N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
The End of Europe
(1915 – #195)
The visionary dream about world unity and world dominion — is an age-old dream of mankind. The Roman Empire was the greatest attempt at such unity and such dominion. And every universalism is bound up even at present with Rome, as a concept spiritual, and not geographic. The present-day world war, which is spreading all over and threatens to engulf all lands and peoples, would seem deeply contrary to this old dream about world unity, about a single world governance. Such a terrible war, it would seem, is destroying the unity of mankind. But this is so only for the superficial glance. From a perspective at greater depth the world war to the ultimate degree has brought into sharp focus the question concerning world order upon the earthly globe, about the expanse of culture upon all the surface of the earth. The present historical period has similarity to the era of the great transmigration of peoples. There is the feeling, that mankind is entering upon a new historical and cosmic even period, amidst some sort of great inevitability, completely unforeseen by any of the scientific prognoses, meanwhile toppling down all the doctrines and teachings. And it demonstrates first of all, that the ancient, the irrational and indeed primitive instincts are stronger than all the modern social interests and humanitarian feelings. These instincts, rooted within the obscure wellsprings of life, win out over the feeling of bourgeois self-preservation. That, which seemed to the consciousness of the second half of the XIX Century to be the solely essential things within the life of mankind, have proven all to be merely at the surface level of life. The world war tears away this surface skin of the civilisation of the XIX and XX Centuries and reveals the deeper layers of human life, it sets loose the chaotically irrational within human nature, covered over only outwardly, but nowise changed within modern man. The social question, the struggle of classes, the humanitarian-cosmopolitanist socialism etc, etc, all that which not so long ago seemed still singularly important, and in which they saw the only possible future, now fades into the background, gives way to deeper interests and instincts. Into the foreground move questions of nation and ethnos, the struggle for dominance of various imperialisms, all that, which had seemed overcome and left behind by cosmopolitanism, by pacifism, by the humanitarian and socialistic teachings. The eternal bourgeois and socialistic world has proven phantasmic, a mere abstraction. Within the fires of this terrible war have been burnt up all the doctrinalisings and there has been melted away all the fetters, latched upon life by the teachings and theories. The instincts of nation and ethnos in the XX Century have proven to be mightier than instincts social and of class. The irrational has proven stronger than the rational within the most bourgeois and well-organised of cultures. The struggle of ethnos, the struggle of national dignities, the struggle of great empires for might and dominion is essentially supra-national. Here the dark will for the expansion of the supra-personal life wins out over all personal interests and plans, it capsizes all the individual perspectives on life. How many individually unrewarded go the sacrifices that are demanded by imperialistic politics or the struggle for national worth. And in our epoch there is the displacing of instincts by still stronger instincts, upon which stand the imperialistic and national struggle. The instincts particular to life, of the egoistic family, the philistine, are won out over by interests of national life, of historical and world life, by instincts of the glory of peoples and states.
The national consciousness and nationalism — are phenomena of the XIX Century. After the Napoleonic wars, inspired by the idea of a world empire, there began the wars of national liberation. And national self-awareness grew. National states crystalised into shape. Lesser peoples even wanted to assert their national visage, and to possess an independent life. The national movements of the XIX Century are profoundly contrary to the universal spirit of the Middle Ages, which was under the sway of ideas of world theocracy and world empire and which did not know nationalism. The intense national energies within the XIX and XX Centuries act alongside energies that were cosmopolitan, socialistic, humanitarian-pacifist. The XIX Century — was the most cosmopolitan and yet the most nationalistic of centuries. The bourgeois European life was also both very cosmopolitan and very nationalistic. But in it the spirit of universality would be difficult to find. The nationalisation of human life involved also its individualisation. And the striving towards individualisation always involves new appearances. The national states, the national individualities are fully definable only for the XIX Century. And quite parallel to the growth of the national manifold was a lessening of the remoteness of states and nations, it weakened the provincial isolation. It might be said, that mankind moves towards unity through a national individualisation. Parallel to the individualisation in national existence is an universalisation, a developement in breadth. And it can likewise be said, that mankind at present moves towards oneness and unification through a worldwide discord of war, through prolonged misfortune, into the period we are now entering. History — is paradoxical and antinomic, and its processes — are twofold. Nothing within history is realised alongside a straight line, by peaceful growth, without detours and without sacrifices, without evil, accompanying the good, without a shadowing of the light. Races and peoples are locked in a bloody struggle. Within the war there is an outlet for the particularistic and isolated existence of peoples.
The most compelling feeling, evoked by the world war, might be expressed thus: this is the end of Europe, as a monopoly on culture, as a closed-in province of the earthly sphere, with its pretensions to be universal. The world war pulls into the cycle of world life all the races, all the parts of the earthly orb. It brings East and West into so close a contact, as never yet known within history. The world war poses the question about an emergence onto world expanses, about the extension of culture across all the surface of the earthly globe. It sharpens to the final extreme all the questions, connected with imperialistic and colonial politics, connected with the relations of the European states to other parts of the world, to Asia and Africa. One such aspect already is this, that the present-day war with a fateful inevitability posits the question about the existence of Turkey, about the dividing up of its holdings, which leads us beyond the borders of European horizons. The semi-phantasmic existence of Turkey, which for a long time was sustained by European diplomacy, kept Europe within its closed-in condition, forestalling the too acute and catastrophic setting of questions, connected with movement towards the East. In Turkey all was tied up in a knot, the undoing upon which depends the character of the existence of Europe, since the end of Turkey represents the emergence of culture eastwards, beyond the bounds of Europe. And besides the question concerning Turkey the war posits still many other questions, connected with the world-historical theme: East and West. And the world war demands resolution of all the questions.
The great powers conduct world politics, and make pretense of spreading their civilising influence beyond the borders of Europe, to all parts of the world and to all peoples, upon over all the surface of the earth. This — is imperialistic politics, which always contains within it universalistic pretensions and which ought to be distinguished from nationalistic politics. Nationalism is particularism; imperialism is universalism. On the strength of some almost biological law, a law of biological sociology, the great. or in the terminology of N. B. Struve, the greatest powers strive towards a swallowing up of all the weak and the small, towards a worldwide dominion, they want on their own terms to civilise all the surface of the earthly sphere.
The talented and original English imperialist Cramb sees the significance of English imperialism in this, that it “should inspire all peoples, living within the bounds of the British empire, with the English world-outlook”.1 In this he sees the striving of the race for immortality. Imperialism with its colonial politics is a modern, a bourgeois method of spreading of the universalisation of culture, of spreading civilisation beyond the bounds of Europe, beyond the seas and oceans. Modern imperialism — is a phenomenon purely European, but it bears with it an energy, the ultimate revealing of which spells the end of Europe. In the dialectics of imperialism is a self-negation. The endless expansion and might of the British empire spells the end of England, as a national state, as the individually particularistic existence of a people. For the British empire, as in every empire, within its own bounds is the world, the earthly orb. In modern imperialism, which I term “bourgeois” in distinction to the “sacred” imperialism of former ages,2 there is the same striving for world dominion, as was also in the Roman empire, and which is impossible to investigate, as mere national existence. This — is the tantalising torment of the great powers, unquenchable in their thirst. Only small peoples and states are content with a purely national existence, making no pretense to be all the whole world. But how distinct are the methods of modern bourgeois imperialism from the methods of the old sacral imperialism. Both the ideology and the practice are altogether different. Now everything possesses, foremost, an economic undertone. Modern imperialists no longer speak about a world theocracy, nor about a sacred world empire. Colonial politics, the struggle for dominion on the sea, the struggle for markets — this is what concerns modern imperialism, here are its methods and means of world might. Imperialistic politics indeed does lead out beyond the bounds of the closed-in existence of Europe and indeed does serve towards the universalisation of culture. But this is accomplished by crooked and negative paths. In a straight-forward intent of imperialism to spread culture it is impossible to believe. We know only too well, how the European great powers peddle their culture over all the earthly sphere, how rough and ugly their contacts are towards races of other parts of the world, their civilising of old cultures and savages. The cultural role of the English in India, an ancient land of great religious revealings of wisdom, which even now could help the peoples of Europe deepen their religious consciousness, is all too well known, for it to be possible to sustain the lie of the cultural ideology of imperialism. The world outlook of modern Englishmen is more superficial, than the world outlook of Indians, and they can convey to India but an outward civilisation. The England of the XIX Century would nowise be capable to beget a Ramakrishna, who was born in India. In the contacts of modern European civilisation with the ancient races and ancient cultures there is always something of the sacrilegious. And the conceited European, bourgeois and scientific, civilising consciousness — is a phenomenon so pitiful and trite, that it spiritually can be looked at only as a symptom of the ensuing end of Europe — the monopolist of world culture. It is the nightfall of Europe — here is a feeling, impossible to be rid of. Barbarisation in part threatens Europe. Yet all the same it is impossible to deny the significance of imperialism, as an emergence beyond the borders of Europe and purely of the European civilisation, it is impossible to deny its external, material, geographic mission. All the surface of the earthly orb has inevitably to be civilised, all the races have to be drawn into the coursings of world history. This worldwide task stands now more acutely before mankind, than the tasks of the inward life of the crystalised European states and cultures.
The British empire was the first to appear within the type of modern imperialism. The last attempt at a sacred imperialism was the world empire of Napoleon, all still constructed under the spell of the Roman idea. In the era of Napoleon however it ultimately vanished, transformed into a phantasm, the Holy Roman empire. Hereafter an empire, all still making pretense to world domination, would be built upon different foundations and would have a different ideology. Imperialism is closely interwoven with the economics of the capitalist era. England presents the example of a classical land of building the growth of empire. The instincts of the Anglo-Saxon race have proven fully suitable for the creation of a world empire on the new model. The British empire is strewn throughout all parts of the world, and to it belongs a fifth part of the earthly orb. The English have the calling for this, to spread their might beyond the seas. The English imperialism — is peaceful, non-militaristic, culturo-economic, sea-mercantile. It is impossible to deny the imperialistic talent and the imperialistic vocation of the English people. It might also be said, that England has a geographic-imperialistic mission. This mission consists not in the sphere of an higher spiritual life, but it is necessary in the fulfillment of the historical fates of mankind. Both as regards their geographic position and innate to their race, the English — are the most imperialistic, and perhaps, the solely imperialistic people in the modern sense of the word. The English — are great successes at imperialistic politics. It is impossible to say this for the Germans. Both an unfavourable geographic position, and the military-force instincts of the Germanic race make the German imperialism onerous, coercive and intolerable for other lands and peoples. The Germanic imperialism has to be aggressive and grabbing by force. In German imperialism, capitalism on the modern model is closely interwoven with militarism. This imperialism is purely militaristic, and the militarism — is modernly capitalistic, futuristic. The German empire, striving for world domination through force, always produces the impression of being an upstart, and it tends to obsess the unbearable conceit of the parvenue. It is characteristic, that Bismarck still was not an imperialist: he was more than careful in regards to colonial politics. He created a national empire, he completed the unification of the German people. The imperialism here is the child of the most recent generation of the German bourgeoise and German Junkerism. Modern Germany with its bourgeois feelers stretches into Russia, into Italy and other lands, and it tries to Germanise everything. But Germany is not an imperialistic land as regards vocation. Its imperialism — is fatal for it itself and for all Europe. To the censuring namely of German imperialism would be the fact upon exposure, that the imperialism inevitably leads not only to war, but also to a world war. The world war — is the result of imperialistic politics. The seeds of war were lodged in the original grounds of quite peaceful an imperialism. But no people is fated by a peaceful imperialistic politics to spread its might over the surface of the world. Every imperialism in fatal manner crashes into a stormy clash with another imperialism. The existence of several worldwide pretensions foreshadows a world war. The clash of the rather older English imperialism with the more recent Germanic was fatally predestined. Several years before the war, Cramb spoke about this with great enthusiasm in his lectures, “Germany and England”, although it would be difficult to agree with his idealisation of German imperialism. Imperialism does not have as its aim the spreading of civilisation over all the earth, the increase of world community, but leads rather to discord and war. In the materialistic imperialism ensues the nightfall of Europe. But the dawn after this night can only be a worldwide dawning.
The world war presents the XX Century the task of the emergence of culture beyond Europe and into the world expanses over all the surface of the earthly sphere. Through the terror of the war and the evil of colonial politics, through the struggle of races and nationalities will be accomplished the unification of mankind and the civilising of all the earthly sphere. In facing this worldwide task, questions provincially European for a certain while will be relegated to the secondary plane. Sooner or later there has to begin the movement of culture towards its ancient sources, to the ancient races, to the East, to Asia and Africa, which anew need to be drawn into the course of world history. Egypt, India, Palestine are not forever fallen away from world history. And with its tormentive problem China still has to be taken into account. The disappearance of a purely European culture will be a dawning of the sun in the East. The enigmatic expression of the faces of the ancient peoples of the East, which are so striking for us as Europeans, ought for once to find solutions at some high points of history. To this enigmatic glance of the ancient races Europe has not succeeded in determining, whither to go. Europe ought not only to convey its culture to Asia and Africa, but it ought also to receive something in return from the ancient cradles of culture. Imperialism with its colonial politics has been but an external, a bourgeois expression of that inevitable worldwide historical movement, which we foresee. Inwardly, this historical turnabout is being readied by the spiritual crisis of European culture, the crashing of the positivism and materialism of the contemporary European consciousness, the disenchantment in life, the thirst for new faith and new wisdom. The centre of gravity for Western Europe, in all actuality, is shifting still more to the West, to America, the might of which will grow quite much after the finish of the war. And indeed the Americanisation of modern civilisation will extend Europe all the way to America. The East — is one exit beyond the bounds of European culture, America — is another exit. Europe is ceasing to be at the centre of world history, the sole bearer of an higher culture. If Europe had wanted to remain a monopolist and dwell in its European self-smugness, it should have refrained from the world war. But long ago already European life had been transformed into a fiery volcano. Now Europe faces fully a basic theme of world history — the unification of East and West. And the task is in this, that the end of Europe and the critical point in history has to be experienced by man at spiritual depth and with a religious light.
Great roles in this worldwide movement of culture should fall to the allotted portion of Russia and England. The mission of the English is rather more external. The mission of Russia — is more inward. Russia stands at the centre of East and West, it — is an East and West. Russia — is the largest empire. But that is namely because foreign to it is the imperialism in the English or German sense of the word. With us, as Russians, there are no great-empire strivings, since a great empire — is already a given for us, and not a goal. Russia is too greatly large, to have pathos over expansion and domination. And indeed the temperament of the Slavic race — is not an imperialistic temperament. Russia does not aspire after colonies, since that in it itself there are vast Asiatic colonies, which present it much work. The mission of Russia — is in the defense and liberation of lesser peoples. Russia has still to be the bulwark against the dangers of the Mongol East. But for this, it first of all has to be liberated from everything of the Mongol-East within itself. The sole essential pretension of Russia appears to be Constantinople and egress through the water-courseways to the seas. A Russian Constantinople ought to be one of the centres of the unification of East and West. Material power and the material greatness of Russia — are initial givens for us. We have no need to conquer with difficulty every jot of earth, in order to be great. And we have all the basis to suppose that the world mission of Russia is in its spiritual life, in its spiritual, and not material universalism, in its prophetic presentiments of new life, which Russian great literature was full of, just as with Russian thought and the religious life of the people. And if there approaches also the end of the provincially shut-in life of Europe, then all the more there approaches also the end of the provincially shut-in life of Russia. Russia has to emerge onto the world stage. The end of Europe will be with the emergence of Russia and the Slavic race into the arena of world history, as determined by its spiritual power. The strong cosmic gusts batter all the lands, and peoples and cultures. In order to withstand this gale, there is needed a strong spiritual concentration and depth, there is needed a religious experiencing of the historical catastrophes.
© 2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1915 – 195(15,13) – en)
KONETS EVROPY. First published in literary gazette “Birzhevye vedomosti”, 12 June 1915, No. 14900. Later incorporated by Berdyaev into his 1918 book, “The Fate of Russia” (“Sud’ba Rossii”), Section II, Chapter 13, (p. 324-332 in my 1997 Moscow Svarog reprint).
1 Vide Cramb. “Germany and England”.
2 Vide my article: “Sacred Imperialism and Bourgeois Imperialism” [“Imperializm svyaschennyi i imperializm burzhuaznyi”. (This article of N. Berdyaev was printed in the newspaper “Birzhevye vedomosti”, 5 November 1914, and in the present anthology is not included. — compiler’s notation.)