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Mir (мир; мiръ) (Russian)

Historically, ‘mir’ was one of the terms used to refer to an organized and self-sufficient peasant community (obschina, община) in Russia. It acquired additional metaphysical connotations in the religious and philosophical writings starting from the 19th century and served as a conceptual precursor to one of the central categories of Russian religious philosophy, sobornost’.[1]

The most obvious semantic layer of this term connotes the idea of a complex collective identity as opposed to an individual agency. The mir includes all members of a (usually) agricultural community but is not identical to a mechanical sum of a certain number of humans. Even at the level of an ordinary language usage, mir appears to acquire quasi-personal characteristics when it shows itself as a wise agent which can issue binding decisions, administer rewards and punishments and acquire property rights. For example, it was the mir, rather than an individual peasant, who ultimately owned the land, and, consequently, it was the responsibility of the mir to settle any financial or legal accounts with the government on behalf of a particular member of the village. A pervasive conviction among the peasants that God alone had the ultimate claim to the land that they were cultivating merely as temporary ‘care-takers’ was manifested in the alienation of the individual rights for the agricultural assets in favor of the abstract collective union, the mir. It thus functioned as an earthly representative of the higher authority with the full powers to distribute the land and other goods according to the principles of truth (pravda, по правде) rather than the rules of formal justice. For a similar reason, the mir also served as a point of reference for an individual facing a moral uncertainty and thus as a reliable moral standard. The decisions of the mir were in an important sense final and could not be appealed (e.g., as in expression ‘the mir has decreed…” ‘мир присудил...’).

Psychologically, mir allows to transcend the obvious limitations of a person taken as an atomic unit. A common expression “by the efforts of all the mir” (всем миром) imbues a person with the powers of the multitude, and a popular Russian saying “even death is beautiful in front of the mir” (на миру и смерть красна) suggests that one’s identity is defined against the background of the mir’s judgment. Traditional emphasis on the absolute priority of the collective, the mir, over an individual was often identified as one of the underlying causes of the popular appeal of communist ideology in the 20th century Russia (e.g., Berdyaev, 1960). But more importantly, an idealized understanding of mir as a peaceful commonwealth of Christian peasants, unspoiled by the ills of civilization, is also at the root of another influential philosophical and religious concept – Sobornost’. On Khomiakov’s view, who was one of the first thinkers to employ this notion in the 19th century, sobornost’ “is an organic, living unity the origin of which lies in the divine grace of mutual love… it is a spiritual unity, not only a social unity” (2019, 205).[2] The historical fact of the pervasiveness of mir in Russian history served as both an inspiration and justification of that subsequent philosophical notion of sobornost’, and the latter notion cannot be fully grasped without understanding the former.

Andrei Zavaliy

2020

 

Notes:

Ntes:

[1] The other lexical meanings of this homonym, such as peace and the world, will not be relevant here, even though Maria Kainova argues that the other ordinary meaning of mir, namely, ‘peace’ is not merely accidental – it is derived from the idea of a peaceful co-existence within a traditional community. https://reshenie.vcc.ru/read/mir-i-mir

[2] Interestingly enough, an understanding of the mir as sobornost’ in Khomiakov’s sense was intuitively grasped by Natasha Rostov in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. While being present at a church service, she listens to the words of a traditional prayer, “Let us pray to the Lord by all the mir (Миром Господу помолимся)” and she immediately interprets the phrase in the following way: “As one community, without distinction of class, without enmity, united by brotherly love—let us pray!” (Book 9, Ch. XVIII).

Literature:

Berdyaev, Nicolas. The Origin of Russian Communism. University of Michigan Press, 1960.

Khomiakov, Alexei. The Mystery of Sobornost’. Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon,2019.

Tulaev, Pavel. “Sobor and sobornost’,” Russian Studies in Philosophy, 31, 4 (1993): 25-53.

Author Citation Information

Zavaliy, Andrei, "Mir", ODIP: The Online Dictionary of Intercultural Philosophy (2020), Thorsten Botz-Bornstein (ed.), URL =

<www.Odiphilosophy.com/Mir>.

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