N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
The Problem of History and Eschatology
I. The world as history. Aeons. Messianism and history. Cosmic time, historical
time, and existential time. Prophecy and time. 2. Society as nature and society
as spirit. Spirit overthrows the apparently everlasting foundations of society.
The break-through of freedom and love. The communist and anarchist ideal. 3. Spirit,
nature and technology. Culture and civilization. The power of base and evil ideas
There are two points of view from which the world may be regarded. From one
of them the world is above all a cosmos. From the other the world is before all
else history. To the ancient Greeks the world was a cosmos, to the ancient Hebrews
it was history.- The Greeks and the Hebrews lived in different times, not at a
different time, but in a different kind of time. The view which sees the world
as a cosmos is cosmocentric. That which regards the world as history is anthro-pocentric.
The point at issue is this: must man be interpreted in terms of the cosmos or
the cosmos in terms of man? Is human history a subordinate part of the cosmic
process or is the cosmic process a subordinate part of human history? Is the meaning
of human existence revealed in the cyclic movement of cosmic life, or in the fulfilment
of history? This is also the issue between a static and a dynamic view of the
world, between interpreting the world as primarily in space, and interpreting
it as primarily in time. Reality is always historical—it can be nothing else.
And what we call 'nature' has its history in time, the stars in the heavens have
it, so has the crust of the terrestrial globe. But it can be understood as cosmic
infinity into which human history
breaks, in which case there are in it no events which are important in virtue
of their own meaning; or it can be understood as entering into human history as
a preparatory part of it, and in that case it is given a significant meaning.
No philosophy of history could arise among the Greeks, on account of their
cosniocentric way of looking at the world. Their golden age was in the past, and
their gift for the creation of myths was due to this. They had no great expectation
to turn their minds towards the future. It was only in connection with messianic
eschatological thought that a philosophy of history could arise, and that was
to be found only in the people of Israel and among the Persians who had influenced
them.1 These people have an intense sense of expectation. They looked for a great
manifestation in the future, for the appearance of the Messiah and the messianic
kingdom, in other words, for the incarnation of Meaning, of the Logos, in history.
It might be said that it is messianism which makes the historical. The philosophy
of history is derived from Iranian, Hebrew and Christian sources. The nineteenth
century doctrine of progress, which was so non-Christian externally, springs nevertheless
from the same source of messianic expectation.
Doubts and objections have been raised about the possibility of a philosophy
of history.2 It is indeed beyond dispute that it is impossible to construct a
purely scientific philosophy of history. We live within historical time. History
has not yet come to an end, and we do not know what sort of history is yet to
come in the future. What element of newness is still possible in the history of
mankind and the world? In such circumstances how are we to grasp the meaning of
history? Can history reveal itself before it reaches its conclusion?
A philosophy of history has been possible, and it has existed,
1 See a curious book by Charles Autran: Mithra, Zoroastre, et la prthistoire
aryenne du Christianisme.
2 See W. Dilthey: Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften.
precisely because it has always included a prophetic element which has passed
beyond the bounds of scientific knowledge. There cannot be any other sort of philosophy
of history than prophetic. It is not only the philosophy of history contained
in the books of the Bible and in St Augustine which is prophetic and messianic,
so also is the philosophy of history of Hegel, Saint Simon, Auguste Comte and
The philosophy of history is not merely knowledge of the past, it is also
knowledge of the future. It always endeavours to bring meaning to light and that
can become clear only in the future. When people divide history into three epochs,
and from the third synthetic epoch of the future look for consummated fulfilment,
for a perfected consciousness of freedom of spirit, and for an embodiment of spirit
in a perfect and just state of society, that is prophecy; it is a secularized
form of messianism or chiliasm. When Hegel asserts that in the Prussian State
there will be a manifestation of that freedom which is the meaning and goal of
world history; and when Marx maintains that the proletariat will be the liberator
of mankind and will create the perfect social order; or again when Nietzsche affirms
that the appearance of the superman as the result of human evolution will make
plain the meaning of this earthly life—all alike are sanctioning messianic and
prophetic thought, they are all announcing the coming of the thousand years' reign.
There is nothing of that sort that can be asserted by science.
In Hegel, history is sacred history.2 The messianic and prophetic character
of the philosophy of history is settled by the fact that the meaning of history
depends upon the unknown future. And the difficulty of the philosophy of history
is due to the fact that it is knowledge not only of that which has not yet been,
but also of that which still is not. It might, therefore, be said that it is pro-
1 See Georges Dumas: Psychologic de deux Messies positivistes, Saint Simon
et Auguste Comte.
2 See Hegel: Vorlesungen iiber die Philosophie der Geschichte.
phecy not only about the future but also about the past. Historical reality
becomes a thing which cannot be captured, for the present which is with us cannot
be retained until the following moment.1 Everything flows, everything is in a
state of movement and change. In actual fact no knowledge contains that concrete
reality of the present which we desire to grasp. But the case of the phenomena
which the natural sciences study is different from that of the knowledge of history
in view of their repeatability and the possibility of experiment. The philosophy
of history can be nothing but a religious metaphysic of history. The problem of
messianism is of fundamental significance for it.
If we took a deeper view of history we should be able to see that messianism,
true or false, open or disguised, is the basic theme of history. The whole tragedy
of history is due to the working of the messianic idea, to its constant effect
of causing division in the human mind. Messianism is of ancient Hebrew origin,
and it is the contribution of the Hebrew people to world history. The intensity
of the messianic expectation of the Hebrew people even led to the appearance of
Christ, the Messiah, among that people. The messianic idea was foreign to the
Greeks, they had a different vocation. The messianic hope is born in suffering
and unhappiness and awaits the day of righteous judgment, and, in the end, of
messianic triumph and the messianic reign of a thousand years. From the psychological
point of view this is compensation. The consciousness of messianic election compensates
for the experience of suffering. The sufferings of the Hebrew people, the sufferings
of the Polish people, of the Russian people, the sufferings of the German people
(and I say of the people, not of the State), and of the labouring classes of society
operate favourably to the rise of a messianic frame of mind.
There is also a messianic expectation of mankind as a whole which arises from
the enormous suffering of man on this earth. If suffering does not utterly crush
a man or a people, it becomes a 1 See J. Guitton: Le temps et I'farniti chez Plotin
et St. Augustin.
source of terrible power. Happiness and tranquillity weaken and demoralize
and there is nothing more disintegrating than a serene and cheerful scepticism.
The appearance of the Messiah is accompanied by constant doubt and questioning
whether this is the true Messiah or not. In the Gospels we see this constant questioning
about Jesus: is he the Christ? There have indeed been many false Messiahs and
many false forms of messianic belief. Anti-Christ will be a false Messiah. Messianic
belief may be national or it may be universal, there is an individual messianism
and a collective messianism, it is sometimes triumphant and sometimes it suffers,
there is a form of messianic hope which belongs to this world and a form which
belongs to the other world.1
Every type of messianic thought and expectation is represented in the history
of Israel. In the prophets universal messianism triumphs over national messianism.
On the overthrow of the conception of a conquering messiah, the form of the suffering
messiah comes to the forefront. The figure of the suffering servant in Deutero-Isaiah
may be applied both to the sufferings of the messianic people—to Israel itself
and to a prophetic premonition of the sufferings of Christ the Messiah. And, at
the same time, it was extraordinarily difficult for the Hebrew people to reconcile
themselves to the idea that the Messiah would be manifested on earth not in the
conquering figure of a king, but in the person of one who suffers and is crucified.
The attitude of the Hebrew people to suffering was highly complex and it was two-sided.
This can be seen in the Book of Job, and in the Psalms. Yahweh was the God of
the poor and the protector of the oppressed. The prophets demand that those who
are first, the rich, the strong, those who are in power, shall be brought low
and punished, and that those who are last, the poor, the weak, and the lowly,
shall become the first.
And this indeed will come to pass when the messianic hour in history strikes.
The religious sources of the social-revolutionary
1 See A. Causse: Lespauvres d'lsrael (Prophetes, Psalmistes, Messianistes).
doctrines of history and of all socialist movements are there, in the prophets
and the messianic thought of Israel.1 The fundamental theme of theodicy was already
propounded in the Bible, that same theme which torments us also: how are the power
and the goodness of Yahweh to be reconciled with the misfortunes of the Hebrew
people and "me injustices of earthly life? Messianism was indeed the answer
to the problem of theodicy. Israel suffers for the sins of the world. That is
the form which universal messian-ism takes. But for a long while the messianic
outlook continued to be the expectation of a conquering Messiah within the life
of the world.
The messianic hope is not concerned with belief in personal immortality; that
belief is of late growth. Other-worldly messian-ism is associated with the apocalyptic
writings, which are different from the prophetical books. A heavenly world arises,
and Messiah is a heavenly being. The new Jerusalem comes down from heaven with
the Messiah. The future begins to be represented as supernatural. The messianic
beliefs of the apocalyptic writers are bound up not only with national triumph
but also with personal salvation.2 Persian influences upon the Hebrew apocalyptic
writers are undoubted. A rapprochement between the Judaic and Hellenistic worlds
also takes place and thus the way was prepared for Christian universalism.
Messianic consciousness passes into the Christian world, and there it is transformed.
Despite much theological opinion to the contrary, it must be stated that Christianity
is essentially messianic. The first appearance of the Messiah, the first realization
of the messianic hope does not bring to an end the messianic orientation to the
future, the looking for the Kingdom of God, for the transformation of the world,
and for a new heaven and a new earth. The eschatological interpretation of Christianity
is alone its deep
1 See G. Walter: Les origines du communisme.
2 See S. Trubetskoy: The Doctrine of Logos, which contains much of interest.
and true interpretation.1 The preaching of Jesus about the coming of the Kingdom
of God, which after all forms the principal part of the contents of the synoptic
Gospels, is eschatological preaching. The idea of the Kingdom of God has an eschatological
meaning; it indicates the end of this objective world and the coming of another,
a transformed world. There is no Kingdom of God as yet, it has not yet come. 'Thy
Kingdom come'! The Church is not the Kingdom of God as St Augustine asserted and
as the majority of Roman Catholic theologians after him have likewise thought.
The Church is only a pathway within earthly history.
Primitive Christianity was eschatological in its frame of mind. The first
Christians awaited the second coming of Christ, the Messiah, and the end of the
world. The eschatological character of Christianity was weakened, messianic thought
was well-nigh extinguished, when the path of history between the first appearance
of the Messiah and the second came into view, and the adjustment of Christianity
to historical conditions began. The objectification of Christianity took place,
historical Christianity arose. The phenomenon crushed the noumenon. Seductive
temptations began to make themselves felt, and degradation was the result. The
very principles of Christianity were tainted by it. The seduction did not he in
the human sins of Christian bishops and of the Christian rank and file, but in
the perversion of the very teaching itself under the influence of social ideas;
in other words it was the triumph of historical objectification over spirit.
In the wilderness Christ, the Messiah, had rejected the temptation of the
kingdoms of this world. But Christian people in liistory have yielded to that
temptation. This has left its impress upon the actual dogmatic teaching which
historical Christianity lias elaborated. The ancient Hebrew idea of the Messiah-King
1 Among those who defend the eschatological interpretation of Christianity
upon scientifically historical principles Weiss and Loisy should be specially
mentioned. The most remarkable religious and philosophical exposition of Christianity
as a religion of the Spirit and of belief in an era of the Paraclete is provided
by Cieszkovsky. See his book, Notre Pert.
passes into Christian thought. The historical Christian theocracies came into
being as the result of this, and that is the very greatest perversion of Christian
messianic belief. Theocracy in all its forms, both Eastern and Western, has been
a betrayal of Christianity, it is a betrayal and a lie. And theocracies were doomed
to perish. The thing to which they gave effective realization was opposed to the
Kingdom of God, to the Kingdom of freedom and love. The spirit of imperialism,
and the will to power have been the breath of life to theocracies, and their controlling
force. They have imparted a sacrosanct character to earthly power and this has
resulted in the perpetration of monstrous violence upon men. They attached Christian
symbols to realities which have nothing in common with Christianity.
Once more messianism became national and added a character of universality
to national pretensions, in spite of the fact that after the appearance of Christ,
the Messiah, national messianism was once for all done away with and rendered
inadmissible. National messianism and theocracy were brought to an end not only
by the Gospels, but also by the prophets. The theocracies of history, and sham
messianism, crumbled into dust, but in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
messianism appeared in a new garb, in secularized forms. A messianism of the chosen
race and of the chosen class takes shape. The old chiliasm is brought into theories
of social life and one is bound to say that there has been more of Christian truth
and right in the liberation movements than in the theocracies of history.1 The
double-edged nature of messianic belief in the teaching of Dostoyevsky about the
Russian God-bearing people, for instance, is very striking. This double-edged
nature was already to be seen in the old doctrine of Moscow and the Third Rome.
The one and only true messianic belief is the messianism which looks for a
new era of the Spirit, for the transformation of the world and for the Kingdom
of God. This messianic
1 V. Soloviev always insisted upon this.
belief is eschatological and it stands in direct opposition to all the theocracies
of history and to all efforts to turn the State into something sacred. It is only
the quest for truth and right in the ordering of society which enters into the
true messianic belief.
But those who seek after such an ordering of society may also be seduced by
the kingdom of this world and repudiate the Cross. Hebrew messianic belief is
still with us in its false form. The deceptions of the messianic consciousness
will continue to exist until the end of time, and it is this that makes history
a drama. This accounts for the fact that the principal content of history continues
to be war. It is the fate of Christianity to find itself, as it were, in an entr'acte
in history. The spiritual forces of historical Christianity are becoming exhausted,
the messianic consciousness in it has been extinguished, and it has ceased to
play a guiding role in what are known as the great events of history. The creative
process goes on, as it were, outside Christianity, and in any case outside the
visible Church. Nothing but a transition to eschatological Christianity, and a
turning to the light which streams from the future can make Christianity again
a creative force. But the transition to eschatological Christianity does not involve
the repudiation of the experience of history and culture; on the contrary, recognition
of the religious significance of that experience is precisely what it does involve.
The messianic theme continues to be the theme of history, and it is a theme which
is connected with the problem of time. The philosophy of history is above all
a philosophy of time.
History presents itself to Us as events in a stream of time—eras, decades,
centuries, millenia. But do the events of history take place in that same time
in which the phenomena of nature occur? A certain body expanded through the generation
of heat, a combination of chemical elements took place, bile was secreted; or,
again, the Peloponnesian War broke out, Luther nailed up his theses, the Bastille
was stormed. Here is a series of events in which
'time' varies in significance and has differing relations to the meaning of
the events in question.
I have already written in other books of mine about the fact that there are
different sorts of time. At the moment I repeat only the most important points.
There is cosmic time, there is historical time and there is existential time.
Cosmic time is calculated by mathematics on the basis of movement around the sun,
calendars and clocks are dependent on it, and it is symbolized by the circle.
Historical time is, so to speak, placed within cosmic time and it also can be
reckoned mathematically in decades, centuries and millenia, but every event in
it is unrepeatable. Historical time is symbolized by a line which stretches out
forward into the future, towards what is new. Existential time is not susceptible
of mathematical calculation, its flow depends upon intensity of experience, upon
suffering and joy. It is within this time that the uplifting creative impulse
takes place and in it ecstasy is known. It is symbolized above all by the point,
which tells of movement in depth.
History moves forward in its own historical time, but it cannot either remain
in it, or come to an end in it. It moves on either into cosmic time, in which
case it makes an affirmation of naturalism and is in tune with the final objectification
of human existence, when man takes his place as merely a subordinate part of the
whole world of nature. Or it issues into existential time, and this means moving
out from the realm of objectification into the spiritual pattern of things.
Existential time, which is known to everyone by experience ('those who are
happy do not watch the clock'), is evidence of the fact that time is in man, and
not man in time, and that time depends upon changes in man. At a greater depth
we know that temporal life is consummated in eternity. The development of the
spirit in history is supra-temporal. Hegel is of opinion that in historicity the
spirit overcomes history and realizes eternity, but he does not understand the
tragedy of history. In existential time,
which is akin to eternity, there is no distinction between the future and
the past, between the end and the beginning. In it the eternal accomplishment
of the mystery of spirit takes place. In consequence of events which occur in
existential ume there is development and enrichment in history, and a return to
the purity of its nources. From time to time limpid springs are brought into view
which well up from existential depths and then an illusion is c rc.ited by which
the revelation of the eternal is transferred to the fur distant past. Time is
not the image of eternity (as in Plato, I'lotinus), time is eternity which has
collapsed in ruin. Cosmic time and historical time do not resemble eternity. But,
nevertheless, Christianity attaches a meaning to time and to history within time.
History in time is the pathway of man towards eternity, within It the enrichment
of human experience is accumulated. But it is absolutely impossible to conceive
either of the creation of the world within time or of the end of the world within
time. In objectified time there is no beginning, nor is there any end, there is
only an endless middle. The beginning and the end are in existential time. The
nightmare doctrine of predestination became j possibility thanks only to a false
and illusory interpretation of objectified time. Upon the same soil springs up
the doctrine of the eternal pains of hell. All this is a projection upon the external,
upon the realm of objects, of events which take place in existential time. The
eternal destiny of man is not a destiny within endless time, the decision upon
it is reached through the coming of an end to lime. The doctrine of pre-existence
is a profound one, for it is (used upon the memory of existential time.
The idea of progress has a messianic basis and without that it turns into
the idea of natural evolution. Judgments of value are connected with this messianic
basis and not with natural evolution, which may lead to what is bad and undesired.
Progress must have a final goal and in that respect it is eschatological. But
historical progress contains an insurmountable antithesis within it,
one which cannot be resolved widiin history. This antidiesis is due to die
fact diat man is a historical being; it is only in history diat he realizes the
fullness of his existence, but, at the same time, there is a clash between human
personality and history, and it is a clash which cannot be subdued widiin die
confines of history.
Man puts his creative strengdi into history and does so widi endiusiasm. But
history, on die odier hand, takes no account of man. It uses him as material for
die creation of an inhuman structure and it has its own inhuman and anti-human
code of morals. History consists moreover in die bitter strife of men, classes,
nations and States, of religious faidis and of ideas. Hatred is its controlling
power and its most dynamic moments are associated widi hatred at its keenest.
Men carry on diis senseless strife in die name of historical aims, but it inflicts
grievous wounds upon human personality and is die cause of measureless suffering
among men. In fact, history has become something like a crime.
Yet at the same time we cannot simply cast aside die history of thousands
of years nor can we cease to be historical beings. That would be too easy a way
out. But it is impossible to see in history a progressive triumph of reason. In
Dostoyevsky's Letters from the Underworld die hero says: 'It's monotonous: they
fight and fight, diey are fighting now and diey fought before; you agree diat
diere is really too much monotony about it all. To put it in a nutshell, you can
say anydiing about world history, things which only die most disordered imagination
could put into your head. There is only one thing you cannot say—and that is you
cannot call it reasonable.' This links up with Dostoyevsky's fundamental dieme
—the self-will of man and world harmony. Man ranks his self-will higher than his
happiness. The will to power and die will to impose unity upon the world by force,
goad and torment man. Men torment bodi diemselves and odiers widi die illusory
aims of historical might and majesty. The foundation and die destruction of kingdoms
is one of the chief purposes of history. The first philosophy of history— the
Book of Daniel, speaks of this, and
there the fate of kingdoms is foreseen. Almighty and majestic kingdoms for
the sake of establishing which the sacrifice of numberless men has been made are
doomed to perish, and have perished.
All the ancient empires of the East crumbled into ruin; the I'.mpire of Alexander
of Macedonia perished and at the time of his ilc.ith he was aware of the fact
that it would do so. The Roman Umpire likewise perished, so did the Byzantine
Empire. All the theocracies collapsed and we ourselves have witnessed the fall
of the Russian Empire. And in the same way all empires which are yet to be founded
will perish. The kingdom of Caesar and the glory of it pass swiftly away.
History postulates the freedom of man. The determinism of nature cannot be
transferred to history. Dostoyevsky had a profound understanding of this, a deeper
sense of it than anyone else. I listory presupposes human freedom, yet it denies
man's freedom and sets it at naught; it scarcely allows him liberty to breathe
freely. The tragedy and torment of history are above all else the tragedy and
torment of time. History has a meaning solely because u will come to an end. The
meaning of history cannot be immanent in history, it lies beyond the confines
of history. Progress, which has a habit of offering up every living human generation
and every living human person as a sacrifice to a future state of perfection,
which thus becomes a sort of vampire, is only to be accepted on the condition
that history will come to an end, and that in that end all previous generations
and every human person who has lived on earth will be able to enjoy the results
of history. I listorical pessimism is justified to a remarkable degree, and there
arc no empirical grounds for historical optimism. But the ultimate truth lies
beyond pessimism and optimism. It all goes back to the mystery of die relation
between time and eternity. There are such tilings as moments of communion with
eternity. These moments pass, and again I lapse into time. Yet it is not that
moment which passes, but I in my fallen temporality: die moment indeed remains
in eternity. The task that faces me is that personality as a whole should
enter into eternity, not the disintegrated parts of it.
There are three forces which operate in the history of the world—God, fate
and human freedom. That accounts for the complexity of history. If it were only
God who was active, or only human freedom, that complexity would not exist. It
is a mistake to think that Christianity ought to deny fate. What Christianity
recognizes about fate is that it can be overcome. Christ was victorious over inevitable
fate. But it is only in Christ that fate can be conquered. And those who are outside
Christ, or opposed to him, put themselves in subjection to fate.
The terrible power of fate is active in the history of peoples, societies
and States. Fate is at work in the formation of great empires, and in the destruction
of them, in revolution and counterrevolution, in the insane pursuit of riches
and in the ruinous collapse of them, in the seductive lure of the pleasures of
life and in its enormous suffering. Fate turns human personality into a plaything
of the irrational forces of history. Hegel's 'cunning of the reason' is fate.
Both irrational forces and rationalizing forces alike are expressions of fate.
The power of technical skill, which has been built up by the human reason for
the increase of human might, is the work of fate.
At certain times in their history, nations are especially apt to fall into
the power of fate, the activity of human freedom is weakened, and a period of
Godforsakenness is experienced. This can be felt very strongly in the destiny
of the Russian people, and of the Germans as well. Such decrees of destiny are
particularly significant in the present era of history. Godforsakenness, accompanied
also by enfeeblement of freedom, is an experience both of individual men and women
and also of whole peoples. The meaning of history cannot be grasped nor can it
be examined in its objectification, for in the view of things taken in objectification,
the end of history is concealed from sight.
Given the naturalistic outlook upon history, one can speak only
of the youth and old age of a people, one cannot talk about progress. The
highest aim that can be acknowledged is only to experience the uplifting impulse
which springs from the strength of youth. Decadence, which is both refined and
complex, is succeeded by the comparative crudity and primitiveness of the vital
forces of peoples. In comparison with the animal world there are endless possibilities
of development in the world of human beings, although this does not apply to organic,
biological development, in which respect there is rather regress. There is an
eternal principle in man which shapes his destiny. But man is not an unchanging
quantity in history. In history man does change, he undergoes new experiences,
he becomes more complex, he unfolds and develops. There is human development,
but it does not take place along a straight ascending line. In the historical
destiny of man the part played by freedom varies, and it is impossible to follow
Hegel and say that there is in history a progressive development towards freedom.
Freedom such as man has not known may indeed evolve, but so also may human
servitude of a kind unknown before. Noumenal realities operate behind the phenomena
of history and for that reason only are freedom and development possible. Beyond
history meta-history is concealed, and the sphere of the historical is not absolutely
isolated from that of the meta-historical. What is happening in existential time
lies hidden behind what is taking place in historical time. The appearance of
Christ the Liberator is a meta-historical fact and it occurred in existential
time. But in that central messianic manifestation meta-history breaks through
into history, albeit history receives it in a troubled setting.
It is not that event alone, central and full of meaning as it was, which is
meta-historical. A meta-historical element, which is not open to explanation by
the determinism of history, is to be found also in every manifestation of creative
genius, always a mysterious thing, and in every true liberation from the determining
power of the phenomenal world. The meta-historical arrives out of the
world of the noumenal into this objective world and revolutionizes it. A real
profound revolution in the history of the world is a noumenal revolution, but
it gets into a state of tangled confusion owing to the terrible determinism of
the phenomenal world. The history of Christianity provides cases in point.
The revolution of the spirit has not been successful in history and, therefore,
a transition to eschatological Christianity is inevitable. But in eschatological
Christianity there is a retrospective action upon the historical past, an action
which resuscitates. The secret of the fascination of the historical past is due
to the transfiguring action of memory. Memory does not restore the past as it
was, it transforms that past, transforms it into something which is eternal. Beauty
is always revealed in creative transformation and is a break-through into the
objective world. There was too much that was criminal and ugly in the objective
phenomenal reality of the past. That is suppressed by transforming memory. The
beauty of the past is the beauty of creative acts in the present. The contradictions
of history are amazing: the beauty of the past is seen in association with injustice
and cruelty, and, on the other hand, an age which has striven after justice, equality
and freedom appears ugly.1 This is due to the impossibility of attaining completeness
within the confines of history and to the illusions of objectifying thought. The
end of history means passing through death, yet in order to attain resurrection.
Eschatological Christianity is a resuscitating Christianity. The godlessness of
Heidegger's philosophy, which is very characteristic of the present day, hes in
the fact that from its point of view the present condition of being and the anxiety
that belongs to it are unconquerable.2 Being which inclines towards death is anxiety,
and anxiety is being which inclines towards death.
And this is his final word. It is a word which is the very opposite
1 This forms the basis of K. Leontiev's whole philosophy of history and sociology.
2 See his Sein und Zeit.
of a religion of resurrection, of an cschatological religion. Hegel's philosophy
is godless in another way. There is in it no consciousness of the conflict between
die personal and the universal, nor is there any divine pity for suffering man,
nor divine compassion for the created thing in its pain. One can become reconciled
to the horrors of history and to progress as on its way it deals out death, only
if one cherishes the great hope of a resurrection of all who have lived and are
living, of every creature who has suffered and rejoiced.
Man is not only an historical being, he is a social being also, and that by
no means in the sense that he is a determined part of society and a member of
society in the way the sociologists assert. On the contrary, society is in man
and sociality is one of the aspects of human nature. Man realizes himself in community
with other human beings. Sociality is indeed already embedded in the foundations
of cosmic life. It is there among the animals, too, and human beings even copy
social life as seen in the animal world, the ant heap and the bee hive, for example.
The world of nature sought to live in union and it lives in discord. Human life
does actually realize unity in that it has created society which potentially is
included in it. Without society and outside it man could not carry on the struggle
for life against the menacing elements of the world.
Society has two aims, co-operation, the common effort of men in the struggle,
and community, the union of men. The former of these aims has indeed been realized
more effectively than the latter; yet even so it has been brought about by way
of enslavement and injustice. It is precisely within the destinies of societies
that man is exposed to the greatest seductions. In society reciprocal action takes
place and also conflict between spirit and nature, the ttruggle of freedom, justice
and humanity against violence, pitiless strife, the favoured selection of the
strong, and dominating
power. The organization of society is the objectification of human existence,
a process which crushes human personality. The fall is in the very rise of society.
But the Biblical legend of the Fall is expressed in the fallen human mind. An
event which belongs to the noumenal spiritual world presents itself to man as
one which belongs to the phenomenal natural world, to man, that is, who is already
in a state of servitude to objectification and ejection into what is outside his
But originally, in the depth of existence, the Fall was also a loss of freedom,
as it were, and enslavement to the external objective world; it was a process
of exteriorization. It was not indeed disobedience to God, which is a form of
words appropriate to the fallen, social world and to the servile relations which
have grown up in it. It was a rather separation from God into the external sphere
in which everything is determined from without, one imposing his will upon another
in a realm of enmity and compulsion. God is freedom, and he desires freedom, just
as he is love and desires love, and as he is a Mystery which is unlike all the
properties and relations of the natural, historical and social world. This decides
the fact that the Fall is slavery, determinism, in which everything is decided
from without, and enmity, hatred and violence. That is the impress which the Fall
has stamped upon human life.
Sociality, which has been effectively realized in society both enriches the
life of man and is also a source of slavery to him. The sociomorphism of a fallen
state decides and distorts even the form of the knowledge of God. Christianity
in history has been highly social in the bad sense, disfigured by the objectification
of spirit, and it has not been social enough in the good sense, as that which
actually realizes a sense of community. The Kingdom of God, the seeking of which
is the essence of Christianity, is not only the saving of separate souls, but
also a spiritual society, a communion of men. It is social in the metaphysical
sense of the word.
Christian society has very easily become feudal or bourgeois,
but it finds great difficulty in becoming social, using the word 'social'
not in the sense which implies community which comes into being from without,
but rather of that which is revealed within and issues from spirit. A Christian
group, society, family, and so on, can only be thought of in terms of community,
not of hierarchy; it must be conceived as a free union in the spirit of brotherhood.
The problem of the shared life, of overcoming the state of being shut up in
oneself, and living in isolation is a fundamental problem of human life. Solitude
is a late product of advanced culture. Primitive man knew no solitude, he lived
too much within his social group for that.1 Collectivism is earlier than individualism.
The experience of solitude raises the question of the shared life in a new way.
And for man of the present day, who has fallen away from his organic life, there
is no more painful problem. Man lives in a disintegrated world and the final truth
is in the fact that the true sharing of life, a true sense of community is a possibility
only through God: it comes from above not from below.
The objectification of human existence establishes communication among men.
This communication in the last resort comes compulsorily from outside: it is a
necessary thing, and it is not through it that the truly shared life is attained.2
In history man is exposed to two processes, one of individualization and the other
of socialization. And he who is most highly individualized comes tumbling down
into the conditions of socialization at its maximum. This is a sphere in which
an exacerbated conflict goes on. It is a mistake to suppose that socialization
builds up a great sense of community among men, it may even lessen it. Socialization,
which corresponds to coercive objectiveness, happens in every sphere of existence.
Even the process of getting to know things is socialized, and about that I have
already spoken. The growth of
1 See LeVy-BrunTs books: and Bachofen's Das Mutterrecht—si book of genius.
2 See my Solitude and Society.
sociology in theory and of socialism in practice reflect the process of socialization.
In the nineteenth century the ideals which mark out the boundaries of the
social life of men were brought more and more to light. But they grew up in an
atmosphere of the extreme objecti-ncation of human existence; they were an active
revolt against the degradation of man, against injustice and slavery. The communist
ideal and the ideal of anarchism mark the limits. They take their stand beneath
the great symbol of bread and freedom. The breakup of the objectified social life
of men leads to this, that they offer people either freedom without bread or bread
without freedom. But the combination of bread and freedom is at once the most
difficult of tasks and the greatest of rights. It seems to be beyond the power
of our era to achieve, this era in which the human masses are offered bread in
return for their refusal of freedom of spirit. This is the theme of Dostoyevsky's
Legend of the Grand Inquisitor in which his genius foresees the paths of history.1
Human societies, and especially those of them which have incorporated Christianity
into their experience, undergo in various forms the three temptations which Christ
rejected in the wilderness. There is in man a profound need not merely for 'bread'
which is a symbol of the very possibility of human existence, but also for world-wide
unity. And so man follows those who promise to turn stones into bread, and establish
the kingdom of this world. People love slavery and authority. The mass of mankind
has no love for freedom, and is afraid of it. What is more, freedom has at times
been terribly perverted, and even turned into a means of enslavement. Freedom
has been wholly interpreted as a right, as a thing which people are entitled to
claim, whereas what it really is above all is an obligation and a duty. Freedom
is not something which man demands of God, but that which God requires of man.
Freedom, therefore, is not a trifle to be lightly assumed; it is a 1 See my
difficulty and a burden which man ought to take upon himself. And there are
but a few who assent to this. Freedom, in the spiritual sense, is aristocratic,
not democratic. There is a bourgeois freedom also, but that is a perversion and
an insult to spirit. Freedom is a spiritual thing, it is spirit. It issues out
of the noumenal world and overthrows the settled order of the world of phenomena.
The ideal of anarchism, if accepted in its ultimate depth, is an ideal which
marks the limit of human liberation. It ought not by any means to be taken to
denote the rejection of the functional importance of the State in this objectified
world. What anarchism ought to oppose is not order and harmony, but the principle
of power, that is to say, of force exercised from without. The optimism of most
of the theories of anarchism is false. In the conditions of this objectified world
we cannot conceive of the ideal society, without evil, strife and war. Absolute
pacifism in this world is a false ideal, because it is anti-eschatological. There
is a great deal of truth on this subject in Proudhon.1
All political forms, democracy and monarchy alike, are relative. What must
be supported throughout to the end are those forms, relative as they are, which
provide the greatest possibility of real freedom, of the recognition of the value
of personality, and which acknowledge the supremacy of truth and right over the
State. But the ideal can be nothing but the supersession of all power, on the
grounds that it rests upon alienation and exteriorization, and means enslavement.
The Kingdom of God can only be thought of apophatically, as achieved absence of
power and a kingdom of freedom. Hegel says that 'law is the objectivity of spirit',
and thus admits that he assigns a realm to objectification. And it is he too who
says that the State is a spiritual idea in the Ausserlichkeit of the human will
to freedom. Ausserlichkeit is indeed the fundamental mark of the State and of
There are two ways of understanding society, and two paths 1 See Proudhon:
La Guerre et la paix.
that it follows. Either society is understood as nature or it is interpreted
as spirit. Society is either accepted as nature and, therefore, ordered in accordance
with the laws of nature, or it is built up as a spiritual reality. In this way
the ideals of society, and the character of its conflict are decided. As nature,
society is under the power of necessity; its motive power is the struggle for
predominance and mastery; natural selection of the strong holds good in it; it
is built up on the principles of authority and compulsion, and relations which
occur within it are settled as object relations. As spirit, on the other hand,
society finds its motive power in the quest for freedom; it rests upon the principle
of personality and upon relations which are subject relations. Its controlling
motive is the desire that love and mercy should be the basis upon which the fabric
of society rests. Society as nature is submissive to the law of the world; as
spirit, it desires to be submissive to the law of God. All this has been given
a different interpretation by such defenders of the organic idea of society as
Schelling, Franz Baader, Mohler, Khomyakov and Soloviev; but that is just romantic
illusion from which one must set oneself free.
As a matter of actual experience society is both nature and spirit, and both
principles are at work in it. But the natural predominates; that which is of the
world predominates over the spiritual which is of God, necessity predominates
over freedom, coercive objectivity over personality, the will to power and mastery
over mercy and love.1 But the great lie has been that the 'natural' basis of society,
the struggle for existence and predominance, emulation, war, the exploitation
of man and scorn of his dignity and worth, coercion of the weak by the strong—
that all these have been regarded as eternal and even spiritual foundations of
society. And among the ideologists of authority and hierarchical order there has
even been an idealization of these
1 It will be clear that I am using the words 'nature' and 'natural' in a different
sense from that in which Rousseau and Tolstoy, or the champions of'natural' right,
vile things, these things that ought not to be. In the eyes of the world society
as nature is strengdi. Society as spirit is truth and right, to which the world
may all too often be blind.
Society, as nature, is objectification, self-estrangement of spirit, alienation
of human nature into the external, in a word enslavement, which sums it all up.
Corresponding to it is naturalism in nociology, which endeavours to provide scientific
sanction for the selection of a race of the powerful and dominant, and for the
t rushing of personality by society understood as an organism.1 (liven die organic
conception of society some mitigation might luve been introduced in the past by
the fact of patriarchal relation-ilups. Society as an organism which is constructed
upon traditional patriarchal relations, is not rent by the furious and unrestrained
utrifc of men, social groups, classes, tribes and races. It establishes u relative
social harmony which is based upon hierarchical inequalities, to which popular
religious beliefs give sanction.
In capitalist societies and in those which are known as individualist, which
were originally inspired by a set of ideas about thr natural state and natural
harmony, a conflict of all against all has come to light. And in them the greatest
social inequalities have been created, which have the sanction of no popular beliefs
at all jnd of no traditions, and are absolutely shameless. This is a soil which
is favourable to the growth of riot and revolt, and they luvc some right and justice
in them, but they assume the character of movements which belong to society as
nature, not to society as ipirit. Marxism wants to liberate man from the enslaving
power of economics, but it looks for the liberating act within economics, lo which
it assigns a metaphysical significance.2
Contrary to the ideas of sociological and economic naturalism,
1 N. Mikhailovsky displayed great perspicacity when as far back as the irvcnties
of the last century he already exposed the character of the organic theory of
society, Darwinism in sociology, and so on, as reactionary and injurious to human
personality. See his The Struggle for Individuality.
2 In this connection the early works of Marx are important, and especially
his I 'hilosophie und Nazionaleconomie.
non-objectified spirit does break into the natural life of society with its
evil passions and its false ideological sanctions, which are worse than the passions
themselves, and with its power of determinism. And in so breaking in, spirit seeks
to order society after a different pattern, to introduce freedom, the dignity
and value of personality/compassion and the brotherhood of men. This is reflected
in distorted form in the philosophically naive idea of the social contract. In
clarifying the conventional and confused state of the terminology it is interesting
to note that what ought to be called spiritual right is in fact known as natural
right. The 'natural' rights of man are precisely those which are opposed to society
as nature, to natural determinism in society, and such rights are, therefore,
spiritual and not natural.1
The doctrine of what is 'natural', in the history of European thought, of
natural reason, natural morals, and natural right, has very close links with the
fight for the liberation of human nature and of nature in general from the stifling
suppression they suffered during the middle ages. But the time is at hand when
it must be decisively shown that it is precisely the 'natural' which is an enslaving
power proceeding as it does from the objectified and determinate world. Whereas
liberation is spiritual; it proceeds from spirit, which is freedom and lies outside
the sway of objective determinism. Some of the greatest misunderstandings are
due to this. There is, for instance, no more horrifying misunderstanding than
to regard materialism as a philosophy of emancipation and the spiritual view of
life as a philosophy which enslaves. Such misunderstanding arises from the fact
that men have made use of the spiritual view of life as a means for the enslavement
of others, in the interests of sanctions in the realm of ideas, which belong to
society precisely as nature, and not to society as spirit. The greatest evil has
been not in the primary elements of nature, but in these sanctions in the realm
of ideas. And it is all due to a false understanding of spirit.
1 See Ellinck: A Declaration of the rights of man and citizen.
In actual fact, natural matter is a conservative and reactionary principle,
while spirit is a creative and revolutionary principle. Spirit overthrows the
naturally servile foundations of society and tries to create society after its
own image. It is the non-eternal, transitory character of these servile hierarchical
foundations of society which are exposed to condemnation. But the revolution brought
about by the spirit, in its own expression in social life, easily falls under
the power of objectification, and new and yet newer forms of slavery are continually
coming to light. The process of invasion by liberating spirit is interrupted,
there is no direct development in a straight line. The real revolution of the
spirit is the end of objectification as belonging to this world; it is the revolution
of noumena against the wrong line which the world of phenomena has taken. When
that time comes the spiritual society, the realm of Spirit, the Kingdom of God
will be made plain, decisively and finally.
But the action of fate in history, which dislodges the operation of God and
human freedom, gives rise to its own physical embodiments and leads to its own
extreme objectifications. The State, that kingdom of this world and pre-eminently
of its prince, has had functions to perform which are necessary for this evil
world. But there have also been built into it the evil demoniacal will to power
and paramountcy, the will to fortify the strength of the iniquitous kingdom of
this servile world; there has been a glut of enmity and hatred. And the image
of the State will be shown in the final end to be the image of the beast which
issues out of the abyss. It is said with much zeal and love that perfection is
impossible on earth and so there cannot be a perfect society. And people say this
chiefly because they do not want such perfection and because their interest lies
in upholding the wrong. But it is true that there can be no perfect society within
this 'earthly' scheme of things, and the expectation of such perfection is merely
a Utopian illusion.
But that is not by any means the question. The question is: is the
conquest of this objective world a possibility, not the annihilation of what
is 'earthly', but its liberation and transformation, its transition to a different
scheme of things? And that is an eschato-logical question. It becomes Christians
at any rate to believe that the only kingdom which can achieve success is the
Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not merely a matter of expectation: it is
being founded, its creation is beginning already here and now upon earth. This
requires that we should interpret eschatology in an active and creative way.
The most revolutionary and cataclysmic event in the history of the world is
the emergence of technological knowledge, that triumphant advance of the machine
which is determining the whole structure of civilization.1 The machine and technical
skill have in very truth a cosmological significance. In the machine something
new makes its appearance, something which has not hitherto been in the life of
the world. The machine is a combination of physical and chemical forces but it
is not a natural phenomenon. In addition to inorganic bodies, and organic bodies,
organized bodies are making their appearance. This is nature which has been handled
by human activity, and subordinated to the purposes of men. By technical skill
forces are extracted from the heart of nature which had been asleep and had not
come to light in the cycle of natural life. To have achieved the splitting of
the atom is paramount to a cosmic revolution which issues from the heart of civilization
At the same time the growing power of technological knowledge in the social
life of men means the ever greater and greater objectification of human existence;
it inflicts injury upon the souls, and it weighs heavily upon the lives of men.
Man is all the while more and more thrown out into the external, always becoming
1 See my essay: 'Man and the Machine', and P. Dessauer: Philosophie der Techmk.
more and more exteriorized, more and more losing his spiritual i nitre and
integral nature. The life of man is ceasing to be organic and is becoming organized;
it is being rationalized and mechan-i/cd.
Man falls out of the rhythm which corresponds to the life of nature; he gets
out of step with nature, he gets further and lurcher away from it (I am not using
the word 'nature' here to mean the object of mechanical natural science), and
his emotional life, and the life of the soul suffer from deficiency.
The dialectic of technical progress consists in this: that the nurhine is
a creation of man and at the same time it takes a line against man: it is born
of the spirit, yet nevertheless it enslaves the ipirit. The progress of civilization
is a self-contradictory process, one which creates a division in the mind of man.
In the life of docicty, spirit, primitive nature and technology act and react
upon each other and are in conflict with one another. Technical knowledge of an
elementary kind already exists from the very outset, from the very beginning of
civilization. The struggle for lilc in the teeth of the elemental forces of nature
requires it. But .ii the height of civilization the part played by technical know-Inlgc
becomes predominant and takes the whole of life into its wopc. This provokes a
romantic reaction of the 'natural' against in Imology. Man, suffering from the
wounds inflicted by technical i ivilization would like to return to the organic
life of nature wlm li begins to seem to him to be paradise. But this is one of
the illusions of the mind. There is no such return to that paradise. A i mini
from the life which is technically organized to the life wltic h is naturally
organic is an impossibility.
Hoth an organic element and a technical element enter into MM icty considered
as spirit. Hence arises the problem of the relation between civilization and culture,
a question which has arisen with peculiar trenchancy in Russian and German thought.1
1 'I lie Slavophils, Hertzen, K. Leontiev and others raised this question
long be-fw* Spcngler.
relation between the two must not be supposed to be a matter of time. The
tendency for civilization as a type to predominate over culture always showed
itself, already in the ancient world. It is a theme which was known as long ago
as the time of the prophets who took up arms against the growth of capitalism.
Culture is still linked with the naturally organic, but civiliza tion breaks
that link, for it is possessed by a will for the organiza tion and rationalization
of life, by a will for increasing power
With it goes a dizzying increase of speed, a frenzied acceleration of every
kind of process. Man has no time for recollection or for looking inwards into
his own depth. An acute process of de-humanization takes place and it is precisely
from the growth of. human might that it takes its rise. There is paradox in this.
In a bourgeois age of technical civilization an unbounded increase of wealth
takes place and these riches are periodical!) destroyed by fearful wars. There
is a sense in which these destructive wars which are brought about by the will
to power are thi fate of societies which are based upon the dominating influence
of technical civilization and steeped in bourgeois contentment. The instruments
of destruction are immeasurably more powerful than those of construction. Civilization
at its height is extraordinarily inventive in devising means of killing, but it
has no resuscitating forces in it. And that is its condemnation.
The part played by technology raises ,he problem of spiiit and the spiritual
mastery of life in an acute form. Technology puts into men's hands fearful means
of destruction and violence. A group of men who have seized power with the help
of technology can hold the whole world under the tyranny of their rule. This means
that the question of the spiritual state of men is a matter of life and death.
The world may be blown up because of the debased spiritual state of the men who
have got possession of the means of destruction. The simpler weapons of time gone
by brought no such possiblity within the reach of men. The power of technology
reaches the limits of the objectification of human existence, it
turns man into a thing, an object, a nameless thing. The victory of uiiacty
considered as spirit would mean that the objectification of human existence would
be overcome, it would be the triumph of personalism. The machine raises the eschatological
question, and leads up to the breaking of the seals of history.
A The major evils and the principal sufferings of life are due not so much
to the baseness and wickedness of individual people, but lather to the base and
wicked ideas which take possession of their minds, to social prejudices, beliefs
which have become vague and < loudy, which have degenerated into a mere inheritance
from the environment in which they arose. The evil and suffering which were caused
by such people as Torquemada, Philip II, Robespierre and many others and the cruelty
they inflicted were not due to the fact that they were themselves vile and evil
men, as individual people they were not base and cruel. It was due to the fact
(hat their minds were possessed by evil ideas and beliefs which appeared to them
to be good and indeed lofty.
The head of a family, a member of some particular estate, the head of a government
department, the director of some enterprise, a prelate of the Church, a general,
a minister or a king are liable to be cruel and to spread suffering around them.
And the nuin reason for it is a result of their consciousness of their own position
in a hierarchy. By nature and as individual persons it may well be that they are
not at all cruel. But the constitution of their minds is by tradition such that
it imposes upon them a tendency 10 be merciless and cruel and to achieve their
ends by force. Such people insist with a distorted conscience, upon the honour
and might of the family, the estate, the army, the ecclesiastical nublishment,
the State to which they belong, and in general lay Kress upon the principle of
authority and the power of rank. What a number of human lives have been crippled
and ruined as a remit of wrong ideas about the authority of parents and superiors!
The idea of objective rank in a hierarchy based upon the generic wid the common
is a rejection of the dignity and value of per-
sonality; the impress of a fallen state of existence is stamped upon it. It
is only the idea of hierarchy in a subjective, spiritual and charismatic sense
which maintains the dignity and worth of the man himself, of personality together
with all its qualities. Objective hierarchical principles, which are worse than
plague and cholera, always Sacrifice personality, the living human being who is
capable of suffering and joy, for the sake of the family, the race, the class,
the State, and all the rest.
The subjective principle of hierarchy on the other hand is a human form of
it. It is a hierarchy which depends upon gifts, upon the charismata of prophets,
apostles, saints; it is the hierarchy of men of genius in human power to create,
the hierarchy of personal nobility of character and beauty of soul. There is a
metaphysical inequality among human beings in accordance with their individual
gifts, and it goes with the preservation and support of personality and the worth
of every living creature, of all the children of God. It recognizes an equality
of the unequal.
The objective social idea of hierarchy almost never corresponds to the subjective
and spiritual idea of it. All too often it includes the selection of the worst,
the most debased in personal qualities The objective principle of hierarchy is
a most cunning invention of the objectified fallen world. In that world men who
stand at the highest level, judged by their gifts and qualities, are liable to
be made victims, they are persecuted and crucified. How tragic is the fate of
the prophet and the genius in this world! What a triumph it accords just to the
talents of mediocrity, day to day routine and the readiness to adapt oneself!
It is only the captains and the men of power who share in that sacrosanct character
which is ascribed to tribes and towns, nations and States. But this has been and
always is sheer paganism. If only the protagonists of the objective idea of hierarchy
would stop talking about the impossibility of equality among men, about the inequality
which by nature exists among them and the mastery of some over the others!
The idea of equality as such is in reality hollow and derivative. The primary
matter is the idea of freedom, of the value of every man as a person, even if
he be a person in only a potential State. And all that equality means is that
freedom and worth are secured for every human person, for all men, and that no
single man shall be treated as a thing or a mere means to an end. It is precisely
in society considered as spirit that a metaphysical charismatic inequality and
a qualitative diversity among men should really come to light. In society regarded
as objective nature on the other hand a monstrous inequality, the lordship of
some and the slavery of others is combined with a process of reducing personalities
to the same level, with the subjection of personality to the generic mind and
the dominance of society over man.
What is needed is to set humanity, pure divine humanity, a human idea of hierarchy
and a charismatic sense of it against the fearful slavery of man in objectified
society, against the vampire-like tyranny of inhuman and inhumane hierarchical
principles and generic ideas. In the last resort this means the substitution of
society on a charismatic basis for society established by hw, of a society, or
to speak more truly, a community of emancipated men in the Spirit. The only thing
to set against the servitude of man, which takes the most varied forms, including
forms which are liberal and socialist, is personalism which has noumenal foundations.
Such personalism, which is social, not individualist, is a personalism of the
But a personalist spiritual revolution can only be conceived in terms of eschatology.
It means the end of the objectified everyday world, the world of determinism and
a transition to the realm of freedom, which is the new era of the Spirit. But
this personalism which embraces every living thing is already being established
here and now. It is not merely in the future, it is in the present also. It points
out the way, although it does not look in an optimistic spirit for victory within
the conditions of this world. To the dull and humdrum social world this personalism
miraculous, it meets objectified nature with resistance, it is a different
order of existence.
In order to avoid misunderstanding it must be said that compulsion is inevitable
in those parts of the objectified world which are most material in character.
It is impossible to endow crude materiality with complete freedom. But the higher
we rise towards spirituality so much the more out of place and intolerable does
objectified compulsion become and so much the more ought the freedom of subjectivity,
freedom of spirit, to be established. And another thing that must be said is that
a true sacred tradition does exist. It is a resuscitating memory through which
the link with what is eternal in the past is preserved. But the base tradition,
tradition which is generic without expressing the 'togetherness' of sobornost,
the tradition of inertia, of objectification instead of spirituality, such evil
traditions must needs be overcome
I. The end of the objective world. The discovery of freedom and personal existence
in concrete universality. The removal of the opposition between subject and object.
Epistemological and metaphysical account ofeschatology. 2. Personal eschato-logy
and universal-historical eschatology. The pre-existence of souls and re-incarnation
on different levels. Liberation from hell. 3. Freedom and Grace. Chiliasm, true
I have already said that the history of the world and the history of mankind
possess meaning solely upon the condition that they will come to an end. Unending
history would be meaningless. And if within unending history uninterrupted progress
were revealed, that is not an idea which our minds could accept, because it would
mean that every living thing, living now or called upon to live in the future,
every generation that lives, would be made into a means to serve future generations,
and so on for ever, endlessly. Everything in the present is a means to the future.
Endless progress, an endless process, means the triumph of death. It is only the
resurrection of all that have h'ved which can impart meaning to the historical
process of the world, a meaning, that is, which is commensurable with the destiny
of personality. A 'meaning' which is not commensurable with the destiny of personality,
with my personal fate, and has no significant bearing upon it, has in fact no
meaning. Unless the universal meaning is at the same time a personal meaning also,
it is no meaning at all. I cannot live within a 'great whole', the 'great whole'
ought to live in me. I ought to reveal it in myself. If there were a God and that
fact meant nothing to me and had nothing to do with my eternal fate, it would
be equivalent to there not being any God.
An end points also to the infinity of human existence. The absence of an end,
that is, an evil infinity, would, on the other hand, indicate the finiteness of
human existence, final and definite finiteness. God is infinite not in the bad
sense but in the good sense of the word, and it is from him that an end comes
to everything which appeared to be infinite in the bad sense. The rationalization
of religion has sought to ascribe a bad finiteness to God. My life is devoid of
meaning if death means the final end of it; and even the values with which that
life might be filled, would not save it from absurdity. But my life would be just
as absurd if it went on endlessly in this objectified world; that would not be
eternal life. Historical life is senseless if death is all the while triumphant
in it; and if there is no end of death, no victory over it, if death is endless.
Unending history under the conditions of the objective world means the triumph
of finiteness, that is, of death. The endlessness of history, if that history
has no existential significance in relation to human beings and their existence,
is a most horrible absurdity. It is only an end which can give meaning to personal
and historical existence, an end which takes the form of resurrection into which
the creative attainments of all human beings enter.
The meaning lies beyond the confines of history, beyond the boundaries of
individual and world history. It is not immanent in it, in relation to history
it is transcendent. But the very words 'immanent' and 'transcendent' are here
relative and conditional. The transcendent, lying beyond the confines, acts immanently.
The immanent in history is a power which is transcendent in relation to it. Time
does not contain eternity, yet at the same time, eternity moves out into time,
and time moves out into eternity. The paradox of the relation between the finite
and the infinite, between time and eternity, is fundamental. Everything moves
through the antithesis of the finite and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal.
Our whole life rests, or rather is restless, upon this.
Man is a finite, limited creature but he holds infinity within
him, and he demands infinity as an end. Metaphysics inevitably become an eschatology.
And the weakness of all the old systems of metaphysics lay precisely in the fact
that they were not escha-tological. The weakness of eschatology in systems of
theology, on the other hand, was that they were epistemologically and metaphysically
speaking naive. An epistemological and metaphysical account of eschatology is
an imperative task. That is to a great extent precisely the purpose of this book
of mine. It connects the problem of the end with the idea of objectification,
which to me is fundamental. That being granted the relation between this world
and the other is interpreted in an absolutely different way.
The metaphysical and epistemological meaning of the end of the world and of
history denotes the end of objective being and the overcoming of objectification.
At the same time it is the removal of the antithesis between subject and object.
Indian religious philosophy has sought to take up a position on the other side
of the antithesis of subject and object, and it is that which has constituted
the truth in it. But it has signally failed to relate itself to history and the
experience of human creative power, and this was evidence of the limitation of
that philosophy. The end means also the victory of existential time over historical
and cosmic time. It is only in existential time, which is to be measured by the
degree of vigour and tension in the condition of the subject, that the way out
towards eternity can be made clear. It is impossible to think of the end as taking
place within historical and cosmic time: there it is under the sway of an evil
infinity. This is bound up with the fundamental antinomy of the End.
From the philosophical point of view, the paradox of time makes the interpretation
of the Apocalypse, considered as a testimony about the end, very difficult. The
end of the world is not to be conceived as occurring in historical time, on this
side of history, that is to say, the end must not be objectified. Yet at the same
time we cannot think of the end of the world as entirely outside history, as an
event which is altogether on the other side.
This presents an antinomy of the Kantian type. There will be time no longer,
there will not be the objectified time of this world. But the end of time cannot
be within time. It is not in the future that everything happens, since the future
is a fragmented part of our time. This means that the end takes place in existential
time. It is a transition front the 'objectness' to the 'subjectness' of existence,
a transition to spirituality. Man as a noumenon is at the beginning and as a noumenon
he is at the end, but he lives out his destiny in the phenomenal world. That which
we project into the sphere of the external, and call the end, is the existential
experience of contact with the noumenal, and with the noumenal in its conflict
with the phenomenal. The experience is not one of development from one stage to
another, it is an experience of shock and catastrophe in personal and historical
In view of the objective state of the world, and given the fallen condition
of human existence, the end assumes the form of a fatality which weighs heavily
upon the conscience of a sinful world and sinful mankind. It is before all else
the last judgment. There is in the end an unavoidable moment of judgment by conscience,
which is, as it were, the voice of God within man. But the end includes also the
coming of the Kingdom of God. And this involves an antinomy which arises from
the fact of freedom.
The end is not only the operation of a divine fatality (the very association
of those two words is bad), it is also a matter of human freedom. This is no less
an antinomy than the one which is linked with time. Out of it arose that keen
insight of N. Fedorov's genius in realizing the conditional nature of apocalyptic
prophecy.1 If there is to be no Christian 'common task', if freedom is to have
no concern with the realization of the Kingdom of God, then indeed there will
be but one thing, and that will be a dark and terrible end. If, on the other hand,
there is a 'common task' of men, then something different will happen, there will
be a trans-1 See his The Philosophy of the Common Task.
formation of the world and the resurrection of every creature that has lived.
Fedorov, however, did not arrive at a philosophical expression of this problem.
His philosophy was naively realistic and simple-minded.
The true, deep-down existence of man, his noumenal self does not belong to
the world of objects. The end of the world will be an end of that world of objects,
but it will come as the effect of processes which have taken place elsewhere than
in the objective world. The transcendent light in the world does not issue out
of the world, if by 'world' objective phenomena are understood, it can issue only
out of noumenal subjects. The paradox of time leads to this, that the end cf the
world is always near. The touch of it is always in an act which gives a shock.
And at the same time the end of the world is projected upon the future and tells
of the coming of an apocalyptic era. The end is perceived and accepted not as
a fated doom, but as freedom; and it is the discovery of personality and freedom
in the concrete universality of spiritual existence, in eternity. It is the transformation
of the world, and man creatively and actively takes his part in it. It is the
new heaven and the new earth.
The real existential relations which hold among existent beings may be expressed
in laws, but they are not subject to laws, in the sense of dominating forces which
hold the mastery over them. Change, therefore, is possible in those relations
which hold in the world, and the objective nature of such relations may be brought
to an end. Such a change in the relations is a victory over the power of necessity,
and that, from the point of view of the de-terminist way of looking at things,
is miraculous. It is a reasonable way of interpreting the miraculous.
In the history of European thought two beliefs have collided with each other
and found themselves in opposition—belief in God, and belief in man. But that
was merely the swing in the dialectic of thought. At a higher level of consciousness
man grasps the truth that belief in God presupposes belief in man, and belief
in man postulates belief in God. Christianity, therefore, must be understood
as the religion of God-manhood. The one and only reason for belief in God is the
existence of the divine element in man. And no degree of human degradation, truly
terrible as it is, can give grounds for the denial of this grandeur in man. Belief
in God without belief in man is one of the forms that idolatry assumes. The very
idea of revelation is made meaningless if he to whom God reveals himself is a
creature of worthless insignificance who in no respect corresponds to the One
who reveals himself.
The rejection and depreciation of man in Barth makes Barthian theology non-dialectic.
As against Schleiermacher it might be said that religion is not the consciousness
of human dependence but a sense of the independence of man in relation to the
world, in virtue of that which constitutes the divine principle in man, the hypostasis
of his interior sonship to God. In the existential dialectic, however, man passes
through a state of abasement and depression, and some have wished to suggest to
him that that abject state is the one and only nature he has. But man is not merely
one of the phenomena in a world of objects. His noumenal essence remains in him.
And in acts which take their rise from that noumenal essence he can change this
It is a mistake to separate this world and the other altogether. It is in
fact precisely the concrete life in this fallen objective world, the concrete
life of men and women, animals, plants, of the earth with its mountains and fields,
its rivers and seas, of the stars and expanses of sky, which contains the noumenal
core in it; a noumenal core which is not to be found in the abstractly common,
in the hypostatized hierarchy of universals. But the fallen world creates images
of fictitious things too, which have no noumenal core—straw which must be separated
from the weeds, repulsive reptiles and insects, fantastic monsters. The eschatological
outlook, the transformation of the world, is a possibility precisely because there
is a noumenal basis within the concrete life of the world,
even in the most ordinary of its manifestations. And in any case there is
more of this noumenal basis in it than in the life of States, or in the technical
skill of civilization, in both of which all individual life is crushed by the
There are two forms of the eschatological outlook, the individual and personal
and the universal and historical, and, owing to the paradox of time, it is extraordinarily
difficult to bring the two into harmony with each other. In traditional Christian
theology the view which eschatology opens out has never been clearly ex plained
in a satisfactory fashion. On the one hand, the individual decision upon personal
destiny after the death of a man is maintained. On the other hand, the decision
upon the destiny of the whole world and mankind is expected at the end of time,
when history comes to a conclusion. Between these two prospects there is a period
of time which is empty.
My eternal destiny cannot be isolated; it is linked with the destiny of history,
with the destiny of the world and of mankind. The fate of the world and of all
humanity is my fate also, and, vice versa, their fate cannot be decided without
me. My failure, or the failure of any creature whatever will be world failure
too, it will be the failure of humanity as a whole. To say that my own individual
fate is of no less significance to me, is indeed of greater significance, than
the fate of the whole solar system, is not an expression of extraordinary human
egoism, it is an affirmation of the truth that man is a microcosm.
Meanwhile, the vengeful and cruel instincts of people have built up a vengeful
and cruel eschatology. However sad it may be, it has to be recognized that religions
which proclaim salvation shew a disposition to welcome the idea of hell. Even
the Christian Apocalypse is not free from the eschatology of vengeance. It was
a source of inspiration even to the great Christian poet Dante. It has even been
taught that the justified in paradise find delight in
contemplating the pains of sinners in hell. (The Book of Enoch, Pope Gregory
the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards).
It is untrue to suppose that the doctrine of eternal torment serves merely
to frighten people, it provides them also with a source of satisfaction and content.
And that happens not only among cruel, malicious, revengeful people. Thomas Aquinas
was a holy man, not in the least malicious, rather he was a gentle and kindly
person. But he derived exultant pleasure from the triumph of righteousness indicated
by the torments of sinners in hell. The idea of justice can assume the form of
retaliation. The conception of hell has been of immense importance. In an altered
form it operates even in a mind which has lost its old faith. Hatred, revenge,
a merciless attitude towards an enemy always lead to the desire for a hell.
The doctrine of an eternal hell establishes a dualism from which there is
no escape; it is absolute, not relative, dualism, and it means the fated failure
not only of man, but above all, of God, the failure of the creation of the world,
failure not in time, but in eternity. The final horror in the sphere of religion,
comes not from God, but from the conviction that there is no God, that God has
gone away and is cut off from me. The experience of hell is the experience of
godlessness. It is a striking fact that the Persians who are regarded as the source
of the dualist idea, did not think of hell as eternal and in that respect revealed
a superiority over the Christians who profess the doctrine of an eternal hell.
The problem of hell is of fundamental importance in eschato-logy. The eschatological
outlook which envisages hell is slavery to fallen objectified time. It goes to
show that the eschatological problem by which man is faced is insoluble within
the sphere of objectification. Yet at the same time the traditional doctrines
of theology in the realm of eschatology are entirely under the sway of objectification.
They apply to the noumenal world what can be applicable only to the phenomenal
world. They attribute to eternity what can be attributed only to time and vice
upon this earth, man knows what it is to experience the torments of hell and
these torments appear to him to be infinite and to have no end in time.1 But in
such an experience man is left in the power of fallen time. He is not issuing
out towards eternity. And as a result of the illusions of consciousness which
arise from objectification he projects his experience of the pains of hell upon
the life of eternity. He objectifies the evil of this present life into a diabolical
kingdom of hell parallel to the Kingdom of God.
But if we free ourselves from the nightmares which are born of our own objectified
minds, behind which lies the depth of the sub-conscious, then the light can shine
through upon us in our experience of the paradox of time. There is a hell; only
a frivolous optimism can entirely deny it. But hell belongs to this side, not
the other, it is phenomenal, not noumenal; it belongs to time not to eternity.
It is related more closely to the field of magic than to the sphere of mysticism.
And at the same time, for me light is thrown upon the truth that hell, though
it were for me alone (and there are moments when I regard myself as fit for it),
would be the failure of all creation and a schism within the Kingdom of God.
And, vice versa, paradise is a possibility for me, if there is not to be any
everlasting hell for any single creature who lives or has lived. One cannot be
saved in loneliness and isolation. Salvation can only be a corporate experience,
a universal release from suffering. The very word salvation is but an exoteric
expression for illumination and transfiguration. Unless it is understood in this
way it is impossible to reconcile oneself to the idea of creation at all.
Among the ancient Hebrews the hope of immortality was linked not with the
doctrine of the soul, but with the doctrine of God—with God's fulfilment of the
promises which he had made to his people. This is the messianic faith and hope.
In Christianity that messianic faith and hope assume a universal character. It
1 Sec my The Destiny of Man.
hope which looks for a general resurrection and transfiguration, for the coming
of the Kingdom of God. The doctrine of an everlasting hell in Christian eschatology,
indicates that a universal consciousness has not yet been completely attained
and that the spirit of love has not yet won the victory over the ancient spirit
of vengeance. The Christian mind has not yet been emancipated from the residuum
of a retaliatory and penal eschatology. There is still needed a purgation of Christian
thought from the ancient fear, the terror antiquus.
In that ancient terror, the fear of this world with its threat of suffering
for man was mingled with the fear of God. The idea of God was stifled by the categories
of sociomorphism, anthropomorphism and cosmomorphism with all their limitations.
But this revealed a very imperfect sense of reverence before the Divine Mystery.
Reckonings to settle accounts, which were human, all too human indeed, were transferred
to God and to his relations with the world and with man. God was thought of in
terms of the life of here and now; in terms of power, might, government and legal
processes. But God is not like anything at all in the world of objectification.
God is not even being, much less is he power in this world's sense, nor is he
authoritative might: He is spirit, freedom, love and eternal creativeness.
The weakness of eschatology lies in its tendency to return into time, when
the matter in question concerns eternity. In escha-tological thinking which is
not set free from the power of objectification (projecting as it does the End
in a form belonging to this world) not only is the picture of hell intolerable,
but the picture of heaven also. The sublimated earthly kingdom of the senses,
and our narrow social categories are transferred to heaven. Judgment upon the
infinite is passed in terms of the finite. There are times when the desire rises
within one to prefer our sinful earth with its unsatisfied infinite aspirations
and its various forms of contradiction and suffering, to that narrow, finite and
contented paradise. Dostoyevsky's insight was shown in his idea of paradise
and in the dialectic which he showed to be connected with that idea.1
We must not form our conception of the end by transferring to it the marks
of the finiteness of our world. And that means that we must not objectify the
end, we must not form an estimate of eternity in terms of time. A passionate dream
of paradise lives on in man, a dream of joy and freedom, of beauty, of soaring
creative power, a dream of love. Sometimes it takes the form of evoking the memory
of a golden age in the past. At other times it finds its expression in messianic
expectation which is directed towards the future. But it is one and the same dream,
the dream of a being who has been wounded by time and who longs eagerly to make
his way out of time.
In art and poetry there is a memory of paradise. But in his attitude towards
the future man is painfully divided. He expects
1 In that work of genius The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, Dostoyevsky wrote
these amazing words: 'They looked sorrow in the face and they fell in love with
it; they thirsted for suffering and said that it is only through suffering that
truth is reached. There their punishment was made manifest. When they became evil
they began to talk about brotherhood and humanity, and they understood these ideas.
When they became criminal they invented justice and wrote themselves whole volumes
to conserve it, and as a symbol of these treatises on law they set up the guillotine.
They scarcely ever remembered what they had lost; they were even unwilling to
believe that at one time they had been innocent and happy. They even laughed at
the possibility of this former happiness of theirs, and called it a dream....
'Having lost all belief in past happiness, having called it a fairy tale,
they had such a desire once more to be innocent and happy again, that they prostrated
themselves before the wishes of their own hearts, like children. They made a god
of this desire of their heart, they built churches and began to offer prayers
to this same idea of theirs, to this their own desire, while at the same time
they were wholly convinced of its impracticability and of its non-existence. All
the same, if it were a thing within the range of possibility that they should
go back to that state of innocence and happiness which they had lost, and if someone
suddenly pointed it out to them and asked them whether they would like to return
to it, they would in all probability refuse. The guilty one who has forfeited
paradise says:' "They sang the praises of suffering in their songs. I went
about among them wringing my hands and wept over them. But I loved them, even
more perhaps than before, when there was still suffering in their faces and when
they were innocent and so beautiful. I came to love their earth which they had
defiled even more than when it was paradise, simply because sorrow had appeared
not only joy and liberation from captivity, he expects also the possibility
of pain and suffering. The very term 'future* is a category of the fallen world
in the sense that it implies objective-ness, a falling away from existential time,
from the depth of existence. There are^people who possess occult faculties which
overcome the limitations of space and time. What are known as telepathic phenomena
are associated with this, and it is impossible to deny that they exist. It may
not in itself indicate any special spiritual attainment. A truly spiritual victory
over the limits of space and time will, however, belong to the new spiritual era,
the era of paracletism. In the Spirit everything will appear in a new and different
The ancient doctrine of the transmigration of souls, which has been made very
popular by the theosophists, raises questions which merit serious consideration.
An endless uniform transmigration going on upon earth among different people,
and even animals, is a different sort of eschatological nightmare from the nightmare
of the eternal pains of hell. But the idea of the transmigration of souls may
nevertheless afford some relief in comparison with the idea of everlasting hell.
Reincarnation does at least mean that there is no final decision upon a man's
destiny on the basis of the short moment of his existence between birth and death,
with all the limitations of human experience which are due to the fact of his
living in the conditions of space and time. It means that there is a just demand
for a wider experience and it does not include that terrorist idea that after
death no enrichment of experience is possible and no change for the better.
If we refuse to accept the terrorist and servile doctrine of everlasting hell
we ought to admit the pre-existence of souls in another sphere before their birth
on earth, and a path for the soul in another sphere after death. This means that
a reincarnation on one level cannot be admitted, since it contradicts the integral
nature of personality, and the unchangeableness of the very idea of man. But we
can accept of idea of reincarnation on different
levels which makes a man's destiny dependent also upon his existence in a
sphere other than that of the objective phenomenal world. Leibniz rightly speaks
not of metempsychosis but of metamorphosis. In any case the teaching of Origen
is more acceptable than the traditional theological doctrine of the creation of
the soul at the moment of conception, or of its coming into being in the process
of birth by way of hereditary transmission. It is impossible, in any case, to
tie up the eschatological fate of a man exclusively with the phenomenal world,
which I call the world of objectification.
Man's existence in the setting of this world is but a moment of his spiritual
journey. But his destiny is sunk deep in eternity and cannot depend solely upon
this fallen time. The Fall of Man did not occur in this phenomenal world nor in
this time. On the contrary the reverse is the case, for this phenomenal world
and its time are a product of the Fall. Therefore, the way man takes, the path
which decides his destiny cannot be simply the one which he follows in this world
and in this world aeon. Popular teaching about reincarnation remains essentially
in this time which is thought of as unending and carries with it no recognition
of an issue into eternity. The doctrine of hell also recognizes no egress from
time into eternity. This directs attention to die fundamental significance of
the problem of time in the subject of eschatology.
The whole difficulty of eschatological thought lies in the fact that it is
conceived in terms of past and future. But the outlook of eschatology lies outside
these categories. It is for this reason, therefore, that the doctrine of endless
reincarnation and the doctrine of the everlasting pains of hell are alike to be
rejected. They are two forms of the rationalization of a mystery.
The popular doctrine of reincarnation in a single sphere disintegrates human
personality, for it denies the importance to personality of the form of the body,
of the unbreakable link which unites personality with that form, with the unique
countenance of a man. Reincarnation on more than one level, on the other hand,
does not necessarily involve this transition into another body. The material
of the body is changed, but not its form, which is spiritual. It is a mistake
to think that 'this world' means a world of the body, and 'the other world' means
a bodiless world. Materiality and corporeality are not one and the same thing.
'The other world' is also corporeal in the sense that there exists an eternal
form, eternal countenances, and the eternal impression upon them. The quality
of the body depends upon the state of the spirit and soul. Spirit-soul creates
its own body. It is from this that the doctrine of the resurrection derives its
outstanding truth and depth; it is a resurrection, that is, of the complete human
being, not the conservation of disrupted parts of him. What occurs is a new clothing
in bodily form, a new incarnation, not only of an individual creature, of man,
but also of the whole world. The eschatological sense is a feeling for this process
which is going on, of reclothing in bodily form, and reincarnating the whole world.
The process may be experienced as death, but this death is not final and complete.
It is a false direction of spirit which strives eagerly to condense the world
and reduce its bulk. What one must strive for is victory over the burdensome weight
of the world, that is to say, for its transfiguration.
The religious philosophy of India includes a doctrine of Karma, the effect
of men's actions even after death; o£Samsara, the eternal cycle of rebirth through
Karma; ofSahnhara, the painful character of the new births; and of Maksa, which
is deliverance from the suffering of the new births by overcoming Karma. There
is truth in all this, but it is partial and it is all within a setting of cosmo-centric
thought which recognizes no escape from the power of the world. Man lives out
his fate, submerged in the cosmos. Christianity teaches a doctrine of the deliverance
of man from the power of the world, from the cosmic cycle and the hierarchy of
cosmic spirits and demons. It is in this that the unique character of the light
of Christianity is to be found, and the distinctiveness of Christian eschatology.
In respect of its eschatology, theosophy is
in the power of cosmic hierarchies, nor is it free from demon-olatry. But
the environment in which man lives out his destiny is a world of many spheres.
Man can attain to spiritual freedom from the power of the world but he cannot
separate himself from the world, he cannot steal away from it.
Man's relation to the world can follow two paths. Either man is subordinated
to the world as a part of it, or he absorbs the world into himself and the world
becomes, as it were, part of him. It is the second alone which is the path of
spiritual emancipation. Christianity is a historical religion, not a naturalistic,
a spiritual, not a cosmic religion. Christian eschatology, therefore, is a messianic
eschatology. But two dangers lie in wait for eschatological thought. There is
the risk of its falling into the monistic naturalism of the doctrine of reincarnation.
And there is the risk of its falling into the dualistic satanism of the doctrine
of everlasting hell. Each of these dangers remains in the power of objectification
and objectified time. In reality eschatology can only be revealed in the epoch
of paracletism, it will be a revelation of the Spirit.
The objectified, phenomenal world is under the power of the generative process,
and within it generative thought is predominant. The personal, the unrepeatable
and individual is cramped and crushed in it. Hence arises the metaphysical problem
of sex and love. Sex is not only biological, it is a metaphysical phenomenon also.
Through reproductive sex the generative elements in the world have their triumph,
the individual disintegrates and a multitude of new individuals arises in the
uninterrupted life of the race. Both birth and death are linked with sex. Reproductive
sex sows the seed of death', and re-establishes life afresh. The new life shoulders
out the old. The seed of this life is scattered everywhere in the world of men
and animals. Generative sex is entirely under the sway of fallen time in which
the future devours what has gone before.
But generative sex poses its tragic problem only for the mind which is keenly
aware of personality only in connection with the
personal destiny of a man. The man who is wholly submerged in the generative
element, on the other hand, is not in the least aware of any tragic problem. I
am inclined to go so far as to place the dominance of universals, the supremacy
of the genus in the logical sense, on a level with the dominance of the genus
in the biological, sexual sense. The actual emergence of the objective phenomenal
world may be connected with sex, which is antagonistic to personalism, and here
is the point at which the fate of the world and of man is decided. The transformation
of the world is above all else the mastering of fallen sex. This fact is but little
A sense of sin and a feeling of shame are associated with sex, an awareness
of unhappiness at the very source of life, and at the same time a consciousness
of the very greatest intensity of life. This is a most mysterious side of human
existence and an extreme form of its objectification, its loss of personality.
Sex, which marks a cleavage within the complete androgynous form of man, is a
living contradiction within his essential being. The attraction to each other
and the repulsion from each other of the sundered male and female principles are
due to it. With it are associated phantom pleasure and real suffering.
The dividedness, the ambiguity of sex is indeed in touch with eras, which
is a power issuing from another source and bearing a different character. The
meaning of love is personal, not generative. Love is bestowed upon the unique,
individual person. But eros can be impersonal also, when it is either subjected
to the lower elements in sex or when it rises to the ideal world, as in Platonism.
£ro5-love becomes distorted, debased and profaned more than anything else in the
world. Sexual life is intertwined with it and so is economic life, which belongs
to the lower world.
But love has the vocation of redeeming the sin of sex and of recalling thoughts
of the eternal personal destiny which lies outside the generative impulse. In
the world of objects man submits himself to the generative life, and bestows upon
common predominance over the personally individual. With this degrading sins
are associated, but with it are bound up also great generic virtues. And at times
it happens that one is doubtful which are the worse, these sins or these virtues.
Many ethical philosophers have connected altruistic virtues with the generative
inscincts, almost identifying the personal with the egoistic. This is a typical
confusion, and it arises from the objectifying of human existence.
In actual fact, the personal, far from being connected with the egoistic,
is even opposed to it. It is the noumenal in man, whereas the generative impulse
belongs to the phenomenal world in which man is turned into an object among other
objects. It is this, moreover, which gives such importance to the problem of sex
and love from the metaphysical point of view. Sex is a fall, it is a disruption
which seeks to reestablish wholeness but does not succeed in doing so within personal
existence, within the primary reality. Love is an energy which issues from the
noumenal world, it is an energy which transforms. The objective world thrusts
love out of the way, and rejects it because it is linked with personality and
refers to personality rather than to race.
The results of love, as indeed of all creative actions, are objectified. And,
therefore, the servitude of man within the generative natural process is continually
prolonged. I am speaking of all types of love. All love is an energy of the noumenal
world, Christian agape and philia, as well as er05-love. And in this world all
love is subject to the process of objectification, the love which is compassion
and mercy, and eros-love; falling in love; the love which moves downward and the
love which ascends. Everything which is noumenal, aflame and creative, leads to
the making of objective structures in which that which originally took fire is
extinguished. Real love, illumined and serene, includes a coinherence of compassion
and the experience of being enamoured. But in the disrupted state of human existence
in the world a dissociation of these two principles takes place. Falling in love
may be pitiless
and cruel; compassion and mercy may be dried up and lose all personal attractiveness
In love, in all love in this world, there is a tragic breakdown.1 In its essential
nature love is radiation, radio-activity, both falling in love and compassionate
love, and its course is always from one person to another person, it is the vision
of a person through the crust of objectivity. In other words, it is the overcoming
of objectification. Eros-love in its proper meaning is the overcoming of the objectiveness
of sex, it is the triumph of the person over the genus, that is to say, it prepares
the way for the transformation of the world. Sex gives rise to fallen time and
to death. Love ought to triumph over time and death and turn towards eternal life.
Woman's nature is the more closely linked with sex as a cosmic element; hence
the cults of the Great Mother, of the elemental Mother Earth. But there is also
something base and sinister in the female element, a principle which both enslaves
and is itself enslaved. The cult of the Mother of God, of the Most Holy Virgin,
is essentially distinct from the pagan worship of the female principle; it is
worship of the womanhood which is entirely illumined and serene, which has achieved
victory over the base element in femaleness.
History has a messianic theme. Deep down in the whole historical process,
there is a tangled dialectic of the messianic idea. Messianic thought is historical
and eschatological, it is concerned with history and with the end, with the historical
future and with eternity. And Christianity itself is historical and eschatological.
It runs its course within existential time; it is objectified in
1 In the middle ages there were two schools of thought on the subject of love
—physical love (in Thomas Aquinas) and ecstatic love (among the mystics). It was
love towards God which was the question at issue. Physical love means that man
always loves himself and expects happiness for himself through his love for God.
It would be truer to say that love towards God is a return which God needs. See
P. Rousselot: Pour fhistoire du problbne de I'amour au moyen age.
historical time and it is deeply embedded in this world. It is the end of
this world. It announces victory over the world, and, in its objectified condition,
it has been vanquished by the world.
The dialectic of history, which is a dialectic of existence and not merely
of thought, is different from Hegel's teaching about it. It is capable of solution
only in the end of the world, and it exerts an attraction towards that end. All
solutions within the course of history are attended by failure. Until the end
of the world and of history, dualism remains in power. It is only after the end
that monism, unity, wholeness can be asserted, that is to say, only outside objectification,
outside the determinate world of phenomena. History, in which to all appearances
determinism, and even late, reign supreme, is full of an inward dialectic of freedom.
Freedom involves the freedom of evil as well. Without the freedom of evil,
good would not be free, it would be determined and imposed by force. At the same
time, however, the freedom of evil gives rise to the necessity of servitude. Slavery
itself can be the child of freedom, and there would be no freedom if it did not
carry with it this possibility of giving rise to slavery; there would be but the
servitude of good. But the servitude of the good is an evil thing, and the freedom
of evil can be a greater good than the good which is a result of compulsion. It
is a paradox to which no solution can be found within the confines of the history
of the objective world, and it exerts a pull towards the end.
Another side of this existential dialectic is provided by the dialectic of
freedom and grace. Grace must be the power which is called upon to resolve the
contradiction between freedom and necessity. Grace is a more exalted thing than
the freedom and necessity which are in this world: it emanates from the higher
world. But just here is the most tragic of facts. Grace likewise is objectified
in this world and for that reason is, in a sense, made subject to the laws of
this world. Grace stands at a higher level than law, it is a different sort of
thing from law. But the possibility
exists of a sort of forensic grace, circumscribed by legal formalities, grace
which is tied to something else, grace which is allowed to exist only within a
system of formal regularities. The history of Christianity is full of this. People,
so to speak, tie God up in history. Within the confines of history, therefore,
grace does not resolve the paradox of freedom, the conflict between freedom and
necessity. The solution can be conceived only in forms of eschatology.
The subject of evil is a fundamental theme in the life of the world. But one's
relation to evil and to evil persons and things is also dialectical. This is one
of the fundamental inconsistencies of the objectified world. A pitiless and evil
attitude towards evil and towards people and things that are evil may turn into
a new evil. And how frequently it has so turned! Just as freedom can give rise
to slavery, so the merciless destruction of evil can do the same. Vengeance wreaked
upon evil men has ever new forms of evil as its outcome. Man falls into a magic
circle from which there is no way out. The teaching of the Gospels about a man's
attitude to his enemies belongs to this subject; it is one expression of his attitude
towards evil. The world has been unable to find a place for the truth of the Gospel.
They have expressed the mystery of redemption in the narrow categories of this
world. But the mystery of Christianity lies deeper than that. Man is powerless
to conquer evil: but God the Creator also is powerless to conquer evil by an act
of power. It is only the God of sacrifice and love who can triumph over evil,
the God who took upon himself the sins of the world, God the Son, who became man.
The opposition between the two theories about man, that man is by nature sinful
and evil, and that man is by nature good and sinless (Rousseau and the humanists)
is superficial and does not go very deep. The first, the harsh traditional doctrine
of man has served to oppose optimistic teaching about the goodness of human nature,
together with the so-called progressive and revolutionary deductions that have
been drawn from it. It was
demanded that a tight hold should be kept upon man. Only no explanation was
offered of the fact that the very people who made this demand excluded themselves
from the necessity of submitting to the tight hold.
In actual fact, what is revolutionary in a really profound sense, is not optimism,
which in the last resort is conservative, but rather the pessimism which cannot
come to terms with the world. But this pessimism is not absolute, it is relative,
and the messianic hope remains in it. We no longer live in a cosmos in the ancient
Greek and mediaeval sense of the word. We are no longer aware of a world harmony,
and have fallen out of the world order. This destruction of the cosmos began long
ago, it dates from the beginning of modern times with their great scientific discoveries
about the world. The ancient cosmos with the earth at its centre, is linked with
the Ptolomaic system. Present day physics are obliged to reject the cosmos, they
are breaking it up. The world, this planet of ours, has been set reeling. Already
man no longer feels the ground firm under his feet, ground which is linked with
a world order. There is going on in the world not only a process of evolution,
but a process of dissolution also.1 The world is arriving at a fluid condition.
The homogeneity towards which the phenomenal world is moving is what is called
in the second law of thermodynamics, entropy.
All this should make the eschatological sense more intense. A double process
is going on; the world is becoming more and more dehumanized, man is ceasing to
be aware of his central position in the world structure, and at the same time
he is expending collosal creative energies to humanize the earth and the world,
and to subject it to himself. The contradiction between these two processes is
not capable of resolution within the confines of this world. It is man as noumenon
who alone is the centre of the world, man as phenomenon is an insignificant speck
of dust in it. Man is
1 See an interesting book by A. Lalande: La dissolution oppose a I'evolution
dam les sciences physiques et morales.
surrounded by cosmic infinity, by a supra-world and an infra-world. His means
of subsistence are very limited, to secure them involves intense labour, and he
is compelled to wage senseless and devastating wars. The cross purposes in man's
life in the world can be overcome only^eschatologically. And man, unhappy in the
world, lives by a chiliastic dream which takes various forms and, not rarely,
forms which are deceptive.
Chiliasm is esoteric and expresses symbolically the resolution of the messianic
theme. The historical process is accompanied by a whole succession of failures
and the theme of history is insoluble within the limits of history, for that theme
is the Kingdom of God. Thus we are faced by the question: Will there be any sort
of positive result of history, or will the result be merely negative? Another
way of putting the same question is to ask: Will the creative acts of man have
an honourable place in eternal life? Will they enter into the Kingdom of God?
To deny to supra-history a positive outcome of history means to deprive history
of all meaning, it is to deny that human creative power has any importance in
the realization of the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It means to deny the worth
of the divine likeness in man.
The failure of human creative power is due to the objectificarion of all the
products of that power. But the actual creative power itself moves out beyond
the limits of objectification and is directed towards a new life, towards the
Kingdom of God. The products of great creative minds prepare the way for the Kingdom
of God, and enter into it. Greek tragedy, the pictures of Leonardo, Rembrandt,
Botticelli; Michaelangelo's sculpture and Shakespeare's dramas; the symphonies
of Beethoven and the novels of Tolstoy; the philosophical thought of Plato, Kant
and Hegel; the creative suffering of Pascal, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche; the quest
for freedom and for what is true and right in the life of society— all enter into
the Kingdom of God. Chiliasm expresses, in a relatively distorted and limited
form, the truth that history will have a positive end also.
There is a false chiliasm and there is a true. In its false form chiliasm
objectifies and materializes the thousand years' reign, it pictures it in terms
of this fallen world. Such chiliastic thought does not attain the deepest understanding
of the antinomy between 'what belongs to this world' and 'what belongs to the
other', between history and meta-history, between the world and the spirit. It
must be remembered that the subject in question is the new aeon, the epoch of
the Spirit, the epoch of the Paraclete, and that our categories are not applicable
to that. The Kingdom of God, which is not to be thought of as either order or
the absence of it, nor as necessity, nor as an arbitrary decision, must exist
upon earth too, in spite of the fact that it is at the same time a heavenly kingdom.
It is only eschatologically, only in the Kingdom of God and not in the earthly
realm, that God can be all in all.
Only in the second coming of Christ, in the form of Christ, the Coming One,
will the perfection of man appear in its fullness. And into that perfection and
fullness all the creative activity of man will enter. This was not brought to
light at the first advent of Christ; it remained concealed. The passive interpretation
of the Apocalypse, as the mere endurance of the end and of judgment, as a denial
of any importance to man and his creative activity in the actual coming of the
end, is an expression of the slavery of man and of his subjection. An active interpretation
of the Apocalypse stands in opposition to all this.1
The end of the world is a divine-human enterprise, the activity and the creative
work of man also enters into it. Man not only endures the end, he also prepares
the way for it. The end is not merely the destruction of the world, and judgment,
it is also the illumination and transformation of the world, the continuation,
as it were, of creation, the entry upon a new aeon. The creative act of man is
needed for the coming of the Kingdom of God,
1 There are some admirable thoughts on this subject in Cieszkovski, the chief
Polish philosopher of messianism, and so there are in our own N. Fedorov also.
God is in need of and awaits it. The future coming of Christ presupposes that
the way has been prepared for it by man. And, therefore, we can think of the end
only in terms of a dual tension and antinomy. The end is a spiritual event which
takes place in existential time. When we project the end upon the time of this
world and objectify it in history, the end divides into two and may present itself
alike as pessimistic and optimistic, as destruction and construction.
For this reason the chiliastic hope is inescapable. For this reason the eschatological
idea both can and should be active and creative. Through the contradictions and
the conflicts there conies about a return to what is primary, but in its fullness,
enriched by the experience of creative activity. Such are the ways of the Spirit.
In a deeper sense the whole world process, the historical process, can be absorbed
into eternity. And then it is an interior movement in the accomplishment of the
mysteries of the spirit. Eternity embraces time.
Kant said that philosophy has its own chiliasm. To affirm that life has a
meaning is inevitably an affirmation of chiliasm, but it is only the deeper spiritual
interpretation of it which is important. And here we come upon an astonishing
thing. Official traditional theology is fond of talking about the almightiness
of God, and about the omnipresence of God in the world. But very little has been
done to present him to us. Its exponents believe in the divine power in the world
and do not expect the coming of the Kingdom of God. If their belief were stronger,
they would not be constantly giving religious sanction to violence and necessity
in the world. They believe in something else; they believe that the power, authority
and violence of this world are sacrosanct, they believe in a symbolic expression
of the power of God in the phenomenal world, which bears no resemblance to God
in any respect and is in every way opposed to him. But true, purified, spiritual
belief in God is emphatically eschatological belief, it is a belief in the coming
of the Kingdom of God.
Into the fullness of faith, faith which is ecumenical, the partial truths of
the heresies also will enter—the truth contained in Sabellianism, in Marcionism,
in Pelagianism and in Patripassion-ism, but with their one-sidedness overcome
and superseded. All the humanist creative activity of man in modern times will
likewise have its place in the fullness of faith, but that again as a religious
experience consecrated in the Spirit.
Necessity and the lure of practical advantage which is bound up with it act
upon me from all sides and I cannot overcome it in the conditions of the objective
world. But not one whit do I desire to ascribe a sacred character to this necessity
and practical advantage. I know that this necessity is illusory and I believe
that it can be conquered and that the power through which such a victory is possible,
is called God—God the Liberator. But my faith in victory is eschatological and
my religion is prophetic. What is needed is not so much to set certain ends before
one and to realize them in the practical world, making use of evil means in doing
so, as to display, express and radiate a creative energy of one's own, in knowledge,
in love, in a sense of community, in freedom and in beauty, and to be self-determined
in the strength of one's awareness of the end.
Everything is steeped in the mystery of spirit. But self-alienation, exteriorization
and objectification take place in the paths of the Spirit. The creation of the
world by God is an objectified interpretation of the mystery of the Spirit. The
drama of the relation between God and Man is an inwardly trinitarian drama. In
its centre is the Son, the eternal man, and the drama is resolved by the Spirit
who proceeds eternally from the Father. This is reflected in inverted fashion
in the world which is called created. God is that victory of light over darkness
which is being achieved in eternity, the triumph of meaning over senselessness,
of beauty over ugliness, of freedom over necessity.
But within the mystery of the Spirit are God and his Other.
This is not covered by the doctrine of the Absolute, which has no knowledge
of an Other or of any relation to it. The primary mystery is the mystery of the
birth of God in man (who includes the world in himself) and the birth of man in
God. In our imperfect language thi$t means that there is in God a need for a responsive
creative act on the part of man. Man is not merely a sinner; the consciousness
of sin is but an experience which moves him as he treads his path; man is also
a creator. The human tragedy from which there is no escape, the dialectic of freedom,
necessity and grace finds its solution within the orbit of the divine Mystery,
within the Deity, which lies deeper than the drama between Creator and creature,
deeper than representations of heaven and hell.
Here the human tongue keeps silence. The eschatological outlook is not limited
to the prospect of an indefinable end of the world, it embraces in its view every
moment of life. At each moment of one's living, what is needed is to put an end
to the old world and to begin the new. In that is the breath of the Spirit. The
aeon of the end is the revealing of the Spirit.
APPENDIX Principal Works by Nicholas Berdyaev
DATES given are those of the original publication in Russian or French. The
symbols E., F., G. signify respectively the existence of English, French or German
translations and, where the titles differ from the Russian, these are given.
1900 'F. A. Lange and the Critical Philosophy.'
1901 'Subjectivism and Individualism in Social Philosophy.' 1907 'Sub Specie
'The New Religious Consciousness and Society.'
1911 'Philosophy of Freedom.'
1912 'A. S. Khomiakov.'
1915 'The Soul of Russia.'
1916 'The Meaning of the Creative Act.' (G. 'Der Sinn des
Schaffens'.) 'The Fate of Russia.'
1923 'The Meaning of History.' (E.) 'Philosophy of Inequality.'
'The World-Outlook of Dostoevsky.' (E. 'Dostoevsky'.)
1924 'The Russian Religious Idea' in 'Problems of Russian Reli-
gious Consciousness' 1924. (F. 'L'idee religieuse russe' in Cahiers de la
Nouvelle Journee No. 8.) 'The New Middle Ages.' (E. 'The End of Our Time' which
includes four other esays.) 1926 'K. Leontiev.' (E.)
'Philosophy of die Free Spirit.' (E. 'Freedom and the
1931 'The Destiny of Man.' (E.) 'On Suicide.'
1931 'Russian Religious Psychology and Communist Atheism.'
(E. 'The Russian Revolution.') 'Christianity and Class War.' (E.)
1932 'Christianity and Human Action.'
1933 'Man and the Machine.' (E., including other essays, in 'The
1934 ' "I" and the World of Objects.' (E. 'Solitude and Soci-
'The Fate of Man in the Modern World.'
1937 'Spirit and Reality.' (E.)
'The Origin of Russian Communism.' Only in French and
English. 1940 'Slavery and Freedom.' (Of Man.) (E.)
1946 'The Russian Idea.' (E.)
1947 'The Existential Dialectics of the Divine and Human.'
French (E. 'The Divine and the Human.')
1949 'Towards a New Epoch.' (E.) Posthumous
1950 'Dream and Reality' (E.)
1952 'The Beginning and the End (E.)
'Truth and Revelation' (in preparation)