Julius Evola has mentioned the philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev several times, including his review of The Meaning of History. But Evola has also mentioned him in the context of the possible recovery of Christianity to tradition. However, Evola ultimately rejected that approach, and I’m not sure if that was meant in the relative sense that Berdyaev’s work had little impact in the wider sphere, or in the absolute sense that it was ultimately insufficient in itself. Nevertheless, there are certainly points of contact, such as the emphasis on action and creativity, pre-existence of souls, the priority of the person, not to mention his interest in J J Bachofen and appreciation for Friedrich Nietzsche. Some ideas gleaned from his magnum opus, the Destiny of Man, will give an insight into his thought.
Man as Creative
Berdyaev sees the essence of human nature as a whole, at least virtually, since there are certainly antimonies and inner conflicts that need to be resolved. To get there, he rejects the evolutionistic explanation, since it makes man a natural creature bound by necessity, rather than free. The Roman view, in his opinion, is limited by seeing man as natural rather than spiritual, which needs grace. The reformed view is worse, seeing many as totally depraved. However, Berdyaev sees in Kierkegaard as a “thinker of genius” for his psychological insights into anxiety and the paradoxical nature of man. Evola, however, wrote this about that tragic sense of life:
To exalt the romantic, tragic, anxious soul, always in search of new “truths”, is essentially something of a civilization sick and damaged in its race. Calmness, style, clarity, command, discipline, power and the Olympic spirit are instead the points of reference for every formation of character and life …
Berdyaev then indicates his understanding of the Christian conception of man, which is based on these two ideas:
- Man is the image and likeness of God the Creator
- God became man, the Son of God manifested Himself to us as the God-Man.
Berdyaev next draws out this conclusion from those premises: As the image and likeness of the Creator, man is a creator too and is called to creative co-operation, i.e., he is a creative being. This goes beyond the conceptions mentioned above. This, he emphasizes, is deeper than the idea of man as the “toolmaker”; in his words:
Man can only be a creative being if he has freedom. There are two elements in human nature, and it is their combination and interaction that constitute man. There is in him the element of primeval, utterly undetermined potential freedom springing from the abyss of non-being, and the element determined by the fact that man is the image and likeness of God, a Divine idea which his freedom may realize or destroy.
Assuming this view of man, Berdyaev makes an intriguing point about the Fall, which he explains arises from the “third principle”, i.e.,
uncreated freedom, non-being which is prior to being, the meonic abyss which is neither Creator nor creature … This is the ultimate mystery behind reality. Endless consequences follow from it. It accounts both for evil and for the creation of what has never existed before. The ethics of creativeness goes back to this primary truth.
Yet, for us, this is an elegant restatement of the Hermetic principle of forces. The creature as Destiny, the Creator as Providence, mediated by the Will.
The Person and Pre-Existence
Another point of contact between Evola and Berdyaev is their understanding of the Person vis-à-vis the individual. For both, the individual is a natural and biological category, whereas the person is spiritual. Berdyaev claims that the
early moral consciousness of mankind is wholly dominated by the mystical power of kinship. Man had to wage a heroic struggle to free himself from it. … primitive, archaic human morality is entirely communal and traces of it have not completely disappeared among the civilized races of today.
Here, unfortunately, Berdyaev is veering close to an evolutionistic understanding of man. Gornahoor in this regard prefers Evola’s idea of spiritual races. Rather than indicating an evolution, Berdyaev’s observation is better explained by the co-existence of different spiritual races, so that struggle he mentioned is always a here and now battle, and its victory at some point in the past cannot be assumed. Certainly that communal attitude is alive and well in our time as this recent controversial story shows. Personhood is an achievement, a difficult achievement in fact, and not common to all.
Berdyaev claims that Christianity freed man from the power of cosmic forces and the blood tie, making the moral life of the individual independent of the tribe or of any collective unit. In his devotion to empire and rejection of the determinism of biological race, Evola likewise sees the person as free of such ties. However, Evola does not see that as exclusively Christian.
Berdyaev concludes his discussion of the person with the idea of the pre-existence of the soul. Obviously, the soul is not a product of the genetic process. Nor is it created in time at the moment of conception, otherwise it could not be free as the third force. Hence, he concludes that it is created by God in eternity, in the spiritual world. Keep in mind that priority can be understood in five ways. Pre-existence in the sense of temporal priority was condemned, but Berdyaev is talking in terms of an ontological priority.
The Masculine and the Feminine
Along with Kierkegaard, Berdyaev regards J J Bachofen as the other genius in understanding the nature of man. Berdyaev explains why:
[Bachofen] discovered the deep primeval layer of the human nature, its original connection with the maternal element, the struggle of the masculine solar principle with the feminine tellurgic one, the metaphysics of sex in man. For Bachofen polarity is man’s essential characteristic. The cosmic struggle between the sun and the earth, personalism, and collectivism takes place in man.
Evola, too, held Bachofen in very high regard, and his adherence to Bachofen’s ideas is what makes Evola’s thought different from Guenon’s in significant ways. Building on Bachofen, Berdyaev understands that man is a sexual being and sexual polarity is characteristic of human nature. This is not merely a biological category but a fundamental quality of man as a whole being. Without mentioning Otto Weininger, Berdyaev’s view is amazingly similar. They both understand that the human being combines masculine and feminine elements in different proportions. Here again, the tragic sense of life arises. Although the masculine and the feminine principles seek union, they are also engaged in a cosmic struggle, waging war against each other like deadly enemies.
Bachofen has shown the presence of this struggle in the world. The Sun is the masculine principle: spirit, paternity. The Earth is the feminine principle: matter, flesh, maternity. The Moon is then the “masculinely feminine intermediary principle”. Bachofen sees history as the result of how these principles meet, interact, and come into conflict within the cosmos.
Berdyaev points out that Bachofen was a Christian, which I didn’t know. This is important because Berdyaev draws from Bachofen his idea of the person and its separation from blood ties. If original humanity was matriarchal, patriarchy arose with the awakening of the spirit and personality.
Berdyaev next gets pretty alchemical. Following on Plato and Jacob Boehme, man is both personality and cosmos, logos and earth, masculine and feminine:
God’s conception of man is a complete, masculinely feminine being, solar and tellurgic, logoic and cosmic at the same time. Only insofar as he is complete is he chaste, wise, and Sophian in his perfect wholeness. As a sexual halved, divided being he is not chaste, or wise, and is doomed to disharmony, to passionate longing and dissatisfaction.
Berdyaev refers to the “horror and curse of sex”, calling it a problem which has never been solved, despite the efforts of the ascetics. Sex is the source of life and of death. Man is sick, wounded, and disharmonious because he has lost his wholeness and integrity. There is also a distinction between procreation and creation. Creativity in man depends on the pre-existing world, since only God creates the world.
Man as person is created by God in eternity, but as individual is born, or procreated, in time. The masculine and feminine principles interact and complete each other. Woman inspires man to create. Through creation and procreation man strives to attain the wholeness of his being. Berdyaev sums up his view this way:
The power of sex may be overcome and sublimated. Instead of being generative it may become creative and be a spiritual power. Creativeness is closely allied to sexuality. Sexlessness makes man sterile. A sexless being can neither procreate not create. The moral task is not to destroy the power of sex but to sublimate it, transforming it into a force that creates values. Erotic love is one of such values. Man generates and creates because he is an incomplete being, divided into two and striving for the completeness and wholeness of the androgyne.