Myth and Morality in the Historiography of Konstantin Aksakov

The current resurgence in nationalistic themes justifies a re-examination of the nineteenth-century Slavophile movement in Russia; among the prominent Slavophiles, none was more nationalistic than Konstantin Sergeevič Aksakov. The extremity of his position is reflected in the conceptual structure of his mytho-historical renditions of Russia’s past, and in his interpretation of Russia’s present and future; all of these find expression not only in his historiography, but also in much of his more explicitly literary work.

Focusing on an investigation of the central myth in Aksakov’s historical model, that is, the idea of Zemlja (Land/Earth) and Gosudarstvo (State/Power) as two interdependent yet exclusive entities whose dynamic relationship determines the entire course of Russian history, the study incorporates a discussion of the peculiar brand of morality which is key to Aksakov’s ideological stance and which informs the structure underlying his model of Russian history. Analysis of Aksakov’s articles, essays, and poems on the origin and development of Russian history reveals both aspects of myth-creation, which reflect his unusual views on the tasks of historiography, and a reliance upon pre-existing mythical traditions, particularly those associated with the figure of Mat′ Syra Zemlja. For the purpose of this paper, “myth” may be understood in broad terms as a reaction to specific cultural conditions and a reflection of its creator’s desires, hopes, and fears, as an heroic explanation of reality, close to the sense that Michael Cherniavsky, for example, uses the word “myth” in Tsar and Peopleto refer to the concept “Holy Russia.” Finally, Hayden White’s ideas on historiography and historical philosophy are utilized to further elucidate the discrepancy—already noted by V. Serbinenko and others—between Aksakov’s approach toward historiography and the cultural and philosophical context of mid-nineteenth century Russia which made that approach untenable.

Texts referred to in the paper include Aksakov’s manuscript articles “Ob osnovnyx načalax russkoj istorii,” “O tom že,” “O russkoj istorii,” his memorandum to Alexander II, “O vnutrennem sostojanii Rossii,” and his poems “Petru,” “Son,” “Opjat′ k zemle rodnoj ljubov′,” “K Slavjanam,” and others.