Thursday, February 23, 2017

Nikolai Berdyaev

'What one need to do at every moment of one's life is to put an end to the old world and to begin a new world.'

In 1920, Berdiaev became professor of philosophy at the University of Moscow, although 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 ChekaFelix Dzerzhinsky, came in person to interrogate him, and that Berdyaev gave his interrogator a solid dressing-down 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.

Nobelit 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"![4]

The Soviet authorities eventually expelled Berdyaev from the RSFSR 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 who were sent into exile on the so-called "philosophers' ship". Overall, these expellees supported neither the Czarist 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 Berdyaev founded an academy of philosophy and religion. But economic and political conditions in Weimar Germany 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, 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 fifteen books, including most of his most important works. He died at his writing desk in his home in Clamart, near Paris, in March 1948.

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