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DMITRI PANIN AND ORTHODOXY

Dmitri Panin, the model for Sologdin, left Russia in 1973 for France. According to Thomas: 'Panin and his new Catholic-Jewish wife Issa had a cordial farewell with Sanya [Solzhenitsyn] before leaving for Paris: part of the limited Jewish exodus permitted as a contribution to détente with the West in the early 1970s.' In France, Panin published a number of books, including his own account his time in prison, Notebooks of Sologdin (Solzhenitsyn apparently took offense at the title). But he also published a number of more theoretical works including The World is a Pendulum, published in French in 1974, Builders and Destroyers (1883) and Theory of Densities. As it happens, Theory of Densities was published in French in 1990 by a friend of mine, the late Henri Viaud, who ran a small publishing house, Editions Presence. It includes an introduction by Issa Panin (Dmitri died in 1987) which gives a summary of his account of the ideal society:

'The principle characteristic of this society is the ethical supervision of an élite of men distinguished by their nobility of spirit. Their essential principles are as follows: nobility of soul, to be fearless following the commandment of the Saviour, freedom through semi-freedom (since the path towards the highest freedom demands the self-limitation of man), private property is inalienable.' 

Builders and Destroyers, still following Issa Panin, outlines the political organisation of such a society, which allows for a very high degree of democracy at the lowest, local, level, where everyone can know everyone else personally, while insisting on the rule of the non-elected élite at the highest, national level. She maintains that Solzhenitsyn's Rebuilding Russia (1990) - his first response to the collapse of the Soviet Union, takes up 'almost word for word' many of the ideas outlined by Panin: 'I regret that Solzhenitsyn did not mention his name in the pamphlet.'

This idea of a rationally organised society is advanced by the other figure I feel may have been based at least partly on Panin, Ilarion Gerasimovich in the chapter On the Back Stairway, which has a particular importance given that it is the last of the intense intellectual conversations of the book. Gerasimovich argues for a palace coup that will remove Stalin and his friends and replace them with '"Inequality based on talent, natural or cultivated. You can please yourself whether you call it 'the authoritarian state' or 'the rule of intellectual élite'. It will be rule by selfless, completely disinterested, luminous people."'

Nerzhin/Solzhenitsyn is skeptical (as well he might be): '"Alas, you've chosen the wrong person to advise you! I simply don't believe that anything good and durable can be constructed on this earth of ours."' And he recalls the words of Spiridon: '"Yes, our present regime is vile, but how can you be sure that what you want will be any better? Maybe it will be worse. No, you say, just because you want it to be better. But maybe those before you wanted things to be better. They sowed rye and what came up was goosefoot [sic. Not 'goosegrass' as in the earlier passage]."'

Panin's Theory of Densities outlines a science-based philosophy which he claims is truly 'materialist'  and truly rational in opposition to the non-materialist and irrational 'dialectical materialism' of Marxism - details of the argument find their way into the quarrel between Rubin and Sologdin. He then expounds the principle dogmas of the Church in terms of this overall theoretical framework and with the aid of an abundance of mathematical demonstrations. But of most immediate interest to us is a chapter on 'the Church' which argues that only on the basis of the papacy can the church become a force capable of confronting the state and the forces of antichrist, of godlessness, in the world. And he suggests that a large part of the teachings of Christianity (notably 'God is Love' and 'resist not evil') is not suited to mass consumption and should be reserved to the élite. 

The whole is strangely reminiscent of Dostoevsky and most obviously the famous Legend of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. The author of the Legend, Ivan Karamazov, was widely thought at the time to be modelled on Soloviev, who was a friend of Dostoevsky's and who eventually became a 'Uniate' - a Roman Catholic who continued to use the offices of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Ivan uses the story (in the long conversation with his brother Alyosha that is among the most profound discussions in the whole history of Christian literature) to argue through the lips of the Inquisitor that the doctrine of Jesus is cruel because it allows a freedom of the soul that very few people are able to assume and that consequently can only open the way to Evil - terrible, absolute Evil. Only iron control by an élite, represented by the Inquisitor, can save the people from the consequences of its own anarchic passions. For Dostoevsky, standing on the opposite side of the fence to Panin, it is an allegory of the essential difference between the rational Roman Catholic Church and irrational - but Christian - Orthodoxy. Panin is quite clearly and, we must assume, knowingly, taking the side of Ivan Karamazov.

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