Written by Vladimir Moss



     In the course of history there have been only three major kinds of civilization: the despotic, the democratic and the Orthodox autocratic. All civilizations can be classified as variations on, or mixtures between, one or another of these three types. In the modern world, the clearest example of the despotic kind of civilization is China (or North Korea), and of the democratic kind – the West. Since 1917 (1945 at the latest) there has been no example of an autocratic civilization, although the Russian Federation claims – falsely - to be the successor of the autocratic civilization of the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire. 

     For a preliminary definition of these three categories, let us turn to the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev. In his article “Three Forces” (1877), Soloviev identified three basic forces as having determined the whole of world history, which were in his time incarnate especially in Islam, the West and the Russian Orthodox Autocracy. Soloviev characterized Islam as being under the dominating influence of what he called the first force, which he defined as "the striving to subject humanity in all its spheres and at every level of its life to one supreme principle which in its exclusive unity strives to mix and confuse the whole variety of private forms, to suppress the independence of the person and the freedom of private life." Democracy he characterized as being under the dominating influence of the second force, which he defined as "the striving to destroy the stronghold of dead unity, to give freedom everywhere to private forms of life, freedom to the person and his activity; ... the extreme expression of this force is general egoism and anarchy and a multitude of separate individuals without an inner bond." The third force, which Soloviev believed was incarnate especially in the Slavic world, is defined as "giving a positive content to the two other forces, freeing them from their exclusivity, and reconciling the unity of the higher principle with the free multiplicity of private forms and elements."

     As N.O. Lossky writes, expounding Soloviev: “The relation between free theocracy and the past history of mankind can be established if we examine the ‘three fundamental forces’ which govern human evolution. One of these forces is centripetal: its purpose is to subordinate humanity to one supreme principle, to do away with all the manifoldness of particular forms, suppressing the freedom of personal life. The second force is centrifugal; it denies the importance of general unifying principles. The result of the exclusive action of the first force would be ‘one master and a dead multitude of slaves’: the extreme expression of the second force would be, on the contrary, ‘general egoism and anarchy, a multitude of separate units without any inner bond.’ The third force ‘lends the positive content to the first two, relieves them of their exclusiveness, reconciles the unity of the supreme principle with the free multiplicity of particular forms and elements and thus creates the wholeness of the universal human organism giving it a peaceful inner life.’

     “’The third force, which is called upon to give the human evolution its absolute content, can only be a revelation of the higher divine world; the nation which is to manifest this force must only serve as an intermediary between mankind and the world and be its free and conscious instrument. Such a nation must not have any specific limited task; it is not called upon to work out the forms and elements of human existence, but only to impart a living soul, to give life and wholeness to disrupted and benumbed humanity through its union with the eternal divine principle. Such a people has no need for any special prerogatives, any particular powers or outward gifts, for it does not act of its own accord, it does not fulfil a task of its own. All that is required of the people which is the bearer of the third divine force is that it should be free from limitedness and one-sidedness, should elevate itself over the narrow specialized interests, that it should not assert itself with an exclusive energy in some particular lower sphere of activity and knowledge, that it should be indifferent to the whole of this life with its petty interests. It must wholly believe in the positive reality of the higher world and be submissive to it. These qualities undoubtedly belong to the racial character of the Slavs, and in particular to the national character of the Russian people.’

     “Soloviev hopes, therefore, that the Slavs and especially Russia, will lay the foundations of a free theocracy. He also tries to prove this by the following arguments of a less general nature. ‘Our people’s outer form of a servant, Russia’s miserable position in the economic and other respects, so far from being an argument against her calling, actually confirms it. For the supreme power to which the Russian people has to introduce mankind is not of this world, and external wealth and order are of no moment for it. Russia’s great historical mission, from which alone her immediate tasks derive importance, is a religious mission in the highest sense of this word.’”[1]

     Let us now turn to a closer examination of the first category, despotism. This is the oldest kind of civilization, going back as far as Nimrod’s Babylon and Pharaonic Egypt. Historically, most despotic civilizations have been pagan, with a tendency to deify the head of the hierarchy that dominates the whole system with his all-seeing eye and all-controlling hand, or identify him with an already-existing god (for example, Marduk in Babylon, or the sun-god Re in Egypt).

     In recent times, as belief in God has declined, the god-king has given way to the god-party or god-nation, although the tendency to deify a single person has remained: the vozhd, the Fuhrer, or the president-for-life. Under the influence of the democratic revolutions, terms like “king” or “emperor” have tended to be avoided; but the essence remains the same. He is the supreme ruler, de facto infallible, who has the right of absolute dominion over every citizen of his realm or even of the whole world. For the logic of despotism is the logic of world dominion.


     It goes without saying that despotism does not value individual freedom. But its essence does not consist in repression. Its essence consists in its refusal to recognize any authority higher than itself. The despot, even if he formally recognizes God as a higher authority than himself, in practice ignores God entirely. Similarly, he ignores the traditions and beliefs of his citizens (or, more accurately, slaves) that derive from their belief in God. He absolves himself from any obligation to observe them, which is why he is called “absolutist”. It follows that the despot is essentially lawless. It is not quite accurate to say that he is above the law because essentially he is a law unto himself; his will is the law.

     Logically and historically, the second of the three major forms of civilization, democracy, is defined by contrast with despotism, its antithesis. Thus the first democracy, that of Athens, was forged in the crucible of war against Persian despotism, while the Roman republic arose as the result of the expulsion of the Etruscan kings that ruled the city in the beginning. Since democracy arose among protesters against despotism, it always has a protest quality; its essence consists in the assertion of the rights of one or another minority group – national, religious, class-based or sexual - against a higher despotic authority. Democracy always tends towards the leveling of differences, to egalitarianism, to the destruction of hierarchies; and if the emotional pathos of despotism is pride and vainglory, that of democracy is resentment, envy and discontent. It sees law as in essence a check on the powers that be, and it insists that no man or institution can be above the law, laws being enacted by democratic majorities. Democracies may be led by a single person, but such a person must bow to the will of the people, the real sovereign. He may even be called a king, but he is a king who reigns rather than rules.

     In essence, democracy is as godless as despotism; for it will not allow the will of God to overrule the will of man as expressed by democratic elections and resolutions. “Christian democracy” is a contradiction in terms because while for a Christian God is the ultimate authority, for a democrat it is the people. We can therefore say that democracy, no less than despotism, is absolutist, since it is absolved from obeying any god or tradition that contradicts the will of the people.

     The third category of civilization, the Orthodox autocracy, is neither despotic nor democratic because it is not absolutist - that is, the autocrat does not feel himself to be absolved from obedience to God and the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox autocrat sees himself as a son of the Church who submits to the Church in all spiritual matters. In fact, he sees the main aim of his rule as bringing the whole of his kingdom into obedience to the will of God as defined by the Church.

     Some rulers have come perilously close to despotism by defying the Church or attempting to make it a department of state (caesaropapism) – Peter the Great is perhaps the best example. Others have veered towards democracy by willingly or unwillingly admitting elements of a constitution – Nicholas II’s reign after the October 1905 manifesto is an example of that. Orthodox civilizations can continue to exist during such deviations from the norm of Church-State “symphony”, but only temporarily.

     While the Orthodox autocrat sees himself as bound by Orthodox tradition, and respects the autonomy of the Orthodox Church, he is not bound by any other forces. That is why he is called an autocrat - that is, one who “rules himself”. Other forces may lobby him, and he may choose to consult with one or another interest group, but consultation is not the same as imposition. Thus the Russian tsars convened “Assemblies of the Land” (Zemskie Sobory) in order to consult with different sections of the people on important political decisions. But these assemblies did not have the legislative powers of a democratic parliament: the tsar remained free to accept or reject their advice 

     We have linked the words “Orthodox” and “autocracy” because an autocracy that is not Orthodox  cannot fulfill the will of God, which is the sole aim of all true autocracies. The main western confessions – Catholicism and Protestantism – cannot work together with an autocrat. For, on the one hand Catholicism sees the Pope as having power also in the political sphere, being himself a despot (papocaesarism), and on the other hand, Protestantism undermines all authorities, replacing them with the “conscience” of the individual believer or citizen – a recipe for perpetual revolution. The autocrat must be free to carry out his own vision of what is the will of God for his kingdom provided it is in accord with the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the other autonomous pillar of the kingdom. Through the sacrament of anointing the Church gives him the grace to carry out this godly task, and does not interfere with his actions in the political sphere unless they clearly harm the Church by transgressing the commandments of God.

     Autocrats are not elected, because elections express man’s will rather than God’s. Only during an interregnum, when the dynastic succession has been interrupted or destroyed, do the people get together in order, not so much to elect, as to discern, not their choice, but God’s – as was done at the “election” of Michael Romanov in 1613. When the autocrat dies, the kingdom passes to his son or nearest relative because, again, in this God’s will is discerned rather than man’s. And if the choice of God for king turns out to be a bad man, then the people accept this as God’s punishment for their sins. Only when the new king sins against the faith are the people entitled to rise up against him and restore the Orthodox autocracy 

     The Orthodox autocracy alone guarantees the preservation of the Orthodox faith and Orthodox civilization. When the autocracy falls, and a despot usurps the throne, the Orthodox faith is persecuted and begins to fail or be corrupted among the people – unless the people succeed in rising up and restoring Orthodoxy. In a democratic state the Orthodox faith may not be openly persecuted, but other principles, such as the theory of human rights, will be introduced that gradually corrupt the Orthodox consciousness of the people.

     The fervent prayer of all Orthodox Christians living in a despotic or democratic state must be for the restoration of the throne of the Orthodox autocrats.


February 26 / March 11, 2019.


[1] Lossky, History of Russian Philosophy, London, 1952.

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