The Relevance of Byzantinism
What is Byzantinism? Is it related only to the past or is it a picture of the future? And most importantly: is Russia a country that has a fate inextricably linked with Byzantinism?
The Great Russian thinker Konstantin Leontiev, in his main book Byzantinism and The Slavs, determined Byzantinism as:
What is Byzantinism? Byzantinism is above all special kind of education or culture with its own distinctive features, their common, clear, sharp and its conceptual beginning in the history of certain consequences.
The Slavism, taken in its wholeness, is still a sphinx riddle.
The abstract idea of the Byzantium is very clear and understandable. This general idea is composed of several particular ideas: religious, national, moral, philosophical and artistic.
We can see nothing like that in the Pan-Slavism. Imagining Pan-Slavism, we have only some amorphous, spontaneous, disorganized presentation, something similar to distant and vast clouds, which can form a variety of shapes, approaching to us.
Imagining Byzantinism, we can, on the contrary, see a strict, clear plan of extensive and roomy “building”. We know, for example, that in the state system, Byzantinism means autocracy. In religion, it means Christianity with certain features that distinguishs it from the Western churches, from heresies and schisms. In the moral world, we know that the Byzantine ideal is not that high, and in many cases, extremely exaggerated notions of earthly human personality, which is recorded in the history of German feudalism; we know the tendency of Byzantine moral ideal to disappoint in everything earthy, in happiness, in stability of our own purity, in our ability to complete moral perfection. We know that Byzantinism (as well as Christianity) rejects any hope of universal prosperity of the peoples; that it is the strongest antithesis to the idea in the sense earthly pan-humanity, pan-freedom, pan- perfection, and pan-blessedness.
Byzantinism also gives a very clear understanding of artistic or even aesthetic nature: fashion, customs, tastes, clothing, architecture, utensils – everything is easy to imagine a few more or a few less Byzantine.
Preconditions for the appearance of Byzantium in Russia was simultaneous with Christianization. Since then, it was taken over by the special Orthodox culture that developed in the Byzantine Empire and the attitude of the emperor-king as Katechon. However, immediately after Christianization the fruits of Byzantinism blossomed. It took several centuries for this idea to manifest itself.
The Russian Byzantinism has two metaphysical assumptions. One of them is related to the so-called Roma Mobilis or “floating Rome”, an idea that was outlined most clearly by monk Philotheus. This is the idea of “Moscow as the Third Rome.” Accepting this idea, the Russian Tsar became Katechon or restraining evil, and the people as the part of the fortress state.
The second basis of the Russian Byzantinism is a tradition of the Legend of the White Cowl. Both of these concepts are deep in the Russian people’s mythos and become a reality for them. In the time of Peter's Russia, this reality was shaken. The new elite of the Empire broke up many features of the Russian Byzantium. However, Konstantin Leontiev proves that Byzantinism did not go into oblivion, and remained hidden, often unrevealed, as the axis of Russian statehood, which was only superficially dressed in Western clothes. Similarly, the Soviet-Marxist “progressive society”, particularly in the Stalinist period, was the return to Moscow’s past, but unfortunately, it was not everything, and it was not enough. There was some kind of “freeze” for Russia, but not deep enough and not long enough. The thaw and “perestroika” brought down all the 1930’s-1940’s success. Thus, we have a paradox: some patriotic thinkers denied Byzantinism as an idea borrowed from the outside. Thus, the Russian philosopher Ivan Solonevich wrote about Russian statehood: “We built the Russian statehood. Not the Germans, Tatars, Latvians, as claimed by Gorky and his student Rosenberg; not princes and boyars, as Marx and Lenin said; not Byzantium or the Golden Horde, but we: several hundred million Ivans, well remember their great, proud and terrible relationship and perfectly understanding that they, Ivans, actually need.”
By respecting the works of Ivan Solonevich and sharing some aspects of his ideology, we look at this issue in a different dimension. Eurasianism speaks about superethnos and the complementarity of ethnic groups, which was described in detail in the work of Lev Gumilev ‘the Ethnogenesis and Biosphere of the Earth’. We should understand that not all ethnic systems are complementary, but any ethnic group cannot be formed from scratch, without relying on any premises, fully creating culture and statehood: we always have a number of elements. For example, the whole of Europe was based on the heritage of the Latins. Hellenism influenced the culture of the West and the East, reaching their depths, creating them in many ways. Plato and the Platonists brought a lot to Christian theology culture. Russia was created at the junction of a number of powerful ideas. If you look at Russia from the point of view of the state and of the faith, we can see Byzantinism. If we take the organizational aspect, Russia has taken much of the Horde. We must finally reject the “national inferiority complex,” imposed upon us by the West to deny the “black legend.” Russia came under the hand of the Horde as a state torn by strife, and left it as the empire with strong centralism and rigid organization inherent to the Horde. The Soviet experience was largely associated with the “Horde” of the industrial age. The yassa of Genghis Khan and the ethics of the Soviet nomenclature of the Stalin era are definitely not the same, but the similarities can be seen. Where is the actual Russian? It didn’t disappear. Moreover, it is the core of the Russian imperial civilization. Russian was the language of the whole empire, as the language determines thought and gives the keys to the archetypes, designing cultural code and meanings. The Byzantine statehood and the Orthodox faith are the basis of the Russian national culture and Russian numenosity (read more in A. Dugin’s lecture The Russian Society Sociology). The Russian people have reworked both Byzantinism and the Horde’s legacy in a very special way, with the purity of the faith remaining unshaken. We should pay special attention to changes of the succession of power principle, which Leontiev described: “Instead of the election, the moving, life-long dictator of Byzantinism, we found the Grand Duke of Moscow, who patriarchal and hereditarily ruled Russia. Byzantinism was reined by an abstract idea of law: in Russia, this idea has found itself in the flesh and blood of the king's birth, sacred to the people. The generic monarchical feeling that the Great Russian legitimism was first familiar to the house of Rurik, and then to the House of Romanov.”
The Russian monarchy is a unique system, of course, continuing the Katechon line, but nevertheless, it does not coincide directly with the Byzantine principle of succession. Moreover, the principle of Katechon hereditary monarchy is expressed brighter.
All Russian-Eurasian nations have contributed to the development and history of imperial culture; this is the “blossoming complexity.” However, it is the Russian people and their cultural, political, military, and economic activity that were fundamental in the development of Russia-Eurasia, since the era of Muscovite Russia. At the same time Russian culture itself has archaic layers: this culture remained alive at the end of the Soviet era, although it faced a deep crisis. The peasant collectivism created a very special type of economy and society, whose echoes became dominant in the Soviet system, despite the tragedy of the peasantry under the Soviet Union. A radically different cultural dominant mass started only after “perestroika”. The compulsive leitmotif of Western consumer culture is still booming. Here is the answer to the question of injury to the deep Russian society. This phenomenon is described by Aleksandr Dugin as Russian archeomodern.
We should return to Byzantinism. What aspects of Byzantium can be projected today? In geopolitical terms, Russia should be the Empire. The nation-state is the enemy for Byzantinism. In terms of culture, we are talking about Orthodox conservative values while maintaining the blossoming complexity and the rights of all traditional religions. In terms of Russian aesthetics, Byzantinism is revealed in temple architecture. A return to this style, though not universal, can be seen today.
An important feature is the special Byzantium culture of thought. This is the exact opposite of modern one. In this regard, today we are suffering a deep crisis. The cynicism and the irony, incredulity and contempt for the guiding line of traditional society were adopted by the Russian intelligentsia from the West. We need to radically reject the idea, formed by the Descartes school. In general, the Reformation’s heritage is a product of the West’s decomposition and a deep cultural crisis. Taking this poison is the same thing as the blood transfusions from dead man to a living person. We need a conservative revolution of the Russian thought, and in many ways, it will be a return to the medieval way of thinking, which does not mean the rejection of science and technology, but that the scientific and technological developmental path will be closed in some taboo areas where, however, scientists cannot be competent. For those who believe in a return to the medieval thought is degrading, we suggest to read the works of Ivan the Terrible, or at least watch the film the Tsar Business by B. Liznev. His clarity and sharpness of thought are striking even today. This idea is far more independent and fulfilling, hierarchical and logical than the hysterical convulsions of Western theorists such as Popper and Hayek.
We need the holism of thought.
The key issue is the question of Byzantium eschatology. Any forms of chiliasm are unacceptable. The Apostasy is inevitable like the End of the World. The Empire is the ark that is able to give lately the opportunity of the theurgy and the possibility of salvation: both personal and general. However, the Empire does not negate either the End of the Times or the Apostasy, but delays them. The main goal of the state is to delay the collapse, to stop the destructive tendencies, to build a barrier against the evil. Which political system might complete the Russian-Byzantine existence? For Russia, such a system may be associated with the Fourth Political Theory and its Russian form - Social-monarchism. We wrote about this in detail in our article ‘the Evolution versus Revolution: Social aspects of monarchism’, which reviewed A. Dugin and V. Karpets’ ideas.
The consciousness of the state as a multinational power, saving the Ark before the crowds, and the threat of decomposition - Babylonian pan-imputation is a metaphysical message of the so important nowadays Byzantinism.