Nikolay Danilevsky

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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.

Danilevsky died in Tbilisi, Tiflis Governorate, and was buried at his estate in Mshanka.


Danilevsky is mainly remembered for his opposition to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and for his theory of historical-cultural types.

Natural theology & rejection of Darwinism[edit]

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[edit]

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. Later republished as a monograph, this work brought him international fame.

The work pioneered the use of biological and morphological metaphors in the comparison of cultures. Danilevsky compared cultures and nations to biological species, denying their commonality, and arguing that each nation or civilisation is united by its language and culture, which it cannot pass on to any other nation. Thus he characterised Peter the Great's reforms in Russia 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:

  1. religious
  2. political
  3. sociopolitical
  4. cultural

These gave rise to ten historical-cultural types:[1]

  1. Chaldean
  2. Hebrew
  3. Arab
  4. Indian
  5. Persian
  6. Greek
  7. Roman or ancient Italian
  8. Germanic
  9. Hamitic or Egyptian
  10. Chinese

Danilevsky 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, with its future 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. Arnold J. Toynbee mentions them in A Study of History. The Danilevsky hypothesis became the subject of much controversy and polarised its readers. On the one hand Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy praised it, while on the other Occidentalists such as Nikolai Kareev, Pavel Milyukov (1859-1943), and Nikolai Mikhailovsky (1842-1904) subjected it to severe criticism.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]



  1. ^ Danilevsky, N. Ya. "Россия и Европа, ГЛАВА V: Культурно-исторические типы и некоторые законы их движения и развития" [Russia and Europe] (in Russian). Retrieved 2013-10-15. [...] из десяти культурно-исторических типов, развитие которых составляет содержание всемирной истории, три принадлежат племенам семитической породы, или расы, и каждое племя, характеризованное одним из трех языков семитической группы - халдейским, еврейским и арабским,- имело свою самобытную цивилизацию. Арийская группа языков подразделяется, как известно, на семь главных лингвистических семейств: санскритское, иранское, эллинское, латинское, кельтическое, германское и славянское. Из племен, соответствующих этим семи семействам языков, пять - индийское, персидское, греческое, римское, или древнеиталийское, и германское - представляли или представляют самобытные культурно-исторические типы, развившиеся в самобытные цивилизации.[...] Вне семитических и арийских племен, два другие самобытные племени, хамитское, или египетское, и китайское, тоже образовали своеобразные культурно-исторические типы.