Tag Archives: Ethical Philosophy

Tradition, Modernity, & Confucian Revival in China – Worsman

“Tradition, Modernity, and the Confucian Revival: An Introduction and Literature Review of New Confucian Activism” by Richard Worsman (PDF – 611 KB):

Tradition, Modernity, and the Confucian Revival – Richard Worsman

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Worsman, Richard. “Tradition, Modernity, and the Confucian Revival: An Introduction and Literature Review of New Confucian Activism.” History Honors Papers, Paper 14. Connecticut College. 2012. <http://digitalcommons.conncoll.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=histhp >.

 

Notes: For further reading on the issue of tradition and modernity in China and various ideas of “modernisation without Westernisation,” see Between Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the Modernization of Chinese Culture by Li Zonggui (Oxford: Chartridge Books Oxford, 2015). Also, a collection of studies and perspectives on this process in various Asian countries can be found in Cultural Identity and Modernization in Asian Countries: Proceedings of Kokugakuin University Centennial Symposium (Tokyo: Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University, 1983. <http://www2.kokugakuin.ac.jp/ijcc/wp/cimac/index.html >.)

An academic study over-viewing the theory and development of the process called “modernization without westernization” in Asia can be found in “Modernization without Westernization: Comparative Observations on the Cases of Japan and China and their Relevance to the Development of the Pacific Rim” by Stuart D.B. Picken (NUCB Journal of Economics and Information Science, Vol. 48, No. 2 (2004), pp. 171-179, <http://www.nucba.ac.jp/themes/s_cic@cic@nucba/pdf/njeis482/14PICKEN.pdf > [Alt.]). On the general idea of “modernisation without Westernisation” from a Neo-Eurasianist perspective, see the article “Modernization without westernization is the first step to reject imperialism” by Antonio Grego.

 

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Soseki’s “Kokoro” and Japan’s Modernization – Nguyen

Kokoro (1914) by Natsume Soseki: The Question of Japanese Modernity

By Hoang Nguyen

 

Introductory Remarks: The following article is primarily a review of the novel Kokoro, considered the most important work written by the famous Japanese author Natsume Soseki (1867-1916). Soseki is highly regarded in his native Japan; his works are considered one of the nation’s cultural treasures, his books are required reading in Japanese schools, and his portrait even appears on Japan’s currency. His book Kokoro, in particular, is seen as one of the best representations of the traditional Japanese soul, and as Nguyen’s review reveals, was important in warning the Japanese people against excessive Westernisation. We should note to our readers that another, similar but more in-depth academic analysis of Kokoro was made by Koji Nakamura in his article “Soseki’s Kokoro as a Cross-Cultural Study for Exchange Students from North America and Europe” (alt.), and it will be useful to read that as well to gain a fuller understanding. However, as is evident from most studies on Soseki’s critiques of and warnings against Westernisation, Soseki’s view was limited by his time period (the Meiji era) and preceded the process of true “modernisation without Westernisation,” which manifested itself most clearly over a decade after his death (although it is clear that Westernisation had many limitations even during the Meiji period).

By the 1930’s, Japan began to reassert its ethno-cultural and religious identity and combined it with economic and scientific modernisation, and although this process was disrupted by their defeat in World War II and the ensuing troubling time period (the late 1940s up to the early 1970s), by the later 20th Century (the late 1970s and beyond) they began reasserting their cultural identity once again in a new way. Essentially, despite still facing some cultural problems today which need to be overcome, modernisation without Westernisation is mostly successful in Japan, as Nguyen notes in the beginning of her review, and as Alexander Dugin had also observed in his article “In the Country of the Rising ‘Do’.” However, even if some of Natsume Soseki’s approaches or statements are outdated, this doesn’t mean that Soseki’s literature is irrelevant today. Quite the contrary, by being so ingrained into the culture, Soseki’s works help constantly remind the Japanese to defend their ethno-cultural identity against disintegration by globalisation. Europeans would do well to learn from this. – Daniel Macek (Editor of the “New European Conservative”)

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“Perhaps you will not understand clearly why I am about to die, no more than I can fully understand why General Nogi killed himself. You and I belong to different eras, and so we think differently. There is nothing we can do to bridge the gap between us.” (Sensei from Kokoro)

Japanese Modernity has often been equated with Westernization. The significance of this equation is that it constructs an assumption that modernity is solely based on the Western values. As Japan became a modern nation, assertions were made that the process of modernization was actually the process of Westernization. However, Natsume Soseki, in his most accomplished novel Kokoro, criticized this equation by exposing the modern Japan in conflict with Western values. However, it failed to give a satisfactory alternative solution to the concept of Japanese modernity.

Modernization is by definition a technological process. Although modernity is the result of modernization, modernity necessarily includes not only technological but also social and economic factors. The definition of modernization can be derived from the results of industrial evolution and technological advances which were prevailing in Europe one time in history. However, the definition of modernity should in no way be connected to Western influence since not all countries should follow the same path of economic and social development as the West did.  Therefore, it is obvious that Japan has modernized based on the technological achievements of the West but it is still open to debate whether the modernity of Japan should be the modernity represented by Western countries. Japanese modernity is equal to Western modernity in terms of technological developments, but not necessarily so in social and economic realms.

In KokoroNatsume Soseki told a story happening at the time Japan was modernizing and mentioned a variety of Western influences which were alienating to the Japanese society, at least the society of the Meiji Era. In doing this, Soseki showed us the short-comings of the Western modernity equation, which tries to predetermine a model for the modernity of Japan without any concerns for Japanese long history of traditionsJapanese modernity is a complicated concept and reducing it to a simple Western modernity equation is an eliminating process that sets aside important social and cultural factors.

There are various factors of Western modernity that were criticized in the text. Modern education and capitalism were the two major factors that surfaced in the story. Viewed from a Western modernity viewpoint, these are the necessary factors of modernity. However, throughout the text, Soseki made it clear that trying to attach these factors to Japanese society and the Japanese spectrum of modernity will only create social alienation and miscommunication. Incorporating all these factors into the contrasts between the past and the present, the old and the new, the traditional and the non-traditional, and finally, the dead and the alive, Soseki  drew a spectacular picture of the Japanese society struggling in vain to adapt to Western modernity.

In “Kokoro,” modern education was not helpful in dealing with the reality of life. At this point in history, the Japanese school system had been westernized; therefore, studying activities, especially in higher education, followed strictly the Western model of education. Both the character “I” and Sensei were involved in intellectual activities. However, they do not find any significance value in their studies.

I opened the window of my room, which was on the second floor and, pretending that my diploma was a telescope, I surveyed as much of the world as I could see… Then I threw the diploma down on the desk… In that position, I thought back over my past and tried to imagine what my future would be. I thought about my diploma lying on the desk and, though it seemed to have some significance as a kind of symbol of the beginning of a new life, I could not help feeling that it was a meaningless scrap of paper too.

The diploma, a thing that represents the honor of intellectual activities, has been a symbol of education and reason. The act of “pretending my diploma was a telescope” can be interpreted as the author’s attempt at viewing the world through the knowledge he acquired from school, from the lectures and from his professors. However, that was a failed attempt since he himself admitted that “I could not help feeling that it was a meaningless scrap of paper…” He found no use in the kind of knowledge he acquired. That is why he “threw the diploma down on the desk…” Besides the author who was doubtful about the usefulness of his study, other characters in the story also expressed disbelief in the significance of modern education. Both Sensei and his wife did not know where Sensei’s diploma was even though a diploma is supposed to be important for an intellectual person like Sensei.  For Sensei, at a point of great depression in his life, he felt that “the professors who stood on the platforms seemed very far away, and their voices faint.” That was his disappointment in modern education which is far away from the reality of life. When Sensei sought to be guided in life by the knowledge he acquired from school, he found nothing but faint voices from far-away professors. Modern education based its teachings on Western thoughts; therefore, it does not speak truth to the Japanese society.

As a result, those who received modern education were lost in the gap between the Japanese world and the Western world. Sensei’s wife commented, “I see that higher education has made you adept at empty rationalization.” Ojosan spoke this sentence when she was explaining to the author about her relationship with Sensei. The author kept using his modern reasoning to analyze the relationship between Ojosan and Sensei while Ojosan seemed to insist that “empty rationalization” does not help when it comes to explaining people’s motives.

But sometimes I was inclined to regard his reserve unfavorably. I liked then to think that his reluctance to discuss such a matter was due to timidity born of the conventions of a generation ago. I thought myself more free, in this respect, and more open-minded, than either Sensei or his wife.

The author assumed that his education has made him “more free” and “more open-minded” than Sensei who had the “timidity born of the conventions of a generation ago.” This goes to show that “empty rationalization,” the kind of modern reasoning that the author studied at school, was actually at odds with the Japanese traditional way of thinking, which values human passion more than cold unbiased reason. Reason, in the Japanese way of thinking, is inferior to passion, as Sensei asserted, “I believe that words uttered in passion contain a greater living truth than do those words which express thoughts rationally conceived.” Throughout the whole story, the author kept on analyzing people’s behavior by his modern reasoning. However, as Sensei pointed out, there is something else that the author does not know. “”You have never thought seriously of the reality of death, have you?” I became silent.” Only people of the previous generation could understand “the reality of death.” Both Sensei and the author’s father reacted in a melancholic manner to the death of Meiji Emperor. The author himself could only understand the news as the death of an influential figure. For Sensei and the author’s father, death has a special meaning. Equipped with university knowledge, the author may be good at his field of study but he could never understand the people. However much he studied, he could not understand the spirit of the previous generations (Sensei, Ojosan, his father…). The author’s brother, who also had a university degree, also did not understand Sensei. He said, “That’s the trouble with egoists … They are brazen enough to think they have the right to live idly. It’s a crime not to make the best use of whatever ability one has.”

Obviously, his reasoning was fair. Nevertheless, it is not persuasive because he could not understand that people like Sensei could have a reasonable motive behind their behaviors. It is not what education can teach him. Education could not bridge the gap between different generations. That is also the gap between a traditional Japan and a Westernized Japan that modern education could never fill. Even though Japan has begun to Westernize, to begin “a new life,” the author kept wondering what identity he would absorb in that new life: “… I thought back over my past and tried to imagine what my future would be.” The author thought that with his diploma, he could be sure about his future. However, modern education did not give him the answer to his identity. What will the modern Japanese society? And what is the significance of modern education in shaping such a society and the individuals in that society? These questions remained unanswered to the author as he threw his diploma on the desk and wondered about the future of the society he was living in.

Alienation is the effect of forcing Western modernity on Japanese society. Individualism, originally not associated with modernity, has become so popular in European societies that it entered the spectrum of Western modernity. However, as Japan modernizes, it is not suitable to assume that Japan will absorb individualism the way the West did. When Sensei commented that “… loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egoistical selves,” the author “could not think of anything to say.” Members of the modern society enjoy the benefits of individualism. However, the traditional Japanese society itself upholds strong values of communal relationships and several aspects of individualism like independence and self-reliance clash with these values. Therefore, the loneliness that both Sensei and the narrator experienced is the alienation that resulted from the rapid development from the Japanese communal space to a modern individualistic society. K, who acquired many aspects of Western modernity like education and intellectual thoughts, had the same fate. K was alienated from his own society. He did not have any close friends since no one could understand his modern thoughts, which he diligently studied from Western texts. By following his study without concerning his family’s opinions, he became the representative of Western individualism. It was his individualistic tendency that drove him away from his own family and society.

Alienation was described more clearly through the miscommunications of the characters in the story. Western societies value the voice of the individual and encourage conversations in constructing a relationship. However, there are things that cannot be conveyed by words and those belong to the traditional sphere that Western ideals seemed to interfere with. Conversations seemed to only disturb the understanding between people. “It was wrong of me. I had intended to make you aware of certain truths. Instead, I have only succeeded in irritating you.”

When the Sensei tried to explain to the narrator his idea about love, he did not manage to express himself clearly. The narrator only got more confused after listening to Sensei’s explanation.“I was trying to explain my earlier remarks because I thought they had irritated you. But in trying to explain, I find that I have upset you once more.”

The constant misunderstanding and miscommunications between the author and Sensei throughout the first two chapters of the story revealed how far people of different generations were from each other. The author belonged to the modern world while Sensei is forever associated with the past. Sensei always lived haunted by his past. Therefore, not understanding the past, the author could not figure out the meaning of Sensei’s behaviors. Western modernity, the kind of “borrowed” modernity, was not valued by Sensei:“True, my ethics may be different from those of the young men of today. But they are at least my own. I did not borrow them for the sake of convenience as a man might a dress suit.”

Western modernity was not meant forJapan. It was like a suit that Japanese people put on in order to modernize but it will never fit. Sensei valued his own ethics even though it is “different from those of young men of today.” It is that difference that forever separated the traditional, the past and the modern, the present. The title of the story is “Kokoro,” which can be translated as “feeling,” the kind of feeling that words cannot easily convey. The story, then, can be interpreted as the author’s journey to understand “kokoro,” to grasp the deepest feelings of Sensei who, to him, was a “half-hidden figure.” At the same time, it is a journey to understand the past and to figure out what is the meaning of the past to the future of his society. In the Japanese spirit, “kokoro” is a sacred realm and a key element of a communal space. Western modernity, whatever benefits it may bring, did not suffice to become the future of Japan simply because it neglects “kokoro.” Miscommunication between Sensei and the narrator was just one example of the many miscommunications between Japanese traditional spirit and Western modernity spirit.

The unsuitability of Western modernity for Japanese society was emphasized by the difference between different generations and between the past and the present.

But you must not think that K’s inability to discard his old ways and begin his life anew was due to his lack of modern concepts. You must understand that to K, his own past seemed too sacred a thing to be thrown away like an old suit of clothes. One might say that his past was his life, and to deny it would have meant that his life thus far had been without purpose… he was forced to look back and remind himself of what his past had meant. And in doing so he could not but continue along the path that he had so far followed.

The influence of the past on K was so great and so “sacred” that even though K has been immersed in modern concepts in his intellectual activities, he could not help but continue his “old ways.” This is the dilemma of Japan. Wanting to move on and to modernize,Japan has adopted Western ideas. However, the shadow of the past and the traditions are still there and Western modernity provided no means to overcome that shadow.

Perhaps you will not understand clearly why I am about to die, no more than I can fully understand why General Nogi killed himself. You and I belong to different eras, and so we think differently. There is nothing we can do to bridge the gap between us.

Both Sensei and the author were helpless in their attempts to understand each other. It is not only the gap between generations. Even though they are living in the same society, Sensei and the author each belonged to a world of his own. Sensei’s world is the Japan of Meiji emperor and General Nogi. The author’s world is the modern, individualistic and capitalistic Japan. Western modernity assumed that those two worlds can coexist peacefully at the same time within Japanese society.  However, that was a misconception. Japan can modernize technologically but it does not necessarily absorb all the social aspects of a Western modern society. Western modernity forced onto Japanese communal space only created clashes and conflicts which cannot be solved.

One example of those conflicts is the negative effect of capitalism on Japanese society.

If there is any property in your family, then I do think you should see to it that your inheritance is properly settled now… But don’t you think that, while your father is alive, you should make sure that you will receive your proper share? When a man dies suddenly, his estate causes more trouble than anything else.

Sensei saw “estate” as troublesome. And he was honest. Inheritance is a highly valued concept in Japanese society. It is through inheritance that traditions can be passed down from generation to generation, and the glory of the past, as a result, would be preserved. However, capitalism attached monetary value to inheritance, thus turning it into a troublesome thing. In a capitalistic world, money and capital are favored over relationships and humans themselves.  It was money that ruined the relationship between Sensei and his uncle. It was also money that exacerbates K’s relationship with both his foster family and his real family. K’s only connection with his foster family is the money he received for his study. When they stopped offering to sponsor his study, K’s relationship with them also ended. All the relationships that were abandoned in the story were due to material conflicts. Money and capital has grown to become so important in that modern society that people could not but give in to its power and neglect their relationships.  K had no time to worry about his family problems because he had to worry about money matters first:

Whether he should return to his original family because of the unhappy incident, or whether he should consider some way of compromise and remain with his adopted family, was a problem for the future, but what required his immediate attention was the question of how he was to pay for his education.

Moreover, money has been described by Sensei as something “evil.” Sensei expressed his contempt for money, “Give a gentleman money, and he will soon turn into a rogue.” Those people who got controlled by money became, in Sensei’s mind, “the personification of all those things in this world which make it unworthy of trust.” The goal of modernity is not, and should not be, a society where people cannot trust each other. The Japanese spirit that has always valued honor and trust will not be able to wholly accept the concept of capitalism and materialism.

Soseki tried to give an alternative to the problem by using the concept of a hybrid. In other words, he wanted the modern Japanese people to inherit the traditions and the social spirit of the past while still moving on with the technological developments introduced by the West. In this solution, He focused on the tradition of inheritance as the key to defining Japanese modernity. Inheritance was used as a means to transporting the social spirit from generation to generation. A series of inheritance were broken in the story all due to the intervention of Western modernity. Sensei lost part of his inheritance because of his capitalistic uncle. K lost his “inheritance” from the foster family because he decided to follow his individualistic dream. However, those were cases of inheritance defined by money value. The kind of inheritance that is more important in the story is the sacred inheritance of the social spirit, which helps to create the hybrid of traditional values and modern tendencies. K is the perfect example of such a social hybrid. He was born in a temple and seemed to embody the important part of Japanese social spirit, the “concentration of mind.” However, at the same time, he was interested in studying the Bible and the Koran. He also likes to talk about subjects like religion and philosophy, which were obviously full of Western thoughts. K kept on living with his “concentration of mind” while constantly updating himself with Western intellectual knowledge through modern education. He succeeded in keeping the Japanese traditional attitude and the Western modern tendencies in dealing with life. His death has a big influence on Sensei. After K’s death, Sensei became another “K.” In this case, death is a kind of sacred inheritance, as the story unfolded.

The kind of social hybrid that K represented was passed down to Sensei when K died, and at the end of the story, it was passed down to the narrator when Sensei committed suicide. Such was Soseki’s approach to the problem of Japanese modernity. However, it was not a perfect solution. K’s reason for studying the Bible is because “one should read a book so highly valued by others.” This explanation somehow hinted that Japan is adopting Western modernity just because this model has been accepted as universal in the Western world. By making this statement, K lost his own identity. Moreover, when he was struck by the Western platonic love for Ojosan, K could not keep his traditional “concentration of mind” anymore and eventually committed suicide. This clash between Western modernity and Japanese traditions has remained unsolved and there was no answer to it other than death.

The novel Kokoro criticized Western modernity by depicting modern education and capitalism in a negative tone. It also showed us the social alienation resulted from the act of forcing a Western model of modernity onto Japanese society. The story itself was filled with darkness and helplessness, which appropriately reflects the atmosphere of a society gradually losing its own identity. The answer given was death, and only hopeless death could end the tension brought about by the clash between Western and Japanese values.

 

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Nguyen, Hoang. “Kokoro (1914) by Natsume Soseki: The Question of Japanese Modernity.” East Asian Pop Culture, 27 March 2012. <http://easdiary.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/kokoro-by-natsume-soseki-the-question-of-japanese-modernity/ >.

 

Notes on Further Reading: A great deal of Natsume Soseki’s works – mostly novels – have been translated into English (and numerous other languages). His most significant works are I Am A Cat, Botchan, Kusamakura/The Three-Cornered World, Sanshiro, Sorekara/And Then, The Gate, and Kokoro.

For those interested in reading and studying other Japanese literature (which is also useful for the study of Japan’s culture, history, and religious attitudes), we recommend the following two anthologies which were edited by Donald Keene: Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (New York: Grove Press, 1955), and Modern Japanese Literature: From 1868 to the Present Day (New York: Grove Press, 1956).

Concerning important modern classic Japanese authors (other than Natsume Soseki) whose works have been translated, we can note the following for readers who are interested: Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Kyoka Izumi, Osamu Dazai, Junichiro Tanizaki, Eiji Yoshikawa, Edogawa Rampo, Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, Fumiko Enchi, Yasushi Inoue, Shuhei Fujisawa, and Hisashi Inoue.

 

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Ethical Theories of Nishitani, Watsuji, & Berdyaev – Sevilla

“Ethics of Emptiness East and West: Examining Nishitani, Watsuji, and Berdyaev” by Anton Luis Sevilla (PDF – 604 KB):

Ethics of Nishitani, Watsuji, and Berdyaev – Sevilla

“The Communality of Creativity and the Creativity of Communality: A Comparison of the Ethics of Nikolai Berdyaev and Watsuji Tetsuro” by Anton Luis Sevilla (PDF – 308 KB):

Comparison of Berdyaev’s and Watsuji’s Ethics – Sevilla

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Sevilla, Anton Luis. “Ethics of Emptiness East and West: Examining Nishitani, Watsuji, and Berdyaev.” In Questioning Oriental Aesthetics and Thinking: Conflicting Visions of “Asia” Under the Colonial Empires, edited by Shigemi Inaga. Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 2010. Retrieved from: <http://publications.nichibun.ac.jp/region/d/NSH/series/kosh/2011-03-31/s001/s026/pdf/article.pdf >.

Sevilla, Anton Luis. “The Communality of Creativity and the Creativity of Communality: A Comparison of the Ethics of Nikolai Berdyaev and Watsuji Tetsuro.” Kritika Kultura, No. 15 (2010), pp. 226-253. Retrieved from: <http://philpapers.org/archive/SEVTCO-2.pdf >.

 

Notes on other resources: See also the article about the debate on Kitaro Nishida’s philosophical positions, a Japanese philosopher who was a significant influence on Tetsuro Watsuji and Keiji Nishitani: “The Nishida Enigma: ‘The Principle of the New World Order’” by Yoko Arisaka. However, we should note to our audience that Arisaka’s article deals mostly with Nishida’s political and cultural philosophy, and only briefly mentions his philosophy in the fields of religion, ontology, science, and ethics. Likewise, Sevilla’s articles above mostly deal with the ethical philosophies and (to a lesser extent) religious philosophies of Watsuji and Nishitani, but neglect the philosophy of culture and climate which Watsuji is well-known for.

More information on all of these thinkers can be found in various books and journals, including for example at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see Kyoto School, Nishida, Watsuji). Another good reference for external resources on Japanese philosophers is the Japanese Philosophy Blog (see categories of Kyoto School, Nishida, Watsuji) and Nichibunken (see publications search). However, we should warn our readers that the majority of academic resources on these philosophers in English contain anti-Right-wing or anti-Conservative bias and commentaries (especially the Stanford Encyclopedia), and thus must be compared and balanced with alternative explanations for a better understanding. A more neutral, although somewhat limited, discussion of Watsuji’s political (and ethical-social) philosophy can be found in “Watsuji Tetsuro’s Contributions to Political Philosophy” by Kazuhiko Okuda (Paper delivered to the XVIIth World Congress of International Political Science Association (IPSA), Seoul, Korea, August 17·21, 1997. Originally published online at: <http://nirr.lib.niigata-u.ac.jp/bitstream/10623/31224/1/2011_2_iuj1_019.pdf >. ).

 

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Critical Analysis of Evola’s Thought – Benoist

“Julius Evola, Radical Reactionary and Committed Metaphysician” by Alain de Benoist (PDF – 366 KB):

Julius Evola, Radical Reactionary and Committed Metaphysician

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De Benoist, Alain. “Julius Evola, Radical Reactionary and Committed Metaphysician: A Critical Analysis of the Political Thought of Julius Evola.” The Occidental Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 17-62. Document retrieved from: <http://files.alaindebenoist.com/alaindebenoist/pdf/julius_evola_radical_reactionary.pdf >.

 

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Intro to Ludwig Klages – Baer

“The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages and the Klages School: An Introduction to Biocentric Thought” by Lydia Baer (PDF – 4.43 MB):

The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages

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Baer, Lydia. “The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages and the Klages School: An Introduction to Biocentric Thought.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 40, No. 1 (January, 1941), pp. 91-138.

See also: “On The Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages” by Joe Pryce: <https://neweuropeanconservative.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/intro-to-ludwig-klages-pryce/ >.

 

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Intro to Sorokin – Uebersax

Culture in Crisis: The Visionary Theories of Pitirim Sorokin

By John S. Uebersax

 

Introduction

Pitirim Sorokin, a leading 20th century sociologist, is someone you should know about. Consider this quote of his:

The organism of the Western society and culture seems to be undergoing one of the deepest and most significant crises of its life. The crisis is far greater than the ordinary; its depth is unfathomable, its end not yet in sight, and the whole of the Western society is involved in it. It is the crisis of a Sensate culture, now in its overripe stage, the culture that has dominated the Western World during the last five centuries….

Shall we wonder, therefore, that if many do not apprehend clearly what is happening, they have at least a vague feeling that the issue is not merely that of “prosperity,” or “democracy,” or “capitalism,” or the like, but involves the whole contemporary culture, society, and man? …

Shall we wonder, also, at the endless multitude of incessant major and minor crises that have been rolling over us, like ocean waves, during recent decades? Today in one form, tomorrow in another. Now here, now there. Crises political, agricultural, commercial, and industrial! Crises of production and distribution. Crises moral, juridical, religious, scientific, and artistic. Crises of property, of the State, of the family, of industrial enterprise… Each of the crises has battered our nerves and minds, each has shaken the very foundations of our culture and society, and each has left behind a legion of derelicts and victims. And alas! The end is not in view. Each of these crises has been, as it were, a movement in a great terrifying symphony, and each has been remarkable for its magnitude and intensity. (P. Sorokin, SCD, pp. 622-623)

Background

Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin (1889–1968) was born in Russia to a Russian father and an indigenous (Komi, an ethnic group related to Finns) mother. Like other intellectuals of his age, he was swept up in the revolt against the tsarist government. He held a cabinet post in the short-lived Russian Provisional Government (1917), and had the distinction of being imprisoned successively by both tsarist and Bolshevist factions. Eventually sentenced to death, he was pardoned by Lenin, emigrated, and came to the US. There he enjoyed a long and distinguished academic career, much of it at Harvard University, where he served as head of the sociology department.

His experience and acute observations of Russian politics left him uniquely suited for understanding the transformational forces of the 20th century. By 1937 he published the first three volumes of his masterpiece, Social and Cultural Dynamics, but he continued to refine his theories for nearly three more decades.

Based on a careful study of world history – including detailed statistical analysis of phases in art, architecture, literature, economics, philosophy, science, and warfare – he identified three strikingly consistent phenomena:

There are two opposed elementary cultural patterns, the materialistic (Sensate) and spiritual (Ideational), along with certain intermediate or mixed patterns. One mixed pattern, called Idealistic, which integrates the Sensate and Ideational orientations, is extremely important.

Every society tends to alternate between materialistic and spiritual periods, sometimes with transitional, mixed periods, in a regular and predictable way.

Times of transition from one orientation to another are characterized by a markedly increased prevalence of wars and other crises.

Main characteristics of the Sensate, Ideational, and Idealistic cultural patterns are listed below. (A more detailed explanation of alternative cultural orientations, excerpted from Sorokin’s writings, can be found here. [Alternative Download: Pitirim Sorokin – Sensate, Ideational, and Idealistic Cultures])

Sensate (Materialistic) Culture

The first pattern, which Sorokin called Sensate culture, has these features:

  • The defining cultural principle is that true reality is sensory – only the material world is real. There is no other reality or source of values.
  • This becomes the organizing principle of society. It permeates every aspect of culture and defines the basic mentality. People are unable to think in any other terms.
  • Sensate culture pursues science and technology, but dedicates little creative thought to spirituality or religion.
  • Dominant values are wealth, health, bodily comfort, sensual pleasures, power and fame.
  • Ethics, politics, and economics are utilitarian and hedonistic. All ethical and legal precepts are considered mere man-made conventions, relative and changeable.
  • Art and entertainment emphasize sensory stimulation. In the decadent stages of Sensate culture there is a frenzied emphasis on the new and the shocking (literally, sensationalism).
  • Religious institutions are mere relics of previous epochs, stripped of their original substance, and tending to fundamentalism and exaggerated fideism (the view that faith is not compatible with reason).

Ideational (Spiritual) Culture

The second pattern, which Sorokin called Ideational culture, has these characteristics:

  • The defining principle is that true reality is supersensory, transcendent, spiritual.
  • The material world is variously: an illusion (maya), temporary, passing away (“stranger in a strange land”), sinful, or a mere shadow of an eternal transcendent reality.
  • Religion often tends to asceticism and moralism.
  • Mysticism and revelation are considered valid sources of truth and morality.
  • Science and technology are comparatively de-emphasized.
  • Economics is conditioned by religious and moral commandments (e.g., laws against usury).
  • Innovation in theology, metaphysics, and supersensory philosophies.
  • Flourishing of religious and spiritual art (e.g., Gothic cathedrals).

Integral (Idealistic) Culture

Most cultures correspond to one of the two basic patterns above. Sometimes, however, a mixed cultural pattern occurs. The most important mixed culture Sorokin termed an Integral culture (also sometimes called an idealistic culture – not to be confused with an Ideational culture.) An Integral culture harmoniously balances sensate and ideational tendencies. Characteristics of an Integral culture include the following:

  • Its ultimate principle is that the true reality is richly manifold, a tapestry in which sensory, rational, and supersensory threads are interwoven.
  • All compartments of society and the person express this principle.
  • Science, philosophy, and theology blossom together.
  • Fine arts treat both supersensory reality and the noblest aspects of sensory reality.

Update: A more recent article that concisely describes the features of Materialism, Ideationalism, and Idealism is ‘What is Materialism? What is Idealism?‘ (Uebersax, 2013b) [Alternative Download]

Western Cultural History

Sorokin examined a wide range of world societies. In each he believed he found evidence of the regular alternation between Sensate and Ideational orientations, sometimes with an Integral culture intervening. According to Sorokin, Western culture is now in the third Sensate epoch of its recorded history. Table 1 summarizes his view of this history.

Table 1
Cultural Periods of Western Civilization According to Sorokin

Period Cultural Type Begin End
Greek Dark Age Sensate 1200 BC 900 BC
Archaic Greece Ideational 900 BC 550 BC
Classical Greece Integral 550 BC 320 BC
Hellenistic – Roman Sensate 320 BC 400
Transitional Mixed 400 600
Middle Ages Ideational 600 1200
High Middle Ages, Renaissance Integral 1200 1500
Rationalism, Age of Science Sensate 1500 present

Based on a detailed analysis of art, literature, economics, and other cultural indicators, Sorokin concluded that ancient Greece changed from a Sensate to an Ideational culture around the 9th century BC; during this Ideational phase, religious themes dominated society (Hesiod, Homer, etc.).

Following this, in the Greek Classical period (roughly 600 BC to 300 BC), an Integral culture reigned: the Parthenon was built; art (the sculptures of Phidias, the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles) flourished, as did philosophy (Plato, Aristotle). This was followed by a new Sensate age, associated first with Hellenistic (the empire founded by Alexander the Great) culture, and then the Roman Empire.

As Rome’s Sensate culture decayed, it was eventually replaced by the Christian Ideational culture of the Middle Ages. The High Middle Ages and Renaissance brought a new Integral culture, again associated with many artistic and cultural innovations. After this Western society entered its present Sensate era, now in its twilight. We are due, according to Sorokin, to soon make a transition to a new Ideational, or, preferably, an Integral cultural era.

Cultural Dynamics

Sorokin was especially interested in the process by which societies change cultural orientations. He opposed the view, held by communists, that social change must be imposed externally, such as by a revolution. His principle of imminent change states that external forces are not necessary: societies change because it is in their nature to change. Although sensate or ideational tendencies may dominate at any given time, every culture contains both mentalities in a tension of opposites. When one mentality becomes stretched too far, it sets in motion compensatory transformative forces.

Helping drive transformation is the fact that human beings are themselves partly sensate, partly rational, and partly intuitive. Whenever a culture becomes too exaggerated in one of these directions, forces within the human psyche will, individually and collectively – work correctively.

Crises of Transition

As a Sensate or Ideational culture reaches a certain point of decline, social and economic crises mark the beginning of transition to a new mentality. These crises occur partly because, as the dominant paradigm reaches its late decadent stages, its institutions try unsuccessfully to adapt, taking ever more drastic measures. However, responses to crises tend to make things worse, leading to new crises. Expansion of government control is an inevitable by-product:

The main uniform effect of calamities upon the political and social structure of society is an expansion of governmental regulation, regimentation, and control of social relationships and a decrease in the regulation and management of social relationships by individuals and private groups. The expansion of governmental control and regulation assumes a variety of forms, embracing socialistic or communistic totalitarianism, fascist totalitarianism, monarchial autocracy, and theocracy. Now it is effected by a revolutionary regime, now by a counterrevolutionary regime; now by a military dictatorship, now by a dictatorship, now by a dictatorial bureaucracy. From both the quantitative and the qualitative point of view, such an expansion of governmental control means a decrease of freedom, a curtailment of the autonomy of individuals and private groups in the regulation and management of their individual behavior and their social relationships, the decline of constitutional and democratic institutions. (MSC p. 122)

But, as we shall consider below, at the same time as these crises occur, other constructive forces are at work.

Trends of our Times

Sorokin identified what he considered three pivotal trends of modern times. The first trend is the disintegration of the current Sensate order:

In the twentieth century the magnificent sensate house of Western man began to deteriorate rapidly and then to crumble. There was, among other things, a disintegration of its moral, legal, and other values which, from within, control and guide the behavior of individuals and groups. When human beings cease to be controlled by deeply interiorized religious, ethical, aesthetic and other values, individuals and groups become the victims of crude power and fraud as the supreme controlling forces of their behavior, relationship, and destiny. In such circumstances, man turns into a human animal driven mainly by his biological urges, passions, and lust. Individual and collective unrestricted egotism flares up; a struggle for existence intensifies; might becomes right; and wars, bloody revolutions, crime, and other forms of interhuman strife and bestiality explode on an unprecedented scale. So it was in all great transitory periods. (BT, 1964, p. 24)

The second trend concerns the positive transformational processes which are already at work:

Fortunately for all the societies which do not perish in this sort of transition from one basic order to another, the disintegration process often generates the emergence of mobilization of forces opposed to it. Weak and insignificant at the beginning, these forces slowly grow and then start not only to fight the disintegration but also to plan and then to build a new sociocultural order which can meet more adequately the gigantic challenge of the critical transition and of the post-transitory future. This process of emergence and growth of the forces planning and building the new order has also appeared and is slowly developing now….

The epochal struggle between the increasingly sterile and destructive forces of the dying sensate order and the creative forces of the emerging, integral, sociocultural order marks all areas of today’s culture and social life, and deeply affects the way of life of every one of us. (BT, 1964, pp. 15-16)

The third trend is the growing importance of developing nations:

The stars of the next acts of the great historical drama are going to be – besides Europe, the Americas, and Russia – the renascent great cultures of India, China, Japan, Indonesia, and the Islamic world. This epochal shift has already started…. Its effects upon the future history of mankind are going to be incomparably greater than those of the alliances and disalliances of the Western governments and ruling groups. (BT, 1964, pp. 15-16)

Social Transformation and Love

While the preceding might suggest that Sorokin was a cheerless prophet of doom, that is not so, and his later work decidedly emphasized the positive. He founded the Harvard Research Center for Creative Altruism, which sought to understand the role of love and altruism in producing a better society. Much of the Center’s research was summarized in Sorokin’s second masterpiece, The Ways and the Power of Love.

This book offered a comprehensive view on the role of love in positively transforming society. It surveyed the ideals and tactics of the great spiritual reformers of the past – Jesus Christ, the Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, etc. – looking for common themes and principles.

We need, according to Sorokin, not only great figures like these, but also ‘ordinary’ individuals who seek to exemplify the same principles within their personal spheres of influence. Personal change must precede collective change, and nothing transforms a culture more effectively than positive examples. What is essential today, according to Sorokin, is that individuals reorient their thinking and values to a universal perspective – to seek to benefit all human beings, not just oneself or ones own country.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the subject of yoga (remarkable for a book written in 1954), which Sorokin saw as an effective means of integrating the intellectual and sensate dimensions of the human being. At the same time he affirmed the value of traditional Western religions and religious practices.

The Road Ahead

Sorokin’s theories supply hope, motivation, and vision. They bolster hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that it may not be too far distant. The knowledge that change is coming, along with an understanding of his theories generally, enables us to try to steer change in a positive direction. Sorokin left no doubt but that we are at the end of a Sensate epoch. Whether we are headed for an Ideational or an Integral culture remains to be seen. It is clearly consistent with his theories that an Integral culture – a new Renaissance – is attainable and something to actively seek.

One reason that change may happen quickly is because people already know that the present culture is oppressive. Expressed public opinion, which tends to conformity, lags behind private opinion. Once it is sufficiently clear that the tide is changing, people will quickly join the revolution. The process is non-linear.

The West and Islam

Viewed in terms of Sorokin’s theories, the current tensions between the West and Islam suggest a conflict between an overripe ultra-materialistic Western culture, detached from its religious heritage and without appreciation of transcendent values, against a medieval Ideational culture that has lost much of its earlier spiritual creativity. As Nieli (2006) put it:

With regard to the current clash between Islam and the West, Sorokin would no doubt point out that both cultures currently find themselves at end stages of their respective ideational and sensate developments and are long overdue for a shift in direction. The Wahabist-Taliban style of Islamic fundamentalism strays as far from the goal of integral balance in Sorokin’s sense as the one-sidedly sensate, post-Christian societies of Northern and Western Europe. Both are ripe for a correction, according to Sorokin’s theory of cultural change, the Islamic societies in the direction of sensate development (particularly in the areas of science, technology, economic productivity, and democratic governance), the Western sensate cultures in the direction of ideational change (including the development of more stable families, greater temperance and self-control, and the reorientation of their cultural values in a more God-centered direction). Were he alive today, Sorokin would no doubt hold out hope for a political and cultural rapprochement between Islam and the West. (Nieli, p. 373)

The current state of affairs between the West and Islam, then, is better characterized as that of mutual opportunity rather than unavoidable conflict. The West can share its technological advances, and Islam may again – as it did around the 12th century – help reinvigorate the spirit of theological and metaphysical investigation in the West.

Individual and Institutional Changes

Institutions must adapt to the coming changes or be left behind. Today’s universities are leading transmitters of a sensate mentality. It is neither a secret nor a coincidence that Sorokin’s ideas found little favor in academia. A new model of higher education, perhaps based on the model of small liberal arts colleges, is required.

Politics, national and international, must move from having conflict as an organizing principle, replacing it with principles of unity and the recognition of a joint destiny of humankind.

A renewal in religious institutions is called for. Christianity, for example, despite its protestations otherwise, still tends decidedly towards an ascetic dualism – the view that the body is little more than a hindrance to the spirit, and that the created world is merely a “vale of tears.” Increased understanding and appreciation of the spiritual traditions of indigenous cultures, which have not severed the connection between man and Nature, may assist in this change.

Sorokin emphasized, however, that the primary agent of social transformation is the individual. Many simple steps are available to the ordinary person. Examples include the following:

  • Commit yourself to ethical and intellectual improvement. In the ethical sphere, focus first on self-mastery. Be eager to discover and correct your faults, and to acquire virtue. Think first of others. See yourself as a citizen of the world. Urgently needed are individuals who can see and seek the objective, transcendent basis of ethical values.
  • Cultivate the Intellect: study philosophy; read books and poetry; listen to classical music; visit an art museum.
  • Practice yoga.
  • Be in harmony with Nature: plant a garden; go camping; protect the environment.
  • Reduce the importance of money and materialism generally in your life.
  • Turn off the television and spend more time in personal interaction with others.

A little reflection will doubtless suggest many other similar steps. Recognize that in changing, you are not only helping yourself, but also setting a powerfully transformative positive example for others.

The Supraconscious

Sorokin’s later work emphasized the role of the supraconscious — a Higher Self or consciousness that inspires and guides our rational mind. Religions and philosophical systems universally recognize such a higher human consciousness, naming it variously: Conscience, Atman, Self, Nous, etc. Yet this concept is completely ignored or even denied by modern science. Clearly this is something that must change. As Sorokin put it:

By becoming conscious of the paramount importance of the supraconscious and by earnest striving for its grace, we can activate its creative potential and its control over our conscious and unconscious forces. By all these means we can break the thick prison walls erected by prevalent pseudo-science around the supraconscious. (WPL, p. 487)

The reality of the supraconscious is a cause for hope and humility: hope, because we are confident that the transpersonal source of human supraconsciousness is providential, guiding culture through history with a definite plan; and humility, because it reminds us that our role in the grand plan is achieved by striving to rid ourselves of preconceived ideas and selfishly motivated schemes, and by increasing our capacity to receive and follow inspiration. It is through inspiration and humility that we achieve a “realization of man’s unique creative mission on this planet.” (CA, p. 326).

References and Reading

 

————-

Uebersax, John S. “Culture in Crisis: The Visionary Theories of Pitirim Sorokin.” Satyagraha, 19 August 2010, updated 25 August 2013. <https://satyagraha.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/pitirim-sorkin-crisis-of-modernity/ >.

 

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On Japan – Dugin

In the Country of the Rising “Do”

By Alexander Dugin

Edited by Daniel Macek

 

Introductory Note: We have edited the following article to fix a number of significant errors and awkward translations made by the original translator (who was not specified by the original publishers). The reason we have chosen to republish this article is because the nature of Japan as it has been in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries is very significant for Europeans. It is not uncommon to find references to the practices of East Asian nations – Japan being the most prominent – among European cultural conservatives, who admire the successes of Japanese restriction of immigration (resulting in a nation that is retains its traditional ethnic types as the vast majority of the population, yet is still culturally rich) combined with its economic successes, as well as the creative combination traditional cultural and religious values with modern science and technology. We believe that this article by Alexander Dugin, despite being very limited, provides an important insight into the Japanese condition. – Daniel Macek (Editor of the “New European Conservative”)

Part 1. The Divine Wind

In this people’s language there is a special word for defining such a science as geo-politics – Chiseygaku, literally “teaching on the well-ordered land.” Such a people cannot be something ordinary.

In this people’s language there is the word Oshym (o-shima); it means “great island.” Such a people has access to the ultimately deep layers of dreams.

In this people’s language the “sovereign,” the “emperor,” is called Tenno, the “Heavenly one.” Such a people itself tastes of heavenly fish.

A gold carp had been rising along the waterfall, but because of its absent-mindedness it didn’t notice that the water had passed and it was moving to the sky. Higher, higher… The red carp is growing, wings come out of him, its scales are getting thicker… and it is now the great red dragon that is swimming in the sky.

Professor Tamotsu Murata [村田保] told that story in the ancient little restaurant in Asakusa residential area, explaining the canvas which hanged there on a wall. The slender old professor from a Samurai family was writing haiku poetry on a paper sheet, whose opposite side was dotted with mathematic formulas. He was finishing a book on the problem of continuality.

“I think we should seek the source of continuum in the mystery of a moment,” he had said not long before. “One day many years ago, when I was totally young, not such as I am now (the impenetrable visage, in which the smile is expressed by the unnoticeable movement of the hair), I was standing in a tiny yard, looking at the sky, and suddenly I understood, that I am; that there is I and only I. And not I as something which had occurred and is lasting, but as something momentary. Continuity is born from a revelatory moment.”

The Japanese read Western philosophy, but understand it in utterly their own way.

Professor Murata asked me to comment his views after his lecture about Kant. The gist of his report was reducible to the following. “Kant shouldn’t have separated the transcendent sphere of reason and empirical world of sensuality. There IS a connexion between them – language is the connexion.”

I answered: “It is an excellent idea, but then we arrive to the conclusion that language is a magical instrument, a magic hermetic means, with the help of which one can turn the rarefied to the dense and the dense to the rarefied.”

“Indeed, how exactly you understood me,” agreed old professor Tamotsu Murata. “And could you subject this approach to criticism?”

“Yes, I could,” I answered, “you have been reading Kant, who belonged to the context of modernity, as being a Japanese, who belongs to a context of non-modernity.”

All Japanese belong to the eternal present. And the fact that Japanese professors, refined and educated in an utterly European way, can treat the classics of rationalism in such a way, foretells that Japan will still shine over the world, like the bloody eye of the non-quantitative, momentarily continual goddess Amaterasu.

Que Japon vive et revive cent mille fois [That Japan lives and relives a hundred thousand times]! When I talked to Parvulesco after my return from Japan, he told the pity of my not letting him know of my trip beforehand. “Mon cher [my dear] Alexander, I would have organized your meeting with my daughter, who teaches French in Tokyo University, and she wouldn’t have had trouble with arranging for you to have audience with Tenno.”

“I will certainly go there again, Jean!”

A mask of the sacred theater “no” hanged on the canvas with the carp. Professor Tamotsu Murata suddenly leapt to his feet from the tatami – he seemed to be thrown up from below – and began to slightly stir the canvas and the mask. The mask revived, reflecting the entire range of emotions – sinister, merry, ironical, cruel ones.

“And if one looks from different perspectives, in it there will appear the entire life. One and the same, seen in different ways, it is no longer one and the same…”

And on other wall of the secret little restaurant of Asakusa there was a faded personage with small horns – the demon Anita, the keeper of hell. There are so many fish in hell…

Then a head of a fish was served to us. It was as big as a wheel of a wagon. I didn’t know that there could be such huge fish. The floor in the restaurant was black and earthen. Its roughness was a cipher key. I caught myself at the fact that I understand a lot more than I notice: All the evenness tries to get closer to death.

The Japanese are the keepers of life. That which is dense, that which can make you breathless, that which is underwater, which is aerial, made of a piece of red dingy cloth, from a dog’s side, from a porcelain cruel doll, from a house as big as a suitcase, from the tinkling of copper bells which notifies the spirits of peoples’ arrival to the jinja [sanctuary] and of their readiness to throw a coin. The jinjas were everywhere that I went along the way – to say little, I saw inside them a lot! One who wants to know what the pure substance of life is should visit Japan.

In the Japanese language, there is “no” and no word “I.” The roaring “hai” (“yes”) is said without voice inflexion, with gleaming black Japanese eyes, with unbelievable wild energy means all in aggregate. Yes – it is the great enthusiasm of sacred holography, when the Universe is focused upon the small piece of land. From the sacred geography to the sacred holography.

At the reception in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was Professor Masaru Sato [佐藤優], who looked like a sumo wrestler. A bit fractally, aggressively, being overfilled by the energy of the mountains, he spoke about Japanese Eurasianism, about necessity of Japan’s return to its former greatness.

“We had a national thinker – Okawa. He was a consistent advocate for the continental bloc – Tokyo-Moscow-Berlin. He foresaw the pernicious consequences of the anti-Russian attitude, and was persuaded that Japan would be able to maintain its influence in the Pacific region only through strategic partnership with Russia.”

“We Japanese,” Sato-san continued, “are in some sense communists, but only with the Emperor. We are for the collectivity, but a hierarchised, sacred one…” The communists of magic.

This is important: everything modernistic in Japan is extremely perfunctory. They have managed it! Yes, they have managed it. The modern is deactivated there, deprived of its metaphysics.

Just as professor Murata in utterly natural way adds to Kant a mere trifle, language as an instrument of operative magic, and the Catholic (!) professor Yoichiro Murakami [村上 陽一郎] operates with the concepts of Buddhism to describe main trends of the history of science, and translates Jung and Pauli (this is called the West!), so the ordinary Japanese turn McDonalds into a jinja. A lantern with hieroglyphs and a swastika, bringing luck, along with several comrades from two million “deities” of Shinto, momentarily turn a hamburger temple of the “New World Order” into the traditional Japanese snackbar. And Professor Toshio Yokoyama [横山 俊夫] from Kyoto interprets “civility” as the traditional attitude of the Japanese to gods, flowers, animals, and people. The civil society in such an interpretation is the society of a sacred rite.

In such case I am a supporter of civil society. A citizen is one who follows the “do”; he who does not follow the “do” is not. “Do” in Japanese is the immanent godliness, including the transcendent aspect as its natural extension. The spirit of Japan (“do”) is unbreakable.

In Japan they have a good attitude towards Americans. The motive? Americans were once able to defeat the godlike Japanese, so therefore they are godlike too. There is no concept of evil. There is only the concept of the path, “do.” In Japan they have a bad attitude towards America. The motive? How can one have a good attitude towards it?

In Japan one could leave a wallet with money on a street and return for it in a week. It would be just there. There is a sufi parable on how a wise sheikh, who knew everything and was a sultan’s chief adviser, left his purse in the market. He remembered that in a week and went to take it back. His murids were bewildered: “either the sheikh has gone out of his mind or there is something we do not understand.” In Asia, purses disappear in the bazaar even if they are firmly gripped in hand. Japan is not Asia, it is beyond Asia. It is the country where the ethical norms of the contemplative sheikh are made a reality.

Japan is unreal. It seems to me that there cannot be such a country.

Technology here is an element of “do.” Assembling electronic devices is an equivalent of the arts of making ritual ekibanas or of the tea ceremony. It is an electronic version of Yemoto, the “do” keepers.

There are no Japanese without “do.”

“Are there avant-garde artists here? Drug addicts? Transvestites? Those who inhabit the modern West?”

“They were here at one time, but disappeared somewhere with time.”

There are drug addicts among newcomers; the Chinese, the Taiwanese, the Filipinos. The Japanese cannot be affected by anything. Their customary everyday life is a continuous luxurious hallucination. Under Kyoto bridges people, who live in containers, watch TV. Even in garbage nooks, strange living aesthetics reigns.

Watch out: schoolchildren! They walk in the streets, in the Metro, in historic parks and mountain museums by well-shaped squares. All are in uniform. One ought get in their way. The divine wind once destroyed the Mongolian fleet: Kamikaze. People and wind are relatives. The Japanese schoolchildren are the relatives of the aimed divine wind.

Kami-kaze, the “Divine Wind.” By this one can find a clue to the fascinating figure of Rimbaud: “Le vent de Dieux jettait des glacons aux marres…”

Old Believers of the Beguny (“runners” or “escapists”) persuasion in previous times had a teaching about a secret “Oponskom Tsardom” [Опоньском царстве]. I then understood what was meant by that. It was Shinkoku – the doctrine of “Sacred Japan.”

Shinto priests teach: the ancient good spirits Izanagi-no-mikotu and Izanami-no-mikotu once married with each other and gave birth to the islands Honshu and Kushu. Those main islands resulted only from their lawful wedlock. Before that there appeared spiders and ghosts, and also the small islands. Then they bore also many good spirits and the first emperor Tenno. The brother islands drew out of themselves mountains, rivers, giant red-white fish, which swim in Japan in every pool, offering themselves to skillful cooks (Polyakov and I made friends with one of such fish – this was the fish-professor from Tokyo University), forests, tea, sacred narrow-muzzled dogs, which guard sanctuaries, spirits and conifers, sunbeams and soft clouds, which can be only over the Near-Moscow-Localities. The Emperor bore the Japanese. The Japanese and Japan constitute one kindred alliance. Heaven and earth, a rice sprout, clay, a stream, a stone, a vacuum cleaner, a peasant and a policeman are one kindred organism. In the Japanese the wind, the wind of sweet clouds flows through their veins instead of blood, nourishing the eyes by the flesh of dream. And it is always so. So has it always been and so will it always be.

Shinkoku – where there is nothing to exclude and to include.

Japan is a Eurasian esotericism. It is the clue to ourselves, Oponskom Tsardom. The altar of Eurasia.

In the garden of emperor’s palace, on the remains of a tower built by a Shogun – of which there was no higher in the world, but which was standing for only several years – we spoke with Polyakov about advantage of ontological reflections for heuristic solutions in modern physics, about the equation of Navier and Stokes, about prospects of development of the unified theory of substance on the basis of phase change analysis in works of the physicist called Sinai. Masuda dozed off on a sunlit bench. Suddenly a raven appeared before us. Without speaking, we understood that it was the Shogun’s warrior. It guarded the emperor’s garden, keeping vigilant watch over who was there, where they were, what they did and what they said. The raven was in the size of around two metres. In the eyes of two big-bellied tourists, who perspiringly ascended the tower’s remains with perspiration, the pupils were rolled unseeingly – it seemed they did not see the raven with a pointed coal-black beak. It disappeared noiselessly.

All partitions in Japan are opened, they are made of paper. The membranes between the dimensions have a special structure – very well-ordered, carefully fixed. The approximateness of metamorphoses is conceptualized here, permeated with mathematics.

Japanese cars have the snout of Shinto spirits.

Tetsuya Masuda pointed at an undistinguished, imperceptible stone, which lied at the entrance to a little restaurant on a narrow Kyoto street. “This is a garden.” By the Japanese a stone, a blade of grass, a stem, a little pool, is anyway a garden. They take a fragment of what is and penetrate it with their sacred Japanese attention, and a garden is born. The garden-bringing people.

In Kyoto we were served a fish whose sides were cut off and the raw meat laid beside. From the fish was left its snout, skeleton and caudal fin. It made gasping-for-breath movements by its mouth, blew a little bubble. In the half-dark room I counted nine levels – the floor, the “bar” stand, the table, the benches and so forth – which were at the different distance from an imaginary line. It was as if all the planes must have been shifting as in a multi-mirror elevator. Masuda told the story about his French friend, who had been so horrified by discovering the fact that a fish was breathing that he started to shout at him for him to urgently bring a knife and to “save a poor animal from misery.” Masuda obediently went for a knife, but he could not get it from the owner, who sincerely did not understand what was going on. When he still returned with a knife, the Frenchman with a great effort, in hysteric anguish, had already crushed fish skull with the wooden saucer and had been gazing round perplexedly. “He made the fish suffer rather than attentively observe its death-transfer and participate in it with all his being – the mouth, tongue, stomach…” We looked at the fish, at the small black bubble near its mouth… Polyakov touched its moist nose with a chopstick…

The city’s view was psychedelic. There was not a single direct line; the entire area consisted of a huge number of squares. The area is overflowing with meaning and symbolism, like a Russian cemetery. Everything is satiated with Being. Japan has ontological architecture.

With Polyakov, we founded a new teaching: the Kyoto-Helsinki ontological teaching, the second root of Eurasia.

Eurasia is Japan-centered in our geometry; so teaches Chiseygaku.

The last evening brought us to the Tokyo’s Near-Moscow-Localities. I noticed almost at once upon my arrival to Japan that it had a Russian sky. But only on the last day before my return did it became clear that near Tokyo there were the grasses and flavours of the Near-Moscow-Localities.

Profuse, abundant, black, bloody saps of the earth, a small island of grass and of Russ plus computer lights of Shinkansen, luminous sky-scrapers, twinkling highways, and neon hieroglyphs blink around. It seems to me, that when a Russian dies, he first finds himself in here and drinks the Japanese beer Kirin, until he understands what is what.

Nikolay-do. Before Whitsunday, Matins are served by the Metropolitan of All Japan himself. The icons are all Russian. On the right from the altar there is a picture: the Russian field, the forest, a Russian beauty stands in a crown, with a halo and with a cross in hand; the saint Olga. On the icon there is a fragment of Russian Shinkoku. The icon of Russian field, the Russian forest: two holographic realities. Somewhere in mediastinum of dream they are bound, interwoven by roots. The roots of Oponskom Tsardom, the construction of the Vladivostok-Hokkaido tunnel, Shinkansen from Tokyo to Berlin.

The words inter-flow in a whole, indivisible stream. In kanji one can not only read and write, but also think – think of a whole piece of world, which is indivisible, complete, pulsating from an over-richness of inner Being.

A thought on Japan is the thought about wholeness.
The red rising heart.
The light of the Orient.
They ought rule again and again.
For all the Pacific sphere to co-succeed.

Part 2. The Geonauts

I have been honoured by the visit of the Japanese professor Shukei Yamaguchi [山口 実]. One more of them. Now they visit me every day. That is the right way; if you start to go on visits, go on. Japanese like density very much, as we Russians do, but in another way.

He asked me to explain what “being a Russian” means.

I answered…

He studied Jung’s heritage, and the director of a Jungian college in Switzerland seemed to give his blessing to him to write a research paper on the classification of basic temperaments (introverted and extraverted ones) by different countries and nations. That is a very good idea.

Yamaguchi was coming to the conclusion that Western peoples are of an extraverted type, while Eastern ones are of introverted type, and in Europe the Germans are relatively introverted (“the thinking, reflecting introverted people”). In his classification, the Russians are the “intuitive introverted people,” the Hindus (like the Germans) are the “reflecting introverted people,” and the Japanese are the “sensual introverted people.”

It is clear that the sphere of “introvertedness” is the mental continent of Eurasia.

Introvertedness gravitates towards inner experience, towards “likeness,” towards “unity,” towards “interfusion.” “The inner world is the world of life,” Yamaguchi said. Speaking with him I made out that he worships Absolute Life. That is the essence of Eurasian worship; the Absolute Life. Hence follow some very important definitions:

“Therefore an introverted person, as he is concerned more with his inner life than with the outside material world, is liable to see reality in some form of all-including unity or interfusion. He likes to feel united with Nature. He would not assert himself, because that would mean that he should be independent or separated from the world or other people. He would try to form a group with friends and tends to submerge himself in it. He does not like to be different from other people. When he has to make judgment, he tends to see reality from the point of view of similarity, not from difference. Thus he is inclined to say first ‘yes,’ but later he often says ‘no,’ much to detriment of his credibility.” (Yamaguchi)

It is a description of us, me, the Russian people, the Japanese people, and all good and interesting people in this world.

Next Yamaguchi described the Japanese psychology. For instance, the O-tsuki-mi rite. It is when the Japanese silently, for hours, look at the moon. Their Unconscious bathes then in the moonlight, is cured and cleaned, as the land washes itself in ocean waters, removing scum. The Japanese thoroughly care for their Unconscious, clean, and nurse it.

Each Japanese sees the Moon from his own angle and it changes colour. This is the practice tamamushi-iro. Things change colour based on on how one looks at them; the colour is the voice of the Psyche. True distinctions arise where through different people the common mysterious beam of light of the Absolute Life, which was married to the nation, radiates.

The Japanese hate to subdue the surrounding world, because they do not distinguish themselves from it. And again professor Yamaguchi gives a surprisingly precise sentence: “The Japanese does not like clear distinction, but tends to leave things in ambiguity.” It is as if we are during the lectures of “the New University” [“Нового Университета”]…

At the lection “The Secret Mother” I gave a definition of the human being, which set the groundwork of new Eurasian anthropology: “A man is an inaccurate movement of the Possible.” By “a human,” I had meant a Russian. As it had become clear, the Japanese meet that definition ideally.

I retold Yamaguchi the story of professor Murata and Kant. He listened to me with the great interest. When I had come to the language, which bridges the abyss between the empirical world and the reason, he suddenly interrupted me, waving his hands in the air: “They are connected through the Absolute Life, which radiates through people and things… Kant is incomprehensible without Bergson and Jung!”

Everything is clear with you, I gave up. And that Japanese, who has been living in the West for more than 20 years, has not understood anything of the world in which he has found himself in. And he will never understand. And thank God! Thank you… This imparts to me great strength for my work. To him too, evidently.

Then the professor asked me to tell him about Russia. I answered: “The most important thing in Russia is geonautics, “land-floating,” the theory of liquid land. We conceive of it as a dense tea, not as a stone. Vapours of land rise and form the land ocean. These are multi-dimensional worlds, breathing in Being. The land, the Russian land, has its own Navier-Stokes equation. The Russians walk on land by their entire body, not by their heels. Therefore the Russians are the aerially introverted people. For them the land is not something firm, but something moist and viscous. The Russians drift on land, that is why they do not understand anything. Except for the Japanese; quite to the contrary, they have an understanding of the Japanese.”

Yamaguchi’s eyes were gleaming, double-gleaming, burning. “And how do the Russians make judgments? Logically? Intuitively? Emotionally? Egoistically?”

“No, none are correct. The Russians make judgments according to principle of maximum stupidity. They choose just what is least reasonable and it will bring them a lot of inconvenience. They evade the choice, sabotage it. Choosing absurdly and not to the point, not what is needed and not when it is needed, they make it clear: your proposal, your conditions of choice are idiotic by themselves. And it is proper to answer idiotism by idiotism. It is the active abstentionism. We just do not want to live along the imposed regulations. We are swimming. The essence of Russia is ironic seriousness; the ironic stupidity. Showing ourselves as fools, we laugh at those who do not consider themselves as such. When a Russian is reading Dostoyevsky, he is dying of laughter; Dostoyevsky is an amazingly laughable author.”

“You don’t say! His works are a distressing drama for us… And what about Russian messianism?”

“It is very important. That messianism is pointed towards the West. It is a messianism of the introvertedness. We, as well as other peoples of the East, are an introverted people, although not passive and natural, but aggressive and preternatural. We march under introvertedness as under a standard, extend it over the world, weigh heavily over the membranes of the West, which we do not like, but, by the way, understand. It may be just because of that, that we dislike it so much.”

“But the Russians are very gifted at the sphere of art, beauty…”

“Yes, but not out of aestheticism. When only three hundred years ago we were imposed upon by the Western culture, which was extroverted in its essence, we chose the least rational, least reasonable in it – the sphere of art, where there is more space for the Irrational. But that was a mere substitute for the real land-floating. Quite a poor one, but we succeeded in it, that is true.”

And then the professor couldn’t stand any more. Interrupting me, he said: “I would like to express my emotions by singing.” In his profile there was a phrase “professional whistler.” When I had first seen it I thought “they call probably flautists that.” No, he was a natural, literal “professional whistler.”

Professor Shukei Yamaguchi began to whistle. It was the autumn whistling, dedicated to the thin spider lines of evening, which noiselessly fly down from the sakura branches. The autumn whistling. He whistled the classic academic whistling, helping himself with his hand. The Japanese national whistling. It stays in my ears, that strange whistle…

 

—————–

Dugin, Alexander. “In the Country of the Rising ‘Do.'” Международное Евразийское Движение, 2001. <http://evrazia.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=522 >.

Note: The original Russian version of this article (titled “В стране восходящего ‘До’”) can be found here: <http://www.evrazia.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=683 >.

Notes on Resources for further reading:

See also Dugin’s speech at Tokyo University called “New Paradigm of Science,” which deals with religious, scientific, and ontological philosophy, partly addressing Asian perspectives: <https://neweuropeanconservative.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/new-paradigm-of-science-dugin/ >.

For further research on Japanese religious beliefs, we suggest the books Shinto: Origins, Rituals, Festivals, Spirits, Sacred Places by C. Scott Littleton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) and Shinto: the Kami Way by Sokyo Ono (North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing, 1962).

For research on Japanese literature – which also gives good insight into Japan’s history, culture, and religion – we recommend the following two anthologies, edited by Donald Keene: Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (New York: Grove Press, 1955), and Modern Japanese Literature: From 1868 to the Present Day (New York: Grove Press, 1956).

On the Oskorei blog, Joakim Andersen had written an article titled “Lästips: Nationalism och manga” (“Suggested reading: Nationalism and Manga”, in Swedish),  which can also help understand the attraction that some Right-wingers have towards modern Japanese culture as a superior conservative Pagan culture.

On the idea of “Modernization without Westernization” in Japan and China, see the article “Modernization without westernization is the first step to reject imperialism” by Antonio Grego.

A starting point for further research on Japanese philosophies can be found on the website The Japanese Philosophy Blog.

The official website of Nichibunken (日文研), The International Research Center for Japanese Studies, can be used for research to find numerous resources in Japanese history, culture, religion, society, etc. See the publications search for resources readily available online.

 

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Dostoevsky on Socialism – Lossky

Dostoevsky on Socialism

By Nikolai Onufriyevich Lossky

Translated by Mark Hackard

 

Translator’s Note: Philosopher Nikolai Onufriyevich Lossky (1870-1965) gives us a fine analysis of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s complex views on socialism. While Dostoevsky supported just economic arrangements for workers and the peasantry, he also vehemently rejected the atheism and materialism that underpinned so many socialist ideals. Russia’s great writer was truly a prophet, right down to foreseeing famine, cannibalism and the deaths of 100 million people that would characterize twentieth-century Communism. Let it be noted that the sponsors of this “experiment” were the forces of international capital, the same liberal oligarchs who control the West to this day.

***

“I could never understand the notion,” says Dostoevsky, “that only one-tenth of people should attain higher development, and the remaining nine-tenths should serve only as a means and material to that goal while themselves remaining in darkness. I don’t want to think and live in any way but with the faith that our ninety million Russians (or however many will be born) will all someday be educated, humanized and happy.”(Diary of a Writer, 1876, Jan.) In Dostoevsky’s notebooks, the thought of these unhappy nine-tenths of humanity is repeated many times. From the years of his youth to the end of his life, he was concerned over questions of social justice, the necessity of securing every person the means for developing a spiritual life, the protection of the dignity of the human person and a defense against arbitrary rule.

In his novels, Dostoevsky speaks much of the wounds inflicted upon man’s soul by the offenses resulting from social and economic inequality. In Diary of a Writer, he write much about the cruel force of capital, about a proletariat exhausted by poverty and labor, etc. Dolinin says that “Like a true follower of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky dreams of achieving harmony on earth through love,” but he himself “stirs up class struggle in his every stroke whenever he begins to speak of the oppressed past and present, in the West and in Russia.”

The most influential movement from the nineteenth century to our day, one that has tried to enact social justice in full measure, is socialism. And Dostoevsky’s attitude to socialism will be the subject of our chapter. Dostoevsky himself was a participant in the socialist movement as a member of Petrashevsky’s Circle, and for that he was almost subject to execution and endured eight years of hard labor and exile. Inasmuch as Dostoevsky spiritually matured, within him there developed an ever-growing hatred for that type of socialism which was most widespread from the second half of the nineteenth century up to our time, a hatred namely for revolutionary atheist socialism based upon a materialist worldview morally and religiously unfounded. For Dostoevsky the highest value was the individual human person and his free spiritual development. Yet revolutionary socialism focuses all its attention upon material goods and neither values the individual person nor cares for the freedom of spiritual life.

In Dostoevsky’s reading, the spiritual makeup of the bourgeois and the materialist socialist is homogeneous: both value material goods above all else. “The present socialism,” write Dostoevsky, “in Europe and here in Russia, removes Christ everywhere and cares foremost about bread, summons science and asserts that the reason for all human calamities is one – poverty, the struggle for existence, ‘society.’” These socialists, “in my observation, in their expectation of a future arrangement of society without personal property, love money terribly in the meantime and value it even to the extreme, but namely in accordance with the idea they attach to it.” (Dostoevsky’s wonderful letter to V.A. Alekseev on the three temptations offered by the devil to Christ, June 7th, 1876, No. 550)

Beforehand there was a moral formulation of the matter: “There were Fourierists and Cabetists, arguments and debates over various quite refined things. But now the leaders of the proletariat have already done away with all this” and the struggle is governed by the slogan, “Ote-toi de là que je m’y mette” (“Get out of here, I’m taking your place”). Any means therein are counted as permissible: the ringmasters of materialist socialism say they do not consider them, the bourgeoisie, capable of becoming brothers to the people, and therefore they simply move against them with force, while brotherhood is denied outright:

‘Brotherhood will be formed from the proletariat later, and you – you are one hundred million souls condemned to extermination and nothing more. You are finished for the sake of humanity’s happiness.’ Others among the ringmasters directly say that they need no brotherhood whatsoever, that Christianity is nonsense and that the future of humanity will be designed on a scientific basis. (Diary of a Writer, 1877 Feb.)

If the moral foundations of society’s structure are rejected, then social unity will prove unachieveable. “How shall you unite men,” asks Dostoevsky, answering Gradovsky with regard to the latter’s article containing criticism of the author’s Pushkin Speech, “to reach your civil goals if you have no basis in a great and initial moral idea?” Dostoevsky at once points to this initial great idea: all moral principles, he says, “are based upon the idea of personal absolute self-perfection ahead, in the ideal, for this holds everything within, all aspirations and all cravings, and, it would be, thence derive all of our civil ideals. Just try and unite men into a civil society with the only goal of ‘saving our tummies.’ You’ll get nothing but the moral formula of Chacun pour soi et Dieu pour tous. With such a formula, no civil institution will last long.” (Diary of a Writer, 1877, Feb.) On the contrary, Dostoevsky’s short formula composes the whole essence of the Christian worldview. The Christian ideal of personal absolute self-perfection leads to the Kingdom of God, in which every member loves God more than himself and all people created by God as himself.

Behavior is right only inasmuch as it consciously or instinctively is guided by such a love, with which is closely connected love for impersonal absolute values – truth, beauty, etc. Not only personal individual relations, but also social ties, any social hierarchy, and any social subordination and command carried out in good conscience, should in finality ascend to the ideal of absolute good under God. This notion was naively but correctly expressed by Dostoevsky’s Captain Lebyadkin, who responded after listening to the arguments of the atheists: “If there is no God, then what kind of captain am I after this!” (Demons) In Russian philosophical literature, thought on the religious basis of social life is especially well developed in Vladimir Soloviev’s The Justification of the Good and in S. Frank’s book The Spiritual Foundations of Society.

Atheist socialists, having rejected the idea of unselfish moral duty and counting the drive for advantage and self-preservation as man’s only motive of behavior, at the same time demand that the citizen of the future society renounce “rights to property, family and freedom.” “Man can only be so designed through terrible violence, his placement under dreadful systems of spying and the continuous control of a most despotic power.” (Diary of a Writer, 1877, Feb.) In a society deprived of the spiritual ideal, people are such that, “give them bread, and they will become enemies to each other out of boredom.” (Letters, No. 550) “Never shall they be able to allot amongst each other,” says the Grand Inquisitor, and even the bread acquired by them will turn to stone in their hands.

Dostoevsky compares the project of building a society without a moral foundation, a society based only on science and upon imaginary scientific axioms like “the struggle for existence,” to the construction of the Tower of Babel; attempting to design something along the lines of an anthill, men will not create wealth, but rather will come to such ruin as to end in cannibalism. (1877, November) In Demons Shigalev developed the program for his anthill. “Proceeding from limitless freedom, I conclude,” he says, “with unlimited despotism.” Pyotr Verkhovensky relates that “he has every member of his [secret] society watching over the other and obligated to inform.” “All are slaves and in slavery are equal. In extreme cases, slander and murder, but mainly equality.”

Shigalev’s project seemed a caricature created through Dostoevsky’s antipathy toward atheist socialism. Now, however, we must admit that the Bolshevik Revolution enacted the Shigalev system and even very likely surpassed it. In Bolshevik socialism, spying has been reached the point that parents and children often do not trust one another. The Bolshevik despotism is more multidimensional and petty than the despotism of some African potentate; slander and murder are applied on the widest scale. There is not the slightest freedom of conscience under the Bolsheviks (for a teacher there is not even freedom of silence on religious matters), nor is there freedom of thought, freedom of print or legal guarantees defending the individual from arbitrary rule; the exploitation of workers by the state is carried out to a degree undreamed of by capitalists under the bourgeois regime.

Dostoevsky insistently repeats that revolutionary atheist socialism will lead to such devastation as to bring about anthropophagy. His prophecy was realized literally: in the USSR there were at least two periods of cannibalism, in 1920-21 as a result of famine caused by “War Communism,” and in 1933 as a result of famine caused by the rapid shift from individual agriculture to collective farms. A shocking picture of cases of cannibalism can be found in Soviet literature, such as in Vyacheslav Ivanov’s short story “Empty Arapia,” for example.

Conceiving clearly by which paths it’s likely impossible to arrive at the establishment of social justice, Dostoevsky himself neither developed a specific positive ideal of social order, nor did he adopt one from other thinkers. In 1849 during his interrogation, Dostoevsky confessed that socialist “systems,” just as Fourier’s system, did not satisfy him, but alongside this announced that he considered the ideas of socialism, under the condition of their peaceful achievement, “sacred and moral, and most importantly universal, the future law of humanity without exception.” Such a conviction Dostoevsky preserved until the end of his days. This is clearly visible from his article on the occasion of the death of George Sand in 1876. With deep emotion, Dostoevsky touchingly speaks of George Sand’s socialism, which was seeking to secure the spiritual freedom of the individual and was founded upon moral principles, “not upon the necessity of the anthill.” (1876, June) But at this time of his life, Dostoevsky required that social order definitively was based on Christ’s testament. He wrote to V.A. Alekseev in June of 1876:

Christ knew that by bread alone, one cannot bring man to life. If there will be no spiritual life, the ideal of Beauty, then man will languish and die, he will go mad and kill himself or descend into pagan fantasies. And as Christ in Himself and in His Word bore the ideal of Beauty, He then decided it better to imbue in souls the ideal of Beauty; having this at heart, all men will become brothers to one another and then, of course, working for one another, they will be wealthy. (No. 550)

Dostoevsky was by all appearances a supporter of a type of “Christian socialism,” but he says nothing specific about its economic and legal structure. He has only one mystical-economic position announced by him through the name of some kind of interlocutor of his, the “paradoxalist,” and it is a position he obviously approves. “A nation should be born and rise, in its vast majority, on the soil from which the bread and trees grow.”

In the land, in the soil, there is something sacramental. If you want humanity to be reborn for the better, almost making men from beasts, then endow them with land, and you shall achieve your aim. At the very least we have the land and the commune.

Speaking on France, the paradoxalist directly clarifies his thinking: “In my opinion, work in a factory: the workshop is also a legitimate business and will always be born alongside already cultivated land – such is its law. But let every worker know that he has somewhere a garden under the golden sun and grapevines, his own, or more likely, a communal garden, and that in this garden lives his wife, a glorious woman, not one picked up off the road.” “Let him at least know that there his children will grow with the earth, with the trees, and with the quail they catch; that they are at school, and school is in the field; and that he himself, having worked enough in his age, will arrive there to rest, and then to die.” The bases for development of such a system he located in Russia. “The Russian factory worker has still kept a connection with the countryside, and the Russian peasantry has the village commune.” (Diary of a Writer, 1876, July-August)

As is known, love for the village commune among Russian populists was tied to the dream that the habit of communal land ownership would ease the enactment of socialism for the Russian people. This dream was hardly reasonable, as land in the village commune was divided into plots cultivated by each family individually. At the present time under the Bolshevik regime, the shift from a family’s individual work over a delegated plot of land to the collective labor of the kolkhoz in communal fields is being accomplished extremely painfully.

Besides notions of each man’s connection to the land, Dostoevsky also has many considerations on a just social order, but they all concern only the moral and religious conditions for the appearance and preservation of such an order; on its actual structure he provides no information.

In the West, Dostoevsky says in his “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions,” liberty, equality and fraternity are declared as principles upon which life should be built. But where the bourgeoisie holds power, freedom is in the possession of the millionaire: he does as he wishes, and those without any millions are at their mercy. Such criticism of the bourgeois regime is expressed in various forms by Marxists and especially Bolsheviks. And Dostoevsky recognizes that in the capitalist system, freedom provided by the law to the citizen remains without the possibility of its realization among those classes of the populace who do not have the material means to enjoy it.

Dostoevsky characterizes the equality that concerns people in modern society as envious: it is comprised of the wish to degrade those spiritually superior. (Diary of a Writer, 1877, February) Instead of fraternity, Dostoevsky finds everywhere only fighting for one’s own equal value; genuine brotherhood, meanwhile, exists where the ego sacrifices itself for society, and society itself gives over all rights to the person. Such a genuine brotherhood exists foremost where internal freedom is achieved through overcoming one’s will, and there will be a noble equality free from envy for others’ spiritual gifts. In a society guided by such principles, there is no necessity to sacrifice all one’s property for the common benefit, even more so as even the renunciation of property by all the rich would be only “a drop in the sea” and would not destroy poverty.

One must do “what the heart orders.” If the heart “orders you to give away your estate, then give it away,” but there is no need for dressing up in homespun coats or adopting the “simple life” for this; “it is better to raise a peasant to your level of refinement.” “Only your resolve to do everything for the sake of active love is obligatory and important.” “We must be concerned more about light, the sciences and strengthening love. Then wealth will grow as a matter of fact, and genuine wealth.” Dostoevsky calls such a solution to the social question the Russian solution; it is based on the Christian ideal of life, and he considers the spirit of the Russian people that developed Russian Orthodoxy to be Christian in its preponderance. (Diary of a Writer, 1877, February)

Having become acquainted in Dostoevsky’s Pushkin Speech with similar thoughts of his on the conditions for resolving the social question, Professor Gradovsky penned a critical article; he said that Dostoevsky put forth a “mighty propagation of personal morality, but no hint of social ideals.” In other words, Gradovsky understood Dostoevsky as a follower of the notion that only “personal improvement in the spirit of Christian love” is needed, while forms of social order are irrelevant, for kind and loving people will fill any social form with good content.

Such a unidimensional social philosophy exists. In this sphere, there are two opposed doctrines. According to one, all of man’s shortcomings, his vices and crimes, are conditioned upon the imperfection of the social structure; it stands to perfect the social structure, and man’s behavior will become good. According to the other doctrine, quite to the contrary, correct behavior both in individual and social relations depends only upon personal morality, and forms of social order are irrelevant. Dostoevsky harshly rejected the first of these one-dimensional theories, and Gradovsky assumed that he must have been a representative of the opposite and also unidimensional doctrine. Vladimir Soloviev termed this one-sidedness “abstract subjectivism in morality.” In The Justification of the Good, he clearly and convincingly proves that subjective good is insufficient, and in addition a “collective incarnation” of good made from the perfection of the social order is necessary – and so human society would become “organized morality.” The state is never solely comprised of good people, and therefore it is necessary to organize such a social order that would promote the restraint of evil and the achievement of good.

Like Pushkin, Dostoevsky strikes us not only with the force of his artistic creation, but also with the force of his mind. Therefore it’s difficult to permit that he fell into such a crude unidimensional theory of “abstract subjectivism.” And he in fact was indignant over Gradovsky’s criticism and wrote him an answer in Diary of a Writer, in which he attempted to prove that he was free from the one-sidedness ascribed to him. Nonetheless, Dostoevsky is interpreted as a proponent of abstract subjectivism in our time, as well. We shall examine this question in detail.

Answering Gradovsky, Dostoevsky clearly says that religious and moral ideas, along with the improvement tied to them, serve as a point of departure in the search for a corresponding organization of society: due to these ideals, men will begin to search for “how they should organize themselves to preserve the jewel of great value they received, not losing anything from it, and find such a civil formula of common living that would help them advance to all the world the moral treasure they’ve obtained in all its glory.”

If the spiritual ideal of any nation begins to “shake and weaken,” alongside it “the entire civic rule” collapses. (1880, August) Not only that, even with the existence of well-organized social forms, morally unsuitable men contrive in certain cases to find the means to bypass the law and distort the spirit of social forms, from which, of course, it does not follow that these forms have no meaning. Dostoevsky therefore resolves to say that personal improvement is “not only the beginning of everything,” “but the continuation of everything and its outcome.” (Ibid) However tempting it may be to interpret these words in the spirit of abstract subjectivism, we must remember that they were written in the response to Gradovsky, where Dostoevsky removes himself from the professor’s reproach over one-sidedness, and by these words he only wants to express the notion that “social and civic ideals” are connected “organically to moral ideals,” and that it is impossible to divide them into “two halves” isolated from one another. (Ibid)

Consequently, Dostoevsky did not deny the necessity of a certain ideal of just social organization. Without a doubt, he had such an ideal or was searching for it. In which direction? By all appearances and as in his youth, in the direction of socialism, though neither revolutionary nor atheist, but Christian. As has been said, he hoped like the populists that a perfected order would evolve from the Russian village commune. He considered it necessary that every worker, and especially his wife and children, keep their ties to the land and have a garden, whether personal or communal. Especially valuing freedom, he was confident that the social ideals developed by Russia and deriving from “Christ and individual self-perfection” would be “more liberal” than those of Europe. (Ibid)

Dostoevsky also considers possible the preservation of property rights, and apparently even land and production rights, in the future order. It will be said, of course, “What kind of socialism is this?” In answering, we will remind the reader that there exist attempts to develop the ideal of a socialist order in which the right of personal property to the means of production would be preserved, though subjected to legal restrictions, due to which the economy would serve not the goal of personal enrichment, but the needs of society and the state. We shall point, for an example, to the work of Professor S. Gessen, “The Problem of Legal Socialism.” (Contemporary Notes, 1924-1928) One hardly has to keep the word socialism for signifying such a complex social order that combines valuable, practicable dimensions of the socialist ideal with valuable dimensions of individual management. However, we will not argue over words. It is only important that the creative efforts of many states such as the United States and Great Britain are directed toward the development of such a complex social order.

Looking at how difficult this process of developing a new system is and what kind of special knowledge, both theoretical and practical, it demands, we fully understand why Dostoevsky has no defined teaching on it. As a religious thinker and moralist, he confidently spoke of the religious and moral bases of a just order, but as a man of extraordinary intellect, he understood perfectly well that to elaborate a concrete doctrine on a new economic system and its legal forms was a matter for politico-economic specialists and practical social agents. Besides that, the actualization of these problems was premature in his time. Only fifty years after his death, due to the extreme primacy of technology, the rationalization of production, and the ever-decreasing number of workers needed for physical labor, the development of a new economic system became urgently necessary.

We examined Dostoevsky’s most important literary creations and became acquainted with his thoughts on central questions of worldview. Everywhere with him, we found as the basis Christ and His two commandments that compose the essence of Christianity – love for God more than for oneself and love for one’s neighbor as oneself. Therefore, we can call his worldview authentically Christian.

—————

Lossky, Nikolai Onufriyevich. “Dostoevsky on Socialism [Parts I and II].” The Soul of the East, 30 May & 7 June 2014. <http://souloftheeast.org/2014/05/30/dostoevsky-on-socialism-pt-i/ >; <http://souloftheeast.org/2014/05/30/dostoevsky-on-socialism-pt-i/ >.

 

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Berdyaev & Modern Anti-Modernism – Bertonneau

Nicolas Berdyaev and Modern Anti-Modernism

By Thomas F. Bertonneau

 

A paradox of modernity is that, from its beginnings in Eighteenth Century rationalism, it has been accompanied by a veritable polyphony of dissent. The advocates of rationalism – and of progress – have inveterately denounced this heterogeneous arousal of dissident judgment under the sweeping term reaction; but that term, reaction or reactionism, applies much more appropriately to the Enlightenment itself than it does to the critique of the Enlightenment, or to the critique of the Enlightenment’s swift self-transfiguration into Revolution.

Already in the early Nineteenth Century various strands of Romanticism partook in the gathering critique of rallying progress. The development of a poet like William Wordsworth from a youthful admirer of the Jacobins to a Tory, whose ballad-like poems celebrate tradition against the encroachments of method, offers a case in point; and Wordsworth’s French contemporary Alfred de Vigny despised the Revolution as a recrudescence of primitive violence springing from hatred of all dignity and form. Deeply rooted custom is not necessarily arbitrary. On the contrary, tradition implies wisdom beyond the reductively rational for which method, political or technical, is a paltry and counterproductive substitute. Community likewise differs from and comes prior to the state, which in comparison to the community is abstract and even alienating. While it is true that there was a decidedly leftwing Romanticism – Percy Shelley in England and the “Junges Deutschland” poets in the German principalities – largely the movement was, in its context, traditionalist, sometimes stridently so.

The same could be said for the mid-Nineteenth Century developments of Romanticism. Charles Baudelaire was not a liberal and neither was his Danish contemporary Søren Kierkegaard. Friedrich Nietzsche early associated the modern world with superficiality and mediocrity; later, modernity appeared to him as active nihilism.

The Western European response to the burgeoning rationalization and politicization of life had echoes in the East. Alexander Pushkin took repeatedly as his theme the chaos, psychological and moral, that results from the modern abolition of custom and form; the same could be said of Mikhail Lermontov, whose medium was prose, and whose archetypal anti-heroes, most notably Pechorin in A Hero of our Time (1840), body forth the symptoms of modern anomie. Pechorin has no place in the rational, bureaucratic Russia of his time, but he also lacks the resources of traditional form and custom: Pechorin becomes demonic; he can believe in nothing outside himself, while that very self remains unformed, immature, and incapable of supporting an existence of the disposition, mens sana in corpore sano. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s demonic men all resemble Pechorin, being the orphaned offspring of a stricken world. When Russia “received” Nietzsche in the 1890s, the rich Slavic soil was well prepared. None received the Götzendämmerung-message so eagerly as Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948). As Lesley Chamberlain writes in Motherland (2007), Berdyaev was “the Russian Christian answer to Nietzsche,” who “believed in the spiritual benefits of culturally nourished imagination.”

I. In Chamberlain’s seemingly positive judgment, Berdyaev “was terribly necessary in Russia,” a crisis-wracked nation fated to live out its version of the Western crisis in an exaggerated, parodic, and tragic form. Chamberlain reminds her readers that Berdyaev “fought Communism in Russia as a moral evil much as Nietzsche battled against herd mentality and cultural leveling in the West.” Berdyaev also paid the price for his outspokenness, when Lenin exiled him in 1922 along with a boatload of philosophers and intellectuals. Chamberlain concludes, however, that, despite Berdyaev’s insight that, “knowledge and ethics have to be created for the good of mankind,” and despite his insistent critique of pragmatism and utilitarianism, he should “be stripped of an unconvincing attempt to rank himself alongside Plato and [Immanuel] Kant.” Chamberlain charges Berdyaev with “vagueness” and “extreme reluctance to be pinned down.” She borrows Berdyaev’s own qualified term “mystical anarchist” to describe the philosopher tout court, linking him, beyond Nietzsche, with Angelus Silesius and Jakob Boehme, and implying a kind of nebulous religiosity. Not incidentally, Berdyaev himself acknowledged the Boehme and Silesius connections and frequently justified them. Chamberlain’s remarks communicate with a second-hand idea of Berdyaev as prolix and unsystematic writer in whose rambling books self-opinion ran too high.

As for Berdyaev in Berdyaev’s eyes, the autobiographical Self-Knowledge (opus posthumous, 1950) declares him stylistically an aphorist. The truth lies somewhere between the modern, skeptical writer’s casual pejoratives and Berdyaev’s own sometimes wishful self-estimate. Aphorisms appear in his work, but they take their place in a species of prose that never exactly hurries to put a period. Blame in these matters lies more with modern impatience than with Berdyaev’s manner of exposition. With Berdyaev, patience pays off.

Chamberlain rightly recommends Self-Knowledge, which she refers to under its British title of Dream and Reality, as the best introduction to Berdyaev. In Self-Knowledge, Berdyaev writes of his intellectual Pilgrim’s Progress and he confesses his intellectual debts. In the chapter that Berdyaev devotes to his tentative Marxism and his subsequent deliberate break with revolutionary circles, he acknowledges his relation both to the Romantics, Russian and otherwise, and their successors. “What does romanticism really mean,” Berdyaev asks. He answers, “If it is the opposite of classicism I must undoubtedly style myself a romantic.” Dissociating himself strongly from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Berdyaev nevertheless considers that “romanticism stands for everything that is human” insofar as it constitutes an intuitive critique of imperious rationality, dogmatic method, and abstract system. On the other hand, Berdyaev does not want anyone to mistake his own Romanticism for “high-pitched and spectacular emotionalism,” or “self-indulgence in the imaginary depths of life,” which is how he evaluates the author of the Confessions.

Being a Romantic means for Berdyaev that one takes a transcendental perspective. “I proceeded from Kant in my conception of the theory of knowledge,” Berdyaev writes; yet Berdyaev is also a Platonist, who thinks that, with respect to the noumenon or “thing-in-itself,” “Plato is right whilst Kant is wrong”: Direct knowledge of the “thing-in-itself” is possible, according to Self-Knowledge.

Berdyaev adds another twist when he avers that, “Kant is a profoundly Christian thinker, more so than Thomas Aquinas,” presumably more so than Plato despite the assimilation of Plato in Patristic writers like Justin Martyr and Augustine. Above all, however, and because Berdyaev has “put Freedom, rather than Being, at the basis of [his] philosophy,” he regards himself as a Christian philosopher, or more particularly as a Christian Existentialist. In an aphorism: “The mystery of the world abides in freedom: God desired freedom and freedom gave rise to tragedy in the world.” It is the case, according to Berdyaev, that, “freedom alone should be recognized as possessing a sacred quality, whilst all other things to which a sacred character has been assigned by men since history began ought to be made null and void.” It follows that Berdyaev, in his role as philosopher, sees himself “as pre-eminently a liberator,” Christianity itself “Having called upon my allegiance as emancipation.” Berdyaev even ventures a paradox, writing that, “a Russian bishop once said of me that I was ‘the captive of freedom.’” Remarking Berdyaev’s dedication to his singular principle, one easily sees how, at first, he could embroil himself with Marxists and revolutionaries and how, inevitably, he would revolt against them and reorient himself spiritually and intellectually.

In sum, if a summary were possible, Berdyaev stands in a Romantic tradition and in a contemporary relation to a species of Existentialism stemming from Kierkegaard, with further antecedents in Plato and Augustine, and his thinking is strongly yet qualifiedly flavored by Nietzsche’s critique of modernity.

Like Plato and to some extent like Kant, like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and even like Marx, Berdyaev thought that philosophy might exercise its emancipating power through the revelatory clarification of ideas, by a gesture that amounts to epistemological shock therapy. Like Plato with his opposition of opinion to truth and like Marx with his assignment of truth to the cognizance of a particular social class, Berdyaev begins his philosophical analysis by discerning types of awareness. “I came to assume,” he writes, “a ‘primary’ and a ‘secondary’ form of knowledge and, correspondingly, a ‘primary’ and a ‘secondary’ consciousness, from which knowledge springs.” Whereas the “primary consciousness” relates to the existing subject, with the individual, and with an accessible world in which the individual participates, the “secondary consciousness” relates to “the process of objectification, whereby reality is seen as broken up into the realms of subject and object.” In Berdyaev’s later work another term, “estrangement” (ostrananie), comes into usage in connection with the term “objectification.”

As the narrowly scientific or experimental view of the world extends its sway, as it insists on treating everything as though it were an object, people, in imitating and internalizing the false conviction, experience alienation from the world. The assumption that people are cut off from the world sure enough mucks up their relation to that world so that they experience a feeling of isolation and forlornness. For Berdyaev, “the objective world is the product of estrangement: it is the fallen world, disintegrated and enslaved.” Berdyaev uses what, even for conservatives today, is an aggressively religious vocabulary.

Life in revolutionary circles heightened Berdyaev’s own sense of estrangement. In Self-Knowledge, Berdyaev remarks how “the revolutionary intelligentsia seemed to live all the time under the shadow of military discipline… But I preferred to fight on my own, and would not agree to accept military orders or organized group-morality.” Although exiled by the Czarist regime to Siberia along with others adjudged guilty of insurrectionism, Berdyaev could not identify with the radicals. What he calls “their asceticism, their narrowness, their moral rigorism and their stuffy political religiosity” repelled him. He concluded that, “every political revolution is doomed and becomes stupefied by its own surfeit,” and that, ‘the subject of true revolution must be man, rather than the masses or the body politic.” Indeed, in the passage, Berdyaev amends his own vocabulary, prescinding from the categorical man to the unique instance of the person: “Only a personalistic revolution can properly be called a ‘revolution.’” In a similar formulation he writes, “I understood that ‘spirit’ signifies freedom and revolution, while ‘matter’ spells necessity and reaction, and spreads reaction in the minds and hearts of the revolutionaries themselves.”

Berdyaev foresaw as early as 1917 that the Bolshevik revolution would demand the humiliating “sacrifice” of all individual prerogatives and every speck of actual political or any other kind of freedom.

II. While piling up names perhaps discommodes the reader, it seems not impertinent to mention how harmoniously Berdyaev’s thinking chimes with that of others who began to make themselves known in traditionalist-conservative circles the West in the 1920s, in the aftermath of the 1914-1918 War and the Wilsonian, “progressive” agenda for reconstructing the world. Berdyaev records his perception, at that time, of a shattered cosmos. So too in The Waste Land, published in the year when Berdyaev arrived, a refugee, in Berlin, T. S. Eliot portrayed a frgmented world and an atomized, estranged humanity, living anxiously in want of the spiritual nourishment, the redemption, that only the inherited forms of tradition, now obliterated, might have supplied. So too Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West (1919 & 1922) and René Guénon in The Crisis of the Modern Age (1927) wrote of the dominion of technique, which reductively understands everything on the model of billiard-ball mechanics and under the sign of pure quantity. In Skepticism and Animal Faith (1923), George Santayana, a former teacher of Eliot, defended the value of custom and faith in the conduct of life.

Berdyaev belonged to that prophetic moment. Looking back on his career in June 1940 – when, as he wrote, “whole worlds are crashing in ruin, and other worlds, unknown and predictable, are coming into being” – he questioned “whether this fallen and stricken world, which paralyses and crushes man by its inexorable necessities, can be possessed of true, original reality,” or “whether man is not driven by the very nature of things to look for a reality that transcends this world.”

Berdyaev inclined to answer yes to his own question. His career consisted of four decades of contemplation, in preparation for writing, for the purpose of filling in the details of his answer. In Self-Knowledge, on which the labor seems to have been long, he tells of his recognition that for him the religious impulse would be fulfilled in Russian Orthodoxy, while yet he suspected, rather as Kierkegaard had, that Christendom, Orthodox or otherwise, had “become a sociological phenomenon,” and as such dispirited and denatured. Nor does he spare the clerisy from criticism: Priests being men, they are fallible; some are even obnoxious, and bishops are intolerable bores. For Berdyaev: “God is freedom” and “God never operates through necessity, but always through freedom; and he never forces recognition of himself.” That is an observation more apt in our time even than in the 1940s. “It is a grave fatal error,” Berdyaev writes, “to ask for and rely on safety devices and infallible criteria in our religious life, since this life involves all the boundless possibilities, risks and insecurities of freedom.” In Self-Knowledge, Berdyaev also conveniently nominates five of his books that best complete his intention to explain himself: The Meaning of the Creative Act (1914), The Destiny of Man (1937), Solitude and Society (1934), Spirit and Reality (1946), and Slavery and Freedom (1939).

The Meaning of the Creative Act was Berdyaev’s second book, written during the declension of his revolutionary period, partly in Italy, where he traveled with his companion Lydia just before the outbreak of the war. Berdyaev devotes a chapter of Self-Knowledge to summarizing this ambitious authorial sally and to critiquing it for attempting too much. In Berdyaev’s improvisatory, non-systematic, worked-out-over-a-lifetime philosophy, creativity maintains an indissoluble bond with freedom. Creativity, not limited to the obvious forms of artistic creativity but best exemplified by them, works by spontaneous volition. The creator chooses to create. He chooses to work in reference to the plastic canons of esthetic law; so while creation is not a spasm, it is also not a mechanical act. In the retrospective discussion of The Meaning of the Creative Act in Self-Knowledge, creativity finds a place in the tension between Romanticism, with which Berdyaev qualifiedly identifies, and Classicism, for which he lacks sympathy.

The “gift of creativity” having its source “from God,” man exercises that gift “by virtue of his freedom, and in his capacity of creator”; never is man as creator a “mere passive object in the hands of God.” Creativity maintains relation also to “redemption and salvation,” and not only because it is a type of Imitatio Dei. According to Berdyaev, the “fallacy of classicism,” recognizable as the fallacy of the Enlightenment and its utopian offshoots, consists in the mania for “perfection in the finite, within this contingent and fallen world of ours.”

For the Romantic, by contrast, “the creative act… is eschatological,” pointing to that which lies beyond finitude. The sagacious mortal creator, knowing that flaws and incompleteness will mar his creation, reconciles himself to this knowledge. Berdyaev developed his “eschatological” view of existence, in which a transcendental orientation conditions the sense of life and informs the principled indictment of objectification, in one of his last books, The Beginning and the End (1947; English edition, 1952).

Berdyaev sometimes called himself a “Personalist” and his philosophy, insofar as it cohered, “Personalism.” A creator, artist or otherwise, must first of all become a person. A person, moreover, defines himself at first by negation, through specifying his difference from the cue-seeking masses; and that differentiation is itself a witting, creative act. In The Beginning and the End, Berdyaev writes, “He who is most individualized comes tumbling down into the conditions of socialization at its maximum,” entering the realm of “coercive objectiveness.” Berdyaev assumes always a fallen world. Because society belongs to the world, society too is fallen. Modern man especially “lives in a disintegrated world” where an artificial and enslaving “collectivism” or “sociomorphism” has imposed itself in default of a vanished “true community,” which oriented itself to “the Kingdom of God.” For the self-aware person, solitude beckons urgently. Solitude, “a late product of advanced culture,” operates in the modern context as monastic asceticism did in the medieval context.

In solitude the individual person overthrows “sociomorphism” and rediscovers the grace of his freedom. The “Personalist” will therefore also be an aristocrat, a label that Berdyaev never rejected, but that indeed he applied unapologetically to himself even though critics held it against him.

In The Meaning of the Creative Act, before the worst of the cataclysms that impinged on his life, Berdyaev had written concerning the Renaissance of the Quattrocento that, “in it Christianity encountered paganism, and this encounter deeply wounded the spirit of man.” The earlier Renaissance of the Trecento was, by contrast, “all tinged with Christian color,” as in Giotto and the religious painters and the philosopher-mystic Joachim di Fiora. For Berdyaev, that early Renaissance was not only Christian, but by virtue of its Christianity, “Romantic”: It bodied forth in plastic and in thought the Christian-Transcendental impulse – the infinity-seeking impulse – that the Gothic Middle Ages derived from the Gospel. The sudden welling-up of antique motifs therefore suggests to Berdyaev a catastrophic diremption. Indeed, he sees the Quattrocento as the beginning of modernity precisely in the sense that it is the beginning of a whole series of cultural fault lines, which thereafter proliferate and widen in the fractured substrate of Western life. The Pagan, for Berdyaev, is much more of this world, of finitude and limitation, than the Christian. The Christian would overcome nature through spirit; the Pagan would accord itself with nature.

In a fascinating analysis of Sandro Botticelli, Berdyaev remarks how his Venuses ascend towards heaven while his Madonnas descend to the Earth, an irresolvable contradiction: “In the whole life work of Botticelli there is a sort of fatal failure.” If the viewer cannot but approach Botticelli’s canvasses “without a strange inner trepidation,” that is because Botticelli’s is an art of trepidation, in which the “canonical” takes fright before the spirit’s soaring impulse, preventing that impulse from fulfilling itself. Rationality strangles creativeness in its crib.

III. Implicit in Chamberlain’s characterization of Berdyaev is the sameness of his books, a characterization that the books themselves swiftly belie. The Beginning and the End is abstract, avoiding specific references; The Meaning of the Creative Act is replete with specific references. Self-Knowledge, although reticent, is personal; The End of Our Time (1924; 1933) and The Meaning of History are historically specific, immersed in the actual. While Berdyaev’s themes persistently recur in book after book, his total range of knowledge, interest, and reference might easily humble his readers. His range approaches Spengler’s range of knowledge, interest, and reference. Like Spengler, Berdyaev never earned a degree; he kept failing his examinations and eventually abandoned the attempt to pass them. He nevertheless knew more than his professors, as The Meaning of the Creative Act showed just before the outbreak of the Great War. Berdyaev was a philosophy faculty, a literature faculty, and an art-history faculty bodied forth in one perpetually self-educating and slightly eccentric person. In his appreciation of the French Symbolist School in poetry, for example, he anticipates the vindication of those artists in the best of their post-World War Two exegetes, such as Anna Balakian and Robert Greer Cohn. When Berdyaev makes a late-in-life appearance (posthumous, in fact) in Jean Wahl’s Short History of Existentialism (1949) as a respondent to Wahl’s lecture, he ventures a sharp assessment of the formidable figure of Martin Heidegger, whose philosophical ancestry in Kierkegaard Wahl had proposed.

Berdyaev denies that Heidegger stems from the Dane. As for Heidegger, he aimed at a “rational ontology,” whereas Berdyaev praises Kierkegaard because “he did not wish to create an ontology or a metaphysics.”

Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and the Symbolists – it is dizzying. Berdyaev’s name remains bound up with Russia, however, with the agony of the Revolution, and with the betrayal of freedom in the Soviet Union under the Communist Party. Berdyaev’s discussion of these matters has naturally attracted most of the attention that commentators have directed to him over the years. Although Berdyaev ended up a victim of Bolshevism (not as abjectly as some did, of course), yet in his exile he refrained from contributing to overt public condemnation of the Soviet Union and, while criticizing the Communists, argued that the Party, almost despite itself, represented the Russian and affiliated peoples. Yet Berdyaev devotes much of The End of Our Time (three out of five chapters) to the USSR, and comments unsparingly. Berdyaev sees the Marxist regime not as an isolated phenomenon but rather as one instance of the staggering cultural and spiritual corruption of the West in the aftermath of the Renaissance and the Reformation.

In The End of Our Time, Berdyaev writes: “The Renaissance came to nothing, the Reformation came to nothing, the Enlightenment came to nothing; so did the Revolution inspired by the Enlightenment. And thus too will Socialism come to nothing.” Again, “Bolshevism is rationalized lunacy, a mania for the definitive regulation of life, resting on the elemental irrationality of the people.” This last phrase should be considered in connection with Berdyaev’s skeptical judgment of Heidegger. A “rational ontology” is for Berdyaev necessarily a “rationalized lunacy”; a “rational ontology” is a betrayal of freedom. Consistent with the idea that the Will to Power is pathological and demonic is Berdyaev’s assessment of revolutionary egalitarianism: “When societies begin to hanker after equality any kind of renaissance and harvest of creation is at an end. For the principle of equality is the principle of envy, envy of the being of another and bitterness at the inability to affirm one’s own.” What Berdyaev writes about the Bolsheviks applies with equal validity to any ideological faction then or now because each one is nothing less than “an envious denial of the being of another.”

What Berdyaev calls envy Nietzsche called ressentiment; and ressentiment, or envy, is ultimately, for Berdyaev, a satanic principle. The notion that revolution springs from the “Satanism” of envy unalloyed, a type of cosmic resentment, a world-hatred founded in the subject’s outrage that, in the issue of creation, the deity never consulted him: This notion permeates Berdyaev’s comments on Bolshevism and Communism in Russia in The End of Our Time. The revolutionary regime behaves, in Berdyaev’s coinage, in “the muzhiko-military style”; the regime, “brutal and ferocious in its methods, has declared war on all quality in favour of quantity,” a fact that assimilates it to trends in industrial capitalism in the West. No less than industrial-capitalist society, Soviet society sets itself implacably against “all fine culture.” Soviet – or let us say, Communist – society is the paradoxical triumph of bourgeois philistinism.

The pre-Bolshevik elites of Russia are, in this, for Berdyaev, as blameworthy as the Bolsheviks for the Revolution; the elites were weak and out of touch equally with the people and with Truth, by which Berdyaev always means first and foremost the Truth of the Gospel. “Bolshevism corresponds to the moral condition of us Russians and displays outwardly our inward crisis, our loss of faith, our religion in danger, the hideous weakening of our moral life.”

The Russian Revolution represents for Berdyaev, as the French Revolution represented for Joseph de Maistre, something “visited on the people for their sins.” This implies not, however, that the Revolution lies beyond moral judgment. On the contrary, all responsible people, especially all responsible followers of the Gospel, must judge it. How much of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is prefigured in Berdyaev? A great deal. Berdyaev, acknowledging the prophetic power of literature, writes: “The Russian revolution has turned out just as Dostoyevsky foresaw.” Dostoyevsky went to the heart of the matter in The Devils: “He understood that Socialism in Russia was a religious matter, a question of atheism, and that the real concern of the pre-revolutionary intellectuals was not politics but the salvation of mankind without the help of God.”

So too Communism: This godless cult mirrors religion atheistically, and with Manichaean ferocity. Communism, fundamentally a doctrine of covetousness, as befits a pure materialism, “is warfare against the spirit,” and therefore against the freedom that corresponds to spirit. In Communism, “envy, that black passion, has become the determining force in the world.”

Berdyaev nevertheless disdains strident counter-revolutionary rhetoric. With de Maistre, he urges only “a peaceful and bloodless, even a gentle counter-revolution.” He hopes that the post-revolutionary society will emphasize spirit over matter and, while restoring property, will not make it life’s grand fetish. (This did not happen.)

The final chapter of The End of Our Time bears the title, “The ‘General Line’ of Soviet Philosophy.” Berdyaev added it to the book for a revised edition in 1933. The comments that Berdyaev makes on “Soviet Philosophy” are trenchant, coolly observed, and – once again – broadly applicable to all ideological discourse, whether of 1930 or the 2011. “Soviet philosophy is a theology,” Berdyaev writes; “it has its revelation, its holy books, its ecclesiastical authority, its official teachers [and] it supposes the existence of one orthodoxy and innumerable heresies.” The central thesis of the Marxist-Leninist “revelation” is the famous dialectic of materialism, which Berdyaev, in his brilliant analysis, shows to be unable to define itself; but the orthodoxy is less important in the discourse of “Soviet philosophy” than are the deviations from it: “Marx-Leninism has been transformed into a scholasticism sui generis, and the defense of orthodoxy, of eternal truth in its integrity, and the distinguishing of heresies has attained a degree of refinement difficult for the uninitiated to imagine.”

IV. An earlier estimate might be revised. Berdyaev is not merely a writer whose case calls for patience and who rewards patience modestly. He is a compelling writer, a Nietzschean whose critique of Nietzsche is sharper than a blade, an anti-Communist who is equally scathing in his critique of the capitalistic-industrial order, and a Christian who is capable of asserting that moral norms are tyrannical. (He means, of course, the “sociomorphic” norms; and he is arguing an ethics of Gospel-centered social non-conformism.) The Destiny of Man and Slavery and Freedom, his two most ambitious works, as challenging as they are, belong under the generalization. The Destiny of Man is Berdyaev’s ethics, but it is also his meta-ethics, his critique of historical and reigning ethical theories. An example of Berdyaev on Nietzsche will give some of the flavor of Berdyaev’s modus operandi in criticism. “Suppose I say that good is not good… that it is evil,” as Nietzsche asserted in The Genealogy of Morals and elsewhere; “that will mean that I make a valuation of the ‘good,’ and distinguish it from something which I oppose to it.” But this gesture now entails that, “I distinguish between the higher and the lower.” Thus: “Nietzsche was a moralist, though he denied it.” Yet Berdyaev stands with Nietzsche in the conviction that, “true morality is not the social morality of the herd.”

In The Destiny of Man, Berdyaev distinguishes between three hierarchical levels of ethics. Beginning with the lowest, these are “the ethics of law,” “the ethics of redemption,” and “the ethics of creativeness.” Law, which distinguishes sin from righteousness, results, Berdyaev argues, from “the Fall”; good and evil come into existence with “the Fall.” Law is necessarily “sociomorphic,” coercive, and in its dudgeon tyrannical. Law encourages mere individualism, that is, the responsibility of the individual to observe the law at all times; but law hinders personality, a higher value than individuality. Law expresses the collective mentality of the aggregate, the Nietzschean “herd.” Law is not unjustified; it is merely morally limited, as the Crucifixion, perfectly legal, showed. Redemption, in existential terms, manifests itself at first as the individual’s recognition in law of a makeshift at the lowest level and as his insight that personality, which partakes in grace, finds no nourishment there.

In striving for redemption, however, the individual easily distorts the grace to which his struggle responds; he then becomes a Puritan, like Henrik Ibsen’s priest-fanatic in Brand, or like convinced Communists and multiculturalists. As Berdyaev remarks, Jesus kept company, not with the perfecti, but with taxmen, tavern-keepers, harlots, and thieves.

The applicability of Berdyaev’s line of thinking to the contemporary liberal utopia will be evident in an aphoristic construction like this one: “Absolute perfection, absolute order and rationality may prove to be an evil, a greater evil than the imperfect, unorganized, irrational life which admits a certain freedom of evil.” Creativeness, in contrast both to law and redemption, admits of imperfection; it also always traffics in freedom. Creativeness often expresses itself in love, and love must contradict itself whenever it admits of coercion. The codification of polities partakes originally in creativeness, which is why the codifiers find their place in myth, but when once the code has fossilized and become an end rather than a means, it has ceased to be creative. Tragically, however, all human creation invariably falls back into this world. Failure is this worldly; and this world is a fallen world. The very failure of enterprise tempts men to employ coercion.

Slavery and Freedom likewise develops Berdyaev’s tragic optimism and his notion that clarification in eschatology is necessary for clarification in ethics. Personality remains, for Berdyaev, the highest value; personality, which has its source outside the dominion of objectivity and causality, never becomes integrated in any natural or social hierarchy. “God is always freedom,” writes Berdyaev; and “God acts, not upon the world order as though justifying the suffering of personality, but in the conflict, in the struggle of personality, in the conflict of freedom against that world order.” In the utopian idea of “world harmony,” as well as in the parallel theological idea that pain and humiliation belong to God’s plan, Berdyaev sees a character “false and enslaving.” Whether as atheistic collectivism or as theocracy, the vindication of force and suffering through reference to Being or Unity strikes Berdyaev as, itself, irremediably evil.

Berdyaev also anticipates the tyranny implicit in the “green” or environmentalist utopia. “Cosmicism,” as Berdyaev calls this type of idolatrous “pandemonism,” so fervently “exalts the idea of organism and the organic” that in its insistence “man becomes a mere organ” of nature and “the freedoms of man… are abolished.”

Every doctrine, environmentalism no less than socialism, has society as its context and tends more or less strongly to seek the total ordering of society under its precepts. Doctrines or ideologies belong with “sociomorphism,” that demand of the collectivity that everything personal should subordinate itself. Berdyaev quotes with agreement Alexander Hertzen’s assertion that “the subjection of personality to society… is an extension of the practice of human sacrifice.” The cases of Socrates and Jesus supply the prime historical examples of the Hertzen-observation but the dramatic scenarios of Ibsen must also have occurred to Berdyaev in this regard. Dr. Stockman in Enemy of the People comes to mind, as does pathetic little Hedvig in The Wild Duck, the victim of Gregers Werle’s beautiful vision for the Ekdal family. In the analysis in Slavery and Freedom, the West has been moving in the direction of totalitarianism since the Sixteenth Century at least, just as it has been moving ever further into the de-spiritualized state of “objectivization.” As applied science seeks sovereignty over nature, the realm of objects, politics seeks sovereignty over humanity; the state thus makes relentless war on personality.

Berdyaev offers no political program or scheme – that would contradict his elevation of personality to the highest value. But Berdyaev does make consistent statements that converge with the minimalist formula for a polity, such as that promulgated by America’s Founding Fathers. The calling of the personality is to exercise itself in creative acts, by which it fulfills itself, or, as the Preamble to the Constitution puts it, pursues happiness. The wisdom of the Constitution and of Berdyaev is the same: A man must be free to pursue what he can imagine, but once any external agency presumes to guarantee to him the possession of what he pursues, he has sold his birthright. He is enslaved. It is true that Berdyaev regarded America with suspicion. On the other hand he admired England, on whose common law tradition the American minimalist formula for a polity arose. The politically centripetal America of the 1930s that Berdyaev disliked had already, itself, betrayed its own minimalist foundation.

Berdyaev remains today one of the most radical of Twentieth Century philosophers. He must offend liberal and libertarian, militant atheist and Christian literalist alike. For all that Berdyaev shares with Nietzsche, he will offend those, and they are many, who have turned Nietzsche into one of the idols of the Götzendämmerung. Veteran anti-Communists and Cold Warriors will meanwhile undoubtedly take exception to Berdyaev’s occasional ameliorative attitude to the Soviet Union, which peremptorily exiled him in 1922. The offended parties should, however, strive to reconcile themselves with the man’s Christian Existentialism, or Christian Anarchism, the latter of which might be a better description of his attitude. I was struck, in reading Berdyaev’s exposition of personality and freedom as the true vocations of man, by its echoes in Geert Wilders’ summary of his defense before the faceless judges who, at last, on Wilders’ second trial, acquitted him: “We must live in the truth… Truth and freedom are inextricably connected. We must speak the truth because otherwise we shall lose our freedom.”

Who knows whether Wilders has any consciousness of so recondite a figure as Nicolas Berdyaev? Why should he? Nevertheless, Wilders’ words resonate with the radical, uncompromising paean to conscience and freedom that is the work of Nicolas Berdyaev.

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Bertonneau, Thomas F. “Nicolas Berdyaev And Modern Anti-Modernism.” The Brussels Journal, 12 August 2011. <http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/4768 >.

 

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Evola’s Political Endeavors – Hansen

Julius Evola’s Political Endeavors by H.T. Hansen (PDF – 574 KB):

Julius Evola’s Political Endeavors

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Hansen, H.T. “Julius Evola’s Political Endeavors.” Introduction to Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins: Postwar Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist, pp. 1-104. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002.

Note: On Evola’s theories, see also: “Against Nihilism: Julius Evola’s ‘Traditionalist’ Critique of Modernity” by Thomas F. Bertonneau, “Julius Evola on Race” by Tomislav Sunic, “Tradition?” by Alain de Benoist, “A True Empire: Form and Presuppositions of a United Europe” by Julius Evola, “The Defining Element of the Conservative Revolution” by Julius Evola, and various other articles by or about Evola.

 

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