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Russian Idea, the

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E082-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2002
Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

‘The Russian Idea’ is a term used by Russian thinkers to define specific features of Russian culture, the spiritual make-up of the Russian nation, the meaning of Russian history and, as a rule (although not always), Russia’s unique mission in the universal history of humanity.

The term was introduced for the first time in 1861 by Dostoevskii, for whom the essence of the Russian Idea was the ‘universal humanity’ (or ‘all-humanity’) of the Russian spirit. At the same time however, Dostoevskii linked the Russian Idea with Russian imperial messianism. Thus, the notion of the Russian Idea included from its beginning a characteristic tension between striving for universalism and nationalist self-assertion..

The first philosopher to devote a special separate work to the Russian Idea (l’Idée russe, Paris, 1888) was Vladimir Solov’ëv, for whom the national idea was ‘not what a given nation thinks about itself in time, but what God thinks about it in eternity’. He was influenced by Dostoevskii but, challenging Russian nationalists, put much greater emphasis on universalism, stressing that the peculiar greatness of the Russians consisted in their capacity for ‘self-renunciation’. The first case of this self-renunciation was the so-called ‘calling of the Varangians’, that is, the voluntary acceptance of foreign rule; the second was the reforms of Peter the Great: rejection of native traditions for the sake of universal progress.

Now the Russian nation should commit itself to the third, most important act of self-renunciation: to submit itself to the authority of the pope, restoring thereby the unity of the Universal Church and bringing about the reconciliation between East and West. But this act of humility was seen by Solov’ëv as a precondition from the fulfilment of Russia’s great mission of creating the universal, freely theocratic Christian Empire. Solov’ëv invoked in this connection the monk Philotheus’ idea of ‘Moscow as the Third Rome’ but reversed its meaning by putting emphasis on symbolic Rome, that is, not on national isolationism and keeping intact the purity of the Orthodox faith, but on ecumenical universalism and the messianic task of the Christian transformation of the world.

Owing to Solov’ëv, the term ‘Russian Idea’ came to be applied retrospectively, as a designation of a set of problems characteristic for Russian philosophical discussions about the essence of ‘Russianness’. Most historians agree that these problems were formulated under the reign of Nicholas I and that the first thinker who posed them forcefully was Pëtr Chaadaev.

Citing this article:
Walicki, Andrzej. Russian Idea, the, 2002, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E082-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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