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Konstantin Aksakov and the beginning of Slavophilia.

19 December, 2014

During the 19th century, the Russian state and society was undergoing changes. Political and philosophical thinkers had started to become more prominent and ideas which had never set foot in Russia began to sprout thanks to the increasingly open international community. The spread of Western values into Russian society initiated a response from more conservative thinkers. The debate grew into a philosophical battle between Westernisers, who believed that Russia had to accept and incorporate Western values and ideas such as democracy in order to improve and develop as a country, and the Slavophiles, philosophers who believed that Russia’s path to future success must origin from the traditional Russian ideals that have been in place since the beginning of Russia’s history. They rejected Western values as foreign evils. Konstantin  Aksakov was an influential Slavophile thinker who shaped the political spectrum of the 19th century, and he died on this day, 19th December, in 1860. Like all other political thinkers at the time, Aksakov wrote several plays and occupied himself with social criticism due to Alexander II’s encouragement of philosophical debate and relaxing of censorship rules during his reign in the second half of the 19th century. He was the first person to write an analysis of Nikolai Gogol’s famous book Dead Souls, comparing the famous Russian author to the great Ancient Greek writer Homer. Konstantin Aksakov was raised on a country estate before his family moved to Moscow. He actually never married and lived with his parents throughout his whole life. He was educated at Moscow State University, where he actually became part of the famous Stankevitch circle, a group of Russian Westernisers who were pushing for democracy and reform, similar to the systems of governance that were blossoming in the West at the time. Other members of this circle included famous philosophers Mikhail Bakunin, Vissarion Belinsky and a young Mikhail Dostoevsky. However, he grew disillusioned with the extreme views of this group, views which included the destruction of the societal order as it was known and replacing it altogether with a new, modernised and Western system of life. In the 1840’s, Konstantin Aksakov became acquainted with more conservative thinkers, Slavophile in their nature, such as Ivan Kireevsky and Aleksei Khomiakov, two other prominent philosophers of the time. They introduced him to the idea that Western values and ideals are foreign evils that would merely serve to contaminate and destroy the distinctiveness of Russia’s culture, nature and would betray the beginnings of the country. This swift turn in thought meant that Aksakov evolved into an extreme Slavophile, radically anti-European in his beliefs and dedicated to the preservation of Russian Orthodoxy and traditional way of life at the heart of the developing Russian nation. This battle between Westernisers and Slavophiles continued for about 60 years, incorporating different thinkers into the war such as a converted Dostoevsky, Lev Tolstoy and the radical Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The war of words made way for the overthrow of the tsarist regime in Februrary 1917, as well as leading to the Bolshevik revolution during the October Revolution. It is fair to say that Konstantin Aksakov has played a very important role in Russian history!

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