with the ideology of militant economism and atheism is in no way either obligatory or unavoidable.
From the religious outlook, economic technology, whatever the limit of its possibilities might be, is a means of realizing the Testament laid by the Creator into the foundation of the human race: “and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Empirical science, from the religious point of view, is the uncovering of a picture of God’s world – whereby through the advance of knowledge, the wisdom of the Creator is ever more fully and completely revealed…