Aleksei Stepanovich Khomiakov

Khomiakov, Aleksei Stepanovich

 

Born May 1 (13), 1804, in Moscow; died Sept. 23 (Oct. 5), 1860, in the village of Ivanovskoe. now in Dankov Raion, Lipetsk Oblast. Russian religious philosopher, poet, and publicist. Founder of Slavophilism.

By birth, Khomiakov belonged to the old nobility. He was educated at home and passed the examination at the University of Moscow for the degree of candidate of mathematical sciences. He was close to the Moscow circle of the liubomudry (lovers of wisdom). He contributed to the journals Evropeeis (The European), Moskvitianin (The Muscovite), and Russkaia beseda (Russian Conversation), and from 1858 to 1860 he was chairman of the Society of Lovers of the Russian Word at the University of Moscow. Khomiakov advocated the abolition of serfdom through reform. Although he viewed autocracy as the only possible political system for Russia, he proposed the convocation of a zemskii sobor, or national assembly, and called for various other liberal reforms, such as the free expression of public opinion and the abolition of the death penalty. His article “On the Old and the New” (1839), which was copied out and circulated in manuscript form, is regarded as the beginning of Slavophilism.

Khomiakov’s writings were polemical in nature. He attacked Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, the ideas of the Westernizers, and classical German idealism. The key to his doctrine is the concept of sobornost’ (from the Russian sobiral’, to gather), which implies catholicity, wholeness, and inner completeness. Sobornost’ is not only an ecclesiastical Christian concept; it is a human and social attribute as well, and it is characteristic of cognitive and creative processes. Sobornost’ is thus for Khomiakov a general life-organizing metaphysical principle, whereby the many are brought together into “free and organic unity” by the power of love; the opposite of sobornost’ is association, or the formal external union of multiple elements. Khomiakov’s doctrine subsequently became a basis of the idea of total-unity and the concept of the individual that marked Russian religious philosophy, as represented by VI. S. Solov’ev, E. N. Trubetskoi, P. A. Florenskii, L. P. Karsavin, and S. L. Frank.

Khomiakov viewed man’s existence as dynamic, man being endowed with the capacity to aspire toward being and toward god; but in order to preserve this capacity for aspiration, “true faith” is required—that is, a special state whereby all the diverse spiritual and emotional forces in man are joined into a living and harmonious whole. Khomiakov regarded the will as playing a major role in this process. Faith was viewed by him simultaneously as “cognition and life,” or “living knowledge.”

In Khomiakov’s social philosophy, the opposition between sobornost’ and “associativeness” is represented as the antithesis between such concepts as the community and the druzhina (team) or “commune”—between “true brotherhood” and a “provisional contract.” Khomiakov idealized the Russian community of peasants and saw it as the closest approximation to the ideal society. He interpreted world history as the history of various peoples, each of whom was romantically considered as a collective person, or “living persona,” with a unique physiognomy, character, and historical calling. According to Khomiakov, the course of national history is determined by the relationship between the principle of association and the principle of sobornost’ in each nation’s spiritual wellsprings. In Khomiakov’s Notes on World History, the same antithesis underlies his reduction of all the world’s religions and cultures to two principles: the “Cushitic” principle, which involves submission to necessity—whether material or logical—and is the basis of religious magic, and the “Persian” principle, which comprises such concepts as the elemental freedom of the spirit and of the individual, the creative drive, and moral consciousness.

In Khomiakov’s view, which he shared with the other Slavophiles, what gave Russian history its distinctive character was Orthodoxy (which he regarded as the single source of enlightenment in Rus’), the “peaceful” establishment of the Russian nation, and the principle of communality as the basis of social organization. The adoption of the “alien” principles of Western civilization by the upper estate had resulted, according to Khomiakov, in the rupture between “enlightened society” and the people—a rupture that reached an extreme in the period following the reign of Peter the Great—and the only path to a distinctive national culture lay in a return to indigenous principles. While sharing the Slavophiles’ belief in this cultural, historical, and social utopia, Khomiakov was more critical of the early stages of Russian history than I. V. Kireevskii or K. S. Aksakov.

Khomiakov’s poetic works, such as his tragedies in verse—Ermak and Dmitrii Samozvanets (Dmitrii the Pretender)—and his lyrical poems, are closely related to his philosophical and historical views and are imbued with civic-mindedness. The poem “To Russia” is an example.

WORKS

Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–8. Moscow, 1886–1906.
Soch., books 1–6. Petrograd, 1915.
Stikhotvoreniia i dramy. Introductory article by B. F. Egorov. Leningrad, 1969.

REFERENCES

Herzen, A. I. Sobr. soch., vol. 9, page 157. Moscow, 1956.
Liaskovskii, V. N. A. S. Khomiakov: Ego zhizr’ i sochineniia. Moscow, 1897.
Zavitnevich, V. Z. A. S. Khomiakov, vols. 1 (books 1—2)—2. Kiev, 1902–13. (Bibliography.)
Berdiaev, N. A. A. S. Khomiakov. Moscow, 1912.
Istoriia filosofii v SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow, 1968.
Gratieux, A. A. S. Khomiakov et le mouvement Slavophile, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1939.
Christoff, P. K. An Introduction to Nineteenth-century Russian Slavophilism, vol. 1: A. S. Xomjakov. The Hague, 1961.

S. S. KHORUZHII