Commentary Magazine


Russian Tradition

To the Editor:

In his review of The Political, Social, and Religious Thought of Russian Samizdat [Books in Review, April], Abraham Brumberg states that “with a few notable exceptions” the anthology “belongs to that venerable Russian tradition of discursive writing that is short on observable data and rigorous analysis and long on absolutist formulations and passionate rhetoric.” When did this “venerable Russian tradition” begin? Where did it exist? In old Russia? Whom does Mr. Brumberg mean? . . .

Of course, there was a lot of mediocre literature, scholarship, and theology in old Russia. But is not the proportion of mediocrity even higher in the enormous cultural output of the West today? . . .

The anthology in question contains articles written by “Soviet dissidents”—in the Western journalistic sense of that term. It should be kept in mind, however, that the “dissident” Solzhenitsyn (to take the stock Western example, whom Mr. Brumberg cites to illustrate gloomy intolerance) did not come to fame as Chekhov, Einstein, or Beverly Sills did—as a result of a free competition and association with his peers. The “dissidents” came to be known in the West as a result of Soviet persecution, which (in Moscow) was applied with sufficient caution for the victims to stay alive, and was sufficiently prolonged for the Western mass media to sensationalize them. Some of the “dissidents” represent amazing human heroism, but it does not follow that any of them represents Russian culture, intellect, or talent at its best—or even at its good, solid average—especially considering the fact that “Russian” means a hundred or so different nations. . . .

No “venerable Russian tradition” or any other socio-historical generalization concerning “Russian” rationality or psychology can be deduced from such a culturally accidental collection of culturally random writings. Unfortunately, this is precisely what many American specialists on Russia do. . . .

Lev Navrozov
New York City

_____________

 

Abraham Brumberg writes:

Surely anyone who has read the works of Russian philosophers and political thinkers, from Piotr Chaadaev through Vissarion Belinsky to Vladimir Solovev, will recognize my description of their style as “discursive” and “short on observable data and rigorous analysis” as not altogether off the mark. Furthermore, to say that Russian writers traditionally write in this vein is not to brand them as “mediocre”; hence the comparison with the incidence of mediocre writings in the West is irrelevant. And why does Mr. Navrozov put quotation marks around the word “dissidents”? I happen to think that Solzhenitsyn was a genuine if not necessarily typical dissident; I admire his courage and his powerful talent, even though I take strong exception to his political views; and I do not think—as Mr. Navrozov seems to suggest—that he and others were the pawns of a KGB game designed to make their suffering a subject for sensationalist treatment by “Western media.” As for other “socio-historical generalizations,” I fail to find them in my review. If Mr. Navrozov has a quarrel with many (unnamed) “American specialists on Russia,” he should direct his remarks to them.

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