Concerning the “Eternal Baba” in the Russian Soul


Concerning the “Eternal Baba”
in the Russian Soul

(1915 – #187(15))


 There has appeared a book by V. V. Rozanov, “The War of 1914 and the Russian Renaissance”. The book — is brilliant and disturbing. Rozanov here is a foremost Russian stylist, a writer with genuine flashes of genius. In Rozanov there is a special and mysterious life of words, a magic word-collection, an attractive feel for words. In him there are no words that are abstract, or dead or bookish. All the words — are alive, biological, full of blood in their veins. The reading of Rozanov — is a sensuous delight. It is difficult to convey in one’s own words the thoughts of Rozanov. For him indeed there are no sort of thoughts. Everything is locked up within the organic life of words and cannot be torn away from them. His words are not symbols of thought, but the rather flesh and blood. Rozanov — is an extraordinary artist with the word, but in what he writes, there is no Apollonian transmutation nor giving of form. In the dazzling life of words he gives forth with the raw cheese of his soul, at random, without any processing. And he does this with a talent that is unique and unrepeatable. He scorns every “idea”, every logos, every activity and resistance of the spirit in regards to the soul and the processes of life. Writing for him is a biological function of his organism. And he is never opposed to his biological processes, he puts them directly down on paper, he transfers to paper the vital currents. And Rozanov does this quite exceptionally, an unprecedented thing, which it is difficult to approach with the usual criteria. The ingenious physiology of Rozanov’s writings is engendered by his lack of ideas, his lack of principles, his indifference towards good and evil, his lack of belief, by the complete absence of moral character and spiritual support. Everything written by Rozanov, a writer of rich talent and great vital significance, is a tremendous biological flooding, to which it is impossible to deal with by any sort of criteria or measures of value.

Rozanov — is something from primordial biology, surviving as a mystic. Rozanov is not afraid of contradiction, since biology is not afraid of contradiction, indeed only logic is afraid. He is ready to deny on subsequent pages, that which he said on the preceding pages, and remains completely within the vital and not logical process. Rozanov cannot and does not want to withstand the influx and force of living impressions, of sensual feelings. He is completely lacking in any manliness of spirit, any active power of withstanding the elements blowing in the wind, any inward freedom. Every vital breath and feeling transforms him into a reservoir, receiving into him their flow, the flood of which with an extraordinary rapidity flows onto paper. Such a stock of nature compels Rozanov always to bow down before the fact, the force or history. For him even God in His might is a vital current. He could not withstand the flood of the nationalistic reaction of the decade of the 80’s, he could not withstand the flood of decadence of the beginning XX Century, he could not withstand the revolutionary flood of 1905, nor then the new reactionary flood, the impetus of Anti-Semitism in the epoch of Beilis, and finally, he is unable to withstand the mighty flood of war, the hoisting of an heroic patriotism and the perilousness of chauvinism.

Many are captivated in Rozanov by that which is in his writings, in the unique life of his words there is the sense as though of Mother Nature, of Mother earth herself and her vital processes. They tend to love Rozanov because they have grown so tired of abstraction, of bookish-pedantry, of disenchantment. They sense in his books, as it were, a greater life. And they are prepared to forgive Rozanov his monstrous cynicism, his vileness as an author, his falseness and betrayal. Orthodox Christians, often very intolerant and exclusionary, have forgiven Rozanov everything, they have forgotten, how for many years he blasphemed Christ, how he scoffed at and suggested a turning away from Christian sanctity. Yet all the same Rozanov is his own man, kindred and close to the biological, an uncle of sorts, elated with the Orthodox lifestyle.

Essentially, he has always loved an Orthodoxy without Christ and has always remained faithful to such a pagan Orthodoxy, which indeed is much dearer and closer, than the austhere and tragic spirit of Christ. In Rozanov there is so much that is characteristically Russian, truly Russian. He — is an ingenious expression of a certain side of the Russian nature, of the Russian element. He is possible only in Russia. He was begotten in the imagination of Dostoevsky and even surpassed through his improbability everything, that this ingenious imagination had to offer. And indeed the imagination of Dostoevsky was purely Russian, and down to the very depths the Russian was begotten. And if it be pleasing to have a writer, so ultimately Russian, and if it be instructive to see in him the revealing of the Russian element, then also it becomes frightful for Russia, it becomes terrible for the fate of Russia. In the very innards of the Russian character there is discovered the “eternal baba”, not the “eternal feminine”, but rather the eternal baba. Rozanov — is himself an ingenious Russian baba, a mystical baba. And this “baba” is to be sensed also in Russia itself.


The book of Rozanov concerning the war finishes with a description of the flood of feelings, which gushes forth within him, when at one time he went along the street of Petrograd and encountered a regiment of cavalry. “I all atremble gazed at this endlessly moving column of imposing horsemen, of which was so huge compared with me!… The slightest wrong move — and I would be done for… A sense of depression more and more came upon me. I sensed myself in the grip of a strange power, — by this hugeness, that my “I” was as it were carried off as a speck into the whirlwind of this hugeness and this multitude… when I suddenly began to sense, that not only “I was afraid”, but also — I was fascinated by it, — I was overcome by a strange enchantment, — which only this one time — this one here — that I had experienced it in life. A strange thing happened: the overwhelming masculinity of that which was in front of me, — it as it were transformed the structure of my makeup and flung it back, it turned this makeup upside down — into the feminine. I sensed an extraordinary tenderness, an exhaustion and drowsiness throughout all my being… My heart raced within me — with love… I wished as though, that they should be all the more huge, that they should be all the more… This colossus of physiology, this colossus of life ought also to be a source of life — it evoked in me a purely feminine feeling of lack of will-power, of submissiveness and the insatiable wish “to stay near”, to see, to not lower the eyes… Definitely, this was the start of a girlish infatuation” (p. 230-232). And Rozanov exclaims: “Strength — here is the one beauty in the world… Strength — it subdues, before it they fall down, indeed ultimately, — they implore… The altogether “weak” — “we” implore, here “I” am on the pavement… In strength lies the mystery of the world… Huge, strong… My head was clear, but my heart was churning… like a woman’s. The point of the army, is that it transforms us all into trembling women, taking in the air…” (p. 233-234). This remarkable description gives the feel of touching upon, if not for “the mystery of the world and history”, as Rozanov makes pretense, then rather for a particular mystery of Russian history and the Russian soul. The feminineness of Rozanov, so artistically rendered, is likewise a feminineness of the soul of the Russian nation. The history of the formation of the Russian state, the most immense state in the world, so inconceivable in contrast to the life of the stateless Russian people, can be derived from this mystery. The Russian people has a stately gift for submissiveness, of the humbling of the person before the collective. The Russian people does not sense itself a man, it is all ready to be a bride, it senses itself a woman afront the colossus of the state, “strength” makes it submissive, it senses itself in Rozanov’s “I am down upon the pavement” at the moment of the passing of the cavalry. Rozanov himself through the extent of the whole book stays with this trembling “I am down on the pavement”. For Rozanov not only the point of the army, but also the point of the state power is in this, that it “transforms us all into women, weak, trembling, taking in the air…”. And he wants to show, that the whole of the Russian people is thus in relation to the state might. In the book of Rozanov there are astonishing and contrived pages with an unprecedented apology for the selfly smug power of the state might, transformed into a genuine idolatry. Such a worship of state power, as a mystical fact of history, there has not been yet in Russian literature. And herein is hidden a very interesting coinciding of Rozanov with the Slavophils.


The book of Rozanov witnesses to a rebirth of Slavophilism. It shows, that Slavophilism has engendered the war, and in this — is the basic meaning of the war. Rozanov decisively hails forth for Slavophilism. And he himself repeats timeworn Slavophil matters, long already since repudiated not by the “Westerniser” thought, but instead by the thought continuing amongst Slavophils. After Vl. Solovi’ev there can be no longer a return to the old Slavophilism. But even moreso than the thought itself, it is the Slavophilic turning back with life that has been repudiated. For Rozanov it would seem, that it is a patriotic and national issue calling for war, and as such it is a revival of Slavophilism. I think however, that the historical present day topples over both the Slavophil as well as the Westerniser platforms, and it obliges us to the creativity of a new self-consciousness and a new life. And it is vexing to see, that we are instead looking backwards, looking back to outlived forms of consciousness and life. The world war, ultimately, leads to a surmounting of the old settings of the question concerning Russia and Europe, about the East and the West. It puts an end to the inward split between the Slavophils and the Westernisers, annulling both Slavophilism and Westernism as being both but provincial ideologies, set within limited horizons.

Is it indeed possible that world events, unprecedented in world history, can teach us nothing, can fail to lead us to the birth of a new consciousness, and instead leave us set still within the old categories, those from which we wanted to tear away before the war? A Russian rebirth cannot be a rebirth of Slavophilism, it will be an end both to the old Slavophilism, and to the old Westernism, it will be the beginning of a new life and a new consciousness. For Rozanov, however, the war has inspired but the thousand times repeated old words, now having become stale and tasteless: “the whole of Russian history is tranquil, unstormy; the whole Russian condition — is peaceful, unstormy. The Russian people — are tranquil. In good circumstances and a favourable setting they invariably mature into friendly and courteous, good people. The Russian people — are indeed “dandy” (p. 51). But on no less grounds it would be possible to affirm, that the Russian soul — is rebellious, searching, a soul wandering, wanting the New City, never satisfied with anything half-fast or relative. From this famed and often falsely resounding “tranquility, unstorminess and dandiness” is begotten the inertia, which is dear to the eternal-baba heart of Rozanov, and never does it beget a new and better life. In Rozanov’s verses there is that eternal pitfall, that eternal temptation of the Russian people, that source of its inability to become a people manly and free, mature for its independent life in the world. And it is terrible, that not only Rozanov, but others also, called to be expressers of our national consciousness, should pull us backwards and inwards, that they should surrender us over to the temptation of passivity, of submissiveness, of slavery to our national element, with a womanish religiosity. S. Bulgakov, V. Ivanov, V. Ern want to revive not only the eternal, but also the too temporal, the old and the outmoded in Slavophilism. And thus with its tremendous power, with the power of the national element, of the earth, there ought not to stand forth the manly, the light-bearing and steadfast spirit, which is called to mastery by the elements. Herein is begotten the pitfall of chauvinism, of outward bragging and the inner slave’s humility. And as for the world inside Russia, Rozanov namely and those like him make impossible the overcoming of hostility and malice. These people have a strange understanding of the mutual reconciliation and re-unification of hostile parties and currents, they tend to understand it thus, as the Catholics understand the re-unification of the Church, i.e. as exclusively an annexation to the one side, to which is imputed all the fullness of the truth. This old method does not heal the historical split between the “right” and the “left” camps. Repentance ought to be mutual, and the amnesty ought to be mutual, the accord on the self-delimitations and yielding ought to be mutual. They believe both, that the war will lead up to this, but not this, that our nationalist ideologies hinder this. Rozanov’s mindset serves the cause of harm, and not peace.

Having started with a toast to the health of the Slavophils, Rozanov finishes it off with another for their demise. He betrays a decided preference for the official and state Russia in place of a Russia populist and social, for the official Slavophilism over the social Slavophilism. The Slavophils considered the Russian people — to be a non-statist people, and they built upon this quite much. Rozanov, on the contrary, considers the Russian people to be a statist people, predominantly so. In the statist outlook of Rozanov, which for him is something quite unexpected, since in him statism and citizenship were in quite low regard, — he indeed was always a singer of the praises of the private lifestyle, of the familial kinship setting, — there is the sense of a proclivity to the spirit of the times, a baba incapable of withstanding the flood of impressions of the present day. The opinions of the Slavophils about the non-statism of the Russian people demands great correctives, since it is too much out of kilter with the actual Russian history, with the fact of the creation of the Russian immense state.

But the methods, by which Rozanov affirms statism and bows in worship to its power, — are altogether not statist, altogether not of the citizen, altogether not manly. Rozanov’s attitude towards the state’s might is the attitude of a non-statist, womanish people, for whom this might is always a principle outside them and over them, and foreign to them. Rozanov, just like our radicals, hopelessly confuses the state with the government, and he thinks that the state — is always “they” and not “we”. What a slavery there is in the words of Rozanov about the state, what an eternal estrangement there is from a manly might. This is some form of swooning, unworthy of a people, called to a mature existence, a manly maturity. In his servile and baba-like swooning before the power of the state, so imposing by its remoteness and strangeness, Rozanov even reaches the point, where he praises the official government power for its persecution against the Slavophils. A new flood of impressions has gushed forth within Rozanov. The Slavophils, who at the beginning of his book spoke for Russia and the Russian people, at the end of his book have become but a small coterie of literateurs, full of self-conceit and cut off from life. The true expresser of Russia and the Russian people was instead the official governance, to which the Slavophils made bold to show opposition. “”Slavophilism” died out, since that it shew itself unnecessary and in vain, only but mixing itself up in the parallel thought of that “official governance”, which alone was able to act… They (the Slavophils) in particular were cowardly concerning Russian history, repeating about it, but only abstractly, that it is holy… Holy Rus’ seemed less rational and less credible, than their literary and social party. And herein was where the persecution against them, was “sufficiently understandable”” (p. 122). The revival of Slavophilism appears totally unnecessary. The state power was also the true Slavophilism, alongside of which was the pitiful and unnecessary literary and ideological Slavophilism. Slavophilism will resurrect only on this condition, that it repent itself afront the official governance and tag along behind it. Idolatry afront the empowered fact would attain the result.

The Slavophils were not capable of idolatry and therefore they were powerless. “The blemish in Slavophilism was this, that they did not see behind officialdom the heart, which still always was beating. The uniform was pulled open, — and we beheld the heart, which had always ached. And it had ached on its own, imitating no one, it had ached of itself” (p. 127). “Woefully, the mistake and the defect of the Slavophils in particular consisted in their as it were aethereal history, their as it were immaterial history” (p. 125). Slavophilism showed itself to be no better than the Westernism, it — was thus indeed abstract, literary, ideological, cut off from genuine life, which is the “official” Russia. The Slavophils, actually, tended to bow down moreso before the Russian “idea”, than before its power and fact. The scorn of Rozanov for ideas, for thoughts and literature, has no bounds. The official for him stands higher than the writer. The official’s service — is a serious matter, but literature — is a mere diversion. The Russian people — are a statist and a serious people. “It was pleased with the state even in the very executions, — since in executing, the state saw in it both the soul and the man, and not some mere pasttime, with which to amuse itself. Whereas alas, literature is but an “amusing diversion” concerning man” (p. 135). Rozanov wants with an artistic polish to express an obligatory point of view on the world, that viewpoint of the old aunts and uncles, according to which the state service is a serious matter, but literature, ideas etc — are trifles, mere diversions. But as regards all this matter of literature there is Rozanov himself. He is himself right through and through a literateur, a literary prattler. Rozanov was once some sort of official in a controller’s department. But he scarcely wants to go down in history in such a capacity. He wants to go down in history as a noted literary figure and that not a single line, written by him, be rejected. However much of literature as Rozanov may have in the actual feeling for the people’s life, he is still yet remote from the people’s life and how little there is that he knows of it.

The people and the state in the blindly talented literature of Rozanov is as different from the people and the state in actual life, as his book’s finely spirited army differs from the tragic army, which marches to the banks of the Vistula and in the Carpathians. The organicity, the populism, the objective cosmism of Rozanov bear only a semblance of existence. He is completely subjective and impersonal, he knows nothing and wants to know nothing, besides the gushing flood of his own impressions and feelings. The very prostration of Rozanov before the fact of power is merely the gushing forth onto paper of the flood of his old-womanish baba experiences, almost sexual in character. He himself exposed his psychology in his ingenious book, “Solitude”, which should have been the final book of his life and which always would have its place in Russian literature. In vain does Rozanov cry out for seriousness against amusements and diversions. He himself is lacking in serious moral character, and everything, which he writes about the seriousness of the official power, remains for it an irresponsible plaything and diversion of literature. He will never take responsibility upon himself for everything said by him in his book about the war.


There is something unseemly and troubling in a too light, too complaisant and literary ideological attitude towards the war. Merezhkovsky rightfully comes out against the “nightingales over the blood”. It is possible to see a deep meaning in the present war, and it is impossible not to see in it a deep spiritual meaning. Everything, done at present in the war materially and externally, — is but a sign of that, which transpires upon another, a deeper spiritual reality. It is possible to feel, that the fire of war is cleansing. But war — is a manifestation of the deeply tragic, the antinomic and the terrible, and the present war — is moreso, than any other war in world history. “Blood — is a liquid altogether peculiar”, — writes Goethe in “Faust”. And one mustneeds have communion with the mystery of blood, in order to have a right ultimately to see in it any joy, any good, any cleansing or salvation. The closet-study, the ideological apotheosis of the elements of war and the literary glorification of war, as the saving-means from all things bad and evil, is morally unacceptable and religiously inadmissible. The war is an inner tragedy for every being, it is infinitely serious. And it seems to me, that with too great a levity and happiness Rozanov experiences the springtime of the war, sitting himself down in his closet-study. He writes about the heroic approach, though heroism is foreign to him ultimately and he denies it with his every squeak. But thus he cannot be opposed to the influx of heroism, just as he cannot be opposed to the destroying of the German embassy, which he attempts to defend. One must remember, that the nature of war is negative, and not positive, it — is a great revealer and exposer. But the war itself by itself cannot create a new life, it — is but the end of the old, a reflection upon the evil. The apotheosis of war is indeed as improper, as would be the apotheosis of revolution or of the state.


In the book of Rozanov there is yet another disagreeable and ticklish matter. Rozanov comes off wholeheartedly for Christianity, for Orthodoxy, for the Church, everywhere he presents himself as a faithful son of the Orthodox Church. He believes that the Slavophils did not love because they were not Christians. He repeats in a whole series of generalised spots about a betrayal of Christianity, about a falling-away from the faith of the fathers, he mentions even about “Buchner and Moleschott”, concerning which nothing particularly clever is remembered now, to the effect that they went off into the nowhere. But I think, that the Christian religion has had quite more dangerous, more profound an antagonist, than “Buchner and Moleschott”, than the naive Russian nihilists, and this antagonist has been — V. V. Rozanov. Who was it that wrote the ingenious blasphemy against Christ entitled, “About Jesus MostSweet and the Bitter Fruits of the World”, who was it that sensed a dark principle in Christ, as the source of death and non-being, the eradicating of life, and who was it that opposed to the “demonic” Christian religion a bright religion of birth, a divine paganism, an affirmation of life and existence?1

Oh, how innocent, how uninteresting and unremarkable are the attitudes towards Christianity of Chernyshevsky and Pisarev, of Buchner and Moleschott in comparison with the negativity of Rozanov. The opposition of Rozanov to Christianity can be compared only with the opposition of Nietzsche, but with this difference, that in the depths of his spirit Nietzsche was closer to Christ, than is Rozanov, even in suchlike an instance, when he comes out in defense of Orthodoxy. Better, more vivid and ingenious are the pages of Rozanov written against Christ and Christianity. Rozanov, as a manifestation of being, is in a most profound, polar opposition to everything regarding Christ. With Rozanov, certainly, there can occur a spiritual turnaround, in him there can occur a new birth, from being a pagan he can become a Christian. And it is indecent to reproach a man, for earlier having been something else. But with Rozanov the question is not in this. Each line in Rozanov witnesses to this, that within him there has not occurred the turnaround, that he has remained the same pagan, defenseless before death, that he always was, and just as polarly opposed to everything regarding Christ. There are those documents of his soul: “Solitude” and “Fallen Leaves”, which he himself published for the world. But Rozanov has experienced a fright before the terror of life and death. About death he earlier did not even bother to think, since he was exclusively concerned with birth and in it he sought salvation from everything. And Rozanov out of fear did accept Orthodoxy, but an Orthodoxy without Christ, — the Orthodox lifestyle, the whole animate warmth of the Orthodox flesh, everything that is pagan within Orthodoxy. But he indeed always loved this in Orthodoxy and he always lived in this collective animate warmth — the only thing he did not love nor was able to accept was but Christ. There is not a single squeak, that would testify, that Rozanov had accepted Christ and in Him had begun to seek salvation. Rozanov herein cleaves to Christianity, cleaves to the Orthodox Church as regards the sidelines, not with a religious conformity and interests, but as regards motifs national, of lifestyle and of the publicist. It thus is impossible ultimately to be a Russian and not have connections with Orthodoxy! Orthodoxy thus is necessary for Rozanov for the Russian style, like a samovar and bliny. And indeed with the “leftists”, with the intelligentsia elements and the nihilists it would be easier to meld in, having in hand the instruments of Orthodoxy. But I think, that some of the atheistic intelligentsia at a certain depth are closer to Christ, than is Rozanov. The Russian intelligentsia, at best, are heroic on their part, very national in their anti-nationalism, in their apostasy and austherity, and even in their denial of Russia. This — is a manifestation of the Russian soul, more Russian, than the nationalism of the Western German form. Rozanov himself sees within Russian Westernism a purely Russian self-denial and humility (p. 53). And it is impossible to relate everything in the life of the Russian intelligentsia to “Buchner and Moleschott”, or “Marx and Engels”. Neither Marx, nor Buchner, ever sat deeply within the Russian soul, they engaged only the superficial consciousness.

The great misfortune of the Russian soul is indeed this, it is the same misfortune within Rozanov himself, — it is in a womanish passivity, transformed into a “baba-ism”, in an insufficiency of manliness, in an headlong rush towards marriage with a stranger, a foreigner at that. The Russian nation lives too much in a popular-element collectivism, and within it there has not yet solidified the consciousness of the person, of its worth and its rights. This is to be explained in that the Russian state was so saturated by the unremarkable and often so assumed the guise of a foreign domain. The “Rozanovian”, the baba and the slave, the national-pagan, the pre-Christian all is still very strong in the Russian popular element. This “Rozanovschina” is ruining Russia, it pulls it inward, sucks it inward, and the deliverance from it would be a salvation for Russia. In regard to the winged words of Rozanov, “the Russian soul is scared of sin”, I would also add, that it is also bruised and stifled by it. This primordial fright impedes the brave creating of life, it controls it by the land and the popular element. And if there is an intended reason for this war, then it is directly opposite that reason, which Rozanov wants to ascribe to it. This meaning can but be in the forging of a masculine and active spirit in the Russian people, in an egress from the feminine passivity. The Russian nation will defeat Germanism, and its spirit will assume a great-power position in the world, only by having conquered the “Rozanovschina” within itself. We have at length already spoken about the Russian national culture, about the national consciousness, about the great vocation of the Russian nation. But our hopes are deeply contrary to everything “Rozanovish”, to the “eternal baba-ish”, to the chauvinism and bragging, and to this spiritually vampire-like regard for the blood, being poured out by the Russian armies. And one might think, that for the great mission for the Russian nation in the world there would remain essential that great Christian truth, that the human soul stands greater, than all the kingdoms and all the world…

Nikolai  Berdyaev


©  2002  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1915 – 187(15,2) – en)

O  “BECHNO  BAB’EM”  V  RUSSKOI  DUSHE. First published in the newspaper  “Birzhevye vedomosti”, 14-15 Jan. 1915, No. 14610-14612[?].  Republished thereafter in the 1918 Berdyaev’s anthology text of articles, “Sud’ba Rossii” (“The Fate of Russia”),
Ch. 2,  (p. 252-262 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint). Article reprinted also in the 1989 YMCA Press Tom 3 of Berdyaev’s writings, — “Tipy  religioznoi  mysli  v  Rossii”,
p. 349-362.