The First Russian TV channel Tsargrad launched a new TV project “The ABC of Traditional Values”. A series of expert talks by three Russian thinkers on the foundations of Russian existence and the Russian future. Konstantin Malofeev, Alexander Dugin and Archpriest Andrei Tkachev analyse the Foundations of State Policy for the Preservation and Strengthening of Traditional Spiritual and Moral Values, approved by Vladimir Putin. The first, introductory section deals with Tradition itself.
Konstantin Malofeev: Recently, Presidential Decree 809 was issued approving the Basic State Policy for the Preservation and Strengthening of Traditional Spiritual and Moral Values. Now we would like to talk about these traditional values, to define them. So that everyone can think about the upheaval that occurred in Russia, when liberal abominations were replaced by traditional values. But first let us talk about tradition as such. My interlocutors are Aleksandr Dugin and Father Andrey Tkachev. Aleksandr Gel’evič, what exactly is tradition?
Alexander Dugin: The most important thing is to understand what is opposed to tradition. If we understand this, we will understand the meaning of tradition. Tradition opposes modernity, it opposes the idea of omnipotent progress, which always goes from less to more. In a materialist worldview, we are used to seeing the world as a constant improvement of human history, but tradition says the opposite: it is what has gone before that counts. It is the origins that are fundamental and decisive.
If we speak of traditional values, then we are defending what belongs to the roots. To the God-bearing fathers, to the beginning of the world, to what lies at the basis of the world, its foundation. And when we speak of contemporary values, it means that, on the contrary, each new edition of them supersedes, replaces the previous one and then we relate to what is happening in a completely different way. In terms of tradition, what counts is what was there at the beginning and what has always been there. In terms of modernity, on the contrary, what comes now, which is the latest in a chain of events, inventions, discoveries. The present here replaces the past.
From the point of view of tradition, the past is a reference point for the present. And if we look at European history in the transition to modernity, we will see that the basis of traditional values was Eternity, while the basis of modern values was time. Modernity is based on the assumption that there is no Eternity, only time.
The traditional value is God and the modern value is man. Traditional value is heaven, modern value is earth. Traditional value is spirit, modern value is matter.
There is a fundamental opposition between tradition and modernity, and if we swear, as we swear now, by traditional values, even if there is such a presidential decree – it actually overturns a habitual way of thinking. We are discovering something completely forgotten: tradition and its logic, its structure, its philosophy.
Archpriest Andrei Tkachev: “Remember where you came from and repent,” says the Apocalypse of the Apostle John the Evangelist. This ‘remember where you fell from’ is the memory of the past. Mnemosyne reigns in the chorus of muses, she is the main muse of memory. And this living memory, in fact, builds the present. The Jews were told: ‘Look at the rock from which you were cut’, referring to Abraham, but then man from rock becomes boulder, from boulder becomes rubble, and then rubble becomes dust.
This, in fact, is progress at its worst. As such, there is no progress at all. After all, it must be spoken of loudly. Because, for example, the works of Bach written overnight were given to groups of students who learned them in two days, but today our conservatoire has been teaching them for years. And if you put all the philosophers together, you only get Plato’s heel. Or Aristotle’s ear. That is, one can study Aristotle all one’s life and not understand him all one’s life.
The best, strangely enough, has already been done. We must constantly measure ourselves against the best. Unlike progress, which turns rocks into heaps, heaps into rubble and rubble into dust. In reality, this is the progress that is offered to us.
K.M.: What is surprising, from a legal point of view, is that this tradition has only recently appeared in our regulations. That depth that you just mentioned was not present in our legislation. And traditional values are a kind of euphemism hiding the religious: orthodoxy for the orthodox or any other religious morality.
In today’s secular legislation, infused with every lofty word, bureaucracy – stamped, low words – prevails. High words disappeared from our legislation in 1917. If you open the code of laws of the Russian Empire, you will be amazed at how poetically they are written, and if you read the Statute of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich or the 100 chapters of Ivan the Terrible, you will be amazed at what is written, because it seems very poetic compared to modern bureaucracy.
In other words, traditional values are all at a high level in modern law. So, for a lawyer, for any enforcer of the law, what is written about Russian traditional values means everything you just said. It is all philosophy, all religion and all morality. That is how it is described in the dry language of a normative act.
A.D.: You are absolutely right about 1917. The fact is that, at least from 1917 to 2022, the idea of progress was dominant in our society, first in a Bolshevik context, then in a liberal one. In other words, both communist and liberal ideologies were contrary to tradition. In fact, both explicitly proclaim that tradition must be overcome, eradicated, freed from it. This is where progress is dogmatic.
All have as their deliberate goal the dissipation of that rock Father Andrew spoke of. After all, before 1917 we lived in a traditional society, or at least much more traditional than later. The main reference points of the time were monarchy, empire, orthodoxy, nationality. Slavophile philosophy, Russian religious philosophy. All this was oriented towards traditional values.
Another issue is that there is a difference between the authentic traditional values of 17th century Russia and the traditional values that had already passed through modernisation and westernisation in the 18th and partly in the 19th century. Not everything, strictly speaking, in the Russian Empire from Peter the Great onwards was truly traditional, but loyalty to tradition was still stated as a goal, as an ideal.
Today we are not just going back 100 years. Thanks to Decree 809, we are creating a bridge between our present, our future and our ancient Russian indigenous tradition. And this, of course, is for us once again centred on religion, the Empire, Narodnost, the Russian beginning, the Russian identity. All this is reaffirmed. It is a unique turning point, there has been nothing like it in the last 100 years.
A.T.: I think it is also about the preservation of man. Chesterton has a book called The Eternal Man. In it he expresses the idea, similar to that of St Nicholas of Srpska, that once the poet belonged entirely to the oral tradition. Then he started writing with a quill pen, then he started typing on typewriter keys and now he sits at the keyboard. But the essence does not change. However, poetry is a living, beating heart, answering living questions.
Modernity is the praise of the computer over the quill pen: how did people live before, without mobile phones? Modern man has a certain boorish confidence in his superiority over all previous generations based on the gadget in his pocketThe truth is that people used to be much smarter and stronger.
A normal man is a man who loves children, eats bread, breathes air, prays to God and makes use of the small piece of land he has been given to own. This is the traditional man, the ‘eternal man’ according to Chesterton. Ages change, the coat replaces the vest, the jacket replaces the coat, but the heart beats always the same, the human heart. Modern man risks extinction, because he will feed on who knows what, he will be cremated for who knows what. He will not give birth, but will change sex and eat worms seasoned with schnitzel.
That is, he is simply mocked on all sides, destroying him exactly as a man, and tradition preserves man as God created him. We have entered an age of struggle for the biblical man. That is, it is necessary to preserve man. That is the tradition – because Muslims understand us more than European atheists, and Jews understand us like Muslims. And in general, anyone who wants to be human, regardless of creed or worldview, understands us. To feel that this is a time of struggle to at least remain as they are.
Yes, our goal is to be transformed, to be enveloped. But first we must remain. So we struggle to remain human, capable of transformation.
K.M.: You are absolutely right. Remember the famous maxim attributed to the composer Mahler that tradition consists in passing the torch, not in worshipping the ashes. And this is very important to understand. Tradition is different from conservatism and traditionalism is different from conservatism.
When we talk about tradition we are referring to the future, not the past. There are people who think that if we become a traditional state, we are talking about the past. That everyone will walk around in clogs and that gadgets will be taken away. That is not true. Tradition is a way of looking at ourselves, at the world. And you, Mr President, are right when you say that the traditional view is that God is at the centre of the universe. In this case, the traditional society is one in which we live in Eternity and we are preparing for Eternity. And we desire the Kingdom of Heaven, the salvation of our souls. It means that our life is not for the sake of the moment, not for glory, not for consumerism, not for comfort. It is for the eternal, for God. This is the most important meaning of tradition.
It is a living, real, pulsating breath, the breath of God. And we can live with Him because of tradition. And thanks to modernity, we live in the celluloid society of which you, Father Andrei, speak. Which will soon eat worms, because it has already forgotten all human dignity. That dignity that God gave it in his image and likeness.
A.T.: The Church, alas, sometimes wants to turn tradition into a repository of antiquity. We sing with the chant of the banner, as it used to be done, but we do not understand what we are singing about and why; we create architectural forms similar to those of the fifth century, we reproduce basilicas, but we do not understand why, that is, we bring ourselves into a Procrustean bed of imitations. It is a terrible farce that we have to get out of. For yes, we will drive cars, but in those cars we will sing psalms. That is indeed the tradition.
R.D.: But it is necessary to maintain the znamenny chant [singing tradition used by some Orthodox. It is a malismatic cato in unison with a specific intonation, Ed]. It is part of our ancient Russian spiritual tradition.
A.T.: I agree.
K.M.: Father Andrei talks about the fact that it must be understood.
A.D.: Of course, it must. In general, everything must be understood: what we do, protect, restore and affirm.
K.M.: That is the tradition. The tradition is to understand the Slavonic language of the Church, which is richer than the Russian language. It has more instances.
A.D.: Of course. Without Church Slavonic, modern Russian is incomprehensible. In Church Slavonic we have our roots and our origins, our original meanings. It is important what you, Konstantin Valeryevich, said about Eternity. The fact is that tradition is not the past, but the eternal; but the eternal is always alive, always fresh. Eternity was, but is still and will be. From eternity we draw the content of the future.
If we do not have Eternity, we simply recycle the past in the future. People who strive for modernity, progress, development, exploit the past, simply waste it, and have no future. That is, they are much older and more archaic than people of tradition, who face Eternity. Because Eternity is always fresh, Eternity is always new.
K.M.: Eternity is eternal.
A.D.: Yes, it is eternal. It gives us the possibility of the future.
A.T.: To take care of a tree, you don’t have to take care of every leaf, you have to water and dig up the roots. That is what is called tradition – as far as the state, society and man are concerned. Because if we deal separately with medicine, education, transport and other things, e.g. ecology, it is as if we smear every leaf with some kind of medicine. But the root is rotten and nothing works. So the tradition is to dig and water the roots. The leaves will do their job.
A.D.: Not only the crown grows, but also the roots. So the tradition is an absolutely living thing.
K.M.: Because the soil is faith and the sun is God. If we refer to this example, tradition is all about the religious. Tradition is all about faith. There is tradition in the philosophical sense and in the theological sense, but in the legal sense tradition means everything that is elevated. Everything that is elevated and lofty is called ‘traditional spiritual values’. The expression ‘traditional spiritual values’ is used instead of writing directly about the religious or orthodox beginning, the foundation of society. Now, with the Foundations of State Policy, we have opened a window to the world of the Eternal and the High. We have shaken our dusty, hooked legislation and opened a window upwards, towards Eternity. And that is a lot.
A.D.: This is the most important thing. Basically, it is a consolidation of all ministries and departments, culture, education and medicine under one supreme authority. And the social sphere, the economy, information policy and security: from now on everything has to be under the banner of tradition.
K.M.: Yes. This concludes the first part of our discussion. We talked about the tradition of the ‘T’.