One of the interesting aspects of the research I am conducting into the history of Russian conservatism is the contemporary resonance of texts written 100, 150, or even 200 years ago. My point here is not to express approval or support of what was written, merely to say that, if you change a few names, much of it could be written today. As a means of understanding contemporary Russian thinking, some of these older texts are quite insightful.
Take for instance Nikolai Danilevskii’s 1869 book Russia and Europe, the 2013 translation of which by Stephen Woodburn I have just started reading. As early as page one I could not but notice the contemporary relevance. Danilevskii complains of Europe’s double standards. Why, he asks, did Prussia’s and Austria’s flagrant aggression against Denmark in 1864 fail to arouse any sense of indignation among Europeans, whereas Russia’s earlier war against Turkey (notionally in defence of Christians) generated immense moral outrage and the creation of the coalition which defeated Russia in the Crimean War. Substitute the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (or any other example of American or British aggression) for the Prussia/Austrian invasion of Denmark, and substitute Russia’s current war in Syria for its earlier war against Turkey, and you can see that, in Russian eyes at least, not much has changed in the past 150 years. For some reason, a double standard applies when moral judgements are made about Russia and the West.
To illustrate the point, here are some key excerpts from Chapter 1 of Russia and Europe, starting on page one.
[P.S. I am thinking of starting a regular feature which would involve the weekly publication of extracts from other Russian conservative texts chosen for their contemporary relevance (and, I stress, not as a mark of approval). I think this could be educationally useful as well as providing a good springboard for political discussion and getting feedback on my research. My previous translation and publication of Ivan Ilyin’s ‘Against Russia’ got a lot of readers, so maybe these would too. It would be good to know if there is any interest.]
N.Ia. Danilevskii, Russia and Europe, page 1
… In 1864 Prussia and Austria – two major states, home to about sixty million residents and capable of fielding an army of almost a million – attacked Denmark, one of the smallest states of Europe, home to no more than 2.5 million, not known for being warlike, but highly enlightened, liberal, and humane. The aggressors took away two provinces from this state, home to two-fifths of its subjects: two territories, which had been affirmed as an inextricable part of this state not thirty years ago in the Treaty of London, which the two aggressor states, among others, had signed. And this direct violation of the agreement, this assault on the weak by the strong, produced no opposition of any sort. Neither the insult to moral sensibilities, nor the violation of the so-called political equilibrium aroused the indignation of Europe, in either public opinion or in its governments. At least, it did not arouse the world enough to turn word into deed, so the partition of Denmark was completed in calm. Such were the events of 1864.
Eleven years before that, Russia – a large and powerful part of the political system of European states – out of its most sacred religious interests, attacked Turkey – a barbarian, conquering state, which though already weakened, still maintained its illegitimate and unjust dominion by force; a state at that time not included in the political system of Europe, the unity of which was not guaranteed by any definitive treaty. But even so, no one violated that unity. All that was needed from Turkey was to confirm its obligation and refrain from violating the religious interests of the majority of its subjects. … And what of this demand, which the diplomatic collective of the leading states of Europe considered justified? The religious and other interests of millions of Christians have turned out to count for nothing … In 1854, exactly ten years before the partition of Denmark, about which no one had any concern, England and France declared war on Russia, Sardinia got involved, Austria adopted a menacing posture, and finally all of Europe threatened war … Why this indifference to liberal, humane Denmark; this sympathy toward barbaric, despotic Turkey … It not just an accident, not just a journalistic escapade, not just the fervor of some faction, but a collective diplomatic posture of all Europe.
… The question again arises: Why this measurement by differing standards, when the matter concerns Russia or other European states? … Has Russia in some way, by its prior conduct, treachery, or violence, provoked Europe, giving it cause for apprehension, so that Europe would seize the first available opportunity to avenge the past and safeguard itself for the future? Perhaps we shall see if this is really the case.