21 July 2009

Review of Laurie Manchester's /Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligentsia, and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia/ by Christopher Read

From the American Historical Review, Vol 114, No 3 (June 2009).

"At the heart of Manchester's book is an analysis of the small--maybe one percent of the population (p.12)--group of sons of priests (popovichi). Traditionally, scholars have dismissed them as raznochintsy (people of miscellaneous ranks). Instead, Manchester presents them as a relatively clearly defined class with its own ethos and with an influence extending well beyond the church and well beyond its numerical strength."
I've always thought of Raskolnikov as a pretty stereotypical raznochinets.
"In particular, she illustrates many places, including the early Bolshevik Party, where popovichi exerted an influence, despite their small numbers. ... Among such fascinating insights, Manchester notes the way the popovichi identified themselves against the earlier, noble-descended intelligentsia, and how the attempt by Dmitrii Tolstoi to corral popovichi within the clerical estate by refusing to recognize their qualifications as valid for university entrance in fact ensured the values of the seminary would spread to society."
Add this to the long, long list of reasons there's never been a strong libertarian movement in Russia: an influential portion of its intelligentsia were the sons of priests (Catholic liberal embrace of the welfare state, anyone?).
"There are also tantalizing glimpses of unusual attitudes among the popovichi toward sexuality. Aleksei Dmitrievskii failed to consummate his marriage because 'romantic passion' was satisfied by his work. 'Scholarship is the most charming of the women in the world...its embrace...takes care of all the afflictions and misfortunes of life,' he wrote. Note surprisingly, his wife did not agree and left him (p. 185)."
Guess who was the son of a priest? Nikolai Chernyshevsky, socialist-marxist-utilitarian extraordinaire, and author of What is to be done? (so good that Lenin stole the title!). There are some great footnotes in this edition that delve into Chernyshevsky's theories about romantic life; if you've somehow dragged yourself through the beast of a 'novel' you'll understand just as well. Manchester based her book on "a study of 207 identifiable popovichi." It's terrifying how accurate a portrait such a study painted.
"...in Manchester's words, 'popovichi did not repudiate the clerical traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church,' but 'they managed paradoxically to see themselves as leaving the clergy in order to preserve clerical traditions and impose them on secular society.' This, she argues, is 'the very opposite of traditional secularization theory and dechristianization' (p.155)."

Painting: Philosophers - Mikhail Nesterov