From Ecclesiology to Christian Populism.

The Religious and Political Thought of Russian Slavophiles


Alexandru RACU

Independent Researcher


Abstract: This article represents an analysis of the religious and political thought of Slavophiles and concentrates on the way in which Slavophile ecclesiology and epistemology lead to a form of Christian populism and to a messianic vision of history in which the key role is played by the Russian people. The article emphasises the paradoxes of the Slavophile theological and political thought, as well as its political implications at the level of the 19th century Russian society.

Keywords: Slavophilism, Orthodox Christianity, populism, ecclesiology,






According to Stéphane Vibert, when compared with other European nations, “Russia presents the exceptional advantage of having turned her relation to modernity as Western ideology into the essential, major, unavoidable problem of her reflection concerning her own identity”[1]. In the aftermath of Russia’s encounter with the modern West, whose concrete manifestation was the age of reforms of Peter the Great, the interrogation concerning the relation between modern Europe and the Russian national identity will give birth to an ideological cleavage that will divide the Russian intelligentsia of the first half of the nineteenth century into two opposite camps: the Westernizers and the Slavophiles. In essence, the two camps were divided by two different projects of society that reflected two different views concerning the relation between Russia and the West. While the Westernizers argued that Russia’s import of the exterior civilisation of the modern West should be accompanied by a cultural revolution, which would replace traditional Russian principles with superior modern ones such as liberal individualism and scientific rationalism, the Slavophiles claimed that Russia’s traditional institutions, and in particular her Orthodox faith, sustain a culture that is superior to the culture of the modern West. Moreover, for the Slavophiles, Russian Orthodoxy was capable of subordinating to itself the exterior achievements of the modern West, conferring the latter a higher meaning, which by themselves they did not possess. Thus, far from representing an appeal to a narrow nationalist closing of Russian society upon itself, Slavophilism claimed instead that Russian Orthodoxy had the capacity and the mission to become the new religious principle of a new and higher universal civilisation, which would replace what the Slavophiles considered to be the bankrupt civilisation of the secular West.

Thus, from the very beginning, it should be underlined that the opposition between Westernism and Slavophilism does not represent an opposition between modernisation and integral conservatism, but the opposition between an uncritical and a critical modernisation, the critique being articulated from a traditionalist position that is open towards modernity. Nor can the above mentioned opposition be translated as an opposition between nationalism and universalism. On the contrary, we have the opposition between two forms of universalism. If for the Westernizers, the universal culture of the modern West, based on the universality of human rights and the rational faculty of judgment, had to be embraced by renouncing Russian national specificities, for the Slavophiles, a new universal culture had to be based on Russian national specificities. The term of Slavophilism itself represents a caricatural label attached to Slavophiles by their ideological adversaries. For all the Slavophiles have specifically emphasised the fact that Russia’s superiority in relation to the West did not derive from any inborn national characteristics of the Russians, but from the fact that the Russian people has preserved the Christian faith in all its (Orthodox) purity[2]. As such, Isabelle Grimberg rightly emphasises the fact that, when speaking of Aleksei Khomiakov, Ivan Kireevsky, Iuri Samarin, Konstantin Aksakov and the other less significant Slavophiles from the first half of the 19th century, “it will be […] more logical to speak of orthodoxophiles rather than slavophiles”[3].

Khomiakov and the Slavophiles think of modernity in theological-political terms. In this respect, in order to understand the Slavophiles’ political thought, and more specifically its populist dimension, one must first understand their theology. Therefore, in the first section of this article I will present the theological views of the Slavophiles, by analysing their key notions of organic togetherness (sobornost) and integral knowledge (tselnost), while in the second section I will present the Slavophile political philosophy, emphasising the way in which the latter results from the former.


The cornerstone of the Slavophile theology is a certain ecclesiological conception tightly associated with a certain critique of rationalism articulated in the name of faith. As stressed by Father Albert Gratieux, Joseph de Maistre’s Du Pape is “the book most radically opposed to the Slavophile theory concerning the unity of the Church […] To the same extent that […] Maistre values the visible unity of the Church and the institution which symbolises it”, the papacy, “so does Khomiakov stress its inner unity, the fruit of the living faith expressed through love”[4]. A fierce critique of the French Revolution and of the Protestant Reformation nonetheless, which considered that the former has been the inevitable consequence of the latter, Maistre argued in Du Pape that “no human society can exist without government, nor government without sovereignty, nor sovereignty without infallibility”[5]. The Catholic Church, Maistre insisted, is governed like any other society, and this requires the existence of a supreme personal authority whose decisions on contentious issues are accepted as infallible even if they are not so. “Infallibilityin the spiritual order of things, andsovereigntyin the temporal order” being “two words perfectly synonymous”[6], without infallibility, argues Maistre, the social body, whether political or ecclesial, is inevitably destroyed by an endless war of factions corresponding to the war of opinions and interests, and, at a pinch, it can be decomposed into as many competing opinions and wills as there are individuals. This is the reasonwhy, for the representatives of the French theocratic school, Joseph de Maistre and Louis Ambroise de Bonald, liberal modernity with its concept of individual rights ultimately means “the end of society”[7].

Authority is then the essence of Catholicism, according to Maistre, and by contrast, the essence of Protestantism is anarchy, the inevitable spiritual and political consequence of the founding principle of Protestantism: the right of individual judgment in matters of faith[8]. For Aleksei Khomiakov however, the essence of Orthodoxy is represented by sobornost, a term that is best translated as organic togetherness, or as freedom and unity reconciled through love. Nikolay Berdyaev argued that while the catholic counter-revolutionaries possessed the genius of authority, the Slavophiles possessed the genius of freedom[9]. But, as underlined by the same author, “the modernists too often oppose freedom to the Church and want to correct the defects of the Church through the free effort of the individual person”. Khomiakov, on the other hand, was identifying the Church with freedom, but a freedom that was accomplished “through catholicity (sobornost) and not through individualism”[10]. As indicated by John Romanides, “within Orthodoxy, as expounded by Khomiakov […], the individual” does not have “to give up his freedom in return for salvation. On the contrary, the individual is called upon to be free, to accept the fact of his freedom from the principles of necessity, by realising his membership within the organic unity of the Church through the principle of selfless love”[11]; or to put it another way, the individual discovers in the ecclesial community of love the freedom from the selfishness that rules over fallen human nature. For Khomiakov, freedom and unity were reconciled in the catholicity of the Church, which presupposed the free submission, triggered by love, of each believer to the totality of the Church[12]. Or, in other words, freedom and unity, viewed as mutually exclusive by Maistre, were reconciled in the Church, the Slavophiles argued, through a unanimity whose foundation was love.

For Iuri Samarin, as well as for the other Slavophiles, “the Church is not a doctrine, system, or institution”. “The Church”, Samarin continues, “is a living organism, an organism of truth and love, or more precisely truth and love as an organism”[13].  According to Khomiakov, the Church is not an institution because “the body and blood are not a symbol”[14]. The body and blood are the very life of the Church and, consequently, of all of its members. Thus, the unity of the Church is not an institutional exterior unity but an inner unity that derives from the unity of the Triune God[15]. Khomiakov affirms that not only “the Church is” not “an authority”, but neither is this the case with God Himself. For “an authority is something external”, while God and the Church “are the truth: They are the life of the Christian – the inner life […], to the extent that Christians themselves live the universal life of love and unity, which is the life of the Church”[16].

Thus, the unity of the Church is a living and inner unity that does not require, and moreover, cannot tolerate, an exterior principle of unity, such as the principle of papal supremacy and infallibility. The Church, Khomiakov argues, “does not recognise any power over her except her own”[17]. When a universal bishop has authority over the Church, as in Roman Catholicism, sobornost is replaced with a forced aggregation of distinct individuals, reunited under an authority that is both exterior and juridical. As a consequence, unity is no longer experienced as a living fact, being instead enforced by a transcendent authority that becomes the logically necessary premise for the prevention of anarchy. Thus, as indicated by Romanides, who summarises the ecclesiology of Khomiakov, non-utilitarian freedom and love [are] replaced by rationalism and a juridical concern for external things such as organisation. This separation of the moral principle from unity automatically gave rise to the suppression of liberty for the sake of preserving unity. The Church of the West was thus doomed to follow the ways of all other worldly organizations and institutions[18].

In response to this Roman Catholic redefinition of the Church, a reaction naturally set in, and those who reasserted their liberty gave rise to the Protestant revolution. Both Protestantism and Romanism, however, represent a basic failure to unite and harmonize liberty and unity because these have been separated from the moral principle of non-utilitarian love, and subjected to the […] principles of material necessity and rational analysis[19].

As a consequence, Romanides underlines the fact that “Khomiakov does not see in Romanism and Protestantism two contrary extremes, but rather two sides of the same coin”[20]. According to Khomiakov, both Protestantism and Catholicism “see in the Church only individuals, who do not become less isolated for being scattered or agglomerated”[21]. In Catholicism there is unity without freedom. And this is false unity. In Protestantism there is freedom without unity. And this is false freedom. Both freedom and unity, the Slavophiles concluded, existed only in Orthodoxy; for true freedom cannot exist without unity, just as true unity cannot exist without freedom.

For the Slavophiles, it is only in the unity of love, which is realised by the free submission of each member to the totality of the Church, that the overcoming of rationalist epistemology and, consequently, the knowledge of the divine truth becomes possible. According to Father Gratieux, “the key to all of Khomiakov’s theology and philosophy” is represented by the belief that “the real escapes reason reduced to itself”, for “life can be truly known only by that which lives”[22]. Opposing Kantian transcendentalism, the Slavophiles regarded knowledge “as a part and function of our ‘existential’ penetration of reality”. Thus, the Slavophiles considered that we ‘unite ourselves’ cognitively with reality not by thought alone but with our whole being. The chief condition for the preservation of cognitive intimacy with being is then the connection of man’s cognitive processes to his whole spiritual sphere – i.e. wholeness of spirit. When this wholeness of spirit is weakened or lost, when the cognitive function becomes ‘autonomous’, there is a generation of ‘logical thought’ or ‘rationality’ which is totally isolated from reality[23].

Distinguishing between separated reason and integral reason, the Slavophile authors do not contest the conclusions of separated reason, but they contest the definition of truth that is presupposed by the rationalist thinker. The Slavophiles insist on the fact that “the abstract logical faculty”, separated from the other faculties of the soul, is insufficient for the knowledge of truth; for “the wholeness of truth needs the wholeness of reason”[24]. And man, the Slavophiles argued, can be whole only by overcoming the selfishness of his heart through integration in the community of the Church, realising thus the ecclesial presuppositions of knowledge. Ultimately, for Kireevsky, the Church does not confront reason with rational arguments, but confronts separated reason with the integral person, just as it is confronting the partiality of the sect, always rationalist and reductionist in its approach to faith, with the fullness of truth. “Not abstract reason alone”, Kireevsky argues, “but the sum total of man’s intellectual and spiritual forces stamps with one common imprint the credibility of the thought which confronts reason – just as on Mount Athos each monastery bears only one part of the seal which, when all its parts are put together at the meeting of the monastic representatives, constitutes the one legal seal of Athos”[25]. Thus, sobornost (organic togetherness) represents the icon of tselnost (integral knowledge) and vice versa.

If “intelligence, like perfect holiness, belongs only to the unity of all the members of the Church”, then, as argued by Khomiakov, the Church “does not recognise a teaching Church other than herself in her totality”. If communion is the precondition of knowledge, then those “who set themselves up as judges of the Church” essentially deny the principles of Orthodox epistemology, for they claim “perfect reason and perfect holiness for themselves”[26]. The definition of dogmatic truth cannot belong to all the reunited bishops any more than it can belong to a single bishop. For the assembled bishops only declare what the whole Church believes. The totality of the believers reserves for itself the right to verify whether the teaching of the college of bishops is truly expressing the inner truth of the Church or not[27]. Invoking a common declaration of the reunited Greek speaking Patriarchs of 1848, which referred to the role of the people in preserving the purity of the Orthodox faith, Khomiakov concludes that “the unvarying constancy and the unerring truth of Christian dogma does not depend upon any Hierarchical Order: it is guarded by the totality, by the whole people of the Church, which is the Body of Christ”[28].

The reorganisation of the Roman Catholic Church on the juridical pattern of statehood inherited from the Roman Empire, through the proclamation of papal infallibility, and the implicit repudiation of sobornost, has triggered, the Slavophiles claimed, the Protestant rebellion against the exterior unity enforced by the Roman Pontiff. But taking into account that the force of the Reformation was strictly negative, no new unity could have been established on the individualistic principles of the latter. Instead, these, as Maistre also insisted, have been at the origin of modern rationalism and liberal individualism, or in other words, at the origin of the modern process of secularisation whose ultimate consequences, the Slavophiles believed, could have been only ethical nihilism and man’s dehumanisation through the complete loss of his spiritual dimension. “Only one serious thing”, Kireevsky argued, was “left to” contemporary Western “man: industry”, which “unites and divides people [...], determines one’s fatherland […], delineates classes; it lies at the basis of state structures; it moves nations; it declares war, makes peace, changes mores, gives direction to science, and determines the character of culture […]. It is the real deity in which people sincerely believe and to which they submit”[29]. Kireevsky argued that “it is hard to see what European culture may come to” without an “inner change”, “a change in” the “basic convictions”. As it appeared to him at the moment when he was writing, Western civilisation was heading towards “the unlimited domination of industry”, in a “world without faith and poetry” where everything will be reduced strictly to “the physical being”[30].

Therefore, as indicated by Zenkovsky, the Slavophile “struggle with the spirit of secularism became a struggle with the spiritual world within which this movement had developed”[31], the Slavophiles possessing “a dialectical vision of Western history, perverted in its essence”[32]. The theological opposition between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity becomes then, as pointed out by Stéphane Vibert, the basis for “two paradigmatic models: Russia/Europe, the basis for a whole series of binary oppositions: spiritual/material, freedom/necessity, faith/reason”[33].


In this respect, if wholeness of being was the anthropological premise of the Slavophiles, the division of the soul between rationality and life/faith represented for the same group of authors the anthropological premise which, being common to both Western confessions, essentially defined the Western culture as a whole. Consequently, this anthropological division was reflected in all aspects of Western existence. In the West, faith was in conflict with reason, the individual was in conflict with society, social classes were also in conflict and so on. In Russia, however, it was exactly the other way around. Wholeness of being manifested itself in all aspects of Russian life[34]; more precisely, it was everywhere present in Old Russia and it was still present in that section of Russian society which had remained immune to the modernising reforms of Peter the Great. This brings us to the populism of the Slavophiles for, of course, at the time when they were writing, while the leading circles of the Russian society to which the Slavophiles themselves belonged had passed through the process of Westernisation, the social class which had remained immune to the process of Westernisation was the peasantry. The implicit consequence of the superiority of Russian Orthodoxy in relation to Western confessions and the worldview of the modern West was that, in essence, it was the educated elite which had to be re-educated by the people who have kept the purity of the ancient truth, and not the other way around. This idea is clearly present in the thought of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a descendant of the Slavophiles, whose thought has been described by Gratieux as a type of Evangelical populism[35]. “We must bow”, Dostoyevsky wrote in The Diary of a Writer, “before the people’s truth like prodigal children who, for two hundred years, have been absent from home”[36]. But echoes of the idea can be heard beyond Dostoyevsky in the thought of the Russian populists (narodniks) who also believed that the return to the people was essentially the method for overcoming the alienation of modernity.

Before we move any further, we should mention two important aspects. First of all, although the Slavophiles have been criticised for an allegedly uncritical idealisation of Russia, in fact, whenever they praised the Russian virtues by comparison with Western decay, the Slavophiles were not referring to the social reality of Russia as such, but to what was for them the essence of Russia, and the essence of Russia was the Russian people’s ideal. The Slavophiles were very firm in their critiques of the misgivings of the Russian past and present. So in this sense, it would be inaccurate, or rather simply unfair, to refer to the populism of the Slavophiles in the pejorative sense which is often associated with the term, and which suggests a demagogic praise of an inherently virtuous people, that neglects and implicitly feeds the latter’s vices. Referring to one of Khomiakov’s articles, in which the latter was basically demolishing the myth of old Russia, Berdyaev has argued that “even in Western literature one cannot find such an excessive and categorical reference to the sombre aspects” of Russia. And yet, as underlined by the same author, although just like Dostoyevsky, Khomiakov was seeing

“clearly the defects of the Russian peasantry, its obscurantism, its excesses, its barbarism […], despite all, [for him] the ideal image of the Russian pilgrim coming from the people will remain eternally characteristic of the ideal essence of our people, just as characteristic of the ideal essence of the Russian Church will remain the ideal image of the Russian starets that raises himself above the defects of the Russian Church hierarchy”.[37]

Judge not “the Russian people”, Dostoyevsky wrote, “by those villainies which they frequently perpetrate, but by those great and holy things for which they long amidst the very villainy”[38]. Compared with a “German drunkard”, Dostoyevsky wrote, “the Russian drunkard (…) is more abominable than the German; still, the German drunkard is unmistakably more stupid and ridiculous than the Russian”. For while the former, although “drunk as a fiddler” is nevertheless “proud of himself”, the latter, in the depth of his heart, is painfully aware of the fact that “he is nothing but a scoundrel”[39]. Although sinful, the Russian people recognise sin as sin, refusing to lower the standards of moral actions so that they would fit with their despicable behaviour. Their ideal remains Christ and the saints of the Orthodox Church. And unlike the mind of the Westernised Russian elite which had enslaved the people, and lived of its toil, “the people’s mind” was “not bifurcated to such an extent as to cherish, side by side with a noble idea, its dirty little antithesis”[40].

Furthermore, one should also emphasise that, for the Slavophiles, who after all were representatives of the Russian gentry who had benefited from a Western education and were very knowledgeable as to the most recent evolutions of Western thought, learning from the people was in fact a two ways process. When Dostoyevsky declares that “we must bow before the people’s truth like prodigal children who, for two hundred years, have been absent from home”, he immediately adds: “however, we must bow on one condition only, and this – sine qua non: that the people accept from us those numerous things which we have brought with us”[41], in particular “Western sciences”, which, Dostoyevsky believed, “will not dim the image of Christ, as in the West, where, however, it was dimmed not by science, as liberals maintain, but by the Western Church itself”[42]. The ideal of integral reason meant that the Slavophiles sought to reconcile the Western philosophy and science assimilated by the Westernised upper classes of the Russian society, with the living faith of the Russian peasantry. And their belief in the possibility and necessity, to paraphrase Kireevsky, of the reconciliation between reason and faith, also had important political consequences, being at the origin of the Slavophiles’ opposition to the regime of censorship imposed by the government of Nicholas I. Believing that free argument was the best way to overturn the authority of modern Western philosophical systems, and that freedom in general was the sine qua non precondition of Christian life, the Slavophiles demanded freedom of opinion not only for the upper classes, but also freedom for the people, defending as it was a free public/popular opinion in front of a bureaucratic state constructed according to the Western model, and further supporting, once again against the tendency of the reactionary ruling circles, the universal access to education.

As we have said, their staunch defence of freedom of thought - sometimes when reading Samarin, one has the impression that one reads John Stuart Mill - and universal education reflects their belief that the historical evolution of modern rationalism itself was leading to abstract reason becoming aware of its own “limited one-sidedness”[43]. Abstract reason arrived at the end of its journey, the Western mind was realising that it was in need of religious belief, and yet, it could not go back to its old religious belief since the latter was itself the source of the West’s rationalism. In this sense, Kireevsky regarded Schelling’s critique of Hegel, and Schelling’s final philosophy of revelation as “the most convenient point of departure on” Russia’s journey “from borrowed systems to an independent philosophy that will correspond to the basic principles of ancient Russian civilisation and be capable of subordinating the divided civilisation of the West to the integral consciousness of believing reason”[44].

Kireevsky wished to realise a synthesis between the Orthodox tradition and “the highest and most valuable fruits of contemporary enlightenment”. His ultimate goal, which defines the spirit of the Slavophile philosophy as a whole, was nothing less than an “Orthodox Enlightenment”[45]. The Slavophiles were seeking the reconciliation between Christianity and modernity, and through this reconciliation, they were seeking to practically save modernity from itself – to neutralise its nihilist potential that was related to its secular dimension, itself an unfortunate historical accident provoked by the spiritual degeneration of Western Christianity, and by its inner crisis. In fact, just like Dostoyevsky, as we shall see, the Slavophiles believed that Russia’s historical existence was justified by this theological-political project that it had to accomplish, thus liberating “mankind from the one-sided and false development that its history had taken under the influence of the West”[46]. This reconciliation, the Slavophiles argued, had to begin in Russia herself with the reconciliation between the Westernised elite and the God-bearing people[47]. In this sense, the Slavophiles believed that by reconciling Western contradictions in their own country, the Russian people had to fulfil a missionary mission, essentially turning Russia into the land of the future civilisation and thus, into a Lighthouse that will guide the West and all the nations of the world out of darkness and towards the light of Orthodoxy[48].

The Slavophiles had vituperated against Peter the Great’s brutal modernisation, that included an attack against the Church and its strict subordination to state power, modernisation through which the Russian elite and Russian institutions were converted to an exterior and formal civilisation (the typical case of an artificial modernisation) that rested on theological errors. Thus, the Russian aristocracy and Peter’s bureaucratic state, particularly loathed by the Slavophiles, had become alienated from the people and subject to the contradictions of the West. Divided between a Westernised elite and an Orthodox popular culture, Russian civilisation was suffering, as it had lost the unity of old Russia. This division was sealed by the worsening of the servitude of the Russian peasantry during the eighteenth century[49]. For the Slavophiles, Peter’s Reform was a top to bottom Revolution in which the imported absolutist state was the revolutionary agent, while the people were the representatives of the old order. No wonder then that, unlike the aristocratic and clerical conservatism of Maistre and Bonald, Slavophile conservatism would be essentially populist, both from a religious and a political point of view. And, one direct consequence of this vision of modernity and of Russia was the fact that the Slavophiles have fervently supported the liberation of the peasants[50]. As stressed by Walicki, Khomyakov regarded the Westernised Russian aristocracy as “a colonial class in their own country”[51], while the most radical of the Slavophiles in what concerned the peasant issue, Konstanin Aksakov, “gives the impression” in his writings “that the peasants could exist quite well without the nobility”[52]. This anticipates “Tolstoy’s view of the ‘upper classes’ as an unnecessary and artificial growth on the body of the people”[53]. The Slavophiles did not reject hierarchy in itself, but insisted that it should be open to all and based on merit, and that it should bring with it not more rights and privileges, but more obligations. In the Epistle to the Serbs, the reunited Slavophiles gave their Serbian Orthodox brothers the following advice: “Let the judge judge, the administrator administer and the prince be prince, as it is necessary to society ; but apart from his social function, let each Serb, now and always, be equal to his brothers”. Moreover, “let there be on the Serbian land such a sacred luxury that the working man is not in need and does not experience privations. And let richness and glare adorn the temples of God”[54].

Commenting on Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution, Iuri Samarin made some crucial observations, which indicate the popular, anti-elitist, and anti-bureaucratic nature of Slavophile conservatism, as well as the specific position that the latter occupies in the context of nineteenth-century European conservatism. Samarin stressed the fact that like here, also in France, in England, in Germany, there is ultimately, in the forefront, a single question: is the full and absolute power of reasoning in the organization of the human soul, of civil society, of the state, legitimate ? Does reasoning have the right to crush and mutilate the religious beliefs, the family and civic traditions, in a word, to correct life in accordance with its presuppositions? The tyranny of reasoning in the fields of philosophy, of life and of science corresponds, as far as the practice applied to social life is concerned, to the tyranny of central power. The obsession to administer everything, to regulate everything, to substitute everywhere a rule deduced from an abstract principle which is alien to tradition and the free inspiration. State power and society are in the same relation as reasoning and the human soul[55].

Samarin argued that “the tyranny of reasoning” determined “a legitimate feeling of boredom and disgust” of authors such as Tocqueville and Montalambert. Up to this point we can notice the similarities with Burke’s or Maistre’s critique of the revolutionary ambition to reorganise society according to abstract rational principles, a conservative critique that opposes the shallowness of the modern legislating rationality to the complex social order that has resulted from centuries of historical evolution. Nevertheless, Samarin stresses the fact that, by defending the freedom of life and tradition […], Tocqueville, Montalembert, Riehl and the others […], address themselves preferentially to the aristocracy, because in the historical context of Western Europe, the aristocracy embodies better than other parties the vital torysm  […]. We, on the contrary, address ourselves to the people, but for the same reason that makes them sympathize with the aristocracy, for in our country it is the people that preserves in itself the gift of self-sacrifice, the freedom of the moral inspiration and the respect for tradition. In Russia, the only refuge of torysm is the black izba of the peasant. In our administrations, in our universities dwells a putrid whiggism[56].

For the Slavophiles, just as sobornost was a faithful reflection of inner wholeness, likewise, Catholic ecclesiology was a reflection of the dictatorship of reason at the level of the psyché. Samarin’s analogy between the dictatorship of reasoning and the tyranny of the modern centralised and bureaucratic state indicates the fact that, for the Slavophiles, the institutional prototype of the modern centralised and bureaucratic state was the Roman Catholic Church. Florovsky noted that if we identify an analogy of structure between the theocratic traditionalism of Maistre and the utopian socialism of Saint-Simon (bureaucratic, hierarchic, and centralised), in its turn, the traditionalism of the Slavophiles – in which one can observe “an evident aftertaste of a certain distinctive anarchism, a hostility towards deliberate interference in the course of organic processes” – “unexpectedly joins ranks with socialist radicalism”, or, more exactly, with the anarchist expressions of the left[57]. Attracted in particular by the Slavophiles’ defence of the Russian village commune and of its system of collective property, a revolutionary atheist like Nikolay Chernyshevsky declared that he appreciated the Slavophiles much more than the outdated Westernisers of the 1840’s. Expressing an idea that was shared by Alexander Herzen, Chernyshevsky argued that “[a]ll the theoretical errors made by the Slavophiles, and all their fantasies, [were] more than compensated for by their conviction that our village communes ought to remain unaffected by all changes in economic relations”[58]. Although he did not use the term, Berdyaev regarded the Slavophiles as a group of “Tory anarchists”[59]. For the Slavophiles, self-organised through the spontaneity of love, the Russian peasant commune, with its system of collective ownership of the land, was a living cultural incarnation of the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology. In the words of Aksakov, “the council of the commune (mir)” was “in effect a little sobor, the supreme authority which no one”, except God, “can judge”[60]. On the contrary, the state, with its bureaucratic rationality and hierarchy, was an object of exorcism. One may argue that for the Slavophiles, the synthesis between state absolutism and social individualism, which characterised political modernity, and the subsequent replacement of the spontaneous social order with a capitalist/contractualist order supervised and organised by the state, was more or less reflective of a truly demonic synthesis between the Catholic principle of formal authority and the anti-ecclesial/anti-social Protestant freedom. While for Konstantin Aksakov the organic togetherness of the Russian peasant commune was nurtured by a living spiritual tradition, in the United States, “a country without natural ties of kinship […], shared recollections or traditions […]”, or “a common faith”, one could not encounter “a living people” but “a state machine constructed of human beings”[61]. For the Slavophiles there was no doubt that the constitutional artificialism of the United States of America represented the “purest expression of European principles”[62].

Andrzej Walicki has defined Slavophilism as a as a romantic anti-capitalist retrospective utopia[63].  According to Walicki, the Slavophile conception of the social bond, with its distinction between organic and formal/legal order, is actually encountered in the thought of Ferdinand Tönnies, more exactly in Tönnies’ distinction between two types of social bond: Gemeinschaft that characterises traditional societies, and Gesellchaft, the type of social bond that characterises modern societies. The first type is organic and implies a “community of moral values”, while the second is mechanical and implies a “community of interests”[64]. Thus, in the second case, underneath the surface of social convention society remains in a state of generalised conflict. Gemeinschaft excludes the idea of absolute property and its corollary, “the depersonalisation of interhuman relations”, while Gesellchaft is characterised not by an organic law but rather by regulation, that is, by conventional laws framed according to the model of commercial contracts[65]. Furthermore, while Gemeinschaft excludes the conflict between individual and community, Gesellchaft reveals arbitrary anarchical will and arbitrary despotism as two sides of the same coin[66]. For Tönnies, while Gemeinschaft was the traditional order that was defining the way of life of the “people” (understood as organic community), Gesellchaft was the order specific to capitalism and to “society” (understood as aggregation of individuals)[67]. Both Kireevsky and Tönnies identified Roman law, inherited by the Catholic Church, as the source of the destruction of Gemeinschaft and of its replacement with Gesellchaft, that is, as the source of modernisation. Finally, Walicki underlines that while the German conservative thought of the first half of the 19th century essentially represents a defence of Gemeinschaft against Gesellchaft, the Slavophile thought may be regarded as “a more consistent defence of Gemeinschaft”. The reason for this is that, unlike German romantic conservatism, which had a pronounced aristocratic and hierarchical component, Slavophilism defended the conception of a “popular monarchy”, while attacking “aristocratic licence” [68].

Indeed, one should not make the mistake of believing that the Slavophile opposition to the state brought with it an opposition to the monarchy. On the contrary: the Slavophiles were fervent defenders of Russian autocracy. But for them, as underlined by Berdyaev, “the autocracy is connected to the anarchical, anti-statist spirit of the people”. Slavophile absolutism, Berdyaev argues, “was an anarchism of its own kind”. Conceiving the relation between the Tsar and the Russian people as a paternalist, familial relation, the Slavophiles “manifested an unlimited aversion for the bureaucracy that separated the people from its chosen one, the Tsar”[69]. The same idiosyncratic feelings were stirred by the interposition of the aristocracy between the Tsar and the Russian people. One can notice here a typical characteristic of populist ideology, which often appeals to a direct relationship between the masses and a charismatic leader, short-circuiting the mediation of an elite labelled as decadent and corrupt. More interesting perhaps are the connections which can be established between the Slavophile anarcho-monarchism and the insurrectional imaginary of the Russian peasantry. As indicated by Stéphane Vibert, between the 17th and the 19th centuries, Russia experienced many peasant rebellions led by so called impostor tsars. More precisely, in the midst of the Russian peasantry was widespread the myth that the oppressive regime of serfdom, exercised over it by the nobility, came as a consequence of the fact that the true inheritor to the throne, the just Tsar, had been replaced by an impostor. For example, the legend circulated that Peter the Great was actually a Swedish impostor (and in fact the Antichrist himself), who took the place of the true Peter when the latter had made his trip to Europe. In general, it was believed that the true Tsar, who could not agree with serfdom, had been the victim of an assassination attempt, which he miraculously survived; or it was believed that he was in exile as a result of a plot, and that in any case, he would return to liberate his people from the oppression of the nobility, this act of justice being considered among the peasantry as a sign of the Tsar’s authenticity. In many cases, the leaders of the peasant uprisings pretended to be the legitimate Tsar, the case of Emelian Pougatchev, who pretended to be Peter III, a Tsar killed by the partisans of Catherine II, being the most notorious[70]. One can notice here the dangerous potential (to which we shall return shortly) that Slavophile political thought presented for the existing Russian monarchy and understand why the Slavophile “Tory anarchism” and anarcho-monarchism were not at all appreciated by the regime of Nicholas I. “All that”, Berdyaev underlines, “was incomprehensible for people like Count Zakrevski and his entourage”. For them, “conservatism was comprehensible only as bureaucratic hierarchy and servile attitude, and was incomprehensible as free expression of the national soul”[71]. Nicholas I himself did not enjoy at all the idea of a monarchy circumscribed by a living tradition. Independently of the official slogan of his regime, Orthodoxy, Nationality, Autocracy, Nicholas I wanted to remain a European monarch and a heir of Peter the Great[72].

The Slavophile defence of Russian autocracy is accompanied by a specific theory concerning the origins of the latter. Dimitri Khomiakov, the son of Aleksei Khomiakov, argued that even though Western nations cannot stand political autocracy, they easily accept religious autocracy. According to the same author, the exactly opposite phenomenon occurs in Russia. In Russia, people easily accept political autocracy but they will not condone religious autocracy[73]. In other words, according to the Slavophile vision, if the West has a political and therefore material understanding of freedom, Russia instead understands freedom in spiritual terms. According to Khomiakov and Aksakov, this Russian understanding of freedom explained the absolute power of the Russian monarch. The unlimited power of the Tsar did not result from the divine nature of his office, but was owed instead to the fact that the Russian people were not interested in political freedom. Thus, the Slavophiles argued that the sovereignty of the Tsar originated in a social contract, but in the kind of social contract that could be made only by the Russian people, the most Christian people on earth. According to this theory, Russians had transferred power to the Tsar completely and definitively, without demanding any guarantees in exchange and without trying to draw any limits to the exercise of sovereignty. One could argue that the purpose of the Slavophile social contract was not to end the state of nature but to preserve the state of grace. For the aim of the contract was not the defence of any natural rights, as in the modern understanding of political contractualism, but the liberation from the burden of politics, whose mundane nature was considered to be incompatible with authentic Christian existence[74]. In the Slavophile view, only a people liberated from all political preoccupations was able to live a truly Christian life and, therefore, to experience authentic freedom[75]. Thus, for Aksakov, “political liberty cannot be called freedom”. Instead, “only where the people have nothing to do with government, only where there is an absolute and unrestricted monarchy which safeguards the people’s freedom in the moral sphere, only then can you speak of true freedom on earth”[76]. And while Western man “grovels before the idol of rebellion as formerly he grovelled before the idol of authority”, the Russian “regards the rebel as only another incarnation of the slave”[77]. Only Russians, who are immune both to the constitutional and the revolutionary spirit, two forms of materialistic enslavement, are truly free. And in order to preserve this freedom, they refuse to rebel even in case they are oppressed by somebody like Ivan the Terrible. Accepting this fact as God’s will, and committed to the law of love, they only pray that God will change the heart of the Tsar[78]. But this fact, Khomiakov argued, did not imply that the Tsar possessed any authority whatsoever in spiritual matters. The Tsar did not receive from the people any powers in matters that concerned “questions of conscience, of ecclesiastical diocese, of dogmatic teaching, of ecclesiastical administration”. According to Khomiakov, the people does not regard the Tsar as a prophet inspired by an invisible force, in the way in which the bishop of Rome is viewed by the Latins. We believe that, being free, the Sovereign can err, like any human being, and if by the will of God such a misfortune would occur despite the constant prayers of the sons of the Church, the Emperor will not by that lose any of his rights to obedience from his subjects in secular matters; but, as far as its greatness and plenitude are concerned, the Church would not suffer any prejudice, for its true and only Head will never betray her. Should this be the case, there will only be one Christian less in the bosom of the Church and nothing more[79].

In fact, as emphasised by Vibert, given its particular theological-political premises, the Slavophile defence of Tsarist autocracy implied a desacralisation of the imperial office. While the spiritual plenitude experienced by the Russian people grants to the latter the status of a self-sufficient community that does not require a mediator for its salvation, the political power that is abandoned as a result of its impure nature inevitably becomes the subject of a radical devaluation. For this reason, as argued by Vibert, the imperial office is deprived “of any mystical connotation, of any sacral mediating vocation inherited from the byzantine model”. Thus, “the slavophile movement, constantly judged by its main commentators as conservative, reactionary, patriarchal, reveals itself – an aspect confirmed by its judgment of the relations between power and society – as being strongly impregnated by modern ideas and values”[80].

Opposing revolution as the greatest evil and despising constitutional reforms, the Slavophiles believed that the authentic transformation of the Russian society into a just society, free from oppression and censorship, could have occurred only as a result of the collective exercise of freedom in love, and not through the imposition of political rights by force. The people had to reconvert the elite and the Tsar through their living moral example, whose highest expression was the meekness and resignation with which they endured the oppression of the nobles, regarding the latter not as class enemies but as strayed brothers. Thus, unlike the Westernisers, who argued that the liberation from oppression required a previous Westernising cultural revolution, the Slavophiles could see the end of serfdom only as a fulfilment of Russia’s Orthodox culture; only by living according to the ideals of Orthodoxy, which were cherished by the people despite their sins, true freedom was accessible. This was achievable only through the inner change of the Russian society, and not through the change of exterior institutions. Thus, for Khomiakov, socialism and communism were absurd ideological expressions of the exterior and materialistic civilisation of the West.

The Slavophiles have been accused of having produced an ideological drug in support of oppression by depicting an idyllic picture of the relation between the Tsar and the people, by being almost psychotically attached to the utopian vision of a Russian land without class conflict and by basically abandoning all political and republican virtues in the name of a complete withdrawal into an unhistorical, and therefore perverted, ecclesial life[81]. Criticising some of Khomiakov’s views, Nicholas Koshëlev, defined by Walicki as a heterodox Slavophile, has underlined the fact that “it was strange” that the Slavophiles “claim[ed] a monopoly on brotherliness for the only nation in contemporary Europe that imposed on its brothers the slavery of serfdom”[82]. However, Aksakov’s idyllic view of Old Russia functions as a discursive device that articulates a condemnation of the real social relations of the Russian nineteenth-century society[83]. If for Aksakov the anti-political spiritual freedom of the people and the refusal of rebellion were two sides of the same coin, this presupposed absolute freedom of opinion for the people. More exactly, for Aksakov, one could not be a Christian without freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion. Although for the Slavophiles such freedom found its accomplishment only through the voluntary submission of the weak and insufficient individual to the unanimous consciousness of the Church[84], nevertheless submission had to be voluntary. One could not be forced into submission by the group. In the worst case scenario one could only be ostracised. Thus, following the pattern of the Slavophile understanding of the Church, Aksakov was arguing that the peasant commune, although an organic community that did not originate in a social contract between individuals, did not represent either an instinctive gathering eluding individual reflection[85]. If one may say so, for Aksakov, the Russian peasant commune appeared as traditional and modern at the same time. Like the Church, the Russian peasant commune was seen as organic unity accomplished through freedom, and not at the expense of freedom.

Given all these aspects, the Slavophile claims for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech come close to the justification of political insurrection. In a memorial addressed to Tsar Alexander I and entitled Quatre Chapitres sur la Russie, Joseph de Maistre was urging the latter not to liberate the peasants and to maintain the strictest level of censorship. For, taking into account the fact that “there is no man whowillsas passionately as the Russian”, the taste of freedom once gained, Maistre argued, will instantly lead to “a general fire that would consume Russia”, to a revolution led by a “university Pugachev”[86], far more radical and destructive than the French one. Some forty years later, in a memorial addressed to Tsar Alexander II, assuring the Tsar that the Russian people does not rebel for it regards political rebellion as spiritual slavery, Aksakov was emphasising the crucial importance that freedom of thought and speech had for the spiritual life of the people. Criticising state censorship and the control of the Church by the state, completely contrary to what Maistre was recommending to Tsar Alexander I, Aksakov tried to convince Alexander II that the only thing that was necessary to prevent the evil of Revolution (a perspective that horrified Aksakov just as much as Maistre) was the elimination of censorship. Underlining the fact that it was the spirit of the people that kept Russia from falling into political turmoil, after the Russian upper classes had been infected by the poisonous culture of the West, Aksakov warned however that if spiritual oppression continues, and the people is deprived of the necessary premise of its spiritual life, namely freedom, then the popular insurrection will come one day and that day will be terrible[87].

According to Vibert, “ultimately, the Slavophiles have to defend on the one hand a communal integration through unanimity and unquestioned custom, unique source of authentic freedom, and on the other hand a series of individual rights (freedom of expression, freedom of conscience) that can endanger at any moment the harmony of the collective”[88]. From this point of view, the Slavophile theological-political project may ultimately appear as utopian. In its attempt to overcome what may be an unsurpassable opposition, between the ideal of individual freedom, and the ideal of an organic society, Slavophilism may then be characterised by its lack of realism. As we remember, Maistre insisted that there was no middle way between papal infallibility and religious anarchy. In other words, for Maistre, there was no middle way between the integration of the individual into the religious society – grounded on the infallibility of the religious authority – and individual rights. At the moment when the voice of authority spoke, the individual conscience had to bow down in obedience or otherwise the religious society ceased to exist. The contestation of the principle of infallibility in the spiritual sphere was inevitably bringing with it political instability and ultimately Revolution. That is the reason why Maistre argued that the absolute control of the Church by the state – control against which Aksakov and the other Slavophiles were vituperating – was perfectly legitimate and absolutely necessary wherever Catholic unity was absent[89]. Thus, freedom of conscience in religious matters, which was regarded by Aksakov as the fundamental condition for being a Christian, represented instead for Maistre the fundamental principle of Protestantism, the irreducible enemy of sovereignty and the begetter of Revolution. In his reflections on Greek Orthodoxy from Du Pape, Maistre had stressed the fact that Orthodox ecclesiology was contaminated by the Greek spirit of division, the same philosophical spirit that had contaminated the West beginning with the Reformation. Moreover, in the same volume, Maistre had argued that no Russian would be able to write against the Roman Catholic Church without reigniting this essentially anarchical spirit, or, in other words, without betraying the fact that the substance of his discourse was ultimately Protestant[90]. As indicated by Walicki, in the opinion of a Catholic theologian who has analysed Khomiakov’s ecclesiology “from an orthodox Catholic point of view”, Khomiakov’s ecclesiology represents an extreme version of the ecclesiological democratism and liberalism that can be encountered in contemporary Catholic modernism. Thus, as stressed by Father Pawlovski, Khomiakov “dimiss[es] the authority of instruction bestowed on the hierarchy by the will of our Lord […], [and] believes that the guarantee of infallibility […] is to be sought directly, without any intermediary, in mutual love or the altruistic fellowship of the faithful; and acknowledges the Holy Spirit alone as the only intermediary and source of the infallibility of the church”[91].

This kind of criticism can already be encountered in a written attack directed against Khomiakov’s ecclesiology, whose author was the Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Pavel Florensky. According to him, in his opposition against the Catholic conception of authority, Khomiakov has also “[torn] the wheat of Orthodoxy out of the soil”. “By getting rid of the apparent chaff of authority in the Church, which supposedly does not exist in Orthodoxy”, Khomiakov jettisons “the principle of fear, the principle of power and the obligatory nature of the canonical order”. Ultimately, this reflects the fact that, for Khomiakov, truth is not received by the believer from above, as the revelation of the transcendent God, but rather represents the autonomous creation of human consensus. Khomiakov therefore “leaves the impression that the decrees of the whole Church are true because they are the decrees of the whole Church”, and that the “decrees of Western councils” are not condemnable for their “falsity”, but for the fact “that they represent violations of unity”. Florensky concluded that “Khomiakov’s theories” reflect the “same spirit of immanentism that constitutes the essence of Protestantism, although in an immeasurably improved form – chiefly through the introduction of the idea of sobornost”. It is likely that Maistre would have argued much the same thing with regard to Khomiakov’s theology, and, most certainly, he would have agreed with Florensky’s conclusion concerning the political effects of such a theology: namely, the fact that, from a political point of view, far from being “a faithful servant of autocracy”, Khomiakov was in fact “the creator of the most popular and therefore the most dangerous form of egalitarianism”[92].

However, with the purpose of clarifying the meaning of the liberalism and democracy of which Khomiakov is accused by his opponents, Walicki underlines the fact that for Khomiakov the concept of ‘the church as a whole’ by no means meant the total sum of formal adherents of Orthodoxy; sobornost was not a synonym for ‘parliamentarism’, nor should the always infallible standpoint of the ‘entire church’ be interpreted as the sum of the private opinions of its individual members. In order to understand Khomiakov’s ecclesiology properly, we must realize that what he had in mind when he spoke of the freedom of the church was not the personal ‘Protestant’ freedom of individual believers, but the freedom of the church as a supra-individual organic whole[93].

It is not hard to notice here the intersection between Rousseau’s democratic ideal and the Slavophile model of the ecclesial community. In his critique of Rousseau, Maistre had argued that the unity of the sovereign will, whose necessity was affirmed by both authors, excluded the possibility of democracy which for Maistre could only end in anarchy and individualistic dissolution. Instead, for Maistre, the unity of the people required the submission of the people or, in other terms, the transcendence of monarchical authority, which in its turn rested on an equally transcendent but superior religious authority[94]. Faced with the paradox that, in the strict sense, in order for freedom (which for Rousseau, as for the Slavophiles, was the collective experience of the people) to exist, “the social spirit, which should be created by [the] institutions, would have to preside over their very foundation; and men would have to be before the law what they should become by means of law”, Rousseau was forced to admit that at the origin of the people’s freedom stood a legislator who, not being able “to appeal to either force or reason” (itself the fruit of education which presupposes authority), “must have recourse to an authority of a different order, capable of constraining without violence and persuading without convincing[95]: religion. The paradox of freedom being begotten by “an authority that is no authority”, and yet, whose exercise is “too difficult for human powers” in as much as it has to “[change] human nature”[96], determines Rousseau to affirm that “if we take the term in the strict sense”, the regime which he champions, democracy, has never really existed and will never exist, for this would imply “a people of gods”[97]. More precisely, Rousseau’s democratic utopia presupposed two things. It called for the miraculous reconciliation of the multiplicity of individual freedoms in a single collective will, excluding both individualist fragmentation and the distinction between subject and government, and at the same time, required a religious authority that would be both transcendent and immanent; that is, an authority that would be identified with the freedom of the individual over which this authority was exercised.

For Khomiakov, the Russian people was not only the most Christian people in the world, but also the most democratic people in the world[98]. Khomiakov’s conviction practically reflects the fact that the Slavophiles regarded the sacramental reality of the Church as the environment in which Rousseau’s democratic ideals could be transfigured and fulfilled. For Maistre, Rousseau’s political philosophy was refuted by an unsurpassable horizontal division, which separated individuals from each other, and by an unsurpassable vertical division, which separated the governing authority and its transcendent basis from those who were governed. However, for the Slavophiles, in the Church, freedom and unity are reconciled through love. Likewise, the authority of love is not an exterior authority, and in this sense, it completely identifies itself with the freedom of the individual. “A people of gods” exists, and therefore, democracy becomes possible, because, as Khomiakov stressed, the Church, and God Himself are not authorities, for authorities are something external[99]. Instead, through the Holy Spirit, the very life of God becomes the life of the people/church. Thus, if in the case of Maistre, the Church is the model of the absolute monarchy and, consequently, the legitimating source of all reactionary politics, for Khomiakov, on the contrary, the Church is the model of the democratic community and the source of any authentic democratic movement. In the case of Maistre, the accomplishment of the monarchic ideal depends on the authority exerted by the Church over the monarchy. In the case of the Slavophiles, the democratic ideal can be accomplished only as manifestation in all the aspects of human existence, including politics, of the life of the Church. In its most profound understanding, democracy appears as a superhuman condition, made possible only through grace.



Rooted in a theological vision centred on the principles of sobornost and tselnost, the Slavophiles have rejected both the Catholic notion of authority as well as the Protestant notion of freedom. For them, Catholicism meant unity without freedom and Protestantism meant freedom without unity, the two notions being reconciled only in the Orthodox Church whose ecclesiology was based on the concept of organic togetherness. The Slavophiles believed that the conflict between freedom and unity, which was paralleled by the conflict between faith and reason, has essentially shaped the whole culture of the modern West and was responsible for the inner division and spiritual crisis of the latter. To this model of civilisation, the Slavophiles were opposing the Russian Orthodox civilisation, grounded on the principles of sobornost and tselnost, civilisation whose essence, they believed, had been preserved by the Russian peasantry that had remained immune to the Westernisation process which had transformed the upper classes of the Russian society. Yet, far from rejecting modernity, the Slavophiles sought to reconcile Western philosophy and science with the Russian Orthodox faith, laying thus the foundation for a new and superior universal civilisation. This process had to begin in Russia itself with the return to the people of the educated segments of the Russian society. From this point of view, rooted in the Orthodox tradition, the Slavophile doctrine should not be regarded as a counter-modern project, as it is the case with other forms of traditionalism, but rather as an alternative Christianised modernity.

The political philosophy which results from the theological and historical vision of the Slavophiles is a peculiar type of Christian populism or tory anarchism, which is conservative and yet opened towards modernity, anti-aristocratic but not necessarily anti-hierarchical, community centred and yet strongly attached to the ideal of freedom and, last but not least, opposed to state bureaucracy but strongly attached to Tsarist autocracy. The latter is justified not by virtue of a divine right but by a sui generis theory of the social contract which locates the origin of monarchical power in the people but insists that the motivation of the transfer does not have anything to do with the securing of some natural rights, being instead the means through which the people liberates itself from politics in order to experience the spiritual fullness from which derives its messianic vocation. Viewed by Stéphane Vibert as a hybrid combination of traditional and modern principles, the Slavophile theologico-political project ultimately reveals itself as a Christian democratic utopia, a fact which also explains why it has not at all been viewed well the leading conservative circles of the regime of Nicholas I.



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[1] Stéphane VIBERT, “Pravda: Vérité et justice. Essai sur le devenir théologico-politique de la Russie”, Société, No. 24-25, 2005, p. 194 (my translation – with the exception of the quotations from Joseph de Maistre and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, all French sources have been translated by me).

[2] Ivan KIREEVSKY, “On the Nature of European Culture and on its Relationship to Russian Culture”, Boris JAKIM, Robert BIRD (trans. & ed.), in On Spiritual Unity: A Slavophile Reader, Lindisfarne Books, Hudson, New York, 1998, p. 216.

[3] Isabelle GRIMBERG, “La recherche d’une identité qui se dérobe”, in Wanda DRESSLER (dir.), Eurasie: espace mythique ou réalité en construction?, Bruylant, Bruxelles, 2008, p. 64. 

[4] Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile, Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 1938, vol. 2, pp. 115, 138.

[5] Joseph DE MAISTRE, The Pope, in The Collected Works of Joseph de Maistre, translated by Richard Lebrun, [;;toc.depth=1;;brand=default], p. 108.

[6] Ibidem, p. 1.

[7] Louis Ambroise de BONALD, quoted in Gerard GENGEMBRE, La Contre-Révolution ou l’histoire désespérante, Éditions Imago, Paris, 1989, p. 281.

[8] Joseph DE MAISTRE, Reflections on Protestantism in Its Relation with Sovereignty, in The Collected Works of Joseph de Maistre, [;;toc.depth=1;;brand=default], pp. 65-66, 93.

[9] Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov, translated by Valentine et Jean-Claude Marcadé, L’Age d’Homme, Lausanne, 1998, p. 87.

[10]Ibidem, p. 63.

[11] John S. ROMANIDES, “Orthodox Ecclesiology according to Alexis Khomiakov (1804-1860)”, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, Easter, 1956, p. 63.

[12] Khomiakov stressed the fact that in the initial understanding of the term, catholicity did not mean geographic universality but unanimity: kath’ olon, that is, according to all.

[13] Yuri SAMARIN, quoted in Georges FLOROVSKY, Ways of Russian Theology, translated by Robert L. Nichols, Nordland Publishing Company, Belmont MA, 1979, vol. 2, p. 53.

[14] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV, “The Church is One”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 39.

[15]Ibidem, p. 31.

[16] Aleksei Khomiakov, “Some Remarks by an Orthodox Christian Concerning the Western Communions, on the Occasion of a Brochure by Mr. Laurentie”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 58.

[17] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV, “The Church is One”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 44.

[18] John S. ROMANIDES, “Orthodox Ecclesiology according to Alexis Khomiakov (1804-1860)…cit.”, p. 68.



[21] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV, “Some Remarks by an Orthodox Christian Concerning the Western Communions, on the Occasion of a Letter Published by the Archbishop of Paris”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 93.

[22]Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., Vol. 2, p. 135.

[23] Vladimir ZENKOVSKY, A History of Russian Philosophy, translated by George L. Kline, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1953, vol. 1, p. 219.

[24]Ivan KIREYEVSKY, “On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy”, in James M. EDIE, James P. SCANLAN and Mary-Barbara ZELDIN (eds.), Russian Philosophy, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1965, vol. 1, p. 200.

[25]Ibidem, p. 201.

[26] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV, “Some Remarks by an Orthodox Christian Concerning the Western Communions, on the Occasion of a Brochure by Mr. Laurentie”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., pp. 59, 62.

[27] Idem, “Some Remarks by an Orthodox Christian Concerning the Western Communions, on the Occasion of a Letter Published by the Archbishop of Paris”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 98.

[28] Idem, “Fifth Letter to William Palmer”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 157.

[29] Ivan KIREEVSKY, “On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles…cit.”, pp. 195-196.


[31] Valdimir ZENKOVSKY, A History of Russian Philosophy…cit., vol. 1, p. 206.

[32] Isabelle GRIMBERG, “La recherche d’une identité qui se dérobe…cit.”, p. 59.

[33] Stéphane VIBERT, “Pravda : Vérité et justice…cit.”, p. 195.

[34]Ivan KIREEVSKY, “On the Nature of European culture and on its Relationship to Russian Culture”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 229.

[35]Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 2, p. 249.

[36] Fyodor DOSTOYEVSKY, The Diary of a Writer, translated by Boris Brasol, Octagon Books, New York, 1973, Vol. 1, p. 204.

[37] Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov…cit., pp. 125, 144, 147-150.                                                                                       

[38] Fyodor DOSTOYEVSKY, The Diary of a Writer…cit., Vol. 1, p. 202.

[39]Ibidem, pp. 36-37, 202-203. This nationalist anthropological thesis had already been formulated by Ivan Kireevsky, who argued that, unlike Russians, who always ask more of themselves in terms of virtue, and always regard sin as sin, “Western people, generally speaking, are nearly always satisfied with their moral state […]. If their overt acts should happen to come into variance with the generally accepted notions of morality, they will invent their own, original system of ethics, and thus once more pacify the conscience” (Ivan KIREEVSKY, On the Nature of European Culture and on Its Relationship to Russian Culture, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 227).

[40]Ibidem, Vol. 2, p. 702.

[41] Fyodor DOSTOYEVSKY, The Diary of a Writer…cit., Vol. 1, p. 204.

[42]Ibidem, Vol. 2, pp. 984.

[43] Ivan KIREEVSKY, “On the Nature of European Culture and on its Relation to Russian Culture”, On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 192.

[44] Ivan KIREEVSKY, “On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy…cit.”, p. 213.

[45] Ivan KIREEVSKY, in Vladimir V. ZENKOVSKY, A History of Russian Philosophy, vol. 2, p. 211 (reference not given).

[46]Ibidem, p. 203.

[47] Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 2, pp. 45-46.

[48] Fyodor DOSTOYEVSKY, The Diary of a Writer…cit., vol. 1, p. 63.

[49] Although already in the 11th century certain Russian peasants were serfs, the number of serfs grew and the conditions of the regime of serfdom worsened throughout the next centuries. By the middle of the 17th century the vast majority of the Russian peasants had become serfs. During the eighteenth century, under the influence of Western European Enlightenment, the successors of Peter the Great enacted a series of liberal reforms whose purpose was the emancipation of the nobility, culminating with the Charter of the Gentry issued by Catherine the Great in 1785, a document that codified the rights and privileges of the Russian aristocracy. If before these reforms, ownership of land by the Russian aristocracy depended on military or civil service rendered to the Tsar, in 1731, through an ukase (decree of the Russian Tsar having the force of law) of Tsarina Ann, the property rights of the nobility will become inalienable and independent of the military or civil service, which in its turn will be abolished in 1762 through an ukase of Tsar Peter III. The Charter of the Gentry confirmed these reforms as well as others, which included the right of the nobles to be judged only by a Court formed of their equals. However, it seems that the cost of the emancipation of the nobility was the worsening of the regime of servitude of the peasantry, “classe dont la relative liberté dans la Russie moscovite n’était pas due à des droits spécifiques mais plutôt à la dépendance des nobles par rapport au pouvoir tsariste” (Stéphane VIBERT, “Pravda: vérité et justice…cit.”, p. 261). If previously the peasants had the right to complain to the Tsar for the treatment to which they were submitted to, beginning with the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796), the peasants lost this right. Moreover, the eighteenth century policies meant to strengthen the nobility also included the periodical offering of crown serfs as gifts to the representatives of the nobility (during her reign, Catherine the Great, an enlightened monarch, admired by Voltaire and Diderot, had offered to the nobility more than a million serfs), something that in most cases implied the worsening of the regime of servitude. Throughout the eighteenth century, while the strength of the aristocracy had been growing, the state of the peasants constantly worsened. In 1747 the nobles acquired the right to sell their peasants without land. In 1760 they acquired the right to arbitrarily exile their peasants to Siberia, and, five years later, the right to sentence them to hard labour, a punishment that until then applied only to criminals.

[50] To be more precise, although all the Slavophiles were in favour of the liberation of the peasants, there were differences among them with regard to the way in which this should be accomplished. Thus, as indicated by Walicki, while Konstantin Aksakov, “the most fanatical and least practical of the Slavophiles”, wanted to proceed immediately with a radical reform, Ivan Kireevsky proved to be the most cautious and “thought that all changes should be put off until the upper classes had become converted to Slavophile ideals”. Khomiakov and the other Slavophiles were somewhere in the middle between these two positions (Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in the Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975, pp. 229-230).

[51]Andrzej Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 228.

[52] Ibidem, p. 281.


[54] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV et al., “Aux Serbes – Epître de Moscou”, postface to Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov…cit., pp. 176, 188.

[55] Yury SAMARIN, Œuvres complètes de Samarin, I, 394, quoted in Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 2, p. 3.

[56] Ibidem.

[57] Georges FLOROVSKY, Ways of Russian Theology…cit., vol. 2, p. 17.

[58] Nikolay CHERNYSHEVSKY, quoted in Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 465 (reference not given).

[59] Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov…cit., p. 52.

[60] Konstantin AKSAKOV, Zamechaniya na novoe administrativnoe ustroĭstvo krest’yan v Rossii, Leipzig, 1861, p. 107, quoted in Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., pp. 260-261.

[61] Ibidem, p. 245.

[62] Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 168.

[63] Ibidem, pp. 167-168.

[64] Ibidem, p.170.

[65] Ibidem, pp.171-172.

[66] Ibidem, p.173.

[67] Ibidem, p.172.

[68]Therefore, Walicki argues, according to Max Weber’s terms, the Slavophiles would situate themselves in the category of patrimonialism, a category that for Weber was closer to the ideal type of traditional authority than feudalism, which involved class domination (Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., pp. 175-176).

[69]Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov…cit., pp. 52, 127.

[70]Stéphane VIBERT, “Pravda: Vérité et justice…cit.”, pp. 259-267.

[71] Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov…cit., p. 52.

[72] Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 147.

[73]Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 2, p. 185.

[74] Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov…cit, p. 129.

[75] Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 1, p. 162.

[76] Konstantin AKSAKOV, quoted in Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 250.

[77] Konstantin AKSAKOV, “On the Same Subject published in 1860” (the title refers to an earlier essay entitled “Fundamental Principles of Russian History”), 7-17, quoted in Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 243.

[78] Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 2, p. 97.

[79] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV, Œuvres…cit., t. 2, pp. 36-38, quoted in Nicolas BERDIAEV, Khomiakov…cit., pp. 71-72.

[80] Stéphane VIBERT, “Pravda: Vérité et justice…cit.”, pp. 206-208, 218.

[81] According to Alain Besançon, the Slavophiles have “construct[ed] a fictional reality, a fictional history, a fictional religion and fictional politics in every field” (Alain BESANÇON, The Rise of the Gulag: Intellectual Origins of Leninism, translated by Sarah Matthews, Continuum, New York, 1981, p. 65). In this sense, situating Slavophilism in the genealogy of Leninism, Besançon argues that Slavophilism is essentially related “to the fundamental falsehood of Bolshevism in power” (Ibidem, p. 77).

[82] Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 480.

[83]Ibidem, p. 254. The government circles reacted vehemently to some of Aksakov’s articles that praised the people, while rebuking the aristocracy, considering the latter articles as an invitation to popular uprising (Ibidem, pp. 271-272).

[84] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV et al, “Aux Serbes – Epître de Moscou…cit.”, p. 175.

[85] Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., pp. 257-258, 260.

[87]Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., pp. 249-254.

[88] Stéphane VIBERT, “Pravda : Vérité et justice…cit.”,  p. 271.

[89]Joseph DE MAISTRE, The Pope…cit., note 113, p. 272.

[90] Ibidem, pp. 300-303, 315.

[91] A. PAWLOWSKI, Idea Kósciola w ujeciu rosyjkiej teologii i historiozofii (The Idea of the Church in Russian Theology and Philosophy of History), part 2, Warsaw, 1935, pp. 238-239, quoted in Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., pp. 196-197.

[92] Pavel Florensky, “Around Khomiakov”, in On Spiritual Unity, pp. 321-325. Father Gagarin, a Russian Jesuit and contemporary of the Slavophiles, argued that the nationalist ideology of the Slavophiles was nothing more than “the Oriental version of the 19th century revolutionary idea”. According to Gagarin, this Russian version was much more effective than what the Western revolutionaries had been able to create. Once the monarchy gone, Gagarin argued, the nationalism of the Slavophiles was set to give birth to “very radical, very republican and very communist political doctrines” (Gagarin, op. cit., 72, quoted in Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 2, pp. 147-148).

[93] Andrzej WALICKI, The Slavophile Controversy…cit., p. 197.

[94] Joseph DE MAISTRE, The Pope…cit., p. 124.

[95]Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU, The Social Contract, trans. G. D. H. Cole, [], Book II, Ch. 7.

[96]Ibidem. More specifically, if on the one hand Rousseau argues that “according to the fundamental compact, only the general will can bind the individuals, on the other hand, he argues that “there can be no assurance that a particular will is in conformity with the general will, until it has been put to the free vote of the people”(Ibidem.). Thus, in principle, only the general will, and not the legislator, has the authority to compel individuals. But the conformity between the work of legislation and the general will can be decided only by a free vote of all the individuals reunited as a people, given that only the work of legislation turns a sum of individuals into a people. The contradiction is obvious.  

[97]Ibidem, Book III, Ch. 4.

[98] Albert GRATIEUX, A.S. Khomiakov et le mouvement slavophile…cit., vol. 1, p. 99.

[99] Aleksei KHOMIAKOV, “Some Remarks by an Orthodox Christian Concerning the Western Communions, on the Occasion of a Brochure by Mr. Laurentie”, in On Spiritual Unity…cit., p. 58.