Freedom is a topic that consumes our modern day society. While, it is assumed, by most; that being free is natural and essential, few understand the boundaries that fix the limits of freedom. Nikolai Berdyaev may not be a well known philosopher, but his fresh outlook offers valuable insights. A Russian who in 1909 contributed to a symposium which reaffirmed the values of Orthodox Christianity was later appointed by the Bolshevists to a chair of philosophy in the University of Moscow. Imprisoned and exiled, he remained a Russian. He announced his adhesion to the Soviet government, while criticising the return to a policy of repression.
Berdyaev viewed freedom as “the ultimate: it cannot be derived from anything: it cannot be made the equivalent of anything”. He qualified this absolute with some real world pragmatism: “It would be a mistake to think that the average man loves freedom. A still greater mistake would be to suppose that freedom is an easy thing. Freedom is a difficult thing. It is easier to remain in slavery”.
Our technocratic age views truth as a function of the verifiable. Since Berdyaev recognized a spiritual nature to man, his view of truth conflicted with the Marxist regime of his homeland. For him: “Truth is not of the world, but of the spirit: it is known only in transcending the objective world. Truth is the end of this objective world, it demands our consent to this end”. The dignity of each human being is a concept that escapes the materialist. For the Communist, the value of the individual is diminished, as the collective is exalted. Berdyaev attempts to bridge this gap, while remaining true to his Russian roots. For him, the unique personality is based upon the communal interaction.
He sees the “personality as an existential centre, presupposes capacity to feel suffering and joy. Nothing in the object world, nation or state or society, or social institution, or church, possesses this capacity”. However, this singleness of "personality is communal; it presupposes communion with others, and community with others. The profound contradiction and difficulty of human life is due to this communality”.
No doubt we all share space on this same planet. Nonetheless, the inherent conflict that runs throughout all of history pits the forces of conformity against the need to resist regimentation and control. Do governments and the social influences draw people into accepting limits upon their drive for freedom, or are they mere reflections of methods that demand conformity? Force is used to require behavior that is desired by a any given society. Berdyaev seeks to explain and theorize a different standard. “The affirmation of the supreme value of personality is not at all concern for personal salvation, but rather the expression of the person's supreme creative calling in the life of the world”.
This conclusion seems tailored for the scientific environment that views the world as knowable and eventually; perfectible. The function of creativity for the materialist is to extend and achieve the notion of progress. Berdyaev avows a spiritual element that most post-modernists are eager to dismiss. His vision of the Third Epoch or "Eighth Day of Creation", is the final chapter of the divinely created universe. Berdyaev sees three separated stages:
“The three epochs of divine revelation in the world are the three epochs of the revelation about man. In the first epoch man's sin is brought to light and a natural divine force is revealed; in the second epoch man is made a son of God and redemption from sin appears; in the third epoch the divinity of man's creative nature is finally revealed and divine power becomes human power”. (MCA, 320)
This perspective has an intriguing appeal that is absent from Statist systems. However, how is it possible for mankind to make that gigantic leap from constant conflict to communal harmony? Freedom involves choices. The capacity to select evil is always an option when people have the ability to decide. If truth stands independently from individual consciousness, can the same be said for evil? Or does it require the proactive decision and corresponding action and behavior that creates the harmful result?
Those who uphold freedom as the ideal, must explain how it would be probable, or even possible; to achieve a creative advancement to a higher level, if one is free to commit evil deeds. Since choice resides within each person, the responsibility of one’s actions cannot be repudiated. Bureaucracies of all forms, pursue courses that impose restrictions. Freedom can never be legislated. Only relief from adverse consequences can be bestowed from governments, since they are the very institutions that design coercive penalties for disobedience to their contrived laws.
If an Eighth Day of Creation would come to be realized, self imposed limits to unrestrained choices would need to be made by ALL persons, under EVERY circumstance. That seems to require perfection! While it is nice to postulate that man is destined to become God, the reality of human nature offers little evidence that such a possibility is forthcoming. The immutable truth stands witness to the shame of human behavior. The freedom to act with depravity is surpassed only by the acquiescence of individuals to resign themselves to their servitude under governments.
Berdyaev proclaims that “the opening of a new epoch of the Spirit, which will include higher achievements of spirituality, presupposes a radical change and a new orientation in human consciousness. This will be a revolution of consciousness which hitherto has been considered as something static. The religion of the Spirit will be the religion of man's maturity, leaving behind him his childhood and adolescence.... “ (DH, 222) Can man achieve such a rebirth of thinking through his own efforts? It seems that the influence of the Marxist mentality was not completely purged from Berdyaev’s mind. Since much of our world repeats the mantra of the “so called” benefits for global unity, it is hard to dismiss, that the adolescent attitude of wishful fantasy, is nothing more than the triumph of evil within the prevailing culture.
Freedom is glorious, when it is tempered by individual restraint and guided by moral conduct. Berdyaev’s optimism has a long way to go to convert the children into a congenial community. That Eighth Day seems a long way off . . . and creation requires more than what humans can offer.
There are some holes in this commentary of Berdyaev. If you remove the Christian content and context of Berdyaev's philosophy, the whole system collapses. I encourage the reader to read it for yourself. Personality is acheivable only through Jesus Christ. Apart from true Christianity, one cannot posses personality. Freedom is an obligation of one who possesses personality, not as humanly obtainable, but as a gift from God through Jesus Christ. Apart from this, man is in slavry, and demands slavery as his "right."
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