(1915 – #201(15))


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Nikolai  Berdyaev


©  2001  by translator Fr. S. Janos

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

VOINA  I  KRIZIS  INTELLIGENTSKOGO  SOZNANIYA. First published in the newspaper  “Birzhevye vedomosti”, 25 July 1915, No. 14986.  Republished thereafter in the 1918 Berdyaev’s anthology text of articles, “Sud’ba Rossii” (“The Fate of Russia”), Ch. 3,  (p. 263-268 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).