(Towards a Philosophy of Modern Russian History)

(1905 – #118)

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 tither 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 creativity.

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 dangerous.

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 Westernisers and Slavophils 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 vigour 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 symbolisation 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 politics.

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 culture.

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 L. 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 judgement 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 moreso 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, practising 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 beneathe 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 analyse, 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 derision.

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 shew 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 mustneeds 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 verymost 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 fervour. Both the moderate and the radical intelligentsia have lost heart to fulfill their historical duty and they do not realise, 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 factours, 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 civilisation 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 realisation 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 groundwerk 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.


©  2006  by Fr. S. Janos

(1905 – 118(3,13) – en)

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.

1 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 organisation in our era, is for me indubitable.