A selection from The End of Our Time (aka A New Middle Ages), 1924, and The Fate of Modern Man, 1935, by Nicholas Berdjaev.
Although these are two works are quite separate, a continuity of themes connects them. In the preface of The Fate of Modern Man Berdjaev said that it was a kind of epilogue to The End of Our Time which covers the 11 years since its publication. For these reasons we will treat them here together.
"In his book about the 'new Middle Ages', the Russian emigrant Berdjaev gave his view on the difference between Western elements of European culture... and the Eastern elements... . He felt the future lay in the Eastern element, because it held the remedy against the mechanistic and atheistic spirit of the West."
- Henk Wesseling (A Cape of Asia: Essays on European History by , 2011).
The End of Our Time ('A New Middle Ages')
"When he [man] broke away from the spiritual moorings of his life he tore himself from the deeps and went to the surface; and he has become more and more superficial. When he lost the spiritual centre of Being, he lost his own at the same time.
Faith in the ultimate political and social salvation of mankind is quenched. We have reached settlement-day after a series of centuries during which movement was from the centre, the spiritual core of life, to the periphery, its surface and social exterior. And the more empty of religious significance social life has become, the more it has tyrannized over the general life of man. … The world needs a strong reaction from this domination by exterior things, a change back in favour of interior spiritual life, not only for the sake of individuals but for the sake of real metaphysical life itself. To many who are caught up in the web of modern activities this must sound like an invitation to suicide. But we have got to choose. The life of the spirit is either a sublime reality or an illusion: accordingly we have either to look for salvation in it rather than in the fuss of politics, or else dismiss it altogether as false. When it seems that everything is over and finished, when the earth crumbles away under our feet as it does today, when there is neither hope nor illusion, when we can see all things naked and undeceiving, then is the acceptable time for a religious quickening in the world. We are at that time… .
The Fate of Modern Man.
From Chapter 1: A Judgement on History-- The War
"It has become a banality to say that we live in a time of historical crisis, that a whole epoch is ending, and a new one, as yet without a name, is beginning. Some are glad for this, others sorry, but all agree upon the fact. In reality what is happening is something even deeper. We are witnessing a judgement upon not one epoch in history, but upon history itself. And in this sense we live in an apocalyptic time; in this sense only, and not in the sense of the swift arrival of the end of the world. There is such a thing as the internal apocalypse of history. The apocalypse is not merely a revelation of the end of the world: it is also a revelation of the inner events of history, of the internal judgement upon history itself. And this is what is happening now.
There is a meaning of history, and the recognition of this meaning belongs to Christianity.
Hegel spoke of the cleverness of the spirit of history, a cleverness which deceives man for the purpose of gaining its own ends. It may be said that in fact the subject of history is not man, not even mankind, but a non-human reason or spirit... .
Hegel was a sort of incarnation in thought of the spirit of history.
Against Hegel and against his idea of a universal spirit, revealing itself in history, men like Dostoevsky and Kirkegaard rose in protest. The objectivization of a spirit in history, which held the mind of Hegel, really breaks away from the inner mystery of human existence... .
The religious and historic consciousness of Hinduism puts history aside, it is anti-historical. [...] Christianity is·historic: it recognizes the meaning of history and operates in history. The Incarnation took place in history. But Christianity, although it is a historic force and although it has made all Christian nations historic, has never been able to realize itself within history. [...] Christianity accepts history, operates within it, even battles against it, and its spirit would be unrecognizable in an historic objectivization. In a certain sense, every single human soul has more meaning and value than the whole of history with its empires, its wars and revolutions, its blossoming and fading civilizations. And because of this, the break with history is inevitable- a judgment upon history must be passed.
Once the veil of civilization was torn aside by the war, the prime realities were revealed in all their nakedness. The faith in mankind... was finally shattered. [...] The humanist myth about man was exploded, and the abyss yawned at the feet of mankind. The wolf-like life of capitalist society was not able to encourage and support the faith in man.
The war was the catastrophic moment which disclosed that chaos moves beneath the false civilization of capitalism.
The enthusiasm of Nazi youth... is pathological in character, and resembles animation produced by an injection of camphor, rather than the springtime of national life. The German people are in a state of collective insanity, resulting from the degradation and misfortune to which they have been subject.
The search for leaders indicates the fall of democracy and decline into Caesarism... . [...] ...only one positive, creative force reigns-- the power of technics. Man is entering a new cosmos. All the elements of our epoch were present in the past, but now they are generalized, universalized and revealed at last in their true aspect. In these days of the world's agony we feel keenly that we are living in a fallen world, torn asunder by incurable contradictions. [...] We discover that we are living in a world of crime and phantasms. The world was all this before, but we have just now discovered it.
The world is living in a period of agony which greatly resembles that of the end of antiquity. But the present situation is more helpless, since at the close of antiquity Christianity entered the world as a new, young force, while now Christianity... is old and burdened with a long history in which Christians have often sinned and betrayed their ideal. And we hall see that the judgement upon history is also a judgement upon Christianity in history. The youth of the whole world is seeking a new order, a world-revolution is in progress. But we do not feel the joy of the birth of new life: shadows cover the world. A cycle of cosmic catastrophes and collapses has begun. But for Christians specially this consciousness brings no despair, and it should not deter us from realizing justice and serving the truth in everyday life. We are witnessing a return to the first sources, to the final depths. Christianity is not optimism, but Christian pessimism can be only relative, since beyond the world of unreason and meaninglessness Christianity sees a meaning. The judgement upon history is the voice of reason: it presupposes reason. The inner apocalypse of history is a revelation of the results of not realizing in history the Kingdom of God, i.e., meaning. To accept history is to accept revolution as well. Those who disavow revolution and consider it a crime, forget that to a large degree history is a crime. He who does not approve of crime, should strive for the realization of the Kingdom of God."