Personality and Nation

“Humanism has forgotten what the human personality is. And perhaps it has also forgotten what a nation is.

So should we not in fact discuss the relationships between the human personality and anything whatever in the context of the teaching that gave birth to the very concept of the human personality, namely, Christianity?

But here we come up against the inspired objection of the Apostle Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek”.

Many who quote this objection (including A. Krasnov-Levitin in No. 106 of the “Vestnik RSKD” — though there are few enough who don’t quote it) regard it as so authoritative, incontrovertible and altogether crushing as to eliminate the entire question of relations between the human personality and the nation from the Christian point of view, as if it were not a question at all, or at any rate one long ago answered. For Christianity the human personality exists, the nation does not

We do not propose to quibble with St. Paul, still less to dispute his authority, for he did write those words. But they did have a continuation which for some reason is invariably overlooked by the proponents of Christian “universalism” (or, to run a little ahead, pseudouniversalism): “. . . neither male nor female . . .”

Are its proponents bold enough to maintain that Christianity, with its teachings on marriage, makes no distinction between the sexes?

Did not the apostle to the heathen rather mean that there is no difference between Greek and Jew, man and woman, slave and freeman in one particular respect? He said so quite explicitly elsewhere: “For the scripture saith, Who- soever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all . . (Rom. 10:11-12).

To take the scriptural argument further, have our “universalists” ever stopped to consider texts like “ All nations whom thou hast made . . .” (Psalm 86:9)? Do they remember that Christ brought the good news, not to scattered individuals, but to the people of Israel as a whole? Or Christ’s words: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations . . .”?

And does this not mean, despite all their disclaimers, that the “nation problem” does exist for Christianity, and that attempts to discard it (or even morally destroy it) on the basis of half a dozen imperfectly understood words are, to say the least, unjustified and premature?

In our atheist age, however, even Christians tend to shy away from scriptural arguments. This obliges us to transpose the question into a somewhat — if not altogether — different plane.

What is a nation? What is the essence of this mysterious human community at which “universalists” of various kinds have chanted spells (“abracadabra vanish!”) for a century and more, but which has obstinately refused to vanish? Is it common territory? A common economy? Language? Kinship? Or all of them taken together? Or perhaps something else altogether?

Dostoyevsky’s notebook contains the following words: “The nation is nothing more than the national personality.”

He returned to this idea many times, it was one of his most intimate and penetrating thoughts. He understood the national personality not metaphorically, not in the abstract, but precisely as a living personal unity. He saw it as the spiritual reality that binds all the concrete, historical and empirical manifestations of national life into a single whole.

Well, they will say, Dostoyevsky was a “mystic” and is not much in demand these days. But: “A nation is not a collection of different beings, it is an organized being and moreover a moral personality. A wonderful secret has been revealed — the great soul of France.”

The author of these words was no mystic. It was the famous historian of the French Revolution, Michelet Rather than weary the reader with quotations, we ask him to take our word for it that the same idea, although not always equally well defined, appears in many spiritually sensitive people of all ages and all nations, however different their personal philosophies.

Just one more quotation, then, a very characteristic one from A. Herzen, the great writer and little understood idol of the Russian intelligentsia, to whom the mystery of the nation as a personality was a matter of deep concern:

“It seems to me,” he wrote, “that there is something in Russian life higher than the community and stronger than the might of the state; it is hard to capture in words, harder still to point to with the finger. I mean that inner, not quite conscious power which wondrously preserved the Russian people under the yoke of the Mongol hordes and the German bureaucracy, under the Tartar knout from the east and the corporal’s staves from the west; that inner power which preserved the attractive open character and lively wit of our peasants under the humiliating oppression of serfdom, and which when commanded by the tsar to educate itself, within one hundred years replied with the resounding phenomenon of Pushkin; I mean, finally, that power of self-confidence which lives on in our breasts. This constant power has preserved the Russian people and its unwavering faith in itself, preserved it outside all forms and against all forms.”

This sense of the nation as a personality, which has been expressed by individuals, corresponds with and confirms the people’s awareness of its identity as embodied in folklore. Its image covertly governs our speech, for when we speak of the “dignity” of the people, its “duty,” its “sins” or its “responsibility,” we are making concrete, that is to say, unmetaphorical, use of terms that are applicable only to the moral life of a person.

Finally, the unfathomable mystery of the nation’s ultimate destiny (here again we shall have to resort to the Holy Scriptures), the mystery of its indestructibility and autonomy unbounded by space and time, in other words the secret of its metaphysical essence, is revealed in the Apocalypse:

“And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it [the City of God] and they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it” (Rev. 21 .24 and 26). And, says St. John the Divine, the disciple whom Jesus loved, this shall come to pass after the first heaven and the first earth have passed away.

This concept of the nation as a person cannot be completely translated into the language of reason and therefore remains altogether foreign to rationalism and positivism, not to mention materialism. (That is, specifically, the philosophies, since there are of course exceptions among their adherents.)

However, even those endowed with neither a religious outlook on life nor any special spiritual sensitivity can to a certain extent verify the reality of the nation s personality, as distinct from the empirical manifestations of national life. All that is required is to examine with care and without prejudice (not necessarily to live through at first hand!) the experiences of the Russian emigration throughout the last century

Many Russians have shaken the dust of the hated and despotic fatherland off their feet, cursing and denouncing its monstrous face, and fled to Europe, the land of sacred miracles,” to liberty, equality and fraternity. But very soon, quite against their expectations and desires, these same Russians were overcome by a spontaneous sense of some irreparable loss. The trouble, as many of them understood, was not simply the result of an unfamiliar environment or a foreign language (most of them, after all, knew European languages and European conditions just as well as their own) but something else. They gradually came to see the “land of sacred miracles” as an “abomination of desolation,” and their own existence in it — though often quite comfortable — as illusory and insubstantial.

And unexpectedly the bond with the motherland, this “darkness unmasked,” to use Marina Tsvetayeva’s phrase, came to be the only thing that mattered, with a direct bearing on the very essence of their being. They came to realize that behind the outward appearances of the life of their people they had failed to perceive what was most important, the essence of which Herzen wrote. They had not suspected it before and only now, in their isolation, could they begin to divine its real meaning and understand Russia as a personality, to whom their own personalities were by some mysterious process indissolubly bound. In their dark homeland these people suddenly perceived a fount of light, and were drawn to it irresistibly even when inevitable destruction stared them in the face.

This is the secret of the spiritual nature of that famous and mysterious Russian nostalgia, the unaccountable feeling of having lost some whole whose lack makes man’s life seem incomplete.”

(Borisov, “Personality and National Awareness,” in From Under the Rubble).

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