Romantics and Pragmatists - Excerpt from chapter 8 - The exalted place Russia can occupy in the future world order

The Orthodox archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin is not someone you are very familiar with in the West. A few of his social views are also not particularly appealing to people who, like me, believe that each individual should be absolutely free to choose what he or she wants.

Nonetheless, Chaplin has managed to reduce his criticism of Western culture to the length of an elevator pitch: it overvalues individualism and pursues a cult of materialism. To quote an article by Pavel Lokshin in Der Spiegel:

Der Welt stehe eine "ökonomische und soziale Revolution" bevor, glaubt Tschaplin, sie soll das System der westlichen Hegemonie mit seiner vermeintlichen Überbewertung des Individuums und dem Kult des Materiellen zerstören. Ihren Anfang werde sie in Russland nehmen. "Unser größter Feind ist nicht Amerika oder die Nato", befindet der Kirchenmann, "es ist der Alltagsmensch, der nur für seine Geldbörse lebt." (

Whether you agree with Chaplin’s criticism or side with the West, it can hardly be argued that a lively debate between advocates of individualism and materialism on the one hand and the coryphaei of existentialists and metaphysists on the other would not be beneficial for at least self-reflection. Such reflection might lead to reaffirmation, but certainly, for some, it would open up an alternative that had not been considered before. Besides all the conventional arguments about individualism and consumption, especially those related to the correlation between higher levels of consumption and greater susceptibility to depression or dissatisfaction, we might also become aware of tangential consequences. I might, for example, realize that in addition to consuming goods and services, it is also possible to "consume" people. This would be understood as talking with strangers, making new friends, meeting new people, trying to get to know another person with the goal of acquiring knowledge in the process. Such an orientation might prompt me to spend some time alone, see what happens in the absence of not only work, but also mankind as a whole. Furthermore, this break from society as a whole could make my mind very active, put me in a good mood. As a result, I might return to society not just refreshed and re-energized, but also aware of the need for balance. In turn, this might cause me to reduce the number of hours I work and simultaneously cut back on spending. Etc.

The point is that having a prominent advocate of some sort of counterculture gives all of us choices. And there could hardly be a time that needs this more than we do today with ubiquitous corporate and financial serfdom anchored by individualism and materialism. If the state of Russia were to adopt such a counterposition, we would have to welcome it.

While I am not a socialist or communist, it might even be possible to applaud certain aspects of the Soviet Union to the extent that it attempted a socialist model and revealed certain strengths and weaknesses of it (especially relative to Western capitalism). Perhaps a country based on an existentialist and metaphysical ideology would be devoured by the same materialist urges that ultimately contributed to the demise of socialism. I cannot say. We cannot say. 

In a global community we also need to express our orientation in relation to abstract principles. America has done this quite well in defending capitalism, free markets and democracy on the basis of certain philosophical tenants that it holds to be truths or universals. Continental Europe has also focused on continuity in values and culture over many centuries as it promotes a humanitarian and environmentally-friendly worldview and resolves its internal difference. Chaplin and presumably the Orthodox church adopt the right approach in attacking the “I-culture” and the worship of material, as Chaplin says: “Our greatest enemy is not America or NATO, but rather the everyday individual who lives only for the stock exchange.” 

In addition to this, as Angelika and Henry have pointed out in the role literature can play in the contemporary world order, Russians, the Orthodox church and members of the government, civil society, etc. need to sketch out the positive vision. What is this going to look like? Are they going to refer to themselves and existentialist and metaphysists as we have here? Are there more applicable terms? And what exactly will this nation look like? What values will it espouse? What is the vision?

Text by Yuri Smirnov
Photos by Lea Winkler
August 2015

Further Reading

Further Reading
Smirnov, Yuri. How a Russian Sees America. Feb. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri. Chapter 1 (excerpt): A Russian's View of America: What Do You Have That We Don't? Mar. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri. Chapter 6 (excerpt): How a Russia Sees America: Are We Really That Different? - Security. Mar. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri: Chapter 2 (excerpt): A Russian's View of America: What's The Point of Living? Apr. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri. Chapter 1 (excerpt): A Russian's View of America. What Do you Have That We Don't (Continued)? May 2015
Smirnov Yuri. How a Russian Sees America - the issue of balance. June 2015
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