Personal Truths. 3. Modernity and Its Beliefs

We live in a time of summing up. The results of the French revolution, which threw ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ into the world; the results of the Russian revolution, which threw the no less famous ‘rob the robbed’; the results of the Reformation, which drove God first out of the temple, then out of the person; the results of almost a century of ‘total democracy’ in the West… Many historical ‘beginnings’ are reaching their ‘ends’ these days.

Let’s talk about modernity and its beliefs. Let’s start with the position in which we (the European and North American peoples of the early 21st century) find ourselves.

Our situation

We live in a time when the West is preparing for the end with a tense and lively curiosity, and it is thinking of accepting this end from a vengeful Muslim, or from a disease, or from a stone from heaven… There is something surprising about these funeral preparations in the midst of cries about the might and prosperity of mankind (by which is usually meant the population of five or six states of the Christian world). The air trembles with the trumpet call, ‘We are strong, and tomorrow we shall be stronger still!’ but instead of the general happiness we should have expected, we see general anxiety, and still more a readiness to believe only bad predictions. The impression is that Western man is divided in himself, and that his light and dark halves see completely different things. There, on the day side, everything is prosperous: acquisition follows acquisition, strength piles on strength, while the night side is hungry for horrors, ready for horrors, sees horrors beneath the shiny surface of day… The day man follows the path of accumulation of earthly riches leading nowhere; the night man seems to have already travelled this path and reached his ‘nothingness’. The society that has declared all moral, or more generally, spiritual life to be a ‘disease’ and thus deprived it of its sharpness, is itself suffering from a grave mental illness. Its night half knows a secret that could deprive the day half of peace… All these dreams of destruction, doom, horrors in the midst of apparent prosperity are not accidental. Western man is in a heavy dream and wants to wake up, but he is not allowed to wake up, and the bifurcation goes further and further.

It is curious that the current seducers of mankind are the most crude, the most clumsy. We are not talking about some subtle temptations, about vices, passions… The preached lowering of the moral level cannot even be called a vice. The crudest desires, power and lust are directly addressed; the concepts of temptation and vice are discarded as too subtle and spiritual, instead of them one call: ‘Be like beasts!’. The Church, it is said, has humbled the nations by instilling in them submission to the Eternal Law. How much more submissive will the nations be when reduced to the condition of industrious animals: labour by day, mating by night, and lights of mindless pleasure in the pitch darkness.

The tree of European history bent for a long time, and finally broke at the beginning of the 20th century, and by the middle of the century it cracked completely. What we think of as ‘modern history’, ‘modernity’, ‘continuation of development’ is only a dead trunk, resting with its top in the ground… If this tree ever continues to grow, it will only grow from there, from the breaking point — and back to the sky. We got, I repeat, a powerful, but dead fallen trunk — devoid of sap, separated from the roots.

The surest sign of the breakdown is the fading of the arts, the passing away of harmony in general. Harmony means belief in the meaningfulness of the world and readiness to search for meaning in it; harmony is always a premonition of the divine, if not an open and self-conscious religious faith. The passing of harmony means either the beginning of a serious illness or the end of an age that has failed to cope with the complexity of concepts and the abundance of facts and, if I may say so, has fallen under the weight of an inordinately broad knowledge. How does knowledge usually move? In divergent circles — external and internal, and the internal is much narrower than the external. The outer circle is the boundary of actual knowledge; the inner circle is that small area in which facts are ordered and connected, forming a worldview, not just a storehouse of knowledge. The trait of the modern era is precisely that the outer circle has expanded to infinity, while the inner has shrunk to a point. Modern mankind sees itself as almost omniscient, but it has evaded the burdens of developing a comprehensive view of things, preferring to it private technical knowledge, i. e., in essence, simple skills, albeit quite sophisticated. It may be argued that, on the contrary, science has created an integral and coherent worldview; from this worldview, however, all knowledge of man and the human being is conspicuously absent — just look at the laughable ‘psychology’, which studies mere psychophysical movements; ‘sociology’, which is most concerned with the forces of struggle and decay (Marxism); and ‘anthropology’, which studies the life of primitive peoples, but shows very little attention to the higher spiritual life. No, Western mankind is overwhelmed by knowledge; it knows, but does not assimilate; with its vast factual knowledge it has no coherent view of the world. Apart from the general decline in mental level characteristic of the 20th century, there are two important reasons for this crisis of cognition. Firstly, the excessive branching out of fields of knowledge, fostering attention to small details with a limited outlook. Secondly, and more importantly, the study of private matters seems so lucrative that generalisations and serious mental constructions on the basis of extracted facts seem to the man of the present day simply an unnecessary luxury. ‘We have power — why do we need an integral picture of the universe?’ (and in saying ‘integral‘ I mean, as always, one in which man and his works would be included, and to a greater extent than science, which sees in the human race some mould on the surface of the dead stones studied by astronomy and geology, allows itself.) ‘We do not need an integral worldview, we are strong enough without it!’, say science and the state, while society is weakening [1] .

Either man is rooted in the universe and human good and evil have their support in the world order, or there is no root, no foundation, everything is equally available and everything is possible. In this case human society is based on a ghost, a web; the human personality has its support only in itself; the continuation of world history is futile because its beginning was meaningless. These are the last conclusions of the preaching of nihilism; but the nihilists are not afraid of them, believing that the society, the destruction of the foundations of which they are concerned, will somehow be preserved there and will allow them to continue to live a trouble-free existence. But in the new world which these dreamers are preparing, there will be no place for them, nor for the dream itself; it will be left at the doorstep, like everything human.

Either man is rooted in the universe and the universe rejoices in man, or his deeds are ghostly and life is based on cobwebs. By accepting one of these positions, we accept life or destruction; there is no middle ground between the two. The transitional state of modern society, in which the prototype of the coming happy age is seen, is only a bridge between the old world and the new; between the world of invisible values and the world of their absence. Life in this transitional society is therefore still possible because we are guarded by values that have not been completely forgotten, and because it is so pleasant for some that it constantly, by its very course, denies these values, making the living feel that they are violators of the prohibitions. But the sweetness and poignancy of the time of destruction of shrines is short-lived. The one who destroys the temples feels himself a god-fighter, but his son or grandson will feel only what he is, i. e. a poor man in the ruins.

In relation to Christianity and all the great values of the West, we must be the guardian knights of the idea, in the full realisation that the historical ground for the application of these ideas has been destroyed by the upheavals of recent times and will hardly be restored soon, if at all. To defend God and freedom in these days is to go against a strong and growing current. On its banners, strangely enough, is also the demand for ‘freedom’, infinite freedom. But whoever proceeds from infinite freedom always concludes with infinite despotism. Dostoevsky is right. Mankind has abandoned of its own free will the great idea of limited freedom, intelligent freedom, freedom with goals, and is now chasing the spectre of an individual ‘completely liberated’ from goals and values, who is ‘free’ to the point of not knowing what to attach himself to, and finds the outcome of his longing in murder or suicide… We have learnt from recent experience that freedom also has its slaves.

There are things that can be studied and things that can only be learnt. One always studies something external, hostile; one learns through inner experience and by bringing the soul into harmony with what is learnt. In studying, the soul accepts; in learning, it takes. One can study what one does not believe in; one can learn only what one is convinced of. In certain times one learns; in certain times one studies. We live in an age inclined to study — no wonder it does not want to learn anything.

In the realm of thought we are in the position of the later followers of Plato. In the thin religious atmosphere we can build our edifice out of the purest, most fragile material. The world of the religious ideas of the past epoch spreads out beneath us like the sea — or rather like the evening earth seen from above; we embrace it with one flight of the eye, which was inaccessible to our ancestors who looked at the same world from within. We cannot keep this world from sinking into the evening dawn and what is beyond it, but we can give its last, truest, and most purified image. We are the evening guard at the gates of Christendom — until the next sunrise.

And always, and in our day especially, philosophical fitness is determined by the strength of the anxiety felt by the thinker. No ‘ancient wisdom’ protects us any longer; old truths neither help nor save us; the edifice built by our ancestors no longer gives us shelter. Before it was possible to glorify ‘groundlessness’ by standing on the soil of the European cultural world; now we are really, truly groundless: the soil has gone out from under our feet along with the cultural world. The opposition between ‘culture’ and ‘progress’ was a paradox before, but now it is a decisive fact. Culture and progress have diverged, and whoever wants to be with culture has no joy in technical development, and whoever wants to be with ‘progress’ has no joy in culture. It is no longer possible to love ‘culture’ and ‘progress’ at the same time, in other words, to love man and his technology at the same time. Soul life and culture are retrograde in the society in which we are placed. To speak of such things means, in the existing society, to call backwards, against the direction in which the majority is happily moving, from which the duty of soul life, the weight of conscience and its questions, the yoke of personal responsibility — the whole structure of the concepts of the Christian millennium — has finally been removed.

A considerable area in the modern soul and culture is occupied by a grey fog, equally remote from the mind and from the feelings — the area of mediocrity. Mediocrity is the defining word for our time. I even think there is an intrinsic connexion between the cult of mediocrity, the democratic worldview — and Darwinism in science. Man is given as little (or exactly as little) importance in philosophy as he is in public life. ‘Scientific worldview’ with its belittling of man only reflects the democratic social order with its inherent contempt for anything above average. Society needs the belief that its ideals have a cosmic foundation; that there is nothing higher in the universe than the ‘average man’, and that ‘average, ordinary, unnoticeable’ is an adjective that fits not only a cog in the democratic electoral machine, but also the human race. Society builds its worldview according to its own image, and the value of this ‘last and final’ worldview should not be exaggerated. It will pass. I only fear that we, the doubting and free, will pass with it…

The free mind today is not the one that goes ‘ahead of everyone else’, but the one that walks a secluded road, away from the common path. It is not the pleasant freedom of playful blasphemies and light offences against conscience… but the way to a new burden, the very one of which it is said: ‘My yoke is good, and My burden is easy’, the burden of high culture — the submission of man to the Spirit. Culture is a constant self-restraint, an exercise of the will, a striving for higher ends apart from lower ones. There is nothing ‘natural’ about culture; it is all the fruit of art. When they say: ‘modernity prefers to consume culture, and its tastes must be reckoned with’, they are connecting the incompatible. It is impossible to ‘consume culture’; it can only be created and maintained. In the field of spiritual life, ‘he that gathereth not scattereth’. To cut out even one generation from the succession of cultural growth means to deprive descendants, which seems to be what is happening. Within contemporary culture, a new man is being produced: he does not read or write, but only speaks and listens, or, if you prefer, watches. We should add: ‘and does not think’, not only does not read or write… The decline of literacy is a feature of the epoch, the epoch of the loss of written speech. But written speech, as the highest form of speech, is not only a means, but also a canvas for expressing thoughts. We cannot think what we cannot express at all. Simplified ways of expressing thought simplify thought. The abolition of writing, if it ever happens, will also mean the abolition of thinking as we know it… It is difficult to imagine what humanity would be like if it stopped reading and writing altogether. We can only assume that the mental life (to the extent that it still remains) will become mainly a life of feeling; sensations will become more important to the soul than thoughts… And there will be no place for books, and especially for books that awaken thought, in this world.

The main dispute of our time is around the meaning or meaninglessness of the world. ‘Everything I need and everything around me is meaningful’, says the soul, and reason replies: ‘There is no meaning, but only habit and the search for false reasons in meaningless things’. ‘Everything is meaningless and worthless’, says the mind and does not notice the danger of its position, because if indeed ‘everything is worthless’, then how is reason better than madness — even more: why has reason not yet conceded to madness the place of the first generally accepted virtue? The madman, at least in a senseless world, can still hope for happiness. For the one who gives up sense, the world, under all its brilliant and joyous sunny cover, will be full of a blind, splashing horror that flows over the black pipes, seeps through the soil and drips from the heights… Horror in the clouds, horror on the roads, no safety, no peace, only a dark, seeping, shimmering horror under the colourful cover of life…

The age makes one think that everything human is over, and the divine with it. Man no longer has any basis for morality… however subtle and mediated the connexion between faith and morality may be. Anyone who says that ‘one should be moral because otherwise God will punish us’ is profoundly mistaken. Only the great negative definition is true: ‘it is wonderful to love the truth and suffer for it’. The revolt against Christianity, as the highest variety of faith available to us, begins precisely with the denial of these three things, ‘there is no beauty; there is no truth; there is no need to suffer’. They drive the beautiful out of the world, drive the concept of moral truth out of the world, and seek their own pleasures. They are going to live without truth and beauty, but with all comforts. They may say that this is a temporary delusion, but I see here a dead end, and a dead end cannot be ‘temporary’. One can still hope for a gradual re-education of the thinking part of humanity, but the only way to educate humanity is to hurt it… and how can we wish the world more pain?

Not all have submitted to the ‘spirit of this age’. The freethinker of our time is a man of religion and is tormented by his religiosity. The world, in his view, is moving towards goals that have nothing to do with either the divine or the human. Evening fog smelling of smoke descends on cold fields and on rare extinguished lights… Hands are cold and feet do not want to go, because only a cold night lies ahead, and the most heart-wrenching thing is that for this cold night the world is dressed up, like a bride for the arrival of the groom… It is cold in the chest, we are thrown like a stone from a sling, like an arrow from a bow, and our future flickers with a vague glow at the edge of the sky…

There are some people, however, in whom the desire to establish themselves in the world, to lean on a solid rock, surpasses all others. They lean against something solid and enjoy security. Whatever Rozanov, Shestov or Nietzsche are, they are still better than the other side, busy with pious fantasies and in them keeping the peace of thought. Where does such calmness come from, as if everything had already been decided?! Sergei Bulgakov, for example, tries to keep the benefits of both worlds: both reason and faith, hence his attacks on Shestov. Bulgakov did not notice the main, one of the main thoughts of the Gospel (and, besides, of Dostoevsky and Shestov): one must be mad to believe, and a very poor mind is enough for unbelief. To think and believe means to exercise madness systematically, and only madness is necessary to survive [2] . Thinking always contradicts ‘worldly wisdom’, and therefore, in the eyes of the superficially judging majority, thinkers have the appearance of fools. How to remain balanced, how to keep a firm footing when we are constantly tempted by such a thought, for example: ‘If there is death, there is no God. If there is God, there is no death. Our whole attitude to life depends on our attitude to death’? [3]

Mankind is now tempted by power and fear. ‘Miracle, mystery and authority’ have been reduced to ‘power and fear’; power instead of miracle, fear instead of authority, mystery has dropped out altogether. And ‘power’ here has a double meaning: power over nature and power over the masses, the broader the one, the stronger the other. The masses pay for unprecedented power over nature with unprecedented subjugation and lowering of the level. We see the loss of level, the dehumanisation, the discrediting of man on the way to ever greater power — over nature, over inanimate things, over everything except his own soul. Man, one may even point out a rule, the more he has power over external things, the less he has power over himself. The limit of self-mastery is the limit of worldly poverty, the withdrawal from society and history. The state of ascetics can hardly expect a long existence, but also the opposite extreme, a society of purely external endeavours, cannot be durable. Its only staple is continuous expansion, continuous movement in all directions, more noise and turmoil to give citizens a semblance of meaning in their lives. A society of non-believers in the meaning of life can only be a society of suicides…

In the last century we have witnessed decades of irresponsible swaying of the human soul. Moral precepts were instilled in man, and then it was shown that everything is allowed. In essence, these were convulsions of humanism and ‘Enlightenment’. It was demanded and still is demanded of a completely corrupted man that he remain a Christian in relation to his neighbours and a citizen in relation to the state. The well-fed and prosperous preachers of immorality thought that their well-fed and prosperous life would remain so forever; that they would corrupt the nations, and that the state, under the shadow of which they lived, would remain as enlightened and well-adjusted and, above all, safe… ‘You lie, you scoundrels!’ It won’t! The state is held by conscience and conscience alone, at least, the state that wishes to be durable. But we are too late, hopelessly too late. The old has begun to fall and will continue to fall until it finally collapses. The end of the present cultural world is at hand, though it is not the end of which the Apocalypse speaks. By the way, for the information of the fearful, it should be noted that the meaning of the Apocalypse is not that ‘there will be horrors’, but that there will be an end to History. Without the concept of the end and judgement, the Apocalypse is meaningless. The simple-minded desire to see all horrors as a sign of apocalyptic times is a sign of a worldly, I would even say grossly materialistic understanding of the Bible, but it is characteristic of our time.

A common feature of the modern era is fear, the desire to frighten and be frightened. Clarity and transparency of the soul is not encouraged in these times — not least, I think, because a person with a clear and fearless soul is more difficult to control. It is easiest to subdue the will of the frightened and confused. The motives of the rulers, no matter what kind of ‘people power’ they cloak themselves with, are always the same: to reduce the variety of personal behaviour among the governed to the limit; to gather as many people as possible into one big herd or, if it fails, into several smaller herds. The authorities save efforts in order not to deal with the individuals, because individuals are willful and stubborn. It is easier to rule many people than one. Modern authorities know this and never and nowhere leave a person alone. What should one do who does not want to be frightened and subjugated? To keep transparency and purity of soul despite all the efforts of the authorities and those who serve them. Let them seek and find frightened slaves: we will try to remain free.

There was a light over Europe and it went out… Times were no less cruel than the present, but the European peoples believed in their purpose. That’s what no longer exists: faith in purpose and meaning, which is never false. Only those who believe in themselves achieve something. Not considerations of profit, not reasonable goals, but only a crazy faith in one’s purpose leads nations and individuals to success. ‘I was mistaken’, says Herzen, ‘in thinking that I could not sink at the crossing. I could; and I had better drown then, with all my hopes and all my faith’. So was the old Herzen right, and the young Herzen wrong? But why? Because only that he is older and poorer in hope? Here is only one opinion against the other; and in favour of the former, in my opinion, is the fact that at this crossing Herzen was not drowned after all.

As long as there was light, it gave the world depth, gave things unusual outlines, threw alluring reflexions, and, most importantly, gave everything perspective. The light went out, the glare disappeared, and we are poking blindly at the same objects that we saw before in the most seductive light, in the sunset or morning rays, with gold dust and a marvellous sense of novelty… The light went out, and it happened just when ‘reason shone’, in Europe of the 18th century. We have only sunk deeper into the dark waters; whereas before the purple, sunset sunlight still reached us, now not a ray passes through the blackness above us. We are under the dark water; between us and the meaning of life, between us and the fullness of being — black heavy water, dense night, impossibility. The light has gone out.

Now you will not convince anyone that the highest values are really the highest, and therefore can demand subordination from secondary values. The superiority of the more complex over the simplest is no longer obvious. The age tends towards the simplest thoughts and the simplest forms of their expression, with the daily increase in the complexity of the machines that serve society. I am speaking, of course, of culture — it is in culture that the simple dominates. Everything that can only be habituated by long education and self-education is banished from life… In place of clear and developed concepts, in place of the ladder of values, a shaky measure such as ‘success’ takes the place. What is good? What is successful. What is evil? That which has no success… Does anyone still need clarity of concepts? Or is it, like the clarity of thought bestowed by clarity of concepts, needed by too small a minority — a mere intellectual luxury? ‘Clarity of concepts and clarity of thought interfere with pleasure; pleasure drives out thought; — so is it not better to give up thought?’ Such may be the reasoning of the modern majority. We cannot say whether it is right or wrong — if only because in decisions about itself the individual is always right. But I shall never be able to accept a world that has given up thinking and the expression of thought.

The human world is characterised by the fact that creation is always short-lived, while destruction is permanent. This is the power of revolutions. The defenders of a certain order prolong its existence for an unknown but always limited period of time; the opponents, if successful, terminate its existence forever. The latter are undoubtedly stronger, because they have greater possibilities. Whose power is greater, the one who gives birth or the one who kills? Of course, that of the one who kills, because the one who gives birth gives birth for a time, and the one who kills — forever. Modernity knows this and worships those who kill and their power. — However, modernity, like any other epoch, is not immune to the emergence of freethinkers. A freethinker today is a religious man whose assessment of things is not clouded by considerations of power and profit, because his position is profitless. Thought is profitless. Who wants to be moral, let him think well — a consideration obvious, but completely inaccessible to the certain mindset, namely — the mindset of our epoch, for which the concept of ‘morality’, i. e. unprofitable goodness in the spiritual sense, unprofitable worthiness, has finally been replaced by profitable worthlessness, profitable inferiority of the spirit. Mental development is hopelessly sidetracked. There is one rule, or rather, an experienced regularity: the truths obtained by thought are in close connexion with its premises and intentions. The latter conclusions of thinking are determined by the value system of the thinker, and nothing else. Thus, the conclusions of a certain way of thinking — its truths — depend primarily on the original direction of thought. A certain direction of thought makes certain truths possible — or impossible forever, once thought changes its course. There was a time of meaning and humanity, now there is a time of purpose and power, and we freethinkers of the new age have only to wait and prepare for a new turn of mind.

Modernity worships blind gods. The world and man appear to it to be guided by blind forces that somehow invariably lead to complexity and progress. In fact, as has been said many times, this is the worst of all metaphysics: the world is in the hands of blind gods, who, however, make a jug out of every piece of clay, a statue out of every stone, a tree out of every twig, that is, they invariably lead the universe to greater order and complexity. And God himself is rejected by our epoch precisely as a reasonable and conscious beginning. The rationalism of this time is very strange and is combined with unbridled mysticism in the realm of the soulless, a kind of mechanical sensuality, which nothing judges and nothing limits. Or is this no longer rationalism, but simply the domination of technology over culture as the result of the conscious life of the soul? Then the contempt of this age for man and his highest hopes is understandable. One of the consequences of such a view, one of the saddest, is the impossibility, the abolition of the idea of the conscious construction of culture. This inevitably follows from the general view of man as an instrument of blind unconscious forces. The entire volitional, spiritual, conscious side of culture is overturned, leaving room for unconscious, instinctive, endless and meaningless activity, no longer for the sake of certain values, but only to exhaust the forces that find no outlet. The last justification for activity in this new Babylon is ‘the increase of human power’. But progress understood in this way (and it has never been understood otherwise) is a dead end. There is nothing outside of man, and endless expansion of possibilities is a path to nowhere. Truth and beauty are within us, and in the path of progress are unattainable. The point is not that progress has chosen false goals, but that the goals of progress are not necessary for man, and to remain human, one must also oppose progress.

Moreover. The value of the human person, and moreover of human life, in the world, i. e. in European-Christian humanity, has rapidly diminished, gone into the sand. The present restored society, insofar as it has been able to be assembled from the wreckage left by revolutions and wars, pays lip service to the great values of the 19th century, but it is only a façade, a decoration, a well-painted canvas behind which something frightening hides. The tragedy of the age, even more than that, the horror of the age, is that underneath the hastily restored humanistic values (i. e. the values of Christianity, let us not forget) there is nothing. We (in saying ‘we’, I am speaking of the West and the East) have succeeded in restoring state forms, but not their content. A glance at the map of Europe deceives. There is no longer Britain, no longer France, no longer — it fell first — Russia. There is a frightening future hidden behind old forms and new hopes. The most fortunate, rising power of modern times is fortunate because for it there is no contradiction between tradition and reality; it is not compelled to look backwards when taking up the plough. It openly places power, wealth and authority as the first values of life, and confidently overtakes the more cultured and therefore weaker nations… It is a force openly anti-Christian, despite the fact that it comes from a country that talks a lot about its Christianity. After all, Christian values are not limited to the Ten Commandments of Moses. To recognise Christian values in their entirety is to have a deep aversion to strength, and to distrust, or at least be wary of, power and wealth. A Christian is not in the least a person who has not fallen under the spell of strength. Violence as a mode of action, cruelty as a sign of action, and strength as the only justification for an act do not arouse in him awe and a desire to worship. Are there many such Christians in our time? The essence of Christianity is its relation to strength; a Christian who recognises strength as a sufficient justification of the authorities, social importance, is the same as hot ice or a hard cloud. Christianity was born as an opposition to violence in the name of God and the human soul. Cæsar and his legions passed Christ by — He only threw them the required tax. So should we do the same.

We are in an age of great unbridling of passions. However, passion implies something beyond need, and we are talking about satisfying needs — and artificially created needs, which is the mystery and definition of modern society. It is to the fullest extent a society of artificially created needs, which make it possible to recoup and even make profitable unnecessary production. No matter how much they talk about the ‘joys of possession’, marriage is first and foremost a close friendship and a desire to please each other. Passion, contrary to all the talk, is not the basis of marriage, but the path to it. So, sexual desire is artificially fuelled, and a daily igniting society seeks out the prohibitions that are still intact. This is surprising to the outside observer, because debauchery as such is useless and of no direct benefit to anyone, except that it makes society more and more easily controllable, offering honey instead of a scourge — in larger and larger quantities.

A new moral order is established in the world, which says nothing about good and evil, considering them tacitly abolished, but daily preaches the naturalness of violence, which is known to be the shield and support of all evil. An unspoken but explicit worship of strength and terror — with a thirst for all sorts of personal comforts — is spreading. The average man is invited to take a cosy chair in hell, by the very fire, from which he can hear the cries of the tortured and smell the infernal smoke; but he is convinced (at least he is led to believe it) that hell is always for others.

This order is utterly hostile to any search for truth. Truth is achieved the more surely the more obstacles there are on the way to it. Cognition is driven not simply by ‘doubts’ (they are unfruitful in themselves), but by the inability to be satisfied with the old truths, the inability to live with them or to do without truths at all. Both conditions are important here. Not only should the old truth be weathered, but the absence of a trustworthy truth should be intolerable to the individual. One of these conditions is fulfilled in our time; the other is not. The old truth has weathered and failed; but the personality has become so unpretentious that it is willing to live without truth at all. Only suffering and disappointment in the material and attainable goods of this world, it must be emphasised, can in time forge a new Messiah. Not to believe in his coming means to agree with the gravediggers of humanity, for whom all wisdom ends with Marx, Darwin and Freud, i. e. the well-known theory: ‘Strong, devour the weak and die!’ Some humility and reasonable scepticism, however, prevent me from seeing our era as the possessor of the final truth. As such, I would say, it is too unsightly, and looks more like a time of final decline than of final knowledge. It is the glaring imperfection of an era that claims to resolve all questions and fulfil all hopes that helps us to hope for a better future. This time is not what it claims to be. In its self-assessment, it is extraordinarily deceptive; its moral authority, for all its scientific versatility, is negligible; it does not arouse respect, let alone love… Yet the existence of lies and our overwhelming inner aversion to them is most suggestive of the existence of truth. That is what this age is: a triumphant lie that, however, hints at a truth somewhere outside of it.

To one who has been brought up with the notions of material omnipotence and moral loneliness of man, the concept of ‘God’s punishment’ must appear to be something unmodern. However, for the sake of such a person, it should be pointed out that God is not afraid of appearing unmodern. In the eyes of the crowd — today and always — ‘modernity’ is  what adulthood is to a teenager: a time of liberation from former truths and values. ‘God, truth, conscience, poets, prophets — all this was once before’, says any prideful crowd, ‘but now it’s different’. Belief in the notorious ‘modernity’ is belief in a magical ‘now’ that frees from fears, hopes, and obligations; that the flow of time is unlocked and necessity gives way to freedom. But he who deceives himself is punished at the very pinnacle of self-deception, when he believes that the chain of cause and effect has broken down, that there is no longer any coercive external force — God, conscience or fate. Our time is the least prepared for tragedy, i. e., not for an accident, but for the action of fate, because it considers itself removed from the power of any fate. Man has never before considered himself so free, and therefore never been so unprepared to meet fate.

Behind the conquest of nature lay the subjugation of man. The limits of the moral independence of the individual have been terribly reduced in recent times. The soul has been bribed with more and more power over dead things, as long as it does not think about itself, and the goal has been reached: the soul has lost its inner support, has lost its anchor, and swims on the waves, trying to dispel boredom by labour and entertainment. There is a generation that desperately wants to escape from the denigrated, vulgarised reality into a different, more real world. More than ever, they love fairy tales that speak of things that happened not here and now. First the masses were indoctrinated with the help of ‘realism’ that only the dirty and disgusting were real; now the masses are fleeing from the grey, disgusting world without God, truth and beauty to the world of fairy tales, in which truth and beauty can still appear. Life is increasingly divided into the real and the imaginary, and the more unsightly the real, the more beautiful the imaginary. The consequence of this will be an inability to act with a painfully developed ability to dream. I predict that the further away, the more the masses in countries that have been completely liberated from Christianity (with its belief in truth and beauty in this world) will be possessed by dreaminess and a tendency to fantasise and dream. One can also imagine a ‘paradise on earth’ in which moral decay would be combined with technical ‘omnipotence’, political subordination with the appearance of absolute freedom — and materialistic dreams of beautiful but non-existent worlds. I think, however, that such an order will not last long.

One may ‘cast out daemons’, one may ‘cast out man’. It is almost complete. Society not only doesn’t want to be humane, it doesn’t want to be human. No, on the surface everything is still prosperous: ‘they buy and sell, they marry and are given in marriage, just as it was in the days of Noah’. But this is all the favourable influence of the older generations still living. The face of the future, as it may be surmised, will be beastly. Ever since the first European war ended, every year mankind has tried more and more new dances and pleasures; the history of the 20th century may even, with sufficient levity, be traced as a history of rapidly changing dances… But in essence it has been a successive loss of former values, the further away, the more pleasurable and exciting; a successive movement from a culture built on responsibility and labour to the very sources of pleasure. A European of 1914 would not have recognised his great-grandson in the raging youngster. Culture (the realm of creativity) was replaced by consumption (the realm of acquisition). Values were replaced by tastes, religion by hobbies, passions by pleasures. The loss of values was prepared in the old world, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky heard the rumblings underground, but only war could destroy the old culture. The most painful thing about our time is that it recognises its sickness and ugliness as virtue, feels itself to be facing a new rising and expects all sorts of favours for itself. With the absence of all innocence this time combines absolutely childish hopes, and is tormented, by the way, by no less childish fears — remember the constant expectation of the end of the world, the general credulity regarding the power of science, magic and alien intelligence, and this childish readiness to be frightened, on which art plays for the masses! It is an amazing time: the nations have become childishly credulous, and those who yesterday still rebelled against the Church allow themselves to be led by the new priests, who are far less disinterested than the erring servants of God.

Having abandoned a firm notion of truth and non-derivative values, we have in time, in just a few centuries, acquired a culture based largely on lies, that is, on assumptions that are favourable to the present moment or simply can be easily proven at the present moment. ‘Truth is that which can be proved’, says modernity, but this formula has an extension: ‘…that which can be proved to a given listener right now’, in other words, that which the public can be convinced of to the extent of their ability to judge things. The triumph of extreme sophism had arrived. Taking as the measure of truth its provability, we made this truth dependent not only on the arguments of the persuader, but also on the mental uncomplicatedness of the persuaded. If even before ‘there were as many truths as leaves in a forest’, still wise men chose between them, and with a certain responsibility. Truth was not then put in the rather shameful position of satisfying public wishes. It is objected, however, that only minor truths are given by democracy to the masses; the main truth is given by science, from which the others only borrow light… Here, however, is a mere substitution of words. Science is not concerned with truths… The scientific method, or rational method, as entirely based on proofs, is constantly in danger of turning into pure sophism, from which it is held back only by such a elusive thing as the conscience of the researcher. Science not based on conscience turns into charlatanism. Conscience is a spiritual concept, completely independent of ‘scientific curiosity’ and other virtues of this kind. I repeat: any method of cognition based on proofs is in danger of degenerating into pure sophism if the cogniser lacks moral purity. ‘Truth is that which can be proved’. But to whom?! Ultimately to the conscience of the scientist. But since science either denies conscience, or only agrees to tolerate it on the condition of non-interference in its own affairs, the scientist — if he is consistent and draws from only one source — sooner or later expects difficulties, because he got (if he got) his conscience from a completely different source than everything else….

A man can be studied either in whole or in no way at all. The chimera of ‘economic man’ created two centuries ago has not changed, but has been complicated nowadays by another chimera — ‘physiological man’. In worldviews of this kind, man is given the same place as a falling stone: it is implied that at any given moment only one force influences that man. At first this is only a convenient assumption; then (this necessarily happens, since we are talking about worldviews) all indecision is discarded, and the person — for convenience’s sake — begins to be really regarded as being influenced by one single force. In the case of a falling stone this is still acceptable, but in the case of man it leads to a deliberate lie. The human world is rearranged arbitrarily, depending on what force this or that thinker considers supreme. For the currently dominant view, this force is the desire to possess, directed towards material goods — money and pleasure. I think this expression encompasses both the wisdom of Marx and the wisdom of Freud. No wonder that the outcome of mental development on this ground turns out to be more than modest. Whereas all higher mental movements are essentially movements of giving (both creativity and love are joyful self-giving), the Western world has chosen as its ‘dominant force’ the thirst to take rather than to give, and this has proved decisive.

The flower of European-Christian culture grew on the soil, strange as it may seem, of a certain incapacity of Western Europeans for Christianity, and religion in general. Christianity in Europe from the very beginning was complicated by reason, i. e., the need for reasoning. From the very beginning, Europeans did not want to ‘believe’ but to be ‘reasonably convinced’. It is no accident that the Romans, in order to believe, needed the exploits of martyrs, a kind of proof of power that they could only accept. As the forerunner of the latest Europeanism, Celsus, said in his treatise against Christianity, ‘and what kind of people is this, who has never conquered anyone by armed force, but dares to teach others their faith?’ A people who must be so persuaded of the truths of the religion preached, have little confidence in the preaching, and in the spirit generally. Faith in Europe has been so fruitful because it has always been associated with a beginning which is not akin to it — with sharp and self-confident thought; until thought wished for exclusive power and freed itself from faith and any notion of authority beyond its own reason…

In Europe, Christianity achieved its greatest strength, but it was the strength of the combination of inconsistent beginnings, the strength of the fracture. And if you look closely, where did Christianity make the greatest progress in Europe? In the society, in the state. But Christianity in its essence is internal and non-wordly — and what do its external successes mean? Something was wrong from the very beginning in the society which Christianity took as the way to improve life on earth. Humanism and self-worship are only the results of an initial intention to settle on earth firmly and by its own efforts, even if only with the hope of grace. ‘In Europe Christianity’, it is said, ‘has borne the richest fruit’. But whose fruits are these: Christianity’s, or the soil which has received it? And if of the soil, what is the meaning of the mysterious ‘backwardness’ of the Christian East, and the simple unwillingness of the rest of the world to follow the path of perfection of earthly, exclusively earthly life? Hitherto these questions have been asked the less frequently, the greater the apparent earthly success of Europe; but now that the failure of the West is becoming clear — how can one not ask them?

Very soon, maybe within a few generations, the opinion of the West will no longer be a coercive force for nations. Europe, which for 300 years has given the world answers, will itself become a question. And all our current prejudices, such as: ‘to be modern means to think and act like a man of the West’ — these prejudices will fall, and we will have to learn to think for ourselves, without looking back at Europe. Does this seem impossible to you? But God and history do nothing but prove the impossible; the future is what seems impossible to us. [4]

What is one of the mistakes of modern times? It is that instead of ends it has taken up the means. Literacy, books are ways to culture, but they are not ends in themselves. Look at how most people use their new literacy: to write what one should not read and to read what one should not write. And this is not an accident, but a natural consequence, because along with simple literacy, the masses have not been taught a more important thing: the ability to discern and judge. Proponents of ‘enlightenment’ blamed ‘evil ignorant fools’ for all the troubles. However, a complacent half-educated fool would probably be no better. ‘Everything is all right’, we are told, ‘man has finally got a book in his hand; gradually the masses will grow spiritually, it is only necessary to leave them to themselves’. It is shameful to argue with this childish view: where, when and by whom was it seen that someone, left to himself, deprived of care and abandoned, to grow spiritually? Unless, of course, this ‘someone’ was a genius — after all, geniuses are always loners, and even psychology with its tendency to bold constructions has not yet reached the concept of ‘collective genius’. Man was given a book in his hands, but a book is not a good, a book is only a means to the knowledge of the good; a tool, but not the purpose of labour; and, most importantly, it is no more difficult, if not easier, to abuse a book, superficial literacy, than the notorious ‘ignorance’; superficial literacy is the same as ignorance, only more pretentiously dressed and more self-respecting.

The path of mental development over the last centuries is a path of gradual substitutions. Culture is replaced by education; education by simple literacy. Since the circle of those involved is constantly expanding, and numerical superiority, the further one goes, the more it serves as evidence of rightness and not only of strength — this is seen as a sign of upward development, whereas in reality it is only a sign of a steady decline in demands and a diminishing ability to create. This is where the main substitution lies. Culture is a divine gift as an arena for creative ability. Education is already ambiguous — it is an opportunity for both the highest rise and a lowly attitude to culture as a milk cow for the satisfaction of various needs. Literacy is even worse: it is only an open way to quench the mental or sensual itch, an opportunity to ‘scratch where it itches’ — without further reflexion and even less creative endeavours. Culture is divine; education is ambiguous; literacy is indifferent. This is the way of development in the age of universal averaging. Everything in it is good and soothing for the man of the middle, at whose service are all the present pleasures without duties; but on this path there can be no continuance. Between ‘to create’ and ‘to consume’ there is a cosmic opposite; and if by purposeful creativity it is possible to create a reserve for long-term consumption, consumption will sooner or later eat up this reserve and will lead to emptiness… This is where we are approaching.

Rozanov was absolutely right in saying that ‘in Hellas there were no schools — instead of them there was literature’, i. e. that ordinary wide reading does more for the acquisition of culture than school and university, which serve a completely different ideal — the ideal of the ‘specialist’. In order to recognise Rozanov’s rightness, it is necessary to abandon this ideal and restore another: the ideal of the whole person, but the whole person has, from the point of view of modernity, the enormous disadvantage that, being able to glorify the fatherland both in battle and in council, cannot be a means to anything. And in this ‘being a means’ lies the basic idea of modern society, in which a multitude of defective ‘specialists’ are united in common work for the sake of an abstract whole, no one works for himself and no one — really — receives satisfaction from work… Our ‘enlightenment’ has been traded for a certain amount of technical knowledge communicated to the masses — culture, and often even simple literacy, is not even in sight here. Culture implies not only assimilation of a known amount of knowledge, but also general cultivation of personality. This is self-evident, but almost forgotten. Personality — from the point of view of cultural development — is only raw material, which by a series of purposeful efforts can be developed into something higher: by cutting off the unnecessary, suppressing the bad, encouraging the good and instilling the best. At its last point, the ideal of culture almost meets the ideal of religion. Therefore, one should never be deceived by superficial definitions of culture as ‘the sum of knowledge’ or, even worse, habits. Culture is labour; not something to be possessed, but something to be sought — at least for each individual. It has little to do with the mechanical assimilation of a sum of knowledge.

Liberalism. The worship of ‘history’

The banner of our era says: ‘liberty’. It has a second shrine: ‘history, whose judgements are always righteous’. The origins of these two values are different. Hegel, who put history in the place of God, was hardly a liberal; the British liberals of the 19th century were hardly Hegelians. In our day, however, the two worldviews have become intertwined to the point of inseparability.

The complacent belief in ‘reason’ is a belief in the collective stupidity of humanity. ‘Everything will work out fine’, says the liberal, ‘just give people freedom!’ I will allow myself to say that I, like everyone else, need freedom, but I don’t believe in it. We breathe air, we cannot live without it, but breathing air is not the purpose of existence. It is the same with freedom.

The use of the word ‘freedom’ is justified as long as it refers to the affirmation of positive values. Without the concepts of good and truth, there is no concept of freedom. He who seeks to abolish truth is out of the defence of freedom; let him not be distressed by misunderstanding and persecution. Freedom is a condition for the attainment of ends, but it is not an end in itself. A monument to the blind striving for it, which is devouring our time, can be a faceless idol with clipped wings, trampling with its feet the man crushed by unbearable freedom. Outside the realm of the spirit there is no freedom. There one can speak only of indifference, of following, or worse, of enslavement to the elements of the world. Authority without truth is violence, freedom without truth is fornication. In recent centuries, we have argued too much about freedom, when we should have argued about truth: for the sake of what truth do you demand freedom? Modern humanity has nothing to answer this question.

Are the ‘judgements of history’ righteous? This or that segment of history passes away not because ‘inevitable progress’ has abolished it, but because it has failed to fulfil its tasks. The past can be condemned only insofar as, having set itself tasks, it failed to fulfil them. It is not the tasks that can be cancelled, but the ways of solving them. The main misconception of those who judge history is that they condemn the past because it has already passed. The historian sees the advantages of the present in the same way that Ecclesiastes saw the advantage of a living dog over a dead lion. The task of history becomes to justify the aims and objectives of the present while neglecting the aims and objectives of past epochs. The idea of ‘progress’ is forcefully imposed on history, all to prove that the goal of all past times is modernity. But if history does not end with the present, then its aims — if it has aims — are beyond modernity, and we are not judges, but are as much actors and fighters or sufferers as our predecessors.

Progress may be wrong, or, more precisely, progress may lead downwards rather than upwards. Modern times have developed corrections, if not refutations, to the optimistic view of the Enlightenment: the majority may be wrong, and another: progress may be heading for the worse. If one accepts these two thoughts, there will be nothing left of the Enlightenment. It is based on the favourite metaphysical assumption of modernity: that the natural course of things invariably leads to good. Belief in the creative grace of chaos and its ability to self-develop towards the good and the higher, deprives culture of its roots: all the willful and coercive part is taken out of it, it is seen not as a victory of man over chaos, but as a flower of chaos, whose past is meaningless and whose future is doubtful; the fruit of the ‘natural course of development’… At least, it is seen where the ideas of Enlightenment are still valid. However, I will not tire of repeating that there is nothing natural in culture, and all of it is the fruit of efforts and spiritual victories.

The 20th century has shown that ‘progress’ not only may lead to the worst — it does. We are now offered the ideal of animal humanity, and to reject it, we need not strength, not courage — it is strength and courage that it puts in the first place — but something else entirely. The herd of people follows the path of least effort, losing its human form along the way, bewitched by talk of the ‘might of mankind’ as the only and final goal, but in the end it is not the herd that is mighty, but its leader. How do we stop these mobs? It’s all well conceived and arranged. The ideal of animal mankind was not proposed before the destruction of all past foundations and goals, and while this destruction was in progress, the peoples were promised something else entirely. While the culture of the past was still standing, the masses were promised ‘all-round development of the individual’ and all spiritual fullness, which this culture seemed to prevent, but as soon as it collapsed, poverty took the place of the promised fullness. On the path of destruction the nations followed the wandering light of ‘future goods’; having travelled it to the end, they found themselves in darkness. ‘I will satisfy all your desires, down to the basest’, says a voice from this darkness, ‘but you will never have the happiness of life, the meaning of life’. And as far as we can tell, the masses are ready to rest easy on what this voice offers them.

Here is the root question that modernity is completely unwilling to see: does mankind need freedom, and if so, does all mankind need it, and if not all, how can we distinguish those who need it? This is the question that Plato posed in his Republic and Dostoevsky in his Legend of the Grand Inquisitor. Nowadays this question is resolved in an exclusively positive sense, i. e. it is not even resolved, but the question itself is not seen. Freedom is recognised as necessary in unlimited quantities — to an unlimited number of people. The idea that freedom is universally applicable is pursued without fear or embarrassment — to whatever consequences its application may lead. The impartial observation that the age prides itself on when it comes to unimportant subjects is both blind and deaf to freedom and its gifts. If, say, the successive emancipation of a certain society leads to an ever-increasing increase in the number of crimes, one turns a blind eye to it; and in the best case, murder, violence and robbery are declared, with a look of profound sorrow, to be ‘the price we have to pay for social and economic progress’. At the same time, the ever-growing tidal wave of offences against conscience is a frightening sign, since in some final point, however remote, it promises the destruction of society or — no better — the establishment of a tyranny whose existence will be justified by the blatant evil of the age of ‘ever-increasing freedom’. Its admirers, however, take a much calmer view of things: ‘it is, you see, a temporary cost; it is just that man has not yet got used to unlimited freedom…’ Let us wait for the seduced and constantly seduced to ‘get used to’ the excess of temptation and to lead the life of an ‘honest bourgeois’!

Modern Western ‘freedom’ is designed for the individual, brought up in a Christian society, who knows his own limits and agrees not to overstep them. Against an opponent who does not recognise the Ten Commandments, the West is completely defenceless; all the more defenceless because it does not believe in evil intent, or in the existence of evil at all. The West still believes, despite all the refutations given by the 20th century, that man is ‘good by nature’ and that evil in the world comes from nothing other than the lack of material wealth. ‘If everyone has enough of everything, there will be no evil’. This belief is soothing, but completely false… In general, the worldview of the West, insofar as it is not an appendage of chemistry, physics, biology, is sewn from many disparate shreds. On the one hand — the cult of violence, on the other — the belief in the natural goodness of man. The first belief is endorsed by science, the second is a tribute to the past, a relic of the naïve and self-indulgent 18th century. Rousseau’s doctrine seems to be incompatible with the opinions of the inseparable twins — Marx, Freud and Darwin — but it leaves at least a ghost of the warmth of life, at least a small semblance of meaning — and that is why it is so attractive. They do not believe in God, but Rousseau leaves the possibility of believing at least in man, and with it some warmth. However, this warmth, too, is short-lived. The times of the last cold and the last pride await us, a new Rome with all the despair of God’s abandonment, but without Christ and Christians. Sad but true.

In the past, when mankind was lured into ruinous paths, it was promised truth and justice, or, at worst, ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. Now we see that these promises were even too many. The majority of mankind has nothing to do with truth and justice; all it has to do is to offer the unhindered quenching of its desires and your cause is won. I am not even talking about allowing all sorts of vices, but precisely the freedom to follow desires, i. e. the path of least resistance. However, the spearhead of such freedom is always directed towards the vices: it is to them that all desires that find no limit come…

The struggle against religion that has been waged in the last two centuries is inseparable from the struggle against the notion of free will and the assertion of the complete predetermination of human actions. Herein lies the moral and psychological underpinning of all ‘freethinking’: where there is no free choice, there is no sin; where there is no sin, there is no moral judgement; where there is no moral judgement, there is no shame; ‘therefore’, modernity adds, ‘man is free at last’. In fact, rarely is this chain so explicitly stated; otherwise, even the unsophisticated observer would have noticed that the supposed ‘liberation’ of man is based on the denial of free will, on the recognition of the complete conditionality of the actions of this supposedly free being, i. e., it essentially brings nothing to mankind in comparison with what it had before. On the contrary, in a spiritual sense it is a theft that impoverishes, if not makes impossible, any kind of organised social life and culture. It is freedom for five minutes, freedom to set fire to one’s house and rejoice in its fall, comforted by the fact that ‘this building, you see, was built on lies, reason cannot tolerate it, but on the ruins it shall build a better and even more worthy one’. For over two hundred years, since the unhappy French revolution, we have been hearing this refrain and seeing more and more attempts to build without foundations — all unsuccessful.

Blind determinism and the denial of man’s personal responsibility are strangely combined in our days with the demand for infinite freedom for him. Infinite freedom for a completely limited being, since his actions are quite predetermined — one thing contradicts the other here! It is natural to assume that the word ‘freedom’ on the banners of this age is written by mistake, and that in fact there should be another word: willfulness. It is quite possible for a slave of environment, heredity and circumstances to be wilful, and even more so for him than for a free man. It is not a question of essences at all, not of freedom in its true sense, but of a purely psychological question, of a feeling of liberation, of a kind of intoxication with freedom… This is what peoples really seek and find. There is no longer any faith in freedom — the more important it is to preserve its feeling and visibility. Again, one cannot help but reflect on how closely the materialistic belief in the complete predetermination of man and his actions by the environment — and the increasing and successful suppression of this man by the machine of the democratic or tyrannical state — converge. ‘You are no more than a slave of circumstances — so be my slave too’, says this state, ‘but at the same time enjoy the feeling of complete, unprecedented freedom: behold the former prohibitions are already thrown to the ground, and the former commandments are burning!’ Freedom and liberation, as the experience of the 20th century has shown, are quite different things, moreover: liberation does not lead to freedom. On the contrary, it is on the way of ‘liberation’ from commandments, habits, prohibitions, customs, in a word, from history-religion-culture in their inseparable unity, that man came to the present sad situation. We are ‘freed’ — but not for freedom.

‘Freedom of speech’ in a democracy means, firstly, an excess of facts reported to the public with an extreme lack of thought, and secondly — this follows from the first — a careful selection of these facts, not in favour of a particular point of view (in which democracy sees its decisive advantage), but in favour of the easy assimilation of these facts by the majority. News ‘with a whiff’ has an undoubted advantage over others; news of bad taste and even worse odour has an advantage over others, all because it is more easily digested and more quickly grasped by the half-educated crowd. This unhappy creature, the product of the enlightened aspirations of the liberal monarchy and the equalising ideals of its successor, universal democracy, is incapable of nourishing itself on anything complex and demanding, but craves constant food for its imagination, freed from hard work and supplied with superficial literacy — as if in mockery. Neither the joys of simple labour nor the pleasures of the higher mental life are inaccessible to this child of modern times, and it seeks entertainment in the mediocre. This was the unhappy result: the wish was to raise the lower to the level of the higher, or at least to bring them at least a little nearer, but in fact the lower have been raised to the middle level and have abolished everything above them. The movement remained incomplete. The victory of ‘democracy’ turned out to be the defeat of enlightenment. The peasant did not become Lomonosov; moreover, the possibility of a new Lomonosov was henceforth excluded. Both Lomonosov and the monarch who summoned him were presented with a new ideal of the middle. The higher abilities are done away with, as Dostoevsky’s ‘devils’ had dreamt, and this end of enlightenment is presented as the beginning of a brilliant new era, whereas in fact the result of the latest epoch is simple and sad: the pupils burned down the school and erected a monument to Freedom in its place.

The fathers of modern democracy wanted to create a society in which the lonely and self-sufficient individual would be extremely protected from outside intrusions. This succeeded, and a strong fence of ‘rights and liberties’ was erected against the onslaught of Church and State. The creators of the new order implied that the individual was invariably the suffering party, and all precautions were taken in its favour. As time passed, it turned out that the individual was fully protected from society, but society had no defence against the malevolent individual. And even worse: this individual proves by every means of persuasion available to him that the very notion of ‘malice’ is obsolete, that there are no bad and good intentions, but only lawful and unlawful ones, and the limits of morality thus coincide exactly with the limits of the law. The threat was not at all where it had once been seen. The state and the Church had been once too insistent in asserting the moral order — the persecuted individual was shielded from them by laws. But when a person who had been liberated from everything began to preach his own ideas, developed at leisure — ideas of liberation from the burdens of morality, the war of all against all and the selection of the most fit for life in this war, the idea of pleasure as the highest goal and the general meaninglessness of existence, in a word, when this person finally went spiritually wild in his safe little world — it turned out that there was no defence against it and its destructive preaching. All the institutions of Western society have the purpose of protecting the individual from the state, and are powerless now that the time has come to defend themselves against the ‘free individual’ who has lost all footing and who has been spoilt by long years of indulgence. And it is surprising: the sharper and more intolerant its attacks against the moral order, the bolder it is in preaching self-worship (as only the Humanistic outlook with its ‘everything is permitted’ combined with hatred of the Deity can be called) — the more readily it is taken to defence in our days. A degree of moral depravity is considered a degree of mental freedom — a most seductive order of things in which the weak and undeveloped become the judges of other people’s minds and development…

The time of greatest ‘liberation’ turned out to be a time of general disrespect for freedom and shameless use of minds and wills for selfish purposes. The thirst for deceit has reached metaphysical limits, meaning by ‘metaphysical’ something beyond the need and reasonable explanations — so, the thirst for deceit and success based on deceit has long ago exceeded every conceivable need, and it is time to add to the common definition of political freedom as ‘free competition’: ‘free competition of deceivers’. O noble and simple-minded people of the 19th century! They were sure that for one liar there would surely be one servant of truth, and the truth would be protected [5] . The children of the prosperous age did not realise what a many-voice lie in a thousand throats, flattering moreover the instincts of an ignorant crowd, was. They thought that any dispute, any exchange of opinions, would continue to be like a jousting tournament, and they did not think that the ‘free competition of opinions’ would turn into a beating of the unarmed — for the truth, as we now know, goes into battle unarmed. Freedom, contrary to all the beliefs of its supporters, is guarded and saved from corruption only by authority, itself removed from the field of action of this freedom, and the destruction of this authority, to which, by the force of things, peoples strive so much, kills freedom itself. This is the truth: in order that you and I may enjoy freedom of judgement and critical thinking, there must exist in society authorities removed from the power of all and any judgement and critical thinking.

The last few centuries have been very much concerned with the protection of ‘human dignity’. However, time has shown that ‘human dignity’, taken as a goal, is only a step on the way to isolation and pride, and more than that — that the ideal of self-sufficient ‘human dignity’ and coherent social life are somehow sadly incompatible, if not opposite. ‘A man must respect himself and be unconditionally respected’. But true self-respect is precisely not unconditional, not unlimited; not only do we value ourselves only on merit when we have it, but we voluntarily compromise self-esteem for the sake of respecting or loving others. ‘Unconditional self-respect’, ‘unconditional value of the human person’ — from these beautiful words follows the destructive conclusion: that every person is good and worthy, not in his ideal, not in an imaginary highest point-but here and now, and already here and now deserves unconditional respect. They thought to exalt a person by honouring him not according to his merits, but in reality they humiliated him more than ever, because they insinuated that he is ‘good enough’. That’s the truth. The idea of ‘human rights’ and ‘inalienable dignity’ may have been good in the heights, but it was completely inapplicable on earth.

Curiously that, starting from some place, the thirst for truth passes insensibly into a desire for lies. I am referring to public life. At first, with a general sense of lack of light, of the silencing of truth, of innuendos, there is a desire to hear the truth, as much truth as possible. Then, one day, the twilight of half-truths passes — but the desire for more truth remains; what remains is the thirst for thrills, the quenching of which was most strongly engaged (for all their personal disinterestedness) by the truth-tellers of the recent past. And this demand gives birth to supply: the masses receive their ever more exciting ‘truth’, with all the spicy flavour of the dung heap, to the point of intoxication… The point is that knowing the truth and living by the truth are completely different things. Those masses who cared so much about knowing the truth did not care one bit about living by the truth. The consequences are felt on the very first day after ‘liberation’. So, when we look at the liars and buffoons marching under the banners of ‘the latest, unlimited, amazing truth’, we must not forget that their ancestors were the real truth-tellers, for whom, however, ‘truth’ was a purely external phenomenon, something that could be read or told.

Unfortunately, freedom in society is increasing just as much as the number of people who are able to use this freedom is decreasing. Between the stagnation of unfreedom, the fruitful order of limited freedom, and the collapse of ‘universal liberation’ one can pass very quickly — and there is no return on this path, and the speed of movement increases as one moves from one end to the other. The transition from reasonable freedom to insane liberation is also irreversible because all moral evaluations, all ‘may, may not and must’ are discarded somewhere halfway to the sought unlimited freedom — and in the clash between conscience and ‘everything is allowed’ conscience can win only in the soul of an individual, while the masses will always take the side of the low and accessible.

But this is a pattern that liberalism prefers not to see. Liberalism is a generally thoughtless belief, which believes that everything is accidental, that there is neither lie nor truth, but only a choice between equal opportunities, and that our task in this life based on nothing is to make ourselves comfortable and live pleasantly. That is why it is so well suited for building a well-adjusted (in purely external terms) society, which, however, is plagued by many internal diseases. Liberalism contradicts the ‘instinct of truth’ that Nietzsche spoke of, without which man cannot live and which cannot be turned into a mere ‘possibility’. The liberal takes this notion of truth out of the bracket, as a false and dubious goal, as a hindrance to earthly well-being, limiting himself to purely worldly values — satiety, contentment, convenience of life, any peace of mind with which will be false and temporary.

I am not talking about something else: the impossibility of basing any society on ‘liberal values‘. Try, for example, to ‘liberally’ justify duty. But social life is based on duty, on obligations, not on ‘rights’. In the West today, the authorities and their armed force exist almost in spite of the proclaimed principles. In essence, these principles are only icing sugar on the surface of a rather bitter cake. They are for the irresponsible masses, freed from all duty and having no rights except the right to experience pleasures without limit; they have little in common with reality. The all-powerful state declares war and makes peace, invents new armaments and contemplates the exploration of other worlds — none of this is asked of the crowd. The banner of freedom, under which they once rebelled, is now a toy for a restless infant nation. In fact, the modern state is held together by naked force to a far greater extent than the enlightened monarchies of recent times. There were limits which it was considered impossible to cross; now it is a question of whether it is possible to cross those limits — and not get hurt. ‘He who is right is he who is strong enough to make others recognise his rightness; righteous are those deeds which can be done with impunity; good is evil to my enemy’ — all these awful truths of the days of Tyrus and Zidon have been resurrected and are universally trusted. Woe to us! The night is coming.

The other dominant force of our days, apart from the ubiquitous liberalism with its desire for ‘ever greater liberation’, is the force that calls itself science and speaks in the name of reason… This force — in words — has dominated throughout the 20th century, and it cannot be said that the outcome of the century speaks in its favour.

‘Truth is always simpler than absurdity’, said Herzen. By what, what motives could one be guided in uttering this taunt: ‘simple and understandable truth’?! In other words, Herzen says: only the understandable is true, which in turn means: the truth is in me, the truth is my understanding, the truth is me. There is nowhere further to go. What follows is the apotheosis of mediocrity, which thinks little but dares to everything, and puts on its shield the motto: ‘what is incomprehensible to me does not exist’. I’m not exaggerating. Herzen and the men of his faith quite authorise me to draw such conclusions, because they set personal understanding as the measure of truth. World conclusions of immense breadth are based on unwillingness or inability to understand, that is what is wonderful in this faith. I am not concerned, however, with arguing — it is difficult to argue about ‘obvious truths’ for us who have seen how obviousness goes one way and truth another… I simply marvel at the strength and naïvety of this faith in reason, i. e., simply to say in oneself, in one’s own reason… And if only there were grounds for it!

Reason, or in other words, solitary reason, tries to create a coherent worldview that has its support only in itself. In this it inherits religion and therefore is at war with it. It is not that science is ‘right’ and religion is ‘false’, but that science does not tolerate rivals in the exclusive explanation of the world from one root. Science does not believe in God, i. e. does not recognise His existence, but it does not believe in man either, it is hostile to man because its aims and sanctities have nothing in common with those of man. The hitherto unbroken charm of science is not due to its conformity to human aspirations, but to its skilful play on human weaknesses. No matter how one treats the Apocalypse, it contains the most important thought noticed by Dostoevsky: ‘Glory to this beast, he maketh fire come down from heaven!’ Mankind is ready for this exclamation, ready to worship power without truth. Science has proved to be such a power. It makes the fools rich, it makes the cowards strong, how can it not be worshipped? It calls its first commandment ‘love of truth’, but the world prefers not to notice that it is love of truth without truth, accuracy without faithfulness, endeavour without love. Science does not recognise man, so it does not understand that great is not he who feeds the hungry, but he who comforts the weak; improving the quality of life from a certain stage has nothing to do with its moral elevation.

Science speaks on behalf of reason. More than that: it believes that reason can only and exclusively be on its side. Criticism of science comes, in its view, exclusively from dark and weak minds. Herein lies a hidden contradiction. ‘Strong minds’ regard man as an accidental phenomenon in the universe; ‘weak minds’ see in it the same general conception, in which man has his place. This is the generally accepted view, as expressed by Nietzsche. However, there is a misunderstanding hidden within it: ‘weak minds’ are more capable of generalisation and see order where, for free thinkers, there is only an accident; is there no mistake here? The strength of the mind, in other words, is associated with its ability to treat man with disdain; free-thinking from time immemorial consists in seeing man only as an animal subject to destruction and is best expressed in the words of the elder Karamazov: ‘When I die, a burdock will grow!’ Here we meet an obstacle. If Karamazov Senior is exactly the ‘strong mind’, the pinnacle of mental development, then — since we are human beings, we should recognise this — all this development is not worth a penny, and it would be better not to have it. Simple faith in man prevents us from thinking so; or, avoiding the frightening word ‘faith’, it is respect for man that prevents us from thinking so. Thus, respect for man turns out to be the rock on which the whole worldview, the whole view of the world order, rests. And since the view of man is based in each of us first of all on self-cognition, then — let me conclude — we should not speak about the struggle between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ minds, but about the confrontation between minds committed to self-cognition and minds that have abandoned self-cognition.

It seems to be not a matter of strong and weak minds, but of the fact that certain parts of the world and of man are not amenable to scientific study, which makes science judge them dogmatically rather than empirically. One of the vices of so-called ‘scientific psychology’ is that everything higher tends to remain outside of experiential cognition. The world is already full of solvers of the human soul, who seem to have learnt it to the end and can quite control it. Having found a few strings on which the seeker of power over souls can play unmistakably, they have not noticed the spirit in the soul. The higher remained beyond cognition, and could not be cognised: the experiential cognition of genius, religiosity, inspiration and love is impossible. And since science recognises everything that cannot be investigated by it as non-existent, it has now recognised man as non-existent. In fact, there is the same struggle against the very concept of man that materialism has long waged against the concept of God. What cannot be known does not exist, or even so: ‘what I do not understand does not exist’; this rule inevitably calls for a war against God, then against man, then against the whole of spiritual culture as entirely based on ‘what does not exist’ — on spiritual values and higher concepts not derived from the needs of nourishment and the procreation. ‘Psychology’ explains man in order to abolish him, exactly like the history of religion, which studies Christianity for the sole purpose of declaring at the end that Christ never lived.

Either — and this is the main question — we recognise the divine in man, especially in everything that astonishes and enlightens him, not least in his love experiences, or we see in him only an accident, a play of particles, a vapour over water. Modernity is ready to recognise in man a vapour over water, but it does not understand the dangers of this. The defenders of materialism think that they will still manage, having discredited man, to preserve for themselves family joys, children’s affection, happiness to have a homeland… They reject the main thing, but hope to keep the secondary. If your neighbour is only a vapour over the waters, what binds you to him? How is his life more valuable than the life of a vapour? How are his love and affections more precious than the movements of the wind? He who sees man as a wind should treat him as a wind, as a movement of air, a stream of particles going from nothing to nothing… But no: materialists, as if rejecting everything, hope to preserve family life, or at least the joys of mutual affection, and the state order protecting these joys, although what ‘order’, except certain physical laws, is applicable to the disorderly movement of particles?

For the second century we have had the opportunity to observe people who think that, having rejected God, they can continue to enjoy His gifts. They return their conscience, their soul and the gift of love to the Lord, but they want to keep to themselves a lawful and humane state, personal freedom and security, guarded in turn by the same angel whom they do not want to see near their cradle and deathbed… They want to give to God what is God’s, and to themselves what is Cæsar’s, that is, power and authority, authority and power. And the society over whose entrance these words are written speaks of itself as the most enlightened and humanity-loving in history!

Unfortunately, in order to instil a ‘scientific worldview’ in mankind, we must first rid it of its spiritual needs. To rid him of spiritual needs, it is necessary to replace them with some other needs, preferably the opposite, i. e. material. It is also necessary to instil in him the necessary limitation, without which no scientific outlook is possible. It is only surprising that the dominant positivism (and this is still positivism at best; in fact, positivism is too spiritual a phenomenon for modernity) hopes to eradicate the spiritual roots of human life, but to preserve their shoots and flowers and fruits: organised community, art, humanity and, most importantly, faith in the meaningfulness of life. Art and faith in the meaningfulness of life will be the first to fall, and are already falling, without recognising the spiritual nature of man and the independence of his values from the world of dead things. And the established community and humanity will have nothing to stand on, because the cornerstone of this building will also be taken out of it. It does not, and never will, follow from any positive and scientific view of man that man cannot be deceived, tormented and killed.

Science in general prefers not to pay attention to man. To be more precise, it is customary to enter science having explained man and society in some hasty way, so as not to deal with them any more. The scientist runs past man to his chemistry and biology, and to justify himself he says about mental and social life roughly the following: ‘Yes, these are all unfortunate remnants of the Middle Ages, barbarism, animal instincts, lust and greed, but they have not much left: reason will destroy all this; soon, soon the preliminary history will end and a new epoch will begin…’ The human soul is like that well into which, not seeing the bottom and usefulness in it, hurries to spit anyone passing along the road of knowledge. The duty has been fulfilled, the driving forces of world history have been found, the soul life has been explained, that is, it has been recognised as unimportant if it exists. Now it is possible to engage in real science… Man is given such an ‘explanation’, which eliminates the need to explain anything: it remains only to wait for the world revolution, for the beginning of the epoch, when ‘reason’ will finally triumph and the whole spiritual life of mankind from the beginning of time will be condemned as ‘unreasonable’. Like any revolutionary worldview, this view avoids anxiety and the burdensome need to think. All phenomena undesirable to ‘reason’ — that is, to the thinking person (this is the obligatory substitution, since we are talking about reason) — are declared ‘retrograde’ and allegedly non-existent, which is very convenient for deflecting the demands of morality, religion, and culture. It is necessary to recognise that the basis of modern science is the desire, the will, the passion to pass by man and his soul, i. e. the fact is undoubtedly psychological, and by recognising here the psychological fact, it is possible to debunk this desire together with its claims to the last truth.

They find out what place in the brain should be irritated in order to get a certain response from the body, and this is called the study of man. The highest humanity is seen in not valuing man at all, but at the same time maintaining a semblance of respect for him, although they are quite sure that he does not deserve any respect. Even more: the more materialism debunks and despises man, the more merit it sees in the preservation of some unnatural, strained ‘humanity’. However, this applies only to those materialists who unconsciously remain Christian in their attitude to their neighbour. The materialism of the latest order respects in man only the needs of the body, the so-called ‘natural’ needs, therefore it is inwardly democratic and sees its main task in the equal distribution of pleasures. It is useless to fight this tendency; it does not even deserve a debate; it can only be opposed to the intense life of the spirit and its fruits — the creations of culture. I say ‘does not even deserve a debate’ because seducers do not deserve discussion. Anyone who invites a man to turn from a difficult path to an easy one is his moral enemy. The root of morality is labour, understood in the broadest sense; he who does not labour has neither morality nor religion, he simply has nothing to pray for.

In saying this, I am not arguing with materialism. In the words of a wise man, ‘there are as many truths as there are leaves in a forest’. Each truth leads man along its own special road as far as he can go, and leads to a special and only to this truth inherent goal. Personal development is the fruit of constant struggle and inner decisions, the daily choice of a path determined by all past preferences. Only those people who have never once in their lives preferred one truth over another are truly virginal, i. e. amenable to conviction. They are at the source of paths and can be drawn in either direction. All others who have chosen at least once go down the road of their truths to examine their suitability at the end. Truths — I will end with this — are not given to man to rest on, but to live by them, choosing once with all passion and following their path to the end. Truths that fail this trial leave the world; truths whose path we succeed in following to the end remain.

Modern times have sacrificed the deep soul life for the sake of ‘reason’, i. e. the most superficial layer of the personality, guided by sober reasoning rather than feeling. In the clarity of reason they saw salvation from the vagueness of the ‘soul’, but — strange thing! — it turned out that all any strong soul movements are just indistinct, and clear rational motives are usually weak. Speaking roughly simplified, inside the personality there is the area of forces and the area of intentions; forces always come from the depths of the soul, they are indistinct and powerful, intentions come from the mind, they are clear, dry and light. Moreover, the field of intentions is also constantly deceived; the tendency to self-deception may be called its main distinction. Pascal said, ‘la raison a beau crier, elle ne peut mettre le prix aux choses’. [6] All values have their source in the dark depths of the soul, originate quite apart from our daily intentions, and intentions alone, however good they may be, cannot supply man and humanity with values suitable to live with. Defending ourselves against the consistency of our own thinking is sometimes not unreasonable. Reaching the logical limit, our thoughts do not exhaust the truth, but only our ability to think, and more often than not it is the limit of human reasoning that is passed off as the ultimate truth.

‘In the world’, they say, ‘there is no beauty; beauty is a deception, a dream; truths are ugly as the world that produced them and as the man who accepts them’. The point here, I think, is not the world, but our generalising ability. A small capacity for generalisation extracts from the world only a false beauty, which is not really there in things and people, it is impossible to strive for it; but a sufficient power of generalisation extracts real beauty, in people or things. The world’s unwillingness to see beauty — rather an inability to see it — speaks of an inherent inner disorder. ‘We got up early, walked round the squares and streets, but found no beauty anywhere!’ — This is not what modern people say, but they say quite differently: ‘We know ourselves and our deeds, there is no beauty in them, and if it is not there, it cannot be anywhere’. What is not in us, is not in the world, and what we do not understand, cannot be in the world; such is this self-sufficient worldview. The worshippers of ‘daytime reason’ would have to remove dreams, premonitions, and understanding without words from the world. Then their goal would be achieved, the world would become quite transparent and meaningless. But they cannot do this.

Representatives of science often call their worldview ‘humanism’. On the one hand, this new ‘humanism’ has nothing to do with true humanism (i. e., the revival of pre-Christian culture), on the other hand, it has an irrecoverable internal contradiction: the society that boasts that for the first time it has completely liberated man, released everything human, turns out to be a society of universal dehumanisation. Precisely where all humanity is recognised as equally worthy, there is a vanishingly small amount of humanity itself, by previous standards. When we see how man, left to himself, cannot and does not even want to reach his natural human stature, and seems lower and lower and at times even wants to get on all fours, the question should be asked: what do we mean by human? It is probably not something that a man without knowledge and education, a ‘natural man’ without the influence of religion and culture, is capable of. Human virtues, if they are inherent in him from the beginning, then for their manifestation they need additional finishing, which is given only by mental labour. It is not enough just to ‘feed mankind’, as modern science boasts so much, it is necessary to create a society whose members would refrain from causing offence to each other out of fear of conscience rather than law, but science cannot create such a society.

‘Reason’ is powerless here. Proximity to truth is achieved only by suffering; what creates the rationalist is the inability to love and suffer. Judgements ‘from the point of view of reason’ usually mean the judgements of a defective personality, ringing, dry and superficial, like those of Voltaire, Rousseau or Stanisław Lem. The key here is mental deafness; the inability of the personality to go beyond its limits, i. e., to suffering and experience, even erotic love. ‘Atheists’, said Rozanov, ‘are usually a-sexual’. A huge substitution passes unnoticed: the opinion of a person who has not reached the usual human limits, much less crossed them, is passed off as the ‘judgement of reason’. Thus, ‘pure Reason’ turns out to be a synonym for narrowness, for insufficient mental development, for a state that is not higher, but lower. This also includes the great misconception of the last centuries — the belief that it is ‘reason’ that distinguishes man from the world of animals. Quite the contrary! Foxes are intelligent; dogs are smart; what distinguishes us is precisely what the admirers of ‘reason’ consider superfluous, unnecessary in man… The flawed person judges things, and declares non-existent everything that exceeds his ability to judge. And everything it gets away with, everything is forgiven. The ugly person judges about beauty; the fool about intelligence; the deaf about music; the atheist about God; and all of them do not realise that they judge only about themselves, because they cannot judge about anything else.

That is the point, that the whole mystery of ‘reason’ consists in deficiency, lack instead of abundance and fullness. A limited selfish fool came and began to ‘judge from the point of view of Reason’. The fool blew Church and State, personality and culture to the wind — everything ‘for the triumph of reason’, and even melancholically admitted: ‘Societies completely devoid of religion fall into complete marasmus’. [7] . What more confession is needed from him? But there is no more power of resistance, and the fool seems to be going to rule forever — that is, as long as the society he has corrupted, which has traded real values for husks, will last. This may seem like a cruel verdict, but we who stand at the edge and await the end of ‘reasonably ordered society’ are forgiven the cruelty of judgement. A world based on the ideas of the ‘Enlightenment’ is at death’s door. The ‘freely self-determining individual’ has dug his own grave. The optimistic worldview of the 19th and not so innocent 20th century, which saw in everything ‘temporary difficulties’ on the way to the earthly paradise, has finally stumbled. How much longer do we have to burn incense in front of the icon of Reason? It is time to stop. Reason may not forgive us for this, but being human does not mean being reasonable. The mystery of ‘reason’, I repeat, is in the narrowness, in the inability and unwillingness to see. ‘What I do not see, does not exist; what I do not understand, I do not want to see; therefore, what I do not understand, does not exist’.

In fact, our knowledge of the world is prone to breakdown into component parts, incompleteness, fragmentation, and at the same time we ourselves have a thirst for the whole, generalisation, synthesis. Any true knowledge is possible only about things that are unimportant and do not help us to understand our position in the world. An honest agnostic who recognises this would deserve respect, but the point is that it is not at all the modesty of the person who cognises (this is the literal meaning of agnosticism) that has won, but a kind of ‘gnosis’, the certainty that the truth about the world is available in the way of dissociative thinking, i. e. ultimately the pride and arrogance of reason. The agnostic modestly refuses to attempt to cognise the beyond, while the spiritual type opposite to him confidently declares that there is nothing beyond, i. e. beyond his ability to judge, in the world, and everything is number, weight and measure. The modern Gnostic is a natural god-fighter; he seeks not Sophia, the Wisdom of God, but an additional confirmation of the omnipotence of his reason. It would be difficult to fight against him, if it were not for the significant fact that the society that gave itself over to the will of ‘reason’ very quickly, in a historically insignificant period of time, came to a complete collapse, which we are anxiously observing. We have experience on our side, the same sensual experience that the proponents of reason have always worshipped, and this experience tells us that a society that has abandoned all spiritual foundations in favour of external force is in for a rapid collapse at the very top of its seemingly brilliant technical development. The philosophy of ‘progress’, which has taken possession of all minds, prefers to regard the inner decay of society and the growth of its technical power as separate phenomena, faithful to its rule to separate everything and not to think of anything as a whole. But for the unbiased observer, recent history is an indivisible whole, as an epoch in which humanity acquired technical power, giving up truth, beauty and a sense of meaningfulness of life for it. To the divisive thinker, such an account is inaccessible, for to him the drowning man and the water with which he is about to choke are two entirely different and unrelated phenomena. If it were up to it, science would first study the properties of water and then of breathing, and in time, perhaps, it would come to the conclusion that one is incompatible with the other… But the man is already drowning.

This truth is obscured by an unfortunate peculiarity of modern Western thinking — its tendency to confuse truth and novelty, because of which each new step of mental development is regarded as the last and abolishing all previous ones. In each next stage of development they want to see the highest one, they believe in the goodness and beneficence of any change and progress, whatever its inner content… In Marx or Nietzsche they see the greatest geniuses simply because the mental development of Europe ended with them. In other words, each successive judgement of reason is considered true and final, and reason itself is considered infallible. The very possibility of delusions and dead ends on the path of thinking is denied, and cognition is seen as a straight line leading from impenetrable delusions to the radiance of the last truth, which is completely false and unhistorical. Thought is characterised by ups, downs and dead ends — in one of which, in my opinion, is the modern era…

This impasse is inextricably linked to the current accepted philosophy. As has been said many times, materialism is a metaphysical hypothesis. To assume in matter the capacity for self-development and continuous complication is an unquestionably metaphysical assumption. Freudianism goes further and, believing itself to be thoroughly rational, finds in matter a will: everything living, allegedly, tends to die. Piled one on top of the other, these assumptions create a metaphysics so bold, if not outright fantastic, that the Christian worldview looks like a sober and restrained realism, since it says nothing about the desires of a stone or the aspirations of a worm. The religious view sees in the world a multitude of actors, while the opposite view finds in the world only activity: a multitude of particles, from which the play of chance forms ever more complex shapes…

The fate of materialism is curious in that, having been debunked as a philosophy, it became a religion, i. e. a doctrine accepted on faith. Having declared that ‘everything is meaningless and without reason’ (and this is its basic dogma), materialism put philosophy as such, with its search for causes and effects, out of use, and thus got rid of its most dangerous opponent. The philosophical struggle against materialism became impossible since meanings and aims, causes and effects — all the tools of the thinker — were knocked out of his hands by these words: ‘There is nothing: no aims, no meanings, no causes and effects. All this is but a covering of illusion over a black void’. By proclaiming this dogma, materialism became a religion, took itself outside the realm of argument and proof, only it chose pure Nothing as its object of worship.

Science — or is it semi-science? — of our days takes away from man the very possibility and meaning of being moral, leading him as a last resort to live for himself. The now generally accepted ‘scientific worldview’ with its notion of man as a fully deterministic being, i. e., a being whose actions are entirely dependent on the phenomena of dead nature, not only denies spiritual life — of which science has no idea — but even the simplest moral freedom, so that the cause of crime is found to be ‘bad nutrition’, and the difficulties of growing up are not due to a painful change of self-esteem, but to ‘a change in the speed of nerve impulses in the brain’… Indeed, the same struggle is being waged against the concept of man as was waged some time ago against the concept of God. [8] The prevailing view is that man, on the one hand, is completely predetermined by natural forces, i. e. unfree from within; on the other hand, he does not deserve external freedom either, and deserves to be only an object of manipulation, i. e. used and deceived, the means sought by modern ‘psychology’, more worthy of the name ‘the art of manipulating people’. No wonder: having denied free will, having seen in man only a toy of dead forces, it is impossible to keep respect for him as a person. Psychology, in fact, has long been straining its voice to the limit, proving that there is no person, but only an equilibrium of many unconscious forces, in which we are accustomed to see some unity called human personality… In mankind we begin to see a theatre of dead puppets, pulled by strings from below — by the so-called nature, and from above — by the hidden masters of the masses. To speak of respect for the personality in this theatre is meaningless — who speaks of the personality of a puppet!

One of the features of materialism is the substitution of internal causes for external ones, the search for influences everywhere, the tendency to see everywhere objects of activity without the actors themselves. The world as a set of particles suffering from influences is a brief expression of this view. The entire upper layer of reality, containing generalisations and meanings, is discarded; the mind exercises its divisive power more and more, acquiring more and more particular data and losing more and more insight, even consciously refusing to think about the general meaning of being. This is presented as a manifestation of courage of thought, though I am convinced it has quite another cause. The view of the universe as a set of random particles, tolerating random influences, is extremely unfavourable for all human beings, means the disintegration of society and the soul, because society and the soul are not random at all, on the contrary, they are arranged from top to bottom. It is this arrangement of the soul, society and culture that falls under the weight of the new dogma. The notions of top and bottom, main and secondary disappear, everything is declared equally worthy, and the belief in democracy, which supposedly ‘values human personality’ so much that it eliminates all comparative evaluations that could injure this personality, turns out to be very convenient. Bad and good, high and low, complex and simple cease to be distinguished not because of the childish innocence of those who judge, but because of their unwillingness to judge. And the meaning of culture is precisely the sieve, the selection, the elevation of one and the lowering of the other. No equality! [9] And all culture is an ‘unjust’ suppression of the inferior for the sake of the superior, of the simple for the sake of the complex, ‘unjust’ for the one who believes neither in evaluation nor in the right to evaluate. Culture is the great opposite of democracy. It is based on the ladder of values, on order and subordination, on the education and obedience of the uneducated. Coercion ends only at the school door; the creator is free, but not the pupil.

And another feature of modernity: the simplification of the forms of mental life with the increasing complexity of society and the machines that serve it, down to the most primitive ones, below music, poetry, literature and religion. And more: psychology, created by people who have simplified their souls to the limit, studies some of these simplest forms, a kind of mental reflexes, and does not believe in the existence of other, more complex ones. This is why the psychology of the 20th century failed in its interpretation of, say, Dostoevsky. It was a defeat of divisive thinking. Seeing complex mental activity, the psychologist does not believe his eyes and calms down only by coming up with a set of simple particular causes that explain the whole. Thus in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ one finds the ‘Oedipus complex’, and in ‘Othello’ — Iago’s falling in love with Desdemona’s husband. Seeing this, one cannot help but think of Leo Shestov with his: ‘The most improbable explanations are accepted, as long as the world does not have a mysterious appearance’. Divisive thinking attacks not only God, it is also hostile to the idea of the soul as a unity, seeing only the totality of ‘mental reflexes’ under the supreme control of ‘reason’, or rather — in the last century — without it. Divisive thinking is hostile to all unity. Under its deadening breath everything dries up, not least literature and poetry, the arts in general; how can a writer speak of love when he does not see in his lovers a living soul? All he can do is to list the sensations of the body, in a word, he is left only with more or less covert pornography, which is what literature now tends towards… And there is no resistance to this cold-blooded murder of the human being in man.

As a general rule: when studying ideas, the positive scientist evades the content of these ideas, dealing only with their kinds, their origin and their inner connexion. The ideas themselves, whether of history, religion, or philosophy, are for him ultimately curious illusions, the fruits of some material causes. This is a cultural impasse. The worldview, as the basis of all culture, consists in the giving of meanings to things; in the constant production of ideas. Hence we can see that the ‘ natural science worldview’, with all its pretensions, is not a worldview at all. ‘What I don’t see, that doesn’t exist’, says materialism. And worse, ‘what I don’t understand, that doesn’t exist’, says reason behind the back of materialism and any other perception of the world. Cognition is destroyed by the mind’s inability to think what cannot be expressed by thought. And in order not to face ‘inescapable questions’, a worldview devoid of foundations is produced. ‘We only observe facts in an unbiased way’, scientists say. This ensures total blindness in the field of knowledge of the human, since to ‘impartially observe the facts’ of human life means to understand nothing about them. The work of scientific thought of our time is directed towards a mechanical explanation of mental and social movements; one deals with roots, leaving aside trunks and flowers, flowers especially: can one imagine a positivist, a materialist, an atheist, investigating literature, history, personality? It all fades away, drowns in the study of sources and roots. The favourite theme is ‘influences’ and ‘origins’; everyone, following Darwin, tracks down, tries to track down the becoming of everything — out of nothing. It is a philosophically fruitless labour, since the widespread fascination with evolution has made us forget the discontinuity of all development, the points of divergence from which new paths suddenly and apparently without reason begin. However, evolutionism is convenient because it gets rid of the damned question of beginnings and meanings, and — I would like to say it — it is convenient psychologically, because it is the faith of a declining society, which hopes that there will be no end to it.

‘Let mankind have no meaning in life — in return, we will give it happiness’. But instead of ‘the happiness of all mankind’ we have long been talking about the contentment of all mankind, with — I note for myself — an ever-increasing degree of unhappiness. This is the contradiction of progress: the increase of technical conveniences with the growing spiritual disadvantage of mankind. Something is wrong in our spiritual life — in the weak one that survives in the world. We are too intelligent to think, so one would like to say; at least to think of the sublime and profound, and ultimately to be happy. Happiness recedes as pleasures multiply: this is the rule that mankind has forgotten. Real happiness — it is frightful to say, to such an extent that it diverges from the wisdom of this age — is where there are no pleasurable things, but only necessary ones; where pleasure is not the goal, but the companion of labour or love. To be happy is easy; to be unhappy is difficult; but by virtue of an inner predisposition to overcome difficulties man nevertheless achieves his desired unhappiness. It is a world contradiction that the more seductive the goals, the more insignificant they are. The greatest thirst is aroused precisely by that which is incapable of quenching it; the course of social and personal life, and, among other things, of so-called ‘progress’, is subject to this rule…

Moving along the current of ‘progress’, mankind has been left in the dim light of reason, but without conscience. And if only one conscience!.. It is surprising how many consequences have come out of the triumph of philosophical monism, i. e. the desire to find one cause for one effect. Moreover, one cannot but admit that in everyday life monism is convenient and simply victorious: ‘the enemy fell because I broke his head’, ‘the sword became so sharp because I tempered it in a special way’. Wonderful! For a master and a warrior, nothing more is needed. Men of action may well be satisfied with simple explanations of complex things, but what about you and me? They say ‘out of need came speech’, ‘out of the instinct of self-preservation came morality’. Fine, but why doesn’t ‘out of need’ arise anyone’s wings? The epoch rejects complex explanations in favour of simple, essentially mechanical ones. First of all, any introduction of new things into the world is denied. Everything newly arising is hidden behind an endless haze of ‘evolutionary process’ or the mysterious ‘self-development out of need’. Intelligence was needed, and intelligence appeared; speech was needed, and speech appeared; new species of animals were needed, and new species appeared.  There is something wrong with this mechanical theatre, in which nothing arises, but everything is already there from the beginning, only manifesting itself in new ways depending on the combination of elements… A society built of such simple and convenient parts as the instinct of possession and the thirst for consumption will be — and already is — particularly depressing. Here is a sign: as the perceptions of the world simplify, society simplifies — down to its very beginnings, down to primitive thirst and power. Society and man objectively become what they believe in.

The modern world persistently rejects any dualism in the explanation of nature and man, and in technical terms human thought, freed from the hard and not always fruitful work on moral questions, has made extraordinary progress. But any success in the building of the individual, the family, and society is possible only on the basis of a dualistic view of things. Monism abolishes the very possibility of the existence of higher values, turning them, like everything immaterial, into a curious and sometimes pleasant illusion; higher values go away… and everything falls under the ground. If the Western world is still holding on to anything, it speaks only of the unprecedented strength of the foundation laid by the Catholic Church on which modern America and Europe stand.

In ‘The Gift’, Nabokov has these words: ‘strange dependence […] between the sharpening of thirst and the muddying of the source’. This was said about the Russian ‘liberation movement’, but it applies fully to European humanity as well. In the spiritual realm we see an ever-accelerating movement with complete oblivion of the original aims, if by the original aims we mean mental independence and the free development of the individual, which were the inspiration of the Renaissance and Reformation. Negative definitions, which were only conditions for achieving positive goals — independence from coercive moral authority, freedom of opinion and expression — have somehow become independent, if not self-sufficient values. Dostoevsky says of the sectarians that they broke the sacred vessel — the Church — and the precious moisture of faith leaked out onto the ground. Here, the opposite is happening: a house is being built that has no roof, but has well-painted strong walls… ‘And the roof? — No, we don’t need a roof, that would infringe on our freedom!’ The conventions, procedures, tricks, customs, with which the individual surrounded himself, defending himself from the arbitrariness of the state and the Church, became the main content of life, values that are passed on to descendants, although once they were only means of defence. Today they are values in their own right — and, say, corrupting the masses is considered a lesser evil than introducing censorship. Likewise science, which has declared itself disinterested in meanings, in questions of ‘why’ and ‘ what for’, and concentrates on the study of facts. The serving value of unbiased enquiry has become the self-contained sanctity of enquiry that leads to nothing. In effect, the universe was denied first cognisable meaning and then meaning at all. But if there is no meaning, what is the use of facts..? And freedom is understood by modernity in a purely negative way — primarily as freedom from thought, from effort, from mental and moral discipline. We could give a definition, and it is not far from the truth: freedom understood today is the movement along the path of least resistance. Good is recognised as that which requires no effort, and bad, unnatural — everything difficult, and therefore high and beautiful. Mankind is possessed by an unnatural desire for ‘naturalness’, hopeless and unquenchable because neither consciousness, nor conscience, nor culture, in a word, soul life in its totality is in any way ‘natural’, no matter how much the followers of Marx, Freud and Darwin try to drive man back into the world of dead things. There is and will be nothing ‘natural’ in the fact that we live, think, love and long for eternity.

Rationalism in the modern sense of the word tries to give explanations for everything that do not exceed the thinking ability of the one explaining, which is dangerous because it completely perverts the relationship between the researcher and the researched. Instead of rising to the complexity of his subject, the researcher lowers the subject to his own level, seeing himself as truly ‘the measure of things’, which is, of course, utterly ridiculous. The universe does not have to be comprehensible to the every curious person.

Thinking to study nature, the researcher studies human society of the latest formation; thinking to study man, he studies the latest of the machines created by man. One cannot help but see how sociology and cybernetics cast a shadow over biology and psychology. Thus the ‘observational’ sciences of nature and man find themselves in great doubt. Perhaps only chemistry remains unshakable, but physics, which claims to be the mother of all knowledge, is only a series of changing mechanical models of non-mechanical interactions. Our knowledge of the world is under serious threat, and precisely now, when the volume of knowledge is growing in direct connexion with the reduction of its depth. It is not at all as unquestionable as the profane are led to believe, and is all too reflective of the current state of our society and ourselves. We are witnessing a crisis of cognition in a society in crisis. Faced with the need for self-knowledge and transformation (one is the condition of the other), it resists in every possible way, preferring to deafen itself with cheerful cries about the power and well-being of mankind, and by mankind we mean a very modest part of it, namely, that to which the screamers themselves belong. As always in truly transitional epochs, political decline is accompanied by spiritual decline. The West is not just experiencing ‘just another’ political difficulties, but political difficulties combined with an inability to resolve them despite all military and economic strength. In critical epochs, difficult but solvable tasks are set before rulers unable to solve them. So it was in 1917 in Russia, so it is now in the West.

One would think that mankind has gone mad — and is blindly rushing ever onwards along a false road. It is the inexorability of the present movement that is the sign that it is not just ‘difficulties’ but the blindness of the doomed. The modern West strives forward with all the more vigour the more false the path. All eyes are closed, all ears are deafened by the roar of praise of the ‘might of man’; but the future is very near. What shall we say to this time? It needs the words of Isaiah to speak to it: ‘For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low: and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan, and upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up, and upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall’. Philosophy is inappropriate in apocalyptic times. Weighing arguments and counting out statements is an occupation too bland for a time when the foundations of the fundamentals are shaky. It needs a prophet, but not only will it not listen to a prophet, it will not let him speak, for ‘freedom of speech’ is freedom only for those words which do not awaken the slumbering mind and the sleeping heart.

However, the flat-positive worldview, which today is supplied to Russia from the West, is not new to Russia. A whole layer of Russian intelligentsia back in the first half of the 20th century was fed a surprisingly lightweight mental diet. ‘The greatest writer is Chekhov, the greatest thinker is Herzen, the greatest poet is Nekrasov’. I may even, perhaps, have put it wrong. In words, of course, the greatness of Pushkin and Dostoevsky was recognised, but the key to the moods of the soul, the word for the correct expression of thought was sought precisely in Chekhov-Nekrasov-Hertzen. The sympathy of Russian intellectuals for Pushkin had rather a literary and political connotation, consisted in the research of personal life and the search for political comparisons, i. e. was purely external. Pushkin’s innermost thoughts about the poet’s place in the world — with their inevitably religious shade — were too far from the circle of intellectual sanctuaries. The intelligentsia later remembered Dostoevsky, but that was before the end of its stable existence… What was wrong with the named writers? They impoverished the thinking of entire generations, replacing deep thought with free thinking, political thought with political innuendos, and psychology with external observation (for with all my respect for Chekhov, I do not see him crossing the line separating mere observation from the cognition of the soul peculiar to Dostoevsky, for example).

The masses are now in a state of extreme distraction, of superficial excitement of mind, in which the least important matters are given the greatest value, energy is devoted to the pursuit of trifles, and a general credulity reigns along with the denial of the main, fundamental values. Perhaps never has man been so defenceless against deception as now that he thinks himself a sober sceptic. His doubts, by the merit of a whole chorus of voices, are directed only to those objects, the certainty of which protects against deception in everything else. Doubt, say, in the commandment ‘thou shalt not bear false witness’ frees from doubt all cases of inducement to perjury… We observe an amazing picture, incredible to our great-grandfathers: the society of unbelieving sceptics turns out to be a society of general and extreme credulity, and precisely in such matters in which it is like death. Morally, this society of sceptics is defined by unsteadiness and uncertainty in the question of the permissible and the impermissible, with a clear tendency to prefer the pleasant as the permissible. Of its mental culture the mildest thing to say of it would be that it is inclined to a continual lowering of the level and simplification of the forms of mental life. ‘Culture’, say the thinking representatives of this society, ‘in our time it is customary to consume — well, we should put up with it and provide the consumer with a pleasant meal’… To the sceptics of the past it would be strange to see this society, ‘finally freed from the idea of God’ — standing precariously on unsteady ground, swayed by the wind, and yet desperately proud. Of all our great-grandfathers, Dostoevsky alone correctly assessed events and warned of the coming kingdom of moral unsteadiness, but for this he was condemned by his contemporaries as a slanderer of progress.

I think that the cause of progress is now approaching its completion, although, by human standards, there is still a long way to go before that completion. ‘The struggle against the concept of man’ has achieved many successes, but society, the state and the family still cling to their declared non-existent foundations. When the work of dividing and separating man reaches its end, when all whole knowledge of man and the human being disappears and only the analysis of infinitesimal pieces and scraps of what was formerly called society and the soul remains — the time will come, I think, for a backward movement and a thirst for whole knowledge, instead of our little knowledge obtained through the fragmentation and separation of concepts. The science of man and society — if then there is still a science that is not subject to consumption and production — will see that there is essentially nothing more to study, that the object of study has vanished into thin air and no longer exists. And then the concept of man will be restored. It will begin to reassemble the soul and society from the fragments and particles into which the epoch has fragmented them… One should think, however, that this will not happen before the existing society and the notion of man have not been split to the end. Only then will the thirst for a whole life and truth be stronger than the pride of petty omniscience. There will come a day when the gathering of facts will cease and the gathering of meanings will begin. But it will not be soon.

‘Your theory is both solid and witty’, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Woland said of materialism. The peculiarity of this theory is that, unable to explain many phenomena, it relegates them to the realm of ‘curious illusions’. Such a curious illusion turns out to be the whole higher psychic activity, which, if it awaits attention, can only be deduced from the struggle of the simplest psychic forces. And Dostoevsky’s mental struggle, say, is deduced from the imaginary ‘Oedipus complex’… This is one of the cases of a conversation between a blind man and a sighted man: the sighted man tries to tell about the sunrise to the blind one, who assures him that both the sunrise and the sun itself are illusions caused by the irritation of nerve endings in the brain, and even names the cause of this irritation… After all, agree that between two people of deep mental life the dispute can go not about the reliability and non-derivability of the highest mental phenomena, but only about their interpretation. But the general educated mediocrity makes the native soul life rare, and superficial explanations of deep things multiply. It should be noted, however, that they are the most favourable, the most useful for the one explaining them. And psychology is reduced before our eyes to the question of ‘how to make friends and influence people’, to a set of simple rules for controlling one’s neighbours, i. e. for using them unscrupulously for lowly purposes…

Everything that is touched by divisive thinking comes apart at the seams. With sufficient intellectual honesty, a man of science cannot have a worldview: only a view of the origin of his views depending on known influences. In the realm of the human, this inability to see whole forces and phenomena is especially vengeful. ‘Scientific’ resolution of moral questions can only be, as Dostoevsky said, a resolution of them from the point of view of force. Science is great, but great in its place. There can be no ‘scientific’ judgement of man, since ‘man’ for science is only an equal of external forces, the result of unconscious processes, and his personality is a curious illusion. All this does not detract from the merits of science in the field that legitimately belongs to it, but this field is limited. I think — no matter how blasphemous it sounds for modern times — that in order to lead the mental development of mankind out of a dangerous dead end, it is necessary to free it from the fetters of scientific thinking about things beyond the control of science.

Materialism is the tendency to see only the surface in everything, and not to recognise the depth at all. If not stupidity, then at least a certain narrowness, narcissism, and pride are characteristic of the materialist. It seems to me that this is the characteristic of most people of this breed — if we exclude the cynics, that is, speaking in general terms, all those for whom materialism is morally preferable, because it frees from conscience, and a small number of conscientious materialists who have preserved Christian morality and think that it somehow follows from materialistic beliefs (but it does not follow. At the slightest trial they will have to choose between materialism without conscience — or conscience and God). The trait of these people is complete philosophical ignorance, i. e. unwillingness to deal with precise concepts. In the requirement of a clear definition of concepts they see some excess and prefer to look ‘from the point of view of mere common sense’ without having a clear idea of the meaning of the words used. Strange: science does not teach this either. There is a paradox here: with the apprentices of science no philosophical argument is possible because they know nothing about (speaking in the Socratic sense) dialectics; and with its princes there can be no philosophical argument because everything that goes beyond the limits of experiential cognition is meaningless from their point of view, including dialectics as a doctrine of some ‘meanings’ not observable by experience. There seems to be a complete loss of mental culture, which demands that every concept be carefully defined before it is used and avoids concepts that are indefinite. The uneducated mind of which I speak is easily led to conclusions such as, for example, ‘adaptability is one of the characteristic properties of living matter’; ‘the mind has such a quality as creativity’, and the like. Thought is chewed and spat out, but not assimilated. However, it is the man of this fold that is characterised by the greatest conceit, because everything he has is received by him in a ready-made form from the warehouse. He has not fathered a single thought of his own, and other people’s property can be treated irresponsibly… And what is most striking is that these people consider themselves dialectical materialists (at least, in the post-Soviet Russia). That’s quite a redundant word!

The technical successes of modern times are due, first of all, to the habit of thinking exclusively about external objects. Thinking about the inner, which philosophy has been engaged in for centuries, has been abandoned and forgotten. Just as it is impossible to imagine Plato writing an article entitled: ‘On characterising certain questions of Socrates’ worldview in connexion with the decline of Athenian democracy‘, so it is impossible to imagine our contemporary studying the whole life and not the smallest slices of it. The age is strong in its attention to detail, but the study of the smallest details of an event does not bring us any nearer to an understanding of its meaning. The study of particulars has closed the way to the cognition of the whole, and even more, because of the ever-present human tendency to confuse the method of finding the truth with the truth itself, the whole is recognised not only as irrelevant, but also as non-existent except as a sum of parts. Speaking in general terms, the passion to search for simple forces behind complex movements has won out, leading ultimately to a simplification of thought, to a weaning away from complex concepts and to an increasing elementarity of thought. This is the usual path of mental laziness: first the sophisticated mind searched for elementary fundamentals in everything, now the unsophisticated thought explains all the things of the world, not wanting to go beyond the circle of elementary concepts. In my opinion, there is very little ‘science‘ in this, but a great deal of desire to sleep as long and as pleasantly as possible. If only the circle of original causes found were still expanding! In that case we could say that cognition is not slumbering, and though still holding on to the still divisive method, it is still advancing. But this is not the case. A dam has been placed in the way of thought, it has overflowed as wide as ever and become as shallow as ever. The river is gradually turning into a swamp, and frogs and herons, each in their own way, are chanting the power of science. Anything to keep one’s mind at rest and keep one’s mental peace! The Church has been worrying and arguing for a thousand and fifteen hundred years; compared to it, science has calmed down remarkably soon. I see the explanation in the philosophical ignorance of the modern researcher, which allows him to believe in possessing the ‘final truth’. The Church, whatever it was, was too affected by philosophical thinking and too much in pursuit of truth to be pacified for long. Science, however, (as I have already remarked) has with marvellous dexterity rid itself of the unwelcome company of philosophy — first by deifying ‘experimental observations’, then by interpreting them in a certain way, then by turning these interpretations into a dogma which no longer needs any observations.

The mindset promoted by science in its modern form is, in fact, a proud inferiority, completely devoid of cultural ground, despising the past, enthusiastically accepting the present and expecting all sorts of miracles from the future. This is the disease which Pushkin called ‘semi-education’, and in which the semi-educated man of today sees only a sign of his superiority. Science not only does not prevent the lowering of the cultural and moral level, but also contributes to its fall, simply because it sees in the culture of the past only delusions, illusions, shadow play, which must be dispelled by the ‘light of knowledge’. However, ‘scientific knowledge’ concerning man, his culture and society is pure nihilism, since it considers all the previous foundations of human life to be lies. Instead of this ‘lie’, humanity is offered to base its existence on nothing. Of course, this cannot be done, and we sink deeper and deeper into the water, following the man with the piper. It is curious that the full and final conclusions from the provisions of materialistic science were made not in the West, but in Russia in the 19th century, and there also began the successful overcoming of materialism. The West is sadly lagging behind the East in realising the exact meaning of its own faith, with which it tries to combine the comfort and warmth of life, not realising that this faith forever excludes from life the grounds for any comfort and warmth…

It should be noted that the word ‘science’ has taken on a very special meaning in our day — a different meaning from the one our ancestors gave it. ‘Science’ in the modern sense means, firstly, an extremely intolerant materialistic metaphysics; and secondly, this word refers to applied research in the service of various kinds of industry. Speaking of real science, the kind that does not indulge in either metaphysical assertions or the creation of new weapons, I would suggest that the word ‘knowledge’ be used. Science precisely does not wish to be knowledge: it seeks to be a church or a workshop, either something more or something less than mere knowledge. Science and knowledge are irreversibly divided; this is the defining feature of our age. Science wants to be a legislator of values and a producer of goods, whereas its domain is quite different — the careful and conscientious interpretation of the facts found. Undoubtedly, such a science, which would adhere to these rules, would never be supported by the state. For, strange as it may seem, science has done neither more nor less than say ‘yes’ to all three temptations which Christ met in the wilderness: it has taken authority over kingdoms; it has thrown itself down, and not crashed, but flown; it has made stones into loaves. No wonder after this her hatred of Christ. Only such a science could become the new ally of the state instead of the obstinate Church, which forgave much that should not have been forgiven, but never erased its tablets.

But with all the external power of materialism, it cannot make people born without a soul at all. Therefore, its only instruments can be to stifle spiritual life, to reduce it to darkness, to corrupt it — in a word, purely negative influences. Materialism is creatively powerless. It has nothing to offer the awakened soul; it can only hinder awakening. This is a comforting consideration, in spite of all the outward power of modern godless and inhuman faith. It has the power to make the soul not ask, but it has nothing to answer the soul that has already learnt to ask questions. Hedonism and material prosperity are the strong helpers of materialism; they, in fact, create its charm. ‘Look’, it says, ‘how many pleasures I have brought to man!’ This glamour, however, is short-lived. Satiety is no answer to the soul’s inquiries, and I think that sooner or later materialistic religion will collapse because of the awakening of the soul life. True, it is also probable that this awakening will come when the benefits of science begin to dry up. After all, it is not difficult to put the masses to sleep, and ‘general welfare’ does the job perfectly well…

Next to the metaphysical attempts of modern science, the old positivism looks like a model of intellectual honesty. By limiting itself to experiential knowledge, it refrained from making judgements about super-experiential things and did not resemble a magician who takes a rabbit out of an empty hat — which is exactly what modern science does when it proclaims that, for example, ‘through an in-depth study of the mechanism of inheritance, it has established the absence of God, soul and the meaning of life’. The substitution here is simply screaming — super-experiential, metaphysical statements are deduced from experimental data, but there are so few people left who can think logically, thanks to the latest ‘higher education’, that almost no one notices this substitution. ‘Two times two is four, therefore the earth is round’. Such and even more ridiculous nonsense is said out loud and does not meet with any opposition. Let us learn to think, even if our thoughts are not approved by science.

‘Men and apes differ very little from each other’, they say now. I shall say that in no epoch has Evil had such faithful and naïve servants as it has today. Old villains and corrupters still understood whom they served. A semi-educated man of today believes that by destroying higher culture, extinguishing spiritual life, he serves ‘progress’, that is the last and final good. Progress in general, it should be said, consists in the increasing complexity of the machines used by man while steadily shallowing his spiritual life. Our days have seen a new barbarism: the conviction that man is distinguished from animals only by his ability to use tools, and a society based solely on this accursed inferior ability, from which all life of the spirit and mental labour disinterested in technical achievements have been subtracted. And is given to this society according to its faith…

Meaning is leaving the world. We should ask an age that talks a lot about the meaninglessness of the world: ‘Is everything meaningless — or is it that we have no taste for meaning?’ And since there is no taste, there is no desire to search. The age values labour, but only insofar as it gives well-being. The energies of whole generations, distracted from inner labour, are spent on other things. It is not matters of the spirit that have ‘lost their value to the masses’, as is commonly said; it is the masses who are utterly distracted by secondary matters from matters of the spirit. It is not difficult to prove that the pursuit of external goods is pointless, since no one has ever yet prevented anyone from dying. All the majestic and rich development called progress is thus reduced to the question of having a more pleasant time. The mountain gave birth to a mouse! In the beginning, however, they still spoke of the happiness of mankind; later they confined themselves to the hopes of earthly prosperity, which is not the same thing at all. If such poetic and naïve souls as Herzen could think that to feed mankind and teach it to read and write (taking away religion and conscience) means to ennoble it decisively… then we have no opportunity to be so naïve. We see that satiety and literacy are nothing in themselves, do not prevent any evil and do not contribute to any good. The decrease in the number of sufferings, on the contrary, is accompanied, by some diabolical arithmetic, by an increase in the willingness to inflict these sufferings. Generations who have not known pain are most ready to inflict it on their neighbours… Dostoevsky, for all his foresight, sometimes had suspicions that science would still be able to fulfil its promises and give mankind happiness without God, soul and culture. The past hundred years have clarified the matter. Unlike Dostoevsky, we know firmly that these promises were lies, or at least delusions. The mindless prosperity that had been dreamt of creates new, unprecedented moral difficulties, for the resolution of which, however, the age has no means. The lonely individual, accustomed to finding the measure of everything in his desires, has proved incapable of moral judgement, even more — believing that private and temporary well-being is the highest value, he cannot have any idea of values at all.

It is curious that such figures as Herzen attacked with all their might the idea of man’s spiritual independence from the dead universe, deducing everything higher from the lower and inanimate, and preached the cult of science, humbling the mind before the ‘natural’. (Our Herzen, however, was in this only a gifted pupil, a schoolboy in a European school.) They did not see that in science as a directed cognitive endeavour there is little natural, on the contrary, the same manifestation of a stubborn spirit rising above ‘nature’ as in religion, which they wanted to abolish. Man was urged to obey the ‘natural laws’ without realising that to obey them to the end means to lose one’s humanity. There is no place even for scientific curiosity in the ‘natural’ life… But the destroyers of the latest time wanted to be destroyers and nihilists only in part, drawing conclusions but avoiding consequences. I will not tire of repeating that they all clung to a well-ordered society, the family, respect for the individual, freedom and security, although they denied all this in theory. ‘Let us bow down to dead nature, let us extinguish the spirit in us…’, they said; it would be natural to continue: ‘…and we shall be like beasts!’ However, all of them enjoyed life in a humane and rather well-adjusted society to the end of their days; and they left the place of ‘industrious animals’, devoid of religion and culture, to future generations, that is, to us. The main thing is to distract man from his inner life, said Herzen and many with him, and to educate him to worship ‘facts’, that is, ultimately to deprive him of his spiritual freedom. Any ‘liberation of man from God’ is an attempt on man’s freedom. Did Herzen think about this? Hardly. His whole mind was absorbed by the idea of external freedom, ‘freedom from’ and not ‘freedom for’. People of this breed usually do not think of any ‘for’ in relation to man, which is why their ideal of ‘transformed humanity’ is so easily reduced to a life for themselves.

The worldview that nowadays speaks in the name of science believes in the predetermination of everything that exists, in unconditional causality without other possibilities.  The preaching of extreme determinism is a sign of extreme disillusionment with the idea of freedom. This disillusionment began after the failure of the French revolution, and then led to the emergence of Marxism with its denial of the individual in history. It is the extreme and consistent determinism of our time that speaks of its extreme, final disillusionment with freedom, despite all the outward respect it is still accorded in the West. Freedom is still the toy and banner of the masses, but men of thought, of that thought which is rarely and almost never in touch with the spirit, have long been disillusioned with it. Freedom has not brought the hoped-for ‘reign of reason‘; the emancipation from religion, on which such hopes were pinned, is not the beginning of a golden age… If I may say so, the ‘mind of the West‘, which once, through blasphemies and ridicule and discourses on ‘economic man‘ and ‘common good‘, freed itself from the good and bad of the legacy of the Middle Ages — this mind has doubted its own cause and has taken up just the opposite. It now fabricates ever new constructions to show the nothingness, uselessness and imaginary of human freedom. This is how we should understand the edifice that the heirs of Marx, Darwin and Freud have built. Freedom is no longer needed. Only children and narrow minded people still believe in it…

Speaking of the ethical side of things. There is a kind of twofold connexion between atheism and liberalism — and the invisibility of evil in the world. It is partly due to the fact that when we say, ‘There is no good’, we also say, ‘There is no evil’; but there is something else — a certain, I would say, innate optimism inherent in the proponents of these doctrines. It is as if some persistent levity prevents them from seeing evil as a force acting in the world… It should be noted another thing: if such a person is disappointed in his faith, he will see in the world and man only evil and nothing but evil; i. e. he will remain in the captivity of the same monistic self-deception, only in the opposite sense. In general, monism as a philosophical doctrine gives its adherents either a calm and serene view of things, or black horror. The 18th century was characterised by the former, and the 20th — by the latter. It is psychologically curious that any doctrine that recognises the complexity of things, the irreducibility of the present universe to a single beginning, is condemned by modernity for this reason alone. ‘Progress’ is the abhorrence of the idea of a plurality of causes. Modernity sees and wants to see ‘one root’ in everything, hence its obnoxious and miserable evolutionism in everything, down to the science of society and psychology. At any cost it is necessary to derive the unconnected, eternally opposing forces from a single beginning… And at the cost of a certain violence over facts such a beginning is found. ‘Violence over facts’ is the key word of this verbally fact-worshiping epoch. Abstract factuality is only preached; in reality, ‘facts’ are collected and evaluated in a highly selective manner, namely, in such a way as not to disturb the mental peace. The principle of interpretation at the cost of the least effort has essentially triumphed; this principle is considered ‘eminently scientific’, though in fact it is a principle of supreme mental laziness. If old Socrates were with us, he would say that the thinking of the blacksmith, with its concern for expediency and conservation of effort, has won the day. ‘But, my friends’, Socrates would have said, ‘is it proper for a blacksmith to judge the origin of things and what man is? Let each one go about his own business!’ But unfortunately Socrates is not with us, and the gadfly’s place in modern Athens is empty.

It is a curious feature of the age in the tendency, looking at man and his soul, to regard as natural only those movements which lead downwards. This somehow contradicts the prevailing belief in ‘evolution’, leading all things to constant improvement. However, if you think about it, the contradiction is purely external. Psychologically, the only thing that can come out of the belief in a kind of ‘spontaneous life-giving evolution’ that operates outside of us and without our participation is the disappearance of personal responsibility and, as a consequence, a constant decline and lowering of culture, at best a culture based on instincts. There is no beneficial and inevitable ‘self-development’ in the field of spiritual life. A society left to itself will not be a society of poets and prophets, but a society of primitive people believing in brute force. On the basis of this belief, preachers of moral corruption are not condemned, they say about them, ‘it is natural!’, and in the desire to raise fallen man they see madness. Dumb mediocrity has finally become the norm. No, pleasing the crowd did not begin yesterday; but yesterday it was necessary to please the crowd in a sneaky way, fearing condemnation. That time has passed. Democracy is a great and sharp axe to the tree of culture. If earlier the full and high development of the best in man was recognised as natural and desirable, though not possible for everyone, then the efforts of the latest epoch have recognised the low as ‘natural’. The ideal of personal development has been overthrown and trampled upon. If the ‘good’ is precisely that in which a given individual does not differ from the majority, why encourage the movement towards greater isolation, distinction, seclusion (and all personal development obviously leads to these)?

The notion of ‘unconscious evolution’ consistently applied to society and culture means simplification and disintegration. This is because culture and society are built by the will and not ‘grow involuntarily’. Random growth is only superimposed on the movement originally directed by the will. The refusal to build culture is the refusal of general culture in general. Only different kinds of habits, now called ‘cultures’, can be formed unconsciously. In former times it would not have occurred to anyone to speak of a ‘culture of weavers’ or a ‘culture of eaters’, but now it is the order of the day. All this use of the plural in relation to the word ‘culture’ is false in its foundation. The culture of a society is the visible image of mental life; it is one. There cannot be ‘cultures’ just as one person cannot have ‘souls’. Talking about ‘cultures’ is as clear a sign of dysfunction as the feeling of several ‘selves’ in one person.

The era suggests to man that he is a mechanical puppet, a wind-up machine, and man believes it. This is an example of the power of popular conceptions over society, in other words, the power of ideas. Modernity, no less than past epochs, is under the power of its own conceptions of itself, even if it believes the opposite. The spiritual development of a society does not cease because that society does not believe in a spirit, nor in an independent development that is not conditioned by the underlying influences and unconscious drives that are now commonly sought everywhere… Man’s worldview is still determined by ideas and not by facts, however one may try to present the matter to us. Before any facts there is the desire to interpret them in a certain way; beliefs and habits of life do not grow out of facts at all, but out of their interpretations. From ‘observations and experiments’ there follows no worldview at all, at least not from those observations which are most recognised and valued nowadays. A worldview is created only on the basis of life experience, deep soul life, as a sign of inner maturity; it is given by mental labour, not by laboratory vigils. The narrowness of a specialist, which is often passed off as depth of knowledge in our time, does not yet provide the ground for a worldview. It must be sought elsewhere, where the measure of value is not the success of experiments and the power achieved. In the society, to which Russia so unhappily joined at the end of the 20th century, the measure of values became just the power achieved through them, with the eternal refrain — ‘to improve the quality of the human life!’

And how nice it would be — a pipe dream! — to educate at least some people in a spirit, if not of aversion to power, at least of profound distrust of it. What we need most of all is to instil in people a doubt about the value of power, to teach them to see power not as an end, but as a means, and not always as morally justified. In fact, the opposite is true: we have come to believe not only that rightness is given by force, but that force is rightness. Foolish, ill-mannered children think that force settles disputes; we are worse than they are: we think that power is a self-sufficient value and the measure and source of all truths. If we could instil in men a suspicion of all power, and the ability to ask, ‘What has this success hurt me? What have I paid for my victory? What has my power taken from me?’ And yet these questions are so natural! But the prejudice is still prevalent that power is freely given, that it will be enjoyed forever, and that one will never have to pay for it.

What is abnormal about the situation that has been created? A scientist cannot have a worldview, but only his science. ‘Why should I have a worldview when I have facts?’ The right to have a system of views is left to our unintelligent ancestors; we, on the other hand, accept facts with reverence as some gifts from heaven. I have said this many times, and — if I could be heard — I would deserve the nickname of ‘retrograde’ and ‘enemy of enlightenment’. But the point is not that a certain writer, in his unenlightenedness, is attacking science, but the truly tragic position of blind driver of the blind that science has taken.

The world of late has been looked upon as an inexhaustible food for the quenching of curiosity, but not as a field for action, self-improvement, struggle… Improving things instead of improving oneself; fighting technical difficulties instead of fighting oneself — and this is an inexhaustible and unjustified curiosity that has abandoned the question ‘why?’ and asks only ‘how?’ Our current curiosity can be called a curiosity of modus operandi. Attention to root causes is now considered a sign of underdevelopment, childishness, backwardness. The root causes are excluded from consideration; if they are there (which most people these days tend to doubt), they are not subject to investigation. I will not tire of saying that this impoverishes thinking to the utmost, which, unable to give up the idea of causes altogether, begins to look for them in the same circumstances of the mode of action: ‘a crime is committed because a special substance is produced in the criminal’s brain’, and so on. We enter the domain of a veritable flight of imagination, where every concomitant circumstance that can be caught can be declared a cause.

The ghostliness of this ‘knowledge of man’ is hidden behind the curtain of false ‘omniscience’. To the temptations of power and authority known from the ages, a new one has been added: the temptation of omniscience, and this false omniscience, which afflicts the natural sciences today, not only coexists with, but is closely linked to, total ignorance and unwillingness to know about man, culture and spirit. This pretentious mixture of pride and ignorance is all the more surprising because in the realm of the human — culture, social life, moral level — modern society, led by the representatives of exact knowledge, is experiencing a series of crushing disappointments, moving from failure to failure. ‘Scientific worldview’ applied to the solution of life’s problems has had exceptionally destructive consequences. As Socrates said, the cook and the physician equally care for man, but if we leave him to the care of the cook alone, with his one-sided view of the boon, no good will come of it. Science has proved to be such a cook. Under its care, Western man has become bodily well and spiritually withered. ‘Be thankful, for I have fed mankind!’, science exclaims without noticing anything around it. Oh, the pride of the narcissistic cook. It’s time for the doctor to return after a long absence, but I’m afraid the cook won’t let him in.

Hand in hand with the pretentious ‘omniscience’ are the ‘all-explaining doctrines’ of our day. If a certain doctrine can explain everything, it is the surest proof of its falsity. A key that ‘fits’ all locks is most likely to fit none of them; it is not a key, but a so-called ‘lockpick’. The admirers of Freud and Marx, for example, have mastered the art of making lockpicks in the realm of the spirit to perfection. For the success of the next ‘all-conquering doctrine’ it is necessary to work out such a system of concepts, which could be imposed on any conceivable relations of people and things, i. e. — this is one of the necessary signs — it is not complicated enough. A systematist of this kind reduces everything to the smallest number of the simplest interactions, so elementary that with their help it is possible, at the cost of small strains, to interpret almost any phenomenon of a higher order. But any ‘comprehensive’ worldview proves only the falsity of its assumptions. In worldly terms, one should not believe someone who claims to know everything, but someone who knows a few things. In all matters, large and small, this ‘something’ is more reliable and thorough than broad claims, because it is based on experience and not on sweeping generalisations. Knowledge of ‘everything’ cannot follow from any experience, because of its inevitable finiteness…

These teachings are not doubted. With the passing of faith, the ability to doubt disappears. The era of ‘universal higher education’ begins, i. e., in essence, universal credulity — the ability to accept anything without believing in anything. The centuries-long struggle against faith in no way suggested that the last point on the road would be the abolition of the ability to doubt, it has been so. The requirement to ‘trust the proven’ has rendered the human conscience exceptionally defenceless — to the extent that Othello was defenceless against the ‘solid proofs’ presented by Iago. Belief has been eliminated, but the fact that we are as capable of doubt as we are of faith cannot be eliminated. The age of universal credulity (i. e., the inability to distinguish between falsehood and truth), calculated deception, and widespread superstition crowned the centuries-long struggle of reason for the right to disbelief.

To exaggerate a little, we can say that ‘there are judgements that are true, false, and irrefutably proven’… There is something extremely unhealthy and corrupting to the mind in this passion of positive thinking to ‘prove’ everything — and to disbelieve without ‘proof’. However, when I speak of positivism, I do not mean cautious fact-finding (as it originally was), but positivism in the sense of — as Dostoevsky said — ‘an idea taken out into the street’, the domain of the masses, not of inquisitive individuals. Everything bears the stamp of the proven, and the simplest idea that this ‘proven’ is only a convenient internally inconsistent assumption, a game of the cognising mind, which it is ready to abandon on occasion — for the sake of another, more convenient assumption — this idea escapes not only from the masses, but also from the people who point the way for these masses. One is taught to look upon every product of scientific thought as truth itself, whereas it is only an opinion, even if based on facts. Opinion and fact are blended in the public mind to the point of complete inseparability. ‘Scientists have discovered!’, shouts the newspaper, whereas it should have been said: ‘Scientists have supposed’… This is the most important question: the transformation of the ‘scientific worldview’ (with all its defects) into a kind of religion, with its dogmas and its claim to perfect truth, but which does not achieve the goal to which real religion aspires: to guide man in his affairs on earth — precisely because this ‘religion’ is limited to life on earth alone.

The transformation of science into the religion of our time is closely connected with the loss of its independence. One might even say that science is believed in the more the less it is engaged in the free search for truth. I think that science as an independent force existed until about the beginning of the 20th century — as long as the morality of the scientist was nourished from sources external to science itself. After the disappearance of these (Christian) sources, the rapid division of science into, firstly, science-religion, constantly bordering on pseudoscience, and, secondly, science as servant of the powerful, servant of the state in the most literal sense. ‘Incorruptible reason’, of which Herzen was so fond of speaking, was of little importance in the latest development of science. Much more important was the emergence of the modern state and its need for annihilating military power [10], for the sake of which it is ready to encourage not only directly favourable to it scientific interests, but also some ‘side hobbies’ of science — never, however, forgetting the benefits that can be derived from them if necessary. Science — this is the outcome of the 20th century — has lost its freedom, but has acquired a power never before seen; and, as far as we can tell, it does not miss its lost freedom.

And the worst of all: science no longer has a philosophical education or competing worldviews to defend its truths against.  Its truths are dogmatic. ‘If they prove to you that you are descended from an ape, then take it as it is, there is nothing to wrinkle your nose about!’, said Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. This is usually how we look at the proofs presented by science. Already, however, the Underground Man was questioning the quality of that proof. What does ‘proof’ even mean in a field where there is no experience? And it is in this field that we most often hear the victory cry and the strongest incantation of modernity: ‘science has proven it!’ Here, as elsewhere, we should consistently distinguish between ‘know’, ‘think’ and ‘believe’, i. e., to put it longer: ‘know from experience’, ‘believe on the basis of knowledge’ and ‘believe in accordance with my observations and reflexions’ (this last has full force also in religion, because there is no idiot who would believe in something completely unconnected with his life experience and assumptions about the essence of things — more precisely, such ‘belief’ is possible only for a madman, in whom the connexion between experience, thought and judgements is broken). Recognising also for science the existence of knowledge, thought and faith, to these three we must add a fourth stage, the most vague and poorly grounded, but the closest and most accessible to the man of the crowd both now and thousands of years ago: the area in which our daily perceptions cast monstrous shadows, and these shadows wander along the paths of ill-conceived thoughts… in short, the area of myth. The thinking of the masses in our time is not at all ‘positive’ or ‘scientific’ in the popular sense of the word, but mythical, whether this mythicality is manifested in the images of Hercules, George the Victorious or Libido. The only question is whether we consider the (worsening) ignorance of the masses to be a natural and benign condition, which perhaps even makes the labour of administrators easier — or not? And this is precisely the case. The utopian idea of ‘enlightenment’ in which the 19th century had so much faith has been set aside for impracticability. Democracy knows that the masses should not be enlightened, but entertained, making sure that they do their duties and produce the necessary goods — and that they are obedient.

…Now and again I ask myself whether I am not in vain turning against science. But its conscience is black enough. It at least does not prevent the degradation of humanity, and to a certain extent encourages it. ‘If science, everything is allowed’, one might say, slightly paraphrasing Dostoevsky. Fatalism (in the case of science, its scientific twin, determinism), the belief that all actions are predetermined, has never served as a good ground for moral development. Look back at Islam: does a Mohammedan experience torment of conscience? I. e. as a person, probably, in his personal relations (otherwise it is difficult to imagine), but as a worker, whose work is approved by the religion of Mohammed — hardly. ‘Allah willed it so’. Or, which is the same thing: ‘This act was predetermined by your chemical composition’. There is nowhere to go further than this, here human history ends. One can’t help but think of the Underground Man: ‘If they prove that you are nothing more than a piano-key, accept that!’ But why does an ‘piano-key’ need life? After all, even immediate pleasures will get bored at some point, and fatigue will come….

‘Critical thinking’ is applied these days only to opponents or rivals of science.  When modernity speaks of ‘critical thinking’, it does not mean criticism, i. e., weighing and checking, but the rejection of whole classes of concepts — the family, conscience, state, religion, etc. By ‘critic’ is invariably meant the negationist; by thinking, negation; not surprisingly, the sign of ultimate consistency on this path becomes the negation of all things and the proclamation of pure Nothingness as the only meaning and content of life. There is nowhere else to be ‘more critical’. Whereas it is usually characteristic of the mind to exercise its power in the creation of ever more precise concepts, the modern mind — or, rather, its locum tenens — finds pleasure in abandoning the development of concepts in general as an unnecessary luxury, and turns to the ‘impartial observation of facts’. Its further course is known. Freed from the fetters of systematic thinking and, to no lesser extent, the fetters of conscience, it becomes a helper and then a servant of forces alien to it. It is not by chance that I spoke of ‘systematic thinking’ as something left behind. The science of our days, for all the enormity of its edifice, is extremely far from a complete system. The best proof is its view of the whole field of the human as some unfortunate exception to the so well-developed ‘system of dead nature’. The human turns out to be an unnecessary outgrowth on the body of the dead world, something superfluous and rather repulsive; a bizarre ugliness. Only the dead are rational (here is the root!). All the latest attempts, beginning with the French revolution, to reconstruct human life on ‘rational grounds’ were essentially attempts to deaden it. To deaden it and to make it predictable and therefore controllable — the whole point of the rational view of things is precisely in the predictability and controllability of the things thus viewed; at the heart of rationalism lies the thirst for power. What can be predicted is reasonable; what cannot be predicted is unreasonable, irrational, unnecessary, accidental… in short, of no use and not subject to investigation. Why does reason do this? I am afraid I will have to say together with Leo Shestov: because the basis of ‘reasonableness’ is fear of the incomprehensible, unpredictable and living, of what cannot be controlled…

Whereas ignorance and knowledge were previously opposed to each other, now, in the democratic era, various degrees of self-confident semi-knowledge, i. e. the same ignorance, but, so to speak, ‘with higher education’, are competing with each other. Ignorance and knowledge are phenomena of another epoch, when there was still a measure of truth and intellectual integrity that went beyond narrowly specialised needs. The positivist of the past had more solid grounds for his judgements, a kind of intellectual shame. The purely technical convenience of this or that explanation, within a given speciality, could not yet seduce him. In essence, everything is reduced to the replacement of a certain general philosophical view of things by an exclusively technical worldview, for which it is important to make ends meet only in a limited area of the ‘speciality’. The famous Kozma Prutkov’s statement should be expanded: a specialist in one field is an ignoramus in all others, and the greater the depth of his specialisation, the greater his general ignorance. There is no nonsense that a ‘specialist’ cannot say without fear of being caught, because he is surrounded by others like himself.

That is why it is so easy to dismiss references to the ‘growth of the level of knowledge’, which supposedly gives our epoch the right to solve the oldest philosophical questions. The heaps of facts are indeed piled higher and higher, but this is not the basis for any worldview, but only raw material, for the mastery of which it is necessary to have a worldview already developed. [11] From raw and unconnected facts no worldviews are built, except only serving ones; on the contrary, only on the basis of an already developed worldview do facts acquire meaning and a coherent order. Figuratively speaking, the order of accumulation and arrangement of papers in an archive is not their inner meaning, whereas science (with my eternal reservation about possible substitution of notions) believes that some inner meaning can be extracted from the mutual arrangement, shape and colour of papers in the archives. The questions: ‘Who built this archive? Who left these papers? What is written in these papers?’ are replaced by others: about the shape, form and colour of the archive and the papers. It is sad to see!

Let me say lastly: according to the views prevailing nowadays, it turns out that a higher spiritual organisation (a sign of which, in particular, is the conviction in the meaningfulness and wholeness of existence) indicates a low, primitive level of development. Curious, isn’t it? ‘Our ancestors were miserable and undeveloped, so they could have poetry, philosophy, religion… We have overcome all this — and have nothing’. How does this fit with the favourite thought of modernity, the belief in progress? Either progress embraces all aspects of humanity, in which case it is a truly admirable movement; or progress is merely a lateral development, a development of technical methods, from which the spiritual well-being of mankind not only does not increase, but — now it is evident — is diminishing before our eyes. In this latter case, then, ‘progress’ is a kind of disease, powerful and difficult to stop, and all its characteristics — irresistibility, rapidity and rapid spread — turn from positive to negative, because these are the characteristics of a disease. Experience teaches us beyond doubt that ‘progress’ means the extinction and diminution of the human in all things. Where, then, is its place among the goods or among the diseases? And the sick man… to the sick man our reasoning is not audible. On the contrary, do you hear him shouting proudly: ‘Look how strong my illness is! See what an unprecedented fever I have! Look how my body is shaking with fever! There has never been a disease like mine in the world!..’ I am joking about a dangerously ill, perhaps dying man, though I am extremely sad.


We are present at the twilight of the worldview laid down by Descartes. Just because ‘reason’ has once skilfully used consistent scepticism and critical thinking to overturn previous ideals, it does not follow that its reign will be eternal. Doubt can be applied to the very person who doubts, especially since he is totally unprepared for it. ‘Reason’ (I use inverted commas throughout because it is a self-name, not an essence) has completely lost its philosophical readiness and relies lately more on force than on reason. Its  weapons — scepticism and criticism — can be successfully used against it. It’s all a matter of to what end. It may seem strange why I, as a clear opponent of rationalism, ask about the purpose, since all struggles, as it is commonly believed, are fought ‘for the sake of victory’. But that is the point, there are things more important than ‘winning’, especially in the struggle of ideas. All my resistance to the dominant and arrogant point of view known as the ‘rational view of things’ is based on a simple reasoning: mankind needs a constant deepening and enlightenment of the inner life; modernity prevents such development, even denies its necessity; modernity plunges man into darkness, lulling him with speeches about the ‘light of reason’ — therefore it is bad. (I leave aside the other aspect of the question: the fact that the depth and light of the inner life are only given, in the broadest sense of the word, by religion, to which our age is particularly hostile.) Not every ‘overcoming of reason’ is of value, and the dark cults prepared by years of atheism, increasingly coming to the surface, are far from a laudable outcome. The superstitions of our day are not so far removed from the unbelief that produced them. Like atheism, they are most concerned with power, not truth. ‘Can I be wrong? What shall I do if I am wrong? How can I be saved if I have been wrong all my life?’ — these questions, peculiar to all higher forms of spiritual life, are replaced by quite different ones: ‘How can I be strong? How do I subdue others? How to be deluded and never suffer because of my delusions?’ Such questions do not lead to the path of enlightenment.

The ‘old order’ that survived in Europe until 1918, with its virtues and its often-mentioned faults, is destroyed. The new arrangement of forces is called ‘democracy’; in it it is customary to see only the good and to ignore the bad. But it should be confessed: the state under the rule of society, or society under the rule of the state, are both bad. Only the case of a sufficiently strong society bound by mutual necessity to a sufficiently strong state is satisfactory; a state of approximate equality of forces and mutual need, as it once was. Undoubtedly, this is a precarious equilibrium, and each side tries to break it in its favour, but all successful state constructions are just cases of unstable equilibrium. Any deviation from the middle, in favour of society or the state, leads to tyranny, only in one case it is the tyranny of the governed and in the other case it is the tyranny of the governing. If our (by ‘our’ I mean the Christian world, however little is left of it) state machine is destined to revive, it is on the way to a new precarious position — for prosperity and development are always associated with precariousness and some threat. The tyranny of the governed is not only no better than any other tyranny, but also worse, for the reason stated by one writer: ‘by ingratiating himself with the Sovereign, the artist rises to the top; by ingratiating himself with the crowd, he sinks into the mud’… The lowering of the cultural level, the alignment with the ‘average’ is as inevitable in a democracy as the alignment with the cultural level of the superior in another system. It removes this question by ‘equalising the mountains’, not by ‘filling the valleys’. Democracy does not eliminate inequality, but makes it invisible, which is much worse, because it destroys the noble desire for self-improvement and competition. Competition is now permissible only for the sake of accumulation and super-accumulation of property; inequality in this area is not only not obscured, but encouraged and flaunted… However, the spiritual content of statehood based solely on property aspirations is negligible.

It is time to recognise that the idea of ‘equality’ was flawed from the beginning, and was only good as a sharp weapon against the divided and closed society of the Middle Ages. This idea never had any positive content. Every revolution that has written this word on its banners has been concerned not with establishing social balance, but with ‘turning the existing state of affairs inside out’ — with freedom for friends and disempowerment for enemies. So too feminism, it should be noted, as a movement in the name of equality, is concerned not with equalising opportunities, not with ‘filling the valleys and equalising the heights’, but with turning the existing order of things around, so that in the new order everything remains the same, with the only difference being that in it masculine women will lead feminine men (and the West of the West — America — may be heading towards that). But there is not a shadow of equality in the world, only the unchanging value of the human soul, and that is not the same thing at all. Equality presupposes the rejection of the idea of the soul as the last value, because the soul is a dark, unexplored depth, it is inside and cannot be seen, while equality seeks simple and external signs; everything internal, individual, bothers its advocates. Even more than that, equality and democracy are naturally hostile to God, because they cannot accept any power higher than the average human ability — to which they always appeal and with which they feel at ease. No doubt they make selfishness and the thirst for consumption their mainstay, recognising, for example, the state as ‘a means for the exercise of man’s personal freedom’. But the natural conclusion from this position — ‘my neighbours are the means for the fulfilment of my desires’ — no longer sounds so noble. The decent appearance of the idea of the ‘servant state’ is preserved as long as we do not see behind the faceless ‘state’ a collection of living individuals, suffering souls. Behind this formula lies a superhumanity of the worst kind — a superhumanity of nothingness, which is determined only to take, and to take not because it is stronger, but because there is no opposition to it.

In the last three centuries we have seen a succession of ‘thorough and final’ solutions to the riddle of man and society, all of which have collapsed with more or less noise. None of the attempts to create a coherent worldview that could take the place of Christianity succeeded. The fragments of dead worldviews have combined into a vague mixture, the main part of which is the recognition of purely material goals and values… If this epoch could teach us anything, it would be a firm and conscious agnosticism, a doubt in all ‘exact knowledge’, especially when it rises to the judgement of super-experiential questions, i. e. metaphysical questions. To the ever more refined capacity of reason to be deceived by its own constructions, to take everything local, contingent and temporary for the eternal and final, we can only oppose firm doubt. I am not afraid to say, even though it sounds paradoxical, that religious faith in our age must manifest itself, among other things, in a firm and conscious scepticism.

Without it, science given to the masses is perhaps a greater threat than religion given to the masses, the main difference being that religion, even in times of decline and obscurity, calls for a certain self-restraint, speaks of duty, even if simplistically understood… Science, on the other hand, seeks above all power — without any obligation on the part of the cognising one. The ‘conquest of nature’ takes the place of the conquest of man; unprecedented power over the world of dead things is accompanied by a loss of power over one’s own passions.

However, all these are purely negative statements, and they cannot be the basis for any philosophy. This is the difficulty of our time. Philosophy, firstly, is valued insofar as it has the power to save and guide the soul, i. e. it is necessarily personal. Secondly, we have too many negative observations, we are already convinced of the falsehood of too many things: it is impossible to build a new worldview out of this negative knowledge. This is why we have the right to turn our backs on science. Not only are the old worldviews destroyed, but it has been declared that we dare not have any worldviews from now on. The matter is, in fact, about the very nature of man. Beyond all reasonable arguments, man is incapable of living in a meaningless and groundless world, unnecessary to the past and not feeling the need for the future, not languishing with hopes and not wondering about the meaning of dreams… ‘Materialism has appeared on earth more than once’, said Dostoevsky, ‘but each time collapsed on its own, without being refuted by anyone, simply because it could not satisfy anyone’. Man hungers for truth, and he hungers for truth of a certain kind. No ‘positive thinking’ can cope with these two basic premises, no matter how hard it tries to make sense out of the world.

As for the state of our society, we have become accustomed to the constant substitution of concepts. What, for example, is the ubiquitous word ‘civilisation’, which means nothing more than ‘civility’, i. e. the capacity for a complex social life? And who is incapable of it? In fact, the assessment of the development of society is based on completely different, for us unaccustomed categories. ‘Religion and culture’, ‘education and culture’, ‘culture and technology’ are multidirectional straight lines running on different planes. We are accustomed to the idea of universal progress, i. e. the increase of values in all directions, whereas the reality has nothing to do with this ideal picture and presents the spectacle of continuous concessions to one at the expense of the other, in all the categories listed and not listed above. The 20th century, for example, has sufficiently shown that the strength, the transformation of nature, the increase of human power are in inverse relation to the human in man, i. e., to put it in the last words — the divine. If you want to be human, tolerate weakness; if you want might, say goodbye to human nature. ‘Power or humanity’ is the name of the main contradiction of modern times, though the contradiction itself is not so new: ‘I will give thee power over cities and kingdoms if thou wilt worship me’, an old book says. Humanity (i. e., in the last purification, divine) or power, that is the question of the modern age, and our future depends on how we resolve this question.

[1] For some reason no one wants to notice that the social order has always reflected the concepts of this society about the universe, and it is only by faith in a meaningful and integral universe that all former societies have held on to. Modern nations are presented with the blind struggle of blind forces as a model… The social order is determined by the idea of the world order, and the more zealous the preachers of ‘accidental and immoral universe’ are, the weaker the ground beneath them. By falsely interpreting nature (or rather, by refusing to interpret it at all), society ruins itself.

[2] It may be said: what about Islam, with its absence of moral difficulties, and its generally serene, as far as we can judge, and solid mental life? It has faith, but no culture and no values of life in this world. All values are ‘out there’; here there is only obedience to authority. The human soul becomes a toy in the hands of spiritual leaders. They speak of the ‘nihilism’ of Christ, Who took all values beyond the edge of earthly life. Not true! It is in Islam that we see a veritable whirlwind taking all earthly values to Mohammed’s paradise. ‘One need not labour — one must obey’. Earthly culture, the values of life are created by enthusiastic labour for a higher purpose. Islam has not only ‘freed the conscience from impossible demands’, as is sometimes said; it has freed the conscience from demands in general. The question of the salvation of the soul does not occupy the Mohammedan, because his soul is already impliedly saved, provided, of course, that it has been obedient to the authorities. And today we see in Islam a spiritual desert: ‘In heaven is God, on earth nothing’.

[3] However, fear of death is not an attitude, but a state of mind, and is caused not by external, but by internal circumstances, among which the main one is the lack of meaningfulness of life, the feeling of life’s failure. We are not afraid of death, because we know nothing about it, we are afraid of life. Death in this case is only a symbolic representation of the highest fear; in the same way, being in sadness, we are afraid of illness, loss of loved ones. The frightened soul finds figurative expressions for its fears, attaches the vague anxiety caused by the circumstances of life to certain things. It is not death that terrifies us, but life.

[4] Written in 2003 at the latest.

[5] ‘If there are malicious people who want to spread harmful thoughts, there will be well-meaning people who will denounce them, destroy the harm, and thereby bring new triumph and new power to the truth. Truth, acting freely, is always strong enough to defend itself and smash to dust any lie’. —Konstantin Aksakov, 1855.

[6] ‘In vain reason cries out: it is not it that determines the price of things’.

[7] Stanisław Lem.

[8] Moreover. The deniers began with God, continued with man, and are now approaching such inanimate but super-personal unities as nations. ‘The recognition of the being of a nation is offensive to small peoples’; the recognition of the being of small peoples, it should be assumed, will soon be recognised as offensive to the individual; in general, ‘the recognition of all that is above me is offensive to me’.

[9] It is the same relation between the writer and literary language. The writer is rather a barrier to his language; he transmits to posterity only a small part of the incoming stream, and that many times purified. ‘Common people’s speech’ is not such a treasure as we are accustomed to think; or rather, it becomes a treasure only on condition that there is its judge and evaluator — the writer. Without evaluation and judgement there is no improvement.

[10] Unlike the state of former times, which needed military might as much as border defence required.

[11] No worldview can be built on the basis of ‘facts’. A worldview can only be based on something deeper and more comprehensive than ‘facts’, namely the experience of life, which is much broader than the most varied fact-gathering.

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