#48 - JRL 2009-137 - JRL Home
Date: Mon, 20 Jul 2009 15:12:04 -0700 (PDT)
From: Alexander Yanov <alexanderyanov@yahoo.com>
Subject: Response to Mr. Roy (#133)

By no means do I intend to defend the main argument of my piece from Mr. Roy’s angry assault. There’s no need to. Let me explain why.

It is true that Mr. Roy is wasting his literary talents, in facts made it his speciality, assailing somebody else’s work, constantly repeating the same arguments, and constantly doing it in an angry offended way. The way, I mean, of sniping at this or that taken out of context comment for the offence he finds in it to this or that national sensibility.

Yet my case is special: the most important part of the piece under assault by Mr. Roy concerns history, both Russian and European. And in this department he obviously faces a challenge. His usual arguments do not work here. Some additional ammunition is needed. What is really strange though is where does he look for that ammunition. It appears that he looked no farther than the Soviet textbooks read in his schooldays. The results are rather predictable.

Those of us who are old enough to remember these textbooks know that their ultimate argument against the “bourgeois”, i.e. modern, historiography had never changed: “It leaves out the role of the masses, the struggle of the masses against their class enemies”. And sure enough this is the argument Mr. Roy dutifully (and verbatim!) reproduces in his philippics against my piece.

So it must have been the class struggle of the Orthodox masses desperately resisting Russia’s turn to Europe, not Peter the Great and his cohorts, the Russia Europeans, that broke the back of Orthodox fundamentalism at the end of the XVII century thus saving Russia from the fate of a “sick man of Europe”? And it wasn’t Catherine the Great and her cohorts, Russian Europeans once again, who cancelled the obligatory service of the nobility thus ruining one of the strongest bastions of the paternalistic culture in Russia? The masses did it? This is at least what follows from Mr. Roy’s Soviet argument.

European history fares no better under his strict pen. Regarding my words -- that Ivan the Terrible’s autocraric revolution institutionalized the paternalistic culture in Moscow -- Mr. Roy hastens to add in parentheses that the same thing happened in Europe as well. Really? Where? When? And how come nobody has ever heard of it?

What modern historiography does notice is that Renaissance states and absolute monarchies that emerged in more or less the same era as Ivan’s autocracy had been a stage and in eliminating the feudal order and serfdom as well as advancing private property, the cornerstone of modernity. In any case they were not introducing serfdom and the obligatory service of the nobllity thus enslaving the elite of the nation as well, as Ivan did. And they were not paving the way for a century of isolationism and religious fundamentatism with an unreformed church.

And what about the contemporary period? Mr. Roy furiously rejects my assertion that the Russian population still readily responds to the call of pseudo-imperial fanfares, although every sociological survey confirms it. But why do we need surveys? Enough to look at the rage with which Mr. Roy relates to little Georgia whose entire population would easily fit into a couple of Moscow city districts (as well as to America allegedly “letting off the leash” this miniscule monster) ­ and one doesn’t need any other conformation of the readiness of “the masses” to respond to pseudo-imperial fanfares.

For all these reasons it would hardly make sense to argue with Mr. Roy seriously.

Instead, I’d rather thank him for the opportunity his response gives me to recommend to him and to all my JRL friends who read Russian my trilogy Russia and Europe.1462-1921 which has just appeared in Moscow.

While its two beginning volumes (Russia’s European Century. 1480-1560 and The Enigma of Nicholas I’s Russia. 1825-1855) are somewhat reflected in the discussion, one that directly relates to Mr. Ray’s real problem is the concluding volume The Drama of Patriotism in Russia. 1855-1921.

The essence of this old drama, which ruined the empires of the tsars and is unfortunately repeating itself before our eyes in Putin’s Russia, consists in the degeneration of one of the best human qualities, the love of one’s motherland, into its direct opposite, ultra nationalism. As the most penetrating of émigré writers Georgy Fedotov put it, nationalism is the transformation “of love of its own into a hatred of others”.

This is what, I am afraid, happened in the last decade or so to my friend and co-thinker, or rather former friend and former co-thinker Sergey Roy.

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