N.A.Berdyaev - The Soul of Russia

The world war sets in sharp relief the question concerning the Russian national self-consciousness. Russian national thought senses the need and obligation to solve the enigma of Russia, to comprehend the idea of Russia, to define its purpose and place in the world. Everyone tends to sense in the present day world, that great worldwide tasks face Russia. But this profound feeling is accompanied by a consciousness of the vagueness, almost the indefinableness of these tasks. In times past there was a presentiment, that Russia is destined for something great, that Russia -- is some special land, not like any other land in the world. Russian national thought grew up with the sense of Russian as God-chosen and God-bearing. This courses its way from the old idea of Moscow as the Third Rome, through Slavophilism -- to Dostoevsky, Vladimir Solov'ev and the contemporary Neo-Slavophils. To ideas of this sort had fastened an accretion of falsehood and lie, but there is reflected in these ideas something also genuinely of the people, something genuinely Russian. A man cannot all his life have an idea of some special and great vocation and be keenly aware of it during the periods of greatest spiritual ascent, if this man have neither the calling nor be foreordained to anything remarkable. This is biologically impossible. This is impossible likewise in the life of an entire people.

Russia has not as yet played a defining role within world life, it has not as yet genuinely entered into the life of European mankind. GreatRussia has still entirely remained an isolated province within European and world life, its spiritual life has been aloof and closed. Russia still all entirely does not know the world, it distortedly perceives its image and falsely and superficially makes judgements about it. The spiritual powers of Russia have not yet become innate to the cultural life of European mankind. For Western cultural mankind, Russia all still remains completely transcendent, some sort of an alien East, which attracts by its mystery, whilst repelling by its barbarity. Even Tolstoy and Dostoevsky attract Western cultural man, as some sort of an exotic fare, unwontedly acute for him. The mysterious depths of the Russian East attracts to itself many in the West. But all the same there has not ensued a time with the acknowledging of the spiritual life of the Christian East on an equal par with the spiritual life of the West. In the West they have still not sensed, that the spiritual strengths of Russia can redefine and transform the spiritual life of the West, that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky can make for a change in the prevailing mindsets of the West both for the West itself and that within it. The light from the East has been seen only but by a few select individuals. The Russian state long since already is acknowledged a great power, with which all the states of the world have to reckon, and which plays a visible role in international politics. But the spiritual culture of Russia, that core of life, in regards to which the statecraft itself is but a superficial externality and implement, still does not occupy a great-power position in the world. The spirit of Russia cannot yet dictate to peoples those conditions, which Russian diplomacy can dictate. The Slavic race has not yet occupied that position, which the Latin or the German races have occupied. Here at root is what ought to change after the present day Great War, which presents a completely unprecedented inter-connection and enmeshing of Eastern and Western mankind. The great strife of the war ought to lead to a great unification of East and West. Russia occupies, certainly, a great-power position within the spiritual world concert. That which has transpired within the bosom of the Russian spirit, ceases to be something still provincial, isolated and closed-in, has become of the world and in common for mankind, not Eastern only, but Western also. And for this, long since already have ripened the potentials of the spiritual powers of Russia. The War of 1914 is more intensely and more deeply plunging Russia into the whirlwinds of world life and it melds together the European East with the European West, than had the War of 1812. It is already possible to foresee, that in the results of this war Russia will ultimately become European in the same measure, in which Europe acknowledges the spiritual influence of Russia upon its own inner life. Thus strikes an hour of world history, when the Slavic race with Russia at its head will be summoned to a defining role within the life of mankind. The forefront Germanic race is exhausting itself in militaristic imperialism. Many keen people in the West have had a presentiment of the vocation of the Slavs. But the realisation of the world tasks of Russia cannot be left to the caprice of the elemental powers of history. Creative efforts are necessary in the national mindset and the national will. And if the peoples of the West be compelled, finally, to catch sight of the unique visage of Russia and admit its calling, it then remains all still unclear, how do we perceive ourself, what is Russia and to what is it called? Russia remains for us ourself an enormous mystery. Russia -- is full of contradictions, antinomies. The soul of Russia is not veiled over by any sort of doctrines. Tiutchev said for his Russia:

Russia by mind comprehended cannot be
Nor by wide arshins measured:
Its uniqueness be that --
In Russia is possible only but to believe.
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