Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol’s Taras Bulba is one of the defining works of Russian literature. Indeed, it is often said that without Pushkin and Gogol, there would have been no Russian literature, only books written by Russians. Taras Bulba is a window deep into the grandeur and sorrow of the tempest which is the Russian soul, and more specifically, the soul of the men who inhabit the lands of the Rus which have been called Ukraine, or Little Russia. But far from merely being the thumotic throbbing of an alien people in a faraway land, Taras Bulba speaks to the European soul, the indomitable and ungovernable fire of Aryan man.
Western audiences might be familiar with the 1962 adaptation film starring Yul Brynner. Indeed, differences between the book and movie demonstrate how far the modern Westerner is removed from the fifteenth-century Cossack, and thus from his own savage ancestors who conquered the world. Whereas in the 1962 film, the elderly Taras is spurned to action by the restlessness of his son Andriy to avenge a previous Polish betrayal, in the novel, Taras beholds his two sons, Ostap and Andriy, in priestly frocks, as they are returning home from the Academy in Kiev. He decides to present them to the other Cossacks in the Zaporozhian Sich, but not before engaging in fisticuffs with them and dressing them in proper Cossack gear. Once among the Cossacks, Taras decides that his young sons must taste war, and so manipulates the politics of the Sich in order to elect a more warlike Koschevoi (leader). Fate then intervenes and grants the Cossacks a cassus belli to fight against the Poles, who are ostensibly humiliating the Orthodox Christians with the aid of the Jews. The Cossacks arise in fury and vent their anger first on the Jews of the Sich, and then march in force on the Polish lands.
This contrast alone is enough to warrant an entire book expounding the different levels of confidence and martial spirit which the civilization of Gogol had had, as opposed to the already decadent and fallen civilization of the year 1962. As I only half-jokingly asked one of my friends – and now ask you, dear readers – would you invade Poland to save your son from becoming a robe-wearing, Nancy-boy intellectual? The sad truth is that our distant grandfathers would have said yes, even as we timidly say no. And in fact, such a book has already been written. It is called The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, and it was written by no other than Ricardo Duchesne. Taras Bulba in this episode is very much the archetypal steppe aristocrat who will fight for pure prestige, and not even his own – for he is of an advanced age and his days of glory are already past – but for his sons’ prestige, who have yet to hear the symphony of steel and powder.
There has been much hand-wringing about the literary value of the novel, and there will continue to be in the future (in this essay, for example), but let me take a moment to say that it is a page-turner. Gogol is a master of prose and it shows, even in the somewhat mediocre translation which you can read here. Aside from the majestic and exciting battle scenes, even the way the Cossacks prepare for war is adventurous in its way. The tale speaks to something within every man; indeed, every white man – and why wouldn’t it? It is the ultimate in family outings: a father taking his two sons to taste the blood of foemen, conquering new lands and slaying enemies of the faith.
The battle scenes demonstrate the important tension at the heart of every steppe nomad – and indeed, every white man – between aristocratic individualism, which drives man to impose his will on the surrounding world, and the collectivism and obedience necessary to impose that will and ensure the existence of our people and a future for white children. The Cossacks are referred to collectively, whole kurens acting in unison while the great maneuvers and musket volley firing are in play, but once the battles descend into semi-chaotic melees, individual Cossacks come to the fore and demonstrate their bravery, with aristeias depicting their deeds in battle and personal histories in some cases in a manner reminiscent of Homer’s Iliad. To take one example, the Cossack Moisiy Shilo defeats a Polish nobleman in single combat, preceded by a narration of Shilo’s exploits in a past raid on the Turks, where he deceived them into believing he had converted to Islam and then killed and robbed a lot of them, but thereafter dishonoring himself in the Zaporozhian Sich through thievery and drunkenness. But he yet finds forgiveness in the hearts of his brothers for being a brave and great warrior. Immediately following this narrative, Shilo is shot by the Polish nobleman’s servants, and has but enough strength to call for the eternal honor of Russia.
And the Poles! While the book is a product of its time and has a good deal of anti-Polish sentiment, Gogol faithfully describes the Sarmatist aesthetic prevalent in the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, of the Polish nobles and knights who adorn themselves with gold and silk in the imagined manner of the Sarmatians. The great tragedy of this is that their style of dress and manner is not very different from that of a Cossack, and that war between Cossack and Pole is ultimately a brother war, even if a necessary one. We are who we are, and European history reflects that, from the times of the steppe nomads who fought each other for pure prestige. An oft-repeated call in battle on both sides is for an equal battle, someone to measure one’s strength against. Indeed, Gogol will often reflect on the bravery and skill of the Poles. It’s easy to look on Poland as a victim nation, partitioned and invaded for centuries, but history teaches us that it was at one time a strong nation with imperial ambitions and that the Rzeszpospolita was in many ways the height of Polish civilization, itself reflecting the tension between the aristocratic individual and the collectivism of the military hierarchy, even though they are the heroes of a different story.
Taras’ wish is granted. Both his sons attain prestige in battle, Ostap as a cool-headed commander who is soon made hetman of the Oumanski kuren after he avenges the death of the previous hetman Borodaty, and Andriy as a champion, a great warrior who knows no fear. However, as in many things, a woman proves to be the ruin of man. While the Cossack host besieges the city of Dubno, Andriy is spotted by a Polish Waiwode’s daughter who knew him from Kiev, and is seduced by her into joining the Poles. He then gives a treasonous speech which should chill the heart of every one of us, for it represents the sickness which is killing our world. Let the traitor, therefore, speak for himself:
Who says that the Ukraine is my country? Who gave it to me for my country? Our country is the one our soul longs for, the one which is dearest of all to us. My country is – you! That is my native land, and I bear that country in my heart. I will bear it there all my life, and I will see whether any of the Cossacks can tear it thence. And I will give everything, barter everything, I will destroy myself, for that country!
This is Andriy Bulba, rootless cosmopolitan, who will cease being a Cossack and become a Pole, renounce Orthodoxy and become a Catholic, and renounce his father, brother, friends, and land – for a woman. In our deracinated age, this doesn’t seem so dramatic. A modern-day Andriy would cut off his dick, take hormones, declare himself trans-black, and convert to Islam, while cursing his cisheteronormative toxic masculinist father and brother, who perpetuate hierarchies by being hetmans of kurens rather than joining gardening communes with fellow trans-amputee whamen of color. Oh, and he wouldn’t do it for a woman, obviously, because heterosexuality is icky.
In that one sentence – “our country is the one our soul longs for” – is contained the hubris and arrogance of the gnostic; of the man who believes, Jew-like, that he can heal the world of its pain, not considering for a second that what he believes to be pain is inherent to the world and not a bad thing at all – a man so limited in scope that he believes to know all there is to know, someone so locked up in his own skull that he cannot even conceive of the world which is vast and terrible, but majestically ordered. Traditional man is humble man, a man who kneels before God; a man who knows his strength, but also its limits; a man who understands that he is only as strong as his bond to other men, as stalwart as his faith in God. Andriy Bulba is indeed seduced by the Polish girl, but also by the lure of false freedom, the lie that he who has no roots is free. Indeed, this is the primary sin of Faustian man, for the soul that yearns for freedom, the aristocratic individual who imposes his will on the world, is always at risk of convincing himself – foolishly – that he is God, that his heart knows better than the world, and that intellect or force can overcome the grand rules of nature. That is the great sin of our race and what will destroy the West.
Treason is not tolerated by the Cossacks, and Taras Bulba executes his son by his own hand, though at the cost of the battle. When his leadership is most necessary, he is distracted by the need to punish his wayward son. His other son, Ostap, is also captured by the Poles. Taras is knocked unconscious and rescued by a friend and then returned to the Zaporozhian Sich, but broken in spirit.
He pays Yankel the Jew, whom he had previously saved from the wrath of the Cossacks to smuggle him to Warsaw, so that he may rescue Ostap. Yankel the Jew does exactly that, but Taras fails to rescue Ostap, managing to merely let the poor boy know that he is watching and is pleased as Ostap is being tortured, broken at the wheel, and finally executed. True to form as noble savages of the steppe, not one of the Cossacks lets out a single sound while being horrifically tortured. Old Bulba has now given all he has to give to his nation, and his prestige is secure. His raison d’être as an Aryan aristocrat is fulfilled. He is ready to die, and the story now only requires his death.
The rest of the novel chronicles Taras’ roaring revenge, culminating in his capture and execution, as well as his prophecy that a new Tsar will arise to unify all the Russias – indeed, all Slavs – under the banner of the faith. This part is known to have been tacked on seven years after the novel was completed at the behest of Russian government censors, and it is in many ways a concentrated dose of anti-Polish sentiment. Whereas previous segments of the novel portray the Poles as “the Other” and as enemies – and worthy enemies at that – this ending goes beyond the necessary Schmittian friend-enemy distinction, which needn’t be hateful, and portrays the Poles as deceitful oathbreakers (although not without basis in historical fact). This does not quite detract from the overall quality of the novel. As we have mentioned before, Gogol is a master of prose, and the reader will intently imbibe the story regardless of this flaw.
Of note is the novel’s portrayal of Jews. Needless to say, Gogol was red-pilled on the JQ. He was more red-pilled than most of the Dissident Right is today. In Yankel the Jew, we see the moneylender and innkeeper who poisons gentiles with debt and booze, but rather than completely reject Jews, Gogol takes the pragmatic position that they have their uses, and are suited for such labor as doesn’t fit a God-fearing Christian, but which is necessary and useful to the state. The caveat is that the Jews will face pogroms if they get too big for their stringy trousers. Also of note is that while the Cossacks speak of the Poles as the enemy and decry Polish Catholicism as heresy – mostly in the service of Schmittian friend-enemy distinction – it is from the mouths of the Jewish characters that the truly hateful descriptions of Poles are heard. Doubtless, such words are also used for Cossacks when the Polish are around.
Finally, a word on geography. The Cossack is a Ukrainian phenomenon, and the Ukraine is, as its name suggests, the borderland. Its wide-open steppes make it a nightmare to defend and difficult to define. Is it Russian, or something else? Who is to say? History has shown us that it is nigh-impossible to effectively govern it. Warsaw, Vienna, and Moscow all failed at it, and despite the best efforts of the colored revolutionaries, Brussels and Washington haven’t fared any better. The sad side effect of this is that the proximity of great nations to Ukraine has in all probability prevented the process of ethnogenesis, and the Ukrainian people are therefore still in a sense not their own, but rather odds and ends which, under sufficient pressure, will form into a nation. In Gogol’s novel, this vacuum is filled by the Orthodox faith, which provides asabiyyah and friend-enemy distinctions for the Cossacks. Of note is that the Orthodoxy of the Cossacks is a warrior faith; they do not keep fasts and do not forgive. Vengeance is a virtue among them, and violence celebrated for its own sake. The Cossacks are the army of Christ envisioned in this article, serving God but not the Church. This is what a healthy society should look like – warriors on top served by priests, rather than the other way around.
We in the civilized West live in sprawling citadels of steel and glass. We are far from the Pontic-Caspian steppe where our ancestors fought for prestige, far from the warrior-kings who conquered Europe, Iran, and India, and far from the joy of battle. Even more importantly, we are far from each other. There can be no Männerbund, no druzhina, no kuren. We do not revel, we do not fight, and we do not invade Poland just to give our sons a taste of war, and we do not pass judgement on those same sons when they desert, betray, and disappoint us. And yet within each of us lives this steppe aristocrat, this physically effervescent Aryan man who will do exactly those things if pushed, who will stand athwart unspeakable opprobrium and spitefully snarl at the enemy. There lives inside you a hetman of our people – a Taras Bulba.