Bulgakov on nationalism

The foundations of the national idea are not merely ethnographic and historical, they are primarily religious and cultural; it is based on religio-cultural messianism, into which all conscious national feeling is necessarily cast.

So it was for the greatest bearer of the religio-messianic idea, ancient Israel, and so it remains for every great historical people. The desire for national autonomy, for the preservation and defense of nationality, is merely the negative expression of this idea and has value only by virtue of its implied positive content. The most outstanding spokesmen of our national self-consciousness, Dostoevskii, the Slavophiles, and Vladimir Solov’ev, understood the national idea in precisely this way, for they linked it with the world mission of the Russian church or Russian culture. There is no reason why such a conception of the national idea must lead to nationalistic exclusiveness. On the contrary, it lays the only positive foundation for the idea of the brotherhood of peoples, rather than of nationless, atomized “citizens” or “proletarians of all countries” who have renounced their homeland. The idea of nationality, viewed in this way, is one of the necessary positive conditions for the progress of civilization. Our intelligentsia’s cosmopolitanism does, of course, allow it to toss aside the many difficulties that inevitably arise when national problems are worked out in practice. But this is purchased at the high price of deadening a whole side of the soul, the side that is turned directly toward the people. This enables the representatives of militant, chauvinistic nationalism to exploit the intelligentsia’s cosmopolitanism very easily, for it gives them a monopoly on patriotism.

(I continue to post interesting excerpts from my current reading here without much comment. This is Bulgakov writing in Vekhi, Landmarks, in 1909. The usual disclaimer applies: interest does not imply complete agreement)

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