The Recuperation of Russia


The Recuperation of Russia

(1918 – #297)


    Russia is grievously sick. This sickness has as its material symptoms the disintegration of our state and social organism. But at its core — this is a spiritual, and not physical sickness. The visibly material roots of the societal life of the people lie are hidden in the invisible depths. These depths always involve the spiritual life. Russia cannot be healed by material means alone. Not only the body, but also the soul is sick. Russia’s restoration to health presupposes first of all the healing of the spiritual foundations of life for the Russian people and the guiding circles of the Russian Intelligentsia. The false ideas of the Intelligentsia have yielded their poisoned fruit. The Intelligentsia now is bound to realise its sins and mistakes and convey to the people healthier ideas, in which there will be a rebirth of energy. We know, those which are the ideas that have devastated Russia, and we know, that the rebirth of Russia can only be with ideas the opposite to these. To the spirit causing the decay there needs to be opposed a spirit life-creating. At the groundworks of the material life of peoples therein lies the spiritual principles of their life, and this is a truth deeper, than that superficial truth, which is preached by economic materialism. Now even in the newspapers, which always have a disdain for religion, they have tended to state, that without religious foundations the state cannot exist. This truth is penetrating even the most positivist-minded parties. The economic life of the people, its economic productivity depends upon the discipline of the person, upon the spiritual aggregate of the people, upon its religious type. A series of scientific investigations has uncovered a connection between the economic developement of England and the religious upbringing of the English people. This connection has extended also to other lands. Catholicism in its own way, and Protestantism in another have nurtured the peoples of the West for an historical life, they have worked out the forging of character, necessary for the creation of culture. Catholicism is pervaded by the spirit of universalism. But it also developes and provides the discipline of person. In Catholicism there was always a dynamic energy, which has played a guiding role in world history. The Orthodox religious upbringing has been unfavourable for the historical life of peoples; it teaches little for a societal and cultural sense of building, it little disciplines the person. Orthodoxy [eternally wavers]1 between a maximalism of sanctity and the minimalism of a quite base manner of life. Russian Orthodoxy has created dazzling forms of sanctity and nurtured in the people  the cult of sanctity and the saints. But very little was done for the developement in Russian man by way of integrity and responsibility, for the religious strengthening of energy in him, such as is needful for the creativity of history and culture. In the Russian religiosity there has always predominated features of the Eastern passivity. In this type of religiosity the personal principle has always been weakly expressed. The person is dissolved always and drowned in the natural collectivism, which is mistaken as being a spiritual Sobornost’-Communality. Many psychological features of the Russian Orthodox religiosity in a secularised form have passed over into the atheistic Russian Intelligentsia. The Orthodox upbringing has not left in the soul of Russian man solidly firm deposits in the form of the cultural virtues of the norms of civilisation, such as the religious upbringing of the West has left. Russian man all too easily passes over from the religious condition into a condition totally nihilistic. If there is no God and immortality of the soul, then for Russian man everything appears permissible. He can go about stark naked. The Russian Revolution has uncovered the deficiency of the religious upbringing of the Russian people. The spiritual foundation of the Russian state, of the Russian economy, of Russian culture is shaken apart with an extraordinary ease. The person within Russian man has been subjected to fragmentation, in it has been lost the spiritual centre. Faith has weakened within the Russian people, and civilisation within it has not been apparent. The Intelligentsia long since already has fallen away from the Christian faith and has been inspired by another faith, a socialistic faith in an earthly paradise to come. This faith has not provided any sort of discipline for the person. The unhealthy social dreaminess has led to a wantonness of the person. The socialistic faith has paralysed the sense of responsibility and begotten an immeasurable pretensiveness. Russian man jumps across from the primitive collectivism over into the socialistic collectivism. The schools of personal discipline and personal responsibility have been skipped by him. If the Orthodox faith of Russian man has not been fully favourable for personal creativity and historical activity, then a socialistic faith is anew likewise unfavourable for this. The Eastern aggregate of religiosity has tended to abase man, and when the religious faith has weakened, man is set free into a completely chaotic, undisciplined and sick condition. When I criticise the Orthodox religious upbringing, it is the Church least of all that I want to condemn, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, but I have in view the Russian type of religiosity as regards its human aspect. This type is weak in its defensive ability against passing over into a condition completely chaotic and nihilistic. But only the Church has taught the Russian people truth, and without the Church the Russian people cannot be saved from spiritual death.


Russia’s recovery of health first of all presupposes the transition of its guiding Intelligentsia circles away from its materialistic and atheistic mindset, which has led to moral decay and spiritual impairment, to pass over instead to a religious consciousness, i.e. to a renewal of the spiritual foundations of life. In the Russian religiosity itself there ought however to be revealed more active and more responsible an human principle. Worst of all would this mean, certainly, that I should want for Russia something on the order of a Lutheran Reformation. The Lutheran Reformation ran out its course in the West, and it corresponds neither to the character of the Russian people, nor to the historical task of Russia. But in Russia there is occurring a vast and sick turn of events, and it cannot but be accomplished by religious reform, by a religious renewal. With quite some basis it can be said, that for Russian religious life it is necessary to seek further the unification of the Churches and the awakening of human activity within the Church. The fact, that at the Sobor there was not brought up the question about the reunification of the Churches, nor about the possibility of creative developement within the Church, indicates merely, that it gathered moreso to address the problems of a period of religious impairment for the people of the Church, rather than for a period of religious upsurge. But the upheavals from the Revolution cannot but lead to a religious deepening and awakening of religious energy within the people, worn down and disenchanted in the social promised lands. The religious recovery of health and the rebirth of the Russian Intelligentsia and the Russian people has to convey for itself something completely other, a more creative and more responsible attitude towards life.

At the societal foundation there has to be set other principles and other values, than those, which up til now have obtained for us. The Populist idea of reallocation and division, completely having taken hold amongst the Russian Intelligentsia and readily accepted by the Russian people, moving along the course of least resistance, has brought Russia to ruin. In the name of this idea Russia has been torn and broken up into shreds. This idea in practice, seemingly so exalted for a whole series of generations, has led to an all-Russia pillaging, to the plundering of the state and to famine. The egalitarian passion is leading us towards non-being. Russia and the Russian people need to be healed of its obsessive idea of division and leveling. This is a pernicious and basically anti-religious idea, since it has nothing in common with Christian love, and it has to be opposed by ideas of creativity and instincts of productivity. Upon this path more quickly would be fed the starving, than upon the paths of division and compulsory leveling. After the rapacious orgies of divisions and leveling in Russia there will arise a new differentiation, and the creative person will be of note. And after the terrible tribulations, inequality will be acknowledged as something good and of value, with its necessity for the spiritual and material advancement of the very masses of the people. Russia has been brought to ruin by the false idea of class and “the people”, taken in the social-class sense of the word. This idea, which evokes emotion, is nigh close to being an obsession, and it is killing man in Russia, it has filled Russia with hatred and malice. In the name of service to a suffering “people” there was shredded the moral grounds of the relationship of man to man, there was rendered impossible the respecting within man of the image and likeness of God. The idolatrous approach towards the “people” has hindered the revealing and developing within it of the human person. Russia’s recovery of health has to come from ideas completely the opposite: from the idea of the person, perceiving itself as a free, responsible and creative power, from the idea of the nation, as a reality, transcending all social classes, from the idea of the state and the idea of the Church, as preeminent realities. Russia is in need of serious social reform, to create a new forging of the moral character of the Russian person. Russia is perishing because of its long idealisation of weakness. But it will be restored to health and be reborn from an idealisation of strength, for the acknowledging in strength of a moral and spiritual significance. Russia is perishing from an irresponsible social visionary-dreaminess. It will be restored to health by a social realism. Russia is perishing from its anarchistic instincts and anarchistic ideologies. It will be strengthened by instincts and ideas for statecraft. Russia is perishing from the Russian inclination towards collectivism, in which drowns the person, a collectivism variously religious and mystical, and otherwise materialistic and economic. For the recovery of health and rebirth of Russia, a certain dose of healthy moral individualism is necessary for Russian man. Russia needs the selectivity of qualitatively uplifted persons. In Russia there is need to push to the highest intensity for personal initiative and personal responsibility. Russia is perishing from the irresponsibility of Russian man, who leaves everything to the social medium, or to fate, or to an omnipotent autocratic government, or to an all-powerful proletariat. Russia will be restored to health by a lifting to the highest degree the responsibility of each person. Each has to accept upon himself as much as possible a greater responsibility and a lessening of pretensions, of demands. Russia is perishing from the irresponsible pretensions of everyone and from the weak sense of duty in everyone. It will be restored to health, when the awareness of duty in the Russian people wins out over the pretentiousness. With Russians the sense of duty has almost atrophied, and therefore their sense of right has become shaky. For the restoration of Russia to health there is necessary the strengthening in Russian people of a sense of duty.

It is necessary to get free from the old Russian sentimentality, from a false feeling of sympathy and sentiment, from the excessive grip of the feelings and emotions, in which tend to drown the will and reason. It is necessary to cultivate in oneself more austhere virtues: with them only can history be made. Russia is perishing from an extensiveness of the Russian soul and Russian culture, and from a weak intensiveness of work. Russia will be restored to health and reborn by a greater intensiveness of the Russian soul and Russian culture, and by a lifting of the intensiveness of work. The spiritual discipline of the person has to bear with it also a discipline for work, the denial of which is shaking to pieces the economic life of Russia. Russia is perishing by bowing to the quantitative and by the denial of the independent significance of qualities and qualitative selection. It has to be restored to health and renewed by a respecting of qualities and qualitative selection and with a limiting of the power of the quantitative by qualitative principles. With this is connected the revision of our traditional attitude towards democracy, which includes in it great dangers, if it is not subject to any sort of higher qualitative principles. The Revolution has revealed, that the people itself does not with us desire a pure sovereignty of the people and too that it is incapable at the given level of developement. The people in the depths of its soul awaits such qualitatively select ones, who forcefully will lead it forward to more human a life. In the recovery of Russia to health it is necessary to surmount those Tolstoyan moral views, which are widespread in Russian society. These moral views have paralysed the creative energy of the Russian person, they have rendered powerless the Russian people in the hour of the world struggle and as it were snatched away the weapons from their hands, when the enemy has set foot upon our land. The Russian non-resistance, the Russian passiveness, the Russian pacifism — are unhealthy phenomena. These are virtues not so much Christian, as rather Buddhist.

For the recovery of Russia to health it is necessary to surmount all the forms of Russian populism and its worship of the people, in whatsoever the form they be manifest, — whether religious or materialistic, whether Slavophil or revolutionary. The Russian Revolution represents a finish to our Populism, both its triumph and its ruination, its bitter fruit and its end. This populist mindset always has been a great impediment for the transition of Russia over to an higher culture, and for the growth of Russian might. The populist mindset is incompatible with the setting of creative historical tasks. And in it there is a rebellious irresponsibility. The sentimental populist preachings have finished very badly, they have ended up with cruelty and brought misfortune to the Russian people. Those, who made the people’s welfare their ideal, have wound up destroying the civil and economic foundations of the existence of the Russian people, all which can only be the sources of every manner of well-being. Those, who have created for themself a moral aura around the sorrows and sufferings of the people, have destroyed the moral foundations of the existence of the Russian people, without which man is rendered a wolf to his fellow man. And thus always it happens with a false and irresponsible sentimentality, with a moralism, ripped off away from the deep spiritual and religious truths. We have tasks facing us of renurturing the character of the Russian people and the Russian person. In the life of the individual man there occur grievous crises, when he is nigh close to perishing. And after such a crisis the man tends to collect his spiritual powers, he pulls himself together and gets disciplined. Such a condition an entire people can also experience. If the Russian people even after such terrible tribulations and crises does not collect its spiritual powers and discipline itself, then it may perish, and fade from the historical scene. For the political and state rebirth of Russia there is necessary the spiritual rebirth of the Russian person, a re-invigoration of the Russian soul. This also would be a principle oriented towards a national renaissance. Russian man is perishing from lack of will. He lives primarily by feelings. And his thought process is too emotional and bound up with interests, he dislikes the objective, he is bereft of the pathos of objectivity. And the recovery of health for Russian man must be by way of the strengthening of the will in him; the recovery of health will be for him a strengthening of the powers of reason, in seeking objective truth. Through bitter and painful experience we know, what spiritual principles have led Russia to ruin. And we have to recognise, that to save it can only be by the opposite principles, only by a different spirit. This different spirit and these different spiritual principles have to be preached by the wide circles of the Russian Intelligentsia, who have to convey to the people antidotes to those poisons, with which they for a long time have poisoned it. Russia can be reborn and has to be reborn, it will still be great and powerful. But for this we need to be inspired with the idea of the greatness and strength of Russia.

Nikolai Berdyaev


©  2003  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1918 – 297 -en)

OZDOROVLENIE  POSSII. Article originally published in weekly “Nakanune” No. 6, (May) 1918, p. 1-2.

Republished in Tom 4 of  Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of 1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, “Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii (Stat’i 1917-18)” (“Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)”,  Paris, 1990,  p. 242-250.

1 Here a torn section in the newspaper — with an approximate rendering.