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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. The contemporary environment: Liberalism, traditionalism and the moral values of a uniting Europe (Article in “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”. May 26, 1999)
AND THE MORAL VALUES
OF A UNITING EUROPE
Article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 26, 1999
Hieromartyr Ignatius of Antioch says: ‘Investigate carefully the circumstances of the times’.12 This injunction is particularly relevant today. What are the real ideological problems that confront us today? What is the basic challenge of the present epoch?
Our present day poses, as a priority issue, the problem on the successful solution of which will largely depend the subsequent fate of the world community. The fundamental challenge of the the age in which it has fallen to all of us to live, lies, I am deeply convinced, in the need for humanity to develop a civilizational model for its existence in the twenty-first century, a model which presupposes the fullest possible harmonization of the dramatically divergent imperatives of neo-liberalism and traditionalism. East and West face a difficult but by no means hopeless task of a together searching for a balance between, one the one hand, progress in the respecting of the rights of the individual and of minorities and, on the other, the preservation of the national-cultural and religious identity of individual nations. Even without as yet being formulated in the appro-
12 Hieromartyr Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to Polycarp, Chap. III. ‘Continuation’.
priate socio-political and cultural-political categories, the need for an adequate and solidarity-based response to this civilizational challenge of our time is experienced everywhere and with the utmost urgency. While not evident to everyone, the real and underlying cause of the military, political, cultural, religious, ethnic and other confrontations which we are witnessing in the post-communist era, consists precisely in the opposition of conservative principles and a traditionalist worldview with an forceful, if not at times violent, assertion of neo-liberal values. This is the inner story of the ideological drama of our days.The twentieth century was the historical arena in which pairs of irreconcilable rivals successively changed places in brutal confrontations: monarchy and republic, fascism and communism, totalitarianism and democracy. Two world wars and one ‘cold war’ have been the woeful outcome of ideological intransigence in this our century. In this context the euphoria that swept the world, nervously exhausted from the constant balancing act of two superpowers on the brink of nuclear apocalypse, when news came of the Soviet ‘perestroika’, is all too natural and understandable. Yes, the supremacy of ideological consciousness, the product of the pride and sophism of the human mind, after displaying its spiritual poverty and bringing untold hardships to peoples, has now been seriously shaken. But replacing the competition of ideologies is rising a new and difficult-to-cure rivalry, that between globalism and universalism on the one hand and conservatism and traditionalism on the other. That is why today, as in biblical times, a cornerstone of human society is the principle so abundantly formulated by the Spanish social philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset: ‘Civilization is first and foremost the will to coexist’.But the will to coexist implies as an obligatory precondition the recognition of the other party’s rights to life. And because both the concept of human rights and freedoms and the principle of national-cultural identity bear in themselves the reflection of divine truth, we turn to history to trace the genesis of their opposition which is becoming increasingly evident today. But let us first of all agree on the understanding of the civilizational standard by which we describe an ideological and
axiological complex as liberal or traditionalist. It is well-known fact that liberal doctrine was born in Europe in the 18th century, in the age of Enlightenment, and that over the next century this doctrine gained considerable strength and became securely established. The ideas of a comprehensive freeing of the individual from the limitations of social, political, national, religious, legal and other constraints often nourished the revolutionary movements that opposed the then ruling system in the countries ofWestern Europe. For the followers of this trend, a fundamental problem of their time was the non-freedom of the individual, enslaved and repressed by the structures and institutions of the state, social systems, public morality, prejudices and conventions. Consequently, the individual’s duty was to liberate himself from the yoke of external forces, because man is ‘by definition’ the absolute and ultimate value, and his good is the criterion of the justness of the social order. On the eve of the Russian revolution, this myth of the liberal conscience was expressed succinctly by one of the characters of classical proletarian writer Maxim Gorki: ‘Man - that sounds proud!’ In the USSR, these words, in particular, were inscribed on the banner of the anti-religious struggle, because in an atheistic state there was no other Name worthy for them to devote their thoughts and writings to, no other Name they could take on their lips. It is no accident that Holbach, Helvetius, Diderot, and other philosophers of the Enlightenment insistently conjugated humanism with materialism and atheism. Thus, at the hub of the anthropocentric universe was placed man as the measure of all things. And not just man, but fallen man, man in sin. For, as the Church teaches, ‘man is created in the image and likeness of God, but sin has distorted the beauty of the image’. (St. Basil the Great) This presentation of the distorted nature of man is completely absent in liberal thought. The latter celebrates a set of ideas that are pagan in origin, ideas that took root in the culture of Western Europe during the Renaissance. For it is precisely the authority of the Renaissance that consecrated the concept of the anthropocentrism of the universe, with the individual as the focus of existence and of society. Thus, together with the return to ancient
culture, the Renaissance produced a spiritual involution of European public thought, a regression from the values of Christianity to pagan ethics and a pagan worldview. To employ the expression Arnold Toynbee frequently uses in his fundamental work ‘A Study of History’, we have every reason to speak about the triumph of ‘idolatry in the most perverse form of man’s worship of himself’.In turn Western theology, taking from the Reformation onwards the postulate of human freedom as the supreme value of man’s earthly existence as a socio-cultural being, greatly contributed to the establishment in the European consciousness of the ideas of the Renaissance. Of definite impact and considerable influence in Western universities was Jewish theological thought (Maimonides, Crescas, Ibn Ezra), that entered them via Spanish culture and Jewish emigration to the Netherlands and neighboring countries. Not surprisingly, the liberal worldview most in demand in the process of this consciousness proved to be the ideas of the freethinkers, atheists and pantheists, who had broken away from traditional Judaism, like Baruch Spinoza and partly Uriel Acosta. By the 19th century the full corpus of concepts that describe the liberal standard of existence was a good as complete. First institutionalized in the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen’ of the French Revolution, it was finally enshrined in the 1948 ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. Most regrettable is that Russia only now gets an opportunity to engage in a discussion of the relationship between liberal and traditional principles.Yes, once upon a time the Soviet Union took quite an active part in developing the modern version of the liberal standard of international relations and human rights. In so doing it was guided by pragmatic considerations: first, to disavow Western accusations of its attachment to totalitarian methods of control, and secondly, to be ready at the first opportunity to draw this double-edged propaganda sword against its ideological opponents. Our leaders imagined that all human rights violations could remain forever hidden from the world behind the Iron Curtain, and they could achieve an advantageous compromise with the West in order to increase sympathy for socialism without having to actually
change anything in the internal life of the country. Unfortunately in this process, for ideological and political reasons, the Orthodox spiritual and cultural tradition was not represented by Soviet diplomacy in the development of modern standards of international relations and human rights. As far as I can judge, it was not sufficiently marked out either by the diplomats of other countries representing the East. In other words, we can very definitely assert that modern international standards are by essence exclusively Western and liberal. This would not cause great concern if we were talking exclusively about foreign policy, that is, international relations, where this standard has proved quite effective. And indeed, where would interstate relations be in the absence of this standard of international law? It is obvious that instead of this agreed international standard we would have had national standards, of the type that have repeatedly provoked and legitimized war. If such substitution had actually occurred, we would have experienced an uncontrolled collapse of the entire world system, because each of these standards, whether ‘Wahhabi’, ‘Chinese’, ‘African’, ‘Catholic’, ‘Japanese’, ‘Hindu’ and so on, set as the basis for the construction of interstate relations, would inevitably have been rejected by the bearers of other national-cultural and religious views. Any attempt to build intergovernmental relations without certain common principles shared by all, would have quickly brought universal catastrophe, in which the victory of one of these standards would have brought no joy, even if it were the one to which you yourself adhered. The essence of the problem lies not in the fact that the liberal standard formulated by international organizations today forms the basis for international politics, but in the fact that this standard is being presented as mandatory for the organization of the internal life of nations and peoples, including those states whose cultural, spiritual and religious tradition were practically not represented during the formation of this standard. We need to talk particularly about the moral values of a uniting Europe. It is totally obvious that these values are also standardized on the basis ofWestern liberalism. As long as the borders of the United Europe coincided with the boundaries ofWestern Europe,
this problem could be regarded as an ‘internal’ matter of the West, as its own civilizational choice, the religious and pastoral responsibility for which is borne by the Western Church. Today, the borders of United Europe are expanding eastwards, and will very likely in the foreseeable future encompass countries with many millions of Orthodox inhabitants. What will living in accordance with what are for them alien ethical standards and values mean for these countries in terms of maintaining their spiritual, cultural and religious identities? If Europe and perhaps indeed the whole world were to be unified on the basis of a single cultural and civilizational norm, it would then perhaps be easier to manage, but the beauty of plurality, and the same time human happiness in them, would certainly not increase. Apart from which the conflict-free expansion of liberalism it is quite obviously impossible, especially in those areas of social life that hold the most tenaciously to values deriving from national spiritual and cultural traditions. In the East, this phenomenon is quite evident, in the West is less obvious, but really it is present on both sides.The most striking example here is the story of the adoption of the Russian Law ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations’. At the time unprecedented political pressure was brought to bear on Russia. President Clinton and Chancellor Kohl appealed to President Yeltsin with messages of protest, while the U.S. Congress approved threatening Russia with economic sanctions. What happened? Why did no other domestic issue call forth such a negative, critical and coordinated response of the West? The reason was simple: our law on freedom of conscience was assessed as inconsistent with the liberal standard in the field of religious human rights. Only those Western countries where the Church, unlike Russia, has public status, or where formal registration of sects that are exotic and alien to local cultural traditions is made dependent on a greater number of conditions that in our country, modestly withdrew from participation in this campaign against the domestic laws of a sovereign power. Essentially, Russia was given an ultimatum to bring its national legislation on freedom of conscience into line with the Western, or rather, the American liberal standard. Such
collisions, displaying the imperfection of the liberal standard and exposing the possibility of manipulating them for political ends, are extremely revealing. In the future they will occur with increasing frequency, if today we do not already begin a serious discussion of the relationship between liberalism and traditionalism in the formation of viable standards to meet the challenges of not only European but also global integration. From what I have said it follows that it is certainly not the most liberal of all possibilities that can lay claim to the role of universally recognized and truly universal standard for human rights and freedoms, but only a standard that, based on list of certain generally binding principles, organically and consistently proposes to combine them with the national-cultural and religious values and orientations adopted in the various home countries. The moral responsibility both of post-communist Russia and of other countries belonging to the spiritual and cultural traditions of Orthodoxy, must now consist of presenting to the world community its vision of the problem and call upon it to resume discussions in the changed historical circumstances. There is much hard work ahead in formulating and defending our position in the face of world public opinion in the UN and other international organizations. An invaluable role can be played here by the efforts of the Orthodox churches, especially through dialogue with other churches, denominations and religions. In this connection, let me say a few words about ecumenism. I am deeply convinced that the cause of the crisis of modern ecumenism due largely to its inability to recognize the fundamental importance of the Apostolic Tradition as a norm of faith.This norm, the golden thread passing through the history of the universe and which connects the apostolic age to our time, exhaustively defines the way of life and salvation of a Christian. The conservation and securing of the undistorted standard of faith is the mission of Orthodoxy in the world, as rejection of tradition really means automatic recognition of the claim that everything is permitted to man. In essence, the consent of some Christian denominations to the admissibility of female priesthood or the blessing of gay marriages is nothing other than the practical out-
working of the liberal standard of human rights in the religious sphere. This is one of many cases of the consistent and purposeful displacement from modern society of the apostolic norm of faith and its replacement by a liberal standard.The tragedy of part of modern Protestantism is its acceptance of this substitution, and its complicity with it, with the prospect of losing confessional identity until its complete dissolution in the value system of the secular world. It is in the ecumenical movement, and especially the World Council of Churches, the trend has become evident to the Orthodox. In protesting against female priesthood and the recognition of homosexual marriages, the Orthodox protest against the very idea of the priority of a liberal standard (which, as we know, has not only Christian roots) over the norm of church tradition. In the crisis of ecumenism we clearly see how the desire of the Protestant majority to use the liberal idea as the fundamental idea in many ways defines ecumenical ethics and practices, while remaining insensitive to the theme of tradition.This has led to a situation in which, despite some successes in achieving doctrinal consensus, Orthodox and Protestants have been confronted with new divisions, caused by a certain ‘absolutisation’ of the liberal standards of Protestant theology. These important differences and contradictions should not, however, be taken as grounds for cutting the dialogue, and even more so as the basis for religious confrontation with the West. On the contrary, the Russian Orthodox Church, raising publicly and in a spirit of brotherly openness the question of the crisis of modern ecumenism, sees in the continuation of inter-Christian dialogue an opportunity to testify to a divided Christianity the fundamental rule of faith, manifested in the Apostolic Tradition.Very fruitful in this regard can be the dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, which recognizes tradition as a rule of faith.The monotheistic religions, committed to the idea of loyalty to their own religious identities and strictly defending the rights of their believers, a situation eloquently testified to by the relevant articles of the legislation of Israel and Muslim countries, can also be allies of Orthodoxy in dialogue with those who call into doubt the value of tradition. In themselves, very di-
verging national and religious standards are by nature, in the words of Karl Popper, not at all ‘enemies of an open society’, as people at times seek to present them. Rather the opposite, they can be effective factors of stability and viability. So far, we constantly confront a dilemma: either the Orthodoxy ‘change’, or they will be rejected by the ‘world community’, under the pseudonym of which mostly struts one of the multitude of existing cultures - the Western, or more accurately, liberal one. This insistently asserts itself as the most ‘progressive’, ‘humanistic’, and ‘modern’. At the same time, Orthodoxy, and not infrequently other monotheistic religions, are opposed to the liberal anthropocentric system of values being declared the norm for individuals and human communities. It is incumbent on Churches and religious communities to react adequately to both positive and negative aspects of the present process of globalization. We wish to understand others, but we ourselves wish to be heard and understood.Originating from a theocentric spiritual tradition, which apprehends anthropocentric humanism as a worldview alien to itself, we are ready to have a relationship of respect with it, but will never be able to accept it as an absolute and unconditional positive value. Our position is also that standards that, wittingly or unwittingly, contribute to the destruction of national, cultural and religious identity of nations will inevitably lead to impoverishment of the completeness of God’s world, its standardization, and ultimately its ruin. Europe, with its traditions of multiculturalism, tolerance and openness, could make a decisive contribution to the process of global harmonization of religious, cultural, socio-political traditions. An important place here should belong to Christians. I believe that, with the combined efforts of all of us, we will be able to lay the foundations of a truly multipolar community, rooted in standards that ensure the rights and freedom of people, maintaining and not destroying the values rooted in their spiritual, cultural and religious traditions. For only such an ordering of the world can become a real alternative to suspicion, hostility and the law of force in relations between nations.
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