(For  Centennial  of  His  Birth)

(1904 – #110)

 The theoretical head of the Slavophils, A. S. Khomyakov, ought justly to be acknowledged as one of the most outstanding of Russian minds. The enormous mental abilities of Khomyakov were esteemed by his opponents of the time in the Westerniser camp.1   A man extraordinarily many-sided, a philosopher, a theologian, historian, a publicist and poet, Khomyakov was a conspicuous figure of the Decade of the 40’s, deeply endowed with brilliant talents. But amidst all this, Khomyakov is now neither known nor read, he is forgotten and without esteem. Whole generations of the Russian Intelligentsia since Khomyakov’s time had noted his Slavophil errors, which historically have been associated with very grievous impressions for us. Certain sides of the Slavophil teaching of Khomyakov were appropriated by unclean hands, and from their subsequent touch was destroyed the messianic dreams of the lofty vocation of the Russian people; faith in an unique national culture, in our national duty was turned round into a preaching of the hatred of man and violence. A romantic and an idealist, Khomyakov in horror would have turned himself away from these “Russian gatherings”. His precious worth redeems this great man, so unreservedly loving his Russia and believing in its great creative future, and his sin afront the future Russia — was his idealisation of backward forms of life, trying to link the creativity of the national spirit to these stagnant forms. Overlooked in Khomyakov was everything remarkable and of value, and actually prophetic for our national culture. I intend within my jottings to give an appraisal of Khomyakov exclusively as a philosopher.

The philosophic articles of Khomyakov, despite their fragmentary and non-systematic character, are indicative of extensive interests, and nothing can justify the ignoring of Khomyakov within the history of our philosophic thought.2   The philosophic world-view of Khomyakov was put together in the spiritual atmosphere of the classical German Idealism, and his thought repeatedly elaborated upon the philosophies of Schelling and Hegel. The grand system of Hegelian panlogism was a limiting factour in the development of German Idealism. It was impossible to go further, and the collapse of the system of Hegel was a serious crisis for philosophy in general, and herein Khomyakov busied himself over themes rooted in the defects and contradictions, which had brought European philosophic thought to complete ruin. Khomyakov indeed made a brilliant and profound critique of Hegelianism, a critique of rationalism, of this as it were original sin innate to almost all the European philosophies, and he clearly perceived the impossibility of a passing-over from abstract idealism, wherein being is rendered into nothingness, a passing-over towards a concrete spiritualism. These conceptions of a concrete spiritualism make of Khomyakov a progenitor of an autonomous Russian philosophy, such as later was brilliantly expounded by Vl. Solov’ev. Solov’ev ought justly to call Khomyakov his direct predecessor.

Let us look at, first of all, how Khomyakov critiqued Hegel. “Being, — says he, — has to be completely put aside. The concept itself, in its fullest abstraction, has to beget everything from its own loins. Rationalism or the logical reason had to find for itself an ultimate crown and Divine sanctification within a new consciousness of the integral world. Suchlike was the immense task, with which the German mind concerned itself in Hegel, and it impossible not to be astonished at the audacity, with which he set about for its resolution”. 3  “The logic of Hegel consequently might be termed the en-spiritising of abstract being. Such would be its fullest, it seems, never yet expressed definition. Never has man set himself so fearsome a task, so bold an undertaking. The eternal, the self-begotten creation would be from the loin of the abstract concept, not having within itself any sort of essence”. 4   Khomyakov thus formulates the point, at which the philosophic movement in Germany had halted: “the reconstruction of the integral reason (i.e. spirit) derives from the concept within rational-judgement. How soon though the task defined itself in suchlike a manner (and particularly suchlike a sense of Hegelian activity), and the pathway had to end: any sort of advance became impossible”. 5  And further on: “the common mistake of the whole school, still not clearly discerned in its originator — Kant, but often characteristic of its end figure — Hegel, consists in this, that it constantly appropriates the developing of the concept within personal understanding as something identical with the developing of the actuality itself”. 6  “It would be impossible to initiate a progression from this substrate, or better said, from this absence of substrate, from which Hegel set out; from this there come a whole series of mistakes, the jumbling together of personal laws with the laws of the world; from this likewise there is a constant confusing of the development of the critical concept in mixing it up with the development of the world of appearances, despite the opposition within them; from this also is the flaw of all this titanic work. The rest of the errors generally of Hegel lay within the error of the whole school, appropriating the judgemental-reason as integrality of spirit. The whole school failed to notice, that in taking the concept as the unique ground for all intellection, it destroys the world: since the concept inverts for it all the underlying actuality into a pure, abstract potentiality”. 7  Khomyakov understood profoundly the impossibility of an utmost development along the path of the rationalistic and abstract judgemental-reason, since this path leads to an absolute nothing, it transforms he world into a mere ghost of a shadow. It is necessary to exit from this inescapable conceptual circle, towards being, to seek a substrate, the real. Hegel made a grandiose attempt to breathe living spirit into abstract ideas, but therein was shewn the impossibility to create the real world through the rationalistic deduction of concepts.

Khomyakov explains excellently the fatal inevitability of the transition of Hegelianism over into materialism, which in fact occurred within German philosophy and which was an indicator of the malady of its crisis. “The criticism realised only: the complete bankruptcy of Hegelianism, striving to create a world without substrate. His disciples did not understand this, that in this consisted the whole aim of the teacher, and they very simplistically imagined for themselves, that what was needed was merely to introduce into the system this needed substrate, and the matter would be in harmony. But from whence to get this substrate? Spirit evidently did not suffice, first of all, since the very task of Hegel forthwith expressed itself as a search of the process, creating spirit; and secondly, also since the very character of Hegel’s rationalism, in the highest degree idealist, was not at all spiritualistic. And herewith the most abstract of human abstractions, — Hegelianism, — forthwith grasps after materiality and so passed over into a purest and most crude materialism. Materiality would be the substrate, and then the system of Hegel would be preserved, i.e. the terminology is preserved, and to a large part are preserved the defined intellectual transitions, the logical modi etc, preserved by word alone, by that which might be called a fabricated process of the Hegelian mind. The great thinker did not himself survive until suchlike a shame; but perhaps, his disciples would not be ridiculed in suchlike a shaming of the teacher, had not the tomb hidden his dread visage”. 8  This is a very interesting page in the history of human thought. Thus was constituted “dialectical materialism”, at the present time having a grip on many a mind, or more accurately, hearts, — this strange and logically bankrupt collection of ideas, simultaneously exclusive one of the other. Dialectics presupposes panlogism, the dialectical logic of things is unintelligible under the concept of a material thingly substrate, and this would be a monstrous logicisation of matter, which indeed makes materialists similar to rationalists, and also idealists, and it points to the impossibility, the inner insolvency of materialism. Khomyakov understood all this better than many of the people of our time, pretending to the calling of philosophers. “The whole school, of which Feuerbach serves as a lustrous centre-point, reckons itself Hegelian, yet amidst this look at its relationship to the basic tenets of Hegel. Kant says, that it is not possible to know things-in-themselves, Hegel says, that the thing-in-itself does not at all exist, and exists only in conceptual-idea. 9  For him this position is not fortuitous, not appended, but rather it is rooted in and directly connected with the very foundation of his philosophy; and thus his whole system is naught else, than the possibility of conceptual-idea, unfolded under all the manifold of activity and completed by activity of spirit. And here for his students the thing appears altogether as a general substrate, and the thing-in-itself namely, is not a self-limiting concept nor even the object of the concept, but is namely its actual self. You see, that I was right, saying, that the new-German school, seemingly Hegelian, took from the teacher only, so to speak, the fabricated process of intellectual and terminological schemata, while being already at this time altogether alien to his spirit and perception. The conceptual-idea without substrate, or a potentiality to be concept, transitional in activity apart from something comprehended and something comprehending, was likewise an aim of Hegel, and in general concerning it Schelling tended to say, that this is thought, but in which nothing is thinkable. For the realisation of the whole system, although understandably with its complete distortion, was introduced a new principle — the thing, as a thingness in general. Would there, ultimately, be removed that accusation, which fell upon the original head of Hegelianism, i.e. is there indeed a thought received, in which there is something thought?” 10  “When the school in its final Hegelian development came to its ultimate denial of any sort of substrate, it is understandable, that its final disciples, in order to save the floundering teaching, with which they had been challenged by all the wonts of mind, they decided to introduce into it a substrate very tangible indeed, very contrary to that abstraction, from which the system of the teacher had come to ruin, and they were not concerned to question for themselves, whether the concepts be reconcilable with each other, which they by force had set free”. 11  Materialism tolerates not the slightest scientific criticism; but in the face of pure rationalism it possesses an apparent advantage, in that it proposes some sort (although also imaginary) of a substrate and by this it satisfies an inner demand for action, which resides in the soul of man; both indeed, both pure rationalism, and materialism also, are nothing other, than two sides of one and the same system, which I cannot term otherwise, than as a system of necessarianism, of non-volition”. 12

I made the many foot-noted quotations from Khomyakov in view of the great interest, which his thoughts present also for our time. Khomyakov in this regard is not at all out-dated: we too face matters laden with philosophic problems, we likewise live with a sense of the bankruptcy of rationalism with all its visages and forms, though they be under the guise of criticism or empiricism, and we likewise seek a substrate, — the truly existing. The difference merely is in this, that we criticise now not so much Kant, as rather the neo-Kantians, not so much Hegel as rather the neo-Hegelians, and we have lived through a greater number of disappointments. Khomyakov anticipated the theory of the “mystical perception” of Solov’ev and his “critique of abstract principles”, and likewise also the most recent searchings of gnosseological points of view, surmounting rationalism, empiricism and criticism. “The whole German critique, — says he, — all the philosophy of the Kantian school, has remained yet at that level, at which Kant set it. It has not moved beyond judgemental-reason, i.e. that analytic faculty of reason, which is conscious of and investigates the given, received by it from the integral reason, and dealing only ever with concepts, it is never able to find within itself the criterium for definition of the inner and the external, since it deals only with that, which already is perceived, and consequently, is rendered inward. You remember, striving in part to expound on this great step which was made by our too soon deceased a thinker, I. V. Kireevsky, namely — about reason’s acknowledgement of the integral reason, which perceives the actually (real) given, given over for examination and the conscious judgemental-reason. In this area only does the given yet bear within itself the fullness of its character and tokens of its origin. In this area, prior to the logical consciousness and filled with a living consciousness, needing neither demonstrations nor proofs, man is conscious of what appertains to his mental world and what appertains to the external world”. 13

Both rationalism and empiricism abstractly dissect the living consciousness and conceal from us that experience, in which is immediately given real being, the existent. I am not taking into account philosophically the felicitous terms “mystical perception” or “faith”. This experience, wherein converges our existence with the existent whole, rather than merely with the analytically rationalistic, is binding upon all, and it towers over the conditional contradiction of the rational and the empirical, it manifests itself as the source of  metaphysical knowledge and fashions the metaphysical reason. 14

Russian philosophic thought stands now in disrepute and it is imperative to remember, that this is on paths coursing through and leading into the wilderness. Suchlike is the path of rationalism, the path of Kantianism, with a fateful inevitability leading to Hegelianism, propped up upon nothingness or an illusory materiality. For us there is only one pathway, leading to the consciousness of the existent, — the path of spiritualism, cleansed from all the sins of rationalism and abstraction. Our philosophic thought enters upon this path, and at the moment of its departure it does not hesitate to remember about that first Russian thinker, pointing out the true path for our autonomous philosophy — A. S. Khomyakov.

Nikolai Berdyaev


©  2001  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1904 – 110(3,7) – en)

A. S. KHOMYAKOV  KAK  PHILOSOPH.  First published in Journal “Mir Bozhii”, July 1904, p. 17-22. Berdyaev reused the article as Chapter 7 in his 1907 book,  “Sub specie aeternitatis” (M. V. Pirozhkov, St. Peterburg).

Article reprinted and included by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in the Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III),  p. 60-67.

1 By Hertsen, in his “The Past and Thoughts” (“Byloe i dumy”).

2 The most important philosophic articles of Khomyakov are located in the first volume of his Collected Works: “Regarding Humboldt” (“Po povodu Gumbol’dta”), “Regarding Extracts, Found in the Papers of I. V. Kireevsky” (“Po povodu otryvkov, naidennykh v bumagakh I. V. Kireevskogo”), “About Contemporary Appearances in the Area of Philosophy” (“O sovremennykh yavleniakh v oblasti philosophii”), “Letter Concerning Philosophy to Yu. Ph. Samarin” (“Pis’mo o philosophii k Yu. Ph. Samarin”). The theological works of Khomyakov comprise the second volume of his Collected Works, but I do not propose to touch upon them.

3 Vide “Sochineniya Khomyakova” (“Collected Writings of Khomyakov”), vol. 1, p. 267.

4 Ibid., p. 268. The honour of this profound insight into the spirit of Hegelian philosophy mustneeds be shared by Khomyakov with I. V. Kireevsky, whose philosophic thought he draws upon from the discovered extracts of his papers.

5  p. 291.

6  p. 296.

7 Vide: “Sochineniye Khomyakova”, vol. 1, p. 299.

8 p. 302.

9 This is now reiterated by the so-called Immanentist school.

10 Vide: “Sochineniye Khomyakova”, vol. 1, p. 303-304.

11 p. 308.

12  p. 312.

13 I put an italic stress on this as especially important for the gnosseology of Khomyakov and its immediacy for us.

14 Intellectual errors often hinder the veracity of explanation of this experience.