This is currently unfinished, but I want the public to be able to see the sections that I have translated so far. Europe and Mankind is an interesting essay written by Nikolai Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy (1890–1938), who happens to be a first cousin thrice removed. He was primarily a linguist, but occasionally wrote on historical and sociological topics. I am not an expert in the meta-historical domain whatsoever, so I can’t offer any informed commentary.
I merely stumbled upon this essay and found it extremely relevant to today’s world. However, there doesn’t appear to be an English translation available. I figured, I might as well translate it, and at the same time better understand the ideas of Nikolay Sergeyevich and others like him.
Europe and Mankind
By Nikolai Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy, Sofia, 1920.
Translated into modern English by Alexandr (Sasha) Trubetskoy, 2018.
It is not without hesitation that I offer this work to the world. The thoughts expressed here already coalesced in my mind some 10 years ago. Since then, I have discussed these topics with many different people, wishing either to test myself, or to convince the other person. Many of these conversations and discussions turned out to be rather beneficial to me, since they forced me to flesh out and deepen my ideas and arguments. But they did not change my core ideas. Of course I could not possibly limit myself to casual conversations. In order to verify whether the theses that I am defending are actually correct, I had to open these ideas up to a broader discussion, i.e. publish them. This I have still not done. And I haven’t done this because, over many conversations (especially early on), I got the impression that most of the people I came across simply did not understand what I was trying to say. They didn’t understand—not because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly, but because the majority of educated Europeans find these ideas inherently unacceptable, as if they go against some unshakeable psychological foundation that is the basis of European thought. People saw me as a purveyor of paradoxes, and my arguments as callously nonconformist. Needless to say, under those circumstances, I found debating neither meaningful nor beneficial, for a debate can only be productive when both sides understand each other and speak the same language. And since, at the time, I found hardly anything besides misunderstanding, I did not consider it timely to publicize my thoughts. I waited for a more opportune moment.
My decision to go to print is largely due to the fact that I am encountering more and more people who understand me; moreover, I am beginning to find people who agree with my core ideas. It turns out that many people have, completely independently, arrived at the same conclusions as I have. There seemed to have been a shift in the thinking of many educated people. The Great War and, in particular, the ensuing “peace” (which I am still forced to put in quotes), have challenged people’s faith in “civilized society” and have opened the eyes of many. We Russians are, of course, in a special situation. We have witnessed the sudden collapse of what we had called Russian culture. Many of us were shocked by the incredible speed and lack of difficulty with which it all happened, and many have pondered the causes of this phenomenon.
Perhaps this pamphlet may help some of my compatriots to clear up their own thoughts on the matter. Some of my positions could have been amply illustrated with examples from Russian history. This might have made my writing more lively and engrossing, but such digressions would have made the bigger picture less clear. In offering the reader these relatively new ideas, my main concern is to present these ideas clearly and in a logical progression. Furthermore, my thoughts apply not only to Russians, but to all other peoples which have in one form or another taken up European culture without actually having Romance or Germanic heritage. When I release this booklet to the world in the Russian language, I do so only because charity begins at home, and above all I would like for my thoughts to be received and understood by my fellow countrymen.
In offering my thoughts to the reader’s attention, I would like to remind the reader of a choice that they must personally make for themselves. One of the following must be true. Either the ideas that I am defending are false, and stand to be disproven logically; or these ideas are true, and we must draw practical conclusions from them.
Accepting the truth of the theses in this brochure obligates one to do further work. Having accepted these theses, one must develop and concretize them in order to apply them to real life, and to use this point of view to revisit many of the questions that present themselves throughout life. Many people nowadays are “reevaluating their values” in one way or another. For those who do accept the theses that I defend, the last ones will serve to indicate the direction in which this reevaluation should go. There is no doubt that the work that proceeds from the acceptance of these ideas, be it theoretical or practical, must be a collective effort. Any individual can abandon some idea or join a well-known cause, but it is the collective that must develop an entire system based on these thoughts and put it into practice. I invite anyone who shares my convictions to participate in this collective work. I am convinced that these people exist, thanks to a few serendipitous encounters. All they must to do is join forces in earnest, concerted effort. And if my brochure can serve as the catalyst to unite these people, I would consider my goal accomplished.
On the other hand, there are moral obligations that likewise befall those who reject my theses as false. If the theses that I defend are truly false, then they are toxic and must be opposed. But since (dare I say) they are grounded in logic, then their refutation must be no less logical. This must be done in order to save those who have tasted these ideas from getting lost. The author himself, without second thoughts, would forever toss aside these unpleasant, disconcerting thoughts that have haunted him for over a decade, if only someone would prove to him that they are logically false.
There is a fairly large number of positions that every European could hold regarding the question of nationalism, but they are all on a spectrum between two extremes: chauvinism on one side, and cosmopolitanism on the other. All nationalism is essentially a combination of elements of chauvinism or cosmopolitanism, a way of reconciling these two opposed notions.
There is no doubt that this is how a European sees chauvinism and cosmopolitanism—as two fundamentally, intrinsically opposite points of view.
However, one cannot agree with this setup of the question. The moment you take a closer look at chauvinism and at cosmopolitanism, you will notice that there is no inherent distinction between the two. You will see that the two are no more than two levels, two differing manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon.
The Chauvinist takes a priori the position that the best people in the world happen to be his people. His people’s culture is better and more complete than all other cultures. His people have the exclusive right to lead and dominate other peoples, who must submit—accepting the dominant faith, language and culture—and become assimilated. Everything that stands in the way of his Great People’s final triumph must be swept away with force. This is how the Chauvinist thinks and, accordingly, acts.
The Cosmopolite rejects any distinction between ethnicities. If such distinctions do exist, they must be annihilated. Civilized human society must be united and have a single culture. Uncivilized peoples must accept this culture and join it, entering the family of civilized peoples, so together they may walk the single path of world progress. Civilization is the ultimate good, in the name of which we must sacrifice our ethnic particularities.
When formulated this way, chauvinism and cosmopolitanism really do seem strikingly different. In the former, supremacy is claimed by the culture of a single ethno-anthropological group, while in the latter—by an overarching, post-ethnic human culture.
But let’s take a look at what European cosmopolites include in their definition of “civilization” and “civilized society”. By “civilization”, they mean to say the culture that was produced by the Germanic and Romance peoples of Europe. And “civilized peoples” refers, first and foremost, to those very Germanics and Romance, and only then to peoples that have accepted European culture.
And so we see that the culture that Cosmopolites believe should reign supreme, abolishing all other cultures, is the culture of the very same particular ethno-anthropological group whose dominance the Chauvinist dreams of. There is no fundamental difference here. In fact, the national, ethno-anthropological and linguistic unity of each of the peoples of Europe is only relative. Each of these peoples is a combination of different, smaller ethnic groups that have their own dialectical, cultural and anthropological features, but are related to each other by ties of kinship and common history that have created a shared stock of cultural values.
Thus, the Chauvinist, bestowing upon his people the crown of creation and deeming them the sole bearers of all possible perfection, is in fact the champion of a whole group of ethnic units. Moreover, the Chauvinist does, after all, want other peoples to merge with his people, losing their national likeness.
Those other nations that have already done this, forfeiting their national identity and taking on the language, faith and culture of his people, the Chauvinist will treat as his own people. He will praise the others’ contributions to the culture of his people—but, of course, only if these other people have truly taken on a disposition that is sympathetic towards him, having completely abandoned their previous national psyche. To the people that assimilated with the dominant nation, the Chauvinists always take a somewhat suspicious attitude, especially if the assimilation happened not long ago. But no Chauvinist fundamentally rejects the newly assimilated—we know, in fact, that among the European Chauvinists there are many people whose surnames and anthropological characteristics clearly show that, by origin, they do not belong to the people whose domination they so vehemently preach.
Now let us consider the European Cosmopolite. We see that, in essence, she is the same as the Chauvinist. The “civilization”, the culture that she considers to be the highest, to which all other cultures should bow down, also represents a known stock of cultural values common to a group of ancestrally and historically related peoples. Just as the Chauvinist ignores the particular characteristics of the individual ethnic groups that make up his own people, the Cosmopolite does away with the peculiarities of individual Romano-Germanic peoples and takes only those things that they share in common. She also recognizes the cultural value behind the activities of those non-Romano-Germanic peoples who fully embraced Romano-Germanic civilization, who discarded everything that contradicted the spirit of the dominant civilization, and exchanged their national likeness for one that is pan-Romano-Germanic. Exactly like the Chauvinist, who recognizes those aliens and foreigners that managed to fully assimilate with the dominant people as “his own”! Even the hostility experienced by Cosmopolites towards Chauvinists—and generally to those who separate the cultures of individual Romano-Germanic peoples—even this hostility has a parallel in the worldview of the Chauvinists. Namely, the Chauvinists are always hostile to any attempts at separatism by the separate parts of their people. They try to erase and obscure all regional particularities that could disrupt the unity of their people.
(to be continued)