Journal  Put’, jun-jul. 1926,  No. 4,  p. 103-116.



(Concerning the book of I. Ilyin,
“About the Resistance to Evil by Force”)

(1926 – # 312)
“Hearing, that certain were speaking maliciously against their fellows, I stopped them; the culprits of this evil in excuse answered, that they were doing this out of love and concern for the slandered. But I said to them: refrain ye from such love… If thou truly lovest thine neighbour, as thou sayest, then dwell not in thought on it, rather pray concerning it in secret; since this be the manner of love acceptable to God. Thou wouldst cease being heeding of censuring transgressors, if always thou be mindful, that Judas was in the assembly of Christ’s Apostles, whereas the thief wast numbered amongst murderers; but in a single instant there occurred with him a miraculous transformation”.

           “From our monastic father John of the Ladder,
                  Hegumen of Mount Sinai”.


We rarely happen to read so nightmarish and troubling a book, as the book of I. Ilyin, “About the Resistance to Evil by Force”. This book is capable of inspiring a genuine disgust towards the “good”, it creates an atmosphere of spiritual asphyxiation, it falls back upon the torture-rack of a moral inquisition. The stifling suffocation by the good was there also in L. Tolstoy, an inverted likeness of which appears in I. Ilyin. And L. Tolstoy could inspire a repugnance towards the good. A “gentleman of retrograd and mocking physiognomy” would inevitably spring up from the Dostoevsky underground, in order to topple over the infernal normativism and moralism of I. Ilyin and put a stop to the asphyxiation, made in the name of good. No sort of life can flourish in this realm of a suffocating, inquisitorial good. Such a sort of demonic good is always a moral distortion. In vain does I. Ilyin think, that he has attained to that spirituality, that renunciation and cleansing from the passions, which gives the right to speak from the visage of absolute good. The good of I. Ilyin is very relative, quite weighted down and distorted by the passions of our epoch, quite suitable for the aims of military campaigns. I. Ilyin has ceased to be a philosopher, having in more peaceful times written a beautiful book about Hegel. He at present has devoted his talents for spiritual and moral guidance to organisations of counter-intelligence, to the detective branches, to the police department, to the head of prison administration, to the militant-leftist courts. Perhaps such directives in their own time and place are necessary, but they debase the dignity of philosophy. A “Cheka” in the name of God is more hideous even, than the “Cheka” in the name of the devil. In the name of the devil all this is proper, , but in the name of God it is not so. This is the reason, that the devil always has a greater success in our world. Granted that execution, as a tragic and sacrificial act made in life, has its own justification, but a pathetic philosophising about execution in capital punishment cannot have a justification, there cannot be justified the love for such sort of an occupation. The spiritual and moral quest, worked out into a whole system with all the aspects of a refined phenomenological method, the suspicion and obsession with evil, to which it is necessary every minute to resist opposing it by force, witnesses to spiritually unhealthy a condition, a religiously unenlightened attitude towards life. And it produces especially onerous an impression, when they tend to write about such things as murders, swords, executions etc in rhetorical a style, with a false loftiness and affectation. The book of I. Ilyin dramatically witnesses to this, that the author has not withstood the tests of our terrible era, that he has suffered in it a moral defeat. The book is a sickness begotten of by our times. I. Ilyin has been infected by the poison of Bolshevism, which possesses a capacity to act in the most varied, and evidently contrary forms, he has accepted within himself a bloody nightmare, and he has not found in himself the spiritual power to resist it. The poison of Bolshevism acts either in the form of conformity to the Bolsheviks or in the form of an infection by its spirit in the name of opposite ends, an infection of a predilection towards violence and malevolence. In its essence, the Bolsheviks could quite fully accept the book of I. Ilyin, which is constructed formally and little reveals any the content of good. The Bolsheviks are conscious of themself as the bearers of an absolute good and in the name of it they oppose by force that, whatever they regard as evil. With them namely there is the characteristically sharp divide of the world and mankind into two warring camps, of which the one side knows an absolute truth and acts in the name of an absolute good, whereas the other side however is an object to be resisted by force, as something situated in darkness and evil. This inordinant arrogance of Bolshevism is characteristic also to I. Ilyin. He remains unenlightened by the Christian insight, that all the human race is infected by Original Sin and therefore it has not split apart into a race of the good, the especially chosen to fight evil by force, and a race of the evil, the object of the resistance by the good.
I. Ilyin does not as it were take notice of his own deliriously abstract moralism, and in certain places he even criticises such a sort of moralism. But this — is a misunderstanding. He is no less a moralist, than was L. Tolstoy. And therefore also he is thus concerned with Tolstoy, in that he subconsciously senses him in himself. We shall see, that in much he repeats the fundamental mistakes of Tolstoy. The book of I. Ilyin in considerable part represents a critique of Tolstoy and Tolstoyanism. I. Ilyin says much undoubtedly true about Tolstoy, yet it is completely lacking in freshness and long since already said by Vl. Solov’ev and others. In the particulars, the author of these lines has much criticised Tolstoy and employed arguments, which at present are but restatements by I. Ilyin. But Tolstoyism no longer plays any sort of role in our day, it fails to have any attraction on the souls of modern people or to provide direction to their lives. The whole character of our epoch is anti-Tolstoyan, and few are they today who have any doubts in the resistance to evil by force or even coercive violence. We live in one of the most bloody epochs of world history, in the era of a pervasive bloody nightmare, when everyone is convinced of his right to kill his intellectual and political opponents and no one reflects over justifying deeds done by the sword. The bloody War, the bloody Revolution, the bloody Counter-Revolution have accustomed us to blood and killing. The killing of a man no longer seems terrible a thing. At present people find it difficult to remember not only the commands of the New Testament, but even the commandments of the Old Testament. And the pathos of I. Ilyin is incomprehensible as regards its own proper time. It is incomprehensible, against whom I. Ilyin has risen up, unless one consider it a motley crew of Tolstoyans since bereft of all significance, which anyway they never did have. I. Ilyin as it were seems first of all up in arms against the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia. But it always however did avow in its considerable cross-section the resistance to evil by force, by terror, killing, by armed revolts, and it always thought by those means it would assert absolute good and eradicate absolute evil. And it was only thanks to such a moral consciousness of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia that Bolshevism became possible. The “Cheka” for us morally was prepared for long ago. Along the prolonged path, preparing the way for Bolshevism, we had no sort of resistance to it. Is it possible to resist by the power of the sword the actual evil of Bolshevism? In this there are few who are doubtful, just as earlier there were few who were doubtful of the possibility of resistance to autocracy by the power of the sword. The rightists are all the time delirious for military actions against Bolshevism and are prepared to adopt a cardboard sword for a sword of victory. The leftists likewise have no doubt in principle of the propriety of resisting Bolshevism by force. The disputes centre only upon the pros and cons of this or that method of struggle. If someone, for example, were to deny the White Movement, which for I. Ilyin possesses an absolute significance, then it would not be because that he objects to actions by force and by sword, but the rather, because that he does not believe in the reality of the White Movement and its viability, and in the blazing passions of this movement he sees rather the danger of strengthening Bolshevism. But can a not-large group of religious thinkers, calling first of all for a spiritual rebirth of Russia and the Russian people, deny on principle the resistance to evil by force? But of this there is not. I, for example, was never a Tolstoyan and into non-resistance, and not only did I doubt on principle the advisability to act by force and the sword, amidst a suitability of goal and spiritual hygiene, but I also wrote much in defense of this thesis, although in the White Movement I do not believe on a number of considerations. I. Ilyin evidently has broken his way through an open door and made a ruckus without any need. But his aim appears to be not only the elementary justification on principle of the permissibility of the sword and resistance by force, not only a repetition of general things in this regard, but rather a whipping up and strengthening of that spiritually moral atmosphere, which is necessary for direct efforts, secret-service like, for militarily useful executions. This is the unbridling of a certain sort of instincts, by which also Russian people in the Emigration are so in the grip of, by way of their spiritual, philosophic, moral justifying and exalting. And so everyone thirsts for executions, but this thirst has to be rendered lofty, spiritual, filled with love and the stirring of duty to fulfill an absolute good. This here — is a task moreso dubious, than the task to prove on principle the admissibility of the sword and resistance by force. But I. Ilyin fails to note the total abstractness and formality of his research. One might ask him, whether a revolutionary uprising is justified, as a resistance by force to the rule of an authority, having become an instrument of evil and corruption? The abstract formal character of I. Ilyin’s research does not provide any sort of grounding to deny the right to a revolution by force, if it is evoked by the evil of the old order of life. Set amidst this, the book of I. Ilyin intends to contend against the spirit of revolution, and in this is its pathos. Is it that I. Ilyin either thinks, that every rule of authority, every government structure, having established and entangled itself, is the bearer of absolute good? Or does he think, that the bearer of absolute good is only monarchy? But this latter assertion, which also evidently is his assertion, nowhere is derived. There is not any sort of evidence, that the good of I. Ilyin is a genuine and absolute good, evoking power to contend against evil. I have seldom met with people, especially amongst religious people, for whom such a sort of obviousness would have arisen upon reading his book. In accord with his purposes, it remains for him only by force to compel us to an acknowledgement of his good. The thinking of I. Ilyin is profoundly anti-historical, he fails to see the historical process, it does not penetrate into his thought. The dynamics of history do not obtain for his consciousness. He does not understand the historical crisis of our era, he does not have that foreboding of the birth of a new world epoch. He writes a moralistic book, such as would have been possible to write in any era, although passively it is infected with the bloody poison of modernity. This book is absolutely static in its construction, but it — is a characteristic by-product of modernity with its illnesses.

The most unacceptable and grievous thing in the book of I. Ilyin — is the abusive misuse of Christianity, of Orthodoxy, of the Gospel. The justification of the death penalty by means of Gospel texts produces an impression akin to sacrilege. In the worldview of I. Ilyin there is nothing, not only of the Orthodox, but also neither in general of the Christian. Orthodoxy clearly has been taken for a ride for ends not religious, just as is so often done in our day. The citations from Holy Scripture, from the Teachers of the Church and the Rules of the Holy Apostles and Sobor-Councils are pasted in mechanically and do not prove the validity of I. Ilyin having an organic Orthodox worldview. The Orthodoxy of I. Ilyin is sewn through with white threads and there can be readily discerned behind this external veneer of Orthodoxy the student of German Idealism, a Fichtean and Hegelian of the extreme Right Wing. It is interesting to note, that both the Left and the Right Hegelians tend towards a justification of force, and towards a negation of man. Marx indeed emerged from amongst the Left Hegelianism. The unsuccessful use and indeed misuse of Gospel texts is discerned already the epigraphic title of the book, “Concerning the resistance to Evil by Force”. I. Ilyin, evidently, had most of all in mind the Gospel text about casting out the money-changer merchants from the Temple. In citing this Gospel text, under the image of the money-changers in the Temple who have to be driven out with the whip, I. Ilyin ultimately has in view the Bolsheviks and revolutionaries in general. But it is the Bolsheviks namely that this place can in nowise be imputed to. The Bolsheviks do not do their marketing in the Temple nor are they situated in the Temple, so that there is neither the need nor the possibility to cast them out from thence. The Bolsheviks do their destroying of the Temple from the outside. This is altogether a different situation. The money-changers in the Temple however actually often appear to be the people of the rightist camp, those at present like-minded with I. Ilyin, converting the Church into a means for the realisation of their own non-religious ends. And for many of them, it actually might do well to drive them from the Temple with a whip. The whole outlook of the book of I. Ilyin is non-Christian and anti-Christian. It is pervaded by a sense of Pharisaical self-righteousness. In this Pharisaism is caught up everyone, who esteems himself the bearer of an absolute good while condemning and chastising others. In such bearers of an absolute good there is easily created a false posturing of heroism and uncompromising militancy. But the Christian faith teaches us, that we should uncompromisingly relate primarily to our own sin and our own passions, it teaches us a maximalism in regards to oneself, and not towards others. Ilyin however, while certainly not denying on principle the struggle with his own sins, first of all and most of all proposes that we engage in an uncompromising and bloody struggle with the sins of strangers. He wants to strengthen the self-conceit and pride of those who imagine themself bearers of the good and spirit. It is quite apparent, how I. Ilyin in his books strains at the concept of obviousness, which he sets into the foundation of his philosophising, in developing further the idealism of Fichte and Hegel, and he comes close to identifying it with the Christian concept of grace. Here is this Fichte-Hegelian, philosophico-idealistic obviousness and it manifests itself for him as a source of conceit and pride. For him it has become obvious, that he is the bearer of absolute good and spirit, — whereupon he arrives at imprisonment and execution on the basis of this obviousness. But the Christian faith suggests that we be more discerning with such a sort of obviousness and therefore less inclined to judge neighbour.

The views of I. Ilyin on the state, upon man and upon freedom, appears both non Christian and anti-Christian. These views are begotten through the false philosophising from an idealistic monism. Completely foreign to I. Ilyin is the Christian delineation of two orders of being and two worlds, the spiritual world and the natural world, the other world and “this world”, the order of grace and the order of nature, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. For him “this world”, the natural world is but an arena for the realisation of absolute spirit. Suchlike too was the spirit of Fichte, the spirit of Hegel. It derives from hence and is at root a non-Christian view of the state. I. Ilyin in essence confuses the state with the Church and he ascribes to the state aims, which only should be realised by the Church. For him the state possesses an absolute significance, it manifests itself as the embodiment upon earth of absolute spirit. And in this, he is a faithful disciple of Hegel. Hegel did not believe in the Church and he substituted for it the state. For him, the state assumed upon itself all the functions of the Church. And suchlike were the results of the extreme forms of Protestantism. And it is no accident that in modern Germany, it is the extreme Right, the monarchist-national currented with Lutheranism, in which to a remarkable degree the religious energy has been replaced by a national-state energy. The view of I. Ilyin upon the state, just like the view of Hegel, is a pagan reaction, a return to the pagan absolutisation and pagan deification of the state. One of the greatest effects, wrought by Christianity within history, was a limiting of the absoluteness of the state, the surmounting of imperialist metaphysics, the positing of the infinite nature of the human spirit in opposition to the pretensions of the earthly state, the worldly kingdom. The human soul stands higher, than all the kingdoms of the world. Within the Gospel itself Christ establishes the principal distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar, and assigns the kingdom of Caesar to a subordinate and limited sphere. But to these motifs within Christianity I. Ilyin is especially deaf. The Christian faith is moreso dualistic, than monistic, in its understanding of the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar, between the Church and the state. The state is a subordinate, a limited and assistant means in the matter of the realisation of the Kingdom of God. The state is not the bearer of absolute good, of absolute spirit, and indeed it can become hostile to the absolute good, to the absolute spirit. Against the evil of the earthly city rose up prophets of old, such as Bl[essed] Augustine. The truth limiting the absoluteness of the state was sealed with the blood of the Christian martyrs. The whole of the book of I. Ilyin is however filled with a faith in this, that the state, as the bearer of absolute good and spirit, ought to struggle and can indeed conquer evil. This is not a Christian, but the rather an Hegelian monistic view. The state both ought and can limit the spread of evil in the world, to cut short a certain sort of empowering of evil will. But the state by its nature is completely powerless to actually conquer evil and such a sort of task it does not have. The state is not the bearer of an absolute spirit and an absolute good, it is relative as regards its nature. Only the Church can struggle with the inner instinct for evil and can conquer it, only the Church has this vocation. But in the book of I. Ilyin the state and the Church get completely jumbled together and become identical. It is incomprehensible moreover, why there is need for the Church, if the state, as the bearer of absolute spirit and good, be called to the fulfilling of the churchly function of the struggle with evil. The state by its nature cannot but resort to power and force for the limitation and interruption of the appearance of an evil will. But these methods and means cannot completely be carried over into the order of the Church, which also struggles for real against evil. I. Ilyin claims for the state those same demands, that also did L. Tolstoy, with whom there is a kindred monistic worldview. L. Tolstoy, however, completely repudiates the state upon the basis, that the state cannot conquer evil. Ilyin in contrast deifies the state upon the basis, that it can conquer evil. But both the one and the other have no desire to acknowledge the relative and subordinate significance of the state, totally unconnected with the issue of victory over evil. In the confusing of the state with the Church, in the absolutisation of the relative — is the fundamental mistake of I. Ilyin. He therefore comes up with a privilege group, expressive of state power, which presents itself to him as the bearer of absolute good and spirit, and in the face of absolute good and spirit it is called to extirpate evil in the world. Human society, indisputably, cannot exist without the state rule of power, which by force should limit and cut short the appearance of evil will. But it does not make sense to impute a churchly significance to this inevitable function in the sinful world. The policeman — is an useful and necessary figure in his proper place, but it does not make sense to connect him too closely with absolute spirit. To Caesar must be rendered the things that are Caesar’s, and not God’s. The whole pathos of I. Ilyin is in this, that he would render to Caesar that which is God’s. From the perspective of the Christian faith there exist only two principles, which can conquer evil at its root, these are — the principle of freedom and the principle of grace. The salvation from evil is a matter of the interaction of freedom and of grace. Coercion and force indeed can limit the appearance of evil, but cannot contend against it. Just like all the inquisitors, I. Ilyin believes in a coercive and forceful salvation and deliverance of man. He bestows upon coercion, issuing from the state, a character of grace, — it is transformed into an immediate manifestation of love and spirit, as it were the acting of God Himself through people. All the reactionary and the revolutionary inquisitors, beginning with Torquemada down through Robespierre and Dzerzhinsky, esteemed themself as bearers of absolute good, and not seldom also of love. They murdered always in the name of good and of love. These — are the most dangerous of people. The spirit of these people was unmasked with genius by Dostoevsky. But I. Ilyin now wants to give a philosophical basis to this dangerous spiritual type. The lie however consists in the very presupposition, that the good is in whatever that which might transpire, even though it involve the greatest of violence and bloodshed, that it has to be supported in the world. Yet in actuality the Christian faith and every healthy ethics has to acknowledge the freedom for good, as well as a certain freedom for evil. The freedom for evil ought to be outwardly contended against in its manifestations, for with the freedom for evil there contends spiritually the graced power of Christ, but in the name of the freedom for good this freedom for evil mustneeds be acknowledged.1  The denial of the freedom for evil renders it a compulsory good. The absolute nightmare of Communism also consists in this, that it desires a compulsory organisation of the good, it wants to compel to virtue and does not allow for any freedom for evil. But God permits of a freedom for evil and by this has defined the whole worldly process. God could in an instant put an end to the evil in the world, but He values the freedom for good, He has put into this the meaning of the world. People tend to little think out this infinite sufferance of God towards evil and the evil. This sufferance is but the reverse side of God’s love for freedom. But in his capacity as an idealist monist, I. Ilyin consequently denies the freedom of man, the freedom of the human spirit. He likewise denies freedom, just as it was denied by Fichte and Hegel, for whom there existed the freedom of the absolute spirit, the freedom of the Divinity, but there did not exist the freedom of man. This type of world-concept, — is altogether non-Christian, it inclines to identify freedom only with the good, with truth. And therefore a compulsory approach towards the good represents a true triumph of freedom. I. Ilyin understands freedom exclusively in a normative sense — freedom for him is the compulsory organisation of the good within the world by means of the state. By this he denies the ontological meaning of freedom, which is not only in the end, but also in the beginning. There is not only the freedom, received from the good, but also a freedom in the acceptance and realisation of good. For the sinful natural man it has always been difficult to accommodate the heavenly truth concerning freedom. And the Christian world has eternally faced temptations concerning freedom and has wandered off onto the path of a compulsory realisation of the good. But within Christianity there is revealed a truth about freedom altogether different, than that, which is disclosed by Fichte and Hegel, and thereafter by I. Ilyin. In what however are the metaphysical roots of the denial of freedom of the human spirit in I. Ilyin?

The religio-metaphysical roots of all the erroneous in I. Ilyin are hidden in his monism, or if it be transferred into the language concerning the heresies if the first centuries of Christianity, it is in his Monophysitism and Monotheletism. Fichte and Hegel, who appear to be teachers of I. Ilyin, represent in their philosophies a modernised form of the Monophysite heresy. I term Monophysitism here not only the Christological heresy in the narrow sense of the word, i.e. the teaching, denying the two natures in Christ, but also every tendency towards a denial of the independent self-standing of the human nature in its distinction from the Divine nature, every tendency towards a denial of the freedom of man not only in regard to the world and other people, but also in relation to God. Monophysitism is a failure of understanding and a denial of the mystery of God-manhood, the central mystery of Christianity, the mystery of the union of two natures in one person amidst the preserving of the independent self-standing of each of the two natures. German idealism in its most characteristic expressions does not accept the mystery of God-manhood, the mystery of the two natures, it inclines towards monism, to a denial of the independent self-standing of the human nature. This idealism regards human nature and human freedom to be merely manifestations of the Divine nature and the Divine freedom. The whole mindset of I. Ilyin is a Monophysite denial of man. There is not a single note in I. Ilyin, which would indicate that he is familiar with the mystery of God-manhood or that from it he derives his morals, his vital values. The pathos of I. Ilyin is the pathos of an abstract good, of an abstract idea, into which ultimately vanishes the concrete human soul, the living human person. But Christianity is not an idealism, Christianity is realism. Christianity believes in the metaphysical reality of existent beings, of concrete persons. Christianity is metaphysically right through and through personalistic. The anti-Christianity of I. Ilyin consists first of all in this, that he believes exclusively in an abstract good and abstract spirit. Christianity knows no sort of abstract good and never subordinates man to such. At the basis of the Christian religion stands the existent being, and not the good. The sole good is Christ Himself, His Person. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. The Sabbath is for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Man is higher than the Sabbath. The existent is higher than an abstract good and the Law. In this — is the uniqueness of Christian morality, its absolute differentiation from the morals of Kant, Fichte, L. Tolstoy, I. Ilyin and all the moralists of the world. An absolute significance obtains for Christianity in the human soul, the human person, its unrepeatable individual fate, and not merely some abstract good within man, not only some absolute spirit within man. For I. Ilyin man himself does not possess any sort of significance, only the perfection in man has significance, only the good within him. The metaphysical denial of man begets in I. Ilyin a quite un-Christian teaching concerning love. Love for him is not the love for a concrete being, towards a living man, towards a person with an unrepeatable calling, but rather a love for the good, for perfection, for an abstract spiritual principle in man. It is therefore very easy for him to acknowledge as a manifestation of love the gratuitous tormenting of the concrete living man, and therefore in the name of the good he admits as permissible means, such as would wreak violence upon man and destroy him. This is the same sort of morals as held by our revolutionaries, who never could love “one’s neighbour” and were prepared to annihilate him in the name of socialism, the welfare of mankind, justice etc. I. Ilyin desires in essence as though that man should cease to exist and that alone there should remain the purely perfect and the good, the absolute spirit alone. I. Ilyin does not love man and denies the love for man. Under the aspect of the love for man he understands the compulsory realisation within man of perfection and the good. I do not know, whether he even loves God, and I fear that he does not love God Who is the Subsistent Being, Person, and loves rather instead only an abstract perfection, the good, abstract spirit. The whole construct of I. Ilyin discloses an incapacity to love the person. But love always is an affirmation of the person of the beloved, an affirmation of him in God and in eternity, the affirmation of him despite impurity, sin, the muddledness of the person. It is needful to love not only God within man, but also man within God. All-encompassing love ought to behold within God also the face of the very least of people, the most fallen, the most sinful. This also is the Christian love, of which we seem so little capable. Everyone loves the pretty white, but we have to take to heart also the blackened. It is the easiest thing of all to love an abstract perfection and good. But this stands for nothing, it demands no sort of an effort. The love for neighbour, to which Christ hath summoned, is not love for an abstract perfection and good, but towards the individual man with a singularly unrepeatable calling. I. Ilyin does not want to love “close neighbour”, he loves the “afar remote”, he loves an absolute good, of which he esteems himself the bearer. He confesses a legalistic, Pharisaic, bourgeois morality and in its name he wants to eradicate people. The denial of man, the non-love for man is his great sin, a betrayal of Christianity, the religion of God-manhood. He fails to discover an understanding of grace within Christianity, he is all entirely in the Law, he does not understand the distinction between evil and sin, and he does not know, that evil is a consequence of sin. Therefore he everywhere sees evil-doers, at the same time as a Christian ought to see sinners, and first of all so within oneself. Christianity does not know evil-doers and the virtuous as static types. The thief on the cross in a single instant was converted to Christ. And a virtuous man can fall low. A most remarkable Russian starets-elder, with whom I much conversed for several days prior to my forced removal from Russia, said to me, that for the salvation of Russia he ascribes a chief and central significance to the repentance of the Communists and Red-Army men, in their conversion to Christ. And many of them did come to him and repented their sins, they would wait whole nights, awaiting their turn. But for I. Ilyin this has to here be something quite foreign. The religious victory over evil manifests itself for him not by repentance and the conversion of the sinner, but by forcing him to be good and by his execution. The Church values infinitely the individual human soul and its eternal fate. Ilyin however denies the existentiality of man, man for him is an instrument of the good, and eternal for him is the good, and not man. He has not surmounted the normativism of German Idealist philosophy. He esteems not man, but rather the statewise, the legal, the moral norm. This means also, that he has not grasped the mystery of God-manhood, since that it is ungraspable for the rationalistic consciousness. And in vain does I. Ilyin veil over his Fichtean Hegelianism with quotes from the texts of Holy Scripture and the Church fathers. Quotes from the texts of Holy Scripture as such prove nothing, even Steklov has loved to make them in the editorials of “Izvestia”.

The disgraceful legalism of I. Ilyin expresses itself in this, that he does not so much want to create good, as rather to eradicate evil. In this is evidenced the lawyer. His book    is a most disgraceful book, in it there is not a single ray of God’s grace. The subtle distinctions, which he establishes between force and coercion, reflects the casuistry and the sophistry of a lawyer. The most horrid thing of all in the book of I. Ilyin is his pathetic hymn to the death penalty. A justification of taking up the sword is still not a justification of the death penalty. I. Ilyin is not squeamish even to quote the Gospel for a justification of the death penalty. “Christ foresaw and referred to such evil-doing (“the tempting of the little ones”), which by His judgement makes the death penalty the best outcome for evil-doing” (p.132). And here I. Ilyin quotes the following place in the Gospel: “Whoso offends tempting one of these little ones, believing on Me, better it were for that one, if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and they drowned him in the depths of the sea” (Mt. 18: 6). The Gospel speaks with a strong, vividly symbolic language in these passages. It is quite clear, what Jesus is saying here: the temptation-offence of these little ones is so great a sin, that for such a man it were better had he not been born, better were he to die before the committing of this sin. Here vividly is defined the dimension of the sin. Only a sick imagination can see in this place a call for the death penalty. Christ Himself suffered the death penalty from those, for whom His preaching was “evidenced” to be a temptation-offence, but He did not preach calling for execution. It is monstrous to presuppose, that the Son of God, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, concerned Himself over questions of criminal justice and worked out a system of punishments. This reflects an inability to distinguish between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar, a failure which is everywhere to be sensed in I. Ilyin. It is insufficient for I. Ilyin, that the death penalty merely be made, for him it is indispensable, that it be acknowledged as an act of love. Here is from a central place in his book: “A denying love gradually as it were is transformed into a negative love and finds its own completion in the earthly removal of the deniable evil-doing… Spiritual love passes through a whole series of classical conditions, spiritually needful, objectively grounded and religiously credible. These conditions express their gradual disuniting and distancing of that one, who loves, from that one, who relinquishes the right to the fullness of love; they begin with the possibility of full love for man and finish with the prayer for the execution of evil-doers. Such are the gradual arising consequences: disapproval, non-sympathy, vexation, reprimand, judgement, refusal to assist, protest, denunciation, demands, insistences, psychological coercion, causing psychological suffering, strictness, severity, indignation, anger, a rift in relations, boycott, physical coercion, aversion, lack of respect, impossibility to come together, cutting off, lack of pity, execution” (p. 139-140). I seldom have happened to read lines more hideous. The executioner, making the execution, is in a better spiritual and moral condition, than the philosopher, elated with descriptions of these “classical conditions” of love, leading to execution. I. Ilyin betrays the best traditions not only of Russian national-religious thought, but also of Russian governance. From A. S. Khomyakov to Vl. Solov’ev our finest thinkers opposed the death penalty and the Russian criminal legislation opposed it. This is something we can be proud of in front of the nations of the West, which upon instinct and upon principle are more inclined to the death penalty. In his letter to the Serbs, Khomyakov wrote: “Do not punish the transgressor with death. He can no longer defend himself, and for a valiant people it would be shameful to kill the defenseless, and for a Christian it indeed would be sinful to deprive a man of the possibility of repentance. Long ago for us in the Russian Land the death penalty was abolished, and now for us it is opposed by all and in the general proceedings of the criminal court it is not allowed. Such a showing of mercy is to the glory of the Orthodox tribe of the Slavs. From the Tatar up through the erudite Germans there was manifest for us cruelty in punishments, but there quickly vanish even its final traces” (“Collected Works of Khomyakov”, t.1, p. 402). It was the Russian revolutionaries namely, those hated by I. Ilyin, who admitted of the death penalty under the guise of terror, and for them it was a means for the eradicating of evil and propagation of the good. The death penalty has become a staple of Russian justice after the accession to rule by the Communists. There is the inevitability of killing in war, which no one denies, but it is not the death penalty.

And who can take upon themself the resolve to execute, faced with absolute good and spirit? The judgement of God is inscrutable for people, and this judgement can seem very dissimilar to ours. I. Ilyin thinks that he can, in place of me and in place of every other man, make an act autonomous to him in affirming the good by force and eradicating evil by force. Here is how I. Ilyin describes his lofty self-consciousness, representing autonomy for him while denying it for others: “When the morally noble soul strives in its love — for a religiously faithful, voluntary answer in the turbulent throng outside the progressing evil, then people faint of heart, insincere, apathetic, irreligious, with dispositions nihilistic and obnoxious, undisciplined, sentimental, inhospitable to people, not seeing the evil — all those can only hinder the search, distracting, distorting and carrying it away onto false paths” (p. 110). And even more strongly: “The genuine attainment of a man ensues then, when his suffering is attached to a Divine object, or otherwise, when the ray of the Maker penetrates the soul of man tight through the daylight of his suffering core. Then the human suffering begins from the depths to shine with the Divine rays pervading it, and the man himself becomes a portion of the Divine fire” (p.123). All the woe herein is in this, that I. Ilyin is too conscious of himself as “a portion of the Divine fire”. This is an expression of an inaudible spiritual pride. I. Ilyin, certainly, would answer us, that he speaks and acts not of himself, but “of the living organ of common sacred ends, of the organ of good, the organ of sanctity; and therefore all the service is in its person and in its name” (p. 154). But it is a spiritual pride in this consciousness, that one is acting in the person of the absolute good itself. It would be more humble, if I. Ilyin were to act of his own human person. And where however is an organ of absolute good, if not the Church? But the Church is not concerned with punitive expediencies and does not practice the death penalty, for such not even possessing the corresponding implements. For I. Ilyin apparently the organ of good is the state power. But now he is compelled to construct a state power on the grounds of his own autonomy, given the absence of any Russian state power except the Soviet. Investigations into the Inquisition for either positive or for negative ends have become banal. But it is proper all the same to remember, that the Inquisition was a product of the barbaric justice of its times, it shared in the perceptions of its cruel era, faith in torture etc. And in the Inquisition essentially it was not so much the Catholic Church that was guilty, as rather the mankind of that time, the deficiencies of its moral consciousness, its morals, its general level. I. Ilyin wants to restore the Inquisition’s justice at a very late hour of history, an hour bloody in its direct struggle, but still not receptive of former forms of morally proper consciousness. Execution in our era can only be an immediate manifestation of elemental forces, but not a form of justice. This is a question of sad fact, and not a right and justification.

I. Ilyin — is not a Russian thinker, he is foreign to the best traditions of our national thought, a foreign man, a stranger, German-like. Fichte spiritually is untranslatable into the Russian language. I. Ilyin — is a nationalist in the normative sense, but he is not national in the ontological sense of the word. His nationalism is fully internationalistic. The book of I. Ilyin witnesses to this, that he belongs to the dying-out era of “modern history” with its politicism, with its cult of the state, with its nationalism, with its abstract philosophy and abstract morality, with its sundering apart from the living God. He does not have a future, he believes in an abstract, external to life thinking and in an abstract, external to life moralism. He is incapable of stepping back, he cannot think calmly, he readily loses his equilibrium. I. Ilyin is doomed to be a philosopher of those strata of Russian society, which tend to recede into the past and become relegated to malice, if they fail to make within them a spiritual turnabout and renewal, to which are called all people without exception. In the book of I. Ilyin there is not to be sensed a knight-chivalrous spirit, his sword is not the sword of a crusader. The cross for him is needed merely as an excuse for the sword. I. Ilyin himself offendingly tempts “those little ones”, he would turn away from Christianity those, who are prepared to follow him. And if I were inclined to interpret the Gospel texts, such as I. Ilyin himself interprets them, then in principle his life would be subject to danger. The relevant question is not at all whether there can be justified the sword and acts of violence, but in this, what is the good and what is evil in an era of world crisis, the era of the end of the old world of “modern history” and the birth of new worlds. The dispute with I. Ilyin is altogether not a formal matter merely — it is a dispute about the very content of the good, about the realisation within life of the Truth of Christ. The love towards man, and mercy itself is also a good, unknown to the abstract idealism of I. Ilyin. Man is the idea of God, of the design from God, and the negation of man is an opposing of God.

Nikolai Berdyaev


©  2008  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1926 – 312 – en)

KOSHMAR  ZLOGO  DOBRA.  [O knig, I. Il’ina “O soprotivlenii zlu siloiu”.] Journal Put’, jun.-jul. 1926, no. 4, p. 103-116.

1  Upon recognition of the freedom for evil is constructed the whole philosophy of law and the moral philosophy of B. Chicherin, which evidently
I. Ilyin quite esteems.