1874 - 1948
Berdyaev the Thinker
by Georgii P. Fedotov
On 24 March 1948 at his home in Clarmart near Paris died Nicholas Alexandrovich Berdyaev--a distinguished Russian religious philosopher. Russian society was little attentive to the workings of his sharp and untiring thought. It responded most force fully of all against his political attacks often surprisingly and paradoxically. Comparatively few had the pleasure to know and to love him as a man. But all the world knew Berdyaev as a religious ph ilosopher. In Europe and in America he was warmly esteemed moreso than among the Russian emigration or finally even Russia itself. Probably since Berdyaev--with his philosophy of personalism, freedom and creativity--was spiritually connected more with the West than with Russia; but at the same time he carried within himself many precious elements of the Russian world-view (via Dostoievsky, Khomyakov, Vl Solovyov) which manifest to the West a new revelation. The West erred, finally, in regarding Berdyaev a s a typical expression of Russian Orthodoxy--this continued misunderstanding troubled even Berdyaev himself. But we would be criminally unjust in ignoring this great Russian thinker, a writer not of school-books nor academic dissertations, but pages full of living (the fashionable term existential) meaningful insights--directed to each person.
Berdyaev wrote heatedly, often in conflict on several fronts, not fearing exaggerations nor contradictions."Spiritual shining is not without suffering" he once said in the last of his books. The encountering of these contradictions would further suggest denying the unity of his thought. But this impression is completely mistaken. The contradictions accumulate at the surface, in his reactions, moreso rather than in his convictions. He remains true to his fundamental living intuition, which coales ced into an entire metaphysical world-view already in his first significant books: "The Philosophy of Freedom" (1911) and "The Meaning of Creativity" (1916).
Berdyaev in his youth had many teachers, quite far apart and dissimilar. Among western "fathers" it is sufficient to name Jakob Boehme and Kant, Marx and Nietzsche. His combining of these incompatible figures spun off thought in an eclectic synt hesis. Their incompatibility he reconciled but possibly modified--molded in personal experience into a completely new and original world-outlook. Such was Berdyaev's philosophy: hostile to every systematism, unusually radical both in expression and in essence, but issuing forth from an unity of living and moral experience. This unity we too shall try to ascertain in a few most distinct and solid directions.
The personal living intuition of Berdyaev--was of a pervasive sense of evil ruling in the world. With this intuition he carries on the tradition of Dostoievsky (Ivan Karamazov), but also that of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, with which he like wise shattered spears during the first years of his idealist confession (the "Vekhi/Signposts" period). The struggle with evil--a revolutionary-chivalrant posture in relation to the world--distinguishes Berdyaev from many of the thinkers of the Russian Orthodox renaissance. Neither h umility towards nor an aesthetic acceptance of the world as a Divine all-unity (the basis of Russian "sophiology")--but rather a struggle with the world in the image of our nature, social and human, constitutes the nerve-base of his creativity. Berdyaev almost always needed to find himself repelled by some particular lie or other, in order to examine its truth. He openly declared himself a dualist. Monism, to which the majority of philosophers--especially the Russian--are inclined, was always alien to him. This is why he immediately repudiated Plato, and to the end remained faithful to Kant, in spite of all the striking dissimilarity of their spiritual types. Between the true world "things-in-themselves" and the world of appearances there mustneeds be an abyss for which to enable Berdyaev to believe in the Divine origin of the world. T he Manichaean (or Marcionistic) temptation of an evil god-creator was once to tempt him. He persevered through in his own studies about the fall-into-sin. Very much radically like a Calvinist, but with this antithetically so in almost everything from him. The consequences of sin impressed themselves strongly upon Berdyaev--not in man, but rather in nature. Berdyaev saw natural evil not only in the fierce struggle for existence, in suffering and in death, but in the fact itself of necessity, of non-freedom , which comprises the essence of the matter. Man, with his possibility of spiritual freedom, is flung into the blind mechanistic world, which enslaves and destroys him. In the final years of his life, having become familiarised with the philosophy of Germ an existentialism, Berdyaev intensified his world-negativity. Evil--is in the objectification itself of the world, in that what presents itself to us as a collection of things or objects. But this is an evil nightmare of our sinful sleep. Authentically there are only subjec tive realities, ie. free spirits. Liberation from the power of the world or of things comprises the value of human life.
Because of his strong sense of world evil Berdyaev was not able to admit of any optimistic theodicy. God is not the autocratic ruler of the world. The very thought itself, making God responsible for evil, inevitably provoked in Berdyaev a promethean revol t. He preferred atheism--militant in the name of justice and compassion, rather than faith in an all-powerful Providence. Berdyaev believes in God, Who having created the world, puts off from Himself the all-powerfulness for the sake of the freedom of creatures--even if this freedom proves itself harmful. The Love of God is in this, that He shares in the suffering of mankind which has evillyabused its freedom. Through the Incarnation and Passion God makes love possible in man's answer to Him. But God is not without power. He acts in the world through man, inspiring him, sending him His Grace. But this grace does not manifest itself irresistibly. Man is able to reject it or to follow after it. But without it, without God man has fallen powerless, and his deeds are without hope. This truth Berdyaev stressed emphatically during the period of his youthful struggle with the atheistic intelligentsia. Berdyaev believed in the co-operation /synergia of God and man, in God-manhood--the c oncept of which he learned from Vl. Solovyov. Berdyaev speaks about the Kingdom of God as about an ultimate ideal, but the Kingdom is built up not only by God, but also by the efforts of man. Thus the religious philosophy of Berdyaev structures itself not only upon the teaching about God, but likewise the teaching about man: about the anthropologic in theologic thought.
The immense religious significance of man--is in this, that he, in spite of his having fallen, has within himself a divine origin "the image of God", which sojourns there in his spirit, in his "I", in his person. His bodily and soulful existence is immersed in the world of fallen nature and is enslaved by it; but his spirit or personhood remains the bearer of freedom. Berdyaev does not despise the body in the manner of the Platonists--where the body constitutes an organ of the soul, for the purpose of expressing itself to t he outside. However, in distinction from contemporary sophiologists, the interest of Berdyaev is concentrated on the spirit of man. Four basic concepts, mutually interwoven in the form of various aspects of one idea, define the religious theme of Berdyaev : Personality, Spirit, Freedom and Creativity. Not without reason do some of his important books bear the titles: "The Meaning of Creativity", "Philosophy of the Free Spirit", "About the Destiny of Man".
Personality in the thought of Berdyaev is radically distinct from individuality--as a self-imaged clumsy combination of features. Individuality or the individual belong to the natural world and share in slavery and death with it. Berdyaev is an enemy of i ndividualism, of world-building according to bourgeois standards, but he loves to describe his philosophy as personalism. This terminology, probably of German origin, has been transplanted into France under the influence namely of Berdyaev and his French disciples. In the English language its coursings stumble against major difficulties.
Personality is the spiritu-creative and free source-principle in man. Reputed as difficult, the definition of spirit is in that of the schools, where it is set over against soul. Berdyaev does not give a definition. He sets spirit in contrast to soulful-b odily man as the source of freedom in the realm of necessity. But he does not restrict spirit to its manifestations in religious life. Knowledge, art, human relationship -- these all are spheres of spirituality. Where there is spirit, there is freedom.
But it is only freedom that reigns in the Kingdom of God. In our life it permits of luminous moments, and breakings-forth from the natural world. In the struggle with natural slavery man has God as guide and inspirer. But his freedom also is preserved in the relationship to God. Revelation Berdyaev recognises not as an external authority, but as a freely chosen path, in agreement with experience and the supreme needs of personality. Berdyaev does not want to be in slavery to God, and all slave-like forms of divine-worship are to him alien and even abhorrent.
For the metaphysical foundations of such freedom Berdyaev posits an original theory, in part borrowed from Jacob Boehme, a German mystic of the XVI-XVIIth Centuries. According to Boehme, there is something ontologically more primordial, than God. Divinity , the Divine world is more primordial than the personal God, and the Abyss (Ungrund) is more primordial than Divinity. This Abyss contains within itself all possibility, like Aristotelian matter. For Berdyaev, however, it is pure freedom. In other words, freedom is not created by God, but He Himself is born (not in the order of time) from freedom and from this f reedom, from this Something, which potentially contains within itself All, He creates the world. From there to the foundation of the world and of man lies freedom, and it is freedom not only for good but also for evil. This idea of Boehme bears Berdyaev a nother service: it explains the presence of evil in the world, ie. it makes theodicy possible; it also defines the freedom of man not only in relation to the world, but also to God. But such a concept of freedom is difficultly to be conformed with the Chr istian thinking of God as Absolute Being. We have here a matter with the most vunerable point in the philosophy of Berdyaev.
But just as original is Berdyaev's concept of creativity. This creativity is the purpose to the life of man upon the earth--that for which God created him. The fall-into-sin does not abrogate his calling, since it preserves his freedom. If Christianity is a religion of salvation, then this salvation is through creativity, and not only through ascetic cleansing from sin. Sometimes however, Berdyaev sets creativity opposite to salvation or saintliness as another path in life. Not denying the need for ascesis as a means of self-discipline, he is opposed t o its over-estimation, which from means makes it into an end-value. Even a sinful man is able to create. Sin distorts all human creativity, but does not remove its value.
All Platonic-derived systems of ethics and aesthetics, i.e. idealist systems, see the concept of creativity in discerning and following after the divine prototypes or Ideas, lying within the fabric of the created world. Reacting against Realism (Naturalis m)--which seeks a mimicking in nature or life, Idealism however limits all human creativity to a mimicking, or reproducing of the already given, or concealed in the world of Ideas. Berdyaev is determined to assert that in creativity is the possibility of something new, ie, new even for God. G od wants from man the continuation of His creation, and because of this has given to man a creative basis (His image). In this is the meaning of all the tragic experiment, by which creation reveals to God its free existence.
Sin makes impossible not creativity, but rather its fulfillment. All creativity, under the conditions of the fallen world, is doomed to failure. And chief among these failures, according to Berdyaev, is the objectification of the creative act, ie. the tra nsforming of it into a product or thing, subordinate to the law of necessity. A book, a painting, even a symphony--is dusty and burdened down with the weight of the world: only remotely do they conform to the creative vision about perfectly free thought a nd life. Even more objectified, ie. our unfree endeavours in the social institutions fashioned by mankind. The creative fire chills down into lava, which itself makes an hindrance for creativity. This means that for Berdyaev it is a valuing of the creativ e act, and not of its result--not the "product" of art or thought. From this it is obvious, that he is an enemy even of the tendency for stylistic perfection: an enemy to every classicism. Pushkin does not find a spot in his "Russian Idea&q uot;.
This disregard for perfectness explains also the writing style of Berdyaev himself. The enemy of every system, not believing in the possibility of thought which is free from contradiction, Berdyaev strives to preserve in his writings as might be possible the full freedom of his boiling, agitated thought. And needless to say, he does not stoop to demonstrations. Like the French poet Peguy, he rushes everything to a certain new expression the concept of which, not having been explicated among the generally- given, he hurls off to thread in and anew he returns to it. He is a master of adept picturesque expressions, but often they drown amidst the rough drafts. We however have premonitions of a lustrous writer's gift -- untidy like an old Russian garden, overgrown with weedy grass.
Inevitably unsuccessful, the doomed failure of all human creativity Berdyaev terms its eschatology. This is an indication of the end, the finite boundary, the mortality of the world and of man. But the end is not final, the failure is not terminal. God sa ves the creativity of man and resuscitates him beyond the bounds of history, in the Kingdom of God. It is easy and tempting to inscribe Berdyaev within the lineage of spiritual anarchists. But this inclusion would be mistaken.
Understandably, interesting persons for him are always on the pathway of society. And he passed on through the temptation of Stirner. For him as a socialist, and not without the help of Khomyakov, it became apparent that personality is not able to realise itself in separation from another "I". Solitude signifies for it dessication and ruin. I discover myself through the Thou. And not only in the romantic confluence of two, but also in We, as the free interaction of the many. Berdyaev readily adh eres to Khomyakov's teaching about Sobornost', as the resolution of the conflict between the individual and the collective in social action, love and consciousness. Most of all however, he pointed out the pitfall threatening personality in its emergence onto the social plane. This is the pitfall of objectification, the education of the institutions, of chilled-down forms in place of real (existential) communality. Affirming communality, Berdyaev leads into the struggle with society. "Social" for him generally implies a vicious idea. Apart from all the sin and wickedness by which social life is burdened, even the very character of the social, as something commonly vulgar, is vicious. The strongest of all the sinfulness of society manifests itself in the state--in all of them, and not only the in the tyrannous. But even in marriage is prosaic dullness extinguishing love. And the Church, as an i nstitution, is a social objectification, ie. the deformation of the Church as communality in Spirit and in love. Berdyaev during the course of his own dutiful Christian life never ceased to expose the sins of the historical church, just like the sins of t he state. He saw this as mainly a prophet-like or "prophetic"--as he loved to say somewhat modestly--service. He considered among prophetic literature his own philosophic publications, particularly "Sub Species Aeternitatis". Refrainin g from the vocation of theology, together with the hint of disrepute attaching to theology itself, he possessed the lofty consciousness of a Christian prophet in the expose' and style of contemporary journalism. In all of this is comprised his social serv ice to the Church.
Contending with sociality, Berdyaev remained a socialist his whole life. He was never an orthodox Marxist, however, since he was never a materialist. But even with Marx his break was neither complete nor final. In the emigration he gradually returned to t he teachings of his youth. In Marx he valued first of all his critique of the capitalist system, ruthlessly exposing its masks and fictions. But he also saw in this inclinations of humanism, struggling against the dehumanisation of the machine labourer and the impersonal regime of ownershi p. The publication of the early pre-Marxist writings of Marx assisted not a little consolidating this examination into Marx as an humanist--leading Berdyaev to forget sometimes, how much Marx himself contributed to the depersonalisation and mechanisation of the proletariat and workers m ovement. With Berdyaev socialism displays comparatively little pity or caritative-love motifs. Or otherwise even it prudently hides behind the indignation against the exploitation of man. The significance of the socialist movement for Berdyaev--is in the liberation of personality in the classless society. Personality here also is at the forefront, and his socialism Ber dyaev proposes to term personalism. Against the etat/statism of Marx or his disciples, Berdyaev sometimes proposed the communal or co-operative socialism of Proudhon, giving personality a greater guarantee of freedom. But possibly there is yet another mot if, itself strong and personal in the socialist complex of Berdyaev: his dislike for the bourgeoise. This dislike was not so much directed against the bourgeoise as the ruling class in contemporary society, as rather against it as a psychological type: ag ainst "bourgeois" in the French meaning of the word--a petty avaricious hedonist, having lost both faith in all the noble values and any aptitude for heroic virtues. The attitude of Berdyaev towards the bourgeoise has nothing in common with the envy of the proletariat. It is closer to the distaste of the painter, the bohemian, but in it is something also of the gentry disdain towards the brazen-upstart, the petty-shopkeeper, which replaces th e noble-born gentlemanly type: having for itself nothing of a moral justification. In the socialism of Berdyaev there is yet much of the gentleman, like in the anarchism of Tolstoi. Berdyaev extended his disdain for the bourgeois-plebes even to the past a nd did not want to see in this class any historical contributions. Neither contemporary science nor Dutch painting, nor the emancipation of the serfs--from the medieval communes up to the French Revolution--for Berdyaev it is not connected with the bourge oise. Even Marx was more equitably disposed as to its liberating mission. Berdyaev clearly regarded the slavery of antiquity and medieval serfdom as better than capitalism. And evidently, it was not the situation of the working classes nor the extent of t heir exploitation that defined his preference.
As steady as were the socialist sympathies of Berdyaev, in contrast his political views were fluidly unsteady. One thing was utmost for him: the defence of personality and its freedom--and that only in the highest of its manifestations: of thought, consci ousness and word. Towards political forms he was almost indifferent, often changing his sympathies. Partly this resulted from his disdain for the formal basis in life generally, especially regarding law in social life. During the years of the revision of his revolutionary outlook (1900-1910 ) Berdyaev was very modest. He agreed on the constitutional monarchy, and he recognised democracy as relatively best among political forms. But further along all the moreso his disdain for democracy waxed into criticism. Especially in those years when he had encounters with the Third Republic in France. Finally, the chief cause of Berdyaev's coolness and even revulsion to Western democracy was its social substrate: the bourgeoise in its decadence. Philistinism and vulgarity, ruling the preferences and tastes of a society rushing after the baser pleasures as the value and meaning of life, the levelling down to the average man as the criterion of value--all this was repulsive to Berdyaev with his spiritual aristocratism. Particularly shocking to him as a philosopher was the newest philosophical basing of democracy upon relativism. Having renounced the Christian idealism of its youth, and even the rationalism of its mature years, contemporary democracy seeks for its justification the principle of majority-rule within the relativeness of every truth and every value. But such a world-view destroys culture and de-personalises man. Political a tomism--having isolated personality within contemporary democracies (more exactly 19th Cent.), and having destroyed all the complex fabric of the old social associations except for the state -- would not such understandably evoke a protest from Berdyaev with his ideal society.
However, all these proper motifs for rejecting democracy do not redeem that sophistry which, the further on the more heatedly it appears in the argumentation of Berdyaev. This motif is the formalism of democracy. On his lips formality means a fiction. Thi s means that freedom of expression, of the presses and so forth, so vital for a philosopher, suddenly becomes vapid, just a matter concerning the masses. Berdyaev adopts here the hyperbolic language of early socialism, which was inappropriate and an hundr ed years outdated. Berdyaev as may be overlooked all the success of the labour movement, with its powerful unions, well-known political influence and even a bit of social prosperity. The proletariat for him remains eternally the hungry, hopeless and dark masses, not even perceiving the need for freedom. Freedom for it is the freedom of the unengaged cabman in the well-known anecdote of Proudhon. Only by a complete breaking-away from the living working class is it possible to explain this aberration of phi losophy.
In two practical and important points Berdyaev parts company with contemporary democracy and approaches fascism in its Russian or Western form. First, in his absolute refusal of economic freedom. He is right, certainly, that socialism is impossible withou t a restriction of freedom in the economic sphere. But together with contemporary socialists--not wanting to search out the new combination of the principles of personal freedom and social regulation--he beforehand and completely gives away to the state t he power of owning everything. With this he deprives both peasants and craftsmen of any self-sufficiency and use of ownership; and including the "free" tradesmen--the state gives no one the unlimited mastery of their fate. The remaining spiritual freedom--for those few who live by creation of spiritual values--he, not observing this of himself, constructs an island of freedom for thinker s and poets in the ocean of universal slavery.
If in a complete denial of economic freedom Berdyaev comes nigh to communism, then in the corporative organisation of the state he separates the principles of both eastern (soviet) and western fascism. The "formal" grouping of citizens according to territorial districts and political parties he contrasts in their organisation against professional workers corporations. He presumes that the interconnections of workers are more real than those of locality or political. This was perhaps true during the renaissance of the cre ative and ethical medieval attitude towards work, as also towards art and duty. Under contemporary utilitarianism, particularly in connection with the destruction of the multi-party system, the corporate system lays the political basi s for tyranny. Thus Berdyaev, of all the socialist forms most of all hated the state, retreats before it along almost all fronts -- because of his animosity towards the spiritual type of the bourgeoise.
Consistent with the wavering of his political thought, he changed also his attitude towards bolshevism in Russia. There was a time (1917-22) when his indignation against communist tyranny knew no bounds. He himself lived in the country of the proletariat revolution and saw its human, and not only doctrinaire, face. Even then already he accepted some things in it: eg., the exposing of the broad masses to culture and even righteous retribution. In effect, Berdyaev accepted the idea of deMaistre, that the revolution--is the judgement of God upon the nations. From this Christian idea (not particularly bound up with his persona l theologic views) Berdyaev reached the conclusion, that it is not possible to go against the judgement of God: every counter-revolution is doomed, and the revolution can be overcome only from within, in its own immanent evolution. This determined his negative attitude to the Russia n White-movement and almost all the political emigration, from the extreme-right to the socialists fighting bolshevism, as foreign and hostile powers enslaving Russia.
Finding himself in the emigration against his will (Berdyaev was banished from the USSR), he was quickly compelled to carry on the struggle on two fronts: against capitalism and communism simultaneously. This was a position worthy of a philosopher and Chr istian. One of his pamphlet-books "The Truth and Falsehood of Communism" by its very title evidences his twofold position.
However, at the time of the Second World War this balance was shifted -- in favour of Soviet Russia. Berdyaev found himself in the captivating flow of Russian patriotic sentiments flaring up with unusual force amidst the Russian emigration in France. And although from his articles of the time the social, and particularly the anti-capitalist notes predominate, nationalist motifs of pro-soviet strategy are beyond dispute. Russia was presented as the liberator of the world from Hitlerite fascism. The similarity of the two totalitarian regime s was forgotten. There was the belief, not without basis, in the approach of great changes in the inner policies of the bolshevik party. It was then that Berdyaev wrote a book, one of the last of his books--"The Russian Idea"--where he expressed, unexpectedly for him, a slavo philic faith in the unique religio-historical vocation of Russia. Over the course of many years he had fought against nationalism as one of the terrible poisons of our epoch. Together with Vl. Solovyov he affirms an universal, but diverse calling for each nation. Even now he did not reject this belief. But Russia has a particular pre-eminence among other nations: in the very strength and quality of its religious world-perception. "The Russian nation appertains to a religious type"... "The ethical idea of the Russian man is very distinct from the ethical idea of the Western nations, and this is moreso a Christian idea." And the Russian idea is more "communal" than the Western. This because "for the New Jerusalem" "the way is prepared in Russia". The social revolution in Russia is a way-station on this path.
Many associates and students of Berdyaev were profoundly and deeply astonished by this final swerving of the teacher. It was particularly strange that Berdyaev, who all his life went against the currents prevailing against him, appeared in the opposite ma jority-camp concerning the fluid current-events of the day. A thought was suggested about a weakening of his spiritual powers from old age. However, even more than the events that occurred, Berdyaev was disappointed on his expectations from the Soviet Union. He had already lifted up his own voice in defence of freedom of the word, trampled down in Russia. His associates thought that at the end nothing remained of his initial enthusiasm. However, he did not want to express in print his own new pent-up indignation--so as not to give additi onal arguments to the proponents for war against the USSR. He was most of all fearful of the war on the world.
The unique characteristic Russian religiosity in "The Russian Idea" Berdyaev terms eschatologism. His selection of typical Russian thinkers according to this schema suffers from a certain artificiality. Neither Pushkin, nor the earthy successors of the Moscow tradition enter into the lines of "The Russian Idea". The rising of the Russian revolution, long before its outbreak, the whirlwind of destruction and the eschatological is explained by the significant idea whose meaning comprises all the thousand year history of Russia. But this choice of a Russian pathway is significant for Berdyaev himself. He is himself actually the most eschatological of all the Russian religious thinkers. Like many people of his generation, he transfers over into Christian eschatology the revolutionary moods of the epoch. The e schatologism of Berdyaev arises from completely other religio-psychological roots than the traditional, particularly Orthodox, Christian. Neither the departure from history nor the consciousness of the nothingness of the human cultural act generates his thirst for an end. A revolutionary dis content by everything existing gives rise to it, as by also an anxiety about the certain and radical transfiguration of the world. The eschatology of Berdyaev is not a rejection of history, but rather the completion of it.
Berdyaev considers himself chiefly a philosopher of history. His attitude to the basic forms of the Fall of the world--in space and in time--is not identical. The spatial world, comprising in itself matter, enslaves man. The world of time comprises the po ssibility of history as the arena of human collective creativity. True, human creativity is realised in history only partially. But these failures, and even its death, make history not so much absurd but rather tragically incomplete. Everything existing needs to be consumed in the fire of personal and historical catastrophes. But the end of history for which Berdyaev thirsts is not only the annihilation of the social, but also the actualisation of the Kingdom of God. The judgement and condemnation of evil are but a subordinate moment in the triumph of the Kingdom. Berdyaev was even ready to admit the apokatastasis of Origen -- universal salvation, if it did not hinder his recognised ultimate value of freedom. Hades is God's punishment, but the right of the creature's freedom. The eschatology of Berdyaev is completely optimistic, in spite of its catastrophe. The catastrophe itself, certainly, is the source of joy for a revolutionary spirit, like a trag ic play for Nietzsche. We saw, however, how the world in this universal eschatology falls upon all human creativity making impossible, contrary even for Berdyaev, any finished continuing perfection.
And yet, on the plane of history, ie. eschatology, a final temptation lies in wait for Berdyaev. He knows and loves to repeat, that all history is woven together with transgressions. But the final Hosanna compels him often to forget, that history is a fie ld of freedom and struggle. Good and evil struggle in the worldly processes through man. In this struggle personality is often doomed to be the sacrifice of absurd social forces. Not only nature but also history crushes and destroys it. And God expects from it a resistance to working in hist ory with the power of evil. The temptation of Berdyaev--is to admit the rationality of history en bloc, compelling personality to bow down before it. God, Who for him is silent in nature, speaks in history--and not only through the prophets chastising it, but also through its transitory and sinful leaders. This is the temptation of optimistic Hegelianism, so fatal for the Russian intelligentsia beginning with Belinsky, through the Marxists, up through our "revolutionaries" of all sorts. Monism, which Berdyaev the philosopher shunned, entrapped him on history. Wanting to submit neither to the laws of nature, nor to human or even divine authority, Berdyaev inclined his haughty head in front of history, in one of its most terrible and repulsive phases: in front of the communist revolution.
Might this political, although perhaps final sin, compel us to forget about the account of the value of life, about the exceptional spiritual beauty and nobility of the departed teacher? Time quickly heals political wounds. "The Twelve" of Blok does not stir us to esteem of the poet, in the manner that Pushkin was dear to us all, in spite of "To the Slanderers of Russia". N. A. Berdyaev enters certainly into the history of Russia, as an image of a living and suffering religious seeker and fighter, as a man, the first reveali ng to the West the riches and complexity and contradictions of all the profound Russian religious genre.
Article first published in "Novii Zhurnal", XIX, New York 1948; and collected into posthumously published Fedotov Russian anthology "Novii Grad" published 1952 under copyright Chekhov Publishing House.
Georgii P. Fedotov died 1 Sept 1951 in Beacon, New York. The primary value of this Berdyaev "eulogy" is that of a reminiscense by a contemporary of Berdyaev form the same religio-cultural intelligentsia emigre Russian community in Paris--in cont rast to other and more recent interpretations of Berdyaev from different perspectives. The article suffers in part from a lack of philosophical perspicacity, since Fedotov was an accomplished scholar of medieval Russian hagiology not a professional philosopher. The article is l ikewise sadly disappointing in the radical deterioration of "objectivity" midway though that is so apparent. It apparently reflects old grudges suffered in the confines of the emigre community, and perhaps a self-realisation by Fedotov of a cert ain deterioration of his own intellectual faculties from old age. Such are the things "to be consigned to oblivion". The post WWII optimism of Fedotov concerning the Western "forms" sits badly with the social and economic cataclysms convulsing our own times. And certainly the forced polarisation of the emigre community between fascist Vlasovites and Communists is no nice choice. In the Holocaust Museum in Washington is a photo of the Russian Orthodox nun, Mother Maria Skobtsova, who perished in Nazi concentration camps. The best defense of Berdyaev against Fedotov's criticisms, some superficial and some out of context, may be gained fr om a thorough and deeper reading of Berdyaev's own works.
This translation copyright 1995 by translator Fr. Stephen Janos. (email@example.com)
Articles & Essays | Bibliography | Discussion List | Images | Links | Search
Last revised: March 22, 2000