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.
Therefore, as it turns out, there is complete parallelism between the Chauvinist and the Cosmopolite. It is essentially the same treatment of the ethno-anthropological group to which the person happens to belong. The only difference is that the Chauvinist takes a narrower ethnic group than the Cosmopolite. But in doing so, the Chauvinist nonetheless takes a group that is not entirely homogeneous—and the Cosmopolite, in turn, still chooses a particular ethnic group.
Thus the difference is only in scale, not in principle.
When evaluating European cosmopolitanism, you must remember that terms like “mankind”, “human civilization”, etc. are highly nebulous terms that act as cover for very specific ethnographic concepts. The culture of Europe is not the culture of mankind. It is a product of the history of a particular ethnic group. Germanic and Celtic tribes, having been subjected to various degrees of Roman cultural influence, and having strongly intermixed amongst themselves, created a well-known common way of life out of elements of their own national culture and Roman culture. As a result of shared ethnographic and geographical conditions, for a long time they lived a shared existence, with a common history and way of life. Their constant communication with each other made their shared elements so significant that they always unconsciously harbored a sense of Romano-Germanic unity. With time, like so many other peoples, they developed a thirst for studying the sources of their culture. The discovery of monuments to Roman and Greek culture brought to the surface the idea of a transnational world civilization, an idea that is very natural to the Greco-Roman world. We know that this idea was founded, once again, for ethno-geographical reasons. In Rome, the “entire world” meant, of course, simply Orbis terrarum—that is, the peoples that inhabited the Mediterranean basin or that gravitated towards it, who developed a set of shared cultural values as a result of constant contact, and who were finally unified by the homogenizing influences of Greek and Roman colonization and Roman military dominance. In any case, the cosmopolitan ideas of antiquity became the basis for European education. Falling upon the fertile soil of unconscious Romano-Germanic unity, these ideas generated the theoretical foundations for so-called European “cosmopolitanism”, more accurately (and frankly) termed pan-Romano-Germanic chauvinism.
These are the real-life historical foundations of European cosmopolitan theories. The psychological foundation of cosmopolitanism is the same as that of chauvinism. It is a variety of the unconscious prejudice—the particular psychological condition—that is best called egocentrism. A person with a markedly egocentric personality unconsciously considers himself the center of the universe, of all creation; the best, the most perfect of all beings. When considering two other beings, the being that is closer and more like him is better, while the one that is more distant is worse. Therefore, if this person is a member of any natural groups, he would consider them to be superior. His family, his estate, his people, his tribe, and his race are better than all the others. Likewise, the species to which he belongs—the human species—is superior to than all other mammals; mammals themselves are superior to all other vertebrates, and vertebrates in turn are superior to plants; and the organic world is superior to the inorganic world. In one way or another, nobody is free from this kind of thinking. Even science has not yet fully freed itself from this, and any scientific conquest towards liberation from egocentric prejudices comes with great difficulty.
The egocentric way of thinking permeates the entire worldview of many people. Very few manage to escape it completely. But in its extreme manifestation it is easily noticeable; its ridiculousness is apparent, and so it often elicits criticism, protest and ridicule. If a person is convinced that they are smarter and better than everyone else, and that they have everything going for them, they are usually mocked by those around them. And if that person is also aggressive, then they receive a well-deserved slap on the wrist. If a family is naively convinced that its members are all brilliant, beautiful geniuses, then they are laughed at by their acquaintances, who make amusing jokes about them. Such acute manifestations of egocentrism are rare, and they are typically met with resistance. It’s a different story when the egocentrism spreads to a wider group of persons. Usually, at that point, there is also resistance, but breaking this kind of egocentrism is more difficult. More often than not, two egocentrically-minded groups fight it out and the winner is able to maintain their convictions. This takes place, for example, during class warfare or social struggle. The bourgeoisie that overthrows the aristocracy is just as convinced of its supremacy over all other classes as was the aristocracy. The proletariat that fights against the bourgeoisie also considers itself the salt of the earth, the best out of all the social classes.
But the egocentrism there is fairly obvious, and people with a clearer head, those with a “broader view”, are usually able to rise above such prejudices. When it comes to ethnic groups, these same prejudices are harder to get rid of. In this area, people’s sensitivity in understanding the nature of egocentric prejudices is far from evenly distributed. Many Prussian pan-Germanists harshly criticize those fellow Prussians who hold Prussian people above all other Germans; they consider such jingoism laughable and narrow-minded. Yet, at the same time, the pan-Germans have no doubt whatsoever that the German tribe as a whole is humanity’s crowning achievement. So these people are unable to reach the level of Romano-Germanic cosmopolitanism. The Prussian Cosmopolite, meanwhile, resents his pan-Germanist compatriot, branding him a narrow-minded chauvinist. Yet the Cosmopolite fails to notice that he is very much a chauvinist himself, only a Romano-Germanic one, rather than a pan-German one. So it is only a matter of the scope of one’s sensitivity; one person’s egocentric chauvinist feelings are slightly stronger, the other’s are slightly weaker. Either way, the sensitivity of Europeans to such questions is quite relative. We don’t find very many people who rise beyond so-called cosmopolitanism, i.e. Romano-Germanic chauvinism. Do we know of any Europeans who would be willing to recognize the cultures of so-called “savages” as equal in worth to the Romano-Germanic culture? I don’t think such people exist.
* * *
From the above it is quite clear how a conscientious Romano-German should treat chauvinism and cosmopolitanism. He must acknowledge that one and the other are both based on egocentric thinking. He must acknowledge that such thinking is not logically sound, and thus cannot serve as a basis for any theories. Moreover, it should not be difficult for him to understand that egocentrism is inherently anti-cultural and antisocial, and interferes with cohabitation in the broad sense of the word, i.e. the free interaction of all beings. It should be clear to everyone that any kind of egocentrism can be justified only by force, and, as written above, it is only the fate of the winner. That’s why Europeans do not go further than their Romano-Germanic chauvinism—any nation can be conquered by force, but the whole Romano-Germanic tribe in its entirety is so physically strong that it cannot be physically subdued by anyone.
But as soon as all of this reaches the conscience of our hypothetical sensitive and conscientious Romano-German, a conflict would occur in his soul. His whole spiritual culture, his entire worldview is based on the belief that the unconscious spiritual life, and all prejudices based upon it, must give way to the conclusions of reason and logic; that any theories can be constructed only on a logical, scientific basis. His entire sense of right and wrong is based on the rejection of those principles that hinder the free interaction of people. All of his ethics reject the resolution of differences by brute force. And suddenly it turns out that cosmopolitanism is founded on egocentrism! Cosmopolitanism, the pinnacle of Romano-Germanic civilization, rests on grounds that fundamentally contradict all of this civilization’s primary mantras. The universal religion of cosmopolitanism finds, at its heart, the anti-cultural seed of egocentrism. The situation is tragic, but there is only one way out. The conscientious Romano-German must forever reject both chauvinism and so-called cosmopolitanism, and hence, the entire spectrum of views on the “national question” that lies in between.
But what position should non-Romano-Germans take in relation to European chauvinism, as representatives of those peoples who never participated in the creation of so-called “European civilization”?
Egocentrism deserves condemnation, not only from the standpoint of only European Romano-Germanic culture, but from the standpoint of all cultures, for it is a starting point that is antisocial and that destroys all cultural communication between people. Therefore, if among non-Romano-Germanic peoples there are chauvinists preaching that theirs is the chosen people, and that all others should submit to their culture, such chauvinists should be fought by their fellow countrymen. But what if individuals from a non-Romano-Germanic people appear, who preach not for the dominance of their own people, but for the dominance of some other, foreign people, offering their own countrymen to assimilate into this “world nation”? After all, there would be no egocentrism in such preaching—on the contrary, this would be highly allocentric. As a result, it is impossible to condemn this kind of preaching in the same way that we condemn chauvinism.
But, on the other hand, isn’t the message of the sermon more important than the personal identity of the preacher? If the domination of People A over People B was being preached by a representative of People A, that would be chauvinism, a manifestation of egocentric thought. Such preaching should be met with resistance by People A as well as People B. But would the whole thing really change, if the voice of the preacher from People A were joined by someone from People B? Of course not; chauvinism is chauvinism. The main actor in this hypothetical situation is, of course, the representative of People A. His mouth articulates his will to subjugate, which is the true meaning of chauvinistic theories. Indeed, the representative of People B may even have a louder voice, but she is essentially less significant. Representative B merely believed Representative A’s argument, took faith in the strength of People A, let People A take her over—or maybe was just bribed. Representative A stands up for himself, while Representative B stands for someone else: B’s lips move, but it is essentially A who is talking. Therefore we are always entitled to consider such preaching as the same chauvinism in disguise.
All of this discussion, in general, is rather pointless. These are not things that are worth proving logically at length. It is clear to everyone how they would treat their fellow tribe member if that member began to preach that their people should renounce their native faith, language and culture, and try to assimilate with a neighboring people, say, People X. Everyone would certainly consider this person insane, or duped by People X, having lost all national pride—or, finally, as an emissary of people X, sent to spread propaganda for some appropriate compensation. In any case, behind this gentleman’s back, everyone would, of course, suspect him a chauvinist from People X, consciously or unconsciously controlled by their words. Our attitude toward such preaching would not depend at all on whether it came from a compatriot or a foreigner: we would see it without fail as emanating from the people whose dominance, in this case, was being preached. There is no doubt that our attitude toward such preaching would be strongly negative. No normal people in the world, especially a people organized into a state, could voluntarily allow the destruction of their national character in the name of assimilation, even with a “superior” people. To chauvinistic harassment by foreigners, any self-respecting people would answer as Leonidas of Sparta did: “Come and take them.” They would defend their national existence with weapons in hand, even in the face of inevitable defeat.
All this seems obvious, yet there are many facts in the world that contradict all of this. European cosmopolitanism, which, as we have seen above, is nothing more than Romano-Germanic chauvinism, is spreading among non-Romano-Germanic peoples quite rapidly and with very little difficulty. Among the Slavs, Arabs, Turks, Indians, Chinese and Japanese, there are already very many of these cosmopolites. Many of them adhere even more strictly to the ideology than their European counterparts, in terms of rejecting national characteristics, in their contempt for any non-Romano-Germanic cultures, and so on.
What explains this contradiction? Why was pan-Romano-Germanic chauvinism such an undoubted success among the Slavs, when even the slightest hint of Germanophilic propaganda would set off a Slav’s alarm bells? Why is the Russian intellectual vehemently repulsed by the idea that he may be a tool in the hands of German junker nationalists, while that same Russian intellectual is totally comfortable with subordinating himself to Romano-Germanic chauvinists?
The answer lies, of course, in the hypnotic power of words.
As stated above, the Romano-Germans were always so naively confident that they were the only people who could brand themselves as “humanity”, brand their culture as “human civilization”, and finally, brand their chauvinism as “cosmopolitanism”. With this terminology they were able to cover up all of the real ethnographic meaning that makes up these concepts. In doing so, these concepts were made acceptable to representatives of other ethnic groups. When giving foreign peoples those products of their material culture that could be considered the most universal (military equipment and mechanical devices for transport), the Romano-Germans also slip in their “universal” ideas and offer them in exactly this form, taking care to gloss over the ethnographic essence of these ideas.
So the spreading of so-called European cosmopolitanism among non-Romano-Germanic peoples is purely a misunderstanding. Those who succumbed to the propaganda of Romano-Germanic chauvinists were misled by the words “mankind”, “humanity”, “universal”, “civilization”, “world progress”, and so on. All these words were understood literally, whereas in reality they concealed very specific and rather narrow ethnographic concepts.
Non-Romano-Germanic “intellectuals” who were fooled by the Romano-Germans must understand their mistake. They must understand that the culture that they were presented under the guise of “human civilization” is, in fact, the culture of only a certain ethnic group of Germanic and Romance peoples. This insight, of course, should significantly change their attitude toward the culture of their own people. And it should make them think about whether they are right in trying to impose a foreign culture and eradicate the features of their people’s national identity, in the name of some “universal” (in fact, Romano-Germanic, i.e. foreign) ideals. They can only solve this issue after a mature and logical examination of the claims of the Romans to the title of “civilized humanity”. Before deciding whether to accept or not accept Romano-Germanic culture, the following issues have to be resolved:
- Is it possible to objectively prove that the Romano-Germanic culture is superior to all other cultures that exist or have ever existed on Earth?
- Is it possible for one people to fully participate in a culture that was developed by another people, while at the same time maintaining anthropological separation between the two peoples?
- Is inclusion into European culture (since such inclusion is possible) a good or an evil?
These questions must be posed and, in one way or another, solved by anyone who is aware of the essence of European cosmopolitanism as Romano-Germanic chauvinism. And only with an affirmative answer to all of these questions can a general Europeanization be recognized as necessary and desirable. If any answer is negative, this Europeanization must be rejected and new questions should be raised:
- Is general Europeanization inevitable?
- How do we deal with its negative consequences?
In the following discussion, we will try to resolve all of the questions that we’ve just posed. But in order for their solution to be correct and, most importantly, fruitful, we must invite the reader to temporarily, completely abandon egocentric prejudices, the idols of “human civilization”, and in general the thought process that is typical to Romano-Germanic science. This abandonment is not an easy matter, for the prejudices in question are deeply rooted in the consciousness of every “educated” European person. But we must abandon these things in order to remain objective.
(End of Part I. To be continued)