N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
THE APOTHEOSIS OF RUSSIAN LETHARGY
(1916 – #234)
V. V. Rozanov wrote in “Novoe Vremya” (No. 14461) a sharply satirical and at places brilliant article, “The Idea of Messianism”, in which he pokes fun at the pretensions of messianism. The article was written as regards my book, “The Meaning of Creativity” [engl. “The Meaning of the Creative Act”], although essentially about the book nothing is said in it and only in its lines of summation is there given a general consideration of its spirit and direction. Rozanov rises up against the idea of the messianism of peoples, against all the universal pretensions, the worldwide missions, the historically great, against all the driving impulses and quest for supremacy. In the opinion of Rozanov, “this is dangerous a spot to be in”. “It makes heads giddy, give birth to bewitchments, stirs up powers, makes for a positive craziness”. And Rozanov wants no such lofty place for man and the people, he is afraid of this lofty place. Let the lofty place remain for God and the coelestial world in the heavens. “Lofty places are not necessary in the world. Dangerous. Dreadful. Scary”. From the lofty spots one can fall off and get smashed up. And whoever holds on firmly below, in the low spot, cannot fall off. It is becoming for man and the people to be modest, not humble even, but merely modest, for him nowise to sit upon the throne, upon which God Himself ought to sit. In the humility of Dostoevsky Rozanov sees a messianic pride in the pretension to an exclusive greatness. “What the proud man desired, is to be the most humble of all”. “No, more accurately “lethargic”, — exclaims Rozanov. — lest one come under whatever the heresy, since the point consists in this, so as to sit awhile nigh the little window and while away the time. And of an evening to find diversion at tea. And in such instance the sleep will go clearly, without disturbances, — and thus, with dreamy sights faultless and at ease”. In the name of a tranquil life, not demanding of activity, tension nor risk, in the name of an untroubled sleep, in the name of sitting nigh the little window, sipping tea and “contentment”, which pushes on towards evening, Rozanov desires for Russia “not a grant and world-encompassing “humility”, but rather a simple, private modesty, a personal “modesty”. And to his great joy Rozanov sees in Russia and the Russian people this salvific “life” and salvific “private modesty”, this disengagement from that which evokes poor sleep and impedes one from calmly taking one’s pleasure at sipping tea and sitting nigh the little window, this aversion towards everything responsible, or too active and grand. “In the “lethargy” consists the metaphysical principle of Rus’ and the “lethargy” — this namely also protects us from the most virulent evils”. To all messianism Rozanov opposes his Apotheosis of Russian lethargy. Not everyone would have recoursed to do this with such transparency, without any ruses or obfuscations. Rozanov blabs out the secret of Russian triteness. He resolutely wants for Russia no sort of “universality”, he stands for provincialism. Long ago already I termed Rozanovism a mystique over the commonplace. To Rozanov is known the mystery of the commonplace triteness of life. “The place of Russia, the faith of Russia — is an eternal relativity… Let the little mother scurry along, like a steppes path, nowhere ending, nowhere beginning. And, yoi, you there, get those horses running, only though don’t give me a jolt”. The purely Russian religious thirst for absolute life, for universal salvation, the Kingdom of God upon earth just like in heaven, is all situated outside the cycle of the mystique of the commonplace.
Rozanov renders suchlike a summation of my book: “And thus he summons Russia and, perchance, all of us to a religious creativity, to a religious heroism, to a religious grandeur. I tended to remember the pope, and Luther, it scared me and in fright I slumbered off. Very light-headed were the dreams. I woke up and wrote down these few lines, — to wit, that “it frightened me”, and that this is not “the allotted lot for Russia”. Rozanov sensed the difficulty, the responsibility, the dramatic aspect of western world history and it distracted him from the Russian lethargy, the private modesty, the calm tea-sipping and sitting nigh the little window, distracted him from the snugness of the Russian commonplace and the provincial life. My book — is only an outwardly an impediment to this line of thought. Rozanov in essence has no desire for history, he is afraid of history. The thought is disagreeable to him about the transformation of Russian man from a man private and commonplace into rather a citizen and responsible creator of life. But in actual fact there belongs an enormous Russian history within the Russian people and not only in those traits, which are so dear to the heart of Rozanov, not only the lethargy and private modesty. How was the enormous Russian state built, the greatest state in the world, by what forces, by what paths? This edifice presupposes a great and nowise modest history. But by blood and in spirit Rozanov belongs not to those, who created Russian history and the Russian state and were accustomed to take the lead and command, but rather to those, who ought to be ashamed and humbled, quietly peeking out the little window. Alien to him are the morals of the master, the creator of life. There remains for him but to confess a messianism of “lethargy” and private “modesty”. This likewise is his sort of messianism, and upon Rozanov himself can be turned his sarcasm regarding Dostoevsky. What has he wanted: to be the most lazy of all but still to belong to a great people, a great state! Nor a single people within the world could allow itself such a sort of laziness as his, from such a laziness would perish every people and therefore every people is compelled to toil. Yet Rozanov and his people can permit themself even to live in its contentment. Evidently, only on the strength of a special chosenness! In the ideology of the Slavophils there was nothing about a Russian lethargy, but this was concealed and veiled over. Khomyakov was shameful with his unseemly lethargy. Rozanov however with calmness evinces the element of laziness, set at the basis of many of the Eastern Russian ideologies.
Passivity, lethargic laziness, calm contemplation — are elements of the East, begotten for the Christian East from the non-Christian East. This passivity and lethargic laziness are the opposite of human activity, action, creativity, manifestation and bringing forth, responsibility. The passively-lethargic existence loves to assert itself as collectively-organic, mystically-vegetative, divinely-commonplace and to set itself in contrast to n existence responsibly-active and individually-detached, willfully-personal. But such a passively-lethargic, collectively-organic existence is in essence still an existence half-drowsy, half-asleep, and this — is a condition of the not-manifesting of human powers and the human calling, merely the potential for life, and not life itself. In the ideology of such a condition there is the lack of desire for the ultimate awakening of man. The great mystical contemplations of the East, in the religion of India and of Orthodoxy, with the yogi figures and with our saints, cannot be, certainly, relegated to an half-drowsy condition, — within them there is a verymost great activity of spirit, greater, than in the West. But the passive-lethargic way of life, the commonplace of the East is a slumbering of man. The most lazy among us might want wholly to impute it to the saints, who spiritually tended to outdo themselves. Rozanov represents also the type of Russian people, who gratis tend to want to receive a tranquil life nowise bereft of their pleasantry, sustained upon the organic collective aspect of Russia, upon the vastness of the little mothers of Russia, always allowing of an extensive economy, an extensive culture. He is all hopeful, that the little mothers of Russia will save him and provide the way out of all difficulties, and he does not think, that he himself ought to save Russia, that a man ought to manage his land, and not rather the land the man. He does not allow for even the thoughts, that the hour is nigh and has already ensued, when Russia will have to be transformed into an intensive economy and an intensive culture. He takes upon himself the great audacity to proclaim the apotheosis of Russian lethargy at a time of the climax of the world struggle, when from the Russian people is demanded the greatest of activity, the intensification of all its powers, when already it has become impossible to sit calmly nigh the little window and wait, when already it has become impossible already to have the light-headed dreams. Rozanov seems nowise to sense, that Russia has entered upon a very responsibly answerable period of its world-historical existence. The private existence is ending and a genuinely historical existence is beginning.
Rozanov — is very Russian a man and he expresses something characteristically Russian, something from the Russian element. But it would be a slander on Russia and the Russian people to say, that the Rozanov element is the Russian element, that he is the expresser of something most essentially Russian. No, he is the expresser of the old lifestyle, the commonplace, half-asleep, emotio-fleshly, but not of the spiritual Russia. In the spiritually intensive life of the Russian people, in its religious searchings, in its thirst for absolute truth, in its expectations of the City of God, the Coming City, is sensed a spirit, the opposite to that of Rozanov. Therein are lodged the potentials of a great and new life, of the significance of Russia for all the world, for the deed of world liberation. And for Russia on the strongest basis might be said just the opposite to Rozanov. The place of Rus’, the faith of Rus’, the allotted portion for Rus’ — is not an eternal relativity, but rather an eternal absoluteness. The thirst for absolute life, the impossibility of becoming reconciled to a life relative — is a characteristically Russian feature. Russia — is ungifted in the relative, in the mediocre average, in the mediocre-relative culture, flourishing in the West. Too absolute an attitude towards life, the lack of desire to know the relative — is a danger for Russia. The Slavophils, Dostoevsky, L. Tolstoy, Vl. Solov’ev, N. Fedorov — the blossoms of Russian spiritual culture, wanted only the absolute and did not consent to what was relative. All the entire Russian literature of the XIX Century speaks about the Russian thirst for the absolute, as does the whole history of the Russian Intelligentsia with its maximalism, and the Russian Populist sects and the religious movements amongst the people. In these very Russian, albeit very foreign to Rozanov, manifestations is discovered, that the Russian man of depth sees the chief thing, that most dear for himself, not in the tea-sipping, not in the calm sitting at the little window, not in the pleasant drowsy-dreaming. The Russian people, at its summits, in its depths, wants not the customary, not the philistine, but rather a Divine and absolute life. And Rozanov slanders the Russian people, in attributing the philistine ideals of life to it. Russian man with his drowsy awareness could sooner be reproached in this, that for him everything is rendered the universal, of all the world, while nothing remains individually private.
Rozanov is afraid, that the course of Russian life will “jolt” him. And many are afraid of this. The horses are running too fast. Russia is already late and might not arrive at the proper place at the appointed hour of history. There is all still a great power of energy in Russia. But the process of the “jolt” for Rozanov and others like him is inevitable. For this — is a fateful allotted portion. Delaying it can only be of insignificance. I have in view not only the outwardly-societal, but likewise even moreso the inwardly-spiritual. This “jolt” is not at all definable by the dominance of those or some other ideologies, of these or some other books and articles, this is the “apportioned lot” of all the world and of all mankind, this is the “apportioned lot” also of Russia, in which lies concealed more of the catastrophic, than in other lands of the world. And moreover it is needful still to be concerned about this, that the Russian catastrophism should be creative and thought-out, and not mindlessly-destructive, so that the positive instincts of new life should prevail over the instincts negative. The vital arrangement dear to Rozanov’s heart is not an eternal arrangement, this — is but a transitory arrangement, it will be swept away by the new life. Russia has entered too deeply into the world history of mankind, has gotten too involved, and there is no turning back for it. And it ought to take upon itself the great responsibility, imposed upon it by its exceptional expanses and its place upon the earth. An irresponsible and unresponsive greatness cannot be the historical lot of any particular people or particular land. Facing Russia is either a great role within world history, whither it should convey its truth, or dissolution, being overshadowed into the background, extinction. And how horrible, how pitiful would be this extinction of the giant! The ideology of a lazy irresponsiveness readies Russia for this horrid fate. It is necessary to make a choice and to direct one’s will in accord with the choice made. But clearly and obviously it can be said, that calm tea-sipping, sitting nigh the little window and dreaming pleasantries all will not thus be. All this already there is not. Not at this hour of world history. The catastrophe has happened with all the world, and its consequences are so enormous, that it is difficult to foresee and calculate them. Everything has had a “jolt”. And even indeed for Rozanov himself is it already so tranquil and pleasant to live. In the shortages of sugar and firewood at present there is also an “universality”, everything has ceased to be exclusively “private”. The world war has inflicted an irreparable blow to the “private” world-view, and in a fateful manner it “universalises” life. The concerns of “a dangerous place” are for all the whole people, just like for the individual man also, matters of duty, seriousness, responsibility, and not pretensions, not privileged rights. At present, totally undangerous places do not exist. It is nowise an undangerous place — to write small articles in the newspaper, also in this place is a great responsibility, there is much to be asked and possibly to bring shame to oneself. This is not a matter of tea-sipping and sitting nigh the little window. This ought in essence to be a matter of vigilance. Rozanov in his experience ought to know, that after other dreamy scribblings there occur extreme unpleasantries.
Russia faces a fateful dilemma. It has to make a choice between “greatness”, a great mission, great deeds, or complete insignificance, historical repudiation, becoming a non-entity. The middle, the “modest” path for Russia — there is not. It is not possible with impunity to be so great, in its expanses so threatening for the world, so great in its spiritual potentials and its expectations being bound up with this. Oh, certainly, the “greatness” itself can be a false greatness of this world, the might itself can be an evil and destructive might. Of the greatness of Russia, however, we are least of all inclined to think of as pretensions to world domination, a worldwide mundane kingdom. We believe in the sacrificial spirit of Russia, in its bright mission, in its election with an ontological character of the path to truth. But even a righteous, sacrificial, bright power ought to be powerful, not impotent, and the matter of this power ought to be dynamic, and not rigid. Those however, who choose a tranquil, lethargic and unstirring non-being, will also wind up in the background of non-being. Lazy slaves will not have an apportioned lot in the coming life, they will not have invitation to the wedding feast. We enter into an era, when great spiritual intensity is needed, when Russian man has to discover all his powers and abilities.
N. A. Berdyaev.
© 2008 by translator Fr. S. Janos.
(1916 – 234 -en)
APOPHEOZ RUSSKOI LENI. Originally published 28 July 1916 in newspaper-gazette “Birzhevye vedomosti” (No.15690). Reprinted since in the sbornik-anthology of N. Berdyaev articles under the title, “Mutnye liki (Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii)”, Publisher “Kanon+”, Moskva, 2004, p. 94-101.