Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Sergey Bulgakov and the Spirit of Capitalism

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Sergey Bulgakov and the Spirit of Capitalism

Article excerpt

Bulgakov and "Underdeveloped" Orthodox Thinking

Until very recently the dominant Western view, as it was established by Richard Pipes, for instance, on Eastern Christianity and especially its Russian version was that it has been a "servant of the state." (2) The emerging libertarian movement in ex-Communist Europe, especially after the mid-1980s, seemed to confirm this interpretation by its reviews of the history of Orthodox countries' market reforms: They proceeded amidst stronger political hesitation in Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Armenia, and Georgia than in any of the region's Catholic countries, such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia. Such interpretation has had a concurring political echo: I recall a senior NATO officer and advisor publicly arguing, in 1996, in Slovenia, that the actual limits of "Atlantic cooperation" and the EU were marked by the roofs of Catholic and Protestant churches in the landscape. In the early 1990s, the very publication of Michael Novak's The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism highlighted the need for a similar reflection on Orthodox ethics. (3) The essay published here is evidence that at the turn of the century Russian Orthodox scholars and historians were profoundly interested in the relationships between Orthodox morality and markets.

By the decade of the 1990s, except for a handful of specialists in Russian history of ideas, Sergey Bulgakov was hardly known even to Soviet and Russian intellectuals. His writings were, in fact, banned in 1922, and he became a librarian, samizdat, and antiquarian rarity. The first Russian (and relatively full) selection of his nontheological essays, doctoral thesis, and publications appeared in 1993, published in two volumes by the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the West, the Sergius Bulgakov Society, "an informal network and open Christian fellowship for the encouragement of the study and appreciation of the life and work of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov," was formed and started its information campaign only a few years ago.

Not being completely aware of the rich Bulgakov heritage, the scholars of Orthodox philosophy and historiography encountered many other challenges.

On one side, the profound study of Orthodox traditions, ethics, and influence was somewhat limited to the Byzantine period and its legacy in Eastern Europe (then under the Ottoman Empire) and Russia where the church was subjected to the Crown in 1700-1701. The mid-nineteenth century Russian literary (after Pushkin) and religious (after Aleksey Khomyakov) enlightenment constituted a deep and noble opposition to the officialdom of the time. Later in the century, it was promptly overshadowed by the stronger and more aggressive disregard to the status quo by the emerging left and Marxist activists. However, the intellectual and political pleas of Orthodox philosophers such as Vladimir Solovyov, Pavel Florensky, Sergey Bulgakov, and others, for higher public morals, church, and state value enhancement, had faced negative reception by all parties, including the Russian Orthodox Church. At the turn of the century, it expelled or condemned most religious philosophers for one reason or another.

The rise of the Bolsheviks and the Communist domination after 1917 demanded an explanation of Russian revolution and the unprecedented oppression and totalitarianism that followed. Other influential contemporaries, such as Nikolay Berdyaev, Bulgakov's close friend of the 1890s, attributed these unfortunate developments to Russia's backwardness and religious psyche. (4) Bulgakov himself wrote that Soviet Russia was "'de facto' the only truly 'confessional state' in the world," where "the dominant religion was the militant atheism of the Communist doctrine" and "other religions were not tolerated." (5)

However, the twentieth-century preoccupation with Russia's exceptionality--by Russian and non-Russian historians and commentators alike--has grossly underestimated the potential of its turn-of-the-century religious theorists, and of Sergey Bulgakov, for the modernization of Christian ethics and values. …

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