Saturday, December 29, 2018

‘Imagine if Everyone on Earth Suddenly Became a Russian,’ Moscow Philosopher Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 29 – It isn’t April 1st or Halloween, but Moscow philosopher Anton Kuznetsov asks people to “imagine what would be the case if suddenly everyone on planet Earth became an ethnic Russian,” a way of asking what Russian national consciousness consists of and whether Russians are capable of changing themselves and living in new ways in the future.

            In a 6500-word interview with Mikhail Karpov of the Lenta news agency, Kuznetsov, a staffer of the Moscow Center for the Investigation of Consciousness in the philosophy department of Moscow State University, gives answers as provocative as one would expect from his initial challenge (

            In the course of a profoundly philosophical discussion of concepts and human perception, Kuznetsov notes that “a national idea is an idea about a particular fate in existence” and that “very few nations have one.”  Israel is one; Russia is another. And “the Russian idea “hasn’t changed.”

            “What is ‘Moscow is the Third Rome’?” According to the philosopher, it means that “in the world there remains only one source of true Christianity.  This is a messianistic idea: the Russian people is a God-bearing people whose mission in the world is the salvation of all humanity.”

            “This messianism,” he continues, “has never changed, although it has taken different forms” and its implications are not always understood. For the Russian idea to be meaningful, Kuznetsov suggests, there must be others who remain to be converted. Thus, there can’t really be a world in which everyone is Russian because that would contradict this idea.

             One of the more interesting if less well-known aspects of this Third Rome idea, he continues, is that “the appearance of cosmonautics is directly connected with Fedorov’s Philosophy of the Common Task, according to which for all mortals to be revived, we must colonize other planets. Ironically, a boy educated by Fedorov was Tsiolkovsky,the father of cosmonautics.” 

But another aspect of the Russian national idea is troubling: “how can we save others when we cannot save ourselves?”  However, upon reflection, it is what one might expect given that an expression of the Russian idea is to sacrifice oneself for the salvation of others,” yet another manifestation of the notion that “the entire Russian people is the body of Christ.”

That also means that Russian national consciousness is that of an assembly “where each individual exists for others,” Kuznetsov says.

According to Kuznetsov, “the desire of our fellow citizens to revive the USSR” is not a reflection of this. Rather, it is “more the result of speculation on history.”  But it does highlight the reality that “to a certain degree,” the Soviet Union was yet another incarnation of the messianic idea of Russia as the Third Rome.

“If you recall the first decades of Soviet power, then people at that time really spoke about how ‘the Soviet proletariat will save the world’ and such things. This was not a metaphor” but a reflection of how Russians really felt at the time and how some continue to feel to this day, the philosopher continues.

At the end of his interview, however, Kuznetsov delivers a stern warning: Talk about such national consciousness contains within itself “a great danger and a source of nationalism, exceptionalism, and discrimination within the country against those who are enemies of the people and … thus unworthy of this elevated national consciousness.”

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