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The Spiritual Roots of Russian-American Conflict

Whatever Russia is called outwardly, there is an inner eternal Russia whose embryonic character places her on an antithetical course to that of the USA

This article originally appeared at Foreign Policy Journal

The rivalry between the USA and Russia is something more than geopolitics or economics. These are reflections of antithetical worldviews of a spiritual character. The German conservative historian-philosopher Oswald Spengler, who wrote of the morphology of cultures as having organic life-cycles, in his epochal book The Decline of The West had much to say about Russia that is too easily mistaken as being of a Russophobic nature. That is not the case, and Spengler wrote of Russia in similar terms to that of the ‘Slavophils’. Spengler, Dostoyevski, Berdyaev, and Solzhenistyn have much of relevance to say in analyzing the conflict between the USA and Russia. Considering the differences as fundamentally ‘spiritual’ explains why this conflict will continue and why the optimism among Western political circles at the prospect of a compliant Russia, fully integrated into the ‘world community’, was so short-lived.

Of the religious character of this confrontation, an American analyst, Paul Coyer, has written:

Amidst the geopolitical confrontation between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the US and its allies, little attention has been paid to the role played by religion either as a shaper of Russian domestic politics or as a means of understanding Putin’s international actions. The role of religion has long tended to get short thrift in the study of statecraft (although it has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance of late), yet nowhere has it played a more prominent role—and perhaps nowhere has its importance been more unrecognized—than in its role in supporting the Russian state and Russia’s current place in world affairs.[1]

Russia’s ‘Soul’

Spengler regarded Russians as formed by the vastness of the land-plain, as innately antagonistic to the Machine, as rooted in the soil, irrepressibly peasant, religious, and ‘primitive’. Without a wider understanding of Spengler’s philosophy, it appears that he was a Slavophobe. However, when Spengler wrote of these Russian characteristics, he was referring to the Russians as a still youthful people in contrast to the senile West. Hence the ‘primitive’ Russian is not synonymous with ‘primitivity’ as popularly understood at that time in regard to ‘primitive’ tribal peoples. Nor was it to be confounded with the Hitlerite perception of the ‘primitive Slav’ incapable of building his own State.

To Spengler, the ‘primitive peasant’ is the wellspring from which a people draws its healthiest elements during its epochs of cultural vigor. Agriculture is the foundation of a High Culture, enabling stable communities to diversify labor into specialization from which Civilization proceeds.

However, according to Spengler, each people has its own soul, a conception derived from the German Idealism of Herder, Fichte et al. A High Culture reflects that soul, whether in its mathematics, music, architecture; both in the arts and the physical sciences. The Russian soul is not the same as the Western Faustian, as Spengler called it, the ‘Magian’ of the Arabian civilization, 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. Full article can be read here

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