Journal Put', aug. 1930, No. 23, p. 97-109.

N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)

EAST  AND  WEST 1

(1930 - #353)
_____________________________________

       It is possible to posit the existence of two inner emotional types of people -- the one shut in upon itself, seeking for perfection within itself and finding it in the end, whereas the other anguishes as regards a different and foreign world, and has need of a going out beyond itself and seeking perfection in the infinitude. The culture of the first type is self evident. One of the most refined Frenchmen of our time, a man of extraordinarily broad culture, Charles Du Bos says, that the French have not the anguish over other worlds, which so vexes the German Romantics, and a foreign world holds interest for them only as something exotic. I might term this type classical. Classicism also is a seeking out of the perfect form within its own self-sufficing world. Classicism has enjoyed great success in art, as well as in all spheres. And its greatest success, known to history, fell to the lot of Greece. It enjoyed another great success in the France of the XVII Century. But there exists a fundamental law of life, which serves as a warning for the classical feel for life and a calling to mind about the inevitable death of every culture. And this law proclaims: nothing, no sort of any manner of being can have its source of life only in itself, outside of God, Who is infinite life. Everything immanently shut in upon itself faces the threat of a withering and exhaustion of life. The Romanticism in the type of the Mediterranean, Graeco-Roman2civilisation  possesses a relative superiority over the classical, in that it conveys into its own feeling for life not only a love for life, but also a love for death, it anticipates a threatening fate. Creative life can continue on, if still there is endless potential, if there is still matter unconquered of form, a Dionysian element, to which there has not yet been set limits and boundaries. Even a most perfect culture is not destined to live an eternal life, for death inevitably threatens it. And in this is a source of sorrow for every very greatly refined culture. Exhaustion threatens every aristocracy. Classicism is an eternal principle of human culture, without which its perfection is unattainable. But Classicism is a love for the finite, a dislike for the infinite, of which the ancient Greeks were so afraid. The infinite is incommensurate with any sort of form, and everything, that is commensurate with perfect form, has to fear the infinite. Romanticism, however, not knowing success in form, is a love for the infinite, but without the power of penetrating into it and mastering it. Classicism, in the culture of Western Europe and foremost of all the very old, the very perfective and refined culture of France, so captivating by its sense of clarity, derives from the Classicism of Graeco-Roman civilisation, to which it desires to be faithful. The Mediterranean civilisation presents itself as universal and eternal, and all the rest of the world -- is a barbaric world. That ancient conceit, destroyed by the universalism of the Hellenistic era, has returned to the civilisation of western Europe in modern times. And this thus faces us with the problem of East and West.

        The concepts of East and West are very fluid and indeterminate. And these concepts of East and West, such as obtain modernly, no wise stand up to criticism. The Graeco-Roman Mediterranean civilisation itself, which they want to set in opposition to the East, was in a multitude of ways subject to influences from the East. Without the interaction from the East, which always amidst this entailed a degree of struggle, it would not now itself exist. The Aegean culture was from the East. From outside it, from Thrace, there arrived in Greece the god Dionysos, and without this Eastern god there would not have been the greatest creation of the Greek genius -- Greek tragedy, there would not have been the greatest attainments of the Greek religion. Orphism was full of Eastern elements. It was very strong in Plato, whom certain regard as an Eastern philosopher. The Greek genius of Apollonian form mastered the stormy Dionysian element, but without this element it would have been able to accomplish nothing. And how great were the influences of Egypt! Modern humanistic Europe loves the Greek rationalism and positivism, which are regarded as Western, but not the Greece of mystery and tragedy, of Herakleitos and Plato, in any case not Plato the myth-maker, not that profound aspect of Greece, which revealed itself to Bachofen and Nietzsche. At a certain moment Greece was transformed into the East, in regard to the Roman West. The Hellenistic era, pervaded by a spirit of universalism, destroyed the boundaries of the Graeco-Roman civilisation, in it East and West arrived at an unprecedentedly close contact and the east proved to be of an overwhelming spiritual influence in the West. With this also is the beginning of worldwide history, it was created by Christianity. Rome, the West in its supremacy, was spiritually conquered by the East, by the Eastern cultures and the Eastern world-view, since Rome itself was bereft of all signs of religious and philosophical genius. Franz Cumont, in his book, "Les mysteres de Mithra", says: "jamais, peut-etre, pas meme a l'epoque des invasions musulmanes, l'Europe ne fut plus pres de devenir asiatique qu'au III siecla de notre ere, et il y eut un moment ou le caesarisme parut sur le point de transfer en un khalifat" ["never, perhaps, not even at the time of the Mussulman invasions, was Europe closer to becoming Asiatic, than at the III Century of our era, and there was a moment when Caesarism seemed at the point of becoming transformed into a caliphate"]. The asiaticisation of the West was an everywhere common phenomenon at the beginning of our era, which also was rendered possible by the triumph of Christianity. Jerusalem proved victorious over Athens and Rome. Light arrived from the Eastern wilderness, and not from the classical civilisation. This is something indisputable for anyone not a child of Voltaire. For the whole Medieval period, the Eastern world and the Western world were neither isolated nor closed off from each other. The final isolation happened only after railway lines were built and ready means of communication established. There was a time when Byzantium, within which Greece had become the East, was the summit of refined culture, and the West drew from it for its cultural influences. Through the Arabs, the West discovered Aristotle, who became a Western philosopher predominantly. Although for the modern humanistic and rationalistic Europe, even the Medieval period has to seem like something Eastern.

      Only during the era of the Renaissance does there begin the shut-in isolation of the West, and as it were the East's falling to the wayside as regards historical dynamics. The Western humanistic culture tended to become crystalised, and to conceive of itself as having returned after "centuries of darkness" to the culture of antiquity, and that therefore it is the sole and universal culture. But during the modern era the West has least of all been universal, and within it everything stands under the standard of particularism. Amidst all this, it has been a time of religious weakening in the West, a time of the extinguishing of faith, of an apostacy from the Christian revelation. With the end of modern history there has to end also the isolation of the world of the West and the world of the East. And modern history is reaching an end point, it has outlived its possibilities. There has to begin an era analogous to the Hellenistic era. If we at present have something immanently facing us, then it is not at all the classical antiquity with its self-sufficing autarchies, but rather the time of the collapsing of the ancient world, when the soil had been broken up, when all the boundaries and divisions had fallen, and the world was ready to accept the influx of a powerful religious light. Back still at the beginning of the World War, I wrote in 1915 an article, "The End of Europe", in which I defended the thought, that the bloody devastation of the World War has to lead towards a coming together of the world, towards an unprecedented interaction of East and West, that Europe was ending in the sense that it would no longer hold an exclusive monopoly on culture, that the great values of European culture would pass over across the world expanse, with the peoples and cultures of the East entering anew into world history, as one of its determining powers. I think, that I was right. We have entered upon an era of unification and closeness of varied worlds, religious, intellectual, literary, political and social. And the enormous consequences are still not apparent. This is not at all a matter of simple internationalism, of something impersonal and empty. The revolt of cultures autarchic and particularistic against this universal momentum is a reaction of the dying modern times, it is a fear afront what is to come. And it has particularly to be emphasised, that Christians ought to welcome an universalistic era. Universalism, certainly, does not signify herein the negation of individual nationalities nor a renunciation of the positive values of national cultures. But the world of the West and the world of the East have to emerge from their isolation. Every world shit-in upon itself is doomed to death, if it does not receive an influx of powers from other worlds, if after its allotted ages of isolated existence it fails to breathe the breath of the world. When we use the terms "East" and "West", we are operating with very abstract and conditional concepts. There exist very varied Easts and very varied Wests. The more I get into the life of the West, the more I am convinced, that no sort of a single Western culture exists, it instead was contrived by the Russian Slavophils and Westernisers for clarifying their points of opposition. At the centre of Western Europe is first of all France and Germany. But between the French and the Latin culture generally in contrast to the German culture there exists an abyss quite greater, than exists between the German culture and the Russian culture or that of India, though here even the differences are colossal. Yet it would be groundless for the French to say, that the German culture, in having created great philosophy, mysticism and music, is on account of its not having inherited the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean culture, or that it is not in direct continuance from it. The Anglo-Saxon world likewise is an altogether unique world. And the American civilisation is of far greater difference from the civilisation of the French, than the French civilisation is from the Russian. The Russian civilisation has connections with the Greek, which America possesses not at all. One can speak only about a singular Western civilisation only if there be regarded abstractly the elements of science, technology, democracy, etc. In spirit, however, the differences are enormous, The same also mustneeds be said about the East. The Russian, the Orthodox Christian East, the Islamic East, the Indian East, the Chinese East -- all these are totally different worlds. There is very little affinity between Russia and India. Hinduism does not conceive of history, does not know the person, denies the Incarnation. Christian Russia is similar to ancient Israel in its orientation to the meaning of history and the experiencing of it, as a tragedy, it believes in the Divine incarnation, it awaits the second Coming, and it tormentedly experiences the problem of the human person and its fate.

         Yet all the same, we can speak symbolically about the "East" and the "West". The West indisputably has had a great mission in world history and it has displayed exceptional gifts in fulfilling it. The mission of the West has been in the unfolding and development of the human principle within culture, with the increased complexity and refinement of the emotional world of man, the intensification of historical activity, and the working out of formal principles in thought and creativity. The humanism of the West has had world significance, with the living out of human destinies. And the world of the East should involve itself with the humanistic world of the West. But the civilisation of the West, having actualised too far the potentialities and in everything providing a predominance to the formal principle, has led to the closing off and hardening of the consciousness, everywhere establishing divisions, boundaries and limits. Being thus closed off did not allow for moreso a breadth of life. The perfection of form became a danger for the sustaining of life. I once happened to be told by one of the most remarkable Catholic theologians of the West, Guardini, a leader of the German youth movement, and a visible activist in the liturgical movement: only with you in Russia has been preserved still the Dionysian element of life, which with us in the West is no more, it has been extinguished, it has become weakened by the dominance of form, which has not taken hold with you Russians. The Russians understand differently the correspondence between form and matter, between act and potentiality, than obtains per Aristotle. Russian thinking is inclined to see activity in the very potentiality of life and not in the approach, wherein that form as it were from the outside is imposed upon matter. And hence the acute antipathy of the Russian spiritual type towards formalism and juridicism in culture, towards authoritative claims in religious life, towards rationalism in thought, towards a predominance of external settings of arrangement of the inner organic life. Hence also there is a different understanding of freedom, as indeterminism, as an irrational principle in life, as rooted in the potentialities of life. Hence also there is the antipathy towards individualism, as involving division, a closed-in condition, setting boundaries to the fullness of life, towards the Roman concept of possessions, towards having high walls around one's dwellings and bolting shut the gates, towards the delimitation of rights and the struggle for one's own rights against the rights of others. But this antipathy towards individualism has nothing in common with a denial of the person, as often it might seem to Western people. And hence also within literature there is the demand of Russians to express their soul and their search for the truth of life, yet amidst this a lack of confidence, that the mysteries of life, the authentic reality, can actually be expressed in word or in any sort of form. "Thought bespoken is a lie", says Tiutchev. With this is all bound up the constant doubt and reflection of Russians over the justification of culture, doubts that are religious, moral, social. Hence also the difficulty to reach the perfective in one's own creativity. The West has become so fond of civilisation, that in its name it consented to set boundaries to life and weaken its power, it believes terribly much in the word, in the concept, in form, in organisation, in rights, and to such it entirely subordinates both soul and life. In the West it is only the Romantics that have risen up against this. In Russia it was not needful to be a Romantic, in order to prevent the dominance of form over life. And with this are connected not only the positive, but also the negative and difficult sides in the Russian spiritual type.

      The East is a land of revelation. There God spoke with man, person to person. All the religions have arisen in the East -- the Jewish religion and our Christian religion, as well as Mahometanism, Buddhism, Brahmanism, Parseeism. The West has created not a single religion, nor has it heard directly the voice of God. The West, true, has developed the Christian religion and has done much, but has developed it with the methods of civilisation. The West is the land of civilisation and the people of the West rarely doubt the absolute value and the absolute good of civilisation. The symbols of East and West tend to signify: Jerusalem or Athens, revelation or culture. We can desire not to have to make a choice and instead say -- both Jerusalem and Athens, both revelation and culture. The early teachers of the Church tended to unite Jerusalem with Athens. But it is necessary to make a distinction between these two world principles and establish between them an hierarchical correlation. The centre of world culture, certainly, is in the West, but the sources, in which this world comes into contact with the other world -- are in the East. East and West -- are not so much geographic nor historical spheres, always conditional and fluid, even not types of cultures, since there are no Western cultures, into which elements of the East have not entered, -- East and West, -- are symbols, the symbol of the rising of the sun, of revelation, and of the setting of the sun -- of civilisation. The East -- is the realm of genesis. It viewed the creation and the downfall of the world and in it remained still the primordial chaos. The world was created in the East, in the West was created civilisation and there too was awakened reason. The West is right in the middle of the historical path of the world and mankind, but it is not the beginning and it is not the end. In this middle point was created and developed great culture, the thought of man showed its strength. But the final fates of culture remain hidden and frequently to people in the West it seems endless. In order to uncover the final fates necessitates a turning towards the East, to the sources of things, similar to how the Apocalypse, the revelation of the end, relates to the beginning, to the book of Genesis. But where is Russia, which is of interest for these gatherings, -- is it East or West? Russian thought over the entire XIX Century was in torment over this question and it gave rise to two opposing currents -- Slavophilism and Westernism. Russia is not only a nationality, Russia -- is an entire world, almost a peculiar world. And indisputably within it has occurred the encounter of East and West, in it there are two elements, which both find unity and lead to struggle between them. Russia is an East-West and in this is a source of the complexity and torment of its fate, its sad history. In the soul of the cultural Russian man there also transpires the struggle of East and West. Russian man languishes for the West and dreams about it. He seeks to get beyond the Eastern enclosure and strives for fullness. Westernism is a purely Russian, an Eastern-Russian phenomenon. Russian people of culture have not only been fond of it, they became infatuated with it, they could not live without it. Russia has received endlessly much from the West. To Russians belong the most tender and penetrating words about the great culture of the West. The Slavophil Khomyakov called Western Europe "the land of holy miracles". The Byzantist, K. Leont'ev, was totally in love with the great past of Western culture. And finally, even Dostoevsky, who for many people in the West personifies in himself the mysterious, chaotic and repulsive East, spoke very moving words about the grandeur of Western Europe and termed Russian man as a patriot of Western Europe. The greatest Russian thinkers and writers tended to denounce not the West in general, not the Western culture in general, but rather the modern Western civilisation, godless and bourgeois, having forsaken its great past. Russia is not that East, which viewed the creation of the world and the beginning of things. In Russia the world does not begin, as it does for the genuine East, but rather ends. Russia as it were has sought to view the end of things, and in this is its religious pathos. Suchlike also it has to be with the Christian East.

      Yet in its communion with culture, in the person of Russian people standing at the summits of culture, Russia is tormented with doubts on the justification of culture. Is culture authentic being and life? Is it not an unsuccessful failing of life? Is not the price for culture too dear, is it not a betrayal of God or the people? Ought not the creativity of cultural values pass over to the creativity of life itself, of a new transfigured life? These questions -- are purely Russian questionings, purely a Russian reflection over that cultural condition, in which the West lives, possessed of no doubts on its good and value. Russian people, and especially the most creative and cultured Russian people, have experienced what might be called a cultural apocalypse, a sort of Dread Last Judgement regarding culture. And this fully conforms to the eschatologicism of Russian Orthodoxy. The fate of three of the Russian great writers -- Gogol, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky -- witnesses to the tragedy of culture and creativity. In the fate of Tolstoy, who is more remarkable than his teachings, this became apparent throughout all the world. The Russian culture of the XIX Century and the Russian great literature was not endowed with any sort of a Renaissance character and it was not from a joyful exuberance, not from any free play of powers that the Russians created their works. Only in Pushkin was there the gleam of a Renaissance aspect, but this was merely only a brief moment of creative joy at the beginning XIX Century, in the Golden Age of Russian poetry. Russian literature, ever so sad, went other paths. The Russian creative writers were afflicted by the sufferings of the world and of man, they sought for salvation and a deliverance from the torments. Russian literature within its most remarkable works seeks the truth of life, seeks the religious meaning of life and desires to pass over into religious activity. At its summits it transcends the limits and has no desire to know of laws, which would restrain it within an enclosed and differentiated sphere. We as Russians tend to be lawless people in general and in everything we overstep the limits. Western European culture and literature tends to flow always within the categories of Classicism and Romanticism. And this testifies to its ancient Graeco-Roman origins. If it be said to a typical Western man, that some certain Russian writer is not classical, then he suspects of him, that he is a romantic. But in actuality, Classicism and Romanticism are nowise Russian categories. The elements of Classicism and Romanticism with us represent something affected and borrowed. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are nowise classical nor are they romantics, this is obvious for everyone. Should Rozanov however be set into the category of Classicism or of Romanticism? Romanticism correlates to Classicism and appears as the reaction to the oppression and tyranny of Classicism. Romanticism is a phenomenon totally Western and it developed upon the soil of Western humanism. Romanticism in Russia often has been only a languor for the West and an experiencing by the Russian soul of Western influences. The spirit of the East is not at all romantic, just as in general spirit is not romantic, -- only the soul tends to be romantic. Characteristic to the Russian spiritual type is neither Classicism, nor Romanticism, for characteristic to it is a special kind of religious realism. Russian creativity attempts to penetrate to the very depths of life, the depths of being, to reveal the truth about man, which also is the truth about God, and not about the reaching of perfected forms, such as obscure the truth abut life, about man and about God. Granted that this regards the East, since the West reveres form foremost of all and aspires towards perfection of form more than towards being itself. But this is an East, which tends to remember, that its deepest source is the Bible and Jerusalem. It was still not so long ago that you, as Frenchmen, had a remarkable writer, who was mindful of this truth and was close to Russian motifs, though he was also a typical Latin. I speak about a man of the Apocalypse, L. Bloy. He was not afraid of further risk, such as people tend to fear, all those chained fast to civilisation.

    Western culture has too much forgotten, that it derives not only from Graeco-Roman civilisation, but also from Jerusalem. Even the Christian West often forgets this. In order to know primary sources it is necessary to resort to the book of Genesis. Narrated therein is the origin of East and West, of South and North, of the coming about of the world. And here it mustneeds be said, that the Bible is not at all a matter of Classicism, just as neither is it Romanticism, it is necessary to turn to the Bible, in order to comprehend the fate of the world apart from any matters of Classicism and Romanticism, of classical formations and the romantic inner reactions against these formations. There is no one that would assert, that the Prophets or the book of Job are either classical or romantic. A comparison of the book of Job with Greek tragedy, with the Oedipus of Sophokles makes clear the differences between the ancient Hebrew, the Biblical, and the type classical, the Greek. In the Oedipus what is striking is the submissive resignation to fate. The words and gestures of Oedipus are beautiful in their moderation and resignation, in them there is an aesthetic transformation of suffering. Oedipus in his blameless suffering has no one to appeal to, no one to fight against, Oedipus lives in an immanently enclosed world, and there is no power, upon which he can rely in his struggle against the world. The world is full of gods, but these gods are immanent to the world, over them likewise rules fate, which has sent Oedipus his tragic sufferings, blameless and inescapable. The way out is possible only aesthetically. Classical antiquity did not know of the struggle with God. Job experiences his tragedy altogether differently. In him there is no submission and resignation. Job cries out, and his outcry fills the history of the world, to the very present it sounds forth on our lips. In the outcry of Job we get a sense of the fate of man. For Job fate does not exist, as it did for Oedipus. He knows of a power, standing higher than the world, higher than fate, to appeal to in the sufferings of the world, he turns his outcry to God and this outcry passes over into a struggle with God. Only in the Bible is known the manifestation of God-struggle, the struggle with God face to face, the struggle of Jacob, the struggle of Job, the struggle of all Israel. The resignation to the tragic in a beauty of submissiveness to blameless and inescapable suffering, the amor fati is the grandest attainment of the tragic spirit of Greece. Higher than this the west has not risen. Nietzsche was captivated by this, and by it have been captivated people of Western culture, having forgotten the Bible, having forgotten Him, to Whom is possible to offer complaint against innocent suffering in the world. The amor fati is a romantic motif in the classical world and man can rise up no higher than it, with having lost faith in God uppermost beyond the world. Dostoevsky is Russian tragedy. And here it is more in the line of Job, than in the line of Greek tragedy. In Dostoevsky there is that selfsame God-struggle, that same outcry, that same irreconcilableness and non-submissiveness, in him there is that selfsame absence of surmounting the tragic through an aesthetic catharsis. It is remarkable, that in him is altogether no sorrow and melancholy, so characteristic of the romantic West, he is not so much a psychologist, as rather a pneumatologist, and by this is uncovered an authentically tragic element. All the whole of Russian great literature in the XIX Century was more Biblical, than Greek in its spirit. In it is heard that selfsame outcry about the suffering fate of man in the world, calling out to God and for seeking the Kingdom of God, in which would be wiped away the tears of the child. We, as Russians, have connections with Greece, and not with Rome, the connections with Greece are through our Church, through the Greek Patristics, through Platonism, through mystery. Close to us is the Greek cosmic sense. But even beyond all this, we as Russians are aware of our own connection with the Bible and with Jerusalem. Within Russian spiritual culture enters in the Greece of Plato, Neo-Platonism and mystery, and also Judaism: the Bible and the Apocalypse. The strong admixture of Tatar blood creates an unique element, in which are active spiritual principles, deriving from Jerusalem and Athens. And here is this unique East, distinct from the East of the Indian or the Mussulman, it entered into an interaction with the west, it experienced the influences of Western culture and in its own way transformed them over the course of the XIX Century. Russians love Athens, although they are not native to the Mediterranean Sea, and often they languish over Athens, since always they love to languish over some other world, they have likewise languished over Paris and over Goettingen, when they lived remote from such places (at present they languish over Moscow), but Jerusalem was for us more primary, more a bed-rock, than Athens, not only the old Jerusalem, but also the new Jerusalem, after which we seek.

         The people of the Russian East or East-West, as I prefer to say, cannot be reconciled with those forms of the humanistic civilisation of the west, which ultimately have disdained the Bible and Jerusalem and have led to the forgetting of them. Foreign to us and impossible for us is not the love of the West in general, so great in its creativity, in the intensity of its thought, from which eternally there is much to learn, but it is rather the rationalistic and bourgeois West, a West conceited and of a repetitive spirit, a West impersonal with its worship of Mammon, in which form has made insignificant the content of life. Foreign to Russia is the European individualism, with its stifling isolation of persons, of families, of social groups, nationalities and different spheres of culture. The paradox of European individualism consists in this, that it not only isolates and shuts in the person within himself, not only that it invokes a cult of private property in everything, but also that it depersonalises the person, with his subordination to uniform social norms. It was not thus during the Middle Ages, it was not thus in the era of the Renaissance. The frightful thing in the mechanical civilisation of the West of the XIX and XX Centuries consists in this, that it both atomises and isolates the person, leaving him at the mercy of the whims of fate, and it also degrades every uniqueness of the person and in his distinctness from other persons, subordinating him to a mechanical collective. Social tyranny is the reverse side of this individualism. Peculiar to Russians is an unique kind of collectivism, unknown to the peoples of the West, it is rooted in the spiritual type of Orthodoxy. And totally mistaken indeed are the opinions of those Western people, who think, that the principle of the person is foreign to Russians, that Russia represents an impersonal East. The reading of Dostoevsky and other Russian writers should prove persuasive in this. Throughout the whole of the Russian culture of the XIX and XX Centuries there is an intense and tormentive experiencing of the problem of the person, of personal fate, as in the book of Job. It is Russians namely that have always risen up against bourgeois civilisation, against progress, against the absolute spirit of Hegel, against all social norms and laws in the name of the living human person, his joys and sufferings. This -- is a traditional Russian motif. But it remains an enigma, unsettling for the people of the West, why indeed the Russian people, having created a deep thought and literature, wholly taken up with the Christian idea of the person, having risen up against everything that would enslave and diminish the living person, why that such a people should have created the Communist order, in which ultimately the human person is crushed and brought low. In the West it would not be so easy for Communism to triumph over the effects of the individualism of Western people. This paradox of Russian fate is explicable by the twofold ambiguity of the Russian spiritual type, which was revealed with genius by Dostoevsky. The Russian people not only strives towards the New Jerusalem, towards the Kingdom of God, but also to an high degree it is capable of being tempted on its path, of falling into doubt, of getting confused and mistaking the kingdom of the Anti-Christ for the Kingdom of Christ. The Russian searching for social truth, and this always is for a maximum of social truth, can lead to opposite results. The verymost Russian of virtues can turn out as vices. What determines this, is that the structure of the Russian soul comprises within it a sort of polar opposition and it is possible only with difficulty to hold a middle ground. The hierarchicalisation of values proceeding by steps, which the West does with such genius, comes only with difficulty for Russians. An historical gradualness rests uneasily for Russian thought. But the question about East and West in Russian Communism is quite more complex, than is usually thought. There is active within it an Eastern element and it is an Asiatic Socialism, this is beyond dispute. But the ideology of Communism and militant atheism is taken from the West, And the Russian East has gone out of its mind from the Western draughts, bearable for a more moderate temperament. The experience of Russian Communism is something very instructive for the West. Russian Communism is nothing other than an evil-inducing apocalyptic caricature of the final limits of a godless Western civilisation, such as the West itself has not experienced. It shows, whither the paths lead out, those which for awhile had seemed safe and secure. Russian Communism is a phenomenon of a religious sort. The Russian East is on no middle path, but rather over beyond the limits. And in this is expressed an eschatological spirit.

      Barbarisation threatens the world. It threatens Europe both from the outside and from within its own civilisation, not from the forest, but from the machine. Blows are being struck at the aristocratism of culture. But it would be folly to think, that it is possible to contend against the barbarisation by an East and West isolated and hostile. God cannot be only in the East or only in the West. The West has to leave off with the idea, that the East is for it only an object for material and spiritual influencing. The East is a subject, and in its capacity as an active subject it again is emerging into world history. The smugness and isolation of the East is intolerable, but so is the smugness and isolation of the West. There is necessary a mutual fulfilling and enrichment. And particularly unseemly for Christians is such an isolationism and smugness. Christianity is an universal revelation and it entered the world, as an universal truth. It arrived from the East, but it was alike for both the East and for the West. We want to breath a world breath and move on to a new universal epoch, in which will be overcome the shut-in isolationism of all the parts of the earth, just like with the shut-in isolationism of the earth itself, its disjunction from the heavens and from other worlds.

      There is an impersonal and anti-Christian East. But it cannot be conquered by that civilisation of the West, which itself is anti-Christian and impersonal. The Far East and the Far West can combine into one and the same godless and inhuman civilisation. But the unity of East and West in the Name of God and of man, in the Name of Christ and of the person, has to be made both against an East and against a West, such as would kill God, and in killing God, would also kill man.

                                                                            Nikolai Berdyaev.

                                                                                   1930

  2003 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1930 - 353 - en)

VOSTOK  I  ZAPAD. Journal Put', aug. 1930, No. 23, p. 97-109. In French language, "L'Orient et l'Occident", trans. W. deVogt, Cahiers de la quinzaine, 5 juin 1930, 20e serie, 9ecahier, p. 55-60. In German, "West-Oestliches Russland", Eurpaeische Revue, aug 1930, No. 8. In Serbo-Croatian, as 3rd title "Istok i zapad" in anthology "Istina i lazh komunisma", trans. Dr Nikola Thaller, Zagreb, 1934, 80 p.


  1 Paper, presented at the Studio Franco-Russe in the French language, on 27 April 1930, in Paris.

2 The word civilisation I use here in it French sense, i.e. identical to the word culture.




Return to Berdyaev Online Library...