Discourse of Civilization in the Works of Russia’s New Eurasianists
* Article: The Discourse of Civilization in the Works of Russia’s New Eurasianists: Lev Gumilev and Alexander Panarin. By Frederick Matern. YCISS Post-Communist Studies Programme Research Paper Series. Paper Number 002, February 2007
"Russia’s cultural and political discourse has long been dominated by the question of its place in the world: does Russia belong to, or should it aspire to, the values, norms and traditions of Western civilization, or does it have its own culture, “Asiatic” or otherwise, that sets it apart from the West and requires an approach to governance that is radically different than the solutions offered by its Western neighbours? At the time of the collapse of the USSR, the Westernizing trend seemed to have the upper hand, but more than a decade later, another stance setting Russia apart from the West has become far more current. This general point of view has lately come to be known as “Eurasian”, or as I will call it for the sake of clarity, “Eurasianist”; but I wish to prevent any misconception now by defining the “Eurasianists” to whom I refer. “The Eurasianists” were a group of Russian intellectuals who formed a school of thought in European exile during the 1920’s, after the Russian Revolution. While the problem of Russia vis-à-vis the West goes far back into Russian history, perhaps most famously expressed in the nineteenth century polemic between the Slavophiles and the Westernizers, the Eurasianist movement was radically different, partly because of its geopolitical turn (borrowed, evidently, from Western thinkers like Karl Haushofer and Halford Mackinder), and its cultural positioning of the Russian space squarely outside the European experience.
I will undertake to study what might be considered one of the most recent branches of Russian intellectual discourse, drawing on the ideas of the Eurasianists, by intellectuals known in the literature as the “New” Eurasianists or “Neoeurasianists.” The aim of this paper is to identify what writing is representative of Neo-eurasianist thought, to distinguish Neoeurasianism both from its historical antecedents(particularly the writers whom I will term the “classical” Eurasianists, or simply “Eurasianists”) and some other modern, nationalist and conservative trends in Russian thought that many Western writers have frequently confused it with over the last ten years, and, most importantly, to analyse some of the texts of the Neoeurasianists to attempt to get a fix on what this school of thought represents, if it can indeed be termed a “school”. I view the discourse of the Neoeurasianists as part of a broader conversation going on throughout the world at present, one that challenges universalist attempts to define “culture” and civilization. I will therefore pay particular attention to places in the New Eurasianists work where this dialogue of civilizations is played out clearly. For reasons I will explain below, I have chosen two authors to examine in detail for this work: Lev Gumilev and Aleksandr Panarin. A third author, Aleksandr Dugin, also considered foundational, will not be looked at in so much detail, since he is the subject of the main body of literature that already exists on the New Eurasianists.
In this paper, I will briefly review some recent literature on the Eurasianist movement, in order to define the movement, provide a historical context and trace the link between the Eurasianists of the 1920’s and 30’s and the post-Soviet Neoeurasianist intellectuals. I will then look at the texts of the two authors, Gumilev and Panarin, whom I consider foundational thinkers in the Neoeurasianist world-view. Using the texts of these authors, I will illustrate the two main thrusts of Neoeurasianist thought: the important geopolitical side and the cultural factors that the Neoeurasianists highlight that make the movement an ideology. The goal of this paper is to provide a broad review of the writings of the foundational Neoeurasianists as the groundwork fora more detailed study."