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Berdiaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich

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Berdiaev's first book (1901) was devoted to social and political philosophy, and the subject figures prominently in virtually everything he wrote, including his last, posthumously published book, Tsarstvo dukha i tsarstvo kesaria (The Realm of Spirit and the Realm of Caesar) (1949b). In most of his mature works dedicated to the subject, such as Filosofiia neravenstva (The Philosophy of Inequality) (1923a), the critique of Russian communism is a principal concern. Two works - The Origin of Russian Communism (1937a) and Russkaia ideia (The Russian Idea) (1946) - include extensive critical discussion of the history of Russian social and political thought.

« Berdiaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich Nikolai Berdiaev, Russian religious idealist, was one of many non-Marxist thinkers expelled from Russia by communist authorities in 1922.

Although attracted to Marxism in his youth, even then he tempered it with a Neo-Kantian ethical theory.

Well before the Bolshevik Revolution, he became seriously disenchanted with Marxist philosophy (though not with the idea of socialism) and embarked on the career of elaborating a personalistic Christian philosophy that occupied him for the rest of his life. Dubbed 'the philosopher of freedom', Berdiaev wrote prolifically on that subject and on related topics in metaphysics, philosophy of history, ethics, social philosophy and other fields (but not epistemology, which he rejected as a fruitless exercise in scepticism).

Because his approach to philosophy was admittedly anthropocentric and subjective, he accepted the label 'existentialist' and acknowledged his kinship with Dostoevskii, Nietzsche and (to a lesser degree) Jaspers.

Like them, he constructed no philosophical system, though he did expound views that were coherently interrelated in the main, if impressionistically and sometimes obscurely expressed.

Among his more prominent ideas were his conception of freedom (for which he was indebted to the mystical philosophy of Jakob Boehme), his distinction between spirit and nature, his theory of 'objectification', his doctrine of creativity and his conception of time. The most frequently translated of twentieth-century Russian thinkers, Berdiaev has been widely studied in the West since the 1930s, particularly in schools of religion and theology and by philosophers in the existentialist and personalist traditions.

Although many Western readers considered him the voice of Russian Orthodox Christianity, his independent views drew fire from some Orthodox philosophers and theologians and also from strongly anti-Soviet Russian émigrés.

His writings in emigration were eagerly embraced in his homeland once they could be published there, beginning in the late 1980s. 1 Life and works Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdiaev was born into an aristocratic family in 1874 near Kiev.

A student of law at the University of Kiev, he was expelled in 1898 for his activity in radical student circles; this marked the end of his formal education, except for a semester of study with Wilhelm Windelband at Heidelberg in 1903.

In 1900 Berdiaev, along with other members of the Social Democratic Party in Kiev, was banished to the northern province of Vologda.

Philosophically, like many Russian thinkers of his generation, the young Berdiaev sought to complement Marxist socioeconomic views with Kantian transcendental idealism, and this effort is evident in his first philosophical book, Sub''ektivizm i individualizm v obshchestvennoi filosofii (Subjectivism and Individualism in Social Philosophy) (1901). Allowed to return to Kiev in 1903, Berdiaev moved in the following year to St Petersburg and in 1908 to Moscow, where he became prominent in the lively cultural world of Russia's 'Silver Age'.

The first decade of the century. »