Sunday, June 21, 2020

Russian Despotism Rooted More in Byzantium than in Mongol Yoke, Badretdinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Most Russians be they scholars or ordinary people believe that the roots of despotism in Russia have their origins in the Mongol yoke with many even saying that the Russian state today is the direct continuation of that long-ago occupation, Sabirzhan Badretdinov says

            But the Russian journalist and commentator argues that in fact the tradition of despotism in Russia has more to do with Russia’s acceptance of Byzantine traditions, including caesaro-papism, than it does with the Mongols, who in fact were far more tolerant of diversity as long as they were obeyed politically (

            Badretdinov develops this idea by employing some of the arguments Andrey Illarionov has put forward in his recent discussion of the history and content of Russian civilization ( “Like him,” the journalist says, he has long viewed “the Byzantine tradition as the foundation of centuries-long Russian tyranny.”

             “First the Muscovite and then the Russian state positioned itself as the heir of the eastern Roman (Byzantine) statehood and spirituality,” Badretdinov says. “From this arose the slogan, ‘Moscow is the Third Rome’” as the spiritual center of Russian Orthodoxy shifted from Constantinople to the Russian city.

            From Constantinople came the Byzantine tradition of showing “reverence for and deification of state power,” a tradition that affected “not only the spiritual life of the Muscovite state but also certain important aspects of its political life as well,” the commentator says.

            “For example, the tradition of the complete dependence of the church on the civil power, which the Greeks brought with them, meant the lack of a powerful potential basis for alternative influence in society and the absence of pluralism in worldviews. And as a result, the impossibility of the development of the ideas of freedom and division of power.”

            The Mongol yoke could not and did not have such consequences, Badretdinov says.  The first reason for this is that “the statehood of the Mongols was at a lower level of development than the statehood of the Russian principalities,” and the Mongol lack of private property meant there was no need for courts to resolve dispute. (Other disputes were handled by elders.)

            According to the commentator, “on the whole, less developed models of statehood take their models from more developed societies and not the reverse.” The Muscovy took from Byzantium and not from the Mongols.  But its acquisition of ceasaro-papism became “one of the basic causes of Russian tyranny.”

            Had Russia had an independent church as it might have had the Mongols been the only influence, it might have seen the rise of ideological pluralism that would have helped power the drive to freedom and the division of powers as has been the case in Poland and other countries, Badretdinov says.

            Consequently, he concludes, “one of the first practical steps for the destruction of the Putin dictatorship could be a movement for the establishment of an independent Russian Orthodox Church,” one that would challenge the power of the state rather than serve as a handmaiden to it.

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