The Soul of the Subject – Redux (Edited For Presentation to the Presidential Academy in Barnaul, Russia, 02-24-15)


02Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering here and there, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awoke, and there I was, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. (Chuang Tzu)

01. I’d like to first look at a brief video clip from Aleksandr Dugin, professor of philosophy and sociology at Moscow State University. He’s addressing this question of the self, of subjectivity, in relation to the Russian psyche.

03To be modern is to have two qualities: reason and will. These two things are missing in principle from modern Russian society.We are only approaching the first stages of modernity. Our transition to modernity occurred in a special way—a Russian way. It effectively demolished the tenants of tradition without building in their stead structures of modernity. And so the most important part of the change from the archaic to the modern did not take place. Much more of our society is archaic than is modern. We were never able to form the ‘subject’ – that which is filled with reason and will, and, more importantly, which acts upon that reason and will. Aleksandr Dugin, (00:00-01:24) Pure Satanism]

02. Let me say first that Dugin is not claiming Russians are irrational or that they can’t think. What he is suggesting is that the idea of an independent, autonomous subject – ‘I,’ ‘me,’ or ‘my’ ego – as an entity separate from the ‘objects’ outside of my head – this concept was something foreign to the Russian psyche.

Untitled03. In other words, what we see in the European Enlightenment (17th Century) – the notion that “I” as a self-contained, rational agent independent of the external world – this ideal may not have seemed natural to Russia’s more visceral (earthy) experience.

04. Now that’s a serious confession for a RusUntitledsian thinker. But it’s not negative. In fact, I think it points to something rather profound. It suggests a recognition of something more primal in the Russian psyche, the Russian soul — a recognition of being NOT simply a rational agent locked up within a bag of skin or staring out from behind the screen of a mechanical man.

05. Rather, Dugin’s claim may point in the direction of a more fluid, forgiving sense of being-in-the-world, a sense of being always, already outside-of-oneself, where the boundaries between self and world, or between self and Untitledother, are less rigid – more elastic; where one is absorbed in the world, wedded to the land [rodina], and more intimately involved with other kinfolk there [rodstveniki].

Dostoevsky06. I recall Dostoyevsky’s many references to Русская душа as bound to the soil. In The Idiot, he calls this soul a “dark place” — where natural instinct overrides abstract reason. Untitled

The Russian soul, like nature, remains wild and passionate — rooted in the soil, under the spell of the earthly sensuous, of the flesh.


This is why Vladimir Dal, in his Explanatory Dictionary of the Great Russian Language, claims that all five senses can be reduced to just one – the sense of touch. Again the primacy of the flesh stands out as key to grasping the Russian soul.

Untitled07. It seems then, that this modern Western ideal of ‘self’ as a solitary and independent subject, with NO apparent anchors or attachments in the natural world -– that this notion runs contrary to a more primal sense of ‘who I am’ that finds a home within the Russian experience. One hundred years ago, Russian philosopher, Nikolai Berdyaev, wrote:

Untitled[There is] insufficient development of the personal principle in Russian life. The Russian people have always loved to live in the warmth of the collective, a sort of dissolving back into the element of earth, into the bosom of the mother… The Russian people desire to be of the earth. (Psychology of the Russian People, 1915)

08. Observations from ethnography and anthropology may also be valuable here. We find that in most simple, kinship-based [rodstvo] societies (e.g., early hunter/gatherer tribes), the notion of an independent self does not yet exist. In such cultures, persons only find meaning in relation to the community, fully participating in the life of the tribe, and immersed within its territory. More recently, American anthropologist, Marshall Sahlins wrote:


In kinship relations, other [people are part] of one’s own existence, and vice versa… There is a participation of certain others in one’s own being. As members of one another, kinsmen live each other’s lives and die each other’s deaths. (The Western Illusion of Human Nature)

Untitled09. French anthropologist, Levy-Bruhl, calls this phenomenon ‘participation mystique,’ the commingling of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in Nature, an openness and fluidity between apparently separate entities, where human and non-human elements fuse, become one, and inter-animate one another.

10. We can find examples of such a conception alive even today as we looklarge_264a638964351864aa6e6be13bc63a6b at remnant traditions among indigenous populations in Russia, right here in Altai.

11. We may now understand Dugin’s claim more positively, a Russian reticence in adopting a Western metaphysics and faith in the individual self. We may also better appreciate now Dugin’s view of Russia’s positioning with respect to modernity – the Russian is more viscerally grounded within the natural world.

12. So maybe Dostoyevsky was right about the darker, cooler, instinctual earthiness of the Russian psyche –- a soul drenched in the primacy of perception, the body, and the nature that nourishes it.

Untitled13. But then, perhaps Russia’s long-suffering mission still stands firm here in Siberia. Maybe Russia can recall mankind from the isolation of scientific rationality and the mechanistic worldview to which it gives rise… a worldview apparently marching with deliberate calculation toward global conflict and ecological collapse.

Untitled14. Finally, is it possible that this instinct, deeply embedded in the Russian soul, could re-ignite that faint memory lingering within each of us – a memory of our essential belonging to the earth, and the necessity of sharing it with one another? Maybe in this way Russia can help renew our natural bearings, reestablishing our awareness of a living, breathing cosmos.

13 Responses to The Soul of the Subject – Redux (Edited For Presentation to the Presidential Academy in Barnaul, Russia, 02-24-15)

  1. Malthus says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes. While I can only speak for myself and those near me, we all have that longing for the primal parts of our humanity. We are all one, and one is us all. People that do not see this call us doomsdayers and do not see the yearning for the collective and the physicalness of nature instead of divorcing their self’s from the past and calling themselves modern. They are so conditioned to see that modernity and the self is something to strive for, Meanwhile totally not hearing their inner voices telling them it is a sham and certainly not natural. No wonder you spend so much time and live in Russia. So very good Sandy, Thank you.

    • JohnT says:

      Conditioned. So right. So much so, it is difficult to blame even the vilest of them. We are living under the most effective propaganda regime in the history of the world. I suppose the first step out is to realize that. So my time is spent talking, and talking, to anyone that will listen.

      Thanks, for all that you people do.

  2. DA says:

    Very nice! I’m afraid it’s far too late to save us, but very nice anyway. And in the end, if we can all at least regain some semblance of our humanity before we go, maybe that will provide some amount of comfort and understanding for why it was that we did all the stupid things we did to lead us to this place.

  3. Martin says:

    My father was born in Ukraine in the late 1800’s. He emigrated to Canada with his parents and siblings around 1910. Though he was of German extraction and was allegedly raised in the Baptist tradition, he often spoke of having a “Russian” soul and talked of having had encounters with more than one so-called ‘primitive person’ (he used the Russian word) in the vicinity of his village. He told me a few stories of these encounters and the esoteric knowledge he gained from these people to the effect that he believed that everything has a soul-spirit and that humans could communicate directly with those soul-spirits with attention, respect and practice though he never claimed to be able to do so himself.

    The theme of these stories has stuck with me throughout my entire life even though I can no longer recall them directly and I honor the influence they have had on my world-view, which I must say is somewhat more pagan than modern.

    • Disaffected says:

      The Native Americans over here had similar traditions as well, right up until the European immigrants wiped them out and consigned their offspring to the rez at least. Fortunately for all, our current “traditions,” if you can even call them that, are self-destructive by nature. They won’t be long missed nor remembered.

  4. monalisa says:

    A wonderful conclusion – essay !
    I found and find the so-called “Russian Soul” always in Russian literature as well as in its music. For me it shines always through its sentences, letters and tonal nuances.


  5. Disaffected says:

    The US vs. Russia debate has heated up quite a bit of late over at Kunstler’s blog (I know, I know, always a bastion of intellectual debate!). Just like the old “Red Scare “days, it’s already getting to where you can’t criticize the insane policies of the US government without getting labeled a Russian sympathizer, and likewise, any stray word of faint praise for Putin is leapt on immediately as a sign of your communist tendencies. Once again, I’m amazed at how quickly all of this has heated up, even on the “fringes” of the internet, where, once upon a time, I foolishly imagined that people might be a bit more open minded.

    Lesson? The roots of American Exceptionalism do indeed run as deep as ever, and any hopes that Americans might be reticent about OKing war in or over Ukraine based solely on rightness of cause (setting aside ability to actually win such an ill-advised conflict) seem to be misguided. As I’ve long suspected, it’s not just the pols here in the good ol’ US of A who are blood thirsty savages, the disease seems to have infected the masses as well.

  6. Disaffected says:

    Watch for this to turn into an excuse for all kinds of extra-legal crack downs. The boogeyman under every bed meme is beginning to get real traction.

  7. DA says:

    The Archdruid’s latest is compelling reading: The Externality Trap, or, How Progress Commits Suicide.

    • DA says:

      Greer reiterates points Catton first made in Overshoot (finished it last weekend – great book!):

      It might be argued instead that a sufficiently stringent regulatory environment, forcing economic actors to absorb all the costs of their activities instead of externalizing them onto others, would be able to stop the degradation of whole systems while still allowing technological progress to continue. The difficulty here is that increased externalization of costs is what makes progress profitable. As just noted, all other things being equal, a complex technology will on average be more expensive in real terms than a simpler technology, for the simple fact that each additional increment of complexity has to be paid for by an investment of energy and other forms of real capital.

      Strip complex technologies of the subsidies that transfer some of their costs to the government, the perverse regulations that transfer some of their costs to the rest of the economy, the bad habits of environmental abuse and neglect that transfer some of their costs to the biosphere, and so on, and pretty soon you’re looking at hard economic limits to technological complexity, as people forced to pay the full sticker price for complex technologies maximize their benefits by choosing simpler, more affordable options instead. A regulatory environment sufficiently strict to keep technology from accelerating to collapse would thus bring technological progress to a halt by making it unprofitable.

      The rub being, of course, is that technology has enabled 7B+ (and growing) people to exist now, most of whom can’t be supported without it.

  8. troutsky says:

    Hey Sandy, You know, even some of us dualistic, Promethian, Enlightened types can meld our souls with big N Nature up here in Montana. Because not all Western philosophy alienates us from Mama and not all experience is the same. I understand the problem you are trying to get at (I’m reading Leiss The Domination of Nature at this very moment) but it ain’t all heredity my friend, and it isn’t latitude or science or technic. I believe it has a lot to do with the stories we are told.

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