16. On the ‘New Man’

One of the main promises of the revolution was the promise to create a ‘new man’. Let us consider what means it used, what goals it wanted to achieve, and what it achieved.

The main hope of the revolution was science. Rozanov, in his brief leftist days, exclaimed: ‘the most important thing in the revolution is not the revolutionaries themselves, but science’. Science, reason will destroy religion and take its place. (The fact that ‘to take the place of religion” means, in fact, “to become a religion’ was not thought of at that time). Science will create a new man and new relations: reasonable and just. The new man would receive education, previously unavailable to him, and a ‘nation-wide’ culture, accessible not only to the enlightened class, would flourish.

Such were the hopes and promises. The reality turned out to be different.

In fact, the environment created by the new order turned out to be unsuitable for human development. Now, after the end of this order, we see that it is impossible to inherit anything ‘Soviet’. The language itself must be recreated, cleansed of the false scholarly and party jargon that has penetrated everywhere.  [1] The spoiling of the spoken and written language is all the more surprising because the former Russian literature under the new order was never entirely withdrawn from circulation. Either its individual representatives were banned, or the individual works of the permitted writers.  Apparently, this literature no longer had a predominant influence on minds. In this connection it should be noted that philosophy or, say, such a thought-rich literature as the Russian one, presupposes the presence of a large number of people who not only lived, but also reflected on their lives. Without them, any culture, however profound, will languish, being of no use to anyone — or will slide past the mind and soul, entertaining, slightly educating, but not touching the core of the personality.

A book is not a magic tool, not a ‘grace’ that works beyond the will of the reader. Reading is a manifestation for the inner inclinations, thoughts and motivations of the reader, it needs a labouring soul. The labour that forms the personality is not a burden to it; a healthy mind and feeling seek it out for themselves; but they can be distracted, made to dissipate their efforts, to dull their attention. This is what happened.

Take poetry, for example. Zhukovsky once enthusiastically said: ‘poetry is God in the holy dreams of the earth’. Even looking at things more calmly, we must recognise that poetry is always (or mostly) about the ‘inner man’, about the soul, about the mystery of the world. As soon as a poet is told that the world has no mystery, he has nothing to write about. If there is no mystery behind the world, no soul behind the personality, there is no reason to feel, to think, to write. Poetry is inseparable from religion, even when it does not know the names of its gods. By the way: the foundations of religion in general — before the gods, in a sense of personal rootedness in the world, beneath the surface of the world. The poet, like the philosopher, is a man fascinated by the mystery of his own being…

So, poetry develops an ear for the inner, the secret, the sacred.  But this inner hearing, the attention to one’s own secret life (except for Freudian curiosity) — no longer exists. This hearing is given by religion, not in the sense of temples and services, but in the most intimate inner sense: the feeling that you carry your soul to someone, even if you don’t know to whom; and religion has been cut out of life.

And we have seen poetry, which is engaged either in glorifying rulers (this occupation is not new to it), or in amusing children (which many people are inclined to remember with warmth, though frankly speaking I cannot recognise much value in the poets entertaining children), or in composing more or less lean verses ‘about love’ — so that this love does not distract the individual from the service of the state. Such poetry did not and could not play its most important role in the Old World, the role of awakening the personality. (We will not say now that in addition to the permitted and dead literature, there was also a forbidden and living one. In any case, its roots had been cut and the living juices no longer nourished it).

What is this awakening? Everything that leads the personality to rise above habit, above a sleepy and animal existence, above ‘mental laziness’, as Chekhov said. Chess and other warm ‘hobbies’ do not count, they do not awaken, but put one to sleep; education and ‘mental labour’ according to the habitual mould do not protect one from anything either, because awakening presupposes identity, clear self-consciousness, a sense of personal distinctiveness — everything that the modern order tries to extinguish in man. There is no higher culture without religiosity in one form or another, without thoughts of the divine and destiny. By removing these questions from consideration as ‘meaningless’, the new order deprives the personality of its wings. To the highest humanity there is no way past the divine. ‘Intellectual’ is the fruit of a worthless attempt to obtain the higher man without God and inner labour, by the power of reading alone. You cannot replace the sanctuary with a library…

And in essence, ‘Soviet culture’ was reduced precisely to literacy and the library, things of no small importance, but powerless apart from the general content of the individual.  (I am not talking about the fact that during most of the Soviet years almost everything important and nourishing for the mind and spirit was excluded from this conventional ‘library’: from Plato and the Bible to Konstantin Leontiev, prophetic works of Dostoevsky and the richest heritage of the White Emigration).

This general content was immeasurably richer under the old order. I have said more than once in these essays that the man of the Old World grew up, so to speak, in the light of many lights, not just one. The individual had more freedom, since there were more centres of power and they were correspondingly weaker. Paganism (in art and in public life), biblical views and, conventionally speaking, Mill and Darwin existed side by side and nourished mind and soul together, but not simultaneously. The rich personality of the 19th century man was a personality of many foundations. The fewer sources of truth in society, the more coercive and rigid they were.

The root feature of the new order was the derivation of all available ‘truths’ from a single source, the very ‘revolution-science’ of which Rozanov spoke. Any statement of the fathers of the Communist faith was declared ‘scientific’; science, in its turn, was presented as a source of truths that contradicted religion and, more generally, philosophical idealism; and if science suddenly recognised something invisible but effective, like ‘hereditary substance’, the ‘party’ was horrified, for this embarrassed its materialist virginity.

Here we come to a curious feature of the 20th century.

Everything that is released at the collapse of the Old World wants to be a religion, gravitates towards religion of a Christian kind. The National socialist and Bolshevik worldview; the liberal worldview (another route to the ‘final truth’); and finally, the ‘religion of science’. In a world of emptying temples, there is no room left for the non-sacred in the Christian sense, i. e., for that which is not related to Truth in the singular. All the above forces are jealous, do not tolerate competition, desire the whole man: mind, will and heart.

A post-Christian society needs a prescriptive religion, at least a worldview that can substitute for it.

(Of course, it was impossible to live by Christian rules without breaking them at every turn. However, they gave spirit and structure to public and private life. Unable to govern the whole of human life, since most of it was in the realm of ‘sin’, they gave the individual a hand on the highs and lows, wherever the normal course of events was interrupted).

Why is this so? Because, I believe, the man of the former Christian world is not accustomed to freedom; he is all in Dostoevsky: either God (that is, in practical application, a tossing between Life and the monastery) or debauchery. He wants wholeness, the subordination of everything to one. And he unfortunately finds this wholeness. This man has not yet thought about other possible relations to the divine — those that leave room for human reason and freedom. ‘Either God or freedom! Either God or reason!’ This is the fruit of unthinking, the rebellion of the adolescent. No wonder: the Gospel addresses itself to the child. Rebellion against it inevitably takes the form of adolescent revolt.

(I mentioned Dostoevsky above; this is not to say that the unquenchable thirst for wholeness has something particularly Russian about it. No, Western nations have also created their own prescriptive worldviews: National socialism and liberalism. We Russians are not alone on this path…)

Thus, a society freed from the ‘tyranny of the ruling classes’ and ‘religious obscurantism’ seeks a doctrine that would free the individual from searching and questioning, give him peace of mind and a sense of personal righteousness, and finds such a doctrine. With the mention of such a teaching we began this essay.

I am not talking now about Marxism’s claim to be a ‘science’ (it has been debunked already by Sergei Bulgakov), but about something bigger and stronger than Marxism: the ‘religion of science’, this shadow of real science. ‘The religion of science’ desires power over minds through the preaching of the One Truth, intolerant and one-sided, whereas true science is the knowledge of numbers, of quantifiable things. Anything that goes beyond the study of numerical ratios: opinions about the meaning of life, the world, the gods and destiny — is not science, but religion, whatever it calls itself.

Faith in an ‘explanation of the world’, an ‘exhaustive knowledge of nature’, is always only faith.  Reason has access to the less majestic but certainly fascinating ‘investigation of that part of the world which is amenable to study’. For the sake of reason we should bring ‘the religion of science’ down from the ‘mountain top’ on which it is so well established, and examine it with the same partiality with which it examines other human affairs.

The critical attitude towards things must not stop at the present day. The representatives of the ‘religion of science’ are able to look critically at the past, and see some of its sins correctly, but the present is infallible in their eyes.

‘We worship all modernity without understanding it, because for us idolaters of historicism, everything factual has become blessed. But this is not enough. If before modernity we are servile, if we do not dare to openly prefer the past, then before the future we have long been accustomed to experience a reverend and timid awe’. [2]

‘The religion of science’ boasts of continuity from Greek thought, but of all the Hellenes it recognises Democritus alone; besides, Greek thought has never been hostile to the gods; so that it cannot but be admitted that the will is a forgery. The true precursor of ‘scientific religion’ is not Hellenism, but the Christian Church. ‘Many notice’, said Rozanov, ‘that both in science and in revolution there is some ‘surrogate of religion’. There is proselytising, there is fanaticism. There is already an infinity of martyrs and heroes..’. And he continued: ‘science has become a ‘surrogate of religion’, or, to be more precise, has begun to replace it, taking its themes and tasks’.

So! And the Mind sleeps peacefully while the Church and the anti-Christian reaction (the science that is being converted to the Church) fight for power over it. Its anti-Christianity is fed, incidentally, not only by the Church’s claim to ‘the only truth’, but also by the aversion to mental complexity inherent in the semi-educated class, which, the further it goes, the more it seizes power. Christianity is opposed to it by its pagan-philosophical, antique leaven, every shadow of which is banished from the world by ‘scientific religion’.

After all, Hellenic paganism is the mother of all philosophy, since it gives the individual space for thought and argument outside the temple, piety, and cult. [3] ‘Scientific religion’, the faithful daughter of Christianity, allows nothing external to itself and its truths. ‘He who is not with us is against us’.

‘Good’, you will say. — ‘Science becomes the Church, its intolerance is indeed suspiciously reminiscent of something, but why did science in your ‘Old World’ hold its heights?’

Here it is time to speak of the next achievement of the ‘new order’, which the overthrowers of the Old World themselves never dreamt of. This achievement is semi-enlightenment, and we have already spoken of it. Semi-enlightenment is very similar to real enlightenment; like the latter, it is based on literacy and books. It is not by chance that the Bolsheviks cared first of all for the spread of literacy. A person who was provided with literacy and not taught to think (i. e., who had not gone beyond this literacy) was their best support because of his natural tendency to accept the first book he read as the truth.

Semi-education is precisely the knowledge of books. Whereas in the case of true enlightenment ‘a book can only direct one to the path one has to walk alone’, the path of the semi-educated begins and ends with a book. Like many things, reading is a good thing only up to a point. A mind overfed with books becomes unfruitful. Reading must be supplemented by ‘laziness’, a time of freedom from other people’s thoughts and a free search for ‘one’s own’.

‘The semi-enlightened’ is a bad thinker, but (in a certain sense) a good Christian, i. e., a man of a previous age: he knows that ‘truth’ is at its best contained in books. There is no special reproach here to Christianity, only an indication of its nature. Christianity is the religion of the book. Anything that is not in that book is insubstantial or non-existent. The mental imprint left by the Church is so deep that to this day, after all the turmoil, the mind resorts to the saving book at every need, instead of doubting and reasoning for itself.

The society in which we live is a society of semi-enlightenment, accustomed to respect the book but not thought. Thought, if it is alive and deep, is often hostile to books; in fact, existence in the form of an accepted and honoured book is a kind of afterlife for thought — when its fire has gone out.

But we have moved away from the subject. To put it briefly: science loses ground under its feet as it gets used to rely on external authority and generally accepted opinions, and even more so as the conscious work of minds that have passed through the philosophical school is replaced by the work of its ‘educated’ but not enlightened figures.

This loss of ground has been in preparation for a long time — ever since the belief in equality, in the belief that the individual is nothing and the ‘method’ is everything, was introduced into science secretly, surreptitiously. The popular opinion is: ‘The right methods lead to the right results regardless of the personality of the worker’. In reality, however, it is the mind, its education, depth and development (hopelessly extra-scientific categories) that are decisive. Mind before science. The school of thought before knowledge of facts.

By imposing a mechanical idea of thinking (as if it were a simple work on thoughts clothed in words), we cut off the mind’s way into the depth, to immersion in the subject. Mental labour consists not in ‘working on thoughts expressed in words’, but in the ability to establish a connection with the area where pure understanding, devoid of words and images, boils. This pure understanding is condensed and literally translated into words at the tip of a pen, but the creator himself does not resort to words while he is thinking. He immerses himself in this boiling understanding and brings something from there which, when cooled, becomes words. Only a mind unprepared for such immersion is engaged in playing with words….

The spread of education is the spread of minds unprepared for thinking. Since it is inherent in man to judge things that are unquantifiable, ‘the first and the last questions’, education takes over metaphysical judgements. These attempts were exhaustively defined by Erwin Schrödinger.  [3]

Indeed, in general, all metaphysics as a judgement ‘about what is superior to geometry’ is the sum of inner experience and the assumptions based on it, i.e. something necessarily personal. ‘Scientific’ judgements about the meaning of life and immortality are the fruits of the inner life of the scientist, and as such they are no better than the Christian metaphysics of sin and salvation. The sense of despondency and abandonment encouraged by certain pursuits and certain environments is not universally binding. It is local, temporary, historically rooted and therefore transient.

Christians, by the way, like to accuse atheists of arrogance. But this is not the case; modern atheism is not from pride. Man now does not ‘rebel’ against the divine (except for the university atheist, who continues the battle with the Church begun centuries ago). He is godless from his own emptiness and flatness; seeing nothing remarkable, marvellous, mysterious in himself, neither does he see them in the world. All religion begins with a surprised look within oneself. That look is no longer there. Man is uninterested in himself, and he is bored in the world. ‘It’s all about untruth!’ — he says and goes to work or to entertain himself. Religion does not come from ‘belief in gods’. Religion comes from faith, first of all, in one’s own being. And that is what modern man does not believe in.

This man is placed in such a society, in such circumstances, in which he has no opportunity to feel himself a free self-moving unity (which religion — any religion, not only Christian personalism — sees in man). Freedom of movement is almost non-existent, the individual is bound mentally and property-wise — and all the more easy for it to believe that man is only vapour over water. ‘If in this world we are powerless and insignificant, what to speak of others’.

But all this is, as stated above, ‘local, temporary, has historical roots and is therefore transitory’. It is important not to lose one’s temper, not to mistake a profound religious and cultural crisis (and the decline of the understanding of divine things that had prevailed for fifteen hundred years, along with the destruction of the pedagogical system capable of forging a highly elevated thinking personality, is a profound crisis that will take a long time to overcome) for the end of the world. The end of the world belongs only to one of the possible religious philosophies of history. As for the ‘new man’, his novelty will be associated (when this ‘new man’ actually begins to emerge) with depth and strength, not with pallor and mediocrity of mind and perception.

[1] I do not speak of our orthographic losses. The question of Russian spelling was solved in 1917 as unsatisfactorily as all other Russian questions, and this decision is waiting for revision.

[2] Vladislav Khodasevich.

[3] As Walter Burkert says of it: ‘Man [in the pagan world] has to manoeuvre between a multitude of demands and necessities; piety is intelligence and ‘caution’. Just in this, however, lies the chance of polytheism to embrace the diversity of reality without closing its eyes to contradictions and without being placed before the necessity of an intensified negation of any of its parts. Man is even left with a free space on the other side of the satisfied demands; hence, with the Greeks, law and ethics could develop as human ‘wisdom’, independently and at the same time in harmony with the god; the sayings of the sages and the law were carved on the walls of temples and yet were always regarded as human daring rather than divine revelation’.

[3] ‘It often happens that science is content to shake up popular religious beliefs without attempting to replace them with anything. This creates a cartoonish phenomenon: a scientifically trained, highly informed mind with an incredibly childish — undeveloped or atrophied — philosophical worldview’.

Back to Twilight Time

Views: 56