Nikolai Iakovlevich Danilevskii

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Danilevskii, Nikolai Iakovlevich


Born Nov. 28 (Dec. 10), 1822, in the village of Obertse, Orlov Province; died Nov. 7 (19), 1885, in Tbilisi. Russian publicist, sociologist, and natural scientist. Ideologist of Pan-Slavism.

Danilevskii graduated from St. Petersburg University in 1847. In the late 1840’s he belonged to the Petrashevskii circle, which led to his expulsion from St. Petersburg in 1850.

His sociological views, which were close to the theory of historical cycles, developed under the influence of vitalist ideas and the positivist cult of the natural sciences; he discussed them in greatest detail in his book Russia and Europe (1869). The basis of his sociological doctrine was the idea of isolated local “cultural-historical types” (civilizations), whose interrelations Danilevskii described in terms of a vulgarization of biology; like living organisms, cultural-historical types are in constant struggle with each other and with their environment; like biological types, they pass naturally through predetermined stages of maturity, old age, and inevitable death. These stages are self-evident in religious, cultural, political, and socioeconomic phenomena.

According to Danilevskii, the cultural-historical type evolves from the ethnographic condition through the state condition to civilization. History changes as new types force out the old. Danilevskii found ten such types that had wholly or partly exhausted the possibilities of their development. The Slavic type, which was most fully expressed in the Russian people, was for Danilevskii a qualitatively new and promising type. He vulgarized the Slavophile idea of the opposition of the “messianic” culture of Russia and the cultures of the West, shrouding it in an advocacy of a struggle of Russian statehood with other peoples. Thus he sanctioned the political aspirations of tsarism and justified its great-power chauvinism and policy of national hostility.

Such liberal critics as VI. Solov’ev, N. M. Mikhailovskii, and N. I. Kareev interpreted Danilevskii’s doctrine of the hostile opposition of cultural-historical types to all the surrounding world as a retreat from the humanist traditions of Russian culture. In the last years of his life, in a polemic with the Darwinists. Danilevskii introduced the teleological-evolutionary idea into his world view.

His ideas had a great influence on the culturology of K. N. Leont’ev and to a large extent anticipated the analogical constructions of O. Spengler.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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