Nikolai Berdyaev

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The religious truth of anarchism consists in this, that power over man is bound up with sin and evil, that a state of perfection is a state where there is no power of man over man, that is to say, anarchy.

Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev [Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Бердя́ев] (18 March 1874 {O.S. 6 March}  – 24 March 1948) was a Russian Christian universalist mystic and Christian anarchist political philosopher.

Quotes[edit]

The new religious consciousness rises up against the nihilistic attitude towards the world and mankind.
For the new religious consciousness the declaration of the will of God is together with this a declaration of the rights of man, a revealing of the Divine within mankind.
The greater part of Eastern teachers of the Church, from Clement of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor, were supporters of Apokatastasis, of universal salvation and resurrection.
  • The new religious consciousness rises up against the nihilistic attitude towards the world and mankind. If a religious rebirth be possible, only then on this soil will there be the revealing of the religious meaning of secular culture and earthly liberation, the revealing of the truth about mankind. For the new religious consciousness the declaration of the will of God is together with this a declaration of the rights of man, a revealing of the Divine within mankind. We believe in the objective, the cosmic might of the truth of God, in the possibility according to God to guide the earthly destiny of mankind. This will be the victory of the true theocracy, whether over a false democratism, — the apotheosis of the quantitative collectivity of human wills, or so also over the false theocraticism, — all that apotheosis of the human will within Caesaropapism or Papocaesarism. Christ cannot have human vicarage in the person of the tsar or high-priest. He — is Himself the Tsar and High-Priest, and He will reign in the world. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.”
    • "Nihilism  On  A  Religious  Soil" (6 May 1907); it should be noted here that Berdyaev is here defining "theocracy" not in the sense as it is often used, of people ruling over other people, in claims of doing so by the commands of God, but rather defining it in terms of Christian anarchism — as a vigorous assertion of the right of no-one to rule over humans, save God.
  • Ethics occupies a central place in philosophy because it is concerned with sin, with the origin of good and evil and with moral valuations. And since these problems have a universal significance, the sphere of ethics is wider than is generally supposed. It deals with meaning and value and its province is the world in which the distinction between good and evil is drawn, evaluations are made and meaning is sought.
    • The Destiny of Man (1931), p. 15
  • It is beyond dispute that the state exercises very great power over human life and it always shows a tendency to go beyond the limits laid down for it.
    • Slavery and Freedom (1939), p. 145
  • There is absolute truth in anarchism and it is to be seen in its attitude to the sovereignty of the state and to every form of state absolutism. … The religious truth of anarchism consists in this, that power over man is bound up with sin and evil, that a state of perfection is a state where there is no power of man over man, that is to say, anarchy. The Kingdom of God is freedom and the absence of such power... the Kingdom of God is anarchy.
    • Slavery and Freedom (1939), p. 147
  • The Christian world doesn't know Orthodoxy too well. It only knows the external and for the most part, the negative features of the Orthodox Church and not the inner spiritual treasure. Orthodoxy was locked inside itself, it did not have the spirit of proselytism and did not reveal itself to the world. For the longest time, Orthodoxy did not have such world-wide significance as did Catholicism and Protestantism. It remained apart form passionate religious battles for hundreds of years, for centuries it lived under the protection of large empires (Byzantium and Russia), and preserved its eternal truth from the destructive processes of world history. It is characteristic of Orthodoxy's religious nature that it was not sufficiently actualized nor exposed externally, it was not militant, and precisely because of this the heavenly truth of Christian revelation was not distorted so much. Orthodoxy is that form of Christianity which suffered the least distortion in its substance as a result of human history. The Orthodox Church had its moments of historical sin, for the most part in connection with its external dependence on the State, but the Church's teaching, her inner spiritual path was not subject to distortion. The Orthodox Church is primarily the Church of tradition, in contrast to the Catholic Church, which is the Church of authority, and to the Protestant Churches which are essentially churches of individual faith. The Orthodox Church was never subject to a single externally authoritarian organization and it unshakenly was held together by the strength of internal tradition and not by any external authority. Out of all forms of Christianity it is the Orthodox Church which remained more closely tied to early Christianity.

Spirit and Reality (1946)[edit]

Spirit is never an object; nor a spiritual reality an objective one.
  • Spirit is never an object; nor a spiritual reality an objective one. In the so-called objective world there's no such nature, thing, or objective reality as spirit. Hence it is easy to deny the reality of spirit. God is spirit because he is not object, because he is subject.
    • p. 10
  • Spirit, like flame, like freedom, like creativeness, is opposed to any social stagnation or any lifeless tradition. In terms of Kantian philosophy — terms which I consider erroneous and confusing — spirit appears as a thing in itself and objectification as a phenomenon. Another and truer definition would be, spirit is freedom and objectification is nature (not in the romantic sense). Objectification has two aspects: on the one hand it denotes the fallen, divided and servile world, in which the existential subjects, the personalities, are materialized. On the other it comprehends the agency of the personal subject, of spirit tending to reinforce ties and communications in this fallen world. Hence objectification is related to the problem of culture, and in this consists the whole complexity of the problem.
    In objectification there are no primal realities, but only symbols. The objective spirit is merely a symbolism of spirit. Spirit is realistic while cultural and social life are symbolical. In the object there is never any reality, but only the symbol of reality. The subject alone always has reality. Therefore in objectification and in its product, the objective spirit, there can be no sacred reality, but only its symbolism. In the objective history of the world nothing transpires but a conventional symbolism; the idea of sacredness is peculiar to the existential world, to existential subjects. The real depths of spirit are apprehensible only existentially in the personal experience of destiny, in its suffering, nostalgia, love, creation, freedom and death.
    • p. 52

The Beginning and the End (1947)[edit]

The Beginning and The End (written 1941; published 1947)
  • I do not think discursively. It is not so much that I arrive at truth as that I take my start from it.
    • Introduction
  • Objectification is above all exteriorization, the alienation of spirit from itself.
    • p. 63
  • What one needs to do at every moment of one's life is to put an end to the old world and to begin a new world.

Dream and Reality (1949)[edit]

I see myself immersed in the depths of human existence and standing in the face of the ineffable mystery of the world and of all that is.
Dream and Reality : An Essay in Autobiography (1949)
  • I see myself immersed in the depths of human existence and standing in the face of the ineffable mystery of the world and of all that is. And in that situation, I am made poignantly and burningly aware that the world cannot be self-sufficient, that there is hidden in some still greater depth a mysterious, transcendent meaning. This meaning is called God. Men have not been able to find a loftier name, although they have abused it to the extent of making it almost unutterable. God can be denied only on the surface; but he cannot be denied where human experience reaches down beneath the surface of flat, vapid, commonplace existence.
    • As translated in In Love with Eternity : Philosophical Essays and Fragments (2005) by Richard Schain, p. 47

Political Testament (1949)[edit]

"Political Testament", as translated by E. Lampert, in World Review (March 1949)
  • Fate and freedom alike play a part in history; and there are times, as in wars and revolutions, when fate is the stronger of the two. Freedom — the freedom of man and of nations — could never have been the origin of two world wars. These latter were brought about by fate, which exercises its power owing to the weakness and decline of freedom and of the creative spirit of man. Almost all contemporary political ideologies, with their characteristic tendency to state-idolatry, are likewise largely a product of two world wars, begotten as they are of the inexorability's of fate.
    • p. 32
  • A real reconciliation of East and West is impossible and inconceivable on the basis of a materialistic Communism, or of a materialistic Capitalism, or indeed of a materialistic Socialism. The third way will neither be "anti-Communist" nor "anti-Capitalist". It will recognize the truth in liberal democracy, and it will equally recognize the truth in Communism. A critique of Communism and Marxism does not entail an enmity towards Soviet Russia, just as a critique of liberal democracy is not entail enmity towards the west. … But the final and most important justification of a "third way" is that there must be a place from which we may boldly testify to, and proclaim, truth, love and justice. No one today likes truth: utility and self interest have long ago been substituted for truth.
    • p. 80
  • We live in a nightmare of falsehoods, and there are few who are sufficiently awake and aware to see things as they are. Our first duty is to clear away illusions and recover a sense of reality. If war should come, it will do so on account of our delusions, for which our hag-ridden conscience attempts to find moral excuses. To recover a sense of reality is to recover the truth about ourselves and the world in which we live, and thereby to gain the power of keeping this world from flying asunder.
    • p. 80

Quotes about Berdyaev[edit]

He was no ivory tower philosopher but was intimately affected by these events throughout his life and drew his inspirations from them regarding the nature of the human condition.
He never avoided the label of "mystic" since he felt it was the mystics of the world who came closest to understanding the role of spirit.
  • Berdyaev attempts to development of Christian symbols that is parallel to Jung's in order to give a place to human freedom and creativity in this sphere of Christian spirituality. Much of the creative self-expression, which ought to have been given a spiritual-religious meaning, had to emigrate out of the domain of ecclesiastic Christianity into the secular sphere, even though it had its origin within it. Both of these elements which Jung and Berdyaev address, that of soul and that of human freedom and creative self-expression, could not be fully accommodated within traditional Christianity and as a consequence found a home in the "pagan" rebellion since the Renaissance and its progressive push towards secularization. The spirituality that had initially been shaped by ecclesiastic Christianity has burst its container and has in turn given shape to the underlying meaning-structures of modern secular society. Jung and Berdyaev share an awareness of these underlying historical dynamics.
    We have learned and are still learning very bitter lessons about the link between claims of absolute truth and violence. For good reasons contemporary thinkers are more or less unanimous in their suspicion towards all "meta-narratives" which end up justifying the violation of individual freedoms.
    Any return to a serious consideration of spirituality will have to remain mindful of this persistent danger. Jung's psychology offers an abundant wealth of insights about the need for remaining consistently mindful of the ways in which the shadow operates most forcefully where the light shines most strongly. But a convincing argument could be made for claiming that at present we are paying the price for the repression of religion and spirituality that occurred as a reaction to their destructive sides. In the absence of a spiritual culture the return of repressed spirituality takes destructive forms. Spirituality, by being repressed, does not disappear but mutates into more atavistic forms. This shadow side of spirituality should not make us shy away from it but on the contrary motivate us to find a way to give it a new place in our contemporary culture, away which does not jettison the liberating games of secular modernity.
    • Georg Nicolaus, in C.G. Jung and Nikolai Berdyaev: Individuation and the Person (2011), Introduction, p. 6
  • It is difficult to fit the work of Nikolai Berdyaev into any neat category. The label that was used most frequently to characterize him was that of an "existental Christian philosopher" but … his voice is equally relevant to psychology and psychoanalysis and it also constitutes a uniquely original commentary on the very nature of the person in our postmodern world especially in relation to spirituality.
    • Renos K. Papadopoulos, in C.G. Jung and Nikolai Berdyaev: Individuation and the Person (2011) by Georg Nicolaus, Foreword, p. xiii
  • The life of Berdyaev spans the momentous events of the first half of the twentieth century in Europe. He was no ivory tower philosopher but was intimately affected by these events throughout his life and drew his inspirations from them regarding the nature of the human condition. His writings bear the imprint of the catastrophic situations within which he was destined to live.
    • Richard Schain, in In Love with Eternity : Philosophical Essays and Fragments (2005), Ch. 7 : Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev — A Champion of the Spirit, p. 43
  • Surprisingly, Berdyaev was able to write, lecture and publish for five years after the October Revolution of 1917. He was once detained and interviewed by the fearsome head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky. Although he was released, the Bolsheviks gradually realized that Berdyaev was unassimilable to their cause and gave him a choice, along with a group of other intellectuals, of exile or execution. Reluctantly, Berdyaev chose exile to Berlin. He was never again to return to Russia.
    • Richard Schain, in In Love with Eternity : Philosophical Essays and Fragments (2005), Ch. 7 : Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev — A Champion of the Spirit, p. 44
  • Berdyaev has been categorized as a Christian existentialist and a mystical philosopher. He never avoided the label of "mystic" since he felt it was the mystics of the world who came closest to understanding the role of spirit. Many of the philosophers he quoted were mystics — Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius and especially Jacob Boehme. The influence of Dostoevsky was central to his thought. Nevertheless, Berdyaev is not a naively irrational thinker; he brings an enormous fund of philosophical knowledge combined with the profundity of his own thought to support his view of existence. There are no dogmas in his writings to offend one's intellectual conscience.
    • Richard Schain, in In Love with Eternity : Philosophical Essays and Fragments (2005), Ch. 7 : Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev — A Champion of the Spirit, p. 47
  • He was arrested twice; he was taken in 1922 for a midnight interrogation with Dzerjinsky; Kamenev was also there. … But Berdyaev did not humiliate himself, he did not beg, he firmly professed the moral and religious principles by virtue of which he did not adhere to the party in power; and not only did they judge that there was no point in putting him on trial, but he was freed. Now there is a man who had a "point of view"!

External links[edit]