The Future of Russia

THE part which the great powers are now compelled to play in the far East recalls with new urgency the important question of the future of Russia. It is a question the answer to which involves the consideration of many complex elements. Chief among these are the ethnic differentia which make Russia more or less of a mystery even for experts. In the Indo-European theory she belongs anthropologically to the modern civilizations. Yet her affinities with Asia hold her apart from the West by removes which even her prodigious efforts to become modern cannot obliterate. Still more isolated from the rest of Europe is she by her historical experiences, as well as by those peculiar geographical conditions which have exerted so decisive an influence upon the character and development of her political system. It is thus worth while to glance for a moment at some of the secular causes which, while not preventing the “ Europeanization ” of her cultured classes, have none the less seriously delayed the assimilation of her people as a whole to those world powers with which, for the settlement of planetary problems, it is now her ambition to cooperate.

Among the potent influences of contour and condition which have presided over the development of Russia are those which, excluding her from every form of oceanic empire, have restricted her colonizing activities to a process of expansion over land. The map shows her everywhere in sight of the ocean without possessing any real control over it. The Black and Caspian seas are to-day inland lakes, the latter being absolutely isolated, the former accessible only through a difficult channel open or closed at the will of the power dominant in Constantinople. Ice makes the upper Baltic unnavigable nearly eight months of every year: the passage through it, moreover, into the North Sea is at any time at the mercy of the nation commanding the straits between Denmark and Sweden. So far as the Pacific outlet is concerned, we may estimate its strategic value by remembering its northern situation and extreme distance from the heart of the empire. Russia thus finds herself separated from the sea almost as completely at the end of her expanding movement as she did at the beginning of her national life more than a thousand years ago. Nor has she failed to benefit from the isolation. Is not her greatness itself partly due to the fact that she has been enabled to accumulate her resources, not only with little resistance from the first-class fighting nations of the world, but also at a distance from the contending states of modern Europe ? That she has no ocean frontage has for ages been her bulwark. Bounded on the north by the inaccessible polar sea; on the east by the Pacific, long unfurrowed by hostile fleets ; on the west by the Baltic and the Gulf of Bothnia ; on the southwest by the Carpathians and her natural ally, the composite Austro - Hungarian empire ; on the south by the Black Sea, the Sick Man of Europe, the hordes of Central Asia and the Chinese civilization, Russia has been almost as safe from the aggression of any one power as if her lot had been cast in another planet.

Yet her lack of maritime experience — the chief result of her isolation from the sea — has an inner meaning of great significance. For the peoples of the West the open ocean was either an irresistible lure, perpetually stimulating to enterprise and adventure, or a rude assailant whose destructive moods schooled men to the temper while it trained them to the habit of resistance. To southern Europe nature gave the deeply indented shore lines whose connecting Mediterranean waters have had so fateful an influence, not only upon the course of history, but also upon the development of human thought. Some, at least, of the Western peoples drew from a mountainous surrounding, with its altitude, its variety, its inaccessibility, not only independence of spirit, but also originality of mind. What might not be expected from nations nurtured by the “ mighty voices,” as Wordsworth calls them, of sea and mountain ? But the Russians were not thus favored. With the same nature for a nurse, another cradle was theirs ; they were crooned over by another music. Their home for centuries was the boundless plain, with its far-off horizons; amid the soughing of the forests, the sighing of the steppe, they were to come to their maturity as a people. But they were not to be in any considerable degree a sessile race. Their early experiences as a people had implanted within their veins the migrating instinct: it had needed only the magic touch of the Varyágs to start them on the march. Westward they could not go ; a West already settled forbade it. But to the East there were tribes and peuplades with but slight tenure upon the soil, — agricultural races like the Finns, who lent themselves easily to absorption, or nomad peoples that needed only the thrust of a virile nationality to be pushed back into Central Asia, if not swept from the map altogether. The stimulus to expansion would come no less from the tree-clad north than from the open steppes of the south land ; the forest enabled them to hold against all comers the territories they won ; the unobstructed plain provided facilities for movement which made it the historic marching ground of the nation. And so complete a use was made of the opportunities afforded that the Russians reached the Pacific in a little over seventy years.

But the movement used up energies some of which an equally enterprising people, occupying a smaller country, would have spent in urban and institutional development. It is to some extent because of the lateness and rapidity of her expansion, thus consummated overland, that we look to Russia in vain for any considerable urban life. A people constantly on the move cannot pause often or long enough by the way to build up that splendid array of cities which constitutes so characteristic a feature of west-European civilization. Yet it was conditions more potent than the horizontality of her plains, than the migrating tendencies of her people, which for so many centuries held Russia a stage nearer than her western neighbors to the nomad life which it was her destiny to displace. The presence of an enormous extent of soil suited to agriculture, the economic needs of an increasing population fitted only to gain its livelihood from the soil, the plentiful supply of slaves taken in war, and the sum total of the conditions which, perpetuating the peasant class, isolated it permanently from the culture, as well as from the state of wellbeing which cities make possible, if they do not always insure, — it is causes like these which have helped to deprive Russia of those opportunities of a well-developed urban life that are indispensable to the growth of free institutions. And it is this deprivation which must have had far more influence in accustoming the masses of the Russian people to the idea of political subjection, in extending their tolerance of autocratic power, than any which could be exerted by the local circumstances of a personal lot, however difficult, or by the tyranny of an impersonal climate, however rigorous or long continued.

The conditions which retarded the culture development of Russia are also significant. That a nation continually expanding eastward should have had her face continually turned in that direction goes without the saying. But the Russian Slavs were looking also toward Byzantium, from which they had received not only their faith, but also their secular instruction: in adopting a religious system antipathetic to their Slav congeners of Polish nationality, who were of the Roman Catholic faith, they closed up the main line of the road which western culture would otherwise have taken. Some part of the intellectual estrangement of the Russian mind from Europe must be attributed to geographical position ; the larger effect was undoubtedly produced not only by religion, but also by language. The influence of Russian speech was wholly isolating. Even when its words have been transliterated into Latin equivalents, the elements disclosed are found, on the whole, and with the exception of a few simple terms, to present few of those likenesses which, connecting words belonging to other and distinct members of the Indo-European family, make an acquaintance with one of those languages a means to the easy acquirement of all the rest. And when, to the obstacle of the nature of the Russian words themselves was added the obscuring influence of the script — of the strange characters in which such words are written and printed — the chasm thus erected between Russian and west - European modes of thought became, for all ordinary purposes of international intercourse, impassable. After the invention of printing, it was the visible affinities of language rather than the hidden and abstract affinities of race upon which the whole intellectual solidarity of the peoples of western Europe finally rested. The Poles and southern Slavs had the good fortune to connect their culture with that of the West through books and newspapers printed in Roman letters ; compared with the value of this instrument of assimilation, the type of Christianity they adopted was of minor importance. The Russian Slav had no such compensation. By receiving his faith from Constantinople rather than from Rome, he bound himself to models of literature and types of political conduct dictated from Byzantium ; by clothing his Indo-European speech in the worn-out garments of Ecclesiastical Slavonic, he severed his people from the currents of western thought with a barrier more formidable than any mountain chain, more unrelenting than any imperial ukaz.

The wholly special character of Russian history, and not a little of its peculiar interest, comes from just this separation from the West, which physical situation, Greek faith, and language combined to maintain. It is only when we think of the peoples of western Europe talking languages mutually intelligible, or so nearly related as to be easily acquired by all the peoples concerned, that we begin to appreciate how much the Russians lost from their exclusion, not from the religious wars of the sixteenth century, nor yet from the crusades, or even from the struggle between the papal and the civil power, but from the intellectual movement which swept through the West, reinvigorating every department of human thought, and carrying the tide of its results even as far as the temples and cathedrals of Moscow, yet leaving there no more than the outward show of a renascence which elsewhere seemed to recreate the inner life of individual and nation. Unconnected with the joyous ebullition of feeling which gave rise to German minnesinger and French troubadour ; sharing little in the burst of genius which filled all the western countries with the names of Michel Angelo, Raphael, Correggio ; without part in the literary revival that made common European property of the writings of Dante and Ariosto and Tasso in Italy, of Cervantes and Lope de Vega and Calderon in Spain, of Camoëns in Portugal, and of Shakespeare in England, — the Russians could make none of the contributions to human thought and progress which elsewhere came less from any individual people than from the European family of nations, none the less unified by common intellectual interests because politically so far apart.

If the young Slavonia was ill fitted to play the part of nurse to the physical sciences, still less prepared was she to act as the midwife of philosophy. Achievements like the discovery of printing, the invention of the telescope, were for the west-European, not for the Russian intellect. From the trading republics of Nóvgorod, Vyatka, and Pskov, successful merchants might go forth in hundreds; but the enterprise was necessarily of a kind other than that which gave to the world its great navigators, headed by Columbus, or turned its attention to the vaster cosmic revelations of a Copernicus, a Kepler, or a Galileo. Even in education, the Russian people were denied that solidarity of culture which was secured to the countries of Europe by the university system as early as the twelth and thirteenth centuries. It was this living contact of nation with nation which, by preserving the continuity of the Græco-Roman learning, made each of its inheritors a collaborator in the civilization of all the rest. And it was the absence of it that helped to keep Russia, throughout the period of her youth, under the tutelage of an eastern culture which satisfied her religious longings without yielding scopc for her intellectual development.

The long-delayed assimilation of Russia to the West came at last, yet the partial nature of the process resulted in the division of the Russian people into hostile camps, — camps which opposed culture to ignorance, and superstition to rational faith. If the changes introduced by Peter the Great could have affected all the people in like degree, the civilization of the West would have brought to the peasants, loyal to the autocratic system, a desire for free institutions similar to that with which it inspired the cultured classes. But the peculiar conditions which prevailed made this simultaneous advance of the educated minority and the ignorant masses an impossibility. The common people obtained from European culture simply the external forms of our modern civilization, — improvements in the comforts and conveniences of life: at first, improved architecture, better sanitary arrangements; then steam engines, railways, telegraphs, agricultural machinery, etc., — and thus remained, as before, ignorant, superstitious, and politically apathetic. For the cultured classes, on the other hand, Peter’s reforms exerted an enormous stimulus, arousing in susceptible minds not only the desire for individual perfection, but also the ambition for a national progress — intellectual, political, religious — never before dreamt of. And since the reformer’s time these two classes have been growing farther and farther apart, — here a class politically competent, yet rendered powerless for good by mere lack of numbers ; there a class uncultured and unprogressive, yet dowered with the power of determining that all the people of Russia, cultured as well as ignorant, shall live under an autocratic system.

The protest of the cultured classes against this state of things came in the revolutionary movement, and though the acute phases of that movement are over, the tragedy of the situation remains. This situation not only discloses a profound antagonism of interest between the educated classes who want reform, and the peasants who thus far loyally support the autocratic régime ; it raises the vital issue of Russia’s rank as related to the other powers with whom in world problems it is so manifestly her ambition to coöperate. For when we turn to her internal life, we find that in respect of both political and religious institutions she is not only not modern, but that she is living at least four hundred years en retard as compared with western Europe. How largely her home problems have been neglected may be seen in the fact that, in portions of the empire, such as Great-Russia, the percentage of illiteracy rises as high as ninety-four per cent. Her land system, upon which depend the occupation and sustenance of the great bulk of her people, has now reached a condition of crisis, the feverish pulse beats of which are periodically announced to the world in rhythmically recurring famines. Russia supports, in her mediæval church, a superstitious and unprogressive religion, repudiated in form by millions of her uneducated, rejected in substance and outright by most of her subjects who have any claim to culture. She is today, moreover, as devoid of free institutions as she was in the days of Iván the Terrible ; after ages of contact with Europe, she accepts the will of her autocrat, intrenched in the loyalty of her peasants, as the supreme law. Not one of her 150,000,000 people has the slightest voice in determining her home or her foreign policies. Fearing free discussion far more than the plague, her absolutist régime punishes alike the political aspirations of her educated minority and that religious dissent of her masses which dares to diverge from the prescribed faith of the Orthodox Church. Denying to the political and religious offender the right of trial by jury, elsewhere centuries old, Russia refuses to press and platform privileges granted even to the Maoris of New Zealand, and maintains in the “ administrative process ” the same odious system of lettres de cachet as that which in the eighteenth century provoked against France the indignation of all Europe.

The condition of her agriculture would alone suggest the internal weakness which underlies much of the brave show Russia is still enabled to make to the world as a first-class military power. Forty years after emancipation, the industry and loyalty of the peasant continue to constitute the chief support of the Russian system. Not only do the peasantry maintain the autocratic form of government ; they contribute the great bulk of the expenditure of the empire. It is, moreover, from the ranks of the agriculturists that the Russian armies are recruited ; it is the brawn and brain developed in the Russian villages which have enabled the colonizer of the northeast to carry the Russian flag far eastward toward the Pacific ; from the same source have issued the pluck and dash which have wrested the bulk of Central Asia from the nomad, and have made its desert blossom like a garden. Yet the peasants of Russia are poorer as a class than they were before 1861. Thus far splendidly responsive to the plans of military generals, they seem to be growing less and less able to take care of themselves. Feeders of empire, they themselves are compelled to live from hand to mouth ; in years of want they die of hunger by thousands. Meanwhile, the conditions of agriculture, of really vital interest in Russia, are steadily going from bad to worse. Repeated failures of the crops in certain districts, alternating with an occasional great famine, such as that of 1891-92, as well as the later only less severe visitation of 1898, show that the economical conditions on which the masses of the Russian people depend for their livelihood, and the autocratic régime so largely for its income, are even now in imminent danger of collapse.

To this source of weakness, moreover, must be added the reactionary measures which have gone far toward nullifying not only the benefits conferred by the emancipation act, but also the other reforms with which it was accompanied. For the peasant did not long enjoy the status fixed for him by the legislation of 1861. It was the purpose of the act of that year not only to emancipate the working agriculturist, but also to free him from the guardianship and authority exercised, — now as police officer, now as judge, and again as general agent of the state, — which the manorial lords had exercised since the beginning of the eighteenth century. The emancipation decree formally deprived this class of all further participation in the affairs of the peasant commune; yet by various acts of subsequent legislation, the government has readmitted them to the functions from which they were ousted in 1861. The first sign of this reaction manifested itself in the changed character of the “ arbitrators of the peace,” — officers whom the government had intrusted with the duty of mediating between the peasants and the landowning class, in questions such as the allotment of land arising out of emancipation. These functionaries, at first chosen from the best representatives of the nobility, gradually became venal and corrupt. In 1874 the duties of this class were transferred to police officials known as isprávniki ; while in 1889 the government returned to power over the peasantry certain members of the nobility, as paid state officers, under the title of nachálniki, “ chiefs of the rural cantons,” and these officers now wield unlimited judicial and executive power in the villages committed to their care. The press is forbidden, under severe penalties, to publish complaints against them, and they consequently have in their own hands all appeals which may be made against their decisions: such responsibility as they acknowledge is a merely nominal and official one to the governor of the province. With the appointment of the peasant judges under his control, with power to compel the peasant to work on his estate, as well as to flog the man at his will, the nachálnik of to-day seems to play a part not greatly unlike that exercised by the manorial lord in the old days of serfdom. The legislation, moreover, which has thus, in twenty provinces of Central Russia, replaced the justices of the peace (mirovói sudiyá) appointed in connection with emancipation, by chiefs of rural cantons (uyésdniyé nachálniki), has recently been applied to Siberia (June, 1898), and is soon (1901) to be extended to the western governments of Russia and to Poland. Meanwhile, by restrictions imposed upon the zemstva (1890) the Russian government has considerably modified the former popular character of these provincial assemblies.

Another change which promises extension of the reform spirit, and may therefore be classed among the influences which threaten the perpetuation of the autocratic system, is the new growth of cities. Since the reaction in 1894, when municipal government in Russia was placed almost entirely under chiefs nominated by the Emperor himself, encouraging signs of urban development have manifested themselves. The old conditions, under which it used to be urged that Russia is too exclusively a country population to produce or be fitted for political institutions similar to those of western Europe, are now gradually passing away. In 1870, for example, as described three years later by Herr Schwanenbach, 27 towns in Russia had a population of 1000, 74 between 1000 and 2000 inhabitants ; 194 between 2000 and 5000; 179 between 5000 and 10,000; 55 between 10,000 and 15,000; 35 between 15,000 and 25,000 ; 23 between 25,000 and 50,000 ; and 8 over 50,000. But the state of things thus illustrated is passing away. According to Milyukov,1 the percentage of city population to the population of the whole country, 7.8 in 1851, and 9.2 in 1878, had risen in 1890 to 12.8, and cannot now be less than 15.00. Russia now has, moreover, in addition to 1,500,000 factory operatives in the cities, no fewer than 4,000,000 peasants who, besides working at the plough, pursue various industries in the Russian villages. This development of the Russian cities and of the artisan populations within them has created a labor and capital problem not wanting in acute phases, involving occasional collisions between angry workmen and the authorities. Besides quickening political ambition among the urban populations of Russia, it sets up a certain solidarity of interest between the programme of the workers and the aspirations of the educated classes.

It is in the cities, moreover, that most of the conditions remain which, first calling forth the “Nihilist” movement of the fifties and sixties, finally led to the revolutionary agitation. If Russia could be strengthened as an autocracy by the struggle with conspiracy, she would be well fitted to-day for a policy of enterprise in foreign affairs. Her chief centres of population are still the chosen home of political propaganda; the reform agitation in the colleges and universities — long a chronic accompaniment of educational processes in Russia — has been much intensified in recent years by the arbitrary use of police and military power in the suppression of so-called “ students’ disturbances.” The monthly lists of arrests for “ political infidelity,” which the Russian organs in Geneva and London publish regularly, would alone suffice to show that autocratic government in Russia is still grappling with the problem of political disaffection. It cannot now claim to be engaged in any struggle with assassins, for there is no assassination. Conspiracy in Russia to-day is mainly an effort to assert rights of criticism, free speech, and public meeting granted in every other country of Europe ; the effort to suppress conspiracy is for the most part the effort to suspend the law of progress, — to nullify that process of intellectual variation on which all national as well as individual advance finally depends.

Nor is Russia, which at the Hague Conference sought to promote the world’s peace, within even measurable distance of the peace, even of simple unity, which ought to prevail within her own borders. She boasts — or the boast is made for her — that

“ To every race she gives a home,
And creeds and laws enjoy her shade.”

Such a claim may be valid for her attitude toward the peoples of Central Asia ; it certainly has no justification in the European division of her empire. For here her recent history presents the spectacle of entire nationalities whose sympathy she has repelled, whose sentiment she has alienated, in the unwise effort to make them, in language, faith, and custom, an integral part of herself. In Asia the semi-barbarian finds his race life untouched; in European Russia cultured peoples are despoiled of the things they hold almost as dear as life itself, — the Poles of their language, the LittleRussians of their literature, the Baltic Germans of their religion, the Finlanders of their constitution. And if to these sources of division we add others, — the antagonisms of interest, for example, which disfranchise and degrade one section of the population with the whole force of another ; conditions which exclude large classes of the population from the benefits of education ; a political system which divides the people into tsarworshipers and political malcontents, and a religious system which opposes agnosticism to superstition, — we shall be led to recognize that the metaphor of a house divided against itself is not without a certain application to Russia.

But perhaps such conditions as these may be remedied, either as the result of revolution, or by means of concessions from the throne ? The chances of reform in Russia through what is known as “ a palace revolution ” have passed away with the exclusively Oriental conditions in which such movements have their origin ; the chances of a military insurrection are every day growing more meagre; the chances of a rising of the people may for the present be left entirely out of account. A military disaster similar to, yet on a larger scale than, that of the Crimea might easily revolutionize the Russian political system, and would do this more efficaciously than perhaps any other known agency. Thus far there is an extremely slender prospect of reform as the result of imperial initiative. Nicholas II. announced to the provincial assembly of Tver soon after his accession to the throne that he intended to preserve the principle of autocracy as firmly and unswervingly as his predecessor. The Tsars have always sheltered themselves under the plea that there is something peculiar in Russian history and in the Russian people which makes autocracy indispensable. The claim that the Russians are incapable of participating in the duties of the general government of their country is sufficiently discounted by their long experience in the work of the mir, and of other forms of local self-government. Nor could the inertia of the official class be pleaded in stay of needed concessions. If Peter the Great overcame its resistance in an age of conservatism even more hide-bound than the present, the chief condition for the success of reform to-day is the presence of the reformer. But what of popular inertia, — the so-called difficulty of imposing radical institutional changes upon the peasants ? The Russians possess a degree of the power of self-adaptation to new conditions not met with, perhaps, in any other country of the world. They have been “changing all that” from the earliest periods of their history. It was a new beginning when the people threw off the pagan yoke and embraced Christianity; another when, under the influence of Peter, they gave up old Russian customs for the civilization of the West. On three or four occasions did the Russians change their capital, to look round them each time with a new mind, as well as to have over them a different sky. In the seventeenth century thousands of them broke away from the national church for a change of faith; in the nineteenth, after centuries passed in serfdom, millions of Russians readapted their lives to the comparatively strange conditions created by freedom. Even now, at the heart of the revolutionary movement, there seems the foreboding of the still greater change which is to add these thousands and millions, as well as other thousands and millions, to the list of peoples who, from a state of mere bodily freedom, have grown also into political liberty. It is, moreover, this same historic race trait — this power of self-adaptation to new conditions — which is meant in the phrase “ the new generation,” so frequently heard in modern Russia, it being there well understood that a single generation usually suffices to give some new and important direction to the intellectual or social tendencies of the people. Whence it may be urged without exaggeration that if constitutional reforms were granted in Russia, two generations would suffice to graft them upon the nation’s life.

So much for the conditions of constitutional change in Russia. In the absence of any likelihood of reforms — in the practical certainty that the country will be left by its rulers to grow into new conditions as it may through the transformations slowly wrought by education and industry — we return to the question of the future, not so much of the Russian people, as of the autocratic system under which they live. Thus far the peculiar circumstances of Russian development have favored the perpetuation of that system. It was at one time a haven of refuge from the intolerable disorder and civil war which to such a degree weakened the ethnic life of Russia during the udyélny or feudal period. It helped, at critical moments, to save the nation from race dispersion and from conquest. The same merciless use of absolute power which rescued the excessive individualism of the Slav in Russia from the fate partly brought by that race trait upon Poland was also found useful in numerous foreign wars. Yet the Russian autocracy has been safeguarded in the past just as much by territorial isolation as by its power of resistance and attack. Yet the separateness of Russia from the first-class fighting nations cannot last forever. By coming rearrangements of border lines in the West, or by hostile contacts in the far East, Russia must finally draw into that closeness of relation with the other great powers which is the destiny of all civilized races living a common life on the same round world. And in that time her resource will be, not the barriers which nature has reared, or which man artificially maintains, but the power of her people to compete with the rest of the nations in the things which make for national strength and greatness. Even in a competition of peace, it will be the “ restless force of Europe’s mind,” rather than “the patient faith of Asia’s heart,” which will avail; but should the competition be one of arms, Russia will hold her own only to the extent that the surpassing bravery of her individual soldier, the splendid inertia of her fighting squares, are supplemented by the intelligence, the mental alertness, the power of initiative, the scientific training, and technical skill to which all modern success in war has been due. Even if the peril which seems to menace her future came only from her religious conditions, Russia would need the warning conveyed to her by the events of recent history. For a nation which persists in living as if it were from the church and from church customs, and not from the spirit of free investigation, from the practice of free thought and free speech, that the social efficiency of peoples is to come, — such a nation may pride itself on its enormous extent of territory, on its growing and already mighty population, most of all, perhaps, on its unity in the faith received from the fathers, — yet it is destined to collapse at the first decisive touch of a virile modern race.

But is not this mere pessimism ? Why should not the Great-Russian, who has already shown himself possessed of so many splendid qualities, finally dominate the world ? If Europe is not one day to become Cossack, why may it not, under Slav influence, one day become autocratic ? What is it that insures national greatness ? Is it cunning ? The Indians, probably the most crafty race ever seen on the planet, have now wellnigh disappeared. Is it bravery ? The Tekké Turkomans, whom the Russian campaign in Asia almost exterminated, were admitted by Skóbelev to be a people “ full of honor and courage ; ” they “ fought like demons,” and, until special measures of defense could be devised, were irresistible. Is it quick-firing guns and the newest appliances of war ? The failure of these, even when aided by a determination not much inferior to that of the Anglo-Saxon, has been one of the conspicuous results of the struggle in the Transvaal. Is it an enormous population from which to draw combatants ? What of the heroic and successful resistance made by the gallant 400 within the crumbling walls of the inclosure at Pekin to the attack made on them by an overwhelming force in the name of 400,000,000 Chinese ? Perhaps it is immense territory ? We still read our Gibbon, and the answer is there. Turn then to the institutional bases of ethnic supremacy. Does the military spirit, proficiency in the polite arts of life, make a first-class modern power ? The position now conceded to France is full of suggestion. Is national preëminence given to the land of glorious traditions in art and literature ? Let Italy, with her diminishing importance for world events, give the reply. Do even democratic forms of government, in the absence of an ordered and consecutive race experience, make great nations ? Consider the South American republics. How far, finally, will ecclesiasticism fit a people for enduring rank in planetary affairs ? The story of Spain, and of her recent collapse, is eloquent.

The source of national greatness is not only the results in the individual of the life now being lived by a people, but it is also — a high degree of race virility being understood — that subtle thing which we call brain structure, on which are impressed the whole experiences of a people in the past. If a nation is in decay, the past goes for little, however glorious it may have been ; but if a people be, physiologically speaking, in the ascendant, then it takes its strength or weakness from the character of its heredity. This is why the United States and Great Britain are to-day the two mightiest and most durable nations in the world. Satisfying in a high degree the conditions of social efficiency, they have both had rich race experiences, and it is these experiences which, impressed upon the structure of the individual brain, have made it strong with the whole strength of the wonderful process and story of Anglo-Saxon development. To a less and varying degree several of the nations of western Europe have been similarly endowed. But the gift of a perfect race heredity has not been conferred upon Russia ; and it is her unpromising past, issuing in the failure of a whole nation to keep step with the world’s advancing life, which seems to justify the prediction that, once brought fairly into competition with powers higher in the order of sociological, political, and religious development than herself, she will be forced to undergo modification as a political system.

We need not, of course, make the mistake of confounding the autocracy with the nation which it dominates. The people of Russia have shown that they possess qualities and aptitudes that will insure to them a future of potency, even of splendor, in the coming progress of the world. The story of their struggle for a worthy ethnic existence is in some respects pathetic. Submerged for 300 years in the night of the Tatar-Mongol domination, deprived of an advanced civilization for centuries after it had illumined the West, too early plunged into the whirlpool of European politics, compelled to spend energies needed at home in wars of expansion or conquest, — torn all the while by conflict between the conservatism of an inheritance from Asia and the progressive spirit which drew them irresistibly to Europe, — the Russians have already, if we consider merely the difficulties overcome, attained to a position of the first rank in racial achievement. From the days of Rurik to the present, moreover, they have displayed a patience under humiliation, a power of resilience from disaster, and a capacity of self-sacrifice in the pursuit of ideal ends which qualify them, if anything could, for national greatness. But they cannot reach their full stature as a people while a ruling caste — a foreign aristocracy which, as such, has already completed its historic part in their development — continues to hold them, largely in its own interest, to inadequate institutional forms elsewhere long outgrown, — to forms which, degrading their social efficiency to well-nigh mediæval levels, not only disqualify them for tasks of world - unification, but also threaten the integrity of their national life. They need a more advanced type of government; they need still more the modern and progressive institutions which such a type would secure. In the realm of nature the advent of the fit may be retarded, but it cannot be permanently delayed. Perhaps the stress of battle, with its mysterious assimilative power, is yet to deliver the Russians from the degradation of political serfdom, and to procure for them the opportunity at least of preparation for that “ government for the people, of the people, and by the people,” which is the advanced stage of all institutional progress.

Edmund Noble.

  1. See Glavniya Techeniya Russkoy Kultury. St. Petersburg. 1898.