K.  Leont’ev  —  Philosopher of  a Reactionary  Romanticism

Sub Specie Aeternitatis, Ch. 15.

K.  Leont’ev  —  Philosopher
of  a Reactionary  Romanticism
(1905 – #120)

                                                                                                Is it not terrible and is it not an insult should one
                                                                                         think, that Moses went upon Sinai, that the Hellenes
                                                                                         built their elegant Acropoliseis, the Romans waged
                                                                                         the Punic Wars, the handsome genius Alexander
                                                                                         in a feathered-sort helmet crossed over the Granik
                                                                                         and battled ‘neathe Arbela, that the Apostles
                                                                                         preached, the martyrs suffered, the poets sang,
                                                                                         painters painted and knights gleamed at their
                                                                                         tourneys for this only, that the French, the German
                                                                                         or the Russian bourgeoise in their ugly and comic
                                                                                         attire might be smugly “individual” or “collectivist”
                                                                                         upon the ruins of all this past greatness?..
                                                                                             It is necessary to freeze Russia tho abit, that it not
                                                                                         “become putrified”…

                                                                                      K. Leont’ev

  There exist writers with an inexpressibly sad destiny, not acknowledged, not understood, attracting no one, dying in spiritual solitude, though bestown of talents, in mind, in originality they stand many heads above the acknowledged great. Such an one was Konstantin Leont’ev, a very imposing, the sole imposing thinker from the conservative camp, and altogether indeed one of the most brilliant and original minds in Russian literature. Katkov was the foremost political publicist of conservatism, here he ruled, but never was he a thinker, a philosopher of conservatism. The foremost and sole philosopher of conservatism, and more truly, not even conservatism, but rather reactionism, was K. Leont’ev.1

Poor Konstantin Leont’ev: he is worse off than they know, and very cultivated people even get him confused with the tedious classicist Leont’ev, co-editor with Katkov on the “Russian Messenger”. Herein indeed the irony of fate! K. Leont’ev dreamt about having a political influence, he wanted to play a role in the capacity of a leading reactionary publicist, but in this even he did not recognise himself. The conductor of conservative politics would be Katkov, staid and positive, who had the feel of real ground under his feet, and not Leont’ev, the romantic and dreamer, a preacher of fanaticism in the name of mystical ends, of a foolish reactionism, bordering on a mysterious sort of revolutionism. K. Leont’ev did not leave behind a perceptible mark within the history of Russian thought and Russian spiritual cravings. For the progressive camp with all its factions he was absolutely unwelcome and could evoke only contempt and indignation, while the conservatives however saw only the surface of his ideas, in similitude of Katkov’s, and they did not perceive his mystical depths, his illegitimate romanticism.

But people of our mindset ought to ponder over Leont’ev, over his sad fate. K. Leont’ev — was a strange writer, strange also for the whole of historical Christianity, strange and seductive compared with many a romantic and mystic. This solitary, almost known to no one, Russian man in much anticipated Nietzsche. He already came nigh to the abyss of the apocalyptic mindsets, by which at present we have many an ill, and in Christianity he attempted to reveal the features of a dark satanism, akin to his sick spirit. Leont’ev was a very complex writer, deeply contradictory, and it is not wise to understand each word of his too simply and literally.

In the dark and aristocratic soul of Leont’ev burned an aesthetic hatred for democracy, for the bourgeois middle ground, for the ideals of world harmony. This was the strongest passion in his life, and it was not held in check by any sort of moral hindrances, since with disgust he denied anything moral and considered everything permissible in the name of the highest mystical aims. With Leont’ev still there was a positive passion for the beauty of life, for its mysterious charm, and perhaps, there was the thirst for a full life. Beyond the unique, the bold and the harsh, feignedly-cold style of his writing is to be sensed a passionate and fiery nature, tragically-divided, having lived through the burdensome experience of the hypnotic might of ascetic Christianity. A man of strong fleshly passions and a thirst for a robust life is drawn sometimes incomprehensibly and mysteriously to the polar opposite, to the beauty of monasticism. The aesthetic hatred for democracy and bourgeois contentment, for hedonistic culture, and the mystical pull towards a dark monasticism led Leont’ev to the romantic fondness for past historical epochs, to a mystical reactionism. He was not given to moderation, the middle ground, and he arrived at a most extreme fanaticism, he became a preacher of compulsion, oppression, the knout and the gallows. But in the strange and repulsive words of Leont’ev is sensed not a real reactionary Katkov-politician, but rather an illogical dreamer, an unhappy romantic, lost and perishing in an epoch alien for him.

We do not propose the significance of Leont’ev to be with realistic convictions. This man deemed the meaning of world history to be in the capricious advance of a few chosen ones in the name of mysterious mystical goals. Only in this aristocratic blossoming did he see the beauty of life and he suffered unreasonably from the awareness, that “liberal-egalitarian progress” carries mankind off to the opposite side, to the reign of the petty bourgeoise, evoking within him the disgust and aversion of the aesthete and aristocrat, the romantic and mystic. He snatched as one might after a straw, as Russia, at Slavism, he saw herein his final hope, an almost dying hope to save the so dear to him meaning of world life. For Europe there was no hope, it should go on off to its ultimate extremes of socialism and anarchism (for Leont’ev this was even pleasing a prospect, as in everything extreme), but through Russia it was possible still to save the world, and for this it was necessary to freeze it, to put an halt to the liberal-egalitarian progress, though this be at the price of the greatest sacrifices, though this be by the quite darkest compulsion.

And K. Leont’ev seeks for salvation in Byzantium. “Byzantinism hath bestown us all our strength in the struggle with the Polish, with the Swedes, with France and with Turkey. Under its standard, if we be faithful, we certainly shall be able to hold back the onrush and aims of an international Europe, if it, having destroyed for itself everything noble, if it somehow also for us should dare prescribe the rot and stench of its new laws about a shallow happiness for all the whole world, about a radical all-triteness for the world”.2  “The idea of the welfare of all mankind, the religion of utility for the whole of society — is very cold, prosaic and moreover incredible, unfounded from any of the religions”.3  I shall provide still more in a series of places for the general characteristics of Leont’ev.

“What does it matter for a venerable, an historical and real science, the extents of discontent, the extents demanded, the extents of despotism, the extents of the suffering? For what are these unscientific sentimentalities, so exhaustive in our time, so prosaic moreover, so ungifted? For me what does it matter in suchlike questions as far as the very groanings of mankind”.4  As far as sufferings, Leont’ev loved to wear a mask of harshness and trans-morality.

“And suffering? Sufferings accompany both together the process of growth and developement, and the process of decay… all is sick from the tree of human life”5…  “This is all but the means of confusion, — he says about the contemporary forefront culture, — this is a gigantic surge, in all and everything jostled into a single lump of pseudo-human triteness and the prosaic; this is all a complex algebraic exercise, striving to bring all and everything to a common denominator. The exercises of egalitarian progress are composite, a coarse goal, simple as regards thought, ideals, influence, etc. The goal of it all — is the mediocre man, bourgeois, content amidst millions of precisely indeed the same mediocre people, likewise contented”.6  “Progressive ideas are coarse, simple and capable for everyone. These ideas seem rational and profound, as though worthy of some few chosen minds. People of a lofty mindset have ennobled them by their brilliant talent; the ideas themself, however, essentially are not only mistaken, they are, I would say, crude and contradictory. They are a felicitous earthly outlook and an impossibility; the realm of an equitable and universal human truth upon the earth — is an outlook and furthermore an outrageous untruth, an insult to the best. The Divine truth of the Gospel did not promise an earthly truth, it did not preach a juridical freedom, but only rather a moral and spiritual freedom, accessible even in chains. Under the Turks there were martyrs for the faith; under the Belgian Constitution there can hardly be any saints”.7  There are few to have written in such an incisive, bold and extreme a style. Behind each word there boils up a sick hatred towards the present culture, a romantic passion for the past. “Having turned abruptly from the paths of the emancipation of society and its persons, we have entered upon the path of the emancipation of thought”. “It is time to put a limit to the developement of bourgeois-liberal progress! Whoever is able to do this, will be right also afront the judgement of history”.8  “The mistakes, and defects, and stupidity, and ignorance — in one word everything, that is considered bad, bears fruit and enables the unintended attaining of these or other mysterious ends not foreintended by us”.9  “It would be shameful for mankind, if this vile idea of an universally useful, paltry work and disgraceful prosaity should triumph forever!”10…  “It is stupid to believe so blindly, as believes now the majority of mankind, with their European upbringing, in nothing that is not possible, in a final kingdom of truth and bliss upon earth, in a bourgeois and workers order and an impersonal earthly paradise, lighted by electric suns and conversing amidst telephones from Kamchatka to the Cape of Good Hope… It is stupid and shameful, furthermore for people esteeming realism, to believe in such an unreal thing, as the happiness of mankind, and furthermore as closely nigh… It is ludicrous, repudiating every positive, mystic orthodoxy as restrictive for us, reckoning every like faith the realm of the naive and the backward, to worship instead the orthodoxy of progress, the idol of the progressive movement”11…  “An admixture of fear and love — here is what human society ought to live by, if they want to live… An admixture of love and fear in their hearts… It is a sacred terror before certain ideal limits; it is a loving of apprehension before certain persons; it is a sensation sincere and unpretentious, only for politicians; it is a reverencing, under the guise even solely, of some material objects”12…  “How am I, a Russian man, to comprehend, tell me, that for a shoemaker it is easier to be obedient, than for a priest or a soldier, blest by a priest?”13  And here are words of Leont’ev’s kinship with Nietzsche, whom he knew not, but only anticipated: “For one, who does not reckon bliss and absolute truth as appointed for mankind upon the earth, there is nothing terrible in the thought, that millions of Russian people should dwell whole centuries under the pressure of three atmospheres — the official, the estate and the churchly, though it be but for this, that Pushkin could write Onegin and Godunov, so that they might construct the Kremlin and its cathedrals, so that Suvorov and Kutuzov might seize their national victories… Since glory… since military glory,… yes, that military glory of the realm and nation, its art and poetry — are facts; these are real manifestations of an actual nature; these are attainable goals, and together with this, they are lofty. But that godlessly-righteous and dully-blest mankind, for which gradually and with various contemporary gestures ye want to strive, such a mankind would be obnoxious, if it were to be possible”14…  “For the aesthete particularly it is properly becoming during times of immobility to be for movement, during times of dissoluteness to be for strictness; for the artist it would be proper to be a liberal under a domain of slavery; it would become him to be an aristocrat amidst the tendencies towards demagoguery, a bit of the libre penseur amidst an hypocritical khanate, devout amidst the godless”15…  This is awfully characteristic a recipe for Leont’ev, and here he gives himself away, but regretably, as we see below, he himself was not always consistent in following the aesthetic imperative. I shall present yet still some several characteristic places: “The culture from the former evil has given the world such an abundance of great minds… The new culture, cleansed — in the area of thought provides us either the indisputably untalented [Georg] Buechners, or the [Eduard] Hartmans, talented, but denying any actual benefit of progress”16…  “During the difficult and dangerous moments of historical life society always stretches out its hands not to the orators and not to the journalists, nor to the pedagogues and lawyers, but to people of ability, to people who command by know-how, to compel by boldness!”17  With Leont’ev there was an aesthetic cult of force, and Christianity itself, as I have attempted to show, he contrived to explicate as a religion of dark coercion, of fear and not love. “European thought bows down in worship to man only because that he is man. It seeks to worship him not for this, that he is an hero or prophet, a tsar or genius. No, it worships him not for such a special and lofty attainment of person, but simply the individuality of every man, and every person it wants to render happy, enjoying equal rights, tranquil, arrogantly-pure and free in the area of certain morals. This very seeking after for all-mankind of equal rights and an all-human truth, issuing forth not from any positive faith-confession, but from this, what philosophers term a personal and autonomous moralness, this very thing also is an hades-hell, the most subtle and most powerful of all such related contagions, decaying by its gradual action the whole of European society”.18  This already is a total negation of morals, so characteristic of Leont’ev. “And here is the kingdom of this truth! And here it is the person, person, person!… And here freedom!… And here the European individualism, so deadly for genuine individualness, i.e. for the exceptional, the separate, strong and expressive developement of character! And here is the autonomous, the self-affirming morality, proud and at the same time shallow, a pharisaeic “respectability”.19  “For the understanding of poetry there is necessary a sort of idle time, not that which is cheery nor that which is melancholy, but we are now ashamed of everything such, and even of poetic idling itself”.20  “The great freedom against the former has led the person only to a great sterility and empty triumph… from which it emerges but in those moments, when life is as though somehow returned to the old”.21  “Socialists everywhere scorn your moderate liberalism… the French socialists and the altogether extreme radicals scorn all those Em[ile de] Girardins, Thiers and Jules Favre… And they are right in their contempt… and how should these people not be hostile against the present guardians or against the forms and manners of guarding, unfavourable to them, but all essential the sides of the guarded teachings they themself need. For them there mustneeds be fear, there mustneeds be discipline; for them there must be submissiveness, the habit for obedience; there are people, successful in manipulations of their own economic life, but nonetheless upon earth there are malcontents, and they then flare up with a new blaze towards mystical teachings”22…  “On the one side, I esteem, the baronry; on the other, I love the naivte and gruffness of the peasant. Graf Bronsky or Onegin, on the one side, and the soldier Karataev — and who?… well, though be it a wolf of Turgenev, for me it is better than that “mediocre” bourgeois type, for which progress now reduces little by little both at above and at below, both the marquis and the shepherd”.23  “For the developement of great and strong characters there are needful great social injustices, i.e. class oppressions, despotism, danger, strong passions, prejudice, superstition, fanaticism, etc., or in a single word, everything against which the XIX Century struggles”.24  “All the true poets and artists in their soul have loved the nobility, the high brilliance of the court, military heroism, etc.”.25  “Everything elegant, profound, outstanding somehow, and naive, and refined, and primordial, or the capriciously unfolding and glittering, or wild, falls back, and retreats before the firm press of these grey-dull people. But what reason is there to discover a servile joy?”26  “No, I am right to scorn so pallid and unworthy a mankind, — without vices, true, but also without virtues, — nor do I desire to take a step for suchlike a progress!… And moreover: if I had not the power to do so, I would still passionately dream about defiling the ideal of universal equality and the foolish all-social movement; I would destroy suchlike an arrangement, if I had the power, since I love mankind too much, to wish for it so tranquil, perhaps, but so trite and degraded a future”.27

I have made so many a citation, since Leont’ev is rather unknown for us, and I wanted to provide some familiarity with him. Evidently, this was a gruff man and an outstanding writer, original, taking everything to its ultimate limit. His impassioned thoughts for us are full of deep significance, and his themes can also prove fateful for us. Beneathe the writings of Leont’ev there is a sense of profound torment and immeasurable anguish. He did not find happiness for himself, and his suffering blazed forth into a malevolent preaching of force and fanaticism. Strange and mysterious was his person. An aesthete, an immoralist, a revolutionary by temperament, a proud aristocratic spirit, captivated by the beauty of the forces of life, in much anticipating Nietzsche, romantically in love with the power of past historical epochs, under the burden of an as yet unrecognised and mysterious mysticism, while also — the preacher of a monastic, strict traditional Orthodox Christianity, and the defender of the despotism of a police state. Herein is such the irony of fate! Leont’ev wanted to be saved from the triteness, the insipid, the mediocre, the narrow-minded bourgeois-ism, the harsh odour of progress, and he fell into a place of intolerable stench, in which there is nothing creative or original and beauty is defiled by each step. And he was harshly punished. No one wanted to hear a preacher of “autocracy, orthodoxy and nationality”. Decent people held their noses, the nose even earlier than the ears. Reactionaries seemingly like-minded to Leont’ev were unable to understand, for them what was evident only the apparent side of his world-outlook, and they made use of it for their own dirty deeds. But Leont’ev is little useful for the real, the positive goals of reactionary politics. Here was profoundly individual a thinker, splintered off from the great historical path, with a presentiment of much too early, and his fateful connection with reactionary politics was in an ultimate sense for him a matter of chance, and deeply tragic. His thirst was for the eternal and together with this also for the new, within his consciousness blazed up something beautiful and ultimately righteous, and on the great historical path of his native-land he practically froze the rot, as he floundered about in the stinking fetid pit. We shall look closer, at what sort of theories Leont’ev constructed, in order to justify his hatred for liberal-egalitarian progress and to clear the path for his mystical sense of universal history, and to construct a temple both aristocratic and aesthetic.

Leont’ev, — a romantic and mystic at his core, enters into the role of the defender of an unique sociological realism and even naturalism. He was an adherent of an organic theory of society and he sketched out an original theory of developement (not without the influence of the far less gifted Danilevsky). On the question concerning the organic developement of society we constantly meet in Leont’ev with ultra-realist and ultra-positivist arguments, a bit strange for a mystic, but customary for people of another tendency. This organic theory of developement reduces to the following: “A gradual ascent from the simplest to the most complex, a gradual individualisation, a separation, on the one side, from the surrounding world, and on the other side — off from the similar and kindred organisms, off from all the similar and kindred manifestations. The gradual ascent is from the colourless, from simplicity, to originality and complexity. There is a gradual complexification of composite elements, an increase of inner richness and at the same time a gradual strengthening of unity. Thus that highest point of developement is not only in organic ends, but also in general in organic manifestations, in an utmost degree of complexity, united by a certain inner despotic unity”.28  State organisms passed through three periods: 1)”initial simplicity; 2) blossoming complexity, and 3) a secondary mixed-jumble of simplification”.29  All this necessitates the result that: “the egalitarian-liberal progress is the antithesis to the process of developement”.30  Contemporary European culture with the triumph of freedom and equality is, according to Leont’ev, “a secondary mixed-jumble of simplification”, i.e. a disintegration, a decay, a decrepitness. According to the destined, non-vacillating organic laws, every nation, every state decomposes and dies. And the decay ensues then, when there begins “the mixed-jumble simplification”, when the liberal-egalitarian process destroys inequality and diversity. “The “blossoming complexity” involves the greatest inequality of position, the greatest diversity of parts, held in check by despotic unity.

The theory of Leont’ev is a variant of the organic theory of society and together with this it is an historical fatalism. Like the positivists, he does not acknowledge progress, but rather only developement, evolution. He is proud of his objectivism, of his callous and harsh realism, and he speaks suspiciously much about his scientific attitude, about his naturalistic attitude towards human societies, and towards state organisms. With Leont’ev there is not even a shadow of scientific realism, and his passionate nature was least of all capable of objectivity, and indeed his undertaking were not suitable for scientific-sociological investigations. For him it was needful that there not be dismissed the hateful aspect of the idea of universal prosperity, of the triumph of truth and happiness upon the earth by way of a liberating and guiding progress. In the name of this subjective, passionate, altogether unrealistic and unscientific end he also grasped after a completely unsustainable organic theory of the developing and expiring of nations and states. Besides the naturalistic sociology of Leont’ev there was likewise his mystical philosophy of history; they both one and the other served the same end, but there was completely no connection between them.

Concerning this philosophy of history we shall speak in connection with his understanding of Christianity. To refute the organic-naturalistic understanding of societies,  nations and state is unsportive an hunt, since there already has been acknowledged the unsustainability of all those attempts within the contemporary sociological methodology.31  It is first of all necessary to consider as firmly established, that the naturalistic method is unacceptable for the social sciences, and it leads but to fictitious analogies. The life of societies is not an organic life in the biological sense of the word, and the concept of death from old age can be applied to it only in a transposed and conditional sense. But what it shows is the total naivte and critical lacking of Leont’ev, since this is his faith in organic laws of historical developement. The absurdity and contradiction of the very concept “historical law”, of a “law of developement” has now been sufficiently disclosed by Rikkert and a whole series of gnosseologists and methodologists of the social and historical sciences. The individual peculiarities of every developement, of each history, do not permit of an established set of laws for a concrete course of life. To insist upon an inflexible course as it were of an organic developement of societies would be more appropriate to the Darwinist or to the economic materialist, than to Leont’ev.32  How did he manage to unite this historical fatalism, a conviction of the naturalistic inevitable ruin of national cultures in a certain year of their life, to unite this with Christian mysticism? Herein the passionate will blinded his reason. For Leont’ev there was a complete absence of the idea of freedom, to what produces for us be it religion, or philosophy, or science. His hatred for democratic freedom reached such an extent, that he combined dark apocalyptic predictions with purely naturalistic apologetics for the death of nations and states.

In that the real social science of our day is held in check by the philosophic and religious teaching about freedom, it tends to see the nature of society in the psychological interaction of individualities, and the intimate essence of the historical process to be in the free creativity of mankind. Science therefore disdains historical predictions, and the mystery of the future it consigns to the realm of religious freedom.
In close connection with the teaching of Leont’ev concerning organic developement stands his theory of national types and the national mission of Russia. All the nations of Europe, all the cultures of the West have reached a terrible point, they have entered upon the path of organic disintegration and death, the “blossoming complexity” for them is in the past, during the era of the Renaissance and suchlike. There, in Europe, the leveling and disorganising process of democracy has destroyed everything. In the Western culture of the XIX Century Leont’ev esteems only the pessimism, only Schopenhauer and Hartmann, who honestly rose up against the illusion of “progress”, against the hedonist hopes. The flourishing of culture, the “blossoming complexity”, is possible only for Russia, for Slavdom, united not by liberal-democratic dissipative principles, but by Byzantine organisative ones. In such manner upon Russia is entrusted a great mission to be the bulwark of world guardianship from terrible ruination, from universal disintegration, from the death of all the state organisms. But the mission will only then come to fruition, if Russia creates a completely original culture, distinct from the Western European. The foundations fro suchlike an original culture Leont’ev considers to be not in the great traits of the Russian national spirit, but in the Byzantine autocracy and Byzantine Orthodoxy. Here indeed the mountain begets the molehill!

Leont’ev had a very complex and disjunctive soul, and between its parts there was as little a connection, as between the parts of his world-outlook. The “blossoming complexity”, the diversity of culture, beauty, strength and individuality — all these Leont’ev loved, like a pagan, like an Hellenic Greek, but the gloomy elements of his nature gravitated towards a dark Byzantinism, towards a monastic asceticism, towards autocracy and Orthodoxy. For Leont’ev why was this blossoming of culture necessary, for what was the beauteous complexity and diversity, in the name of what was this cult of strong individualities, which the contemporary “individualism” is destroying? The religion of Leont’ev provides no justification for this, it preaches personal salvation and the path to it is regarded to be in the ideal of monasticism, which in its essence is hostile to culture and to this pagan love for the beauty of life. Leont’ev became a novice on Athos and at the end of his life he was a monk, he saved himself from the Nietscheanism, which was in his blood quite independently of Nietzsche. Here was a tragic man, polarised at separate extremes, and in this he was both of interest and also close to us.

Leont’ev was not able to work out for himself an overview of world history, and actually, he had for it two visionary sense of meaning. At times he would understand the world process naturalistically, at other times mystically. He worshipped power, beauty, heroism, the individual flourishing of life, and alongside with this, he humbled himself before monastic Christianity. Terror of the end, the final boundary, frightened him, and he grasped at the Byzantine rubbish in a fit of despair, from frustration, from a spirit of contradiction of someone or something… In what however is the guarantee, that Russia will fulfill its mission, that it create an unique culture, that it not be subject to Europeanisation, to the “liberal-egalitarian” decay? An original creativity demands the freedom scorned by Leont’ev, but this hapless man went so far, that he placed his hope, the hope of desperation, upon a well-organised police, on physical coercion, towards which he cherished some sort of distorted passion.

That the meaning of progress, liberal and egalitarian, can be understood non-hedonistically, that he meaning of this can be seen in a metaphysical liberation, transcendental in its delimited perspectives, and not in a bourgeois prosperity and contentment, — Leont’ev did not suspect that this could be so. His reactionary pessimism is but the obverse side of hedonism, of a progressive optimism, with its insipid faith in an ultimate triumph, without tragedy, of happiness and good upon the earth. But it is indeed possible to altogether exit this cycle, to depart this side of an hedonistic optimism and pessimism, and above it, to comprehend the world and the historical process in its mystical ends. And thereupon this deduction will appear absurd, that it is necessary to halt progress, in that the happiness upon earth might not be all equal or that the prosperity might decline.

In his naturalistic zeal, in his pretensive and uncharming realism, Leont’ev denies all values, all teleology. The highest criterion for him as it were appears to be the developing diversity of the social organism, he values individuality only as some sort of fictitious end, and not as a living human individuality. This worship of Leviathan does not include within it anything of the mystical and is a very vulgar realist superstition, which we encounter in all the positivist statesmen and positivist adherents of the organic theory of society. What indeed was from the mystical, from the Christianity of Leont’ev, wherein he so unsuccessfully feigned realism and created for himself an idol from the state organism? It is interesting to make analysis of Leont’ev’s explanation of Christianity and his attempts to connect the religion of Christ, all His mysticism, with the reactionary misanthropic politics. This is an absorbing and tremendous theme in its significance, and with its resolution is connected the fate of Christianity within the future human history.


For Leont’ev Christianity is not a religion of love and joyful tidings, but a dark religion of fear and coercion. He most of all esteemed within Christianity the pessimistic predictions about the future of the world, about the impossibility upon it of the Kingdom of God. Though it seem strange, but the Christianity of Leont’ev had its greatest attraction for him in its teaching about evil, about the godless Anti-Christ principle, hid within the religion of Christ. And Leont’ev I have decided to term a satanist, dressing himself up with Christian features. His religious pathos was directed towards apocalyptic predictions regarding the impoverishment of love, the death of the world and the Dread Last Judgement. This dark future gladdened him and did not evoke another, a positive side of the predictions: about the Resurrection, about the ultimate victory of Christ, about “a new heaven and a new earth”. In the polarised and distorted nature of Leont’ev was lodged the dark pathos of evil, and coercion he esteemed most of all in the world. The malevolent side of the apocalyptic predictions provides the possibility to interpret Christianity as an aristocratic religion, and this gladdens Leont’ev: “It is eternal (the Church) — in this sense, that if 30,000 or 300 men, or all of three men remain faithful to the Church to the day of the perishing of all mankind on this planet (or to the day of the destruction of the earthly sphere itself) — then these 30,00, these 300, these three men will be one in truth and the Lord wilt be with them, and all the remaining millions wilt be wrong”.33  Leont’ev both desired, that there be “all of three men”, and he rejoiced not so much over their salvation, as that “there perish the remaining millions”. The aesthete and Russian precursor to Nietzsche exclaims: “I deal with only the plastic side of history and even in sickness and suffering I strive to view only suchlike, as in beauties musical, without which the picture of history would be incomplete and dead”.34  And this man, with yet another, a Byzantine-Orthodox voice cries out: “The idea of Christian pessimism, whereof all the essential, and it stands to reason, the never irremedial tragedy of our earthly life presents itself both justified and terrible… Sufferings, losses, disappointments, injustices — there have to be: they are even useful to us for our repentance and the salvation of our souls beyond the grave”.35  The ancient pagan preached beauty and love for life, but the byzantinist — a state-police force, into the power of which he completely gave over the universal fate of mankind. But this sinful man thirsted for individual salvation and he moulded his heart into attachment to asceticism and monasticism, in which he saw the chief point of the religion of Christ to consist. Leont’ev particularly disliked the “sentimental” or “rosy” Christianity, of which he accused two of the greatest of Russian geniuses: L. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Even Dostoevsky seemed “rosy” to his black soul! So hateful was everything to him, that it blew away the “moral” preaching of love. Fear, fear, and not love — here is the cornerstone! “The highest fruits of faith, — are for example, the constant, almost minute by minute disposition to the love of neighbour, — either for someone inaccessible, or accessible very little; for some — by an especial kind of grace of a fine nature, for others — the consequence of a many-year prayerful struggle with difficult inclinations. Fear however is accessible to everyone: both to the strong, and to the weak, — the fear of sin, the fear of chastisement both here, and there beyond the grave… and to feel ashamed at the fear of God is simply silly; whoso is admitted by God, that one ought to be afraid of Him, since the powers are too incommensurate. Whoso is afraid, humbles himself; whoso humbles himself, that one seeks for a power over himself, a force visible and tangible”… Leont’ev did not love God and blasphemously he denied His goodness. God was for him a dark principle, and it is with fear and the gritting of teeth that he worshipped Him, as Creator of evil in the world, and he gave thanks to Him only for this, that he could in His Name appeal to force, to the torment of every living thing. All the attempts to realise the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love upon earth, drove him to madness. “Love without the humility and fear in facing a positive faith-teaching, it is fervent, sincere but in the highest degree it is self-will, either it is quietly and hiddenly proud, or it is noisily boastful, and it issues not directly from the teaching of the Church; it has come to us not very long ago from the West; it is the self-will fruition of anthropolatreia [the worship of man], a new faith in earthly man and in earthly mankind, — in the ideal, the independent, autonomous worth of the person and in the high practical significance of all “mankind” here upon the earth”.36  “Christ did not promise us in the future a reigning of love and truth upon the earth, no! He said, that “at the end love will slacken”… But we personally ought to do the deed of love, if we want for ourselves forgiveness and blessedness in the life beyond the grave — and herein is everything”.37  In suchlike a manner, the religious meaning of  universal history is completely negated. “Faith in the Divinity of the Nazarene Crucified under Pontius Pilate, Who taught, that on earth everything is transitory, but actuality and eternity will ensue after the destruction of the earth and everything living upon it, — here is that tangibly mystical point of support, upon which has balanced and balances til now the gigantic lever of Christian preaching. Christ and His Apostles do not promise a full triumphing of love and universal truth upon this earth, but on the contrary rather this, something of a sort of seeming failure of the Gospel preaching upon the earthly sphere, since the closeness of the end ought to coincide with the final attempts to render all as fine Christians”38…  Leont’ev very much holds dear, that ” upon earth everything is false and everything is unimportant” and that at the end few will be “fine Christians”; this is pleasing to him aesthetically. “One thing only is certain, — precisely, one thing, one thing only is undoubtable, — this, that everything here now ought to perish! And therefore — for what is this feverish concern about the earthly welfare of future generations? For what are these childishly-sick daydreams and raptures? The day — is ours, the ages — are ours!”39  “Brotherhood such as is possible and humaneness actually are recommended by Holy Scripture, by the New Testament, for the salvation of the person’s soul beyond the grave; but in the Holy Scripture nowhere is it said, that by means of this humaneness people would arrive at a world of prosperity. Christ did not promise us this… This is untrue: Christ commands, or advises everyone to love their neighbours in the Name of God, but on the other side, He prophesies, that many will not obey Him”.40  And Leont’ev did not obey, he obeyed only the prophecy about this, that the commandment of love would not be fulfilled, and upon this prophecy rather than the commandment itself, he based his religion and politics. He would have had to acknowledge, that the mysterious teaching of Christ concerning love was unacceptable and contrary. “As regards the Christian teaching, voluntary abasement around the Lord is better and truer for the salvation of soul, than this proud and impossible pretension of hourly lack of malice and minute by minute oiliness. Many of the righteous preferred a withdrawing into the wilderness over active love; there they prayed God firstly for their own soul, and then for other people; many of them did this because quite correctly they did not hope upon themself and they found, that repentance and prayer, i.e. fear and their own manner of abasement is truer, than the pretension of worldly lack of malice, or than the self-confidence of active love in the multitudinous society. Even in monastic common-life communities, experienced elders do not much allow themself to be transported away into an active and fervent love, but first of all they teach obedience, lowliness, the passive forgiveness of insults”41…

Leont’ev elevated into a religious dogma his dark hatred for the world and for people, and although secretly he had no love for people, nor about anything of the sweetness of the world, he often naively displayed this half of his nature. He took to the ultimate extreme the ancient teaching about God as a ruler and master, gloomy and chastising, and he reduced the relationship between man and God exclusively to one of fear and of submission. This is not a Christian teaching, within it is forgotten the idea of God-manhood, of the intimate closeness and union of the Divine and the human. For the contemporary, for the new religious consciousness, both unacceptable and horribly remote and terrible is the God of Leont’ev, to which he proposes to serve a black mass with his fanatical politics.

It has always appeared to me as blasphemous, hateful and base, every teaching about God as a ruling power, and about the human relationship to Him — as submission. Power and submission are very dirty, very vile words, as much as any that exist in human language. These words are taken from a very shameful area of human life, and they want to adapt them to the verymost sacred and unutterable. The new man, anguished over the religious meaning of life, would not ever accept a religion of might and fear, he finds accursed these dark signs from the past, which led him to the torments of God-struggling, he finds only attracting him a religion of freedom and yet inexplicable love. The new religious consciousness, the so tormentedly desired religious Renaissance ought to transform within itself all the precious for us experience of the new history: the already old Renaissance, in which was begotten the new man, and the rise of reason, and the declaration of the rights of man and citizen of the great revolution, and contemporary socialism and anarchism, and the revolt of Ivan Karamazov and of Nietzsche, and the falling into decadence, and the apparent God-struggling, and the thirst for boundless freedom. We cannot still be pagans or only Christians in the historically limited sense of this world, we ought to emerge forth from the contrary opposition of the religious thesis of paganism and the religious antithesis of Christianity, we want to love the world with a new love. We should accommodate the already great plenitude of revelation, that of the preceding religious epochs. It is impossible to think out and fabricate a religion, it can only be revealed, but the plenitude of religious revelation can be grasped only within the expanse of the whole historical process, the soil for which is created by the endless human experience, and therefore for religious creativity there is no limit. The new mankind struggles against authority in religion, against theological despotism and demonic darkness, the heroes of thought in this struggle went into the bonfires, and we ought reverently to accept the legacy of this struggle. We do not acknowledge any sort of authority, any sort of external givenness binding for us in religion, but only our inner mystical experience, by which we bind ourself with that, which was revealed in the past, and our metaphysical mental reason, by which the religious experience is transformed into religious teaching.

Leont’ev himself in much, in very much was the new man, but his distorted nature led to this, that in religion and politics he made a genuine sadist of himself, he confessed a cult of sensual torment and torture. The fanatical core and amidst this the romantic reactionism of Leont’ev I see to be in this, that he forgot and did not want to know the most undoubtable truths of religious revelation, even in the religion of Christ also, — the immeasurable worth of the human person, the image and likeness of God, of the potential absolute, which is impossible to transform into a mere means. He says much about the aesthetic love for individualness, but the trans-worldly significance of all living individualness was for him foreign and unacceptable. Therefore for the world and for people with Leont’ev there was only evil and gloom, coercion and fear. Leont’ev’s philosophy of coercion and reaction ultimately reduces itself to the following monstrous sophism: the Christian religion predicts the triumph of evil in the world, consequently evil mustneeds be done, so that the predictions be justified.

The satanic shadowing of Christianity eternally enticed him, and he made use of the religion of love only to make legitimate the torments. Leont’ev was one of the most terrible cynics in the history of Christianity, but in this cynicism there is a temptation, which the Christians of our day ought to take account of, those who want to justify liberal-egalitarian progress. The problem of the relationship of the religion of Christ indeed towards progress, towards culture remains up to the present open and fateful, and painful for the new religious searchings. For the Christian it would not be so difficult to refute Leont’ev, it might be comparatively easy to show, that in him there reposed the spirit of Anti-Christ, a satanic spirit, but how to replace this reactionary lie, how if Christianity commands all to turn away from the world, how then is a Christian politics to be possible? Vl. Solov’ev not so much resolved this question, as that he blunted its alacrity, mechanistically somehow recognising liberal-egalitarian progress. Leont’ev was one of the most bold, most audacious and extreme of thinkers, and he was crude of grandeur. Gathering the drift of his shallowness as regards reactionary intents, a fastidious man cannot compel himself to descend down to these treacherous fellows.

It is possible to ignore the sophisms of Leont’ev, but it is undoubtable all the same, that Christianity is by far not a “rosy” religion, that there is in it much that is gloomy, almost a fierce turning away from the world. There is within the religion this book of a mysterious, enigmatic, fully symbolic beauty — the “Revelation of St. John”, which is joyful for a few, but terrible, hopeless, abysmally-deep for those, “whose names be not inscribed in the book of life of the Lamb, sacrificed from the creation of the world” [Rev. 13:8]. We declare, that the religion of Christ does not justify the reactionary fanaticism of Leont’ev, that he has too sacrilegiously and blasphemously arrogated to himself and to his beloved despotic state a mission of the judgement and wrath of God. But how are Christians to justify “liberal-egalitarian” progress, the joy of life and much that is dear for us? Why has historical Christianity so often seen a God-struggle in the liberation process? Perhaps, still something new has to be religiously revealed, perhaps, there is yet to reveal itself the beginning of a new history, in a metaphysical mental reason and in a new mystical experience, whereby the past that revealed itself would be acknowledged as only a partial, one-sided, incomplete history.


Leont’ev was a very extreme state proponent, and with him it was a genuine cult of despotic state power, a worship of state coercion. “We have powerful and mighty only three things: Byzantine Orthodoxy, our native and unlimited autocracy and, perhaps, our agrarian village world”.42  Russia for him shone only with the reflected light of Byzantium, its power and beauty he saw not in its own original creative sources, but in borrowed Byzantine principles. In Russia he did not believe, he laughed at the naivte of the Slavophils, but he deeply believed in and he worshipped Russian statecraft, created under the influence of Byzantium and Tatarism.43  And Leont’ev becomes intoxicated by the state immoralism. “Very fine people sometimes dreadfully harm the state, if their political upbringing be false, and the Chichikovs and police-inspectors of Gogol are sometimes incomparably more useful for their purpose”.44  “A certain degree of wickedness in politics is obligatory”45…  “In state affairs everyone is obliged to be if not crudely false, then wise, like a serpent… It is impossible to build a political edifice either upon the flowing waters of material interests, or upon the shifting sands of any sort of sentimental and stupid liberalness”46…  “True Christianity teaches, what sort of thing should not be, as regards one’s personal defects, and the earthly hierarchy, it is a reflection of the heavenly”.47  “The state is obligated always to be dreadsome, sometimes harsh and merciless, since society always and everywhere is too mercurial, wont to be poor of thought and too emotional”.48  “It is necessary to temper our powers beforehand with endurance and love for the sovereign powers, for but this only reason, that they are in authority”49…  “Without coercive force — it is impossible. It is an untruth, that it be possible to live without coercion… Coercion not only conquers, it also persuades many, when beyond them, beyond this coercion, is the idea”.50  “If wherein poetry and Christian morality fully coincide, this is so in suchlike incidents of unselfish movements in the use of those at the top holding power”.51  “Parliamentarism does not create leaders, but rather a real freedom, i.e. a certain degree of arbitrary self-governance. It is necessary to know how to hold power shamelessly!”52  Leont’ev confessed a mysticism of power, he apotheosised the state, while the mystical meaning of freedom was for him hidden, and in this was his disformity and distortion. He did not wind up confessing his own aesthetic commandment: “It is befitting the artist to be a liberal under a domain of slavery; it would become him to be a libre penseur under an hypocritical khanate”. It is quite inconceivable, how this subtle aesthete Leont’ev did not sense the harsh stench not only of coercive a domain, but also of every state, always indeed monstrous, always besmeared with filth! And to say nothing about the empirical manifestations of our own Byzantine-Tatar domain, here for the delights of it one must be bereft of the organs of smell. But herein I present a citation from Leont’ev, in which is expressed his revolutionary nature. He suddenly makes of himself a defender of mystical anarchism,53  and this is terribly important for us.

He relates about two matters, the affair of the rogue Kurtin, who offered up his own son by birth in sacrifice to God, and the cossack Kuvaitsev, who dug up the corpse of his beloved wife, cut off her fingers and hand and kept them with him under a mattress. A civil court judges both Kurtin and Kuvaitsev, it threatens them with grievous punishment, and in Leont’ev is awakened all his romanticism. “It was a regular court-trial, exactly so, just as also a proper police inquiry, essentially involving “external rules”, but neither the civil court, nor the so-called court of public opinion, nor the police interrogation could exhaust the infinite rights of the personal spirit,54  to the depths of which the general rules of law and the muddle of public opinion cannot always reach. The judge was obliged to punish the criminals who had transgressed the social order, but there the only strong and fruitful life, was where the soil was original and deep even in their illegal doings. Kurtin and Kurvaitsev could be heroes of a poem moreso, than the quite venerable and respectable judge, who with full legality sentenced them”.55The infinite rights of the personal spirit — here is that sacred thing, which Leont’ev so often betrayed and which should be revered by every romantic and mystic. “Whither is the gaze of a man to be turned, who is filled with dislike towards the other soulless and arid sides of contemporary European “progress”?”56  This is already a romantic anguish of the will, the anguish of the “personal spirit”, “the infinite rights” which are abused by the state, by the positivist ordering of life.

Leont’ev was a man of extraordinary mind and talent, but in politics — he was as a little child, he understood nothing in it, and beyond his preaching of real beastliness and brutality one senses the prattling of a romantic, lacerated from the terrors and deformities of a bourgeois culture, anguishing over “past grandeur”, as regards Moses climbing atop Sinai, as regards the Hellenes building their elegant Acropoliseis, the Romans conducting their Punic wars, or the handsome genius of Alexander, or the Apostles, the martyrs, the poets and the knights. And this anguish is ours, this repugnance towards the intrusive kingdom of philistinism, and we sense, that there was some sort of crude truth in the senseless romanticism of Leont’ev. Let us see, could it be that the romantic was not a reactionary, could it be mysticism and not a justifying of the old power, and rather an hurling it a challenge in the name of freedom and the infinite rights of the personal spirit? Might it not appertain in future to mystical anarchism  and the metahistorical, towards an orientation forwards towards aristocratism?57


Is mysticism compatible with the cult of a positivist state? Or otherwise: how to reconcile theo-cracy with any other, any non-godly cracy, how religiously to justify the rule of power, the sovereignty of the state? I think, that state positivism in all its appearances and diverse forms is at its core contrary to every mysticism, to every idealism to every romanticism of construct. I know, that history has created very clear forms of the mystique of power, and an example of this is our Leont’ev, that the state too often has made bad use of religious sanction, but references to the empirical examples prove nothing is impossible, since it is possible to prove anything.

As state positivism I term the theory, which sees the source of the person’s rights, “the boundless rights of the personal spirit” to reside within the state, in a certain sovereignty of power, bestowing and distributing these rights. The source however of state power therein might be variously understood: one might see it in the sovereign, unlimited will of the monarch, just as another might in the sovereign and unlimited will of the people; for others the form of state power might be explained by religious authority, while for others by production and economic relationships. To the state positivism type it is possible to impute quite contrary the teachings, — the theory of the despotic and monarchical state and the polar opposite theory of the democratic and socialistic state. The common sign of state positivism is the subjection of the “boundless rights of the personal spirit” to the state power, which grants value to everything and allocates everything: in despotism ultimately it kills not only the “boundless-infinite rights”, but also those that are quite finite and elementary, in democracy the “finite” rights are allowed and justly granted amongst the people, but with the “boundless rights” it, this power, cannot become reconciled through the limitedness and shallowness of its nature. In positivo-state despotism they do not at all permit people to shift about, while in positivo-state democracy they freely permit people to go about on the horizontal, but to ascend to lofty heights they do not allow, either there or here. And to ascend the lofty heights is “the boundless right of the personal spirit”.

To state positivism are opposed the teachings, which see the source, sanctioning state power, as in the rights of the person, in the “boundless rights of the personal spirit”, while the source however of the inalienable rights which are not subject to assessment, they consider to be the inner nature of the personal spirit. The essential-rights theory regarding the state ought to acknowledge the rights of the personal spirit as boundless and absolute as regards its source, whereas the power of the state is limited and derivative. Limitative idealism of the human societal type, contrary to statist positivism, ought to acknowledge an ultimate anarchy, non-power, as a substitute for the state union which is always coercive by an union which is free and of mystical-love. The cult of power, by which are infected not only the reactionaries and conservatives, but likewise also the progressives and revolutionaries, ought to be replaced by a cult of freedom, and the human will ought to be educated in reverent respect not only for statism, though it be quite democratic, but for “the boundless rights of the personal spirit”. But positivism does not acknowledge either “the personal spirit”, nor its “boundless rights”, nor that there be any sort of inalienable, unconditionally valued rights. Only mysticism can acknowledge and make sacred these boundless rights. But first there faces us the eternally fateful question: what is mystically, what is the closer to God — the personal spirit or the state? the infinite rights of the first or the power of the second? What religiously does the mysticism bless: freedom or power? So as to anticipate an answer, we ask further: what is the more mystical, what is the more religious — love or coercion? a live “image and likeness of God” or a positivist state, Leviathan?

The theocratic variety of state positivism fell into being a sacrilegious sophism, into so coarse a lie, that one is truck straight off, how could they endure it. Reactionary theocrats applied to the teaching about the state that, which was applicable only to the teaching about the Church, and by this they diminished the sanctity of the Church, they sought to seduce it with one of the temptations from the devil in the wilderness, to which Christ answered: “Depart from Me, Satan, since it is written: thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and He alone shalt thou serve”. The theocrats ought to have taught, that the Spirit of God has resided in the Church, in a mystical union of love, and to see in it only the soborno-catholic principle, ascendant over the personal spirit, and in it only to worship the Lord its God, but it is instead wrought appertaining to the state and there it is worshipped as something in a positivist union of coercion, and is yet otherwise, it is already not God that is worshipped, but rather the kingdom of this world and its prince. True theocracy can preach only the replacement of the state by the Church, a casting down of the union of coercion, of the kingdom of the prince of this world and the establishment instead of an union of love, it can justify only the mystical ordering of life, and not the positivist. And it is only this that we stand to hear, whoso admits of the religious sanctity of “the boundless rights of the personal spirit”. The state cannot become the intermediary betwixt the personal spirit and God. The personal spirit is infinite and holy as regards its nature, — whereas the state is limited and positivist. The Spirit of God has reposed, has mirrored its infiniteness not upon the collective unity of the state — unliving and unreal, but upon rather the personal human spirit, this second having been wrought absolute. The mystical and the godly we see only in the personal spirit, and only through it can the state become consecrated, insofar as it humbles its power in the face of its “boundless rights”. Every coercive state power is from evil, it is a child-offspring of the evil principle in the world, of that metaphysical principle of constrictiveness, in the liberation from which it is necessary to see the meaning of the world process. We do not believe the positivist dictates regarding, that the mission of the coercive state should be a struggle against evil, against the imperfections of human nature. It itself in evil was begotten and evil it hath served. In the remote past this coercion was rooted in the metaphysical primordial-origin of evil within the world, and subsequently it takes captive those, which barter off the boundlessness of their rights, their first-bornedness for an earthly contentment, they exchange the eternal for the limitative kingdom of this world. We have already seen, that Leont’ev made of himself a genuine satanist, when he worships not the Lord his God, but instead coercive statism. He perished, since he was not able to unwravel this mystery, that the beautiful and the romantic is only of freedom, that the mystical is only of the infinite nature of the personal spirit, that the coercive state is always positivist, utilitarian, and deformative in its limitedness. How Leont’ev did not understand and did not see this, that his hateful distaste for the smug earthly contentment of people, of earthly comfort is wrought particularly by the coercive state, but freedom, tragic in its own nature, leads us beyond the bounds of the given world! Only love can place a limit to the freedom of the personal spirit, but all however is a free love, all however is a liberative spirit ultimately. God — is absolutely existing freedom and love. Power however is fear derived from evil.

That which we have said about the state, ought to be applied also to the family, and to the other little leviathans. The personal spirit with infinite rights (the concrete, the living manifold of being), the Absolute Spirit, the free and loving mystical union of the multiplicity of individual spirits in the One Spirit58  (in this unity is attained the absolute plenitude of being) — only these three elements are justified by a true mysticism, and for power and coercion here there is no place.59  The old understanding of heaven, as authority and power, led to the justifying of earthly coercive power; however, a new and free understanding of heaven would sanctify and strengthen earthly freedom and non-force anarchy.

Lev Tolstoy caught sight of a sort of tremendous truth in his teaching about idealistic non-force anarchism, and it should gain strength in the consciousness in future. But he was mistaken in the ways of its realisation, repudiating all real politics, every struggle of powers. Bakunin and his disciples also grasped it somewhat, but they fell into another fatal misunderstanding. They hoped to destroy coercion in the world and to strengthen freedom in the world — on the soil of materialism and positivism. But what can materialism and positivism oppose to the external coercion, while also denying the deep inner nature of the personal spirit and its boundless rights? Either nothing, or else again a new form of external coercion, allowable merely as a temporal means, but not as a source and end. With the materialists and positivists there are no inner creative sources for the kingdom of freedom, and therefore ultimately and fatally they fall into the cultivation of coercive statism.


Every romantic, hostile to culture, has to be termed a reactionary in a very strict sense of the word. And customarily on the one side the romantic denies culture, rejecting its as bourgeois, while on another side — he serves to the transformation of culture. The romantic is fond of the primal elements of the earth. Leont’ev was an enemy of culture and bourgeois progress, but together with this he thirsts for a new culture, original and beautiful. In his dreamings he looked backwards, to primordial nature, to the beauty of the past, but here he just stumbles about… A restoration, a return there is not and cannot be, there can only be a rebirth, which is always a new creativity, a begetting of the future from the seeds of the past. Yes, much in the past was beautiful, and we constantly ought to turn ourselves towards it, but a return backwards is death, a free return — is a death sometimes colourful, sometimes forceful — but death is always deformative. Under the fear of death and from the thirst for being we ought and we desire to create culture, and not only a culture spiritual, but also material. The metaphysical and religious significance of cultural progress is in this, that only by its path can there be attained the ultimate freedom and plenitude of universal being, in which each “personal spirit” possesses an “endless right”. In the name of this mystical and romantic, mysteried end we cannot nor do we wish to repudiate culture and progress.

“Liberal-egalitarian” progress can and ought to be affirmed and accepted mystically and romantically, since its purpose is not in this, “that the French, the German or the Russian bourgeoise in their ugly and comic attire might be smugly an “individual” or a “collectivist” upon the ruins of past grandeur”… Leont’ev did not understand the religio-metaphysical significance of the world-historical process, since his religiosity was individual-ascetic. Regarding the historical process, ultimately, he held positivist views, and in him these views evoked a just loathing, the romantic’s loathing, of the positivist aims and results of progress.

If a realm of democracy and socialism is the sole aim of progress, and not its temporal means, if the limiting happiness, prosperity and well-being, which impel them to forget about “the boundless rights of the personal spirit”, if they will be the sole results of progress, then we shall fall into embracing the reactionary romantic. But this is not so.

In the aesthetic and mystical hatred of Leont’ev towards democracy and towards plebian culture there is some sort of truth, but there is also a crude falsehood, a crude misunderstanding, which we ought to examine. I would propose suchlike a formula paradoxical only in the externals: the triumph of democracy and socialism in the name of the ultimate triumph of aristocracy. Democratism and socialism are however capable of manifesting a true, meta-historical, mystical aristocracy, since by this capability there is eradicated the false, the chance-historical, the positivist aristocracy. As a romantic Leont’ev did not understand, how it might be possible to prefer the shoemaker over the priest or the soldier, but indeed the deficiency in this also consisted in, that historically the priest or the soldier too often was a shoemaker in the most authentic sense of this word, while historically with the shoemaker there may have been the soul of a knight. Political and social democratism is capable to set aright these positivist, political and economic impediments, which they consolidate, and by no means do they mystically consolidate, for shoemakers the position of soldiers or priests, or for true soldiers and priests — the position of shoemakers. Together with this, political and social democratism is a way, only a way, towards the recognition of the “infinite rights of the personal spirit”, i.e. towards transcendent ends. It is too elementary a thing to insist upon this truth, that the knights by spirit be recognised not through political and economic prerogatives, created by the positivist ordering of life, that aristocracy can be discovered only then, when the human countenance is defined by the depths of the “personal spirit”, when that aberration collapses, which was evoked by the material historical means.

In historical aristocracy there were noble features of the highest human type for those times, for which, we confess, we foster a romantic weakness, but these features have been deformed too much, and in the bourgeoise they have ultimately vanished. Terrible and tragic be this — that the democratic progress as it were lowers the human type, leads to a crumbling, a weakening of cultural creativity. This is the obverse side of democratic fairness, in view of which it is impossible to look upon democratic culture as a goal or end. Progress and culture are antinomic, here is the tragic contradiction, from which there is no empirical egress. But in any case one might think, that after the epoch of democratic fairness, after the socialist epoch of the organisation of human sustainance there ought to ensue a new, a free aristocratic epoch, which it is necessary to prepare for already now, not in counter-action to democracy and socialism, but in the fulfilling of their destiny.

We are not adherents of individualistic asceticism, because we cannot be indifferent to the organisation of the material culture of mankind. Real science and experience indeed do not prompt us for the ensuing historical period with other ways of the organisation of material life, other than the collectivisation of production and the corresponding change of the forms of ownership. Marxism has said much that is correct about the capabilities of the struggle of mankind with “nature” and about the reflection of this struggle in the material order of life. And we ought to accept the truth of socialism, so as by this itself to contend against the pseudo-religious pathos of socialism, against the cult of social democratism as ends, and not for a time mere means. The collective material and corporeal life of mankind will cease to be petty and drab only then, when it is rendered religio-aesthetic, when there is brought back into our new culture a collective mystical sense of past religious epochs and conjoined with a free individualness of religious mindset.

Is there possible a mystical anarchism and a mystical aristocracy, receptive to socialism and proceeding on through it? Here is the problem, to which Leont’ev leads us, as well as the whole of contemporary culture. Mysticism and the romantic aristocratism of Leont’ev are profoundly an individual thing, situated off from the great pathways of Russian history. He himself did not understand this, but for us there is value in this strange, solitary writer, full of contradictions and frightening extremes, outside of that historical falsehood and historical evil, in which his tragic fate plunged him. Perhaps now, at a time when the truth is laid bare, Konstantin Leont’ev might be accorded the honour of a romantic and might pronounce a mystical judgement over the historical evil of Russia. Or would his fanaticism be rendered yet more dark, but altogether yet unreal?

Nikolai  Berdyaev.


©  2006  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1904 – 120(3,15) – en)

K. LEONT’EV – PHILOSOPH REAKTSIONNOI ROMANTIKI.  First published in Journal “Voprosy zhizni”, No.7, 1905, p. 165-198. Berdyaev reused the article as Chapter 15 in his 1907 book,  “Sub specie aeternitatis” (M. V. Pirozhkov, St. Peterburg), which has been subsequently reprinted in year 2002, Kanon, Moskva, article p. 342-373. Vide also Berdyaev’s later book, “Leontiev”, published Russian
1926 IMKA Press Paris, and English translation 1940 London Geoffrey Bles,
subsequently reprinted in limited and rather expensive editions.

Article reprinted and included by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in the Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III),  p. 145-178.
1  In the Slavophil camp there were outstanding thinkers, as for example Khomyakov, but the old Slavophils were only half-wise conservative and in any case not reactionary. The generations succeeding them in this were insignificant and pitiful.

2 Vide: K. Leont’ev. “Vostok, Rossiya i Slavyanstvo” (“The East, Russia and Slavism”), t. I, p. 98.

3 Ibid., p. 105.

4 Ibid., p. 145.

5 Ibid., p. 146.

6 Ibid., p. 164.

7 Ibid., p. 265.

8 Ibid., p. 283.

9 Ibid., p. 294.

10 Ibid., p. 300.

11 Vide: K. Leont’ev. “Vostok, Rossiya i Slavyantsvo”, t. II, p. 38.

12 Ibid., p. 39.

13 Ibid., p. 39.

14 Ibid., p. 50.

15 Ibid., p. 56.

16 Ibid., p. 70.

17 Ibid., p. 81.

18 Ibid., p. 93.

19 Ibid., p. 95.

20 Ibid., p. 144.

21 Ibid., p. 154.

22 Ibid., p. 157.

23 Ibid., p. 213.

24 Ibid., p. 215.

25 Ibid., p. 216.

26 Ibid., p. 219.

27 Ibid., p. 382.

28 Ibid., p. 137.

29 Ibid., p. 143.

30 Ibid., p. 144.

31 Within Chapter II, “Person and Society”, of my book, “Subjectivism and Individualism in social Philosophy”, I subject the organic theory of society to critique. I refer to it, since I reproduced therein quite fully cited sociological arguments.

32 In defiance to the philanthropists Leont’ev says: “Ideas do not possess an human heart. Ideas are inexorable and harsh, since essentially they are nothing other, than clear or obscured conscious laws of nature and history”. t. I, p. 25. Such confused assertions are possible only in the mouths of the most naive materialists and positivists.

33 Vide K. Leont’ev. “The East, Russia and Slavism”, t. II, p. 180.

34 Ibid., p. 215.

35 Ibid., p. 224.

36 Ibid., p. 269.

37 Ibid., p. 270.

38 Ibid., p. 285.

39 Ibid., p. 290.

40 Ibid., p. 300.

41 Ibid., p. 301.

42 Vide: K. Leont’ev. “The East, Russia and Slavism”, t. I, p. 98.

43 “We have squandered much, we have wrought little in spirit and we stand at our sort of terrifying limit”… p.188. These are terrible words.

44 Ibid., p. 103.

45 Ibid., p. 244.

46 Ibid., p. 257.

47 Vide K. Leont’ev. “The East, Russia and Slavism”, t. II, p. 41.

48 Ibid., p. 43.

49 Ibid., p. 48.

50 Ibid., p. 80.

51 Ibid., p. 278.

52 Ibid., p. 167.

53 I utilise this expression not in that specialised meaning, which it now has received with the “mystical anarchists”.

54 Italics mine.

55 Vide K. Leont’ev. “The East, Russia and Slavism”, t. II, p. 17.

56 Ibid., p. 18.

57  i.e. anarchism upon a religious, and not a positivist ground.

58 i.e. the Church, and not the state.

59 To avoid misunderstanding it ought to be said, that I use here the word “spirit” not in its opposition to “flesh”, but as an acceptable signification of metaphysical concrete being, which in full I acknowledge as spiritu-fleshly. In philosophic terminology the concept of “spiritualism” possesses a completely different significance, than it has in the religio-cultural and moral problematics of asceticism. I am a resolute adherent of philosophic spiritualism or pan-psychism, and together with this also at enmity with religious and moral spiritualism, i.e. asceticism.