N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
 

THREE  JUBILEES

(L. Tolstoy,  Hen. Ibsen,  N. F. Fedorov)

(1928 - #333)

        This year  [1928]  there occurs the century-mark from birth of three men of genius: L. Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen and N. F. Fedorov. Whatever the differences between them, what unites them is their radicalism and maximalism of thought and their singular hostility to the bourgeois world surrounding them. All three were spiritual revolutionaries, although they had little in common with the vulgar socio-political revolutionism. Two of them --  L. Tolstoy and Ibsen  --  found world-wide fame, whereas the third --  N. Fedorov  --  remains unknown but to a narrow circle and still awaits his own appreciation. L. Tolstoy and N. Fedorov were connected by a personal communication, and the famed Tolstoy was given to bow before the moral character of the unassuming Fedorov. At present the ideas of Fedorov begin to enjoy some popularity, and there is forming a Fedorov current of thought. The interest in Russia nowadays for N. Fedorov is to be explained by his unique collectivism, his activism, his faith in technology, his hostility towards individualism, towards the romantic and passive-mystical mindset of the cultural aristocracy, and by his faith in the mission of Russia. An organ of religious thought therefore cannot forego remembrance of these three great men.

I.  --  L. TOLSTOY.

         I was never sympathetic to Tolstoy’s teachings. Tolstoy’s callous rationalism always repelled me, and I always thought and I continue to think, that the world-view of L. Tolstoy is not so much Christian, as rather Buddhist. Dostoevsky always seemed closer to me. But with L. Tolstoy in early youth, almost my being a lad, was connected for me the first uprising against the evil and injustice of surrounding life, the first yearning for the realisation of just-truth, of pravda, in personal and social life. “War and Peace” always gave me an acute feeling of the native-land, the rodina, and of my origins. It always seemed to me, that it was speaking there about my grandfather. The destiny of L. Tolstoy is a very notable Russian destiny, quite remarkable in the Russian search for the meaning and truth of life. L. Tolstoy was Russian down to the very marrow of his bones, and he could only appear upon a Russian Orthodox soil, though he betrayed Orthodoxy. He strikes one by his characteristically Russian nobleman-peasant face. In it there are as it were the two fragmented Russias -- a Russia of the nobility and a Russia of the people -- and they wanted to unite. We cannot ignore this face, since ignoring it would signify a terrible impoverishment of Russia. L. Tolstoy was fortunate as regards the world, and to him was given all the blessing of this world: fame, wealth, reputation, family happiness. And yet he came close to suicide, such that he sought for the meaning of life and God. He did not accept life without its meaning. The instinct for life was extraordinarily strong and he had all the passions inherent to it. In his face the Russia of the nobility, our upper cultural stratum, denounces the falsehood of its life. But in the passionate search for God, for the meaning of life and the truth of life, Tolstoy was at first struck by the contradictions, which nauseated him. Tolstoy began with a denunciation of the falsehood and absurdity of civilised life. He saw meaning and truth in the simple work of the people, the peasantry. Tolstoy belonged to the upper cultural stratum, which to a large degree had fallen away from the Orthodox faith, that which the people lived by. He lost God, since he lived the illusory life of the external culture. And he wanted to believe, just like the common people believe, uncorrupted by the culture. But he did not succeed in this in the least degree. He was a victim of the Russian historical splintering between our cultural stratum and the stratum of the people. The common people believed in accord with Orthodoxy. But the Orthodox faith in Tolstoy’s consciousness conflicted irreconcilably with his reason. He was agreeable only to accept a reasonable faith, and everything that seemed to him unreasonable in the faith, evoked within him protest and indignation. But indeed his reason, by which he judges Orthodoxy, Tolstoy derived entirely from the civilisation despised by him, from European rationalism, from Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant and others. Howsoever odd this might seem, but Tolstoy remained “an Enlightenment man”. All the mystical and sacramental side of Christianity, all the dogmas and mysteries of the Church evoked in him a stormy reaction of the Enlightenment reason. In this regard Tolstoy could never “become simplistic”, could never be a  s’abetir (half-wit), in the expression of Pascal. He did not want to engage in any sacrificing of his rationalistic consciousness, the pride of reason in him was continuously active. And it was this pride that Starets Amvrosii was so tired, when Tolstoy was with him at Optina Pustin’. This striking contrast between the self-affirming Enlightenment reason, between the rationalistic consciousness and in contrast the search for meaning, for faith and God among the common people, far removed from civilisation, lacerates the “Confession” of Tolstoy. In this contradiction is unmasked the falsehood of religious populism. It is impossible to believe, as the people believe, to be able to believe only in what the people believes in, and to believe it not because this is what the people believe, but because it is the truth. Meaning, the pravda of righteous-truth, God, -- these are not connected with any sort of social stratum.

       L. Tolstoy is torn by the contradiction between his powerful elements, which find expression in his artistic genius, and his rationalistic consciousness, which finds expression in his religio-moral teachings. This contradiction is apparent already in “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”. The fundamental thoughts of Tolstoy can already be found there, the turn-around in his religious consciousness, which begins his preaching activity, and usually it exaggerates itself too much.

        The genius and greatness of Tolstoy mustneeds first of all be seen in the intensity of his feeling, that all our conscious cultural and social life with its innumerable conventions is not an authentic life, it is illusory, false and essentially unnecessary for people, but what lies concealed beneathe it is elemental, an unconsciously primal-life, authentic, profound and singularly needful. Birth, death, work, eternal nature and the starry sky, the relation of man to the Divine fundamentals of life -- here it is authentic life. The secret of the charm of Tolstoy’s creativity is locked within the artistic manner, and comprising his unique originality, -- man for himself thinks and feels other than that to which he gives expression externally. All the time there is as it were a twofold life -- in the superficiality of the conscious state, and in the deep element of life, the affective life within civilisation and the primal life within life itself. The artistry of Tolstoy is always on the side of the elemental power and just-truth of life over against the false and impotent attempts of the civilised consciousness to direct life on its own wont. Hence the contempt for great people and for heroes, pretending of their own accord to direct life, hence the aversion for Napoleon and for Kutuzov. Already in “War and Peace”, Tolstoy is wholly on the side of “nature” over against “culture”, on the side of the elemental processes of life, which present themselves to him as Divine, over against the contrived and forced organisation of life through reason, consciousness and the norms of civilisation. The truth of immediate life has nothing in common with the themes of the conscious and rational norms of life, established by civilisation. Man ought passively to surrender himself elementally to the truth and the Divineness of the essential process of life. And here already we can see the “non-resistance” of Tolstoy. One ought not to oppose oneself by conscious effort, by civilised activity, to the immediate and simple truth of nature. The wisdom of life is inherent to the people, which is “nature” not “culture”. The idea of “non-resistance to evil by force” is taken by Tolstoy not from the Gospel  [Mt. 5: 39],  it is a deduction from his own faith in the blessedness, the Divineness of “nature”, which is distorted by the force of civilisation, and is in truth the primal element of life. All the artistic creativity of Tolstoy witnesses concerning this. But in his religio-moral teaching this preliminary faith was in a strange manner deformed and it disclosed the fundamental contradiction in his life and thought. In Tolstoy’s teaching the truth of the life of nature and of the people, the elemental and irrational truth, is subordinated to Tolstoy’s reason, to his consciousness, which entirely is begotten by civilisation, it is subordinated to the rationalism, which is in force over the life of the people. Tolstoy never was able to take note, that his “reason” is also the chief enemy of that meaning of life and truth of life, which he wanted to find from the people. The “reason” of Tolstoy differs little from the “reason” of Voltaire, and it is of the force of civilisation over nature. Belief in the elemental blessedness of nature, which also engenders the Tolstoyan teaching about “non-resistance”, clashes with the faith in reason, in the consciousness which shows itself almighty and transformative of life. On the one hand Tolstoy teaches: be passive, resist not evil by force, -- and the truth of nature, which is Divine, will disclose itself and enrapture one. But on the other hand, he however teaches: open up within your consciousness the rational law of life, the law of the Master of life, and to it subordinate all your life, and by it transform all your life, and all the world. Tolstoy gets out of this difficult theme by the admission, that the rational law of life, as revealed to the consciousness, is also the law of the most blessed, Divine nature. But this is also his fundamental rationalistic mistake. Tolstoy believes, that it is sufficient to be conscious of the true law of life, in order to realise it. Evil for him is a false consciousness, whereas good is a true consciousness. The irrational-volitional source of evil he does not see. This is entirely a Socratic point of view. He comes nigh likewise to Buddhism, for which salvation is comprised in the deed of knowledge. And therefore he not only does not understand the mystery of redemption, but regards it with aversion. The very idea of redemption presents itself to him as immoral. The teaching about the granting of grace revolts him. He preaches salvation, and in this he is close to Buddhism. He possessed a sort of stony insensitivity to the Person of Christ the Saviour.

         L. Tolstoy still therefore was a characteristically Russian man, in that he was a nihilist. He was a nihilist in regard to history and to culture, and he was a nihilist even in regard to his own creativity. Russian nihilism is Russian maximalism, it is an incapacity to set steps and limits, to justify an hierarchy of values. Suchlike is the sort of nihilism that blossoms readily upon an Orthodox soil. Not in any other nation is it possible to find such an aversion to cultural values, to the creativity of man, to knowledge, to philosophy, to art, to truth, to the relative and conventional societal forms, as in the Russian nation. Russian man is inclined to regard everything as healthy or rotten exclusively for his one sole demand, -- for one, it is the salvation of the soul for life eternal and the Kingdom of God, for another -- it is the social revolution and the salvation of the world through a perfect social organisation. The moral and religious mistrust of Tolstoy towards the justification of culture and cultural creativity was characteristically a Russian mistrust, a Russian theme, in suchlike a form alien to the West. Tolstoy strove not for a new culture, but for new life, for a transformation of life. He wanted to cease with the creativity of perfective artistic works and begin with the creativity of perfect life. Gogol also strove for this, just as N. Fedorov too strove for it. The most remarkable of Russian people were tormented by a thirst for the best and perfect life. And the nihilistic attitude towards culture frequently was but the obverse side of this thirst. Tolstoy unmasked the godless civilisation, which appears inevitably by result of culture and sundered from life. In this there was a point in common between Tolstoy and N. Fedorov. Tolstoy sensed, that the ends of life were obscured by the means for life, and that the essence of life was stifled by the surroundings of life. The unmasking of this life of civilisation is a tremendous merit of Tolstoy. But for him the consciousness of original sin, deforming nature, was inadmissible. The limitations of Tolstoy’s consciousness determined that in him there was completely obscured the Christian perception of person and freedom. In this regard he was moreso Indian. The Indian consciousness does not have apperception of the person and freedom, it is impersonalistic and deterministic. For Tolstoy there is neither the person-ness of man nor the person-ness of God, there is only the impersonal Divine principle, set into the fundament of life and acting through an immutable law. The teaching of Tolstoy presents itself as a combination of extreme pessimism with extreme optimism. In a personal immortality he does not believe, just as he does not believe in a personal God, he does not believe in the human person, nor does he believe in a primordial freedom of man. Personal being for him is an illusory organic being. The blessed and happy life is bought at the refusal of the person. The teaching of Tolstoy is typical monism. Tolstoy regards with suspicion everything, generated of the person. Authentic only is generic being. Tolstoy passionately and tormentedly searched for the meaning of life and of God. But in God he did not believe, he was an unbelieving man, and he was obsessed by the fear of death. It is impossible to call with the name God that impersonal law of life discovered by him, and which ought to bestow blessing in life. He was a man without grace, the pride of reason obstructed the acquisition of grace. He was not a Christian and he merely misapplied the message of Christianity. The Gospel was for him merely but one of the teachings, employed to affirm his own particular teaching.

         L. Tolstoy had tremendous significance for the religious awakening of a society, religiously indifferent and spiritually cold. For it he turned things around. He remains a great manifestation of the Russian soul, a Russian genius. And we should not allow ourselves to turn away from him nor forget him. But Tolstoy is great by his artistic creativity and his life’s destiny, by his searchings, and not for his teachings. Tolstoy did not know how to realise his ideas in life, and respectfully he recoursed to N. Fedorov, in whom teachings and life, ideas and practice, were absolutely in harmony. L. Tolstoy himself was raised on the land, full of passions, and more bodily-emotional than spiritual a man. And it was also because of such that he strove after an abstract spirituality. The positive religio-moral teaching of Tolstoy was weighed down by his rationalism and moralism. But in Tolstoy’s thirst for the absolute and maximal realisation of truth in life, in ultimately Tolstoy’s earnest demand not only to accept Christianity but to realise it, is his unique greatness. Remarkable also is the departure of Tolstoy in old age before his death. It grieved us, that one of the greatest Russian geniuses was cut off from the Church. But he cut himself off from the Church, he calumniated and reviled the teachings of the Church, the dogmas and the sacraments, and there can be no pretense, that the Orthodox Church considered him one of its own. Yet we know not, what transpired with Tolstoy in the hour of death; much then may opened itself up for him, that had concealed itself during his lifetime. And here is why we ought not to judge, but the rather ought spiritually to sense ourselves united with him in his thirsting of the communion for Truth. And least of all can he be judged by those superficial and hypocritical Christians, whom he unmasks.

II. -- HENRIK IBSEN

         I can never read through Ibsen without a bit of agitation. He had a tremendous significance for me during a spiritual crisis, experienced by me at the end of the last century, and in my breaking free from Marxism. In Ibsen there is an extraordinary acuteness of the problem of person, of creativity and spiritual freedom. In reading Ibsen, one breathes in the northern mountain air. The Norwegian philistinism, upon which he found himself choking, was the backdrop of his creativity. And in the atmosphere of a maximal philistine narrowness there occurs a maximal mountainous ascent. In the creativity of Ibsen there is that which is temporal and transitory, and there is that which is eternal. And herein we shall speak only about the eternal in Ibsen. Ibsen’s being in vogue has already long since passed. But when Ibsenism was in vogue, they then esteemed in Ibsen that which was not altogether the most remarkable -- “Nora” (“A Doll’s House”), “Hedda Gabbler”, “Ghosts”, the demonic marriages, social satire, and the anarchic temperaments. The eternal and enduring in Ibsen’s significance mustneeds be sought first of all in “Peer Gynt”, then in “Brand”, in “Caesar and the Galileian”, certain parts in “Enemy of the People”, and in the concluding dramas of his creative path: “Solness the Master Builder” and “When We Dead Awaken”. With the acuteness of genius Ibsen experienced and presented the problem of personal fate and the problem of the conflict of creativity and life. In him, just as in Nietzsche, modern culture is broken asunder from the vise-grips of positivism and eudaemonistic morals, taken towards an ascent. In him there is a passionate opposition to the bourgeois spirit, in him there is the pathos of height and heroism. Ibsen is not only a great artist, but likewise a great moralist and reformer. The art of Ibsen is prophetic. Ibsen was a solitary and yet social. The combination of the singular and the social is a fundamental mark of the prophetic calling. Ibsen was tormented by the great contradictions and conflicts of life. His fundamental theme -- was the clash of dream and reality, of creativity and life. Ibsen possessed a great creative vision and it attracted him by its power and beauty. But he did not know how to realise it, how to make it real, to transform it into reality. And all his most creative people suffer his failure and perish. Brand perishes in a mountain avalanche, while Solness the Master Builder falls from the heights of a castle turret and crashes down. The creative spirit bears within it the ruin of life. It is fruitless and useless to dispute about the “orientation” of Ibsen, whether he was on the “right” or on the “left”, whether he was for “progress”, whether for “democracy” or against it. Ibsen belonged to that type of singular people, the manner of thought which might best be characterised by the phrase “aristocratic radicalism”. He stands outside the social trends of society, he does not represent any sort of social collective. He fights simultaneously whether against an inert conservatism, against the pillars of modern society, against the leftist mindset, against the lock-step of the majority, or against a vulgar democratic philistinism. He is for freedom of spirit and against a depersonalised equality. He is always for an upward movement, for an ascent, for the heroic person. He is a spiritual revolutionary, but not at all a revolutionary in the outward socio-political sense. His moral pathos is very distinct from the moral pathos of Tolstoy, since that he is first of all involved with the quality of person, with the personal creative exertion. But he does not know how to make real, how to realise in a fruitful actuality the heroic and creative spirit of the person. In this is his incurable romanticism, by which he belongs to a bygone era. But in him there was however that creative spirit, which was in Dostoevsky, which was in Nietzsche. He lived and created under the effect of the pull of the mountain heights and infinitude. As a moralist, he was a powerful critic of eudaemonistic morals. Truth for him always was higher than the welfare and happiness of people.

             But Ibsen did not know the Christian uniting of an ascent to God with a concurrent down-going to the people, the mystery of Divine-human love. In him there held sway an unconquerable temptation of titanism and superhumanism, and in this he shares the same fate as Nietzsche. In him there was the sense of guilt and sin, which oppressed his heroes, but the ultimate meaning of the guilt was not given for him to know. Just like with the creativity of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, the creativity of Ibsen signifies the deep crisis of humanism and humanistic morals. Humanistic morals for him, just as for Nietzsche, was a matter of going soft, a loss of the spiritual heights, a denial of the heights and infinitude. The creative path of Ibsen is a searching out of the Divine heights by man, by man bereft of the living God. Therefore the love for the “far-off” leads to a denial of love for the “near-by”. Hence the heroic, the morality which is of a maximalism, has no place for love of a down-going to the people. And thence also is the undoing of this heroic morality, the impossibility of its realisation in life. This we see in such a genius of Ibsen’s creativity in “Brand”, which to a remarkable degree is echoed also in Kierkegaard, in proclaiming the maximalist principle of “all or nothing”. But Brand is of an heroism without grace, without love. Ibsen was tempted by Brand, and together with this he felt the collapse and downfall of Brand. “Brand” ends with the words: “God, He -- is the deus caritatis”. Trolls torment all the heroes of Ibsen. And he says, that to live, means to struggle with the trolls of the soul. Ibsen with great power depicts the rending of the soul by trolls. The trolls -- are a subsurface principle within man, one of the eternal elements of the soul, and they hinder spiritual ascent. But Ibsen’s women have found the greatest fame. Ibsen reveals the remarkableness of the feminine principle. “A Woman with Morals” is a symbol of the attraction of infinitude. Woman is his inspiration to creativity. But within woman he discloses both demonism and sanctity. One of the types of the Ibsen woman is a modernised Valkyrie. Another type -- Agnes in “Brand” and Solveig in “Peer Gynt” -- is the manifestation of a sacred femininity, upon which rests the glimmer of the Mother of God. The creativity of Ibsen is a revealing of the metaphysical meaning of love. The creative significance of man is bound up with the love of man and woman. And Eros for Ibsen is revealed at a great height. In it there exists a demonic principle, but there is not at all in Ibsen’s creativity the Aphrodite of the common people, the crudely sensual, there is not that, of which the French literature is so full. The clash of man and woman, their passionate attraction and no less passionate struggle -- is one of the basic motifs in Ibsen.

          Another motif -- is the clash of the creative person and society. It is altogether impossible to term Ibsen an individualist in that sense, in which this word was applied to the democratic societies of the XIX Century. He is not at all a struggler for the autonomy of every person, the equal autonomy of every other person. The whole acuteness of Ibsen’s problem is in the clash of the creatively gifted, the qualitatively uplifting, the striving towards the heights of the person against the inertia and dullness of the social mindset and the social lifestyle. The individualism of Ibsen is aristocratic. This is not so much the individualism, lying at the basis of democratic society, as rather an individualism, which makes “an enemy of society”, which is inspired by the pathos of creative freedom, and not equality. Ibsen believed in the quality of the unrepeatable and unique individuality. In the “Enemy of the People” this problem was presented with an almost primitive simplicity. Mighty only is the man alone, relying upon his own spiritual strength, and not upon society. The “Enemy of the People” concludes also with the words of Doctor Stockmann: “The strongest man is that, who stands alone on the path of life”. It would be a mistake to think, that the problem which tormented Ibsen, is a problem inherent to the end of the XIX Century and that it held significance only for the individualistic mindset of its era. This -- is an age-old problem, passing down through the whole history of human societies. The tragic conflict between the creative person, envisioning something else, a personal life, and the social collective, subjecting every person to its impersonal might, is an eternal conflict, which has its first appearances in primitive societies and later on in the clashes of prophetic individualities with the religious collective. This problem remains in force even for our collectivist epoch and moreover has become especially acute for us. The creativity of Ibsen belongs to a symbolist epoch. At present there exists a reaction against symbolism, just like against romanticism. But the symbolism of Ibsen is altogether unique. The symbols are presented in a very everyday ordinary, realistic setting. Everything, that the heroes of Ibsen bespeak, possesses a twofold meaning, that which is realistic and of the everyday ordinary, and that which is symbolic, signifying events and judgements of the spiritual world. This endows something especially remarkable to all Ibsen’s dialogues. Ibsen, just like Dostoevsky, is interested not so much by the psychology of people, as rather by the problem of spirit. Yet an art-form, which deals with the problem of spirit, cannot be only realistic. The realism of everyday life is transformed into the symbolics of another plane of being, of spiritual happenings. And all great artistry contains within itself an element of the symbolic.

       The greatest creation of Ibsen, still insufficiently appreciated, -- is the “Peer Gynt”. In the form of a Norwegian popular fable there was cloaked a worldwide theme. The “Peer Gynt” mustneeds be compared in significance with Goethe’s “Faust”. This is a worldwide tragedy of individuality and personal fate. And I know of in world literature no equal in power of depiction of the tragedy of individuality and the person. Ibsen demonstrates, how the self-affirmation of individualism, all one’s life desiring to be “one’s own self”, -- leads to the disintegration and ruin of the person. Peer Gynt always wanted to be “his own man” and yet never was his own man, he affirmed himself and he lost himself. Peer Gynt was taught by the trolls to be “sufficient unto himself” and therein he destroyed his own person. Since person is the conception of God about man, it is an idea of God, which man can realise, but can also destroy. And only sacrifice and self-limitation leads to the forging-out and triumph of person. “Peer Gynt” teaches us this, that the individuum and the person are not one and the same. The individuum is a naturalistic biological category. Person is of a religio-spiritual category. Person is an end-task of the individuum. And possible is the existence of a vivid individuality amidst the destruction of person. Peer also never strove to become a person, he desired only to affirm his own individuality and he thought, that by this he would be “his own man”. But to be an individuum still does not signify to be “one’s own self”, this is merely a biological condition; “one’s own self” can only be as person. Herein it transpires that Ibsen outgrows himself, the limits of his consciousness. He artistically foresees the ultimate depth of the religious problem of person. The meeting of Peer Gynt with the button-molder, which occurs already as it were after his death, in the other world, describes a trial of the soul, and it produces a shaking impression. Never yet it would seem has art set itself so bold a task. Peer Gynt, having in his life torn asunder his own “I” and in essence never having been “he himself”, meets up in the world beyond the grave with a button-molder, since he deserves to go into the smelter. He is one of those, who is unworthy both of paradise and of hell. Non-being awaits him. He did not have even any great sins, and he wanted that there might be someone, with whom his life had clashed, so that he could evidence some great sin, so that he might preserve the being of his person, even though it be in hell. But the extreme individualist Peer Gynt is perfectly impersonal, he lad lost his own person, and he never was that, for which he was created by the Creator. Peer became a troll, i.e. he became self-satisfied, i.e. a nothing. To become oneself means to renounce oneself, to fulfill an higher will. But that which is most powerful in “Peer Gynt” -- is the image of Solveig, a model of feminine fidelity and feminine love. Solveig all her life remains faithful to Peer, all her life waited for him, and he was preserved in her heart. And here at the hour of death, having lost his own person, Peer can find himself refuge only in the heart of Solveig, about whom he had forgotten, in her love and her fidelity. Peer preserved himself, his person, only in Solveig. Solveig is amidst this also a mother intercessor, the ultimate refuge of a man, having lost himself and consigned to perdition. In her is reflected the holy and all-wise femininity of the Mother of God, the MostHoly Virgin. “Peer Gynt” possesses a deep Christian meaning. The problem of personal fate is sharpened to the utmost degree and discloses an inward crash of individualism, which destroys the person.

        In “Caesar and the Galileian”, the most grandiose in design of the works of Ibsen, there is depicted the clash of two worldwide ideas and of two kingdoms: that of Caesar and of Christ. In this tragedy Ibsen lodged his own vision about the third Kingdom, the kingdom of the Spirit, in the reconciliation of the two struggling ideas. Ibsen discloses the impotence of Caesar before the face of the Galileian, the reactionism of the very idea of Caesar. Julian the Apostate -- is an impotent dreamer, who thinks to conquer Christ by his own works. Julian sees with bitterness, that the restoration of paganism is powerless and doomed to failure. But he is not keen to the march of history. He is on the order of a fantasy-reactionary. The ancient, the pre-Christian idea of the apotheosis of Caesar from an out-dated paganism has too great a grip on his romantic soul. The rebirth of paganism is connected with the bestowal upon Caesar of divine honours. Julian wanted as though to rule not only over the life and blood of people, but also over their will and soul. But he is bereft of every power, as also all romantic dreamers tend to be. The mystic Maximus appears as the bearer of the idea of a third kingdom, the kingdom of the Spirit, a reconciling of Caesar and the Galileian, of earth and heaven, of flesh and spirit. The kingdom earthly and the kingdom spiritual ought to be combined in a single person. Here Ibsen comes very close to the Russian expectation of a third revelation of the Holy Spirit. But the mystic Maximus is unpersuasive and unimposing. Ibsen in essence unmasks the lie of a dreamt-up and fantastic man-godhood, of a titanism, and it unmasks itself. Ultimately “Caesar and the Galileian” is a laudation of Christianity.

         “The Master Builder Solness” and “When We Dead Awaken” are the finale to Ibsen’s path of creativity. The problem of creativity, which all his life tormented Ibsen, is most acute in the “Master Builder Solness”, just as the problem of person was in “Peer Gynt”. The master builder Solness in his declining years still yet builds not churches nor high towers, he builds but dwellings for people and in the capacity of a builder of dwellings he has excelled. But the loss of his creative powers frightens him, and the youth replacing him frightens him. People no longer want high towers, and the success in life of Solness signifies together with this a lowering of the quality of his creativity. When he was younger, he had given a vow to build up things towering over the houses of people, aerial castles upon stone foundations. The conscience of Solness is not clean, and he feels his own guilt. And here creative youth in the figure of Hilda gives him a knock and demands the promised regal-building, an high tower, upon which Solness himself ought to go. Solness builds himself an house with an high tower and urged on by Hilda he wants to see for himself from atop the tower. But his head becomes dizzy, he does not hold on atop, he falls and is dashed apart. “The Master Builder Solness” is the most symbolic of the dramas of Ibsen. In Solness is symbolised the fate of mankind, which in times past built churches and high towering battlements, but later turned exclusively to the construction of dwellings for people. The great creative design, drawing upwards, towards the heights, has been betrayed by man, the quality of creativity has sunk downwards and man has lost the capacity to take to the heights. But mankind is living through a deep spiritual crisis, it again pines for churches and towering battlements, it is unable to be satisfied with life in philistine huts. The “Master Builder Solness” is a call to spiritual creativity and together with this a discovery of the powerlessness of modern man. But herein Ibsen exposes a peculiar titanism. “When We Dead Awaken” is the tragedy of the creativity of an artist. Woman always plays for Ibsen the role of a creative provoker. Irene inspires the sculptor to creativity, to the creation of a notable work of art. But she fell a sacrifice to the creativity, her life was destroyed, she does not exist for the creator, as a living person. And she dies and then comes back to life, to remind the creator about the tragedy of creativity and life. There exists a tragic conflict between creativity and life; creativity is an apostacy from life and a sacrifice by life. And therefore creativity is transformed into a sin in regard to life and living beings. Herein is sensed a personal experience of Ibsen, he himself sacrificed life in the name of creativity. A suppressed life passes over into a creative current, but life anew awaits and reminds the creator about the murder committed. And the creator-artist perishes together with that, which inspired him to creativity and which he sacrificed. Here the problem is presented at great depth. The creativity of a work of art, of cultural values, is in a certain sense contrary to the creativity of life itself. This problem is especially close to the Russian mindset. The creativity of Ibsen gives justification to the titanic strivings of mankind and together amidst this exposes them. By his insights of genius into the fate of the person and creativity, Ibsen assists in a religious renewal. And his creativity belongs not to mere decades with their passing vogues, but to eternity, like the creativity of Sophocles, Shakespeare or Dostoevsky.


III. -- N. F. FEDOROV.  1

      Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov, an unassuming librarian at the Rumyantsev Museum, having published not a single book during his life and denying the right to sell his books, a Russian original and an eccentric, known but in a very narrow circle, was a genius of a man. N. Fedorov -- is a Russian’s Russian, in him one can learn the uniqueness of Russian thought and Russian searchings. Inherent to his life was a natural, undifficult asceticism and unique righteousness. The most notable Russian people of  his time spoke about N. F. ecstatically and deferred before his person. Dostoevsky, not knowing N. F. personally, writes about his “idea”, that “in essence I am completely in agreement with these thoughts. I perceive them as though they were my own”.  Vl. Solov’ev, on whom N. F. had a tremendous and as yet unstudied influence, writes to him: “I have read your manuscript avidly and with delight of spirit... Your project (the discussion is about Fedorov idea of resuscitation) I accept unconditionally and without any quibblings... Your project is the first movement forward of the human spirit on the path to Christ. I, on my side, can but acknowledge You my teacher and spiritual father”. Fet reports to N. F. the remark about him by L. Tolstoy: “I am proud, that I live at the same time with suchlike a man”, and added for himself: “I know of no man, knowing You, who would not express about You this sort of thing”.  L. Tolstoy defers before the moral figure of N. F. and forgave him quite harsh rebukes.   The friend of  N. F., V. A. Kozhevnikov, who wrote a book about him, says concerning him: “This was a man wise and righteous, and those more close to him tend to add: this was one of those righteous ones, who hold the world together”. A fundamental idea of N. F., was a purely Russian idea of the responsibility of all for all, the idea of the active participation of man in the matter of universal salvation and resurrection. N. F. was sickened at the discord and non-brotherly relationships among people. He was not at all a writer, nor was he a philosopher in the usual sense of the word, and he never strove after what is called “cultural creativity”, -- he sought after the “deed” and the “task” of universal salvation. He himself is at the extreme opposite antipode to individualism, and a peculiar collectivist. He had no interest for the subjective world of the soul and is repulsed by the romanticism of cultural people. N. F. is a mortal enemy of Capitalist society, as lacking in kinship, grounded in discord, godless and anti-Christian, and in this he is more radical than the Communists, which bear comparison with N. F. in views on the bourgeoisie. The teaching of N. F. is first of all a calling forth and summoning to an universal task, towards a religious organisation of labour and the regulating of labour. He has no love for the teachings of the privileged, separating thought from life, and he denounces the sin of the falling-away of the Intelligentsia from the people. Completely foreign to him is any theoretical philosophy, any contemplative metaphysics. His own philosophy is projective and active. Philosophy ought not passively to reflect the world, but the rather to actively transfigure and improve the world. In this N. F. has a formal affinity with Marx. The separation of the theoretical reason from the practical is a sinful downfall of thought. Therefore he calls his philosophy “The Philosophy of the Common Task”. Only that philosophy is authentic and justified, at the foundation of which lies a grieving over the sorrow and death of people. This grieving was to an utmost degree in N. F. himself, and in this he stands at an extraordinary spiritual height.

         For N. F., the sole and ultimate evil is death. Every evil issues forth from death and leads to death. The worldwide struggle against death is a task, set before mankind. N. F. frequently criticises the teaching about progress, as comprising a religion of death. Progress arranges life for the graveyard, upon the decaying bones of the ancestors, it is based upon a forgetting of obligation in regard to the deceased fathers, it legitimatises the devouring by the generation following of the generation preceding, progress becomes reconciled with death and is contrary to the idea of resurrection and resuscitation. The genuine vocation of man is the calling to be a resuscitator to life. In the world-concept of N. F. there is an unique combination of conservative and revolutionary elements. He wants a radical turnaround of time from the future to the past, a victory over death-bearing time. Man ought to concern himself not only over his descendants, but also over his ancestors, he has an obligation not only to his sons, but also to his fathers. Man is first of all a son, and N. F. wanted as it were to reveal and affirm the sonship of man. The human son ought to have memory and concern for the dead fathers, he cannot reconcile himself with death. Christianity is the religion of Resurrection. And N. F. speaks not only about the Resurrection (Voskresenie), but also about Resuscitation (Voskreshenie). Man is called to an active preparation of the universal Resurrection, and this means also, that he is called to Resuscitation. People ought to unite themselves into a common task of Resuscitation. N. F. is a terrible enemy of the Monophysite tendencies within Christianity. For him it is not only God that is active, but also man. In this is the meaning of the Christological dogma about God-manhood. The separation of heaven and earth is a distortion of Christianity. Christianity strives for the transfiguration of the earth, to a regulation of world life, to the inclusion of reason and consciousness into the elemental powers of nature, to the conquest of death-bearing nature by man the resurrector. Faith in the active vocation of man for N. F. is connected with a faith in reason, in science, in technology, in the possibility of the regulation of the whole of nature. His thought possesses a cosmic sweep. In nature rage irrational elemental powers, which leads to the triumph of death. The victory over death is a victory over these unregulated elemental powers through regulation, through the expedient activity of man. But the regulation of the elements of nature for N. F. is not by conquest and violence, it is not by force, but is rather the fulfilling of a sacred duty afront the dead, before the fathers, and it is wrought not for the future only, but also for the past, for the restoration of the dust of the ancestors. The roots of Fedorov’s idea of the regulation of nature differs from the idea of the progress of civilisation. N. F. first of all is a Christian and Orthodox. A godless science and technology can sow only but death. The novelty of the idea of N. F., frightening to so many, is in this, that he affirmed the activity of man as immeasurably greater, than that which Humanism and Progressism believes in. The Resurrection is a deed not only of God’s grace, but also of human activity. The passive attitude towards the elemental powers of nature and the death that is summoned forth by them, he regards as the greatest evil. N. F. was original too as a Slavophil and he acknowledged a great superiority of the East over the West, but in no way was he an adherent of the Eastern passivity of man. In the West man was more active, but this activity was a false activity. It was expressed by the Western progress, which death rules in. Western civilisation for N. F. is based upon citizenship, and not upon kinship. But the citizens -- are prodigal sons, having forgotten their fathers. He is likewise negative in regard to comradship, which is contrary to brotherhood. Brotherhood presupposes sonship, which is a fundamental category in the social thought of N. F. The true society is kinship and brotherhood, based on sonship. The primal archetype of true human society is the Holy Trinity. The whole world ought to be organised on the model of the Divine Trinity, an Heavenly kinship. The peculiar social utopianism of N. F. consists in this, that he believed in the possibility of a patriarchal and kindred sociality, based on a cult of ancestors. He underestimated the power of evil and discord in human society. He believed in an utopia of a Russian autocratic monarchism, which should become worldwide and universal. The Russian Orthodox tsar ought to rule all the natural world and stand at the head of the son-resurrectors. This presupposes likewise an oneness of faith, on which there is little basis to count on. N. F. was in essence antagonistic towards the state and a citizen society. The human society ought to be familial, and based on a common religious cult. He is an extreme enemy to any sort of secularisation. Everything ought anew to become sacral. The wars of nations, just like the struggle of classes, ought to cease, and the power of a religiously united mankind ought to be turned into a war against the elemental powers of nature and against death. The armies ought to be turned towards the struggle against the elements of meteorological phenomena, towards a conquest of the universe. But this presupposes the pacification of mankind, the victory over the evil will within mankind.

         The “project” of N. F., which Vl. Solov’ev was entirely in agreement with, was the boldest thing in all of Christian history: people ought to unite for a common task -- the resuscitation of dead ancestors. Christianity up to the present time has believed in resurrection, but never did it make bold to speak about a resuscitation, about the activity of man in the restoration of life to the fathers. N. F. demanded, that all the whole life of people, the whole of culture, be transferred to the graveyard, near to the dust of the ancestors. Alongside churchly liturgy there ought to be an outside-churchly liturgy, the whole of life ought to become an outside-churchly liturgy. The very division into sacral and profane ought to be surmounted, -- all ought to be sacral. The originality of N. F. is in this, that together with this he acknowledged the great significance of science, technology and organised labour. He is hostile to a dreamy romantic and mystical mindset. He wants it real, almost that it be a materialistic resuscitation. The first condition of the common task of the resuscitation of the dead ancestors appears to be a moral unifying of people, the ceasing of discord and strife, the revealing of brotherly and filial live. This is an obligatory spiritual condition, without which “the common task” is impossible. Man ought spiritually and morally to be conscious of himself as a resurrector, to be conscious of his obligation in regard to the fathers, i.e. all dead mankind. The moral consciousness of N. F. is extraordinarily lofty, higher than this consciousness no one yet in the Christian world has risen, and it is immeasurably higher than that consciousness, wherein Christianity is but a religion of personal salvation, a “transcendental egoism”. Each Christian ought to think about salvation, the restoration to life, the resurrection of all, not only about the living, but also about the dead, not only about oneself and one’s children, but also about all the sons of mankind. Man for N. F. is first of all a son, and therefore already a father and brother. And he proposes to assert a cult of the “eternal childliness” in place of the bad cult of “eternal femininity”, in the name of which according to N. F. has been created Capitalism, with its sense of luxury and pleasure in life. For N. F. a masculine purity was characteristic, the complete absence of decadence, which appeared in the subsequent generation. But further on there occurs an even more problematic and questionably provocative matter in the teaching of N. F. about resuscitation. According to the teaching of N. F., resuscitation is to be understood not only by the deed wrought by Christ, the Redeemer and Saviour, and not only by the spiritual and moral effects of mankind, by human love for the dead, but also by the scientific, technical and physical activity of people. The life of people, transferred to the graveyard, ought to be the experience of the restoration of the dust of the ancestors by the conjoint efforts of religion and science, of the priest and the erudite technician. He speaks further about physical-chemical experiments of resuscitation, that produce an almost painful impression. The faith of N. F. in the power of science and technology is unbounded, but the realisation of this power is possible only under certain delimited religious and spiritual conditions. Within the world-concept of N. F. there are strong elements of nationalism and rationalism, which in him are reconciled with traditional Orthodoxy. He underestimated the irrational powers in life and the irrational was for him always an elemental evil, to be overcome by regulation, i.e. the rationalisation of world life.

         Let us consider the most grandiose and dizzying idea of N. Fedorov. In N. F. there was a completely original and unprecedented attitude towards apocalyptic propheticism, and his teaching represents something completely new within the Russian apocalyptic consciousness and Russian apocalyptic hopes. Russian apocalypticism usually assumes a passive form. Russian man awaits the end of the world, the coming of the Anti-Christ and the final struggle of the good and evil principles. But he himself passively undergoes the mystical winnowing of the Apocalypse. Such a passive apocalypticism was in our schismatics, it was in K. Leont’ev and in Vl. Solov’ev towards the end of his life. There draws nigh the end of the world, everything disintegrates, the kingdom of the Anti-Christ approaches. Man does not have the strength to oppose it. But the mindset of N. F. is completely otherwise. He taught, that the apocalyptic propheticisms are conditional, they represent only a threat. If mankind does not unite itself for the common task of the resuscitation of the dead ancestors, the restoration to life of all mankind, then there will ensue the end of the world, the coming of the Anti-Christ, the Dread Last Judgement and eternal perdition for many. But if mankind in love unites itself for the common task, to fulfill its duty in regard to the deceased fathers, if it with all its strength devotes itself to the deed of universal salvation and resurrection, then there will not be the end of the world, there will not be the Dread Last Judgement and there will not be eternal perdition for anyone. This is a projective and active understanding of the apocalypse. It depends on man, for God’s plan for the world to succeed. Never yet within the Christian world has there been expressed so bold and dizzying a thought about the possibility of averting the Dread Last Judgement and its inevitable consequences through the active participation of man. If what N. F. calls for were to be done, then the end of the world would not transpire and mankind with a transfigurative and ultimate regulation of nature would pass over directly into eternal life. N. F. reveals eschatological perspectives, which never before found expression in the Christian world. N. F. -- is a resolute anti-Gnostic, for him everything is to be resolved not by passive thought and knowledge, but by active deed. The apocalyptic and eschatological consciousness calls for a deed, for action, for responsibility. If the end of the world is nigh, then this ought also to evoke an unprecedented activity of man, an united effort to avert the fatal end and direct the world towards eternal life. In this idea there is an extraordinary grandeur and loftiness, to an extent to which no one has ever risen.

          The Russian messianic idea of N. F. assumes a completely new form. He believes passionately in Russia and the Russian people, in its singular vocation in the world. In Russia is where there ought to begin “the common task”. Western Europe is too caught up in culture and progress. But culture and progress have betrayed the deed of resuscitation, they go along the path of certain death. N. F. did not survive up to the Russian catastrophe, in which the Russian messianic idea was so terribly distorted. Russian Communism is the opposite antipode of Fedorov’s idea, since it made mockery over the dust of the ancestors, and it is oriented exclusively towards the future. Russian Communism, from Fedorov’s point of view, is a religion of death, but in it there is a feature of an ape-like affinity with Fedorov’s “common task” -- the uniting of people, regulation, directed to the common welfare and earthly salvation, anti-individualism, a negative attitude towards culture, towards the Intelligentsia, towards thought, having lost contact with life, and activism and pragmatism. N. F. is extraordinarily characteristic of the Russian idea and he awaits his own appraisal. The weak side of the teachings of N. F. -- is his inability to see the irrational freedom of evil in the world, his rationalistic-naturalistic optimism. Therein is begotten his utopianism, so in character for Russian thought. In actuality, the mystic is less utopian. N. F. sees in death -- the source of evil, and in the victory over death -- the chief task. In this he is right. But he understates the mystical significance of the passage through death, as an inward moment of life, i.e. the salvific significance of the Cross and Golgotha. We ought properly to welcome interest in N. F., the republishing of his works and the developing of his ideas. But in our era he can also be a false interpreter. The greatness of N. Fedorov is first of all in his moral idea, in the sorrowing over the discord and misery of people, in a call for human activity, and in the thirst for universal salvation and resurrection.

                                                                                    Nikolai Berdyaev

                                                                                            1928

©  2001  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1928 -333 - en)

TRI  IUBILEYA:  L. TOLSTOY,  GENRIKH  IBSEN,  N. FEDOROV.  Journal Put’, jun. 1928, No. 11, p. 76-94.

N.B.  The “Ibsen” subsection was translated and first appeared in English in the Journal Cross Currents, 1955, vol. V, No. 2.  The “Ibsen” section in the present text, however, is not this old 1955 translation, but rather a new and original translation.


  1  In Harbin admirers and followers of N. Fedorov have commenced with the publication of his “Philosophiya Obschago Dela” (“The Philosophy of the Common Task”) in small installments. Already Issue I has come out. This start deserves a warm welcome. Vide my article about N. Fedorov in “Rus. Mysli”: “Religiya voskresheniya” (“The Religion of Resuscitation”).




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