The ABC of Traditional Values: High Moral Ideals

Konstantin Malofeev: We continue our 'ABC of traditional values'. This time we have the letter "I": high moral ideals [Editor's note: in Russian "ideals" is idealy, in Cyrillic идеалы].

Protopriest Andrew Tkachev: Let us start from the fact that we should talk about morality in the categories of prohibitions and permissions. If there is no word 'no' in culture, there is no culture itself. In general, it is a fundamental thing that immediately jars with modern ears. I am reminded of the student revolts in France in 1968, where one of the posters read: 'It is forbidden to forbid'. But in reality, culture begins with prohibition. One cannot, for example, urinate on a grave, utter sacred words in a disreputable place or go naked at the Bolshoi Theatre. Everywhere there are certain 'barcodes' that cut out the superfluous.

For example, the entire traffic culture consists of prohibitions. All the signs limit speed or forbid turning, or say: 'Get ready, move over, stop'... And if all of this is broken, traffic accidents will be so frequent that nobody will get out of the garage. That is why a sensible conversation about morality starts with prohibitions, with a system of taboo things.

If one does not see the difference between heavenly and earthly, profane and sacred, forbidden and not allowed, one loses one's human dignity. This is one of the ancient maxims of the Old Testament sages. Once again, this means that we must first learn to distinguish between the forbidden and the forbidden. And then we learn that human beings are hierarchical and cannot live by prohibitions alone. If you forbid something, you must also allow something and say what is encouraged and what is sacred.

In general, the number of commandments addressed by God to the Jewish people was 613, divided into 365 and 248. The 365 commandments, based on the number of days in a year, were prohibitive, while the 248 were obligatory. For example, 'honour father and mother'. this is a non-negotiable obligation. These are commandments with a plus sign, based on the number of man's bones.

So, first the higher moral value system must be defined, and then the next step is to form a higher moral value system. Thus, there are lower values and higher values. For example, preserving one's own life is a right and a necessity, and sacrificing oneself for others is a higher value. This is how the hierarchy of values is built from the bottom upwards.

The ascent is determined by sacrifice. That is, to what extent one can sacrifice one's strength, one's talents, one's money, one's time, one's health. The highest limit is human death, i.e. dying 'for a friend'. Therefore, the moral values of the lower level cut off what is forbidden, and then lead upwards, and this is equivalent to the crusade, the ascent to Golgotha. Everything here is defined by sacrifice: the sacrificial service of a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, a soldier in wartime, a priest in a parish. There is dedication and it is the measure of altruism that determines the height or lowness of this or that moral value.

Alexander Dugin: If we talk about high moral values in the context of our culture, our identity, which is what the law on traditional values is about, we should turn to our spirit. In my opinion, even among high moral values there is a kind of hierarchy, as you, father, just mentioned, and I think we would be right to say that the highest moral value is the ideal of holiness. Exactly the ideal.

It does not mean that we can become saints, but if we convince ourselves that we can never become saints, that it is useless, we are sinners anyway, then holiness withers away. There was a time when even thieves, evildoers, sometimes became saints. The first man who went to heaven was a thief on the cross. Here is the ideal of holiness, the highest moral value.

In my opinion, the second highest moral value, somewhat lower than holiness and more accessible, is heroism. That is, the first value is to give oneself completely to God. But heroism is to give oneself completely to one's people, one's culture. This is military heroism.

The third high moral value is honest creative work, honesty in general. This is available to every person. This is a high moral value: to be honest. Do not seek easy ways, defend one's human dignity.

But if we put these three moral values, one is higher than the other. They will all be high, but a real mountain of Calvary will rise, and today the Fundamentals of State Policy finally says: this is the way to go. It means that the attitude towards priests, monks, in general, towards people on the spiritual path, must be corresponding. Our saints are models for us; and, of course, the honours we pay to upright people are also important. They are all high moral values. They must be glorified. The state should be rebuilt in this direction, it should respect holiness, heroism and honour.

A.T.: In Soviet times, the working man was indeed glorified. Workers, polar explorers were heroes. That was in that era, fighting for justice. There was also respect for war work. There was not only sanctity.

K.M.: These are all imperial ideals: holiness, heroism, honour. Among the traditional values that are listed in Decree No 809 we see a direct reference to the fact that we are an imperial civilisation. Because only an imperial civilisation needs high moral ideals. None of the democracies have them, because the state is not able to educate and influence its citizens in any way. There is talk of solidarity, tolerance, welfare state, multi-faith, multiculturalism. Everything, on the assumption that everything is allowed. We cannot set ideals in a democracy because everyone there is equal: good and bad, naughty and nice. They pay taxes, so they have the same rights. It is a state reduced to the level of a servant.

This approach exists within Canaan, a God-fearing civilisation where corporations and money play an important role. The state must only serve their interests and in no way be powerful, strong and influential enough to meddle in their affairs. There are no high moral ideals. Because if you put them there, the first high moral ideal will be the young evangelical who has to renounce his possessions and follow Christ, and then it will turn out that everyone should run to the monastery, and not straight to the Forbes list.

Therefore, the high moral ideals stated in the Decree explicitly say that we are about to return to the road of imperial civilisation. Because, once again, holiness, heroism and honour are unique to this type of civilisation. When we were losing our holiness, for example during the Synod period, by subjecting the Church to the State in the 18th century, we were not quite on our way. At the end of the 19th century we started to turn back, but we could not, because our society was too unbalanced, it had become too consumerist, there was too little holiness and dignity in it. Because the age of the petty bourgeoisie, of capitalism, had arrived. It began in the time of Alexander II.

In the Soviet era there were great heroes, there was honour, but there was no holiness, there was no God, and if there is no God in this dimension, high moral ideals can be rewritten at any time and called morality in another way. Because morality must be prescribed in some sacred book. If there is no sacred, everything else is lost. So now there is an extremely important step to overcome secular positivist legislation. We have high moral ideals.

A.T.: Yes, in fact holiness exists precisely as an ideal, as a working ideal for everyday life. None of us, sawing a conventional lath to make a bench, measure it to the micron as in Gosstandart. But it is to the micron that the benchmark must be measured. Because everything else we cut, saw, measure and slice exists because of it.

K.M.: Mercy.

A.T.: Yes, and everyday piety. It is not enough to be a good man. A good man is not a profession. Righteousness is a much more solid currency. Let's say that a righteous trader is one whose strawberries are good both at the top and at the bottom. A righteous trader, a righteous farmer, is a man who looks at his neighbour as himself. He does not eat or sell what is already finished, under the pretext that it is good.

There is a whole code of so-called domestic righteousness but it only exists because there is holiness. Holiness, righteousness is the basis without which one suffocates in daily life.

A.D.: If we talk about high moral ideals in commerce, for example, there is a very interesting point in the Talmud. This Jewish religious law forbids advertising. It is considered a mortal sin to glorify one's possessions. Because in this way one does not offer a person a choice, one does not conduct honest moral commerce. In general, advertising is such an abominable thing that it is denied in many religious laws.

A.T.: Because good does not need publicity.

A.D.: Yes, and everyone must be able to choose for himself. By the way, the term 'ideal' is also interesting in this traditional value. Because ideal is another name for the norm. We think the norm is something average and the norm is not what is most common, but what should be. So the norm and the ideal in philosophy are almost the same thing.

The ideal, understood as a high moral norm, says: one should act this way and that way. Of course, we do not always manage to do this in life. However, even if we never behave in the way the ideal or the norm prescribes, we must understand how we should behave, be aware of it, and live with that awareness.

A.T.: There is a hard opposition to sin and death. That is, the normality of life is ensured by righteousness and holiness.

K.M.: Translated from philosophical language to ordinary language, we must make ideals the norm.

That was the letter 'I': high moral ideals.

Translation by Lorenzo Maria Pacini