Nicholas Berdjaev

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Alexei Anisin:

"Berdyaev was born in the Russian empire (1874), and was part of the original Slavophil intellectual movement. He made noteworthy contributions to philosophy – especially to personalist and existentialist types. Politically, he rejected Bolshevism, the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as Communism and capitalism. At the height of the second Russian Revolution, he was among dozens of other intellectuals that were exiled by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Gaining passage into Europe by way of the famous “philosopher’s ship,” Berdyaev spent the remainder of his life in France. He was among the few 19th century Russian philosophers that ended up engaging with subjects in both East and West, and in the latter years of his life, he engaged with notable French and British intellectuals in a time that was marked by the emergence of existentialism in philosophical thought. Berdyaev’s dealings with philosophy were diverse – he engaged with thinkers ranging from Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Kant, Nietszche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers, Camus, to Jacob Boehme and E.T.A Hoffmann, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Honore ́ de Balzac, among others. Berdyaev described himself as a philosopher of personalism and creativity – personality was arguably the foremost componentof his thought. Personality for Berdyaev is not equatable to individualism as each personality is spiritual, unique, and outside the realm of objectivity (Berdyaev 1955). Personality is not a natural phenomenon but a spiritual one and is greatly subjective. Through exercising personality, one can pursue the highest truth, which Berdyaev assumed to belong to the spiritual realm rather than to the realm of Caesar (the realm of objectivity)."



Via [1]:

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."


Nicolas Berdyaev's role in the Cosmist movement

Alexei Anisin:

"The futuristic theme in the book under attention is where Berdyaev’s place in Russian Cosmism can be made intelligible. Cosmism was an intellectual movement that emerged in the late 19th century and was developed throughout the first third of the 20th century. Cosmists (the most prominent of which was Nikolai Fedorov) were in favor of technological development and viewed technology as a means to overcome death and achieve universal salvation. The progress of science was viewed to be indefinite, and with science, humans can become immortal and even reincarnate old historical persons. Eventually, scientific progress would enable human beings to be in control of the cosmos and to fulfil the biblical idea of resurrection. Today, Cosmism is gaining increasing ideological prevalence in technocratic circles in Russia (Faure 2021).

Young (2012) defines Russian Cosmism in the following way,

- “a highly controversial and oxymoronic blend of activist speculation, futuristic traditionalism, religious science, exoteric esotericism, utopian pragmatism, idealistic materialism – higher magic partnered to higher mathematics” (Young 2012, 3).

Russian Cosmism intersects between a heterogeneous collection of topics and in this “loose, diverse, and complex tendency,” (Young 2012, 11), Berdyaev’s work on the Russian soul (in his, the Russian Idea) is drawn upon by Young to describe Berdyaev’s eschatological ideas on the Russian soul and its position in achieving Russia’s eschatological destiny. Interestingly enough, Young’s (2012) analysis of Russian Cosmism features an autobiographical chapter of Berdyaev’s life, mentions his name 127 times throughout the book as a whole, but does not cite or engage with the Realm of Caesar and the Realm of Spirit and its five stages. This is significant because the historical time periods that are categorized in this work, especially the final (fifth) period, appear to share more similarity with Heidegger’s ideas on technology, rather than with the technological and scientific characteristics shared by Cosmists.

Young (2012) classifies Berdyaev into the “religious Cosmist” category. The religious type stands in contrast to the scientific type and figures as Tsiolkovsky or Chizhevsky, yet it would be farfetched to think that Berdyaev was in any way a proponent of technological advancement. Similarly, although Young acknowledges Berdyaev is somewhat different than other Cosmists, for example, in explaining the collectivist character of Russian Cosmists, Young notes that, if conflict should arise between the interests of the individual particle and the interests of the whole, the Cosmists would almost unanimously (Berdyaev being the possible dissident) prefer the interests of the whole. (Young 2012, 240). The issue in such a categorization is that there is too much evidence pointing to Berdyaev’s philosophy as being incompatible with the ultimate aims of Cosmism. In Truth and Revelation (1953), Berdyaev put forward a number of additional points about what spiritual transformation and an era that will be dominated by spirit. The entire basis of Berdyaev’s projection of a future spiritual transformation is that it will take place in the demarcated realm of spirit, away from the realm of Caesar (Berdyaev 1953, 142). Specifically, “the era of the spirit can be nothing but a revelation of sense of community which is not merely social but also cosmic, not only a brotherhood of man, but a brotherhood of men with all cosmic life, with the whole creation” (Berdyaev 1953,149). This emancipatory transformation will free human beings from social objectification and sociomorphisms that Berdyaev identified in the first four periods of his framework.

Berdyaev most likely would have viewed Cosmisist ideas of space colonization, scientifically prolonged life spans, immortality, and resurrecting figures of the past (beginning with Adam and Eve; Tucker 2017) to be a dangerous transgression of the Realm of Caesar because such attempts constitute human efforts of replacing God. Another example can be observed in Berdyaev’s assessment of the most notable of Cosmists (N. Fedorov) Berdyaev described Fedorov’s framework as one that was undesirably projective because it shifted the sphere of existing to the sphere of necessity, into projectivism. This shift from what exists to what should exist is projectivism and can also be considered as constituting a brash form of normativity (Medzibrodszky 2014). While I will not problematize Young’s (2012) inclusion of who can be considered to be a Russian Cosmist or not (Medzibrodszky 2014 identifies several inconsistencies about the typology as a whole), it is worth considering that Berdyaev believed the spiritual aspect of human nature would take precedence over the technical side, specifically that spirituality would rid society of technocratic elites. This runs counter to the Cosmisists’ ideas that the state could support some form of transformative and emancipative future in which science and technology could lead to universal salvation and immortality. Perhaps the most powerful statement that Berdyaev put forward against scientific practice is as follows, [S]cientific discoveries and technical inventions represent the terrible danger of more and more war. The chemists, perhaps quite unselfishly, discover at least partial truth, but the result has been the atomic bomb, which threatens our destruction. This goes on in the realm of Caesar. Salvation can come only by the light of integral Truth, which is revealed in the realm of Spirit. (Berdyaev 1952, 22)"


More information


Berdyaev, N. The Nightmare of an Evil Good. Journal Put', jun-jul. No. 4, 103-116, 1926. Accessible at:

Berdyaev, N. Solitude and Society, tr. George Reavey. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1938.

Berdyaev, N. The Realm of Spirit and the Realm of Caesar. Trans. by Donald A. Lowrie. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.

Berdyaev. N. The Meaning of the Creative Act. Trans. by Donald A. Lowrie. London: Victor Gollancz, 1955.

Berdyaev. N. Truth and Revelation. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1953


Bourke, V. J. ‘The Gnosticism of N. Berdyaev’s Thought’. Fordham University Quarterly 11, no. 3: 409-422, 1936.

Calian, C. S. The Significance of Eschatology in the Thoughts of Nicolas Berdyaev. Brill Archive, 1965

Dye, J. W. ‘Nikolai Berdyaev and His Ideas on the Fundamental Nature of All E n t i t i e s ’. Ultimate Reality and Meaning, 2, pp. 109-134, 1979.

Kiseleva, M. S. ‘Understanding History: The Decisions of Nikolai Berdyaev’. Russian Studies in Philosophy 53, no. 4, pp. 305-323, 2015.

Lowrie, D. Christian Existentialism. A Berdyaev Anthology, New York, 1965

Porus, V. N. ‘Nikolai Berdyaev on the “Spirits of the Russian Revolution’. Russian Studies in Philosophy55, no. 3-4: pp. 210-226, 2017.

Slesinski, R. ‘Berdyaev and the Relation of Sex, Love and Marriage’. In Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, vol. 60, pp. 245-252, 1986

Wright, D. 1962."The Philosophy of Berdyaev."Learning for Living 1, no. 3: 13-16

Commentaries on his contributions

Alexei Anisin:

"Due to the heterogeneity of his ideas and the number of different thinkers and philosophers Berdyaev engaged with, a variety of different books and scholarly articles have been published on his contributions to philosophy and history in the half century since his passing.

These include:

  1. accounts of Berdyaev’s decision making throughout pivotal periods of early twentieth century history (Kiseleva 2016),
  2. on his views on the spiritual causes of the 1917 Russian revolution (Porus 2017),
  3. his contributions to our understanding of creativity (Zhukova 2016),
  4. to philosophy and existentialism (Herberg 1957; Wright 1962),
  5. to understandings of nihilism (Vishnyakova 2011),
  6. to existential conceptions of time (Gordon 2012),
  7. to the relationship between tragedy and God (Hartshorne 1957),
  8. to our understanding of eschatology (Calian 1965),
  9. to perceptions of reality and materialism (Dye 1979),
  10. to gnosticism (Bourke 1936),
  11. to love and marriage (Slesinski 1986),
  12. social unity (Harold 2010),
  13. artistic representations (Tarasov 2011),
  14. Christian existentialism (Lowrie 1965),
  15. orthodox theology (Valliere 2000),
  16. freedom (McLachlan 1992),
  17. among numerous other topics including Russian Cosmism (Young 2012)."