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Lev Shestov

In Praise of Folly
On the Occasion of Nikolai Berdyaev's Book Sub specie aeternitatis

Translated by Taras Zakydalsky

Den Leib möcht ich noch haben,
Den Leib so zart und jung;
Die Seele könnt ihr begraben,
Hab' selber Seele genug.

Your body I'd still like to possess,
A body so tender and young;
As for your soul you can bury it,
I myself have enough soul.



     I begin my eulogy to folly not in jest as did the illustrious Erasmus of Rotterdam in the old days, but in all sincerity and from all my heart. In this task Berdyaev's new book will be of great assistance to me. Had he wished to do so, he could have titled it, following his long-deceased colleague's example, In Praise of Folly, because its purpose is to challenge common sense. True, the book is a collection of articles written in the last six years, hence, properly speaking, it does not and cannot serve some one purpose. Six years is a long time: not only a writer like Berdyaev, but any writer will change to some extent during so long a period. The book opens with an article written long ago, "The Struggle for Idealism" [Bor'ba za idealizm], in which the author still maintains a strictly Kantian viewpoint that admits, as we know, common sense and all its accompanying virtues. Then the author gradually evolves and, by the end of the book, he openly declares war on common sense, but what he opposes to common sense is not Folly, as is usually done, but Great Reason. Of course, one can express oneself in this way, calling Folly Great Reason, and, if you like, this has a deep meaning or, more precisely, a deep sting, for what can be more insulting and humiliating to common sense than to confer the honorific title of Great Reason on Folly? Until now common sense has been accepted as the father and closest friend of all minds, great and small. Now, Berdyaev, scorning genealogy and historically shaped heraldry, elevates "opposition to common sense," that is, Folly to the order of Great Reason. No doubt, this is very audacious, but Berdyaev is a writer who above all is daring and, in my opinion, this is his greatest strength. I would say that his gift, his philosophical and literary talent, lies in his audacity. As soon as it abandons him, the source of his inspiration evaporates, he has nothing to say, and he ceases to be himself. But I have run too far ahead. Let us return to his evolution or, rather, to the evolution of his idea.

     As I have said, like any thinking person, Berdyaev has changed his convictions or ideas many times in the course of six years. Of course, I mean his philosophical ideas. In his political views he is incomparably more stable and consistent. He was and remains a democrat and even, it seems, a socialist. This is curious. Why do people change their philosophical beliefs much more easily than their political beliefs? The same comparative stability of political convictions can be observed also in other writers who along with Berdyaev have evolved from Marxism through idealism to mysticism and even to positive religion. Take, for example, Bulgakov. Had he displayed the same rate in changing his political beliefs, he would have been by now either among the Black Hundreds or the maximalists, that is, somewhere at the very fringe of the political field. But he has remained along with Berdyaev a democrat and socialist. True enough, he no longer worships Marx, only in the realm of theory. On practical issues he remains faithful to himself so that the unbreakable nexus idearum between Orthodoxy and reaction that exists in the public mind should be considered from now on to be finally severed.[*] Now there are many students of Bulgakov, even among the young people, who with their teacher care for the Orthodox church and yet do not sing the praises of secular bosses with birch rods, nor field court-marshals, nor the unlimited power of ministers. How can one explain the inconstancy of philosophical beliefs in people who are politically stable and unwavering? Obviously, not by their character. One cannot be at the same time of a firm and a changing character.

     For the time being, let me leave this question unanswered and turn the reader's attention to another peculiarity of Berdyaev's intellectual development (and the same applies to Bulgakov). As soon as he abandons a set of ideas for a new one, he no longer finds in his previous intellectual wealth anything worthy of attention. All the old ideas are rags and good for nothing. Take, economic materialism, for example. At one time (in his first book) Berdyaev was excited with it—true, not in its pure version, but combined with Kantianism—and thought it contained the whole truth. Now he no longer sees any truth in it. So, let me raise the question: is a philosopher allowed to be so wildly extravagant? Surely, the materialists had at least some grains of truth. Why should they be scorned? And later on, when the time came to get up and to leave old man Kant, Berdyaev left everything, took not a thing with him, as if the slightest luggage would weigh him down, and sprinted freely to metaphysics confident in advance that he would find there both fatted herds and wide fields, in a word, everything a man needs to make a living. Then he dropped metaphysics and flung himself into the depth of religious revelation. The saga of Berdyaev's transformation from a metaphysician into a believing Christian was spread out for the reader on the pages of Problems of Life [Voprosy zhizni]. What was particularly impressive about the transformation was its impetuosity. It was too fast even for Berdyaev. He became a Christian before he even learned to pronounce clearly all the words of the confession of faith. The metamorphosis, obviously, took place beyond the threshold of consciousness. In his article "On the New Religious Consciousness" [O novom religioznom soznanii], in which he first begins to talk about Christ, the god-man, the man-god, and so on, he breaks off and stutters, in a word, he displays all the signs that he finds himself in a foreign and unfamiliar realm where he can only move around by guessing and groping. Incidentally, I should point out an interesting fact that all our writers who arrived at Christianity through evolution absolutely cannot learn to pronounce the sacred words properly. Even Merezhkovsky, who has been practicing how to write on theological themes for so many years, has not yet reached anything like virtuosity in spite of his undeniable literary gifts. The right tone is lacking. This is like a person learning a foreign language at a mature age. One can always tell that he is a foreigner. The same is true of Bulgakov. He solved a difficult problem in an original way and, beginning with his first articles, he started to pronounce the word Christ in the same tone in which he previously pronounced the word Marx. And yet Bulgakov, in spite of his advantage of simplicity and natural manner (for he did not have to change it), does not convince a sensitive ear. In this respect they are all far outdone by Rozanov, although, as we know, he does not believe in Christ and does not accept the Gospel. But since childhood he has been raised according to the rules of piety, was never fascinated with Darwinism and Marxism, and has preserved his innocence. I do not think that either Merezhkovsky, Bulgakov, or Berdyaev will ever be Rozanov's equal. Bulgakov, it seems, senses this and switches from religious searchings to questions of the church, to church politics. Here, perhaps, he will be in the right place. Politics and the problems of social constitution are close and dear to him.

     From what I have said, one can draw many conclusions. First of all, it follows that intellectual evolution, which in the old days was so difficult and so extraordinarily slow and now takes place so easily and quickly, does not involve any deep internal changes. Bulgakov, when he was a Marxist, was just as fine a man as he is now. Berdyaev, whether he is a Kantian or a metaphysician, and Merezhkovsky, whether he is a Nietzschean or Christian—from the inside, there is no difference. Cuculeus non facit monachum [a cowl does not a monk make]. Generally speaking, it is evident that the old thinkers were mistaken when they thought that philosophical ideas had to be carefully protected in a dry place from rust and moths, otherwise they would be damaged. Political beliefs are another matter. In politics if you change your beliefs then you have to change friends and enemies, you have to shoot people you defended with your own body and vice versa. Here you have to think things over. But to switch from Kantianism to Hegelianism and even, horribile dictu, to materialism, how will that affect anyone? I do not even see any reason for a person who knows a number of philosophical systems well to evolve inevitably from one system to another. It is permitted, depending on circumstances, to believe in one and then another. In the course of a day even, one can switch systems two or three times. In the morning one can be a convinced Hegelian, during the day hold firmly onto Plato, and in the evening..., there are evenings when one will believe Spinoza even: our natura naturata will seem so immutable. It is only difficult to consent freely that virtue brings no reward. It should, to be quite frank, it most certainly should bring a reward. But if Deus sive natura, sive substantia has arranged things so that it cannot change its own nature even, then there is nothing to be done, you have to accept things and try to find comfort in contemplating the world sub specie aeternitatis.


     Incidentally, although Berdyaev borrowed the title of his book from Spinoza, he does not adopt Spinoza's point of view. At the present moment, although it is evening or, rather, the dead of night, I too am least disposed to Spinozism. Both of us agree on one thing. We hate any king of ratio and are opposed to it. Berdyaev is Great Reason, I am Folly. It seems that I need not present the argument for choosing my term and this suits me fine, because in fact I have no special arguments. I simply dislike big words like Great Reason, metaphysics, the supersensible, and mysticism. If this is a handicap then an indulgent reader will, hopefully, forgive me, especially since in this article nothing depends on big words. Berdyaev, in contrast to me, likes big words very much and we shall find a lot of them in quotations from his book. So let us see what Berdyaev can do and say in favor of Folly (I capitalize the word following Berdyaev's example of capitalizing Great Reason). His best article, in this and in all other respects, is the article "K. Leontyev, the Philosopher of Reactionary Romanticism" [K. Leontyev, filosof reaktsionnoi romantiki]. Leontyev is not even talked about in Russia and those who have heard of him can only say two words about him: he is a contributor to The Moscow News [Moskovskie vedomosti] and The Russian Herald [Russkii vestnik], that is, he is a reactionary. Besides, we can immediately see from the quotation from Leontyev used by Berdyaev as the epigraph to his article that we are dealing with an unconventional, remarkable personality. Judge for yourself. Leontyev says, "Would it not be horrible and humiliating to think that Moses climbed Sinai, that the Greeks built their graceful acropolises, that the Romans conducted the Punic wars, that the handsome genius Alexander in a feathered helmet crossed the Granicus River and fought at Arbela, that the apostles preached, that the martyrs suffered, that the poets sang, painters painted, and knights shone at tournaments only so that a French, German, or Russian bourgeois in his formless and comical suit might prosper, individually and collectively, on the ruins of that past glory." And then, "It is necessary to freeze Russia at least a little bit to stop it from decaying." From the cited words one can see at once that we are dealing with a bold, original, and independent mind. Or take another example: "It is precisely esthetics that at a time of immobility should be taken as motion, at a time of permissibility as severity; it is fitting for an artist to be a liberal when slavery prevails, he should be an aristocrat by tendency when demagogy rules, a bit of a libre penseur ('a bit,' probably, for the censorship and the editor) when hypocritical bigotry reigns, and religious when there is unbelief." This kind of openness even in our time when the internal censorship of the preceding era has been almost completely abolished is rare. Berdyaev, who introduces Leontyev to the Russian reader and points out with joy and respect how independent his thought is, in the end subjects his judgments to a dogmatic critique. Custom and tradition weigh upon him and Leontyev's example for all its seductiveness seems too risky and dangerous to him. Because of this, one can notice in this and other articles a strange ambivalence in Berdyaev. His heart sympathizes with Leontyev and rejoices at the powerful freedom of Leontyev's soul, the versatility and lightness of his thought, but Berdyaev's mind or, rather minds—the little, middle, and great mind—with their categorical imperatives revolt against the poor heart. "In your judgments you should not take into account anything except the one and eternal truth," they cry with imperious voices and Berdyaev, who for a minute enjoyed with Leontyev the pleasure of communicating with frivolous and capricious, but graceful and charming, Folly, returns obediently to his place and renounces himself and Leontyev.

     The article, which had a beautiful beginning, ends with the project of reconciling Folly with common sense, a reconciliation in which all the advantages are on the side of the latter. Berdyaev cannot fully believe that Folly has its lawful rights, which are not subject to control or restriction. There is no question that it is beautiful, while common sense bores us to death and is as tedious as an old bigot and yet we must submit to it and Leontyev has to be tamed. And almost all of Berdyaev's articles are written on the same pattern as his article on Leontyev. Is it a synthesis that is involved here (most likely, it is a synthesis) or something else, I cannot say for certain. Usually, Berdyaev begins by assaulting common sense, shouting and abusing it, treating it like dirt and stomping it into the ground. Poor common sense: it is not accustomed to such treatment (it seems to me that none of our writers can talk with common sense with such condescension and scorn as Berdyaev), it trembles, becomes confused, and is so frightened that it does not know what to say in its own defense. It cannot bear to be treated in this way: up to now people have usually shouted and stamped their feet when they talked with Folly. But toward the end of his article Berdyaev unfailingly becomes milder and restores to common sense, if not all, then at least a part of its historically recognized rights. For this reason his book can be interesting and useful to people of various tastes. Whoever likes common sense can concentrate most of his attention on the concluding pages of his articles, while those who love Folly should read mainly the beginning: they will not regret it. As I have already admitted, I prefer Folly. Not that I am confident of its final victory over common sense. I have no such confidence. But then there is no prohibition against idealizing life sometimes, that is, against believing something that does not usually happen and not believing what does usually happen. There are even idealist philosophical movements. Many people constantly and systematically believe in what does not exist and never believe in reality. I sometimes permit myself the luxury of deliberate error and reread with great pleasure those passages in Berdyaev's book in which his own or other people's follies are recounted and I believe them, I believe, although they may contradict a thousand times what is indubitable and self-evident. He says, for example, "Mystical realism does not lead to static dogmatism, but to dynamic dogmatism (my emphasis—L.Sh.), which is always in motion, creative without limit, insightful and transfiguring. Live and real mysticism must always discover something and establish something; it must conduct experiments and give an account of what it experienced and saw. It is dogmatic for the sake of movement, so that there be real movement, so that something happen in the movement." That is, adogmatic dogmatism or dogmatic adogmatism, a so-called contradictio in adjecto; a moving rest, wooden iron, and so on. I ask you, what other writer has the audacity to contradict so openly the laws of logic and to care so little for logic (the same common sense)?! And this at the very beginning of the book, in the preface! I am only terribly sorry that Berdyaev uses so many unfamiliar foreign terms. Because of this, the meaning of what he says will be unclear to the majority. For instance, there will be many readers who, skimming the cited passage, will not appreciate its real significance. They will think that it is a common piece of learning that is difficult to understand, precisely because it conforms very strictly to logic and is afraid of sinning against the law of noncontradiction. Now it is time for an excerpt from the afterword: "No science can prove that miracles are impossible in the world, that Christ did not arise from the dead, that divine nature does not reveal itself in mystical experience: all of this is simply beyond science, science lacks the words to express not merely anything positive in this realm, but even anything negative. Positive science can only say: according to the laws of nature that are discovered by physics, chemistry, physiology, and other disciplines, Christ could not have arisen. But on this it merely agrees with religion, which also says that Christ arose not according to the laws of nature but by overcoming necessity, by defeating the law of putrefaction, that His resurrection is a mysterious mystical act that we approach only in the religious life." Science, let me state, does not say this, but at this moment I am not concerned with science. It turns out that, according to Berdyaev, the laws of nature both exist and do not exist, for miracles are not only possible, but they really happened before people's eyes. Berdyaev mentions only Christ's resurrection, but what about the resurrection of Lazarus, the healing of the blind and the paralyzed, the feeding of a five-thousand strong crowd with two loaves and five fish, and so on? We know about all these events from the same source from which we know about Christ's resurrection. Thus, at one time the violation of the laws of nature was as ordinary an occurrence as their inviolability is at the present time. And, therefore, either the assertion of science that the laws of nature are inviolable coexists, contrary to logic, with the opposite assertion that the laws of nature can be violated or else it is simply false. This conclusion is particularly close and dear to me and it is just as close and dear to Berdyaev 's heart. He formulates it in the following words: "It may be that the logical laws which hold us in their grip are only an infirmity of being, a defect of being itself." Why "may be"? He should simply posit the dogma: logical laws are only an infirmity of being and it follows from this that, since logic does not bind us, the laws of nature exist and do not exist at the same time. This would be better.

     The idea that the laws of nature both exist and do not exist, an idea that runs through the entire second half of Berdyaev's book, is first expressed with particular clarity in the article devoted to Merezhkovsky, "On the New Religious Consciousness."

     Apparently, the idea itself occurred to him partly under Merezhkovsky's influence. Apparently, Berdyaev feels that he is greatly indebted to the latter and does not think he needs to conceal this fact. He believes that Merezhkovsky's themes are ingenious and borrows not only themes but also certain words and expressions used by Merezhkovsky (he writes Hypostasis with a capital H). Berdyaev writes: "Merezhkovsky understood that the solution to the religious dichotomy, to the opposition of two abysses—heaven and earth, the spirit and the flesh, the pagan enjoyment of the world and the Christian renunciation of the world—does not lie in one of the Two, but in a Third, in Three. This is his great achievement, his great significance for the contemporary religious movement. His torment, which is familiar to us, lies in the eternal danger of confusing, of interchanging Christ and the Antichrist in the double image, in the eternal horror that one will worship not the True God, that one will reject one of the Persons of the Divinity, one of the abysses, one of the poles of religious consciousness which is not alien, but merely opposed to God and just as Divine." Personally, I do not share either Merezhkovsky's or Berdyaev's views. I do not even suppose that this way of posing the question about heaven and earth can be of any great interest. I find that Merezhkovsky, who has borrowed the formulation of the problem and its solution mainly from Dostoevsky, has misunderstood Dostoevsky. The key problem of man, however, is not a moral problem. If Dostoevsky's works are not sufficiently clear on this and allow different interpretations, this is only because Dostoevsky, like anyone who says or does something new, did not know how and did not make up his mind to be always only himself. He used many old words. And since it is easier to understand what is old than what is new, people grabbed what is old. Dostoevsky's theology is the ready heritage he accepted. So, in essence, Merezhkovsky received over Dostoevsky's head the riches that had been preserved before Dostoevsky in the ancient depositories of European culture. Whatever belonged properly to Dostoevsky was admitted by Merezhkovsky only for a minute and then forgotten. Here Berdyaev follows Merezhkovsky. True, Berdyaev does not always and in all things agree with Merezhkovsky: he often argues with him and sometimes even reproaches him unjustly. For example, he says: "He (i.e., Merezhkovsky) often lacks the artistic talent to create images and the intellectual talent to create philosophical conceptions." If I understand Berdyaev correctly, he is expressing here a widely shared opinion about Merezhkovsky. Everyone says that Merezhkovsky (and Minsky too) is an emotionless writer who writes with his head; that is, everyone would like Merezhkovsky and Minsky to spend about an hour on the cross before they talk about Christ's suffering. Otherwise, it seems one cannot have faith in their level of understanding. How preposterous and primitive! To voluntarily mount the cross for the sake of a new image, for the sake of a new conception! And Berdyaev, a fellow writer, repeats such things.

     I mention this only as an aside, for neither Merezhkovsky nor Minsky will let himself be seduced. They know that if it is up to them, then it is better to let books, rather than the authors suffer. Furthermore, everything that is needed for constructing philosophical conceptions can be obtained in a simpler and less risky way. Berdyaev himself writes about Merezhkovsky: "He saw life, its meaning, in Greek tragedy, in the death of pagan gods and the birth of the Christian God, in the epoch of the Renaissance with its great art, in the resurrection of the old gods, in the mysterious individualities of Julian the Apostate and Leonardo da Vinci, in Peter the Great, Pushkin, L. Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. This is the romantic streak in Merezhkovsky—his loathing of the small scale of the contemporary world and awe for the grand scale of the past. Merezhkovsky relived the experience of the great periods of the past, wanted to solve some kind of mystery, to glance into the soul of such great men as Julian, Leonardo, and Peter, since their mystery seemed to him to be universal." All this is true, Merezhkovsky is really a very well-read man and he has invested much work and effort in his task, and yet the question of the Spirit and Flesh, of Heaven and Earth in the form posed and solved by Merezhkovsky is not that cardinal a question. There was no need for all that effort, to write and read so many books in order to prove the sacredness of the Flesh and the Spirit, Heaven and Earth, for even after he has succeeded in proving this to the degree to which Berdyaev thinks he has proved this, the main and basic question remains open. The spirit is sacred and the flesh is sacred, but where is the guarantee that what they have sanctified is also sacred in the sight of eternity? What if Spinoza, who sought eternity all his life, is right and Deus sive natura, sive substantia, Who knows neither goodness nor evil, neither joy nor suffering, neither the sacred nor the profane and, in a word, stands beyond human ends - what if such a god is indeed the principle and source of life? What if to contemplate life sub specie aeternitatis means to see in it what the poor Dutch recluse saw in it? Dostoevsky says a lot on this topic.


     Berdyaev has never asked himself this question and does not want to do so. His basic presupposition (not even a presupposition, but something much firmer, as we shall see below), his original presupposition is: whatever he needs, be will always find. He talks a lot about his doubts and how he overcame them. But his entire book tells us that his doubts could never budge from its place the granite of faith lying at the bottom of his soul. He had doubts about who is right, Fichte or Hegel, Kant or Marx, Mikhailovsky or Merezhkovsky, but he was always convinced that whichever party proved to be right, the right will always be of a comforting nature that corresponds to human desire. In this respect he has preserved the old traditions of Russian literature. In his article "N.K. Mikhailovsky and B.N. Chicherin" [N.K. Mikhailovsky i B.N. Chicherin], he writes: "With Mikhailovsky's death a whole era seemed to pass from the stage of the history of our intelligentsia, a part of our being, our intelligentsia nature, which consisted of fond memories, was torn from us. And every Russian intelligent must feel this death sharply and must reflect at N.K.'s grave on his own historical past and on his obligations to the future. Some time in our early youth we all read Mikhailovsky, he awakened our young minds, raised questions, and gave a direction to our awakening desire for social justice. Later we departed from our first teacher, outgrew him, but we continue to struggle to the present day with the problems he raised, which brought philosophy and life so close together. This is very characteristic: Mikhailovsky was never a philosopher in the way he solved various problems and because he lacked philosophical erudition, but it was precisely philosophical problems that bothered him throughout his life and on the threshold of his consciousness the revolt against the restrictedness of positivism was already emerging. In this respect he was a typical Russian intelligent, full of philosophical moods but lacking in philosophical schooling and restricted by positivist prejudice. We loved and love Mikhailovsky for that spiritual craving that distinguishes so sharply the Russian intelligentsia from the bourgeois character of the European intelligentsia." I think that Berdyaev's as well as other contemporary Russian writers' (all the group that set the tone and direction of Problems of Idealism [Problemy idealizma] and Problems of Life [Voprosy zhizni]) spiritual tie and kinship with Mikhailovsky is much closer and firmer. Mikhailovsky did not know German philosophy and confused the transcendent with the transcendental. Mikhailovsky did not like metaphysics. This is true, of course. But this is a right, a matter of taste, and under different circumstances the generation of the nineties would have felt no need to mobilize against its old teacher. And, I suggest, the words "we outgrew him" are most inept. It is precisely by stature that the young writers are not Mikhailovsky's seniors. They know European culture, read Plato, take an interest in Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and peek into the Holy Scriptures, but all their actions and ideas are stamped with youth, with a youthful faith. This is the granite that cannot be moved by any storms or doubts: it was in Mikhailovsky, it is in Berdyaev and in all his literary colleagues. If Berdyaev wanted to express fully the sense and significance of his spiritual closeness to Mikhailovsky, he would have to quote the famous excerpt from the preface to the complete collection of Mikhailovsky's works. Although everyone knows it, I shall cite it in its entirety to characterize not Mikhailovsky but Berdyaev: "Every time I think of the word pravda I cannot but admire its striking inner beauty. There is no word like it, it seems, in any European language. Only in Russian, it seems, are truth and justice denoted by the same word and merge, as it were, into one great whole. In this large encompassing sense, pravda has always been the goal of my search.... I have never been able to believe that it is impossible to find a point of view from which pravda as truth and pravda as justice would go hand in hand, each complementing the other." Pravda as truth lives in peace and harmony with pravda as justice, in other words, there is a moral world order that fully corresponds to man's notions of what ought and ought not to be or what is desirable and undesirable. At the same time Berdyaev, like Mikhailovsky, like Mikhailovsky's predecessors in Russian literature, is not satisfied with the position of the idealists. The German idealists, as we know, having established the concepts of what ought to be, fold their arms. It is a matter of indifference to them whether thereafter that which ought to be is realized in the world or remains alive only in their heads. Mikhailovsky and, following him, Berdyaev are not happy with this kind of abstraction. They want that which ought to be to be realized, if not at once before their very eyes and not here on earth, then at least later and further away, but it must be realized without fail. After all, we are not Germans when you come down to it. Let someone try to get Mikhailovsky or Berdyaev to assume for an instant, merely as a supposition, that objective truth is a thing by itself and justice is a thing by itself. I assure you in advance that he will be wasting his time. Therefore, I continue to insist that Berdyaev, like Merezhkovsky and Bulgakov, considers himself to be a continuator of Dostoevsky's cause only because of a misunderstanding. When Dostoevsky hung on the cross he doubted everything and doubted to the end. His books gained in tension from this, but his "philosophical conception" lost all sweetness that is typical of what is known as a synthesis. Of course, the fact that Dostoevsky under torture renounced sweetness does not mean that Berdyaev, Merezhkovsky, or Bulgakov are to drink vinegar mixed with bile. I only wanted to establish the fact that so far doubt has never succeeded in digging its way under the unshakable granite of Berdyaev's faith in the triumph of goodness and that in this respect he is not outdone by Mikhailovsky and has every advantage over Dostoevsky, who did not pass the test. And this is not a psychological conjecture but a fact. Where did I get it, I will not say, but to reassure the skeptical reader I shall divulge that I arrived at this not by mystical revelation but by generally accepted empirical means.

     All this is true, yet Berdyaev has (in contrast to Mikhailovsky) a taste for Folly and this fact, I think, is especially comforting. If even such firm, granite people are satiated with common sense and are beginning to seek the company of Folly even if it is only for amusement, then there is still hope. True, the foundation is not of granite, but considering the present period this will be enough.


     As the French say, du choc des opinions jaillit la vérité [out of collision of opinions truth sparks forth]. I do not think so. In my view, opinions may conflict as much as they like without teasing out the truth. It is too smart and does not jump out when there is a big hullabaloo: it cannot even be trapped by more subtle cunning. The usual result of conflicting opinions is personal conflict. Still, since Berdyaev's book, which I am reviewing, contains the article "Tragedy and the Commonplace" [Tragediia i obydennost'] devoted to me, I feel obligated to respond to his objections. Essentially, I shall be clearing up misunderstandings rather then offering criticisms. Whenever Berdyaev agrees with me, he usually quotes my words and reinforces them with his own reasons. When he wants to argue with me, he no longer cites me and does not even respond to me in particular, but takes up arms against this or that philosophical view that he claims, for reasons completely beyond me, that I support. Because of my book The Apotheosis of Groundlessness [Apofeoz bezpochvennosti] he places me among the skeptics and because of The Philosophy of Tragedy [Filosofiia tragedii] among the pessimists and then he proceeds to demonstrate the indefensibility of skepticism and pessimism. Incidentally, other critics also accuse me of the same sins. I would like to use this opportunity to declare (there is no point in arguing here) that when I first heard that I had been baptized a skeptic and pessimist I simply rubbed my eyes in disbelief. It is true that I do not express solidarity with existing philosophical systems and laugh at their self-confident celebration of victory. But my dear Gentlemen, is this what it means to be a skeptic? It is also true that I do not consider our world to be the best of all possible worlds. I really think that it could be better, that is, to be more exact, I find the external world to be quite beautiful. I love daytime and early morning, twilight and the dead of night. The high snow-capped mountains and the green valleys are wonderful. And how beautiful are the desolate stone deserts in the Alps! Even the winter snowstorm and the endless autumn rain have their charm... In a word, I love everything or almost everything in the external world (at the moment I can't even think of anything in it that is ugly). Only man has been offended by nature. He should be more intelligent, handsomer, kinder, more gifted, richer... How is it that to desire this is to risk being labeled a pessimist? Or why, if you do not accept one of the existing big philosophical systems, will you be cast among the skeptics? From the fact that so far the truth has not been discovered, it does not follow that it will never be discovered. And it follows even less that there is no truth. But a man who waits for the truth and does not call the first delusion he encounters truth, is he a skeptic? I am inclined to believe the opposite. In my view, skeptics are people who in the depth of their soul are convinced that there is nothing to look for because, no matter what, you will not find anything. Once such people embrace a system they are quite ready to support it fanatically. So, if Berdyaev is permitted to change his beliefs every half year and if, judging from the above-mentioned definition of nimble dogmatism, he is getting ready to change them every half month, then why can't I change them even more frequently? This is then, so to say, a matter of temperament. Berdyaev is quick, but I am even quicker. He believes in many philosophies by now, but I have already believed in all of them and have become so used to changing them that now, as I have said, I change them any number of times during one day! This is not skepticism but a nimble adogmatic dogmatism. As the reader can see, the expression is to my taste. Previously, I used to say simply dogmatism; now I shall always say adogmatic dogmatism. Pursuing other follies, I have discovered this one. Thanks to Berdyaev. I won't forget.

     Second, in criticizing me Berdyaev takes my words too literally. "At this point," he says, "I have caught the author of The Apotheosis. What is free thought, what is thought? This is already a certain presupposition, for any thought is already the result of the processing of experience by that deadly instrument that we call reason and consistency must be already inherent in it." What is true is true. He has caught me. But why try to catch me? And is this the way to read books? After reading a book, one should forget all the words and even all of the author's ideas and remember only his personality. For words and thoughts are only imperfect means of communication. It is impossible either to photograph or to draw the soul, so we turn to words. It has been known since long ago that a thought expressed is false. But Berdyaev catches me up. Upon realizing as a man how impossible it is to find adequate expressions, Berdyaev instead of coming to my aid and inferring my meaning, thrusts a stick into my spokes. This is not what a friend does.

     It seems that I have covered all of Berdyaev's objections. To be sure, he has one more objection and, although he throws it out in passing, it is a substantive and an important objection. But I shall not touch it because I do not know how to reply to it and do not want to admit this. It is better that no one know anything.

     To conclude, I welcome Berdyaev's book with all my heart and celebrate the Folly in it. Berdyaev is undoubtedly a very gifted man and one will not find many writers in our literature with his command of the art of discrediting common sense and of glorifying Folly. There is only one thing that is not nice: Berdyaev often repeats commonly accepted, widespread, and customary, so to say, stupidities. In my opinion, this is pointless. The customary stupidities are as similar to intelligent things as two drops of water. So are they worth bothering about? We should always try to invent absolutely new stupidities and if this fails then dig up old but little known and forgotten ones, in a word, uncustomary stupidities. To praise, for example, Odin, red-bearded Thor, our Perun, or even Mohammed! As Goethe did after his trip to Constantinople. Schlegel said about him that from paganism he switched to Islam.

     One more comment. In his afterword Berdyaev goes too far in abusing the empirical world. He calls it a scab. In the heat of controversy one can experience something similar to what happened to two girls playing chess. They captured each other's king and continued to play. In attacking the positivists Berdyaev renounced the empirical world. But how long can one keep fussing about the soul?! What about the body? I am not sure whether Leontyev has infected me with the spirit of contradiction, but I would like to say along with Heine: "Die Seele könnt ihr begraben, hab' selber Seele genug."

[*] See the recently published book by Bulgakov, "Kratkii ocherkpoliticheskoi ekonomii". It promotes quite a liberal viewpoint that is not inferior in any way to other liberal viewpoints. In the usual political economies, humane views (on the disgusting nature of serfdom, harems, usury, the exploitation of workers, etc.) are based on morality. In Bulgakov they are based on religion. Here lies the whole difference between them.

[This article originally appeared in Fakeli, SPb, 1907, vol. 2, pp. 139—61 and was later included in the book "Nachala i Kontzy", 1908 (left out in the English version of the book, "Penultimate Words and Other Essays"). This translation appeared in Russian Studies in Philosophy, vol. 39, no. 1 (Summer 2000), pp. 36—53.]

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