The Conflict of Civilizations: What Is in Store for Russia?
No. 4 2006 October/ December

Much has been said and written
about the conflict of civilizations, to the point where it seems
that nothing new can be added to the subject. Yet, a brief perusing
of those “things long forgotten” – works of Russia’s religious
philosophers of the past – evokes the realization that many aspects
of Russia’s development remain half-understood; many conclusions
about this country have been formulated rather superficially, and
petty self-serving political considerations prevail over strategic

This view is open to criticism,
since questions may arise about citing reflections voiced a century
ago and built upon extremely idealistic paradigms as clues to
resolving modern problems. This approach can be criticized from
another angle, as well. It is an open secret that the oeuvre of
Russian religious philosophers of the late 19th and early 20th
centuries represented more of a deviation from the Eastern Orthodox
tradition than a reunion with it. And still, if a person takes the
time to examine the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Vladimir
Solovyov, for example, or the writings of philosophers Nikolai
Berdiayev, Semyon Frank, Ivan Ilyin and their intellectual
contemporaries, many aspects about Russia’s policy at this abrupt
turning point in its development amidst the turbulent conflict of
civilizations get more clarity. The same goes for the imperatives
concerning Russia’s future.


In 1877, Vladimir Solovyov neatly
presented the main thrust of the global civilizational conflict,
which became graphically apparent only in the last thirty or so
years of the 20th century, in a public lecture titled “The Three
Forces” that he delivered at the Society of Connoisseurs of Russian
Literature and later in his monumental work entitled Philosophical
Principles of Integral Knowledge. Solovyov defined the global
phenomenon as a conflict between the world of the Orient, in which
the individual and society are entirely subjugated by the Supreme
Cause, and Western civilization, which places emphasis on private
interests, the freedom (or, more precisely, egotism) of the
individual. Solovyov’s reflections, written in the manner of the
19th-century tradition, still contained the hope that these dual
global forces would develop along the path of “dialectic
inter-influence” rather than along the path of struggle with the
ultimate objective being the annihilation of the opposing power. He
believed that a third force of some kind would arise “to furnish
the former two forces with positive content, relieve them of their
exclusiveness, and reconcile the Supreme Cause with the assemblage
of individual forms and elements, thus creating an integral
organism for mankind.”

Unfortunately, that third force
was not destined to appear during the 20th century, or at least it
did not materialize in the manner proposed. More than that, the two
global forces of the Orient and Western civilization chose the path
of – in Solovyov’s words – “full implementation.”  The brunt of responsibility for this state of
affairs rests with the West, although not simply for the fact that
it chose to forcibly impose its civilizational model on others, but
also due to its inherent feebleness, ideological inconsistency and
general instability, which the world of the Orient, including the
Moslem world, perceives and uses as an extra motive for expansion.
As a result, the standoff intensifies and acquires increasingly
harsh and even violent forms of persuasion that attempt to
discredit both sides of the historical process. Solovyov believed
that this scenario would lead the peoples involved in this struggle
to a spiritual death that would eventually mark the end of History.
However, Solovyov mentioned another possibility in this conflict,
and this was the rise of a Third Force, “the only possible carrier
of which is the Slavic world and the Russian people.”

Let us now jump ahead some 50
years and consider the work by Ivan Ilyin entitled The Path of
Spiritual Revival. It is a real eye-opener to another very
sensitive problem, which involves patriotism and nationalism. “A
love for one’s own nation does not inevitably imply hatred for
other peoples, as self-assertion is not synonymous with a sure
attack, and defense of what is one’s own does not mean
expropriation of what is not,” writes Ilyin, a notable philosopher
and lawyer. “This makes nationalism and patriotism manifestations
of an elevated spirit, rather than waves of self-conceit, egotism
and bloody barbarism, as some of today’s journalists, who do not
remember their forefathers and have squandered their national
spirit, attempt to explain it.”

And here yet another bit of advice
to posterity, and an especially topical one in light of the
approaching election battles due in 2007 and 2008: “Faith in the
false principle of ‘autocracy of the people’ may propel to the top
a demagogue capable of flattering the masses and winning their
trust as the caretaker and servant of their needs, instead of a
real master with a much higher spiritual or intellectual level. In
the meantime, the authority and therefore hierarchically higher
status of this person are rooted in his charisma, which allows for
his lordly rise due to objective divine choice, as opposed to
arbitrary human will, and in his predestination for a guiding role
in society.” (Semyon Frank, The Spiritual Foundations of

One can endlessly site quotes from
our educated, sincere and faithful ancestors – who took to heart
the concerns of their homeland – and ponder over their warnings,
but the rules of the genre demand a certain amount of
self-limitation. Nevertheless, here is the political quintessence
of their intuitions: these thinkers anticipated Russia’s global
historic role; they viewed Russia as a living organism and hence
they rebutted the idea of its partitioning. They supported its
universal unity, while calling for independence from the Occident
and caution toward the Orient. They espoused Sobornost [the
principle of social organization based on common voluntary
decision-making and universal concord – Ed.], but at the same time
denied the ethics of collectivism and individualism. They realized
the importance for the Russian people to “discipline themselves for
the sake of culture.” They firmly believed in the good of Orthodoxy
and supported the imperative of overcoming physical death (recall
that they did it at a time when the Russians actively produced
offspring). They insisted that the interests of public unity must
restrict private ownership. They denied bourgeois thinking and its
lifestyle and viewed the Apocalypse as a warning to mankind rather
than a prophecy. Let us consider all of this as a foundation and go
back to the problem of the conflict (standoff) between
civilizations and look at how it is developing today and how it
will affect Russia in the future.


This conflict has worsened due to
the inability of the United States to enforce its role as a global
leader, which it has commandeered since the end of the Cold War.
Washington has shown a reckless stance on the risks of further
escalation of the standoff and has evaded earnest steps toward any
kind of a compromise. At this moment, it continues to instigate the
most destructive actions of the parties involved in the conflict.
As never before, the current situation requires a reasonable
moderator whose actions would rely to a greater degree on cultural
tradition and political wisdom than on material or military

Recently, the conflict of
civilizations hit a new level when newspapers in West Europe
published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. This provoked a
strong negative reaction by many Islamic countries. However,
nothing of the kind was evidenced – at least in the Russian media –
after painful physical encounters, such as the attack on the World
Trade Center in New York or American aggression against Iraq. This
indicates that, strange as it might seem, the collision of
perspectives involves more than just combat operations. Many people
tend to view the present conflict as a collision between the
“Christian West” and the “Islamic East.”

Yet I would call such claims
rather groundless. On the civilizational plane, the Islamic East,
or broadly speaking, the God-fearing Orient, confronts strong
pressure – and in some cases, overt aggression – from a
post-Christian, godless West. It is noteworthy that the Russian
Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Christian politicians,
and Jewish religious and public associations in many countries
condemned the offensive material by the Western media on the holy
personality of the Prophet.

An attempt to answer whether it is
permissible to publish such inflammatory cartoons provides extra
arguments in a discussion about the parties to the standoff. More
specifically, if the West can be identified as Christian, then the
publication of cartoons offending anyone’s religious feelings is
inadmissible. A Christian cannot have any doubts that, apart from
the inadmissibility of insulting anyone’s religious figures, to
deliberately inflame animosity is a greater sin than the display of
that animosity. But such publications are possible if the
civilization is godless, although I doubt that anyone in Denmark
would publish cartoons featuring Queen Margrethe II, for example.
Anyway, it is totally absurd to think that cartoons that depict a
personality that is holy for many nations can be admissible, while
cartoons targeting a separate secular person or ethnic minorities
are objectionable.

As for the military and political
dimension, we are witnessing a collision of two ideologies that
differ in content but resemble each other in methods, since
Anglo-Saxon emissaries of “democracy” are as totalitarian in what
concerns their vision of the world and desire to impose it upon
others as the adepts of Islamism. But the latter outstrip the
Anglo-Saxons in their readiness to sacrifice themselves in the name
of the ideals of their society. In this sense, contemporary Western
civilization, which draws mostly on liberal values, has few chances
of emerging victorious if this conflict changes into a full-blown
war; it is equally doomed to a “gradual defeat” if today’s status
quo is maintained. The West has renounced its Christian roots and
is pulled from one ideology to another. Thus, problems like social
enmities, demographic and ecological problems, and other
conundrums, will quietly do their work.


What place does Russia have in
this conflict? Obviously, we are turning into an object for the
expansion of the most powerful civilizations – the Western, the
Islamic, and the Chinese. Now the Russian nation is faced with a
task bigger than preserving its identity and that is to avoid any
sort of recruitment by either side of the conflict (for its
efforts, Russia will predictably receive exclusively subsidiary
political roles, and will be forced to the forefront of physical
confrontation – with predictable consequences). The task is to
facilitate the harmonization of the opposing sides’ interests
wherever possible. Russia’s Eastern Orthodox religious tradition,
together with the unique traditions of its community, as well as
its entire history, where the Russian people demonstrated openness
to the assimilation of neighboring cultures, as well as religious
tolerance, must lay the groundwork for this mediating potential.
Common Christian roots unite us with the West, while Russia’s
deep-seated rejection of liberalism gives it something in common
with Oriental nations.

Needless to say, this will prove
to be an extremely complex task. The problem of attaining mutual
understanding is complicated by the deficit of veritable
information about each other and the phobias this causes, on the
one hand, and a decline of the quality of leadership, on the other
hand. But while the former factor can be eliminated through dialog
(for example, the “Russia and the Islamic World” forum initiated by
Dr. Yevgeny Primakov), the latter factor is far more difficult. A
search for compromise solutions, so necessary in conflict
situations, depends to a great extent on the personal qualities of
the leaders, their influence and confidence as regards their
personal positions for free dialog, and the assumption of certain
responsibilities. But does this influence or confidence really
exist? Note that in Europe the quality of leadership is declining
in step with the decaying authority of the state (for example,
recall the conduct of the Danish state during the cartoon

Russia has an additional vice in
that sense, as the “elite” that arose after the Soviet Union’s
breakup maintains predominantly anti-national and anti-popular
views. The strong bonds those people have with the West, which work
to predetermine their thinking, partially explain this phenomenon.
As the economy analyst Mikhail Delyagin said in one of his
interviews, “The universal criterion of patriotism among the elite
is the form of the critically important part of its assets – the
influence, status, reputation, and material benefits. If those
assets are controlled by strategic competitors, the elite begins to
serve them.”

since we are making claims to an independent role in a multipolar
world, we must act in the vein of Russian cultural tradition and
seek a pillar to rely on within ourselves.


To survive as an independent and
effective actor in the conflict of civilizations, Russia should
save and multiply its vital force, which are the ethnic Russians
and other peoples who make up this country, many of whom are
heading for extinction. All other things lose their meaning if that
task remains unresolved. For more than a decade, patriotically
minded forces have been pressing forward with calls to stimulate
birthrates in this country and to reduce the mortality rates, but
the authorities’ ears have apparently been too busy with other
things. More than that, the United Russia party that dominates in
the State Duma of this convocation has not given the go-ahead since
the last election to any of the opposition’s initiatives for
boosting birthrates. Nor has it offered any possible solutions of
its own. This goes far at explaining why the feasibility of
projected government measures arouses doubts even when the top
echelons have expressed their approval. One may be astonished, for
example, by the inconsistency over the question of how much
government support should be allocated for stimulating new births,
as mentioned in President Vladimir Putin’s state-of-the-nation
address, with regard to the real scale of the problem, or the
underrated importance of recognizing the need for different
regional approaches to the issue, and many other things. The main
dilemma, however, lurks in the mindset that prevails in United
Russia. In spite of numerous statements, monthly child benefits for
children up to the age of 18 years old still do not exceed 70
rubles [one U.S. dollar equals about 27 rubles – Ed.]. Now, was
there any obstacle for making this figure look a bit less immoral a
year, or three, or even five years ago?

The problem of migration is also
closely linked to Russia’s demographic situation. In today’s world,
the intensification of migration processes is somewhat natural, but
the positive effects the receiving countries get from accepting
immigrants are directly connected to how confident and affluent
their indigenous peoples feel. This is the only case where the
melting pot principle works. As the U.S. example shows, however,
even there the process does not proceed without its

In light of this, the problem
concerning the millions of “compatriots” living in other former
Soviet republics, which President Putin brought attention to
recently in a proposal to ease up regulations for their
resettlement to Russia, evokes special interest. We can only hope
that this good beginning will not result in another bureaucratic
trick with regard to those who went through unjustified sufferings
after the Soviet Union’s disintegration. There must be special
conditions for this resettlement, however, while the word
“compatriot” shall be applied to people brought up in the
traditions of Russian culture, who have a good command of the
Russian language and connections with Russia.

It would be better to avoid any
more labor migrants, whose inflow has reached a scale likely to
jeopardize the ethnic and cultural balance in Russia’s major cities
and in the Russian Federation on the whole. Furthermore, their
presence serves to provoke an increase of tensions between
different ethnic groups. After all, the European Union forbids the
employment of foreigners at jobs where native citizens can be
employed. Thus it stands to reason that businesses that violate
respective laws must face tough sanctions. It is our duty to
provide jobs most of all to millions of our fellow citizens in
numerous Russian towns and villages where the upheavals of the
1990s swept away employment, together with plants, agricultural
facilities, schools, and hospitals. This is a costly and
labor-intensive undertaking, and yet the destiny of the country and
its people depend on our choice.

Another condition for resettlement
is to safeguard and build up Russia’s political and moral
foundations. Most importantly, these include the Eastern Orthodox
creed, Russian culture, and the nation-state tradition that formed
over centuries. Their loss would result in a dangerous
destabilization of inter-civilizational balances in Eurasia, which
would have unpredictable consequences. We have already seen the
first attempts to upset that balance through proposals to remove
any mention of God from the national anthem and Orthodox Christian
symbols from the national emblem. Russia must refrain from giving
others a pretext to test our strength again. Otherwise the future
of this part of the planet – and much more – will witness the
re-carving of the territories of this great country instead of a
search for mutual understanding and interaction. We should not
forget that, from Russia’s position, the conflict of civilizations
develops not only on a global scale; it operates on the level of
our own state and society. It is developing on the spaces of the
former Soviet Union, which Russia bears special responsibility for.
Given this situation, Russia must set for itself the task for
expanding its geopolitical influences, together with strengthening
the state-forming national core. The alternative will be deeper
fragmentation and instability that will lead to increased attempts
at control from abroad.


There are individuals who will
claim there is a contradiction between the task of expanding the
influence of Russian civilization, which is traditionally defined
in an imperial rather than national paradigm, and specific
guidelines for reviving the national feelings of people with
Russian ethnicity. This contradiction is superficial, however. The
ethnic balance in Russia was upset twice in the 20th century –
first by the Bolsheviks in order to destroy the czarist Russian
state, and then by the “neo-Westernizers” in the 1990s, when the
purposeful suppression of Russia’s ethnic spirit proceeded at a
reckless pace, while the fanning of nationalistic passions occurred
amongst virtually all other ethnic groups of the former Soviet
Union. Today, we have to rectify the deplorable aftermath of those
events, and the fostering of a national spirit amongst ethnic
Russians is an inevitable aspect of forming solid Russian
patriotism, the absence of which will not let us survive in the
struggle with the West and the Orient. After all, if you take the
root ‘nation’ out of ‘internationalism,’ the word will cease to

As for the critics of the thesis
that asserts the Russian people’s particular role in this country’s
development, let us ask them if there is any other nationality in
Russia that would be ready, or able, to assume responsibility for
everything that is happening or will yet happen in our homeland, a
nationality that perceives this responsibility as natural and
self-evident? And responsibility does not exist without rights.
This is exactly the situation of “an objectively necessary social
function in the cause of serving the truth,” which Semyon Frank
viewed as “the foundation for any privilege, any special rights,
any superior position of a person or social group or class.” This
is a fact of life and it must be accepted and reckoned

To restore internal integrity, the
state and society must reinstate the attractiveness of national
ideals. This is precisely the area where we must imitate Western
examples, since the West has always realized the significance of
interpreting history as an instrument of patriotic growth,
psychological impact, and domestic and foreign policy making. The
leadership of the Soviet Union recognized this fact, too. But
beginning in the mid-1980s, the Russian people became eyewitnesses
to and participants in an adverse motion, an endless castigation of
our own past, and not just the recent past. Russians will easily
recall the television appearances of particular historians of some
sort who forwarded a revision of Russia’s history beginning in the
Middle Ages. No one doubts the need for a critical outlook on
history. This is important for adjusting national ideals and goals
and for eyeing the limits of a country’s power and capabilities.
Yet a criticism of that kind should not wash away the values of the
elite and its society. Moreover, allusions to history have an
important personal aspect. Numerous outstanding heroes,
trailblazers, or simply decent and honorable individuals from among
our ancestors live on today – in human memory, if one is an
atheist, and in more religious ways, if one is a believer. For the
living, we have a simple goal of knowing about our ancestors and
measuring up to them.

Thus far, however, with each new
step we continue to stumble over the flaws in our national and
state self-identification. Take the foreign-policy concept, for
example, that confines Russia’s historical options to “building a
rule-of-law state, democratic society and a socially-oriented
market economy.” Russia’s foreign policy strategy as such has
become strictly subjugated to these objectives. In the meantime,
devoid of national substance as they are, such objectives might be
set forth by any government or nation, even if one believes that
these abstract objectives will be filled with real content. Or
take, for example, the new triad of national priorities –
“sovereign democracy, strong economy and military might” –declared
by First Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Where is there mention of the “special ideological project” that
would make it possible to “compete for the right to formulate the
global agenda and prospects for mankind’s development?” If such an
ideological project did exist, there would also exist an
understanding that the tasks Russia sets for itself in the
international arena are an essential or even substantive factor of
its development as a unified great nation.

Or consider the much-acclaimed
“ideological” speech that the deputy chief of Putin’s
Administration staff, Vladislav Surkov, delivered to the top
activists of the United Russia party in February. It testified to
an increasing vogue for “projects” in our political life.
Meanwhile, these deadening “projects” run counter to Russia’s
broadly stated European choice and, on a more general plane, to our
Christian roots. In general, Christianity is equivalent to a
respect for man as a subject of faith, life and creation. But the
electoral or party-construction schemes imposed on us from above in
recent years are little more than a profound and Jesuitical mockery
of human dignity, as they turn the Russians from the subjects of a
political process into its objects, while the process itself is
unscrupulously manipulated. The logic and methods of party “wars of
elimination,” too, contradict the Russian tradition – in the narrow
ethnic and broad national sense. Marxism and Leninism brought them
to Russia. But the Russian tradition that budded among the
Slavophiles and was later synthesized by Vladimir Solovyov and
brilliantly manifested in Alexei Losev’s dialectics embodies a
willingness to attain unity, mutual understanding and

Government and society have a task
of paramount importance to generate an encouraging treatment of
faith: the revitalization of nation and state. There is no doubt
that a multitude of mistakes, errors, and crimes of the recent past
– the oligarchic deviations in politics, economic abuses,
manipulation of the Russian people, as well as the elite’s
inability to respond to the challenges of our time – take root in
the climate of private ownership with all of its destructive
potential in a largely godless country. This is more than a mere
statement of fact; it is a sentence – unless the Russian Orthodox
Creed is reinstated in full scope in Russia. It is no accident that
historically the institution of private property grew in step with
the formation of the world religions, and most noticeably with
Christianity. When a person is convinced of his or her material
superiority, he or she continues to be guided by higher
motivations, even though he or she may live in the most efficient
state with an efficacious system of law.

* * *

Many quarters are constantly
reminding Russia that its future depends to a great degree on how
much it integrates into the global economy, which was forced upon
the entire planet, and gains admission into the prestigious
international clubs. But my personal conviction is that the global
economy in its current form will not survive without a profound
reform. At the same time, our engagement in these international
mechanisms, which are largely dominated by Western influences, will
furnish our opponents with greater opportunities to control us than
our own opportunities to influence their policies. This does not
mean that we must cease all activity in either direction. However,
it is important to realize that we will lose our competitiveness,
sovereignty, and the country itself if we do not enact a revival of
our culture and our traditional faith, and stimulate the viability
of our indigenous nations and ethnic groups, among which the
Russian nation comes first. In other words, there will be no
historical subject whose calling is to play, with God’s help, a
role in the extremely complex process of molding the new parameters
of coexistence amongst world civilizations.

We know from Holy Scriptures that
the one who takes the road of genuine resurrection – and this is
what Russia has on the agenda today – must avoid three temptations.
The first is the “temptation of bread,” which places material
well-being at the top of the desires of human beings. Then there is
the “temptation of force,” which represents the desire to stagger
people’s imagination and suppress their will with the aid of PR
tricks. Finally, the “temptation of power” is the striving for
endless control and the arbitrary use of power. If we manage to
overcome all three of these temptations, then a road to eternal
life will open for Russia, and even those who chose the path of
betrayal at the moment of their – and our – greatest weakness will
follow us.

The question remains: what if
Russia succumbs to the temptations?