The Significance of Heidegger and His History of Philosophy for Russia — Part 1

The Significance of Heidegger and His History of Philosophy for Russia — Part 1

Translated by Michael Millerman. Founder of - online philosophy and politics courses on Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Dugin, Strauss, and more.

The possibility of Russian philosophy

Today the questions, what is Russian philosophy, has it existed, does it exist now, and will it exist in the future, are pressing. But there is an even deeper question, is Russian philosophy possible at all? The question sounds strange and paradoxical, but we not infrequently encounter phenomena that exist de facto, though their meaning, content, justification, and organic structure remain problematic. Upon close examination such phenomena prove to be not what they present themselves as, but simulacra, counterfeits, obscure “copies without originals” (Baudrillard).1 They “are,” but they are impossible. Their ontology is rooted in misunderstanding, in counterfeiting, in a disharmonious displacement. Pitirim Sorokin described similar phenomena in social systems as a “dumping place society.”2 Oswald Spengler had recourse in similar situations to the figure of “pseudomorphosis”3 (in geology, the name of a certain mineral formation, in which unexpected heterogeneous factors interfere during the process of crystallization, for instance, the lava of an erupting volcano, etc.).

Thus the question of the possibility of Russian philosophy is entirely legitimate. What we usually call by that name may prove to be precisely a simulacrum or pseudomorphosis. Or it might prove not to be. In any case, to seriously ground the possibility of Russian philosophy, we need to make a certain effort. This effort is all the more necessary since even the most optimistic view of Russian philosophy cannot ignore its rather late appearance in Russian history and the serious intermission in its existence in the 20th century, when if it did not disappear entirely (not having had time to truly begin), it was considerably distorted in Marxist dogmatics.

If Russian philosophy as such exists, it is significantly damaged historically and requires reanimation. If [it exists] in outline, then it is all the more necessary to refer to its presuppositions, to the domain of its possibility. Moreover, there is a demand for its grounding and return to the starting positions from which can begin the complicated and not so obvious process of philosophy in the context of samobytnoy Russian culture. 4

The correlation of Russian and Western philosophy

Russian philosophy (or its simulacrum), arose as a reaction to European philosophy: it started from it, correlated with it, sought its sources of inspiration in it, argued with it, imitated it, rebutted it and developed it. Whatever aspects of Russian philosophy we touch upon, we will necessarily be dealing with a response to a challenge, a reaction, an attempt to comprehend a thesis (theory, system, school, ideology) that had come to Russia from the West. Even when Russian thinkers strove to be or genuinely were in part original, this very originality expressed itself in the form of contrast with the philosophy of the West, juxtaposition with precisely it. Whether Russian thinkers imitated or rejected Europe, they compared themselves with precisely it and took as a thesis one or another philosophical theory or the totality of Western theories, starting from which they developed their own considerations.

This circumstance compels us to refer to the corresponding European philosophical contexts in order to understand Russian philosophy of the 19th and 20th centuries. The possibility of Russian philosophy is inextricably linked with actually existing Western European philosophy, which develops according to autonomous logic. The actuality of Western philosophy was the potentiality of Russian philosophy. This correlation is fundamental. But it can be interpreted in different ways.

On one hand, this may mean that Russian philosophy is an offshoot of Western European philosophy, its late and specific sprout (outgrowth). On the other hand, it is possible to decipher this potentiation as a response to a challenge, that is, as a forced defensive gesture, directed mainly against Western philosophy (as with Slavophiles and, in part, Russian Marxists). Thirdly, we can consider it as Spengler's “pseudomorphism”, that is, as a result of the heterogeneous and inorganic grafting (semi-violent-semi-voluntary) of one cultural form onto another, which is completely inappropriate to it. And finally, such a correlation can be viewed as a form of cultural expansion, an attempt by the West to spiritualize Russian society through the installation of its own rational cultural code, facilitating the administration of real power and ensuring the control of Western society over Russian society.

In all cases, Russian philosophy was correlated and does correlate with Western philosophy, and there is no reason to assume that this will not be so in the future.

The moment of unfolding of the Western European history of philosophy

Western European philosophical thought is a dynamic process. This process can be reconstructed and all the more so interpreted differently, but no one undertakes to disprove that the history of Western European thought in its formation traverses certain successive phases, within which certain philosophical paradigms dominate (like the paradigm shift revealed by Kuhn in scientific knowledge).5 These phases, no matter how we define them, are connected systems that, like circles on water, diverge around a school or person, intersect, and conflict with each other, forming a certain intellectual pattern.6 This pattern constitutes the general structure of the history of philosophy as the history of Western European philosophy. And if there are endless debates about the parameters of this pattern, no one questions the very fact of the existence of this history. Western European philosophy is a historical phenomenon, where we clearly distinguish a Beginning (pre-Socratic, Antiquity) and mark further epochs from Plato and Aristotle to the Middle Ages, Modernity, and so on to the current postmodern era.

Russian philosophy in its possibility to be is dealing with a historical process, a historical structure that has deep roots and well-defined outlines. The branches of a single tree are continuously growing, but the structure of the tree of philosophical knowledge remains generally constant. Therefore, Russian philosophy cannot confine itself to contact (resonance/dissonance) with some moment in the formation of Western European philosophy, with a particular private school, with a particular branch, direction, or trajectory of thought. To be, Russian philosophy must relate to the entire history of philosophy as a whole, and in dealing with any moment of it, compare itself with a dynamic and openly developing whole.

It becomes obvious that Western European philosophy in this case should be presented to Russian society in the form of the history of philosophy, that is, one or another schematic theory that generalizes the Western European philosophical process. This will not only make it easier for Russians to become acquainted with its individual moments, but will generally make familiarity with the particular possible, through a compressed scheme of the whole, giving a horizon of meaning to the fragments.

This circumstance explains the fact of the extraordinary popularity in Russia of Hegel, the creator of one of the most capacious and panoramic algorithms of the history of philosophy. Moreover, perhaps it was the Hegelian approach absorbed by Marx that became the basis for the wide popularity of Marxism in Russia. Through Marx and Hegel, the Russians got acquainted at once with the whole of Western European philosophy, revealed in its structure on the example of a simple dialectic scheme for understanding. And the same reason lies at the basis of the underestimation of Kant and the Kantians, who did not propose a compact historical-philosophical model. For the Russian consciousness, Kant remained only a moment of philosophy. Hegel, on the other hand, claimed that while representing a moment of the philosophical process, he embodied in this (special, eschatological and teleological) moment a sense of the history of philosophy as a universal history.

This observation is extremely important for understanding the essence of Russian philosophy. When Russians wanted (want) to enter the process of philosophy, they had to (will have to) enter not into philosophy, but into the history of philosophy, and they needed (will need) not only its moment (specific school, concept, idea), but also a brief presentation of the preceding phases of the process, and precisely a philosophical, conceptual presentation of it. After comprehending the entire historical and philosophical process as a whole, you can participate in it. It is important not just to jump into the “magic tram” (Gumilev), but to understand which route to take, where it begins and where it leads. Therefore, to “leap” into Russian philosophy, the history of philosophy is always necessary. Only that moment of Western European philosophy that will contain the formula for this whole philosophy can become the moment onto which, in fact, Russian philosophy can be grafted or from which it can take its own start (in any direction).

So, the possibility of Russian philosophy is that Western European philosophy, which is at the same time both a moment of development of this philosophy and the account of the algorithm (structure) of the whole history of philosophy in a concise and brief format.

In the 19th century, when something similar to “Russian philosophy” arose, the very possibility of its existence was Hegel's philosophy with its subtype, the philosophy of Karl Marx. Precisely Hegelianism (and its variety, Marxist philosophy) can be considered the hermeneutical base, the semantic whole, which served as a reference point for “Russian philosophy” in its first approximation. And if we grasp that, then we will understand why Marxism fascinated Russian philosophical thinking for almost a century. It is this way, not the other way around: a totalitarian political system did not make Marxism the fate of Russian thinking in the twentieth century, but Marxism as a type of Hegelian history of philosophy predetermined the totalitarian political system of the Soviet period. Politics is a consequence of philosophy; the opposite is not true.

Heidegger as a chance for Russian philosophy

The last remark explains the retrospective well - why Hegel and why Marx - but does not lead us to a broader problematic: what is the possibility of Russian philosophy? It was like that, and that it was exactly so is extremely important. But at the same time, it is tied to a historical moment of Western European philosophy itself, to when contact between Russians and itself took place. This predetermined the trajectory of a certain period, revealed important regularities. Regularities remained (the possibility of Russian philosophy lies in the history of Western European philosophy, now and always), but the moment has changed. Therefore, in order to expand the horizon from the historical moment to the historical regularity, and in order to actually (here and now) discover this regularity, it is necessary to ask a new question. While the Russians followed the Marxist history of philosophy throughout almost the entire twentieth century, did a different historical and philosophical version appear in the West that would rethink the Hegelian heritage or take new moments into account? Only in this case, after understanding and overcoming Hegelianism and Marxism as an exhausted version of philosophy (not erroneous, but simply exhausted, in the sense of life-giving philosophical forces), could we repeat the beginning of Russian philosophy and prove its possibility not in a historical moment but overall, as a more general phenomenon. There is no doubt that there were many new moments in Western European philosophy in the twentieth century: Wittgenstein, structuralists, phenomenologists, and existentialists. But all this says nothing to Russian philosophy in the event that it wants to substantiate its possibility in a broader sense than the development of one of the branches of the nineteenth-century thinking. With our Hegelianism (Marxism), everything is clear (is it clear?). But how do we relate to everything else?

We cannot give a clear answer; after abandoning Marxism, we were confused, missed the thread, began to grab some isolated points in the chaotic need to philosophize in the absence of good reasons for doing so. We tried to declare ourselves as a moment in the process, in which, as it turned out, we were not full participants. We tried to slip past the question of the possibility of Russian philosophy, pretended that we can do without the history of philosophy (it really is not needed by those who are already part of this history). But nothing came of it.

Now it is obvious: in trying to philosophize, the contemporary Russian looks like a fool. And the more agilely he imitates those who philosophize, the more he is a fool.

Identification of the new history of philosophy is vital for Russians. This is the basis for the possibility of our Russian philosophy. But this is where the problems begin. At first glance, the twentieth century created many histories of philosophy. You choose. I do not want to. But upon closer inspection, everything crumbles like dust: there were no histories of philosophy, there were philosophies of history (Jaspers)7 or just moments of epistemological analysis (Foucault).8 In its context, all this was timely and meaningful, but not for us. In order to enter the hermeneutic circle, we need a hint; without it, we find ourselves outside this circle. Someone among Western European philosophers must tell us the password, open the code, give us the key.

This does not lie on the surface. But if we want, in spite of everything, to ground the possibility of Russian philosophy, we will have to look for exactly this, the history of philosophy, singled out by the ontologically representative thinker of the twentieth century, someone fundamental and “native” for the West.

My hypothesis is that Martin Heidegger, who created a concept adequate to the entire historical and philosophical process of Western culture, is such a thinker. If this hypothesis is confirmed, it is in him that we have to discover and ground the possibility of Russian philosophy, not in a retrospective, but in a perspective horizon. If Heidegger becomes for us what Hegel and Marx became in the 19th century, then we will get legitimacy for the second Russian approach to philosophy.

Middle Heidegger as an essential element in the reconstruction of the history of philosophy

The question arises: does Heidegger have a history of philosophy? Is not his teaching just a moment in the process of Western European philosophy, not containing in itself a succinct presentation of the structure of this process?

This question can arise only in connection with one subtle historical and philosophical circumstance. In Heidegger’s legacy, the attention of specialists is usually focused on the early period of his philosophical work, on phenomenology and Husserlianism,9 culminating in his famous Sein und Zeit. 10 A narrow circle of experts on Heidegger also investigated the late Heidegger, mainly considering this period as a departure from classical philosophizing and an appeal to mythology, “mysticism” and poetic hermeneutics. The middle period of his work, the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s, most often fell out of sight of researchers. This period, as a rule, was interpreted as a transition from the analytic of Dasein to the later hermeneutics.11 From this perspective it is really difficult to find a full-fledged history of philosophy in Heidegger, and his ideas only look like a philosophical moment. But if you fill this gap, considering the sketches and texts of this era published only in recent decades, after the death of the philosopher himself: Beiträge zur Philosophie, Geschichte des Seyns, Über den Anfang, etc., the mosaic of his thoughts develops into a single whole, and what we were looking for is revealed to us: Heidegger's history of philosophy, no less consistent and all-encompassing than Hegel’s.12 As with any schematization, it is full of exaggeration and generalization; but this is a property of any reductionist scheme. We have only one thing to worry about: Has Heidegger managed to reflect in his works a hologram of Western European destiny?

If we holistically comprehend all three periods of Heidegger’s philosophy, we will get a complete picture not only of his philosophy, but of his conception of the history of philosophy, which is much more important for us. This history of philosophy claims to have a decisive word about the structure of the whole process: Heidegger himself (like Hegel) is aware of his philosophy as “metaphysical eschatology” (as he writes in the Holzwege),13 as an expression of that form, towards which the Western European process was moving.


Baudrillard J. 1994. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
Sorokin P. 1962. Social and Cultural Dynamics. New York: Bedminster Press [Translator’s note: The Russian text has the Russian phrase, followed by “dumping ground society” in English in parentheses.]
Spengler O. 1928. The Decline of the West. New York: A. A. Knopf
Translator’s note:
Kuhn T. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Dugin A.G. 2009. Post-philosophy. Moscow.
Jaspers K. 1949. Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte. München & Zürich
Foucault M. 1978. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon Books
Heidegger M. 1920. Phänomenologie der Anschauung und des Ausdrucks. Theorie der philosophischen Begriffsbildung. Frankfurt am Mein
Heidegger M. 2010. Being and Time. Albany: State University of New York
Heidegger M. 2000. Vorträge and Aufsätze. 1936-53. Gesamtausgabe 7. Frankfurt am Mein: Vittorio Klosterman
Heidegger M. 2012. Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press; Heidegger, Martin. 2015. The History of Beyng. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Heidegger, Martin. 2000. Über den Anfang. Gesamtausgabe 70. Frankfurt am Mein: Vittorio Klosterman
Heidegger M. 2002. Off The Beaten Track. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press