Berdyaev And Keyserling State Their Views
The Destiny of Man, by Nicholas Berdyaev (Geoffrey Bles, The Centurion Press, 16s.) The Art-of Life, by Count Hermann Keyserling (Selwyn and Blount, 15s.)
Reviewed by BERNARD WALL.
The Destiny of Man is one of M. Berdyaev's most important works, and its appearance in English will be welcomed by his many followers in this country. Berdyaev discusses the whole basis and nature of Christian ethics and the Christian life, terminating his study with an analysis of the doctrines of immortality, hell and heaven. His style is white hot and has that tone of passionate sincerity to which we
are accustomed, Time and time again there are passages of a prophetical insight. But its repetitiveness and confusion demands more than patience from English readers. Sometimes it betrays downright muddle.
Just as mediocrity or bourgeois life, is, according to Berdvae.v, the poison of our social order. so he sees legalism and pharisaeism—more or less the same thing—as the deadliest enemy of ethical life. This legalism is especially to be found in Catholic philosophy and theology, and scholasticism is almost the dead opposite of the spirit of the Gospels.
Berdyaev as a thinker owes a lot to she Russians Rozanov, Leontiev and Soloviev, to Jacob Boehme and the German mystics, to the Greek fathers and the Gnostics, and Nietzsche and his attack on But as a Rusattacking the amongst modern writers to Kierkegaard. He pushes Catholic thought very far. sian he can hardly avoid Western mind.
This point I think has not always been noticed by his critics. If Berdyaev throws over Catholicism he also shows a bitter antagonism to the whole mode of thought which we Westerners have come to think of as thought simpliciter. " Roman Catholic' theology is particularly inclined to hedonism," he says. and by hedonism he means the Aristotelian conception of happiness as man's end. He believes that Creativeness and happiness are irreconcilables, and that we have definitely chosen creativeness as man's end in all profound thought in modern times.
This is a huge question, and so far as the judgment is made about modern writers, I think Berdyaev is right. But to bind it with the Christian conception of the universe seems to me definitely wrong and the basis for a severe criticism of Berdyaev. It is not necessary to be a defender of arid text-hook theology (from which Catholic thought sometimes seems to have contracted arterio-scelerosis) to object to Berdyaev's over emphasis of the prophetical elements in Christianity at the expense of the humanist elements. The Church is neither Greek nor Hebrew, but welds together in the conception of the supernatural both the humanism of the Greeks and the prophetical and apocalyptic spirit of the Jews.
Now it may be perfectly true that Catholicism in Western countries and especially in Latin countries has tended to over emphasise the humanist and Greek elements in Christianity, and this is bound up indirectly with an over emphasis on law. which we inherit from the Romans. But if Catholicism is at fault in forcing too much a specifitally Latin •conception of life on the whole world —and no Thomist. by the way. could consistently allow this—certainly Berdyaev goes to the opposite extreme.
His interpretation of Christianity shows itself time and time again to be influenced by race. His analysis of the religion con sciousness is essentially that of the Russian religious consciousness, and he condemns forms of thought different from his own. In this he reminds one of some extremist Italian Catholics who condemn as " barbarous" what is not specifically Latin.
This is only a side comment on Berdyaev. It would be impossible to discuss his views in detail here. His work has always something of spiritual autobiography in it, and is passionate and personal like the wofie of St. Augustine. One feels he has lived and lived deeply what he is writing about. And so his work is a lasting contribution to thought about religion, and whether we agree or disagree we are provoked to think things out more deeply. I think I should add that Berdyaev is unorthodox not only from the Catholic point of view, but also to some extent from the point of
view of the Orthodox churches. * Graf Hermann Keyserling is the founder and director of the School of Wisdom at Darmstadt, and he and Berdyaev have had some influence on one another. Keyserling never writes anything without raising a storm of controversy, and people easily divide themselves into two camps about him. Some say that he is a charlatan and others that he is one of the most important philosophical and ethnological thinkers in modern Europe. The leading streams of his thought can he found in Europe, The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, Creative Understanding, America Set Free and several other books which have not yet been translated into English. Amongst the latter perhaps the most suggestive is Figures Symboliques, containing five essays, on himself, Schopenhauer, Spengler, Kant and Christ.
The Art Of Life is composed of a series of essays written at various times, on such different questions as the Art of Oratory, Communism and National Socialism, the future of Latin civilisation. to name only a few: together these essays form a commentary on many of the most important aspects of modern life.
It is very difficult to discuss Keyserling because his way of arriving at truth is intuitional and not rational, he disowns argument it is forbidden at Damstadt—and believes that the definitions with which critics play are only empty words. Here Berdyaev has a lot in common with him. In his essay on himself called, " On the fecundity of the insufficient " in Figures symboliques Keyserling says: " The life of great men was never happy. and no fertile being ever satisfied the ideal standards of his time." On the spiritual and moral plane, "only suffering born of tension leads to creative acts." Keyserling believes that Christianity is the supreme religion because it emphasisess pathos rather than ethos, though he thinks that in time to come there will be a greater emphasis on vertu in the Renaissance sense, of heroism of action, and of the ethic of fecundity or creativeness.
Those who are not prepared to go into the philosophy of Keyserling—and it is not his strongest point—may nevertheless be interested in his insight into the various tendencies of contemporary life, The Germans have a word called Fingerspitzengefithl or "finger-tip feeling" which means, roughly, intuition into things by sympathy—and this faculty Keyserling has
developed in an extraordinary way. It is a gift, and if it is not possessed no reasoning can make up for its absence. Keyserling's analysis of the various national and racial characteristics of Europeans in Europe is masterly. Though he rejects the popular " racist" ideas in National Socialism (in a discussion on Chamberlain and Gobineau) he understands the influence of race and sets it in its proper place.
Like Berdyaev he is in the full swing of revolt against rationalism, materialism, and mediocrity—that mediocrity which Berdyaev calls the " bourgeois mind" and Keyserling calls the " chauffeur mind." For Keyserling, doctrines such as Socialism and Communism are for "chauffeurs," for materialist, superficial and shallow types. lie proclaims the justification of "aristocracy," above all a spiritual aristocracy, in a less poetic but more consistent form than Nietzsche.
Communism was bound to come, he points out, after the excessive individualism of the last centuries. But after Marx, Keyserling was almost inevitable. Such is the real historical dialectic. There could be no better way of learning about the more profound tendencies of central Europe today than by reading Keyserling. His most irritating quality is an egotistical style, frequent amongst Germanic writers, and present in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.