Michel Eltchaninoff gave us an appointment at the restaurant Le Wepler, place de Clichy, in Paris, very close to the headquarters of Philosophy Magazineof which he is the editor. “It is at the location of this café that Céline starts The Journey to the End of the Nightenthuses this philosopher with a passion for literature.
Science and mysticism
At the beginning of February, we are not talking about the invasion of Ukraine by Russia: we are still far from imagining it. We planned to talk about a whole other expansion, a whole other journey: the resurrection of the dead and the colonization of space, two dreams cherished by Russian cosmists.
Bring the body and spirit of the dead back to life from their ashes? Leaving an Earth that has become overpopulated and settling on other planets? Sounds like the plot of a science fiction novel. Yet these utopian theories, developed in the 19th century, have persisted more or less underground until today. “In Russia, this astonishing link between mysticism, religion, and the emancipation of man, was tied in particular with the first cosmist, Nikolaï Fiodorov”, explains the author of Lenin walked on the moon.
“One can see in Fyodorov’s mysticism a reaction to a West presented in a naive way as gentrified, tired, stunted and materialistic, stuck in matter.” Philosophy of the common workwhich includes the essence of the thought of Nikolai Fiodorov (1829-1903), as well as his correspondence, were published in French at the end of 2021 by Editions des Syrtes.
Cosmist emulation did not disappear with the death of Fiodorov in 1903. Several currents flowed from his thought, such as the “biocosmism” of the years 1910-1920, of anarchist tendency, which saw death and attachment to the Earth as a limit imposed by capitalism. But the mystical Christian movement perpetuated by the disciples of Fiodorov will be banned by the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin. Ironically, Lenin will be embalmed by his followers as a saint, also awaiting his resurrection.
Christianity of the future
Very early on, literature seized on these ideas to stage them and question them. A specialist in Dostoyevsky, to whom he devoted two essays, Michel Eltchaninoff comments: “At the end of his life, Dostoyevsky wrote The Karamazov Brothers. During his writing, he maintains a correspondence with a disciple of Nikolai Fiodorov. The promise of resurrection of the ancestors is of great interest to him. In his work, cosmist theories appear allusively, but Dostoyevsky raises the question of a Christianity of the future, which would make it possible to achieve, here below, thanks to science, the real resurrection of the dead.
After Dostoyevsky, many writers of the first half of the 20th century were influenced by Fiodorov. Platonov ignites for his ideas in his novels, like Chevengurwritten between 1926 and 1929. Bulgakov makes fun of the demiurgic reveries of scientists who believe they can create life in dog heartWhere The Fateful Eggspublished in the mid-1920s. All Russian science fiction literature also feeds on cosmism.
Following Fiodorov, the cosmist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) aspires to an overhaul of humanity, to a new start for the human race, thanks to the colonization of space. Once the dead are brought back to life, the overpopulated Earth will have to be left behind and humanity will evolve, for its good, towards more maturity: “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but humanity cannot remain in its cradle forever,” he wrote in his many texts on the desired space conquest.
Model of Elon Musk
Russian 19th-century cosmism found fertile ground in 21st-century Silicon Valley with multi-billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, who became the standard-bearers of a very active transhumanism. Michel Eltchaninoff: “Californian transhumanism feeds on very diverse sources but it recognizes its debt to Nikolai Fiodorov. Elon Musk cites Konstantin Tsiolkovsky as a model.”
What to think of this community of spirit between cosmism and transhumanism? “In its desire to reshape man from top to bottom, cosmism has nourished, underground, the Soviet totalitarian enterprise. By analogy, certain discourses in Silicon Valley, which claim to want to suppress death and envisage a cosmic life, carry within them a totalitarian and unequal aspect.
The good of humanity
In 2007 Vladimir Putin visited Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s house-museum in Kaluga, 200 kilometers southwest of Moscow. He publicly praised the example of the philosopher and inventor. “It is curious to see Putin quote an author as eccentric as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who considers that man is doomed to immortality”, comments Michel Eltchaninoff. “This tribute allows the Russian president to highlight a specific Russian aspiration for the conquest of space. While the Americans would seek, according to him, the domination of other nations, the Russians would aim for the good of humanity, in line with what Tsiolkovsky thought.
Vladimir Putin, who plans to stay in power until 2036, would he dream of being immortal? What does Michel Eltchaninoff think of it, author of another remarkable essay, Inside the mind of Vladimir Putin (published in co-edition by Solin/Actes Sud in 2015)? “It is out of the question, for the Russian leaders, to affirm that the scientists will try to resurrect the dead, that would not be seen with a good eye by the Orthodox Church, for which the cosmists are heretics. Putin, who would like to stay young as long as possible, may be a cosmist in private, but not in public!”
Lenin Walked on the Moon – The Crazy Story of Russian Cosmists and Transhumanists
Solin, Actes Sud, 241 p.