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N. A.


Concerning the Will of the People

What is the will of the people? Where is one to seek its true expression and
embodiment? Here is a question, which assumes at present an extraordinary acuteness.
Having suffered, lacerated by a will foreign and strange, our people thirsts to live by its
own will, through the self-accomplished expression of its will, by its self-accomplished
embodiment in forms of a political existence. Here already for a long time has
everywhere been heard, from the various ends of the land, the outraged will of the people
letting loose with an outcry, resolute, constant: we demand the universal, equal, direct
and secret suffrage right to vote, we demand a constituent assembly. This outcry
signifies, that the people has aspired to an accomplished embodiment of its will, that it
admits of only its own authority. Western Europe has worked out for this instance
slogans and abstract formulas, by which we also express our needs. Woe to whoever
admits even one part of a formula, in declaring a complete expression of the will of the
people. And in the tumult of our days, in the furies of these days but few ponder over the
problem, of what is the people, and in what is its will and power of authority.

We live in a very intense, a very responsible moment of our historical existence.

The avid and searching glances of all the land had been fixed upon the Duma, and
everyone felt, that this was the vessel, in which should be decanted a portion though of
the people's will, that here finally it would be gathered, that here finally, would be heard
the will of the people.

And yet amidst this from all sides they have chipped away at the Duma, from the
left and from the right, they refused on principle that it should be a true representative of
the will of the people. For both the one and the other of them they have no idea, in what
is the true will of the people, for some of them -- it is the Red Hundreds, and for others --
the Black Hundreds. The only content of will that they acknowledge as of the people is
what they wish for themselves, and this points already to a profound antinomy of the
perception itself of the will of the people, to the possibility here of a contradiction
between form and content.

The left have said, that since the Duma is not a true popular representation, it
therefore does not express the will of the people, because it is gathered not on the bass of
an universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage of having a voice. By this is established a
purely formal, an as yet bereft of content, indicator for the defining as to what the will of
the people is, and in what is its true representation. Political democracy, in declaring
formal signs for the expression of the will of the people within representative institutions,
assents the truth purely in the negative. The four-part democratic formula of the suffrage
right to vote is better than any limiting in the right to vote, with the predominance of any
portion of the will of the people, whether of class or condition, with any coercive
obstacles to the expression of the will of all the people in the selection of their
representatives. But there is yet nothing positive in political democracy, and it futilely
attempts to set out a fortuitous, mechanical, arithmetic result for delimiting the will of the
people. In political democracy the will of the people is the product of a quantitative
combination, the adding up and deducing out of individual wills; in these quantitative
combinations vanishes the qualitative aspect of the individual will and thus does not
obtain the qualitative aspect of the will of all the people. The parliamentary form is a
characteristic product from a critical period of history, when everything becomes
disjunctive and fragmented, when a people ceases to live an organic life and ceases to
possess its own organic will. Our epoch is gravitating in its own abstract political
existence towards a full and total rule by the people, -- this is an utmost, endpoint idea of
societal radicalism. They set off from the total will of the people (universal, equal etc
voting right), and they arrive at a total ruling power of the people (a democratic republic).
Let us analyse the concept of "people's-sovereignty" ["narodovlastie"] and then will be
exposed the falsity of the very path to people's-sovereignty, since neither an arbitrary
human will nor a godless human rule of power ought to hold dominion over the earth.

And first of all I shall point to the ineradicable opposition between people's-
sovereignty and the rights of the person. People's-sovereignty, as an utmost sovereign
principle, cannot guarantee the person his inalienable, unconditional rights, since it puts
the fate of the person into dependence upon the arbitrary, subjectively-mutable will of
people. If the human will is made a god of and neither admits of nor loves anything
higher than itself, then also there cannot be talk concerning any absolute values, such as
might establish the unconditional significance of the person, nothing inalienable is
demonstrated concerning it, and its rights are apprised according to expediency. Freedom
of conscience possesses an absolute significance and not in the name of anything can it
be taken away from a man, if it be bestown by a will supra-human, Divine and not
dependent upon human caprice. Posit freedom of conscience as dependent upon human
caprice, on the will of people, and its sanctity will be completely violated. J. J. Rousseau,
from whom comes the teaching about a total and consistent people's-sovereignty, did not
admit of freedom of conscience. The French Revolution, having attempted to establish a
cult of the goddess of reason, tended to deny freedom of conscience at every step.
Freedom of conscience has been violated by almost all revolutions, comparable in this to
reactions, and its sanctity cannot be grasped by people with a pathos for people's-
sovereignty, just as slaves under a single-power have not known it. The Social Democrats
not merely once have declared, that freedom of conscience, and freedom of the word, and
every right based upon freedom will be taken from the person, if this be needful for the
interests of the proletariat, if the proletariat should want this so.

The human person discovers his freedom and its rights obtain an absolute sanction,
they are endowed with an inalienable worthiness, if there be repudiated making a god of
the human will and there be respected the supra-human will, the will of God. The highest
will has willed freedom for man, has established the absolute inalienability of his
freedom of conscience and his other rights, and no human sort of will is empowered to
take away this freedom, to infringe upon the Divine within man. When however the
person and his freedom are made dependent upon the will of people, when sovereignty be
naught else than human-power, then the person loses its absolute character, and its rights
to freedom fall in becoming subject to capricious human passions. And thereby the
subjective will of the proletariat, or of the tsar, or of some other human ruling-power can
deprive the person of the freedom of conscience, and the right to life, and indeed of every
right. There is nothing absolute, nothing precious, nothing untouchable in its inner
significance, if the world be surrendered to a ruling-power which is subjective,
capricious, mutable, before which there be nothing higher for the human will to bow.
Pure people's-sovereignty is the making of the human will into a god, it surrenders the
history of the world over into the grip of human desires, whatever they might be, it gives
recognition to this human ruling-power in all its formal emptiness of content, it splits
apart the will of the people (the form) from the righteous-truth of the people (the content).
In this people's-sovereignty is a continuation of the matter of human self-power, begun
with an acknowledging of he sovereignty of the state, -- a self-willed human invention,
with making a god of the tsar, i.e. involving yet again human wills. People's-sovereignty,
-- a total autocratic democracy is the selfsame bowing to an earthly governance, a state
positivism, as is the deifying of an unlimited single-rule power, an absolute Caesarism, so
hateful an autocracy for us. Both in an unlimited single-rule power and in an unlimited
people's-sovereignty the will is only human, arbitrary, capricious, and there is made a god
of, in the first instance, -- the will of one, and in the second -- the will of all. And to
Universal Reason needs to be limited, to be subordinated, not only the will of one or of
several, but also the will of all people, since he human will, limited by nothing,
subordinated to nothing, cannot arrive at freedom and world harmony. The fate of the
world has to b subordinated to objective ideas, to a material, and not merely formal
righteous-truth, issuing from a will supra-human, and not from subjective desires, empty
of content in their self-sufficiency and self-smugness, issuing but from the human will, be
it the will of one, of many or of all. Only in the universal, the Divine character of the will,
such as governs the world, can there be the guarantee, that the significance of the person
should be absolute, independent of anything temporal, that its rights be inalienable, that
its freedom be posited higher than upon human usefulness and arbitrary human desires.

The idea of the rights of man, of the freedoms of man, is the expression of an
universal, supra-human, reason-endowed will, and not by chance has the declaration of
rights arisen in England upon religious a grounding. Liberalism in a pure, in an ideal
form, contains within it an indubitable truth, but one yet still formal, bereft of real content
and real footings, and therefore in its strivings to assert an absolute formalism, --
lawfulness, it leads to falseness, in which decays the spark of God's rightful-truth of

The realm of formal governance, the realm of law, as utmost in the world, not only
leaves everything hanging up in the air, dissociated from the living bosoms of the earth,
but also in its "abstract" form it becomes transformed into something evil, inhuman and
godless. The rule of law, possessed of a wellspring supra-human, proceeding upon the
path of an abstract, formal "legality" in fatal a manner becomes subordinated to the state,
in having a wellspring human, the changeable will of people, and the loud bustle of
human interests which drown out the supreme voice, declaring the freedom of man. The
formal truth of governance (objective idea) only in union with the real truth of love can
offer resistance to the unbridled power of the state, to the unlimited human will, declaring
itself sovereign.

Social Democracy has introduced great improvements into the formula of people's-
sovereignty, it has detailed and made concrete the concept of "the people". For Social
Democracy the true people is the proletariat, and perfected people's-sovereignty is
proletarian-sovereignty. But the full triumph of the proletariat abolishes classes, and the
victorious proletariat is transformed into the sole mankind. The deifying of the
proletariat, so characteristic for "the idea of the fourth estate", is the deifying of a future
mankind yet to come, acknowledging the sovereignty of is human will and denying all
supra-human values, denying the will of Universal Reason. Through the consummated
people's-sovereignty -- proletarian-sovereignty, the fate of the world will be entrusted
ultimately to the human will, to the human subjectivity, to human desires, from which by
way of arithmetic combinations will be deduced the will of the sovereign people-
mankind. Will there be a triumphing of freedom, will there be fortified the unconditional
significance of the person, will there be the acknowledging of its inalienable rights? Will
there be attained a perfected expression of the will of the people? In an unlimited, and
subordinated to nothing higher, people's-sovereignty is extinguished both the person, and
so also the people, and there is attained neither the rightful-truth of the person, nor the
rightful-truth of Sobornost'-communality. Everything precious will be dependent upon
the subjective desires of people and everything will have to be subordinated to their
mechanical sum. And in this mechanical sum, -- a new Leviathan, is revealed neither the
image of the person, nor the image of the people.

Social Democracy involves one contradiction, very dangerous for the developement
of democracy and very instructive for us. It proclaims the principle of the will of the
people, it reveres universal the equal etc suffrage right to vote, in people's-sovereignty it
sees its political ideal, but not every, even though formally perfect, aspect of the will of
the people does it tend to subordinate itself to. Social Democracy would boycott the most
complete representation of the will of the people, if such were not to be endowed with the
proletarian-socialist quality, if it did not make the object of its strivings the triumph of the
"idea of the fourth estate". Thus bespeaks the Social Democratic thirst to surmount
formalism, to transition over to the content of the will of the people, to its objects. But the
frightful thing is in this, that the content of the Social Democratic religion shows itself to
be a forever entrenched formalism -- the deifying of the will of a future mankind yet to
come, loving nothing higher, and the objective "idea" of this religion -- is empty of
content. Social Democrats have to be subordinate to the will of the people, since they
know of nothing greater, nothing higher, than people's-sovereignty.

There mustneeds be surmounted the emptiness of content of the will of the people,
the formalism of people's-sovereignty. It is time to admit, that the essence of the matter is
not the will of the people, but in rather the objects of this will, in the objectives, to which
it is directed, in the ends of this will. Only a sobered will is striving to an end, directed to
that, what is higher and greater than it, whereas a will, directed upon itself, locked up
within its own human limitedness, asserting only itself -- is lacking in content and empty,
and leads to non-being. A mankind making a god of itself, worshipping its own human
welfare, is a nothing, non-being. The human will only then becomes infinitely of content
and full, if it has as its own objective end a worldwide All-Unity, the plenitude and
harmony of universal life, when it catches sight of God in itself and over it and has the
desire for Him. In the history of the world the human will came into being, when it was
imbued with ideas and values, when it aspired to supra-human objectives, to a meaning
worldwide, and otherwise came to non-being, when it made a god of itself, nowise
aspiring to anything greater, than the human, nowise thirsting for All-Unity, having
turned away from the One. And in the name of the person, of its content and freedom, it
is necessary to disavow the self-involved deifying of the human will of the person, of a
sovereign human power and instead devote oneself to the Divine-Power, in forever
asserting the idea of the person itself, with the absolute grounding of the value of its
freedom of conscience, its freedom of the word, its free self-determination.

But what indeed is the people? Avidly they seek to find the true representation of its
will and they do not know, wherein is this reality, which they term the people. The people
is not a class, nor an estate. The people is not and cannot be in an arithmetic combination
of people's individual wills, in mechanical a combination. The people, as a reality, is a
certain mystical organism, is a communal-assemblage unity with a single object of the
organic will, with a single love. The mystical organism of the people is difficult to find in
the critical and fragmented epochs of history, and in them the organic will of the people,
the organic love of the people gets replaced by an arithmetic, a mechanical quantity. The
people's-sovereignty with all its representative institutions is also a substitute for the
organic will of the people, wrought through a fatal necessity in an irreligious, critical
epoch. The genuine will of the people, the will of the mystical organism always possesses
a content, always has valuable objectives and only because it is a communal-assemblage,
what it expresses is not the quantity of human wills, but rather a new supra-human quality
of will, what it wanted is the All-Unity, a free worldwide harmony, that in it be given the
triumph of subjective wishes with objective ideas, objective righteous-truth. In this sense
the genuine will of the people is the will of God, is a will not arbitrarily-human, but
rather supra-human and of reason. Before the will of the people ought to fall down every
human power. Where however is to be sought the embodiment of this will of the people
-- this will of God?

Its perfect and objective embodiment is possible only in religious Sobornost',

religious communality, in the uniting of people in the name of God, in the Church. only
in the Church, and not in the state, does the will of the people find itself an adequate
expression and conjoin with Divine-Power, whereby mankind comes to be of God-
manhood. Concerning the Church, concerning true religious Sobornost'-communality we
do not dare to speak self-assuredly and self-confidently, we yet know too little, we only
seek and have presentiments. Bt we know already, that we have to choose this path. We
know, that it is necessary to subjoin the human will to objective values and ideas, to
conjoin subjective desires with worldwide righteous-truth, to delimit people's-sovereignty
by rather the unconditional significance of the human person and its freedom. The human
will has to become enkindled with love and reverence for sacred things, the centre of
gravity has to shift from a will humanly-arbitrary, empty of content and self-sufficiency,
to a will absolute, infinitely of content and universally liberative, and the formalism has
to be overcome by realism. The declaration of the rights of man and citizen was already
an expression not of the human will, but of the Divine, and therefore only therein do the
rights of man obtain with absolute a significance. In this -- is the non-arbitrary truth of
the teaching about natural truth. It is necessary to go further the path of explicating in the
world the supra-human will, to strengthen and to sanctify these aspects of the world
liberation movement.

In our -- alas -- tranquil State Duma, certainly, it would be impossible to seek for a
perfect will of the people and not only because, that it was convened not on the basis of
universal etc voting rights. It is not a true representation of the will of the people, since
that it is not Sobornost'-communality, the unity of the supra-human, since the people
itself as it were is not seen. The people is not a combination of social groups, is not a sum
of individuals, the people -- is an objective spirit, a supra-human organism, reflected also
in Russian literature and in national creativity.

The people -- is an insoluble mystery and we thirst to be in communion with it. Yet
only bits, only fragments of the will of the people, though also not communal, but merely
gathered, and splintered, have spoken in our Duma, have bespoken within it the people's
indignation against a government, tearing apart the people, constituting a people's
tribunal over the old regime, and brought about a sense of the people's thirst for earthly
freedom and righteous-truth. At the Duma via subterranean coursings wound its way the
people's will -- the will of God, and in the weak voices of the people's representatives
there began resonating the disunited parts of this will, though still mechanically
consolidated not by love for a new good, but by hatred for an old evil. The Duma, as with
any parliament, mirrored the will of the people during an era of fragmentation and
disunity and therefore it was a least of evils, since for a greatest good there would have
had to occur a turnabout of character religious, and not political.

The path of Russia is twofold, having apparent the struggle of two principles:
human-power and Divine-power, man-worship or God-worship. We can only serve that
path, upon which Russia, having become free of an human single-power, does not fall
into a new slavery to an unlimited human-power, even though it be termed people's-
sovereignty, a path upon which the mystical organism of the people, -- an unity supra-
human, should determine our historical existence, and with objective ideas and values
there should win out over the limitedness of all human passions, and empty desires. In
categories purely political we by this deny the sovereignty of a state, such as is the
expression of arbitrary human will, and we affirm sovereignty based upon law, and
expressing supra-human will. Only in the person of the people, as a religious Sobornost'-
communality, can be revealed a glint of the Divinity, and not in the mechanical aspect of
a state, even though it be based upon people's-sovereignty or proletarian-power. We deny
a merely formal politics, which but speaks about the means of life, in the name instead of
a politics material, mystically-real, which addresses the ends of life, concerns itself with
the meaning of life.

The truth of the liberation movement tends to set free the will of the person, denies
oppressive dependence and the power of other, alien human wills, and sunders the
coercive and unjust connecting bonding of the atomised bits of the world. But let us not
stumble down the path of a new whatever enslavement of the person by the human will,
of a new coercive and mechanical binding together. The objective, universal right-truth
has to issue forth through a mystical act of its free choice by the person, and this act of
freedom has to have its own political reflection. A liberative personal will should desire,
should love worldwide an All-unity, Divine harmony, as its own absolute freedom and

N. A. Berdyaev


O NARODNOI VOLE. First published in weekly social-political newspaper "Moskovskii

Ezhenedel'nik", 1906, No. 20, p. 31-39. Later incorporated by Berdyaev into his 1907
book, "Sub Specie Aeternitatis", Chapter 23 (p. 468-477) in year 2002 Moscow Kanon
reprint edition.


(1907 - #135(4))

K. P. Pobedonostsev is dead. With him there is so much connected, together with

him there grew up a whole epoch of Russian history, moreso even than an epoch: in his
person and in his deeds was clearly embodied the connection of Orthodoxy with state
absolutism. Pobedonostsev -- was a remarkable type: a sincere ideologue of our historical
nihilism, of the nihilistic attitude of the official Russian Church and of the state towards
life. Pobedonostsev -- was a thinker neither profound nor individual, his ideas were rather
superficial, too typical, and he shares them with those historical forces, which he served,
and which he ideologically supported. Pobedonostsev evoked towards himself a burning
hatred, he was the hope of the dark powers, and the prolonged suchlike years were a
nightmare of Russian life. But when one reads him, the hatred weakens: there resound
within him such sincere notes, a sincere humility before that above, love for the nation, a
romantic attachment to the old way of life. In Russia there were few intelligent and
sincere defenders of theocratic autocracy, especially amongst those, who stood in power
and directed the state mechanism. Pobedonostsev was amongst the number of those few.

Of what sort was the basic feature of Pobedonostsev, his “character trait that strikes
the mind”? Unbelief in the power of good, the non-belief of the monstrously divided
official Russian Church 1 and the Russian state. The power of Pobedonostsev, the
unimaginable authority of this man over Russian life was rooted also in this, that he was a
reflection from above of the historical Russian nihilism. A nihilistic attitude towards man
and the world on the soil of the religious attitude towards God -- here is the pathos of
Pobedonostsev, in common with the Russian state-governance, set within an historical
Orthodoxy. Pobedonostsev was a religious man, he prayed to his God, he saved his soul,
but towards life, towards mankind, towards the world process he had an unreligious, an
atheistic attitude, he did not see anything of the Divine in life, nor any sort of reflection
of Divinity in man; only a terrible, a gaping abyss of emptiness was revealed for him in
the world, the world was not for him the creation by God, he never had a sense of the
Divineness of the world soul. This spectral, this ghastly old man lived under the hypnotic
power of evil, he believed infinitely in the might of evil, he believed in evil, but in the
Good he did not believe. The Good he considered impotent, pitiable in its lack of might.
He -- was among the number of those hypnotised by the fall into sin, shutting off the
genesis, cut off from the mystery of God’s creation. The devil rules the world, defines the
course of universal life, penetrates into human nature right down to its roots; the good,
the Divine do not possess any objective power, upon the good it is impossible to build
life, with the power of good it is impossible to tie together any sort of historical
perspectives. Just like Marx, Pobedonostsev looks upon human society as upon a
mechanism of forces. The fatal process of the fall and decay of mankind, the increasing
powers of evil can be halted only by force, only however by evil, only by the despotic
state authority, which the Church sends forth into the world to freeze the growth of life,
to constrain the liberation of life. Pobedonostsev bore within himself a grudge against the
world life and against mankind, he was suspicious and mistrustful to the point of
psychosis. But this nihilism of Pobedonostsev, this atheistic attitude of his towards the
world is not something by chance individual, connected with personal events in his life,
this is a worldwide fact, a fact, lodged within the religious consciousness of historical

Historical Orthodoxy has not manifest within itself the religious truth about man and
the world, in it religiously is only an attitude towards death, not towards life. Orthodox
Christianity is a teaching about individual salvation in Heaven, about the departure from
the world, which is all infected by evil. In the ascetic consciousness there is no teaching
about the meaning of universal world history, about the triumph of religious truth upon
the earth. Orthodoxy does not believe in the Kingdom of God upon earth, only in Heaven
does it expect it, and the earth it leaves to the devil. One only good deed can and ought to
be done upon the earth -- to hold back the course of evil, to halt it, to curb it by force, to
freeze it down. And in Orthodoxy there is the teaching about the religious significance of
the state, which the Church empowers, not to build the Kingdom of God upon the earth,
but rather to restrain the kingdom of the devil, by force to stop the world from the
ultimate catastrophe. The uniting of Orthodoxy with state absolutism came about on the
soil of a non-belief in the Divineness of the earth, in the earthly future of mankind;
Orthodoxy gave away the earth into the hands of the state because of its own non-belief
in man and mankind, because of its nihilistic attitude towards the world. Orthodoxy does
not believe in the religious ordering of human life upon the earth, and it compensates for
its own hopeless pessimism by a call for the forceful ordering of it by state authority. 2
State absolutism is the teaching of Orthodoxy about this, how to arrange the earth,
how to hold back the victorious course of evil in the world. Russian absolutism they call
theocratic, but this is not very precise; the blessing of absolutism by Orthodoxy is the
result of the non-belief of the Orthodox Church in the possibility of theocracy upon the
earth, nor the Kingdom of God, nor the Truth of God upon the earth. Since God’s Truth is
not for the earth, but for Heaven, then upon the earth let it be to the state might by force
to hold back mankind from evil, -- this is the gist of the Orthodox teaching about absolute

Non-belief in the objective power of good upon the earth, non-belief in the meaning
of world history, in the non-mediated might of God Himself within the earthly
community, -- this non-belief is also the basis of state positivism, the apotheosis of state
authority. Catholicism likewise did not believe in the Divineness of mankind, in the
might Divine within earthly human history, and it created a teaching about the
arrangement of the earth under the assist of Papism. Papocaesarism and Caesaropapism,
the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, and the Byzantine emperor, the Vicar of Christ, -- alike
they grew out of an unreligious, atheistic attitude towards earthly mankind, which cleaves
to non-belief in God-manhood and in the God-manness of historical fates, in a non-belief
in this, that Christ Himself wilt reign upon the earth (Chiliasm).

These -- are the two pseudotheocratic currents in world history, alike opposed to true
theocracy, hostile to faith in the reign of God Himself upon the earth. In the coming true
theocracy Christ will tend not to have a vicar-substitute, He Himself will rule the world,
His truth will reign sovereign; Godless mankind, recognising as worthwhile only forceful
restraint, will become a free God-manhood.

The nihilistic side of official Christianity was clearly bespoken in Pobedonostsev.

Both in theory and in practise, he was perhaps a most typical representative of the idea of
pseudo-theocratic absolutism, of an Orthodox Christian non-belief in the possibility of
good upon the earth. In Pobedonostsev there is, as it were, a finishing-off of the historico-
fatal process in Christianity, of the extinguishing of faith in the Providence of God, in
God’s guidance of the destinies of mankind. The suspicion and mistrust of
Pobedonostsev regarding the world and man is not something merely personal, he has it
here in common with the whole historical Orthodox life-sense, in common the seeing
only of evil in everything. For Pobedonostsev, as also for the official teaching of the
Orthodox Church, everything in a fatal manner comes to ruin, to the triumph of evil; for
Pobedonostsev, as in general also for Orthodoxy and official Christianity, eschatology is
something foreign, there are no great historical tasks, there remains no place for historical
perspectives, there is no meaning in the process of history, there is no awaited religious
triumph in the end time, the victory of Christ upon the earth. Pobedonostsev has an hatred
for life, he does not see the Divine in the world, he does not sense the image of God in
man, and terrible to say, he learned this from Orthodoxy, it was from the official
Christianity that he garnered his nihilism. This is something to ponder. I do not think, that
with Pobedonostsev there was a vivid feel for Christ, he was infinitely remote from
Christ, in his heart he did not know Christ; but the feel of Christianity, a closeness to the
Church, a sincere attachment to its spirit was tremendous in him. Pobedonostsev -- was of
a tragic type, for this was one of those, in which Christianity has killed Christ, one for
whom the Church has shut off God. Christ rendered God infinitely close to man, He
filiated mankind into being sons of the Heavenly Father; the spirit of Pobedonostsev
makes God infinitely remote for man, it recasts the son into a slave. An emissary from the
state to watch out for the Church, for long years guiding the Russian state in the name of
the Church, a bureaucrat in Church and a theocrat in state matters, a man of might,
dreaming about Heaven and along the way having gained utmost power upon the earth, --
he was a living corpse. In his veins flowed not blood, but some other deadly fluid, and he
did not believe that in other people there did flow blood, human blood he did not value.
The body of Pobedonostsev was terrifying in its morbidity, its being like parchment, and
one could barely believe that it might resurrect, since resurrection was foreign to this

Pobedonostsev -- was the enemy of everything taken to wing, of everything taken to

flight, of everything fully alive, instead he shoves man down to the hated earth. He is a
worshipper of simplicity, he fears complexity, he preaches humble satisfaction through
small deeds. Pobedonostsev is for order first of all and always and in everything, he fears
the irrational and the problematic, he is in his manner a positivist and utilitarian, he
believes only in impersonal institutions. Servility and groveling are characteristic of the
official Christianity, they are sanctioned by our local Church, while at the same time
condemning boldness and bravery, the impulses afar and ascent higher.

Why does Pobedonostsev, a sceptic in everything, so believe in the state, in its

goodly nature? Only the state power seemed to Pobedonostsev fine and good, the sole
bright spot on the earth, and here his scepticism halts short. This is understandable.
Pobedonostsev saw the whole task on earth to consist only in this, to halt, to interrupt, to
freeze down everything (in the expression of the reactionary genius K. Leont’ev), and of
creative tasks there are none. Everything decays and decomposes on earth, but the state at
its best and by its might is not subject to this process, it halts the decline and decay. For
everything else -- non-belief, for the state -- faith. This faith in the benefit of state might,
saving the world from evil, the fanatics for the state have accepted this irrationally, in
vivid contradiction to the light of reason and conscience. We know only too well, that the
state also is subject to decline and decay, and that power often renders itself evil and

Pobedonostsev and the Church, in its historical finiteness, and in its blessing of
absolutism as though they did not want truth and joy upon the earth, and instead they see
the good in this, -- that the evil, contrary to Christianity, they wish as though to torment
man with, so as to his soul. All this, however, is that theory and practice of the Grand
Inquisitor, not believing in mankind, saving it mistrustfully and by force. The atheistic
spirit of the Inquisitor moves within Pobedonostsev, and he, just like that terrible old
man, he repudiates freedom of conscience, he fights temptation for the small things, he
defends a religious utilitarianism. Not only is Christ clouded over by the Church, but the
Church itself is imperceptibly transformed for Pobedonostsev into a means for state
control; by a strange, but appropriate irony of fate, the bureaucrat and statesman within
the Church is rendered in Pobedonostsev all the stronger a theocrat and heavenly dreamer
in the state. I repeat, and I do not doubt, that Pobedonostsev was a religious man
personally, that his spirit was nourished by the cult and the sacraments of the Orthodox
Church, but for the world and for mankind there was nothing religious in him, only a
desolation, filled with the spectre of state might. Pobedonostsev was far remote from the
Slavophils, since unlike them he did not possess the wide historical perspectives, he
shared not their earthly religious utopia, and foreign to him was any sense of a mission.
Pobedonostsev is more Orthodox than the Slavophils, he understands better, that
regarding questions about the earth, about mankind, about the world -- in Orthodoxy
there is the desert place, and that from this Orthodoxy one does not derive a just
community, an holy corporeality. The ideal of Orthodox sanctity -- is in the withdrawal
from the world, monasticism, the hermit-anchorite, but since the delimited ideal of
sanctity as given is attainable but by few, there then remains the compromise with the
world, the expression of its sinfulness and depravity -- the state, limited in nothing,
coercive, as though demonstrating the impossibility of a religious sociality.

For Pobedonostsev there is no God-manhood, just as for him there is no historical

Orthodoxy, for him there is only the inhuman God and the godless man, and for him
Christ did not unite man with God. In God there is nothing of the human, in man -- there
is nothing of the Divine, of the Divine-human body, containing all the fulness of life, it is
not and will not be upon the earth -- all these negations are very characteristic for the
historical Church, for the old religious consciousness. The truth of humanism is
discovered in the secular culture, outside of religion and as it were contrary to
Christianity, but ultimately this is the truth of Christ, the truth of the God-Man. The
Kingdom of God upon earth is dreamy nonsense for people on the outside of a religious
consciousness, and only a new religious revelation can bring to light both the truth of the
dream, and its ruinous falsehood. To transform the revealed truth about the God-Man into
the as yet unrevealed truth about a God-Mankind -- here is the universal religious task,
before which stands the contemporary world at the door aknocking.

That, for which Pobedonostsev lived, what he loved, what he supported in idea, now
has come undone, the whole system has collapsed, and not a stone upon a stone remains.
And to some it would seem, that the quite totally outdated Orthodox Church is dying and
decaying, that Orthodox Christianity has ceased to be a power in this world, since it was
against this world. The monstrous hysterics of priest Iliodor and others, certainly, is a
symptom of decay, and in it there is nothing organic. But the gates of Hell will not
prevail against the Church in its holiness. The death of Pobedonostsev is significant only
in that it coincides with the death of nihilism on religious soil, with the death of the spirit
of death. This nihilism has not vanished completely. There remain the “Iliodors”, and
periodically there will arrange pogroms of culture, but the strong, the predominative
sacramental nihilism defining the course of history this will no longer be, and already is

The new religious consciousness rises up against the nihilistic attitude towards the
world and mankind. If a religious rebirth be possible, only then on this soil will there be
the revealing of the religious meaning of secular culture and earthly liberation, the
revealing of the truth about mankind. For the new religious consciousness the declaration
of the will of God is together with this a declaration of the rights of man, a revealing of
the Divine within mankind. We believe in the objective, the cosmic might of the truth of
God, in the possibility according to God to guide the earthly destiny of mankind. This
will be the victory of the true theocracy, whether over a false democratism, -- the
apotheosis of the quantitative collectivity of human wills, or so also over the false
theocraticism, -- all that apotheosis of the human will within Caesaropapism or
Papocaesarism. Christ cannot have human vicarage in the person of the tsar or high-
priest. He -- is Himself the Tsar and High-Priest, and He will reign in the world. “Thy
Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven”.

Nikolai Berdyaev


© 2000 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1907 - 135(4) - en)


Included thereafter in 1910 book “Dukhovnyi krizis intelligentsii”, Spb, sect. II-1.

Reprinted by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi

mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III), ctr. 197-204.

I speak here all the time here not about the Universal Church, not about Orthodoxy as
the preserver of Divine sanctity, but about our national Church in its historical and
empirical, its human side.
Here my in itself basically accurate thought is not altogether accurate and is too
exaggeratedly expressed. The image alone of St. Seraphim of Sarov introduces the
corrective to my formulation.

Decadentism and Mystical Realism

Decadents readily pass themselves off as mystics, and frequently they express
mystical pretensions. Russian decadentism especially gravitates towards mysticism, it
speaks about the mystical. The approach is to jumble together decadentism and
mysticism in certain of the literary circles, but the academism and mystifications get
entangled along the way and hinder the decadentism from passing over into an authentic,
a real mysticism. In the select, the cultured, the refined literary circles they speak much
on mystical themes, they employ mystical terminology, but they speak in too literary a
fashion, they display too historico-philological an attitude. The experts can speak about
Medieval mysticism or the mysticism of antiquity, they employ in line with the character
of their specialty a mystical terminology, which was learned via an historico-philological
faculty, but does this indeed mean, that these people have a real attitude towards
mysticism, does it mean that they are full of mystical hopes and expectations, a mystical
faith and love?

Certainly, no. They are positivists perhaps, they do not believe in the real-mystical,
yet they can academically examine the interesting theme of the past, the mystical outlook
of the old days. But lift away the literary historico-philological veil, speak the language
of your soul, of your experience, your real hopes and beliefs, speak about the modern,
about our mysticism, then we shall see, of what sort is your authentic and vital attitude
towards mysticism. For indeed, the mystical in history can only be taken up in a non-dead
and real manner only in connection with the contemporary mystical, with the mystical
stirrings and hope of our own day. It is necessary to grasp not at the outward historical
thread, but rather at the inner, the truly real mystical thread, connecting us both with the
Middle Ages and with antiquity, in their mystical activity, in their eternity, and not in
their temporality. The academic, the archeological attitude is as though towards a corpse,
with it there is so little to be learned, everything remains superficial and a matter of mere
words. The danger of an academic, a literary attitude towards mysticism -- is in its full
the absence of realism. I would the more give credence to the realism of the mystical
words of whatever the physicist or economist, rather then the literateur coming from the
historico-philological school, since in accord with their specialty the physicist or
economist would find it quite perplexing dealing with the academic and exclusively
literary approach towards mysticism; there would be no correspondence of terminology
at their disposal, often they would not know the words, denoting things mystical in the
past, and for them the mystical proper would not be a matter of words only. And it
becomes strange, when one ceases really to differentiate mystical words from mystical
activity, when one fails to distinguish literature from being, the refined positivists from
the genuine mystics, when everything is veiled over by a cloud, when the foggy mist of
clever positivism is passed off as mysticism. It is important instead to establish the
genuine distinctions, since then only can there be established any affinity and correlation.
The distinctions however can be sharpened only upon the basis of a realism on
mysticism, a real relationship to mysticism. Every mysticism, and ours modernly also,
strives towards a new way of being, and not towards a new literature only, and the
distinctions connected with it -- are of a way of life itself, and not of mere literary words.

I shall speak not about decadentist art, but rather about the decadentist condition of
the human soul, about the decadentist world-perception and world-concept. My theme is
not literary aesthetic, but religio-philosophic. I have to caution beforehand, that the
"decadentist" literature and art I deal with here is only as a symptom of an illness of spirit
and it is only under this one point of perspective that I shall investigate this illness. I say
"illness of spirit", although I set a very high store on the so-called decadentist art, and I
regard it the sole genuine art in our era.

The decadentism has been criticised from various points of view, and accused of
many a transgression: some have seen in it foolishness and an outrage against healthy
thought, others have decried its immorality, a third group -- its non-societal aspect, and a
fourth group have found in it an infraction of aesthetic norms. It is impossible to say,
whether all this customary criticism of decadentism has demonstrated any especial effect
or proven any danger for decadentism. In the majority of instances the criticism has
tended to miss the mark. But the decadentist world-view and the decadentist state of spirit
can be criticised from an altogether unique point of view, quite rarely put forth. The
terrible aspect presented by decadentism, its authentic tragedy -- is in its loss of the sense
and awareness of realities, in its extreme anti-realism. Decadentism is the reflection of
the illusory aspect of being. Therefore it is not without basis that they should term
decadentism as a neo-romanticism: in it there is anguish over being, but not the reality of

Analysing the relationship of decadentism to the real, to the mystical-real, we first of

all have to take note of its extreme anti-individualism, its hostility to person. It would be
very superficial and erroneous to see an individualism in decadentism, to suggest its
pathos as serving to the affirmation of person. In the decadentist experiences, the person
is disintegrated into momentary instants, impressions, fragmented conditions, with the
loss of the centre for the person and its own organic connections to life. Decadentism has
no right to speak about individuality, since it denies to deny the objective reality of such.
For an affirmation of individuality there mustneeds be a pulling oneself together, a
concentration around the centre, and not a disintegration into momentary fragments. The
idea of person -- is normative, person is not some aggregate of whatever the favorable
condition, without any sort of bearings to some objective centre. In order to sense the
limits of person, in order to set it apart from all the world, in order for the person not to
be disintegrated and blasted to bits across the dimensions of the universe nor narrowed
down within the dimensions of the lower forms of being, there has to be an objectivity
and realism, there mustneeds be an objectivity of distinction, the sensing and awareness
of the realities of the world in their inter-relationships. The decadentist attitude towards
the person is illusory; decadentism senses individuality as a disintegration of being and it
snatches at the morsels, the fragments, in the experience of the moment it seeks after all
fullness, and in having despaired of any real fullness of person, it does not believe in the
attainability of being.

Having lost its own sense and self-awareness of person, decadentism herein by this
loses the sense and awareness of all the realities of the world, of all the objective
distinctions of being. The decadentist world-perception jumbles together the "I" with the
"not-I", it mixes together that, which is, with that, which is not. The decadentists are as it
were afraid of real encounters, they want to reserve for themselves the possibility to say,
what is not reality, what is nothing, they have an aversion towards a connectedness with
anything real. The decadentist experiencings too much reckon upon the possibility of
enlarging the extent of the person, by an acknowledging of illusory being, having
abolished all the boundaries of the fictitious but not of the real, surmounting these limits
in a transient mindset and word, but not in an eternal actuality. The decadentists have
hopelessly confused mysticism with a psychological subtlety of refinement, with the
discovering of new empirical states, and upon this jumbled confusion they have based
their mystical pretensions. The decadentists have ceased to be able to differentiate the
light of the moon from the light of the streetlamps. The London and the Peterburg fogs
have provided many a new experience, they have enriched experimental psychology, but
in them was hidden and dissolved a mystical sort of being, a mystical realism was misted
over. Upon decadentism, like a curse, lies the seal of its derivation from naturalism: the
naturalism has become refined, has decomposed imperceptibly and passed over into its
opposite. Both in the coarse lineage of naturalism and in the most refined lines of
decadentism there is alike a triumph of illusionism and not the reflection of absolute
mystical being. The positivist naturalism is also at the root of all an illusionism and anti
realism. From this taproot it is difficult for the decadentists to tear themselves away, and
they all confuse as mysticism the refinements and pretty flowers, sprouted from this
selfsame root.

It is impossible to confuse the mystically real with a mere experience, with a testing
of factual conditions, with a subjective given. The most vivid, the most powerful, the
most irrational experience is still not reality and is still not mysticism. The experiences in
a certain sense are all in general undifferentiated; the experience is set in opposition to
nothing, is not distinct from it. And in the experiences, in the subjective states there can
reign a total illusiveness of sight, it can be that there is not a single drop of reality to it.
Realism enters in only then, when the experience, the subjective testing is applied
towards objective centres, towards existing monads, when there are established
distinctions in objective being. The most intensive experience -- is illusory, if it is
directed at an object, not endowed with reality. An objectless experiencing, a sundering
of experience from objects makes them illusory, non-real: the experience of love cannot
be without object, the experiencing of freedom cannot not have an object of striving.
Each experience, in order to become a genuine actuality, ought to have a bearer, ought to
be connected with an existing centre. Mysticism, real mysticism, enters in only then,
when the experience is applied towards absolute being.

Decadentism in the darkness grasps at being and strikes up against the illusory,
upon the torn off fragments of reality, upon mere splinters of being, -- in the darkness it is
difficult to distinguish that, which is, from that, which is not. They seize hold the first
thing they stumble upon in the darkness, they clutch at it convulsively, they want to get a
feel of its depth, but too often they embrace only emptiness. The decadentists are not
hospitable to empirical reality, they sense its insipidness and they thirst for a mystical
reality. But the decadentist attitude towards mysticism is so frightened by this, that it thus
readily substitutes for it a mysticism of mystifications. Decadentist mysticism is replete
full of mystifications. It is tempting indeed in the absence of a real mysticism to console
oneself with a mysticism not real, illusory, contrived. The mystification only is thus also
reprehensible, in that within it there is not attained the reality of being. The non-real, the
as it were "idealistic" mysticism is also mystification, since that it is too real a
mystification to become mysticism. With the decadentist world-outlook the boundary
line, separating mysticism from mystification, almost without notice too much tends to
fade away: the decadentist mysticism to a remarkable degree is a mystification, it is non-
real, in it there is not quite yet the sense, that it is but a bad joke, but then the decadentist
mystification sometimes comes close to mysticism, it would seem a mystical reality,
unaware of the danger of playing with fire. Within the bounds of decadentist experience
there can never be an awareness of all the infinitude of difference between mysticism and
mystification, between reality and illusion. Decadentism remains in a fatal manner within
the closed-in circle of subjectivity, it is tempted by solipcism, it refines and gets
entangled in the human, but it does not unite with the Divine. Mysticism is always a
rupturing of the boundaries of subjectivism, a surmounting of the human, an uniting with
a supra-human reality. Decadentism has taken upon itself the torment of longing for
mystical reality, for supra-human being, it has reflected within itself the loss of taste for
the everyday world, but it suffers the illness of impotence to attain to the reality of being.
The frightful aspect of decadentism is in this, that nothing is attained, that there are no
joyful encounters. This new romanticism is situated at far greater a remoteness from
being, than was the old romanticism.

Decadentism denies truth as an objective reality or else it accepts a multitude of

truths, all which are equivalent with their negation. Truth however is something binding,
it empowers and compels, it does not permit for itself an attitude of mystification. Only
an objective acceptance of truth -- is real. To know the truth -- means to have a real
object, to be merged with a real object. The decadentist world-attitude has wanted as
though to preserve an illusory freedom from truth. i.e. from reality. Decadentism has
wanted as though to reserve for itself the possibility to spurn every reality, to step back
upon some happy remoteness from real being, to call an halt before the truth, i.e. before
the having of reality, before a merging with reality. The decadentist sense of feeling is
directed upon itself, and not upon the world, and therefore it fails to unite with it; the
mystical sense of feeling unites with other existents, it penetrates into the intimate being
of the world, it is as it were -- conjugal.

Mystical realism is connected with an acknowledging of the distinctions within

objective being. Real mystical experiences presuppose a certain light, a gnosis, they
cannot transpire within total darkness and blindness. In order to mystically experience the
real, it is necessary to know truth, i.e. to have mystically-real objects of being, to be
merged as it were conjugally with that, which is authentic. The sensing and awareness of
mystical realities is a sensing and awareness of real existents, of a real being with its own
proper name. Mystical realism enters in only then, when we call all and everything by its
own name, when we recognise the existents, from which the world is comprised, when
we can say: this here is such and so, and there -- is that such and so. The dogmatism, this
unacceptable, repulsive wicked dogmatism is also, perhaps, the recognition, the
sharpening of mystical insight, a calling by their own names the real objects of the world.
In this sense mystical realism always is dogmatic, it wants to know the realties, to name
them, to be involved not with the experiences only, but also with existents. The indeed
real is not the experiencings, the only real are the existents, -- the conveyors of
experience. Mystical realism presupposes an intuitive comprehension of being, the grace
of an absolute reality, entering into the human being and as it were ravaging him. In
decadentism there is not yet this dawning light, since the decadentists are caught up only
with themself, and are not yet given to involvement with universal being.

In the decadentist world-approach there is no intuition, no entering of an universal

reality, this world-approach is closed in within its own human subjectivity. Mysticism
always involves a graced element, always includes within itself intuitive knowledge, in it
the Divinity is immanent to the human soul. A refined positivism can with great ease pass
itself off as mysticism, since it is all -- the same colour, all jumbled together, if there is no
objective criterion, if there is no objective norm for the establishing of realities, for the
distinguishing of being from non-being. Positivism at present has gotten quite refined and
has become so liberalised, that it is ready to recognise even the sphere of mystical
experiences. It never alone avows any sort of positivism, or any sort of subjective
psychologism -- the mystical reality it never avows, whereas the mystical illusions it
already avows. Within the sphere of mystical literature there can circulate the cultural and
refined positivist, and here there can be the academic and archeological interest, but
ultimately still the positivist is unable to enter into the sphere of mystical being.
Decadentism furthers the jumbling together of a refined positivism with mysticism, it
obscures the differences, and does not sharpen them in focus. And if mysticism for us is
the striving towards new being, then we ought to avow an absolute norm, distinguishing
being from non-being, a norm not logical and not moral, but rather an ontological norm, a
norm of being. Only in accord with this norm will the decadentist world-approach
become mystically real. Mysticism is first of all a discipline of will.

Decadentism lives now through a crisis, it wants to transcend itself, to pass over to
mystical realism, but it cannot, it is lacking in powers to sense reality, it is afraid to get
bound up with being. This powerlessness, this inability to pass over to real mysticism
finds expression in the "mystical anarchism", -- begotten of the crisis of decadentism.
Mystical anarchism -- is not mystical realism, it is too fearful of truth, it does not want to
accept the binding realism of truth. Mystical anarchism keeps itself at a remarkable
distance from the realities, at a distance, amidst it is impossible to call any one reality by
its own name, and it is impossible to sense the existents, which comprise being. The
mystical anarchist reserves for himself the possibility to deny every reality, he desires
that being should only depend upon his arbitrary will, and he thus guards the darkness, in
which so little can be discerned. In this -- is the anti-realism and anti-mysticism of
mystical anarchism. In the mindset of the mystical anarchist freedom is set in opposition
to all the entirety of being and therefore it is an empty freedom, bereft of real content, and
in its wont for illusion it is hostile to the perception of mystical realities. Mystical
anarchism does not overcome, but only intensifies the decadentist feeling of freedom, as
a desire for that which is without object and without content, as non-being set in
opposition to being, frightened at its connectedness.

Decadentism opens up the sphere of the subconscious, it expands the circle of

possibilities and provides an experimental tool in the struggle against rationalism, it lifts
from life the fetters of rationality. But the subconscious is only an element, in which there
ought to begin movement towards realities, towards new, different, non-disgusting
realties. The subconscious element can be dawned upon by light, issuing forth from real
being, wherein it proceeds as a revelation of absolute activity, and thereupon the
subconscious becomes supra-conscious, supra-rational. Rationalism is conquered not by
blindness and darkness, but by the ultimate and absolute light, the phantasmic and
loathesome aspects of empirical being are conquered by absolute real being.

Decadentism is faced by the threat of degeneration and vulgarisation, should it not

find the strength to conquer subjectivism, illusionism and irrationalism. Decadentism
remains totally in a negative opposition to the acceptance of the values of this world, to
the staleness of empirical being, but it is time already to turn round to the values of the
other world, to the depths of mystical being. At the summits of its consciousness, our
epoch stands beneathe the standard of a passing over to objectivism, realism, universal

Decadentism confuses mysticism with aestheticism, it mistakes aesthetic experiences

for the mystical, in the aesthetic perception it seeks a mystical activity. A religion of
aestheticism, -- here is what decadentism comes to approximate, here is by what it
comforts itself. In this transformation of aesthetics into a religion, in this confusion of
aesthetic illusion with mystical reality it expresses most of all the anti-realism and
illusionism of the decadentist world-approach. Between the aesthetic experience and the
mystical experience there is an enormous difference, there lies between an impassable
chasm, and it is not so difficult to determine, in what consists this difference. Mystical
experience is distinct in this from the aesthetic, in that it real, i.e. it is accompanied by the
sense and awareness of the reality of the object, of the object of its striving; the aesthetic
experience, abstractly taken, -- is illusory, since that it does not yet relate to any particular
reality. The object of aspiration of every aesthetic experience is beauty, but it remains
uncertain, whether there actually is beauty, whether it is being, whether it is reality.
Mystical experience likewise can strive towards beauty, can perceive beauty, but here the
beauty -- is reality, beauty -- is being, beauty --- is absolute an activity. The decadentist
religion of aestheticism was disillusioned in the seemingly stale "realities" of positivism,
it was stung by the monstrously empirical, but it can only oppose to this world a
phantasmic non-real world of beauty, since it cannot accept mystical beauty as an
existent. The religion of aestheticism arrives only to a new literature, and not to new
being; this is a bad, pitiful, unreal religion and it predisposes its followers to live, to be in
ugliness. We want to accept the absolute active beauty of the world, we want being as
beauty, and beauty as being, and not merely an illusional experience of beauty. Beauty is
not only in art, not only in our experiences, phantasmic and foggy, -- there is beauty, but
in being itself, in the very existence of the world. The revelation of the Cosmos, of God's
creation, is a revelation of beauty. Beauty is a supreme and authentic reality, an actuality,
but the approach to it can only be mystical, and not abstract aesthetic.1 Aestheticism
remains in the sphere of the seemingly apparent, mysticism leads across to the sphere of
the real. The inward punishment of every experience of an aesthetique transformed into a
religion lies in this, that being is not attained, that the thing most desired, most loved --
beauty, -- is not sensed as a reality, that having been saved from the ugliness of being,
they remain in a beauty of non-being, wherein life is transformed into literature. It is not
necessary to abolish the aesthetic, but rather to overcome its self-satisfied and smugly
abstract character, to subordinate the aesthetic to the mystical organism, to pass over to a
mystical aesthetics, in which beauty is not only accepted and experienced, but also is
endowed with reality, beauty -- is of a vital existence, and not only of literature. Beauty
will save the world.

"Decadentism" -- is the sole thing now in our literature and our art. Only in the
camp, signified by this indefinable word, can there be found both talent, and a genuine
love for art, and creative impulses. There is apparently already the time, when disputes
over literary trends will be decided by this fact, that there will be no sort of art for us
besides the decadentist, and therefore there will no longer be even a "decadentist" art.
There will be a new art, long wished for, but meanwhile yet situated in a condition of
potential being. Inside the decadentist camp there will result a crisis, a decomposition, a
self-determination. Decadentist art of an inner dialectical necessity will dissociate into an
academic, Parnassian, classical form, and into a mystical, religious, theurgic form.2
Classical art is a very venerable and fine art, possessing its own mission in the world, it
rests upon the abstract ideal of artistic beauty and lacks for any mystical pretensions. Not
to have mystical pretensions, when one cannot fulfill them, -- is a fine quality and from
this perspective the trend of decadentist art towards academism and classicism (Valery
Briusov) can be hailed.

Mystical art has theurgy as the goal of its striving. Theurgic art posits as its aim the
creation of new being, of a new mankind. This -- is the practising of a mystical realism.
In the final end there are only two directions in art -- the classical and the theurgic,
everything else is but a transitory state. The so-called realism in art has merely been
pseudo-theurgic. Classicism is the ideal of a self-sufficing art, of art as an abstract
principle, an ideal of literature, but not vitally of life. I repeat, that by this I do not want to
condemn it, I highly value classical art. Theurgy however is the ideal of religious art,
transfigurative of being, creating the new man, an ideal vitally of life, and not only
literary. Theurgic art is already a religious activity, and it existed always in the organic
periods of the life of the people. Art is born of an insufficiency, a failed reach of being, in
it there is filled up the emptiness of this world with the riches of the other world. And
within the scope of mystery the creation of beauty by art coincides with God's creation of
the cosmos.

Decadentist art, insofar as it is a genuine art, stands higher than a decadentist

religion, in it there have been authentic insights and there is the potential of a theurgic art.
Still, in Russian great literature there have been genuine mystical realists, filled with
expectation, -- Tiutchev and Dostoevsky. In modern Russian poetry (of the "decadentist"
camp) there is many a talent, but no one still can compare with Tiutchev in his power of
mystical realism. There is the strangest desire, that a new Russian literature might find
expression: let it be sought, just like in its great past, not only in life, but also its meaning,
i.e. that it be religious, theurgic. Then only will the crisis of decadentism result in an
happy end. But God preserve us from a false understanding of the tasks of religious art:
not upon assigned religious themes and not from a religious tendency ought the artist to
create. Most of all it mustneeds be understood, that it is not a matter of religious themes,
since all themes, all themes without exception -- are religious. With the artist there ought
not to be religious tendencies only, but rather a religious world-feeling, and then in his art
will be manifest the religiousness of everything in the world, the religious depths of
everything being disclosed in this. The decadentist world-sense hinders the artist from
immersion into the depths of the religious mystery of the world and only great artistic
talent can catch sight of the religious realities, despite the decadentist rendering asunder
from being. Authentic genuine art is as it were a photo-imaging of absolute activity, a
reflection of eternal ideas. It is necessary most of all to be rid of that prejudice, that
religion is of something else, some sort of special sphere. Religion -- is everything,
religion -- is in everything, or it -- is nothing. The religious world-feeling reveals the
depths of being in everything, it as it were is an opening to the mystery of creation.

Mystical realism inevitably bears a religious character, it becomes religion, does not
remain mysticism. Once it becomes clearly apparent, the connections namely of the
mystical realities, then only but a religious attitude can be established towards them. The
mysticism is an as yet imperfect and transitional form of religion, this is a religion blind
and as yet insufficiently real. Religious mysticism is not something connected only with
fictitious experiences, but with the facts of world life. The religious stirring is bound up
only with universal realities, with that, which -- is being within history. With the
traditions of being, of being and not of lifestyle, mystical realism cannot and ought not to
split, for it continues the universal line of authentic being.

Anti-realist decadentism dwells with the fluctuating tastes over decades, over years
and months, and not eternity, it yields to the enticements of fads and the interests of the
season. In this is an inward punishment of decadentism and the danger of its
vulgarisation. Decadentism is a transition of flesh into word, of being into literature;
mystical realism is a transformation of word into flesh, the creation of new being. One
might say: every literature is a transformation of flesh into word, and therefore one would
want to abolish literature in revolting against this. What I want to say is not this: let flesh
be transformed into word in literature, since a fine literature is born of this and great is
the significance of this literature, but let it not be transformed into life, into being itself,
flesh into the word. Decadentism has an inclination towards the transformation of flesh
into word within life itself, and not only in literature, and in this is its anti-realism.3 And
the eternal criterion of distinction, the light determinative of this distinction, is neither
literary nor academic, but rather of existence and of life, it remains an attitude towards
the historical accomplishing of the Incarnation of the Word. Those, for whom the
Incarnation of the Word occurred not symbolically only, but mystically-real, and who
believe in the real Resurrection of the Word, such only can be mystical realists, striving
towards new being, and for the anguish regarding Heaven is transformed into a thirst for
the new real flesh of life. Mystical illusionism either passes over into mystical realism or
it degenerates and becomes vulgar, extinguishing being.

Nikolai Berdyaev

Article was included and republished thereafter within the 1910 Berdyaev book,
“Dukhovnyi krisis intelligentsii” (“Spiritual Crisis of the Intelligentsia”) (Klep.#4, Sect. I,
Ch. 1).

Schelling in his "Philosophie der Kunst" ["Philosophy of Art"] says: "Schoenheit ist das
real angeschaute Absolute" ["Beauty is the real contemplatible Absolute"]. Vide
Schellings Werke. Dritter Band [Vol. III], 1907, p. 46. This is a very profound definition,
from which is evident, that the contemplative extent of absolute being is beauty.
Its most imposing representative for us is Vyacheslav Ivanov.
The transformation of flesh into word was characteristic of the Alexandrian epoch.


(Towards a Philosophy of Modern Russian History)

More than once already have they pointed to this, that Russia is the most strange, the
most fantastic and wondrous land in the world. In it co-dwell the deepest contradictions:
both an utmost and religious lifestyle, and a cultural lack of lifestyle, barbarity. This
indeed is the land of Dostoevsky, and in him was mirrored our most intimate, primal
elements. Only in Russia could there be interwoven: a profound and extreme religiosity
together with an as yet unprecedented religious indifferentism and negativity, the greatest
literature in the world together with a barbaric contempt for all literary creativity, a
wildly fanatical conservatism together with revolutionism, brought in the thither that
swept Europe.

I want to speak about the strange and tragic fate of Russian culture. Long ago already
there occurred a sort of fatal rift between the creativity of culture, between the religious
searchings, based upon philosophy, art, literature, even science, and our vanguard
intelligentsia. The creators of culture and the strugglers for liberation, the creators of
good and of values and the negators of evil and of injustices do not know each other,
often they suffer from a mutual indifference, and sometimes from a mutual contempt and
hostility. And there is yet still one other tragic rift: our so-called democratic intelligentsia
long since already has fallen in love with the people and made heroic attempts to become
one with them, but it has become sundered from the roots of national life, from the
element of the people. The going of the intelligentsia out to the people was to a
remarkable degree something mechanical, it quelled the conscience, but it proved
fruitless in a national-cultural regard. In such manner, the vanguard intelligentsia,
considering itself the salt of the earth, became cut off both from cultural creativity, the
spiritual life of the land, and from the national element of the people. The intelligentsia
bears upon it the weighty burden of an elementary sort of liberation, and history will raise
it a memorial, but its lack of culture and barbarity ought to take aback the man, who loves
culture, who esteems creative thought and beauty.

The rift between the creativity of culture and the political current of the vanguard
intelligentsia became clearly expressed particularly in the decade of the 60's, the era of
the militant rationalistic and enlightenment nihilism. Therein clearly evident are the roots
of this barbaric attitude towards culture. Cultural values of value in themself, spiritual
goods were subordinated to values utilitarian-political. Pushkin, that first creator of a
Russian culture, was spurned as superfluous. And up through the present the creativity of
beauty, and selfless knowledge for its own sake, and the searchings for religious truth, are
devalued in accord with utilitarian criteria. Philosophic and artistic currents get critiqued
politically, and not philosophically nor artistically, and a profound lack of culture is
expressed in this inability to differentiate betwixt the various spheres of life and

Within human activity there is arithmetic and there is the higher mathematics, and
there are two types of attitude towards life: the one, is directed towards a dealing with the
old, already elementary ideas, the other -- towards the creativity of the new, the higher
ideas, towards the search for the as yet untrod paths. Across the extent of the whole
historical process are interwoven these two forms of human activity, the leveling, the
arithmetical, and the creative, the uplifting, demanding of an higher mathematics. And
there exists the old hostility between those discovering and creating, striving upwards
and in depth, in contrast with those dealing on the surface, the levelers, the popularisers.
The first -- are revolutionaries as regards their spirit and they cannot live off anything
whatever merely preserved, but the second are wont to be regarded as more just and
through a fatal misperception as more progressive, though the spirit of conservatism and
ossification often deadens their souls and renders the admitted friends of freedom into the
foes of a free searching and a free creativity. The strugglers for justice, for dealing with
the arithmetical sort of truths and elementary type goods tend to regard with a sick
disdain the right to embody in life the truths of the higher mathematics, to create beauty
always uplifting and revealing of other worlds. Those ardent over the lower schools and
mid-level education tend to fight the transition to the higher education, wherein the
arithmetical begins to accuse the higher mathematics of being insufficiently enlightening
in character, almost indeed reactionary. People, having assimilated arithmetical ideas and
having situated their life dealing with them along the human level, fanatically revolt
against the integral and differential calculus, which they do not understand, since they
have not yet made the transition from middle school to the higher.

The whole enlightenment and democratic rationalism, amidst all the radicalism of its
social-political perspectives, is naught else, than arithmetic, than a dealing with a most
elementary sort of ideas, and it fails to include a creative ascent within it. This limited
faith of our era never will grasp the integral and differential calculus of the new mystical
searchings, of the eternal creativity of beauty, the creativity of culture, developing amidst
the unbounded.
The Russian progressive intelligentsia in its arithmetically disposed phantasm has
ignored the Russian great literature, it did not acknowledge Dostoevsky as its own,
because that he was not given to the mere repeating of multiplication tables, to addition
and subtraction, and hence it assumed a posture of armed neutrality in regards to the
creativity of culture, to the creation of the spiritual life of the land. It looked backwards,
to the extirpation of "evil", and not forwards, to the creativity of the "good". The whole of
our psychology for a long time has defined itself as purely negative, with our hatred for
oppression and gloom, and to our disgrace also our pathos has been chiefly negative. And
creative outlooks, the glimpses of the remote seemed to us inopportune and even

Genuine creativity, higher mathematics, the searchings and creation of the lofty
values of culture we see in Pushkin, in Lermontov, in Gogol and most of all and foremost
of all in Dostoevsky and L. Tolstoy. There was something creative and of a revealing
discovery with certain of the Westernizers and Slavophiles in the generation of the 40's,
with Hertsen, with Khomyakov. It was there in Vl. Solov'ev, it is there in V. V. Rozanov,
in D. S. Merezhkovsky. With the so-called "decadents" there is also the thirst for
creativity, and the agitated searchings and love for culture.

Chernyshevsky, Pisarev, Mikhailovsky were talented and remarkable people, and it is

possible to discern in them glimpses of something greater, than an assigned arithmetic. In
them was reflected the twofold nature of the Russian intelligentsia soul. We cannot but
love these people, cannot but be eternally grateful to them. But their descendants, the
children of their spirit, ultimately reduced everything to the arithmetical, ultimately
renounced all creativity, they spurned the values of higher culture, and wallowed in quite
hopeless an utilitarianism. In Russian Marxism, when it was young, it tended to excite, it
was more cultural, it added complexity to mental inquiries, it accustomed one moreso to
think and to read and to become weaned from the old nihilistic pitches, but in its utmost
growth it again fell into our intelligentsia barbarity and lack of culture.

Let us look more closely, as regards the 60's generation of the Russian vanguard
society and its teachers for culture, to all the creative efforts, in what spirit the finest part
of our youth was raised. With the mother's milk we sucked in a scorn for culture, for
literature, for art, philosophy, religion, for beauty in life, for refinement and complexity
of existence. Those, who wanted to free us from the thousand-year oppression and
slavery, not only did not implant in us a love and respect for creative freedom, for the
fullness of life, but frequently themselves quenched the spirit, they demanded a
deadening of cultural creativity, abstaining from a whole series of inquiries, and they
practiced a peculiar positivistic asceticism. And the souls of too many of us were
rendered emasculated, vulgarly simplified, restricted to the elementally necessary and
useful. Herein is a curious contrast.

The nihilism of the 60's was a young, an healthy protest, a "Sturm und Drang" with
all the extremities and awkward aspects of suchlike eras. It was strong and noteworthy by
its negativity towards our historical, predominant, demonically-dark "nihilism", of our
old, oppressive "non-being". But then too it itself, this positive, progressive, this non-
reactionary nihilism contained within it an ascetic attitude towards culture, towards
creativity, towards the fullness of life and therefore it bore with it likewise the spirit of
non-being. And our decandentist movement was a young protest, likewise a "Sturm und
Drang", but with a sickly vigor it has struggled for culture, for freedom of creativity, for
refinement of existence, for the fullness of being. It was a revolt likewise indeed against
our old, historical, deadening life of nihilism, but the revolutionary character of the
decandentist movement has escaped the notice of our progressive nihilists. In the
relationship between nihilism and the decandentist movement we see a vivid mirroring
and as it were symbolization of the oldly existing for us relationship between politics and
culture. With the "nihilists" and their children and grandchildren we see a spirit of being,
its affirmation in politics and an asceticism, the spirit of non-being in the creativity of
culture; with the "decadentist movement" and those akin to them in spirit, just the
opposite, -- an asceticism, the spirit of non-being and its affirmation in politics, and the
spirit of being in the creativity of culture. And this is remarkable.

Many an example can be offered of the nihilistic and ascetic attitude of the teachers
of the intelligentsia and of our intelligentsia society towards culture, towards the
creativity of values. And this is first of all expressed in the traditional attitude towards
Russian literature. The self-sufficing significance of beauty and of the creative word was
irrelentlessly spurned and there was adopted a purely utilitarian outlook upon literature.
Pisarev, the most brusque and most sympathetic of the teachers of our youth, spurned
Pushkin, excluded him from the history of Russian culture. Later on more moderate
continuators of Pisarev's work tended to find, that this was extreme and going overboard,
and they mercifully admitted for Pushkin the right to existence. But all the same Pushkin
remained spurned, he was unneedfully splendid, they did not read him, did not
understand him. And this more or less likewise was repeated with all the greatest Russian
writers, their fate immeasurably sorrowful. The religious torments of Gogol remained
under suspicion and he was valued only as a societal satirist. L. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
were acknowledged as world geniuses and teachers in Western Europe, our vanguard
criticism castigated them for whatever the petty faults, it gave them reprimands for
insufficient knowledge on arithmetical ideas and anathematised all their significance for
Russian and world culture, everything, that in them was cataclysmic, religious and
prophetic. For the vanguard Russian criticism, utilitarian and emasculate, Russian
literature has remained an unknown land, some sort of wondrous world, and herein is
expressed that sickly alienation of the vanguard intelligentsia from the national roots of
cultural creativity. The true appreciation of Russian literature has begun already in a
completely different pole of thought, with people of a different outlook, it can be met
with in Vl. Solov'ev, Rozanov, Merezhkovsky, Volynsky etc.

Quite the same barbaric attitude has always been there amongst us towards
philosophy. In the 40's they esteemed philosophic thought, but in the 60's there began the
positivist obscurantism. The ascetic abstemption from philosophic searchings, from
thoughts over the ultimate problems of being is regarded as hardly more than a sign of
societal decency. The right of a philosophic creativity was spurned in the high tribunal of
a societal utilitarianism. We had an outstanding and original, an altogether unique
philosopher -- Vladimir Solov'ev. Are there many that have read him, that know him,
that have appreciated his philosophy? On one's fingers can such be counted. For a long
time this extraordinary man regarding himself did not evoke anything, save for a dull
sneering, and he was hopelessly alone. Russian vanguard society is unable to appreciate
the most national heroes of its cultural creativity, and there is herein something strange
and pathetic. With us there were also other efforts in the sphere of philosophic thought, as
e.g. Kozlov, Lopatin and moreover certain others, no worse than the [Alois] Riehl's, the
Windelbands, the Cohens, but who indeed has read them, who even has heard of them?
Are there many of us who have read "Voprosy philosophii i psikhologii" ["Questions of
Philosophy and Psychology"], an original philosophic journal, more alive spiritually, than
the greater part of our fat journals, bereft of all creativity? In recent years the so-called
"idealists" have generated an interest in philosophy, have brought attention to it, though
also not very favourably, but as regards purely utilitarian considerations, only because
that they earlier were Marxists and now have attempted to connect philosophy with

But with us nothing is so scorned and so ignored, as is art. In this area of novelty, the
lack of culture and coarseness of tastes of the Russian vanguard intelligentsia tends to
exceed that of all others. With us how so very mechanically they go to the opera, to a
drama, to an exhibition of pictures, they seek amusements or distractions, but no one
almost relates seriously, reverently towards artistic creativity, as towards something of
value absolute, liberating and salvific. For many years there has existed for us the first-
class artistic journal, the "Mir Iskusstva" {"The World of Art"], which would be accorded
honour and love by an European land, but the better part of our intelligentsia have never
read it, have not even known about its existence, or at best were indifferent to such an
unneeded luxury. And the "Mir Iskusstva" was not only an excellent artistic journal, with
great boldness reproducing and defending the finest productions of modern art, but it was
also the most literary of all the journals, which we have had up til now, the first
European-cultural journal. In it were published very outstanding and remarkable works of
Merezhkovsky, of Shestov, Minsky, very remarkable, with genius in places, the articles
of Rozanov, verses of the most talented of our poets, brilliant, refreshing articles as
regards the artistic critiquing of A[leksandr] Benua and others. In the journal has been
nothing tactless or unslovenly in a political regard and as regards its spirit it, certainly,
was revolutionary, but it pursued creative, cultural tasks, and for this there was no
forgiveness for it from the intelligentsia old-believers, the bearers of the assigned
arithmetical truths. They nihilistically and ascetically ignored it. Particularly telling was
the castrate-like, nihilistic-ascetic spirit of our intelligentsia in this contempt and
indifference, with which it regarded the creativity of beauty in its own life, such as would
be an outward beauty of form and an inward beauty of outlook. All the efforts to
embellish life, to struggle against ugliness and tastelessness are considered bourgeois, but
they fail to take note of that vile philistinism, that slovenliness and vulgarity of taste, with
which the life of our intelligentsia society is filled.

Shocking by its lack of culture and flippancy is the attitude, which among us exists
towards the modern poetry, towards the so-called "decadents". The "decadents" indeed
are the solely talented poets in contemporary Russian literature and together with this the
most literate literarily, the most cultured of people. Despite their tendency towards
innovation, the search for new forms and new outlooks, it is only they among us who
esteem the history of literature, of the great writers of the past, Russian and worldwide,
which is already proven by their elegant translations of many a classical writer. It is time
already to finally and decisively admit, that we have a whole series of talented poets, who
have produced a turnabout in the history of Russian poetry, who have created a
completely new form, and have expressed completely new ideas and approaches.
Suchlike first of all is Valery Briusov, a first-class, original, growing talent, who certainly
ought to occupy a visible place in the history of Russian literature, and suchlike are K.
Bal'mont, Z. Gippius, F. Sologub, V. Ivanov. It is necessary to actually read, and not
merely beforehand to smirk, and it is time already to be done with the vile habit to term
rubbish that, what one does not as yet understand, what one is not yet mature enough for.
Our intelligentsia society and many of its literary representatives overstrain their lives
with laughter, when there is something they do not understand, and there is still quite
much they do not understand, they often do not understand the need itself to create

But nothing already besides sneering and loathing is expressed in the finest part of
our intelligentsia society towards mysticism, to any appeal for religious creativity. And
this in the land of Dostoevsky, the prophet of the mystical future of Russia, in the land, in
which Gogol' fell victim to his own religious thirstings, in which the healthy, the earthy,
the mighty Leo Tolstoy nearly went out of his mind with religious doubts, the land in
which the finest Slavophils envisioned the religious vocation of their native-land. With us
there has begun a profound religious tumult and in a certain, altogether unique part of our
intelligentsia, and in the people, and in the awakened parts of the Church, but the officio-
vanguard intelligentsia remains deaf and dumb, it does not want to and cannot see or
hear. With us there was the journal, "Novyi Put'", which modernly posited a whole series
of religious problems, and in which were published the very interesting, the politically
even interesting protocol-minutes of the "religio-philosophic" gatherings. Some of our
perhaps most talented writers have written there. Few men have essentially an interest in
this current, the rest however either have ignored it altogether, or have attempted to
research something reactionary, so as yet again to yield an utilitarian judgment upon
mysticism. Many were the insufficiencies and failings in "Novyi Put'", but in it was
something truly revolutionary, a thirsting for religious creativity and a new,
transfigurative culture. We stand too close to this tumult, too akin to it in spirit, if not in
word, to speak about it merely from the sidelines. In any case, the hour has begun, when
facts and actions compel finally the turning the attention of our radical, more accurately
conservative, intelligentsia upon that which is now and eternal, what is to be created
within the contemporary consciousness.

What however explains this engrained lack of culture within the Russian
intelligentsia, having devoted its life to the struggle for freedom, the welfare of the
people, its hopeless conservatism, its incapacity to love, to appreciate and understand the
creative strivings of others, its emasculation as it were? The reader, surely, has a ready
explanation and is indignant with me, how that I, knowing this explanation, have instead
decided to write what I write. I have not for a minute forgotten the grievous, often
martyr-like conditions, in which happened to live and struggle that select part of the
Russian intelligentsia. The prevailing nihilism for a long time involved an organised
mindset against the creative process of life and produced monstrous renunciations within
intelligentsia souls, it tended to cripple and maim life. They are wont to say: for us it is
not to grow fat, it should be to live. These people have saved their own soul, in having
perished it, in having given it for their brother. Herein especially we come also to the
very root, to the as such very deep religious cause of that strange phenomenon, which we
have made the theme of this article. External political causes, certainly, play a great role
and stand out before the eyes, but for us there is hid something immeasurably more
important and noteworthy, a sort of primal-principle metaphysics, by which history tends
to move.

Of what sort however is the subconscious metaphysics of the Russian intelligentsia?

This metaphysics is purely ascetic, akin to the old, churchly Christian spirit. In it is alive
furthermore, in the depths of its element, a sense of the sinfulness of the affirmation of
the fullness of existence, the sinfulness of the flesh, the sinfulness of the creativity of
culture. But with the intelligentsia, atheistic and materialistic at the surface of its
consciousness, this asceticism is ordinarily expressed thus: the sin against the people, the
sin against the working class, the sin against the progressive tasks of the times, the sin
against progress, this ultimate idol. Art, literature, philosophy, the beauty of the flesh,
love, the joyous feast of life, exuberance to the extreme, are likewise little revered by the
Russian radical and atheistic intelligentsia, just also as by historical Christianity. This
asceticism is one of the poles of the religious consciousness, the pull towards non-being,
Buddhism, a penultimate nihilism. Our ascetic intelligentsia -- are fanatical lovers of
mankind and morals, a vapid morals, suspended and hanging up in the air, desolate. The
polar opposite to this pole of religious consciousness instead affirms the fullness of
existence, has reverence for culture, and leads to a new, transfigured world, but the
revealing of this opposite pole demands religious creativity.

Whilst abstemious and denying in the creativity of culture, the radical, the actually
finest part of our intelligentsia affirms a truth within politics, and in this is its great
mission. But in this politics always there has been more so a self-renunciation, rather than
self-affirmation, and therefore but little of a vital realism. Greater was the love for
equality, for justice, for a sacred self-restriction, than for freedom, for rights, for
expansion of its existence. As regards the more moderate strata of the intelligentsia and
society, about them this is what was said: "I know thine works, thou art neither cold nor
hot; O, if but that thou wert cold, or hot! But as thou art lukewarm, then shalt I spew thee
from out of My mouth" [Ot./Rev. 3: 15-16]. They likewise deal with useful and necessary
matters, but in them the opposite poles of the religious consciousness has led to staleness.
In recent times there has appeared already the altogether non-ascetic based upon
wordings of the Marxist model, which exalt life and hint as its own the tendency towards
earthly orgies, but these motifs sound operatic against the tone of that drama, which is
playing out in Russian life, and is indeed too powerful in their bits of the old nihilism.

Two types of "positivism" can be posited: a positivism ascetic, practicing

abstemption in the name of its truth, subconsciously religious, though also only upon the
one pole of religiosity, and another positivism self-sufficing and limited, hedonistic,
bourgeois in the profound sense of this word, already totally irreligious and stale. And too
often in recent times the self-sufficing and stale positivism tends to appear under the
pretty mask of man-godhood. But all the views of positivism are fixed upon an ultimate
non-being, and it leads to an unconquerable death.

The tragic rift between the political and the cultural, between the dealing with
elementary matters of welfare and the creating of new values rests not only upon our
grievous societal conditions, but also upon the ascetic positivism of one part of our
intelligentsia, and the self-sufficing and limited positivism of its other part. And therefore
the fate of the impending Russian rebirth will depend not only upon a liberation political
and social, but also the still more radical liberation from beneath the oppression of both
forms of positivism.

But as yet the condition of our culture presents a pitiful spectacle. In our journals, the
most popular, instructive, there is almost nothing of literature, to it is devoted all less and
less space, and most of all what they call literateurs are mere social activists, writing
articles on matters of the evil of the day questions. About the creativity of new ideas they
are not given to ponder, and even with the old ideas they are interested all less and less.
Literature, ideology have ultimately blended together and become identical with societal
activism, at times very shallow, and having lost all unique significance. The greater part
of our journals are published not for mature cultured people, in them can be found only
an elementary level of teaching and in a majority of instances is very much a matter of
routine, reflecting in spirit a new sort of bureaucratism, apprehensive in regards to the
new. These journals serve a noble, useful, necessary purpose, but let them not be called
literature, let them straight out say, that they do not have a part in the creativity of culture.
It is indeed impossible to meet with a single considered words in our journalism on new
currents, about the creative efforts of people of a different spirit, and there is not the
slightest attempt to investigate, to analyze, what is involved, in order to critique in an
authentic manner. Our liberals know how to dispute with conservatives, the Marxists with
the liberals and the populists, the populists with the liberals and Marxists, but none of
them know how to dispute with the mystics, the idealists, the decadents, with the cultural
and religious revolutionaries. Here however the planes of view are totally different, here
the language is not in common, the experience is different, and therefore transpires the
restriction whether by belittling, or by sneering, or just our customary manners of

Soon indeed already will ensue the desired moment, when our elementary task will be
decided, the historical duty of the moment fulfilled. What then will be? Connected to
what will be our glance forward, and not backwards, the concern about building for the
future, and not only the destruction of the past? The joyful minute of liberation may
prove fateful for many, since it will uncover all their piteous poverty, their total absence
of creative ideas, and barbaric lack of culture. Up to the present much has been veiled
over and obscured by that external oppression, which created an agitated and intense
political effort. The values of people, their inner wealth has been determined by
conditional and temporal criteria. Our radical intelligentsia has made for the heights, and
the spirit of non-being stirring it has begotten with the times lofty images of existence.
Their creative impotence and lack of culture of our journalistic literature has had this hint
of justification, in that it has been dealing with the most necessary and urgent matters of
the times. But soon, I believe, that soon already it will be different. There will occur a
cultural differentiation, politics will be relegated to the practical life and to newspapers,
and it will become impossible still to pass off the societal arithmetic as literature, as the
creativity of culture. What then will happen with our journals? By what sort of uplifting
trends will live our vanguard intelligentsia, if the external, almost mechanical oppression
not still face them? There would show forth a field for the creativity of a self-smug,
delimited bourgeois positivism, for indeed the bourgeois aspect is there also already
within socialism and it is hopelessly bourgeois, insofar as socialism is rendered into a
religion, ultimately.

But there is still hope, that the at present subconscious religiosity of the finest part of
the Russian intelligentsia, and for us unknowable, the elementally enormous religiosity of
the Russian people, that it not permit of this transformation into a philistine domain, of
the average mean, in its dullness, in which endlessly the human anthill would rearrange
and enhance its prosperity. For this, one must needs first of all appreciate the creativity of
culture, to know and to read one's national heroes and creators, just as all the cultured
lands of the world have done, to discover one's historical flesh and blood, to perceive of
one's own fore-ordained destiny. Then only will Russian culture not only be, but also will
receive, an universal meaning and significance. Otherwise a terrible bankruptcy threatens
us, since we lack the wherewithal to be all the equal of the fine bourgeois, positivist,
American land, for not of such a material are we wrought. Perhaps it is not too late to turn
our attention to the prophetic significance of Dostoevsky and render it a land, worthy of
his very most great genius. We are speaking not about arithmetical errors, which he often
made in his "Diary of a Writer", but about his utmost mathematics which even Europe
knows not of.

But here what would result is something for us to deeply consider. Russia is
experiencing an era of historical cataclysm, the dormant powers of a great land have been
roused, a completely new era is perhaps opening, and we stand bereft of all pathos, all
fervor. Both the moderate and the radical intelligentsia have lost heart to fulfill their
historical duty and they do not realize, evidently, the immeasurable and direct
metaphysical significance of these moments. The pathos of a liberal and liberating pathos
of the year 89 [i.e. 1789 French Revolution] or the years 48 [i.e. 1848 European revolts]
we can no longer have, we are too belated, have gone along too far in awareness, this
matter presents itself as too elementary, and indeed the experience of European liberalism
weighs upon us like a nightmare. But we also cannot still have the classical socialistic
pathos. Socialism for us is not a real historical task of the times, but rather like an
idealistic outlook, like a religion, it is too primitive, it cannot yet prove satisfactory to the
modern complex and elaborate consciousness, given to fatal doubtings.1 The illusions of
a revolutionary romanticism have long since already floundered in Western Europe, and
in Russia they are only stealthily sustained by the oppression and lawlessness. It involves
certain elements of a paradise upon earth, which would be constructed in place of the
paradise heavenly, in a sometime when they have become religiously enraptured, but at
present it still rings false, seems stale, comes nigh to the hedonistic. It is not the
bourgeois, moderate, middle-course critique that has demolished the romantic aspect of
revolutionary socialism, the legend about a socialistic golden age, but the rather moreso
military factors, before which become fruitless and powerless all the noble, the pure-
hearted, the all quite too simplistic old-believers. Indeed in Europe there was Nietzsche,
in Russia -- Dostoevsky, and we indeed have experienced a profound decadence, which
always betokens a renaissance. It is not a political renaissance only being spoken of, but
about a cultural, about a new culture, set upon mystical, religious principles.

And we await a great cultural renaissance for Russia, have wanted to be at work for it.
But everyone says to us: later, not today, tomorrow, not yet the time for it. But eternal
matters have not a special time, and it is impossible to postpone, if the awareness is there
manifest. Many a tomorrowed day has already passed within Europe and nothing has
appeared, it has all gone the path of a stale, self-smug hedonistic positivism, gone down
the path of non-being in a most profound and true sense of the word, if the tendencies of
American civilization hold sway. We love the cultural and liberating Europe, we are
patriots of Western Europe, as was Dostoevsky in speaking of this, we are Westernisers,
and not Easternisers, but for all this we ought to ponder upon two paths, which open
afront a liberated Russia.

Usually they think, that Russia either will perish, will die, if there continues to hold
sway our historical, our devilishly-dark reactionary nihilism, if it for long holds still its
grip over the course of life, or otherwise there will win out the liberating forces and there
will ensue a new life, bright, refreshing, and many, many a fine thing there will be.
Certainly, the perspectives on the future differ whether it be amongst the moderate
liberals, the radical democrats or the social democrats, and not for all does it stand as an
outright dilemma: death or life. In actuality however our times are quite more complex,
more dreadsome and in need of responsibility. For us, undoubtedly, death threatens, if the
old nihilism should continue to prevail and extinguish souls, its dominion ought to have
limits set to it, and there finally ought to be proclaimed freedom and the dignity of the
human person. This concerns our looking at the past, but as regards looking at the future
there appears a new dilemma, and we neither want nor have the right to refuse efforts to
resolve it. Will Russia go along the oft-trodden path of a positivistic, philistine,
irreligious culture, without any final affirmation of being, with an unvanquishable death?
We desire not this path, to us it represents a new form of non-being and not in the name
of it would we demolish the nightmarish phantom of our old non-being. Our hope is
bound up with a new religious, tragic yet joyful culture, with an ultimate victory over
death and an ultimate affirmation of the plenitude of being. We desire this path, and we
are acutely aware, that the hour of a turnabout has begun, not only the turnabout of an
outward, societal organisation of life, but also of an inner, metaphysical turnabout.

A great land cannot live without pathos, without creative inspiration, but a
pathos purely political, a pathos of an earthly human saeity cannot yet however be
for people of a new consciousness, and we can only trust upon a pathos religious.
The realization of our century-long political dream, ought to be bound up with a
great cultural and religious renaissance of Russia. Then only would we know, in the
name of what to act and to create. We set as our aim not only an elementary
liberation, but also a renaissance cultural, the constructing of a culture upon the
groundwork of a renewed religious consciousness. Then not only the fanciful, but
rather the concrete, endowed with flesh and blood aspect of our historical being will
possess universal a significance, bound up with the meaning of worldwide history.

Nikolai Berdyaev.


KUL'TURA I POLITIKA. K philosophii novoi russkoi istorii. First published in

monthly journal "Voprosyi zhizni", 1905, No. 4/5, p. 320-334. Later incorporated by
Berdyaev into his 1907 book, "Sub Specie Aeternitatis", Chapter 13 (p. 310-325) in year
2002 Moscow Kanon reprint edition.

I entreat the roused and irate reader to remember, that from my side this is not an
argument against socialism, the quality of which, as the boundary-limit in thought in
social-economic organization in our era, is for me indubitable


[Reply to V. V. Rozanov]

(V. Rozanov is one of the greatest Russian prose writers, a genuine magician with
the word.)1 V. V. Rozanov frightens Christians, both the old, and the new. They are
embarrassed to have to ward off his blows, they consider him a very dangerous opponent
of Christ, as though Christ could have dangerous opponents, as though the deed of Christ
could be struck undeflectable blows. And Rozanov is an enemy not of Christianity only,
not of “historical” Christianity, but first of all of Christ Himself. Christianity is not so
repulsive for him, the whole of Christianity was a compromise with the “world”, within
Christianity has become pervasive a principle of household management, within the
elements of Christianity has coalesced a familial way of life, and Christianity has created
the strangely-felt way of life of the white clergy, for Christianity has decided to eat its
“jam-preserves”, to be fruitful with children, and it accepted within itself almost the
whole “world”. Christ for Rozanov was worse than Christianity: Christ was pitiless
towards the world, Christ was frightening with His world-denial. The whole of
Christianity however has been humanly complaisant, condescending towards the weak,
and Christianity within history did not pose so sharply the dilemma: “Christ” or “the
world”; it adopted some from Christ and some from the world. And Rozanov is not so
altogether hostile to the Christian way of life. To much of this way of life he is attached,
his unctuous love for family grew out of this lifestyle. Rozanov is an enemy of Christ,
and only the absence of genuine bravery compels him to mask this hostility and lead into
error good people, who continue to think, that Rozanov demands merely the readjustment
of Christianity, that his aims are reformational, that he is prepared to accept Christianity,
but with reservations, with theatrics and jam-jelly, with the pleasures of the world. The
times are so gone to ruin, that Rozanov appears as a reformer of Christianity, when in fact
he is a terrible and implacable foe of the faith of Christ, more terrible indeed than was
Nietzsche. A brilliant and charming literary talent, with boldness and a perceived
concreteness in the positing of questions, a strong mystical sense -- all this is impressive
in Rozanov, and he almost hypnotises amidst the reading of his articles. But he is not so
terrible a devil, as they point him out to be. A philosophic and religiously bright
consciousness without especial effect might find a tangle in the very setting forth of
Rozanov’s theme, and this tangle is not by chance, not from some pervasive mental
weakness of Rozanov, but rather a fatal tangle, ultimately in intent dispatched for ends
such as Rozanov’s.

The theme of Rozanov, and to a remarkable degree also of “Novyi Put’” (“The New
Pathway”), and both the former and the current “Religio-Philosophic Gatherings”2 -- was
of Christ and the world, the relationship between Christ and the world. Rozanov with
extraordinary talent and brilliance developed in his article, “Ob Iisuse Sladchaishem i o
gor’kikh plodakh mira” (“On Jesus MostSweet and the Bitter Fruits of the World”), and it
is this article chiefly that I shall address in the present (article) [reply]. From God there is
the child-Christ and the child-world. Rozanov sees an irreconcilable hostility between
these two children of God. For whomever Jesus is the sweeter, for that one the world is
rendered bitter. In Christ the world is embittered. Those, who have come to love Jesus,
have lost their taste for the world, all the fruits of the world have become bitter out of the
sweetness of Jesus. All this was written with an amazing vividness, glaringly, boldly and
at first impression dangerously. One mustneeds choose between Jesus and the world,
between the two children of God. It is impossible to unite Jesus with the world, it is
impossible to love them both at the same time, it is impossible to sense both the
sweetness of Jesus and the sweetness of the world. The family, science, art, the joy of
earthly life -- all these are bitter or tasteless for the one who has tasted of the heavenly
sweetness of Jesus. In the marvelous expression of Rozanov, Christ -- is an one of a kind
flower, and this means all the flowers of the world set in comparison with Him. In the
“Imitation of Christ” is praised this sweetness of Jesus and the bitterness of all the fruits
of the world. And in the “Confessions” of Blessed Augustine it is filled with a fondness
for Christ and a dislike for the world. Rozanov himself does not like to dot the i, he is
given to equivocation, and he never makes the decisive deductions, leaving it to the
conjecture of the reader. But the dilemma is suchlike: if Christ is Divine, then the world
is demonic, or if the world is divine, then Jesus is demonic. Rozanov is attached to the
world with all his being, he loves in the world everything worldly, he feels the divineness
of the world and the sweetness of its fruits. Jesus MostSweet became for him demonic,
and the face of Christ -- darkened.

Rozanov’s settings of the question produce a very strong impression, whereas all the
expressions of the apologetes of Christianity are but insipid and weak. Rozanov speaks
concretely and at first glance clearly, he provides a feeling for the question in all its
acuteness, he stuns and hypnotises. He is crude, when he drags a monk into the “theater”,
but the monk actually is presented as hapless. The chatter of the official defenders of the
Church is not convincing, and the impression remains with everyone, that Rozanov has
proven, has graphically demonstrated the absolute opposition between Christ and the
world, the absolute incongruity of the sweetness of Christ with the sweetness of the
world. Christ for Rozanov is the spirit of non-being, the spirit of the diminishing of
everything in the world, and Christianity -- is a religion of death, an apology for the
sweetness of death. The religion of birth and life ought to declare irreconcilable war
against Jesus MostSweet, as a poisoner of life, a spirit of non-being, the founder of the
religion of death. Christ has hypnotised mankind, has inspired a dislike for being, a love
for non-being. His religion has acknowledged as but solely beautiful -- dying and death,
sorrow and suffering. Rozanov writes quite talentedly, he speaks very vividly, he says
much that is accurate, but his very point of departure -- is false, and his very settings of
the question -- are illusory and confused. Rozanov -- is an ingenious philistine, and his
question ultimately is a philistine, bourgeois, everyday ordinary question, but formulated
with brilliant talent. Rozanov also tends to strike hold with this, in that he bespeaks
something close to the philistine heart, that the question about the sweet and the bitter
fruits of the world grabs hold the attention with the bourgeois of this world, it throws into
confusion the official Christianity, further still transported into philistinism. Rozanov’s
family, jelly-jam, theatres, pleasures and joy of the felicitous life are acceptable and close
to every philistine realm, which sees in this also the essence of this “world” and it is “this
world” which would as it were be saved from the hypnosis of Jesus MostSweet. For
Rozanov, being is what is, and the “world” is the sweetness of the lived life. This is very
deep, in this -- is power.

Rozanov suggests, that every philistine-fellow knows, that the “world” is suchlike, he
sense it as the bearer of the joys of being, with the family, the sweets, the adornments of
life, etc. The philistine-fellow knows, but the philosopher does not know. The question
about the world is very unclear and undefined, and in this passing off of the unclear and
undefined in place of the clear and defined, the passing off of the sought for in place of
the found -- lies all the slyness of Rozanov and the empowerment of all his whole secret.
What is the suchlike world, and about what sort of world is it being spoken? What sort of
content does Rozanov invest in the word “world”, and is this world the aggregate of
empirical appearances or of the positive fullness of being? Is the world everything of the
given, a medley of the authentic with the illusionary, the good with the evil, or only the
authentic, the good? If the question about the world be taken as applying to the aggregate
of everything empirically given, in which the sweetness of jelly-jam occupies the same
spot as would also the sweetness of the greatest of artistic works, then this question for us
is almost not worth the interest. The eternal in the world and the perishable in the world
cannot be taken in the same regard, and the very settings of the question about the world
without any differentiation of values is impermissible. Such a world is a “world” in
parentheses. Our factually given and investigated world is a medley of being and non-
being, of actuality with the illusory, of eternity with the perishable. What sort of world is
Rozanov fond of, what is it from the world he would affirm, in what sort would live? I
am afraid, that Rozanov demands from religion a factual mishmash of the genuine and
valuable, all mixed up with the false and worthless. But the religious is not a question
about the world, rather it is the question about the authentic, the real world, about the
fullness of being, about the values of the world, about the extra-temporal, the
imperishable content of the world. Simply to affirm “this world” -- means to affirm the
law of decay, of servile inevitability, of necessity and sickness, deformity and
falsification. The world lies in evil, but the positive fullness of being is a supreme value
and good, and the valued and joyful in the world is an actual being. Rozanov can only
succeed in standing afront the evil of this world, to deny this evil he cannot, to confront
the results of this evil is beyond his powers. From whence is death, at the same time
hateful to Rozanov and to all of us, from whence hath death come into the world and
wherefore been taken hold by it? Does Rozanov consent to acknowledge death as an
essential part of this world, which he so loves and which he defends against Christ? Not
from Christ hath death come into the world: Christ came to save from death, and not to
bear death to the world.

Christ came to separate the genuine and the valuable in the world from the false and
the worthless, the Divine from the diabolic. Christ -- is the Saviour of the genuine world,
that which is authentic and of the fullness of being, the Divine cosmos, wounded by sin,
and not the inauthentic world, not the chaos, not the kingdom of the prince of this world,
not the non-being. Christ hath judged the perishable, the illusory and chaotic world: the
Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and Christ taught not to love this world, nor that
which is of this world. But worldly factuality is neither of this world, nor of that world,
but a medley, an admixture of that other world with this, the wounded and sickened
creation, both being and non-being, both the valuable and the worthless. Christ had to
have come, since that the old world, the sinful world fallen away from God, had rotted,
rust undercut all the foundations of the world, and anguish encompassed the world. The
old immanent feeling for life, so captivating for Rozanov in paganism and Judaism, was
conjoined together with a transcendent feeling. A tragic experience thus transpired
always at the threshold of every religious turnabout. The old world, left on its own, could
not save from the perishing, within this world it had not the power to save from the power
of the all-encompassing death. Self-deification is ruination, the theosis or making-Divine
by the Son of God is salvation. Rozanov desires an immanent salvation through the world
and he repudiates the transcendent salvation as non-being and death, he sense the divine
within creation, but he is deaf and blind to the tragedy, bound up in the rift betwixt the
creation and the Creator.

Rozanov’s feeling for the world can be termed an immanent pantheism, in it is

lodged a powerful primal-feeling of the divinity of worldly life, a non-mediated
immediate joy of life, but very weak in it is the sense of the transcendent, quite foreign to
him is a transcendent anguish and expectation of a transcendent exodus. Rozanovism is a
peculiar mystical naturalism, the deifying of the natural mysteries of life. In the XX
Century, during the sunset years of human history, Rozanov is living out the naturalistic
phase of religious revelation, he thirsts for a world-wide historical childhood and naivete,
and he fails to notice the senility and decrepitude of this restoration of the first days of
mankind. Rozanov’s naturalistic pantheism is the senile lapsing into childhood with
mankind. Only in deep old age can be remembered the days of childhood and youth, the
relishing of past delights. And Rozanov, the mystic Rozanov, in whom there are
ingenious insights, deifies the good and the joys of this life, he worships familial felicity,
looking forward with a childlike enthusiasm to the sweetness of jelly-jam, and then
imperceptibly taking a tumble over into an apology for his everyday ordinary aspect and
philistinism. He identifies the world with the felicitous life of the natural familial sort. He
wants as though ultimately to deify the life of the natural familial sort. But we have seen
already, that this “world” so dear to Rozanov is all still subject to the law of decay, and
Rozanov lacks the ability to repose such, as in death did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
blessing their posterity, in him there is not such a strength of the impersonal, fine indeed
only for that world epoch; even he does not consent to live but in his posterity, and he is
deeply caught up in the final phases of the worldwide religious revelation, and his blood
is infected with Jesus MostSweet. A restoration never transpires as it was intended to be

And as fine as the religion of Babylon was in its time (but for its time it was a poor
one, since then already there were higher forms of religion), after Christ and the whole
experience of modern history the restoration of the Babylonian religion is folly or child’s
play. Historical science has sufficiently dissuaded us of the existence of a Golden Age,
and the religious consciousness can see in the sweet remembrance of a Golden Age not
some sort of earthly epoch in the past history of mankind, but rather a sense of its own
extra-temporal and extra-worldly closeness to God, transgressed by sin. We have lost
paradise, but this paradise was not Babylon, nor Judaism, nor paganism, nor overall any
earthly past of mankind, as Rozanov is inclined to think, but rather the heavenly origin of
mankind. Yet as we see, Rozanov is oriented not only backwards, he looks forward also
and he conjoins with this the expectations of an earthly paradise in the future.
Unexpectedly for him, he is prepared to give a mystical hue to the array of the
Babylonian turret-tower, and he would justify the deification of the old natural world
upon the social arrangements of the future. He imperceptibly approaches the pathos of
positivism and greenly naive radicalism, and with rapid strides he gets almost to
Pisarevism, but he remains an artist, not having been wrought an artisan.

Rozanov is a man immersed in being, in him there is an intense sense of a man

immersed in life and with a very weak sense of person. Personal self-consciousness for
Rozanov is almost entirely lacking, just as it tends to be lacking in modern man. Rozanov
also therefore lacks the awareness of the tragedy of death, the tragedy of personal fate,
the terror at the individual perishing. Rozanov has something in common with L. Tolstoy,
in the feel for life, in them there is mutual aspect, in that they sense worldly life akin to
the Old Testament manner. Just like Tolstoy, Rozanov facing the world unwraps “the
child’s diaper with its green and yellow” and with this diaper he wants to conquer death
and personal tragedy. The “Kreutzer Sonata” was only a revenge side of this diaper. Both
L. Tolstoy and Rozanov arrive at a reinforcing of the everydayness, at a philistinism
inconsistent with their religious searchings. Rozanov decides thus the problem of death:
there were two men, and between them were born eight children, two die, but in the eight
there is a triumph and life is increased. Salvation then from death -- is in the shattering of
each being into a multiplicity of pieces, in a bad infinity, and consolation for the person --
lies in the disintegration of the person. Rozanov opposes to death not eternal life, not
resurrection, but rather birth, the arising of new and other lives, and so on without end,
without exit. But this method of salvation from the tragedy of death is possible only for a
being, which senses the reality of the race and does not sense the reality of the person.
This consolation tends to delimit human reproduction on a par with cattle breeding.
In the Old Testament and aboriginally-pagan racial mindset, the person was
obscured, hardly awake from the sleep, into which its sin had cast it. The whole of world
history was a gradual awakening of the person, and in our much troubled and much
complicated epoch the person has awakened with a shriek of terror and helplessness, torn
away from its racial aspect and only now able to attach itself to something new. Rozanov
pulls the person backwards towards the racial element and he wants to convince the
world, that to return is possible, that it is necessary but to renounce Christ, to forget
Christ, that Christ is the culprit behind the hypertrophy by the personal by means of
sensing, that if Christ were not, there would not be the tragedy of death, it would not be
felt so sickeningly and the terror of death and destruction come but from a glance at the
diaper, soiled in green and yellow. The world for Rozanov is the race and a living for the
race, whereas the person is somewhere on that other side of the world, with Christ. The
feeling of the person and a consciousness of its tragic fate -- is transcendent, it goes
beyond the borders of that which Rozanov terms the “world”, and therefore so tragic and
tormentive is its fate in this world.

But everything that has been of value, genuine within the history of the world, was
transcendent, it was a thirst to go beyond the boundaries of this world, to break out from
the restraining circle of immanence, it was an exit to another world, and the penetrating
of another world into our world. The transcendent becomes immanent to the world -- here
is in what lies the meaning of world culture. The whole of human creativity has been a
troubling over the transcendent, over another world, and never has creativity been a
reinforcing of the joys of the natural racial lifestyle, it was never an expression of the
sufficiency of this life. Creativity has always been an expression of insufficiency, a
mirroring of the torment of dissatisfaction with this life. It is not only art, philosophy,
culture and all the creativity of culture which per se indicate the transcendent distress of
mankind, but also love, sexual love, so very close and dear for Rozanov, standing at the
centre of everything, -- this too has been a thirst for a transcendent egress, an unsettling
desire to break free from the bounds of this world. Sexual love is already more, than this
“world”, it is already a dissatisfaction with this “world”. And Rozanov himself
acknowledges the transcendent character of sex.

To justify love, art, philosophy, all the creative impulses -- means also to reveal their
transcendent character, to see in them the potential for an egress from this world. Family
is still this world, it has delimited horizons, but love is already another world, it is an
expanding of the horizons to infinity. Positivism is of this world, forever with delimited
horizons, but metaphysics is of another world, it is remoteness. The immanent pantheism,
towards which Rozanov gravitates, is likewise a poetised sort of pantheism, a peculiar
perspective of a mystical positivism. The societal order of the human realm is of this
world, and all this is a delimited horizon, but the vision of the unification of people
within a Kingdom of God on earth is already of another world, the surmounting of every
restriction. People love to talk about Greek culture and the affirmation of the world
within it in contrast to a world negation within Christianity. But the greatest things in
Greek culture -- were an egress from this world, a consciousness of the immediately
obtaining world, it was already a path towards Christianity. The whole Medieval culture,
rich with creativity, and full of beauty, was built upon a transcendent feeling. In this
culture there was also love, with the cult of the Fair Lady, and art, and philosophy, and
chivalry, and public festivity. Was all this, in light of Rozanov, an affirmation or a
negation of the world? I include all these examples to effectively show all the shakiness
of the settings about the “world”. That “world”, which Rozanov so frets about, does not
at all exist.

To religiously justify history, culture, the flesh of the world -- does not mean to
justify family, the racial lifestyle and “jelly-jam”. It means rather to justify the
transcendent thirst as regards an other world, embodied within world culture, to affirm in
this world a thirst for an universal exodus forth from the natural order of nature, of evil
and decay.3 I am emboldened even to think, that between the world and the family, in the
name of which first of all Rozanov rose up in revolt against Christ, there exists [a deeply
irremedial] opposition. The family itself makes pretense to be the world and to live
according to its own law, [the family] (it often) cuts man off from the world, not
infrequently it deadens man for the world and for everything, that is created in the world.
[Between the world and the family there exists quite greater an antagonism, than between
the world and Christ. It has already been sufficiently demonstrated and shown, that
nothing so gives hindrance to an universal sense of world life and the worldly ends of
history, as the fortress of the racial family. And not only between the family and the
world does there exist an opposition, the opposition exists also between the family and
love, in the family love all too often becomes buried away.]

Every reinforced and delimited way of life is opposed to creativity, to the age-old
antagonism with the universal and the worldwide. But Rozanov wants us to put the
familial lifestyle before the universal, before the great world of God. The hostility of the
racial lifestyle and the racial family to universal creative impulses does not require any
especial proofs, the fact is all but evident. Here is why Rozanov’s “world” presents itself
to me as a fiction, which seems clearly discernable for the common everyday
consciousness. This “world” is an hodgepodge of being with non-being, and the
religiously important thing is not the question about the “world”, but rather the question
about worldwide historical creativity in this “world”, that of being. And the immanent
religion of this world is but an apotheosis of philistinism, one aspect of which Rozanov
comes nigh to. This “world”, taken in itself, is but only worthy of the fire, but in its
history there is affirmed an other, a genuine world, in it there is a Divine-human
connection, in it there are creative impulses towards the Divine cosmos, in it there is the
universal path towards a new heaven and a new earth, in it there is deliverance from evil,
and with these matters is connected the religious question about the affirmation of the

All more and more a degenerated monasticism denies not the world, -- this world via
the smuggler’s pathway penetrates into the monastic lifestyle, there is much of the jelly-
jam in the monasteries and little of the Gospel “mourning with ashes”, -- monasticism
denies creativity, the penetration into this world of an other world, it denies the history of
the deliverance from evil of this world. Monasticism has gotten mired down in this
“world”, it has sundered its connection with the ascetic Christian mysticism; furthermore,
the official Christianity has already become transformed into the lifestyle, of which there
is much that is dear to Rozanov’s heart. But monasticism continues to deny the values of
the world, it contemns creative impulses, it is hostile to deliverance from the powers of
this world, it esteems the evil of the world and the justification of its existence. Monks,
bishops, the princes of the Church, the historical masters over religion -- these (usually)
are people of quite worldly a lifestyle, the established rulers of this world. We cannot
believe, that these people are not of this world, and their seeming denial of the world is
but one of the ruses of this “world”. And we [rise up] (are prepared to rise up) against the
hierarchs of the Church, against the official Christianity, not in the name of the world, but
in the name of an other world, in the name of creativity and freedom, in the name of the
thirst to break forth from the bounds of this world, rather than to reinforce them. The
worldwide historical significance of ascetic Christian mysticism -- is in a challenge to the
whole natural order, a struggle against natural necessity, in the theosis-deification of
human nature in union with Christ, in the victory over death. This asceticism of the
Christian saints was not unintelligible or evil, it had a positive mission, it had cosmic
consequences in the deed of the salvation of the world. But where now are the saints? Is it
possible still in our time to speak about the existence of an ascetic mysticism? For us, the
act of surmounting in Christian asceticism is not a denial of its great mission, it is not an
acceptance of this world. The new religious consciousness affirms not this chaotic and
servile world, but rather the cosmos, the sacred flesh of the world. The flesh of the world,
that which ought to be sanctified, liberated and saved -- is transcendent, as much
transcendent as also is spirit. This flesh is not material matter of this world, this flesh is
manifest as a result of the victory over the burden and fetters of the material world.
Chiliastic hopes towards the completion of history by a Kingdom of God upon earth, a
sense-perceptible realm of Christ, is not the expectation of a kingdom of this world:
chiliasm is not a kingdom of this world, but rather in this world. And with chiliasm is
connected the world-historical resurrection of the flesh, a religious affirmation of the
flesh of the world. What sort of flesh however is it that Rozanov loves, what sort of
religion of the flesh does he preach?

The question about the origin and essence of evil for Rozanov is unresolved, and it is
not even posited. Pantheism is always one-sided, it does not sense the tragedy of the
world, enclosed in it is only part of the truth. If the world is so fine and divine, if in it
itself there is an immanent justification, if there is unnecessary any sort of a transcendent
egress from world history, then it is incomprehensible, from whence hath appeared the
evil of this world and the terror of the here and now life. For Rozanov, evil is some sort
of an unintelligible, an accident, a fatal mistake of history, going off on a false path. From
whence is it that Christ appeared, from whence is the power, according to Rozanov, of
His dark visage? Why does the religion of death have such an hypnotic hold over human
hearts? Why does death mow down worldly life? Rozanov is unable to answer even one
of these questions. He hides himself away from evil, within the joy of familial life, in the
sweetness of being, and with jelly-jam he wants to sweeten the bitter pill of life. Rozanov
cries out: I am fed up with tragedy, the sufferings have exhausted me, I want to hear
nothing about death, I cannot take already the dark rays, I want the joys of life, I want
only to accept the divine world. Overwhelmed by everything, all exhausted, there is
nothing thou canst do, evil is actual, and not an hypnotic sleigh of hand. Sex, cries out
Rozanov, -- here is salvation, here is the divine, here is the overcoming of death.
Rozanov wants to set up sex in opposition to the Word. But sex is poisoned at its source,
sex perishes and is subject to decay, sex is something dark, and only the Word can save

And if there be seen in Christ a dark principle of non-being, hostile to the divine
world, then this is already a very profound failing of pantheism, this is a fracture, which
pantheism cannot bear up under. But Rozanov is quite the mystic, he quite latches onto
the Person of Christ, in order to explain rationalistically the mysterious might of this
Person. Rozanov senses this irrational mystery. But the evil of the world -- is likewise an
irrational mystery, and a pure pantheism comes to an halt before this mystery with a
sense of helplessness and awkwardness. Rozanov says right out, that the religion of death
has come from Christ. But let him also say right out, from whence the death has come,
how can it be compatible with an immanently divine world.

The extolled “world” of Rozanov is a cemetery, in it everything is poisoned by a

deadly venom. Rozanov wants in the cemetery to grow the flowers of divine life and to
console himself with the fertility of the rotting corpses. Rozanov apotheosises the
biological fact of birth, but the mystical enigma of life is contained not within the
biological birth in time, it is connected with the mystery of death. Rozanov does not want
as it were to see the duality of human nature, its belonging to two worlds, he closes his
eyes to the opposition between the eternal impulses of man, between the potentiality of
absolute life lodged within himself and the relativity of the here and now life of man, the
limitedness of all here and now realisations. But religion does possess this metaphysical
and anthropological taproot, within the duality of human nature there is rooted a religious
thirst. The religion of Christ denies within this world its sense of limitation and servile
bounds, denies it in the name of an absolute unlimitedness and freedom -- herein lies the
meaning of the opposition. If Rozanov had a deep sense of person, a feeling for the tragic
antinomy of each individual human being, he would then not have posed thus the
dilemma: the “world” or Christ. Beforehand would have had to be posed the dilemma:
the world or the person. In the “Rozanov world”, the person perishes together with all its
own absolute potentialities. But Christ has appeared: in Christ the person is saved and
there is realised all its own absolute potentialities, its filiation-sonship to God, wherein it
is called to participation to Divine Life. Christ also is in this world, in which is affirmed
the being of the person in the Divine economia. And therefore the dilemma -- “Christ or
the world” is stripped of all religious significance, or else comes to assume a meaning
other than Rozanov’s. True being is the person, and not the race, the true universal union
of persons is the Divine-human Sobornost’, and not impersonal nature. To affirm the
fullness of being in the world -- means to affirm an other, an authentic world, and not the
natural order. But Rozanov does not believe in the supra-natural, he brushes off every
distinction between a mystical sensation and an empirical sensation (this also is an
immanent pantheism), and therefore the religion of Christ presents itself to him as an
illusionary comfort, and not a real egress. I propose for Rozanov one question, upon
which everything depends. Was Christ resurrected, and what then becomes of this
dilemma, -- the world or Christ, -- if Christ was resurrected? Believing in the reality of
the Resurrection, would he have suggested, that the religion of Christ is a religion of
death? But Rozanov, together with all the rationalists and positivists, is compelled to see
in the Resurrection only an hoax, merely a myth, and for him in Christ it is death that
conquers, and not life. Herein however the struggle of Rozanov with Christ ceases to be
mystically terrible. It would be terrible, if that while believing in the reality of the
Resurrection, he nonetheless had the wherewithal to demonstrate, that the religion of
Christ is a religion of death. That “real” social reforms are by far more effective for life,
than the “illusionary” Resurrection of Christ, -- we have heard this from all the positivists
and we are not in the least afraid of this. Rozanov imperceptibly tumbles down the
slippery slope towards a vulgar positivism, the adolescent fuzz on the chin forces its way
through for him [and the strange impression yields in him the youthful attraction with
radical social ideas. The things, that Rozanov now speaks about, are things usually talked
about at an incomparably younger age. Soon he will outgrow the honeymoon period of
his romance with positivism and socialism, the consequent results of an irreligious
European culture.]

[A former conservative, a reactionary almost, Rozanov, as a contributor to the

“Russkii Vestnik” and the “Moskovskii Vedomosti”, has begun to flirt with revolutionary
elements, and imperceptibly he has been reborn a radical. But his political
uninformedness, I would say, ignorance almost, precludes Rozanov from getting a grasp
on the existing political currents, he remains foreign to politics in the unique sense of the
word. To the great chagrin of all those, who read this first-class writer, and hearken to his
words, his physiognomy remains twofold, his radicalism seems wanting in seriousness, a
caprice of his temperament. I think, that the attraction of Rozanov towards a social
radicalism, his love for the “left” has deeper a root. Rozanov feels, that the workings of
an immanent pantheism and a naturalistic mysticism can profit from the union of
socialism with a degenerated religion, its union with the progressive social approach of
this life. Socialism promises to enrich and to organise both the natural world and natural
mankind. A pantheism of Rozanov’s type could enrich and poetise the prosaic setting of
the social order, could perhaps inspire joy for the material life. His immanentist attitude
towards this world and the joys of this life and his hostility towards the transcendent set
him at one with socialism and even with positivism. But the “left” are such bunglers, that
they have no desire to make use of Rozanov, and Rozanov continues to endure no little
abuse from them: Rozanov, certainly, always remains the mystic, in him too strong is the
direct immediate feeling, and he would never consent to be shuffled off to the kitchen,
because of his extreme talent his spunk would always be more powerful than his silly
“leftwardness”, his dilettante and trite radicalism. There is an authentic and deep
radicalism, and the radicalism underlying Rozanov’s setting forth of the question of sex
and the flesh is quite more genuine, more sincere and remarkable, than his flirting with
the “left”.4]

There are merits to Rozanov in his criticism of official Christianity and official
churchliness which as such are tremendous, while by his themes he has done a service to
the new religious consciousness. (With an unusual radicalism, he has set before the
Christian consciousness the question about its attitude towards the life of the world and in
particular towards the source of life -- towards sex.) He has had a great influence upon
Merezhkovsky and “Novyi Put’”, and he has all but set the themes of the “Religio-
Philosophic Gatherings”. (He has done much for the betterment of the position of those
born out of wedlock.) People are quite apprehensive of Rozanov, yet they are quite
preoccupied with him, and his influence on the one hand has been beneficial and creative,
but on the other -- harmful and quite suffocating. Rozanov has hypnotised everyone with
his dilemma of “Christ or the world”, while all the same this dilemma that Rozanov
posits, does not exist. It is generated by a confusion and obscurity of consciousness. The
theme of Rozanov is very vital, very frustrating for official Christianity, for the church
coffers, but Christ it does not touch upon, towards Christ it involves perhaps a weakness
of consciousness, merely as in an eclipse. When Rozanov says, that Christian marriage
does not exist, that the Church in effect sanctions against love, when he posits the
question about the sacramental mystery of marriage thus, that if this sacrament genuinely
exists, then in the Church there ought to happen the union of the sexes, -- in this he is
empowered and radicalised, and has ingeniously made bold with what is important for us.
The official Church cannot and has not answered Rozanov anything. But what has this
religiously-pervasive question in common with the theosis-deification of this world,
immanently assumed, with the attempt to defeat Christ by a lifestyle? The historical
Church very much even acknowledges the familial way of life, and in general lives off of
it, but the sacramental mystery of love it does not acknowledge, it does not see the
transcendence of the mystery of marriage. The official churchly establishment is hostile
not to this world nor to the manner of life crystalised within it, it is hostile to the cosmos,
to the Divine flesh of the world, and in this is the tragedy of the Church. The Church as it
were is hostile to the very idea of the Church as a cosmic organism. But there has been
born a new religious consciousness, thirsting for a transfigurative flesh, and not the
aboriginal flesh of old. The aboriginal, the pagan, perishable flesh continues by a stealthy
path to live on in the Church, but the new resurrective flesh within it there is still not, it is
not manifest. Rozanov pronounces his own judgement upon the Church as the
representative of this old, pagan perishable flesh, which moreover also occupies too much
a place in the Church. [Here is why the “Religio-Philosophic Gatherings” did not succeed
thus in falling under the sway of Rozanov.]

Christ -- is the perfect, the Divine Child of God, the Image of the Cosmos. The
ChristChild is the absolute norm for the world-children. In the Name of His Son, the
Logos, God hath created the world, through the Son the world is filiated in sonship to
God, it returns to the Father. Christ is the Divine Mediator between God and the world: if
there were not Christ, then the world would not be the child to God, and the pantheists
could not perceive even their own partialised truth -- the divineness of the world. Only
the world, having accepted into itself Christ and having entered into Christ, only such a
world is wrought into a child of God, and divine. This world is fallen away from God,
and therefore it lies in evil, and therefore its divineness is fractured, impaired, and our
world -- is but doubtfully divine. But the world retains a connection with God, and this
connection in the mystical order of being is the Son of God, the God-Man, of God and of
the World, the eternal Intercessor. This connection was incarnated within history in the
Person of Christ. Through the God-Man, of-God-of-World -- the world becomes divine,
is deified. Between Christ and the world there exists only what seems empirically an
opposition, issuing forth from the weakness of the human consciousness, but underneathe
it lies hidden the mystically-real union. Within the historical bounds of Christianity the
conjoining of Christ and the world is insufficiently seen, inasmuch as the cosmic epoch
of redemption has not been brought to completion. Only within the Divine dialectic of the
Trinity is there ultimately perfected the conjoining of the world with God, only in the
Church to come will the flesh of the world resurrect. In the Spirit disappears every
opposition betwixt the two children of God, between the world-child and the ChristChild.
Christ hath manifest Himself the God-Man, the Holy Spirit manifests God-manhood. In
God-manhood transpires the theosis of mankind, the theosis of the worldly flesh. But the
new sacred flesh cannot be the old pagan and perishable flesh, that about which Rozanov
concerns himself: into the new world indeed will enter all the elements of our world,
transfigured however, and nothing destroyed, but all enlightened. We look forwards, and
not backwards, we look to the coming Kingdom of God, and not to a lost paradise of the
past. We desire to be as though it were religious revolutionaries, and not reactionaries.
[By a capricious historical irony, religious reaction sometimes is combined with a social
revolutionary trait.] Rozanov strives not towards the realm of the Spirit, not towards the
realm of God One in Trinity, but towards a realm of God the Father: the realm of God the
Father cannot still yet be, it is incompatible with the mystical dialectic of the Trinity,
ultimately co-uniting the Creator with the creature, and it would nowise differ from the
atheism, from which pantheism is separated only by an elusive boundary.

In the world is being born a new religious spirit. This spirit is deeply connected with
the very old, with that which was eternal in the old soul, but within it are being revealed
new horizons. For the new religious outlook and consciousness, -- having lived through
the whole experience of modern history with all the profound doubt and negation, the
question about the Church has to be posited otherwise, than it was for the consciousness
of old. We seek the Church, into which as it were has entered all the fullness of life, the
whole worldly experience, everything of value in the world, everything within history
that has been of authentic value. Beyond the walls of the Church nothing ought to remain,
except non-being. The Church is a cosmic power, the deified soul of the world, and the
Church is also the Divine world, the imperishable connection betwixt God and the world.
Entry into the Church is also an entrance into the authentic world, and not a leaving and
going out from the world. People of the old religious sensibilities and the old religious
outlook go into the Church to save themselves from worldly life, to atone their sins
accumulated in the world, but everything by which they live they then leave at the
church-yard gate, everything that is most precious for them, most dear in their lives, all
the creative impulses, [their fond dreams,] all the complexity of their experience, the
whole path of world history -- all this does not enter with them into the Church, does not
venture to go within. This dualism we can no more endure, this dualism has become
godless, it deadens the religious life, it is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Within the
Church there ought to be everything that is dear for us, everything that is precious for us,
everything that is suffered by us in the world, -- our love, our thought and poetry, the
whole creativity excluded from the Church for us by the old consciousness, all our great
worldly people, all our anticipated hopes and dreams, everything, transcendent in our life
and in worldly life. The Church ought to be the plenitude and fullness of life, the richness
of being, and not a seminary priestmonk’s cowl, which those in power keep their hands
upon. Dostoevsky and Vl. Solov’ev did more than anyone for the new religious impetus,
and these were our greatest people, our teachers, but their religious soul was still half the
old. Dostoevsky and Vl. Solov’ev were very complex people, having lived deeply
through all the experience of modern history, having passed through all the temptation
and the doubt, yet in them was accumulated much of the new riches. But into the Church
they came as of old, all their riches did not enter in with them into the Church, all their
experience did not render this Church more expansive and spacious, within the Church
they but negated themself. The religio-philosophic system of Vl. Solov’ev is far broader
than his churchly religiosity, in it there is the idea of God-manhood, but in his Church
there is still not a divine-human life. Dostoevsky in his “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”
reveals religiously the remote, he senses the unspeakable religious freedom, but he goes
into the Church with a mindset closed to all horizons. Wherefore I think, that none of the
existing historical churches is the universal Church, none yet contains within itself the
fullness of revelation, but the world seeks for the Universal Church, it thirsts to devote its
life to it.5

Rozanov says, that we are pantheistic with the idea of the Church, but that this
pantheistic tendency has nothing in common with its immanent pantheism. The Universal
Church, containing all the fullness of being, is the Church of God One in Trinity, the
Church of the Holy Trinity; in it ultimately disappears the seeming opposition between
the world and Christ. In the light of the new consciousness is born yet another dilemma:
the Christianity of the official-chambers, or Christ. The Christianity of the official-
chambers is the old world, the old lifestyle; Christ is a new world, contrary to every

Nikolai Berdyaev.


(1944 unpublished redraft)

KHRISTOS I MIR (Otvet V. V. Rozanov). Published originally in “Russkaya Mysl’”

1908, No. 1, p. 42-55; appearing then also in “Zapiski CPB religiozno-philosophskogo
obschestva”, 1908, No. 1 (Klep. #149).

Included thereafter in 1910 book “Dukhovnyi krizis intelligentsii”, Spb, sect. II-4.

Reprinted by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli
v Rossii”, (Tom III), ctr. 329-348, in the draft form of 1944 unpublished revision:
[bracketed text] is 1944 deletions from 1908 original; (parenthesis text) is 1944 new
inclusions to 1908 original.

trans note: This is the draft form text of Berdyaev’s 1944 unpublished revision:
[bracketed text] is of 1944 deletions from 1908 original; (parenthesis text) is of 1944 new
inclusions to 1908 original.

(The Peterburg Religio-Philosophic Gatherings of 1903-1904 were meetings of Russian writers,
religious seekers, together with hierarchs of the Church.)
[3 It suffices but to read through Justin the Philosopher, Ireneius of Lyons, and other apologetes
and teachers of the Church, in order to perceive, how inaccurate is that viewpoint, which sees
within Christianity an hostility to the flesh of this world. Christianity in particular has defended
the flesh of the world and the earth from the spiritising negation by Platonism, Gnosticism, etc.]

[4 What I wrote initially was more than two years ago. Rozanov has since then quite changed,
having returned to his original settings. And subsequent years have seen from him a series of
brilliant, religiously penetrating articles.]

[5 By this, however, I certainly do not deny, that the path to the utmost fullness of the Universal
Church lies through the sanctity of the historical churches, through their sacramental mysteries.]



(1909 - #158(4))

(Concerning the Book of V. Nesmelov “The Science of Man”)

The question about the possibility of faith, about its permissibility afront the
judgement of reason, stands acutely again before human consciousness. The will and the
heart of man draw him towards faith, but contemporary reason quite opposes itself to
faith, as once formerly the pagan reason opposed itself, and for which the matter of Christ
was folly. But is the matter of Christ genuinely, or is it facetiously in the court of reason,
and is this reason indeed genuine, which would invest itself with the almightiness of the
supreme court? People of a positivist mind consider it beyond doubt, that the matter of
faith is facetious (ultimately) and that the religion of Christ ought to be repudiated even
in the event, where the human heart might pine in longing for it and the human will strive
fully towards it. And for the contemporary world, as once formerly for the pagan world,
the matter of Christ continues to be a “temptation” and a “folly”. The contemporary
reason, having condemned the religion of Christ as irrational and folly, -- this is all but
the old pagan reason, and essentially in its objections it makes use of all the themes of the
old pagan arguments. But the traditional theology fights feebly against the temptations of
pagan reason, and serves sooner as a support for the hostility to faith, than for faith itself.
The spiritual baggage of contemporary “teachers” of the Church in a majority of cases is
so wretched and deplorable, that with it there is no conquering the stormily blustering
elements of this world. And it does not suffice to reminisce the old teachers of the
Church, who converted the whole of pagan wisdom into a weapon in defense of the faith
afront the court of reason, who with genius discerned that selfsame Logos in the
philosophic presentiments of the pagan world, which in Christianity is manifest as the
Logos in the flesh. Now ought anew ought to be continued the work of the great teachers
of the Church, afresh there ought to begin a time for a philosophic justification of faith,
and the very work of reason for the new history ought to be transformed into a weapon of
defense of the Christian faith. The Logos in the history of the new thought is that
selfsame eternal Logos, once but incarnated within world history. But philosophy cannot
give faith or be a substitute for faith. Gnosticism is no less dangerous, than a [hellish-
dark] (obscurantist) denial of reason. For faith it is impossible to go the philosophic path,
but after the experiential act of faith, a Christian gnosis is both possible and necessary.
For a philosophic justification of faith there is needed quite a freedom of spirit and quite a
breadth, such as is rather difficult to meet with among traditionalist apologetes of
Christianity. Usually those apologists, long since bereft of the bond with the spirit of life,
having lost the fire of soul, quite simplistically and with ease obliterate the recent history,
they negate the work of reason and uproot it with an impassable chasm betwixt the
religion of Christ and world culture and world reason. The official, the externalised
Christians too often -- are pagan in their life and pagans in their consciousness, and for
the sinful pagan world they provide not the opportunity to access the mysteries of the
Christian religion. It is as though they intended, so that ultimately there should not be
revealed to the world, that the mystery of the Christian religion is a mystery both of every
human heart and the [intellectual] (spiritual) nature of man. The matter of the defense of
the faith is posited in a position of being the opposite to the natural: the irrationality of
history has set adrift this matter into poor hands. To justify the faith in Christ it cannot
and ought not to be a matter in the everyday sense of this “spiritual-clergy” world, in
which long since already has been quenched the Spirit of life, and that “secular” world,
which is full of life, with the Spirit yet insufficiently comprehended. In Russia there have
always been “secular” people with a deep religious thirst, with an authentic spiritual life,
people inspired, and from them it is necessary to search out religious thought, the
comprehension of faith.

I want to turn attention to a certain remarkable, “secular” in his make-up a religious

thinker, but outwardly by virtue of his position belonging to the “spiritual-clergy” world,
one who is mindful of the old teachers of the Church and who genuinely serves the
revealing of this faith, in that the matter of Christ is a matter in the utmost sense rational,
rather than folly. I speak about V. Nesmelov, author of the large work “The Science of
Man”, a modest and little known professor of the Kazan Spiritual Academy [trans. note,
i.e. higher level seminary]. 1 Nesmelov is very bold, very deep and original a thinker. He
continues anew the matter of Eastern [mystical] theology, with which he unites a faith in
the divineness of human nature, a faith foreign to Western theology. 2 In certain regards
he is more interesting than Vl. Solov’ev: he has not suchlike a scope nor brilliance, but
there is a depth, an wholeness, an originalness of method and a vital sense of Christ. He is
a singular thinker, standing afar off from life. His nobility of style and integrity are
amazing for our tousled and fragmented era. In Nesmelov is the charm of his inner
tranquillity, an organic consciousness of what is right and the majesty of his work, the
independence from whatever the petty powers of the times of his interests and breadth. In
the restrained style of Nesmelov one senses the spirit of the extra-temporal, an orientation
towards eternity. In him there is not that overwrought and fragmented feel, which one
senses with people too caught up in our epoch, in its shifting moods, in its wickedness of
the day. Nesmelov is totally absorbed by the wickedness of eternity, and therefore he did
not squander his spiritual powers, he gathered them for a certain task. But these traits of
Nesmelov make him foreign to the people of our generation. It is difficult to throw across
a bridge from him to the contemporary restlessness in soul. He is altogether unknown of
and unappreciated, and for the contemporary world he mustneeds be discovered and
Nesmelov called his two-volume work “The Science of Man”. This -- is an unique
in its kind attempt of a philosophic construct of religious anthropology. This work is
broken down into a teaching about the essence of human nature, and derived from this
teaching the necessity of redemption. Nesmelov gives to philosophy a redemption,
strikingly profound and original, and he constructs it upon his teaching about man, which
he regards as strictly scientific. Nesmelov begins his work with an investigation of the
question about the tasks of philosophy. Does philosophy have its own autonomous
sphere, its own purpose, distinct from the purposes of all the other remaining sciences, or
disciplines? If in philosophy there be viewed the teaching about the universal, then the
boundaries, separating philosophy from the other sciences, become obscured, and it is
deprived of its own specific object. But, according to Nesmelov, there is one object in the
world, which in genuine manner cannot be investigated by any particular science and it
presents an impenetrable mystery for the scientific manner of looking at the world. This
object -- is man, and the mysteries are those lodged within his nature. This view has little
in common with that which sees the task of philosophy in the gnosseological
investigation of the subject and of the nature of cognition. The mystery of human nature
is an ontological mystery, and not gnosseological, and the object, which philosophy
proposes to investigate, is a fact of being, and not of intellect, a living mystery of the
human being, and not a mystery of the knowing subject. The method of Nesmelov can be
called ontologic-psychological, for he all the time starts out from lived facts, and not
from cognition and ideas. 3 The abstract dialectic of concept is totally foreign to
Nesmelov and it seemed to him scholastic. In this he quite differed from Vl. Solov’ev -- a
dialectician foremost. This may seem strange, but as a thinker, as an apologete, Nesmelov
has much in common with L. Feuerbach and he says straightoff, that the point of
departure of Feuerbach is correct, and that he goes the same path that Feuerbach does, but
arrives elsewhere. With Feuerbach, Nesmelov conceives of an identical understanding of
the essence of all religion, and the Christian religion foremost. Just like Feuerbach,
Nesmelov sees this essence in the enigma concerning man. Religion is the expression of
the mystery of human nature, the reflection of the enigmatic-ness of human nature. “For
man there does not exist in the world any sort of enigmas, besides man himself, and man
himself is manifest for himself an enigma only in this sole regard, that the nature of his
person in regard to the given conditions of his existence be rendered ideal. If it were
possible to reject this sole regard, then together with it quite reasonably it would be
possible to reject in the world both every wonder, and all mystery”. 4 “To realise oneself
however in one’s own natural makeup of one’s unique person, not one man is in a
condition to, in actual fact”. 5 And further on: “The image of unconditional being is not
created by man in any sort of abstractive thoughts, but in reality is given to man by the
nature of his person”. 6 “Through the very nature of his person, man necessarily images
his own unconditional essence and at that selfsame time he actually exists, as a simple
being of the physical world”. 7 This twofold aspect of human nature is also a great
mystery, which ought to be investigated by philosophy and it ought to lead to religious
anthropology, since positivist anthropology is not concerned with the fact of man’s
belonging to another world. Out of the things of the world man is unique, and man -- is
the image and likeness of unconditional Being, of the Absolute Person-ness. This is the
undoubtable initial truth, upon which all religion rests, and Nesmelov grounds it upon a
scientific objectivism without anything of the fantastic.
It is from the fact of human nature, and not from the concept of God that Nesmelov
comes to the awareness of God. He anthropologically posits the being of God and by this
positing he philosophically affirms the objective verity of Christianity. God awareness is
a given by the ideal nature of the person as the image and likeness of God. The idea of
God “is actually a given for man, but not only is it not a given to him from somewhere
outside, in the capacity of a thought about God, but factual-subjectively it is realised in
him by the nature of his person, as a living image of God. If the human person were not
ideal in regard to the real conditions of its own particular existence, man would be
incapable of possessing the idea of God, and no sort of revelation would ever be able to
impart to him this idea, since he would be in no condition to comprehend it. And if man
had not consciousness by virtue of the ideal nature of his person, he would then be
incapable of possessing any sort of consciousness about the real being of the Divine, and
this consciousness would be unable to lodge within him any sort ever of a supernatural
actuality, since by his human consciousness he would be susceptive only to the reality of
the sense world and the reality of himself as a physical part of the world. But the human
person is real in its being and ideal in its nature, and by the very fact of its ideal reality it
without mediation directly affirms the objective existence of God as true Person-ness. 8
“The possibility of the consciousness of God is determined by the fact of the inner
contradiction between the conditional being of man and the unconditional character of his
person”. 9 In such manner, Nesmelov decisively and victoriously refutes the mechanistic
understanding of revelation, as something foreign and external to the inner nature of the
human person itself. His method of discerning the being of God is more powerful and
persuasive than all the discernments from intellect, and his proof -- is factual. But the fact
of an higher nature of man is unprovable and positively inexplicable. Man as a person is
conscious of himself as of an higher order, and not a thing of the natural order, and this
consciousness cannot originate from a world of things, from the order of a lower nature.
The consciousness of one’s God-likeness is a consciousness not from this world, it is a
consciousness, begotten from another world.

Within man, alongside his animate life, with his life as a thing of this world, there
is alive a consciousness of life true, perfect, and God-like. “The moral consciousness
springs forth for man from the ideal nature of his person, and therefore it leads man not
to the concept about the good of life, but exclusively only to the concept about the truth of
life”. 10 The consciousness of his belonging to another, to a Divine world, the
consciousness of his vocation-call to a true and perfect life is the source of a tormenting
dissatisfaction with this imperfect and false life. Man realises, that his unworthiness -- of
God-like existence -- makes for the life of a simple thing of the natural world. Out of this
is begotten the consciousness of guilt, the impossibility to be reconciled with this false
and imperfect life, the thirst for the redemptive atonement of guilt and the attainment of
the utmost perfection. For man is necessary not a pardoning of guilt, not an armistice
with God, which would grant the hope for a semblance of a forgiveness, but rather the
redemptive atonement of the guilt, the transfiguration of his nature in accord with the
image of God, the attainment of perfection. Man himself cannot pardon himself his sin,
his life in accord with the law of the animal world, he cannot reconcile with this his own
God like nature, his own consciousness of true life. And Nesmelov subjects to a deep
analysis the idea of salvation, which is rooted in the depths of human nature.
The idea of salvation was not foreign to the pagan world, it was promulgated by
the nature religions, but therein it was altogether different than in the Christian
consciousness. The natural pagan religions were unable to arrive at the consciousness of
true life. They looked upon God and the gods as means for the attaining of earthly
happiness, as an help for their own purposes. True religion however requires the free
assimilation of likeness to God. “The striving of man towards the justification of his
existence upon the earth, amidst that hostile to the God-like life, gives rise to a juridical
relationship to God and by this it directly and decisively negates the truth of religion, and
the possibility of morality, since that in the grip of this relationship religion is
transformed for man into a simple deal with God, and like an ordinary worldly deal, it
necessarily becomes subordinated to the principle of the happiness of life”. 11 Such is the
idea of salvation in natural religion. And this juridical theory was carried over also into
the Christian world. In Catholicism (indeed in Protestantism also) the juridical
understanding predominates. The (radical) surmounting of it comprises the chief service
of Nesmelov.

The pagan salvation is a seeking of help and the fulfilling of wishes, and the pagan
relationship to the Divinity is a juridical contract with Him, a deal. Christian salvation is
a transforming of man, the attaining of perfection, the realisation of God-likeness. The
pagan idea of salvation Nesmelov sees not only in the pagan world, but also in the
Christian world. Far too many a “Christian” understands the idea of salvation in the
crudely pagan manner, they see in it only an heavenly projection of earthly greed, of
earthly egoism. Man finds himself serving heaven, and imploring God, in atonements for
his lower nature, and the attainment of blissful well-being. But the higher, the God-like
nature of man calls him not to well-being, but to perfection, not to a life of making
reparations, but to true life. The relationship of man to God ought to be defined by his
thirst of perfective, of true life, by his ineradicable need to realise his eternal image, and
not by his thirst for well-being and satisfaction. Therefore the relationship of man to God
cannot be a juridical contract, it is impossible to cajole out of God forgiveness and well
being, God cannot be given hurt feelings by man, wherein either to pardon or to punish
him. Christ revealed the truth about God-manhood, about sonship to God, about the God-
likeness of man and He called people to this, -- that they should become perfect, as their
Heavenly Father is perfect And God is not moreover Power, to be terrified of, which can
either punish or befriend, and which it is necessary by bloody sacrificial offering to win
well-being in life. God wants but the perfection of His children, and they themselves
desire this perfection, this likeness to their Father. Herein there is no place for
superstitious fears and terrors, for a contract, for pardons or punishments, of the crude
transference of the humanly-relative to the Divinely-absolute. This great truth which is
Christ’s, Nesmelov investigates and establishes, and he does a great service for the
liberation of Christianity from pagan superstition.

Nesmelov recognises the possibility of an intellectual basis of the ontological

significance of salvation, of a philosophic construct of an ontology of salvation. But his
religious ontology is wholly based on religious anthropology, and religious anthropology
is based on a scientific analysis of human nature, “on the psychologic history and critique
of the fundamental questions of life”. In such manner, Nesmelov attempts to provide a
scientific-philosophic justification of the truth of Christ. Nesmelov -- is a remarkable
psychologist, and he provides to psychology transcendent depths [and extremes] of the
soul life. His psychology of the fall into sin is striking. The higher human nature is
positively inexplicable, it remains an enigma for positive science, which acknowledges
only the manifestation of the nature, only as a thing. Within human nature there is hid an
enigmatic twofoldness, in man -- one of the things of the world, one of its phenomena,
there is the image of absolute person-ness, there is the striving towards true and God-like

But there is a certain vagueness in the profoundly thought out teaching of

Nesmelov. The dualism of human nature, the dualism of an higher nature in man, of a
nature not of this world, and of a lower nature which is of this world, the dualism of God
likeness and beast-likeness is not a dualism of soul and body, or of the spiritual and the
material. It is indeed incorrect to say, that man in soul belongs to the Divine world, but in
body to the animal world, and that everything in him spiritual is of another world,
whereas everything material is of this world. The soul and body, the spiritual and the
material duality in man belongs simultaneously to two worlds. In his God-likeness man is
transformed not only in his body, but also no less in his soul; the lower, the evil principle
lies not only in the material sphere, but also in the spiritual sphere. The source of evil -- is
in spiritual pride, and of hence is begotten the evil of the material fetters. But Nesmelov
(sometimes) tends to express it, as though in the spirit he sees the sign of man’s God
likeness, but in the body man’s belonging to the animal world. Nesmelov in the results of
his analysis [correctly] arrives at this conclusion, that only a spiritualistic teaching about
man withstands the test of philosophic and scientific demands. [Spiritualism is the sole
true philosophy, and this is so.] But spiritualism can be varied, and least of all satisfactory
for us is the dualistic [medieval] form of spiritualism. A spiritualistic monism is [far and
above] more satisfactory a form of metaphysics. Together with this, a spiritualistic
monism transfers the centre of gravity of the dualism of human nature from the area of
philosophic ontology to the area of the religio-mystical. Philosophy can comprehend
human nature [only] spiritually, but lodged within it is not so much the ontological
dualism of soul and body, as rather the dualism of another order, the dualism of man’s
singular and complex spirit-(soul)-bodily nature belonging to two worlds -- to a world
Divine and free, and to a world bestial and of necessity. This is a dualism foremost of
freedom and necessity, the dualism of one’s consciousness of belonging to a necessitated
world of things, and one’s consciousness no less of belonging to a free world of God-like
existences. Man -- is a thing in the world and both in his soul and his body he is subject to
the necessity of the natural order, and man also -- is a free being, and he belongs both in
his soul and in his body to the Divine world. 12

With Nesmelov there is not fully shown the character of the dualism of human
nature. But here arises the possibility of yet other vagueness, connected with the ideas of
D. S. Merezhkovsky. Merezhkovsky repudiates the metaphysical truth of spiritualism, on
the basis that he wants to surmount the dualism of spirit and flesh, with which Christian
history and Christian culture have been infused. This mistake is rather greater, than is the
vagueness of Nesmelov, but it has the same root. Spiritualism is not a denial of flesh and
the earth, and it does not have any sort of relation to the religio-moral or religio-cultural
problem of “flesh”, to the problem of an ascetic or non-ascetic relationship to the world.
Spiritualism, or panpsychism, is but an understanding of the nature of man and the nature
of the world as being spiritual, as comprised of living monads [from spiritised
substances].The question about the religio-cultural dualism of spirit and flesh has
therefore nothing in common with spiritualist metaphysics, because the principle of
“flesh” in the moral, the cultural-historical and religious sense has nothing in common
with matter, with the empirical, etc. The spiritual exists not only in Heaven, in an other
world, but also upon the earth, in this world. It ought decisively to be stated, that the
vulgar distinction between soul and body, the spiritual and the material, is neither
possible to be identified with, nor to be brought into harmony with, a dualism between an
other world and this world, a dualism of an higher and a lower, etc. Nesmelov is unable
to detect the mistake of Merezhkovsky, since he himself but vaguely posits and resolves
this question. “Spirit” thus indeed belongs to “this world”, as also does “flesh”, and in
“spirit” there can however be a “lower”, -- just as also in “flesh”. The ontological dualism
of spirit and matter does not at all exist, but the moral and cultural dualism of “spirit” and
“flesh” finds resolution in the religion of God-manhood; in the deification of mankind
and the world in Christ. 13 Therefore the hostility of Merezhkovsky towards spiritualism
is a simple misunderstanding, a vagueness of philosophic consciousness, and the
association by Nesmelov of the twofoldness of human nature of soul and body -- this
likewise is a misunderstanding.

With the question about human nature is closely connected the question about
immortality and the resurrection. Nesmelov sees in this question a tremendous difference
between the naturalistic, pagan mindset and the Christian mindset. For the pagan mindset
there sufficed but the idea of a natural immortality, of a naturalistic passing-over from
this world to another world. Death also appears as such a naturalistic passing-over. But
the naturalistic teaching about immortality says nothing about the salvation of man nor
does it point out a path of salvation. Upon the basis of such an idea of immortality there
cannot be affirmed the meaning of life, nor can there be posited the purpose of life. Only
the Christian teaching about resurrection provides this meaning and leads to salvation.
The teaching of the natural religions about immortality only shows the impotence of man
to save himself. Nesmelov very keenly discloses the impotence of natural religion and its
fatal subordination to the principle of happiness, rather than truth and perfection.


“Christianity appeared in the world, as an incredible teaching and an

incomprehensible deed”. 14 The human mind -- is pagan, and the naturalist temptations of
the mind -- are pagan temptations. The naturalist human mind, left to its own devices, in
natural religion readily reduces itself to this, that “the religion necessarily transforms
itself into a simple implement for the attainment of its wishes, and the natural
transference of the idea of a physical salvation onto the soil of religion necessarily is
expressed for it only by the invention of a supernatural method towards the attainment of
the purely physical interests and ends of life”.15 With a [striking] (great) depth of
psychological analysis Nesmelov traced out, how in context of paganism people accepted
the deed of Christ. Both Jews and pagans readily submitted to the preaching of Christ and
the charm of His Person, but the mystery of this Person and the significance of His deed
they were unable to grasp, misinterpreting it altogether. People awaited an earthly king,
the establishing of an earthly kingdom, the saving of the physical life of people in accord
with their interests, with their thirst for well-being. But Christ taught: “Be ye perfect,
even as your Heavenly Father is perfect”; Christ said: “My kingdom is not of this world”.
The deed of Christ was salvation of another kind, a salvation incomprehensible for
people, immersed in this world and having neither perfection nor happiness. Nesmelov
says, that at the present time a tremendous multitude of the people, “Christians” namely,
are situated in a stage of religious superstition, a pagan-Jewish superstition. The people
have religion, since they think about their salvation, but not about their perfection, the
fear of perdition disquiets them, but not the thirst to realise their God-likeness. People of
a pre-Christian consciousness, “understanding their own salvation as a natural result of
their own proper merits before God, would concern themselves and actually did concern
themselves only about this, to discern for sure the will of God and for sure to define, what
is particularly acceptable to God and what is unacceptable to Him, what might please
God and what might anger Him”. 16 Upon this soil is begotten a juridical understanding
of salvation, i.e. the interpretation of the Saviour’s death on the Cross as a ransom
payment for the sins of people, as the appeasing of an angry God.

Religious anthropology, having under it a purely scientific foundation, leads to a

rational realisation of that great Christian truth, that man himself, by his own limited
powers is unable to save himself. The world was created for the perfective God-likeness
of the creation, for the free realisation of the Divine perfection of mankind, and not for
the egoistic and greedy aims of people, and not for God to lord it up in dominion over us.
Nesmelov penetrates to the intimate depths the psychology of sin and the psychology of
salvation and redemption, [and he has a grasp of transcendent psychological mysteries, as
but few have had]. People cannot themselves forgive sin, they cannot themselves make
peace with their falling-away from God. “They thought not about that they had come to
ruin, but only about this, that they -- were guilty before God, i.e. in other words, they
thought not about themselves, but only about God; it came to be, they loved God more
than themselves, and therefore they were not able to forgive themselves their
transgression”. And once there was such a psychology of sin, then also the psychology of
redemption had to be included in the striving to merit the mercy of God, the forgiveness
of sins, in the reconciliation with God from the fear of perdition. Nesmelov with
indignation rejects the conceiving of God as an egoistical holder of power, and in such a
view of God he sees the basis of the diabolical temptation. “God did not threaten
punishment for the transgressing of His commandment, but beforetime forewarned man
about what would necessarily follow, if His given commandment be transgressed by
them. Consequently, the fulfilling of the commandment was necessary not for God, but
only for people in the interests of their moral perfecting, and consequently, by the
transgressing of the commandment, man could bring to ruin only himself, since by this
transgression he was however altogether unable to convey an infinite affront to God”.17
God cannot be indignantly insulted by man and therein either punish man, or pardon him.
The will of God is in this, that man become perfect, like his Heavenly Father, to become
likened unto Him, and it is altogether not in this, that man be made obedient to His
formal will. Wherein therefore sin ought to be annihilated, and not merely pardoned,
annihilated in the name of perfection. Man himself, conscious of the God-like nature
within himself, recognises himself unworthy of forgiveness and thirsts to become perfect.
The meaning of Christ’s sacrifice -- is not in the ransom for sin, not in the appeasing of
God the Father, but in a miraculous transformation of human nature towards perfection.
The juridical teaching about redemption is an affront both to man, and to God. For
Nesmelov, in what is the essence of the sin, and why have people, in gnawing the apple
from the forbidden tree, committed transgression? Nesmelov provides a [profound]
psychology of the primordial transgression. He always makes use of the psychological
method, rather than one of abstraction. A “psychology of living facts”, and not a “logic of
concepts” -- in this is the originality of the method of Nesmelov in his religious

People “desired, that their exalted position in the world should not be dependent on
the free developement by them of their spiritual powers, but rather by their physical
eating of certain fruits, it means that they essentially wanted this, that their life and fate
should be defined not by them themselves, but by external material principle. And this
desire of theirs they realised in actual fact. They actually turned for help to the forbidden
tree in that particularly full confidence, that the somehow magical power of its fruits,
without any effort on their part, mechanically would render them all the more perfect. In
these calculations of theirs they were of course crudely mistaken, but the fact of fulfilling
their intention they nonetheless accomplished; and therefore the undoubtable
mistakenness of their calculations does not itself in the least degree alter the actual
significance and meaning of their fatal course of action: by their superstitious course of
action people voluntarily subordinated themselves to external nature and themselves
voluntarily destroyed that world significance, which they could and should have had in
accord with the spiritual nature of their person”. 18 People went their own particular
godless way, reckoning to attain by this path a Divine condition, but they fell into a
bestial condition, subjecting themselves to a restrictive material nature. Therefore the
Biblical account about the fruits of the forbidden tree has deep metaphysical significance.
Nesmelov emphasises especially, that the essence of the fall into sin -- is in a
superstitious attitude towards material things as a source for power and knowledge. The
[deep] truthfulness of this psychology of the fall into sin finds itself experientially
confirmed in the consciousness of modern man, in the personal fall into sin of each of us.
People “subordinated their soul life to the physical law of mechanistic causality, and it
means, they put their spirit into common bondage with the world of things. In
consequence of this, they can now essentially live only that life, which exists and is
proper to the particular nature of the physical world, and under these conditions death
appears inevitable. It means, that death is not something from somewhere from the
outside that has come upon people, in punishment, for example, God’s punishment for
sin; it has come upon them from them themselves, as a natural and necessary
consequence of that transgression, which people committed. In actual fact, this world, in
which people wanted to live and in which they actually entered by fact of their
transgression, God did not create and did not want to create, and all the appearances
which exist in this world, as in a world of transgression, exist not in accord with the
creative will of God, but rather in accord with the mechanistic forces of physical nature.
That world, which actually was created by God, man spoiled by his transgression”.19
Why did God permit the mutilation of His creation? “By virtue of His almightiness, God
undoubtedly was able to not permit the fall of the first people, but He did not want to
stifle their freedom, since He would not distort His own image in mankind”. 20

“The holy human life of Jesus Christ speaks but to this, that despite the existence of
evil in the world, the world nonetheless comes to realise the Divine idea of being. It
means, by fact of His immaculate life, Christ manifested only the justification of God in
His creative activity, and not a justification of people before God in their deviation away
from God’s law of life”. 21 “Sin never and in no case can be excused man, since every
pardoning of sin can only be a becoming reconciled with it, and not at all a liberation
from it. For this, that man actually should be delivered from sin, he ought invariably
annihilate it within himself”. 22 But the salvation of man is bound up with the salvation
of the world, and man himself even with a martyr’s death cannot deliver the world from
sin. Nesmelov understands Christianity as an universal deed, and not an individual one,
and he affirms the religious meaning of history. The righteousness of Christ is also for
him the righteousness of human nature in common. The appearance of Christ was a
continuation of the creation. “Recognising Christ’s resurrection as the efficacious basis
and first expression of a general law of the resurrection of the dead, we ought obviously
to recognise in Christ suchlike a Man, Who being a true possessor of human nature, did
not bear only an individual human person-ness, since that His righteousness was the
righteousness not of a separate man, but the righteousness of human nature, completely
independent of those who in particular partially possess this nature”. 23

Christ is also the appearance in the world of the God-like Man, a revealing of the
religious mystery of the human being. The redeeming of the world by Christ is as it were
a new creation: man comes to be in that position, in which he was situated before the fall,
but enlightened and deified with experience. The Person of Christ is also a God-
revelatory answer to the enigma of man: Christ is absolute and the Divine Man, the
praeternally existing image and likeness of the Father. But the appearance of Christ in the
world and His death on the Cross do not of themselves save, but rather only create the
conditions for the possibility of salvation. Salvation is a deed of the will, and not of
coercion by God. 24 Christ cleanses from sin those, who freely desire to be cleansed by
Him, those who love in Him the image of the existent Divine perfection, to which man
was fore-ordained.

“The death of Jesus Christ in actuality is not a ransom-payment to God for people’s
sins, but rather the sole means towards the possibility of the cleansing of people’s sins,
and furthermore not only of people’s sins, but of the sins also of all the transgressive
world in general. It actually and unconditionally cleanses all and every sin, yet still the
sins of only those sinners, which Christ the Saviour seeks out, and He seeks out only
those sinners, which acknowledge the need in the redemption of their sins and who
believe in the actuality of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Whoever does not
acknowledge the need in redemption, that one also cannot ultimately desire, that his sins
be taken from him by Christ, and therefore he likewise remains in his sins. At the
opposite, whoso desires the redemption of his sins and believes in the actuality of
Christ’s sacrifice for sin, and turns himself towards the saving help of Christ, that one,
even though he should emerge from amidst the hosts of fallen angels, and even though he
be Satan himself, it is all the same -- he can be cleansed and saved by the holy blood of
Christ; since that even the devil likewise -- is a creation of God, since that he likewise
was created by God not for perdition, but for life eternal in the radiant world of God’s
saints”. 25 According to the noble teaching of Nesmelov, there can be cleansed and saved
both pagans, and the dead, and even the fallen spirits. With a pervasive power of
psychological intuition, Nesmelov repudiates the fear of hell’s torments and the terror of
perdition as un-Christian feelings, although (eternal perdition he does not deny) also he
defends the Christian character of fear of its own non perfection and terror of its own
beast-likeness. He saves the thirst for perfection, for God likeness, he saves the love for
Christ, the love for the Divine in life, but not the thought about punishment, chastisement,
hell’s torments, etc. “Whoso actually believes in Christ, and for whom the living source
of moral energy in every instance is lodged not within thought about the Dread Last
Judgement of Christ, but in the thought about the love of Christ beyond intellection, such
that he would fear Christ’s Judgement over himself only in this one regard, that with his
own sinful impurity he might be manifest unworthy of Christ, and Christ might separate
him off from living communion with Himself. This separation off for him is more terrible
than any punishment, since the life with Christ is higher than any reward, and since he
can conceive of his own life in Christ, evidently, not as a desire for heavenly rewards and
not in terror of hell’s torments, but exclusively and only through the moral imperative of
his own pure and reverent love for Christ. Such a man, reasonably, never would permit
the immoral thought to this effect, that people might sin in hope on God’s mercy, since
that in this hope he could affirm only the undoubtable truth of his faith, that through the
great mercy of Christ the Saviour that people should be saved from sin. Consequently,
whoso recourses to God’s mercy on the path towards licentiousness, such an one knows
Christ not at all and thinks about the mercy of God not at all, -- he simply commits
sacrilege through the ignorance of foolish people, and already it is reasonably apparent,
that to put oneself upon the path of truth and render oneself virtuous is not a matter set
upon the future threat of universal judgement, but only one’s spiritual enlightenment by
the ethical light of Christ’s truth”. 26

Nesmelov raises Christian consciousness to an high degree, he cleanses the

Christian consciousness from admixtures of crude paganism, from dark superstitions,
from degrading fears, for those seeking the truth of Christ. Nesmelov teaches, that the
eternal truth of Christianity is identical with the eternal truth of the ideal and God-like
human nature.


From the time of the infancy of mankind to our own time pagan idolatry and pagan
superstition have been part of religious life. Paganism, ultimately, is not identical with
idolatry and superstition, in paganism there was also a positive truth, a genuine sense of
God, but the residue of paganism in the Christian world customarily bears an idolatrous
and superstitious character. The strangest thing of all is this, that the most external aspect
of Christianity, the most official ecclesiality not only does not heal this ulcer of religious
life, but rather irritates it the moreso and intensifies it. The consciousness of the extra
temporal and ideal values is frequently strengthened in the mystic, in art, in creativity,
outside the circle charted out by the official ecclesiality, and the organ of its conscious
expression is found in the heights of philosophy, which by this serves no little in the
matter of the cleansing of the religious consciousness of mankind. The theoretical God-
knowledge and the practical God-communion have taught about the higher, the God-like
nature of man, while at the same time the representatives of the official ecclesiality and
the official religiosity have fallen too often into an heavenly utilitarianism -- this as a
projection of earthly utilitarianism. The pagan experiences within Christianity teach man
to be guided by his own interests, they sustain within him the sense of fear and terror and
by this they corrupt man, they evoke within him an indifference to the truth and the right.
The rightful truth however of the eternal Gospel within the human heart and
consciousness, the reflection of light from Christ teaches man to be guided by the thirst
for perfection, by the striving towards God-communion and towards God-likeness, and it
liberates from superstitious fears and terrors. The pagan superstition within Christianity is
recognised wherein God is worshipped as an idol, rather than as the source of perfection,
of truth, of true life, of value. And towards the Living God there can be an idolatrous and
superstitious attitude, and it always is so, when the superstitious fear of perdition or the
superstitious hope, that the interests of man be satisfied, takes precedence over the
reverent love towards God and the striving towards that absolute perfection, which is
reflected in the nature of man himself. The will towards the realisation of perfective
value, towards the God-like manner of being is also the source of an authentic, a free, a
non superstitious and non-idolatrous religious life. The will towards value, towards the
extra-temporal in regards to its own significance, the will towards the Divine, towards the
true and the free is at the basis of life of all the great people as regards religion, of all the
saints, the apostles and the prophets. Within their soul love hath conquered fear, the
striving for perfection hath conquered private interests. The consciousness of extra
temporal values, the consciousness of their own higher nature provides deliverance from
the pagan superstitions and fears, which abase and pervert the Christian faith. We cannot
yet believe, that a man, deprived of consciousness of values, a man, never sensing in the
depths of his nature the reflection of God, of filial sonship to God, -- that such a man by a
superstitious and idolatrous falling to the levels of the external ecclesiality by this itself
yet frees himself from guilt and sin and is rendered a member of the Divine world order,
of the Kingdom of God. Nor can we likewise believe, that a man with a rare escaping out
of the ranks here by a consciousness of values, and having discovered within himself the
Divine nature, is excluded from the Divine world-order, if he transgresses some aspect of
the official ecclesiality. Nesmelov deeply understands this problem, and he says straight
out, that everything of value, and true, and good in life is saved for eternity. 27 Nesmelov
with a noble indignation repudiates the superstitious-magical attitude towards the
sacramental-mysteries of the Church. The sacramental-mystery is not a conjuring, a
magic spell, it is not a relict of the pagan darkness, and towards it there cannot be a
mechanical attitude. A man, the whole life of whom is beast-like, does not become God
like through a mechanical communing of the mysteries. The partaking of the
sacramental-mysteries is connected with an inner rebirth into new life, though the
sacrament itself is independent of anything human. Evil-doers, who hope to receive
pardon and absolution through a mechanical touching-upon by the Church, and who go to
the sacramental-mysteries as a means to continue with their beast-like life and therein be
freed of the fear of perdition and punishment, suchlike a malefactor does not participate
truly in the sacramental-mysteries nor get truly into the Church. The Church is the world
soul, conjoined with Christ the Logos, it is the congregate Divine consciousness of
mankind, as a centre of the world, and it comprises all the positive fullness of being. The
mystical essence of the Church cannot be confused with the historical sins of the
empirical Church. The abomination of desolation can also be in the place of the holy.
[About this one ought to bear in mind both the “right” and the “left” in the church
question]. The Church has preserved the image of the Crucified Christ and for the
sacramental-mystery of communion to it -- only in this also mustneeds be sought the
mystical sanctity of the true Church. Nesmelov -- is a pious member of the Orthodox
Church, and yet is a merciless critic of the official religiosity, the exposer of the lie of the
state church. The book of this faithful son of the Orthodox Church helps to surmount the
crude paganism within “Orthodoxy”.

“Be ye perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect”, i.e. realise within
yourself the image of God. Herein is the eternal essence of Christianity, a setting in
opposition to every pagan superstition and idolatry the thirst for a perfect, true, eternal
and full life. But this essential core of Christianity cannot be transformed into moralism.
Only through Christ, manifest as Person in the Divine truth of human nature, is to be
attained God likeness. By a path exclusively human man cannot attain to a condition of
the Divine. Without the concrete truth about man, the abstract truth of idealism -- is dead
and is not realism. The pretensions of a philosophic knowing to substitute for religious
faith ought to be, not only religiously, but also philosophically repudiated. And the book
of Nesmelov brilliantly lays bare the pagan limitedness of contemporary philosophy and
of the whole contemporary mindset, for which the faith in Christ is folly and seduction.
Nesmelov succeeded in philosophically showing, that faith in Christ is reasonable, and
that only this faith is reasonable. Nesmelov speaks all the time about the “scientific” basis
of faith, and his work he calls the “science” about man. This is not altogether precise. It
would be more correct to speak about the philosophic justification of faith and about the
philosophy of human nature. Nesmelov is very contentious against any scholasticism, he
strives for a living knowledge and is proud of that his science of man is based on facts,
and not on concepts. The tremendous merit of Nesmelov might in brief be expressed
thus: the fundamental thought of Feuerbach about the anthropologic mystery of religion
is transformed by him into a weapon of defense of Christianity. People come to religion
through the twofoldness of their nature, through a lodged within them God-likeness
alongside with a beast-likeness or nature-likeness. Man cannot be reconciled with this,
not on the strength of his subjective desires, but only on the strength of his objective
nature. Positivism, in the broad sense of the word, makes this point as regards another, a
perfect world, this thirst of a Divine and absolute life, and for the subjective desires it is
something which ought with caution to be explained positively. Positivism is correct,
when it says, that the subjective desires never get accomplished fully, that essentially the
world is not bound to be, such as we would wish to see it. But actually this manner of
speaking addresses not the subjective desires of man, but it is rather about objective
nature, and this objective nature proves itself much objectified, this nature is positively
inexplicable, a mystery. Man -- is the member of another, a Divine world-order, he is not
only of the natural world, and this -- is a fact, a mysterious fact, demanding another
explanation. God, as Person, is perceived only anthropologically, within man; but in
nature, cosmologically -- He is perceived as an impersonal creative force. A synthesis
though of the cosmologic revelation of paganism and the anthropologic revelation of
Christianity has religiously yet neither been investigated nor found. In this religious
synthesis, which lies beyond the horizon of Nesmelov, 28 and there ought to be revealed
the not yet revealed Christian mystery of God’s creation.

Nesmelov reveals a new method of detection 29 of the being of God --

psychologically, or (more accurately) anthropologically. This detection is distinct from
the old ontological proof, which was based upon an intellectual concept and beyond the
limits of intellectual concept it does not go, and it is distinct also from the rather newer
moral demonstrative proof of Kant, which is grounded in subjective duty. Nesmelov’s
detection is grounded upon the objective fact of human nature. This, certainly, is not a
new discovery of Nesmelov, for the whole religious and philosophic developement of
mankind prepared this religious anthropology, it opened up the way to God. Furthermore,
the teaching of Kant about the moral-rational nature of man and about its intelligible
character has hidden within it the possibility not only of “religion within the bounds of
reason”, but also an authentic Christian religious anthropology. But Nesmelov gave clear
and deep expression to the truth of religious anthropology. 30 The consciousness of
person, as the image and likeness of God, the consciousness of his belonging to a true,
perfect and free world objectively demonstrates also the being of God, and the necessity
of the redemption of the world by the Son of God. The pathway to a Christian
consciousness lies through a mysterious self-awareness of being a person. And there
cannot be an understanding of Christianity for one in whom the person, -- the image of
the Divine being, is still asleep, is still dissolved within fated being. But when man has
become aware of his own person, he becomes conscious within himself of an higher
being and a vocation to an higher life, and then there stands forth the image of Christ and
nowise more can it be obscured.

For modern man at the vanguard of awareness, and especially for Russian man
among the Intelligentsia, it is (very) difficult to accept Christianity, there are obstacles
waiting at every step, obstacles both of mind and of heart. This man has consented at
times to accept each religion that pleases him, whatever a form of paganism, the religion
of Babylon or Dionysianism, Brahmanism or Buddhism, even Mahometanism, but only
not Christianity. In this turning away from Christianity is something strange and
mysterious. And the man of our era is quite willing to become a pantheist, if the religious
need has not ultimately gone numb within him. Pantheism and pantheistic mysticism is
esteemed whether by the positivist, the atheist, the Marxist, or whatever the teaching of
the contemporary time. Only Christian theism is esteemed by no one, and modernity does
not accept it. Modern man thinks, that under pantheism he preserves his person, and that
for mankind it betokens a tremendous significance, and freedom, and also other fine
things, would result under it, but that here under Christianity the person is enslaved, and
freedom vanishes, and mankind comes to naught. What s strange aberration! In actuality
it is all just turned around backwards. Only the Christian consciousness is grounded in
the sense of person, only it acknowledges the divineness of human nature and gives a
central place in the world-order to mankind, only this consciousness affirms the freedom
of man, his worth and his higher nature. Pantheism ultimately abolishes person, and
freedom, and mankind, dissolving everything ultimately into the world’s life, and
imperceptibly passes over into naturalism and materialism. Pantheism cannot
comprehend of our thirst for perfect and true life nor has it the ability to explain our
higher nature and the twofoldness connected with it. Only Christianity acknowledges an
absolute significance for man and his eternal destiny and no wise is he dissolved away, to
nothing is he enslaved. And the profound self-consciousness of man is a Christian self-
consciousness: in the depths of his self-consciousness man finds Christ -- the resolution
of the enigma of his nature. [But the Christian self-consciousness ought to be cleansed
from paganism, the consciousness of person ought to be set off from the consciousness of
the impersonal genus. And a sublime philosophy, like Nesmelov’s, serves towards this
important task.] The renewed and eternal Christianity transcends the relationship to God
as idol, and man recognises within Him the absolute source of his thirst for Divine
perfection, and within Christ the praeternally realised, Divinised humanity.

Nikolai Berdyaev


© 1999 by translator Fr. Stephen Janos.

(1909 - 158(4) - en)


Nesmelova “Nauka o cheloveke”). Russkaya Mysl’, sept. 1909, ctr. 54-72.

Included thereafter in 1910 book “Dukhovnyi krizis intelligentsii”, Spb, sect. II-6.
(sic) #158(4) is Berdyaev article #158, book #4.

Reprinted by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi

mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III), ctr. 302-328.

It is likewise impossible to deny the talent and originality of a professor of the Moscow
Spiritual Academy, M. Tareev, who recently published a four-volume collection, “The
Foundations of Christianity”. [But his interpretation of Christianity is but one of the
forms of a Protestant individualism. The impotence of religious thought on the soil of
Protestantism is clearly evident from a recently appeared booklet of
R. Aiken, “The Fundamental Problems of the Contemporary Philosophy of Religion”.]
Of the great teachers of the Church it was, evidently, St. Gregory of Nyssa who had
the greatest influence on Nesmelov, and who allotted a large place to religious
anthropology. (Nesmelov has written a book about St. Gregory of Nyssa.) [Brilliantov
has written an interesting book, “The Influence of Eastern Theology upon the Western in
the Works of J. Scotus Erigena”, and adeptly points out a distinction of Eastern
theologising from that of the West: Eastern theologising is objective and it starts from the
absolute givenness of the Divine, whereas the Western -- is subjective and starts from the
In the first volume of his work, Nesmelov gives a gnosseological basis to his religious
philosophy, but gnosseology does not appear to be his very strong or original side. With
an accurate instinct Nesmelov binds together gnosseology with ontology, but in this he is
inferiour to Solov’ev, whom unjustly he ignores. With Nesmelov there is a stronger
psychological side.
Vide: “The Science of Man” (“Nauka o cheloveke”), Tom I, p. 241.
Ibid., p. 242. 6 Ibid., p. 246.
Ibid., p. 246. 8 Ibid., p. 256-257.
Ibid., p. 261. 10 Ibid., p. 286.
Ibid., p. 296.
The principal dualism of spirit and flesh, as of the good and the evil respectively, is a
teaching not so much Christian, as rather Manichaean and Gnostic. Manichaeanism was
ultimately a product of Persian dualism, of two opposed gods, and Gnosticism taught,
that matter is created by another, by an evil god, and that matter cannot become deified.
Christianity however teaches about deification, transfiguration, the resurrection of the
worldly flesh. For Christianity the consciousness of the materiality chaining us down is
the result of the sinful corruption of the world, but there is no especial material principle
that is of itself evil. This likewise distinguishes Christianity from Platonism. Vide: “The
Collected Works of St. Ireneius of Lyons”, 1900 [Russian edition]. [Trans. note: for St.
Ireneius in English, vide Vol. I of “The Ante-Nicene Fathers” Series, which is also now
Online on the Internet.] St. Ireneius of Lyons with great strength reveals, that it is
Christianity namely that saves worldly matter and leads to the resurrection of the flesh,
which all the while the Gnostic heresies with their pseudo spiritualism would but suffer
and consign to perdition -- all the fleshly world, all the earth. From the Incarnation of
God, the Enfleshment of God, St. Ireneius deduces the inevitability of the salvation of the
flesh. St. Ireneius was an ardent defender of Chiliasm. Vide Bk. 5 of his “Against
Heresies” (“Adversus Haeresis”),
p. 445-548.]
Already in Justin the Philosopher it is possible to find an excellent explanation of the
Christian teaching about resurrection and the repudiation of a fleshless spiritualism. Vide:
“Works of St. Justin”, 1902, p. 479-484 [in English: Vol. I of Ante-Nicene Fathers].
Ibid., Tom II, p. 7. 15 Ibid., p. 25.
Ibid., p. 248. 17 Ibid., p. 249.
Ibid., p. 251-252. And in the source-springs of history evil is all rooted in this
superstitious attitude towards material objects.
Ibid., p. 257. 20 Ibid., p. 268.
Ibid., p. 305. 22 Ibid., p. 306-307.
Ibid., p. 350.
To Nesmelov was foreign the teaching of Bl(essed) Augustine about grace, which
denigrated human freedom. But it would be unjust to accuse Nesmelov of this, that he
belittles the significance of grace and falls into Pelagianism.
Ibid., p. 337. 26 Ibid., p. 420.
Catholics make a distinction between the soul of the Church (anima Ecclesiae), in
which belongs everything that is of a will towards the good and towards Divine life, and
the body of the Church, to which belongs all the faithful, subject to the hierarchy of the
Church and in communion with its sacraments. (Vide the fine book of Abbot Per?,
“Entretiens sur l’Eglise Catholique”, Tom II, p. 504-509).
Just like Orthodoxy in general, Nesmelov -- is an opponent of Chiliasm. His
exceptionally pessimistic view on the end of world history stands in contradiction with
his avowal of the meaning of history and the necessity of history for redemption.]
I say detection (“obnaruzhenie”), since this word is a demonstrative proof, strictly
speaking, and is not applicable to the being of God. In acknowledging the being of God
there is nothing logically compelling.
I am myself given to think, that the “Critique of Practical Reason” is of Kant’s greater
merit, than is his “Critique of Pure Reason”. But the religious rationalism of Kant
weakened his profound teaching about the twofoldness of human nature and about man’s
belonging to the realm of freedom.

When one enters into the Picasso room in the gallery of S. I. Schukin, one is seized
with a feeling of subtle terror. That, what one senses, is connected not only with the
painting and the fate of art, but with cosmic life itself and its fate. In the preceding room
of the gallery was the charming Gauguin. And it seems, that one has experienced the
ultimate joy of the natural life, the beauty all still of an embodied and crystaline world,
the rapture of the natural rays of the sun. For Gauguin, the son of a refined and jaded
culture, it was necessary to flee to the island of Tahiti, to exotic nature and to exotic
people, in order to find in himself the strength to create the beauty of an embodied
crystaline, sun-bright natural life. After this golden dream one is roused wide awake in
the room of Picasso. Cold, gloomy, frightful. The delight of an embodied and sun-bright
life has vanished. A wintry cosmic wind has torn away veil after veil, all the blossoms
have faded, all the leaves, the skin of things is tripped away, all the coverings, all the
flesh, manifest in forms of imperishable beauty, has fallen away. It seems, that never
already will ensue a cosmic springtime, will not be the leaves, the greens, the beautiful
veilings, the embodied synthetic forms. And if too there will be a springtime, then it will
be totally different, new, unprecedented, with leaves and flowers not of here. It seems,
that after the dreadful winter of Picasso the world will not blossom still, as before, that in
this winter fall away not only all the veilings, but also that all the objective corporeal
world is shattered apart down to its foundations. There occurs as it were a mysterious
stretching apart of the cosmos.

Picasso -- represents an expression of genius of the disintegration, the stretching

apart and pulverisation of the physical, corporeal, embodied world. From the perspective
of the history of painting, the raison d'etre for the arising of Cubism in France becomes
understandable. Picasso was preceded as a painter by such immense figures, as Cezanne.
French painting already for a long time, from the time of the Impressionists, had gone
down the path of softening effects, had lost the sense of firm forms, down the path of the
exclusively picturesque. Cubism is a reaction against this softening effect, a searching out
of the geometric aspects of the objective world, of the skeleton of things. This -- is a
matter of analytic, and not synthetic, searchings. All more and more it becomes
impossible to have a synthetically-whole apperception and creativity in painting.
Everything analytically decomposes and becomes dismembered. By suchlike an analytic
dismemberment the painter gets down to the skeleton of things, to the firm forms, hidden
behind the softening veils. The material veils of the world have begun to decompose and
come apart and they have started to seek for the firm substances, congealed beyond this
softened effect. In his searching for the geometric forms of objects, the skeleton of things,
Picasso has arrived at the stone age. But this -- is an illusory stone age. The somberness,
the frigidity and firmness of the geometric figures of Picasso only but seem so. In
actuality, the geometric bodies of Picasso, piled up from the cubes of the skeleton of the
corporeal world, fall apart at the slightest shake. The final layer of the material world,
revealed by Picasso the painter after the stripping away of all the veils, -- is illusory, and
not real. The insights of the painter do not reveal the substances of the material world, --
this world proves to be non-substantial. Picasso -- is a merciless exposer of the illusion of
an embodied, materially synthetic beauty. Behind the captivating and alluring feminine
beauty he sees the fear of disintegration, dissolution. He, as a seer, sees through all the
veils, the garbs, the accretions, and there, in the depths of the material world, he sees his
own heaped-up monstrosities. These -- are the demonic grimaces of the fettered spirits of
nature. To go deeper even still, and there would not be any sort of materiality, -- there
already would be the inner level of nature, of the hierarchy of spirits. The crisis in
painting as it were leads to an emergence from the physical material flesh into another
and higher plane.

Painting, as also with all the plastic arts, was an embodiment, a materialisation, a
crystalisation. The higher ascents in the old painting provided a formal and crystaline
flesh. And painting was connected with a solidity of the embodied physical world, with a
stability of form with matter. But at present painting is undergoing an as yet
unprecedented crisis. If one penetrates deeper into this crisis, then it is impossible to term
it otherwise than as a dematerialisation, a disembodiment of painting. Within painting
there is happening something, it would seem, contrary to the very nature of the plastic
arts. It is as though everything already has been outlived within the sphere of the
embodied, materially-crystaline painting. Art ultimately has torn itself loose from
antiquity. There has begun a process of the permeation forth of painting beyond the limits
of the material plane of being. In the old painting there was much of spirit, but of a spirit
embodied and expressible within the crystals of a material world. Now there occurs a
reverse process: spirit does not become embodied nor materialised, but rather matter
itself becomes dematerialised, disembodied, it loses its firmness, its solidity, its stability
of form. Painting plunges into the depths of matter and there, in the bottommost levels, it
finds already no materiality. Were one to recourse to theosophic terminology, one might
then say, that painting is effecting a transition from bodies physical to bodies aethereal
and astral. Already within Vrubel there began a delicate distension of the material body.
With Picasso there is a shakiness to the very boundaries of physical bodies. There is the
same symptom with the Futurists, in their notices tempo of movement. The promotions
and charlatanism, distorting the present-day art, have deep causes in the distortion of the
crystaline aspect of everything vital. Already with the Impressionists began a sort of
disintegrative process. And this is not from an immersion within spirituality, but occurs
rather from an immersion in materiality. Early Italian painting was full of deep
spirituality, but the spirit was embodied in it. In modern art spirit is as it were on the
wane, and flesh becomes dematerialised. This is a very profound jolt for the plastic arts,
and which strikes at the very essence of the plastic form. The dematerialisation in
painting can produce the impression of the ultimate collapse of art. Painting just the same
is bound up with the crystaline forms of flesh, as poetry is with the crystaline forms of the
word. The dissociation of the word, its distention has to produce the impression of the
collapse of poetry. And truly indeed there happens the same stretching apart of the
crystaline aspects of words, as with the crystaline aspects of flesh. I shall not speak about
the Futurist poetry, which up til now has produced nothing remarkable. But here too is
Andrei Bely, whom I regard as an original, remarkable, nigh close to genius phenomenon
in Russian literature, who as such might be termed a Cubist within literature. In his novel
"Peterburg" can be discerned the same process of stretching apart and pulling apart of
cosmic life, which also is in the Picasso picture. In his belaboured and nightmarish word
combinations there become distended the crystaline aspect of words. He is the same sort
of vexing and nightmarish artist, as is Picasso. This painful vexation is from the
stretching apart, from the ruination of the world, or more precisely, not of the world, but
of one of the embodied worlds, one of the planes of world life.1
And it seems a sad and bitter thought, that there will no longer be beautiful bodies,
pure crystals, the joys of embodied life, of the synthetically-whole apperception of things,
of an organic culture. All this is passe, and the passe is discovered in aching grief, in
sighs over the past, in painful fright at the perishing of the embodied beauty of the world.
Architecture already has irreversibly gone to ruin, and its ruination is very noticeable and
striking. With the perishing of the hope for the rebirth of a great architecture perishes also
the hope of a new embodiment of beauty in an organic, naturo-corporeal national culture.
In architecture a very shallow Futurism has long since already gained the victory. It
would seem, that in the world of a material embodiment, of corporeality, everything is
already crumbling irretrievably, everything is already detraque. On this plane of being
there has become impossible already any organic, synthetically-integral joy, any stability
of beauty. It would seem, that in nature itself, in its rhythm and cycles something
irreversibly has crumbled and changed. There is no longer and cannot be such a pretty
Springtime, such a sunny Summer, nor the crystaline aspect, the purity, the clarity, in
either the Springtime or in the Summer. The times of the year are all mixed up. People no
longer rejoice at the rising and the setting of the sun, as formerly they were wont to
rejoice. The sun itself no longer shines as before. In nature itself, in the meteorological
and geological phenomena there is occurring a mysterious process of an analytic
dissociation and distention. Many perceptive people now feel this, such as are endowed
with a mystical sensitivity towards cosmic life. About human life, about the human being,
about the human social aspect there is nothing to say. Here everything is clearly visible,
evident. Our life is a continuous decrystalisation, dematerialisation, disembodiment. The
successes of material technology only but enable the disintegration of historical bodies,
of the orderly manner of flesh born in life. All the stability is shaken, and with it is
shaken not only the past evil and injustice of life, but also the past beauty and past
comfort in life. The material world seemed to be absolutely stable, firmly crystalised. But
this stability has proven to be but relative. The material world is not substantial -- it is
merely functional. And already outmoded are those conditions of spirit, which
engendered this sense of stability and crystalising aspect of the embodied material world.
Now at present the human spirit is entering into another stage of growth in its being and
the symptoms of the distention and dissolution of the material world can be seen
everywhere: both in the jolts to traditional lifestyle and all our way of life, to kindred
bonds, and in science, which snatches away the traditional boundaries of experience and
is compelled to admit of a dematerialisation, and also in philosophy, and in art, and in the
occult currents, and in the religious crisis. There is decomposing the old synthesis of an
objective world of things, there perishes irretrievably the crystals of the old beauty. But
the attainment of beauty, which would have corresponded to another stage of growth for
man and the world, there is not still. Picasso -- is a remarkable painter, profoundly
agitating, but in him there is no attainment of beauty. He is all transitional, all -- crisis.

It would be onerous, pitiful and painful to live in such a time for a man, who loves
exclusively the sun, clarity, Italy, the Latin genius, the embodiment and crystalising
aspect. Such a man would experience immeasurable sorrow over the irretrievable
perishing of everything valuable within the world. And only in the depths of spirit could
he find an antidote against this terror and discover a new joy. In German culture this
crisis is sensed less, since the German culture always was too exclusively of spirit and did
not know of such an embodied beauty, of such a crystalisation within matter. The world
is changing its veils. The material veilings of the world were but a temporary attire. The
old leaves and blossoms had to fade under the cosmic wind. The old clothes of being rot
and fall away. This -- is a sickness in the maturing process of being. But being is
indestructible in its essence, not disintegrative at its core. Within the process of the
cosmic crumbling of the clothes and veilings of being both man and everything genuinely
existent has to persevere. Man, as the image and likeness of absolute being, cannot
crumble away. But he is subject to the dangers of the cosmic whirlwinds. He ought not to
surrender himself to the capricious whims of the wind. In the artistry of Picasso there is
no longer man. That, which he uncovers and reveals, is already no longer human; he
surrenders man to the whims of the crumbling wind. But the pure crystal of the human
spirit is indestructible. It is only that modern art is powerless to create crystals. At present
we approach not a crisis within painting, of which there have been many, but rather a
crisis of painting in general, of art in general. This -- is a crisis of culture, an awareness of
its failure, its impossibility to transform itself into a culture of creative energy. The
cosmic distention and disintegration engender a crisis of all the arts, jolting the
boundaries of art. Picasso -- is a vivid symptom of this sickened process. But such
symptoms are many. In front the pictures of Picasso I tended to think, that with the world
was transpiring something inharmonious, and felt sorrow and grief at the perishing of the
old beauty of the world, but then too joy at the birth of the new. This is a great praise to
the power of Picasso. The same thoughts occur with me, when I read occult books, and
communicate with people, living in this sphere of phenomena. But I believe, I believe
deeply, that there is possible a new beauty within life itself and that the perishing of the
old beauty merely seems so to us in regard to our limitedness, and because, that all beauty
-- is eternal and present at the deepest core of being. And the debilitating sorrow has to be
surmounted. If one say it as a truth less than ultimate, that the beauty of Botticelli and
Leonardo is perishing irretrievably together with the perishing of the material plane of
being, upon which it was embodied, then as an ultimate truth one ought to say, that the
beauty of Botticelli and Leonardo has entered into eternal life, since it always has abided
beyond the unstable veiling of cosmic life, to which we give the name material. But the
new creativity will be yet different, it will not be yet cut short by the pull to the gravity of
this world. Picasso -- is not the new creativity. He -- is the end of the old.

Nikolai Berdyaev


© 2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1914 - 174(14,2) - en)

PIKASSO. First published in Journal "Sophiya", 1914, No. 3, p. 57-62.

Article was thereafter republished initially in Berdyaev's 1918 anthology text of 3
articles, “Krizis iskusstva” (“The Crisis of Art”) (Kl.#14), Ch. 2. Article has also
subsequently been reprinted in the Moscow "Liga" 1994 N. Berdyaev collection of
articles, under cover-title, "Philosophiya, tvorchestva, kultury i isskustva", tom 2, ctr.

In philosophy Cubism also is possible. Thus, the critical genealogy in its final results
arrives at a distortion and disintegration of being. In the Russian philosophy of the
present time as a genuine Cubist there appears to be B. V. Yakovenko. His philosophy is
a pluralistic dissegmentation of being. Vide his article in "Logos". And it is characteristic,
that in Germany already there has appeared a work, suggesting a parallel between Picasso
and Kant.

The End of Europe


The visionary dream about world unity and world dominion -- is an age-old dream
of mankind. The Roman Empire was the greatest attempt at such unity and such
dominion. And every universalism is bound up even at present with Rome, as a concept
spiritual, and not geographic. The present-day world war, which is spreading all over and
threatens to engulf all lands and peoples, would seem deeply contrary to this old dream
about world unity, about a single world governance. Such a terrible war, it would seem, is
destroying the unity of mankind. But this is so only for the superficial glance. From a
perspective at greater depth the world war to the ultimate degree has brought into sharp
focus the question concerning world order upon the earthly globe, about the expanse of
culture upon all the surface of the earth. The present historical period has similarity to the
era of the great transmigration of peoples. There is the feeling, that mankind is entering
upon a new historical and cosmic even period, amidst some sort of great inevitability,
completely unforeseen by any of the scientific prognoses, meanwhile toppling down all
the doctrines and teachings. And it demonstrates first of all, that the ancient, the irrational
and indeed primitive instincts are stronger than all the modern social interests and
humanitarian feelings. These instincts, rooted within the obscure wellsprings of life, win
out over the feeling of bourgeois self-preservation. That, which seemed to the
consciousness of the second half of the XIX Century to be the solely essential things
within the life of mankind, have proven all to be merely at the surface level of life. The
world war tears away this surface skin of the civilisation of the XIX and XX Centuries
and reveals the deeper layers of human life, it sets loose the chaotically irrational within
human nature, covered over only outwardly, but nowise changed within modern man.
The social question, the struggle of classes, the humanitarian-cosmopolitanist socialism
etc, etc, all that which not so long ago seemed still singularly important, and in which
they saw the only possible future, now fades into the background, gives way to deeper
interests and instincts. Into the foreground move questions of nation and ethnos, the
struggle for dominance of various imperialisms, all that, which had seemed overcome and
left behind by cosmopolitanism, by pacifism, by the humanitarian and socialistic
teachings. The eternal bourgeois and socialistic world has proven phantasmic, a mere
abstraction. Within the fires of this terrible war have been burnt up all the doctrinalisings
and there has been melted away all the fetters, latched upon life by the teachings and
theories. The instincts of nation and ethnos in the XX Century have proven to be mightier
than instincts social and of class. The irrational has proven stronger than the rational
within the most bourgeois and well-organised of cultures. The struggle of ethnos, the
struggle of national dignities, the struggle of great empires for might and dominion is
essentially supra-national. Here the dark will for the expansion of the supra-personal life
wins out over all personal interests and plans, it capsizes all the individual perspectives
on life. How many individually unrewarded go the sacrifices that are demanded by
imperialistic politics or the struggle for national worth. And in our epoch there is the
displacing of instincts by still stronger instincts, upon which stand the imperialistic and
national struggle. The instincts particular to life, of the egoistic family, the philistine, are
won out over by interests of national life, of historical and world life, by instincts of the
glory of peoples and states.


The national consciousness and nationalism -- are phenomena of the XIX Century.
After the Napoleonic wars, inspired by the idea of a world empire, there began the wars
of national liberation. And national self-awareness grew. National states crystalised into
shape. Lesser peoples even wanted to assert their national visage, and to possess an
independent life. The national movements of the XIX Century are profoundly contrary to
the universal spirit of the Middle Ages, which was under the sway of ideas of world
theocracy and world empire and which did not know nationalism. The intense national
energies within the XIX and XX Centuries act alongside energies that were
cosmopolitan, socialistic, humanitarian-pacifist. The XIX Century -- was the most
cosmopolitan and yet the most nationalistic of centuries. The bourgeois European life
was also both very cosmopolitan and very nationalistic. But in it the spirit of universality
would be difficult to find. The nationalisation of human life involved also its
individualisation. And the striving towards individualisation always involves new
appearances. The national states, the national individualities are fully definable only for
the XIX Century. And quite parallel to the growth of the national manifold was a
lessening of the remoteness of states and nations, it weakened the provincial isolation. It
might be said, that mankind moves towards unity through a national individualisation.
Parallel to the individualisation in national existence is an universalisation, a
developement in breadth. And it can likewise be said, that mankind at present moves
towards oneness and unification through a worldwide discord of war, through prolonged
misfortune, into the period we are now entering. History -- is paradoxical and antinomic,
and its processes -- are twofold. Nothing within history is realised alongside a straight
line, by peaceful growth, without detours and without sacrifices, without evil,
accompanying the good, without a shadowing of the light. Races and peoples are locked
in a bloody struggle. Within the war there is an outlet for the particularistic and isolated
existence of peoples.

The most compelling feeling, evoked by the world war, might be expressed thus:
this is the end of Europe, as a monopoly on culture, as a closed-in province of the earthly
sphere, with its pretensions to be universal. The world war pulls into the cycle of world
life all the races, all the parts of the earthly orb. It brings East and West into so close a
contact, as never yet known within history. The world war poses the question about an
emergence onto world expanses, about the extension of culture across all the surface of
the earthly globe. It sharpens to the final extreme all the questions, connected with
imperialistic and colonial politics, connected with the relations of the European states to
other parts of the world, to Asia and Africa. One such aspect already is this, that the
present-day war with a fateful inevitability posits the question about the existence of
Turkey, about the dividing up of its holdings, which leads us beyond the borders of
European horizons. The semi-phantasmic existence of Turkey, which for a long time was
sustained by European diplomacy, kept Europe within its closed-in condition, forestalling
the too acute and catastrophic setting of questions, connected with movement towards the
East. In Turkey all was tied up in a knot, the undoing upon which depends the character
of the existence of Europe, since the end of Turkey represents the emergence of culture
eastwards, beyond the bounds of Europe. And besides the question concerning Turkey
the war posits still many other questions, connected with the world-historical theme: East
and West. And the world war demands resolution of all the questions.


The great powers conduct world politics, and make pretense of spreading their
civilising influence beyond the borders of Europe, to all parts of the world and to all
peoples, upon over all the surface of the earth. This -- is imperialistic politics, which
always contains within it universalistic pretensions and which ought to be distinguished
from nationalistic politics. Nationalism is particularism; imperialism is universalism. On
the strength of some almost biological law, a law of biological sociology, the great. or in
the terminology of N. B. Struve, the greatest powers strive towards a swallowing up of all
the weak and the small, towards a worldwide dominion, they want on their own terms to
civilise all the surface of the earthly sphere.

The talented and original English imperialist Cramb sees the significance of
English imperialism in this, that it "should inspire all peoples, living within the bounds of
the British empire, with the English world-outlook".1 In this he sees the striving of the
race for immortality. Imperialism with its colonial politics is a modern, a bourgeois
method of spreading of the universalisation of culture, of spreading civilisation beyond
the bounds of Europe, beyond the seas and oceans. Modern imperialism -- is a
phenomenon purely European, but it bears with it an energy, the ultimate revealing of
which spells the end of Europe. In the dialectics of imperialism is a self-negation. The
endless expansion and might of the British empire spells the end of England, as a national
state, as the individually particularistic existence of a people. For the British empire, as in
every empire, within its own bounds is the world, the earthly orb. In modern imperialism,
which I term "bourgeois" in distinction to the "sacred" imperialism of former ages,2 there
is the same striving for world dominion, as was also in the Roman empire, and which is
impossible to investigate, as mere national existence. This -- is the tantalising torment of
the great powers, unquenchable in their thirst. Only small peoples and states are content
with a purely national existence, making no pretense to be all the whole world. But how
distinct are the methods of modern bourgeois imperialism from the methods of the old
sacral imperialism. Both the ideology and the practice are altogether different. Now
everything possesses, foremost, an economic undertone. Modern imperialists no longer
speak about a world theocracy, nor about a sacred world empire. Colonial politics, the
struggle for dominion on the sea, the struggle for markets -- this is what concerns modern
imperialism, here are its methods and means of world might. Imperialistic politics indeed
does lead out beyond the bounds of the closed-in existence of Europe and indeed does
serve towards the universalisation of culture. But this is accomplished by crooked and
negative paths. In a straight-forward intent of imperialism to spread culture it is
impossible to believe. We know only too well, how the European great powers peddle
their culture over all the earthly sphere, how rough and ugly their contacts are towards
races of other parts of the world, their civilising of old cultures and savages. The cultural
role of the English in India, an ancient land of great religious revealings of wisdom,
which even now could help the peoples of Europe deepen their religious consciousness, is
all too well known, for it to be possible to sustain the lie of the cultural ideology of
imperialism. The world outlook of modern Englishmen is more superficial, than the
world outlook of Indians, and they can convey to India but an outward civilisation. The
England of the XIX Century would nowise be capable to beget a Ramakrishna, who was
born in India. In the contacts of modern European civilisation with the ancient races and
ancient cultures there is always something of the sacrilegious. And the conceited
European, bourgeois and scientific, civilising consciousness -- is a phenomenon so pitiful
and trite, that it spiritually can be looked at only as a symptom of the ensuing end of
Europe -- the monopolist of world culture. It is the nightfall of Europe -- here is a feeling,
impossible to be rid of. Barbarisation in part threatens Europe. Yet all the same it is
impossible to deny the significance of imperialism, as an emergence beyond the borders
of Europe and purely of the European civilisation, it is impossible to deny its external,
material, geographic mission. All the surface of the earthly orb has inevitably to be
civilised, all the races have to be drawn into the coursings of world history. This
worldwide task stands now more acutely before mankind, than the tasks of the inward life
of the crystalised European states and cultures.


The British empire was the first to appear within the type of modern imperialism.
The last attempt at a sacred imperialism was the world empire of Napoleon, all still
constructed under the spell of the Roman idea. In the era of Napoleon however it
ultimately vanished, transformed into a phantasm, the Holy Roman empire. Hereafter an
empire, all still making pretense to world domination, would be built upon different
foundations and would have a different ideology. Imperialism is closely interwoven with
the economics of the capitalist era. England presents the example of a classical land of
building the growth of empire. The instincts of the Anglo-Saxon race have proven fully
suitable for the creation of a world empire on the new model. The British empire is
strewn throughout all parts of the world, and to it belongs a fifth part of the earthly orb.
The English have the calling for this, to spread their might beyond the seas. The English
imperialism -- is peaceful, non-militaristic, culturo-economic, sea-mercantile. It is
impossible to deny the imperialistic talent and the imperialistic vocation of the English
people. It might also be said, that England has a geographic-imperialistic mission. This
mission consists not in the sphere of an higher spiritual life, but it is necessary in the
fulfillment of the historical fates of mankind. Both as regards their geographic position
and innate to their race, the English -- are the most imperialistic, and perhaps, the solely
imperialistic people in the modern sense of the word. The English -- are great successes
at imperialistic politics. It is impossible to say this for the Germans. Both an unfavourable
geographic position, and the military-force instincts of the Germanic race make the
German imperialism onerous, coercive and intolerable for other lands and peoples. The
Germanic imperialism has to be aggressive and grabbing by force. In German
imperialism, capitalism on the modern model is closely interwoven with militarism. This
imperialism is purely militaristic, and the militarism -- is modernly capitalistic, futuristic.
The German empire, striving for world domination through force, always produces the
impression of being an upstart, and it tends to obsess the unbearable conceit of the
parvenue. It is characteristic, that Bismarck still was not an imperialist: he was more than
careful in regards to colonial politics. He created a national empire, he completed the
unification of the German people. The imperialism here is the child of the most recent
generation of the German bourgeoise and German Junkerism. Modern Germany with its
bourgeois feelers stretches into Russia, into Italy and other lands, and it tries to
Germanise everything. But Germany is not an imperialistic land as regards vocation. Its
imperialism -- is fatal for it itself and for all Europe. To the censuring namely of German
imperialism would be the fact upon exposure, that the imperialism inevitably leads not
only to war, but also to a world war. The world war -- is the result of imperialistic
politics. The seeds of war were lodged in the original grounds of quite peaceful an
imperialism. But no people is fated by a peaceful imperialistic politics to spread its might
over the surface of the world. Every imperialism in fatal manner crashes into a stormy
clash with another imperialism. The existence of several worldwide pretensions
foreshadows a world war. The clash of the rather older English imperialism with the
more recent Germanic was fatally predestined. Several years before the war, Cramb
spoke about this with great enthusiasm in his lectures, "Germany and England", although
it would be difficult to agree with his idealisation of German imperialism. Imperialism
does not have as its aim the spreading of civilisation over all the earth, the increase of
world community, but leads rather to discord and war. In the materialistic imperialism
ensues the nightfall of Europe. But the dawn after this night can only be a worldwide

The world war presents the XX Century the task of the emergence of culture
beyond Europe and into the world expanses over all the surface of the earthly sphere.
Through the terror of the war and the evil of colonial politics, through the struggle of
races and nationalities will be accomplished the unification of mankind and the civilising
of all the earthly sphere. In facing this worldwide task, questions provincially European
for a certain while will be relegated to the secondary plane. Sooner or later there has to
begin the movement of culture towards its ancient sources, to the ancient races, to the
East, to Asia and Africa, which anew need to be drawn into the course of world history.
Egypt, India, Palestine are not forever fallen away from world history. And with its
tormentive problem China still has to be taken into account. The disappearance of a
purely European culture will be a dawning of the sun in the East. The enigmatic
expression of the faces of the ancient peoples of the East, which are so striking for us as
Europeans, ought for once to find solutions at some high points of history. To this
enigmatic glance of the ancient races Europe has not succeeded in determining, whither
to go. Europe ought not only to convey its culture to Asia and Africa, but it ought also to
receive something in return from the ancient cradles of culture. Imperialism with its
colonial politics has been but an external, a bourgeois expression of that inevitable
worldwide historical movement, which we foresee. Inwardly, this historical turnabout is
being readied by the spiritual crisis of European culture, the crashing of the positivism
and materialism of the contemporary European consciousness, the disenchantment in life,
the thirst for new faith and new wisdom. The centre of gravity for Western Europe, in all
actuality, is shifting still more to the West, to America, the might of which will grow
quite much after the finish of the war. And indeed the Americanisation of modern
civilisation will extend Europe all the way to America. The East -- is one exit beyond the
bounds of European culture, America -- is another exit. Europe is ceasing to be at the
centre of world history, the sole bearer of an higher culture. If Europe had wanted to
remain a monopolist and dwell in its European self-smugness, it should have refrained
from the world war. But long ago already European life had been transformed into a fiery
volcano. Now Europe faces fully a basic theme of world history -- the unification of East
and West. And the task is in this, that the end of Europe and the critical point in history
has to be experienced by man at spiritual depth and with a religious light.

Great roles in this worldwide movement of culture should fall to the allotted portion
of Russia and England. The mission of the English is rather more external. The mission
of Russia -- is more inward. Russia stands at the centre of East and West, it -- is an East
and West. Russia -- is the largest empire. But that is namely because foreign to it is the
imperialism in the English or German sense of the word. With us, as Russians, there are
no great-empire strivings, since a great empire -- is already a given for us, and not a goal.
Russia is too greatly large, to have pathos over expansion and domination. And indeed
the temperament of the Slavic race -- is not an imperialistic temperament. Russia does not
aspire after colonies, since that in it itself there are vast Asiatic colonies, which present it
much work. The mission of Russia -- is in the defense and liberation of lesser peoples.
Russia has still to be the bulwark against the dangers of the Mongol East. But for this, it
first of all has to be liberated from everything of the Mongol-East within itself. The sole
essential pretension of Russia appears to be Constantinople and egress through the water-
courseways to the seas. A Russian Constantinople ought to be one of the centres of the
unification of East and West. Material power and the material greatness of Russia -- are
initial givens for us. We have no need to conquer with difficulty every jot of earth, in
order to be great. And we have all the basis to suppose that the world mission of Russia is
in its spiritual life, in its spiritual, and not material universalism, in its prophetic
presentiments of new life, which Russian great literature was full of, just as with Russian
thought and the religious life of the people. And if there approaches also the end of the
provincially shut-in life of Europe, then all the more there approaches also the end of the
provincially shut-in life of Russia. Russia has to emerge onto the world stage. The end of
Europe will be with the emergence of Russia and the Slavic race into the arena of world
history, as determined by its spiritual power. The strong cosmic gusts batter all the lands,
and peoples and cultures. In order to withstand this gale, there is needed a strong spiritual
concentration and depth, there is needed a religious experiencing of the historical

Nikolai Berdyaev


KONETS EVROPY. First published in literary gazette "Birzhevye vedomosti", 12 June

1915, No. 14900. Later incorporated by Berdyaev into his 1918 book, "The Fate of
Russia" ("Sud'ba Rossii"), Section II, Chapter 13, (p. 324-332 in my 1997 Moscow
Svarog reprint).


It is not about the present war that I want to speak, but about every war. Why is
there war? How philosophically to make sense of war? At the superficial glance, war is a
moving about and clash of material masses, physical violence, killing, maiming, the
working of monstrous mechanical weapons. It would seem, that war is an exceptional
submersion into matter and has no sort of relation to spirit. People of spirit sometimes
readily avert their attention from war, as from something materially external, as a remote
evil, bound up with force, from which one can and ought to withdraw into the higher
spheres of spiritual life.

Some reject war out of a dualistic point of view, according to which there exists a
completely independent material sphere, external, given to violence, separate from and
opposed to the spiritual, the inward and free. But everything material is however only a
symbol and sign of spiritual activity, everything external is but a manifestation of the
internal, everything coercive and by force is a falsely directed freedom. To inwardly
make sense of war is possible only with a monistic, and not dualistic point of view, i.e.
seeing in it the symbolics of what transpires within spiritual activity. It can be said, that
war happens in the heavens, within other planes of being, within the depths of spirit, and
upon the flat surface of the material are seen but external signs of what is transpiring in
the depths. Physical violence, the committing of murder, is not something in itself
substantial, as an independent reality, -- it is a sign of spiritual violence, committing evil
within the spiritual activity. The nature of war, as a material violence, is purely reflective,
a sign, symptomatic, not something independent. War is not the source of evil, but rather
a reflection in evil, the sign of the existence of inner evil and sickness. The nature of war
-- is symbolic. Suchlike is the form of every material form of violence, -- it is always
secondary, and not primary. The particular condition of spiritual activity, wherein
mankind dwells, inevitably has to make use of material signs, as implements, without
which spiritual life could not realise itself. Man in the expression of his spiritual life has
to move his hands, his feet, the tongue, i.e. to recourse to material signs, without which it
is impossible to express love or hate, without which it is impossible to realise his
strivings of will. And war is a complicated complex of material moving about of feet and
hands, and of various implements, conducive to movement by the human will. On
principle one can grant the possibility of spiritual life without material signs and tools,
but this presupposes some other level of spiritual activity, at present unattained by
mankind and the world.

There occur sicknesses, which are accompanied by a rash upon the face. This rash is
but a sign of an inward sickness. The outward removal of the rash only drives the
sickness inward. It might even make matters worse from the sickness. It is necessary to
treat the inner sickness itself. The evil of war is a sign of an inner sickness of mankind.
The material acts of violence and the terrors of war are but the rash upon the body of
mankind, from which it is impossible to be healed externally and mechanically. We are
all culpable in this sickness of mankind, which breaks out with war. When an ulcer with
puss is discovered, then in this discovery of the ulcer itself it is impossible to see the evil.
Sometimes this discovery is necessary to do something forceful for the saving of life.

Long since already within the depths of spiritual activity there was begun the World
War, the world hostility, the hatred and mutual destruction. And this war, which began at
the end of July 1914, is but a material sign of a spiritual war transpiring in the depths, a
grievous spiritual infirmity of mankind. In this spiritual infirmity and spiritual war there
is a mutual responsibility of all, and no one can be excused the consequences of the inner
evil, of the inward murder, in which we all have lived. The war has not created the evil, it
has just made apparent the evil. All of modern mankind has lived by hatred and hostility.
The inner war has been veiled over only by the surface veil of world bourgeois life, and
the falsehood of this bourgeois world, which to many seemed eternal, was bound to be
exposed. The destruction of human life, as it occurs in world bourgeois life, is no less
terrible, than that, which is happening in the war.


In the Gospel it is said, that it is necessary more to fear those killing the soul, than
those killing the body. Physical death is less terrible, than spiritual death. And prior to the
war, in peacetime life human souls were killed, the human spirit was extinguished, and
this became so customary, that they ceased to note any terror in this killing. In the war
they destroy the physical outward part of man, but the core of the man, his soul can
remain not only undestroyed, but can even be reborn. It is very characteristic, that those
who most of all are afraid of the war and the killing in the war -- are the positivists, for
whom the chief thing is in order that man should live well upon the earth, and for whom
the totality of life consists in the empirically given. For those, who believe in the
infinitude of spiritual life and in values, transcending all earthly blessings, those such the
terrors of war and physical death do not so frighten. This explains why pacifists on
principle are to be met with more often amongst the humanist-positivists, than amongst
Christians. The religious outlook on life sees more profoundly the tragedy of death, than
the outlook that is shallowly positivist. The war is a terrible evil and a profound tragedy,
but the evil and tragedy are not merely in the outwardly assumed fact of physical
violence and destruction, but rather quite deeper. And at this depth the evil and tragedy
always obtain already prior to the war and its violence.

The war but manifests forth the evil, it thrusts it outwards. The external fact of the
physical violence and the physical killing is impossible to look at, independently of the
evil, as the source of the evil. The spiritual violence and the spiritual killing lie deeper.
And the capacity for spiritual violence is very subtle and grasped but with difficulty.
Some emotional stirrings and currents, some words, some feelings and actions, having no
apparent signs of physical violence, are more murderous and death-bearing, than the
crude physical violence and mayhem.

The responsibility of man has to be broadened and deepened. And indeed, man
oftener becomes violent and a killer, than he himself suspects or is suspected of him. It is
impossible to see the violence and killing only in war. All our peacetime life rests upon
violence and killing. And prior to the start of the present-day world war we committed
violence and killed in the very depths of life no less, than in the time of war. The war but
made apparent and projected out onto the material plane our old acts of violence and
killing, our hatred and hostility. In the depths of life there is a dark and irrational
wellspring. And from it are begotten the most profound and tragic contradictions.
Mankind, not having enlightened within itself with the Divine light this dark archaic
element, inevitably passes through a cross-like terror and death in war. In war there is an
immanent redemption of the ancient guilt. It is not given to man, remaining in the old evil
and ancient darkness, to avert the immanent consequences in the form of the terrors of
war. In the abstract intents of pacifism to avoid the war, while leaving mankind in its
former condition, there is something ugly. This -- is a desire to run away from
responsibility. War is an immanent chastisement and an immanent redemption. In war
hatred is smelted into love, and love into hatred. In war there intersect the limits of the
extreme, and the diabolical darkness is interwoven with Divine light. War is a material
manifesting forth of the age-old contradictions of existence, the discerning of the
irrationality of life. Pacifism is a rationalistic denial of the darkly irrational within life.
And it is impossible to believe in an eternal rational world. Not in vain does the
Apocalypse prophesy about wars. And Christianity does not foresee a peaceful and
painless finish to world history. In the below is reflected the same, that is above, upon the
earth the same, that is in the heavens. And above, in the heavens, the angels of God
contend with the angels of Satan. In all the spheres of the cosmos there storms the fiery
and raging element and it brings war. And upon the earth Christ has brought not peace,
but the sword [Mt. 10: 34]. In this is a profound antinomy of Christianity: Christianity
cannot answer evil with evil, cannot resist evil by force, and yet Christianity is a war, the
destruction of the world, the experiencing prior to the end of the redemption of the Cross
in darkness and evil.
Christianity is full of contradictions. And the Christian attitude towards war in a
fatal manner is contradictory. A Christian war is impossible, impossible just as is a
Christian state, or Christian violence and killing. But all the terror of life is experienced
by the Christian, as a cross and a redemption of guilt. The war is guilt, but it is likewise a
redemption of guilt. In it the unrighteous, sinful, evil life is lifted up upon the Cross.


We are all guilty in the war, all are responsible for it and cannot escape the mutual
responsibility. The evil, living in each of us, is made apparent in the war, and the war for
none of us is something external, from which we can run away. It is necessary to assume
upon oneself responsibility before the end. And we constantly are mistaken, in thinking
that we can take off from ourselves the responsibility or not accept it at all. It is
impossible in crudely an external way to understand participation in war and
responsibility for it. We all in some way or other are participants in the war. Already in
that I accept the state, accept nationality, the sense of mutual responsibility of all the
people, or that I desire Russian victories, -- I therein participate in the war and bear
responsibility for it. When I desire victories for the Russian army, I spiritually participate
in killing and take upon myself responsibility for the killing, I accept the guilt. It would
be base to impose upon others the blame of killing, which is needful also on my behalf,
and myself hold the view, that in this killing I do not participate. Those, who eat meat,
participate in the killing of animals and are bound to admit their responsibility for this
killing. It would be hypocritical to hold the view, that we ourselves never do violence nor
kill and are incapable of violence and killing, that it is others that bear the responsibility
for this. Each of us benefits having the police, it is something needful, and it would be
hypocritical to hold the view, that the police are not there for me. Everyone who sincerely
wants the Germans to be squeezed back beyond the borders of Russia spiritually is
responsible for the killing no less, than the soldiers, who go forth in bayonnet attack. The
killing -- is in this case not physical, but rather a moral phenomenon, and it first of all is
done spiritually. The soldier doing the shooting and slaughtering is less responsible for
the killing, than that one, in whom there is the guiding will to victory over the enemy, and
who nowise directly strikes the physical blow. Such an one morally blameworthy may
want to be full clean and free of the guilt over the violence and the killing, and at the
same time may want for oneself and for those near and dear, for one's native land, that it
be at the price of violence and killing. There is a redemption in the very act of accepting
of guilt in oneself. Being guilty becomes morally higher than being pure. This -- is a
moral paradox, which it is proper to think upon deeply. The exclusive striving towards
one's own purity, towards the guarding of one's own white garb is not the highest moral
condition. Morally higher -- is to impose upon oneself the responsibility for those near
and dear, accepting the common guilt. I think, that at the basis of all culture lies the
selfsame guilt, which is at the basis of war, since it all is begotten and developes in
violence. But the evil, created by culture, just like the evil, created by war, -- is
secondary, and not primary, it -- is a response to the primordial evil, to the darkness,
encompassing the primal bases of life.

It is impossible to approach war in a doctrinal and rational manner. Absolutism in
evaluating life always proves bereft of life, coercive, always it is a pharisaical exalting of
the Sabbath higher than man. But man is higher than the Sabbath, and the Sabbath ought
not to serve as the absolute principle in life. There is both possible and desirable but a
vital plasticity of morals, for which everything in the world is an individually creative
task. The absolute is inapplicable to the sphere of the relative. In the historical corporeal
world there is nothing of the absolute. Absolute life is possible, but it is impossible to
apply the absolute to relative life. Absolute life is life in love. In absolute life there cannot
be war, the violence and killing. The killing, violence and war is a sign of life that is
relative, historically-corporeal, not of the Divine. Within the historical body, within the
material limitedness, the absolute Divine life is impossible. We live by force, insofar as
we live in the physical body. The laws of the material world -- are the laws of force. The
absolute negation of violence and war is possible only as a phenomenon profoundly
individual, and not as a norm and law. This presupposes an in-spiritising, a conquering of
the "world" and its fatal law, the enlightening of the human body by the light from
elsewhere. But for life within this material world it is impossible to apply the absolute, as
a law and norm. The Gospel is not a law of life. The absolute is not applicable, but it is
attainable. Absolute life lies within the life of grace, and is not life, filled with laws and
norms. The legalistic application of the absolute to the relative is also the Sabbath-
extolling, disdained by Christ.

The absolute truth about the non-resistance to evil by force is not a law of life in this
chaotic and dark world, submerged as it is in the material relativeness, inwardly pervaded
by discord and enmity. And grant that this world should pass over into absolute life in
love. One can only but wish for this and strive towards this. Yet this would be
accomplished mysteriously and unseen, just like it is that unseen cometh the Kingdom of
God. But there is no sort of inward meaning to desire the external world and yet deny all
external force, leaving the inner world in its former chaos, darkness, evil and enmity.
This signifies but nothing. The binding of absolute law to the relative life is a
doctrinalising, bereft of all inward meaning. One can but desire the inward health, and
not the outward guise of health amidst inward sickness. It is impossible to stress strongly
enough, that Christ's absolute love is a new life in the grace of the spirit, and not a law for
the relative material life. And herein is why infinitely complex is the problem of the
relationship of Christianity to war.

War can be conceived of only as tragic and suffering. The attitude towards war can
only be but antinomic. This -- is an experiencing of the inner darkness of world life, of
inner evil, the acceptance of guilt and redemption. A sweetly optimistic and exclusively
happy attitude towards war -- is impermissible and immoral. We both accept and yet
reject war. We accept the war in the name of its rejection. Militarism and pacifism -- are
alike a lie. Both within the one and within the other -- is the external attitude towards life.
The acceptance of war is an acceptance of the tragic terror of life. And if in war there is
brutality and the loss of the human visage, then in it also there is a great love, focused
into the darkness.

Nikolai Berdyaev

First published in literary gazette "Birzhevye vedomosti", 26 June 1915, No. 14928.
Later incorporated by Berdyaev into his 1918 book, "The Fate of Russia" ("Sud'ba
Rossii"), Section IV, Chapter 20, (p. 374-380 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).



(1915 - #201(15))

Across the wide masses of the Russian Intelligentsia, the war ought to generate a
deep crisis of consciousness, a broadening of horizons, an altering of the basic values of
life. The customary categories of the thought of the Russian Intelligentsia have proven
completely unsuitable for judging about such large-scale events, as happen now in the
present-day world war. The consciousness of our Intelligentsia has not been oriented
towards the historically concrete and it is lacking in the proper organs for judgement and
appraisal in this area. This consciousness makes a fatal use of its judgement and
evaluations, taken from areas altogether different, and more the customary for it. The
traditional Intelligentsia consciousness was totally focused upon questions of internal
politics and it was oriented exclusively towards social interests. The world war inevitably
refocuses the awareness upon international politics and it evokes an exceptional interest
on the role of Russia in world life. The horizon of the consciousness is rendered
worldwide. There is a surmounting of the provincialism of awareness, the provincialism
of interests. By the caprice of fate, we are being led forth into the expanse of world
history. Many of the traditionally minded Intelligentsia, accustomed to evaluate
everything in accord with their abstract-sociological and abstract-moral categories, have
felt a sense of confusion, when there is demanded of them a live reaction to world
happenings of such magnitude. The customary doctrines and theories are rendered
irrelevant before the threatening face of world-historical fate. The provincial perspective
of Russian radicalism, of Russian Populism and Russian Social-Democratism did not
account for such world events. The traditional consciousness was accustomed to scorn
everything "international" and wholly consign it under the heading "bourgeois". But after
the world war started, no one still with contempt can turn away from the "international",
since it now affects the internal life of the land. Among the Russian Intelligentsia there
have awaken instincts, which were not accounted for in the doctrines and which indeed
were stifled by the doctrines, instincts of outright love for native-land, and the principle
underlying them of a vital impulse to revive the consciousness. For many this change of
consciousness is experienced as tragic and it is accompanied by a sense of being cast
adrift by history. It failed to transpire with the world, what they were accustomed to
foresee would happen, what was supposed to happen according to the traditional
doctrines and theories. Demolished was not only their "world-outlook", but even their
customary feelings. The forceful refocusing by world history towards international
interests, towards the historical fate of peoples and their mutual interactions focuses also
likewise inside the life of each suchlike people, and it elevates and strengthens the
national feeling and self-awareness. The focus upon the international and the world-
historical sharpens the feeling of the value of one's own nationality and the consciousness
of its tasks in the world. But absorption within the struggle of parties and classes weakens
the sense of nationality. For wide circles amongst the Intelligentsia, the war bears an
awareness of the value of their nationality, the value of every nationality, a value which
the Intelligentsia has had almost completely lacking. For the traditional Intelligentsia
consciousness there existed the value of the good, of justice, the welfare of the people,
the brotherhood of peoples, but there did not exist the value of nationality, occupying a
quite unique place in the hierarchy of world values. Nationality was presented not as of
value in itself, but as something subordinated to other abstract values of the good. And
what explained this first of all was this, that the traditional consciousness of the
Intelligentsia was never focused upon the historically concrete, it always lived by abstract
categories and values. The historical instincts and historical awareness amongst the
Russian Intelligentsia was almost as weak as obtains with women, it was almost
completely bereft of the possibility of assuming an historical perspective and
acknowledging historical values. And this signifies always the prevailing of perspectives
of welfare over perspectives of value.

Consequently, indeed, to have as a governing point of view -- the welfare of the

people, leads to a denial of the meaning of history and historical values, since historical
values presuppose the sacrificing of the people's welfare with its worship of the people, a
sacrificing in the name of that which is higher than the welfare and happiness of the
people and their empirical life. History, such as creates values, is essentially tragic and it
does not permit of any sort of delays for the benefit of people. The value of nationality
within history, as with every value, tends to assert a sacrifice, as something higher than
the mere welfare of people, and it clashes with the exclusive assertion of the welfare of
the people, as an higher criterion. The worth of the nation stands higher than the
benefiting of people. From the point of view of the present-day generation it might be
possible to consent to a shameful peace, but this is impossible from the perspective of the
value of nationality and its historical destiny.


The crux of the crisis, occurring for us under the influence of the war, can be
formulated thus: a new consciousness has been born, turned towards the historical,
towards the concrete, with a surmounting of the abstract and doctrinaire consciousness,
the exclusive sociologism and moralism of our thought and values. The consciousness of
our Intelligentsia has not wanted to know of history, as a concrete metaphysical reality
and value. It always operated making use of abstract categories from sociology, of ethics
or its dogmatics, it subordinate the historical concreteness to the abstract sociological,
moral or dogmatic schemae. For such a consciousness, there did not exist nationality and
ethnos, the historical fate and historical manifold and complexity, for it there existed
merely the sociological classes or abstract ideas of the good and justice. The historical
tasks, always concrete and complex, we loved to decide by the abstractly sociological, the
abstractly moral or the abstractly religious, i.e. to simplify them, to arrange them into
categories, taken from other areas. The Russian consciousness has an exceptional
tendency to moralise over history, i.e. to apply to history moral categories, taken from
personal life.

The moral meaning of the historical process can and ought to be discerned, but the
moral categories of history are substantially different from the moral categories of
personal life. Historical life is an independent reality, and in it are independent values. To
such realities and values belongs nationality, which is a category concretely historical,
and not abstractly sociological. In the Russian is the wont to demand, that everything in
the world be thought of morally and that religiously it has its own truth. The Russian soul
does not reconcile itself with the worship of thoughtless, immoral and godless power, it
does not accept history, as some sort of natural necessity. But out of this limited,
simplistic and schematising mindset there ought to be fashioned an healthy and valuable
grain of good sense. We ought to open up our soul and our consciousness for concrete
and manifold historical activity, an activity endowed with its own specific values. We
ought to acknowledge the reality of nation and the value of national historical tasks. The
question concerning the world role of Russia and about its destiny takes on tremendous
significance, it cannot be diluted away into the question of the people's welfare, about
social justice and suchlike questions. The horizon has become world-wide, world
historical. And it is impossible to squeeze world history into the dictates of any abstract
sociological or abstract moral categories, it knows instead its own goals. Russia has its
own independent purpose in the world, not dilutable into other purposes, and Russia
needs this purpose to reach Divine life.

The traditional transferal of abstract sociological categories over into historical life
and historical tasks by the Russian Intelligentsia has always been but a peculiar and
veiled form of a moralisation over history. When the war broke out, many of the Russian
Intelligentsia then made attempts to evaluate it from the point of view of the interests of
the Proletariat, to apply to it categories of the sociological doctrine of Economic
Materialism or the sociological and ethical theories of Populism. The Intelligentsia of yet
another camp likewise began to apply the doctrines of Slavophilism and to investigate it
exclusively from a dogmatic Rightist perspective. And the Tolstoyans boycotted the war
from the position of their abstract moralism. The Russian Social Democrats, or too the
Populists, likewise simplistically moralised over history with the help of their
sociological schemae, just like the Slavophils, just like the Tolstoyans, with the help of
their own religio-ontological and religio-moral schemae. All these traditional and
doctrinal perspectives fail to admit the independent historical reality and the independent
historical goals. They fail to open their soul before the manifold of historical reality, and
the energy of their thought works not towards new creative tasks, such as are availed by
life and by history. Their thought does not work towards new appearances and themes, it
does not penetrate into the concreteness of world life, it simplistically but rather applies
their own old schemae, their own treasured categories, be they sociological, moral or
religious. But world events demand an immersion within the concrete, a rise in the energy
of thought, the accomplishing of new work over every new phenomenon in life. The
Slavophil, the Populist or the Social-Democrat doctrinal schemae are quite unsuitable for
the new happenings of world history, since they have been worked out for a more simple
and elementary an actuality. Russian thinking has always been too monistic, too wrapped
up in one aspect and hostile to the multiplicity, hidden away beneathe the concrete
manifold. The world war is now producing a crisis for this exclusionary monism of
Russian thought, always inclined as it is to violate the infinite complexity of being. It is
necessary to begin thinking not by prepared schemes, not merely to apply the traditional
categories, but to think creatively over the manifest tragedies of world history. And it is
because the enormous moral and spiritual meaning will elude everyone, who attempts to
force history into their doctrinal perspective. An absolute incapacity for the relative, the
historical corporeal, is contained therein. All the relativity of the natural and historical
process is reducable towards unity with the absolute only in the depths of spirit, and not
in the external actuality.


Another result of the war for our Intelligentsia ought to be a passover from a mindset
primarily negative into a positive consciousness. In the traditional Intelligentsia
consciousness there prevailed a redistributive, a non-productive attitude towards life,
boycotting but not constructing. Our social consciousness has not been creative. The war
with its bitter experience has an object lesson in this, that the people ought to gain itself a
positive power and might, in order to realise its own mission in the world. In the Russian
people and Russian society there ought to awaken a productive and constructive energy.
In the life of the people, positive moments ought to win out over negative moments. And
this presupposes a different condition of awareness -- more manly, responsible, free and
independent. Historical creativity stands higher than the negative struggle of parties,
currents, camps and groups. Only with the constructive, can there be a just
reapportionment. The Russian Intelligentsia has not yet been called to power in history
and therefore it is accustomed to an irresponsible boycott of everything historical. In it
ought to be born a taste for being a constructive force within history. The future of a great
people is dependent upon it itself, on its own will and energy, on its creative power and
on the enlightenment of its historical consciousness. Upon "us", and not upon "them",
depends our destiny. The settling of old accounts ought not so exclusively to govern our
consciousness and will. And negative reaction ought not to hold back our creative energy.
In the consciousness of the people, the debilitating idea of welfare and felicity ought to be
conquered by the strengthening idea of values. The purpose to the life of the people -- is
not welfare and felicity, but rather the creativity of values, the heroic and tragic living out
of their own historical destiny. And this presupposes a religious attitude towards life.

Liberal imperialism appears among us as a positive and constructive consciousness,

and in it there is a turning towards the historically concrete. But the liberal imperialism is
too much constructed upon Western European models, it is too little of the Russian and
national in its spirit. The soul of the Russian Intelligentsia is repulsed by it and does not
want to see even the dram of truth, lodged within it. The mindset of our Intelligentsia
needs to be reformed, regenerate and enriched by new values. I believe, that this will
happen under he influence of the war. But in the soul of the Russian Intelligentsia there is
its own non-transitory value, and this value -- is profoundly Russian. It ought to remain
and be present in the inevitable process of the Europeanization of Russia and its
gravitation into the cycles of world history. This purpose ought to be freed of negative
connections and limitations. The Russian Intelligentsia, freed from its provincialism, will
emerge, finally, onto the historical stage and there carry on with its thirst for truth upon
the earth, with its own partially subconscious dream about world salvation and its own
will to a new, a better life for mankind.

Nikolai Berdyaev


© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1915 -201(15,3) -en)


newspaper "Birzhevnye vedomosti", 25 July 1915, No. 14986. Republished thereafter in
the 1918 Berdyaev's anthology text of articles, “Sud’ba Rossii” (“The Fate of Russia”),
Ch. 3, (p. 263-268 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).


Society and the Ruling Powers

(1915 - #203)

There is no land, in which there has been such a sickly rift between society and the
ruling powers, as there is with us. Our society always feels itself such, as though it had
not created the historical ruling power and is not responsible for it. We are accustomed to
regard ourselves as though in a conquered land, and the Russian state often has seemed to
us as not our state. An eternally indignant opposition, which also is the only thing left us
and which has fomented the incessant struggle of the ruling powers against society, has
taught us to look upon the state aspect as something foreign, "theirs". "They" have
regarded themself the bearers of the state national idea. Russian society is constraintly
held in condition of statelessness and there has remained to it nothing, except to
construct stateless theories and on principle to cleave to a stateless opposition. A sense of
civil responsibility is possible only for one, who is called to an active participation in
civil life, who himself has to create new forms of life. But one who is cast off onto the
sidelines and from the sidelines has ability to be indignant, tends readily to admit as
immoral and vile any sort of participation in the state civil authority. And the Russian
intelligentsia has not be given to even the thoughts, that there can ensue a moment, when
it will be called to an active and positive participation in civil life, when the state will be
"us", and not "them". The historically habitual alternative of a boycott on principle of
everything civil has remained up to the present. The consciousness of an active
citizenship among us is still weak. We are too accustomed to feel ourselves as slaves not
at liberty and hence to revolt like slaves. Rarely possible among Russians is to be met the
pride of a citizen in his fatherland. In the speeches of our extreme "leftists" is felt not so
much the dignity of the citizen, conscious of his mature power, as rather the mutinous
malice of the eternally downtrodden and oppressed. Russians too readily go into
hysterics, in both their deeds and in their words are lacking the power of the citizen. Rare
is the one who speaks among us, as one having power.

And it is very remarkable and joyful a thing, that in the historic session of the State
Duma on 19 July Russia truly heard citizenship speeches, full of citizenship worth and
citizenship indignation. This utmost worthiness of the citizens of their fatherland,
responsible for its fate, was sensed not only in the speeches of the progressivist
Ephremov and the Cadet Miliukov, but also in the speeches of the nationalist Count V. A.
Bobrinsky and the Oktobrist Savich. Beautifully citizen-like was the speech of the
peasant Evseev. The feel of citizenship was absent only in the speeches of Mr. Markov II
and Mr. Chkheidze. The talk of the two extreme representatives from the opposite
positions from that of the Russian societal effort was totally irresponsible. But the words
of Count V. Bobrinsky and Mr. Savich, expressive of moderate-rightist circles of Russian
society, spoke to the growth of a free citizenship, which would transpire in Russia under
the effect of the war and patriotic concern. The same awareness of citizen worthiness and
citizen responsibility was sensed also in the speeches of P. P. Ryabushinsky, uttered at
the session of the industrialists and in the military-industrial committee; in them is sensed
the growth of the political awareness of an entire class: into the arena enters our third
estate and powerfully demands its sharing in the state civil life. A maturity of societal
power is sensed also in the speeches of Prince G. E. L'vov. And behind all this stands a
new power -- the army, the armed people.

These are all important symptoms of a change of attitude between society and the
ruling power. And this new correlation can be characterised not as the growth of the
negative opposition of society, but as the growth of the positive authority of society, as
the assuming unto itself of power in the state. In political life everything is attained not by
the pronouncing of abstract formulas, but by the obtaining of positive power and the
consciousness of this power. And society assumes power for itself by this, in what it does
positive for the war effort, for the defense of Russia, for victory, and by this, in that
without the societal forces the state cannot conduct war, without the all-rural and all
urban unions, without the industrialists, without the State Duma, without the free press it
is impossible to advance the defense of Russia upon heightened a sense of duty. It is a
matter of objective historical and civil necessity, though also with delay, but it summons
broad societal forces to the matter at hand, to a sharing in civil state life, to authority. And
now the societal forces would win a free citizenship not by means of a negative
opposition, not out of a struggle for power, but out of a patriotic upsurge and a patriotic
concern, not so much a demand for rights, as rather a fulfilling of obligations. And now
the indignation itself against the ruling powers -- is a patriotic indignation, a fulfilling of
the awareness of national responsibility. What is established is not a parliamentary and
formal-juridical responsibility along with ministers of state, which presupposes a deep-
rooted change of the state structure and at the present time is hardly possible, but rather a
moral and factually real responsibility for the country. And this would give a jolt to a
ruling power, bereft of civil an awareness and responsibility towards its great country, a
ruling power, unworthy of its great land. A totally irresponsible ruling power can no
longer be tolerated. During these days of historical tribulations our society has to become
involved in the civil aspect and take upon itself power for a positive national effort. Such
a national matter should transpire in all spheres: the rural zemstvos, the cities, in industry,
in the State Duma, in the press. we begin to feel, that the state -- is us, that we are
responsible for it, that we share in its growth or decline.

Russians do not fully understand, that the state is a necessary function in the
historical life of peoples, that it is created and works through the peoples themselves.
However bad and rotten a given historical form of state might be, yet it is also compelled
to carry on certain functions common to every people. For us, and for every society, for
every people is necessary an army or court system, although the army or court system can
be poorly organised, and we then also have to strive to improve them. The state always is
called in its own way to contend against that chaotic element, such as would lead to the
falling apart of the societal life of the people. But the state civil consciousness has always
been weak not only for our society, but also for our ruling powers, which sooner instead
would stand upon the basis of its patrimony and imagine, that through an inherited right it
rules the Russian earth and people. Our "ruling" power has always been very capable of
wreaking havoc and anarchy into the societal life of the people. After 17 October, when
the State Duma was formed, the ruling powers failed to evidence the civil state
awareness, that the State Duma is a state institution, an organic part of the state. The
representatives of the ruling authorities continue to think, that the people's representation
is but a sufferable societal opposition to the governing powers, themself the sole bearer
and voice of the state. From the two opposite sides for us is merged the state with the

But indeed the legitimate power of the people's representatives is quite more
deeply-rooted a principle of the state aspect, than is the executive power of the
government, which is but one of the transitory functions of the state mechanism. The
State Duma itself has to first of all consider itself an organic force of the Russian state
aspect, an expresser of the unity of Russia, and not merely one arena for party struggles.
The State Duma is society, with its contending forces, it itself is a force, it preserves the
Russian civil state aspect and Russian national unity no less than the governing power,
and rather moreso. With the government ministers, who have proven unfit in this
verymost threatening hour for the Russian state, there has been no sort of civil awareness
nor responsibility as regards the capacity of being bearers of the principles of the state
aspect. They have been reactionary spokesmen against the fundamentals of the state
aspect. The war has brought a casting aside of mere bureaucratic functions and a turning
to realities. The civil and national phraseology of our rightist bureaucracy has proven
illusory. And the war in the same a has brought a casting aside the fictions of all the
abstract political declarations, with a turning to the concrete. We have ceased to believe
in the phraseology of the rightist-bureaucratic, the leftist social democratic or the
doctrinaire-liberal. We now believe only in concrete realities and in deeds, in inward
power, finding expression in concrete outward actions.

The relationship between society and the ruling authority is entering upon a
completely new phase. This new correlation first of all brings awareness of the unity of
society and the army, which is an awareness all more and more. Russia has been led to
ruination by those destructive circles, which the State Duma has acknowledged as worthy
only to sit in the judgement dockets of transgressors. Russia will be saved and defended
by all of society, by all the people. And that civil state position, which will in fact have
been won by society, by a patriotic deed of saving the native land, cannot ever be taken
away. This henceforth -- is greatest a reality and power, not an abstract fiction. The war
has to cure us from the abstract formalism in politics -- it points to actual content, to the
vitally factual. We have to leave off with the irresponsible boycott and the principle-
entrenched opposition by people, standing as it were outside of Russia, outside the
Russian state aspect, outside the national unity. We have to surmount the formal and on-
principle opposition between society and the civil authority, have to conceive of ourself
as a positive force, acting within the united Great Russia, as responsible citizens of their

Nikolai Berdyaev.


Article originally published in literary gazette "Birzhevye vedomosti", 10 August 1915,

No. 15017. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, "Padenie
svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922", Izdatel'stvo Astrel', Moskva,
2007, p. 340-344.



(1915 - #205(15))

An SD representative has declared, that the Social Democrats are refusing

participation in the military-naval commission and that they will not take upon
themselves responsibility for the defense of the land, since in the defense ought to
participate all the whole people. With equal success he might as well have said, that there
ought to participate all mankind or even all the animal and vegetative world. And still
more he might have said, that the Social Democrats will be in whatever way positive
about participating, only when the end of the world ensues and the Kingdom of God
transpires, since beforehand it is difficult to expect absolute justice upon the earth. This is
a classic model of the modern abstractness and formal absoluteness in politics. In
essence, this is a refusal for acting, on the grounds that the world is in too bad a shape for
me to participate in its affairs. In the affairs of this world always what rules is the
relative, and not the absolute, and in them everything is concrete, and not abstract. And a
large portion of the declarations of the Social Democrats are distinguished by the extent
of their abstraction and fictitious absoluteness. The Social Democrats do not believe in an
absolute, -- in philosophy, in religion they are always for the relative. But their politics is
a continuous application of the absolute to the relative, the absolutisation of the relative
material matters of this world, using abstractive categories for a concrete activity. I speak
about the Russian Social Democrats, who not infrequently remind one typically of
Russian boys. The German Social Democrats long since already are involved in a real,
concrete and relative politics, although they too earlier were absolutists. And everything
that I am talking about is even moreso applicable to the Social Revolutionaries.
Absoluteness and abstraction tend to distinguish the declarations of the political
doctrinists, whose fine constructs on societal life in the sphere of thought become
mistaken for real life. Such abstraction and absoluteness in politics in practise leads to
this, that the interests of a particular party or social group are set higher than the interests
of the country and the people, the interests of the part – are put higher than the interests
of the whole. The part, the group senses itself detached from the life of all the people, the
life in common of the nation and the state, so as to dwell itself in absolute truth and
justice. It casts aside the burden of responsibility for the whole, for the fate of the land
and all the entire people. That portion dwelling their own absolute and abstract truth have
no wish to participate in the mutual trust of national life, yea even of mankind in general.
Such is the psychology of a sect, sensing itself saved and righteous in an endlessly
surrounding sea of evil, darkness and perdition. And this is how every Social Democrat in
the State Duma senses himself. The sectarian psychology carries over from the religious
sphere into the political sphere. The sectarian psychology in religious life is also a
deviation and leads to self-assertion and self-absorption, but in political life it has no
rights to existence, since always it is a self-wrought idol from the relative things of the
world, replacing the Absolute God with the relative world.


A doctrinaire and abstract politics is always giftless – in it there is no intuition of

concrete life, there is no historical instinct nor historical insight, no subtleness, no
suppleness nor plasticity. It is like a man, who cannot turn his neck and is able to look
only straight ahead at a single point. Herein all the complexity of life eludes the eyes. A
living reaction to life is impossible. The abstractive doctrinalists in politics think, that
they can see far off. But their “remote vision” is not a foreseeing of the remote future.
They – are not prophets, and they see only their abstract doctrines, and not the real life
ahead. And indeed even the “remote vision” represents an impaired condition of sight,
which requires corrective spectacles, in order to see what is right under their very nose, to
read and to write. The abstraction in politics is a frivolous and irresponsible proclaiming
of trite commonplaces, irrelevant to the vital tasks arising and irrelevant for the historical
moment. Therefore, there tends to be no demand for any sort of creative work of thought
over the complex tasks, no sort of sensitivity, no sort of penetration into what is
happening. It suffices but to take out from the pocket the small catechism and recite from
it some several paragraphs. The abstract and maximalist politics proves always to be a
violation of life, its organic growth and flourishing. Such an abstraction denies, that
politics is creativity and an art, that a genuine, moreso historically based politics demands
special gifts, and not a mechanical application of trite commonplaces, a large potion of
which are out of place. The simplistic denial of the complexity and concreteness of
historical life, in which all the politics transpires, is an indicator of either a lack of
giftedness amidst an elementary approach in this sphere, or else it is an absence of
interest for this sphere, a lack of vocation for it. The aversion from the concrete
complexity of societal political tasks occurs with us often as the result of a monomania,
when a man comes wholly under the grip of a single idea, be it moral or religious or
social, but unfailingly it is in the sense of the salvation of mankind by some sort of one
method, by one path. This, in the final end, leads to a denial of the multiplicity of being
and the asserting of one single whatever. But politics always has to deal with the given,
with the concrete condition of the entire world, with the lower level of the human masses,
with unregenerate souls, against the resistance of necessity. Abstract social and political
teachings always err by their rationalism and their belief in the good fruits of outward
force over the low level of developement of the human masses, and the needs begotten by
this level. There is thus no rebirth in the texture of the soul of man and the soul of
society. Politics always is immersed in the relative. It exists only for a society, in which
are strong the swinish instincts. For a righteous society there would be no need of

The direct straight-line application of the absolute values of spiritual life towards the
relative historical life and the relative historical tasks is based upon a completely false
mindset. The absolute can be in the soul of politics and in the soul of the people, within
the subject of social creativity, but it is not in the politics itself, not in the social object. I
can be inspired to social action by absolute values and absolute ends, and behind my
activity can stand the absolute spirit. But the social deed itself is a turning towards the
relative, it is complex, demanding subtleness and flexibility in interaction with the
relative world, always infinitely complex. The transfer of absoluteness into the objective
social and political life is an entrapment of spiritual life by the historico-relative and
socio-material. Together with this, there is also an enslavement of all relative historical
life in context of the absolute connections and abstract principles. And it was thus with all
the theocratic currents, with pretensions to formally subject the society to a church. This
always represents a lack of desire to admit the freedom of a multi-faceted relative life.
There is a monistic coercion in both the right-theocratic and the left-socialist currents.
Spiritual life per se with all its absolute values is fully concrete. But its direct straight-line
conveyance over into the relativeness of the naturo-historical process transforms the
spiritual life into abstract principles and doctrines, bereft of concrete vitality. Spirit, free
in its inner experience, becomes instead obtrusive and coercive; it reveals itself to the
relative external life not as a living experience, but as inwardly obligatory lifeless
principles or norms. From a philosophic perspective, the relative historical life can be
acknowledged as an independent sphere of absolute life itself, one of the manifestations
of its drama being played out. And therefore the absolute ought not to be coercive, with
an external and formal obligating for the relative by transcendent norms and principles,
rather only can it be an immanent revealing of utmost life into the relative. The abstract
and absolute politics of the Social Democrats is just as bad and enslaving a
transcendentalism, as is the theocratic politics, as is Papocaesarism or Caesaropapism.

The denial of abstractness and absoluteness in politics should least of all be

understood, as a lack of principle or want for ideas. All the societal and political activity
ought to be inwardly moved and inspired by the utmost ends and absolute values, and
behind them ought to stand a spiritual rebirth, the regeneration of the person and the
people. But this spiritual tempering of the person and the people consists not at all in this,
in the applying of abstract ideas to life. The spiritually regenerated man and people would
make their politics otherwise, than with the proclaiming of external absolute principles
and abstract norms. The moral pathos would not be weakened, but rather increased, it
would carry over into another plane, would be made inward, not outward, with an
heightening of spirit, and not the political hysterics and political fanaticism. Robespierre
was very doctrinaire on principle and he loved abstract declarations, but he was a man of
the old sort, not the reborn man, he was of the flesh from flesh and blood from blood of
the Old Regime, an oppressor in the matter of freedom. There was only a change of attire.
Our maximalists in the revolutionary years likewise were of the old sort unregenerated
people, a poor human material for the deed of liberation, -- the makeup of their souls was
not ready for the fulfilling of historical tasks. Freedom – is not an external principle in
politics, but rather of an inwardly inspired origin.


The question about having principles in politics is quite more complex, than the
doctrinaire tend to think. It necessitates a recoursing to the question about spiritual
renewal, about a transformation of the very fabric of the people and society, about a
tempering of the character of the people. An outward and obligatory moralism in politics
is out of place and unsupportable. But behind politics there ought to stand the moral
energy of man, the moral tempering. However, with many of the moralists and radicals in
politics, grounded in abstract principles, there is often absent all the moral tempering of
the person. This too is to be discovered during moments of chaos and anarchy in society.
And thus it was at the pitiful end of the Russian Revolution [of 1905]. In it we had
individual heroes, capable of sacrifice, giving up their life for an idea, but in the
revolutionary masses there was no moral character. And the important thing is not the
abstract principle, but a live spirit, the renewed person. Having ideas in politics is bound
up with the deepening of the person, with a nourishing of the soul of all the entire people,
with a consciousness of great responsibility, and not with the simplification and
schematisation of complex historical life. The moral principles in politics are affirmed
from within, from the taproot of man, and not from the outside, not from the external
principles of sociality. I repeat, the absolute in politics is impossible, impossible whether
it be theocratic, or Social Democratic, or a Tolstoy’s anarchistic absoluteness. But the
absolute is possible within the well-springs of the human spirit, in the inward fidelity of
man to the holy. Politics however is itself always concrete and relative, always complex,
always it has to deal with historical tasks of a given time and place, all which are not
abstract, nor absolute, nor monistic. Our standing on principle abstract politics has been
but a form of detachment from politics. In politics everything becomes “in part”, nothing
becomes “in general”. In politics it is impossible to repeat anything automatically on the
force of principle. What is fine at one historical time, becomes bad in another. Each day
has its own unrepeatable and singular tasks and it demands skill.

Every sensitive man, non-doctrinaire, tends to understand, that the historic present
day in Russia pushes into politics foremost the tasks of governance, the organisation of a
responsible ruling power, and not tasks purely of legislative creativity and reform. But
the day can quickly ensue, when the tasks will be altogether otherwise. At present all the
forces have to be mobilised for the defense of Russia and for victory. This is an entirely
concrete task, it is not dictated by any sort of abstract political principles. But the
adherents of abstract political principles even now are making political declarations,
which are completely lifeless and which bypass the most urgent tasks of the historical
day. A spiritual upsurge, a moral power and inspiration is to be evidenced in a patriotic
deed of service to the native land, in defending the native land to the point of death.
These needs tend not to be foreseen by the principles of abstract politics; these tasks have
arisen within a given historical day, and this moral energy is evident only now. Several
years back there was not one of the politicians that foresaw, upon what it has become
necessary to direct all his powers. And yet now for one who has to readjust his activity
for the defense of the native land, there is hardly anyone who would call this
opportunism. This – is not opportunism, but the demand for action and responsibility.
The war teaches concreteness in politics, and it tempers the spirit. It introduces
tremendous changes in our moral judgements, it establishes an altogether different
correlation between the moral and the political. The point of view, which we are
defending, acts to liberate from the absolutisation of politics, from transforming it into an
idol, into a god. We ought not to bestow to the relative, that which is proper to bestow
only to the absolute, i.e. we ought to bestow to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God – that
which is God’s. The spirit, strengthened in its absolute well-springs and regenerated,
ought to turn itself to the manifold and complex concreteness of the world, with a living
creative reaction and discover its creative gifts. Russia has need most of all of people
with a talent for rule, and such people have to appear.

Nikolai Berdyaev


Published first in the newspaper "Birzhevnye vedomosti", 18 Aug. 1915, No. 15034.
Republished thereafter in the 1918 Berdyaev's anthology text of articles, “Sud’ba Rossii”
(“The Fate of Russia”), Ch. 25, (p. 404-409 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).


(1915 - #206)

Words possess an enormous power over our life, a magical power. We are under the
enchanting spell of words and to a remarkable degree we live in their realm. Words act,
like independent powers, and independent of their content. We are accustomed to
pronounce words and to hear words, not rendering ourselves an accounting of their real
content and their real gravity. We take words on faith and provide them limitless credit.
At present I propose to speak exclusively about the role of words in societal life. And in
societal life it is a conditional phraseology, having become customary, that acquires
sometimes a power almost absolute. Label-words -- possess a societal power all their
own. The words themselves per se can inspire and they can kill. Apparently it was
Thackeray who said: "Men kill by deeds, and women -- with words". But men also can
quite go the womanly route, -- and their words can kill. Behind the words follow the
masses. Every agitation to a remarkable degree is based upon the power of words, upon
the hypnotic spell of words. The customary phraseology is spliced together with the
instincts of the masses. For one segment of the masses it is necessary to employ "leftist"
phraseology, for another -- "rightist" phraseology. And demagogues well know, what
words necessary are to be employed. Societal life gets weighed down with the routing of
words. How impressively and how powerfully come across in effect such words as "the
left", "the right", "radical", "reactionary", etc., etc. We become hypnotised by these words
and are almost unable to think on society outside of these labels. And yet the real gravity
of these words is not so great, and their real content gets to be all the more and more
inverted. In the societal word useage it is a nominalism that reigns, and not realism. I
might hear, how everyone says: this is a very "radical" fellow, vote for him. And this
"radical" fellow -- is a lawyer, pulling down 20,000 rubles a year, neither believing in
anything nor given to any values, and behind the radical phraseology is concealed a quite
complete societal callousness and irresponsibility. The personal preparedness of a man
for social action is relegated to the background in the face of conditional and routine
phraseology. With us, the qualities of the person in general are little valued, and have no
defining role in societal life. With us therefore is so many completely false a societal
reputation, and there is many a name, created by the power of words, and not by the
reality. The inertia and conditional aspect of words impedes the analysis of genuine
character. In societal life almost not at all does there occur a natural selection of persons
of character. And in the life of the state clearly there occurs the selection of characters
unfit and lacking in good qualities. With us, amidst the help of conditional phraseology,
people profound of idea and with a moral tempering of character in a trice are made
scoundrels of, while people bereft of idea and lack of moral tempering get to be highly
exalted. Least of all tolerated are people of an independent and original frame of mind,
unable to be crammed into any of the customary routine categories. With us, people
often kill by means of affixing labels -- "reactionary", "conservative", "opportunist" etc.,
even though perhaps behind this be hidden a more complex and original phenomenon,
undefinable by the customary categories. In the other camp they kill with the help of
words of an opposite stamp. And everyone lives in terror of the words and labels.
The vast masses of the people live not by realities and not by the essentials, but by the
outer trappings of things, they see only the cut of the clothes and only in accord with the
cut of the clothes is anyone met. Broad segments of the Russian Intelligentsia within
society live especially by fictional watch-words and illusional trappings. The power of
inertia is truly frightening. If there be the great power of inertia and habitually ingrained
categories in the unsophisticated circles, then this is understandable and forgivable. But
the Intelligentsia make pretense to be the heralds of thought and awareness, and it is more
difficult to forgive this laziness and indolence of thought, this servility to the rote and
obligatory and outward. It is difficult to live by the realities. For this there is necessary an
independent working of spirit, an independent effort, an independent thought. It is easier
to live by fictions, by words and the outer trappings of things. The vast masses of he
people accept on faith words and categories, worked out by others, like a vampire it lives
off the experience of some stranger. There is no sort of properly real experience bound up
with the words, by which however, are defined all the values in life. The words were real
content for those, whose own experience and whose own thought and spiritual life they
were. But these selfsame words have become normal and without content for those,
which live by inertia, by rote and by imitation. Thus also it happens in the religious life,
where too many feed off the experience of a stranger and live purely by a literal
dogmatics, and it is there too in societal life, where the memorised party slogans, the
formulas and words are repeated without any independent act of will and thought. Upon
this basis is worked out the political formalism, bereft of any desire to know the real
content of human life. In the life of society everything indeed -- is in the strength, the
energy of spirit, is in the character of the people and their society, in their will, in their
creative thought, and not in abstract principles, formulas and words, all not worth the
half-copeck. The indeed most important and essential thing -- is the people, the living
souls, the interweaves of the societal fabric, and not he external forms, behind which can
be hidden whatever the content one pleases or even the full absence of any content. A
democratic republic, in which everything is set together upon fine formulas and words,
can reflect a most abject slavery and violence. This long ago already became apparent
with the bitter experience of life of European mankind, which ought to teach us to be
mistrustful towards the purely outward forms and not be duped by the pretty phraseology
of equality, brotherhood and freedom. How merely formal, how indeed nominal even
people of a Socialist bent can prove to be. Here is why it is necessary to strive with one's
will towards an essential freedom, towards a regeneration of the fabric of society,
towards the realisation of values yet higher, those of the life within. This inward process
would lead inevitably to an outward change of the societal order and societal system, but
always in correlation with a real content and direction by the will of the people.


Many think, that the chief woe of Russia is in this, that Russian society is
insufficiently liberal or radical, and they expect much from a turnabout of our society
leftwards in the traditional sense of this word. And in this opinion there is evoked for us
the fatal power of words and formal concepts. Our society -- is liberal and of a leftist
bent, but this liberalism and this leftism -- is powerless and is expressed primarily in an
oppositional mindset or else indignation. The chief woe of Russia -- is not in any
insufficiency of leftism, which can grow even without any essential changes for Russian
society, but in a poor societal fabric, in an insufficiency of authentic people, such as
history could summon forth for a real and genuinely radical transformation of Russia, it is
in the weakness of the Russian will, in the insufficiency of societal self-nourishment and
self-discipline. For Russian society there is an insufficiency of character, of the ability to
define oneself from within. The "means" too easily entangle Russian man, and he is too
wont to emotional reactions upon everything outward. The "radicals" and the "leftists"
might be completely unsuitable a material for a new, regenerated Russia. It is unseemly
to get caught up in the illusions of word-play. The important and the essential thing, is of
what sort is the man himself and of what sort is the people, and not the what sort are his
word slogans and abstract political concepts.

Thus too, for example, our "rightists" have been poor material for a true
conservatism. They have always been sooner the destroyers, rather than protectors of
whatever the values. The patriotic, the national and state phraseology of the "rightists" --
is words, words and more words. Our rightist circles are bereft of a true state of national
consciousness. Such an awareness is possible to be met with only in individual persons,
but not in their societal segments and groups. The complete absence of a genuine
conservatism -- is a fatal peculiarity of Russia. The Russia of the "right" had begun
already to decompose, when the Russia of the "left" was still not yet fully matured.
Everything happens for us too late. And we for too long have found ourselves in a
transitory condition, in a sort of interregnum.

Russia needs, first of all, radical moral reform, a religious rebirth of the very
wellsprings of life. But, alas, even a religious renewal can become merely nominal and
formal. The great power of words exists even in the religious life. The labels --
"Orthodox", "sectarian", "the Christian of a new consciousness" etc., have assumed a
significance nowise corresponding to their real gravity. The "Orthodox" nominalism has
long since already poisoned the religious life in Russia. The religious phraseology of the
rightist circles long since already has degenerated into an hideous hypocrisy and
sanctimoniousness. But there is no help for us even having the assertion of whatever the
"leftist" religious consciousness, applicable to the societal aspect externally and formally.
In the depths of the fabric of the life of the people there has to happen a rebirth, occurring
from within, and I believe, that it will happen, that the Russian people spiritually is alive
and that a great future lies ahead of it. The troubled era will pass. Time will fling aside
the outer trappings and discover the true essence of things, the true realties. Our greatest
moral task -- is a passover from fictions to the realities, a surmounting of the hypnotic
effect of words. Fearlessness in the face of words -- is a great virtue. And on the positive
side of this fearlessness always there will be the love for righteous-truth. The pathos of
the love for righteous-truth -- is a great pathos of the people. But around our words, our
formulas and concepts, of the right, the left and the middle, there has accumulated too
much of the conditional lie and rot. In truth, the singularly great revolution facing us to
achieve, is a revolution of dethroning the false and the lie-laden, the empty and invented
words, formulas and concepts. It is necessary to stop being afraid of labels, which hey so
love to stick on, in order literally to exalt or degrade people. It is necessary to catch sight
of the realities beyond the words. And genuine insight involves also a scorn for much,
which is insignificant and insubstantial. And thus ought to transpire the nurturing of the
independence of the societal character, the maturing of autonomous societal thought.


The tragedy of the war gives a primacy to deeds over words -- it manifests the
realities and casts down the fictions. The rightist bureaucracy with its national state
phraseology thus clearly has lived by fictions and empty words. This has become evident.
The lie is toppled. Now already it is becoming more clear, who actually is the patriot,
who it is that loves his native-land and is prepared to serve it. The words of the
nationalists are being weighed on the scales of history. Last Winter among us here began
to spread about a pseudo-patriotic mindset, intolerant of self-criticism in Russia, a
mindset irresponsible and tending to self-praise. With some it found expression in the
restoration of a religio-Slavophil phraseology, the more lofty option, and among others --
a state national phraseology, less lofty. But these frames of mind were swept off by
events. And this Summer there has begun a genuine and healthy patriotic upsurge, there
has grown a sense of societal responsibility, which always presupposes self-criticism.
The words and fictions face opposite the realities. The unhealthy patriotism, fearful of the
truth and given to expression to a literal idealisation of what actually is, is being replaced
by an healthy patriotism, staring fearlessly into the eyes of the bitterest truth, as expressed
in service to that, what ought to be. And to breathe it will become easier, though events
be gloomy and onerous. One can speak the truth and appeal for the deeds of truth. In that
stifling atmosphere, which one time formed, only false words could be dealt, only
fictitious ideologies could flourish.

A freedom of words is necessary for the dethroning of the fictitious power of words.

In an atmosphere lacking in freedom it is the empty words that flourish, and they
become irrefutable. The word itself per se betokens something Divine [trans. note: the
Logos-Word of God underlying the logical, through the word], and the Divine
signification of words can be revealed only in an atmosphere of freedom, where the
realism of words wins out in struggle over the nominalism of words. A lack of freedom
but encourages the empty phraseology of the "left" and the empty phraseology of the
"right". The realities, such as stand behind the words, cannot be made apparent in this
setting. The complete freedom of the word is a singularly real struggle against the misuse
of words, against a degeneration of words. Only in freedom does the truth of words win
out over the lie in words, the reality wins out over the nominalism. The freedom of words
leads to a natural selection of words, to a survival process of words vital and genuine.
The false and empty words will continue to be heard, but hey will no longer have the
halo, which is created for them by an atmosphere oppressive and stifling.

Render the word more powerful, and the power of words over societal life will cease;
the word-realities will win out over the word-fictions. Freedom leads to responsibility.
The lack of freedom makes everything all irresponsible. The restoration of the meaning
of words, of a correct, real and fully-weighed use of words would lead to the awareness,
that our society ought not to remake a mere change of clothes, howsoever very radical the
costume should be, not merely replace the outward trappings, but actually instead it
should be reborn and change its very fabric. The power of words has been an external
power. And e ought to convert it into an inner one. The whole entirety of life has to begin
to define itself from within, not from without, it has to be from the depths of freedom,
and not from some superficial intermediation.

Nikolai Berdyaev


© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1915 - 206 (15, 26) - en)


newspaper "Birzhevnye vedomosti", 26 August 1915, No. 15049. Republished thereafter
in the 1918 Berdyaev's anthology text of articles, “Sud’ba Rossii” (“The Fate of Russia”),
Ch. 26, (p. 410-415 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).

The Tasks
of Creative Historical Thought

(1915 - #218)

One of the saddest things, made evident during the time of the war, is something that
brings little attention upon itself. I have in view the almost complete absence among us of
creative historical thought. The traditional character of our thinking is very poorly
adapted to the positing of creative historical tasks, to world perspectives. Our national
thought is all still stuck in its provincialism, and its direction chiefly is in reporting
negative accounts. Russia has been too inwardly torn apart and absorbed with trifling
political disputes, with party considerations, with social group antagonisms, obscuring
moreso all the world historical perspectives. The unempowered Russian society cannot
feel a sense of responsibility for deciding the world destiny of Russia. The world war,
essentially, ought to have directed national thought to world tasks. It would seem, that
there ought to have been made attempts to ponder about the war, to define the place of
Russia in world life, to conceive of its vocation. A genuine national self-consciousness
should set the existence of nation into the perspective of world history, it should
surmount the provincialism of national life and national interests. An insightful national
awareness is likewise a consciousness that is all the world historical. The naked and
unenlightened egoism of nationalism or imperialism is no justification, and upon it
cannot be conceived the spiritual existence of peoples.

Does Russia exist, as a certain unity, deeper, than all the separate interests of its
human composite, is there in the world an unique visage of Russia and what does the
expression of this visage mean for the world? Does Russia have its own unique calling in
the world, ought it to have its say in world history? What sort of concrete tasks face
Russia from the world war? All these questions, which relate to a new day in world
history, demand tremendous efforts of creative thought. No sort of the ready and
traditional categories of thought are suitable for the resolving of these questions. There
needs to be wrought a totally independent and new reworking of thought, an extension of
the creative spirit. But our national thought tends to think very little about this or it thinks
in accord with the old models, with the customary categories. The tasks of the war for us
have not all still been genuinely thought out. The prevailing justifications of the war are
sufficiently alike banal. It is impossible to be satisfied merely thinking that Russia is
repulsing the evil of German militarism. The problem, posed by the war, goes much
deeper. It is impossible likewise to rest easy upon the old Slavophil self-praise, -- for in
this is expressed a laziness of thought, an inclination spiritually to live in any event. The
Slavophil thought indeed is all still an assertion of the self-smug provincial existence of
Russia, and not its worldwide existence. Slavophilism worked great services in the matter
of national self-consciousness, but it was an initial and childish stage of this self-
consciousness, not corresponding to the current historical stature.

Neither in our "right" nor in our "left" camps is there as yet transpiring any creative
historical thought. They are too absorbed by their matters of the "right" or of the "left",
i.e. by all the still national and not world tasks. The historical mindset is almost absent
among us. We are accustomed to operate exclusively by moral or sociological categories,
not by the concrete, but by the abstract. Our consciousness moves predominantly along
the negative, and not the creative path. The "rightists" are absorbed by completely
negative badgerings about the nationalities, the intelligentsia, the rosy "leftist" dangers
and the quest for the exterminating all the manifestations of a free society. The "leftists"
in contrast are concentrated upon exposing the "bourgeoise", on the utilising of negative
facts for agitational purposes, and overly dividing Russia into two camps. And Russia
still cannot at all conceive of itself as one, still cannot creatively define its world
historical tasks. The process of applying abstract sociological categories divides, and
does not unite, the ill-will with moral suspicions and moral judgement ultimately
disunites and leads to a splintering, as it were, into two different races. Only a resolute
turning of our consciousness to the depths of national existence and towards the wide
expanse of world historical existence will set before us the pressing creative problems.
Creative historical thought ought ultimately to surmount both our negative nationalism
and our negative cosmopolitism.

For anyone, who looks at the world war from the point of view of the philosophy of
history, it ought to be clear, that at present there is being played out one of the acts of the
world historical drama of East and West. The world war leads to an exceptional coming
into contact of the world of the West and the world of the East, it unites through division,
and it leads out beyond the borders of European culture and European history. The
problem of East and West has in essence always been a basic theme of world history, its
axis point. The European equilibrium has always been a conditional arrangement.
Beyond the bounds of the self-enclosed world of Europe there has been a wide world,
stretching far off into the East. Unsettling for the state and cultural life of the peoples of
Europe always have been the world expanses, the unknown and unexperienced East and
South. The imperialistic politics of the great powers of Europe have occasioned the
spreading of imperialistic might and cultural influence beyond the seas and oceans,
towards the surmounting of the isolation of a purely European existence. The unknown
extents of the earthly orb exerts an attractive pull. Glances were turned towards Asia and
Africa, towards the ancient cradles of culture. The reverse movement from West to East,
evidently, reflects an inner inevitability of the dialectics of European culture. In the shut-
in and self-satisfied European culture there is a fatal tendency towards a limited
satisfaction, towards desiccation, towards decline. And it inevitably has to search for
stimulation beyond its borders, in the far and yon. Imperialism with its colonial politics is
one of the outward expressions of this irresistible movement of history. But still deeper
lies the cultural and spiritual challenge of the re-uniting of East and West. The nightfall
for Europe has begun.

It was not by chance, that the conflagration of the world war began with the Balkans,
and from thence always has come the threat to the European world. It is not by chance,
that now also the central interest of the war again turns to the Balkans. The Balkans -- are
the path from the West to the East. Constantinople -- is that gateway, through which the
culture of Western Europe can pass through to the East, in Asia and in Africa. At
Constantinople -- is the point of intersection of East and West. The destruction of the
Turkish empire would be a reverse coursing of the West to the East. The peoples of
Europe are afraid of this prospect, sensing themselves unprepared for it, and the fact of
the continued existence of Turkey with Constantinople as the entryway of the West to the
East has been an expression of the spiritual immaturity of the European peoples. How
dissimilar in this is the modern Europe from the medieval Europe, given over to the
impulsive visionary-dreams of the Crusades! But now Europe as it were is itself fighting
for the defense of Turkey. And Europe is even moreso afraid of the enormous and
mysterious Russia, seeming always so foreign and unfriendly. The European politics of
the XVIII and XIX Centuries was to a remarkable degree directed to the object of
keeping Russia from Constantinople, keeping it from access to the seas and oceans.
Europe was interested in forcibly keeping Russia going in circles, not allowing it to enter
onto the world stage, impeding the world role of Russia. Such Russian national
ideologies, as Slavophilism, sought to justify the provincially isolated, the non-worldly
extent, of the existence of Russia. Russia set itself all in opposition to Europe, to Europe
as an unified whole. Both the Slavophil, and also the Westerniser consciousness alike
believed in the existence of Europe, as being of one spirit, of one single type of culture.
Slavophilism set Russia in contrast to Europe, with Russia being of an higher spiritual
type, and Westernism dreamed about Europe, as the ideal for Russia, as the singular type
of world culture. But herewith exploded the world war and it destroyed the illusion of an
united Europe, of a single European culture, of a single spiritual European type. Europe
can no longer hold a monopoly on culture. Europe -- is a study in instability. Within
Europe itself lie concealed quite contrary principles, quite hostile elements, quite
mutually exclusive spiritual types. Germany has proven to be more terrible to many of
the peoples of Europe, than was Russia, more foreign, than was the East. The war ought
on the one hand to move Europe towards the East, and on the other towards the extreme
West. In the final results of the war it cannot but bolster America and it cannot but posit
questions about the historical vocation of the Slavic race. Europe long ago already has
aspired to surmount itself, to emerge beyond its bounds. Europe is not some ideal culture
all in general. Europe itself is provincial. In Europe long ago already there is a secret
inner tugging towards the East, which on the surface of history has received various
explanations. Such phenomena, diverse in character, as imperialism in politics and
theosophy in spiritual life, alike are symptomatic in the gravitation for an outlet beyond
the borders of European culture, for the movement from west to East. And while the great
tasks of the Crusades have gone inward, they yet have remained for Europe. What sort of
position, however, ought Russia to occupy in this world historical movement?


Russia can conceive of itself and its vocation in the world only in light of the
problem of East and West. It stands at the centre of the Eastern and Western worlds and
can be defined, as an East-West. It was neither in vain nor by chance that Russian thought
throughout the course of the XIX Century centred round the disputes of Slavophilism and
Westernism. In suchlike a direction of Russian thought there was the same truth, which
for the Russian consciousness was a basic theme -- the theme concerning East and West,
about this, whether Western culture appears to be singular and universal, and whether or
not it be perhaps a different and higher type of culture? In the actual ideologies of
Slavophilism and Westernism there was a limitedness and immaturity. But the theme
itself of the Russian thinkers was profound, and for Russia fundamental. This theme has
remained all still ideological, little connected with practical perspectives. Russian
intellectual society was indeed quite irresponsible, and its thought thus could remain
quite irresponsible. But the world war has dragged Russia into the vital setting
concerning theme about East and West. At present the pondering on this theme can no
longer be so abstract and irresponsible. But it has so happened, that for this critical
moment of our history that the level of our national thinking has gone downwards, the
themes of the eternal ponderings of our intelligentsia have diminished quite downwards.
And before us stands the task -- to raise the level of national thought and connect it with
the vital tasks, posed by world events. Russia has been so deeply sucked into the very
muck of world life, that no sort of Russian lethargy and inertia can still spare it from
resolving the basic tasks of its history. Should the war happen to end, whatever might be
its immediate political consequences, -- the spiritual consequences of this war can be
The world war ought to lead Russia out of its isolated provincial existence into the
wide world of life. The potential strengths of Russia have to be discovered, and its
genuine visage, which up til now has been all still twofold, -- has to be shown the world.
This, in any case, ought to happen, if not by way of victorious power and direct growth of
might, then by way of sacrificial suffering and even humiliation. There is mystery in
many a path, so likewise in the fate of peoples, which we rationally never will resolve.
The most terrible sacrifices are perhaps necessary for a people, and through the great
sacrifices become possible achievements, which would have been impossible for the self-
contented and happy mere vegetative existence. A spiritual result of the world war will
likewise be an overcoming of the one-sidedness and aloofness of the so-called European
culture, its emergence onto the world stage. And this means, that the world war will bring
Russia and Europe face to face with the age-old theme of East and West in a new
concrete form. Before Europe and before Russia, with an unprecedented acuteness and
concreteness, will be set not only the external, but also the inward spiritual questions
about Turkey and PanSlavism, about Palestine, about Egypt, about India and Buddhism,
about China and PanMongolism. Europe has been too shut-in within its own self-
smugness. The old East and South have interested it, chiefly, on the side of colonial
politics and the grabbing of markets. Russia however still has not risen up to the setting
of the worldwide questions, with which is connected its position in the world. Russia has
been too inwardly in disarray, too much of the elementary has yet to be resolved in it. Vl.
Solov'ev attempted to turn our attention to these world-historical themes, but he was not
always successful. Yet in any case, he represented a great step forward in comparison
with the Slavophils and the Westernisers.


Russia ought to manifest a type of East-West culture, to overcome the one-

sidedness of Western European culture with its positivism and materialism, the self-
smugness of its limited horizons. Our Russian provincialism and isolatedness cannot be
overcome by the European provincialism and isolatedness. We have to cross over onto
the world stage. And in this expanse there ought to be seen the ancient religious cultural
sources. The East ought anew to counter-balance the West. In a certain sense the
Europeanising of Russia is necessary and irreversible. Russia ought to become for Europe
an inner, not an external power, a power creatively transfigurative. And for this Russia
has to be culturally transformed into European. The backwardness of Russia is not the
uniqueness of Russia. The unique moreso ought to be discovered at the higher, and not
the lower, stages of developement. Russia has to conquer in itself the dark East, held in
the grip of its elemental stages. But the Westernism is a mistake of childish immaturity,
and it runs counter to the world tasks of Russia. The patterns of Westernising thought are
just as ill-suited for comprehending the meaning of world events, as are the patterns of
Slavophil thought. The historical epoch, into which we are entering, demands an organic
combining of a national consciousness with a consciousness universal, i.e. defining the
world vocation of nationality. Afront our thinking stands quite concretely the task of
being aware of the world role of Russia, of England and Germany and their interrelation.
It is necessary to speak about this some other time, but I think, that in the world the
dominant position has to belong either to Russia and England or to Germany. The
prevailing of Russia and England ought to lead to a closeness of East and West and to a
deciding of the problem of East and West. The prevailing of Germany would lead to an
attempt to create a new world empire, making pretense to world domination and
essentially incapable of bringing together and uniting anything, since it would be
incapable of admitting the worth in itself of anything.

The orientation towards creative historical tasks would heal us of our inward
provincial disputes, from the trite hostility. We are spiritually obligated to perceive the
place of Russia within the worldwide struggle. It would be shameful to define oneself
only negatively through the will of the enemy. Russia has its own independent tasks,
quite apart from the ill-will of Germany. Russia should not only defend itself, but should
also decide its own independent tasks. Yet over these independent tasks our thought has
been too little at work. It is necessary to appeal to the independent creative national
thought, to lead us out into the free air, at the surface. But creative historical thought
presupposes acknowledging the history of independent initiative, of an especial
metaphysical reality. Such a turning to history has amongst us up to the present been
almost non-existent, and we have not seized upon responsible categories for thinking
over history and its tasks. But in such a turnabout of consciousness there would be for us
something liberating.

Nikolai Berdyaev



gazette "Birzhevye vedomosti", 22 December 1915, No. 15285. Later incorporated by
Berdyaev into his 1918 book, "The Fate of Russia" ("Sud'ba Rossii"), Section II, Chapter
14, (p. 333-339 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).

Power and Coercive Violence


Particularly acute in our day arises the question concerning the nature of power and
its relationship to coercive violence. The problem of power agitates Russian thought and
nudges it along a new direction. With Russians here is no love for power, no cult of
power, there is always a morally contemptuous attitude towards it. Power seems sooner
diabolical, than Divine, and it readily gets confused and identified with coercive violence.
The love for power, the religion of power we tend to imagine of the Germans and we see
in this a lower spiritual type. But it cannot be said, that we have been altogether alien to
coercive violence, that nowise possible is it to say this for all the austere Russian state
aspect. We tend to be proud, that the ideology of power is foreign to us. The violence
amongst us has to be examined as a fact, and not as an idea, as our sin, and not as our
heresy. But it is time already for us to make better distinctions in the concepts of power
and coercive force. This has great significance for our national consciousness and for our
very national existence itself. And herein I tend to think, that for us it is inwardly needful
to be fond of power, to cultivate and strengthen it in ourself, and only then will we not be
bullied nor be bullies. Without a radical and spiritual transformation of our attitude
towards power, in awareness and in action, we will remain in a condition of servility.
Coercive violence in Russia has always been but the reverse side of powerlessness.
Coercive violence anywhere and everywhere is the reverse side of powerlessness. Power
however is a positive concept and value. Power -- is of God. God first of all is power. In
every great man, genius or saint, is power. In every great deed in the world there is
power. In a great value -- is power. In great creativity -- is power. In life itself is power.
Powerlessness, an insufficiency of power is something very negative, bad a thing.

It is time already to cease opposing power with Russian humility. This beloved
opposition gets nowhere. A great and saintly humility is itself a spiritual power, a mastery
over its lower elements. A bad and slave-like humility is however a matter of inability
and dependence. Russian humility, recoiling from every aspect of power, frequently has
become the fruit not of an inner spiritual power, but rather the woesome and dependent
fate of Russian people, of the Russian people, of the inability to manifest its own inner
might. The Russian people has not yet known an historically voluntary and world
existence. Too much in it has been repressed and driven inward. Russian humility has
often become an instrument of self-protection for the Russian people, its means of
adapting to the grievous conditions of existence. The Russian creative power has not yet
been summoned forth for historical activity, it has slumbered in the depths of Russian
man. And in Russian man there has not been a consciousness of Divine power. Power to
him has seemed a matter of coercive violence, since he is accustomed to acts of power
external to him, over him and against him. Power tends to stand before the Russian in
material a form, it seems materially crushing. Spiritual power however is not sensed as
power, but the rather as humility, love, renunciation, as of an ineffable depth and not
translatable into the language of the "world". But suchlike power tends to be that, which
happens upon me, threatens me and violates me, and not that, what happens from me and
transforms the world. And herein is the characteristic feeling of Russian man.


No sort of a genuine power within human life can be merely an external and
material power. Every power -- is inward, a spiritual power, might, drawn from Divine a
wellspring. All the material powers of mankind, all the outward implements of his
mightiness -- are the fruits of spiritual a power. And even though these implements can
be directed towards evil, it does not diminish the essence of the matter. External material
powers, nowise connected with inner spiritual powers, do not exist, this is only a
deception from superficial a perceiving of life. Every authentic power, not merely
seemingly so but for real, is an inward spiritual action upon that upon what the power
itself manifests forth, is an inward and spiritual act of communion, of co-uniting and
appropriating. Active powers in the human world cannot be by an external and
mechanical impetus. One, who has power over me, has to establish an inner contact with
my soul and spiritually act upon me, evoking from my depths a spiritual and free
admitting of his power as not foreign to me. That which remains foreign to me, can with
violence coerce me, but it does not have power over me. A power of governance, having
lost contact with the souls, the spiritual community, is no longer a power of governance,
it is already powerless. Whoso rules only the bodies and shifts around the atoms of
matter, does not possess a true power of rule, his power of rule is illusory. Coercive
violence is illusory a method.

Power by its essence is deeply contrary to coercive force. Coercive force is always
powerless or in any case an indicator of insufficiency of power. Coercive force is a sign,
that a given energy does not act sufficiently deep enough, skips a beat, does not penetrate
at depth, does not inwardly act, does not set afire or take hold. An oppressive mechanical
shoving in human life is of powerlessness, an incapacity. An authentic power and might
sets free, grants freedom to all and everyone, it is a transition into the world of Divine
energy, its taking root into the very core of things. Powerlessness always enslaves, is
violence prone, and bestows beatings. Authentic power evokes a respect for itself, meets
with acknowledgement, and in its supreme manifestations -- is a delight. Whoso
possesses true power is one who rules over human souls or the soul of the entire people,
and is never sensed as an oppressor. An oppressor however rules nothing. In every state
there is coercion and force, but no state can rest entirely upon coercion and force. A state
tends to fall apart and collapse, when the power of rule in it is violent force, and not rue
power. And thus, the coercive national politics with us has always been the result of he
powerlessness of Russians in regard to the non-Russians.

A true power indeed amongst the Russians would lead to the freedom of the non-
Russians, to a liberation of all the nationalities. Only someone, who has a sense of his
own powerlessness in his own enormous state, would want a limitation in rights and
restraints on others, and that they be under restraints enough, limited in rights and
situated under minority status. This -- is shameful a powerlessness, unworthy of a great
people. The exaggeration of dangers and fears reflects a break-down of the elementary
national hygiene. The power and might of a true national politics is always creative, and
not terror. The governing nationality of a great empire should be endowed with spiritual
power, setting afire and taking hold, ought to captivate by its visage. And I believe in the
spiritual might of the Russian visage. But in this might our rightist circles do not believe.
The ruling prevalence ought always to belong to power, and not powerlessness. If the
Jewish, the Polish, the Finns, the Georgian/Gruzinians, the Armenians, the Tatars and
other foreigners are spiritually stronger than the Russians and the Russians can protect
themself only by coercive force, to manifest their own national visage only by the
repression of a foreign visage, then it becomes impossible to believe in the fate of the
Russian people. Then the coercive force, which accompanies reactionary politics, the
same as politics purely revolutionary, is always of an insufficiency of power, the
insufficiency of an inner contact, a spiritual persuasiveness and appeal, the absence of a
national all-peoples inspiredness. Factually all the phenomena within the life of peoples
and of mankind is complex, and in them there is an admixture of power and

Material power is not itself per se an existent reality. Material power is begotten of
a manifestation of spiritual power. The material technical aspect is a manifestation of the
inner power of a nation. But insofar as a material manifestation of spiritual power resorts
to coercive force, the spiritual power proves insufficient for mastering and co uniting, for
a mastery over existences, over the souls of people and things.

In the world there is evil coercive violence, insofar as Divine power fails to take
root in the world, and does not take hold in the world down to its very depths. Power
always proceeds from within and goes inward. Power -- is ontological, real in the deepest
meaning of this word, it is contrary to all illusiveness and all non-being. An insufficiency
of power is a diminuation of being. And insofar as the world cannot yield and be brought
under the mastery of an inner spiritual power, it is illusory and of non-being. No other
sort of power, except spiritual a power, can there be. Only God is powerful, the devil
however is completely powerless, he only pretends to be powerful, and his mastery in the
world -- is illusory a mastery. The powers of this world in an ontological sense can prove
to be very weak. For the Russian people and for Russian man is needful a consciousness
of the majesty of power, its spiritual and Divine aspect. And for us it is necessary to
surmount the externalistic attitude towards power. For the purpose of the spiritual
hygiene of the individual man and the entire people it is not good to sense oneself as
weak, on all sides beset by dangers and dwelling upon one's weaknesses, such as
humility, as a quality, almost unknown to other peoples. The ever eternal feeling of
oneself as weak, as helpless and beset by dangers, tends to engender a mistrustful anxiety
and, in the final end, leads to such phenomena, as with the Jewish pogrommes, -- this is
an extreme example of a national powerlessness and inability. Power is not a given,
received externally, power is drawn forth from the inner depths. Power can and ought to
increase in oneself, and needful for this is a spiritual hygiene of the person and the nation.
Out of a mistrustful anxiety, out of fear, out of an idealisation of weakness, power is
lessened and falls for real. And power for real grows and rises forth out of an awareness
of oneself as strong, out of a love for power, out of a fearlessness in the face of dangers.

It is needful to call forth from the depths a feeling of power and to strengthen the
awareness of power as spiritually higher an existence. In the depths of each man and each
people there is power, but in slumbering a condition and weighed down beneathe the
external layers of life.

For foresight into the activity and discernment of power it is nowise indifferent
thing, whether it be a consciousness of the majesty and spiritual value of power, or
whether on the contrary, it be a consciousness of the sinfulness and untruth of all power.
And needful therefore in Russia is a radical reform of consciousness in relation to power.
Power -- is immanent to man and the people, and not transcendent. A transcendent
consciousness involving power would hold the people in slavery. The cult of a spiritual
power, as also of any power, would seem to many Russians to be a Germanic, and not
Russian an idea. But this is a simplification of the problem and a self-deception. Within
Germanism there is a specific cult of power, transitioning into a will to power over the
world. But of itself the idea of power, as spiritual and Divine a potentiality, is worldwide,
trans-national and objective an idea. Only power conquers the inertia of the world. All
ought to be powerful and uncover their power in the world. World conditions at present
compellingly demand of Russians, that they be powerful in all regards, that they transfer
into an active condition all their potential powers and ultimately be aware of the
significance of power. The Russian people, as with any people, ought to realise, that they
themself are the fashioner of their own fate, that from their own particular power depends
their historical future, rather than from the powers, bursting forth over them. Neither the
person of the individual man, nor the person of the entire people can presume unto
themself power, they themself have to be powerful. Both the power of the person and the
power of the nation have to be organised. Russian power has to be directed otherwise,
than the Germanic power, it ought to be liberating, bestowing also goodness, but it ought
also to be power, rather than powerlessness. Russians however have hitherto tended to
think, that power is something Western European, a foreign land thing, and German a
category predominantly. For Russian man very characteristic is the wont for non-
resistance, passive refusal and withdrawal. But it erroneous to set non-resistance as the
opposite to violent force. If violent force reflects a powerlessness or insufficiency of
power, then "non-resistance" is illusory a way out, a refusal of the cultivation of power,
in overcoming world evil. It can be said, that the violent force in the war signifies an
insufficiency of power, a powerless good, but the refusal from participation in the war, its
boycott, nowise signifies a cultivation of power, indicative of positive might. This is only
a powerless ignoring of the worldwide cycle of responsibility, of historical a cultivation
of power, often fine for the sensitivities, but feckless for the awareness. And there is no
other way out of it for the person and the nation, except a positive cultivation of spiritual
power, creating for oneself also all the necessary material tools, along with the finding of
oneself in the outer world. Christianity itself is a religion of power, and not of
powerlessness, a struggle towards power and a matching up of spiritual strength. The
perspective of power is a perspective of value, and not of utility. Power possesses
sacrificial a nature, it bestows from its exuberance, and neither usurps nor plunders.
Power -- is a supreme good. A powerless truth -- is ungodly. But a truth that is mighty is
not a good and benefit of this world, it is but a path towards the transformation of this
world. And all of life ought to be based upon a [true sort of]1 power.

N. A. Berdyaev.


© 2010 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1916 - 225 -en)

SILA I NASILIE. Article originally published in literary gazette "Birzhevye vedomosti",
2 April 1916, No. 15478. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled,
"Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922", Izdatel'stvo Astrel',
Moskva, 2007, p. 405-409.

text of paper damaged, word restored as to contextual meaning.



The World War conveys with it for humanity a profound spiritual crisis, which can
be judged about from different sides. The consequences of such an unprecedented war are
incalculable and cannot completely be anticipated. There is much a basis to think, that we
are entering upon a new historical epoch. And if we cast our glance at the changes in the
external aspect, the international, the political and the economic, then the inward and
spiritual changes tend to proceed unnoticed. This is always a subliminal process. Our
foresight into the future ought to be totally free of the customary optimism or pessimism,
free from estimates in accord with the criteria of happiness. It would be shallow-minded
to think of life for oneself after such an exhaustive war in any especially cheerful and
happy light. One might the sooner consider, that the world is entering upon a period of
prolonged woe and that its tempo of developement will be catastrophic. But the values,
discovered by man in the worldwide struggle, are not to be defined by any increase or
diminishing of happiness.

Comparatively much is spoken and written about the economic and political
consequences of the war. Less so is there thought about the spiritual consequences, upon
its influence on all our world-outlook. It is about one such little foreseen consequence
that I want to speak. During the XIX Century the world-sense and the world-
consciousness of the progressive elements of mankind had become tinged in a vividly
social light. It has been pointed out more than once already, that sociology had replaced
theology, that the religious feeling of mankind’s lost faith was redirected to the social.
The orientation of life was rendered social predominantly, and to it were subordinated all
other values. All values were posited in the social perspective. The human social aspect
has been rendered isolated from cosmic life, from the whole of the world, and it has come
to feel itself as a closed-in and self-sufficing whole. Man has tended finally to settle down
into a closed-in social territory, in it he wanted to be lord, he forgot about all the rest of
the world and about other worlds, in which extend not his power and domain. The
conquests of man within a delimited and closed-in social territory brought about a
weakening of memory, a forgetting of infinity. And perhaps it was necessary for man to
experience the period of this isolated world-feeling, in order to intensify and strengthen
his social energy. Every sort of limitation reflects pragmatic needs during certain periods
of human evolution. But the limitedness of this sociological world-sense cannot be
continued for too long. This limitedness has hidden within it the possibility too much of
unanticipated catastrophes. The endless ocean of world life plies its waves upon the
locked-in and defenseless human social realm, set out upon a not large territory of the
earth. The World War is also thuslike a world Great War, ninefold so. It reveals for
everyone, even the most blind, that all the social utopias, constructed in the isolation of
the social aspect as separate from cosmic life – are all superficial and unenduring. Under
the shock of the worldwide war have fallen the utopias of humanism, of pacifism, of
international socialism, international anarchism, etc., etc. This finds its explanation not by
some theory, but by life itself, that social humanism possessed too limited and too
superficial a basis. It has been overlooked, that there exist the deep loins of the earth and
the unbounded worldly expanse and starry worlds even. Much of the darkly irrational,
always bearing the unexpected, lies within these loins and the unbounded expanse. The
human shut-in and limited social mindset with its exclusively sociological world-outlook
reminds one of the proverbial ostrich, hiding its head in its feathers. There is too much
that is overlooked in the social utopias, always based as they are upon simplifications and
artificial isolation. Or similarly, just as with the unenduring and insubstantial aspect of
the existence of an oasis – is a community in the spirit of the Tolstoyans or utopian
socialism, just as unenduring and insubstantial also is the existence of all the human
social-outlook within the complexity and infinitude of cosmic life. Social utopianism is
always rooted in this isolation of social-mindset apart from cosmic life and apart from
those cosmic powers, which are irrational in regard to the social mindset. This always – is
a concealing of complexity through one’s limitedness. Social utopianism is a faith in the
possibility of a final and unceasing rationalisation of the social aspect, independent of
whether all nature is rationalistic and whether there is some sort of cosmic harmony.
Utopianism has no desire to know of any connection of social evil with cosmic evil, it
does not see the social as belonging to the whole cycle of the natural order or natural
disorder. And such catastrophes, as the World War, cause one to open one’s eyes, thy
force a broadening of the horizon. There is discerned the bankruptcy of such rational
utopias, as that of eternal peace in this evil natural world, or that of a stateless anarchistic
freedom in this world of necessity, or of worldwide social brotherhood and equality in
this world of discord and hostility. Oh, certainly the great value of peace, of freedom, of
social brotherhood remains immutable. But these values are unattainable in that
superficial and limited sphere, in which they are presupposed to be attainable. The
attainment of these values presupposes an infinitely great depth and expanse, i.e. the still
very complex and prolonged catastrophic process in human life, it presupposes the
transition from an exclusively sociological world-sense over to a world-sense which is


A deepened consciousness ought to move forward with the idea of a cosmic social
mindset, i.e. a social mindset, pondering and entering into unity with the world whole,
with the world energies. There has always existed an endosmosis and exosmosis between
the human social aspect and cosmic life, but this has not been sufficiently perceived by
man, and he craftily surrounded himself within his boundaries, thus having saved himself
from the infinitude. But on a deeper level there ought to be posited the truth, whereof the
greatest attainments of human social life are connected with the creative power of man
over nature, i.e. are connected with a creatively active orientation towards cosmic life,
both in concept, and also in action. And this presupposes an immensely great self-
discipline on the part of man, moreso than that which is in him at present, an higher
degree of mastery over himself, of his own proper elements. Only the one, who has
mastery over himself, can aspire to mastery in the world. The tasks of the social aspect –
are first of all cosmic-productive tasks. With this is connected both the personal morals
and societal self-discipline. And this mindset is directly contrary to that, upon which rests
our populism in all its shades and with all its distributive morality.

Creative toiling over nature, extended to a cosmic dimension, ought to be set as the
cornerstone. This toil ought not to be a servile attachment to the earth, towards its limited
expanse, it ought always to have worldwide perspectives. The XX Century is advancing
along with cosmic tasks in the sphere of creative work with nature, and in the areas of
production and technology, about which the XIX Century with all its discoveries could
not even dream, let alone suspect. And it is striking that Marxism, which so advocated the
productive instances, the growth of the productive powers in social life and by this
providing a counterbalance over the instances of distribution, it is striking that it was
completely bereft of any cosmic world-sense and showed itself an extreme form of
sociological utopianism, locking man in within a limited and superficial social outlook.
Marxism has believed, that it is possible to rationalise all completely societal life and
bring it to an outward perfection, not taking into account those energies, which in the
infinitude of the world are over and around man. Marxism – is a most extreme form of
sociological rationalism, and therefore also of sociological utopianism. All the social
teachings of the XIX Century lacked the awareness, that man – is a cosmic being, and not
the inhabitant of an ephemeral social aspect merely on the surface of the earth, it lacked
the awareness that he is actually in communion with the depths of the world and the
heights of the world. Man – is not an ant, and human society – is not an ant-hill. The ideal
of a perfectly constructed ant-hill has been demolished and with no turning back. But a
deeper consciousness is possible only upon a religious basis. The world catastrophe ought
to enable a religious deepening of life.

That spiritual turnabout, which I characterise as the transition from the sociological
world-sense to a world-sense that is cosmic, would have also quite purely political
consequences and expressions. There would be overcome the socio-political
provincialism. Facing the social and political consciousness would be the world’s
expanse, the problem of mastering and directing all the surface of the earthly orb, the
problem of bringing together East and West, the meeting of all types and cultures, the
unification of mankind through struggle, the interaction and communion of all races. The
vital settings of all these problems would make politics more cosmic, less shut-in, would
bring to mind the cosmic expanse and the historical process itself. Truly the problems,
connected with India, with China or the Musselman world, with the oceans and
continents, are all more cosmic in nature, than the isolated problems of the struggles of
parties and social groups. Ultimately the ever more acute question about the relationship
of every individual national being to the oneness and unification of mankind has to be
resolved, as a question of cosmic dimensions. The orientation towards the depths of
national life involves together with this a turning to the broad expanse of historical life
throughout all the world. Within imperialistic politics there were already objectively
cosmic proportions and cosmic tasks. But the consciousness of the ideologues of
imperialism was limited. This ideology was a bourgeois ideology, it rarely went deeper or
farther than the purely surface economic and political tasks. And in the paths of
imperialistic politics there was much evil, begotten of the limited incapacity to engage the
souls of those cultures and races, into which the imperialistic expansion had spread, , it
was blind to the external tasks of mankind. But the significance of imperialism, as an
inevitable phase in the developement of modern societies for the uniting of mankind over
all the surface of the earth and for the building of a cosmic social awareness, can be
acknowledged as irresponsible for the positive pathos of imperialism. The World War is a
catastrophic moment in the dialectics of imperialistic expansion.


In order to shed light on the darkness flooding the world, there is necessary a cosmic
deepening of consciousness. If we remain but at the surface of the light, then the darkness
will engulf us. The European peoples, the European cultures are entering upon a period of
exhaustion. These shut-in cultures are headed towards decline, they are decaying. The
long and destructive World War is sapping the powers of Europe, and for the peoples of
Europe it is difficult to seek the sources of new energy in the great depth and great extent
of the world expanses. The old purely sociological orientations and values of life are
unsuited for the measures of the events that occur, for both their complexity and their
novelty. Abstract sociologism, as a cohesive world-outlook, is discovering its
unsuitableness in all regards, it reaches its end and ought to yield place to deeper and
broader points of view. The catastrophe of this war is very bitterly dividing people and
not at all per those categories, by which they are wont to be divided. They have proven to
be quite spiritually unprepared for this catastrophe, it has burst out upon them as a greatly
unanticipated happening, forcing them out of all their reinforced positions. And it is in
such a position that a large part of the people of a purely sociological world-outlook now
find themselves. They had been quick to adapt their old points of view to current events,
but these despondent people have sensed, that they had been left behind. Many have
come to feel themselves thrown overboard by history. Yet others are spiritually ready for
the world catastrophe, there was in it for them nothing unanticipated, nothing relating to
life from their point of view. Such people, who earlier had more cosmic a feel of life, had
broader horizons. They know, that the war is a great evil and a chastisement for the sins
of mankind, but they see the meaning of world events and they enter upon the new
historical period without that sense of despondency and shipwreck, which the people of
the former type feel, those who espy within it no inner meaning. The cosmic world-
outlook is less so the happy, less so the rationalistically optimistic, and more untranquil,
than is the sociological world-outlook, -- it foresees that there are great unanticipated
events and is prepared to enter into a realm unseen and unknown. The deeper and broader
world-outlook and consciousness does not permit of those rationalistic illusions, for
which the future world is definable only by powers, set at the very surface of a delimited
bit of the earth. There are active powers that are deeper, still unknown, with energies
pouring forth from remote worlds. Bravery is necessary to go forth to meet the unknown
day, to go into the darkness towards a new dawn. The World War is totally meaningless
for every rationalistic optimism, for every sociological utopianism. For people of this
spirit it cannot provide any sort of lesson, they have no desire to pass over to new life
through death. But the World War possesses a symbolic meaning for those, who always
have foreseen the actively concealed cosmic powers, not subject to rationalisation. The
nature of war – is not creative, it is negative, and destructive; but war can rouse creative
powers, it can enable a deepening of life. Before mankind stand ever newer and newer
creative tasks, tasks of a creative transformation of energy, issuing from the dark and
primordial depths of being into a new life and a new consciousness. The developement of
mankind, the ascent of mankind, never occurs along a direct line, by way of the growth of
one-sided positive elements. This – is a process to an utmost degree antinomic and tragic.
The onrush of darkness is that barbarity of existence, without which in human life would
ensue the drying up of energy, a desiccation. The World War serves a purpose for
European culture, with its being submerged in its barbarism and dark power. In this
darkness much ought to perish and much be born, just as with the incursion of the
barbarians upon the culture of antiquity. But this barbarian power – is inward, and not
outward. We can draw a conclusion. The people of the old sort, though regarding
themselves as at the vanguard of the sociological world-sense, have been left behind.
They – are conservators of the yesterday and the day before. The people of a cosmic
world-sense are spiritually prepared to go forth towards the unknown future with a
creative impulse.

Nikolai Berdyaev



in the newspaper "Birzhevnye vedomosti", Aug. 1916, No. 15706. Republished
thereafter in the 1918 Berdyaev's anthology text of articles, “Sud’ba Rossii” (“The Fate
of Russia”), Ch. 16, (p. 348-354 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).

Power and Responsibility

Prior to the revolutionary turnabout we had a prolonged crisis of power. The old
powers had ceased to be national and statelike, had assumed an hostile attitude towards
all the nation, and was overthrown into non-existence on an impulse by all the nation.
The entire people's revolution has had to put forward a provisional government, to
express a maximum of national and state unity, and to lead in line with the historical
tasks, corresponding to the level of the societal developement of Russia. Power itself
possesses objective a nature, it cannot be totally subjective and capricious, a matter of
party and class. When it happens thus, the power of authority degenerates and falls. The
old Christian wisdom taught, that all power is from God [Rom.13,1]. It would be
inaccurate to interpret this truth merely in the context, that an autocratic monarchy or
some other defined form of state power is something mystical and divine. This truth
mustneeds rather be understood thus, that every power of authority by its nature is
mystical and divine, if it fulfills its objectively destined purpose, if it is expressive of the
civil and national nature in general, if it transforms chaos into ordered cosmos, sets limits
to the triumphing of an evil will, and organises the people's life. In this context, the power
of authority in democratic republics is mystical and divine the same, as is also every other
power, congruent with its destined purpose. In the nature of the power of authority and in
the attitude, which it evokes towards itself, there is a sort of mystery, which cannot be
rationally grasped. The power of authority can degenerate into an evil principle, into a
self-assertion merely, and then it betrays its divine wellsprings and its destined purpose,
then it ceases to be of service. Such an evil degeneration of he power of authority long,
for quite long occurred under the old regime. And it mustneeds straight out be said, that
the power of authority of the provisional government, so unstable and transitory, is
moreso divine, moreso in accord with the eternal nature of power, than was the power of
authority of Nicholas II, set upon so ancient a grounding, than was the power of his
temporary governments. The power of authority by its nature and its destined purpose is
not a right, is not a privilege, is not a matter of interests. Power is a duty of obligation, a
burden and service. In the self-satisfying and self-asserting struggle for power there is
always a great untruth. It is because anyone taking upon himself the burden of power first
of all imposes upon himself a great responsibility. One having taken upon himself the
burden of power cannot still look upon all from partial a perspective, from the
perspective of a group, class, party, from the perspective of opposing some private power
against the whole. Unperceivable on the part of the life of the great whole. he enters into
the mysterious life of the whole people and the whole state, he enters therein not only at
some given moment of its existence, but into its historical continuance, into the
connection of the times. In having assumed upon oneself the burden of power, it obligates
one to think about the enormous whole, to organise it, and not permit the falling apart of
the whole, or an ultimate uprising of a part against this whole. To this mystery of the
whole, of the whole people and the whole state, is united only one who bears upon
himself the responsibility. Power is inseparable from responsibility, an irresponsible
power has to fall, it has to be overthrown. The old hence fell, because it was unable to
bear the responsibility for the fate of Russia, because it irresponsibly helped ruin Russia,
shoved it towards the abyss.

Our provisional government can be criticised from various points of view, but it is
indisputable, that in it is an highly developed sense of responsibility, it has taken upon
itself the responsibility for the great whole, for Russia namely, in very difficult moment
of Russian history and it is prepared to bear this responsibility to the end. The provisional
government has expressed a line of action objectively-national and objectively for the
state, a line of action for the great whole. It has concerned itself with the fate of Russia,
with the accomplishing of daily historical tasks. The provisional government, under the
impetus of the Russian revolution, possesses original features, distinct from those of other
temporary provisional governments of other revolutions. In it there is not the self-serving
lust for power, not the self-assertion, nothing of the dictator. Moreso rather it consolidates
upon too great an humanness and gentleness, almost akin to a Tolstoyan non-resistance.
It -- is sacrificial, completely unselfish and it bears the power of authority, as a burden
and obligation. It desires nothing to grab for itself. It is responsible for the whole, it is
immersed under weighty considerations for the administering of Russia, for its defense,
and the averting of anarchy. In this "bourgeois" government, as regards the irresponsible
street terminology, there is something characteristically Russian, a Russian dislike for
holding power, a readiness to resign power, if this be necessary for Russia. The
provisional government holds power not out o a sense of a right and greed for it, but from
a sense of duty and responsibility. At the present historical moment the power in Russia
is a cross, and with reluctance is the resolve to take it upon oneself.

It has impossible a position. Those social democrats, which are hostile to the
provisional government, organise demonstrations against it and want to overthrow it, they
struggle for power, as though it were their right and privilege, but they are afraid of
holding power and lack the resolve to take upon themself the responsibility, connected
with power. And it mustneeds be said, that this hesitancy and fear of taking upon
themself the responsibility for power is not only the effect of cowardice and lack of
resolve, it has deeper real roots. Power in the hands of the socialists, with their class
proletarian perspective, cannot be responsible. This power in its administration would not
have the perspective of the enormous whole entirety, bearing the name Russia, it could
not in essence be national and of state in general. Upon everything it would be impelled
to look only from a perspective of private interests. Dealing with the mystery of power,
certainly, there would have to be a change somewhat in the nature of those, who now
stand upon purely a class point of view without any concern about the whole. But this is
something they also are afraid of, something they do not want to do. One, who enters into
governance, becomes fatally involved in the state aspect and looks with a statewide
perspective upon that, which he previously regarded from private a perspective. And the
social democrats are afraid of being rendered as the object of an irresponsible opposition,
fighting for private interests, they are afraid to dirty their socialistic purity, their red
socialist attire. To administer Russia in that hour of its existence, when an extraordinary
revolution is combined with an extraordinary war, when the ruling power has been left
such a terrible legacy from the old powers, is not only difficult, but also horrendous. The
social democrats wanted to hide behind the sweetness of an irresponsible and pure
confession of their abstract teachings. But every power in the world is a sacrificing of
purity in the name of responsibility for the fate of peoples and states. And it mustneeds be
said, that in certain regards the "mensheviks" are worse than the "bolsheviks", since they
want it both ways and yet are afraid. It is immoral to want power and not want the
responsibility. This is a denial of the great mystery of the whole, the mystery of the
national and state being, a denial for which history will fiercely punish.

It is not only now that the working class in Russia cannot rule, but also never can
any sort of class, rule. The nature of power -- transcends class. Class dominance would
subvert power. A socialist, having entered into governance, would the same defend the
citizen rights of the bourgeiose, as would also every other minister, he would have to
concern himself over provisioning all classes of the population, the security and defense
of the Russian state, the organisation of police, the courts, securing the rights of citizens,
whatever the class they might belong to. Every power has to be powerful -- a powerless
power is meaningless, and no one needs it. An example of a powerless power was
manifest in the final period of the old regime. And a power has to be especially powerful
in the era of such a crisis, as Russia is experiencing at present. But a powerful power has
to have credibility and possess support among the people. It has to feel, that it expresses
the middle line of the will of the entire people, which only can bring Russia out of the
crisis. A power is responsible, when upon it they have imposed responsibility for the
administration of the country, when they allow it freedom of action and do not hinder it at
each step. The mania of mistrust, which at present has infected the Russian people,
subverts not only the power, it subverts Russia, it is killing the soul of the people. This
irresponsible preaching of mistrust everywhere, this hunting for "bourgeoisness" is the
greatest evil of our day. The principle of democracy is perceived for us first of all as a
mistrust and suspiciousness towards every manifestation of a personal principle. And this
is the legacy of the old Russia, having undergone the old slavery. The preaching of
mistrust by soldiers towards officers and generals subverts the army and puts Russia in
defenseless a position. The preaching of mistrust towards the "bourgeoise" and the
"bourgeois" government breaks up Russia into parts, seeking to abolish every
remembrance about the unity of the people. And this -- is a slave's preaching. It seems
further, that after the revolutionary turnabout the mistrust has become greater, than under
the old regime. The first days of Russian freedom have become poisoned. The preaching
of mistrust repudiates man in Russia, repudiates the dignity of the person, it repudiates
the Russian people. And for the salvation of Russia and Russian man there has to ensue a
moral sobering up and renewal of health, an austere awareness of moral responsibility.
The moral and religious ascetic aspect has to put a limit to the irresponsible and dissolute
orgies of social fantasies.

N. A. Berdyaev.

8 May [1917]

© 2010 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1917 - 264 -en)

VLAST' I OTVETSTVENNOST'. Article was originally published in the weekly

Journal "Russkaya svoboda", 1917, No. 5, May, p. 3-6. Republished in the anthology of
N. Berdyaev articles entitled, "Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika
1914-1922", Izdatel'stvo Astrel', Moskva, 2007, p. 534-537.



(1917 - #256(15))

Much in the mentality of our social and populist psychology leads to sad
considerations. And one of the saddest facts needful to recognise is the indifference
towards ideas and towards ideational creativity, to recognise the ideational backwardness
of broad segments of the Russian Intelligentsia. In this is evidenced a desiccation and
inertia of thought, a dislike for thought, a disbelief in thought. The moralistic frame of
mind of the Russian soul begets a suspicious attitude towards thought. Life amidst idea is
accounted by us as a luxury, and in this luxury they do not see any essential relationship
to life. In Russia from quite contrary points of view is preached an ascetic abstinence
from ideational creativity, from the life of thought, from going over beyond the limits of
the necessary useful for goals social, moral and religious. This asceticism in relationship
to thought and to ideational creativity is affirmed for us simultaneously both from the
religious perspective, and from the materialistic perspective. This is quite characteristic to
Russian populism, taken both in its extreme left, and its extreme right forms. This frame
of mind for the Russian soul has been clearly expressed by the Tolstoyans. Some reckon
it alone sufficient for us that minimum of thought, which is enclosed in the Social-
Democrat brochures, while with others, -- that which can be found in the writings of the
holy fathers. The brochures of the Tolstoyans, the brochures of the “Religio-Philosophic
Bibliotek” of M. A. Novoselov and the brochures of the Social Revolutionaries all show a
completely identical dislike and contempt for thought. The value in itself of thought is
denied, the freedom of ideational creativity was cast under suspicion at one point from
the perspective of the Social Revolutionaries, and at another point from the perspective of
the religious guardians. They love for us to have only catechisms, which superficially and
simply are applied to every instance of life. But the love for catechisms is also a dislike
for independent thought. In Russia there was never a creative abundance, there was never
anything of a renaissance, there was nothing of the spirit of the Renaissance. How sad
and melancholy has Russian history been constituted and rendered for the soul of Russian
man! All the spiritual energy of Russian man was directed to the sole thought about
salvation, about the salvation of his soul, about the salvation of the people, about the
salvation of the world. In truth, this thought about universal salvation -- is a
characteristically Russian thought. The historical destiny of the Russian people has been
sacrificial -- it saved Europe from the invasions of the East, from the Tatar-Mongol Yoke,
and in it there did not take hold the strength for free developement.
Western man creates values, he forms rich cultures, and he has an independent love
for values; Russian man searches for salvation, and the creativity of values for him is
always a little suspicious. Not only do believers of Russian soul seek salvation, the
Orthodox and the sectarians, but it is also the Russian atheists, the socialists and
anarchists, they all seek after salvation. For the matter of salvation catechisms are
necessary, but free and creative thought is dangerous. It is a mistake to think, that the
best, the most sincere element of the Russian leftist revolutionary intelligentsia is social
in accord with the directives of its own will in concern with politics. It is impossible
within it to find the least signs of social thought, of a political consciousness. It -- is
apolitical and non-societal, by distorted paths it seeks salvation of soul, purity, to be able
to seek out ascetic deeds and service to the world, but bereft of the instincts of civil and
social organisation. The “social” world-concept of the Russian Intelligentsia,
subordinating everything of value to politics, is merely the result of a great confusion, a
weakness of thought and awareness, an hodgepodge of the absolute and the relative. The
maximalism, the revolutionism, the radicalism of the Russian Intelligentsia is a peculiar
form of moralistic asceticism in relation to the civil, the social and historical life
generally. It is very characteristic, that Russian tactics usually take the form of boycotts,
strikes and work-stoppages. The Russian intelligent is never certain, whether he ought to
accept history with all its tormenting, violent and tragic contradictions, none the more
correct, or whether to repudiate it entirely. He refuses to ponder over history and its tasks,
and he prefers to moralise over history, to impose upon it his own sociological schema,
very reminiscent of theological schema. And in the Russian intelligent, torn away from
his native soil, he remains characteristically a Russian man, having never the taste for
history, for historical thought and for the drama of history. Our social thought has been
intensely primitive and elementary, it has always striven after simplicity and feared
complexity. The Russian Intelligentsia has always been confessing some sort of doctrine,
containable in a pocket catechism, and an utopia, promising an easy and simplistic
method of universal salvation, but it was not fond of and it feared creative thought as
being of value in itself, before which might open infinitely complex perspectives. Among
the broad masses of the so-called radical Intelligentsia, thought was not only made
simplistic, but also neglectful and flippant. The reduction of old ideas among the half-
indifferent masses -- was poisonous. The catechisms are tolerable only for an heated
atmosphere, and it is in the hot-house atmosphere that they are produced and born.
Creative thought, which posits and considers all ever new and newer tasks -- is dynamic.
Russian thought however has always been too static, despite the shifting of various
beliefs and currents. This is valid identically both in regard to the theocratic-guardian
doctrines, and in regard to the positivist-radical and socialist doctrines.


The Russian dislike for ideas and indifference towards ideas is often transformed into
an indifference towards truth. The Russian man does not very much seek truth (istina), he
seeks just-truth (pravda), which he thinks of now religiously, now morally, and then
socially, he seeks salvation. In this there is something characteristically Russian, and
there is its own genuine Russian just-truth (pravda). But there is also a danger, there is a
turning-away from the paths of knowledge, there is a tendency towards a populism-based
churlishness. Bowing before an organic wisdom of the people has always paralysed
thought in Russia and cut short ideational creativity, wherein the person tends to be on his
own responsibility. Our conservative thought has been still a native thought, and in it
there has been no self-consciousness of personal spirit. But this self-consciousness of
personal spirit also has little been sensed in our progressive thought. Thought, the life of
ideas was always subordinated to the Russian soul-emphasis, a mixing up of rightful-
truth (pravda-istina) with rightful-justice (pravda-spravedlivost’). But the Russian soul-
emphasis was not subordinated to spirituality, it did not pass through spirit. Upon the
basis of this soul-emphasis unfold all sorts of psychologism. Native thought, thought,
connected with the element of the soil, is always of soul, and not spiritual thought. But
the thinking of the Russian revolutionaries has always transpired in an atmosphere of
soul-emphasis, and not spirituality. The idea, the meaning reveals itself in the person, and
not in the collective. And the people’s wisdom reveals itself at the summits in the
spiritual life of persons, expressing the people’s spirit. Without great responsibility and
the daring of personal spirit there cannot be realised developement of the people’s spirit.
The life of ideas is the uncovering of the life of spirit. In creative thought spirit
transcends the soul-body elements. The exclusive dominance of soul-emphasis with its
brutal heatedness opposes itself to the liberating life of spirit. The greatest Russian
geniuses were afraid of this responsibility of personal spirit, and from the heights of the
spiritual they fell downwards, they fell all the way to the ground, and they sought
salvation in the elementary wisdom of the people. Thus it was with Dostoevsky and
Tolstoy, and thus it was with the Slavophils. In Russian religious thought only Chaadaev
and Vl. Solov’ev stood out as exceptions.

The Russian people’s elemental soul-emphasis has assumed very manifold, very
contradictory forms -- the protective and the seditious, the nationally-religious and the
internationally-socialist. This -- is at the root of Russian populism’s hostility to thought
and ideas. In the mentality and the tendency of the Russian people’s soul-emphasis there
is something anti-gnostic, holding the process of cognition under suspicion. The heart has
been victorious over the mind and the will. The Russian populist soul-emphasis type is
moralistic, it applies to everything in the world a moralistic evaluation. But this moralism
is incapable of results of a personal character, it does not create the tempering by spirit. In
this moralism there predominates a vague soulfulness, a tender cordiality, often very
charming, but there is no sense of courage of will, responsibility, self-discipline, firmness
of character. The Russian people, perhaps, is the most spiritual people on earth. But its
spirituality floats on some sort of elemental soulfulness, even moreso on corporeality. In
this spirituality, the masculine principle adrift does not embrace the feminine principle, it
does not give it form. But this means also, that spirit does not embrace the soulful. This is
valid not only in regard to the “people”, but also in regard to the “intelligentsia”, which is
broken away and external to the people, but preserving very characteristic features of the
people’s psychology. Upon this ground also is born the mistrust, the indifferent and
hostile attitude towards thought, towards ideas. Upon this very ground also is born
moreover the reknown weakness of the Russian will, of the Russian character. The far
right Russian Slavophils and the far left Russian populists (to them with few exclusions
mustneeds on the basis of soul mentality be included also the Russian Social Democrats,
dissimilar to their Western comrades) both alike rise up against “abstract thought” and
demand thought that is moral and salvific, having essentially a practical application to
life. In the rising up against abstract thought and in the demand for integral thought there
has been very great truth and the presentiment of an higher type of thought. But this truth
has foundered on the adrift soul-emphasis and the incapacity for analysis and
differentiation. Human thought upon the pathways of the human spirit ought to proceed
through dichotomy and analysis. The primordial organic integrality cannot be preserved
and carried over into an higher type of spirituality without a tortuous differentiation
process, without a falling-away and secularisation. Without the consciousness of this
truth organic integral thought passes over into an hostility towards thought, into
thoughtless nonsense, into an obscure moralism. The unique originality of the Russian
soul cannot be killed by thought. Such a fear displays a lack of belief in Russia and in
Russian man. The non-differentiation of our conservative thought has carried over into
our progressive thought.


In Russia a genuine emancipation of thought has still not been accomplished.

Russian nihilism has been an enslaving, not liberating, thought. Our thought has
remained servile. Russians fear the sin of thought, even when they do not believe in any
sort of sin. Russians have still not altogether risen up to the awareness, that in living
creative thought there is light, a transfigurative element, transfixing the darkness.
Knowledge itself is life, and therefore it is impossible to say moreover, that knowledge
ought to be subordinated to life in an utilitarian manner. There mustneeds be for us a
liberation from Russian utilitarianism, so enslaving for our thought, be it religious or
materialistic. The slavery of thought has led in wide circles of the Russian Intelligentsia
to an ideational poverty and an ideational backwardness. The ideas, to which many still
continue to point to as “foremost”, in essence are very backward ideas, which do not
measure up to the heights of contemporary European thought. The adherents of a
“scientific” world-concept have lagged half a century behind the actual developements in
science. Both the intelligent and the half-intelligent masses also attempt to live by
antiquated ideas of stuff, long already relegated to the archives. Our “vanguard”
intelligentsia remain hopelessly behind from the developements in European thought,
hopelessly behind from the all more and more complicated and intricate philosophic and
scientific creativity. It believes in ideas, which were current in the west more than fifty
years back, and it is quite seriously capable of confessing the positivist world-view, the
old theory of the social mean, etc. But this is the ultimate terminus and ossification of
thought. Traditional positivism long ago already tumbled down not only in philosophy,
but also in science itself. If it be never possible to speak seriously about materialism, as a
directive for the half-literate, then it is impossible too to speak seriously about positivism,
and soon it will be impossible to speak about criticism of the Kantian type. And it will be
likewise impossible to support that radical “sociologism” of world-sense and world-
concept, which all the masses of the intelligentsia in Russia still adhere to. New “cosmic”
perspectives of world-sense and world-concept are unfolding. The social cannot be
sundered and isolated from cosmic life, from the energies, which spill forth into it from
all the planes of the cosmos. Thus impossible is even the social utopianism, always
grounded in a simplification of thought concerning social life, in the rationalisation of it,
whilst disregarding irrational cosmic forces. Not only in creative Russian thought, which
in a small circle survives the period of transition, but also in Western European thought
there has occurred a radical shift, and the “vanguard” in thought and consciousness
appears altogether otherwise, than what too many among us continue to believe -- idle
and inert thoughts.

The uppermost of mankind has already entered into the night of a new Middle
Ages, when the sun ought to shine itself within us and bring us towards a new day. The
external light fades out. The crash of rationalism, the rebirth of mysticism is also of this
nocturnal moment. However, when the crash of the old rational thought occurs, it is quite
necessary to appeal to creative thought, to a revealing of the idea of spirit. The struggle
moves to the spiritual summits of mankind, it is there that the fate of human
consciousness is determined, it is a genuine life of thought, a life of ideas. In the middle
yet prevails the old inertness of thought, there is no initiative in the creativity of idea, and
shreds of the old world of thought drag on in their miserable existence. Middling thought,
imagining itself as the intelligent, arrives at a condition of complete absurdity. We are
endlessly bumping up against static thought, while dynamic thought is nowise apparent.
But thought by its nature is dynamic, it is an eternal developing of spirit, before it stand
eternally new tasks, eternally new worlds are disclosed, and it mustneeds bestow
eternally creative solutions. When thought is made static -- it shrivels up and dies. For
many of our foremost Westernisers thought came to a stop 60 years ago, and they -- are
the guardians of this old thought, they halted at a very elementary stage of enlightenment,
which arose back in the West during the XVIII Century. These people in the area of
thought are neither progressive nor revolutionary, they are rather conservators and
guardians; they aspire backwards, towards the rational enlightenment, they re-warm long
since chilled-down thoughts and are hostile to any heated blazing of thought.


The creative developement of ideas does not occasion for itself any sort of strong
interest in the broad circles of the Russian Intelligentsia community. For us it has even
included the conviction, that for social actions ideas are altogether unnecessary or needed
only in minimum supply, which always it was possible to find in the supplies of the
traditional, the long ago cooled-off and static-ossified thought. All our developements in
1905 were not inspired by vitally creative ideas, it fed itself off ideas that were tepidly
warm-cold, but was torn asunder by heated passions and interests. And this ideational
poverty has been fateful. In the last fifty years for us there has been expressed many a
creative idea, and ideas not only abstract, but of life and concrete. But surrounding all
these ideas there has still formed no sort of cultural atmosphere, nor has there arisen any
sort of social stirring. These ideas hold on in a few circles. The world of ideas and the
world of sociality remain disconnected. On the part of the social element there has been
no demand for ideas, there were no commands for ideational creativity, it had enough
with the pitiful remnants of the old ideas. All the abnormality and sickness of the spiritual
condition of our society was particularly sensed, when the world war started, requiring
the exertion of all powers, not only material, but also spiritual. It was impossible to
engage the world tragedy with the stock of old enlightenment ideas, of the old rationalist-
sociological schemata. Man, armed with but these antiquated ideational armaments, was
left to sense himself crushed and cast off onto the beehive of history. The humanitarian-
pacifist current, always very elemental and simplistic, was powerless before the
gruesome face of the historical destiny, the historical tragedy. If for us there had been an
insufficient material preparation for the war, then also there was not a sufficient
ideational preparation. The traditional ideas, for decades prevailing for us, were
completely useless for the measures being played out in the world of events. Everything
was shifted from its usual place, everything requires a completely new creative work of
thought, a new ideational inspiration. Our social element during the time of
unprecedented world catastrophe was poor in ideas, insufficiently inspired. We are paid
back for the long period of indifference towards ideas. The ideas, upon which the old
authority rested, have ultimately crumbled. It was impossible to revive them by any
means. No sort of poisoned mystical justifications can help, drawn forth from the old
supply. But the ideas of the Russian social element, appealing for the rebuilding of
Russian life and the renovation of authority, had become chilled off and weather beaten
earlier than the hour which transpired for their realisation in life. It remains to turn things
around towards a creative life of idea, which imperceptibly impends in the world. Shaken
loose are the ideological bases of Russian conservatism and Russian radicalism. There is
need to pass over into another ideational format.

In the world struggle of peoples the Russian people ought to have its own idea,
ought to bear into it its own tempering of spirit. Russians cannot be content by negative
ideas of repelling German militarism and gloomy defeat by an internal reaction. Russians
in this struggle ought to rebuild not only civilly and socially, but also to rebuild
ideationally and spiritually. The shameful indifference towards ideas, reinforcing the
backwardness and stony petrification of thought, ought to be replaced by a new ideational
inspiration and ideational ascent. The soil is harrowed loose, and the time is propitious
for ideational propagation, upon which all our future depends. In this very difficult and
demanding hour of our history we find ourselves in a condition of ideational anarchy and
muck, in our spirit takes place a rotting process, bound up with the putrefaction of
thought both conservative and revolutionary, of ideas both of the right and of the left. But
in the depths of the Russian people there is a living spirit, concealing great possibilities.
In the loosened soil there ought to sprout the seeds of new thought and new life. The
maturing of Russia towards a world role presupposes its spiritual rebirth.

Nikolai Berdyaev

(Jan.) 1917

© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1917 - 256(15,9) - en)

OB OTNOSHENII RUSSKIKH K IDEYAM. First published in the journal “Russkaya

mysl’”, Jan. 1917, p. 66-73. Republished in 1918 Berdyaev's anthology text of articles,
“Sud’ba Rossii” (“The Fate of Russia”), Ch. 9, (p. 295-302 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog
reprint). Article reprinted also in 1989 YMCA Press Tom 3 of Berdyaev’s writings, --
“Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, p. 50-59.


(1917 - #266)

Many a word, now enjoying wide currency on the streets, bears a character of
magical effect; many a formula, now wending its way, assumes a sacral guise and is
accepted by the masses not only without criticism, but also without understanding. And
to such magical-incantational words belongs the word "bourgeoise" and "bourgeoisness".
This word at present has a grip upon the masses, the masses find themselves enslaved to
this word, the meaning of which cannot be adequately comprehended. The word falls into
a dark obscurity, not prepared to encompass complex meanings, and it does not enlighten
the darkness, but instead only increases it. The incantation arouses some sort of dark
instincts, corresponds to some sort of interests, but no sort of clear concepts and ideas can
be connected with it. What is the understanding of "bourgeoise" at the present day?
Under "bourgeoise" is understood not simply the industrial class, not simply the
capitalists, not the "third estate". With us at present the category of "bourgeoise" is
employed in immeasurably more broad a sense. All of Russia, all of mankind is divided
into two irreconcilable worlds, two realms -- a realm of evil, of darkness, the devil -- the
bourgeois realm, and a realm godly, good, of light -- the socialistic realm. In its own way
in this psychology there is a re-experiencing of the old, age-old religious division and
opposition, but in a distorted form. The Social Democrats, having poisoned the working
masses with a destructive hatred for the "bourgeoise" and "bourgeoisness", make use of
these words in a social-class, materialistic sense, and upon their own social-class point of
view they bestow an almost religious stamp. This positivist-materialist, social-class sense
of the world cannot ultimately hold up. And the socialists, the materialists are compelled
to admit, that "bourgeoisness" reflects a certain psychological disposition. A certain
frame of values regarding life, not so much a condition of social matter, as rather an
attitude of the human spirit towards it. A "bourgeois" disposition and a "bourgeois" set of
values can be in a man, not belonging to the bourgeois class, no wise possessing property,
and on the contrary, someone bourgeois as regards his class position can also be without
such a "bourgeoisness". It is quite indisputable, that "bourgeoisness" is a condition of the
human spirit, and not the social-class position of a man, -- it defines itself by a
relationship of spirit to material life, by a spirit unfree and powerless to overcome the
force of matter, rather than by material life itself.

The great strugglers against the bourgeois spirit in the XIX Century were
Nietzsche and Ibsen, who were not socialists, they did not have any sort of relationship to
the proletariat and at present, surely, they would be consigned to the realm of the
"bourgeoise", since at present the street wisdom consigns to the "bourgeoise" all the
people of spirit. And perhaps the most vivid expression of the anti-bourgeois spirit in
Russian literature was that of the reactionary, K. Leont'ev, -- all his life's work was a
struggle against the impending grey-dull realm of Philistinism. His spirit was less
"bourgeois", than the spirit of all the "Bolsheviks" and "Mensheviks", aspiring to the dull
happiness of their earthly paradise. In France there is the remarkable writer Leon Bloy,
unique as a Catholic, a reactionary's reactionary, having nothing in common with
socialism, and he rose up with an unprecedented radicalism against the primary
foundations of bourgeoisness, against the bourgeois spirit reigning in the world, against
the bourgeois wisdom. As a Christian, he revealed the metaphysical and spiritual grounds
of bourgeoisness and he grasped the mystery of the bourgeois, as in opposition to the
mystery of Golgotha. The "bourgeois" always prefers the visible over the invisible,
always prefers this world -- over the other world. Nietzsche would have said, that the
"bourgeois" always loves more what is "closer at hand", than the "remote". The spirit of
bourgeoisness is opposed to the mountain-heights spirit of Zarathustra. Ibsen would have
said, that to the bourgeois spirit is opposed the spirit of that man, who stands the path of
life alone. To the bourgeois, spirit is profoundly and essentially opposed -- not the
socialist and proletariat spirit, but rather the aristocratic spirit. The bourgeois realm is a
realm of the quantitative. To it stands opposed the realm of the qualitative. The bourgeois
spirit builds everything on the basis of welfare, felicity and satisfaction. The spirit such as
is the polar opposite to it tends to build on the basis of values, it has to gravitate towards
the great spiritual far-off. The bourgeois spirit therefore does not love and indeed is afraid
of sacrifice, whereas the anti-bourgeois spirit at its basis is sacrificial, even when it
asserts power. The bourgeoisness was not created by socialism, it was created by the old,
the decrepit world. But socialism accepts the legacy of bourgeoisness, it desires to
increase and develop it and carry this spirit on to an universal triumph. Socialism is but a
passive reflexion upon the bourgeois world, it has been wholly defined by it and received
all its values from it. In it there is no creative freedom.


The ideal of the ultimate arranging of this world and of an ultimate satisfaction and
happiness in this world, killing off the thirst for an other world, is also a bourgeois ideal,
is also within the bounds of bourgeoisness, an all-encompassing and just distribution of
bourgeoisness over all the earth. The bourgeois spirit -- is first of all an anti-religious
spirit. Bourgeoisness is an anti-religious satisfaction with this world, the desire to assert
in it an eternal principle and to fasten down the human spirit to this kingdom, in
preferring the world -- over God. And the very idea of the Kingdom of God upon earth,
in this three-dimensional material world is a bourgeois distortion of a true religious
expectation. In the old Jewish chiliasm there was a bourgeoisness, which has passed over
into the new with its socialistic transformation. The bourgeois senses himself exclusively
a citizen of this isolated world and of this surface of the earth, foreign to him is heavenly
citizenship, the citizenship of other worlds. For the bourgeois, heaven is always
exclusively contrived for the interests of the earth, and the other world -- for the interests
of this world. Suchlike is the religiosity of the bourgeois. And truly the anti-bourgeois is
that one, who puts the holding of values as higher than well-being, puts the inward higher
than the outward, sacrifice higher than satisfaction, quality higher than quantity, the
remote higher than the near at hand, the other world higher than this world, the person
higher than the impersonal masses, and who loves God more than the world and one's
own self. This means also the clash of two polarly opposite world principles. The
bourgeois is a destroyer of the eternal in the name of the temporal, a slave of time and
matter. The duping of the world, the duping of men and the human mob is also a basic
trait. But the inward freedom of spirit, the victory over the power of temporality and
materiality is also a victory over "bourgeoisness". Christ condemned wealth, as being a
slavery of spirit, as being chained down to this limited world. The meaning of this
condemnation is not social, but rather spiritual, oriented towards the inner man, and it
least of all can be used to justify envy and hatred for the rich. This envy and hatred is a
bourgeois stirring of the human heart and reveals all that selfsame slavery of the human

And it mustneeds resolutely be stated, that within socialism there is nothing

opposing the spirit of bourgeoisness, there is in it no sort of antidote against the ultimate
reign of bourgeoisness in the world. A worker can be no less the typical bourgeois, than
the industrialist or merchant, his economically oppressed position does not guarantee him
any sort of spiritual qualities, and often it even deprives him of nobility of character.
Bourgeoisness is not dependent upon belonging to a particular class, though whole
classes can be caught up in a spirit of bourgeoisness. In essence, every class psychology
-- is bourgeois, and the bourgeoisness is conquered only then, when man gets above the
class psychology in the name of higher values, in the name of truth. The workers and the
peasants, in their purely class psychology, in their interests, can be spiritually bourgeois
just the same, as the industrialists, the merchants and the land-owners, and this is nowise
affected, in that the interests of the former be more just, than the interests of the latter.
For a class socialism, making pretense to the creativity of a new culture, it is fatal that all
the higher values, the values of spiritual culture, the values of "science and art" should
have been created by the bourgeoise, in the social class sense. The working class has not
created any sort of values, has not discovered the rudiments of creativity of a new culture,
of a new spiritual type of man. It borrows everything from the bourgeoise, it feeds off it
spiritually and fatally becomes "bourgeois" in the measure of its growth of being
cultured, its consciousness, its sharing in the blessings of civilisation. For the fifty years
of its most heroic existence, the socialist proletariat -- this "messiah-class" -- has created
nothing. In the sphere of religious awareness, the socialist proletariat has appropriated for
itself the old bourgeois atheism and the old bourgeois materialistic philosophy, in the
moral sphere -- the old bourgeois utilitarian morality, in the sphere of artistic life it has
inherited the bourgeois alienation from beauty, the bourgeois dislike for symbolism and
the bourgeois love for realism. The level of proletarian culture has not been lifted higher
than the quite old, banal and as regards a more cultural segment -- the long since decrepit
"enlightenmentism". The intellectual wretchedness of the socialist movement is striking.
Is this how Christianity entered into the declining world of antiquity with its good news
about new life? Where is it possible to find the signs of an original proletarian creativity?
It is not the impulses of creativity, but rather the biding of interests that guides class
psychology. The value itself of socialism was created by the bourgeoise, by the bourgeois
cultural segment, to which belonged also the first utopian-socialists, and Marx, and
Lassalle, and Engels, and the Russian ideologues of the Social Democrats, and of the
Social Revolutionaries. For the proletariat, socialism is an interpretation of their interests
and immediate instincts. And only for the ideologues from the bourgeois cultural segment
has it been an idea, a value. How the interests and greedy instincts of some particular
class can be transformed into an idea and value for separate figures who have emerged
from other classes, -- this is a most interesting problem of the psychology and ideology of


Socialism also is an ideal ultimately bourgeois, of a bourgeoisness as such

equitable and universally spread about, the ideal of a forever attachment like serfs to this
world in a bourgeois well-being. It would be foolish to expect from socialism a victory
over the modern "bourgeois" culture -- it would only carry it on further to its end. The
bourgeoisness mustneeds be sought not in the outward forms of socialism, but in its
inward spirit. This spirit regards quantity higher than quality, well-being higher than
value, the impersonal masses higher than the person, satisfaction higher than sacrifice,
the world higher than God, -- this spirit is fastened down to this world, it is caught up in
necessity, and not in freedom. Socialism through the present time has not come out with
any sort of values, besides the values of material security, satisfaction and satiety.
Spiritually it lives by values, created by the "bourgeois" world, its creativity, its sciences
and arts, its discoveries. The promises to manifest forms of creativity purely proletarian,
purely socialistic, have not been fulfilled, and the socialist movement draws away all
farther and farther from the fulfillment of these promises. The socialistic spirit stands
with an hostile attitude towards every sort of creative personal originality, in which only
can there be sought an antidote against "bourgeoisness". Socialism represents spiritually a
leveling, it leads all to a median dull-grey level, it gains a certain raising of the level of
equality at the dear price of the disappearance of all the heights. Listen to the talk of the
Social Democrats, read their newspapers, their brochures, their books. They all say one
and the same thing, they write all the same language, they repeat the same words, they
relive the same dull-grey thoughts. Nowhere is there apparent the person, personal
thought, personal creativity. It is almost to the extent of being vexatious. There descends
a grey foggy mist and promises a grey paradise, a paradise of non-being. The ideal of
socialism -- is not creative, but rather expansive, not lofty, but equitable, and flat. The
"bourgeois" world -- is indeed half-fast and sinful a world, in it are no enduring values.
Socialism desires as it were to affirm an ultimate "bourgeoisness", a sacred
"bourgeoisness", an equitable, a correct, an wholistic "bourgeoisness". The religion of
socialism falls for the temptation of the loaves of bread, spurned by Christ in the
wilderness. Socialism makes bread into a religion and for bread it betrays the spiritual
freedom of man. Dostoevsky reveals this in his legend about the Grand Inquisitor. And
Vl. Solov'ev also reveals this in his story about the Anti-Christ. Christ spurned the
temptation of bread and taught to pray instead for daily bread.

I think, that the spirit of the materialistic class socialism, particularly in its Social
Democratic form, is a deeply bourgeois spirit, a deeply anti-Christian spirit. But I say this
not as an enemy of socialism. I think, that in socialism there is its own great truth and its
own great question. But I think likewise, that the blame for the spiritual lie and untruth of
socialism rests not upon it, but upon those social segments, which first entered upon the
path of bourgeoisness, the path of the enslavement of spirit by materiality and class
assertion. Socialism has but a reflective nature, it only continues on with the process, and
does not start it, it lacks for initiative spiritually, and is only completive. The truth such as
it is in socialism can only be realised in a different spirit, in a different spiritual
atmosphere, in other than a materialistic consciousness, and without the class hatred,
without pretension to the forceful establishing of the Kingdom of God upon earth,
through some revolutionary cataclysm, but rather with a preserving of inward spiritual
freedom. In the thralldom to its own passions, under the deceit of the interests and
instincts of the masses there cannot be created a kingdom of freedom. The spirit of class
hatred and malice leads to a denial of the image of God in man, it breaks down the idea of
mankind and leaves it situated in an irreconcilable contradiction of the hopes of socialism
itself. Social greed is an human sin, but social greed, established as an utmost sanctity, is
already the spirit of the Anti-Christ. Everything is twofold within socialism and within
democracy, -- the truth gets jumbled together with lie, the light with darkness, Christ with
the Anti-Christ. World life is entering into a period, when there is no longer a crystal
clear clarity, there are no easily recognised boundaries, separating the realm of light from
the realm of darkness. The human spirit has set facing it the greatest of trials and
temptations. Temptations of the greatest evil can appear under the guise of the good. And
there is needed a vigilance of spirit and a sobriety of spirit, in order to unriddle the
twofold nature of socialism, which moves along in the world with a newly promised
realm. And incapable of discernment are those, who remain in a condition of primitive
drunkenness and spiritual slavery.

Into the still dark masses of the Russian people have been thrown -- the seeds of
hatred towards the "bourgeoise" and "bourgeoisness". The meaning of these hateful
words remains misunderstood for the masses. And the way in which the masses
assimilate these conjurative words about the "bourgeoise" and "bourgeoisness", tends to
arouse something dangerous not only for the fate of Russia, the Russian state, the Russian
people's economy, but -- a thousand times more importantly -- for the fate of the very
soul of the Russian people, a soul feminine, dejected and frail, not having gone the way
of the severe school of self-discipline and self-direction. The preaching of hatred towards
the "bourgeoise" and "bourgeoisness" also makes the Russian people "bourgeois",
distorts its Christian visage. For awhile we have still a quiet, a sort of benevolent anarchy,
so characteristic for the Russian tribe. But there can come about something more vexing.
And then the responsibility will fall not upon the people, but upon those segments of he
Intelligentsia, which in having no wont for perceiving the deep meaning of words, tend to
throw them around irresponsibly, and superficially. Thus within the Russian soul is killed
what is holy, giving way to the rule of special interests. But the Intelligentsia itself ought
to be preaching, that the basic division within the world and mankind remains not some
temporal division into a realm "socialistic" and a realm "bourgeois", but rather a division
into realms of truth and of lie, of good and evil, a Kingdom of God and that of the devil,
of Christ and that of the Anti-Christ. In the spiritual sense of the word, only Christianity
stands forever against "bourgeoisness". In it, the inner man gains victory over the outer
Nikolai Berdyaev


O BURZHUAZNOSTI I SOTSIALIZME. Published originally in the weekly

"Russkaya svoboda", 13 June 1917, No. 8, p. 3-8, Petrograd-Moscow.

Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of

1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, "Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii
(Stat'i 1917-18)" ("Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)",
Paris, 1990, p. 19-28.



During the final years before the Revolution we were smothered with lies. The
provocation was made at the instigation of the Russian statecraft of the Old Regime. The
atmosphere was thick with betrayal. Azephovism, Rasputinism, Sukhomlinovism -- all
this poisoned the life of the people and rotted the Russian state. In the final months before
the turnabout, the muddled air became intolerable, it was impossible to breathe, and
everything became ambiguous. The image of the old powers became twofold. The Old
Regime a long time already had lived by the lie. It continued to exist through inertia, and
the passivity of the people sustained it. The moral disintegration had reached
unprecedented dimensions. Amongst those active for the old power in the final period of
its existence it was difficult to encounter people with a clear human image, such people
comprised the exception and they did not long last. In the hours of the finish of the
Russian tsarism, it was surrounded by the likes of Grigorii Rasputin, the Sukhomlinovi,
the Shtiurmeri, the Protopovi, the Voeikovi, the Manusevichi-Manuilovi and suchlike,
duplicitous and nebulous figures. The old Russian monarchy drowned in its muck, in its
lies, in its wont for betrayal and provocations. It not so much was overthrown, as rather
that it disintegrated and collapsed. The Russian Revolution was not so much the result of
an accumulation of creative powers, of creative impulses towards new life, as rather the
result of an accumulation of negative conditions, of processes of rot in the old life. This
facilitated the triumph of the Revolution in its initial days and gave it a strong push in its
ultimate course. The destructive powers seized the upper hand over the creative powers.
The sickness seemed too far-gone, its consequences passed over into the new Russia, and
they remain active, like an inner poison. The Revolution in its accomplishments of an
elementary political freedom has come too late, and namely because in it there prevails a
social maximalism, which always is the result of the unpreparedness of the masses, beset
by darkness. The storm has abated, it was irreversible and was sent down by Providence.
But the atmosphere has not cleared. For us it is no easier to breathe after the
revolutionary storm, the air has not become clear and lucid, the muck remains, and as
before there prevail ambiguous and duplicitous figures, though also in new guises, the lie
as before reigns in our societal life, the wont for betrayal and provocation has not been
removed, although Sukhomlinov and Shtiurmer sit in prison. The old people, entangled in
lies and having lost their moral centre, appear in new attire and veil themselves behind
new words. As before there are no people for truth, there is no acknowledgement of the
self-sufficiency and absolute value of truth, something which cannot be sacrificed away
for any sort of utilitarian and greedy aims, parties, classes or persons.

There are mouths, spouting hatred and contempt for Nicholas II, that formerly spoke
about "the God-given monarch", about fidelity and service to the tsar. Much of this, that
never was sacred, was transformed into a conditional lie, and the words had lost their real
content. All the frightful part was in this, that long ago already the "God" aspect being
honoured was not God, but rather "Caesar", and this transgressing of a basic
commandment, this fashioning for oneself idols of every sort upon the earth, this idolatry
has poisoned the life of the Russian people. But here the old idol of autocracy has been
cast down and trampled in the dirt. Just as always happens, the crowd, shortly before
worshipping it, now tramples it underfoot. But after the casting down of the old idols,
have we become free of all idolatry, from everywhere honouring as God the Kingdom of
Caesar? No, we have not become free of such. There have arisen new idols, which have
been set up higher than the truth of God. The idol-worship, which always is a betrayal of
the Living God, has remained, it has but assumed new forms. There has begun a new
fashioning of idols, there has appeared many a new idol and earthly little-gods, --
"Revolution", "Socialism", "Democracy", "Internationalism", "Proletariat" etc. All these
idols and little-gods belong the same to the kingdom of "Caesar", just as did the old idol
of the tsar's autocracy, and upon them are bestown godly honours. The realm of Caesar in
a Christian, Gospel sense of the word is not some sort of perpetual autocracy, monarchy,
connected unfailingly with tsar or emperor, it is broader and more varied, and to it also
can belong a democratic realm. Around the worship of new idols in the Kingdom of
Caesar there has already well accumulated many a lie and murkiness. The new idolatry,
just like the old, screens out the sunlight of truth. Never does the idol-worship proceed
along gratis for the moral nature of man and the people, it morally cripples and maims by
way of the lie. Man, in worshipping something on earth in place of God, already ceases
distinguishing truth from falsehood, he is rendered obsessed, he -- becomes a slave of
temporal relative things, in the name of which everything becomes permissible.


Revolution is but a moment within the life of a people, a temporary function, a

passing and transitory condition, through which it can pass over to an higher and free life,
but always sickly and onerous, evoked by the piling up of the old evil. When some
whatever the man lances a festering boil, then it would be terrible to acknowledge this as
something most luminous and divine in the man, and to substitute replacing the man
himself with this moment in the developement of the process of sickness within him. But
with us namely this is the process occurring in relation to the Revolution, which is but the
opening up of a festering boil on the body of Russia. The transforming of the Revolution
itself into a god and bestowing upon it the honouring of a god is a repulsive idol-worship,
a forgetting of the true God. This is no better, than to worship Caesar as an idol, it is of
the same nature. Russia previously replaced dynasties, which led it to make sacrifices;
now Russia has it replaced by the revolution, which likewise will cause it to make
sacrifices. If the "God-given monarchy" is transformed into a repulsive and ugly lie, than
in suchlike a lie it can be transformed into a "God-given revolution", if it does not
become subject to an higher truth. Truth however stands higher than all the changes into
the Kingdom of Caesar, in it [i.e. truth] there is nothing ambiguous, wavering and
variable, it is lodged by God Himself within the human heart, and its discernment is a
foremost task and most accurate path to a new and free life. Idolatry always precipitates
down into the realm of lies and enslaves one. And we are already situated in a quite
terrible slavery of lies. An innumerable quantity of lies has poisoned the awareness of the
people, the heart of the simple people in the dark, those little ones, and dimmed their
minds. Formerly, before the Revolution the people were poisoned by one lie, now they
are poisoned by another lie. Demagoguery is a lie, elevated into a principle, into a
guiding principle of life. The demagogue considers every lie appropriate to the attaining
of his goals, for enticing the masses. All the revolutionary-socialistic phraseology of our
day is being transformed all more and more into a conditional lie, similar to the lie from
that phraseology, upon which rested the Old Regime. Those, who hide themselves behind
the veils of lofty words about the sanctity of the Fatherland, the state and the Church, too
often in fact have betrayed the Fatherland, undermined the state and surrendered the
Church into the grip of the dark powers. And thus do many of those deal with the Divine
value of freedom, veiling themselves under the new revolutionary phraseology. The real
significance and the real weight of words is lost, since behind these words stand the
human souls of scoundrels.

"Dark and irresponsible influences" the same thus begin to govern the revolution,
just as they had governed the old ruling powers. Betrayal, provocation and cruel greed
thus veil themselves the same behind loud slogans of "Internationalism", "Revolutionary
Socialism" etc., just as earlier they had been veiled behind loud slogans of
"Monarchism", "True-Russian Patriotism" etc. Bolshevism has too much in common with
Rasputinism and the Black Hundreds. The Reds and the Blacks in the colours of the
masses has ultimately gotten all jumbled together. Even prior to the Revolution one
tended to hear from respected Social-Democrats, that in the midst of Bolshevism it was
difficult to distinguish the revolutionaries from the provocateurs and traitors. The moral
principle itself revolutionary maximalism is such, that it makes difficult any distinctions,
since everything is declared permissible for revolutionary aims and truth is not
considered essential. There coalesces an underground atmosphere, an apprehensive fear
of light. In this atmosphere Azeph flourished. This atmosphere was always muddled with
the security forces, with the departments of the police, with murky underground Court
influences. This underground and ambiguous atmosphere did not disappear after the
turnabout, it passed over into the new and free Russia, where thee ought not to be such a
place for underground intrigues. The conveyers of this atmosphere were primarily
Bolsheviks. The disclosures, which were made after 4 July about the German espionage,
about the treason and betrayal among those, who called themselves internationalists and
the solely true Bolshevik-Socialists, tend to have too much in common with what was
revealed about Myasoedov and Sukhomlinov, and with what fell out surrounding the
name Shtiurmer and the German party at Court. It reeked in spirit. We have not gotten
free nor cleansed, we are all still in slavery to the dark powers, we are all still languishing
in the underground. The Revolution has undergone a moral corruption, its idealistic
elements have been squeezed out and fallen into slavery to dark ambiguous elements. The
nihilism from the right and the nihilism from the left -- are of the selfsame nature.


In the name of "Revolution" now is permitted the same sort of lie, as earlier was
permitted in the name of "Monarchy". The prestige of the idol is set higher than the truth,
the simple and in its simplicity Divine truth. The Revolution has not freed us from the
false guarding of the prestige of the prevailing powers, it demands the guarding of its
own prestige foremost of all. And this provides the push onto the path of falsehood. The
new, the free life will begin in Russia only then, when in the name of truth, set
uppermost, there is the consent to sacrifice every prestige, every conditional lie, -- of the
Revolution, just as with the Monarchy. Let reign the prestige of truth itself, which with
all its powers ought to be revealed in the heart of the people, and let vanish every
falsehood, all the conditional phraseology! It is time already to loudly declare, that the lie
with its principle has poisoned the Russian freedom and plunged us into slavery. The
Socialist parties with their maximalist bent have from their very start permitted the lie for
the guarding of their own prestige, the prestige of the Revolution, since they worshipped
not God but an idol. Many a lie and untruth has begun to hold sway in Russian life. All
these demagogic cries about the "bourgeoise", "bourgeoisness" and "bourgeois", to which
also have been enumerated all thinking and educated Russia, all these inquests into
"bourgeois countre-revolution" from the very start have been an ugly lie. Beyond pushing
off from the coasts and sailing the sea, the bourgeoise of the Russian peasant-kingdom do
not in any genuine and precise sense of the word play any role amongst us. Such still
faces a progressive developement. The real danger, countre-revolution, threatens
exclusively from the side of the Bolsheviks and anarchists. Reasonable and respectable
Socialists finally begin to perceive this, but they do not want to loudly talk about this out
of fear of causing a loss of prestige for revolutionary socialism. There was an ugly lie in
the assertion, that the war was being waged exclusively in the name of the grasping
interests of an international bourgeoise, led by P. N. Miliukov. And this then, when it
involved the matter of the elementary defense of the Fatherland and its honour. There
was an ugly lie in the veiling over of desertion and quite greedy egoism with loud words
about internationalism and the brotherhood of peoples. All this lie undermined the army
and prepared for us an unheard of scandal of treason and flight from the field of conflict.
An ugly lie -- was in the assertion, that the human mass as it were could exist and fulfill
its duty without state, churchly or cultural discipline. The masses, having returned to the
natural state, are transformed into disorderly mobs and in the final end into beastly
hordes. It is an ugly lie to term as socialism the greedy and grasping interests of the
elemental masses, not subject to any sort of a common and higher truth. An ugly lie is in
the view, that the Petrograd events of 4 July have no direct connection with the
Bolsheviks, and that the responsibility for this rests upon the emergence of some sort of
countre-revolutionary elements and even upon the withdrawal of the Cadet ministers. It is
an ugly lie that cries out, that the People's Freedom Party -- is bourgeois, that it defends
the interests of the capitalists, and that in it is lodged the seeds of countre-revolution.
Honestly and as regards the actual reality, this party can as it were be accused of a certain
academism, an over-reliance upon external constitutional forms, a clumsiness in
attracting to itself the broader masses, in evoking any passionate responses from them,
and in insufficient strength and will. This -- is the party of a legislative idealism, the least
greedy of our parties, clean of any demagoguery, but suffering with party bureaucratism.
In its composition, the Cadet Party is the party of the utmost Intelligentsia of the land, of
professors and Zemstvo members, while any "bourgeois" elements in the precise sense of
the word play in it but an insignificant role. It is an ugly lie to confess the principles of
democracy, to demand a Constituent Assembly, while deciding everything prior to the
Constituent assembly and without out. The revolutionary Socialistic Democracy prior to
the Constituent Assembly, i.e. without the will of the sovereign people, is deciding the
form of governance, the agrarian question, regional autonomy and suchlike basic
questions. But the truth consists in this, that for revolutionary socialism altogether
unneeded are the principles of democracy and unneeded is the Constituent Assembly,
since it represents a danger for any purely class party, because it subordinates every class
to the will of the nation. And it is the Cadets namely that appear at present to be the most
consistent democrats. There is the falsehood too in proclaiming maximal social slogans,
the actual and real achievement of which there is no belief in, and which are proclaimed
only for attracting the masses. There is an ugly lie in bowing down to the mass elements
of the Revolution, to seek in it itself the criteria of truth and right and to term as countre-
revolutionary every attempt to subordinate this mass element to criteria of truth and right,
such as is independent of the capriciousness of the human masses. It is a lie -- to proclaim
freedom and at every step to impede it. An heap of lies forms the murkiness in the
revolutionary atmosphere. Only the truth, independent of rapid shifts by days and hours,
and not dependent upon the inconstant instincts of the masses, can set us free. Politics has
been poisoned by falsehood, with some -- for craven ends, and with others -- for ends
more lofty, but still bereft of moral bases. All this leads to an awareness of the eternal
truth, that the rebirth of a people cannot be exclusively external and material-social, that
it has to be first of all an inward changing of the soul of a people, a victory within it of
truth over the lie, of God over mere idols, with a spiritual restoration of the health of the
human person. The voice of truth and a basic moral instinct compel one to admit, that in
the present threatening hour what matters is the saving of our native-land, the saving of
Russia, and not the Revolution, and that the governance of a national salvation can only
be of such a government, in which are included representatives of all the groups, and all
the parties, and not the party of a single class, which cannot hold the trust of the nation.
The politics of a governance of national salvation can only be a politics of all the nation
in common.

Nikolai Berdyaev.

24 July 1917
Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of
1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, "Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii
(Stat'i 1917-18)" ("Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)",
Paris, 1990, p. 83-91.

The Religious Foundations

of Bolshevism
(From the Religious Psychology of the Russian People)



Such a setting of theme might evoke astonishment. What relationship has

Bolshevism to religion? The Bolsheviks, just like the overwhelming majority of the
Social Democrats, -- are materialists, positivists, atheists, foreign to them is every
religious interest, and they mock at any religious setting of themes. Everyone tends to
say, that Bolshevism is a phenomenon totally non-religious and anti-religious. All this is
indeed so, if we stay at the surface and regard as conclusive those word formulas, in
which people tend to cloak their consciousness. But I think, that the Bolsheviks themself,
as so often transpires, know not the final truth about themself, do not perceive, of what
sort of spirit they are. To recognise about them a final truth, to recognise, of what sort of
spirit they are, is possible only for people of a religious consciousness, endowed with a
religious criterion of distinction. And here, I am wont to say, that Russian Bolshevism --
is the manifestation of a religious order, in it are active certain ultimately religious
energies, if by religious energy be understood not only that, oriented towards God. A
religious substitute, an inverted religion, a pseudo-religion -- is indeed likewise the
manifestation of a religious order, in it there is its own absoluteness, its own final end, its
own all-encompassing aspect, its own pseudo and phantasmic plenitude. Bolshevism is
not merely politics, not simply a social struggle, it is not a partialised and differentiated
sphere of human activity. Bolshevism is a state of spirit and a phenomenon of spirit, an
entire world-sense and world-outlook. Bolshevism has pretentions to seize upon the
whole of man, all his powers, it seeks to give answer to all the questions of man, upon all
the human torments. Bolshevism seeks to be not merely some-thing, not merely a part,
not some separate sphere of life, but rather the all, and all-encompassing. As a fanatic
faith-confession, it does not tolerate anything alongside it, does not want to have anything
separate from it, it wants to be the all and in all. Bolshevism indeed is socialism, having
reached a religious disposition and a religious exclusiveness. In this it is akin to the
French revolutionary syndicalism. In all its formal signs Bolshevism displays religious
pretentions, and it is necessary to define, of what sort is this religion, of what sort is the
spirit that it conveys with it into the world.
Revolutionary Social Democracy has become subject to a process of fading
intensity, of becoming bourgeois, of differentiation, it gradually is becoming transformed
into a practical social politics of the evolutionary-reform type. The pathos of
revolutionary socialism imperceptibly has become weather-beaten. The European Social
Democrats have become cultural people, they have acknowledged such "bourgeois"
values, as nationality and the state, and their teleological world-concept has become
transformed into a partialised matter. Only within the consciousness of the Russian
Bolsheviks does the revolutionary socialism remain a religion, with which by fire and
sword they want to thrust upon the world. This is something upon the order of a new
Islam, in which they want to merit themself paradise by the killing of unbelievers. The
Bolsheviks, just like all religious fanatics, divide all the world and all mankind into two
realms -- the realm of God, the realm of the socialistic proletariat, in opposition to the
realm of the devil, the bourgeois realm. But all the while I shall be speaking about the
sincere, the believing Bolsheviks, since in this medium there are also many dark
elements, provocateurs, spies, the corrupt, and moral idiots.

The religious basis of Bolshevism for the time being is very unclear and for many
unnoticed. But a Christian, believing in the Christ having come and awaiting the Christ to
come, has to assume the audacity to declare, what sort of spirit it is that enters the world
with the fanatical revolutionary socialism of the Bolsheviks. The Russian great writers --
Dostoevsky in the "Legend about the Grand Inquisitor", and Vl. Solov'ev in his "Tale
about the Anti-Christ" -- help us to solve the riddle of this spirit. Russian religious
thought has done much for exposing the ultimate religious foundations of socialism, for
making apparent its twofold nature, it has done this moreso, than has Western thought.
Within Russian religious thought there has always been an apocalyptic disposition and
striving. And therefore it has succeeded in making clear, that this is the spirit, of one who
is to appear at the end times and who will tempt with his semblance to Christ, who will
act in the name of the happiness and well-being of people, in the name of a million happy
infants, not knowing sin. This spirit desires to leave people happy, having deprived them
of spiritual freedom. For the renouncing of their spiritual birthright, the renouncing of the
image of God in man and his Divine destiny, the Grand Inquisitor promises happiness,
bliss, world-unity and tranquility. "He sets about to the merit of himself and his, that the
final thing is that they shall have vanquished freedom, and rendered things thus, that they
have made people happy". "Yes, we shall force them to work, but in their hours free of
toil we shall arrange their life, as child's play, with childish songs, with choruses and
dancing. Oh, we shall absolve them also their sins, for they are weak and without
strength". "And all will be happy, all the millions of beings". "If it were to be in that light,
then certainly already it is not for such, as they are". And the hero of the "Legend about
the Anti-Christ" -- is a great philanthropist, he likewise wants to make people happy, he
ultimately resolves the social question and installs a social paradise, but all this at a
terrible price.


Dostoevsky and Solov'ev prophetically and with genius revealed this twofold image
of suchlike future alluring millions of infants. When one ponders what at present is
occurring, one tends to remember then the truth of the words of the Legend of the Grand
Inquisitor: "Nothing ever for man and human society has been more unbearable than
freedom". Both the "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" and the "Tale about the Anti-Christ"
posit the problem concerning the Anti-Christian connection with the problem of
socialism. And truly within socialism, as a worldwide phenomenon on a massive scale,
there is something twofold and divided -- within it truth is mixed together with lie, Christ
with the Anti-Christ, a principle liberating together with a principle enslaving. Socialism
-- is a very complicated phenomenon, complicated both in idea, and complicated in life.
And it is impossible simply to be a friend of socialism or its enemy. The alluring
temptation of the Anti-Christ is grounded upon this, that the ultimate evil manifests itself
under the guise of seeming good, that this ultimate evil is impossible to distinguish on the
surface, that the evil power acts in the name of the well-being of mankind, in the name of
lofty, just, beautiful aims, in the name of equality and brotherhood, in the name of
universal happiness and felicity. Upon this basis rests all the whole seductive dialectics of
the spirit of the Anti-Christ, as revealed by Dostoevsky. This spirit accepts all those
temptations, spurned by Christ in the wilderness. This spirit conducts the Inquisitor's acts
of violence in the name of the well-being and happiness of people, in the name of justice
and equality. Socialism, as a religion, is first of all also the acceptance of the first
temptation in the wilderness, the temptation of the loaves of bread. "And see Thou these
stones in this barren and scorched wilderness? Turn them into bread, and Thou wilt win
over mankind, like an herd, grateful and obedient, though also eternally trembling, lest
Thou hold back Thine hand and cease Thine bread for them". And the obedient herd is
won over by those, who would tempt it with the turning of stones into bread. Bolshevism
follows in the footsteps of the Grand Inquisitor. In the name of happiness and equality
this spirit would destroy everything uplifting, everything of quality, everything of value,
all freedom, all individuality. This spirit preaches a worldwide equality of bliss in non-
being. This spirit hates being, as qualitative, as uplifting, all in the name of equality and
blissful tranquility it would destroy and subject it to non-being. Hateful to this spirit is
that ontological aristocratism, which sets at the basis of every religion and most of all --
Christianity, an aristocratism of spiritual freedom and spiritual birthright, of the Divine
descent of man. This spirit of Hamism affirms instead a lower descent of man's origin.
People for it -- are not sons of God, but rather sons of the world. From a verymost low
matter and material darkness it seeks to arouse revolt and rebellion in the name of a
leveling down and equating being with non-being, in the name of submerging all the
qualities of being into a qualityless non-being. This -- is a mystical Communism.

This spirit accepts not only the first temptation with the loaves of bread, but also the
two other temptations, and upon them it desires to create a kingdom of this world. This
spirit consents to worship the kingdom of this world and plunges into the abyss. The
worldwide revolutionary socialism of the Bolsheviks wants to transform stones into
bread, to plunge headlong into the revolutionary abyss in the hope of a revolutionary
miracle and to found a forever kingdom of this world, replacing the kingdom of God.
This religion of socialism is opposite in everything to the religion of Christ, which
teaches, that not by bread alone doth a man live, but also by the word of God, it teaches
to worship the Lord God alone, and not the kingdom of this world, it repudiates the
temptation for a miracle, in the name of freedom. The religion of socialism wants to
destroy everything qualitative of being, everything uplifting, and to drown it in non-
being. It spurns freedom, the freedom of the sons of God, and it accepts the necessity and
coercion of the sons of this world, of the children of lower matter. The temptation of a
world social cataclysm, "of a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom",
is also the allure with the temptation to plunge into the abyss, the temptation for a social
miracle. The social revolution, having taken on a mystical hue, is also the third
temptation, spurned by Christ in the name of the spiritual freedom of man. To this
temptation has to be opposed a social sobriety, as a demand for ascetic religious
discipline. Socialism, as a problem of social politics and social ethics, as social
reformism, as a real bettering of the lot of the toiling, providing daily bread, is religiously
neutral and can comprise an inalienable part of the Christian attitude towards life. In
socialism there is its own great truth. But this true socialism issues forth from the
freedom of the human spirit and does not permit of the enslaving of the human spirit at
the price of bread and the dark abyss, the promises of a miraculous bliss in an earthly
kingdom. Socialism however, in its dreaming about the creation of a worldwide kingdom
by mechanical revolutionary miracles, is a temptation of the Anti-Christ, it denies the
freedom of the spirit and deprives man of his filial relationship of sonship to God.


Russians by their feminine nature readily fall subject to the allures of twofold
images, to the temptations of evil, masked under the guise of good. Imposters and
pretenders are so characteristic in Russian history. Within it have often appeared twofold
images, the nature of which are indeterminate, not as a person, but as a mask. In our
mystical sects amongst the people there have been no little of such masks, twofold
images, pseudo-Christs and pseudo-Mothers of God. In the Russian people there is a very
peculiar element, the Klysty element, submerged within the depths of the pagan roots of
the life of the people. Russian Klystyism in the final end is bound up with an incorrect
and impaired interrelationship of the masculine and feminine principles in the soul and
the character of the Russian people. Within the mystical depths of the Russian people
there has not occurred as it were a marital consummation, a true union of the masculine
and feminine principles within the people's character. The soul of the people remains
feminine, separated from the masculine principle, eternally awaiting a bridegroom and
eternally not accepting any as her destined one. Upon this basis has developed a
metaphysical hysteria in the character of the Russian people. Dostoevsky discerned it.
Upon this basis blossoms forth every sort of obsession. The obsession with Bolshevism is
a new form of the age-old Russian Klystyism. This Klystyism can alike be both black,
and red, the Klysty-like hero can alike be either Grigorii Rasputin, or Lenin. And all this
would be thus a manifestation of the passivity, and not the activity of the Russian soul, its
sickly ugly and hysterical femininity. The Bolsheviks, certainly, are under the domination
of a sort of spirit unrecognised by them, they are passive to the core and they mislead
otherwise only by their revolutionary shouting on the outside. A masculine and active
spirit would never be dominant in such elements.

With the more masculine peoples of the West, having received a Catholic or
Protestant upbringing, there is a sharper sketching out of the boundaries, moreso a
separating apart good from evil, God from the devil, than in the Russian indistinctness.
The Catholic world has been tempted by the devil, as evil, but this is a distinctness of
form, a crystalised world perceptive of its boundaries, and is not so readily tempted by
the Anti-Christ -- by evil, having assumed the guise of good. Satanism, the demonic
aspect has always been a specialty of the Catholic and Romance world; the Anti-Christ
however is a specialty of the Orthodox Slavic world, with its indistinctness and
unlimitedness. The devil is not a temptation for the Russian soul, but the Anti-Christ can
quite readily be a temptation for it. The devil presupposes distinctness, the Anti-Christ
however is grounded in confusion and substitution. This -- is a very interesting contrast in
religious psychology. The satanic sects are impossible in the Russian Orthodox East, but
very possible there is a confusion of pseudo-Christs with the true Christ, and in the
Russian mystical sects this is always occurring. The piously pure cult of the Virgin Mary
readily gets jumbled together with Astartism, and the Mother of God gets identified with
a pagan goddess of the earth.

The West has everything set within its place, has in place all its religion, its culture,
all its activity, its manly history, its chivalrous past, its free submission to law and norms.
This makes the West little sensitive to the mystical impulses of the spirit of the Anti-
Christ. The feel of the Anti-Christ is a religious specialty of Russia. It was there always in
the religious life of the people and also at the heights, in Russian literature, in Dostoevsky
and Solov'ev, and in the modern religious searchings. Within the Russian nature there is
no sharp separation of good and evil. Russians tend to be captivated by evil, under the
guise of good, whereas that selfsame evil, in not assuming the guise of good, rarely tends
to captivate them. Here is why for Russians the dread thing is not the devil, but rather the
Anti-Christ -- an ultimate and approaching manifestation of evil. And with Russians
particularly strong has taken hold the religion of revolutionary socialism, of a magical
socialism, the religion of Bolshevism, captivating with its equality, justice and world
triumph of an ultimate social truth and social paradise. Western socialism -- is a matter of
laws; the Russian socialism however -- is lawless. Bolshevism is a Russian, a national
phenomenon, and this -- is our national ailment, which also in the past has always existed
in Russian history, but in different forms. Germany is making use of this sickness of the
Russian spirit, turning it into its own obedient tool. The manly German spirit is
committing violence over the feminine Russian soul, abusing its sick passivity and
hysteria. Germanism has presumptions to be the bridegroom in marriage to the Russian
earth. To conquer this Russian sickness is impossible merely by rational, state, political
methods of doctoring. To conquer it is possible only religiously, only by opposing against
the false semblance of the Good with rather the authentic power of the Good -- of Christ.
In this world the kingdom of the Anti-Christ can occur only as the result of the non-
success of the matter of Christ in the world, -- it proposes to unite by violence this world,
which is not being united in the love and freedom of Christ. If the principle of the Anti-
Christ triumphs, then the blame will fall upon the Christian world, upon Christian
mankind, upon its spiritual bourgeoisness. Christians do not show even an hundredth part
of the energy, that the Bolsheviks show. In truth, the energy of the latter -- is misleading,
is illusory, it is only an obsession. But a most important matter is the uniting of all the
powers of the Christian world against the coming evil, since the struggle with it has to be
conducted not only on the external, the political and social plane, but also in the inward,
the spiritual and religious plane.

Nikolai Berdyaev.

11 July 1917

© 2007 by Fr. S. Janos


RELIGIOZNYE OSNOVY BOL'SHEVIZMA. Article originally published in the

weekly Journal "Russkaya svoboda", Petrograd-Moskva, 8 aug. 1917, No. 16/17.

Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of

1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, "Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii
(Stat'i 1917-18)" ("Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)",
Paris, 1990, p. 29-37.

Concerning Freedom and Integrity

of the Word
(1917 - #281)

When they speak with pathos about the freedoms won by the Revolution1, then first
of all they ought to have in view those rights of man, which cannot be taken away in the
name of whatever the earthly blessings. But it is about these sacred and inalienable rights
of man among us that they least of all think and least of all care about. Pathos for the
freedom of man does not exist within the elements of the Russian Revolution. There is a
strong basis to think, that Russians do not love freedom and do not value freedom. Our
so-called "Revolutionary Democracy" is obsessed with a passion for equality, such as the
world has never seen, but under freedom it however understands the right of violence
against neighbours in the name of its interests, and arbitrariness in the overall leveling. In
the name of equality it is ready among us to destroy whatever freedom pleases it. And the
moral source of the denial of rights, such as guarantee freedom, mustneeds be sought in
the weak awareness of the sense of duty and in an undeveloped sense of personal dignity.
The rights of man presuppose first of all a sense of duty in a man. Without an awareness
of the duty to preserve the sacred right of one's neighbour, it is impossible to speak
seriously about any sort of rights, for all rights will be squashed. The Russian
revolutionary consciousness however initially denies the sense of duty in man, it stands
exclusively upon the pretensions of man. And one, in whom the pretensions and demands
are stronger than the sense of duty and obligation, morally loses his rights, morally buries
his freedom. In the Russian revolutionary democratic emotional outlook there has
completely faded the sense of guilt, such as is characteristic of the children of God, and it
has been replaced by a sense of endless pretensions, as is characteristic to the children of
this world. Any awareness of duties has faded in that element, which now is dominant in
Russia, and therefore outrages are committed incessantly against the rights of man. In the
guarantee of the rights of man most important -- is not the pretensions of one, who
possesses a right, but rather the sense of duty in one, who ought to respect these rights
and not infringe upon them.

Russian revolutionary democracy sees as its most valuable conquests the universal
electoral right, as in the Constituent Assembly, in the developing of the class struggle, in
the democratisation and socialisation of society, but it fails to see them in the rights of
man, in the free rights of man. And indeed this is no surprise. The spiritual understanding
of freedom is totally foreign to the revolutionary democracy, and it is prepared to betray
freedom, such as is bound up with the birthright of man, for a motley pottage of interests.
And the Russian Revolution has given us no sort of the real and substantial rights and
freedoms of man. We have no habeus corpus. On the contrary, in the measure that the
Revolution has "developed" and "deepened", all the moreso there has triumphed the
outrage against every human right and every human freedom. And first of all it has
proven a stifling of the most sacred of the rights of man, the most sacred of freedoms --
the freedom of the word, the freedom of speech. We are experiencing a period of the
most terrible servility of word and slavery of thought. In our nightmarish days, few are
those who are resolved freely and independently to think, freely and independently to
express their thought in words. Our press is in sore straits; it is in a condition of restraint,
and tends to support the conditional lie, connected with the ruling powers. Formerly it
tended much to speak about "his majesty the lord emperor", now in no less quantity it
tends to speak the conditional lie about its majesty the revolutionary democracy. And no
one makes bold to say, that the king has on no clothes (as in the saying of Anderson). On
the streets and squares few are those who are resolved loudly to express their thoughts
and feelings, everyone is afraid to turn upon them the heads the comrades in the
neighbourhood. The Russian people have begun to speak in whispers the same, as during
the worst times of the Old Regime. And it is necessary straight out and loudly to say, that
the freedom of thought and the freedom of speech at present is in greater peril, than it was
in the Old Regime. Back then for speaking freely they threw you in prison and exiled you
to Siberia, now they might tear you to pieces and murder you. Back then, under the old
oppression, free speech did work and it radically criticised the governing powers, morally
it made a protest against the oppression and for a whole century it morally undermined
the prestige of the powers, which had deprived people of rights and freedoms. Societal
opinion went against the fundamental principles of the old tyranny and it always
expressed this, though in a roundabout language. Now societal opinion has been rendered
less free. Few are those who might resolve to rise up against the fundamental principles
of the modern oppression and expose the moral ugliness of the present-day tyranny. The
tyranny of the mob is more terrible, than the tyranny of the one or of several. Russian
thought is situated in a grievous state of captivity. Societal opinion has become paralysed,
it has lost its moral centre. There is no sounding forth freely and independently, rising
above the struggle of interests, above the raging elements, there does not sound forth such
a voice of the national conscience, of the national sense of reason, of thought-word


Many among us tend to criticise the tactics of revolutionary democracy, they appeal
for unity and coalitions, but morally they capitulate before that element, which breeds
tyranny, which forcibly abuses thought and speech. Too much already everything is
blamed on the Bolsheviks, who have become a common target, at a time when the evil is
not only in them and it not only they that are destroying freedom in Russia. The evil has
spread widely and its sources run deep. Our intelligentsia has confessed the world-
concept of the slave, it has denied the very sources of freedom -- the spiritual nature of
man, of man's sonship to God. The people for too long already have lived in slavery and
darkness. And the most sacred rights of man, justified by his boundless spiritual nature,
have been surrendered over into the grip of the quantitative human masses, the harrowing
crowd. And if the fate of the freedom of the word is being entrusted to utilitarian interests
and calculations, then in recent days the right to have this word is admitted only insofar
as it is of service to the revolutionary democracy, but they abuse and refuse the right to
words, which serve other ends, more lofty and deeper ends, upon this shaky ground that it
is only words, playing up to the interests and instincts of the masses, that should receive
unlimited freedom. All other words however, resounding from a greater depth, are
subject to suspicion and violence. An hideous sense of blackmail connected with
accusations of counter-revolution leads to a tyrannical mob justice against free thought
and speech, the inviolable freedom of the person. It is necessary finally and forcefully to
declare, that a true freedom of the word in Russia presupposes the possibility to have a
say by everyone, even by those, that are proponents of monarchy. If the freedom of the
word be given exclusively to the proponents of the democratic republic, then it will not
be greater, but less so, than under the Old Regime, -- then it would be unlimited freedom
for words, but merely only by the former opposition current. And in a free Russia they
want to limit the freedom of the word to only but one current! And indeed it is
presupposed, that the Constituent Assembly, i.e. the sovereign people, will decide,
whether in Russia there will be a republican or monarchical order, and that consequently
segments having the most varied opinions can freely prepare for it. But monarchical
convictions none of us dare freely express, this would be not without danger, the freedom
and rights of such people could not be guaranteed. And this involves a moral lie, such as
is wont to beget tyranny. Republicans, such as be worthy of this name, ought to bestow
everyone a greater freedom, than did the monarchists. Bereft of the moral right to speak
about freedom necessarily are those, who admit of freedom only for themself and for
their own.

The self-appointed worker and soldier organisations already for half a year have been
committing outrages against the rights of man, they live to deny freedom. It is impossible
to deny not only the right, but also the duty of the workers to organise for defending their
essential interests and for the increase of their societal standing, but with us the soviets
from the very start of the Revolution have entered upon the path towards a class
dictatorship, of a peculiar twist to a monarchical dictatorship, and this has turned into a
destruction of freedom in Russia. The outrage against the freedom and dignity, the
integrity of the word reached its extreme expression, in the playing out of the Kornilov
tragedy. All at once darkness has enveloped Russian society and no one has made bold to
counter it. The press was terrified and conducted itself unworthily, without any resolve to
demand first of all an explanation of the truth, and it swallowed the government's
conditional lie about the "mutiny" of General Kornilov2. An investigation was begun, and
over Russia hung the terrible phantom of a Red Terror, of a self-appointed mob inquiry
over those suspected of sympathising with General Kornilov. Fright seized hold upon the
woesome Russian society, a fright far greater, than in the most terrible times of the
tsardom. Fright always tends to become magnified, but it is characteristic of the spiritual
atmosphere of the Russian Revolution. In Russian society started a moral tenseness. Out
of fear there were whispers about provocations, causing the Kornilov tragedy. The right
even to freely defend General Kornilov, a war hero, a passionate patriot and indisputable
democrat, was not given. And only gradually did exposures leak into the press, shedding
light upon this dark and grim history. But those nightmarish days have ultimately
disclosed for us the absence of the freedom of the word, the manipulation of thought, the
stifling of spirit. For us the course of the Revolution has developed into faint-heartedness.


It is necessary loudly to proclaim, that in Revolutionary Russia the freedom of

speech, the freedom of thought does not exist, indeed even less so, than in the old and
autocratic Russia. The revolutionary democratic societal order tends to read better into
the heart of matters and demands a greater conformity of thought, than did the pre-
revolutionary reactionary powers, which were too indifferent to every nuance of societal
thought and incapable of making sense of it. The censorship by the revolutionary
democratic societal setup is more all-encompassing and pervasive, than our old
censorship. And it mustneeds be said, that a censorship urged on by the masses of the
people is always more terrible, than the censorship by a government power, where much
tends to slip by. When the people itself infringes upon the freedom of thought and
speech, this encroachment is more terrible and oppressive, than the encroachment of a
government power, -- in this scenario there is nowhere safe. After the revolutionary
turnabout the constraints of censorship fell off and there was abolished even the military
censorship as is necessary during wartime, but there was not a declaration of the rights of
freedom of thought and the freedom of speech, the infringement upon which is a crime
against both man and God. A wantonness and dissoluteness of speech is not freedom.
This wantonness and dissoluteness has destroyed freedom of speech for us. The freedom
and worthiness, the integrity of speech, presupposes a discipline within speech, an inward
ascesis. The right of the freedom of speech presupposes a sense of responsibility in the
use of words. Every freedom presupposes a disciplining and ascetic effort, and with
irresponsibility it always perishes. Those wanton orgies of words, which for all these
months have been practiced in the revolutionary socialistic press, have prepared the way
for the destruction of all freedom of speech. The wantonness, the dissoluteness and
arbitrariness are destroying freedom, for freedom demands the preservation of integrity in
man, keeping it clean, a self-restraint. The corrupt manipulation of words destroys the
integrity of the word and becomes enslaving. In the revolutionary press occur orgies of
verbal corruption. The revolutionary phraseology has degenerated into a quite real
perversity. Is it not perverse, all those false cries about "counter-revolution", is it not
perverse all these false promises for a speedy start to a social paradise, is it not perverse
all these words about the sacredness of the Revolution, about the sacredness of the
Internationale, etc.? For the winning of a true freedom of the word it is necessary to fight
against this corruption of the word.

Russian writers, conscious of their calling, their integrity and their responsibility for
their native-land, ought to demand a promulgation guaranteeing the freedom of thought
and word. But this demand can morally carry weight only in the mouths of those writers,
who are observant of the higher integrity of word and thought, who set truth and the right
higher than whatever the interests. Over the course of these revolutionary months there
has as it were grown dim the integrity and significance of Russian literature and Russian
free thought. Too many of the Russian writers have been subjected to stifling street
shouts about their "bourgeoisness", about the "bourgeoisness" of all the educated, of all
the creators of culture. In them there has not proven a sufficient strength of resistance in
the face of the raging elements, they go to pieces and begin themself to pronounce words,
inconsistent with the depths of their being. With too many Russian writers there has not
appeared their own unique idea, which they are called to introduce into the life of the
people, and they instead seek for ideas in that very people, which is itself situated in
darkness and in need of light. In Russia there ought to be heard truly free words about
that moral savagery and ugliness, to which we have fallen, and these words ought to be
raised above the struggle of classes, groups and parties, above the struggle for interests
and the struggle for power, they ought to be a reflection of the Divine Word, to which
only can be based the sanctity of the free word and free thought, now so abused and
trampled upon. This is not a question of politics, this -- is a question of the people's
ethics, a question of the religious conscience of the people. The people's conscience and
reason ought to possess a centre, a central focus. And such a central focus can only be
with the bearers of an higher spiritual culture, free of the slave-like orgies. We inevitably
have to renew the spiritual foundations of our life and seek for the inner sources of
freedom. A purely external path will drag us down to ruination and slavery. We have no
further desire for more slavery, neither the old, nor the new. The revolutionary violence
against free thought and words in essence bears within it the seeds of counter-revolution,
it is the violence of the old demonic darkness and it cannot be tolerated in a free land.

Nikolai Berdyaev.

7 October 1917

Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of

1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, "Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii
(Stat'i 1917-18)" ("Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)",
Paris, 1990, p. 216-223.
[trans. note, n.b.: this is the 27 Feb./12 Mar. 1917 Russian "February Revolution"
which formed the Provisional Government under A. F. Kerensky, which was supplanted
by the 15 Oct./ 7 Nov. 1917 Russian "October Revolution" under the Communist
Bolsheviks and V. I. Lenin. Berdyaev's present article here was published on 7 October
1917, late in the life of the Kerensky revolutionary democratic Provisional Government,
and reflects the increasing chaos that led to its collapse.]
[trans. note: 28 Aug./ 10 Sept. 1917, when General L. G. Kornilov attempted to restore
order during the prevailing chaos under the Provisional Government, and was in turn
arrested, denounced and vilified by Kerensky, who relied increasingly upon the support
of the leftist socialist soviet elements.]

The Crisis of Art

(1918 - #14,1)

Art has survived many a crisis over its history. The transitions from antiquity to the
Medieval and from the Medieval to the Renaissance betoken such profound crises. But
that, which is occurring with art in our epoch, cannot be termed merely one crisis in a
series of others. We are present at a crisis of art in general, amidst the deepest tremours
within its thousand year old foundations. The old ideal of the classically beautiful art has
become ultimately tarnished, and there is a feeling for a return to its images. Art has
convulsively striven to go beyond its limits. The borderlines have shattered, such as
distinguish one art from another and indeed art in general from that, what yet already is
not art, from what is higher or lower than it. There has never yet been so acutely put the
problem of the relation of art to life, of creativity and existence, never yet has there been
such a thirst to pass over from the creativity of producing art to a creativity of life itself,
new life. There is awareness of an impotence of the creative act of man, a lack of
correspondence between the creative task and the creative realisation. Our time knows
simultaneously both an unprecedented creative boldness and an unprecedented weakness.
The man of the utmost final creative day wants to create something never before existing
and in his creative rapture oversteps all the bounds and all the limits. But this finalistic
man fails to create any yet so perfect and beautiful products, such as were created by the
more unassuming man of former epochs.

From opposing ends there is to be noticed a crisis of the old art and the search for new
paths. In modern art can be discerned strivings synthetic and strivings analytic, currents
diametrically opposite. Both the strivings towards a synthesis of arts, towards their
confluence into a single mystery, and the opposite strivings towards an analytic
dissection within each art, tend simultaneously to shake the bounds of each art, and
simultaneously also they signify a profound crisis of art. The synthetic strivings have
been noted already with Mallarme. And in a very vivid decorative setting there was the
musical drama of R. Wagner. The Symbolists were the bearers of these synthetic
strivings. Certain of them wanted to lead art out of the crisis through a return to the
organic artistic era. The arts -- are a product of differentiation. They -- are derived from a
temple and cultic origin, they developed from a certain organic unity, in which all the
parts were subordinated to a religious centre. Many of the Symbolists of our generation
and the generation before dreamt about restoring to art a significance both liturgical and
sacral. The sacral art of the ancient world and of the Medieval world, the most vividly
organic epochs within the history of human culture, remained for them enticing and
captivating, and the call of the past for them was stronger than the call for the future. We
are living out the end of the Renaissance, we are experiencing the final remnants of that
epoch, when the human powers were set free and their bedazzling unfolding begat
beauty. At present this free unfolding of human powers has passed over from
regeneration into degeneration, it no longer still creates the beautiful. And there is an
acute sense of the inevitability of a new direction for the creative powers of man. Man
has become too much free, too much the release from his empty freedom, too much the
exhaustion from the prolonged critical epoch. And man has come into an anguished
yearning within his creativity for organicity, for a synthesis, for a religious centre, for

A very brilliant theoretician of these synthetic-organic strivings amongst us is

Vyacheslov Ivanov. To the Futurists he would seem very archaic. His preaching of
sobornost'-communality in art is oriented backwards, to the ancient sources of art and
culture. He -- is eternally the Alexandrian as regards his outlook, and like an
Alexandrian, he experiences the sobornost', the organic and sacral aspect of the ancient
and archaic Greece. When Vyach. Ivanov preaches a theurgic art, his preachings then
bear reminiscences and reflections of the old cultures. The theurgic idea is great. But a
theurgic foundation for contemporary art could easily come to be transformed into a
norm thrust on from the outside, a residue from the remote past. The sobornost' aspect
with V. Ivanov is not at all something immanent for our times, rather instead is quite
transcendent for it. V. Ivanov himself -- is a remarkable poet, but his theoretical strivings
in our epoch, lacking in an awareness of sobornost', can prove dangerous for the
autonomy of art. In the art of painting, Chiurlenis has represented an expression of
synthetic aspirations. He goes beyond the bounds of painting as a distinct and
autonomous art and seeks to synthesis painting with music. He attempts within a musical
painting to express his own cosmic feeling, his own clearly evident contemplation of the
complexion and construct of the cosmos. He is both remarkable and interesting as regards
his strivings. But the painting of Chiurlenis is inadequate to his visions, it is an
incomplete transformation of them into a different language, as it were. He is
picturesquely helpless, the painting insufficiently elaborated and the history of painting
unenriched by new norms. The painting of Chiurlenis -- is a very characteristic example
of what, as synthetic strivings, can have destructive effects upon art, and in any case,
would express a profound deficiency for art: the striving towards a synthesis of the arts
and the subjoining of mysticism to art can be destructive of the artistic form.
Immeasurably more powerful is another expresser of synthetic strivings. I have in mind
the revolutionary genius of Scriabin. In modern art I know of no one else, in whom there
has been such a rapturous creative outburst, devastating the old world and laying the
foundations for a new world. The musical genius of Scriabin is so great, that in music he
has managed adequately to express his own new and catastrophic world-sense, to extract
from the dark depths the existence of sounds, which the old music had ignored. He
wanted to create a mysterium, in which would be synthesised all the entirety of art. And
the mystery he conceived of eschatologically. It should have to be the end of this world.
All the creative values of this worldly aeon, towards which we approach, would enter into
the mystery. And this world would end, when there resound the sounds of this finalative
mystery. The creative vision of Scriabin is unprecedented in its boldness, but scarcely is
it likely that he will bring it to realisation. And yet he himself is an astonishing
phenomenon of the creative path of man. This creative path of man makes art obsolete in
the old and seemingly eternal sense of the word. The synthetic searchings give a pull
towards mysterium and by this they go out beyond the bounds not only of the separate
arts, but also of art in general. What however happens with art in its modern analytic

The positings of a verymost profound crisis of art are not the result of the synthetic
searchings, but of rather the analytic searchings. The searchings for a synthesis of art, the
searchings after a mysterium, the attempts at a return to an art liturgical and sacral has as
its representatives remarkable thinkers and creative people, but in them there is much
preserved from the old and eternal art, and it is not ultimately shaken down to its
foundations. In the strivings towards synthesis nothing is dissociated, the cosmic winds
do not carry off the artist-creators and the artistic creations from those age-old spots,
which are prepared for them within the organic structure of the earth. Even within the
revolutionary art of Scriabin there is to be noted not so much a dissociation and
dissolution, as rather the conquests of new spheres. But with Scriabin there was even too
great a faith in art, and his bonds with the great past were not sundered. An altogether
different nature and different sense obtains in those phenomena, which I term as the
analytic aspirations in modern art, shattering and sundering every organic synthesis both
of the old natural world and of the old art. Cubism and Futurism in all its manifold hues
appears an expression of these analytic strivings, shattering all organicity. These waftings
of a final day and final hour of human creativity ultimately disintegrate the old beautiful
embodied art, always connected with antiquity, with the crystalising forms of the flesh of
the world. The most remarkable results of this tendency obtain in painting.

A genius-endowed representative of Cubism is the artist Picasso. When one gazes

upon a picture by Picasso, one then tends to think belaboured thoughts.1 "The happiness
of an embodied life under the sunlight has vanished. The wintry cosmic wind has stripped
away the veil behind the veil, all the flowers and the leaves have become scorched,
stripping away the skin of things, all that was clothed has fallen away, all the flesh,
manifest in images of incorruptible beauty, has dissipated. It comes to seem, that never
will ensue the cosmic Springtime, never will there be the leaves, the greenery, the
beautiful veilings, the embodied synthetic forms. It comes to seem, that after the terrible
Winter of Picasso the world will not yet blossom forth, as before, that in this Winter will
fall away not only all the veils, but likewise all the objective corporeal world will become
unhinged down to its very foundations. There transpires as it were a mysterious coming
apart of the cosmos. All more and more it becomes impossible to posit a synthetically-
whole artistic apperception and creativity. Everything analytically is dissolved and
dismembered. By means of such an analytic dismemberment the artist intends to get
down to the very skeleton of things, down to the solid forms, hidden behind the softening
veils. The material veilings of the world have begun to disintegrate and shred apart and
there is the searching out of the solid substances, hidden behind this softening. In his
searching out of the geometric forms of objects, the skeleton of things, Picasso has
arrived at a stone age. But this -- is an illusory stone age. The gravity, the solidness and
welding together of the geometric figures of Picasso only seems so. In actuality the
geometric bodies of Picasso, assembled from the cubic skeletons of the corporeal world,
fall apart from the slightest shake. The final layer of the material world, revealing itself to
Picasso the artist after stripping away all the veils, -- is illusory, and not real. Picasso -- is
a merciless exposer of the illusion of an embodied, materially synthetic beauty. Behind
the captivating and alluring feminine beauty he sees the terror of disintegration,
dissolution. He, in his sharp-sightedness, sees through all the veilings, the covering
cloths, in layers there also, in the depths of the material world, he sees its own deposits of
the monstrous. This -- is the demonic grimacings of the fettered spirits of nature. To go
still further in depth, and for there still to be no sort of materiality, -- there already is the
inward structure of nature, of the hierarchy of spirits. Painting, just like all the plastic
arts, had been an embodiment, a materialisation. The highest upsurges of the old painting
provided a crystalised and formalised flesh. Painting was connected with a firmness of
the embodied physical world and stability of formal matter. But now at present painting
is experiencing an as yet unprecedented crisis. If one penetrate the further into this crisis,
then it becomes impossible to term it otherwise than as a dematerialisation, a
disembodied sort of painting. In painting is transpiring something, it would seem, quite
opposite the very nature of the plastic arts. Everything already as it were has become
exhausted within the sphere of the embodied, materially-crystaline painting. In modern
painting there is no spirit that becomes embodied, becomes materialised, and matter itself
becomes dematerialised, becomes disembodied, and loses its solidness, its firmness and
sense of form. Painting submerges itself into the depths of matter and there, in the very
final layers, it finds there already no materiality. With Picasso the boundaries of physical
bodies become unsteady. In modern art the spirit as it were tends to wane, and flesh to be
dematerialised. This -- is a very deep jolting for the plastic arts, and which shakes the
very essence of the plastic form. The dematerialisation in painting can produce the
impression of the ultimate collapse of art. It would seem, that in nature itself, in its
rhythm and cyclic-turns, that something irreversibly has fractured and changed. The
world has altered its veilings. The material veilings of the world were merely temporary
coverings. The age-old attire of being has rotted and fallen away".

All the firm delineations of being have shattered, become decrystalised, stretched
apart, pulverised. Man passes over into the state of an object, objects pass over into the
human state, one object passes over into another object, all the layers get jumbled, all the
planes of being get confused. This new sense of world life attempts to find its expression
in Futurist art. Cubism was but one of the expressions of this cosmic whirlwind,
sweeping everything from its place. Futurism in all its manifold variations goes even
further. This -- is a sequential shattering of the features of the settled state of being, the
vanishing of all the definitely delineated images of the objective world. In the old, the
seemingly eternal art, the image of man and the human body had firm contours, he was
distinct from the images of other objects in the world, from minerals, plants and animals,
from rooms, houses, streets and cities, from machines and from the infinitude of the
worldly expanse. In Futurist art there are erased the boundaries, separating the image of
man from other objects, from the enormous mechanical monstrosity, called the modern
city. Marinetti proclaims in his manifesto: "Our bodies enter into the couches, upon
which we sit, and the couches enter into us. The autobus is transformed into the houses,
alongside which we drive past, and in their turn the houses rush at the autobus and pour
off from it". The human image vanishes in this process of a cosmic stretching apart and
pulverisation. The Futurists wanted as though with pathos to kill away and reduce to
ashes the image of man, always reinforced by the image of the material world separate
from him. When the material world is sent reeling to its foundations, the image of man
also is sent reeling. The world in its dematerialisation penetrates through into man, and
man having lost his spiritual stability dissolves away in the diluted down material world.
The Futurists demand a transferring of the centre of gravity from man over to matter. But
this does not mean, that they can be called materialists in the old sense of the word. Man
vanishes, as vanishes also the old matter, with which he corresponded. "To abolish the "I"
within literature, i.e. to abolish all psychology" -- thus formulates Marinetti one of the
points of his programme. "Man does not represent any sort of absolutely greater an
interest. And thus, expunge him from the literature. Chalk him up finally as matter, the
essence of which it is necessary to grasp by bursts of intuition. Discern through his free
objects and capricious motorings of breathing the sensation and instincts of metals,
stones, trees, etc. Eliminate the psychology of man, henceforth empty, with a lyrical
impulse of matter". "Of interest to us is the solidity of the steeliness of the plastic art per
se, i.e. the non-conceptual and non-human union of its molecules and electrons, which
resist, for example, the pull of the nucleus. The warmth of a bit of gland or of wood is
more exciting for us, than the smile or the tears of a woman". "It is necessary, moreover,
to catch the gravity and smell of objects, which up to now they have disdained to do in
literature. To strive, for example, to convey the landscape of smells, perceptible by a dog.
To hearken to motors and reproduce their utterances. Matter always has been investigated
by an absent-minded and cold I, excessively concerned with itself, full of prejudicial
wisdom and human impulses". The hostility to man, to the human "I" is clearly apparent
in the Futurist manifesto of Marinetti. And herein lies concealed a fundamental
contradiction of Futurism. The Futurists want to have the growth of an accelerated
dynamic and yet they deny the wellspring of the creative dynamic -- man. There is no
lever, by which the Futurism could flip over the world. There is no genuine dynamism
within Futurism, the Futurists are situated in the grip of a certain worldwide whirlwind,
not knowing the meaning of what is occurring with them, and essentially, remaining
passive. They are obsessed with a certain sort of process, they spin round in it with an
ever growing acceleration, but actively creative they are not. They are situated in the grip
of a disintegration of the material world. Futurism possesses an enormous symptomatic
significance, it indicates not only a crisis of art, but also a crisis of life itself. Regretably,
the agitational manifestos of the Futurists take precedence over artistic creativity. In these
manifestos they express their own altered sense of life. But they are incapable to
adequately express this new sense of life in the fashionings of art. This creative
incapacity is especially to be sensed in the Futurist poetry and literature. What happens is
a decrystalisation of words, a flattening down of words, sundering words apart from any
sense of the Logos. But a new cosmic rhythm, a new sense of harmony the Futurists fail
to detect. The problem with Futurism consists in this, that it is too oriented backwards,
negatively attached to the past, too concerned with settling accounts with it and not at all
with a passing over to a new creativity in freedom. It is merely a transitory state, moreso
the end-point of the old art, rather than the construction of a new art. The Futurists
perceive only on the surface the quite profound processes of change in human and world
life. But they dwell in a verymost profound spirit of ignorance, with them there is no sort
of spiritual knowledge of the meaning of what is occurring, not that intensive spiritual
life, which would have made visible not only the disintegration of old worlds, but also the
arising of new worlds. A philosophic approach towards apperception is needed within

Where is one to seek out the vital sources behind the Futurist outlooks and Futurist
currents in art? What has transpired within the world? Of what sort is the fact of being
having begotten a new sense of life? There was some particular fateful moment in human
history, the point from which there began to fall apart all the stability and crystaline
aspect of life. The tempo of life has accelerated infinitely, and the whirlwind, caused by
this accelerated pace, has seized hold and sent spinning both man and human creativity.
Near-sightedly one would not have seen that in the life of mankind there has transpired a
changing point, after which over the course of a decade there would happen such
transformations, as earlier occurred only over the course of a century. In the old beauty of
human existence and human art something from this critical moment radically collapsed,
from this revolutionary event. Architecture tended to perish -- that finest expression of
every organic artistic epoch. Modern architectural creativity is marked by the
construction of enormous rail-stations and hotels. All the creative energy of man tends to
go into the planning and construction of automobiles and aeroplanes, upon the discovery
of means of accelerated transportation. The beauty of the old manner of life was static.
The church, the palace, the rustic country-house -- were something static, they relied
upon the stability of life and upon its slow tempo. Now however everything has become
dynamic, everything statically stable is undone, swept up into the rapidity of mechanical
motion. But a new dynamic style has not been fashioned, and there appears doubt of the
possibility of the fashioning of such a style. Decadence was an initial stage of this
process. But it was oriented backwards, in it there was a debilitating and total languor
over the accepting of a process of life, destructive of beauty. The Decadents -- are
aesthetes. Futurism -- is the final stage of this process, it seeks to be oriented forwards, in
it is a delighted acceptance of this process of life, a total devoting of oneself to this
process. And the Futurists -- are anti-aesthetic. What happened, where did it all come
about from?

The machine came out victoriously into the world and shattered the age-old harmony
of organic life. This revolutionary event changed everything in human life, and it affected
everything. It is impossible to sufficiently appreciate this event quite highly enough. Its
enormous significance -- is not only social, but also cosmic. The growth of the
importance of the machine and of the mechanical within human life tends to signify the
entry into a new world aeon. The rhythm of organic flesh within world life has been
broken. Life has been ripped away from its organic roots. Organic flesh has been replaced
by the machine, in the mechanism is to be found the organic developement of its root.
Machinisation and mechanisation -- are a fateful and inevitable cosmic process. It is
impossible to hold back the old organic flesh from ruin. But only to the superficial glance
does the machinisation represent materialisation, in the which spirit perishes. This
process is not a transition from a more complex organic over to a simpler non-organic. At
a deeper glance the machinisation has to be conceived of as a dematerialisation, as a
pulverisation of the flesh of the world, a stretching apart of the material composition of
the cosmos. The machine itself per se cannot kill spirit, it rather moreso enables the
liberation of spirit from its bondage to organic nature. The machine is a crucifixion of the
flesh of the world. Its victorious arrival betokens the eradication of all organic nature, it
bears with it death to both plant and animal, to forests and flowers, to everything organic
and by nature beautiful. The romantic grief over the perishing beautiful flesh of this
world, for flowers, for trees, for pretty human bodies, beautiful churches, palaces and
rustic dwellings is powerless to halt this fatal process. Thus is fulfilled the fate of the
flesh of the world, it moves on towards the resurrection and to a new life through death.
Futurism is a passive reflection of the machinisation, the disintegration and the crumbling
of the old flesh of the world. The Futurists sing out about the beauty of the machine, they
are delighted by its noise, and inspired by its movements. For them the charm of a motor
has replaced the charm of a feminine body or flower. They are fascinated by the machine
and the new sensations, connected with it. The miracle of electrification has replaced for
them the miracle of divinely-beautiful nature. Other planes of being, concealed behind
the physical trappings of the world, they do not know and do not want to know. The
denial of other-worldliness -- is one of the points of the Futurist programme. And
therefore they but reflect the process of disintegration on the physical plane. In their
creativity they are open only to the splinters and chips of the old flesh of the world, they
reflect a confusion of planes, not knowing the meaning of what is transpiring.

Only the spiritual apperceptivity of man can comprehend the transition from an old
and disintegrating world to a new world. Only the creatively-active attitude of man to the
elementally occurring process can beget a new life and a new beauty. The generation of
the Futurists of every shade all too passively but reflect this elemental process. In such
quite latest trends, as Suprematism, there is incisively posited the long since already
considered task of an ultimate liberation of the pure creative act from the grip of the
naturo-objective world. And the painting from a purely graphic element would have to
recreate a new world, totally dissimilar to all the natural world. And in it there should
have to be neither mature, with all its images, nor even man. This is not only a liberation
of art from the here and now, this -- is a liberation from all the created world, a creativity
propped up upon nothing. But is such a radicalism possible for the Futurist
consciousness? I tend to think, that with the Futurists this is merely a powerless creative
gesture and its significance but symptomatic. Futurism as regards its sense of life and its
consciousness is nowise radical, it -- is merely a passing fancy, moreso the end of the old
world, than the beginning of a new. The level of awareness of the Futurists remains
superficial and it never penetrates down into the depths of the cosmic changes. They see
only the surface level of what changes and stormy world movements are happening. That,
what is occurring in the depths, remains hidden for them. They are too servilely
dependent on the processes of the disintegration and stretching apart of the old flesh of
the world, its material trappings, in order for them to be able to create a new world not
dependent upon the external process enslaving them. They are situated under the grip of
the process of mechanisation, and their creativity is full of this machine-like objectness.
They are liberated from the human bodies, from trees, from the seas and the hills, but
they cannot liberate themselves from motors, from the electric light, from aeroplanes. But
indeed this is likewise part of the object-oriented world. It is from this that the Futurists
create, and not from the creative nothingness of the human spirit. The creative spirit is
denied by them, they believe more in motors and electric lamps. The Futurists, given the
condition of consciousness in which they are situated, create under the power of the
motor and reflect the changes, wrought by the motor in world life. There is no wellspring
of the dynamic with them. The Futurists are very shrill in their expressions, but in
essence they are hopelessly unassuming and dependent upon the outward world. And to
the Futurists must be opposed an immeasurably greater radicalism and creative daring,
going out beyond the limits of this world. Passivity is powerless to contend against
Futurism. To return to the old art, to the old beauty of the embodied world, to the
classical norms, is impossible. The world has become disembodied in its trappings,
reincarnated. And art cannot be preserved in its old embodiments. It has to create the
new, the bodies not yet material, it has to carry over into another plane of the world. The
true meaning of the crisis of the plastic arts -- is in the spasmodic attempts to penetrate
beyond the material trappings of the world, to discern a more subtle flesh, to surmount
the law of impenetrability, and this is a radical severing of art from antiquity. In the
Christian world the Renaissance proved that everything is still possible, with its
orientation towards antiquity. The forms of the human body have remained enduring. The
human body -- is a thing of antiquity. The crisis of art, in which we are at present, is
evidently a final and irreversible severing from all classicism.

Futurism obtains moreso in painting, than in literature. Literary Futurism has

manifested itself most of all in manifestos. It is short on artistic creativity. There are a
few poets of talent, and with them are some verses of talent. But a singularly noteworthy
Futurist in artistic prose there is perhaps by name of Andrei Bely. He belongs to the
generation of the Symbolists and he has always confessed a Symbolist faith. But in the
artistic prose of A. Bely can be discerned images of an almost of genius Futurist
creativity.2 This is to be sensed already in his symphonies. "With A. Bely there belongs
uniquely to him an artistic sensing of a cosmic crumbling and stretching apart, a
decrystalisation of all the things of the world, the breaking up and vanishing of all the
firmly established boundaries between objects. With him the images themselves of
people tend to get stretched and decrystalise, the borders get lost, such as separate one
man from another and from the objects round about in his world. One man passes over
into another man, one object passes over into another object, and the physical plane --
into the astral plane, the cerebral process -- into the existential process. There occurs a
displacement and jumbling together of various planes. It began to seem to the hero of
"Peterburg", that both he, and the room, and the objects in that room were re-embodied
momentarily from objects of the real world into mentally-posited symbols purely logical
in construct: the room dimensions became confused together with his lost awareness of
body in the general existential chaos, termed by him the universe; the consciousness of
Nikolai Apollonovich, separated from the body, became directly united with the electric
light of the writing table, and termed "the sun of consciousness". This fragment can be
termed totally Futurist as regards the expression in it of the sense of life. It is
characteristic for A. Bely as a writer and an artist, that with him there begins a spinning
about of words and interactive sounds and in this word-combination whirlwind that being
itself tends to stretch, sweeping away all bounds. The style of A. Bely always in the final
end passes over into a frantic circular motion. A. Bely sensed the whirlwind motion
within cosmic life and found for it an adequate expression in his whirlwind word-
combination. This -- is a direct expression in words of the cosmic whirlwinds. In the
whirlwind intensification of word-combinations and sounds there obtains an increase of
vital and cosmic intensity, an impulsion towards catastrophe. A. Bely stretches and
pulverises the crystaline aspect of words, the solid forms of a word, seemingly eternal,
and by this he expresses the stretching apart and pulverisation of the crystals within every
thing of the objective world. The cosmic whirlwinds as it were break free and tear apart,
pulverise all our settled and solid crystaline world. The creativity of A. Bely is also
Cubism within an artistic prose, in style akin to the painting Cubism of Picasso. With A.
Bely there are torn loose whole veilings of the world's flesh, and for him there are no
already yet salubrious organic images. In him there perishes the old, crystal-like beauty
of the embodied world and there is born a new world, in which there is as yet no beauty.
In the artistic prose of A. Bely everything likewise gets dislodged from its old, seemingly
eternal place, just as with the Futurists. A. Bely belongs to a new era, when the integral
perception of the image of man has been jolted, when man has gone through a
fragmentation. He submerges man into the cosmic infinitude, betrays him to being torn
apart by the cosmic whirlwinds. Lost are the boundary-lines, separating man from the
electric lamp. There opens forth an astral world. The firm boundaries of the physical
world have on the other hand safeguarded the independence of man, his particular firmly
set boundaries, his crystaline features. The contemplation of the astral world, of this
intermediate world betwixt spirit and matter, erases the boundaries, and decrystalises
both man and the world surrounding him. All these whirlwinds -- are astral whirlwinds,
and not whirlwinds of the physical world or of the humanly-emotional world". The
Futurist world-sense and Futurist creativity of A. Bely radically is more distinct from
other Futurists, in that it is connected for him with a great spiritual knowing, with a
contemplation of other planes of being. From spiritual life A. Bely catches sight of a
process of a cosmic disintegration and changing of all the cosmic order, and not from a
dissolution itself of the materiality of the world. Here is why he detects a new cosmic
rhythm, and in this is his virtue as an artist. The art of A. Bely is tormentive, it does not
directly gladden, just as also with modern art. He does not permit of an artistic catharsis.
But A. Bely moves on to other worlds, at a time when the Futurists in their blindness
move on within an empty gaping void. It is necessary to admit of Futurism, to grasp its
significance and move on to a new creativity. For this however there is inevitable a
transition to another path, to another plane, outside that line, along which modern art is

Art has to be free. This -- is an axiom very elementary, something not worth breaking
a spear over. The autonomy of art has forever been affirmed. Artistic creativity ought not
to be subjected to norms external to it, whether moral, social or religious. But the
autonomy of art does not at all signify, that artistic creativity can or ought to be torn
asunder from spiritual life and from the spiritual developement of man. Freedom is not a
void. Free art emerges out from the spiritual depths of man, as a free fruition. And only
profound and valuable is that art, in which there is sensed this depth. Art reveals freely all
the depth and encompasses by itself all the fullness of being. But those, who are too
frightened of heteronomous principles in art and its subordination to external norms,
think to save the autonomy of art moreso, than they would by forcibly consigning it to an
existence superficial and isolated. This is also what I tend to call spiritual illiteracy. A
man, cast stranded on the surface, a man with an "I" disintegrated core, torn asunder into
mere moments and shreds, cannot create powerful and great art. Art inevitably has to
emerge from its shut-in and isolated existence and pass over to the creativity of a new
life. And in this has to be admitted the truth of the synthetic strivings in art. Theurgy,
about which have tended to dream the finest Symbolists and heralds of a religious art, --
represents the ultimate limit of human creativity. But the paths to theurgy are complex,
tortuous and tragic. There is the danger of too prematurely and externally conceived a
theurgic art. Art cannot and ought not to be subordinated to any sort of an external
religious norm, to any sort of norm of spiritual life, which would transcend the art itself.
By such a path would be created merely a tendentious art. In a truly however theurgic art
the spiritual life of man would shine forth from within, and his religiosity would be but
totally immanent. R. Wagner believed too much in the sacralness of the old culture, and
V. Ivanov too much believes in this. Theurgic art in the strict sense of the word would be
already an egress beyond the bounds of art as spheres of culture, as unique from cultural
values, would be already a catastrophic passing over to the creativity of existence itself,
of life itself. The path to it lies not through the safe-guarding of the old art and the old
culture, not through a return to the past and not through a restoration of the sacral art of
the ancient world and the Medieval world; the path to it lies through a sacrificial firmness
of resolve to go forward through this process of fragmentation, distention and
disintegration, the symptoms of which we see within Cubism and Futurism, and to
survive this cosmic whirlwind with faith in the indestructibility of the creative spirit of
man, of the core "I", called to creative work in the new world epoch. The Futurist
machine aspect is but an external expression of a profound metaphysical process, an
altering of all the cosmic harmony, begotten of a new cosmic rhythm, which proceeds
from the depths. The new theurgic creativity, which is not something artistically to be
anticipated, lies along another line, within the spiritual plane. When the new painters
verymost current begin to set in their pictures newspaper clippings and bits of glass, it
runs along the line of a material dissociation to the point of an abject renunciation of
creativity. At the end point of this process there begins to be a falling apart of the creative
act itself whereby the creative daring gets replaced by a bold negation of creativity. Man
is not a passive tool of the world process and of everything happening from its
deterioration, he -- is an active creator. The cosmic pulling apart does not abolish the
personal spirit, does not exterminate the "I" of man, if the human spirit makes an heroic
effort to persevere and create within the new cosmic rhythm. The cosmic distention can
only but enable a making apparent and reinforcing of the true core of the "I". The human
spirit is being liberated from the old grip of organic matter. The machine with its claws
tears out the spirit from the grip of matter, it destroys the old consolidating together of
spirit and matter. In this -- is the metaphysical meaning of the appearance of the machine
in the world. But the Futurists do not understand this. They situate themselves moreso on
the perishing of matter, than on the liberating of spirit. The new art will create no longer
still in the forms of physical flesh, but in the forms of another, a more refined flesh, it
will pass over from material bodies to bodies soul-like.

The pathos of Futurism -- is the pathos of speed, a rapture of rapid movement. "We
declare, that the magnificence of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty
of speed". Thus declaims Marinetti. But speed is not something devised by the Futurists.
The Futurists themself were created by the aspect of speed. The world indeed has entered
into an era of rapid movement. But the Futurists conceive of and express merely the
outward side of this rapidity of temporal motion. The inward motion, the inward speeding
up as it were remains for the Futurists something hidden. But for a pervasive view it is
clear, that the unprecedented motion and the unprecedented speeding up are begun within
the depth of being and that the wellsprings of this motion and rapidness mustneeds be
sought for within spiritual life. The apocalyptic prophecies speak about an accelerated
aspect of time. The accelerated time, in which there developes an unprecedented and
catastrophic motion, is an apocalyptic time. Futurism also can be conceived of as a
phenomenon of apocalyptic time, although by the Futurists themselves this is something
altogether inconceivable. But within apocalyptic time the greatest possibilities are
combined with the greatest dangers. That which transpires with the world in all its
spheres, is an apocalypsis of the whole enormous cosmic epoch, the end of the old world
and the preliminaries of a new world. This is both more awesome and more abstract, than
the Futurists themself realise. In the whirlwind jostling of the world, in the accelerated
tempo of motion, everything gets dislodged from its place, breaking the material chains
of old. But in this whirlwind there can perish also the greatest values, it can be, that man
should not persevere, should be torn to shreds. There is possible not only the arising of a
new art, but also the perishing of all art, of every value, of all creativity.

The present world war was initiated by Germany as a futuristic war. The Futurism
from art passed over into life and in life gave more grandiose results, than within art. The
futuristic exercises in conducting the war were prescriptions by Germany for all the
world. The present war -- is a machine war. It -- to a remarkable degree is the result of
the growing power of the machine within human life. This -- is an industrial war, in it the
machine replaces man. The military might of Germany, now intimidating all the world, is
a might first of all that is industrially mechanical, technical. In the present-day war the
Futurists of the Marinetti type should be able to discern the new "magnificent world, the
beauty of speed". The Futurist militarism has no respect for the great values of the old
world, the old beauty, the old culture. We, as Russians, are least so the Futurists in this
war, we are least so capable of its machine demands, its speed, its whirlwind motion, and
we have most preserved both the old emotional virtues and the old emotional sins and
vices. We are all given to being extensive, but not intensive. In this is the wellspring of
our weakness. Within German militarism the futuristic machine aspect and the futuristic
rapidity of movement have gotten to the point of supreme virtues, of frightening futuristic
virtues. England and France strive to outstrip Germany in this, and they too make new
discoveries. Thus the whole world is drawn into a military futuristic whirlwind. And the
age-old barbarism of man, ingrained deeper than all culture, helps bring out this Futurism
in life. But the sources of the world war, assuming such a futuristic guise, lie deeper,
within the spiritual plane, where it begins and where it ends. In cosmic life indeed a
spiritual war is being waged and a struggle made for the greatest values. And only by the
spiritual war can mankind and the nations be saved for a new life. The material warfare is
but a manifesting forth of the spiritual warfare. And all the whole task consists in this,
that in this worldwide whirlwind there should be preserved the image of man, the image
of a people and the image of mankind for an higher creative life. This task stands there in
art, the same as this task stands there also in life. It stands contrary to futuristic life and
Futurist art. Its fulfilling cannot be attained by any sort of appeals to the past, nor by a
safeguarding of this past. Futurism has to be passed through and surmounted both in life
and in art. The surmounting is possible however through a deepening, through movement
along a different measure, a measure of depth, and not along a flat plane, through
knowledge, not abstract knowledge, but rather a living knowledge, cognitive-being.

We approach the final problem, which the crisis of art presents, a problem, which has
tremendous significance for all our culture. I speak about the interrelationship of
barbarity and decline. Human culture at its summits has an insurmountable tendency
towards decline, towards decadence, towards an exhaustion. Such it was in the great
culture of antiquity, which, essentially, is the eternal wellspring of all culture, and so also
in the culture of the modern world. Culture constantly becomes separated from its vital
and existential wellsprings, and at its summit it opposes itself to life, to being. There then
ensues an epoch of late cultural decline, a very refined and beautiful culture. This -- is a
beauty of fading blossoms, an autumnal beauty, knowing the greatest contradictions,
losing its integral wholeness and spontaneity, but discovering a sagacious knowledge not
only of itself, but also of that contrary to it. Epochs of cultural decline and cultural decay
become likewise epochs of intensified awareness. Such epochs are to the utmost degree
capable of an enfeebling, but also at the same time of an enriching of reflection, with a
splintering and fragmenting, egressing beyond the borders of all organic givenness.
Epochs of refinement and decline are not without fruition for the human spirit, and in
them is its own glimmering of light. The decadence of culture makes for enormous
proficiency and provides an opening ever so slightly to the unknowable. The typically
impotent decadence can make assertions only from a certain delimited and relative point
of view. But from a deeper point of view the decadence of the culture of antiquity,
reaching the point of dead exhaustion, was profoundly fruitful and provided much for the
spiritual life of the new, the Christian world. NeoPlatonism can be termed a philosophy
of cultural decline for an entire world epoch. But NeoPlatonism played an enormously
positive role in the spiritual life of mankind and plays it still also at present. Christianity
was a salvific spiritual barbarism in regard to the cultural decline of the ancient world.
But by mysterious paths the elements of decline passed over into this regenerating and
renewing barbarity, without which the world would ultimately have perished. The
barbarism of spirit and the barbarism of flesh and blood, welling up powers from the
deepest dark wellsprings of being, drawing forth vigour from the dark roots of all life,
from the not as yet enlightened nor transformed culturally unfathomable, in a mighty
torrent had to flood upon human culture, when in it decline and exhaustion sets in.
Christianity had to seem barbarism to the cultured peoples, such as were under the sway
of the decline of the ancient world. And yet, this is but a limited pole of perspective. In
actuality, Christianity was a revealing of light, drawn forth from the deepest depths of
being, to which the ancient world had been unable to attain to. It was verymost a
transformation of darkness into light, as ever the world did know. With the Gnostics there
occurred a combining synthesis of all the old revelations of the ancient cultures together
with the new Christian revelation from its depths of being. The Gnostics see not one thing
only, but also another, they know in a light of wholeness and a light of disparateness,
they unite together the revelations of "barbarism" and the revelations of "decadence". In
this is the eternal sagacity of the Gnostic spiritual type. And this applies also for our era.

Every new culture in a fatal manner tends ultimately towards decline and
exhaustion. The end of the XIX Century at its heights of culture generated the poisoned
blossoms of decadence. These blossoms do not flower for long, they rapidly fade off. The
Latin race, which also had produced the foundations of the old European culture, in
which there was never any decisive breaking of its connections from antiquity, underwent
a great stagnation, and in it ensued an exhaustion of vital powers. The French decadence
was a final beautiful fruition of the cultural creativity of this great and very old race. The
Germanic race in comparison with the Latin race was barbaric, in it there was not that
ancient connection with antiquity, it had not those old traditions. In the culture, created
by the Germans, there was a new depth, but there was not the subtle refinement nor the
diversity, obtaining for the sagacity of a late setting. The Germans also were those
barbarians, who once upon a time flooded upon Rome, upon the ancient world and
renewed the blood of the old cultured races. With the Germanic race, having preserved in
its blood even up to the present a certain barbarity, there is not so acutely the problem of
the relationship of barbarism and decline, as with the Latin race. Oh, certainly, in German
culture would be involved decadence in the process, and this is to be sensed in the
present-day war. The whole of European culture at its summits had to have sensed
exhaustion and decay with having to seek out a reinvigoration of its powers in barbarity,
which in our era is perhaps moreso inward, than outward, i.e. moreso deep a stratum of
being, not yet transformed into culture. But world culture has gone out so far distant and
so drained itself, that it cannot itself per se be of a strength for transforming that flood of
darkness, which engulfs from the depths of being. At the summit heights of culture,
which finds itself all more and more to be worldwide, there is discovered an ultimate
barbarity. Culture is shewn to be but a very delicate layer. This is most of all perceived in
the Latin race, the cradle of all European culture. Futurism had to have its birth in Italy,
staggeringly bent beneathe the weight of its own great cultural past, sapped of strength by
this past greatness: Futurism likewise is a new barbarism upon the summits of culture. In
it there is the barbarian coarseness, the barbarian wholeness and barbarian ignorance.
This barbarism should have effected a change in the decline. But it transpired from a not
very great depth. The culture is rending its own particular veils and discovers a not very
deeply buried layer of barbarity, and here hence resound loudly the barbarian cries of the
Futurist literature from the fissures, formed from the crisis of culture and art. And there is
almost no hope, that the eternal normative culture, deriving its classical forms from
antiquity, will vanquish these barbarian cries, these barbarian gestures. It begins to feel,
that the trappings of culture, of the eternally classical culture, of the canonical culture, is
sundered forever and cannot be reborn in the old sense of the word, which was always a
return to antiquity. The sundering of the trappings of culture and the deep fissures in it is
the symptom of a certain profound cosmic process. The world is changing its attire and
trappings. Culture and art as an organic part of it is merely a set of attire of the world,
merely the trappings of the world. I speak about the culture of which I am myself aware
and construe as distinct from being, from life, and which sets itself in opposition to being,
to life. Culture has transformed the initially given barbarian darkness of being into a
certain bright realm, in which it has isolated itself and in which it takes pride as being
self-sufficient. But culture in this its classical sense is not the sole path of the
transformation of darkness into life, it is not the sole path of giving form to chaos.
Through culture lies a path upwards and forward, not backwards, not to a pre-cultural
condition, and this -- is the path of the transformation of culture itself into new bring, into
a new heaven and a new earth. Only upon this path, bursting forth into culture, can the
barbarian shouts and the barbarian gestures be harnessed to the new cosmic harmony and
the new cosmic rhythm. Not only art, but all human creativity also will perish and plunge
into the primordial darkness, if it does not become a creativity of life, a creativity of the
new man and his spiritual path. The cultured and the decadent are situated in a condition
of impotent fragmentedness, whereas the barbaric Futurists are situated in a condition of
coarse wholeness and ignorance. For the new life, for the new creativity, for the new art
there need to break through those Gnostics of the new type, who know the secret of
integrality and the secret of dividedness, they know both the one and they know the other,
opposite to it. Such a sagacious knowledge ought to help overcome the great conflict of
barbarism and decline, which has many an expression, and which is but the manifestation
moreso of the profound tragic conflict of the creativity of life and the creativity of
culture. The emergence from this can be only through a passing over into a new world
aeon, in the which all creativity would already become a continuation of God's Creation
of the world. This transition is impossible to understand outwardly, and the inward
understanding of the fate of art ought not to be transformed into a norm inwardly binding
upon it. Art, just like all the spheres of culture, has to deal with its own existence and
ultimately experience its own fate. In the world they will still create verses, pictures and
musical symphonies, but in creativity the inner catastrophe will accelerate and from
within glimmer through. Everything will turn out proportionate to the spiritual growth of
man and the world. There exists now in world life however a variable growth and it is
impossible from the outside and in terms of art to anticipate it. It has been said, that in the
end-times people will get married and wed, will buy and trade. And in the upper spheres
of cultural creativity much inwardly as it were remains as of old, inwardly however all
will be engulfed by the flames. And those, who have sensed and have perceived the
workings of these flames, bear a great responsibility and have to work at the spiritual
regeneration of man and the inner enlightening of all his creative activity.

N. A. Berdyaev.


© 2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1918 -14,1 - en)

KRIZIS ISKUSSTVA. Published originally as lead article to Booklet (Kl.#14) entitled
"Krizis Iskusstva, Sbornik statei" ["The Crisis of Art, a Collection of Articles"], Moscow,
1918, G. A. Leman and S. I. Sakharov, 47 p. In this anthology, the second article is
reprint from 1914 (Kl.#174; 14,2), -- "Picasso"; the third and final article is reprint from
1916 (Kl.#233; 14,3), -- "An Astral Novel: A. Bely's "Peterburg"".

Berdyaev's "The Crisis of Art" article has subsequently been reprinted in tom 2 of the
1994 Liga Moscow Russian text, "Philosophia, tvorchestva, kul'tury i iskusstva", c. 399-

I am citing here from certain places of the article about Picasso, which follows further
on. For the construction of my "Crisis of Art" text, Picasso is necessary by way of
example, and by which I develope my own thought about art. Paraphrasing myself
however I consider bad form.
On the same basis, by which I quoted from certain places in the article about Picasso,
I here quote certain places from an article, concerning the "Peterburg" of a. Bely.

Class and Man

(1918 - #290)

The struggle of classes fills the whole history of mankind. It is not a discovery of the
XIX and XX Centuries, although in these centuries it assumed new acute forms. This
struggle occurred way back in the ancient world and there already it had quite varied
appearances. Much that is instructive can be gleaned from the book of [Robert von]
Pohlmann [1852-1914], "History of Ancient Communism and Socialism". Certain pages
bring to mind the chronology of our own days. The social uprising of the masses always
and everywhere was alike as regards its psychological atmosphere. Too much gets
repeated in social life, and it is difficult to imagine new combinations and settings. There
was many a class communistic movement in the past, and they often assumed a religious
hue. Suchlike communistic movements were especially characteristic of the era of the
Reformation. The elemental communism of the lower classes is one of the oldest
principles, periodically arising and making an attempt to topple the individualistic and
hierarchical principles. Communism -- is as old as the world, it was there at the cradle of
human civilisation. Many a time within history have arisen the lower peoples, and there
was the attempt to do away with all the hierarchical and qualitative principles within
society and to establish a mechanical equality and mixing. This disruptive leveling and
simplification of society always was non-correlative with the progressive historical tasks,
with the cultural level. Periodically within history have occurred deluges of chaotic
darkness which have striven to topple the societal cosmos and its laws of developement.
Such a kind of movement over and over continually could become quite reactionary and
throw off a people backwards. The socialist Lassal did not regard as progressive the
peasant wars of the Reformation era, he regarded them as reactionary, i.e. contrary to the
basic historical tasks of that time. And in elements of the Russian Revolution are active
likewise the same old, reactionary forces, in it is stirred up the ancient chaos, lying
beneathe the thin layers of Russian civilisation.

The class struggle, the original sin of human societies, tended to deepen and change
during the XIX Century. In this progressive century human society became very
materialised, it lost its spiritual centre, and the beastly greedy man attained an extreme
intensity and expression. The moral character of the bourgeois-capitalistic century makes
the struggle of classes for their interests all the more brazen, than in former centuries.
And this is connected not with the fact of industrial developement, which is a good per
se, but with the spiritual condition of European society. The spiritual poison in this
society went from the top down, from the dominating classes to the oppressed classes.
The materialistic socialism of Marx and others, having concentrated in itself all the
poison of the bourgeois godlessness, failed to restrain itself amidst a more acute
perception of the fact of class struggle, -- it sanctified this fact and ultimately subjected
man to the class. The means of struggle ultimately eclipsed the higher aims of life.
Materialistic socialism, enslaved by the economic aspect of capitalistic societies, denies
both man and human nature in common, it acknowledges only the class-man, only class
collectives. There is begotten an altogether peculiar sense of life, it is only the masses
that feel and they altogether cease to sense the individual man. Class represents quantity.
Man however represents quality. The class struggle, elevated into an "idea", has obscured
the qualitative image of man. In our harsh era, with all the veils torn away, the naively
amusing old mode of idealism is already an impossibility, impossible too is a turning
away from the ugly fact of class struggles, from the perceiving of class antagonisms and
class solidifications, distorting the nature of man. Class antagonisms and class distortions
play an enormous though unappreciated role in social life. But upon this fact of nature
ought not to depend our moral judgements and our reflections concerning the spiritual
image of man. Human nature can be distorted by the class position of a man, the outward
aspects of a man can become determined by class greed and class limitation. But the
spiritual core of a man, the individual human image never is determined by class, is not
dependent upon the social medium. And anyone, who denies this, winds up denying man,
and commits a spiritual homicide. It is godless and immoral, in place of man with his
good and bad traits, to see only some collective substance of bourgeois or proletariat.
Such an idea of class kills the idea of man. This murder theoretically is committed in
Marxism. Within elements of the Russian Revolution it gets to be committed practically
and for real in dimensions yet unseen within history. The "bourgeois" man and the
"socialistic" man cease to be people for each other, brothers by the One Father of the
human race. Within this revolutionary element there cannot be a true liberation of man,
since man is negated within his primal basis. The liberation of class as it were constrains
and enslaves man.

From such time as the world became Christian and accepted baptism, within its
religious consciousness it acknowledged, that people -- are brothers, that we have One
Heavenly Father. In the Christian world the master and the slave as regards their social
trappings cannot look upon each other as wolves, in their sin perhaps they can, but they
cannot in their faith. In their moments of clarity, in their spiritual depths they have
admitted each other as brothers in Christ. The Christian world has remained a sinful
world. It fell, it betrayed its God, it did evil, in it people hated one another, and in place
of the law of love they fulfilled a law of hatred. But the sin of hatred, of malice and
violence was recognised by all Christians as sin, and not as a virtue, not as a way to an
higher life. The faith in man, as the image and likeness of God, has remained a belief of
the Christian world. Man may have been bad, but his faith was good, and good was the
spiritual foundation itself, lodged within Christ and His Church. Yet within the Christian
mankind there occurred a grievous crisis. The soul of peoples and the soul of nations
sickened. Faith became impaired, and there ceased to be a belief in man as in the image
and likeness of God, since there had ceased to be a true belief in God. The very spiritual
foundations of life became altered. Socialism was not to blame for this spiritual downfall,
it occurred earlier. Socialism but slavishly adopted this unbelief in man and in God, it
merely takes it to the limit and gives it a common expression. The unbelief in man led to
the apotheosis of man. The struggle of classes ceased to be a socio-economic fact, it
became a spiritual fact, it spread to all the junctures of human nature and human life.
There did not remain a single corner of the human soul, within human experiences and
human creativity, not intruded upon by the struggle of classes with their interminable
pretensions. The theories of economic materialism anticipated and corresponded to the
new human actuality -- economism, flooding across all the scope of human life. And
upon this basis was lost within human society a singular law of the good. The
"bourgeois" good and the "socialistic" good want to have nothing in common between
them, and over them stands nothing higher, of a single good. And therefore there is no
longer a direct relationship of man to man, there is only the relationship of class to class.
Revolutionary socialism, as transpiring at present in Russia, ultimately kills the
possibility of the brotherhood of people on principle, in its new faith, in its very idea.
And as regards this new faith, there is no longer man, there is only the bearer and declarer
of an impersonal class substance.

Not only is it that the "proletariat" and the "bourgeoise" are not brothers to each
other, being rather instead wolves, but also the proletarian is not a brother with his fellow
proletarian, being rather instead "comrades", comrades in interests, in woe, in
togetherness of material desires. Within the socialistic faith, comrade has replaced the
brother of the Christian faith. Brothers were united one to another, as children of the One
God, through love, through a common spirit. Comrades are united one to another through
a commonness of interests, through hatred for the "bourgeoise", through a like material
basis to life. Comrades in their comradeship have a respect for class, but not for man.
Such a comradeship kills at the root the brotherhood of people, not only the higher unity
of Christian mankind, but even the modicum of unity of civilised mankind. The French
Revolution made bad use of the slogan, "Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood". But
brotherhood it did not realise and did not attempt to realise. The socialistic revolution
imagines, that it can and ought to realise brotherhood. But it realises only comradeship,
bearing an unprecedented divisiveness into mankind. Equality is not brotherhood.
Brotherhood is possible only in Christ, only for a Christian mankind, since this -- is a
revelation of a religion of love. The idea of brotherhood is derived from Christianity and
outside of it, it is impossible. The pathos of equality is the pathos of jealousy, and not of
love. Movements, begotten by the passion of a leveling equality, breathe vengeance, they
do not want to be sacrificial, but rather to take away. Brotherhood -- is something
organic, equality is however something mechanical. In brotherhood is affirmed every
human person, in the equality of "comrades" there however vanishes every person into
the quantitative mass. In the brother triumphs man, in the comrade there triumphs class.
The comrade becomes a substitute for man. Brother -- is a religious category. The citizen
-- is a political category, a state-legal category. The comrade -- is a pseudo-religious
category. The "citizen" and the "brother" have justification. But through the idea of the
comrade, class kills man. Man to man is not a "comrade", man to man is a citizen or
brother, -- a citizen in the state, in worldly society, and a brother -- in church, in the
society religious. Citizenship is connected with law; brotherhood is connected with love.
The comrade denies law and denies love, he admits only common or contrary interests. In
this conjunction or disunion of interests, man perishes. Man needs either a citizenly
relationship to himself, laws acknowledging him, or a brotherly relationship to him, a
relationship of free love.


The Russian people has to go through the school of citizenship. In this school has to
be worked out a respect for man and his rights, there has to be perceived the dignity of
man, as a being, living within society and the state. Every man and every people has to go
through this stage, it is impossible to overleap it. When slaves in revolt declare, that the
citizen condition for them is unnecessary and not to their liking, that they at once can
pass directly over to an higher condition, then usually they fall into a beastly condition.
The school of brotherhood works out the love of man for man, the consciousness of a
spiritual commonness. This -- is a religious plane, which ought not to be confused with
the political plane. It would be unseemly and dishonest to transfer a miracle of religious
life over to the life political and social, bestowing the relative with an absolute character.
A compulsory brotherhood is impossible. Brotherhood -- is the fruition of a free love.
Brotherly love -- is a blossoming of spiritual life. With the citizen however everything
can be obligatory. Everyone can demand a respect for his rights, the acknowledging in
him of man, even if there is no love. The socialistic comradeship is in its idea a forced
virtue, a coercion to association, greater than that, which a man voluntarily would wish.
"Comrade" is an impermissible muddling of "citizen" and "brother", the mixing together
of in society of state and church, the substituting of one plane by another, not that and not
this. And these past months the word "comrade" in Russia has assumed a laughable and
almost shameful significance. With it is connected for us the destruction of citizenship
and an ultimate denial of a brotherhood of love. The class in the guise of the "comrade"
has risen up not only against class, but class has risen up against man. In the raging of
class hatred they have forgotten about man. Man however is an authentic and enduring
reality. It is man that inherits eternity, and not class. Every class is a temporal and
transitory phenomenon, it once was not and again will not be. Man is what is concrete.
Class however is an abstraction. Within this abstraction are conjoined complex social
interests and complex social psyches. But these abstract conjunctions can never form an
authentic reality, a real value. The "proletariat" of the socialists is an abstract "idea", and
not a reality. In reality there exist only varied groups of workers, often differing in their
interests, and in their manner of soul. Yet they want to compel the workers themself to
submit to the abstract idea of the proletariat. And to this bloodless abstraction, like to an
idol, they offer human sacrifices.

Class is likewise lacking in that reality, which is had by the nation, and the state.
Class -- is a very relative mode, it can occupy only a very subordinate position.
Everything regarding "class" relates to the outward trappings of life, and not to the core.
The attempt to posit at the basis of the fate of society the idea of class and the fact of
class is a demonic attempt, it is directed at the extermination of man, of nation, the state,
the church, all the genuine realities. Class, that to which they ascribe the supremacy,
undermines everything of value and distorts all the vital settings of value. The working
class, persuaded, that it is the sole chosen class, leaves no place for living, it steals and
cripples everything. In Russia there will be no free citizenry, as long as Russians live
under the power of the demonic idea of class. And this dark class idea will extirpate the
remnants of brotherhood in the Russian people, as a Christian people. The hypnotic effect
of the class idea distorts even socialism itself and bestows it a destructive and suicidal
character. If socialism were possible and allowable, then at its foundation ought to be put
man, and not class. Against class absolutism it is necessary to preach a crusade. In the
darkness of the Russian people, in the grip of a false idea, deceived and abused, there
ought to awaken man, the human image and the human dignity. The conceit and
impudence of class are not an human worthiness, in them man perishes. In the masses of
the workers and the peasants not only does man not awaken, but ultimately he becomes
forgotten and sinks into the element of dark instincts. The Bolshevik collectivism also is
a final obscuring in Russia of the human principle, of the human person, of the human
image. The proletarian class communism on Russian soil is an experiencing of a
primitive human communism. The revolution has set loose this communistic darkness,
but it has done nothing in the life of the masses of the people for the development of a
free citizenry. A new and better life will begin in Russia, when the bright spirit of man
wins out over the dark demon of class.

Nikolai Berdyaev.

8 January 1918

Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of

1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, "Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii
(Stat'i 1917-18)" ("Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)",
Paris, 1990, p. 56-64.

The Power and Psychology

of the Intelligentsia*
(*this article was written prior to the Bolshevik turnover)

Here already it has been several months, with Russia facing unresolved tasks -- to
create a strong state power from an human material, totally unprepared for the holding of
power and for determining the fate of the state, unprepared as regards all its past,
unprepared as regards its mental frame of mind to not be called to power nor rule in the
state. Over the course of the "unfolding" of the Revolution the power gradually passed
over to the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, to the Russian Social Revolutionaries and
the Social Democrats, i.e. to people, who in their dreams never imagined, that they might
actually come to power, and whose whole world-outlook and psychology denies the very
principle of holding power. The tumbling over from the underground into a ministry -- is
no easy thing, it can be mentally maddening. The Russian socialistic intelligentsia had no
presentiment, had no thoughts, which might have prepared it for holding power. The
Russian revolutionary-socialistic intelligentsia had crystalised into a peculiar race, into a
peculiar variety of people, which could be recognised even by its physical appearance,
and this race was incapable of governance. Its governing and holding of power is
anthropologically, psychologically and morally something ridiculous. This variety of
people cannot create an aesthetic style of holding power, as might be but repulsive. The
shouted about lack of power is not only aesthetically repulsive, -- its aesthetic non-
acceptability is likewise an indicator of spiritual unpreparedness and untruth. By all its
very blood and all its thoughts our revolutionary intelligentsia has always denied the
holding of power, and for it the struggle with the autocratic power passed over into a
denial of the state, the nation, and history. The revolutionary intelligentsia has lived with
utopias and dreams of a perfect social order. And at that blissful point in time, when this
social order ensues, it presupposes the absence of every sort of holding of power, since
every having of power is from evil. Prior to this desirable moment, however, there has to
be an irreconcilable opposition to every sort of power, there being needful permanent
revolution. The absolutisation of the revolutionary psychology makes impossible any
participation in the holding of power. The Russian revolutionary does not imagine it
possible for him to participate in power prior to the realisation of socialism, and yet he
would tend to imagine for himself the realisation of socialism as the final blessed
surmounting of every holding of power, of everything to do with the state. For him the
holding of power would either be something too premature, or too belated. He is
accustomed to experience a religious absoluteness in societal life, where everything is
relative. And this distorted religious feeling has not been to a strengthening morally,
instead it has led to a moral distortion and decay. The soul of the Russian intelligentsia
has fallen under the grip of false gods and idols.

No sort of positive habits of constructive a societal and state outlook have

preceeded the sudden and catastrophic appearance in power of the Russian intelligentsia.
The intelligentsia has been accustomed to sense itself alienated from its native land, from
its history, from the legacy of ancestors, from the whole of the state and the people.
Never has there opened before it the perspective of the span of history and never has it
directed its will to creative tasks. Its psychology was caught up in its own narrow circle,
stuffy and stifling. This world of the intelligentsia has been completely self-enclosed
world, dwelling within its deeply provincial interests, its own party considerations,
speaking in its hideous jargon, setting itself in opposition to the breadth of the universal
and historical. This was a sectarian like little world with all the peculiarities of the
sectarian psychology. Foreign to it was a language national and a language all-human.
The sectarian is not capable of thinking about the great entirety nor is he able to direct his
will to this entirety, and in this he is distinct from the churchly man, who senses himself
within the universal whole. The sectarian psychology of the revolutionary intelligentsia
has led to an extreme simplification of the thinking process. All the complexity of life has
eluded his sight, visible only is a direct straight line, God's whole manifold world is
rendered either on the "right" or the "left". The sectarian psychology of the intelligentsia
never was creative nor productive, it was totally in the grip of a thirst for division and
redistribution. The intelligentsia sectarians never wanted to recognise any sort of
objective principles of societal life, and to them this seemed "bourgeois". The fate of the
state and society was relegated by them to the domain of human subjectivity, everything
was explained by the evil or good will of people and classes. The cosmic and natural
grounds of human society always remained unconceivable and unacceptable for the
intelligentsia sectarianism. Limited by nothing, the subjective moralism has led to an
immoral violence against the objective nature of society and state, to the immoral denial
of principles, set higher than the subjective arbitrary will of people and their subjective
well-being. This has been a moralism of the underground and the renegade, for which
there does not exist any great mystery of the whole nation and world, there does not exist
any mutual responsibility. And here now the elemental historical surging wave lifts to the
summits of power these sectarians, accustomed to live in the underground, as renegades
from the national entirety, and to deny the state, the fatherland, and the pre-eminence of


The whole revolutionary history of the Russian intelligentsia has accustomed it to

irresponsibility. It never was summoned to responsible deeds within Russian history. The
responsibility for the woeful state of Russia, for all the evil of Russian life, the
intelligentsia tended to lay on "them", the ruling power, in opposition to the people, but
never upon itself. The banishings, the prisons and the executions morally strengthened
the sense of irresponsibility. The hapless Russian intelligentsia was accustomed to a
persecuted position and in everything it regards as blameworthy its persecutors. One who
lacks the vocation for a constructive life, who as it were is thrown overboard, is one who
is deprived the possibility to develope and strengthen in himself a sense of responsibility.
The intelligentsia was accustomed to confess the most irresponsible theories and utopias,
which never were credible in actual experience. In its self-contained little world, the
intelligentsia came up with the most extreme teachings, but never did it seriously prepare
itself for the vital testing of these teachings. For several days prior to the turnover, the
representatives of the revolutionary intelligentsia did not even realise, that it had befallen
their lot to take upon themselves the responsibility for the fate of a great state. Even after
the turnover occurred, when all the obstacles on the paths to democracy had fallen, the
revolutionary democracy relegated to the Provisional Government almost the same
structure, as it had applied to the old government, it transferred over its old habits onto
the new Russia. It is incapable of putting aside its underground and mutinously negative
revolutionary psychology. The professional revolutionaries have continued on with
making revolution even then, when there is no one and nothing to make it against. The
irresponsible sense of revolutionary opposition has been totally carried over also into the
liberated Russia. And it mustneeds straight out be said, that the Russian revolutionary
intelligentsia is, perhaps, a very inert and very reactionary inheritance, received by the
new Russia from the old Russia -- it lives in the old, it breathes with the old and negative
feelings, it is incapable of being pervaded with a creative psychology. This -- is the
product of people, organically incapable of the constructive view for a new life.

These people started with this, with committing an immense crime -- in the dark
masses of the people they spread the seeds of class malice and hatred and brought about
the act of the rising up of class against class in monstrous proportions, auguring the death
of the state and the nation and transforming Russian life into a living hell. Then these
very people became alarmed at the deed wrought of their hands, they tasted the bitter
fruits of their destructive work and hastily they began to do the elemental schooling of
state and national learning, and certain of them by rote began to pronounce the word
fatherland. Having received the rule of power, they began without success to set right
certain of their mistakes, for example, they tried to revive the army, but alongside this
they made ever newer and newer mistakes. The Russian socialistic intelligentsia faces the
danger of being swept away by the very element in the people that it has set loose. The
revolutionary intelligentsia itself began to destroy the liberated new Russia, and having
come to power, it is powerless to try to set right the consequences of its destruction. It has
not been the creative, but rather the destructive deeds that brought the Russian socialists
to power, and this path has begotten a tragically impotent holding of power. The weave
of soul of these people is such, that they are incapable of rule. The holding of power -- is
not an intelligentsia trait. When the revolutionary intelligentsia ceased to be persecuted
and changed into persecutors, they displayed features of a frightful moral ugliness. They
were incapable of worthily bearing the burden of power, since first of all they understand
power as a right, and not as an obligation. For one to worthily hold power, it is necessary
to be done with the revolutionary psychology, to get into communion with the mystery of
the whole and the mystery of succession. "Revolutionary ruling power", just like
"revolutionary order", -- is an absurd word combination. The attempts to create a
"revolutionary ruling power", relying upon the revolutionary psychology, over the course
of several months have made for an atmosphere in which the governing power is creating
bedlam and has begotten appearances morally ugly. After the revolutionary turnover
occurred, it became necessary to organise in Russia a new order of life, to enter upon
construction and creativity. Instead of this healthy path -- a path of national renewal, --
with us they produced a revolution on to infinity, they set upon a path of destruction and
lacked the ability to give up on the old revolutionary psychology, begotten of oppression
and brotherhood. The revolutionary democracy cannot rule, this -- is an old, and not a
new democracy. As a builder of life, as the builder of a new Russia there can be only the
democracy of a new type of outlook, with a developing sense of responsibility, with a
developing instinct for productivity, with a strong awareness of the national and state
totality and having a bond with the historical past, i.e. a creative national democracy. The
democracy ought also to create an aristocracy, i.e. the selection of the finest. The
revolutionary democracy, however, which is but the revolutionary intelligentsia, is
putting the finish to its history with the Russian Revolution.


Our socialists simultaneously fight for power, while in every way which they can
they discredit the "bourgeois" holding of power, and they are likewise afraid of the
holding of power, they do not want to take upon themselves the fullness of responsibility.
Having lost neither their shyness nor scruples, the Russian socialists are ill at ease over
what in the Revolution they tended to call "bourgeois", yet the socialists are now at the
top, and the bourgeoise squeezed into the background. This -- is a paradox of the Russian
Revolution, which disquiets the Russian socialists, such as are not ultimately bereft of a
sense of responsibility. The socialistic structure at present cannot be introduced into
Russia, a land industrially backward, wretched and uncultured, with its working class
unenlightened and unorganised, and amidst an indisputable social antagonism of the
peasants and workers. And indeed the socialistic order is an abstraction, while manifold
social reforms are what is concrete. The radical socialistic experiments at present are
throwing Russia backwards, splintering it. And forthwith the socialists demand
participation in the organisation of power, without them cannot be made the "bourgeois"
revolution, but they have need of them only as a smoke-screen, in order to shift from their
own shoulders the immense sense of responsibility. As soon as s coalition is formed, the
socialist elements demand, that the bourgeois elements completely fulfill their
programme. Such indeed was the attitude of the old powers towards the liberal elements
of Russian society: in dangerous moments they were prepared to call on them, but with
them it was a matter of preserving intact the old regime. The socialist influence has
caused much woe and has led Russia to great disgrace, but the socialists do not want to
assume completely upon themself the answerability for these misfortunes and this
disgraceful state of affairs. The revolutionary democracy is fighting for total power, yet it
does not want to deal with that power, which unexpectedly has fallen to its lot.

It is with fear that the representatives of the socialist intelligentsia have scampered
up to the summits of power. Their own shouts against the bourgeoise have placed them in
a tragic position. They have morally fallen out on top. These people could morally
undergo persecution, but they cannot morally undergo being in power. The ruling ability
does not flow in their blood, they do not belong to the sort that are rulers. The Russian
socialist intelligentsia having power is a phenomenon of tragic impotence. It cannot
create an aesthetically viable style of holding power and it is doomed to a moral
unseemliness and collapse. A man, having fallen into a situation too unsuited and
impossible for him, becomes impotently paralysed, he aesthetically becomes lacking in
ability and it is only with difficulty that he remains upon the moral heights. History has
set a trap for the Russian socialist intelligentsia, and beyond the ecstatic moments of its
power and glory it faces a grievous payback. To me it is quite clear, that with the Russian
revolutionary intelligentsia being in power and with its experiments, which it makes upon
hapless Russia, represents its finish, its graveyard, the proving out of the falseness of its
basic ideas and principles. With us the ruling Russian socialism is now taken too
seriously, we are too frightened and beset by it. This however -- is a false perspective. All
this prevailing "revolutionary democracy" is but an expression of Russian chaos and
Russian darkness. This is a matter of illusions and mirages within Russian life. Within the
Russian Revolution there has been too much of the unreal, many a declaration which can
be snatched away at any moment, and theatrical forms, nowise active of real personages.
The authentic realities lie hidden, and the real interplay of powers is not at all such, as it
would seem on the surface. With us there was created a myth about the Bolsheviks, and
this myth has assumed the appearance of reality, but the Bolsheviks also shake with terror
at the prospect of counter-revolution and the return of the old masters, and they belong to
a sort, not for long called to rule. Momentarily their rule will be a spectre, one of the
nightmares of the great soul of the Russian people, nothing more. Sooner or later in
Russia there has to be a real, a strong national state power. This power might be varied in
whatever its shading, but it cannot be a power of the revolutionary intelligentsia, -- a
breed, doomed to extinction. There will be a new power, stronger and more integrated,
not consumed from within by the old sicknesses, not debilitated by moral reflections, and
capable of fulfilling severe duties. There cannot be in power those, who still on the eve
did not know, whether war is permissible and justified in defense of the fatherland, who
were doubtful whether to maintain order in the land by forceful measures and thereby
avert anarchy, and who reflected Hamlet-like over the repulsive severity of every manner
of state. The coming Russian democracy, if it is to be, will have nothing in common with
what at present is called "revolutionary democracy". And if we are to have an healthy
socialist movement, then it will have nothing in common with the Russian revolutionary
socialism, now having its orgy. Russia has to find itself a manner of people, truly capable
of rule, a new aristocracy.

Nikolai Berdyaev

Jan.-Feb. 1918

Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of

1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, "Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii
(Stat'i 1917-18)" ("Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)",
Paris, 1990, p. 198-206.

Thou didst take everything, that is unusual,

conjectural and indefinite, Thou didst take
everything that was beyond the powers of
people, and there didst behave as though
loving them not at all.
Legend of the Grand Inquisitor

Many a truth has already been written about Dostoevsky and much has been said
about him, which has come to be almost banal. I have not in view the old Russian
criticism, of which the article by N. K. Mihailovsky, "The Cruel Talent" ("Zhestokii
talant"), might serve as a typical example. For the journalistic criticism of this type,
Dostoevsky was completely unacceptable, and it had no clue to the revealing of the
mysteries of his creativity. But people also of another spiritual dimension wrote about
Dostoevsky, they were more akin to him, of another generation, those peering into the
spiritual distances: Vl. Solov'ev, Rozanov, Merezhkovsky, Volynsky, L. Shestov,
Bulgakov, Volzhsky, Vyach. Ivanov. All these writers each in his own way attempted to
get to the bottom of Dostoevsky and to disclose the profundity in him. In his creativity
they beheld the utmost revelations, the struggle of Christ and the Anti-Christ, of the
Divine and the demonic principles, of the disclosing of the mystical nature of the Russian
people, of the uniqueness of Russian Orthodoxy and Russian humility. Thinkers of the
religious tendency saw the essential content of all the creativity of Dostoevsky in the
singular revelations about Christ, about immortality and about the God-bearing Russian
people and they bestowed his ideology a special significance. For others still, Dostoevsky
was first of all a psychologist, disclosing the underground psychology. Dostoevsky had
all of this in him. He was extraordinarily gifted, and from him there go many directions
and each could be used by him for its own ends. The enigma of Dostoevsky can be
approached from various sides. And I want to approach this enigma from a side, which
has been insufficiently approached. I do not think, that the religious explanation of
Dostoevsky, which has become dominant for us, has detected the most primary thing in
him, that central theme of his, with which is connected his pathos. It is impossible within
the limited expanse of an article to encompass the whole of Dostoevsky, but it is possible
to take note of one of his themes, which suggests itself to me as central and from which
he explains everything.

Dostoevsky had one thing very inherent to him, an unprecedented regard for man
and for his destiny -- here is where it is necessary to see his pathos, here is with what is
connected the uniqueness of his creative type. For Dostoevsky there is nothing and
naught else than man, everything is revealed only in him, everything is subordinated only
to him. N. Strakhov, who was close to him, noted: "All his attention was directed upon
people, and he grasped at only their nature and character. He was interested by people,
people exclusively, with their state of soul, with the manner of their lives, their feelings
and thoughts". In the journey abroad "Dostoevsky was especially occupied neither by
nature, nor by historical memorials, nor works of art". And this is attested to by all the
creativity of Dostoevsky. No one ever had such an exclusive preoccupation with the
theme of man. And no one had such a genius for revealing the mystery of human nature.
Dostoevsky was, first of all, a great anthropologist, an investigator of human nature, its
depth and its mystery. All his creativity -- is of anthropological experiences and
experiments. Dostoevsky -- is not a realist as an artist, he is an experimentator, a creator
of an experimential metaphysics of human nature. All the artistry of Dostoevsky is but a
method of anthropological searchings and disclosings. He is not only beneathe Tolstoy as
an artist, but also in the strict sense of this word, he cannot be termed an artist. That,
which Dostoevsky writes, -- is not a novel and it is not tragedy, it assumes no set form of
artistic creativity. And this is ultimately some sort of a great artistry, wholly captivating,
pulling one into its peculiar world, working magically. But it is impossible to approach
this artistry with the usual criteria and demands. Nothing is easier, than to point out the
artistic defects in the novels of Dostoevsky. In them there is no artistic catharsis, they are
tormented, they always transgress the limits of art. The plots in the novels of Dostoevsky
are improbable, the persons unreal, the collisions of all the influential persons at one
place and at the same time -- with always the impossible tension, strained beyond the
purposes of the anthropological experiment, where all the heroes speak with one voice, at
times very vulgar, and with several places bringing to mind the crime novels of less than
lofty quality. And it is only through misunderstanding of these novel-tragedies that they
can seem realistic. In these novels there is nothing epic in scope, there is no depiction of
manner of life, there is no objective depiction of human and natural life. The novels of
Tolstoy, perhaps the most perfect of all those ever written, give the sensation, as though
cosmic life has disclosed them, as though the very soul of the world wrote them. In
Dostoevsky it is impossible to find such, as snatched from life, real people of flesh and
blood. All the heroes of Dostoevsky -- are actually himself, the different sides of his
particular spirit. The complexity of plot in his novels is a revealing of man in various
aspects, from various sides. He discloses and depicts eternal elements of the human spirit.
In the depth of human nature he reveals God and the devil and endless worlds, but always
he reveals through man and from out of some sort of frenzied interest in man. In
Dostoevsky there is no nature, there is no cosmic life, there are no things nor objects,
everything is enveloped by man and the endless human world, everything is enclosed
within man. Within mankind however there are at play frenzied, ecstatic, swirling
elements. Dostoevsky exerts an allure, he pulls everything together into a sort of fiery
atmosphere. And all else becomes insipid after one sojourns in the realm of Dostoevsky,
he kills the taste for the reading of other writers. The artistry of Dostoevsky is altogether
of a peculiar sort. He produced his anthropological investigations through artistry, whilst
drawing on the mysterious depths of human nature. Within these depths always there is
involved a frenzied and ecstatic whirlwind. And this whirlwind is a method of
anthropological revealings. Everything written by Dostoevsky is of a whirlwind-like
anthropology, everything there is revealed in an ecstatic-fiery atmosphere. Dostoevsky
reveals a new mystical science of man. Access to this science is possible only for those,
which have been drawn into the whirlwind. This is the path of initiation into the mystery-
knowledge of Dostoevsky. In this science and its methods nothing is static, everything --
is dynamic, everything is in motion, there is nothing congealed or petrified or at a
standstill, this -- is a torrent of red-hot lava. Everything is passionate, everything frenzied
in the anthropology of Dostoevsky, everything goes beyond the boundaries and limits. To
Dostoevsky was given to know man in his passionate, impetuous, frenzied stirrings.
There is nothing of a noble aspect to the human persons revealed by Dostoevsky, none of
that Tolstoyan nobleness, always detected at some static moment.


In the novels of Dostoevsky there is nothing, save for mankind and human
relationships. This has to be apparent for anyone, absorbed in the reading of these spirit-
gripping anthropologic tracts. All the heroes of Dostoevsky only but visit with one
another, they converse with one another, and they are drawn into the miring abyss of
tragic human fates. The sole serious vital deed of the people of Dostoevsky is their
mutual-relations, their passioned attraction and repulsion. It is impossible to find any
other sort of "deed", any other vital array in this immense and endlessly manifold human
realm. Always there is depicted some sort of human centre, some sort of central human
passion, and everything rotates, revolves around this human axis. There is depicted a
whirlwind of passionate human relations, and into this whirlwind is drawn everything,
everything somehow turns round in a frenzy. The whirlwind of impassioned, fiery human
nature pulls down this nature into the mysterious, enigmatic, unfathomable depths. It is
there that Dostoevsky discloses the human infinity, the bottomlessness of human nature.
But even in the very depths, and in the light of day, and in the abyss man remains, his
image and countenance do not disappear. We take delight from the novels of Dostoevsky.
In each of them is revealed an impassioned entry into inexplicable depths, an human
realm, in which everything exhausts itself. Within mankind is revealed infinitude and
fathomlessness, and there is nothing except man, there is nothing interesting besides man.

Here for example is the "Adolescent" ("Podrostok"), one of the most genius-
endowed and as yet insufficiently esteemed works of Dostoevsky. Everything revolves
around the image of Versilov, everything is saturated by an impassioned relationship to
him, by the human attraction and repulsion of him. The story concerns an adolescent, the
illegitimate son of Versilov. No one is occupied by any sort of work, no one has an
otherwise organic place in the established order of life, everything is off the beaten track,
off the paths of orderly life, everything is in an hysteria and frenzy. Yet all the same there
is the sense that everyone is at some immense deed, infinitely serious, and that they will
resolve very important tasks. What indeed is this deed, what is this task? About it fusses
the adolescent from morning til evening, whither it is that he hastens, and why has he not
a moment of respite nor rest? In the usual sense of the word the adolescent -- is a
complete idler, as is also his father Versilov, as also are almost all the active personages
in the novels of Dostoevsky. But all the same, Dostoevsky gives the impression that an
important, serious, Divine deed is transpiring. Man for Dostoevsky is higher than any
deed, he is also himself the deed. There is posited the living enigma about Versilov, about
man, about his destiny, about the Divine image within him. The resolution of these
riddles is a great deed, the greatest of deeds. The adolescent wants to discover the
mystery of Versilov. This mystery is hidden within the depths of man. All sense the
significance of Versilov, all are struck by the contradictions of his nature, for all there is
thrown into their gaze something deeply irrational in his character and in his life. The
enigma of the complicated, contradictory, irrational character of Versilov with his strange
fate, the riddle of an extraordinary man is for him a riddle about man in general. The
whole complicated plot, the complex intrigue of the novel is but a means for the revealing
of the man Versilov, for the revealing of complex human nature, about the antinomies of
its passions. The mystery of the nature of man is disclosed most of all in the relations of
men and women. And about love Dostoevsky happened to reveal something
unprecedented in Russian and world literature, he had a fiery concept of love. The love of
Versilov and Katerina Nikolaevna pulls in such an element of fiery passion, as nowhere
and never existed. This fiery passion was concealed beneathe an outward appearance of
calm. At times it seems, that Versilov -- is the Vulcan of yore. But this impresses upon us
also all the more sharply the image of Versilov's love. Dostoevsky shows the
contradiction, the polarity and the antinomy in the very nature of this fiery passion. Such
a verymost intense love is unrealisable upon the earth, it is hopeless, desperately tragic, it
begets death and destruction. Dostoevsky does not like to take man in the set living order
of the world. He always shows us man in the desperately hopeless and tragic, in the
contradictions, leading to the very depths. Such is the utmost type of man, manifest by

In the "Idiot", perhaps the most artistically perfect of Dostoevsky's works,

everything likewise exhausts itself in the world of fiery human relationships. Prince
Myshkin journeys to Peterburg and at once he is caught up in the red-hot ecstatic
atmosphere of people's relations, which takes hold of him completely and into which he
brings his own tranquil ecstasy, evoking violent whirlwinds. The image of Myshkin -- is
a genuine revealing of a Christian Dionysianism. Myshkin does nothing, just as with all
the heroes of Dostoevsky, he is not bothered with having to order his life. The immense
and serious living task, which was set before him when he fell into the whirlwind of
human relationships, -- this is something pertaining to the destiny of every man, and first
of all to two women -- Nasta'ya Philippovna and Aglaya. In "The Adolescent" everything
is concerned with but one man -- with Versilov. In the "Idiot" one man -- Myshkin -- is
concerned with everything. Both there and here transpires an exclusive absorption in the
solving of human destinies. The antinomic duality of the nature of human love reveals
itself in the "Idiot" at its utmost depth. Myshkin loves with a different love both Nastas'ya
Philippovna and Aglaya, and this love cannot bring forth any sort of results. There is
immediately a sense, that the love for Nastas'ya Philippovna is endlessly tragic and will
lead to ruin. And Dostoevsky reveals here the nature of human love and its fate in this
world. This -- is not a piecemeal and ordinary narration, but rather anthropologic
knowledge, revealed through ecstatic immersion of man in the fiery red-hot atmosphere,
shown in depth. A passionate, fiery connection exists between Myshkin and Rogozhin.
Dostoevsky perceived, that love for a single woman not only separates people, but also it
unites them, binds them. Otherwise, in other tones, this bond, this connection is depicted
in the "Eternal Husband" ("Vechnyi muzh"), one of the genius-endowed works of
Dostoevsky. In the "Idiot" it is very clearly apparent, that Dostoevsky was entirely
interested not by the objective order of life, the natural and the social, he was not
interested in the epic event, the stasis of living forms, of attaining and evaluating the
ordering of life, be it familial, social, cultural. What interested him only were the genius-
endowed experiments over human nature. Everything remains with him in the depths, not
on this plane, where the apparent life is manifest, but in a completely different dimension.

In the "Possessed" (or the "Devils", "Besy") everything is concentrated around

Stavrogin, as in "The Adolescent" it was around Versilov. To define the relationship to
Stavrogin, to resolve his character and his fate is a singularly vital matter, around which
is concentrated the action. Everything is drawn towards him, everything is merely his
fate, his emanation, effected from his demonic-possession. The destiny of man, issuing
forth by his power into the infinitude of his yearnings, -- here is what comprises the
theme of the "Possessed". The person, from whom the narrative proceeds, is totally
absorbed by the world of human passions and the human demonic-possession, encircling
round about Stavrogin. And in the "Possessed" there is nothing of value attained, no sort
of building up, nothing of any sort organic realised in life. It is all indeed this riddle about
man and the passionate thirst to resolve it. We are dragged into the fiery torrent, and in
this torrent melt down and burn off all the congealed trappings, all the stable forms, all
the chilled-down and established modalities of existence, impeding the revelation about
man, about his depth, about his goings forth into the very depths of the contradictions.
The depths of man for Dostoevsky are always shown as unexpressed, unmanifest,
unrealised and unrealisable til the end. The revealing of the depths of man always leads to
catastrophe, beyond the bounds and limits of the felicitous life of this world.

In the novel, the "Insulted and the Humiliated" ("Prestuplenii i nakazanii") there is
nothing, except the revealing of the inner life of man, his experimenting over his unique
nature and human nature in general, besides the discovering of all the possibilities and
impossibilities, situated within man. But the anthropological discovery in the "Insulted
and the Humiliated" leads otherwise, than in the other novels, in it there is no such
strained passionateness of human relations, there is no such revealing of a single human
person through the human manifold. Of all the works of Dostoevsky, the "Insulted and
the Humiliated" most of all brings to mind the experience of a new science of man.

The "Brothers Karamazov" -- is the richest in content, abundant with thoughts of

genius, though also not very perfective a work of Dostoevsky. Here again the problem
about man is put into an impassioned and strained atmosphere of human multiplicity.
Alyosha, -- least successful of the depictions of Dostoevsky, -- sees his singular vital task
in having an active relationship with his brothers Ivan and Dmitrii, with the women
connected with them -- Grushen'ka and Katerina Ivanovna, and to the children. But he is
not bothered with building a life. Drawn into the whirlwind of human passions, he goes
now to one, now to another, to attempt to resolve the human enigma. Most of all does the
enigma of his brother Ivan intrigue him. Ivan -- is a worldly enigma, the problem of man
in general. And everything, which in Dostoevsky is connected with Ivan Karamazov, is a
profound metaphysics of man. The participation of Ivan Karamazov in the murder, done
by Smerdyakov, -- this his other half, the stinging conscience of Ivan, the conversation
with the devil, -- all this is anthropologic experiment, the discovery of the possibilities
and impossibilities of human nature, its but with difficulty grasped, most subtle
experiencings of an inward murder. Through a favourite device of Dostoevsky, Mitya is
set betwixt two women, and the love of Mitya leads to ruination. Nothing that is possible
is realised in the external order of life, everything possible transpires in the infinite,
inexplicable depths. Dostoevsky thus also did not show the realising of a felicitous life by
Alyosha, since indeed it was not very needful for the anthropological investigations.
Positive felicity is given in the form of the discourse of Starets Zosima, and it is no
accident that Dostoevsky has him die off near the very beginning of the novel. His further
continued existence would merely have made maddening the revealing of all the
contradictions and polarities of human nature. All the primary novels of Dostoevsky
bespeak this, that what interests him only is man and human relations, that he but follows
out human nature, and by his artistic-experimental method, so very revealing with him,
he reveals all the contradictions of human nature, plunging it into a fiery and ecstatic


Dostoevsky -- is Dionysian and an ecstatic. In him there is nothing Apollonian,

there is nothing moderative or introduced within the limits of form. He is immoderate in
everything, he is always in a frenzy, in his creativity all the boundaries are burst asunder.
And a greatest trait in Dostoevsky mustneeds be seen in this, that in the Dionysian
ecstasy and frenzy -- with him man does not vanish, in the very depths of the ecstatic
experience the image of man is preserved, the human countenance is not rent asunder, the
principle of human individuality remains as from the very day of its genesis. Man -- is
not at the periphery of being, as he is for many a mystic and metaphysician, he is not a
transitory appearance, but rather of the very depths of being, nigh off into the bosom of
Divine life. In the ancient Dionysian ecstasy the principle of human individuality was
snatched away and there transpired an absorption into an impersonal unity. Ecstasy was
the way of extirpating all multiplicity within the unity. The Dionysian element was
outside the human, and was impersonal. But not so for Dostoevsky. He is profoundly
distinct from all those mystics for whom in ecstasy the countenance of man vanishes and
everything dies away within the Divine unity. In the ecstasies and in the frenzies
Dostoevsky to the end remains a Christian, since to the end for him man remains, his
countenance remains. He is deeply antithetical to the German Idealist monism, which
always purports for itself the Monophysite heresy, the denial of the autonomy of the
human nature with its being swallowed up always by the Divine nature. Dostoevsky is
altogether not a monist, he to the very end acknowledges a manifold of persons, the
plurality and complexity within being. Characteristic for him is a sort of frenzied sense of
the human person and its eternal, indestructible destiny. The human person for him never
dies off within the Divine, into the Divine oneness. He perceives always the process with
God concerning the destiny of the human person, and he wants to surrender nothing of
this destiny. He ecstatically senses that man also survives, and not only God. He burns
eternally with the thirst for human immortality. And he would sooner consent to the
horrid nightmare of Svidrigailov about eternal life in the lower room with the spiders,
than to the disappearance of man into an impersonal monism. Better hell for the human
person, than unpersonal and unhuman bliss. The dialectics about the tears of a child, on
account of which the world is repudiated, although put also into the mouth of the atheist
Ivan Karamazov, -- all this appertains to the creative imagination of Dostoevsky himself.
He appears always as the advocate of man, a proponent for his destiny.

How profound the distinction between Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. In Tolstoy the
human countenance sinks down into the organic elements. Multiplicity for him was
merely modality, merely in the appearances of the organic array of life. As an artist and a
thinker, Tolstoy -- was a monist. The facelessness, the roundness of Platon Karataev is
for him the highest attainment. Man for him does not go into the very depths, he -- is
always a phenomenon on the periphery of being. The question of man does not torture
Tolstoy, only the question of God tortures him. For Dostoevsky however the question of
God is connected with the question of man. Tolstoy is more the theologian, than is
Dostoevsky. The matter of Raskol'nikov and the matter of Ivan Karamazov is a
tormentive question about man, about the limits, set for man. And even when Myshkin
sinks into a quiet mindlessness, it remains accurate, that the human countenance does not
disappear into Divine ecstasy. Dostoevsky reveals to us the ecstasy of man, his whirlwind
stirrings, but never and nowhere does man for him plunge away into cosmic infinitude, as
for example, in the creativity of A. Bely. Ecstasy always is but a stirring in the depths of
man. The exclusive interest of Dostoevsky towards transgressions was purely an
anthropological interest. This -- was an interest in the limits and boundaries of human
nature. But even in transgression, which for Dostoevsky always is frenzy, man does not
perish and he does not disappear, but rather is affirmed and reborn.

It is necessary still to stress one peculiarity of Dostoevsky. He is extraordinarily,

diabolically skillful, his thoughts unusually acute, his dialectic terribly powerful.
Dostoevsky -- is a great thinker within his artistic creativity, and foremost of all he is an
artist of thought. From the greatest artists in the world as regards strength of mind, there
might in part compare together with him only Shakespeare, also a great investigator of
human nature. The works of Shakespeare are fully pervaded by an acuity of mind, -- of
the Renaissance mind. The abyss of the mind, of a different but still more immense and
pervasive aspect, is revealed by Dostoevsky. Merely but from the "Notes from the
Underground" and the "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" is presented an enormous mental
wealth. He was even too skillful for an artist, his mind impeded the attainment of artistic
catharsis. And here it is necessary to note, that the Dionysianism and ecstacism of
Dostoevsky did not quench his mind and thought, as often this occurs, it did not
submerge the acuity of mind and thought into the mindlessness of a Divine intoxication.
Dostoevsky the mystic, the enemy and unmasker of rationalism and intellectualism,
adored thought, he was enamoured with dialectic. Dostoevsky presents an extraordinary
manifestation of orgianism, of an ecstaticism of thought itself, he was intoxicated by the
power of his mind. His thought is always whirlwind-like, orgiastically frenzied, but with
this it does not diminish in strength and acuity. With the example of his creativity
Dostoevsky showed, that the surmounting of rationalism and the disclosing of the
irrationality of life is not invariably a diminution of mind, that the acuity of mind itself
facilitates the revealing of irrationality. This original peculiarity of Dostoevsky is
connected with the theme, that for him to the very end man remains, he is never dissolved
into an impersonal oneness. Therefore he acutely knows the antithetical. In monism of
the German type there is depth, but not an acuity, a pervasiveness of thought, yielding
knowledge of antitheses, and everything instead sinks into oneness. Goethe was vastly
endowed with genius, but it does not obtain to say for him, that he was vastly skilled, in
his mind there was not the acuity, there was not the pervasive penetration into the
antithetical. Dostoevsky always thought antithetically and by this he sharpened his
thought. Monophysitism dulls the acuity of thought. Dostoevsky indeed always saw in
the depths not only God, but man also, not only unity, but multiplicity also, not only the
one, but also the antithetical to it. The acuity of his thoughts is in the polarisation of the
thoughts. Dostoevsky -- is a great, a greatest thinker foremost in his artistic creativity, in
his novels. In the journalistic articles, however, the strength and acuity of his thought was
weakened and dulled. Within his Slavophil agrarian and Orthodox ideology is missing
that trait of the antithetical and the polarity, disclosed within his mind acute with genius.
He was mediocre as a journalist, and when he began to preach, his level of thought
lowered; his ideas simplified. Even his famed speech about Pushkin tended quite to
exaggeration. The thoughts in this speech and the thoughts in the "Diary of a Writer"
("Dnevnik pisatelya") are insipid and bland in comparison with the thoughts of Ivan
Karamazov, of Versilov or Kirillov, in comparison with the thoughts of the "Legend of
the Grand Inquisitor" or the "Notes from the Underground".

Many a time already it has been noted, that Dostoevsky, as an artist, was tormented,
that in him there was nothing of the artistic catharsic-cleansing and egress. This egress
has been sought for in the positive ideas and setting of belief partly in the "Brothers
Karamazov", and partly in the "Diary of a Writer". This reflects a false attitude towards
Dostoevsky. He is in anguish, but never does he remain in darkness, in despair. With him
there is always an ecstatic egress. He pulls with his whirlwind beyond all the boundaries,
he rends the limits of every darkness. That ecstasy, which is experienced during the
reading of Dostoevsky, is an egress already by itself. This egress mustneeds be searched
out not in the doctrines and ideological constructs of Dostoevsky the preacher and the
publicist, not in the "Diary of a Writer", but in his tragedy novels, in that artistic gnosis,
which is revealed in them. It would be a mistake to set forth a platform upon the not
entirely successful image of Alyosha as a bright point of egress from the darkness of Ivan
and Dmitrii and the earlier accumulated darkness of Raskol'nikov, Stavrogin, Versilov.
This would be a doctrinal attitude to the creativity of Dostoevsky. The egress is without
preaching and without moralising, in a great shining forth of ecstatic knowledge, in the
very immersion into the fiery human element. Dostoevsky is poor in theology, he is rich
however in his anthropological investigations. With Dostoevsky, only the question about
man is profoundly put. Questions about society and the state were put by him, however,
with not much originality. His preaching of theocracy is almost banal. But in him it is
necessary to seek out his strength. The highest of all and first of all for Dostoevsky -- is
the human soul, it stands greater than all the kingdoms and all the worlds, than all world
history, than all the reknown progress. In the process transpiring within Mitya
Karamazov, Dostoevsky revealed the incommensurability of the cold, objective,
unhuman civil realm in contrast to that of the soul of man, the incapacity of the civil
realm to penetrate to the righteous truth of the soul. But he poorly perceived the nature of
the civil realm. Dostoevsky is regarded as a criminalist in terms of his themes and
interests. He dealt most of all with the revealing of the psychology of transgression. But
this is merely the method, by which he carries out his investigation into the irrationality
of human nature and its incompatibility with any sort of ordered life, -- whether it be with
any sort of rational civil realm, or with any sort of the tasks of history or of progress.
Dostoevsky had a fiery religious nature and was a most Christian of writers. But he was a
Christian first of all and most of all in his artistic revealings about man, and not in any
sort of preachings or doctrines.


Dostoevsky wrought a great anthropological revelation, and in this mustneeds first

of all be seen his artistic, philosophic and religious significance. But what was this
revelation? All sorts of artists have depicted man, and many among them were
psychologists. How subtle a psychologist, for example, was Stendhal. And Shakespeare
revealed a diverse and rich human world. In the creativity of Shakespeare was revealed a
dazzling interplay of human power, set free during the era of the Renaissance. But the
revealing by Dostoevsky is incomparable with anyone or anything. Both in his raising of
the theme concerning man, and in the means of its resolution for him, it is entirely unique
and particular. He was interested by the eternal essence of the human nature, its hidden
depths, which no one had ever gleaned. And it was not the stasis of these depths that
interested him, but rather their dynamics, their stirrings that as it were in very eternity had
transpired. This movement is totally inward, not subject to external evolution and history.
Dostoevsky reveals not a phenomenal, but rather ontological dynamics. In the
penultimate depth of man, in the abyss of being, -- there is not stillness, but rather
movement. All the visual interplay of human passions and the appearances manifest by
the human psyche is but at the periphery of being. Dostoevsky revealed the tragic
contradiction and the tragic stirrings within the penultimate plane of the being of man,
where it is immersed already within the ineffable Divine being, yet not vanishing into it.
Too well known are the words of Mitya Karamazov: "Beauty -- this is a frightful and
terrible thing! Frightful, since that it is indefinable, and it is impossible to define it, since
God hath made it entirely an enigma. Here the shores coincide, here all the contradictions
live together… Beauty! Moreover I cannot bear it, that another, even more upright in
heart a man and with a mind lofty, can begin with the ideal of the Madonna, and end up
with the ideal of Sodom. More fearful still, is that the one with the ideal of the Sodomic
in soul does not deny also the ideal of the Madonna, he is ardent in his heart, and in truth,
in truth he is as ardent as in his youthful, innocent years. No, man is vast, too vast, I
should judge". All the heroes of Dostoevsky -- are but he himself, various of the sides of
his endlessly rich and endlessly complex spirit, and he always puts into the mouths of his
heroes his own genius-endowed thoughts. And here it is indicated, that beauty, -- the
highest form of ontologic perfection, about which in another place it is said, that it would
save the world, -- here it presented itself to Dostoevsky as contradictory, twofold,
frightful, terrible. He does not contemplate the Divinely tranquil beauty, its Platonic idea,
he sees right down to its very end, to the utmost depths of its fiery, whirlwind stirrings, its
polarisation. Beauty reveals itself to him only through man, through the vast, the too vast,
mysterious, contradictory, eternal stirrings of the nature of man. He does not contemplate
beauty in the cosmos, in the Divine world-order. Hence -- the eternal restlessness.
"Beauty is not only frightening, it is also a mysterious thing. It is here that the devil and
God do contend, and the field of battle -- is the heart of people". The distinction between
"godly" and "diabolic" does not coincide for Dostoevsky with the usual distinction
between "good" and "evil". In this -- is a mystery of the anthropology of Dostoevsky. The
distinction between good and evil is peripheral. The indeed fiery polarisation goes to the
very depths of being, and it is present to the very utmost -- in beauty. If Dostoevsky had
revealed his teaching about God, he would then have been obliged to acknowledge a
duality in the Divine nature itself, a furied and dark principle in the very depth of the
Divine nature. He gives intimations of this truth with his genius-endowed anthropology.
Dostoevsky was an anti-Platonist.

And Stavrogin speaks about the various attractions of the two antithetical poles, the
Madonna ideal and the Sodomic ideal. This is not a simple struggle of good with evil in
the human heart. In this it is also a matter, that for Dostoevsky the human heart at its most
primary basis -- is polarised, and this polarisation begets a fiery stirring, which does not
permit of peace. Peace, having unity within the human heart, within the human soul, is
seen not by those, which like Dostoevsky glance into the very depths, but rather by those,
which fear to glance into the abyss and remain hence at the surface. With Dostoevsky to
the very depths there was an antinomic attitude towards evil. He wants always to
acknowledge the mystery of evil, and in this he was a gnostic, he did not push out evil
into the sphere of the unknowable, nor did he discard it altogether. Evil was for him evil,
evil blazed for him in the hellish fire, and he passionately strove for the victory over evil.
But he wanted to do something with evil, to transform it into an handsome metal, onto an
higher Divine being and by this to save evil, i.e. to genuinely conquer it, and not relegate
it to the outer darkness. This -- is a profoundly mystical motif in Dostoevsky, a revelation
of his great heart, of his fiery love for man and for Christ. The falling away, the
separation, the apostacy never appeared for Dostoevsky simply as sin, this was for him
likewise -- a pathway. He does not read morally over the living tragedies of Raskol'nikov,
Stavrogin, Kirillov, Versilov, Dmitrii and Ivan Karamazov, he does not set opposite them
any elementary catechism truths. Evil mustneeds be overcome and conquered, but it
provides also an enriching experience, in division much is revealed, it enriches and
provides knowledge. Evil likewise is a path also of man. And everyone, who has gone
through Dostoevsky and experienced him, has recognised the mystery of dichotomy, has
received the knowledge of the antithetical, is outfitted in the struggle with evil by a new
mighty armour -- by the knowledge of evil, has received the possibility to overcome it
from within, and not merely externally to flee from it and cast it away, remaining
powerless in the face of its dark element. Man makes his way through the progression of
the heroes of Dostoevsky and attains to maturity, an inner freedom in relation to evil. But
in Dostoevsky there is a separation of the dual and inverted likenesses to illusory being,
of rejects upon the path of development. Suchlike are Svidrigalov, Peter Verkhovensky,
the eternal husband, Smerdyakov. This -- is but the chaff of straw, for they do not truly
exist. These beings lead a vampire-like existence.

Dostoevsky makes the first of his revelations about human nature, very
substantially so, in his "Notes from the Underground", and he refines on these disclosures
in the "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor". He denies, first of all, that man at the root of his
nature strives for the advantageous, for happiness, for satisfaction, or that human nature is
rational. Within man there is enclosed a demand for the arbitrary, for freedom in excess
of any benefit, for an immeasurable freedom. Man -- is essentially irrational. "I should
not at all be surprised, -- says the hero of the "Notes from the Underground", -- if
suddenly from neither here nor there, amidst the universal future harmony there should
arise some sort of gentleman, with an ignoble, or better to say, with a retrograd and
sneering physiognomy, and with arms akimbo at his sides in reproach he would say to all
of us: should we not shove aside for a time all this harmony, shove it underfoot, into the
dust, solely with the purpose, that all these logarithms be dispatched to the devil, and so
that we again may live by our own absurd will. (Italics mine. -- N.B.) This would be still
nothing, yet there is the rub, that indeed undoubtedly he would find followers, for thus so
is man made. And all this from the emptiest of reasons, about which the mere mention
could not seem to obtain: namely from this, that man, always and everywhere, whosoever
he might be, might act thus as he wanted, and nowise thus, as reason and advantage
should demand him; he might even possibly want that which is contrary to his own
advantage, and sometimes even positively must. His own particular willful and free
desire, his very own, even though it be the most wild caprice, his own fantasy, irritating
sometimes even though to the point of madness, -- this here is that verymost allowable,
most advantageous advantage, which comes under no sort of classification and from
which all the systems and theories fly off to the devil. And from what have all those wise
men assumed, that man has necessary some sort of normal, some sort of good-willing
desire? From what have they assuredly imagined, that to man is necessary an assuredly
prudent-advantageous desire? Alone necessary to man is only his own autonomous
desire, whatever this independence might cost him or to what it might lead him". In these
words is already given in rudimentary form that genius-endowed dialectic about man,
which further on takes shape through the fate of all the heroes of Dostoevsky, and in a
positive form finds its completion in the "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor". "There is only
one instance, only one, when man can intentionally, consciously wish for himself the
harmful, the absurd, even the most absurd, and it is namely: so as to have the right to
want for himself even the most absurd and not be bound by the obligation to want for
himself only the sensible. Indeed this most absurd, indeed this his caprice in actual fact,
gentlemen, is perhaps the most advantageous of all for our brother from everything that is
upon the earth, particularly in some other instances. And partly perhaps it is the most
advantageous advantage even in that instance, where it brings evident harm and
contradicts the most healthy deductions of our reasoning about advantages, since that in
every instance it preserves for us that which is foremost and most dear, i.e. our person
and our individuality". (Italics mine. -- N.B.) Man -- is not arithmetic, man -- is
essentially enigmatic and problematic. Human nature -- is polarised and antinomic to the
very end. "What indeed is it expected of man, as a being, endowed with such strange
qualities?" Dostoevsky gives blow after blow to all the theories and utopias of human
felicity, of human earthly bliss, of the ultimate constructs of harmony. "Man desires the
most destructive disputes, the most uneconomic nonsense, solely for this, to mix into all
this positive felicity his own destructive fantastic element. It is particularly his own
fantastic day-dreams, his own trivial absurdity that he wishes to assert for himself, solely
for this, that he can affirm for himself, that people all are still people, and not some sort
of forte-piano keys". "If you say, that also all this can be reckoned out according to
calculations, about the chaos, and the darkness, and the curses, such that yet with the
mere possibility of a prior calculation everything should stop and reason prevail -- then
man would deliberately in this instance make himself mad, so as to be bereft of reason
and to have his own way. I believe in this, I answer for this, since indeed the whole
human matter, it seems, actually also consists but in this, that man should be constantly
able to demonstrate for himself, that he is a man, and not a pin-tack". (Italics mine. -- N.
B.) Dostoevsky reveals the incommensurability of the free, the contradictory and
irrational human nature in contrast to rationalistic humanism, with rationalistic theories of
progress, with the ultimate goal of a rationalised social organisation, with all the utopias
about crystal palaces. All this represents for him a degeneration for man, for human
worthiness. "What yet herein would your will be, when the matter is reduced to
calculations and to arithmetic, when only alone there will be twice two is four at the
start? Twice two would be four even without my will. What indeed your will would
become!" "Is it not therefore, perhaps, that man is so fond of destruction and chaos, in
that he instinctively is afraid to reach the goals and finish off the built edifice?… And
who knows, perhaps, whether also every end on the earth, towards which man strives, is
but to be comprised in this incessant process of attainment, or expressed otherwise -- in
life itself, and not particularly in the actual ends which, reasonably, ought to be naught
other than twice two is four, i.e. a formula, but indeed twice two is four is already not
life, gentlemen, but rather the beginning of death". (Italics mine. -- N.B.) Arithmetic is
not applicable to human nature. Needful here is an higher mathematic. In man, taken
deeply, there is an impetus to suffering, a contempt for felicity. "And why are you so
firmly, so solemnly convinced, that only alone the normal and the positive, in a word --
only alone prosperity is advantageous to man? Might not reason be mistaken in the
advantages? Indeed, perhaps, man might not love only the thriving. Might it not be, that
he just as equally love suffering? Might it not be, that suffering for him be just as equally
advantageous, as prosperity? And man is terribly fond of suffering, passionately so… I
am convinced, that man would never renounce authentic suffering, i.e. destruction and
chaos. Suffering, -- yes indeed this is the sole principle of consciousness". In these
amazingly keen thoughts of the hero from the underground, Dostoevsky posits the basis
of his own new anthropology, which is disclosed in the fate of Raskol'nikov, Stavrogin,
Myshkin, Versilov, Ivan and Dmitrii Karamazov. L. Shestov pointed to the immense
significance of the "Notes from the Underground", but he investigated this work
exclusively from the side of the underground psychology and by this he provided only an
one-sided interpretation of Dostoevsky.


The postulate mustneeds be considered, that the creativity of Dostoevsky falls into
two periods -- that of before the "Notes from the Underground" and that of after the
"Notes from the Underground". In between these two periods there occurred for
Dostoevsky a spiritual turnabout, after which there was revealed to him something new
concerning man. Only after this there also begins the real Dostoevsky, the author of
"Crime and Punishment" ("Prestuplenie i nakazanie"), the "Idiot", the "Devils", the
"Adolescent", the "Brothers Karamazov". In the first period, when Dostoevsky wrote
"Poor Folk" ("Bednye liudi"), "Notes from the House of the Dead" ("Zapiski iz mertvogo
doma"), the "Insulted and the Humiliated", he was still an humanist, fine of soul, na?ve
and not free of the sentimental humanism. He was still under the influence of the ideas of
Belinsky, and in his creativity is felt the influence of George Sand, V. Hugo, Dickens.
But even then already was disclosed the uniqueness of Dostoevsky, though he had not yet
become fully himself. In this period he was still "Schiller". And with this name he
afterwards loved to call the fine souls, bowing to everything "lofty and beautiful". Then
already in the pathos of Dostoevsky there was a sympathy for man, for the humiliated and
the insulted. But beginning with the "Notes from the Underground", man is perceived as
knowing good and evil, and undergoing a divisiveness. Dostoevsky becomes an enemy of
the old humanism, he becomes an exposer of humanistic utopias and illusions. In him
conjoin the polarities of a passionate love for man and hatred for man, of a fiery
sympathy for man and yet fierceness. He inherited the humanism of Russian literature,
the Russian sympathy for all the neglected, the wronged and the downtrodden, the
Russian sense of the value of the human soul. But he surmounted the na?ve, the
elementary foundations of the old humanism, and there was revealed to him a completely
new, a tragic humanism. In this regard Dostoevsky can be compared only with Nietzsche,
in whom the old European humanism came to an end, and as regards the new there was
set forth the tragic problem of man. Many a time this has been pointed out, that
Dostoevsky foresaw the ideas of Nietzsche. They were both heralds of a new revelation
about man, both were first of all great anthropologists, and the anthropology of both --
was apocalyptic, approaching nigh the extremes, the limits and the end-points. And thus,
what Dostoevsky says about the man-god and Nietzsche about the ubermensch, is an
apocalyptic thought about man. And thus is posited the problem of man by Kirillov. The
image of Kirillov in the "Devils" is a very Christian, though angelically pure idea of the
liberation of man from the power of all fear and the attainment of a Divine condition.
"Whoso conquereth pain and fear, that one himself becomes God. Then is a new life, then
is a new man, everything is anew". "Man would become god and transform the physical.
And the world would be transformed, and matter be transformed, and all thoughts and
sensations". "Everyone, who desires the chief freedom, that one ought to dare to kill
themself… Whoso dares to kill themself, that one is God". In another conversation
Kirillov says: "He wilt come and the name for him will be man-god". "God-man?", --
questions Stavrogin. "No, the man-god, in this is the difference". With this opposing
point of view they then make very evil useage of a Russian religio-philosophic thought.
The idea of the man-god, manifest to Kirillov in its pure spirituality, is a moment in the
genius-endowed dialectic of Dostoevsky, concerning man and his pathways. God-man
and man-god -- are polarities of human nature. This involves two paths -- either from
God to man or from man to God. In Dostoevsky there was not an invariably negative
attitude to Kirillov, as would be to an expressedly anti-Christ principle. The way of
Kirillov -- is the way of an heroic spirit, conquering all fear, striving towards the summits
of freedom. Yet Kirillov is only himself but one of the principles of human nature, by
himself insufficient, one of the poles of spirit. The exclusive triumph of this principle
leads to ruin. But for Dostoevsky, Kirillov is an inevitable moment in the revelation about
man. He was needful for the anthropological investigations of Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky
had entirely no desire to spell out the morale about how bad a thing it is to strive after
man-godhood. With him the immanent dialectic was always a given. Kirillov -- was an
anthropological experiment purely up in the air.

By theme and by the method of an immanent dialectic, Dostoevsky reveals the

Divine foundation of man, the image of God in man, in the power of which not
"everything is permissible". This theme about whether all is permissible, i.e. of what are
the limits and the possibilities of human nature, persistently was of interest to
Dostoevsky, and he returns to it constantly. This -- is the theme of Raskol'nikov and of
Ivan Karamazov. Neither Raskol'nikov, a man of thought and action, nor Ivan
Karamazov, exclusively a man of thought, were able to overstep the bounds, with all the
tragedy of their lives they are forced to repudiate, that all is permissible. But wherefore
indeed not permissible? Can it be said, that they took fright, that they sensed themselves
ordinary people? The anthropologic dialectic of Dostoevsky suggests otherwise. Of the
infinite value of every human soul, though it be the very least, of every human person he
indicates, that it is not at all permissible, it is not permissible to scorn the human person,
its conversion into a mere means is not permissible. The narrowed down of the scope of
possibilities with him is drawn from the infinite expanse of the vast possibilities of every
human soul. A transgressive enroachment upon man is an enroachment upon this infinity,
upon the infinite possibilities. Dostoevsky always affirms the Divine infinite value of the
human soul, of the human person against every enroachment, simultaneously both against
transgression, and against theories of progress. This -- is a sort of ecstatic sense of the
person and personal destiny. It is admissible to think, that Dostoevsky was all his life
most tormented by the question about the immortality of the soul. But the question about
immortality was for him also a question about the nature of man and about human
destiny. This -- was an anthropological interest. Not only the question about immortality,
but also the question about God was subjected in Dostoevsky to the question about man
and his eternal destiny. God for him is revealed within the depths of man and through
man. God and immortality are revealed through the love of people, the relationship of
man to man. But man himself is audaciously exalted by him, lifted to an extraordinary
height. The little tears of a child, the weeping of children -- this is all a question about the
human destiny, posited by love. Because of the fate of man in this world Dostoevsky was
prepared not to accept the world of God. All the dialectic of Ivan Karamazov, and also
other of the heroes, -- is his own especial dialectic. But with Dostoevsky himself
everything is more complex and richer than it is for his heroes, he knows more than them.
The chief thing that Dostoevsky finds need to search out is not in humility ("be thou
humbled, haughty man"), it is not in the consciousness of sin, but in the mystery of man,
in freedom. With L. Tolstoy, man -- is under the law. With Dostoevsky, man -- is in
grace, in freedom.


Dostoevsky reaches the heights of his consciousness in the "Legend of the Grand
Inquisitor". Here his anthropologic revelations find completion, and the problem of man
is set forth in a new religious light. In the "Notes from the Underground" man was
acknowledged as essentially irrational, problematic, full of contradictions, given to a
thirst for the arbitrary and to a need for suffering. But there it was merely a tangled and
subtle psychology. There had not yet obtained Dostoevsky's religious anthropology. It
was discussed only in the Legend, narrated by Ivan Karamazov. It had become possible
only after the lengthy and tragic path, traversed by man in "Crime and Punishment", the
"Idiot", the "Devils", the "Adolescent". And it is very remarkable, that the greatest of his
revelations was related by Dostoevsky through Ivan Karamazov, he expressed them not
in the form of ideological preaching, but in the embellished form of a "fantasy", in which
something ultimately glimmers forth, but the embellished aspect remains. Towards the
end something remains twofold, permitting of contrary interpretations, for many almost
dually ambiguous. And Alyosha is entirely right, when he exclaims to Ivan: "thy poem is
a praise to Jesus". Yes indeed, the greatest praise, which was ever pronounced in the
human tongue. The Catholic setting and expose of the poem are not substantial. And it is
completely possible to dismiss the polemics against Catholicism. In this poem,
Dostoevsky shifts his mystery about man close up together with the mystery about Christ.
Dearest of all to man is his freedom, and the freedom of man is dearest of all to Christ.
The Grand Inquisitor says: "Their freedom of faith was dearest of all to Thee even then,
fifteen hundred years ago. Didst Thou not often then say: "I want to make ye free"… The
Grand Inquisitor wants to make people happy, organised and tranquil, he emerges as the
bearer of the eternal principle of human well-being and organisation. "He holds it to the
merit of him and his, that finally they have conquered freedom, and made it thus, that
people should be made happy... Man was constructed a rebel; but really can rebels be
happy?" And the Grand Inquisitor says with reproach to He that was manifest the bearer
of the infinite freedom of the human spirit: "Thou didst reject the sole way, which could
make people happy". "Thou didst wish to come into the world and Thou didst come with
bare hands, with some sort of promise of freedom, which they, in their simplicity and
their inborn rowdiness cannot even think about, which they fear and are afraid of, for
nothing and nowhere would there be anything more intolerable for man and for human
society than freedom!" The Grand Inquisitor adopts the First Temptation in the
Wilderness -- the temptation with the loaves of bread, and upon it he wants to base the
happiness of people. "Freedom and earthly bread sufficient for everyone is
inconceivable". People "will be convinced, that they can never even be free, because they
are weak, depraved, insignificant and rebels. Thou didst promise them heavenly bread,
but how can it compare in the eyes of the weak, the eternally corrupt and eternally
ungrateful human race, how can it compare with the earthly?" And the Grand Inquisitor
accuses Christ of aristocratism, of a scornful neglect "for the millions, innumerable, like
the sands of the sea, the weak". He exclaims: "or are only the ten thousand, great and
strong, dear to Thee?" "No, for us the weak are also dear". Christ rejected the First
Temptation "in the name of freedom, which He put above everything". "Instead of
seizing control over the freedom of people, Thou didst increase it all the more for them!
… Thou didst take everything, which is extraordinary, conjectural and indefinable, Thou
didst take everything, that would be beyond the power of people, and didst therefore act,
as even though not loving them at all… Instead of seizing control over people's freedom,
Thou didst multiply it and enburden its kingdom of the soul of man with torments
forever. Thou didst desire the free love of man, so that freely he should follow after Thee,
charmed and captivated by Thee. In place of the harsh ancient law, with a free heart
instead ought man to decide for himself henceforth, what is good and what is evil, having
but for hand-guidance only Thine Image before him". "Thou didst not come down from
the Cross, since that therefore Thou again desired not to enslave man by a miracle and
Thou hast craved a free belief, not by miracle. Thou hast craved a free love, and not the
slave-like raptures of the unfree before mightiness, once always terrifying him. But here
also Thou didst adjudge too very highly as regards people, since ultimately, they are
slaves". "Esteeming man so much, Thou didst act, as though ceasing to have compassion
for him, since also Thou didst demand too much from him… Esteeming him less, Thou
wouldst demand less from him, and this would be nearer to love, since it would be easier
bearing it". "Thou canst with pride point to those children of freedom, their free love,
their free and magnificent sacrifice in Thy Name. But remember, that of them there were
only several thousands, and indeed godly, but the rest? And in what are the remaining
weak people guilty in, that they could not endure, what the mighty ones could? With
what is the weak soul culpable, that it has not the strength to accommodate such terrible
gifts? Art Thou indeed come really but to the chosen and for the chosen?" And then the
Grand Inquisitor exclaimed: "we are not with Thee, but with him, herein is our mystery!"
And he sketches out a picture of the happiness and contentment of millions of weak
beings, deprived of freedom. At the end he says: "I did depart from the haughty and
returned back to the dead for the happiness of these dead". For his justification he points
to "the thousand millions of happy infants".

In this genius-endowed metaphysical poem, perhaps the greatest of all written by

mankind, Dostoevsky reveals the struggle of two principles in the world -- of Christ and
of Anti-Christ, of freedom and of compulsion. The Grand Inquisitor speaks all the time as
the enemy of freedom, scorning man, wanting to make happy though compulsion. But in
this negative form Dostoevsky reveals his positive teaching about man, about his infinite
worthiness, about his infinite freedom. That which was foreshadowed in negative form in
the "Notes from the Underground", now in a positive form is revealed in this poem. This
-- is a poem about the proud and lofty freedom of man, about the infinite height of his
vocation, about the infinite abilities lodged within man. In this poem is situated a
completely exclusive sensation of Christ. It is striking the similarity of the spirit of Christ
with the spirit of Zarathustra. The Anti-Christ principle -- is not Kirillov with his striving
towards man-godhood, but rather the Grand Inquisitor with his striving to deprive people
of freedom in the name of happiness. The Anti-Christ for Vl. Solov'ev possesses features,
akin to the Grand Inquisitor. The spirit of Christ values freedom more than happiness, the
spirit of Anti-Christ values happiness more than freedom. The higher, the God-image
worthiness of man demands the right to arbitrary freedom and to suffering. Man -- is a
tragic being, and in this is a sign of his belonging not only to this, but also to another
world. For a tragic being, containing infinity within him, the penultimate order,
tranquility and happiness upon the earth is possible only by way of renunciation of
freedom, of renunciation of the image of God within him. The thoughts of the
underground man are transformed in the new Christian revelation, they proceed through
the cleansing fire of all the tragedies of Dostoevsky. The "Legend of the Grand
Inquisitor" is a revelation about man, set into an intimate connection with the revelation
of Christ. This -- is an aristocratic anthropology. The Anti-Christ can assume various and
very contrary guises, from the very Catholic to the very socialistic, from the very much of
Caesar to the very democratic. But the Anti-Christ principle always is hostile to man,
destructive of the dignity of man. That blindingly inverted light, which falls from the
demonic words of the Grand Inquisitor, comprises within itself more religious a
revelation, than the discourse of Zosima, than the image of Alyosha. And herein it
becomes necessary to search out the key to the great anthropological revelations of
Dostoevsky, for his positive religious idea concerning man.


The "soil" ideology of Dostoevsky himself, which he developed in his articles,

situates his religious populism at variance to his unique revelation concerning man.
Within his novels is hidden away a different ideology, with genius, a profound
metaphysics of life and of man. Dostoevsky was a populist, but he never portrays the
people. They comprise it exceptionally in the "Notes from the House of the Dead". But
there also, it involves a world of criminals, and not the people in its everyday life. The
stasis of the people, the peasant way of life, its being did not interest him. He -- was a
writer of the city, of the city intelligentsia stratum, or of the stratum of the petty officials
and citizens. In the life of the city, preeminently Peterburg, and in the soul of the citizen,
alienated from the people's soil, he revealed an exceptional dynamic, and disclosed the
limits of human nature. In a whirlwind of motion, at the limits are located also all those
Captains Lebyakin, Snegirevs and others. Of interest to him were not the people intensely
of the soil, the people on the land, with their way of life, the believers from the soil, the
ordinary traditions. He always took hold of human nature poured forth into a fiery
atmosphere. And he was uninterested, unneedful of the human nature chilled down,
statically congealed. He was interested only by those split off, he loved the Russian
vagabond. He revealed within the Russian soul the source of eternal stirrings, of
wandering, seeking after the new City. As regards Dostoevsky, characteristic for the
Russian soul is not the soil, not the sailing to firm shores, but rather the coursing of the
soul beyond all the borders and limits. Dostoevsky displays an image of Russian man in
his boundlessness. The soil existence, however, is an existence within boundaries.

The creativity of Dostoevsky is in full not only a revelation about human nature in
general, but also particular revelations about the nature of Russian man, about the
Russian soul. And in this no one can compare with him. He penetrates into the
profoundest metaphysics of the Russian spirit. Dostoevsky revealed the polarity of the
Russian spirit as its profoundest peculiarity. What a distinctness there is in this Russian
spirit from the monism of the German spirit! When a German plunges himself into the
depths of his spirit, he finds Divineness in the depths, and all polarities and all
contradictions dissipate. And therein it transpires, that for the German in the depths man
is dissipated away, man exists merely on the periphery, only in appearance, and not in
essence. Russian man is more contradictory and antinomic, than is the Western, within us
is conjoined the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe, of East and West. This discloses
great possibilities for Russian man. Man is less open and less active in Russia, than in the
West, but he more complex and rich in his depths, in the inwardness of his life. The
nature of man, of the human soul ought most of all to reveal itself in Russia. In Russia is
possible a new religious anthropology. Separatism, the roving and wandering -- are
Russian traits. Western man is more of the soil, he is more faithful to traditions and more
subject to norms. Russian man is expansive. Vastness, unboundedness, unlimitedness --
is not only a material property of the Russian nature, but also its metaphysical and
spiritual property, its more inward dimension. Dostoevsky displayed a dreadsome and
fiery-passioned Russian element, which lay obscured for Tolstoy and the Populist writers.
He artfully revealed within the cultural intelligentsia stratum that selfsame terrifying
sensuous element, that among the people's stratum found its expression in the Khlysty.
This orgiastic ecstatic element lived within Dostoevsky himself, and to the depths he was
a Russian in this element. He investigated the metaphysical hysteria of the Russian spirit.
This hysteria is from the formlessness of the Russian spirit, a lack of subjection to limit
and norm. Dostoevsky revealed, that Russian man always is needful of mercy and is
himself sparing. In the order of Western life there is a mercilessness, connected with the
subjection of man to discipline and norm. And Russian man is more human than Western
man. With what Dostoevsky revealed about the nature of Russian man, is connected both
the greatest possibilities, and the greatest dangers. The spirit still has not attained mastery
over the soul element in Russian man. In Russian man the nature is less active, than in
West, but in Russia there is inherent a greater human wealth, greater human possibilities,
than in the measured-out and boundaried Europe. And in the Russian idea, Dostoevsky
saw the "all-humanness" of Russian man, his infinite expanse and infinite possibilities.
Dostoevsky constitutes everything from the contradictions, just like the soul of Russia.
The way out, which is sensed from the readings of Dostoevsky, is by way of an egress
through gnostic revelations about man. Dostoevsky created an extraordinary type of
artistic-gnostic anthropology, his method is one of drawing into the depths of the human
spirit through an ecstatic whirlwind. But the ecstatic whirlwinds of Dostoevsky are
spiritual and therefore they never shatter the image of man. Dostoevsky alone did not
fear, that in ecstasy and boundlessness man would disappear. The limits and forms of the
human person are always connected with Apollonism. With Dostoevsky alone the form
of ma, his eternal image remains also within spiritual Dionysianism. Even transgression
does not annihilate man for him. And death is not terrifying for him, since for him
eternity always is revealed in man. He -- is an artist not in that impersonal abyss, in
which there is no image of man, but of an human abyss, of human fathomlessness. In this
he is foremost in the world of writers, of world geniuses, one of the foremost minds, as is
seldom seen in history. This great mind was entirely in an active relationship to man, he
revealed other worlds through man. Dostoevsky was like Russia, with all its darkness and
light. And he -- is the greatest contribution of Russia to the spiritual life of the whole
world. Dostoevsky -- is a most Christian writer, since at the centre for him stands man,
stands human love and the disclosure of the human soul. He fully -- is the revelation of
the heart of the human being, the Heart of Jesus!

Nikolai Berdyaev


Article subsequently reprinted and included by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in the
Berdyaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III), p. 68-98.
(1918 - #299)

We are lost. What are we to do?

Into the field the devil evidently doth take us,
Spinning us round and round every which way.

Pushkin (Besy)


A terrible catastrophe has happened with Russia. It has fallen into a dark abyss. And
for many it begins to seem, that the unified and great Russia was merely a phantasm, that
in it was not an authentic reality. Not easily is detected the connection of our present with
our past. The expression of face for Russian people has quite changed, in some few
months it has been rendered unrecognisable. At superficial a glance it would seem, that in
Russia has happened a turnabout unprecedented in its radicalism. But deeper and more
pervasive a perception would tend to discern in Russia the revolutionary spirit of old
Russia, of spirits, long since detected within the creativity of our great writers, of devils,
long since already having taken hold within Russian people. Much of the old, the long
since familiar appears merely under a new guise. The lengthy historical path leads to
revolutions, and in them are discernable national particulars even then, when they inflict
a grievous blow to the national might and the national dignity. Each people has its own
style of revolution, just as it has its own conservative style. The English Revolution was
national, just the same as the French Revolution was national. In them can be recognised
the past of England and of France. Each people makes its revolution with that spiritual
baggage, which accumulated in its past, it carries over into the revolution its own sins and
vices, but likewise also its own capacity for sacrifice and for enthusiasm. The Russian
Revolution is anti-national as regards its character, it has turned Russia into a breathless
corpse. But in this also its anti-national character is reflected national particulars of the
Russian people, and the style of our unhappy and ruinous revolution -- is Russian a style.
Our old national ills and sins have led to revolution and have defined its character. The
spirits of the Russian Revolution -- are Russian spirits, though used also by our enemy to
our doom. Its phantasmic aspect -- is characteristically Russian an obsession.
Revolutions, transpiring upon the surface plane of life, never essentially change nor alter
anything, they merely uncover the ills, hidden within the organism of the people, and
anew they rearrange all the same elements, and the old images appear in new dressings.
Revolution to a remarkable degree is always a masquerade, and if the masks be stripped
off, one can then meet up with the old recognisable faces. New souls are begotten only
later, after a profound regeneration and pondering of the experience of the revolution. On
the surface everything seems new in the Russian Revolution -- new expressions of face,
new gestures, new costumes, new formulas dominate life; those, who were below, have
come out on top, and those who were on top, have fallen below; holding power are those,
who were the persecuted, and persecuted are those, who held power; slaves have become
boundlessly free, and the free in spirit are subjected to violence. But try to penetrate
beneathe the surface coverings of revolutionary Russia into the depths. There you will
recognise the old Russia, you will meet with the old, the familiar faces. The immortal
images of Khlestakov [Gogol's "Revizor", alt. "Inspector General"], Peter Verkhovensky
[Dostoevsky's "Besy" -- "The Possessed", alt. "The Devils"] and Smerdyakov
[Dostoevsky's "Brothers Karamazov"] at every step are to be met with in revolutionary
Russia and in it they play no small a role, they have vaulted to the very heights of power.
The metaphysical dialectics of Dostoevsky and the moral reflection of Tolstoy define the
inner course of the revolution. If one look deep into Russia, then behind the revolutionary
struggle and the revolutionary phraseology it is not difficult to discern the Gogolesque
snouts and mugs. Every people at whatever the moment of its existence is still living in
various times and in various centuries. But there is no people, in which have been
brought together such different ages, which have so combined the XX Century with the
XIV Century, as has the Russian people. And this contrast of differing ages is the source
of the unhealthiness and hindrance to wholeness in our national life.

To great writers are always revealed images of national life, images having
significance both essential and non-transitory. Russia, as discerned by its great writers,
the Russia of Gogol and Dostoevsky can be found also in the Russian Revolution, and in
it you run afoul of basic values, as foreordained by L. Tolstoy. In the images from Gogol
and Dostoevsky, in the moral evaluations of Tolstoy it is possible to seek for the enigmas
of those calamities and misfortunes, which revolution has brought to our native land, the
knowledge of the spirits, possessive within the revolution. With Gogol and Dostoevsky
there were literary perspicacious insights, ahead of their time. Russia revealed itself
variously to them, their literary efforts differed, but both with the one and with the other
there was something truly prophetic for Russia. Something pervasive in its very essence,
in the very innermost nature of Russian man. Tolstoy as artist is for our purposes not of
interest. Russia, as revealed in his great artistic ability, tends within the Russian
Revolution to decompose and die. He was a literary artist of the static aspects of the
Russian lifestyle, that of the nobility and the peasantry, whereas the eternal however
revealed itself to him, as an artist, only in the elementary national aspects. Tolstoy was
more cosmic, than anthropogenic. But in the Russian Revolution there was revealed, and
in its own way there triumphed, another Tolstoy -- the Tolstoy of moral values, with
Tolstoyism as characteristic for Russian world-concepts and world-views. Many are the
Russian devils, which revealed themself to Russian writers or obsessed them, -- the
demon of lies and substitution, the demon of equality, the demon of disgrace, the demon
of denial, the demon of non-resistance and many many another. All these -- these
nihilistic devils, have long since been tearing at and lacerating Russia. At the centre for
me stand the perspicacious insights of Dostoevsky, who prophetically revealed all the
spiritual groundings and moving principles of the Russian Revolution. I begin however
with Gogol, whose significance in this regard is less clear.

Gogol belongs to the most enigmatic of Russian writers, and still little has been
done for an understanding of him. He is more enigmatic than Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky
himself did much by way of revealing all the contraries and all the abysses of his spirit. It
is apparent, how the devil is at war with God in his soul and in his creativity. Gogol
however hid himself and took to the grave with him the whatever unsolved secret. There
truly in him is something vexing. Gogol -- is the sole Russian writer, in whom there was
a taste for the magical, -- he artistically bestows credence to the active workings of the
dark and evil magical powers. This, actually, came to him from the West, from Catholic
Poland. A "Terrible Vengeance" is replete with suchlike magical an aspect. But in more
subtle forms this magicism is there also within "Dead Souls" and "Revizor". Gogol was
quite exceptional in his powerful sensing of evil. And he did not find the consolations,
that Dostoevsky found in the image of Zosima and in the attachment to Mother-Earth.
With him there is not at all those glued leaflets, nowhere a salvation from all the demonic
grimaces surrounding him about. The old school of Russian critics failed totally to sense
the horrid aspect in Gogol's artistry. And indeed where could they have gotten a feel for
Gogol! Their rationalistic enlightenment guarded them from perceiving and
understanding such horrid aspects. Our critics were too "progressive" of an image of
thought, they did not believe in the unclean spirits of evil. They wanted to utilise Gogol
only for their own utilitarian-societal aims. They indeed always utilised the creativity of
the great writers for utilitarian-societal preaching. The first to have sensed the frightful
aspect of Gogol was a writer of different a school, of different sources and of different a
spirit -- V. V. Rozanov. He is not fond of Gogol and writes about him with evil a feeling,
but he understood, that Gogol was an artist of evil. And here is what first of all mustneeds
be ascertained -- the creativity of Gogol is a literary artistic revelation of evil as a
principle both metaphysical and inward, not of evil societal and outward, such as might
be ascribed to political backwardness and lack of enlightenment. Gogol was not given to
see images of good and artistically render them. In this was his tragedy. And he himself
was frightened by his exclusive seeing of images of evil and the monstrous. But that
which derived from his spiritual crippling tended to issue forth in the acute aspect of his
artistry of evil.

The problem of Gogol was addressed only by that religio-philosophic and artistic
current, which assumed significance among us at the beginning of the XX Century. It had
been the accepted thing to read Gogol as the founder of the realist trend in Russian
literature. The strangeness of Gogol's creativity was explained away exclusively, in that
he was being satirical and that he depicted the falseness of the old Russia under serfdom.
They tended to look at everything extraordinary in Gogol's artistic mannerisms. And yet
in Gogol's creativity they saw nothing problematic, because in general they tended to see
nothing as problematic. To the Russian critics all seemed clear and easy to explain, all
was rendered simple and cramped down towards an elementary utilitarian aim. It truly
can be said, that the critical school of Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, Dobroliubov and their
successors had in view the inner meaning of Russian great literature and they lacked the
ability to evaluate its artistic revelations. There had to happen a spiritual crisis, there had
to be shaken all the foundations of the traditional intelligentsia world-view, in order for
the creativity of the Russian great writers to be revealed anew. Then only was there
rendered possible an approach to Gogol. The old view on Gogol as a realist and satiricist
demands a radical review. Now already, after all the complexifying of our psyches and
our thought, it is quite clear, that the view of the literary old-believers on Gogol fails to
get atop the Gogol problem. To us it seems monstrous, how they could see realism within
"Dead Souls", a work incredible and unprecedented. The strange and enigmatic creativity
of Gogol cannot be relegated away as a social satire, exposing the times and transient
vices and sins of pre-Reform Russian society. Dead souls do not have an obligatory and
inseparable connection with the serf-era way of life, not the Revizor Inspector General --
with pre-Reform officialdom. And now at present, after all the reforms and revolutions,
Russia is full of dead souls and inspectors general, and the Gogolesque images have not
died, have not faded away into the past, as have the images from Turgenev and
Goncharov. The artistic modes of Gogol, which least of all can be termed realistic, and
which represent unique an experiment, dismembering and distorting apart the organic
wholeness of actuality, reveal something very essential for reforms and revolutions. That
inhuman boorishness, which Gogol espied, is not merely a product of the old order. not
explicable by reasons social and political, on the contrary, -- it tended rather to beget
everything, that was vile in the old order, it imprinted itself upon the political and social

Gogol as an artist was ahead of his time in anticipating the modern analytic trends
in art, evidenced in connection with the crisis in art. He was a predecessor to the art of A.
Bely and Picasso. In him were already those perceptions of actuality, which led to
Cubism. In his artistry is already the Cubist dismembering of the living being. Gogol
already saw those monstrosities, which Picasso artistically later caught sight of. But
Gogol introduced a deception, since he veiled over his demonic content with a laugh. Of
the newer Russian literary artists after Gogol, a most gifted one of them -- is Andrei Bely,
for whom ultimately the murkiness of the image of man has become submerged in the
cosmic whirlwind. A. Bely does not see an organic beauty within man, just as Gogol does
not see it. In much he tends to follow upon the literary artistic methods of Gogol, but he
does tend also to make quite new achievements in the area of forms. Gogol had already
subjected to analytic dismemberment the organically whole image of man. With Gogol
there are no human images, there is only snouts and grimaces, only the monstrosities,
similar to the habitual monstrosities of Cubism. In his creativity there is a killing off of
man. Gogol had not the ability to provide positive human images and he suffered much
over this. He tormentedly sought for the image of man and he did not find it. On all sides
formless and unhuman monstrosities surrounded him. In this was his tragedy. He
believed in man, he sought for the beauty of man and he did not find it in Russia. In this
was something unspeakably tormentive, this could lead to madness. In Gogol himself
there was a sort of spiritual disjointedness, and he bore within himself some sort of
unsolved secret. But it is impossible to fault him for this, that in place of the image of
man he instead saw in Russia Chichikov, Nozdrev, Sobakovich, Khlestakov, Skvoznik-
Dmukhanovsky and suchlike monstrosities. His great and implausible gift was to reveal
the negative sides of the Russian people, its dark spirits, all that which in it was inhuman,
distortive of the image and likeness of God. He was terrified and wounded by this
unrevealedness of the human person in Russia, this abundance of the elemental spirits of
nature, in place of people. Gogol -- was infernal the literary artist. Gogol's images -- are
shredded bits of people, and not people, they are the grimaces of people. It is not his
fault, that in Russia there were so few images human, genuine persons, so many lies and
pseudo-images, false substitutes, so much ugliness and more ugliness. Gogol suffered
terribly from this. His gift of insight into the spirit of triteness -- was woesome a gift, and
he fell victim to this gift. He discerned the intolerable evil of triteness, and this haunted
him. With A. Bely the image of man is also lacking. But he belongs already to a different
era, in which faith in the image of man has become uncertain. This faith was still there in
Gogol. Russian people, intent upon revolution and putting great hopes in it, tended to
believe, that the monstrous images from Gogol's Russia would disappear, when the
revolutionary storm would cleanse us from every defilement. In Khlestakov and
Skvoznik-Dmukhanovsky, in Chichikov and Nozdrev they saw only images of old
Russia, the results of autocracy and serfdom. In this was an error of the revolutionary
consciousness, incapable of penetrating into the depths of life. In the revolution has been
revealed all that selfsame old, eternally-Gogolesque Russia, the unhuman, semi-beastly
Russia of vile mugs and snouts. In the insufferable revolutionary triteness there is an
eternally Gogolesque aspect. In vain have proven the hopes, that the revolution would
reveal in Russia the human image, that the human person would rise up to his full stature,
with the collapse of the autocracy. Among us they were too accustomed to put the blame
on the autocracy, all the evil and darkness of our life they wanted to impute to this. But
by this they cast off from themself as Russian people the burden of responsibility, and
inclined themself to irresponsibility. There is no longer the autocracy, but the Russian
darkness and the Russian evil have remained. The darkness and evil are lodged down
deeper, not in the social externals of the people, but in its spiritual core. There is no
longer the old autocracy, but autocracy as before rules in Russia, as before there is no
respect for man, for human dignity, for human rights. There is no longer the old
autocracy, the old officialdom, the old police, but bribery as before is a basis of Russian
life, its underlying constitution. Bribery has become more widespread, than ever. A
grandiose profit is to be made off the revolution. The scenes from Gogol are being played
out at every step in revolutionary Russia. There is no longer the autocracy, but as before
Khlestakov pawns himself off as an important official, and as before all tremble before
him. There is no longer the autocracy, but Russia as before is full of dead souls, and as
before there is a marketing with them. Khlestakov's audacity at every step that he takes is
to be felt in the Russian revolution. But now Khlestakov has risen to the very summit of
power and has far more a basis, than of old, to say: "the minister of foreign affairs, the
French ambassador, the English, the German ambassador and I", or: "and curious a thing
how they happen to be looking for me in the vestibule, when I am not yet even awake:
counts and princes jostle and flutter about there, like bumblebees". The revolutionary
Khlestakovs with great plausibility could say: "who's in charge of this place? Many of the
general sort appear to be volunteers just starting out, but it depends, it could be, -- no, just
consider... There's no other way -- it's up to me. And at this very moment down on the
streets are couriers, couriers, couriers... imagine it for yourself, thirty-five thousand
couriers!" And the revolutionary Ivan Aleksandrovich then takes over the managing of
the department. And when he passes by, "tis simply an earthquake, all tremble and shake,
like leaves". The revolutionary Ivan Aleksandrovich grows irritated and shouts: "I have
no love for joking, and I'm warning all in the back about it... I mean it! There's no one I
won't see... I'm everywhere, everywhere". We hear these Khlestakov tantrums every day
and at every step. All tremble and shake. But, knowing the history of the old and eternal
Khlestakov, in the depths of their souls they expect, that the gendarme will come in and
say: "On orders just arrived from the Peterburg official, he demands to see you at once".
The fear of counter-revolution, pervading the Russian revolution, also bestows the
Khlestakov character a revolutionary impertinence. This constant expecting of the
gendarme exposes the illusory and fraudulent aspect of the revolutionary attainments. But
there is no mistaking the externals. The revolutionary Khlestakov appears but in a new
costume and calls himself otherwise by different a name. But he essentially remains the
same. The thirty-five thousand couriers can be the representatives of the "Soviet of
Workers and Soldiers Deputies". And this changes nothing. At its core rests the old
Russian lie and deception, long since espied by Gogol. Estrangement from the depths
renders all movements too facile. In the presently prevailing and ruling powers there is
little, just the same of the ontological, of the genuinely existing, as there was in Gogol's
Khlestakov. Nozdrev says: "This is the boundary! Everything, that you see along this
side, -- all this is mine, and even along the other side, all that forest out there of bluish a
tint, and everything that is beyond the forest, -- is all mine" ["Dead Souls", Ch. 4]. In
large part the adaption to the revolution has something of Nozdrev to it. The mask
replaces the person. Everywhere are the masks and the two-facedness, the grimaces and
the scraps of a man. An incorrigible falseness of being rules the revolution. All is
illusory. Phantasmic are all the parties, phantasmic all the authorities, phantasmic all the
heroes of the revolution.

Nowhere is it possible to sense a firm footing, nowhere is it possible to catch sight

of clear an human face. This phantasmic aspect, this non-ontological aspect is begotten of
falsehood. Gogol revealed it within the Russian element.

Chichikov as before rides the Russian land and deals in dead souls. But he rides
along not slowly in the carriage, instead, he dashes about in courier rail-cars and
everywhere dispatches telegrams. The selfsame element operates a new a tempo. The
revolutionary Chichikovs buy up and resell non-existent riches, they operate with fictions
and not realities, they transform into a fiction all the whole economic life of Russia.
Many of the degrees of the revolutionary authority are totally Gogolesque in their nature,
and in the enormous masses of ordinary people they meet with Gogolesque a response. In
the revolutionary element is detected a colossal swindling knavery, dishonesty as a
sickness of the Russian soul. Our whole revolution seems to represent an haggling over
the people's soul and the people's dignity. All our revolutionary agrarian reform, the SR
and the Bolshevistic, represents an official meddling and hindrance. It operates with dead
souls, it derives the people's wealth upon an illusory, unreal basis. Within it is the
Chichikov audacity. In our heroic summertime of an agrarian revolution there was
something truly Gogolesque. There was likewise no little of a Manilovschina [from
character Manilov, cf. "Dead souls", Ch. 2] during the first period of the revolution and
during the revolutionary provisional government. But "Dead Souls" possesses also a
profound symbolic meaning. All the ugly mugs and grimaces along the Gogol line are
manifest basically of a deadening numbness of Russian souls. The deadening numbness
of souls makes possible the Chichikov resemblances and encounters. This prolonged and
lengthy numbed deadening of souls is sensed also in the Russian revolution. And
therefore possible within it becomes this shameless haggling, this naked deception. The
revolution itself per se did not create this. The revolution -- is a great manifestor, and it
manifested merely that, which lay concealed in the depths of Russia. The form of the old
order held in check the manifestation of many Russian traits, kept them within the limits
of restraint. The downfall of these old time-worn forms has led to this, that Russian man
is ultimately proven to be unruly and stark nakedly shown to be so. The evil spirits,
which Gogol caught sight of in their static form, have broken free and are having an orgy.
Their grimaces evoke a shuddering in the body of suffering Russia. For the Khlestakovs
and Chichikovs there is now an even greater scope of opportunity, than there was in the
time of the autocracy. And a becoming free of them presupposes a spiritual regeneration
of the people, a turnabout within it. The revolution has not produced such a turnabout. A
true spiritual revolution in Russia would involve a liberation from that deceitful lying,
which Gogol saw within the Russian people, would involve a victory over that illusory
and substitutive aspect, begotten of the deceitful lie. Within the lie there is a facile
irresponsibility, it is not connected with anything substantial, and upon lies can be
constructed very bold revolutions. Gogol revealed dishonesty as an age-old Russian trait.
This dishonesty is connected with the failure of the developing and revealing of the
person within Russia, with the stifling of the image of man. With this also is connected
the inhuman triteness, with which Gogol overwhelms and smothers us and with which he
himself was overwhelmed. Gogol saw into Russia more deeply than did the Slavophils.
He had a strange sensing of evil, which the Slavophils lacked. In the eternally
Gogolesque Russia the tragic and the comic are interwoven and intermixed. The comic
appears as a result of confusion and substitution. This confusion and interweaving of the
tragic and the comic is there also in the Russian revolution. It is all based upon confusion
and substitution, and much in it therefore assumes the nature of a comedy. the Russian
revolution is a tragi-comedy. This - is the finale of the Gogol legacy. And, perhaps, the
most gloomy and hopeless thing in the Russian revolution -- is the Gogolesque aspect in
it. What there is in it from Dostoevsky bears more glimmerings of hope. But Russia
mustneeds get free from the grip of the Gogolesque ghoulishness.


If Gogol set within the context of the Russian revolution is not at once directly
apparent and the very positing of this theme possibly evokes doubts, then in Dostoevsky
nevertheless it is impossible not to see a prophet of the Russian revolution. The Russian
revolution is impelled by those themes, which Dostoevsky had a premonition of and
which with genius he put in sharp contrast. Dostoevsky had the ability to reveal in depth
the dialectics of Russian revolutionary thought and to derive from it its final conclusions.
He did not stay merely at the surface level with the socio-political ideas and constructs,
he penetrated down into the depths and uncovered the metaphysics underlying the
Russian revolutionary aspect. Dostoevsky discovered, that the Russian revolutionary
aspect is a phenomenon both metaphysical and religious, not merely political and social.
And thus religiously he succeeded to grasp the nature of Russian socialism. Russian
socialism involves the question, does God exist or not. And Dostoevsky foresaw, how
bitter would be the fruits of Russian socialism. He laid bare the element of Russian
nihilism and Russian atheism, a thing quite unique, and dissimilar to that of the West.
There was with Dostoevsky a gift of genius in revealing the depths and discerning the
final limits. He never remains at the middle, never halts merely dwelling upon the
transitory conditions, but instead always pushes towards the finalative and the ultimate.
His creative artistic act is apocalyptic, and in this he is -- truly a Russian national genius.
The method of Dostoevsky is different, from that of Gogol. Gogol was more perfected
the literary artist. Dostoevsky was first of all a great psychologist and metaphysician. He
reveals the evil and the evil spirits inwardly within the soul-emotive life of man and
inwardly within his dialectics of thought. The whole entire creativity of Dostoevsky is an
anthropological revelation -- the revelation of the human depths, not only the soul-
emotive, but also the spiritual depths. To him are revealed those human thoughts and
those human passions, which represent not merely the psychology, but rather the
ontology of human nature. In Dostoevsky, as distinct from Gogol, there remains always
the image of man and there is revealed the inward fate of man. Evil does not ultimately
destroy the human image. Dostoevsky believes, that by way of inner catastrophe, evil can
make the transition over to good. And therefore his creativity is less frightful, than the
creativity of Gogol, which leaves almost no kind of hope.

In Dostoevsky, the greatest Russian genius, it is possible to study the nature of

human thinking, its positive and its negative polarities. The French -- are dogmatists or
sceptics, dogmatists at the positive polarity of their thought and sceptics at the negative
pole. The Germans -- are mystics or criticists, mystics at the positive pole and criticists at
the negative. The Russians however -- are apocalyptic or nihilistic, apocalyptic at the
positive pole and nihilist at the negative polarity. The Russian instance -- is very extreme
and very difficult. The French and the Germans can create culture, since culture can be
created both dogmatically and sceptically; it is possible to create it also mystically and
critically. But it is difficult, very difficult apocalyptically and nihilistically to create
culture. Culture can have at its depths the dogmatic and the mystical, but it presupposes,
that beyond the median vital process is admitted something of value, that it possesses a
significance not only absolute, but also relative. The apocalyptic and nihilistic self-
derived feeling casts aside all the average median vital process, all the historical steps,
has no wish to know of any sort of values of culture, it aspires towards the end, the limit.
These two opposites readily transfer each into the other. The apocalyptic easily
transitions into nihilism, can prove nihilistic in regard to the greatest values of earthly
historical life, to all culture. Nihilism however can undetectedly take on an apocalyptic
hue, can appear as a demanding of the end. And with Russian man, so shifting back and
forth and entangled are the apocalyptic and the nihilistic, that it becomes difficult to
distinguish these polarly opposed principles. It is not easy to determine, why Russian
man is wont to negate the state, culture, native land, normative morals, science and art,
why he demands an absolute impoverishment: whether from his apocalyptic or his
nihilistic aspect. Russian man can wage a nihilistic pogrom like an apocalyptic pogrom;
he can lay himself bare, tear away all the veilings and stand naked as it were, since he is a
nihilist and denies everything, and since also, because he is filled with apocalyptic
presentiments and anticipates the end of the world. In Russian sectarians the apocalyptic
is interwoven and compounded with nihilism. The same thing occurs with the Russian
intelligentsia. The Russian searchings for the truths of life always assumes an apocalyptic
or nihilistic character. This -- is a profoundly national trait. This creates the grounds for
confusion and substitutes, for pseudo-religion. In Russian atheism itself there is
something of the spirit of the apocalyptic, totally dissimilar to Western atheism. And in
Russian nihilism there are pseudo-religious features, a sort of religion in reverse. this
tempts and leads many into error. Dostoevsky revealed down deep the apocalypticism
and nihilism within the Russian soul. And therefore he also guessed, what sort of
character the Russian revolution would assume. He perceived, that revolution would not
at all signify for us, what it does in the West, and therefore it would be more terrible and
more extreme than Western revolutions. The Russian revolution -- is a phenomenon on
religious a basis, it is a deciding of the question about God. And this mustneeds be
understood in more profound a sense, than is conceived in the anti-religious character of
the French revolution or the religious character of the English revolution.

For Dostoevsky, the problem of the Russian revolution, of Russian nihilism and
socialism, as a religious problem essentially -- involves the question about God and about
immortality. "Socialism is not only the workers question, or of the so-called fourth estate,
but is predominantly an atheistic question, the question of the modern embodiment of
atheism, the question of the Babylonian Tower, constructed not in the name of God, not
for reaching heaven from earth, but rather for the contraction of heaven onto earth"
(Brothers Karamazov"). It can even possibly be said, that the question on Russian
socialism and nihilism -- is a question apocalyptic, oriented towards the all-destroying
end. Russian revolutionary socialism has never thought of itself as transitional a
condition, as a temporary and relative form in the building up of society, it has always
thought of itself as ultimate a condition, as the kingdom of God upon earth, as the solving
of the question of the fates of mankind. This -- is not an economic and not political a
question, but rather a question of spirit, a religious question. "And indeed the Russian
boys up til now, what about them? Here, for example, in a local wretched tavern, here
they tend to come, seated off in a corner...What are they deciding? The issues of the
world, no less: is there a God, is there immortality? And for those not believing in God,
well, these talk about socialism and about anarchism, about the redoing of the whole of
mankind along new a form, all indeed the same result, all the same questions, only with
different a conclusion". These Russian boys never have been capable of politics, of
constructing and building up societal life. Everything has gotten jumbled up in their
heads, and having repudiated God, they refashioned God out of socialism and anarchism,
they wanted to rework the whole of mankind into new a form and in this have seen not
relative, but rather absolute a task. Russian boys have been nihilistic-apocalyptic. They
started it, having the endless conversations in the wretched taverns. And it would have
been difficult to believe, that these conversations about replacing God by socialism and
anarchism and the reworking of the whole of mankind into new a form could become a
defining power in Russian history to shatter apart Great Russia. The Russian boys long
since already have proclaimed, that everything is permitted, if there is no God and no
immortality. Bliss upon earth would remain then as the goal. Upon this basis also has
emerged Russian nihilism, which to many naive and well-intentioned people has seemed
innocent and cute a phenomenon. Many even saw in it a moral truth, though distorted by
mental error. Even Vl. Solov'ev did not understand the dangers of Russian nihilism, when
he jokingly formulated the credo of the Russian boys in suchlike a manner: "Man is
descended from the ape, therefore, let us love one another". Dostoevsky tended to
penetrate deeper into the secret corners of Russian nihilism and he sensed the danger. He
revealed the dialectics of Russian nihilism, its hidden metaphysics.

Ivan Karamazov shews himself a philosopher of Russian nihilism and atheism. He

proclaims a revolt against God and against God's world out of very lofty motives -- he
cannot reconcile himself with the tears of a tormented innocent child. Ivan puts Alyosha a
question very acute and radically so: "Tell me straight out, I implore thee, answer:
imagine, that thou art building up the edifice of human fate with the aim at the final end
to bring happiness to people, to finally give them peace and tranquility, but for this it
would have to be needful and inevitable to torment of all only one tiny creature, this child
here beating itself with tiny fist upon the breast, and upon its unavenged tears set the
foundation of this edifice; would thou consent to be the architect upon these conditions?"
Ivan posits here the age-old problem as regards the price of history, about the
acceptability of those sacrifices and sufferings, by which are bought the creation of states
and cultures. This is preeminently a Russian question, an accursed question, which
Russian boys have brought out against world history. In this question has been lodged all
the Russian moral pathos, sundered off from its religious sources. Upon this question has
morally been based the Russian revolutionary-nihilistic revolt, which Ivan also
proclaims: "In the final result this world of God's -- I do not accept, and though also I
know, that it exists, I do not accept it at all. It is not God that I do not accept, it is the
world created by Him, God's world that I do not accept and cannot consent to accept".
"For what purpose is it to recognise this devilish good and evil, when it involves so
much? Indeed the whole world of knowledge cannot then stand up to those tears of a
child to dear-God". "I renounce entirely the higher harmony. It is not worth the tiny tears
of that one tortured child, beating its breast with its little fist and praying in its fetid hovel
with its unexpiated tears to dear-God... I don't want, that they should suffer more. And if
the suffering of children goes towards the filling up of that sum of sufferings, which be
necessary as the price for truth, then I declare beforehand, that all the truth be not worth
such a price... I don't want the harmony, out of love for mankind I do not want it... And
indeed they have valued the harmony too dearly, we cannot at all afford the price of
entry. And therefore I hasten to return back my ticket for entry... It is not God that I do
not accept, but rather only the ticket to Him that I most respectfully return back". The
theme, presented by Ivan Karamazov, is complex, and within it are interwoven several
motifs. Dostoevsky from the lips of Ivan Karamazov pronounces judgement upon the
positivist theories of progress and upon the utopias of a coming harmony, erected upon
the sufferings and tears of prior generations. All the progress of mankind and all its
perfect arrangement stand for nothing as regards the unhappy fate of each man, his final
death. In this is a Christian truth. But the acute question, posited by Ivan, nowise consists
in this. He presents his question not as a Christian, believing in a Divine meaning to life,
but rather as an atheist and nihilist, denying a Divine meaning to life, seeing only
absurdity and untruth from limited an human perspective. This -- is a revolt against the
Divine world-order, a non-acceptance of human fate, as determined by the design of God.
This -- is a dispute of man with God, a refusal to accept suffering and sacrifice, to grasp
the meaning of our life as atonement. The whole course of revolt in the thoughts of Ivan
Karamazov is a manifestation of extreme rationalism, is a denial of the mystery of human
fate, inscrutable within the bounds and limits of the estrangement within this earthly
empirical life. To rationally grasp within the limits of earthly life, why an innocent child
should be tormented, is impossible. The very positing of such a question -- is atheistic
and godless. Faith in God and in the Divine world-order is a faith in the deep and hidden
meaning of all the sufferings and tribulations, having fallen to the lot of every being in its
earthly wanderings. To wipe away the tiny tears of the child and ease its sufferings is a
deed of love. Yet the pathos of Ivan is not in love, but in revolt. In him there is a false
sentimentality, but not love. He is in revolt, because he does not believe in immortality,
because for him all consists in this meaningless empirical life, full of suffering and grief.
A typical Russian boy, he has mistaken the negative Western hypotheses for axioms and
has put his trust in atheism.

Ivan Karamazov -- is a thinker, a metaphysician and psychologist, and he provides a

deep philosophic grounding to the troubled experiences of an innumerable number of
Russian boys. the Russian nihilists and atheists, socialists and anarchists. At the core of
the question of Ivan Karamazov lies a sort of false Russian sensitivity and sentimentality,
a false sort of sympathy for mankind, leading to an hatred towards God and the Divine
purpose of worldly life. Russians all too readily become nihilistic rebels out of a false
moralism. The Russian takes God to task over history because of the tears of the child,
returns back the ticket, denies all values and sanctities, he will not tolerate the sufferings,
wants not the sacrifices. Yet he however does nothing really, in order to lessen the tears,
he adds to the quantity of flowing tears, he makes a revolution, which is all grounded
upon uncountable tears and sufferings. Within the nihilistic moralism of Russian man
there is no moral forging of character, no moral austerity in the face of the terrors of life,
no capacity for sacrifice nor disavowing of the arbitrary. The Russian nihilistic moralist
thinks, that he loves man and sympathises for man, moreso than does God, that he will
straighten out God's design for man and the world. An incredible pretentiousness is
characteristic of this emotional type of soul. From the history, over which the Russian
boys have taken God to task as a result of the tears of the child and the tears of the
people, and out of their excited conversations in the taverns was born the ideology of the
Russian revolution. At its core lies atheism and a disbelief in immortality. The disbelief
in immortality begets a false sensitivity and sense of sympathy. The endless declamations
about the sufferings of the people, about the evil of the state and culture, grounded upon
these sufferings, issued forth from this God-contending source. The desire itself to ease
the suffering of the people was proper, and in it can be discovered the spirit of Christian
love. But this also led many into error. They failed to notice the confusions and
substitutions, situated at the core of Russian revolutionary morals, with the Anti-Christ
temptations set within the revolutionary morals for the Russian intelligentsia. Dostoevsky
did take note of this, he revealed the spiritual substrate of the nihilism, preoccupied with
the welfare of the people, and he predicted, to what the triumph of this spirit would lead.
Dostoevsky understood, that the great question concerning the individual fate of each
man is decided completely otherwise in the light of religious awareness, and that in the
darkness of the revolutionary consciousness, is a pretension to become a pseudo-religion.

Dostoevsky revealed, that the nature of Russian man is favourable a soil for the
Anti-Christ temptations. And this was a genuine revelation, which also made of
Dostoevsky a seer and prophet of the Russian revolution. To him was given an inner
vision of the spiritual essence of the Russian revolution and Russian revolutionaries. The
Russian revolutionaries, the apocalypticists and nihilists by their nature have succumbed
to the temptations of the Anti-Christ, who wants to make people happy, and they thus had
to lead the people tempted by them to that revolution, which has inflicted a terrible
wound upon Russia and has transformed Russian life into a living hell. The Russian
revolutionaries wanted a worldwide turnabout, in which would be burnt away all the old
world with its evil and darkness with its sanctities and values, and upon the ash-heap
would be substituted a new and graceful life for all the people and for all peoples. Upon
lesser than worldwide an happiness, the Russian revolutionary could not reconcile
himself. His mindset is apocalyptic, he wants the end, he wants the finishing off of
history and the inception of a supra-historical process, in which will be realised a realm
of equality, freedom and bliss upon earth. And this allows for nothing transitional nor
relative, no sort of steps of developement of awareness. Russian revolutionary
maximalism is also an unique, and distorted apocalyptics. Its reverse side always
manifests itself as nihilism. The nihilistic destroying of all the manifold and relative
historical world inevitably spreads also to the absolute spiritual foundations of history.
Russian nihilism does not admit of the very source of the historical process, which is
lodged within the Divine actuality, it rebels against the Divine world-order, in which
history takes shape with its steps, with its unavoidable hierarchical aspect. In Dostoevsky
himself there were temptations of Russian maximalism and Russian religious populism.
But in him there was also a positive religious power, a power prophetic, helping him to
reveal the Russian temptations and unmask them. The "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor",
as related by the Russian atheist Ivan Karamazov, is in its power and depth comparable
only with sacred writings, and it reveals the inner dialectics of the Anti-Christ
temptations. The fact, that Dostoevsky gave Catholic a guise to the Anti-Christ
temptations, is inessential and has to be ascribed to its defects and weaknesses. The spirit
of the Grand Inquisitor can appear and can act in various guises and forms, is capable to
utmost a degree of re-embodiment. And Dostoevsky distinctly understood, that within
revolutionary socialism the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor is active. Revolutionary
socialism is not an economic and political teaching, is not a system of social reforms, -- it
has pretension to be a religion, it is a faith, in opposition to the Christian faith.

The religion of socialism in its following after the Grand Inquisitor consents to all
the three temptations, rejected by Christ in the wilderness, rejected in the name of the
freedom of the human spirit. The religion of socialism consents to the temptation to turn
stones into bread, the temptation of the social miracle, the temptation of the kingdom of
this world. The religion of socialism is not the religion of the free sons of God, it
renounces the birthright of man, it is a religion of the slaves of necessity, of the children
of dust. The religion of socialism speaks with the words of the Grand Inquisitor: "All will
be rendered happy, all the millions of people". "We shall compel them to work, but in the
hours free from toil we will arrange their life like child's play, with childish songs, a
chorus, with innocent dances. We shall absolve also the sin, for they are weak and
lacking in strength". "We shall give them the happiness of the weak-powered beings, as
also they were fashioned". The religion of socialism says to the religion of Christ: "Thou
art proud of Thine select ones, but Thou hast only the select, but we will comfort all...
With us all will be happy... We shall convince them, that only then also wilt they become
free, when they renounce their freedom". The religion of socialism, just like the Grand
Inquisitor, reproaches the religion of Christ for having insufficient love for people. In the
name of love for people and a sympathy for people, in the name of the happiness and
bliss of people upon earth, this religion rejects the free, the God-imaged nature of man.
The religion of heavenly bread -- is an aristocratic religion, -- is a religion of the select,
the religion of "the tens of thousands of the great and strong". The religion, though, of
"the remaining millions, numerous like the sands of the sea, the weak" -- is a religion of
earthly bread. This religion has inscribed upon its banners: "feed them, and then ask
virtues of them". Dostoevsky with genius foresaw the spiritual foundations of the
socialistic anthill. He religiously perceived, that the socialistic collectivism is a pseudo-
sobornost', a pseudo-communality, a pseudo-church, which conveys with it the death of
the human person, such as involves the image and likeness of God in man, and is thus a
killing of the freedom of the human spirit. Dostoevsky spoke very powerful and fiery
words against the religion of socialism. And he also sensed, that for Russians socialism is
a religion, not politics, not a matter of social reforms and upbuilding. That the dialectics
of the Grand Inquisitor can be applied to the religion of socialism, and were applied by
Dostoevsky himself, is evident from this, that many of the revolutionaries of his tend to
repeat the train of the thoughts of the Grand Inquisitor. The same was said also by Peter
Verkhovensky, and on the same basis was constructed the Shigalev aspect. These
thoughts were there already with the hero of "Notes from the Underground", when he
spoke about "the gentleman with a derisive and retrograde physiognomy", who would
topple over all the coming social felicity, all the well-constructed anthill of the future.
And the hero of "Notes from the Underground" sets in opposition to this socialistic anthill
rather instead the freedom of the human spirit. Dostoevsky -- is a religious foe of
socialism, he exposes the religious lie and the religious danger of socialism. He is one of
the first to have sensed within socialism the spirit of the Anti-Christ. He understood, that
in socialism the spirit of the Anti-Christ seduces man under the guise of good and of love
for mankind. And he understood, however, that it is easier for Russian man, than for
Western man, to succumb to this temptation, to be seduced by the twofold image of the
Anti-Christ as regards the apocalyptic aspect of its nature. The hostility of Dostoevsky
towards socialism nowise signifies, that he was an adherent and defender of whatever a
"bourgeois" order. He further on uniquely confessed an Orthodox socialism. But the spirit
of this Orthodox socialism has nothing in common with the spirit of revolutionary
socialism, is the opposite to it in everything. Grounded in the soil and unique as a
Slavophil, Dostoevsky saw in the Russian people an antidote against the temptations of
the revolutionary and atheistic socialism. He confessed a religious populism. I tend to
think, that all this religious-populistic, soil-Slavophil ideology of Dostoevsky was part of
his weak, rather than powerful side, and was in contradiction to his foresights of genius
as an artist and metaphysician. At present it can straight out be said, that Dostoevsky was
mistaken, that in the Russian people there has not proven an antidote against the Anti-
Christ temptations in that religion of socialism, which the intelligentsia has imparted to it.
The Russian revolution has ultimately shattered all the illusions of a religious populism,
as well as of every populism. But the illusions of Dostoevsky himself did not hinder him
from revealing the spiritual nature of Russian religious socialism and predicting the
consequences, to which it would lead. Within the "Brothers Karamazov" is provided the
inner dialectics, the metaphysics of the Russian revolution. In "The Possessed" is
provided an image of the realisation of this dialectics.

Dostoevsky revealed the obsessiveness, the element of demonic possession in the

Russian revolutionaries. He perceived, that within the revolutionary element what was
active was not man himself, that what impelled it was not human spirits. In these days
with the revolution having been realised, when one happens to read through "The
Possessed" ("Besy"), one then tends to shudder. It is almost incredible, how it could have
been possible to have foreseen and predicted all so much. In a smallish city, on outwardly
small a scale long since already the Russian revolution was played out and had its
spiritual primal-foundations revealed, its spiritual primal-images presented. The Nechaev
affair served as a source for the plot in "The Possessed". Our leftist circles have tended to
see in "The Possessed" a caricature, almost a lampoon on the revolutionary movement
and revolutionary figures. "The Possessed" was included on an index of [forbidden]
books, condemned by the "progressive" mindset. To grasp all the depth and truth in "The
Possessed" was possible only in the light of a different mindset, that of a religious
consciousness; this depth and this truth tend to elude the positivistic consciousness. If this
novel be viewed as realistic, then much in it is inaccurate and does not correspond to the
activity of that time. But all the novels of Dostoevsky are inaccurate, they were all
written via a depth, which it is impossible to catch sight of at the surface level of
actuality, they were all prophetic. And they mistook the prophetic for a lampoon. At
present, after the experiencing of the Russian revolution, even the foes of Dostoevsky
have to admit, that "The Possessed" -- was prophetic a book. Dostoevsky perceived with
spiritual a sight, that the Russian revolution would namely be such and could not be
otherwise. He foresaw the inevitability of the demonic-possession within the revolution.
The Russian nihilism, active within the Russian Khlysty element, could not but be a
devil-possession, a frenzied and circular whirling. This frenzied circular whirling is also
described in "The Possessed". There it occurs in a small town. Now it occurs throughout
all the vast Russian land. And there has begun this frenzied circular whirling from the
same spirit, from these same principles, from which it came into that same small town.
Now the purveyors of the Russian revolution have declared to the world a Russian
revolutionary messianism, that they will bring to the peoples of the West, dwelling in a
"bourgeois" darkness, light from the East. This Russian revolutionary messianism was
discerned by Dostoevsky and perceived by him as a negative variant of the positive, as a
distorted apocalyptics, as an upside-down and turned around variant of a positive Russian
messianism, not actually revolutionary, but the rather religious. All the heroes of "The
Possessed" in this or another form preach a Russian revolutionary messianism, all of
them are obsessed with this idea. With the vacillating and equivocating Shatov are
shiftings about between a Slavophil consciousness and a revolutionary consciousness.
And the Russian revolution is full of such Shatovs. All of them, just like the Shatov of
Dostoevsky, are deliriously ready to cry out, that the Russian revolutionary people -- is a
God-bearing people, but in God they do not believe. Certain of them would want to
believe in God -- and cannot; for the majority however it would suffice, that they believe
in a God-bearing revolutionary people. In Shatov as the typical populist there transposes
revolutionary elements with reactionary "Black Hundredist" elements. And this is
characteristic. Shatov can be both an extreme leftist and an extreme rightist, but both in
one and the other instance he remains a lover of the people, a democrat, believing first of
all in the people. The Russian revolution is full of such Shatovs; in all of them one cannot
figure out, where their extreme leftist and revolutionary aspect ends and where begins
their extreme rightist and reactionary aspect. they are always enemies of culture, and
always they destroy the freedom of the person. This however they assert, that Russia is
higher than civilisation and that no sort of law need be written for it. These people are
ready to destroy Russia in the name of Russian messianism. Dostoevsky had a weak spot
for Shatov, he sensed within himself the Shatov temptations. But by the power of his
artistic foresight he rendered the image of Shatov repulsive and negative.

At the centre of the revolutionary demon-possession stands the image of Peter

Verkhovensky. This also is a chief demon of the Russian revolution. Dostoevsky in the
image of Peter Verkhovensky uncovers a still deeper level of revolutionary devil-
possession, actually veiled over and invisible. Peter Verkhovensky could have had more
noble a look. But Dostoevsky tore away from him the veils and laid bare his soul. And
thereupon the image of revolutionary devil-possession was presented in all its ugliness.
He is all atremble in shuddering from demonic possession, which draws all into a frenzy
of circular whirling. He is everywhere at the centre, behind all and everything. He -- is a
devil, pushing everything and with his hand in everything. But he is also himself devil-
possessed. Peter Verkhovensky is first of all a man totally empty, in him there is no sort
of content. The demons ultimately have taken hold in him and have rendered him their
obedient tool. He ceases to be in the image and likeness of God, in him is lost already the
human visage. His obsession with a false idea has made of Peter Verkhovensky a moral
idiot. He has become obsessed with the idea of a worldwide restructuring, of a worldwide
revolution, he has fallen for a tempting lie, has allowed the demons to take hold his soul
and has lost the elementary distinction between good and evil, has become bereft of
spiritual a centre. In the figure of Peter Verkhovensky we meet with a person already
disintegrated, in which it is no longer possible to discern anything ontological. He is all
lie and deception, and he leads all into deception, wrought into a realm of falsehood. Evil
is a lying fraudulence of being, pseudo-being, non-being. Dostoevsky showed, how a
false idea, seizing hold the entire man and driving him into demonic-possession, leads to
non being, to the disintegration of person. Dostoevsky was a great master in exposing the
ontological consequences of false ideas, when they have taken complete hold upon a
man. What sort of an idea is it that has completely taken hold of Peter Verkhovensky and
brought him to the disintegration of person, transforming him into a liar and sower of
lies? This is all the selfsame basic idea of Russian nihilism, of Russian socialism, of
Russian maximalism, all the selfsame infernal passion for a worldwide leveling, all the
selfsame revolt against God in the name of a worldwide love for people, all the selfsame
replacement of the Kingdom of Christ by the kingdom of the Anti-Christ. There are many
suchlike demoniac Verkhovenskys in the Russian revolution, they everywhere attempt to
pull things into the demonic whirling motion, they feed the Russian people on lies and
drag it toward non-being. Not always do these Verkhovenskys get recognised, not
everyone has the ability to see at depth, behind the veilings. The Khlestakov revolutions
are more easy to distinguish, than the Verkhovensky ones, but these too not everyone
does distinguish, amidst the throngs exalting and crowning them with glory.

Dostoevsky foresaw, that the revolution in Russia would be joyless, frightening and
gloomy a thing, that there would be in it no rebirth for the people. He knew, that Fedka
the convict would play no small role within it and that the Shigalevschina, the Shigalev
aspect, would win out in it. Peter Verkhovensky has long since already revealed the value
of Fedka the convict for the doings of the Russian revolution. And the whole triumphant
ideology of the Russian revolution is the ideology of the Shigalevschina. It gets frightful
our days to reread the words of Verkhovensky: "Our teaching in essence is a negation of
honour, and the revelation of his right to be dishonourable is the easiest of all ways to win
over a Russian man". And the reply of Stavrogin: "The right to be dishonourable -- yes,
this will have everyone come running to us, none will hold back!" And the Russian
revolution has proclaimed "the right to be dishonourable", and all everyone has gone
running after it. And here no less important are the words: "Socialism among us is spread
primarily by means of sentimentality". Dishonour and sentimentality -- are the
fundamental principles of Russian socialism. These principles, discerned by Dostoevsky,
are also triumphant in the revolution. Peter Verkhovensky saw, what sort of role in the
revolution would be played by "pure swindlers". "Well, perhaps, this is a fine bunch of
people, at times very profitable, but on them much time gets wasted, and demands a
vigilant eye". And further on P. Verkhovensky ponders on the factours of the Russian
revolution: "The chiefmost force -- the cement, binding it all together, is shame at having
an opinion of one's own. How powerful this is! And this is with one who has worked, this
is one who is the "dear chap" so given to toil away, that he has not a single idea of his
own in his head! Aught else they would consider shameful". This was a very profound
and penetrating insight into revolutionary Russia. In Russian revolutionary thought there
was always "a shame at having one's own opinion". This shame among us was imputed to
the collective consciousness, a consciousness regarded higher, than the personal. In the
Russian revolution there has been ultimately extinguished every individual attempt at
thinking, the thinking was rendered completely impersonal, relegated to the masses. Read
the revolutionary newspapers, listen to the revolutionary speeches, and you will receive a
confirmation of the words of Peter Verkhovensky. Regarding someone who has so toiled
away over it, that "not a single idea remains in their head". Russian revolutionary
messianism leaves it to the bourgeois West to have one's own ideas and opinions. In
Russia all has to be collective, of the masses, impersonal. Russian revolutionary
messianism, is Shigalevschina. The Shigalev aspect impels and directs the Russian

"Shigalev looked, as though he expected the destruction of the world, and not at
some indefinite when according to prophecies, but quite definitely, say the morning after
tomorrow, at exactly ten twenty-five". All the Russian revolutionary Marxists tend to
look, as Shigalev looked, all await the destruction of the old world the day after
tomorrow, in the morning. And that new world, which will arise upon the ruins of the old
world, is a world of Shigalevschina. "Starting from unlimited freedom, -- says Shigalev,
-- I conclude with a limited despotism. I adduce, moreover, that except for my decisive
societal formula, there can be no other". All the revolutionary Shigalevs speak thus and
act thus. Peter Verkhovensky formulates the essence of the Shigalevschina to Stavrogin:
"To level the mountains -- is a fine thought, not ludicrous. Education is not the needed
thing, enough of science! Even without science there is enough material for a thousand
years, but the needed thing is to build obedience... The thirst for learning is already an
aristocratic thirst. Just a bit of having a family or love, and here already is a wishing of
private property. We will kill off that desire; we will allow drunkenness, slander,
denunciation; we will permit unheard of depravity; we will extinguish all genius in its
infancy. All to a single denominator, total equality... Only necessary is the necessary --
herein is the catchword of the earthly globe henceforth. But necessary is a knuckling
under; about this we shall concern ourselves, as rulers. With slaves there have to be
rulers. Total obedience, total lack of person, but once in thirty years Shigalev allows also
for a convulsion, and all suddenly will begin to devour each other, up to a certain point,
naturally, so that things not become boring. Boredom is an aristocratic sensation". With
these stunning and prophetically forceful words Dostoevsky through the lips of P.
Verkhovensky reduces it all down to the course of thought of the Grand Inquisitor. This
demonstrates, that in "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" Dostoevsky to a remarkable
degree had socialism in view. Dostoevsky uncovers all the phantasmic aspect of
democracy within the revolution. No sort of a democracy exists, there rules instead a
tyrannical minority. But this tyranny, unprecedented in the history of the world, will be
based upon an overall compulsory leveling. Shigalevschina is also a frenzied passion for
equality, pushed to its end, to its limit, to non-being. Unchecked social dreaming leads to
a destruction of being with all its riches, in its fanatics it degenerates into evil. Social
dreaminess is nowise innocent a thing. Dostoevsky understood this. The Russian
revolutionary socialistic dreaming is also Shigalevschina. In the name of equality, this
dreaming would seek to destroy God and God's world. In this tyranny and this absolute
leveling, which will be the crowning point of "the developing and deepening" of the
Russian revolution, will be realised the golden dreams and visions of the Russian
revolutionary intelligentsia. These were dreams and visions about a Shigalevschina
realm, much prettier to imagine, than has proven in actuality. Many naive and simple of
soul Russian socialists, in dreaming about a social revolution, tend to get befuddled by
the triumphant shouts: "Each belongs to all, and all to each. All are slaves and equal in
slavery... The first step is a lowering of the level of education, of science and talents. The
high level of science and talents is permitted only to the higher in aptitude, and
unnecessary are the higher in aptitude!" Dostoevsky was more perspicacious, than were
the acknowledged teachers of the Russian intelligentsia, he knew, that the Russian
revolutionism, the Russian socialism in the hour of its triumph would have to end with
these Shigalev outbursts.

Dostoevsky foresaw not only the triumph of the Shigalev aspect, but also of the
Smerdyakovschina, the Smerdyakov aspect. He knew, that there would arise in Russia
the lackey who in the hour of great danger for our native land would say: "I detest all of
Russia", "I not only have no wish to be a military hussar, but I wish, on the contrary, the
abolition of all the soldiery". To the question: "And when the hostiles arrive, who will
defend us?", the revolting lackey replied: "In 1812 there was the great invasion of Russia
by the French emperor Napoleon I, and a good thing if then these same French had
subdued us: an intelligent nation would have subdued an extremely stupid one and
annexed it to itself. There would even have been an altogether different order of things".
Defeatism during wartime is also a manifestation of Smerdyakovschina. The Smerdyakov
effect has led also to this, that the "intelligent nation" of the Germans is subduing the now
"stupid" nation of the Russians. The lackey Smerdyakov among us was one of the first
internationalists, and all our internationalism has received a Smerdyakov engrafting.
Smerdyakov declared a right to be dishonourable, and behind him have flocked many.
How profound of Dostoevsky this was, that Smerdyakov should be the other half of Ivan
Karamazov, his reverse image. Ivan Karamazov and Smerdyakov -- are two
manifestations of Russian nihilism, two sides of one and the same essence. Ivan
Karamazov -- is the lofty, philosophic aspect of the nihilism; Smerdyakov -- is the lowly,
its lackey aspect. Ivan Karamazov at the summits of intellectual life had to go and beget
Smerdyakov at the base levels of life. Smerdyakov also brings to realisation all the
atheistic dialectics of Ivan Karamazov. Smerdyakov -- reflects the inner core of Ivan. In
all the masses of mankind, the masses of the people, there are more Smerdyakovs, than
Ivans. There triumphs in the revolution the atheistic dialectics of Ivan Karamazov, but
Smerdyakov brings it to realisation. This he did through a practical conclusion, that "all is
permissible". Ivan sins in his thought, in spirit, Smerdyakov accomplishes it in deed, he
embodies the idea of Ivan. Ivan commits parricide in his thoughts. Smerdyakov commits
the parricide physically, in actual fact. An atheistic revolution always commits parricide,
always denies the fatherly bond, always breaks the connection of son with father. And it
justifies this transgression on the basis, that the father was very bad and sinful. Such a
murderous attitude towards a father is always Smerdyakovschina. The Smerdyakov
aspect is always a final manifestation of boorishness. Having committed in fact, that
which Ivan committed in thought, Smerdyakov asks Ivan: "You yourself all the time then
said, that everything is permissible, so why are you now so anxious?" This question by
Smerdyakov to Ivan gets repeated in the Russian revolution. The Smerdyakovs of the
revolution, having realised in deed the principle of Ivan that "all is permissible", have the
basis to ask the Ivans of the revolution: "Now why are you so anxious?" Dostoevsky
foresaw, that Smerdyakov bears an hatred towards Ivan, while educated in his atheism
and nihilism. And this is playing itself out in our own day between the "people" and the
"intelligentsia". The whole tragedy between Ivan and Smerdyakov was unique as a
symbol in revealing the tragedy of the Russian revolution. The problem over the issue,
whether everything be permissible for the triumph of the good of mankind, stood already
before Raskol'nikov. The elder, starets Zosima, says: "Truly they have more of a dreamy
fantasy about them, than do we. They think justice will be set up, but having spurned
Christ, it will end with this, that the world will be drenched in blood, for blood calls for
blood, and he that taketh up the sword doth perish by the sword. And were it not for the
promise of Christ, they would then destroy each other even right down to the last two
men on earth". These words -- are prophetic.
"People will join together, in order to take from life all, that it can give, but
assuredly for the joy and happiness of this one only present world. Man will exalt himself
in a spirit of a would-be godly and titanic pride and there will appear the man-god...
Everyone will recognise, that he is entirely mortal, without resurrection, and he will
accept death proudly and calmly, like a god. From pride he will understand, that it does
him no good to complain over this, that life is but a moment, and he will love his brother
without need of any reward. Love will suffice only for the moment of life, but already the
consciousness alone of its momentary aspect will stoke up the fire of it such, as before
previously it was spread on hopes beyond the grave and endless". It is the devil speaking
these words to Ivan, and in these words is revealed Dostoevsky's tormented thought, that
love for people can be godless and of the Anti-Christ. This love lies at the basis of
revolutionary socialism. An image of this godless socialism, grounded upon the Anti-
Christ type of love, is put forth by Versilov ["Podrostok"]: "I imagined for myself, that
the fighting will have ended and the struggling wound down. After the cursings, the mud-
slinging and jeers that will have settled in a calm, and people will have been left alone,
like they wanted: the great former idea has forsaken them; the great source of strength, up
til then having nourished and warmed them, has departed, but this was already as though
the final day of mankind. And people suddenly will have realised, that they have been left
altogether alone, and at once they will feel a great sense of being left orphaned... The
people thus orphaned will at once nestle closer and more fondly together; they will as it
were grasp hands, understanding, that now they alone only comprise all each for another!
There will have vanished the great idea of immortality, having to be replaced... They will
have become fond of the earth and life unrestrainedly and in that measure, in which
gradually they will have become aware of their own temporary and finite aspect, and
already with an especial, already not with the former love... They will awaken and hasten
to kiss greeting each other, in haste to love, conscious, that the days are short, that this --
is all, that remains for them. They would work each for the other, and each would bestow
his goods to all and by this alone be made happy". In this fantasy is revealed the
metaphysics and psychology of a godless socialism. Dostoevsky depicts the
manifestation of the Anti-Christ love. He understood, better than anyone, that the
spiritual basis of socialism -- is a denial of immortality, that the pathos of socialism -- is
the desire to set up the kingdom of God upon earth without God, to bring about love
between people without Christ -- the source of love. And he thus reveals the religious lie
of humanism in its limited forms. Humanistic socialism leads to a destroying of man in
the image and likeness of God. It is directed against the freedom of the human spirit, does
not tolerate the testing of freedom. Dostoevsky with an as yet unprecedented acuteness
posited the religious question concerning man and posited alongside it the question
concerning socialism, as regards the earthly unification and arrangement of people. He
discerned this as an encounter and a confusing of Christ and the Anti-Christ within the
soul of Russian man, of the Russian people. The apocalyptic aspect of the Russian people
also renders this encounter and this confusion particularly acrid and tragic. Dostoevsky
had presentiment, that were a revolution to happen in Russia, it would then occur via the
Anti-Christ dialectic. Russian socialism would prove apocalyptic, and contrary to
Christianity. Dostoevsky foresaw it farther and more profoundly than anyone. But he
himself was not free from the Russian populist illusions. In his Russian Christianity there
were sides, which provided a basis for K. Leont'ev to term his Christianity as rosy. This
rosy Christianity and rosy populism was most of all bespoken in the images of Zosima
and Alyosha, images impossible to be termed as fully successful. The great positive
revelations of Dostoevsky obtain by negative a path, by way of negative an artistic
dialectic. The truth, expressed by him concerning Russia, is not the sweet and rosy truth
of a love and worship of the people, this -- is instead a tragic truth, a truth concerning the
Anti-Christ seductions of an apocalyptic people in its spirit. Dostoevsky himself was
tempted by a churchly nationalism, which impeded the Russian people from emerging
out onto the world stage. Dostoevsky's worship of the people suffered its crash within the
Russian revolution. His positive prophecies did not transpire. But there do transpire his
prophetic foresights of the Russian temptations.


In Tolstoy there was nothing prophetic, he had presentiment of nothing and he

predicted nothing. As an artist, he was oriented towards a crystalised past. Within him
there was not that delicacy of perception for the dynamism of human nature, which to a
supreme degree Dostoevsky had. In the Russian revolution there triumph not the literary
insights of Tolstoy, but rather his moral values. L. Tolstoy, as a seeker after the truth of
life, as a moralist and religious teacher, is very characteristic of Russia and of Russians.
The Tolstoyans, in the narrow sense of the word, following the doctrine of Tolstoy, are
few, and they represent insignificant a phenomenon. But Tolstoyism in a broader, non
doctrinal sense of the word, are very characteristic of Russian man, and determinative of
Russian moral valuations. Tolstoy was not a direct teacher of the Russian leftist
intelligentsia, his religious teaching was foreign to it. But Tolstoy reflected and expressed
a peculiarity of the moral habits of a large part of the Russian intelligentsia, perhaps too,
even of Russian man in general. Yet the Russian revolution tends to manifest its own
unique triumph of Tolstoyism. Imprinted upon it is both a Tolstoy Russian moralism, and
Russian amorality. This Russian moralism and Russian amorality are interconnected and
are two sides of one and the same impairment of the moral consciousness. This
impairment of the Russian moral consciousness I view first of all as a denial of personal
moral responsibility and personal moral discipline, in a weak developement of the sense
of duty and the sense of honour, in the absence of awareness of the moral value of the
selection of personal qualities. Russian man does not sense himself to a sufficient degree
morally involvable, and he little esteems the qualitative aspect of person. This finds its
expression, in that the person senses himself submerged within the collective, the person
remains as yet insufficiently developed and conscious. Such a condition of moral
consciousness gives rise to a whole series of pretensions, in the orientation towards fate,
towards history, the rule of authority, cultural values, unadmissible for the given person.
The moral outlook of Russian man is characterised not by an healthy involvement, but
rather by sick pretension. Russian man fails to sense an inseparable connection between
rights and obligations, obscured for him is both the consciousness of rights, and the
consciousness of obligations, he flounders within an irresponsible collectivism, in the
pretension for all. For Russian man the most difficult thing of all is to sense, that he
himself -- is the blacksmith forging his own fate. He has no love for qualities, uplifting
the life of the person, and does not love power. Every sort of power, uplifting of life,
represents for Russian man something morally suspicious, moreso evil, than good. With
these peculiarities of the moral consciousness is connected also, that Russian man views
the values of culture as morally suspicious. Towards the entirety of higher culture he puts
forth a whole series of moral pretensions and fails to sense a moral obligation to create
culture. All these peculiarities and impediments of the Russian moral consciousness
present a favourable ground for the arising of the teachings of Tolstoy.

Tolstoy -- was an individualist, and very extreme an individualist. He was quite

anti-societal, and for him societal problems do not exist. Tolstoy's morality is also
individualistic. But from this it would be a mistake to conclude, that Tolstoy's morals rest
upon a clear and firm consciousness of the person. Tolstoy's individualism is decisively
hostile to the concept of the person, just as always transpires with individualism. Tolstoy
fails to see the human countenance, knows not its visage, he is all submerged within the
natural collectivism, which presents itself to him as life divine. The life of the person
does not seem to him to be the true and divine life, this -- is the false life of this world. A
true and divine life is a life impersonal, general life, in which have vanished all
qualitative distinctions, all hierarchical scales. The moral consciousness of Tolstoy
demands, that there should be nothing greater than man as an autonomous and qualitative
being, and there should be only an all-common unqualitative divinity, equalising all and
everything in the impersonal divinity. Only the total annihilating of every personal and
diversely-qualitative being into an impersonal unqualitative all-commonness represents
for Tolstoy a fulfilling of the law of the Master of life. The person, the qualitative is
already sin and evil. And Tolstoy ultimately would want to destroy all, everything that is
connected with the person and the qualitative. In him this was an Eastern and Buddhist
sort of outlook, hostile to that of the Christian West. Tolstoy renders himself a nihilist out
of moral zeal. His moralism is truly demonic and is destructive of all the richness of
being. The egalitarian and nihilistic passion in Tolstoy impels him to the destruction of
all the spiritual realities, of everything authentically ontological. The unrestrained moral
pretentiousness of Tolstoy renders everything illusory, it casts under suspicion and
subverts the reality of history, the reality of church, the reality of state, the reality of
nationality, the reality of the person and the reality of all supra-personal values, the
reality of all of spiritual life. Everything seems to Tolstoy as morally reprehensible and
impermissible, everything based upon sacrifices and sufferings, towards which he
exhibits a purely animal-like fear. I know of no other genius within world history, to
whom was so foreign the totality of spiritual life. He is totally immersed in the corporeal
-- the emotive, animate life. And the whole religion of Tolstoy is a demand for suchlike
an all-common mild beastliness, free from suffering and of contentment. I know of no
one in the Christian world, to whom was so foreign the very idea of redemption, so
uncomprehending of the mystery of Golgotha, as was Tolstoy. In the name of happy
animal-like a life he repudiated the person and repudiated every supra-personal value.
Truly however, the person and supra-personal value are inseparably connected. The
person only therefore also exists, because that in it is the supra-personal content of value,
in that it belongs to hierarchical a world, in which exist distinctions and a scale of the
qualitative. The nature of the person cannot put up with a jumbled confusion and
unqualitative leveling. And the love for people in Christ is least of all a matter of suchlike
a jumbled confusion and unqualitative leveling, it is infinitely deeper an affirmation of
every human countenance in God. Tolstoy failed to know this, and his morality was of a
lower sort morality, the pretentious morality of a nihilist. Nietzsche stands infinitely
higher, has more spiritual a morality than Tolstoy. The alleged loftiness of Tolstoy's
morality is a great misconception, which has to be exposed. Tolstoy in Russia hindered
the engendering and developing of the morally responsible person, he impeded the
selection of personal qualities, and therefore he proved an evil genius for Russia, a
seducer of it. In him occurred a fatal encounter of Russian moralism with Russian
nihilism and there obtained a religio-moral justification of Russian nihilism, which
seduced many. In him the Russian populism, so fateful for the destiny of Russia, received
a religious expression and moral justification. Almost all the Russian intelligentsia have
admitted Tolstoy's moral values as very lofty, to the far extent of which a man might
ascend. They have further reckoned these moral values as even too lofty and therefore
they reckoned themself unworthy of them and incapable to ascend to their lofty height.
There are but few who call into doubt the loftiness of Tolstoy's moral consciousness. And
simultaneously with the acceptance of this Tolstoy moral consciousness, it leads by it to
pogroms and the destruction of the greatest sanctities and values, of the greatest spiritual
realities, the death of the person and the death of God, inverted and converted into an
impersonal deity of the average sort. There has with us not yet been scrutinised with
sufficient seriousness and depth the tempting falsity of Tolstoyan morals. The antidote
against it would have to be the prophetic insights of Dostoevsky. The Tolstoyan morals
have emerged triumphant within the Russian revolution, but not by those idyllic and love-
abundant paths, proposed by Tolstoy himself. And Tolstoy himself, actually, would have
been horrified by this embodiment of his moral values. But he was desirous of much, too
much of that, which is happening now. He conjured up those spirits, which rule the
revolution, and was himself obsessed by them.

Tolstoy was a maximalist. He repudiated every historical precedent, he did not want
to allow for any sort of stages within historical developement. This Tolstoyan
maximalism exists within the Russian revolution -- it is impelled by the destructive
morals of maximalism, it breathes hatred towards everything historical, and in a spirit of
Tolstoyan maximalism the Russian revolution has wanted as though to rip each man out
of the world historical wholeness, to which he organically belongs, to transform him into
an atom, so as to plunge him abruptly into the impersonal collective. Tolstoy repudiated
history and historical tasks, he renounced the great historical past and did not want a great
historical future. The Russian revolution has been faithful to him in this, it represents a
cutting off from the historical legacies of the past and the historical tasks of the future,
seemingly intent, that the Russian people not live historical a life. And just the same as
with Tolstoy, in the Russian revolution this maximalist repudiation of the historical world
is begotten of a frenzied egalitarian passion. Let there be an absolute leveling, even if it
be a leveling right down to nothingness! The historical world -- is hierarchical, in it -- are
distinctions and distances, in it -- are qualitative variances and differentiation. All this is
so odious for the Russian revolution, just as it was for Tolstoy. It has wanted as though to
create a world dull and grey, all-alike, simplified, bereft of all qualities and all beauties.
And Tolstoy taught this as an higher truth. The historical world is disintegrating into its
atoms, and the atoms compulsively unite into an impersonal collective. "Without
annexations and indemnities" is also an abstract negative of all positive historical tasks.
Yet truly indeed all historical tasks presuppose "annexations and indemnities", they
presuppose the struggle of concrete historical individualities, they presuppose the
composing and dissolution of historical entities, the flourishing and decay of historical

Tolstoy managed to engraft into the Russian revolution an hatred towards

everything historically individual and historically manifold. He was an expression of that
side of the Russian nature, which sustained an abhorrence towards historical power and
historical glory. In an elementary and simplistic manner regarding this, he was
accustomed to moralise about history and to transpose upon historical life the moral
categories of individual life. By this he morally subverted the possibility for the Russian
people to live historical a life, to fulfill its historical destiny and historical mission. He
morally prepared the historical suicide of the Russian people. He clipped the wings of the
Russian people as regards being historical a people, he morally poisoned the wellsprings
of every impulse towards historical creativity. The world war played itself out lost for
Russia, because in it took hold the Tolstoyan moral attitude towards war. Tolstoy's
morals disarmed Russia and betrayed it into the hands of the enemy. And this Tolstoyan
non-resistance, this Tolstoyan passivity enchants and attracts those, who sing hymns to
the accomplishing by revolution of the historical suicide of the Russian people. Tolstoy
was also an expresser of the non resisting and passive side in the character of the Russian
people. The Tolstoyan morals has debilitated the Russian people, deprived it of valour
within a severe historical conflict, but also has left it remaining with an untransfigured
animal-like nature of man with merely the most elemental of instincts. It has killed in the
Russian brood the instinct for power and glory, but has left remaining the instinct for
egoism, envy and malice. This morality is powerless to transform human nature, but it
can weaken human nature, bring it into decline, sap it of the creative instincts.

Tolstoy was an extreme anarchist, an enemy of anything to do with the state on

moral-idealist grounds. He repudiated the state, as based upon sacrifices and sufferings,
and he saw in it a source of evil, which for him led to coercive force. The Tolstoyan
anarchism, the Tolstoyan hostility towards the state likewise has prevailed among the
Russian people. Tolstoy proved an expresser of the anti-state, anarchistic instincts of the
Russian people. He provided those instincts with a moral-religious sanction. And he is
one of the culprits in the destruction of the Russian state. Tolstoy likewise was hostile to
all culture. Culture for him was based upon untruth and violence, in it the source of all
evils in our life. Man by his nature is essentially good and decent and is inclined to live
according to the law of the Master of life. The arising of culture, just like the state, was a
downfall, a falling away from the natural divine order, and hence a start of evil, of
violence. Totally foreign to Tolstoy was a sense of Original Sin, of radical evil for human
nature, and therefore he felt unneeded was a religion of redemption, and he did not
understand it. He was lacking in a sense of evil, since he was also lacking in a sense of
freedom and the autonomy of human nature, he lacked a sense of the significance of the
person. He was immersed in an impersonal and non-human nature and within it he sought
for the sources of Divine truth. And in this Tolstoy proved to be a wellspring source for
all the philosophy of the Russian revolution. The Russian revolution is hostile to culture,
it seeks to revert the life of the people back to a natural condition, in which it sees an
unmediated truth and bliss. The Russian revolution seeks as it were to destroy the whole
of our cultural segment, to drown it within the natural darkness of the people. And
Tolstoy is one of the culprits in the destruction of Russian culture. He has morally
subverted the possibility for cultural creativity, has poisoned the wellsprings of creativity.
He poisoned Russian man by a moral reflection, which has rendered him powerless and
incapable for historical and cultural activity. Tolstoy -- is a genuine poisoner of the
wellsprings of life. The Tolstoyan moral reflection is a genuine poison, toxic, destructive
to every creative energy, and undermining as regards life. This moral reflection has
nothing in common with the Christian sense of sin and the Christian demand for
repentance. For Tolstoy there is neither sin, nor repentance, for the regenerating of human
nature. For him there is only a debilitating and graceless reflection, which is an obverse
side of the revolt against the Divine world-order. Tolstoy idealised the common people,
saw therein the source of truth and he deified physical toil, in which he sought salvation
from the meaninglessness of life. But in him there was a disdainful and contemptuous
attitude towards all spiritual toil and creativity. All the acrid Tolstoyan criticism was
always directed against the cultural segment. These Tolstoyan values likewise have won
out in the Russian revolution, which extols to the heights the representatives of physical
toil and disdains representatives of spiritual a toiling. The Tolstoyan populism, Tolstoy's
denial of a division of labour is posited as a basis of the moral judgements of the
revolution, if one can speak about its moral judgements. Tolstoy has indeed no less a
significance for the Russian revolution, than Russo had for the French revolution. True,
the violence and bloodshed would have horrified Tolstoy, he presented the realisation of
his ideas by other paths. But Russo also indeed would have been horrified by the doings
of Robespierre and the revolutionary terror. But Russo nevertheless bears responsibility
for the French revolution, as does Tolstoy for the Russian revolution. I even tend to think,
that the teachings of Tolstoy were more destructive, than were the teachings of Russo.
Tolstoy did this by rendering morally impossible the existence of Great Russia. He
caused much in the destroying of Russia. But in this suicidal deed he was a Russian, in
him was expressed fatal and woesome Russian features. Tolstoy was one of the Russian

Tolstoyanism in the broad sense of the word -- is an inward Russian danger,

assuming the guise of a lofty good. Only but inwardly destructive of Russian strength can
be this seductive and false good, a pseudo-good, this idea of a graceless sanctity, a
pseudo-holiness. The tempting aspect in the Tolstoyan teaching is a radical impulse for
perfection, for a perfect fulfilling of the law of the good. But this Tolstoyan perfection is
so thus destructive, so nihilistic, so hostile to all values, so incompatible with whatever
the creativity, because this perfection -- is graceless. In the sanctity, to which Tolstoy
aspired, there was a terrible gracelessness, a God-forsakenness, and therefore this -- is a
false, an evil holiness. A grace-endowed sanctity cannot commit such acts of destruction,
cannot be nihilistic. In genuine saints there was a blessed aspect of life, there was mercy.
This blessed aspect of life and this mercy were there first of all in Christ. In the spirit of
Tolstoy, however, there was nothing of the spirit of Christ. Tolstoy demands an
instantaneous and total realisation of the absolute, of the absolute good in this earthly life,
subject as it is to the laws of sinful nature, and it fails to take into account the relative, is
destructive of everything relative. He thus sought to tear away every human being from
the world totality and plunge it into the void, into the nothingness of a negative absolute.
And absolute life is rendered into but an elementary beast-like life, transpiring in physical
toil and the satisfying of the most simple needs. In such a negative absolute, desolate and
nihilistic, the Russian revolution also seeks to plunge all Russia and all the Russian
people. The ideal of a graceless perfection leads to nihilism. The denial of the rights of
the relative, i.e. of all the manifold aspects of life, of all the steps of history, causes in the
final end a separation from the sources of absolute life, from the absolute spirit. As a
religious genius, the Apostle Paul once perceived the whole danger of allowing
Christianity to become transformed into an apocalyptic Jewish sect and he instead led
Christianity into the currents of world history, having acknowledged and religiously
sanctioned the right of relative steps. Tolstoy first of all was in revolt against the work of
the Apostle Paul. All the falsity and phantasmic aspect of Tolstoyanism tended with an
inevitable dialectic to unfold within the Russian revolution. In the revolution, the people
is living out its seduction, its errors, its false values. This is much instructive, but this
instruction is bought at too dear a price. It is necessary to get free from Tolstoy as moral
an instructor. The overcoming of Tolstoyism as such represents a recovery of spiritual
health for Russia, its return from death to life, to the possibility of creativity, the
possibility of fulfilling its mission in the world.


Russian man is inclined to experience everything transcendentally, and not

immanently. And this can easily become slave-like a condition of spirit. But in any event,
this -- is an indicator of insufficient spiritual courage. The Russian intelligentsia in its
enormous masses never conceived for itself as immanent -- the state, the church, the
fatherland, the higher spiritual life. All these values seemed to it transcendentally remote
and evoked in it hostile a feeling, as something foreign and threatening. The Russian
intelligentsia never experienced history and historical destiny as immanent to itself, as its
own particular affair and therefore it led the process against history as against an act of
violence being committed upon it. The transcendent experiences in the masses of the
people was accompanied by a feeling of religious blessing and submissiveness. And
thereupon was possible the existence of Great Russia. But this transcendent experiencing
has not passed over into an immanent experiencing of sanctity and value. All has
remained transcendent, but it evokes towards itself no longer a reverent and submissive
attitude, rather instead an attitude nihilistic and rebellious. The revolution is also a
debilitatingly catastrophic transition from a reverent veneration of the transcendent, over
to a nihilistic revolt against the transcendent. An immanent spiritual maturity and
liberation via the revolution is not attained. Too many have tended to see in the immanent
morals and the immanent religion of L. Tolstoy the onset of a spiritual maturity. But this
has been a terrible error. In actuality, the immanent mindset of Tolstoy was a nihilistic
negation of all those sanctities and values, which earlier had been venerated as
transcendent. But this is merely a return to the initial slavery. Suchlike a revolt is always
a slave's revolt, in it is no freedom nor sonship to God. Russian nihilism is also an
incapacity immanently and freely to experience all the riches and values of God's world,
an inability to sense oneself in a filial relationship to God and possessing all the legacy of
world history and of kindred history. The Russian apocalyptic aspect frequently involves
the fervent expectation of a miracle, which somehow should halt life of this alienation
from all the riches and surmount the debilitating transcendent rift. Whereof the creative
immanent developement becomes so difficult for Russians, since their sense of historical
succession is so weak. There is a sort of inner sickness to the Russian soul. This sickness
has terrible negative consequences, but in it is revealed also something positive,
inaccessible to Western peoples of more immanent a tendency. To Russian great writers
were revealed abysses and limits, the likes of which remain hidden for Western people,
moreso restricted and restrained by their immanent emotive discipline of soul. The
Russian soul is more delicately sensitive to mystical wisps, it meets up with spirits, which
stay hidden from the staid Western soul. And the Russian soul succumbs to temptations,
readily falls into confusion and gets taken in by substitutes. It is no accident that the
forebodings of the Anti-Christ -- is a Russian foreboding chiefly. A feel of the Anti-
Christ and the terror over the Anti-Christ has been there in the Russian people, down at
the bottom and with Russian writers, at the very summit of spiritual life. And the spirit of
the Anti-Christ has tempted Russians such, as never it has tended to tempt Western
peoples. In Catholicism there has always been a strong sensing of evil, of the devil, but
almost no sensing of the Anti-Christ. The Catholic soul has tended to represent a sort of
fortification, defending against the Anti-Christ waftings and seductions. Orthodoxy has
not transformed its soul into such a sort of fortification, it has left it more openly
vulnerable. But the apocalyptic aspect is experienced by the Russian soul passively, and
not actively. Active weapons for struggle against the spirits of the Anti-Christ there are
not, these weapons have not been made ready. There has been no armour, no shield and
sword, no knight's forging of the soul. The Russian struggle against the Anti-Christ is
always a withdrawal, an experience of terror. And too many, not having withdrawn from
the seductions, have instead succumbed to the seductions, have gotten mixed up, have
been taken in by the substitute. Russian man is situated in the grip of a false morals, a
false ideal of the righteous, perfect and holy life, which has weakened him in the struggle
with temptations. Dostoevsky revealed this false morality and false sanctity and predicted
their consequences. Tolstoy however preached them.

Russian revolutionary morals represents quite unique a phenomenon. It was formed

and crystalised among the leftist Russian intelligentsia over the course of a series of
decades and happened to gain prestige and allure among broad circles of Russian society.
The average man of the Russian intelligentsia was accustomed to bow before the moral
image of the revolutionaries and their revolutionary morals. He was ready to admit
himself unworthy of the moral heights of this revolutionary type. In Russia there took
form a special cult of revolutionary sanctity. This cult has its saints, its sacred tradition,
its dogmas. And for a long time every doubting of this sacred tradition, every criticism of
these dogmas, every non-reverential attitude towards these saints led to an
excommunication, as exclusion not only on the part of the revolutionary societal opinion,
but also from the side of the radical and liberal societal opinion. Dostoevsky fell victim to
this ostracisation, since he first saw into the lie and substitution in revolutionary sanctity.
He perceived, that revolutionary moralism has as its reverse side a revolutionary
amoralism and that the seeming semblance of revolutionary sanctity with that of the
Christian is a deceptive resemblance of the Anti-Christ to Christ. The moral degeneracy,
with which the 1905 revolution ended, inflicted somewhat a blow to the prestige of
revolutionary morals, and the halo of revolutionary sanctity became tarnished. But the
actual healing, on which some had hoped, did not occur. The sickness of the Russian
moral consciousness was too prolonged and serious. The healing can ensue only after the
terrible crisis, when the whole organism of the Russian people will come close to death.
We live during days of this almost mortal crisis. Now even for people half-blind much is
more apparent, than after 1905. Now "Vekhi" would not be met with in so hostile a
manner in the broad circles of the Russian intelligentsia, as happened in the time, when it
appeared. Now even those begin to admit the truth of "Vekhi", those who formerly
reviled it. After the demonic coursing of the revolution, the sanctity of the Russian
revolutionary intelligentsia does not come off so canonically indisputable. The spiritual
recovery of Russia mustneeds be sought in an inward exposing of this revolutionary
pseudo-sanctity and getting free of its bewitchment. Revolutionary sanctity is not a
genuine sanctity, this -- is a fraudulent sanctity, a deceptive semblance of sanctity, a mere
substitute. The outward persecutions, instigated by the old powers against the
revolutionaries, the outward sufferings, which they happened to undergo, much enabled
this deceptive and seeming appearance of sanctity. But in the revolutionary sanctity there
has never occurred a true transformation of human nature, a second spiritual rebirth, a
victory over inward evil and sin; never within it have been set tasks of the transformation
of human nature. Human nature has remained the same old thing, it has dwelt in slavery
to sin and wicked passions and has sought to attain to a new and higher life purely by
external and material means. But a man, deluded with a false idea, is capable of enduring
outward deprivations, want and sufferings, he can be ascetic in this not because, that by
the power of his spirit he overcomes his sinful and servile nature, but rather because, that
obsessed with a single idea and a single purpose it crowds out for him all the richness and
multiplicity of existence and renders him impoverished in nature. This -- is a graceless
asceticism and a graceless poverty, a nihilistic asceticism and a nihilistic poverty. The
traditional revolutionary sanctity -- is a godless sanctity. It is a godless pretension to
attain sanctity via the human alone and in the name of the human alone. Upon this path
becomes crippled and stumbles the image of man, since the image of man -- is the image
and likeness of God. The revolutionary morality, the revolutionary sanctity -- is
profoundly the opposite of Christianity. This morality and this sanctity make pretense to
substitute in for and to replace Christianity, a Christianity having its faith in the filial
sonship of man to God and in graced gifts, gotten for man through Christ the Redeemer.
Revolutionary morality is hostile to Christianity the same, just like the Tolstoyan
morality, -- one and the same lie and switching poisons and saps the strength in both. The
deceptive externals of the revolutionary guise of sanctity has been sent the Russian
people as a temptation and a testing of its spiritual powers. And Russian people herein
have not held up under this testing. Honestly attracted by the revolutionary spirit, they do
not see the realities, they fail to discern the spirits. the deceptive, fraudulent and twofold
images tempt and entice. The Anti-Christ allures, the Anti-Christ morals, the Anti-Christ
sanctity all influence and entice Russian man. For Russian people, spiritually captivated
by the revolutionary maximalism, there are peculiar experiences, very akin to Jewish
apocalypticism, that apocalyptic aspect which was surmounted and overcome by the
Apostle Paul and the Christian Church. The victory over this Judaic apocalyptic aspect
also rendered Christianity a world historical force. Russian apocalypticism includes
within it the greatest of dangers and temptations, it can direct all the energy of the
Russian people onto a false path, it can hinder the Russian people from fulfilling its
vocation in the world, it can render the Russian people into a people non-historical. The
revolutionary apocalyptics sidetracks Russian people from the realities and precipitates
them into a realm of phantasms. Getting free from this false and unhealthy apocalyptics
does not mean the destroying of all the apocalyptic consciousness. In Russian
apocalyptics lie concealed also positive possibilities. In the Russian revolution are being
extirpated the Russian sins and the Russian temptations, things discerned by the Russian
great writers. But great sins and great temptations can only be with a people great in its
possibilities. The negative is a caricature of the positive. The Russian people has fallen
low, but in it lie concealed great possibilities and to it can be revealed great distances.
The idea of a people, the intent of God concerning it remains there even after the failing
and fall of the people, having betrayed its aims and subjecting its national and state
dignity to utmost humiliations. A minority can remain faithful to the positive and creative
idea of the people, and from it can begin a renewal. But the path to renewal lies through
repentance, through an awareness of sins, through a cleansing of the spirit of the people
from spirits demonic. And the thing first of all necessary is to begin to discern spirits. Old
Russia, in which there was much evil and ugliness, but likewise also much good and
beauty, is dying away. The new Russia, born of its death pangs, is still enigmatic. It will
not be such, as the figures and the ideologues of the revolution imagine it to themself. It
will not be uniform in its spiritual visage. In it will be more harshly divided and opposed
the Christian and the anti-Christian principles. The Anti-Christ spirits of the revolution
will beget their dark domain. But the Christian spirit of Russia also has to manifest its
strength. The power of this spirit can operate in the minority even if the majority falls
away from it.

N. A. Berdyaev


Article originally published in periodical "Russkaya mysl'", jul. 1918, p. 39-73

(Berdyaev's last article in this Moscow-Peterburg journal); (Klep.# 299). Simultaneously
included the same year in the anthology by various authors of articles concerning the
Russian Revolution, entitled "Iz glubiny. De profundis", Moscow-Peterburg, Russkaya
mysl', 1918, 273 p.; text subsequently reprinted by YMCA Press, Paris, 1967, 333 p.;
(Klep. # 57,1). Article recently republished in the Berdyaev anthology tome of articles
entitled, "Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva: publitsistika 1914-1922", Astrel',
Moscow, 2007, c. 775-807.
The Pre-Death Thoughts of Faust
(1922 - #59)

The fate of Faust -- is the fate of European culture. The soul of Faust -- is the soul
of Western Europe. This soul was full of stormy, of endless strivings. In it there was an
exceptional dynamism, unknown to the soul of antiquity, to the Greek soul. In its youth,
in the era of the Renaissance, and still earlier, in the Renaissance of the Middle Ages, the
soul of Faust sought passionately for truth, they fell in love with Gretchen and for the
realisation of his endless human aspirations it entered into a pact with Mephistopheles,
with the evil spirit of the earth. And the Faustian soul was gradually corroded by the
Mephistophelean principle. Its powers began to wane. What ended the endless strivings
of the Faustian soul, to what did they lead? The Faustian soul led to the draining of
swamps, to the engineering art, to a material arranging of the earth and to a material
mastery over the world. Thus we find spoken towards the conclusion of the second part
of Faust:

Nigh the mountain a swamp doth stretch,

Pollutes there every advancement;
To drain off the foul pool,
Would be the utmost highest achievement,
I'd open up space for many a million,
Not indeed secure, but active-free to be.

And thus do end during the XIX-XX Centuries the searchings of the man of modern
history. With genius Goethe foresaw this. But the final word for him belongs with the
mystic chorus:

All the Transitory

Is but a Symbol Image
The Insufficient
Here doth transpire;
The Ineffable
Here doth act;
The Eternal-Feminine
Upward doth draw us.

And draining the swamp is but a symbol of the spiritual path of Faust, merely a sign
of spiritual activity. Upon his path, Faust passes from a religious culture over to an
irreligious civilisation. And in this irreligious civilisation the creative energy of Faust
becomes drained, his endless aspirations die. Goethe gave expression to the soul of
Western European culture and its fate. Spengler, in his challenging book, "Der Untergang
des Abendslandes" ["The Decline of the West"], announces the end of European culture,
its ultimate transition over into civilisation, which is the beginning of the death-process.
"Civilisation -- is the irreversible fate of a culture". The book of Spengler bears within it
an enormous symptomatic significance. It conveys the feeling of crisis, of sudden
impending change, that of the end of an entire historical era. It speaks about the great
sorry affair of things in Western Europe. We, as Russians, have been split off from
Western Europe already for many a long year, from its spiritual life. And since our access
to it has been blocked, it has seemed to us to be more fortunate, more orderly, more
happy, than it is in actuality. Even prior to the World War, I very acutely sensed the crisis
of European culture, the impending end of an entire world era, and I expressed this in my
book, "The Meaning of Creativity". During wartime also I wrote an article, "The End of
Europe", in which I expressed the thought, that the twilight period of Europe has begun,
that Europe is at an end as a monopolist of culture, that the emergence of culture out
beyond the bounds of Europe has been inevitable, for other continents and other races.
Moreover, two years back I wrote an etude, "The End of the Renaissance", and a book,
"The Meaning of History: Attempt at a Philosophy of Human Fate", in both which I
definitely expressed the idea, that we are experiencing the end of modern history, that we
are living out the final remnants of the Renaissance period of history, that the culture of
old Europe has tended towards deterioration. And therefore I read the book of Spengler
with an especial tremulation. In our era, with its historical disintegration, thought is
focused upon the problems of the philosophy of history. It was the same in the epoch,
when Bl. Augustine conceived of his first rendering of a Christian philosophy of history.
It is possible to foresee, that philosophic thought henceforth will be concerned not so
much with problems of gnosseology, as rather by problems of the philosophy of history.
In the "Bhagavad Gita" revelations occur during a time of warfare. During a time of war
there can be resolved ultimate problems about God and the meaning of life, but it is
difficult to get concerned over analytic gnosseology. And in out time is at work the
thinking during a time of war. We live in an epoch inwardly akin to the Hellenistic epoch,
the epoch of the collapse of the ancient world. The book of Spengler -- is a remarkable
book, in places almost of genius, it stimulates and makes for thought. But it cannot be too
much a surprise for those Russian people, who long since already have sensed the crisis,
about which Spengler speaks.
Spengler can convey the impression of being an extreme relativist and sceptic. Even
mathematics for him is something relative. There exists the ancient Apollonian
mathematics, -- a finite mathematics, and there exists the European Faustian
mathematics, -- an infinite mathematics. Science is not unconditional, not absolute, but is
rather the expression of the souls of various cultures, of various races. But still, in
essence, it is impossible to classify Spengler under any sort of current. Academic
philosophy is quite alien to him, and he holds it in contempt. He is first of all his own
unique individualist. And in this he is akin to the Goethean spirit of contemplation.
Goethe intuitively contemplated the primal phenomena of nature. Spengler intuitively
contemplates the history of the primal phenomena of culture. He, just also as with
Goethe, is a symbolist as regards world-concept. He refuses to think employing abstract
concepts, he does not believe in the fruitfulness of such thinking. All abstract
metaphysics is foreign to him. From the morbid methodologism and gnosseologism, in
which German great thought emerged, from the sick and futile reflection, Spengler has
instead turned away towards living intuition. He casts himself into the dark ocean of the
historical existence of peoples and penetrates into the soul of races and cultures, into the
styles of the various epochs. He makes a break with the epoch of gnosseologism in the
philosophy of thought, but he does not pass over to ontologism, he does not construct any
sort of ontology and does not believe in the possibility of ontology. He knows only of
being, as manifest in cultures, as reflected in cultures. The primal grounds of being and
the meaning of existence remain for him hidden. The morphology of history for him -- is
the solely possible philosophy. With him there is not even a philosophy of history,
exclusively it is rather -- a morphology of history. All the truths, the truths of science, of
philosophy, religion, -- are for Spengler merely the truths of culture, of cultural types, of
cultured souls. The truths of mathematics -- are the symbols of various styles of cultured
souls. Such an attitude towards cognition and being is characteristic to a man of a late and
waning culture. The soul of a man set within an epoch of cultural decline tends to ponder
over the fate of cultures, over the historical fate of mankind. It has always been so. Such a
soul has no interest either in the abstract knowledge of nature, nor in the abstract
knowledge of the essence and meaning of being. Of interest to it is the culture itself, and
everything -- is merely reflected in the culture. It is struck by the dying off of once
flourishing cultures. It is wounded by the inevitability of fate. Spengler is very capricious,
he does not consider himself bound by anything in general obligatory. He is, first of all --
a paradoxicalist. For him, just as for Nietzsche, paradox is a means of cognition. In the
book of Spengler there is a sort of affinity with the book of the youthful genius [Otto]
Weininger, "Sex and Character", and despite all the different themes and spiritual
outlook, the book of Spengler -- is just as remarkable a phenomenon in the spiritual
culture of Germany, as is the book of Weininger. In breadth of intent, in scope, in its
unique intuitive insights into the history of cultures, the book of Spengler can take its
place alongside the remarkable book of [Houston Stewart] Chamberlain ("Die
Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts" ["The Foundations of the Nineteen-
Hundreds"]). After Nietzsche -- comes Weininger, Chamberlain and Spengler -- the sole
genuinely original and remarkable figures in German spiritual culture. Just like
Schopenhauer, Spengler has contempt for professors of philosophy. He offers a very
arbitrary list of writers and thinkers, and in his opinion of the remarkable books,
esteemed by him. These people are of a quite various a spirit. But they all bear some
relationship to the principle of the will to live and the will to power, all have bearing on
the crisis of culture. These are -- Schopenhauer, Proudhon, Marx, R. Wagner, Duhring,
Ibsen, Nietzsche, Strindberg, Weininger. Is Spengler a pessimist? For many, his book has
to produce the impression of a very boundless pessimism. But this is not a metaphysical
pessimism. Spengler does not desire the quenching of the will to live. On the contrary, he
desires the affirmation of the will to live and the will to power. In this he is closer to
Nietzsche, than to Schopenhauer. All cultures are doomed to a withering away and death.
Our European culture is also doomed. But it is necessary to accept fate, not oppose it, and
to live it out to the end, and to the end manifesting the will to power. With Spengler there
is the amor fati. The pessimism of Spengler, if such a term be properly applicable to him,
is a pessimism culturo-historical, and is neither a pessimism individually-metaphysical
nor individually-ethical. He -- is a pessimist on civilisation. He denies the idea of
progress, and he returns to the teaching about cyclical returns. But with him there is no
pessimistic balance of suffering and pleasure, of a pessimistic understanding of the very
essence of life. He admits of an inexhaustible creative wellspring of life, lodged within
the primal impulse, begetting culture all ever new and anew. He is fond of this will to
cultural flourishing. And he perceives the death of a culture as a law of life, as an
inevitable moment within the vital fate of a culture itself. Surprisingly strong with
Spengler is a correlation of phenomena in various spheres of a culture and the discerning
from them of an unique symbol, such as signifies that selfsame culture, that selfsame
cultural style. He transfers concepts from mathematics and physics over into painting and
music, from art into politics, from politics into religion. Thus, he speaks about an
Apollonian and a Faustian mathematics. He discerns one and the same primary
phenomenon within various epochs, within various cultures. And he regards it possible to
admit of one and the same sort of such phenomena, as Buddhism, Stoicism and
Socialism, belonging to various epochs and cultures. His most remarkable thoughts are
about art and about mathematics and physics. And with him there are truly intuitions of

Spengler -- is of an areligious nature. In this is his tragedy. With him there is as it

were an atrophied religious sense. Whereas both Weininger and Chamberlain -- are of a
religious nature, Spengler -- is areligious. He is not only himself non-religious, but he
also does not understand the religious life of mankind. Yet he examined the role of
Christianity within the fate of European culture. This -- is the most striking side of his
book. In this is its spiritual deformity, almost its monstrous defect. It is not necessary to
be a Christian, in order to understand the significance of Christianity within the history of
European culture. The pathos of objectivity ought to be brought to bear on this. But
Spengler does not sense himself under the compulsion of any such objectivity. He does
not ponder on Christianity within history, he does not see a religious meaning. He knows,
that culture is religious by its nature and by this it is distinct from civilisation, which is
irreligious. But he has been able to express very noble thoughts, such as only can be
expressed by a non-believing soul in our epoch. Behind his civilised self-feeling and self-
awareness can be sense the imprint of a culture, which has lost its faith and is tending
towards decline.

Spengler understands and senses the world foremost of all as history. This he
regards as the modern perception of the world. It is only to such an attitude towards the
world that there belongs a future. Dynamism is characteristic to our times. And only a
perceiving the world as history is a dynamic perception. The world as nature is static.
Spengler contrasts nature and history, as two methods of viewing the world. Nature is
expanse. History is time. The world presents itself to us as nature, when we view it from
the perspective of causality, and it presents itself to us as history, when we view it from
the perspective of fate. That history is a matter of fate, is all very well and good with
Spengler. Fate cannot be conceived of by means of a causal explanation. Only the
perspective of fate gives us a grasp upon the concrete. Spengler's assertion is quite
correct, that for ancient man there was no history. The Greek perceived the world as
static, for him it was from nature, from the cosmos, and not from history. He did not
know historical remoteness. Spengler's thoughts on antiquity are very insightful. And it
mustneeds be admitted, that Greek thought did not know of a philosophy of history. It
was not a matter of either Plato, or of Aristotle. The point of view of a philosophy of
history is contrary to the aesthetic ponderings of the Hellene. The world for him was a
completed cosmos. Hellenic thought created the Hellenic metaphysics, so inconducive for
conceiving the world as an historical process. Spengler senses himself as an European
man with a Faustian soul, with its infinite aspirations. He not only sets himself distinct
from ancient man, he moreover asserts, that the ancient soul for him is inconceivable, is
impenetrable. This however does not prevent him from drawing upon its understanding
and insights. But does history exist for Spengler himself, is he one for whom there is a
world, as history, and not as nature? I think, that for Spengler history does not exist and
for him a philosophy of history is impossible. Not by chance did he call his book a
morphology of world history. The morphological perspective derives from nature-
knowledge. Historical fate, the fate of culture exists for Spengler only in that sense, that
fate exists for a flower. The historical fate of mankind does not exist. There does not exist
a single mankind, a single subject of history. Christianity was the first to have rendered
possible a philosophy of history, in that it revealed the existence of a single mankind with
a single historical fate, having its own beginning and end. Thus first for the Christian
consciousness is revealed the tragedy of world history, the fate of mankind. Spengler
however turns back to the pagan particularism. For him there is no mankind, no
worldwide history. Cultures, races -- are isolated monads with an isolated fate. For him
the varied types of culture experience a cyclical turning of their own fate. He returns to
the Hellenic perspective, which was surpassed by the Christian consciousness. With
Spengler the Baptismal water as it were was missing. He abjures his own Christian blood.
And for him, just as for the Hellene, there does not exist the perspective of an historical
remoteness. The historically remote distance exists only in this instance, if there exists an
historical fate of mankind, a worldwide history, if each type of culture is but a moment of
a worldwide fate.

The Faustian soul with its endless aspirations, with the distance opening up before it,
is the soul of the Christian period of history. This Christianity shatters the boundaries of
the ancient world, with its delimited and narrowed horizons. After the appearance of
Christianity in the world, an infinity opened up. Christianity rendered possible the
Faustian mathematics, the mathematics of the endless. Of this Spengler is not at all
aware. He does not posit the appearance of the Faustian soul in any sort of connection
with Christianity. He has made an examination of the significance of Christianity for
European culture, for the fate of European culture. This fate however -- is a Christian
fate. He wants to push Christianity back exclusively to the sense of a magical soul, to a
type of Hebrew and Arabic culture, to the east. And he thus dooms himself to a lack of
understanding of the meaning of European culture. For Spengler generally there does not
exist a meaning to history. The meaning of history also cannot exist amidst such a denial
of the subject of the historical process. The cyclical turnings of the various types of
culture, lacking connections between them of a single fate, is totally meaningless.
Moreover, the denial of a meaning to history makes impossible a philosophy of history.
There remains but the morphology of history. But for the morphology of history there is
merely the manifestation of nature, in it there is no unique historical process, no fate, as a
manifestation of meaning. In Spengler the Faustian soul ultimately loses its connection
with Christianity, which gave it birth, and in the hour of the waning of the Faustian
culture it attempts to return to the ancient sense of life, tacking on it also the theme of
history. In Spengler, despite his distasteful civilisation pathos, there is sensed also the
exhaustion of a trans-cultural man. This weariness of a man of an era of decline quenches
any sense of the meaning of history and its connections to historical fates. There remains
only the possibility of an intuitive-aesthetic insight into the types and styles of the souls
of cultures. Faust does not bear up under a time of historical fate, he does not want to
experience it to the final end. He, weary and exhausted by the modern history, agrees it
the better to die, having experienced a short moment of civilisation, set at the summit of
culture. He is captivated by the thought, that he is to be given this final mitigation and
consolation of death. But there is no death. Fate continues on even beyond this side of
what the Faustian soul had acknowledged as the sole life. And the burden of this fate has
to be carried across into the remote eternity. For Spengler's Faustian soul the remote
eternity is hidden, the historical fate beyond the bounds of this life, of this culture and
civilisation; to the end of his days he wants to restrict himself to the cycle of a dying
civilisation. He foresees the rise of new cultures, which likewise will pass over into a
civilisation and die. But these new souls of cultures are foreign to him and he regards
them for himself as impenetrable. These new cultures which, perhaps, will arise in the
East, will not have any sort of inward connection with the dying European culture. Faust
loses the perspective of history, of historical fate. Culture for him -- is merely a springing
forth, a blossoming and fading flower. Faust ceases to understand the meaning and the
bond of fate, since for him the light of the Logos has grown dim, there has grown dark
the sun of Christianity. And the appearance of Spengler, a man exceptionally gifted, at
times close to genius in certain of his intuitions, is very remarkable for the fate of
European culture, for the fate of the Faustian soul. There is nowhere further to go. After
Spengler -- there is already the plunge into the abyss. With Spengler there is a great
intuitive gift, but this -- is but the giftedness of a blindman. As a blindman, no longer still
seeing the light, he throws himself off into the murky ocean of culturo-historical being.
With Hegel there was still a Christian philosophy of history, in its sort no less Christian,
than the philosophy of history of Bl. Augustine. It knows of an unified subject of history
and meaning to history. It shines through everything with the rays of the Christian sun.
With Spengler there are no longer these rays. Hegel belongs to a culture, possessing a
religious basis; Spengler senses himself as already having passed over into a civilisation,
bereft of religious basis. One might moreover still note, that the point of view of Spengler
unexpectedly reminds one of the perspective of N. Danilevsky, as developed in his book,
"Russia and Europe". The culturo-historical types of Danilevsky are very similar to the
souls of the cultures of Spengler, but with this difference, that Danilevsky is quite lacking
in the enormous intuitive gift of Spengler. Vl. Solov'ev criticised N. Danilevsky from the
Christian point of view. For Spengler the fate of the history of the world remains
unsolved, since for him history is but an aspect of nature, a phenomenon of nature, and it
is not in that nature -- is an aspect of history, as it is for historical metaphysics.

Every culture inevitably passes over into civilisation. Civilisation is the fate, the
doomed lot of culture. Civilisation however ends up by death, it is already the beginning
of death, the exhaustion of the creative powers of a culture. This -- is a central thought of
Spengler's book. "We are civilised people, and not people of the Gothic or Rococco".
What differentiates civilisation from culture? A culture -- is religious as to its basis,
civilisation -- is irreligious. For Spengler -- this is a fundamental distinction. And he
regards himself as a man of civilisation, since he is irreligious. A culture derives from a
cult, it is bound up with a cult of ancestors, it is impossible without sacred traditions.
Civilisation is the will to worldwide might, to an ordering of the surface of the earth. A
culture -- is national. Civilisation -- is international. Civilisation is the worldwide city.
Imperialism and socialism alike -- are civilisation, and not culture. Philosophy and art
exist only in a culture, in a civilisation they are impossible and unnecessary. Possible and
necessary within civilisation is only the engineering art. And Spengler gives the
appearances, that he understands the pathos of the engineering art. Culture -- is organic.
Civilisation -- is mechanical. Culture is grounded upon inequality, upon qualities.
Civilisation in contrast is pervaded by the aspiration for equality, it seeks to be based
upon quantities. Culture -- is something aristocratic. Civilisation -- is something
democratic. The distinction of culture in contrast to civilisation is of something
extraordinarily fruitful. With Spengler there is a very acute sense of an inexorable process
of the victory of civilisation over culture. The decline of Western Europe for him is first
of all the decline of the old European culture, the exhaustion within it of the creative
powers, the end of art, of philosophy, of religion. Civilisation has still not reached its
finish. Civilisation will still celebrate its victory. But after civilisation will come the onset
of death for the Western European cultural race. And after this, culture can blossom forth
only in other races, only in other souls.

These thoughts are expressed by Spengler with an astounding brilliance. But are
these thoughts something new? For us, as Russians, it is impossible to be taken aback by
these thoughts. We long since already know of the difference of culture from civilisation.
All the Russian religious thinkers have asserted this difference. they all sensed a certain
sacred terror at the perishing of culture and the ensuing triumph of civilisation. The
struggle against the spirit of philistinism, which so wounded Hertsen and K. Leont'ev,
people of quite varied tendencies and outlook, was grounded upon this motif. Civilisation
by its nature is pervaded by a spiritual philistinism, by a spiritual bourgeoisness.
Capitalism and socialism entirely alike are infected by this spirit. Beneathe the hostility
towards the West of many a Russian writer and thinker lies concealed not hostility
towards Western culture, but rather hostility towards Western civilisation. Konstantin
Leont'ev, one of the most insightful of Russian thinkers, loved the great culture of the
West, he loved the colourful culture of the Renaissance, he loved the Catholic great
culture of the Middle Ages, he loved the spirit of chivalry, he loved the genius of the
West, he loved the mighty manifestation of the sense of person within this great cultural
world. But he abominated the civilisation of the West, the fruition of the liberal-
egalitarian process, the extinguishing of spirit and the death of creativity within
civilisation. He comprehended already the law of the transition of culture over into
civilisation. For him this was an inexorable law within the life of societies. Culture for
him corresponded to that period in the developing of societies, which he termed as the
period of the "blossoming of complexity", civilisation however corresponded to a period
of "simplistic confusion". The problem of Spengler was quite clearly posited by K.
Leont'ev. He likewise denied progress, he confessed a theory of cycles, he asserted, that
after the complex blossoming forth of culture there ensues decline, decay, death. The
process of "liberal-egalitarian" civilisation is the onset of death, of disintegration. For
Western European culture he regarded this death as irreversible. He saw the perishing of
the flourishing culture in the West. But he wanted to believe, that a flourishing culture
was still possible in the East, in Russia. Though towards the end of his life he lost also
this faith, he saw, that also in Russia civilisation was triumphing, that in Russia matters
were going towards a "simplistic confusion". And then he came to be imbued with a dark
apocalyptic outlook. So also Vl. Solov'ev towards the end lost faith of a possibility within
the world of a religious culture and he had an anguished sense of the onset of the
kingdom of the Anti-Christ. Culture is possessed of a religious basis, there is in it a
sacred symbolism. Civilisation however is of the kingdom of this world. It is the triumph
of the "bourgeois" spirit, of a spiritual "bourgeoisness". And it makes totally no
difference, whether it be a civilisation capitalistic or socialistic, it is alike -- a godless
philistine civilisation. Indeed even Dostoevsky was not an enemy of Western culture.
Remarkable in this regard are the thoughts of Versilov in "The Adolescent". "They are
not free, -- says Versilov, -- but we are free". "Only I alone in Europe with my Russian
melancholy then was free... To the Russian, Europe is precious the same, as is Russia:
each stone in it is dear and precious. Europe has been our fatherland the same, as also is
Russia... O, to the Russian, dear are these old foreign stones, these miracles of God's old
world, these bits of sacred wonders: and to us this is even more dear, than it is to them
themselves. They have now other thoughts and other feelings, and they have ceased to
appreciate the old stones". Dostoevsky loved these "old stones" of Western Europe,
"these miracles of God's old world". But he, just as with K. Leont'ev, denounces the
people of the West for this, that they have ceased to revere their "old stones", they have
forsaken their own great culture and have surrendered themselves completely to the spirit
of civilisation. Dostoevsky loathed not the West, not the Western culture, but rather the
irreligious, the godless civilisation of the West. Russian Easternism, Russian
Slavophilism was merely a veiled struggle of the spirit of a religious culture against the
spirit of an irreligious civilisation. The struggle of these two spirits, of these two types, is
innate to Russia itself. This is not a struggle of East and West, of Russia and Europe. And
many Western people too have felt anguish, almost to the point of agony, at the triumph
of the irreligious and monstrous civilisation over a great and sacred culture. Suchlike
have been the romantics of the West. Suchlike were the French Catholics and symbolists
-- Barbey d'Aurevilly, [Paul] Verlaine, Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Huysmans, Leon Bloy.
Suchlike was Nietzsche, with his anguish over the tragic Dionysian culture. Not only
remarkable Russian people, but also the most refined and perceptive Western people with
anguish felt, that the great and holy culture of the west was perishing, that it was dying,
that coming to it was a civilisation alien to it, a worldwide city, irreligious and
international, that a new sort of man was coming, a parvenue, obsessed with a will to
world power and taking possession of all the earth. In this victorious march of civilisation
was dying the soul of Europe, the soul of European culture.

The originality of Spengler was not in the positing of this theme. This theme had
already been posited with an extraordinary alacrity by Russian thought. The originality of
Spengler lies however in this, that he has no desire to be a romantic, he does not wish to
anguish over the dying great culture of the past. He wants to live in the present, he wants
to accept the pathos of civilisation. He wants to be a citizen of the worldwide city of
civilisation. He preaches a civilisation's will to world power. He is consentual to trading
off religion, philosophy, art for technology, for the draining of swamps and the erecting
of bridges, for the invention of machines. The uniqueness of Spengler lies in this, that
there has not been yet a man of civilisation, a drainer of swamps, endowed with such an
awareness as with Spengler, a sad awareness of the inexorable decline of the old culture,
endowed with such a keenness and such a gift of penetration into the culture of the past.
Spengler's self-feeling for civilisation and his self-awareness are at the root contradictory
and ambiguous. In him there is not civilisation's arbitrary sense of value and self-
smugness, there is not that faith in the absolute excellence of its own epoch, of its own
generation over all the epochs and generations that went before. It is impossible to
construct a civilisation, to defend the interests of a civilisation, to dry up swamps with
such a mindset as Spengler has. For these deeds what is necessary is a dulling of
consciousness, becoming thick-skinned, with a naive faith in the endless progress of
civilisation. Spengler tends to understand everything too well. He is not the new man of
civilisation, he is rather, the dying Faust -- the man of the old European culture. He -- is a
romantic in an era of civilisation. He wants to give the appearance, that he is interested by
the engineering art, by the draining of swamps, by the erection of the world city. In
actuality, he writes instead a remarkable book about the decline of European culture and
by this he works a deed of culture, rather than of civilisation. He is as such unusual a
cultural man, overwhelmingly a cultural man. Such people tend poorly to build the world
city of civilisation. They are better at writing books. Faust hardly can be called a fine
engineer, a fine maker of civilisation. He is dying at the very moment, when he decides to
set about the draining of swamps. Spengler is not a man of civilisation, as he wants both
himself and us to believe, - he is a man of a late and declining culture. And therefore in
his book is discerned the evidence of grief, foreign to a man of civilisation. Spengler -- is
a German patriot, a German nationalist and imperialist. This is clearly expressed in his
booklet, "Preussentum und Sozialismus" ["The Prussian and Socialism"]. In him there is
the will to world power for Germany, there is the faith, that during the period of
civilisation, such as still remains for Western Europe, this world power of Germany will
be realised. He combines with civilisation this will and this faith for himself, he finds for
himself a place within it. But the history of recent years has inflicted such a blow to the
imperialistic mindset of Spengler. If imperialism and socialism -- be not one and the
same thing, then -- certainly, Spengler is moreso the imperialist, than a socialist. The
civilisation of a world city however is beginning to move more rapidly in the direction of
realisation of a world power and world kingdom, the kingdom of this world, through
socialism, rather than through imperialism.

Our era has features of affinity with the Hellenistic era. The Hellenistic era brought
to an end the culture of antiquity. And, according to the thought of Spengler, this was a
transition of the culture of antiquity over into civilisation. Suchlike is the doomed lot of
every culture. And for both our era and for the Hellenistic era alike there is characteristic
the mutual interaction of East and West, the meeting and coming together of all cultures
and all races, a syncretism, the universalism of civilisation, the feeling of an end-time, the
demise of an historical era. And in our era too the civilisation of the West turns towards
the East and the trans-cultural people of this civilisation seek for light from the East. And
in our era too within the various theosophic and mystical currents there occurs the
jumbling together and combining of various systems of beliefs and cults. And in our era
too there is the will towards a worldwide uniting in imperialism and the selfsame will
finds expression also in socialism. Cultures and states cease to be nationally isolated. The
individuality of the cultures passes over into the universality of civilisation. And in our
era too there is the thirst to believe and a powerlessness to believe, a thirst to create and a
powerlessness to create. And in our era too there predominates an Alexandrianism both in
thought and in creativity. Within history daylike and nightlike eras follow in succession.
The Hellenistic era was a transition from the daylight of the Hellenic world over to the
night of the Medieval Dark Ages. And we stand at the threshhold of a new night era. The
daytime of modern history is at an end. Its rational light is dying down. Evening ensues.
And it is not Spengler alone who sees the signs of the encroaching twilight. Our time in
many of its portents is reminiscent of the beginning of the early Middle Ages. The have
begun the processes of drawing back and consolidation, similar to the processes of
drawing back and consolidation during the time of the emperor Diocletian. And it is not
so improbable an opinion, to imagine that there is beginning a feudalisation of Europe.
The process of the collapse of states is transpiring parallel to an universalistic uniting.
There are occurring enormous transmigrations and displacements of masses of mankind.
And there will perhaps ensue a new chaos of peoples, from which nowise quickly will a
new orderly cosmos take shape.

The World War has drawn Western Europe out of its customary, its established
boundaries. Central Europe lies inwardly devastated. Its powers not only materially, but
also spiritually, have become overstrained. Civilisation through imperialism and through
socialism has to pour forth across the surface of all the earth, has to move even towards
the East. Into the civilisation will be brought ever new masses of mankind, new
segments. But the new Middle Ages will be a civilised barbarism, a barbarism amidst
machines, and not amidst forests and fields. The great and sacred traditions of culture will
turn inward. The true spiritual culture, perhaps, will happen to experience a catacomb
period. The true spiritual culture, having survived its Renaissance period, having gone
through its humanistic pathos, will happen to return to certain principles of a religious
medieval culture, not a barbarian Middle Ages, but rather a cultural Middle Ages. Upon
the pathways of the modern, the humanistic, the renaissance history, everything is already
exhausted. Faust upon the paths of an outward endlessness of aspirations exhausted his
powers, he wore down his spiritual energy. Still, there remains for him movement
towards an inner infinity. In one of his aspects, Faust has had to totally surrender himself
over to the external material civilisation, a civilised barbarism. Though in another of his
aspects he has to be faithful to the eternal spiritual culture, the symbolic existence of
which was expressed by the mystical chorus at the finish of the second part of "Faust".
Suchlike is the fate of the Faustian soul, the fate of European culture. The future is
twofold. With Spengler, the preeminence of spiritual culture is sundered. It passes as it
were over totally into civilisation and dies. Spengler does not believe in an abiding
meaning to world life, he does not believe in the eternal aspect of a spiritual reality. But
even if spiritual culture should perish amidst the quantities, it then still will be preserved
and abide amidst the qualities. It was carried forth both through the barbarity and night of
the old Middle Ages. It will be carried forth also through the barbarity and night of the
new Middle Ages, prior to the dawn of a new day, to a coming Christian Renaissance,
when there will appear the St. Francis and the Dante of the new epoch.
The truths of science for Spengler are not independent truths, but are rather truths
relevant of the culture, of cultural styles. And the truths of physics are connected with the
souls of a culture. There is a very remarkable chapter about the Faustian and Apollonian
nature-knowledge. Mighty strides in physics have been characteristic of our era. Within
physics there is occurring a genuine revolution. But the discoveries, which the physics of
our era is uncovering, are characteristic of the decline of a culture. Entropy, connected
with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, radioactivity and the decaying apart of atoms
of matter, the Law of Relativity -- all this tends to shake the solidity and stability of the
physico-mathematical world-perception, and it undermines faith in the lasting existence
of our world. I might say, that all this -- represents a physical apocalypsis, a teaching
about the inevitability of the physical end of the world, the death of the world. Only
during the era of the waning of European culture does there arise such an "apocalyptic"
disposition within physics. What a difference it is from the physics of Newton. Newton in
his physics did not give his own interpretation of the Apocalypsis. The physics of our day
can be termed the pre-death thoughts of Faust. It has become impossible to seek for
stability in the physical world order. Physics posits a death sentence for the world. The
world is perishing in its proportionate discharge of warm energy into the universe, of
energy, unreturnable into other forms of energy. The creating energies at work in forming
the manifold of the cosmos, are subsiding. The world is perishing from an irreversible
and insurmountable striving towards physical equilibrium. And is not the striving towards
equilibrium, towards equality, in the social world that same sort of entropy, that same
ruination of the social cosmos and culture in a proportionate discharge of warm energy,
unreturnable in any sort of energy as is creative of culture? A pondering over the themes,
posited by Spengler, leads to these bitter thoughts. But the bitterness of these thoughts
ought not to be inescapable and gloomy. Not only physics, but also sociology, do not
have belonging to them the final word in deciding the fates of the world and of man. The
loss of a physical stability is not an irreversible loss. It is in the spiritual world that it is
necessary to seek for stability. It is in the depths that it is necessary to seek for points of
support. The world as external lacks infinite perspectives. The absurdity within it has
been shown over the ages. But there is apparent an infinite inner world. And it is with it
that there ought to be connected our hopes.
In the large book of Spengler nothing is said about Russia. Only in the table of
contents of the projected second volume is there a final chapter entitled -- "Das
Russentum und die Zukunft" ["The Russian and the Future"]. There are grounds to think,
that Spengler sees in the Russian East that new world, which will come to replace the
dying world of the West: in his booklet "Preussentum und Sozialismus" several pages are
devoted to Russia. Russia for him -- is a mysterious world, incomprehensible for the
world of the West. The soul of Russia is still more remote and ungraspable for Western
man, than is the soul of Greece or of Egypt. Russia is an apocalyptic revolt against
antiquity. Russia -- is religious and nihilistic. In Dostoevsky is revealed the mystery of
Russia. In the East can be expected the appearance of a new type of culture, of a new soul
of culture. Yet this too contradicts the suggestions about Russia as a land nihilistic and
hostile to culture. In the thoughts of Spengler, ultimately not followed out to the end,
there is a sort of something turned backwards, where its opposite end seems an assertion
of Slavophilism. And for us these thoughts are of interest, this turning of the West
towards Russia, these expectations, connected with Russia. We are situated in more
propitious a position, than is Spengler and the people of the West. For us the Western
culture is attainable and graspable. The soul of Europe does not represent for us a soul
remote and incomprehensible. We are in an inner communion with it, we sense in
ourselves its energy. And yet at the same time we are the Russian East. Therefore the
scope of Russian thought has to be broader, from its apparent remoteness. The
philosophy of history, towards which the thought of our era turns, with great success has
to be worked out in Russia. The philosophy of history always was of a basic interest
within Russian thought, beginning with Chaadayev. That, which we are experiencing at
present, ought ultimately to lead us out of our isolated existence. Granted that at present
we are still moreso pushed back eastwards, but at the end of this process we shall cease to
be the isolated East. Whatever happens with us, we inevitably have to emerge onto the
world stage. Russia -- is at the middle between East and West. In it clash two torrents of
world history, the Eastern and the Western. In Russia is hidden a mystery, which we
ourselves cannot fully fathom. But this mystery is connected with a resolving of whatever
the themes of world history. Our hour has still not come. It will be connected with the
crisis of European culture. And therefore such books, as the book of Spengler, cannot but
excite us. Such books are closer to us, than to the European peoples. This -- is our style of
Nikolai Berdyaev.


PREDSMERTNYE MYSLI FAUSTA. Berdyaev's article is the 3rd of a four part

anthology, "Osval'd Shpengler i Zakat Evropy", first published by book-publisher
"Bereg" 1922, Moscow, p. 55-72. This entire 1922 Oswald Spengler anthology has been
included in the V. V. Sapov edited Berdyaev-reprint under the partially inclusive title,
"Smysl Istorii; Novoe Srednevekov'e", Publisher "Kanon", 2002 Moscow, p. 312-404;
the Berdyaev title p. 364-381. (The other three selections included in this Spengler
anthology are: F. Stepun -- "Osval'd Shpengler i 'Zakat Evropy'", S. Frank -- "Krizis
zapadnoi kul'tury", Ya. Bukshpan -- "Nepreodolennyi ratsionalizm".



“Render the things of Caesar unto Caesar, and the things of God unto God”. This
eternal Gospel truth ought to be understood dynamically, and not statically. The
difference and the delimitation of the two kingdoms remains eternal, but the relationships
between the two kingdoms within the history of Christianity do not remain inalterable,
they change at various stages of Christianity. Christianity does not know petrified forms,
which might define for always the Christian ordering of the kingdom of Caesar. One only
doth dwell unshakable. Christianity does not deny the kingdom of Caesar whether it be
mechanical or revolutionary, it recognises it as a particular sphere of being, distinct from
the kingdom of God, but necessary too for the ends of the Kingdom of God. The Church
of Christ has its own particular foundation, independent of the elements of this world, it
lives according to its own particular law of spiritual being. But the Church of Christ at the
moment of its appearance was surrounded by the elements of this world and was
compelled to live in a pagan state, which fiercely persecuted Christians. The “kingdom of
Caesar” does not signify a monarchy, it is a figure designating the kingdom of this world,
the order of sinful nature. A democratic or socialistic republic in the same degree is the
kingdom of Caesar, just like a monarchy. And the question about the relationship of the
Kingdom of God to the kingdom of Caesar is at the same time a question about the
relationship both to the monarchic state and to revolution. This is a question about the
relationship of the Kingdom of God to the “world”. This theme is properly considered in
an atmosphere detached and free from passions and special interests. But in our day there
has as it were finally gone extinct the non-avaricious aristocratic attitude towards truth.
Spiritual plebianism, egoistic greed and utilitarianism distort not only the resolution, but
even the very setting of the theme. And in an especially less than healthy atmosphere
there occur considerations on principle of the attitude of Christianity towards monarchy
and towards revolution, towards the old “this world” and the new “this world”. But it is
impossible to treat upon this theme for one, who is in the grip of political passions and
special interests, who finds oneself in a condition of malice and hate. In this theme there
is much that is problematic, and it has not yet received a binding church-dogmatic
resolution. Least of all proper for the Christian is to maintain merely an outward attitude
towards the important and catastrophic events in life. When a man lives through some
sort of misfortune, a grievous illness, some trying situation, the death of someone close,
then the religious attitude towards these events excludes the possibility of merely
ascribing them to outward chance, the injustice of fate, blows received mechanically from
without. In life there is nothing by chance and completely external. Everything has
meaning, everything means something, i.e. is manifest as a sign from the other world.
Religiously to live through some sort of event means to live through its inner meaning, to
comprehend it from within, from the depths of spiritual experience, to survive it as one’s
own destiny, as something sent down by the Providence of God. And if it be necessary
thus to live through and survive the events of personal life, then all the moreso is it
necessary to live through and survive the events of historical life. With Russia has
happened a terrible historical catastrophe. And all the world finds itself in an
unprecedented crisis. We live amidst splintered fragments of societies and states of the
modern new history. Everything has come to be in a condition of unstable and chaotic
motions. The societal order, which seemed not only firm, but also eternal, has broken
down and collapsed. The relationships of church and state have changed radically and the
interrelationships of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar are redefined
completely anew. It is a new kingdom of Caesar that stands before the eternal Church of
Christ. And all the old categories in the resolving of this theme have been rendered
useless and outmoded. They are out of their minds, wretched and helpless before the face
of the world crisis, those with reactionary thoughts of a restoration, those who hope on
bringing back the old relationships between church and the kingdom of Caesar, those
who long for that kingdom of Caesar, in which the Church of Christ was stifled and
enslaved. A mindset, which sees in the revolution, in the Russian and the world crisis,
only an outward scandal and an outward disorder, which continues to think, that nothing
especial has happened, is neither a Christian nor a religious mindset, it is instead a
mindset smothered by trite positivism.

Christianity cannot only outwardly relate to historical crises, cataclysms and

collapses, it cannot look upon them as upon movements of dead matter merely, having no
sort of relationship to the life of spirit, to the movement of spirit. Christianity has an
universal spirit, it encompasses everything, and everything happening in the world is
connected with it and subject to it. The Revolution, the historical crisis ought to demote
something within the inward destiny of Christianity. All the outward historical events
possess a secondary, and not a primary nature as such, they are determined by events that
transpire within the inner spiritual world. For the external, the religiously unenlightened
view it would seem, that the Revolution takes place only within the elements of the
world, and the Church of Christ only passively suffers the events coming from the
outside and impacting upon it. This is an aberration of the non-religious mindset. It
presupposes, that the Church is totally passive within the Russian Revolution, that within
it nothing transpires, that Christianity plays merely a role of sufferance. In actuality,
however, the crisis and revolution occurs within the spiritual world, and in the historical
world it only symbolically is reflected. The Revolution is not an external event for each
of us and for all the Christian world, rather it is an inward event, a spiritual sickness in
Christian mankind, in Christian people. The Church is a living organism, a Divine-human
organism, in which there occurs an uninterrupted interaction of the Divinity and mankind.
Just like with every organism, the Church can undergo crisis, can become ill, and can
revive and develope. What is taken sick and undergoes crisis in the Church is not God, is
not the Divine truth of the Church, but rather mankind. We have ceased to understand the
churchly meaning of historical events, because we have lost the internal, cosmic idea of
the Church. The rationalistic and nominalistic consciousness has transformed the Church
into an institution, existing and differentiated alongside everything else. Christianity, just
like everything organic, is in the highest degree dynamic, it has its own periods of
growth, its own historical fate. The original Christianity denotes an altogether different
epoch of Christianity, in contrast to that of the Christianity from the time of Constantine
the Great. The Christianity from the period of the martyrs is quite distinct from the
Christianity of the Oecumenical Councils. The medieval Christianity is altogether a
different epoch within Christianity, than the Christianity of modern times. The very style
of Christianity becomes quite changed, and this relates not to the ontology of
Christianity, but to its psychology and its history. Here and now Christianity enters upon
a period of crisis, it suffers a growth of sickness. There ends not only the Christianity of
recent history, but perhaps also the whole historical period of Christianity from the time
of Constantine the Great. And this inner crisis of Christianity defines all the external
historical catastrophes. There are determined anew the relationships between the Church
and the elements of this world. And radically changed is the relationship of the kingdom
of Caesar, in which stormy processes have occurred, towards the eternal ends of the
Kingdom of God. These relationships are determined in he spiritual world, and in the
historical world they are but projected and reflected. The recovery of health from
sickness, the surmounting of the spiritual crisis can signify a new period within
Christianity, the emergence of a new style within Christianity, a change in the Christian
manner of life, which never ought to be considered identical with a particular lifestyle.
But does this indeed mean, that Christianity can get itself bound up with revolution, as
earlier it was bound up with the monarchy, does this mean, that there will be formed a
kingdom of Caesar, which Christianity can acknowledge its own? Great temptation
consists in the identification of Christianity with whatever the sort of the kingdom of
Caesar, i.e. in the enslavement of the infinite to the finite.


Christianity is not revolutionary in the outward sense of the word. It has entered into
the world not as a revolutionary social force, calling for a violent altering of the order of
life. It is impossible even to call Christianity a force of social reform. The nature of
Christianity is altogether inexpressible in the social categories of this world. Christianity
has come into the world, as the good news about salvation and about the Kingdom of
God, which is not of this world. "Seek ye first of all the Kingdom of God and His
righteousness, and all this wilt be added unto ye". "Be ye perfect, even as your Heavenly
Father is perfect". "What doth it profit a man, if he gain all the entire world, but harm
therein his soul". "For the Kingdom of God cometh not in perceived form, wherefore say
not: lo, here be it, or lo, there be it. For the Kingdom of God is within ye". "My Kingdom
is not of this world". A social revolution is all contrary to the words of Christ. Social
revolution seeks first of all that which is "to be added unto ye", and not the Kingdom of
God; the makers of social revolution do not seek a perfection, like to the perfection of the
Heavenly Father; they want to gain all the entire world and by this corrupt therein their
soul; the social revolution seeks for an order of life, which will come in perceptible form,
about which can be said, that lo here it is, or lo there it is; the kingdom, to which the
social revolution strives, is of this world. The same also can be said about the spirit
opposite the revolution, about imperialism. Imperialism possesses a pagan nature.
Christianity was the greatest spiritual turnabout in the history of mankind, the greatest
inward revolution, experienced by mankind. With the appearance of Christ begins not
only a new historical epoch, but also a new cosmic epoch, which altered the inner
composition of the world. And together with this, Christianity does not believe, that it is
possible to change the world for the better via an external and violent pathway, it regards
merely outward revolution as the basis for a false spiritual frame of reference. At the
basis of all mere outward revolutions lies a spiritual frame of reference directly opposite
the Christian. Such external revolutions are motivated by envy, malice, hatred, by
revenge and not by love, by the instinct for destruction and not creativity, and they bear
with them death, and not resurrection. A genuinely new, more perfect and better life
comes from within, and not from without, it comes from a spiritual rebirth, and not from
a mere change of social conditions, of social means. The annihilation of slavery in the
world was a spiritual deed of Christianity. The pre-Christian world, even among the
greatest of its thinkers, could not conceive of the surmounting of slavery. But Christianity
never called for slaves to revolt against their masters. Only imperceptibly was there
discovered the fruition of the Christian idea of the brotherhood of people. Christianity no
wise denies the processes, operative in the natural world, the processes of natural
developement in the world. But it is not upon these processes that it relies for the
attainment of the Kingdom of God, for the utmost perfection of life. Christianity relates
towards revolution such as it does to every outward event in life, to every external
structure of life, i.e. in a non-revolutionary manner. Every outward event in life, every
external ordering of life is not accidentally by chance, it signifies something for the inner
life of man, for his spiritual experience. Nothing can be viewed exclusively as by external
force, there is nothing not connected with my inward fate. Whether upon some stable
order of governance, upon monarchy or upon revolution, Christianity all the same looks
at it inwardly, from the depths. The Kingdom of God cometh unperceived, its comes
neither through monarchy nor through revolution. But both an outwardly stable order of
life and an outward upheaval of life always denote events of the inner spiritual world,
they are not situated outside my own particular destiny, as merely something begotten of
the lower material world. Christianity is not dualistic, or more precisely: Christianity
acknowledges a religio-ethical dualism, but not at all an ontological dualism.

Christianity does not deny the state and the rule of authority. From the lips of the
Apostle Paul, the Christian Church has recognised, that the rule of authority issues from
God and that rulers bear not the sword in vain. The rule of authority has an ontological
source, it possesses a positive mission within the sinful world, it averts the chaotic
disintegration of the world, and prevents the ultimate triumph of anarchy within it. The
ontological principle of the rule of authority plays within society the same role, that
conformity to law plays within nature, -- it upholds the cosmic order within the sinful
chaos. The words of the Apostle Paul were spoken not about a Christian rule of authority.
There was back then no Christian state. The state was pagan and it persecuted Christians.
These words were spoken about every rule of authority, about the principle of power in
general, they relate to the pagan authority, and to the modern democratic republic, and
even to the Soviet Communist power, through which, despite its anti-Christian character,
there partially operates the eternal ontological principle of authority. Human society has
to be subject to a condition, preventing its ultimate chaotic and anarchic dissolution. Thus
also are the laws of nature, which are given us, as an inexorable necessity, and they
uphold the elementary cosmic order of the world, through them is reflected the eternal
Divine cosmos within the sinful element of the world. Such is the truth of power, the
truth of the state. This is a truth of law, Old Testament like, and not a New Testament
truth. The state possesses a pre-Christian, Old Testament, pagan nature. The state power
of authority is something that carried over by force from the pagan world into the
Christian world. The power of authority of the emperor, which in Byzantium assumed a
Christian and sacred character, is the old pagan might of Rome and the great Eastern
empires, -- Egypt, Persia, Assyria and Babylon. The might of authority of emperor and
tsar does not possess any sort of uniquely Christian, nor New Testament an origin, it was
received as an inheritance from the ancient world, and was merely adopted and blessed
by Christianity, since Christianity is non-anarchic and recognises the mission of the
power of authority amongst sinful mankind. Such an attitude towards the might of
authority and the state does not signify within Christianity any sort of unique, purely
Christian ideal of society, any sort of ideal of the Christian state, which in the original
Christianity did not exist. A. S. Khomyakov says: "The imperium was, evidently, unable
to encompass all the trappings of the ancient Roman idea of a legitimate governance for
the new Christian era: it did not contain within itself the principle of something self-
sacred, which Christian thought demanded; the west therefore did not yet understand the
impossibility of mixing up together the concept of Christianity and the concept of the
state, i.e. of the embodiment of Christianity in a state form".2 But that which Khomyakov
imputes to the West, ought also to be imputed to the East. Already with the spilling of the
first drop of blood of the Christian martyrs, there was forever set a limit to the absolutism
and autocracy of the state, and imperialism censured.

The original Christianity was of an eschatological mindset. It awaited the

impending end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. They had before them no
perspective of a lengthy historical process, in which the Church of Christ would come to
be a wielder of power. The first Christians did not revolt against the pagan rule of
authority, they did not call for a social upheaval, and totally unnecessary to them was
their own Christian state. Within the early Christian consciousness, theocracy co-incided
completely with the Gospel Kingdom of God. The first Christians consented to render
unto Caesar what was Caesar's, but the state was for them of "the world", of the kingdom
of this world. The kingdom of Caesar, the kingdom of this world, could not be the
Christian, the sacred kingdom. If by a Christian theocracy there be understood a sacred
and Christian kingdom of Caesar, then the theocratic idea would be completely foreign to
the original Christianity. It lived exclusively by the idea of the Kingdom of God, which in
essence and on principle is distinct from the kingdom of Caesar. The first Christians did
not strive for, and as regards the condition of their mindset, they could not strive towards
the creation of a Christian state. The state is the "world", "paganism". 3 The Christian
Church stands opposite the "world", opposite paganism, the pagan state. The first
Christians lived by charisms, by spiritual gifts, which defined all the order of their life, all
the organisation of the Christian Church and Christian society. It would be impossible to
live thus for any long period of historical life. And when in the Christian consciousness it
as discerned, that there stood ahead still a long historical path, everything began to
change. The charismatic gifts weakened. The Kingdom of God receded into a
transcendent remoteness, to the far end of history. Christianity had to act and live within
history. Christianity lost all semblance of being a Jewish apocalyptic sect. It conceived of
itself as a worldwide historical power. The falsehood of Montanism consisted in this, in
that Montanism wanted to hold on to that stage of the original Christianity, it wanted to
live by direct and unmediated charisms, and when the charisms began to desiccate away,
they opposed the world historical role of Christianity. And upon this same basis there
formed all sorts of religio-sectarian movements, which usually possessed a reactionary
nature. In its first centuries, Christianity lived amongst the hostile pagan elements of this
world. It acted within them not as an outwardly destructive power, but as a power
inwardly transfigurative. The Christian Church possesses an ability to survive surrounded
by whatever the chance hostile power. In the catacombs it was endowed with the greatest
of inner strength, and from the catacombs the Church conquered the world. But
Christianity was fated to enter into a new historical period, into a second period of the
relationship between church and state, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of
Caesar. This period began with Constantine the Great.
It happened otherwise, than what the first Christians expected. The pagan state
yielded before the spiritual power of Christianity. This was a tremendous turnabout not
only within the "world", in the state, but also within Christianity, in the Church.
Christianity ceased to be eschatological, Christians no longer awaited a quite immanent
end of the world and Second Coming of Christ. Christianity became historical,
reorganising itself, and preparing itself for an active role in world history. Christianity
then enters into "the world", into history, having adapted itself for activity in "the world",
for its conquests within history. This victory had been bought at a dear price. The early
Christianity with its charismatic and eschatological aspects remains in the history of
Christianity as a distant past, like a lost paradise. Christianity had to dirty itself in the dust
and grime of earthly history. It lowered itself into the base life of "the world", and it
worked out for itself new organs for suchlike a life. It lost much, but it also gained much.
We cannot, like those rationalist and Protestant historians, look upon this new period of
Christianity, as being the downfall of Christianity, as a great misfortune in the history of
Christianity. This view is not at all an Orthodox Christian view. The period of early
Christianity had to end. The Kingdom of God could not ensue as a result of its brief
history. The deed of Constantine the Great was a providential deed and it possessed a
positive significance both in the history of Christianity and in the history of the world.
The rise of a "Christian state", the creation of Christian theocracies was not an
unfortunate accident in the history of Christianity and the world, it had an inwardly
inevitable moment in the destiny of Christianity. But thus arose, however, the
inadmissible view which for a long time prevailed within the churchly consciousness,
that the kingdom of Caesar had become a genuinely holy, Christian state, that a theocratic
state had indeed been created and should govern until the end of time. The second period
in the relationships between the Church and the state, between the Kingdom of God and
the kingdom of Caesar, is not an ultimate and eternal period. In the history of Christianity
there had to ensue, and has already ensued, another, a third period. And the onset of the
third period likewise is not an unfortunate matter of chance, just as he onset of the second
period was not. The Church consciousness does not know any sort of dogma about a
sacred kingdom of Caesar, nor does it know any sort of sacramental mystery of a sacred
imperial power. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar have been jumbled and
intertwined within history. The Kingdom of God has been accorded features akin to the
kingdom of Caesar, just as the kingdom of Caesar has appropriated to itself features of
the Kingdom of God.

From the times of Constantine the Great the Church was wont to consecrate the
power of authority, not so that it should justify the pagan power, it consecrates it as a
Christian power. The world became a Christian world, the peoples became Christian
peoples, there was formed an universum or oecumene, which received the name
chretiente. The Christian peoples lived by a single faith and a single truth. To this
oneness in faith and truth there corresponded also an oneness, an integral wholeness in
the structure of state and society, in the character of culture. Monarchies most adequately
express this integrality and this oneness. And they are sacred for as long as peoples
believe in their sacredness. The composition of the state and society is entirely
determined by the religious beliefs of the people. Forms of state authority collapse, when
the beliefs of the people collapse, when there is no longer the sanctioning of the power
within the religious consciousness of the people. The sovereignty of the people in this
sense remains an eternal truth, and it existed even in ancient Egypt. No state power can
continue to exist by naked force. It is always sustained by the faith of the people in the
sacredness of this power. When they cease to believe in the sacred significance of a
monarchy, it is transformed into a tyranny and begins to decay. The oneness and integral
wholeness cannot be compulsory. The outward structuring of life, the historical flesh of
the state merely but symbolises the inner spiritual life of the people. And when in the
inner spiritual life of the people there occur substantial changes, then the old symbolism
falls and necessitates a new symbolism. The kingdom of Caesar is always a sphere of
conditional and relative symbolism, and not of unconditional and unalterable realities.
That fatal process of modern history, termed secularisation, is merely a correct outward
expression of that which has occurred within the inner life of Christian mankind.
Secularisation has all kinds of different names. If the state, the law, economy, science,
art, morality, all be not Christian in the deepest, most real sense of this word, then it does
not follow to call them Christian. The kingdom of Caesar ought not to be called a sacred
and Christian state, a theocracy, if in actuality it is worldly, pagan, non-Christian and
even anti-Christian in its nature. Christians cannot strive towards secularisation,
Christians ought to strive with all their being towards this, that everything should become
Christian and sacred, to strive for the transfiguration and enlightenment of all the whole
of life, but still they can recognise the truth in secularisation, since they ought not to
desire the conditional lie, the acknowledgement by force of something as Christian,
which is not Christian. The tragedy of the second, the Constantine period in the history of
Christianity is in this, that it inevitably ends with secularisation, as demanded by truth
and freedom, as the expression of the failure of every theocracy.


It is impossible to realise the Kingdom of God by force. Not only man, but even God
would say, that one cannot force grace. The freedom of man enters into the design of God
for the Kingdom of God. In the historical Christian theocracies, Eastern and Western,
imperial and papist, there was not yet to a sufficient degree expressed the consent of the
freedom of man to the realisation of the Kingdom of God, i.e. there was not a sufficiently
real transformation of life. The theocracies possessed a conditional and symbolic
character. In the flesh of history, in the kingdom of Caesar there obtained signs and
symbols and impressions of the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God itself was not
attained, a real enlightenment and transfiguration did not occur. The Church only
symbolically consecrates the imperial power of authority, it sets a Christian seal upon the
state and upon everything so as to be rendered Christian in this world. The sacred
kingdom of Caesar, the Christian state, remained something in nature, a natural kingdom
of this world, neither enlightened nor transfigured, not having conquered the sin, being
Old Testament and pagan like, but as it were besprinkled with holy water, in the intent of
submission to a religious end, full of signs of another world, of symbolic archetypes of
the Kingdom of God. Historical theocracies decayed and perished because they were not
real theocracies, they did not realise the authentic Kingdom of God. There has ensued a
time, when the will for realism has won out over the symbolic theocracy. In the post-
Constantine period with the falling apart into two halves of the Christian world there was
worked out two types of theocracy, -- in the East the imperial, and in the West the papal.
These -- were two forms of the uniting of the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of
Caesar, two forms of designation of the Kingdom of God within the kingdom of Caesar.
The kingdom of Caesar therein becomes a sacred and theocratic kingdom either through
its recognition as emperor, as an imperial authority delegated by God, anointed by the
Church to reign, for the realisation of a sacred and churchly service, or else through its
recognition as pope, as Roman high-priest, imbued with a kingly and imperial power of
authority in the world and the source of all rule of power upon the earth. The exceptional
state significance of the pope in the West and the exceptional churchly significance of the
emperor in the East was determined by the unique aspects of the historical paths of the
West and the East. 4 But it was one and the same idea of a Roman compulsory
universalism, of a pagan imperialism, that lay at the basis of both the Western and
Eastern theocracy. In Byzantium, theocracy sustained in itself a tradition not only of
Roman imperialism, but also of the Eastern imperialism. Theocracy conceptually is
always universal, a national theocracy is inwardly a contradiction. The emperor, imbued
with a sacred power, is the same as is the pope. The Middle Ages recognised this and
created the idea of a worldwide Holy Roman empire. But modern times created national
states and by this destroyed the theocratic idea. The sacred Byzantine realm and the
sacred Russian realm contained within them the potential for universality. The tsar
emperor, as a churchly rank, endowed with a churchly power of authority, cannot be
merely a national tsar emperor. Constantine the Great was also an universal tsar emperor.
And if the power of authority of the Russian tsar had an exceptional significance for the
Orthodox Church, then in its potentiality it might be thought of as an universal power of
authority. Without this universality, the Orthodox tsar would have had no greater a
significance, than the English king in the Anglican Church. Theocracy is an universalist
utopia, the same as is Communism.

Theocracy strives towards the discovery and the affirmation of the sacred historical
flesh in the kingdom of Caesar, towards an holy corporeality. It thus desires to contain
the infinite spirit within finite flesh, it desires to enslave the infinite to the finite. The
Kingdom of God is rendered into a semblance of the kingdom of this world. And it is
difficult to reconcile historical theocracies with the Gospel saying: "The princes of the
peoples lord it over them, and dignitaries hold power over them; but amidst ye let it be
thus: whosoever amidst ye would be greatest,, let him be to ye the servant". By this is
affirmed the radical inconsistency and non-affinity between the Kingdom of God and the
kingdom of Caesar. In theocracy however there is essentially an assertion of such a
consistency and affinity, reaching almost the point of identity. There are two temptations
in the history of Christianity connected with the theocratic state, two variations and splits
-- Papocaesarism and Caesaropapism. In an ultimate and pure form these two temptations
have never triumphed in the Christian world -- both Catholicism and Orthodoxy were
always immeasurably deeper and broader than these two tendencies. But all the same, the
principles of Papocaesarism and Caesaropapism were deeply rooted in the historical flesh
of Catholicism and the historical flesh of Orthodoxy. A greater advantage of Orthodoxy
was in this, that Caesaropapism was never an object of churchly dogmatics, at a time
when Papocaesarism was an object of such great dogmatisation within Catholicism. But
in the Eastern, the Orthodox, the Byzantine and Russian theocracies, the tendency
towards Caesaropapism in fact did play a great role in the life of the Church. And
therefore the Russian Revolution appears an enormous, and as yet not fully gauged in all
its depths, ultimate catastrophe in the Orthodox Church, inwardly, and not only externally
an upheaval. Khomyakov with indignation spurned the accusation of Caesaropapism in
the Russian Church. In an absolute and final sense he was correct. But he understated the
importance and the unsettling aspect of this question. It is not by chance that during the
reign of Paul I there was sneaked into our basic laws the title of the tsar as head of the
Church. 5 Such a consciousness could not be dogmatically justified and could not be
regarded in accord with the nature of the Orthodox Church, but it is a natural result of
historical theocracies. The Orthodox Church does not know a visible head, as its sole
head it acknowledges only Christ. But when the kingdom of Caesar is considered an holy
kingdom, when there is seen in it a reflection of the Kingdom of God upon the earth, then
the striving for oneness and integral wholeness in the life of the Church is nudged onto
the path of acknowledging a single visible head. Caesaropapism is the final boundary of
the Constantine period in Christianity. In it the historical mindset of Christianity
ultimately overshadows its eschatological mindset. The Kingdom of God is not
something still yet sought for, it is not attained for real, but rather becomes a matter of
signs and symbols within the kingdom of Caesar. This is the historical process of a
replacement of apocalyptic prophecies about the Kingdom of God, -- in it the kingdom of
Caesar is substituted for the Kingdom of God. In the Catholic mindset the Kingdom of
God ultimately becomes identified with the historical life of the Church, and through this
there is extinguished the eschatological searching for the Kingdom of God. Bu even a
most radical rejection of Caesaropapism and Papocaesarism, as religious temptations,
does not mean a denial of the positive significance of monarchy and the significance of
the papacy in the history of Christian peoples. Monarchy in the past played a positive,
creative, and often progressive, even at times a revolutionary role in Russian history. We
admit even, that monarchy, in its modern form, may still be called to play a positive role
in the renewal of Russia. But this does not at all resolve the religious question about a
theocratic monarchy. The old, the sacred Russian monarchy cannot be reborn. Monarchy
is a natural historical fact in the developement of peoples and in this capacity it ought to
be considered, it belongs totally to this world, to the kingdom of Caesar and its features
are not transferable to the Kingdom of God. Khomyakov and the Slavophils based the
autocratic monarchy upon national-historical, not religio-mystical grounds, and
essentially foreign to them was the Judaic theocratic idea. Monarchic states for them were
distinct from democratic states, since in their fundamentals customarily there lay
principles, oriented towards the other world, and not to earthly eudaemonism. Therefore
monarchy was more religious than democracy. 6 The exceptions consist only of the
Calvinist democracies. But this does not mean, that such religiously justified monarchies
were in actuality theocracies. And indeed, is theocracy actually possible in the Christian
world, a New Testament theocracy? The theocratic idea is an Old Testament idea, an
ancient Hebrew idea. From the Christian point of view, is there applicable to God the
category of the rule of might, lacking credibility here when approached by way of
negative theology? Christian theocracy is but a signification and symbolisation of the
Kingdom of God, whereas in reality the Kingdom of God is a transfiguration of the
world. Christian theocracy knows only one Tsar -- Christ. And this means, that the
theocracies in Christianity represent a false transferal of Jewish Old Testament categories
into Christian life. And the result of this is but the justification of a pagan natural
kingdom. 7


The question about the relationship between Christianity and monarchy is an

historical question, and it mustneeds be posited dynamically. And that which is unique to
a certain historical epoch within Christianity, cannot be considered dogmatically a truth.
Monarchies decay and fall, just like everything earthly and of nature. The Church
however will exist invincible to the very end of time and the gates of hell will not prevail
against it. The kingdom of Caesar appertains to time. The Kingdom of God appertains to
eternity. Christianity can exist in the most diverse historical conditions. And it is
impossible to consider that which is transitory and mutable as essentially belonging to the
nature of the Church. Extreme advocates of an inseparable connection between