Professor Natalia Narochnitskaya (1948- ), Doctor of Historical Sciences, President of the Historical Perspectives Foundation
Recently, a documentary film entitled The Fall of an Empire, written by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, the Superior of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, aired on Russian television. In an interview with Aleksei Sosedov of the website Interfax-Religion, Natalia Narochnitskaya, Doctor of Historical Sciences and President of the Historical Perspectives Fund, shared her impressions of the film.
The film The Fall of an Empire gave us a panoramic view of the general development of human history, something that most modern people do not wish to see. Unfortunately, most viewers only see the superficial details of this film, for they wish to guard themselves from the burden of responsibility that comes from seeing their behaviour as a part of the evolution of history. Today, people prefer to see only that small patch of reality on which they sit, and they do not desire to know where the winding river of history flows as a whole. The film reminds us about Byzantium, the mother of both the Western and the Orthodox civilisations, an entity intentionally removed not only from Soviet Russian historical awareness, but, also from that of Europe in general, as well.
The liberals who criticised this film did so because they do not abide the very existence of the concept it enunciated, that the purposes and measures of human history are intimately connected with the faith, for the faith harmonises the dichotomies between the personal and general philosophical senses of the historical path of mankind. Contemporary liberalism asserts the independence of the human personality from the restraints placed upon it by faith; they assert it is free of the constraint of religious, national, and family values. In their view, mankind must struggle to achieve this autonomy in order to progress. We would beg to differ. No, in this case, mankind ceases to understand the linkage of one’s personal life with the general life of society.
This film is useful, and it actually was historically-accurate, although any film of this kind is bound to contain some oversimplification. But, our liberals prefer to argue over this or that detail; for example, they say that something was taken at times from this century, at times from another. But, this is because the concept of the film itself is unbearable to them, for it suggests that something other than the West was the light of the world!
There is no flattery in the film with respect to Byzantium; it showed Byzantium’s vitality and how it lost it, how it lost the meaning of its existence, and how this destroyed the Empire, and how others took advantage of this situation. It is absolutely true that, up to the middle of the second millennium, Byzantium was truly the cultural metropolis of the world. In comparison, Western Europe was a place where kings only bathed twice in their lives, once, when they were born, and, again, when they were placed in the coffin. The West was lower than the Byzantine provinces; it was a backwater of this civilisation. Meanwhile, in Byzantium, manners were very refined by the standards of the times, the domestic arts, architecture, trade, and haute couture in clothing were all highly developed. This is all absolutely true, just as it is true that after Byzantium’s fall the impetus in intellectual thought shifted to Western Europe, which served as an enormous push in the development of Western science, culture, and civilisation. Europe had fallen very far behind. Those material influences that the West secured for itself at the cost of robbing Byzantium and South America are not sufficiently reckoned, they are comparable in scope to centuries of growth through natural evolution.
The basic idea of the film lays in the stipulation that technology, science, or external development cannot forestall collapse if the inner core is destroyed. Decline is inevitable if society loses the connection between the personal and the common good, if it loses civil sensibility, if it loses the understanding of the distinction between sin and virtue, and if the élite becomes so rotten that they no longer recognise themselves as part of the nation.
The West can see a warning for itself in this film, because the same thing is happening to Western civilisation, a civilisation that also had vitality, a great culture founded upon the fiery conviction of Christian truth, upon the struggle between good and evil. This is the source of the monologues of Macbeth, Hamlet, and Schiller’s heroes. What is the end result of all this, if man’s most important choice today is his brand of toothpaste, and his homeland is where the taxes are lowest? That is why they are helpless before non-Western emigrants, not entirely because there are hordes of such emigrants, but, because Westerners have lost their own values.
Neither is the film very flattering to our own Russian state. On the contrary, it articulates a ringing, bold, and daring rebuke. If we lose the vital foundations of our society, and if our élite becomes corrupted, history will judge even the specific eras of responsible and constructive government as nothing more than fleeting ephemera.
5 February 2008
Another English translation of this piece exists on Pravoslavie.ru. Not only is it overly literal at points, obscuring the meaning of Professor Narochnitskaya, it lacks Paragraph 2 of the main body of text. There is nothing I dislike more than incomplete translation, especially where an important point is made, as is the case here. Shame on the original translator! All of us who translate have an obligation to present the original in its entirety. The English-speaking reader has the right to as complete a text as exists in the Russian original.