Difference vs. Division: guest post by Yury Lisitsa

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has written an important new article outlining the historical and philosophical foundations of the Russian government’s view of the world and Russia’s place in it. I plan to post my response to it in the next couple of days. In the meantime, noting that Lavrov ended by citing philosopher Ivan Ilyin, I asked Yuri Lisitsa, who has edited and published 30 volumes of Ilyin’s works, for his reaction. Yuri has kindly given me permission to publish his thoughts, which you can read below (my amateur translation):


World events have turned out in such an unexpected way for me and several of what one might call intellectuals or serious philosophers or something else, but I can’t think of a better way of describing them, who are seriously disappointed with Western intellectuals, who have apparently turned into something like all modern Ukrainians (defined not by their nationality – I am also a Ukrainian – but by their being part of Ukrainian discourse). Several times I have gotten involved in heated arguments with them and pronounced this well-known Russian proverb: ‘I’m talking to you about Thomas, but you’re talking to me about Jeremy’. In other words, we don’t understand one another at all. In an article I wrote about Putin’s speech to the United Nations I gave an example. You no doubt remember when an old BBC journalist asked Putin, ‘Why are Russia and you in particular pursuing such an aggressive foreign policy?’ Putin replied: ‘I don’t understand. We have two military bases – in Tajikistan and Kirgizstan, and the USA has more than 100 around the world. And you speak of Russia as an aggressive country.’ It’s worth adding the independent opinion of an American journalist who is well known to us (he lives in Moscow), Michael Bohm, who responded to a heckler who said that America had taken upon itself the sole leadership of the world, ‘When Russia has as many military bases around the world as the USA, we will say something different.’

I formulate the problem of the contemporary world in the language not of philosophy or political philosophy but of theology, which in its time has managed to solve such difficult problems as ‘the created-uncreated dialectic’, [ed. – see for instance this article] or, to put it another way, ‘how to overcome the abyss between the created and the uncreated.’ Also, the problem of ‘otherness and community’. I will transfer this now to our subject and our language. On this sinful Earth we are all ‘created’, but ‘every I is alien to every other I’. So arises the ‘problem of solitude and social interaction’. This happens at the level of the state – ‘one state is alien to another state.’ How can one overcome the abyss between these states, preserving their otherness? As yet contemporary politicians and political scientists not only haven’t managed to do so, but they aren’t even looking in the right direction for possible and correct solutions.

What are they all missing in their opinions (which are not very valuable) and in their views (which are often strongly formulated, but not correct)? The answer is: ‘They are failing to differentiate between diaphora (difference) and diairesis (division)’ (a differentiation made by Maximus the Confessor in the 7th century). According to Ivan Ilyin, the Greek term diaphora signifies 1) difference, diversity, 2) inequality … 6) disagreement, discord, dissension, argument. And the term diairesis signifies 1) division, partition, 2) smashing to pieces, pulverizing, 3) dismemberment.

Maximus the Confessor’s thesis is this: ‘difference does not necessarily entail division.’ ‘Without diaphora there is no being, as one cannot be separate from one’s essence,’ Maximus the Confessor wrote. He also differentiated between the ‘logos of being’, which is immutable, and the ‘tropos of being’ (modus ens in Latin), which can adapt without losing its logos.

Let us transfer this to the example of Russo-Ukrainian relations.

All Ukrainians intuitively feel their logos and their diaphora, but identify it with division, with their unwillingness to adapt, as others have their own diaphora, their own difference.

Russians do not see Ukrainians as other, as different, and they identify Ukrainians with themselves. Everyone, including Putin, repeats like a mantra the position, ‘Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians are one people’, which is false, and they try to resolve the problem of division by means of an impossible ‘genuine unification’. In this way Russians also have a poor tropos, a poor ability to ‘accommodate themselves without destroying the otherness of another state’s being.’

There is an analogical problem with the relations between nationalities, various cultures, and various religions. In previous reflections on ‘personality problems of international law’, I have run ahead a lot: but I don’t want to split hairs now that the world is burning.

For now,  one can solve the problem more simply, in the spirit of Vitaly Vasilevich Shulgin, who correctly illuminated the relationship between different nationalities: ‘If we don’t want to succumb to the sort of idiocy in national matters as Karl Marx succumbed to in social ones, we musn’t allow ourselves to miss the wood because of the trees. Struggle doesn’t extinguish relations between social classes. Class struggle is only the alpha; the omega is their cooperation. The same is true of struggling nations; although they fight among themselves, they need one another.’ Countries, states, nations, races, religions, etc. must conduct themselves like buyers and sellers in a bazaar; at first they argue, they curse, they trade, making concessions, and go to meet one another. But once they have agreed and the sale is completed, they part pleased with themselves. Truly, they need one another.

5 thoughts on “Difference vs. Division: guest post by Yury Lisitsa”

  1. Yeah, this makes sense.
    I think maybe it’s mostly the denizens of Moscow and St. Petersburg, who view Ukrainians and Belorussians as mere provincial Russians, because … well for obvious reasons. They are central, they see many Russian-speaking (and Russian-looking) people from many far-away places every day, so what’s the difference. Perhaps someone from a provincial Russian town would be more sensitive to subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) cultural and political circumstances.

    And on your last point. Just a few days ago I was watching Ukrainian politolog Iskander Khisamov, and he put it simply (quoting/translating from memory): ‘anyone who wants to tear Ukraine away from Russia is not a friend to Ukraine.’ I think this is obviously true, I think most people in both countries understand it, and I think that’s, pretty much, all there is to it…


  2. I also have Ilyin’s quote. In original:

    “Европа не знает России, не понимает ее народа, ее истории, ее общественно-политического строя и ее веры. Она никогда не понимала и ее Государей, огромности их задания, их политики, благородства их намерений и человеческого предела их возможностей…

    И, странное дело, каждый раз, как кто-нибудь знающий пытается высказать правду и поправить дело всеобщего невежества, он наталкивается на уклончивое безразличие и недружелюбное молчание. Ему не возражают, его не опровергают, а просто – «остаются при своем». Европе не нужна правда о России; ей нужна удобная для нее неправда. Ее пресса готова печатать о нас самый последний вздор, если этот вздор имеет характер хулы и поношения. Достаточно любому ненавистнику России, напр., из «Грушевских украинцев», распространиться о пресловутом поддельном «завещании Петра Великого», о «московитском империализме», якобы тождественном с коммунистическим мирозавоеванием, и о «терроре царизма», – и европейские газеты принимают эту лживую болтовню всерьез, как новое оправдание для их застарелого предубеждения. Им достаточно произнести это политически и филологически-фальшивое словечко «царизм», – и они уже понимают друг друга, укрывая за ним целое гнездо дурных аффектов: страха, высокомерия, вражды, зависти и невежественной клеветы…

    Нам надо понять это отношение, это нежелание правды, эту боязнь действительности. Все видимое преклонение европейца перед «точным знанием», перед «энциклопедической образованностью», перед «достоверной информацией», словом, – вся этика истины – смолкает, как только дело коснется России. Европейцам «нужна» дурная Россия: варварская, чтобы «цивилизовать» ее по-своему; угрожающая своими размерами, чтобы ее можно было расчленить; завоевательная, чтобы организовать коалицию против нее; реакционная, чтобы оправдать в ней революцию и требовать для нее республики; религиозно-разлагающаяся, чтобы вломиться в нее с пропагандой реформации или католицизма; хозяйственно-несостоятельная, чтобы претендовать не ее «неиспользованные» пространства, на ее сырье или, по крайней мере, на выгодные торговые договоры и концессии. Но если эту «гнилую» Россию можно стратегически использовать, тогда европейцы готовы заключить с ней союзы и требовать от нее военных усилий «до последней капли ее крови»”

    Nothing really changed for nearly 100 years.


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