What We Fought For and Whom We Fought With
by Natalia A. Narochnitskaya.
Minuvshee (Moscow), 80 pp., cloth, 2005.

Russia and Russians in World History
by Natalia A. Narochnitskaya.
Mezhdunarodnye Otnosheniya (Moscow), 536 pp., cloth, 2004.

Orthodox Civilization in a Global World
by Aleksandr S. Panarin.
Algoritm (Moscow), 544 pp., cloth, 2003.

Immediately following the collapse of the USSR in 1991,
Russia embarked upon a new project. Upon the ashes of godless
Communism, the leaders of Russia, enlisting the advice of
an army of Washington technocrats and global financiers,
attempted to build a godless capitalism. The instant material
prosperity that was supposed to result from this project
failed to materialize for most Russians. What is more, many
of the worst elements of what Russell Kirk called our latter-day “consumption
society, so near to suicide” were allowed to penetrate
into Russia’s hitherto closed society all at once.
Wall Street individualism and Hollywood hedonism made short
work of the Soviet Union’s daft and morally bankrupt,
but nevertheless strict, system of values. As a result Russia
today suffers both from poverty and from many of the ills
which afflict rich countries, such as worsening crime and
corruption, the disintegration of the family, substance abuse,
and demographic decline. A widening perception that Russia’s
current problems are, at bottom, moral ones, has made Russian
society increasingly receptive to conservative ideas.

A new class of talented conservative intellectuals has begun
to form in Russia. They are, in the main, academics, priests
and bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, and, interestingly
enough, a significant number of ex-Communists and ex-Liberals.
The case of Aleksandr Panarin, a liberal dissident in the
final years of the Soviet Union, is particularly striking.
During the tumult of the 1990s, Panarin became disillusioned
with his former ideals. Having converted to the Orthodox
faith of his fathers, he set himself to the task of coming
to terms with his nation’s pre-Revolutionary conception
of itself and its mission in the world. In his book, Orthodox
Civilization in a Global World,
he writes “Only
if the eternal criteria of goodness, beauty, and justice
are fated to regain a leading role in the judgments we make—only
then can we achieve our long-awaited rehabilitation—for
in the moral sphere there is no progress; in history, written
in the language of morality, our ancestors do not appear
backward at all; on the contrary, they can serve as an inspiring
example for us.”

Aleksandr Panarin draws several important distinctions between
classical liberalism and its contemporary forms. Classical
liberalism, he says, demanded liberty to work without hindrance,
and the right to benefit from one’s own labor. This
certainly had benefits for society, and was not incompatible
with a life centered on the values of family, church, and
nation. Contemporary neo-Liberalism, however, has a very
different agenda: it seeks “emancipation” for
the individual, and an excessive formalization of the citizen’s
relations with fellow citizens and the state. The advance
of neo-Liberalism, Panarin argues, is bringing about the
slow death of civilization, for emancipation means not liberty
to work, but freedom from all hardship, which inevitably
comes to be understood as a right to complete self-gratification.
What is far worse, emancipation signifies freedom from the
constraints of religious and cultural traditions, which have
furnished societies with the norms and prohibitions without
which civilized life would be impossible.

In their struggle to eradicate the traditional bases of
civilization, Panarin argues, liberals not only endanger
the political order of their countries; they also doom their
national economy to eventual collapse. The economy of any
country depends to a great extent on what Panarin calls “unremunerated
giving,” that is, all of the things that citizens contribute
to their nation’s economy without expecting to receive
equivalent monetary compensation. A great deal of what people
do, they do out of a feeling of duty, says Panarin: “The
feeling of genuine, existential obligation, felt by us as
an internal human duty arises only in response to gifts given
to us: everything that our parents and ancestors gave us
. . . everything that was given us by our native land, our
culture and history.” Among the greatest gifts that
citizens give to the economy are their offspring, raised
and educated by them at enormous expense. From the standpoint
of economic advantage, having children is hardly a rational
choice, especially if individuals understand life primarily
as a quest for self-gratification. The choice to have children
is also a cultural and religious one, prompted by a desire
to continue a family line, a culture, a people’s history.

Natalia Narochnitskaya, an historian, and popularly elected
member of the Russia’s lower House, the State Duma,
has done much to re-acquaint her compatriots with Russian
conservatism. In two recent books, Narochitskaya calls upon
Russia, as well as the West, to form a common cause in order
to restore the link between culture and Christianity. Christianity
gave Western culture its conceptions of free will and human
dignity, of virtue and sin, beauty and ugliness, norm and
deviance, harmony and cacophony. It was in virtue of these
criteria that our people were able to create a great culture
and a just order.

Russia, says Narochnitskaya, cannot rebuild herself upon
ideological schemes and abstract universal ideas; she must
develop a political order that is consonant with the times
and with her heritage. The first step is for Russians to
regain their traditional sense of themselves as a people. “Those
who know what is felt by a believer during inspired prayer
at liturgy know perfectly well the feeling of belonging to
an Orthodox Church–which joins with Christ all believers,
those who are dead, those who are living, and those who are
to be born. Let us strive for a similar hallowed feeling
of belonging to our Fatherland,” writes Narochnitskaya.
She would no doubt wholeheartedly agree with Russell Kirk,
who said that a nation, like a church, is best understood
as a “community of souls.”

The current revival of religious and patriotic feeling in
Russia notwithstanding, Russian conservatism today faces
difficult challenges, not only in the struggle for political
power and influence, but also in the task of making contemporary
sense of its own traditions and ideals. Many Russian conservatives
today look upon the Muscovite era of Russian history, and
especially the short period within it that encompasses the
reigns of Tsar Mikhail Romanov and Tsar Aleksii Mikhailovich
(1613–1689), as a golden age. Historians will note, however,
that while the Muscovite period was a time of national and
spiritual unity among all classes of society (a unity ultimately
shattered by Peter the Great), Muscovy was also a kingdom
governed by personal decree, not by law, a kingdom with a
strong, centralized state in close partnership with the church.

Indeed, an Orthodox Tsar, constrained in his actions only
by Christian morality and the informal prescriptions of tradition,
and ruling in partnership with a Russian Church, is theByzantine
model of government known as the “symphony of powers,” which
is regarded as an ideal by many Russian conservatives. The
Church hierarchy, recognizing the realities of contemporary
Russian life, has been much more reluctant to embrace this
view. As Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin has written, before
any notion can be entertained of a formal partnership of
church and state, the Church must work to build a “symphony
with Russian society.” Russia must first become a truly
Orthodox Christian nation again, if it is ever to become
an Orthodox state. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad,
widely regarded as the most likely successor to the current
Patriarch, has said that democratic institutions such as
the rule of law are, in principle, a positive development
for Russian society. It is crucial however, that the laws
be enforced, and that they be “rooted in moral foundations,
in God’s Truth.”

Today, conservatism (particularly religious conservatism)
as an intellectual movement is perhaps stronger in Russia
than in almost any other European country. Nonetheless, as
a political movement, it is still very weak. Whether this
will change, only time can tell; some Western scholars, such
as Nicolai Petro and Nikolas Gvosdev, already see signs of
such growth. In any event, Russia is fortunate to have a
Church that is working with parents at the grass roots level
to give Russian children a Christian education, as well as
learned men of the cloth and conservative academics who are
not afraid to make their voice heard on issues that are of
vital importance to Russian society.

Ethan Alexander-Davey is
a graduate student at the University of Cambridge. As
a Fulbright Fellow in Russia in 2004–5, he conducted
research on Russian religious philosophy and the resurgence
of religious conservatism in post-Soviet Russia. He has
published an article on Aleksandr Panarin in the Russian
political science journal Politex, and has written
an English translation of Russian Parliamentarian Natalia
Narochnitskaya’s latestbook, What We Fought