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Russia Between East and West

Russia Between East and West

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Karsavin was quite a distinctive thinker among the personnages of the
Eurasian movement. Some crucial points in the history of the movement
are associated with his name, not only the break and fall mentioned
above. His access to the movement was accompanied by the intrigues
that heavily affected the future shape of Eurasian ideology.1

However,

1

About P. Suwczy…ski’s manipulations that brought about G. V. Florovskii’s departure,
and about preventing I. A. Ilin from joining the movement, see Sobolev (1992: 56).

Absolutism and Authority in Eurasian Ideology: Karsavin and Alekseev • 95

neither the intrigues within the movement nor the person of the philoso-
pher himself were most important. It was his philosophy of history and
his opinions about the political system of Russia which was to emerge
after the communist ideology withered and the Soviet system collapsed
that influenced the movement most.
Karsavin’s philosophical concepts belong to the major stream of Russian
religious philosophy called the philosophy of whole-unity. The category
(vceedinstvo) is as old as philosophy itself and can be traced back to
Heraclitus, who pursued the idea of unity, relation, and mutual rela-
tionship between everything that exists. “Everything is unity, and unity
is God,” said Xenophanes. According to Anaxagoras, “there is part of
everything in everything.” However, they were Neo-Platonists who accepted
this idea as an element of an orderly ontological system. Plotinus defined
whole-unity as an internal structure of existence an ideal world (per-
ceived mentally) that emanated from Absolute-Unity.
In patristic theories, whole-unity was “self-defined” as a religious notion,
and the church understood whole-unity as the mystical body of Christ
and his person. Whole-unity came to be perceived as a set of arche-
types of all things (paradigms) included in God-Unity, “primeval plans”
of God for the world.
The next step in the development of the whole-unity concept was made
by Nicholas of Cusa, who followed the opinion that, although the Absolute
is beyond cognition, there are nevertheless a series of dialectical categories
that may help understand it. Among other ontological principles such
as, for example, the folding and unfolding of the Absolute, or the folded,
concentrated, contracted existence of the Absolute in its moment, the
principle of whole-unity always comes first, since it shows the internal
structure of the Absolute. Karsavin drew on Nicholas of Cusa in his phi-
losophy of whole-unity.
Karsavin was neither the first nor the most prominent representative
of whole-unity philosophy in Russia. The most outstanding was Vladimir
Soloviev, who based his system not only on the early ancient philoso-
phers and Neo-Platonists but also on the late medieval mystics and Hegel.
His philosophy was also deeply rooted in Russian tradition. “The ideo-
logical and theoretical basis of the whole-unity concept,” writes V. N.
Akulinin, “was a religious and philosophical branch in Russian social
thoughts that started to emerge in the 1830s within an academic com-
munity of the Orthodox Church” (Akulinin (1990: 12). It was a reac-
tion to the “dogmatic ambiguity” of the canons of the Orthodox Church,
the inertia of Orthodox theology, and the long-held belief that Christianity
does not need philosophical reflection on religious questions. Apart from
theological communities, this new tendency was reflected in early

96 • Ryszard Paradowski

Slavophilism. The archetype of a philosophical category of whole-unity
developed by So∑ovev and his descendants was a Slavophilic notion of
sobornost’ that denoted a free unity and excluded both individualistic law-
lessness and external pressure to constrain it.2

Sobornost’ is “a Russian
community, brotherhood, a choral principle, unity of love and freedom
that lacks any external guarantees” (Berdiaev 1990: 87). Emphasized by
Nikolai Berdiaev, this lack of external guarantees makes the philosophy
of whole-unity an ideological justification of coercion in the thought of
Karsavin.3

As such it will be a philosophical justification and theoreti-

cal basis for Eurasian theories.
The starting point for Karsavin’s philosophy of whole-unity, as noted
above, was a “paradigm of Nicholas of Cusa,” the image of whole-unity
as a hierarchy of different types of whole-unity (“moments”), which are
comprised of concentrated, “folded” forms of whole-unity, and in their
folded forms are included in higher levels of whole-unity. The notion of
triple-unity introduced by Karsavin himself (Choruûyj 1989: 84) is an
important supplement to this image of total whole-unity, where the
moments of lower types are deprived of any autonomy and are used
only to actualize lower-level whole-unity. The notion of triple-unity
denotes an indispensable phase in the development of any process that
consists of pre-unity, self-division, and self-union again. Whereas whole-
unity refers to the structure of existence, triple-unity means its dynamics.
In this way, Karsavin’s metaphysics changes into a philosophy of history.
Of course, the above occurs in its complete form only in Absolute ideal
existence. However, it can also be used to explain imperfect, worldly
existence. A direct intermediate link between an ideal divine whole-unity
and imperfect historical world is a notion of the Person. Since God is
a Person, and an imperfect existence, even though imperfect, is similar
to an ideal existence, then all existence must be a personal existence.
The three basic ontological elements of Karsavin’s philosophy are God,
Triple-Unity, and Person. A personal element of created existence is only
a reflection of Absolute divine personal existence, but it is present in
each moment and element of imperfect existence. The “image of worldly
existence as a hierarchy of (imperfect) forms of whole-unity, because of
the link between each whole-unity and triple-unity, occurs as a hierarchy
of (imperfect) forms of triple-unity, and thus as a hierarchy of imperfect

2

On collectivity (sobornost’) in early Slavophilism, see Walicki (1973: 146).

3

“The science of the symphonic person means metaphysical justification for human
slavery” (Berdiaev 1972: 30). S. S. Choruûyj suggested that Karsavin’s version of the philo-
sophy of the whole-unity is closer to the conservatism of J. De Maistre than to Chomiak’s
idea of “collectivity” (Choruûyj 1989: 91).

Absolutism and Authority in Eurasian Ideology: Karsavin and Alekseev • 97

persons” (Choruûyj 1989: 84). Here, Karsavin’s theory offers a concept
of human communities understood as new separate persons, defined as
“symphonic” or “collective” persons. They are “higher persons” when
compared to the smaller groups and individual persons that are included
in them (in a traditional sense of this notion). Smaller groups and par-
ticular persons are “moments” of “symphonic persons” that are present
in them in their folded form. For Karsavin, such symphonic persons
denote cultures, nations, layers and classes, and humanity as a whole
(about a nation as a person, see also Trubetskoi 1994: 501). Contrary
to Trubetskoi, Karsavin argues that humanity is a “real,” “true” whole-
unity. Humanity is a “whole-united . . . whole-timed and whole-spaced,
developing subject,” and even an “ideal whole-unity,” within the rela-
tive imperfection of created worldly existence (Karsavin (1923b: 87).4
Specific perfection is also represented by a social group understood as
a historical collective individuality (not as a collection of atomized indi-
viduals); then a “notion of group . . . appears to be a notion of whole-
unity,” and this group can be perceived as “a certain whole, as an
organism” (1923b: 92).5
Hence Karsavin’s belief that the notion of group is not of a positive
and thus not of a scientific nature, because a group is not determined
by the spatial or time sphere of its members’ activity, or by its size, or,
especially by the individuals that compose the given group. A group “is
first of all constituted and determined from inside, by its specific social
interaction” (1923b: 89). This mutual interaction among individuals that
constitute a group could make a starting point to show an immanent
character of thedriving force of social dynamics. However, Karsavin is
far from doing so, because then the concept of whole-unity hierarchy
that culminates in created world in humanity and in the divine sphere

4

This “philosophical service of metaphysical justification for the unity in humanity”
was not accepted by Eurasians, or by Trubetskoi or Gumilev in particular. They also
rejected the interpretation of this unity by Spengler, who argued that cultures are totally
obscure to one another even though they are the creation of the same “primeval soul,”
the only primeval substance. Only disillusionment with the evolution of movement made
Trubetskoi confess: “I think that there is nothing better than . . . work for the whole-
European culture that is supposed to be the whole-humanity culture.” Trubetskoi, “Pis’mo
P. Savitskomu z 8–10.XII.1930 r,” quoted in Kazin (1992: 86). This claim was far from
the belief of Eurasians: “Humanity unity of itself in imperfection, improvement and
perfection. It is both becoming perfect and is perfect already.”

5

Perceiving a nation as an organism and attributing to it “soul” and the status of “per-
son” was characteristic of the whole perspective of so-called “religious philosophy.” “Each
social whole, nation, state,” wrote N. O. Losskii, “is a person of a higher rank: its basis
is a soul that organises a social whole in such a way that people who are included in
it serve the whole as particular organs.” Losskii (1957: 3), quoted in Troitskii (1992: 12).

98 • Ryszard Paradowski

of the Absolute, would be pointless. So he claims that “no [social] rela-
tion and mutual interaction between two or more individuals can be
explained without accepting [the existence] of a higher subject embod-
ied in it.” The existence of such a higher subject (whole-unity) is a pre-
condition for both social ideals and the effectiveness of simple cognitive
actions. Therefore there must exist a subject that includes these indi-
viduals in itself and that “goes beyond their spatial and time atomization.”
Otherwise, the common (in a given group or nation) perceptions of the
world, similar orientations to the external world, common approaches,
opinions, and aspirations, common ideologies that constitute a group
would not be possible without accepting the priority of “general,” with-
out accepting as real everything that is concordant with “general” embod-
ied in whole-unity of a higher rank, in a group that is attributed an
ontological status.

From here, for Karsavin, there is only a small step to formulating a
political ideal. Before he takes this step, though, he puts forward a philo-
sophical justification for a (his and that of the late Eurasian movement
as a whole) broad interpretation of a widely spread (also among Russian
emigrants) opinion about Bolsheviks’ contribution to the rescue of Russian
statehood. What was on communism and Bolsheviks in the late 1920s,
in the magazine Evraziia in particular (“what they do is necessary and
important”; 1929), was far from ambiguous when accompanied by con-
tinuous attacks against the culture of the West and the deficiencies of
its democracy.

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