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The Gumilev MystiqueBiopolitics, Eurasianism, and the Construction of Community in Modern Russia$
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Mark Bassin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780801445941

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801445941.001.0001

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The Nature of Ethnicity

The Nature of Ethnicity

(p.23) 1 The Nature of Ethnicity
The Gumilev Mystique

Mark Bassin

Cornell University Press

This chapter discusses Gumilev's ideas on the nature of ethnicity. The ethnic unit or ethnos (plural: ethnies) is conceived as one of the most fundamental and durable categories of human organization. Ethnic belonging is an existential mode of being that forms an intrinsic and immutable part of the very persona of all individuals. It is a feature of human nature, which can be neither transcended nor transformed. Gumilev frequently used the metaphor of a biological organism, likening the ethnos either to an individual human being—which in a similar fashion “is born, matures, grows old, and dies”—or to aggregate organisms found in the natural world. But how, exactly, was an ethnos biological? It is important to appreciate that Gumilev's understanding of ethnic naturalism was two-sided in a manner that corresponded to two different dimensions of nature itself—what might be called “internal” and “external” nature. Gumilev himself was aware of this dualism in his approach, and he believed that in his ethnos theory he was successful in combining the two dimensions into a single grand perspective. The chapter, however, argues that this was not the case. Despite his obvious enthusiasm for genetic models and hypotheses and his imaginative attempts to deploy them, in the final analysis he did not accept their implications for the nature of ethnicity. For Gumilev, therefore, the biological naturalness of the ethnos was primarily environmental, elaborated in terms of what we will call his ecology of ethnicity.

Keywords:   Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev, ethnicity, ethnos, ethnic unit, human organization, biological organism, ecology

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