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I want to end with a little improvisation of my own which brings together Heidegger, some of the issues we've been looking at and the present conflict in Ukraine - a conflict which, whether or not it actually develops into a world war, I believe will have the historical importance of a world war.

Heidegger's theme, evoked in the word 'being', is the human sense of reality and he argues that this evolves through human thought, specifically the thought of the philosophers. The direction, we might say the eschatology, of our own sense of reality was set in his view by the questions posed and answers given by the Greek philosophers, starting with Anaximander, Parmenides and Heraclitus but taking a definite form in the work of Plato and Aristotle. What followed - including the whole course of Western Christianity - was a working out of the thoughts that had been developed at that time, culminating in the German philosophy of the nineteenth century and especially the work of Nietzsche. Nietzsche, in a great anguish that ended in madness, confronted the fact that all that was left to us of our sense of reality was the Will to Power, expressed not necessarily in the obvious form of political power but in our identification with 'machination' - in what could be done with technology. For Nietzsche, as for Heidegger, this was a devastation of the spirit and Heidegger saw his task as trying to bring about 'another beginning' - going back to and rethinking the original questioning of the Greeks.

What he is describing however is the evolution of European - and eventually American - "Western" - thought. Despite seeing its origin in Greece Heidegger shows no interest in what happened subsequently in Greek culture. His Christianity is entirely Western - Catholic and Protestant. He has no interest in Greek Orthodoxy. And yet it was in Constantinople that the actual writings of the Greek philosophers and poets were preserved.

They were preserved, so to speak, in amber - a precious cultural heritage, something to be proud of but nonetheless not particularly relevant to the needs of the day. The questions posed had now been answered through the Christian revelation and the understanding of that revelation gained by the Fathers of the Church. It was from Constantinople that the Kiev-based 'Kingdom of Rus' was converted. The Greeks gave the Slavs Christianity, but they didn't give them their own classical culture. Why, they would have reckoned, would the Slavs be interested in that?

So we have Greek Orthodoxy preserving classical culture as something to be proud of but safely installed in the past much as we might regard Anglo Saxon or early Celtic literature; Russian Orthodoxy ignorant of classical culture; and European Christianity, fascinated by classical culture, believing it to contain the means by which the world, including the Christian revelation, could be understood.

The Kiev-based Kingdom of Rus, made up of a number of more or less independent principalities, broke up definitively under the impact of the Mongols. One part came under the domination of Poland and Lithuania and the other became what we now call 'Russia'. The people who subsequently became known as Ukrainians are the people who maintained their commitment to Orthodoxy under Polish Catholic domination. The area round the Dnieper became a war zone in which an Orthodox population, as 'Cossacks', notionally under Polish rule but actually highly independent, confronted the continuing Mongol population, the Tatars, who controlled the Black Sea coastline including Crimea, in alliance with the Ottomans who now controlled Constantinople.

It was in this area that, in the seventeenth century, a most extraordinary thing happened - the establishment of the first 'Russian' (if we can use that term) theological academy. It would be better to call it a Cossack academy. It was formed under Cossack patronage - at a time of very great violent confrontations, not just with Tatars but also with Poles and Jews - to defend Orthodoxy against the 'Uniates' in Galicia - the area with an Orthodox population that was more securely under Polish rule.  The Uniates were Orthodox priests who, under pressure of persecution, accepted incorporation into the European Roman church, together with its theology, but were allowed to continue using the Greek/Slavonic liturgy.

Nonetheless the 'Kiev-Moghila Academy', as it came to be known, had undergone the influence both of the Catholic Church and of the Renaissance, with its renewed interest in classical culture - fuelled as it was by the great abundance of material that had become available since Constantinople had fallen to the Ottomans. The language of instruction was Latin, the case for Orthodoxy was argued in the terms of scholastic philosophy, the languages of culture were Latin and Polish and exotic subjects such as 'rhetoric' and 'poetics' were taught. It was, in other words, quite alien to Orthodox Christianity as understood in 'Great Russia' as it had emerged from under the domination of the Mongols.

But it was highly appreciated by Peter the Great in pursuit of his project of re-orientating Russia in a European direction. Peter in the eighteenth century suppressed the Moscow patriarchate. The Church was reorganised along Anglican or Lutheran lines as a government department under the direction of Theophan Prokopovich, a professor in the Kiev academy. Seminaries on Kievan lines were organised throughout Russia. (10) The twentieth century Russian Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky refers to this as a 'ukrainisation' of the Russian Church and the overall process, starting in the seventeenth century, produced the schism between the official government sponsored church and the 'Old Believers', who wanted to keep to the old Russian ways. Dugin, incidentally, defines himself as an Old Believer and the Dugin family seem to have played a significant role in Old Believer history.

(10) See e.g. my essay 'Solzhenitsyn and the 'Russian Question', Part 19 Who are the Ukrainians? - Part one, from Kievan Rus' to the Polish partitions' Church and State, No.148, April-June, 2022, accessible at

Without wishing to attribute everything to the Kiev academy, it is only in the nineteenth century that Russia, in the person of Pushkin, produced a literature that is readily comprehensible to the European mind. The point here is that Russia received the line of thought that Heidegger considers as originating with the Greeks quite late in the day, via Ukraine, and as something alien to itself. Its culture, then - and one feels this already with Pushkin, the most Renaissance orientated of Russian writers - combines that European tradition with something else. Maybe this could be illustrated with Pushkin's poem The Bronze Horseman.

It begins with a celebration of the beauty and elegance of St Petersburg and praise for Peter, using it 'to cut a window through to Europe/To stand with a firm foothold on the sea … A hundred years have passed, and the young city/The grace and wonder of the northern lands/Out of the gloom of forests and the mud/Of marshes splendidly has risen.' It then tells us of the young, poor worker, Yevgeni, dreaming of the possibility of marrying the girl he loves, Parasha, while outside his window a storm is brewing. The storm swells up, the river Neva overflows its banks, Yevgeni is next seen sitting astride the marble statue of a lion in Peter's square with the water lapping at his feet, anxiously looking towards the obviously poor quarter where Parasha lives. Eventually the waters recede:

'Thus a marauder, bursting into a village with
His savage band, smashes, slashes, shatters
And robs, shrieks, gnashing of teeth, violence,
Oaths, panic, howls! And weighed down by their plunder,
Fearing pursuit, exhausted, the robbers leave
For home, dropping their plunder on the way.'

Yevgeni desperately then gets a boatman to take him to Parasha's house while 'heavily the Neva breathed like a horse/Galloping home from battle' to find her house has been swept away. The revelation drives him mad and he takes to wandering the streets: 'He fed on scraps handed to him through windows/Tattered and mouldy grew his shabby clothes./Children threw stones at him.' Eventually he finds himself in Peter's square where the stone lions are and the huge bronze statue of Peter, erected on the order of Catherine II:

'His breast contracted, his brow was pressed against
The cold railings, his eyes were sealed by mist,
Flames ran through his heart, his blood boiled.
Sombrely he stood before the statue;
His teeth clenched, his hands tightened, trembling
With wrath, possessed by a dark power, he whispered:
"All right , then, wonder worker, just you wait!' 

(11) Alexander Pushkin: The Bronze horseman and other poems, translated by D.M.Thomas, Penguin, 1982.

And then he runs off, convinced that the statue, the bronze horseman is chasing after him. It is surely, already, the world of Dostoyevsky. Nicholas Berdyaev in his book The Russian Idea quotes, as fundamental to the Russian view of the world, the poet Fyodor Tyutchev saying that the world is

'A carpet flung over the abyss
And we float, by the flaming abyss
Surrounded on all sides.' (12)

(12 )Quoted in Nicolas Berdyaev: The Russian Idea, London, Geoffrey Bles, 1947, p.84.

The National Bolshevik argument was that Russia had received the essentially European idea of Marxism and turned it into something else. Perhaps that can be illustrated by an extract from Ernst Niekisch's Considerations on a voyage to Russia (1931):

'The portraits of heroes of the revolution, the revolutionary literature, the figures of Russian production, the yield tables of the factory, the crews of boats, the kolkhozes are icons, holy books, religious signs of these modern places of spiritual elevation. This new myth shows its cohesive force, although it must make its proofs under the lighting of an awakened conscience. It culminates in the cult that vows to the body of Lenin. The mausoleum before the Kremlin, facing the extraordinary church of St Basil, dating from the epoch of Ivan the Terrible, is as functional as it is striking. Each day, thousands of people file before the embalmed corpse, resting in his glass coffin, illuminated by spotlights. In this place, one cannot shudder before the mystic secret floating in the air and immortally based in transcendence. The naive soul can be moved, but the cold scientific curiosity found there is also realized. The ambiance obliges no one to respect the embalmed corpse like a wonder worker and savior. The light there is so flooding that it nearly reduces him to a wax figure. The myth flowering here borders where scientific curiosity begins. But, despite all, the will to believe is strong enough to let it divert itself from the austerity of the environment; the rationalism of daily life cannot remove his confidence. The myth flourishes even under the same strong lighting of the factory rooms. “For us, the Russians”, wrote a fervent communist, “things are easier than for other peoples. When we are at an impasse, we consult our Lenin and there we find advice.”' (13)


Russia is not, or is only tentatively, a participant in what Heidegger sees as the most fundamental characteristic of the European sense of being. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the intervention in Ukraine, it represents for the foreseeable future a break with the integration into Europe that appeared as a real possibility in the Gorbachev years.  But to quote Dugin (Fourth political theory, p.109): 'even this was not only an extrapolation of the bravado-based, propagandistic pretensions of the West itself and a result of the network of influence’s induction, but also a form of Russian cargo-cults: the first McDonald’s, private banks and clips of rock bands shown on Soviet television were perceived as "sacral objects".' (14)

(14) The 'cargo cults', product of the encounter between a technologically advanced culture and a pretechnological culture, saw the advantages of technology in simple terms of cause and effect. The white invaders would clear a strip of land, for example, and a plane full of good things would then arrive from the sky. The native inhabitants thought if they cleared a strip of land in the form of a runway, a plane full of good things would arrive for them as well.

Dugin, promoting his multipolar world, doesn't talk about a 'Russian' pole, even if he sees the pole as situated in Russia, but a 'Eurasian' pole. 'Eurasia' might ideally and eventually incorporate Western Europe but under present circumstances it represents a decisive turning away from Europe towards the East - another thought that has now become very central to government policy.

Russia's fate, if it loses the current confrontation with NATO, may well be the breakup of the Russian Federation into its constituent parts, or at least, as in the case of Ukraine and Georgia, its constituent parts within the boundaries established by the organisers of the Soviet Union. That is certainly what is envisaged in powerful circles in the US. If it survives, however, it may be that Russia is fated soon to become, to those of us living in Europe or the United States, a very strange and alien (and perhaps interesting) place indeed.