Russia’s liberal intelligentsia really stands out from the crowd of regular liberals as we understand them in the West.
The Russian liberal is defined by a sort of refined self-loathing. He looks at Russia and despairs. Its too wild, too un-european for him. He wants to bring Russia up to European standards. Only he rarely has any conception of what European standards are, or what it means to be a European.
They are young, predominantly, but there are still old-school liberal intellectual cadres that form the intellectual backbone. They copy Western styles- which means Hipsterdom reigns among the chattering classes of St. Petersburg.
Ah yes, my beloved city. It has unfortunatly been infested with Russian liberals since its founding. And the Hipster plague is ravaging the city’s youth.
Spengler- the patron saint of this humble blog believed that the Russian soul was split into two parts. The European-looking elite and intelligentsia was infected with a Peterine desire to remold Russia into Europe. Tolstoy, was a great example of this line of thinking. Having read a lot of Tolstoy, and once being enamored of this world-view I completely understand on an intuitive level what Spengler was getting at…
“The Russian soul is not the same as the Western Faustian, as Spengler called it, the ‘ Magian’ of the Arabian civilisation, or the Classical of the Hellenes and Romans. The Western Culture that was imposed on Russia by Peter the Great, what Spengler called Petrinism, is a veneer. The basis of the Russian soul is not infinite space – as in the West’s Faustian imperative, but is ‘the plain without limit’. The Russian soul expresses its own type of infinity, albeit not that of the Western which becomes even enslaved by its own technics at the end of its life-cycle.”
And Dostoevsky was the complete anti-thesis to Tolstoy, the harbinger of the awakening Russian soul. I never read Dostoevsky. I always thought it was too dark and complex. But now, as I find myself relating to this cleave within the Russian psyche between the Peterites and the genuine Russians, I find myself wanting to give Dostoevsky another shot, despite him hating on my beloved bobo paradise city.
“‘Petersburg’, says Dostoyevski, ‘it is the most abstract and artificial city in the world’. After this everything that arose around it was felt by the true Russdom as lies and poison. A truly apocalyptic hatred was directed on Europe, and ‘Europe’ was all that was not Russia… ‘The first condition of emancipation for the Russian soul’, wrote Aksakov in 1863 to Dostoyevski, ‘is that it should hate Petersburg with all this might and all its soul’. Moscow is holy, Petersburg Satanic.”
Alright, but that’s just like your opinion, maaan…
I find it the Spengler explanation a better frame of reference to explain Russia’s liberal intelligentsia than any traditional Left/Right explanation that would be more at home in Continental Europe, or Whig/Tory divide that might explain the Anglo-sphere.
These Russian Liberals aren’t really “liberals” in the Western sense of the word. In more ways than one, they are the true elan of Russian society- always have been. They are well-educated, well-mannered and well-meaning. Their liberalism stems from shame for their country and their desire to see Russia be accepted into Europe. They long to show you, the Westerner, how Western they are as well.
And when they try, they can really dazzle you. Take the entire city of St. Petersburg. Built by Italians to put anything Europe had at the time to shame. I can honestly say, that they succeeded. Versailles is cute and pretty. Peterghoff is awe-some and stunning.
“See what we Russians can do when we put our minds to it!?” – it screams.
But lets not forget our group of Russian liberal intelligentsia, drinking tea and hanging out in their favorite SWPL haunt…
“We’re for free-speech!” they proclaim,
They don’t know that the West has left that part of its history behind already in favor of speech codes and stifling PC shame culture.
“We are for European Civilization!” they exude.
How cute. Not even Europe believes in European civilization anymore.
But here in Russia?
“We believe gays should be tolerated and not persecuted!”
How pass-aayyy! Don’t they know that tolerance was in the 90’s? Now its abject worship- and dont you forget it!
“Please, please don’t lump us in with those rubes that like to swear, drink and brawl that compromise the mass of the Russian lumpenproletariat!”
Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere.
They don’t want to be considered “Russian” in the way Westerners consider Russians to be. In short, all the values that we think will save Russia in the long-run. Its ability to still be brutal, harsh and unwelcoming of the other…these are the values that Russia’s liberals turn their noses up towards.
They want to be accepted as Europeans, so no wonder they preach tolerance- not of Hachi’s and other browns, mind you- no, they can’t stand those people either. Rather, they preach for a cessation of hostilities between Russia and the West.
“Why can’t our government act civilized?” they moan.
The thought that the West might have absolutely zero intentions of ever welcoming them into the European family as equals simply does not register in their minds. Nor does the fact that Russia is largely blameless in the post-Cold War world environment register either.
Their entire world-view is premised on the idea that if Putin or whoever acted with more deference to Europe, surely then they would be accepted as European and not as the great Other.
Many hold views that would make even the Recucklican party label them as bigots and neo-nazis. But they, of course, think that they are actually progressives.
And of course, they seem unaware that Russians remain the only group of people in the West that it is absolutely OK to hate on with near-genocidal intensity.
Whether its Neo-Cons, Cold Warriors, or now- Western liberals, the great white threat of Russia is the only safe target for Western scorn and feelings of faux patriotism.
Truly, the ground is fast-disappearing under the feet of Russian liberals. They are so thoroughly discredited, that they are only trotted out from time to time on Channel 1 so that Soloviev and Zirinovsky can bellow at them about what traitors the Yabloko liberal party of the 90’s was.
I enjoy those moments.
But there is an awakening occuring in Russia. And I am thankful for every glimpse of it that I catch. The awe and respect that the masses used to have for these intellectuals is waning- noticeably so. They are growing independent of the consensus of the liberal elite and finding their own voices.
They do so independently of these old social circles. I notice it when I travel out of St. Petersburg especially. The Moscovites don’t give a shit about being more European, they’re quite content to be Russian. You can just feel the difference in the way they talk to you.
Its even more pronounced in Siberia. I was lucky to meet some local patriots in the places I visited. They couldn’t care less about impressing me, or showing me how Western they are.
They knew that Europe was killing itself. And they explicitly said so.
“Russia needs to finally be Russian.” – thats what these people told me.
Powerful words. Here are some more prophetic words by Gogol.
“‘Wait, the time will come when ye shall learn what the orthodox Russian faith is! Already the people scent it far and near. A Tsar shall arise from Russian soil, and there shall not be a power in the world which shall not submit to him!’ – Taras Bulba
Russia is a nation that is just starting reach an understanding of itself. The liberals are feeling this veritable groundswell and are getting jittery. They know that something is happening and their days are numbered. So, they try their best to cuck against Putin and hope that some Western institution invites them to come over as some Dissident a la Pussy Riot to become a propaganda piece back home.
Russia is finally molting out of its artificial Peterine shell. What will happen next, its hard to say. But you can feel it. Russia is changing. Russia is evolving. Russia is coming into its own. Russia’s Liberal intelligentsia is scurrying out of the way…
And I think, the world is about to feel the arm.