“East” and “West” in the History of the Old World

Author: Petr Bitsilli

Translators: Jafe Arnold & John Stachelski

Originally published as the ninth chapter of Na putiakh’. Utverzhdenie evraziitsev [Pathways: The Affirmation of the Eurasians] (Moscow/Berlin: Gelikon, 1922).

This translation is featured in Foundations of Eurasianism – Volume II (PRAV Publishing, 2022 [Forthcoming]).

***

From time to time, it is beneficial to reconsider our customary historical concepts so that, in employing them, we do not fall into delusions generated by our mind’s tendency to ascribe absolute significance to our notions. It must be remembered that the correctness or falsity of historical notions, like any other scientific concepts, depends on the chosen point of view, that the degree of their correspondence to reality can be greater or lesser in view of which historical moment we apply them to, and that their content constantly changes, at first imperceptibly, gradually and then suddenly. Among the notions most often employed and subjected to the least degree of criticism are the concepts of East and West. The opposition and contrast between East and West has been a formulaic truism since Herodotus. By the East is meant Asia, and by the West, Europe, that is, two “parts of the world”, two “continents”, as grammar school textbooks assure us, or two “cultural worlds” as “philosophers of history” express it. Their “antagonism” is revealed to be a struggle between the “principles” of freedom and despotism, between striving forward (“progress”) and inertia, and so on. Their eternal conflict drags on in diverse forms, the prototype being the clash of the King of Kings and the democracies of Hellas. I am far from criticizing these formulas. From certain points of view, they are fully correct, for they cover a significant part of the content of historical “actuality”, but they do not exhaust it. Finally, they are true only for those who look at the Old World “from Europe” — and yet, who will argue that the historical perspective obtained from such an angle is “the only correct one”? 

Not for the sake of “criticism”, but for a better analysis of these concepts and for establishing them within proper boundaries, I would like to recall the following: (1) The antagonism between East and West in the Old World does not exclusively mean antagonism between Europe and Asia. The West itself has “its East” and “its West” (Romano-Germanic Europe and Byzantium, then Rus’) and the same applies to the East: the opposition between Rome and Tsargrad to some extent corresponds to the opposition between “Iran” and “Turan”, or that between Islam and Buddhism. Finally, the opposition between the Mediterranean region and the steppe world in the Western half of the Old World corresponds in the Far East to the relation between China and the very same steppe world in the center of the Eurasian continent. Only in the latter case East and West change roles: China, being geographically “East” to Mongolia, is culturally “West” for the latter. (2) The history of the Old World, understood as a history of relations between West and East, is not exhausted by the struggle between these two principles: there are too many facts at our disposal that speak to the development of common, rather than antagonistic principles in both West and East. (3) Alongside the image of the history of the Old World which we obtain when we look “from the West”, another, no less “legitimate” and “correct” one can be constructed. The picture of the Old World changes before the observer as he moves from West to East. If one stands in Russia, then all the outlines of the Old Continent emerge more clearly: Europe appears as part of the continent, albeit a very isolated part possessing its own individuality, but no more so than Iran, Hindustan, and China. If Hindustan is naturally separated from the main mass of the continent by the wall of the Himalayas, then the isolation of Europe, Iran, and China stems from their orientation of “facing” the seas. In relation to the center, Europe and China are mostly defensive. The “Chinese Wall” became a symbol of inertia, not any wisdom against the “ignorance of foreigners”, although in fact its point was completely different: China shielded its culture from barbarians; hence this wall fully corresponds to the Roman “frontier” by which the Mediterranean tried to defend itself from the barbarism pressing in from the North and East. The Mongols showed an example of brilliant divination when they saw in Rome and the Roman Empire “greater China”, Ta-Tsin.

Conceiving the history of the Old World as the history of a duel between East and West can be contrasted to conceptualizing the no less constant historical fact of interaction between center and outskirts. This wholly discloses the very same phenomenon that has hitherto been better known in one part of the whole: the problem of Central Asia corresponds to the problem of Central Europe. The concentration of trade routes running from West to East and connecting our “Middle-Earth” with India and China, the involvement of several economic worlds within one system – this trend runs throughout the entire history of the Old World and is found in the policies of the Emperors of Assyria and Babylon, their heirs, the Great Kings of Iran, Alexander the Great, later the Mongol Khans, and finally, the Emperors of All-Russia. This great task loomed in full clarity for the first time at the end of the 6th century, in 568, when Bumin Qaghan of the Turks, who reigned in a state extending from China proper to the Oxus and held all the roads along which Chinese silk was transported, sent his ambassador to Emperor Justin to propose an alliance against the common enemy of the king of Iran, Khosrow I. At the same time, Bumin entered into diplomatic relations with China, and Emperor Wu married a Turk princess. If the Emperor of Western China had accepted Bumin’s proposal, the face of the earth would have been transformed: what in the West people naively took to be a “circle of lands” would have become part of a great whole; the Old World would have been united, and perhaps the Mediterranean centers of antiquity might have been saved, for the main cause of their depletion, constant war with the Persian (and then Persian-Arab) world, would have receded. But Bumin’s idea was not met with support in Byzantium. This example shows just how important familiarity with the political history of the “East” is to understanding the political history of the “West.”

Between the three marginal-coastal “worlds” of the Old World lies the special world of nomadic steppe dwellers, the “Turks” or “Mongols”, fragmented into so many ever-changing, fighting, and splitting units that are not so much tribes as military alliances whose centers of formation are “hordes” (literally, ‘headquarters’) named after warrior leaders (e.g., the Seljuks, Ottomans). This is an elastic mass in which every shock echoes at all points. The blows inflicted upon it at the beginning of our era in the Far East were echoed by the migrations of the Huns, Avars, Hungarians, and Polovtsy to the West. The dynastic clashes that arose in the center after Genghis Khan’s death echoed in the periphery with Batu’s invasion of Rus’, Poland, Silesia, and Hungary. In the midst of this amorphous mass, points of crystallization appear and disappear with incredibly rapidity. Gigantic empires which survive no longer than one generation are created and collapse time and again. Bumin’s genius idea was almost realized on several occasions. Twice it came especially close, for instance, when Genghis Khan united the entire East from the Don to the Yellow Sea, from the Siberian taiga to the Punjab, when merchants and Franciscan monks went all the way from Western to Eastern China within the borders of one state. But this state disintegrated after the death of its founder. In the very same way, with Timur’s death (1405) the pan-Asian state he created also perished. Over the course of this whole period, a certain “completeness” prevailed: Central Asia was constantly in antagonism with the Middle East (including Iran) and sought rapprochement with Rome. Abbasid Iran, the continuation of Sassanid Iran, remained the main enemy. As early as the 11th century, the Turks disassembled the Caliphate, but only to take its place, as they themselves were “Iranianizied” and, infected with Iranian fanaticism and religious exaltation, split from the common Turko-Mongol mass. They continued the policies of the Caliphs and great Kings, that is the policy of expanding West, into Asia Minor, and to the South-West, to Arabia and Egypt. They became the enemies of Central Asia. Möngke Khan repeated Bumin’s attempt, proposing joint operations with Saint Louis against the Middle East and promising to help in the Crusade. Like Justin, the Holy King did not understand anything about this Eastern sovereign’s plan. The negotiations that opened with Louis sending a model of the Parisian Notre Dame and two nuns did not lead to anything, of course. Louis went against the “Babylonian” (Egyptian) Sultan without allies, and the Crusade ended with the Christians’ defeat at Damietta (1265). In the 14th century, we have an analogous situation: at the Battle of Nicopolis, Bayezid destroyed the crusading militia of Emperor Sigismund (1394) only to be captured himself soon after by Timur at Angora (1401). After Timur’s death, the unity of the Turanian world collapsed irrevocably. Instead of one, there were now two centers of Turanian expansion, Western and Eastern, and two Turkeys: the “real” one in Turkestan, and the other “Iranianized” one on the Bosphorus. Expansion proceeded from both centers in parallel and simultaneously. The high point in 1526 saw two battles of world-historic significance: the Battle of Mohács, which brought Hungary into the hands of the Caliph of Constantinople, and the victory at Panipat, which gave Sultan Babur rule over India. At the same time, a new center of expansion was emerging: on the old trade routes through the Volga and the Urals, a new “middle kingdom”, the Muscovite state, until recently a ulus of the Great Khan. This state, which the West saw as Asia in Europe, in the 17th-19th centuries played  the vanguard role in West’s counteroffensive into the East. The “law of synchronism” is still in force now, in the new phase of the Old World’s history. Russia’s penetration into Siberia, Jan Sobieski and Peter the Great’s simultaneous victories at the time of China’s counteroffensive against the Mongols (Kangxi’s reign, 1662-1722), Catherine’s wars, and the beginning of the collapse of the Osmans’ Empire – all of these coincided with the second decisive moment of Chinese expansion: the completion of the formation of present-day China (under the reign of Qianlong, 1736-1796). China’s westward expansion in the 17th and 18th centuries was dictated by the very same motives that guided China in antiquity, when it erected its wall: China’s expansion was purely defensive in character. Russian expansion was of a completely different nature. Russia’s advance into Central Asia, Siberia, and the Amur region, and the laying of the Siberian railroad – all of this, from the 16th century up to our days, constitutes a manifestation of one and the same tendency. Yermak Timofeyevich and von Kaufman or Skobelev, Dezhnev and Khabarov are all successors of the great Mongols, pioneers of the paths connecting West and East, Europe and Asia, Ta-Tsin and China.  

Like political history, the cultural history of the West cannot be divorced from the cultural history of the East. Here too, the transformation of our historical vulgate should not be seen simplistically. The matter is not one of “refutation”, but of something else: of putting forward points of view which reveal new aspects of the history of mankind’s cultural development. The contrast between the cultures of West and East is not a delusion of history; on the contrary, it comes into relief in every possible way. However, first of all, behind this contrast one should not lose sight of similarities; secondly, it is necessary to once again raise the question of the very bearers of these contrasting cultures themselves; thirdly, it is necessary to once and for all put an end to the habit of seeing contrast everywhere and in everything, even where there is none. I will start with the latter and provide a few examples. Until recently, the opinion prevailed that Western European, medieval, Romano-Germanic art was an independent phenomenon. It was accepted as indisputable that the West reworked and developed ancient artistic traditions in its own way, and that this “way” was the contribution of Germanic creative genius. Only in painting for some time did the West depend upon the “dead spirit” of Byzantium, but by the 13th and beginning of the 14th century, the Tuscans were freed from the Greek yoke, and the Renaissance era of fine arts began. Little of these views is left today. It has been proven that the West’s first prototypes of “Germanic” art (the jewelry works of the Frankish and Visigoth burial grounds and treasures) are owed to the East, specifically Persia, and that the prototype of the characteristic “Langobardian” ornament is to be found in Egypt. Both the floral and faunal ornamentation of early miniatures, which until recently were taken in by the eyes of art historians to be testimonies to the specific German “sense of nature”, came from the East. As for the transition from conventionalism to realism in the fresco painting of the 14th century, here we have before us a fact common to both West and East (Byzantium and its culture’s areas of influence, for instance Old Serbia): no matter how the question of precedence is resolved, in any case, the scheme tracing art forms back to Lorenzo Ghiberti and Giorgio Vasari and previously restricted to one corner of Italy, must be abandoned. 

Equally untenable is the oppositional contrast asserted between “Romano-Germanic Europe” and the “Christian East” in another field: philosophical thought. The vulgate narrative depicts the matter as follows: in the West, there was Scholasticism and the “blind pagan Aristotle”, yet still, a scientific language was forged and the dialectical method of thinking was worked out, while in the East only mysticism flourished. The East nurtured itself with the ideas of Neoplatonism, but religio-philosophical thought turned out to be fruitless for “intellectual progress in general”, exhausting itself in childish debates over needlessly subtle concepts, and, entangled in the abstractions it created, did not lend itself to the creation of anything of significance. The facts strongly contradict this vulgate. Platonism was a phenomenon common to all medieval thought, both Western and Eastern, with the difference being that the East managed to make Platonic idealism the foundation of its religious philosophy by virtue of its turn to the primary source of Neoplatonism, Plotinus. The West, meanwhile, knew Plotinus and Plato only second-hand, and often confused them. Moreover, in the West, mysticism was just as significant a fact as Scholasticism; rather, they were one and the same thing. One cannot contrast Scholasticism to mysticism, for the great Scholastic systems of the West were created by none other than mystics and had the aim of preparing a mystical act. Yet, Western mysticism, such as that of St. Bernard and the Victorines, St. Francis and St. Bonaventure, was not inferior to Eastern in the might of its attunement or in its depth. Nevertheless, it was lower than Eastern mysticism as a worldview. This, however, does not diminish its role in Western culture: it was out of the soil of mysticism that Joachimism arose, giving powerful impetus to the new historical understanding and thereby becoming the ideational source of the early Renaissance, the great spiritual movement associated with Dante, Petrarch, and Rienzi in the 15th century. The renaissance of mysticism in Germany was the source of Luther’s Reformation, just as Spanish mysticism was the source of Loyola’s Counter-Reformation. And that is not all. Modern scholarship has put forth the need for comparatively studying Christian philosophy, both Western and Eastern,  Jewish and Muslim, for here we have before us one and the same ideational phenomenon, three branches of one stream. Particularly close to Christian thought is the Muslim religious culture of Iran, where “Islam” has nothing to do with the Islam of the first Caliphs or with Islam as it was understood by the Turks. Just as the Abbasid state was a continuation of the Sassanid state, so did Islam in Iran take on a specifically Iranian coloring, absorbing the ideational content of Mazdeism with its mysticism and grandiose historico-philosophical idea centered around the idea of progress fulfilled in another world beyond. 

We have arrived at the main problem in the history of world culture. We will understand it as soon as we briefly trace its emergence. The historical vulgate began to be overcome with the gradual expansion of historians’ sphere of interests. Here it is necessary to distinguish the 18th century and our own time. Voltaire, Turgo, and de Condorcet’s noble universalism was rooted in  the presumption of the sameness of human nature and, in essence, an absence of genuine historical interest, the absence of a feeling of history. To Western Europeans, who to this day have allowed themselves to be led by their nose, and to the “priests”, Voltaire contrasted the “wise Chinese” who had managed to get rid of “prejudices” long ago. Volney undertook to “refute the truth” of all religions, employing the comparative method in an original manner, namely, by establishing that the “delusions” and “inventions” of the worshippers of all deities were the same. In the 18th century, they imagined “progress” to be something like this: one fine day – here earlier, over there later – people will have their eyes opened, and they will turn from delusions to “Healthy Reason”, “Common Sense”, and “Truth”, which are everywhere and always identical. The main, and essentially the only, difference between this concept and the one created by the “positive” historical science of the 19th century boils down to the fact that now the transition from “delusions” to “truth” (in the 19th century, instead of lumières or saine raison, they spoke of “exact science”) is declared to happen “evolutionarily”, naturally, and logically. The science of the “comparative history of religions” was built on this premise and with the aim of: (1) Understanding the psychology of religious phenomena by drawing on materials gathered from all corners (but only if the compared facts were at the same stages of development); (2) Constructing, so to speak, an ideal history of the development of the human spirit, a history of which individual empirical histories are partial manifestations. The other side of the question – that of the possible interaction of the facts of the development of cultural humanity – was left aside. Meanwhile, the evidence in favor of this assumption was such that it involuntarily drew attention to itself. Modern science halted in the face of a phenomenon of exceptional importance: synchronism in the religio-philosophical development of great cultural worlds. Leaving aside the monotheistic tradition of Israel, we see that after the beginning of the monotheistic reform of Zarathustra in the northwestern corner of Iran, the religious reform of Pythagoras takes place in Hellas in the sixth century, and the activity of the Buddha unfolds in India. To this same period belongs the emergence of Anaxagoras’ rationalistic theism and Heraclitus’ mystical teaching on Logos. Their contemporaries in China were Confucius and Lao Tzu, the latter’s teaching including elements close to the younger contemporaries Heraclitus and Plato. Meanwhile, as the “natural religions” (fetishistic and animistic cults, ancestor cults, etc.) developed anonymously and organically (or is this, perhaps, only an illusion generated by distance?), the “historical” religions were indebted to the creative activity of genius reformers. Religious reform, the transition from “natural” cult to “historical religion”, consists of a conscious rejection of polytheism.

The unity of the history of the Old World’s spiritual development can be traced further. Regarding the reasons for the undisputed similarity of Hellas and China’s intellectual development in the same era, only a few presumptions can be made. It is difficult to say to what extent Hindu theophanistic religious philosophy influenced Middle Eastern gnosis and Plotinus’ theophanism, or in other words, the religious philosophy of Christianity, but this fact cannot possibly be denied. One of the foremost elements of the Christian worldview which left perhaps the greatest mark on all of European thought, its messianism and eschatology, had been inherited  from Iran by Judaism. The unity of this history is also reflected in the spread of the great historical religions. Mithra, the old Aryan god whose cult survived Zarathustra’s reform in Iran, became well known to the whole Roman world through merchants and soldiers just as the preaching of Christianity began. Christianity spread East along the great trade routes, the very same same paths along which Islam and Buddhism were carried. The Christian religion in the form of Nestorianism was also widespread throughout the East all the way up until the mid-13th century, until the careless and clumsy missions of Western missionaries that unfolded after Genghis Khan’s unification of Asia incited a hostile attitude toward Christianity in the East. Starting in the second half of that century, Christianity began to disappear from the East, giving way to Buddhism and Islam. The ease and speed with which the great spiritual currents spread throughout the Old World was largely conditioned by the qualities of the environment, namely, the mental make-up of the population of Central Asia. The highest matters of spirit were alien to the Turanians. What St. Louis and Pope Alexander IV naively mistook to be “the Mongols’ natural inclination towards Christianity” was in fact the result of their religious indifference. Like the Romans, they accepted all kinds of Gods and tolerated all kinds of cults. The Turanians who entered the Caliphate as mercenaries submitted themselves to Islam as if to “yasak”, or the right and tribute of the warlord. At the same time, they are distinguished by their proclivity for external assimilation. Central Asia is a wonderful, neutral environment for transmission. The creative, constructive role in the Old World always belonged to the marginal-coastal worlds of Europe, Hindustan, Iran, and China. For its part, Central Asia, that space extending from the Urals to the Kunlun, from the Arctic Ocean to the Himalayas, was a crossing ground for the “marginal-coastal cultures”, as well as, given its political magnitude, a factor in their spread and an external condition for the development of cultural syncretism. 

Timur’s deeds were more destructive than constructive. Yet, Timur was not the hellish spawn and conscious destroyer of culture the frightened imagination of his enemies made him out to be, namely, the Middle Eastern Turks and the Europeans after them. He destroyed for the sake of creation: his campaigns had a great cultural goal, which was determined by their possible consequences – the unification of the Old World. But he died without completing his work. After his death, Central Asia, exhausted by several centuries of wars, perished. The trade routes thereafter moved from land to sea for a long time to come. The ties between West and East were interrupted. Out of four great centers of culture, one of them, Iran, spiritually and materially wilted, and the other three were isolated from each other. China froze in its religion of social morality, which degenerated into meaningless ritualism. In India, religio-philosophical pessimism, combined with political enslavement, led to spiritual stupor. Western Europe, having been cut off rom the sources of its culture and having lost contact with the centers of excitation and renewal of thought, developed the heritage it inherited in its own way: there was no numbness, no treading on the spot, but a gradual deflation of the great ideas bequeathed by the East, through Comte’s famous “three stages” to agnosticism, to stupid optimism with its base naive faith in the kingdom of God on earth, which will automatically come as the final result of “economic development”, all until the hour of awakening struck, when the whole immensity of spiritual impoverishment was revealed and the spirit reached for anything it could, for neo-Catholicism, “Theosophy”, or Nietzscheanism, in search of lost wealth. Here lies the promise of rebirth. That rebirth is possible and is possible precisely by way of restoring the broken cultural unity of the Old World, as is evidenced by the fact of the rebirth of the East as a result of “Europeanization”, i.e., the assimilation of what the East lacked and what the West was strong in, such as the technical means of culture and everything pertaining to modern civilization. In so doing, however, the East did not lose its individuality. The cultural task of our time ought to be conceived as mutual fertilization and finding paths to cultural synthesis which, however, would manifest itself everywhere in its own way, as unity in diversity. The fashionable idea of “one world religion” is just as bad taste as the idea of an “international language”, a product of the lack of any understanding of the essence of culture, which is always created yet never “made” and is therefore always individual.

What role might Russia have in the rebirth of the Old World? It is necessary to recall the traditional interpretation of the Russian “world mission”: 

We, like obedient slaves,

Held up a shield between two enemy races –

The Tatars and Europe!

This is not new. That Russia has “by its own chest defended European civilization from the thrust of the Asiatic”, and that this is its “service to Europe”, is something we have been hearing for a long time. Such formulas only testify to our dependence on the Western historical vulgate, a dependence which, it turns out, is difficult to dispose of even for those people who have experienced Russian “Eurasianism.” The mission whose symbol is the “shield”, the “wall”, or the “hard stone chest”, seems honorable and at times even brilliant from a point of view which recognizes only European “civilization” to be “real” civilization, only European history to be “real” history. Behind the “wall” there is nothing, no culture, no history, only the “wild Mongol horde.” The shield falls from our hands, and the “cruel Huns” come to “roast the meat of our white brothers.” I would contrast the symbol of the “shield” with the symbol of the “pathway”, or better yet, complement one with the other. Russia does not so much separate as connect Asia and Europe. But Russia has not restricted itself to the role of continuing the historical mission of Genghis Khan and Timur. Russia is not only a mediator in cultural change between individual Asian outskirts. Rather, it is least of all a mere mediator. The synthesis of Eastern and Western cultures happens within it.

Yes, we are Scythians! Yes, we are Asians –

With slanted and greedy eyes!

And further:

As mortal battles rages we’ll watch

With our narrow eyes!

Again, however, one must subject the inspired words of the great poet to “cold” analysis, for such an analysis reveals a curious and very typical confusion of ideas. The essence of this confusion lies in that the entire “East” is taken in one bracket. We have “narrow” or “slanted” eyes – the sign of the Mongol, the Turanian. But why, then, are we “Scythians”? After all, the Scythians were by no means “Mongols” in race or spirit. The fact that this poet, in a flurry of passion, forgot about this, is very typical — he obviously had before him the image of the “Oriental man in general.” It would be more correct to say that we are “Scythians” and “Mongols” together. From the ethnographic point of view, Russia is a region of predominantly Indo-European and Turanian elements. In cultural terms, the atavistic influences of the Turanian element cannot be denied. Or, perhaps,  here the inoculation of Tatarism as the spiritual heritage of the times of Batu and Tokhtamysh simply makes itself felt? In any case, the organization of Bolshevik Russia is all too reminiscent of the “horde.” Just as the Mongols of the 11th century perceived the will of Allah in the Quran to be “yasak”, so is the Communist manifesto “yasak” to us. “Socialismo Asiatico”, as Francesco Nitti has dubbed Bolshevism, is a very wise word. Yet, there is really nothing “Turanian”, nothing “Central Asian”, in the deep religiosity of the Russian people, in its propensity for mysticism and religious exaltation, in its irrationalism, and in its tireless spiritual yearnings and struggles. Here, again, the East makes itself felt, not the Central Asian East, but the other East — Iran or India. In the same way, the exceptional sharpness of artistic insight inherent to the Russian people brings them closer to the East, not the Central Asians who lack artistic independence, of course, but the Chinese and Japanese. “East” is a polysemantic term, and one cannot speak of any single “Eastern” element. The Turanian-Mongol element received and transmitted over centuries was processed, absorbed, and dissolved by the higher elements of Iran, China, India, and Russia. The Turko-Mongols are not at all a “young” people. They have already happened to be in the position of “heirs” many times. They received “inheritances” from everywhere, and each time they acted in the same way: they assimilated everything equally superficially. Russia can carry the highest culture to the trans-Ural spaces, but it gains nothing for itself from contact with the neutral, vapid Turanian element. Russia can fulfill its “Eurasian” mission and realize its essence as the new Eurasian cultural world only along the pathways which it has politically developed thus far: from Central Asia and through Central Asia into the coastal regions of the Old World.

The outline of the new historical scheme which we have expounded here consciously contradicts both the well-known textbooks of the historical vulgate as well as those attempts to reformat it that have surfaced from time to time. At the core of this proposed plan lies recognizing the connectedness of history and geography — in contrast to the vulgate, which at the beginning of its “guide” dismisses “geography” with small outlines of “surface structure” and climate in order to no longer return to such boring things. Unlike Helmolt, who took geographical division as the basis for the distribution of material in his world history, the present author puts forth the need to reckon with genuine geography, not arbitrary textbook geography, and insists on the unity of Asia. This facilitates the way to clarifying the fact of the unity of Asian culture. Thus, we arrive at the need to make some adjustments to the new conception of world history proposed by the German historian Dietrich Schaefer. Schaefer breaks with that vulgate of “world history” which has long since turned into a mechanical collection of individual “histories.” One can speak of “world history”, he argues, only from the moment peoples scattered all over the earth came into contact with each other, i.e., since the beginning of the “new time” (Neuzeit) of the modern era. But from his very exposition of the Weltgeschichte der Neuzeit, it is clear that, from this point of view, “world history” is preceded by the same old “history of Western Europe.” From our point of view: (1) The history of Western Europe is only part of the history of the Old World; (2) The history of the Old World does not proceed like some consistent evolution up to the stage of “world history.” Here the relationship is different and more complex: “world history” began only once the unity of the Old World was violated. That is, there is no rectilinear progress here: history at the same time gains in “extensiveness” and loses in “integrity”.

This proposed model is also corrective of another well-known scheme which depicts world-historical progress as a series of stages at which “cultural values”, embodied in individual “developmental types”, are realized one by one, chronologically replacing one another and stretching out into a progressive chain. There is no need that the ideological sources of this theory go back not only to the violent history “as it actually happened” of Hegel’s metaphysics, or even worse, to the mythological imaginations about “nomad culture” of antiquity and the Middle Ages. The error here lies not in stating fact, but in comprehending fact. The fact that culture does not stay permanently in one and the same place, but that its centers move, as well as the additional fact that culture eternally changes, not only qualitatively but qualitatively, or, to be more accurate, only qualitatively (for culture cannot at all be “measured”, only evaluated), is not subject to dispute. It would be futile to attempt to corral the transformations of culture under a “law” of progress. This is the first point. The second point is that the usual chronological series of individual histories (first Babylon and Egypt, then Hellas, then Rome, etc.) is inapplicable to the history of the Old World as a whole. We have grasped a point of view which reveals the synchronicity and inner unity of the Old World in its totality. In the beginning – and this “beginning” stretches from approximately 1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. – there was one enormous, unusually powerful and intense movement from several centers at once, centers that were by no means isolated, and during this time, all problems were posed, all thoughts were rethought, and all great and eternal words were said. This “Eurasian” period left us with such riches, beauty and truth that we still live on its legacy. Then followed a period of fragmentation: Europe was separated from Asia, the “center” fell out of Asia itself, leaving only “outskirts”, and spiritual life froze and waned. Since the 16th century, Russia’s latest destinies can be seen as a grandiose attempt at restoring the center and thereby recreating “Eurasia.” The future depends on the outcome of this attempt, still undecided and now darker than ever. 

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