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Nikolay Yakovlevich Danilevsky (Russian: Никола́й Я́ковлевич Даниле́вский; 28 November 1822 – 7 November 1885) was a Russian naturalist, economist, ethnologist, philosopher, historian, and ideologue of the pan-Slavism and Slavophile movement who expounded a view of world history as circular.
Danilevsky was born in the village of Oberets in Oryol Governorate. As a member of a noble family, he was educated at the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, and after graduation went on to an appointment with the Military Ministry Office. Dissatisfied with the prospect of a military career, he began to attend the University of St Petersburg, where he studied physics and mathematics.
Having passed his master's exams, Danilevsky was preparing to defend his thesis on the flora of the Black Sea area of European Russia when in 1849 he was arrested for his membership of the Petrashevsky Circle. The circle was studying the work of French socialists, and also included Fyodor Dostoevsky. The most active of its members were sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment); Danilevsky was imprisoned for 100 days in the Peter and Paul Fortress, and then sent to live under police surveillance in Vologda, where he worked in provincial administration.
In 1852 he was appointed to an expedition led by Karl Ernst von Baer, whose purpose was to assess the condition of the fishing industry on the Volga and the Caspian Sea. The expedition lasted four years, after which Danilevsky was reassigned to the Agricultural Department of the State Property Ministry. For over twenty years he was responsible for expeditions to the White Sea, the Black Sea, the Azov and Caspian Seas, and the Arctic Ocean. The expertise that he gained from these expeditions led to the publication of his 1872 book, Examination of Fishery Conditions in Russia.
Aside from his work on fisheries and the seal trade, Danilevsky was head of the commission setting the rules for the use of running water in the Crimea from 1872 to 1879, ran the Nikitsky Botanical Gardens from 1879 to 1880, and was part of a commission appointed to deal with the phylloxera epidemic in the 1880s. His papers on the climatology, geology, geography, and ethnology of Russia earned him a gold medal from the Russian Geographical Society.
Natural theology & rejection of Darwinism 
Danilevsky's main work in this area is Darwinism: Critical research (1885), which brings together more than 1,200 pages of arguments against Darwin's theory (mostly assembled from the literature that already existed at the time). This was only meant to be the first volume of a longer work, the second volume containing Danilevsky's own theories (which he characterised as "natural theology"), but it was unfinished at his death, and when published posthumously contained only preliminary studies.
Danilevsky had been influenced by the work of von Baer, who had developed his own teleological theory of evolution, and who had gone on to criticise Darwin's work in the 1870s. Danilevsky took from von Baer's theory the notion of Zielstrebigkeit — the German word means literally "singleness of purpose", but Danilevsky imbued it with a religious aspect. He argued that evolution (and the original creation of the world) has a rational purpose, and follows the will of a divine creator.
Theory of historical-cultural types 
Danilevsky first published "Russia and Europe: a look at the cultural and political relations of the Slavic world to the Romano-German world" in the journal Zarya in 1869, though it was republished as a monograph, and was the work that brought him international fame.
The work pioneered the use of biological and morphological metaphors in the comparison of cultures. Danilevsky compared the cultures and nations to biological species, denying their commonality, and arguing that each nation or civilisation is united by language and culture, which cannot be passed on to any other nation. Thus he characterised Peter the Great's reforms as doomed to failure, as they involved the attempt to impose alien values on the Slavic world.
Danilevsky distinguished four categories of historical-cultural activity: religious, political, sociopolitical, and cultural; these gave rise to ten historical-cultural types: Egyptian, Chinese, Assyro-Babylonian, Jewish, Greek, Roman, Muslim, Slavic, and Romano-German. He then applied his teleological theory of evolution, stating that each type went through various predetermined stages of youth, adulthood, and old age, the last being the end of that type. He characterised the Slavic type as being at the youth stage, and developed a socio-political plan for its development, involving unification of the Slavic world, its capital at Constantinople (now Istanbul), ruled by an Orthodox Emperor. While other cultures degenerate in their blind struggle for existence, the Slavic world should be viewed as a Messiah among them. In Danilevsky's view there is no genuine or absolute progress, however, as history is circular.
Aspects of Danilevsky's book prefigured some of the theories in Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. They are mentioned in Arnold J. Toynbee's A Study of History. It was the subject of much controversy, however, and polarised its readers. On the one hand it was praised by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, while on the other it was severely criticised by such Occidentalists as Nikolai Kareev, Pavel Milyukov, and Nikolai Mikhailovsky.
See also 
Further reading 
- (Russian) Danilevsky Nikolai Yakovlevich. 1885-1889 Darwinism. A Critical Study (Дарвинизм. Критическое исследование) at Runivers.ru in DjVu format
- (Russian) Danilevsky Nikolai Yakovlevich. 1895 Russia and Europe. A look at the cultural and political relations of the Slavic world to the German-Roman (Россия и Европа. Взгляд на культурные и политические отношения Славянского мира к Германо-Романскому) at Runivers.ru in DjVu format
- (Russian) Danilevsky Nikolai Yakovlevich. 1890 Collection of political and economic articles (Сборник политических и экономических статей) at Runivers.ru in DjVu format
- Eduard I. Kolcjinsky, "Nikolaj Jakovlevich Danilevsky", in Encyclopedia of Anthropology ed. H. James Birx (2006, SAGE Publications; ISBN 0-7619-3029-9)