The Russian national character and Western individualism

The character of a people is a strong factor to define the fate of a country and the nation's government. A national character, which can partially change during the course of time, basically remains unchangeable within the people’s historic life. When authority understands the people, it is the main chance for the country and the authority itself to survive.

Many patriots say that Russians are collectivists by nature who like to be in tight communities, while the living model in the West consists of separate people living under perpetual conditions of competition. It is sometimes believed that liberal reforms have resulted in the triumph of the Western individualism in Russia. However, both points of view are mistaken.

Russians differ from Europeans (and from majority of other people) not by some mysterious collectivism, but by their attitude towards property. Russian peasants never owned land as private owners; they merely had land leased by their community. In addition, the people’s predestination has been always understood differently in Russia: while an emphasis is placed on talent in the West, a person's calling is the focus in Russia. Talent means people’s capabilities, and a calling is people’s duty in life. Human rights are the cornerstone abroad, at the time when people’s duties are of great importance in Russia. That is why the understanding of freedom is different in Russia and abroad. A man in the West is free when he is free, and a man is free in Russia when he has an opportunity to see his calling fulfilled. When a Russian has an abstract freedom of choice, but has no opportunity to see the calling fulfilled, it means misery and not freedom for him. Even if Russians go handcuffed and escorted to the workplace they love, they still will be very happy. Famous Russian aircraft and plane architects (Korolev, Stechkin, and so on), who wrongly suffered from the repressions of the 1930s and were sent to design bureaus with a prison regime for work, managed to work ably and brilliantly even there. A man in Russia is happy when he is happy. Happiness means not only to be understood, but also to be able to see your dreams come true and help your country prosper.

The society of the 1930s was devoid of what we call political freedoms now: people couldn’t say and write what they were thinking, and no criticism of authorities was allowed. People just saw the country change for the best and their dreams about future of the country come true, which made them very happy, and people considered themselves free.

The unique ideology of Russians is explained by the lack of private land ownership. At the time when interests of Europeans were confined within limits of the estate, the views of Russians turned from the community to the divine world, to the universe. This is an explanation to the high degree of spirituality in Russian literature and to the philosophic character of Russian ideology.

Russians,whoareactually a people without property, differ from other people in their mobility (that is often mistaken for collectivism): Russians easily participate in business of public importance, even when it doesn’t concern them personally. Other nations, on the contrary, are bound up with their property.

Certainly, only the mobility of Russians is not a factor to found a great state upon. Russians are open to impulse from the state, and they have a national instinct, which is why a great independent civilization was created in Russia. And this very feature of Russians is taken for collectivism as opposed to individualism of the West. People in the West are unlikely to give up personal interests for the sake of abstract national or international issue. However, people abroad easily cooperate with others for some common issue that affects their private interests.

At the same time, the state instinct, which is so typical of Russians, doesn’t mean at all that people in Russia are closely inter-related with the state. Eurasians are right to describe the sphere of the state as a sphere of force and compulsion, where sentimentality is the cause of anarchy. That is why ruling Russians inevitably should oppose the people who are inclined to destructive actions.

Russians are never effective under European democratic conditions, as they require a severe tone. It is not strange that an ideal leader in Russia is usually characterized as a tough but fair tsar. Like anyone with an imperial consciousness, Russians understand their predestination; however, Russia’s destination drastically differs from that of Europe. Europeans understand only their ideology as a norm and consider other ideologies savage, but Russians are tolerant to the peculiarities of different national cultures. On the other hand, theimplacability of Russians concerning ideological problems isn’t understood in Europe, where the art of compromise is the key art in life (which is why people there are crazy about human rights and the rights of different minorities, sexual first of all).

Russian people may change, as we have already proved several times in history, when we managed to reach peaks of heroism after the hardest periods in the life of the country. However, to change, the country requires authorities able to understand the people and to outline a great objective for the people, which at the same time will be understood as a personal objective by the people. Russians will not perform deeds neither for the sake of democracy, nor for human rights or some other values alien to Russian ideology. Russia can break its impasse only when every Russian understands his connection with affairs of the state.

Mikhail Antonov

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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