Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (/bərˈdjɑːjɛf, -jɛv/; Russian: Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Бердя́ев; March 18 [O.S. March 6] 1874 – March 24, 1948) was a Russian religious and political philosopher.
Nikolai Berdyaev was born near Kiev in 1874, in an aristocratic military family. His father, Alexander Mikhailovich Berdyaev, came from a long line of Kiev and Kharkov nobility. Almost all of Alexander Mikhailovich's ancestors served as high-ranking military officers, but he resigned from the army quite early and became active in the social life of the Kiev aristocracy. Nikolai's mother, Alina Sergeevna Berdyaeva, was half-French and came from the top levels of both French and Russian nobility.
Greatly influenced by Voltaire, his father was an educated man that considered himself a freethinker and expressed great skepticism towards religion. Nikolai's mother, Orthodox by birth, was in her views on religion more Catholic than Orthodox. He spent a solitary childhood at home, where his father's library allowed him to read widely. He read Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Kant when he was only 14 and excelled at languages.
Berdyaev decided on an intellectual career and entered the Kiev University in 1894. It was a time of revolutionary fervor among the students and the intelligentsia. He became a Marxist and he was arrested in a student demonstration and expelled from the university. His involvement in illegal activities led in 1897 to three years of internal exile, Vologda,:28 in northern Russia, a mild sentence compared to that faced by many other revolutionaries.
In 1904, he married Lydia Trusheff. The couple moved to Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital, and the centre of intellectual and revolutionary activity. He participated fully in intellectual and spiritual debate, eventually departing from radical Marxism to focus his attention on philosophy and Christian spirituality. In Christianity and Social Reality, he tells about his journey from Marx to Christ and his disillusionment with both the revolutionaries and the Church.
A fiery 1913 article, criticising the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, caused him to be charged with the crime of blasphemy, the punishment for which was exile to Siberia for life. The World War and the Bolshevik Revolution prevented the matter coming to trial. After the October Revolution of 1917, he fell out with the Bolshevik régime because of its totalitarianism and the domination of the state over the freedom of the individual. Nonetheless, he was permitted, for the time being, to continue to lecture and write.
His disaffection culminated, in 1919, with the foundation of his own private academy, the "Free Academy of Spiritual Culture". It was primarily a forum for him to lecture on the hot topics of the day and to present them from a Christian point of view. He also presented his opinions in public lectures, and every Tuesday, the academy hosted a meeting at his home because official Soviet anti-religious activity was intense at the time and the official policy of the Bolshevik government, with its Soviet anti-religious legislation, strongly promoted State atheism.
In 1920, Berdiaev became professor of philosophy at the University of Moscow, but he had no academic credentials. In the same year, he was accused of participating in a conspiracy against the government; he was arrested and jailed. It seems that the feared head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, came in person to interrogate him, and he gave his interrogator a solid dressingdown on the problems with Bolshevism. Berdyaev's prior record of revolutionary activity seems to have saved him from prolonged detention, as his friend Lev Kamenev was present at the interrogation.:32
Novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book The Gulag Archipelago (published in 1973) recounts the incident as follows:
[Berdyaev] was arrested twice; he was taken in 1922 for a midnight interrogation with Dzerjinsky; Kamenev was also there.... But Berdyaev did not humiliate himself, he did not beg, he firmly professed the moral and religious principles by virtue of which he did not adhere to the party in power; and not only did they judge that there was no point in putting him on trial, but he was freed. Now there is a man who had a "point of view"!
The Soviet authorities eventually expelled Berdyaev from Russia, in September 1922. He became one of a carefully selected group of some 160 prominent writers, scholars and intellectuals whose ideas the Bolshevik government found objectionable and sent into exile, on the so-called "philosophers' ship". Overall, these expellees supported neither the Tsarist régime nor the Bolsheviks, preferring less autocratic forms of government. They included those who argued for personal liberty, spiritual development, Christian ethics and a pathway informed by reason and guided by faith.
At first, Berdyaev and other émigrés went to Berlin, where he founded an academy of philosophy and religion, but economic and political conditions in the Weimar Republic caused him and his wife to move to Paris in 1923. He transferred his academy there, and taught, lectured and wrote, working for an exchange of ideas with the French intellectual community.
During the German occupation of France during World War II, Berdyaev continued to write books that were published after the war, some of them after his death. In the years that he spent in France, Berdyaev wrote 15 books, including most of his most important works. He died at his writing desk in his home in Clamart, near Paris, in 1948.
Berdyaev's philosophy has been characterized as Christian existentialist. He was preoccupied with creativity and, in particular, with freedom from anything that inhibited creativity, such as his opposition to a "collectivized and mechanized society".
According to Marko Markovic, "He was an ardent man, rebellious to all authority, an independent and "negative" spirit. He could assert himself only in negation and could not hear any assertion without immediately negating it, to such an extent that he would even be able to contradict himself and to attack people who shared his own prior opinions".
He also published works about Russian history and the Russian national character. In particular, he wrote about Russian nationalism:
The Russian people did not achieve their ancient dream of Moscow, the Third Rome. The ecclesiastical schism of the seventeenth century revealed that the muscovite tsardom is not the third Rome. The messianic idea of the Russian people assumed either an apocalyptic form or a revolutionary; and then there occurred an amazing event in the destiny of the Russian people. Instead of the Third Rome in Russia, the Third International was achieved, and many of the features of the Third Rome pass over to the Third International. The Third International is also a Holy Empire, and it also is founded on an Orthodox faith. The Third International is not international, but a Russian national idea.
He was a practising member of the Russian Orthodox Church but was often critical of the institutional policies and un-Christian behavior in it. He was a Christian universalist, and he believed that Orthodox Christianity was the true vehicle for that teaching.
The greater part of Eastern teachers of the Church, from Clement of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor, were supporters of Apokatastasis, of universal salvation and resurrection.... Orthodox thought has never been suppressed by the idea of Divine justice and it never forgot the idea of Divine love. Chiefly — it did not define man from the point of view of Divine justice but from the idea of transfiguration and Deification of man and cosmos.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed his regional governors to read, among other philosophers, Berdyaev's The Philosophy of Inequality, In 2015, it finally became available in English translation.
The first date is of the Russian edition, the second date is of the first English edition
- The New Religious Consciousness and Society (1907) (Russian: Новое религиозное сознание и общественность, Novoe religioznoe coznanie i obschestvennost, includes chapter VI "The Metaphysics of Sex and Love")
- Landmarks (1909)
- The Spiritual Crisis of the Intelligentsia (1910; 2014) ISBN 978-0-9963992-1-0
- The Meaning of the Creative Act (1916; 1955) ISBN 978-15973126-2-2
- The Fate of Russia (1918; 2016) ISBN 9780996399241
- Dostoevsky: An Interpretation (1921; 1934) ISBN 978-15973126-1-5
- The Meaning of History (1923; 1936) ISBN 978-14128049-7-4
- The Philosophy of Inequality (1923; 2015) ISBN 978-0-9963992-0-3
- The End of Our Time [a.k.a. The New Middle Ages] (1924; 1933) ISBN 978-15973126-5-3
- Leontiev (1926; 1940)
- Freedom and the Spirit (1927–8; 1935) ISBN 978-15973126-0-8
- The Russian Revolution (1931; anthology)
- The Destiny of Man (1931; 1937) ISBN 978-15973125-6-1
- Lev Shestov and Kierkegaard N. A. Beryaev 1936
- Christianity and Class War (1931; 1933)
- The Fate of Man in the Modern World (1934; 1935)
- Solitude and Society (1934; 1938) ISBN 978-15973125-5-4
- The Bourgeois Mind (1934; anthology)
- The Origin of Russian Communism (1937; 1955)
- Christianity and Anti-semitism (1938; 1952)
- Slavery and Freedom (1939) ISBN 978-15973126-6-0
- The Russian Idea (1946; 1947)
- Spirit and Reality (1946; 1957) ISBN 978-15973125-4-7
- The Beginning and the End (1947; 1952) ISBN 978-15973126-4-6
- Towards a New Epoch" (1949; anthology)
- Dream and Reality: An Essay in Autobiography (1949; 1950) alternate title: Self-Knowledge: An Essay in Autobiography ISBN 978-15973125-8-5
- The Realm of Spirit and the Realm of Caesar (1949; 1952)
- Divine and the Human (1949; 1952) ISBN 978-15973125-9-2
- Truth and Revelation (n.p.; 1953)
- '"Bibliographie des Oeuvres de Nicolas Berdiaev" établie par Tamara Klépinine' published by the Institut d'études Slaves, Paris 1978
- Berdyaev Bibliography on www.cherbucto.net
- By-Berdyaev Online Articles Index
- The book is not available in English. For secondary literature in English, see:
- Crone, Anna Lisa (2010). Eros and Creativity in Russian Religious Renewal: The Philosophers and the Freudians. Russian History and Culture. 3. Netherlands: Brill Publishers.
- Naiman, Eric (1997). Sex in Public: The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691026268.
- M. A. Vallon. An apostle of freedom: Life and teachings of Nicolas Berdyaev. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960.
- Lesley Chamberlain. Lenin's Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2007.
- Marko Marković, La Philosophie de l'inégalité et les idées politiques de Nicolas Berdiaev (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1978).