(1916 – #235(15))


  The World War conveys with it for humanity a profound spiritual crisis, which can be judged about from different sides. The consequences of such an unprecedented war are incalculable and cannot completely be anticipated. There is much a basis to think, that we are entering upon a new historical epoch. And if we cast our glance at the changes in the external aspect, the international, the political and the economic, then the inward and spiritual changes tend to proceed unnoticed. This is always a subliminal process. Our foresight into the future ought to be totally free of the customary optimism or pessimism, free from estimates in accord with the criteria of happiness. It would be shallow-minded to think of life for oneself after such an exhaustive war in any especially cheerful and happy light. One might the sooner consider, that the world is entering upon a period of prolonged woe and that its tempo of developement will be catastrophic. But the values, discovered by man in the worldwide struggle, are not to be defined by any increase or diminishing of happiness.

Comparatively much is spoken and written about the economic and political consequences of the war. Less so is there thought about the spiritual consequences, upon its influence on all our world-outlook. It is about one such little foreseen consequence that I want to speak. During the XIX Century the world-sense and the world-consciousness of the progressive elements of mankind had become tinged in a vividly social light. It has been pointed out more than once already, that sociology had replaced theology, that the religious feeling of mankind’s lost faith was redirected to the social. The orientation of life was rendered social predominantly, and to it were subordinated all other values. All values were posited in the social perspective. The human social aspect has been rendered isolated from cosmic life, from the whole of the world, and it has come to feel itself as a closed-in and self-sufficing whole. Man has tended finally to settle down into a closed-in social territory, in it he wanted to be lord, he forgot about all the rest of the world and about other worlds, in which extend not his power and domain. The conquests of man within a delimited and closed-in social territory brought about a weakening of memory, a forgetting of infinity. And perhaps it was necessary for man to experience the period of this isolated world-feeling, in order to intensify and strengthen his social energy. Every sort of limitation reflects pragmatic needs during certain periods of human evolution. But the limitedness of this sociological world-sense cannot be continued for too long. This limitedness has hidden within it the possibility too much of unanticipated catastrophes. The endless ocean of world life plies its waves upon the locked-in and defenseless human social realm, set out upon a not large territory of the earth. The World War is also thuslike a world Great War, ninefold so. It reveals for everyone, even the most blind, that all the social utopias, constructed in the isolation of the social aspect as separate from cosmic life – are all superficial and unenduring. Under the shock of the worldwide war have fallen the utopias of humanism, of pacifism, of international socialism, international anarchism, etc., etc. This finds its explanation not by some theory, but by life itself, that social humanism possessed too limited and too superficial a basis. It has been overlooked, that there exist the deep loins of the earth and the unbounded worldly expanse and starry worlds even. Much of the darkly irrational, always bearing the unexpected, lies within these loins and the unbounded expanse. The human shut-in and limited social mindset with its exclusively sociological world-outlook reminds one of the proverbial ostrich, hiding its head in its feathers. There is too much that is overlooked in the social utopias, always based as they are upon simplifications and artificial isolation. Or similarly, just as with the unenduring and insubstantial aspect of the existence of an oasis – is a community in the spirit of the Tolstoyans or utopian socialism, just as unenduring and insubstantial also is the existence of all the human social-outlook within the complexity and infinitude of cosmic life. Social utopianism is always rooted in this isolation of social-mindset apart from cosmic life and apart from those cosmic powers, which are irrational in regard to the social mindset. This always – is a concealing of complexity through one’s limitedness. Social utopianism is a faith in the possibility of a final and unceasing rationalisation of the social aspect, independent of whether all nature is rationalistic and whether there is some sort of cosmic harmony. Utopianism has no desire to know of any connection of social evil with cosmic evil, it does not see the social as belonging to the whole cycle of the natural order or natural disorder. And such catastrophes, as the World War, cause one to open one’s eyes, thy force a broadening of the horizon. There is discerned the bankruptcy of such rational utopias, as that of eternal peace in this evil natural world, or that of a stateless anarchistic freedom in this world of necessity, or of worldwide social brotherhood and equality in this world of discord and hostility. Oh, certainly the great value of peace, of freedom, of social brotherhood remains immutable. But these values are unattainable in that superficial and limited sphere, in which they are presupposed to be attainable. The attainment of these values presupposes an infinitely great depth and expanse, i.e. the still very complex and prolonged catastrophic process in human life, it presupposes the transition from an exclusively sociological world-sense over to a world-sense which is cosmic.


A deepened consciousness ought to move forward with the idea of a cosmic social mindset, i.e. a social mindset, pondering and entering into unity with the world whole, with the world energies. There has always existed an endosmosis and exosmosis between the human social aspect and cosmic life, but this has not been sufficiently perceived by man, and he craftily surrounded himself within his boundaries, thus having saved himself from the infinitude. But on a deeper level there ought to be posited the truth, whereof the greatest attainments of human social life are connected with the creative power of man over nature, i.e. are connected with a creatively active orientation towards cosmic life, both in concept, and also in action. And this presupposes an immensely great self-discipline on the part of man, moreso than that which is in him at present, an higher degree of mastery over himself, of his own proper elements. Only the one, who has mastery over himself, can aspire to mastery in the world. The tasks of the social aspect – are first of all cosmic-productive tasks. With this is connected both the personal morals and societal self-discipline. And this mindset is directly contrary to that, upon which rests our populism in all its shades and with all its distributive morality.

Creative toiling over nature, extended to a cosmic dimension, ought to be set as the cornerstone. This toil ought not to be a servile attachment to the earth, towards its limited expanse, it ought always to have worldwide perspectives. The XX Century is advancing along with cosmic tasks in the sphere of creative work with nature, and in the areas of production and technology, about which the XIX Century with all its discoveries could not even dream, let alone suspect. And it is striking that Marxism, which so advocated the productive instances, the growth of the productive powers in social life and by this providing a counterbalance over the instances of distribution, it is striking that it was completely bereft of any cosmic world-sense and showed itself an extreme form of sociological utopianism, locking man in within a limited and superficial social outlook. Marxism has believed, that it is possible to rationalise all completely societal life and bring it to an outward perfection, not taking into account those energies, which in the infinitude of the world are over and around man. Marxism – is a most extreme form of sociological rationalism, and therefore also of sociological utopianism. All the social teachings of the XIX Century lacked the awareness, that man – is a cosmic being, and not the inhabitant of an ephemeral social aspect merely on the surface of the earth, it lacked the awareness that he is actually in communion with the depths of the world and the heights of the world. Man – is not an ant, and human society – is not an ant-hill. The ideal of a perfectly constructed ant-hill has been demolished and with no turning back. But a deeper consciousness is possible only upon a religious basis. The world catastrophe ought to enable a religious deepening of life.

That spiritual turnabout, which I characterise as the transition from the sociological world-sense to a world-sense that is cosmic, would have also quite purely political consequences and expressions. There would be overcome the socio-political provincialism. Facing the social and political consciousness would be the world’s expanse, the problem of mastering and directing all the surface of the earthly orb, the problem of bringing together East and West, the meeting of all types and cultures, the unification of mankind through struggle, the interaction and communion of all races. The vital settings of all these problems would make politics more cosmic, less shut-in, would bring to mind the cosmic expanse and the historical process itself. Truly the problems, connected with India, with China or the Musselman world, with the oceans and continents, are all more cosmic in nature, than the isolated problems of the struggles of parties and social groups. Ultimately the ever more acute question about the relationship of every individual national being to the oneness and unification of mankind has to be resolved, as a question of cosmic dimensions. The orientation towards the depths of national life involves together with this a turning to the broad expanse of historical life throughout all the world. Within imperialistic politics there were already objectively cosmic proportions and cosmic tasks. But the consciousness of the ideologues of imperialism was limited. This ideology was a bourgeois ideology, it rarely went deeper or farther than the purely surface economic and political tasks. And in the paths of imperialistic politics there was much evil, begotten of the limited incapacity to engage the souls of those cultures and races, into which the imperialistic expansion had spread, , it was blind to the external tasks of mankind. But the significance of imperialism, as an inevitable phase in the developement of modern societies for the uniting of mankind over all the surface of the earth and for the building of a cosmic social awareness, can be acknowledged as irresponsible for the positive pathos of imperialism. The World War is a catastrophic moment in the dialectics of imperialistic expansion.


In order to shed light on the darkness flooding the world, there is necessary a cosmic deepening of consciousness. If we remain but at the surface of the light, then the darkness will engulf us. The European peoples, the European cultures are entering upon a period of exhaustion. These shut-in cultures are headed towards decline, they are decaying. The long and destructive World War is sapping the powers of Europe, and for the peoples of Europe it is difficult to seek the sources of new energy in the great depth and great extent of the world expanses. The old purely sociological orientations and values of life are unsuited for the measures of the events that occur, for both their complexity and their novelty. Abstract sociologism, as a cohesive world-outlook, is discovering its unsuitableness in all regards, it reaches its end and ought to yield place to deeper and broader points of view. The catastrophe of this war is very bitterly dividing people and not at all per those categories, by which they are wont to be divided. They have proven to be quite spiritually unprepared for this catastrophe, it has burst out upon them as a greatly unanticipated happening, forcing them out of all their reinforced positions. And it is in such a position that a large part of the people of a purely sociological world-outlook now find themselves. They had been quick to adapt their old points of view to current events, but these despondent people have sensed, that they had been left behind. Many have come to feel themselves thrown overboard by history. Yet others are spiritually ready for the world catastrophe, there was in it for them nothing unanticipated, nothing relating to life from their point of view. Such people, who earlier had more cosmic a feel of life, had broader horizons. They know, that the war is a great evil and a chastisement for the sins of mankind, but they see the meaning of world events and they enter upon the new historical period without that sense of despondency and shipwreck, which the people of the former type feel, those who espy within it no inner meaning. The cosmic world-outlook is less so the happy, less so the rationalistically optimistic, and more untranquil, than is the sociological world-outlook, — it foresees that there are great unanticipated events and is prepared to enter into a realm unseen and unknown. The deeper and broader world-outlook and consciousness does not permit of those rationalistic illusions, for which the future world is definable only by powers, set at the very surface of a delimited bit of the earth. There are active powers that are deeper, still unknown, with energies pouring forth from remote worlds. Bravery is necessary to go forth to meet the unknown day, to go into the darkness towards a new dawn. The World War is totally meaningless for every rationalistic optimism, for every sociological utopianism. For people of this spirit it cannot provide any sort of lesson, they have no desire to pass over to new life through death. But the World War possesses a symbolic meaning for those, who always have foreseen the actively concealed cosmic powers, not subject to rationalisation. The nature of war – is not creative, it is negative, and destructive; but war can rouse creative powers, it can enable a deepening of life. Before mankind stand ever newer and newer creative tasks, tasks of a creative transformation of energy, issuing from the dark and primordial depths of being into a new life and a new consciousness. The developement of mankind, the ascent of mankind, never occurs along a direct line, by way of the growth of one-sided positive elements. This – is a process to an utmost degree antinomic and tragic. The onrush of darkness is that barbarity of existence, without which in human life would ensue the drying up of energy, a desiccation. The World War serves a purpose for European culture, with its being submerged in its barbarism and dark power. In this darkness much ought to perish and much be born, just as with the incursion of the barbarians upon the culture of antiquity. But this barbarian power – is inward, and not outward. We can draw a conclusion. The people of the old sort, though regarding themselves as at the vanguard of the sociological world-sense, have been left behind. They – are conservators of the yesterday and the day before. The people of a cosmic world-sense are spiritually prepared to go forth towards the unknown future with a creative impulse.

Nikolai  Berdyaev


©  2002  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1916 – 235(15,16) – en)

KOSMICHESKOE I SOTSIOLOGICHESKOE MIROOSCHUSCHENIE. Published first in the newspaper  “Birzhevye vedomosti”, Aug. 1916, No. 15706.  Republished thereafter in the 1918 Berdyaev’s anthology text of articles, “Sud’ba Rossii” (“The Fate of Russia”), Ch. 16,  (p. 348-354 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).