Kireyevsky, Ivan Vasilievich

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(18061856), the most important ideologist of Russian Slavophilism, along with Alexei Khomyakov.

The promulgation of Slavophilism in the middle third of the nineteenth century marked the turn from Enlightenment cosmopolitanism to the fixation on national identity that has dominated much of Russian culture since that time. No life better suggests that crucial change in Russian cultural consciousness than Kireyevsky's. He first ventured into publicism as the editor of a journal that he called The European. The journal appeared in 1830, but was suppressed by the government after only two issues, almost entirely on the basis of a fanciful reading of Kireyevsky's important essay, The Nineteenth Century, in the inflamed atmosphere created by the European revolutions of that year. This traumatic event helped to end the Western orientation of Kireyevsky's earlier career and led to a series of new relationships, which, taken together, constituted a conversion to romantic nationalism.

Kireyevsky's childhood was spent in Moscow and on the family estate (Dolbino) in the vicinity of Tula and Orel, where the Kireyevsky family had been based since the sixteenth century. His father died of cholera during the French invasion of 1812, and he, his brother Peter, and their sisters were raised by their beautiful and intelligent mother, A. P. Elagina, who was the hostess of one of Moscow's most influential salons during the 1830s and 1840s. The poet Vasily Zhukovsky, her close friend, played some role in Kireyevsky's early education and he had at least a nodding acquaintance with other major figures in Russian culture, including Pushkin.

Kireyevsky studied with Moscow University professors in the 1820s, although he did not actually attend the university. There, under the influence of Professor Mikhail Grigorevich Pavlov, his interests shifted from enlightenment thinkers to the metaphysics of Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling. After graduation he became one of the so-called archive youth, to whom Pushkin refers in Eugene Onegin ; he also frequented an informal grouping known as the Raich Circle, as well as a kind of inner circle drawn from it, called the Lovers of Wisdom (Obshchestvo Liubomudriya ), devoted to romantic and esoteric knowledge.

After producing some literary criticism for the Moscow Messenger, Kireyevsky spent ten months in Germany, cultivating his new intellectual interest in German philosophy. He was entertained by Hegel in Berlin and attended some of Schelling's lectures in Munich, but, like many a Russian traveler, he was homesick for Russia and returned earlier than he had planned. The outbreak of cholera in Moscow was the official reason for his hasty return.

After the fiasco of the European, Kireyevsky underwent an intellectual and spiritual crisis from which he emerged, at the end of the 1830s, a considerably changed man: married, converted to Orthodoxy, and purged of many Western aspects of his former outlook. His wife's religiosity; his brother's interest in Russian peasant culture, and his new friend Alexei Khomyakov's belief in the superiority of Orthodox practice over the Western confessions all worked on him profoundly.

The immediate catalyst for the first Slavophile writings, however, was the famous "First Philosophical Letter" of Peter Chaadayev, which appeared in a Moscow journal in 1836. Chaadayev famously found Russia's past and present stagnant, sterile, and ahistorical, largely because Russia had severed itself from the Roman and Catholic West. The discussion between Kireyevsky, Khomyakov, and their younger followers over the next several decades constituted a collective "answer to Chaadayev." Orthodox Christianity, according to the Slavophiles, actually benefited from its separation from pagan and Christian Rome. Orthodoxy had been spared the rationalism and legalism which had been taken into the Roman Catholic Church, from Aristotle, through Roman legalism, to scholasticism and Papal hierarchy. Russian society had thus been able to develop harmoniously and communally. Although, since Peter the Great, the Russian elite had been seduced by the external power and glamor of secular Europe, the Russian peasants had preserved much of the old, pre-Petrine Russian culture in their social forms, especially in the peasant communal structure. Kireyevsky and the other Slavophiles hoped that these popular survivals, combined with an Orthodox revival in the present, could restore Russian culture to its proper bases. Kireyevsky expressed these ideas in a series of short-lived journals, which appeared under the editorship of various Slavophile individuals and groups. The Slavophile sketch of the patrimonial and traditional monarchy of the pre-Petrine period is largely fanciful, as is that of the social and political life dominated by a variety of communal forms, but such sketches constituted a highly effective indirect attack on the Russia of Nicholas I and on the development of European industrialism. Kireyevsky's Slavophilism, with its curious blend of traditionalism, libertarianism, and communalism, has left unmistakable marks on virtually all variants of Russian nationalism and social romanticism since his time. Although his written legacy was limited to a few articles, Ivan Kireyevsky was the philosopher of Slavophilism, just as Khomyakov was its theologian.

See also: khomyakov, alexei stepanovich; slavophiles


Christoff, Peter. (1972). An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Russian Slavophilism: A Study in Ideas, Vol. 2:I. V. Kireevsky. The Hague: Mouton.

Gleason, Abbott. (1972). European and Muscovite: Ivan Kireevsky and the Origins of Slavophilism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walicki, Andrzej. (1975). The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought. Oxford: Clarendon.

Abbott Gleason