We clearly outlived communism and rejected liberalism.
The philosopher of fragments
Berdyaev did not leave behind an integral philosophical system. It can be called a “philosopher of remarks”. Not like Vasily Vasilyevich Rozanov, who built on these remarks, witty and subtle, all his philosophical work, but nevertheless …
Berdyaev left a number of theses, which received, in general, limited development. And there, where he tried to turn them into some sort of system of views, as a rule, faced with failure.
On the other hand, the experiments of philosophy succeeded him as separate, independent fragments. Berdyaev should be regarded as a philosopher of fragments.
It is not at all fundamental for a philosopher to create or not create a system. Some systems, which at first seemed to be fully developed, (for example, such as Lotze’s anthology, the works of the Neo-Kantians) turned into essentially empty thousands of pages.
And philosophers of remarks, philosophers of aphorisms, such, for example, as Nietzsche, on the contrary, are still gambly explored. Therefore, in that Berdyaev is a philosopher of fragments, there is nothing derogatory for him. It simply has to be perceived as such, and then we will understand it better.
I would like to draw attention to three very separate philosophical remarks by Nikolai Berdyaev.
The philosopher of Russian freedom
The first relates to the concept of “freedom”. Berdyaev may well be called the “philosopher of freedom,” and in this sense Schelling had a profound influence on him. To be more precise, his “Treatise on Human Freedom”, about the fundamental meaning of the choice of the human personality, which is completely sovereign. This is a fundamental moment in the understanding of a sovereign person according to Berdyaev.
We know Bataille’s famous essay “The Sovereign Man of the Garden.” But it shows the European way of realizing freedom as an absolute permissiveness, characteristic of the transformation of the person himself into such a hypersubject, which is confirmed by transforming all the others into hotspots, objects completely submissive to any of his most perverse inclinations. These are the horizons of Western European freedom, which absolutizes the ego by the fundamental objectification of all others.
Berdyaev’s freedom is completely different . It is conceived simultaneously in the Schellingian sense, and in the Orthodox context. Moreover, Berdyaev thinks of freedom in the spirit of sophistry of Vladimir Solovyov. Freedom for him is Sophia, and man is the bearer of this freedom.
In Berdyaev’s philosophy of freedom, the most important thing is the fundamental idea of a person. A person realizes his own, human dignity, making a choice, absolutely dependent on his will. After a person makes a choice, he is no longer free from his own choice. His freedom ends where the moment of making a choice comes.
This choice is a purely human fate. Choosing between good and evil in conditions of absolute freedom, having no limitations in the structure of this choice, the individual first becomes a man, realizes himself as a person. Deprive a person of freedom and you deprive him of human nature, turn it into a mechanism or an animal.
The notion of human freedom implies consent (or disagreement) with God in the situation of finding the most important, fundamental possibility – the ability to create. Only God is an absolute creator, and man is a subject who has the right to choose.
When choosing, the person creates , in some measure resembling God. Because freedom is originally a divine property. Human freedom is not identical with the divine, but it is closely connected with the divine craft. It is, in fact, its mirror image.
On the one hand, the freedom of man in the Sofia, Orthodox understanding, on the one hand, does not automatically lead, as a West European tradition, to objectification, to the suppression of others. On the other hand, it is realized in the higher creativity. And in the highest risk to be a man. This is a very Russian feature of the philosophy of freedom.
I believe that Berdyaev’s remark about the philosophy of Russian freedom – the freedom of the Orthodox, the Sophian – requires further development and reflection. This is a very unusual, far from self-evident, deep-mystical, Russian, Orthodox intuition. It is very necessary for us today to build a philosophical Russian Logos.
Freedom is a risk in the face of death. This is its existential dimension. But the Logos without a look of Death in the eye can not be found.
The second important remark Berdyaev, which I wanted to draw attention to, is the idea of the religious meaning of Russian communism.
We live the last centuries in a secular world. But this secular world, which does not recognize religion as a socio-political dogma and a basic attitude, is fundamentally different in the West and in the East. Because secularization is subject to different religious models, including politics, anthropology, ontology, the notion of a normative society, and everything else.
The representation of Catholicism about the church includes only the clergy , only the priests. And when we are dealing with the secularization of Catholic theology, we see a political system in which the state apparatus is the secular analogue of this clergy. Identification of the church with the clergy, priesthood, being subjected to secularization, gives us an adequate idea of the state embodied in its state apparatus. To some extent, this affects the entire Western European political culture of the New Time.
The second model is Protestant. It represents the church as an artificial creation of believers, which converge in the rational interpretation of sacred texts. That is, the church here is a collection of individuals who understand or interpret sacred scripture in a similar way, that is, a sect, a denomination. By the way, in the Protestant context the word “sect” has no negative meaning. Protestant churches themselves readily call themselves “sects.” For they are based on the fact that different people, basing on their individual views, agree with each other to create more or less acceptable to all the collective institution. This is the “church” for the Protestants.
Secularization of Protestantism gives us nothing more than a modern civil society with its ideas about liberal politics. This policy, in turn, is formed on the basis of the social contract of citizens and can subsequently be revised, reshuffled, modified in one direction or another.
In accordance with the Orthodox doctrine of the church, naturally accepted by the Orthodox Christian Berdyaev, we mean by “church” the totality of all baptized people . That is, those who passed the first initiation through baptism, and those who were destined to pass the second initiation through ordination – the clergy. That is, not just believers, but dedicated believers.
The church as the totality of all people baptized in her bosom is a completely different model of understanding the essence of the church, which is very different from Catholic and Protestant.
Such a church is built from above, through the Holy Spirit, divided into two directions: One who condescends to a person during holy baptism, and One that is transmitted through ordination from the apostles, the priesthood.
If we subject this Orthodox model to secularization, we will get a people’s state that includes both representatives of political power (that is, the analog of the clergy) and all other citizens . Just something similar described in the work “The Origins and Meaning of Russian Communism” Berdyaev.
He says: Look, the communist ideology that won in Russia in 1917 represents the secularization of the Orthodox understanding of the state. Yes, this is not a religious and even anti-religious ideology. However, it is a mystical and political doctrine.
Atheistic? Certainly. But in its own way it reproduces the traditional and total character of the understanding of the church, transferred to the political, social system. This is the meaning of Russian communism in the view of Berdyaev.
The essence of Russian communism is secular collegiality . Therefore, in order to understand the history of the Soviet period, in order to comprehend our attitude to normative Russian politics, it is necessary to read the work mentioned above in the most careful manner. And not only to critically comprehend it, not only to accept the criticism of communism expressed by Berdyaev, or to deduce from this an apology that the author himself did not intend.
It is more important not to condemn or justify, but to understand the Soviet period in our Russian history, to comprehend the idea of the religious meaning of Russian communism, which had a colossal significance for Berdyaev. We must only treat this with maximum responsibility, not paying attention to all sorts of historical conventions, disputes, polemical tasks that Berdyaev could not or did not consider necessary to bypass in this work.
New Middle Ages: The Rematch of Heroes
And the third remark, the third line of Berdyaev, which seems to me extremely topical – is his idea, expressed in the work “New Middle Ages”. Here it is, perhaps, the very text (small and therefore, probably, very successful Berdyaev as a philosopher of fragments), which can be perceived as an excellent program for building a new Russia .
The new Middle Ages are a brilliant concept, the idea that each time has its own structure. And in principle, when we move in time, we reproduce the structure of this or that epoch. And the fact that these epochs replace each other, there is no fatality.
Time is not linear . It is multivalued, multilevel. We can go through several directions. Or take a few steps along one road. We can collapse.
Time is tortuous, can make a circle, cycle. Time can turn from its path and return to it … Therefore, the Middle Ages is not only something that belongs exclusively to the past, something that has been overcome, completely obsolete and no longer existing. The Middle Ages are an eternal opportunity , the organization of a value system, society, the most historical temporality in a special religious hierarchical scenario.
Berdyaev says that the Middle Ages can be viewed not as past, but as possible, along with Modern, modern. We can choose the Modern, we can choose the present, and we can also the Middle Ages. This is our freedom: in the opportunity to choose the pattern and structure of time. But it will, of course, not the Middle Ages, which once was, but completely new . The novelty lies in the fact that there is a choice of the essential paradigm of the Middle Ages, which presupposes a religious, heroic, hierarchical society. Contrary to the materialistic, everyday, pragmatic, commercial order that dominates in modern times.
What is the modernity of Berdyaev? This is the realm of shopkeepers . What is the Middle Ages according to Berdyaev? This is the time of the heroes . And even despite the fact that traders periodically win, the heroes who in such cases go into the shadows, still do not disappear to the end. And it is quite easy to imagine the revenge of the heroes , their future victory over the merchants .
Therefore, the Middle Ages – this is not a temporary paradigm. We have the right to refuse it, as they refused, by accepting the power of traders under capitalism or the power of the proletarians under socialism. However, we can return to the time of the heroes, to the domination of the first two classes – priests and soldiers, priests and nobles.
It is the idea of a new aristocracy , a new priesthood that will replace the capitalist pragmatism, bourgeois, liberal democracy, Berdyaev maintains and defends as one of the possible (desirable) future scenarios for Russia’s development.
The term “New Middle Ages” for modern Russian reality seems to me to be extremely topical. We clearly outlived communism and rejected liberalism. In Postmodern, in the system of transgender society, in the European decomposition of the individual into components, we clearly do not want such a future. And alternatives, whether Soviet, nationalist or early bourgeois, are now impossible. Since we abandoned the Soviet, and what the early-bourgeois beginning may develop in time, we see in present-day Europe. Nationalism will ruin Russia.
To take a step back is simply to temporarily delay the trend. Moving along the path of liberalism, inevitably we will come to multiculturalism, feminism and same-sex marriage, since all this is laid down in the most liberal ideology. It’s just that today we see a certain “higher stage” of liberalism. Opposing the marginal phase of the development of liberalism, some earlier, more decent social forms – is useless and irresponsible.
The new Middle Ages of Berdyaev as an alternative to modernity worthy of Russia is, in my opinion, the optimal horizon.