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The Westernizer And Slavophile Disparity Essay

1385 words - 6 pages

The 19th century was a highly turbulent time in Russia’s history. Following the defeat of Napoleonic France, Western ideas and philosophy crept into Russian culture. As a result, Russian nobles split into two schools of thought. Slavophiles valued Russia’s traditional Orthodox Church, and did not want to Westernize and secede to the supposed superiority of Western culture. Conversely, Westernizers were a group of nobles who were against the traditional Russian values, and believed that the only way forward was to look to Europe. The Westernizers and the Slavophiles disagreed on a deep level about the direction Russia needed to take in the future. Russian thinkers were split between the ...view middle of the document...

Meanwhile, Slavophiles in Russia disagreed with Westernizers about the inherent nature of the country. Slavophiles believed that the theology of the Roman Catholic Church had become infected with the external formalism of roman culture, and that Russian Orthodoxy was the more untainted religion. Slavophiles were convinced that the inherent character of the Russians was incompatible, and not only that but superior to that of Western people. Arguably the most influential Slavophile was Aleksei Khomyakov. His greatest contribution to the Slavophile movement was his account of the nature of Orthodox Christianity. He argued that Russian Orthodoxy alone had preserved the original notion of the relation between believers and the church. Khomyakov emphasized freedom as a vital part of Orthodoxy; he claimed that ideal Orthodoxy was “The togetherness or oneness of life, unrestricted by any legal or intellectual barriers, but obeying the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therefore enjoying unity in complete freedom.” Although he claimed that Orthodoxy was the truest religion, it was hierarchical, and did not follow his ideal even in Russia.
The Westernizers disagreed with the Slavophiles not only on internal issues in Russia, but also as to whether Russia should try to follow in Europe’s footsteps. Hegel’s theory had captivated Russian thinkers. It brought to light a new question, as Europe was pushing liberty and liberalism, did Russia have any role to play in that history of the development of humanity toward individual liberty and reason? (Bova 45) Westernizers thought yes. One of these entranced westernizers, A.I Herzen, regarded Hegel’s views as an inevitable given. He believed that Hegel’s philosophy, rather than promotion acceptance of the current situation, was in fact the “algebra of revolution.” Herzen was not surprised that Russia was behind in terms of freedom for all individuals, and assented that Russia’s task was to find a way to follow Europe and modernize very rapidly.
On the other hand, the Slavophiles looked to ideas from the early history of Russia. They detested the foundation of European culture and described that it had “revealed the narrowness of its basic aspirations.” (Bova 37) Not only that, but they argued that the character and content of Russian law differed greatly from that of the Roman West. Whereas the West viewed law as “reason itself expressed in writing”, Russians relied on customary law. (Bova 38)This inherent difference in perception toward law was irreconcilable, and served as evidence to the Slavophiles that there could be no compromise. Similarly, the West viewed property as the basis of its social structure. However in Russia it was customary for land to belong to the community, the obschina. The Slavophiles disagreed with the Western property-centric belief.
Orlando Figes gives an apt summary of the perspective of the Westernizers in his book “Natasha’s Dance.” He extensively covers the Decembrist...

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