On  Citizenship


On  Citizenship

(1916 – #245)


    Facing the Russian people and society stands the urgent task of working out its type of citizenship, the strengthening of a consciousness as citizen and the feelings for citizenship. For Russia this is a vital question — the surmounting of those of its traits, which forever have been acknowledged as Russian and which forever have been contrary to citizenship. The idealising of these traits, admitting them as of an higher condition in contrast to that of the citizen — is most extreme a danger for Russia. The training towards citizenship proceeds with us very slowly, there have been enormous hindrances against it both in the composition of the Russian character, and in the composite of Russian history. Russian emotionality, extending over into elemental a level, the exceptional humility, manifest also at the summits of Russian spiritual life, the weak developement of a sense of honour, the passivity and weakness of an awareness of responsibility, the swallowing up of the personal principle by the organic collective — all these are traits, not favourable to the working out of character, as a citizen. Anarchism, deeply lodged within the Russian character and seen both in the extreme left and in the extreme right, a distaste for the relative within historical and societal life and an eternal striving for the absolute and the maximal — all this likewise is unfavourable for our citizenship developement. In Russia the idea of the citizen and citizenship tends to flounder and to sink whether it be upon ideas theocratic, in a sacred absolutism, or in social utopias, in an anarchistic and socialistic absolutism. But at neither of these polarities resides that consciousness of the person, of that revealing of the personal spirit, of the personal human principle, which solely alone is favourable to citizenship. It is time already to stop with the idealising of the quaint remnants and survivals of the old Russian collectivism, which they love to proffer as whether be it the true “Sobornost’/Communality”, or else the true “socialism” and which, in essence, is but a stage, antecedent to the developement of the person and citizenship. Russian populism in all its shades and hues has been unfavourable to citizenship. The Slavophil populism always repudiated citizenship, as comprising a lower Western European principle. And our radical populism has also repudiated it. Every manner of populism is a principle not only contrary to citizenship, but also a refusing of it. The citizen cannot bow down to the people as some sort of an empirical fact.

The citizen is first of all — the person, a person, having taken upon himself responsibility for the fate of his native land and his people. The citizen imposes moreso possibly upon himself, and not upon the collective external to him, not upon the material medium and not chalking it off to the lifestyle of the people. The materialistic teaching about the mastery of the social medium is unfavourable the same for citizenship, as is the teaching about the determinism underlying the whole fate of the people and the person as exclusively by the powers of Providence. Russian man loves to impute it to powers, situated outside him, to fate, to “a stroke of luck”, to a “white lie” allowing one to worm out, or to a social medium, to thrash it out, or to God, or to a collective from the people’s lifestyle or a collective from a social group. The Slavophils and the populists, the Black-Hundredists and the anarchists, the extreme rightists and the extreme leftists, Bulgakov with his rightist religious societal aspect and Merezhkovsky with his leftist religious societal aspect — are all alike hostile to the developement of citizenship in Russia. True citizenship presupposes a mastery by the person over the elemental aspect of the people, rather than being immersed in it, an existing from the condition of slavery under the people’s collective, a liberation from the grip of the earth. In Russia there is a peculiar democratism upon moral a grounding, a peculiar populist morals, assuming quite contrary forms, which creates a spiritual atmosphere, unfavourable to the birth of citizenship. Citizenship in the profound sense of this word — is aristocratic. Citizens — are sons, and not slaves, free in their attitude towards their native land, and towards the state, and towards the life of the people. The feeling of enslavement and repression — is the greatest hindrance to the consciousness of oneself as citizen. But it would be false to expect, that the citizen and citizenship will appear from changes in external conditions, from a new and more free life. On the contrary, it is from the growth of consciousness as citizen and feelings as citizen that one mustneeds expect changes in the external conditions, to await a new and more free life. citizens will create a new Russia. There exists no sort of a social alchemy, which could create from the souls of slaves a free societal approach. Neither the acquiescence of slaves nor the revolt of slaves will lead to a realm of freedom. Citizenship ought to be an inner stirring within us, altering the course of our will and consciousness.


The developement of citizenship in Russia represents something not only societal and political, but is also a spiritual turnabout, a liberation of the personal spirit from the grip of the natural and elemental. With the peoples of the West this already occurred long ago. But with each people this process occurs uniquely, since the spirit within each people is unique. Russian citizenship will be spiritually unique, as unique as it is in France, in England, in Germany. But it mustneeds be admitted, that in the Russian people, the land-working people primarily, such a spiritual turnabout has not at all yet occurred — the person within the masses is still all too situated in natural and elemental a condition, in spilling about the emotionality of the Russian earth, and for us therefore there cannot at all occur an essential civil-political turnabout. The deficiency of citizenship, such as that created by the spiritual forging of the person, was very much felt by us in the year 1905. There was no genuine pathos of the citizen, nor were there citizen-persons. Impossible for a citizen is an attitude towards Russia, as towards something external and foreign, belonging not to “it” but rather to “them”. The citizen takes ultimate responsibility upon himself for Russia and the Russian state. The citizen cannot set the partial higher than the whole, cannot forget about Russia and the Russian people in the name of whatever the class or group, in the name of whatever the trend of circle. With citizenship there is always a national perspective. It is only possible to be a citizen of one’s fatherland, and not a citizen of circle or group. And here is why the great school of citizenship is the war. The war heightens the feeling of the oneness of Russia and begets an wholistic attitude towards it. The concepts of true patriotism and true citizenship are almost identical, and this is shown in the threatening hour of war. A conscious patriotism in relation to one’s native land and one’s state during an era of tribulation is also citizenship, the attitude of the citizen towards it. No citizen is one who sets conditions, upon which he consents to defend it in threatening an hour for it. The national-patriotic work of the State Duma, the rural and urban unions and other societal organisations during a time of war is also a citizenship training of the Russian societal effort, the consequences of which look to speak across the expanse of the historical future of Russia. The tribunes of the State Duma are accustomed to speak of the visage of Russia and in the name of Russia. Motives national tend to overshadow the struggle of party, and the deliverance of Russia from enslavement is rendered a slogan both of the national and of the people in general, and is not a mere party or group slogan of national security.

Our societal movement is not yet all impelled by the image of a great citizen. The pathos of class struggle — is not the pathos of a citizen, in it there is no citizen-type attitude towards Russia. For the citizen, dearest of all is Russia and its fate. The pathos of all the social utopias upon a positivist or upon a religious grounding are likewise not the pathos of the citizen, for in them is no real attitude towards Russia. All this is very much to be felt at present. Our free citizenship is hammered and forged out not by the confession of abstract social and political doctrines, not by an abstract opposition, but by a concrete sense of service to native land in a patriotic concern for the fate of Russia. Our citizenship is created and consolidated by the awareness, that the fate of native land, the salvation of native land is dependent upon us, upon the Russian societal effort, having become a citizenship. In the nationalist Count Shul’gin [Vasilii Vasil’evich, 1878-1976], a man very much a former rightist, there is the sense of the citizen, and his conduct — is a citizen’s conduct. And in Count Purishkevich [Vladimir Mitrofanovich, 1870-1920] the war has brought out the features of a citizen. The growth here of citizen sentiments and citizen awareness on the right represents an undoubtable progress of the Russian societal effort. The same progress appears with this citizen trend among those social democrats, who stand upon the point of view of defending the native land, and of subordinating the class movement to the national movement. The defeatists of the left and the right are however a remnant of our pre-citizen and slave-like condition. A non-citizen sort of condition is manifest also within a neutralist attitude towards native land during a moment of an historical conflict amongst peoples.


Needful first of all is to fervently desire for Russian society the aristocratism of a citizen’s awareness and a citizen’s conduct. Upon this path of citizenship will be manifest from among us guiding persons, citizen-patriots with clear an image. Russians need finally to get free from the false and harmfully evil idea, that citizenship is some sort of a lower condition and that in Russia there exists, as a given, a sort of higher condition. Upon this illusion have stood the Slavophils, and populists of all hues, and the Russian anarchists, and maximalists. all variously have idealised the pre-citizen condition of Russia. In Tolstoyanism, a characteristically Russian phenomenon, the negations of citizenship have reached quite extreme an expression. and this element of a Tolstoyan denial of citizenship is in quite much a characteristic of Russian people. About the salvation of their own soul, about their purity, about faithfulness to a teaching many Russians are more concerned, than about the fate of Russia. The traditional type of the everyday individual, on the one hand, and the intelligentsia individual — on the other, for us ought finally to be replaced by the citizen type, a person, conscious of his rights and obligations, and bearing upon himself full responsibility. The citizen, capable of realising this, that in his programme he has to save Russia and bring it to a new life, is not one who washes his hands of the matter, remaining on the sidelines, and defending the purity of his abstract principles. Citizenship in Russia is a cure to the abstractness and absoluteness in politics. The absoluteness ought to be transformed over into the human spirit, into the forging of the person, whereas politics, whereas the civil-societal activity always — relates to the concrete and relative. Russians are too accustomed to think of politics as a setting in order and saving of their souls, and politics has been as it were a particular matter of one’s own soul. The attainment of definite results for Russia are not regarded as especially essential. There is likewise a non-citizen sort of attitude towards Russia and its fate, an insensitivity to history and historical tasks. Citizenship always strives towards the concrete tasks of the historical hour. The citizen is sensitive to the call of his native land. And of little interest to him are abstract utopias and abstract state principles. In Russia the citizen now — is first of all a patriot, who with all his powers strives for the saving of Russia both from the outward enemy and from inner chaos and disintegration, for whom politics is a deed of national service, and the struggle for rights, for freedom, for responsible rule is also a struggle for the security of Russia, for its unity, for its historical future. The national slogans and the freedom slogans now coincide. In this mustneeds be seen the unique moments being experienced by us. And howsoever late for us is the developing of citizenship, it is comforting to think, that citizenship will provide strength for us in the difficult hour of the great struggle for Russia, for its security and its future, in the new troublesome era. This will endow our citizenship with special features, and it, perhaps, will be less torn by the conflict of political parties. Russia faces the vanquishing within it the inner anarchy, the inner chaos, which tends to occupy no small a place in the soul of the Russian people. Citizenship is a principle, the opposite to chaos and anarchy. In citizenship there is a will to organisation and harmonisation of national life. It is impossible not to see, that the condition of citizenship is very difficult for Russians given the traits of the Russian character. Russians readily fall away from the condition of citizenship either to one side or the other, the polar extremes, wherein either freezes up or dissipates every awareness and sense of citizenship. To hold back the Russian soul, so inclined as it is to fly off into the boundless elements, and restrain it instead for citizenship, is an enormous task for our national training. The developing of citizenship is first of all a matter of training and self-discipline, and not in an heightening of passions. And this training will be accomplished not only by persons, standing at the summits of national awareness, but also by historical events. citizenship presupposes a stronger national consciousness and the will to lead to national action in common.

N. A. Berdyaev.

©  2012  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1916 – 245 – en)

O GRAZHDANSTVE.  Article originally published in weekly “Birzhevye vedomosti”,  7 dec. 1916, No. 15969. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, “Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922”, Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moskva, 2007, p. 462-466.