Communalism Communalist tselostnost Monism Monist Tsleostnost Nikolai Berdyaev Nikolai Berdyaev and tselostnost' Solidarism Solidarist Tselostnost' Tselostnost' Universalism Universalist Tselostnost'

Nikolai Berdyaev and Russian Historical Tselostnost’


Contemporary philosophies of history, in particular Western and secular ones, tend to reject the idea of a unified history, a wholeness of history. Instead, these posit the idea of plural histories, multiplied by interpretation, alternative foci and the like. Most Russian, particularly Russian traditionalist thinkers, across history, including today, have begged to differ with the view that history. Their views on many things tend towards integrity or wholeness, in Russian tselost’ or tselostnost’. This is true of their views on history’s origins, development, course, and end. In this article I look at the work of one of Russian history’s greatest thinkers, Nikolay Berdyaev (1874-1948), and the ways his views of history overlap with his own and his compatriots’ tendency towards tselostnost’ in thinking about history and how they overlap with Russian tselostnost’ in general. Berdyaev’s thought has seen not just a rehabilitation but a burst of popularity among Russian traditionalist thinkers, among both the conservative intelligentsia and the elite more generally. President Vladimir Putin has stated he intermittently reads his works because they represent serious thought about Russia and its future.[1] Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill (born in 1946) has stated that he read Berdyaev as well as the prominent ‘God-seeker,’ Father Sergei Bulgakov, and intuitivist philosopher Semyon Frank in his family’s book collection in his youth, and he has been a strong supporter of the republication of the works of each.[2]

Russian Tselostnost’

In theology, philosophy, the arts, and even the sciences, whether under the rule of tsars or commissars, Russia’s most prominent thinkers and actors have articulated relentlessly a belief in and norm of wholeness and proselytized a quest for one or more types of Russian tselostnost’. In my Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Culture, Thought, History and Politics I hypothesized four types: (1) monism – the integrality of Heaven and/or God with all existence and/or mankind, of spirit with matter, of mankind with all the rest of the cosmos; (2) universalism – the unity in one form or another of all mankind or alternatively a portion of mankind with Russia (all Slavdom, all Orthodox Christianity, Europe and the West writ large, Eurasia); (3) communalism – spiritual, social and/or socioeconomic wholeness (Orthodox conciliarity or sobornost’), the Russian communal obshchina and mir, and Soviet forms of collectivism such as the labor collective, the communal apartment, and parttiinost’ or intense loyalty to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union); and (4) solidarity – the belief in the importance of and the persistent aspiration to and pursuit of national political, cultural, and ideological unity.[3] In other words, there has been a relentless hope and spiritual, intellectual, artistic, scientific, social and political quest for the unity of Heaven and Earth, God and humankind, spirit and matter, of the peoples of the world, of society’s disparate groups and classes, and of Russia’s usually divided and conflictive politics and contested culture and identity.

The belief in or aspiration to tselostnost’ is not left out when Russians contemplated or tried to conceptualize their own history and that of the world. Many Russians have promoted Russian historical tselostnost’ or the unification of Russian history. Just as monist tselostnost’ is the foundation of the other forms of Russian tselostnost’, as I noted in Russian Tselostnost’, it arguably also inspires and subsumes historical tselostnost’, which in turn may influence Putin’s thinking beyond the mere instrumentality of solidarity promotion as a weapon against political division and opposition. The influence of tselostnost’ thinking on Russian philosophies of history has produced a tendency to see history as having ‘meaning’, an end, and – depending on one’s religious, metaphysical, or materialist beliefs – a particular type of end and purpose. This is true of Berdyaev’s thinking, which in many ways is very representative of a certain Russian Christian Orthodox theo-philosophy of history ubiquitous in Russian traditionalist cricles today as in the past.

Berdyaev and Russian Tselostnost’

Berdyaev was born in Obukhovo (Obukhiv), Kiev Gubernia on 6/18 March 1874 at the hieght of the first wave of revolutionary terrorism to shake the Russian Empire. He would later attribute the destruction of the Russian Empire to the rise of national particularism, including Ukrainian nationalism, along with that of communist internationalism (see below). He entered the Law department of Kiev University but never graduated, as he was arrested for participation in a socialist revolutionary circle in 1898, having been attracted radical social thought as many youth were in those decades. He soon turned to religious philosophy under the influence of the thought of Russia’s perhaps greatest philosopher, Vladimir Solovev. In 1903 he and Sergie Bulgakov, who had undergone a similar conversion, traveled to St. Petersburg to found a new philosophical journal Questions of Life (Voprosy zhizni), which closed after a year. Berdyaev then founded the Moscow branch of the Russian Religious-Philosophical Society, founded in St. Petersburg by Bulgakov. In 1909 Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Frank, and Pyotr Struve, among others had published the landmark ‘Vekhi’ (Signposts) collection of religious-philosophical and historico-philosophical articles on the state of Russian life, thought, and culture.[4] Continuing to write in a religio-metaphysical vein after the October 1917 Bolshevik coup, Berdyaev, along with hundreds of other conservative members of the Russian intelligentsia, was deported in 1922. First settling in Berlin, he and the Vekhi group followed up their pre-revolutionary 1909 Vekhi work with the no less influential collection of articles, Iz glubiny (From the Depths), in 1923. Moving to Paris, Berdyaev played a lead role in the Christian youth organization, the YMCA and its publishing activity, along with Bulgakov. He edited the Russian-language religio-philosophical journal Put’ (The Way) from 1926-1939, the years during which he wrote many of his most influential studies, and was a professor at the Russian Theological Institute in Paris.[5] Berdyaev was a close associate of the Russian Religious Renaissance’s ‘God-seeking’ movement, in particular of Solovev, Buklgakov and the brilliant, if esoteric Father Pavel Florenskii, as well as of the intuitivist philosophers Nikolai Losskii, Semyon Frank, Lev Karsavin, among others. He died on 24 March 1948 at the age of 74 in Clamart, France, in the wake of a war that symbolized and manifested anything but tselostnost’.

Although neither a theologian nor a purely religious nor formal philosopher per se, Berdyaev offered a profound philosophy in many of his works, replete with monist, universalist, communalist, solidarist and historical wholeness. In Berdyaev’s monism, as for other monists, eternal humanity exists in the divine, and therefore the divine exists in man. Any creative activity progresses humankind towards divine life. However, for Berdyaev, “(m)onism and all-unity are only possible at the end of this world, at the end of objectivization. In this world dualism remains in force.”[6] Like the theologians Solovev, Florenskii and Bulgakov, he believed Christ’s redemption of the world opened the path to humanity’s divinization at the end of history.[7] Divinization of the world is only possible through a freedom based in love for God, as revealed by Christ’s entrance into the tragedy of world history. The coming of Christ for a second time along with the Heavenly Kingdom at the end of time brings salvation and all-unity. Monism was an eschatological reality, not a metaphysical or worldly one. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, salvation is, for Berdyaev, only attainable collectively, not individually, and collective salvation just like all-unity comes only with the coming of Christ and God’s Kingdom.[8] Berdyaev saw the ubiquity of monism in Russian philosophy, considering it a trend inherited from the intelligentsia’s maximalism and passion for absolutes: “In Russian philosophy there are traits, which are native to the Russian intelligentsia—a thirst for an integral (tselostnyi) worldview and an organic merger of truth and good, knowledge and faith.”[9]

Berdyaev found the roots of his own and Russian universalism in Christianity’s monist and universalist tselostnost’. “Christianity is a meeting and unification of eastern and western spiritual historical forces. Without this, the unification of Christianity is unthinkable. It is the only worldwide religion, which, having its cradle directly in the East and is, first of all, a religion of the West, reflecting in itself all the peculiarities of the West.”[10] The rise of Christianity “on the basis of the unification of East and West” provided “the precondition for the unity of humankind and the unity of the Providence of God, acting in historical destinies.”[11] “Christian dynamism and Christian historicism are not inherent to any other consciousness. Only Christianity acknowledged the common final goal of humankind, was aware of humankind’s unity, and by this created the possibility of a philosophy of history.”[12] Russia’s universalism (the cultural value of the “brotherhood of people”), for Berdyaev, is wrapped specifically inside Russian Orthodox monist discourse (New Jerusalem, the Coming Grad): “The Russian people, according to their eternal idea, do not love the arrangement of this earthly city and aspire to the City to Come, to the New Jerusalem. But New Jerusalem is not broken off from the enormous Russian land; it is connected with it and is in it. For the New Jerusalem’s communitarianness, the brotherhood of people, it is necessary to live through the epoch of the Holy Spirit in which there will be a new revelation about society.”[13]

Of the four basic types of Russian tselostnost’, communalism is the one least relevant and least applied to historical tselostnost’. In line with this, perhaps, Berdyaev’s discussions of Russian communalisms such as the village mir and obshchina (commune) or Orthodox conciliarity (religious and spiritual communion) or sobornost’ were limited and circumscribed. His sobornost’ was more circumscribed in the sense that it is less religious and more secular than that proposed by other Orthodox, traditionalist, and communalist Russian thinkers. He regarded it as an underlying force in Russian culture promoting familial, communal, and particularist values and behaviors and supplanting formal legality.[14]

Berdyaev took an analytical approach as much as a normative or prescriptive one in addressing the problem of Russian unity. Nevertheless, his solidarism was real, as he repeatedly lamented the great schism represented by the 1917 revolution and civil war and castigated those whom he thought responsible: the nihilist and revoloutionary intelligentsia and the Bolsheviks and other extremists its spawned. He, like all the Vekhi authors, criticized the intelligentsia for its role in radicalizing Russia’s youth and narod through its communism and maximalism, thereby dividing Russia.[15] Berdyaev’s concept of the ‘Russian idea’ held that Russians do not differentiate in their perception and thinking. “With Russians there are no divisions, classifications, groupings according to various spheres as with Western people, there is more integrity (tsel’nost’).”[16] The tendency to prefer conceptual unity produces disunity; limited willingness to parse issues brings demagoguery and difficulties in making compromises, inclining one to obstinance, division, and conflict. Berdyaev continues: “Russian philosophy especially insists that philosophical cognition is cognition by an integral spirit, in which the mind joins with the will and feeling and in which there is no rationalistic dissection.”[17] Thus, “the originality of Russian religious and philosophical thought must be acknowledged as its totalitarian character, its searching for tselostnost’.”[18]

Yet Berdyaev saw Russians as psycho-culturally bifurcated. He argued: “But [integrity] also creates difficulty and the possibility of confusion. It must be remembered that the nature of the Russian person is very polarized. On the one hand, there is humility and indifference; on the other hand, there is a riot caused by pity and demanding justice. On the one hand, there is sympathy and compassion; on the other hand – the possibility of cruelty; on the one hand – love of freedom, on the other – an inclination to slavery.”[19] Thus, Russians or at least Russian traditionalists and he himself aspired to the unity of the state (Tsar) and people, Church and state, ethnic Russians and Russia’s other nationalities, and the country’s socioeconomic classes. Ultimately, Berdyaev thought or at least hoped that through solidarity Russia could play a leading role in leading the world to Christian universal brotherhood and the arrival of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth.

Berdyaev on the Tselostnost’ of World History

The most outstanding 19th century Russian Religious Renaissance and Silver Age theologians and religious philosophers and thinkers – most notably the God-seekers (Vladimir Solovev (1853-1900), Father Pavel Florenskii (1882-1937), Father Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944), among others), the intutivist philosophers Niklai Losskii (1870-1965) and Semyon Frank (1877-1950) as well as Vekhi ‘Signposts’ movement founded by Berdyaev – held to an eschatology, even teleology that Christ’s redemption of the world opened the path to all of humankind’s divinization at the end of history.[20] Berdyaev reflected eschatological thinking in his famous philosophical study, The Meaning of History (Smysl’ istorii): “Without the idea of historical completion, there is no perception of history, because history is essentially eschatological, because it presupposes resolution.”[21] The theologians, philosophers, and other thinkers throughout Russian history, but particularly during the late Imperial era – in particular Berdyaev’s view of world history – derives from Russian Orthodoxy, which engendered monism or monist tselostnost’ in their native culture and their own thought.

For Berdyaev, human history by itself was not integral. It was broken up into the past present and future and by numerous contradictions and conflicts. At thе same time, history did not consist of human history alone. It was connected with a larger Heavenly or Divine history, which would eventually incorporate humankind and human history at their end. Close in spirit to the God-seekers as well as the intuitivism of Nikolai Losskii, Semyon Frank, and others (see below), he seems to go against the grain of their monism, arguing that God’s Kingdom exists only in existential time, not in historical time. While the latter “can be symbolized by a line which extends forward, into the future, to the new,” the former “has no distinction between the past and future, the beginning and the end.”[22] While world history was divided in time between past, present and future, they each dissolved into eternity, which is integral. “The time of our world reality, the time of our world zone, is a torn time; it is a bad time, containing an evil, deadly beginning; time is not whole, broken into the past, present and future. The doctrine of the time of St. Augustine is brilliant in this respect. Time is not only torn apart, but one part of it is rebelling against another. The future is rebelling against the past, the past is fighting against the exterminating principle of the future. The historical process in time is a constant tragic and painful struggle of these torn parts of time — the future and the past.”[23] Still, in Istoriya russkoi filosofii (The History of Russian Philosophy) Losskii saw in Berdyaev’s view of “historical time” a view of the “tselostnost’ of the historical process.”[24] How could this be?

            As a Russian Orthodox believer Berdyaev suggested the unity of world history by holding that a Christian philosophy of history was eschatological and teleological, and so his idea of world history and time being resolved at the end of time by the “eternity” of time in Divine history resolved the contradiction between a broken chain of human history and time, on the one hand, and the overall tselostnost’ of history embedded in the Heavenly Kingdom. Berdyaev noted: 
We must, in our faith and in our hope, elevating us above the moment of the present and making us not only people of the severed present, but also people of great historical destiny, finally overcome this torn and vicious time — the time of the present, past and future, and enter into the true time — into eternity. All our beliefs and hopes must be connected with the solvability of human destinies in eternity, and we build your perspective of life not on the perspective of a detached future, but on the perspective of a holistic eternity.

“The time of our world reality, the time of our world zone, is a torn time; it is a bad time, containing an evil, deadly beginning, time is not whole, broken into the past, present and future. The doctrine of the time of St. Augustine is brilliant in this respect. Time is not only torn apart, but one part of it is rebelling against another. The future is rebelling against the past, the past is fighting against the exterminating principle of the future. The historical process in time is a constant tragic and painful struggle of these torn parts of time — the future and the past. [25]

But like a good monist always inclined towards tselostnost’, Berdyaev at the same time asserts historical memory can overcome this division and contradiction, providing “some kind of integral life that combines three moments of time – the past, present and future – in a single integral unity.”[26] Also, Berdyaev discusses the interconnection rather than the usual philosophical view of opposition between eternity and time and the ultimate unification of the latter by the former.[27]

But world-human history’s tragedy was not resolvable in world-historical time; only at the end of time after the apocalypse, the advent of the Heavenly Kingdom and in the eternity of Divine history: “History is, truly, — and this is its religious content — the way to another world. But inside history, it is impossible for any absolute state to occur, the task of history is solvable only outside of it.” [28] Berdyaev believed in “the deeply tragic and dual nature of the entire historical process”: “In history, there is no progress of goodness, progress of perfection in a straight line, by virtue of which the next generation stands above the previous generation; in history, there is no progress of human happiness either — there is only a tragic, greater and greater disclosure of the inner origins of being, the disclosure of the most opposite origins, both light and dark, both divine and diabolical, both the beginnings of good and the beginnings of evil.” [29] Berdyaev’s philosophy of history is influenced by monism, despite his division between world history and what he calls “heavenly” or divine history (nebesnaya istoriya): “What should be understood by the history of heaven? In the unfathomable history, in the depths of the inner life of the spirit, that history is predetermined, which is revealed and unfolded in earthly life, in earthly human destiny, in the earthly historical destiny of humanity, in what we call earthly history.”[30] “(I)n the far depths of history the borders between heavenly and earthly are erased.”[31]

In Berdyaev’s view, History and any philosophy thereof “cannot exist” without two elements: the conservative (preservation of tradition and connection to past) and the creative (drive for development into the future). But in the classic integrative way of those Russians who were inclined towards tselostnost’ in their thinking, Berdyaev connected everything in a classic expression of belief in global historical unity and monism:

The absence of one of these elements — either a moment conservative or a moment creative, dynamic — destroys the existence of history. Pure, abstract conservatism refuses to continue history, it says that everything has already ended, that now everything is subject only to protection. This attitude to history makes it impossible to perceive it. The connection with the past, with what was sacred in the past, is a connection with a creative dynamic life; loyalty to the branches of the past is loyalty to the precepts of the creative dynamic life of our ancestors; therefore, a connection, an inner connection with the ancestors, with the motherland, with everything sacred, is always a connection with a creative dynamic process turned to the future, to resolution, to fulfillment, to the creation of a new world, a new life, to the connection of this new world with the old past world; it happens in eternity, in some inner, unified historical movement, a creative dynamic movement, a reunion in eternal life is taking place. Such an understanding of the historical process, in which the connection of the temporal and the eternal is made, the historical and metaphysical are brought closer and identified, what is given to us in historical facts, in historical embodiment, and what is revealed in the deepest spiritual reality, leads to the unification of the history of the earth with the history of heaven.”[32]

The interconnection between Berdyaev’s monism, Christian teleology and eschatology, and philosophy of world and cosmological history was expressed in his The Meaning of History: “(F)or the Christian consciousness, at the center of the world process and the historical process is a certain fact that happened singly and was archetypical, non-repeatable, unique, incomparable, unlike anything, one-off and cannot be repeated, a historical fact and at the same time metaphysical, i.e. revealing the depths of life – the fact of the phenomenon of Christ.[33] Christ is a foundational element unifying world history’s path and integrating worldly and heavenly history, the historical and the metaphysical:

The revelation of history is comprehensible for us, for the human spirit, only through Christ, as a perfect man and a perfect God, as a perfect union, as the birth of God in man and man in God, the revelation of God to man and the reciprocal revelation of man to God. The absolute man — Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man – stands at the center of both heavenly and earthly history. …Through Christ, truly, the metaphysical and the historical cease to be separated, become united and identified, the metaphysical itself becomes historical and the historical itself becomes metaphysical; heavenly history becomes earthly history, earthly history is comprehended as a moment of heavenly history.” [34]

Berdyaev on Russian Historical Tselostnost’

Berdyaev displayed the historical tselostnost’ typical of his God-seeking and intuitivist associates’ as well as their tendency to interweave solidarism, universalism, and monism with their views of Russia’s own historical tselostnost’. Berdyaev connected the wholeness of Russian history with solidarism in several forms. Solidarism in the form of valuing the territorial and ethno-territorial integrity of Russia was tied to historical tselostnost’ in his 1918 article “Russia and Great Russia” in which he first lamented the Russian revolution and Bolshevik coup. Berdyaev denied both the Great Russians and “Little Russians” or Ukrainians any status as separate nations or peoples. Just as there is no separate Ukrainian nation or nationality, so too there is no separate Great Russian nation or nationality; there is only one, united Russian nation, with “tribal differences” existing between Russians and Ukrainians.[35] In other words, he affirmed support for the solidarity of the Russian nation as a united ethno-cultural entity, noting its centuries’ long continuity until 1917, doing so in a somewhat unique way by denying the Great Russians national status separate from its union with Ukraine and other traditional territories and even Russia’s colonized peoples. Berdyaev recognizes the forced, temporary breakup of the Russian nation between Kiev Rus’s southern (Ukrainian) and northern (Great Russian) parts during the Mongol yoke. This was being repeated with the advent of the Bolshevik yoke, which not only broke Russia’s territorial integrity but its state, cultural, and historical unity formed and passed down across the ages: “(The revolution) dissolved Russia, united and great, and gravely wounded the Russian national sensibility. Russia, the greatest state in the world, disintegrated in a few months and transformed into a pile of garbage. The cause of all Russian history, the cause of the gathering in of Russia from Ivan Kalita, the cause of Peter the Great, the cause of all Russian culture – Pushkin and Dostoevskii – was canceled, annihilated, and declared an unnecessary and evil cause.”[36] This history is not divisible between Great Russians and Ukrainians: “There is no Great Russian history, there is only Russian history” and “a united Russian culture.”[37]

“Russia, united and great,” is virtually a mantra sounding loudly in the text and applies to all the generations of Russian people and all the aspects of Russia—its territory, state, culture, identity, time, and history: “Russia great and united, the great and united Russian state, the great, and the united Russian culture was created not by our generation; the triumphs, sacrifices, and efforts of many generations, the whole Russian people over the course of a millennium of existence stands behind them. The Russian people has its own united, indivisible fate, its destiny in the world, and its idea which it is called upon to implement.”[38] But the unity of Russian history is not teleological, and the great disaster of 1917 threatened the Russian mission and broke its historical continuity. Now Russia might reject its idea and destiny, “which it can betray and which it can forsake as a result of human freedom being inherent to it. The collapse of the ties of time, the full break between the past and future, desecrations of the graves and monuments of the past, and the thirst for eradication of the entire past and departed, and not the resurrection of it for all eternity, are a betrayal of the (Russian) people’s idea as a great whole, and it is treason of the values, which have endured because of their significance.” [39]

In addition to intersecting with his Russian solidarism, Berdyaev’s historical tselostnost’ intersects with his Russian Orthodox monism, and through it Russia “can still resurrect” and realize a seemingly teleological historical unity in the end.[40] Indeed, Russia is destined to do so, according to the metaphysical logic rooted in his Russian Orthodox monism, for Russia is not a physical, territorial entity but a “spiritual concept.” It was “conceived in the thinking of God,” and the spirit and the Divine will always triumph over the imperfections of matter and humankind.[41] “Evil human arbitrariness does not have the strength to destroy an idea of God.”[42] Berdyaev wrote:

No material catastrophe can kill the spiritual being of Russia. If from Russia there remains only one Great Russian governate and in it only a small bunch of people remains faithful to the spiritual being of Russia and the idea of Russia, then in this small space and in this small handful (of people) Russia will continue to exist, and she will go into eternity. And chased into catacombs we will continue to feel ourselves to be sons of Russia and we will be faithful to the great Russian culture of Pushkin and Dostoevskii, and similarly we will continue to feel ourselves Christians and sons of the Church and after being chased into the Church of Christ they will chase into the catacombs and there we will have to make our prayers. No sort of external, material fate can force us to betray the Russian idea. Faithfulness to the end is possible, even when no earthly hopes remain. But it is still early to lose all hope. Russia can still resurrect. Perhaps, she had to die in order to resurrect to a new life.”[43]

Russia is part of all-being in God. Logically then, it cannot be destroyed any more than can God. Indeed, Russia’s ‘idea’ concords with the triumphant Christian teleology of suffering and repentance followed by salvation.

Berdyaev’s equally Orthodox universalism intersects with his solidarist and teleological historical wholeness. The great and united Russian literature is invaluable, because it “declared to the whole world the existence of a united, indivisible Russia, spiritually unified by a united, majestic Russian language.”[44] His monism is reflected again and more robustly in a statement of his belief in Russia’s resurrection from the schism driven by Bolshevism and lesser but similar trends of disunity. Berdyaev affirms the common Russian Orthodox universalism, sans any overt or direct designation of a global destiny for the Russian idea that Orthodoxy inspires. In “Rossiya and Velikorossiya” he wrote:

The Russian idea and the calling of the Russian people in the world are also connected with the Church. If the Russian people finally ceases being a Christian people, then it will its significance in the world. The Russian idea, national and religious, should be realized, leading us into the worldwide expanse and overcoming any closed national provincialism. History is moving to unification and not to separation; that is, Christianity should be victorious over any pagan particularism. The Russian idea, inspired by universal Christianity, will defeat the terrible demon of internationalism—that obnoxious distortion of the idea of the universal unity and brotherhood of mankind.”[45]

In other words, it is important for Russia to have “significance in the world.’ Russia and its ‘idea’ of Christian universal brotherhood is part of History’s eschatology as well as its universalist teleology towards ‘unification’, ‘not separation’—History’s march to the very same Christian universality that the Russian idea promotes and pursues. Russia, while not necessarily leading the historical march, is among the Christian vanguard and indispensable to humankind’s arrival to the promised land. History is teleological, and the teleology is towards unity towards which Russia has been only temporarily diverted by its fall into dissent and division.

In his article for the Vekhi collection Iz glubiny, Berdyaev emphasized the continuity of Russian history, despite the revolution and Bolshevik takeover. In one passage, he went beyond continuity as a form of Russian history’s unity and offered a semi-metaphysical vision of Russian historical tselostnost’:

On the surface everything seems new in Russia’s revolution – new facial expressions, new gestures, new costumes, and new formulas rule over life; those who were below, now have risen to the very top, and those who were at the top have fallen down below; those rule who were once persecuted, and the persecuted are those who ruled; the slaves became unlimitedly free, and the free in spirit are subject violence. But try and penetrate beyond the surface layer into the depths of revolutionary Russia, and you will recognize old Russia and meet the old familiar faces. …If you go deep into Russia, then behind the revolutionary struggle and revolutionary phraseology, it is not hard to see the snorting Gogolian mugs and horns. Any people at any moment of its existence lives in various times and various centuries. But there is no people in which so many different ages and which could combine the 20th century and 14th century as the Russian people. And this multiple ageness (razno-vozrastnost’) is the source of the unhealthiness, even а hindrance for the integrity (tsel’nost’) of our national life.[46]

In other words, the ‘stickiness’ of the past undermined the solidarity that Berdyaev preferred for Russian life. Berdyaev’s anti-communism makes it clear that if any time frame should be removed from Russia’s post-1917 era, it should be the communist present.

Berdyaev’s considered the “freedom of evil” to be “the real basis of history.”[47] The contradictions, conflict, violence, and general moral and ethical failures of which human history ultimately were insurmountable: “In the historical fate of man, in fact, everything failed and there is reason to think that it will never succeed.”[48] Therefore, human history’s end logically was apocalyptic, and Russian philosophies of history were apocalyptic. Berdyaev argued that the eschatology of 19th century Russia’s mainstream (non-revolutionary) historical philosophies – from Chaadaev to the Slavophiles, Solovev, Leontev, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevskii, he averred – were “apocalyptic,” filled with “grief,” “tragism,” and “a thirst for redemption of the world’s sins and salvation.”[49] Any philosophy of history that forecasts a particular end of history – apocalyptic, as in Dostoevskii’s “tragic humanism,” chiliastic or otherwise – is by definition teleological and therefore is imparted a certain wholeness tselostnost’. And the writings of Russian thinkers from Chaadaev to Berdyaev himself were brooding, apocalyptic, and eschatological. They were often teleological and in a way that designated a messianic role in humankind’s unification and salvation. Consequently, Berdyaev also assigned Russia a certain role, perhaps messianic or at least pivotal, in revealing the tragic essence of history after the collapse of European humanism that he considered to have occurred in the late 19th to early 20th century.

But Berdyaev also saw the potential for a return to the past in Russia’s post-communist future and a perhaps messianic role for Russia. In his more philosophical The Meaning of History, he held out a seemingly Russian messianic hope that the ‘tragism’ of history and its divine reformulation at the end of time might be communicated to humankind by Russia and its religio-philosophical tradition, representing perhaps prophecy helping it prepare if not escape the Apocalypse. In this passage, Berdyaev’s belief in the Christian teleology of world history intersects with Russia’s universal, seemingly potential messianic destiny:

Russia was a mysterious country, unclear even in its fate, a country in which was hidden a passionate dream of religious transformation of life. The will to culture has always been overwhelmed by the will to ‘live’ and this will had two vectors, which were often mixed — the vector of the social transformation of life in civilization and the vector of the religious transformation of life and of the phenomenon of a miracle in the fate of human society and in the fate of the people. We began to experience a crisis of culture without having fully experienced culture itself. Russians have always been had dissatisfaction with culture and an unwillingness to create a middling culture and to settle with the middle culture. Pushkin and the Alexandrian Era are the pinnacle of Russian culture. Russian Russian literature and Russian thought of the XIX century were no longer a culture; they were striving for ‘life’, for religious transformation. Such is Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, such is V. Solovyov, K. Leontiev, N. Fedorov, such are the latest religious and philosophical trends. The traditions of our culture have always been too weak. We have been creating a formless civilization. The barbarian element has always been too strong. Our will to religious transformation was struck by some kind of morbid dreaminess. But the Russian consciousness is given to understand the crisis of culture and the tragedy of historical fate more acutely and in depth than the more prosperous people of the West. Perhaps, the soul of the Russian people has preserved a great ability to reveal the will to the miracle of religious transformation of life.… The will of the Russian people needs to be purified and strengthened, and our people must go through great repentance. Only then will its will to the transformation of life give it the right to determine its calling in the world. [50]  

The teleological unity of world history is in evidence in this, Berdyaev’s concluding words in his The Meaning of History, and History’s teleology seems to entail Russian history and “calling in the world.’


Just as we see the overlap between the basice types of tselostnost’ among themselves within Berdyaev’s (and other Russian thinkers’) thought, so too do we see the intersection of each, excluding communalism at the sub-national level, with historical tselostnost’. Monism, universalism, and solidarism each have implications that tend Berdyaev’s thought (and, as I will show in a series of forthcoming articles, that of many of the most important and influential Russian thinkers) toward a view of world history and Russian history entailed by it as being, intended, or best made to be whole, to possess wholeness or tselostnost’. Russian and Berdyaev’s monism tends to unite History through a predetermined end providing a self-defining continuity and self-fulfilling purpose or teleology created by Providence or God’s plan. Russian and Berdyaev’s universalism envision a destiny of world unity, which entails a Russian unity, belief in or aspiration to which constitutes Russian and Berdyaev’s own solidarism. Thus, in Berdyaev’s seminal The Meaning of History, Russia seems to be attributed a special mission to reveal to humankind the Christian meaning of the tragedy of world history, as it is, for Berdyaev, nothing less than preparation for the end of history and the onset of heavenly history with the second coming of Christ.  

Regardless of time and place, leading Russian thinkers often perceive a cosmic struggle for progress towards a pre-determined unification and end of history to be decided by spiritual rather than material elements. In the last of his publications to appear before his death, Berdyaev urged Europe in the wake of World War II and in the midst of a “crisis of consciousness” not to treat Russian (or American) influence as an “intrusion” but rather as “a challenge to discover the spiritual unity of mankind as a unity of the wayward creative destiny of mankind.”[51] The element of tselostnost’ in Berdyaev’s philosophy of history and overall thinking is really part and parcel of much Russian thought about history’s, humankind’s, and indeed Russia’s and the individual Russian’s purpose and destiny. In the coming months I will publish a three-part series on the historical tselostnost’ in Russian thought, culture, history, and politics. This is not merely a philosophical issue or one of purely historiographical significance. Russians take history and particularly their own history – from that of their own family, village, city, region, nationality, to that of the country – deadly seriously. In the Russian meaning, history unites not just the nation but the family and so on beyond death. Religion gives it a spiritual significance, Christianity – a teleological aura of catastrophe and renewal, death and life, apocalypse and universal resurrection. In some readings, Russia is to place a leading, undisputed overtly stated and fervently believed messianic role. And this – for better or worse – will shape the history of Russia and the world in the weeks, months, and years to come.    


[1] See the video excerpt from Putin’s appearance at the 2021 Valdai Club conference, “Putin ob Il’ine, Berdyaeve,”, 21 October 2021,

[2] “Svoboda ot grekh,” Rossiiskaya gazeta, 21 April 2006,, last accessed on 21 October 2020.

[3] Gordon M. Hahn, Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Culture, Thought, History and Politics (London: Europe Books, 2022).

[4] Vekhi’s contents can be found in I. A. Isaev, ed., V poiskakh puti (Moscow: Russkaya kniga, 1992), pp. 21-206. Iz glubiny can be found in I. A. Isaev, ed., Puti Yevrazii (Moscow: Russkaya kniga, 1992), pp. 27-310. In his contributions to these volumes, Berdyaev issued a powerful critique of the state of Russian culture and society, particularly the intelligentsia, and its maximalism, messianism, “irrationalism,” radical materialism, excess positivism, and “class proletarian mysticism” at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Thoroughly infused with socialist ideas, the intelligentsia’s desire for simple absolute truths played a pivotal role in the revolutionary outcome of 1917-1921 and the events of years to follow, in Berdyaev’s view. See N. A. Berdyaev, “Filosofskaya istina i intelligentskaya pravda,” in Isaev, ed., V poiskakh puti, pp. 24-42, at pp. 27-31, 35 and 37-41 and N. A. Berdyaev, “Dukhi russkoi revolyutsii,” in Isaev, ed., Puti Yevrazii, pp. 67-106.

[5] N. O. Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1991), pp. 268-9.

[6] N. A. Berdyaev, Тsarstvo Dukha i tsarstvo kesarya (Moscow: Respublika, 1995), p. 236.

[7] Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, p. 278.

[8] Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, pp. 278-9.

[9] Berdyaev, “Filosofskaya istina i intelligentskaya pravda,” p. 39.

[10] Berdyaev, Smysl istorii: opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud‘by, p. 147.

[11] Berdyaev, Smysl istorii: opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud‘by, p. 147-8.

[12] Berdyaev, Smysl istorii: opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud‘by, p. 46.

[13] Berdyaev, Russkaya ideya, p. 255.

[14] He found it “difficult to find” Khomyakov’s universalist and monist sobornost’ in “historical Orthdoxy.” N. A. Berdyaev, Russkaya ideya (Paris: YMCA, 1971), p. 202 and Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretative History of Russian Culture (New York: Vintage, 1970), pp. 19 and 635 fn8. However, intuitionist philosopher Nikolai Losskii seemingly mistakenly regarded Berdyaev’s view of sobornost’ to be the latter’s ideal not an assertion about an already existing reality. Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, p. 276.

[15] Berdyaev, “Filosofskaya istina i intelligentskaya pravda.”

[16] Berdyaev, Russkaya ideya, p. 255.

[17] Berdyaev, Russkaya ideya, p. 198.

[18] Berdyaev, Russkaya ideya, p. 199.

[19] Berdyaev, Russkaya ideya, p. 255.

[20] Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, p. 278.

[21] Nikolai Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by (Paris: YMCA Press, 1969), p. 42.

[22] Losskii, Istorii russkoi filosofii, p. 283 citing Berdyaev’s Opyt eskhatolgicheskoi metafiziki.

[23] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 85. On Berdyaev’s views regarding philosophy of history and Christian eschatology see Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, pp. 30-54, especially pp. 36-40.

[24] Losskii, Istorii russkoi filosofii, p. 282.

[25] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 234.

[26] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 89.

[27] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, Chapter 4, pp. 78-109.

[28] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 236.

[29] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 230.

[30] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 50.

[31] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 54.

[32] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, pp. 49-50.

[33] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, pp. 43-44.

[34] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 73.

[35] N. A. Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” Nakanune, No. 3, April 1918 republished in A. Yu. Minakov, ed., Ukrainskii Vopros: V russkoi patritiocheskoi mysli (Moscow: Knizhnyi mir, 2016), pp. 413-19, at p. 413-14.

[36] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” p. 414.

[37] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” p. 417.

[38] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” p. 414.

[39] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” pp. 414-15.

[40] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” pp. 418.

[41] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” p. 417.

[42] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” pp. 417-18.

[43] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” p. 418.

[44] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” p. 416.

[45] Berdyaev, “Rossiya i Velikorossiya,” p. 419.

[46] N. A. Berdyaev, “Dukhoi russkoi revolyutsii,” in Iz glubny republished in Isaev, Puti Yevrazii: Russkaya intelligentsia i sud’by Rossii, pp. 67-106, at p. 68.

[47] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 95.

[48] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 237.

[49] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, p. 221.

[50] Berdyaev, Smysl’ istorii: Opyt’ filosofii chelovecheskoi sud”by, pp. 268-9.

[51] Nikloas Berdyaev, “The Crisis of European Consciousness,” The Living Church, Vol. 116, 15 February 1948,, pp. 11-13, at p. 13.










About the Author 

Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, and

Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.


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