Friday, September 1, 2023

Apophatic Apologetics: A Review of ESCHATOLOGICAL OPTIMISM by Daria “Platonova” Dugina

By Perrin Lovett


There are few things more intellectually agreeable than a well-reasoned treatise that forces one to continually think, that offers both reassurance and challenge. If such a work is both inspiring and captivating, then it becomes an even finer rarity. So it is with today’s subject, a proper exposition of the good, the true, and the beautiful: 


Dugina, Daria “Platonova”, Eschatological Optimism. Tucson, Arizona: PRAV Publishing, 2023. 


The book is the posthumously collected essays and lectures of the brilliant Daria (also to some, Darya) Dugina, as masterfully edited by John Stachelski and fluidly translated into English by Jafe Arnold. This review and all page citations are based on the Kindle edition; for reference, I use the pagination rather than positioning provided by my Kindle reader. One may and should order a copy either from PRAV or from Amazon.


Eschatological Optimism is extraordinarily well-structured. Given topics that some might otherwise present with a stuffy, stilted, or disjointed complexity, the innately smooth format instead flows verbally and mentally like a gentle stream. This is a credit to the skills of the editor and, for the English-reading audience, the translator. Yet there is something more remarkable at work, which speaks to the prowess of the author and which is highlighted and magnified by the fact the posited chronicle is a compendium of smaller annals. One encounters a series of repetitions of the title theme and related matters. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, for example, is mentioned in multiple places. Yet at no time does the recurrence become stale. Rather, the litany has a reinforcing cumulative effect. As such, the presumed editorial joining and rejoining of various matters exposes a deliberate composition to engender delight, awe, and perhaps even envy. This phenomenon speaks most highly of the mind behind the assembled words, of an intellect active, engaged, and engaging. A concentrated will and organization obviously guided all of Dugina’s script, understanding, and reflection. 


The book will be of great interest to Orthodox Christians, Russians, and Neoplatonic thinkers. It will also be of great interest to all other Christians, non-Russian nationals, Aristotelians, and anyone else who enjoys exercising his brain. Along with the thoughtful rendering of its nominal philosophy, Eschatological Optimism allows for subtly divergent, if parallel consideration of the component parts or conclusions of the stated theory by the reader. Pouring through the pages, a wonderful idea of complementary synthesis builds in the mind, a congruency. Commodious space is provided for individual intellectual maneuvering; though one need not precisely follow every attestation or predication of the text, one should, in my estimation, be able to reach a pleasingly similar denouement. Your reviewer is, for the sake of disclosure, an eschatological optimist. All Christians should be as well, for we know and trust that even as our plodding way may be rough, our ultimate destination and salvation are assured. For almost every interested party, there is something to be learned from Dugina’s book. She forced me to remember things forgotten, consider things in new ways, and to consider entirely new concepts. She has opened a wide and well-lit door. She did so, admittedly, from a distinctly and naturally Russian perspective and the very different (from the “ordinary”) outlook of the philosopher. Regardless of disposition, all of the types of readers I just noted should feel or foster towards each other a kind of camaraderie and respect as each approaches that door. It leads to something and somewhere rewarding.


“Eschatology,” of course, concerns the final end of the world, and for Christians, the Second Coming. “Optimism” is a favorable perspective. Together, as Dugina explains on page 34, the combined terminology is “rather dangerous and complex.” It’s also rather positive, informative, and even enchanting. Two approaches to the philosophy are delineated along with the defined assertion that the eschatological optimist, while accepting that terminal change in the world is imminent, nonetheless soldiers on by consciously and purposely living. On page 54, Dugina provides perhaps a clearer and more actionable definition: 


...eschatological optimism is the consciousness and recognition that the material world, the given world which we presently take to be pure reality, is illusory: it is an illusion that is about to dissipate and end. We are extremely, sharply conscious of its finitude. But, at the same time, we maintain a certain optimism; we do not put up with it, we talk about the need to overcome it.


A dialectical Christian may or may not hone in on the illusory aspect. For my part, I hope he does, wrestling with the notion of being in but not of the illusion. If I failed to mention there is great thrill and fun in the reading, then know that there is. The wallop is far-ranging, as one will find numerous examples from history, theology, and literature. For instance, like the author, I still ponder the questioned optimistic potential of Edgar Allen Poe. Was the raven’s perch of choice supposed to suggest to us something of deeper ancient character?!


In many ways, Eschatological Optimism is a grand refresher for those who previously studied Plato (and other classical philosophers). If one is not well-acquainted with Greek thought, then it is a marvelous introduction. Platonism is well-explicated across the course of some twenty-five centuries and from various points of view and understanding. The reader will be reminded of the linkage and harmony across socio-theological realms regarding ontology, hierarchy, and more. Dugina covers many subtopics very well, a list too multitudinous to recount here. I touch only upon a few of many interesting points.


Apophatic theology, intricately bound to Orthodox tradition and general Christian thought, lies at the heart of eschatological optimism. As opposed to, or rather, in addition to, direct cataphatic orientation towards God, the apophatic is a path to comprehension (of the ultimately incomprehensible) via negation or indirect appreciation — trusting that which cannot be seen clearly in this world. It is reasoned yet mystical faith, not “blind” as it is guided by a form of structured logic. Beyond Eastern Orthodoxy, the apophatic has been part of Catholic doctrine since the Thirteenth Century, as embraced and expressed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was deeply influenced by Areopagitic thought. The root of (apophatic) Christian Platonism — see page 301 — comes from the fusion of Greek philosophy with Christian Patristic tradition forged by Dionysius the Areopagite. That coalescence of religious and Platonic thought is expounded thoroughly and even poetically.


Given the current state of the corporeal world, the same as it ever was, some of Dugina’s attention turns to the unpleasant aspects of human existence since the expulsion from Eden. She writes, correctly, on page 67, “Evil is easy to find and easy to see.” Much energy and time would be saved if materialists would acknowledge this truth and cease wasting their efforts attempting to explain evil as merely “bad” and if they would limit their tangible reactions to what are primarily spiritual concerns, even those, especially those that intrude into our illusory “real” world. War is presented as a necessary righteous rebellion against the false order of the world, a conflict of what is “below” against God and His order above. In and around that context, and among other timely, cogent observations, Dugina correctly calls out the sad misunderstanding by the postmodern West of nature, life, love, war, and peace. Set against the great spiritual conflict that envelops all of us whether we understand it or not, Dugina delivers a call to resistance the likes of which is rarely if ever heard today, a call made so clearly, passionately, and appropriately. From page 102:


In the conditions of the modern world, any stubborn and desperate resistance to this world, any uncompromising struggle against liberalism, globalism, and Satanism, is heroism.


That passage alone should cement the value of Dugina’s book, her theories, and her bold place among the champions of Christian civilization. She goes on to call for cultivating the warrior within. This is the clarion call for our times.


A fascinating discourse occurs concerning the differences between the legitimate feminine principles (of Russia) and the faltering postmodern feminist attitudes of the West. There is such a thing as “Christian Feminism” and I leave to the reader the joys of exploring its place in sane sociosexual relations. In my estimated summary, men and women were literally made for each other, separate but equal, and utterly compatible. In this, not a minor front in our war, we must reclaim the joy that satan and his minions have stolen or attempted to pilfer.


The various fractures of the natural hierarchy between God and man, between man and man, and between man’s sociopolitical entities and himself are examined in keen detail. Ultimately, what Dugina calls for is a return to or continuation of the grand traditions of our past, to the turning of backs to the disorder of the postmodern world. By doing so, she bravely imagines — and I think she is correct, we can (re)ignite the optimist’s spirit. And we may do so in a way both intelligible to us and pleasing to God. Elsewhere, others have commented at length about the combining of the noble pagan Greek thought, as exemplified by Plato, and the just doctrine of Christianity. Dugina’s detailed look into the life and times of Emperor Julian the Apostate, along with the “Justinian” reaction thereto and thereagainst, and our ensuing history, provides a spectacular example of what works, what does not work, what mystifies, and what may or must happen in order to maintain clarity of thinking (the Platonic way) without sacrificing any of the absolute Truth of Christianity. 


Emperor Julian is presented under “Political Platonism.” On page 277, Dugina quotes W. R. Inge regarding the emperor being “a conservative when there was nothing left to preserve.” There is something familiar in those words for today’s Westerner, particularly for today’s American. Those of us in the West have suffered tremendous damage from the faux Enlightenment, which Dugina proportionally dismisses, including libertine calls for nebulous openness and false freedom. As she notes, true light comes only from Jesus Christ. In it, and only in it do we find genuine comfort and cause for optimism.


Herein, I have painted very broadly and just enough to cover the bare corners. Needless to say, I highly recommend Eschatological Optimism. The reader will be delighted, astounded, and … saddened.


Reading through, roughly articulating a mental outline for this review, I resolved to omit any painful mention of Daria Dugina’s tragic and untimely death. That resolve dissipated upon reading the Afterword written by Daria’s mother, Natalia Melentyeva. Noting the broken character of our world, Mrs. Melentyeva spoke of Daria’s courage and spirit, of the kind of mental and spiritual effort necessary to restore our civilization. She candidly answered the terrible question I feared to broach on page 364:


To the question, “Who killed Daria Dugina?”, there is one final and true answer: “the enemy of humankind,” the modern world, the dark spirit waging eternal struggle against the Light, against the Intellect, against the sublime and the noble.


Despite the wicked endeavors of mankind’s truest, darkest enemies, Daria Dugina is (is, not was), as her mother wrote, “the ever-rising star of Russian thought.” A beautiful, optimistic star to help steer our course.


Да благословит и сохранит тебя Господь, Платонова.


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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