An extinct breed

Reviewing To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture by Eleonory Gilburd, Jennifer Wilson writes in The New Republic:

According to the nineteenth-century philosopher Georgy Fedotov, “a unified Europe had more reality on the banks of the Neva or the Moscow river than on the banks of the Seine.” The imagined freedoms and unfreedoms of the West have historically served as distorted mirrors through which Russia viewed itself.

Fedotov was a medieval historian by training; his early publications focused on the hagiography of Merovingian France and the life of Abelard. In his later work, he contributed to political philosophy. A nineteenth-century philosopher he was not, however: he was born in 1886 and died in 1951. The imprecise quote above comes from a 1938 article, where Fedotov discusses a Russian “breed” that went almost completely extinct by the 1950s: 

But the Petrine reform… led Russia out into the expanses of the world, placing it at the crossroads of all the West’s great cultures, and created the breed of Russian Europeans. They are distinguished, above all, by their freedom and mental latitude – distinguished, that is, not only from Muscovites but also from actual Europeans. For a long time, Europe as a whole had a fuller existence on the banks of the Neva and the Moskva than on the banks of the Seine, the Thames or the Spree. The myth of the Russians’ unusual talent for foreign languages was created specifically to refer to this cohort, imperial and noble in status. A common Russian, whether a Muscovite or a member of the intelligentsia, is surprisingly ungifted when it comes to foreign languages and, more generally, is incapable of joining a foreign milieu, to acclimatize himself to a foreign land. The Russian European was at home anywhere.

After two centuries in existence, he is familiar to us in two incarnations: the wanderer and the builder.

Fedotov’s “Muscovite” is a cultural and/or anthropological, rather than geographical, type.  Fedotov is sketching a national anthropology based on the tension and interaction between the “imperial,” or “European,” and the “Muscovite” roots in the Russian psyche and culture. He classes most of the intelligentsia with the Muscovites on account of their common narrow-mindedness and the former’s affinity with Russian folk sectarianism. Only the cream of the intelligentsia is labeled “European”; most of them were killed, exiled or enslaved after the 1917 revolution.

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