Berdyayev, Nikolai Alexandrovich

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(18741948), philosopher.

Nikolai Berdyayev, a scion of the landed gentry, was born on an estate near Kiev. The Russian philosopher best known in the West, he moved from Marxism to Kantian Idealism to a Christian existentialism meshed with leftist political views. A lifelong opponent of bourgeois society and bourgeois values, in emigration he called capitalism and communism equally unchristian.

As a leader in the religious and philosophical renaissance of the early twentieth century, he decried the atheism and dogmatism of the revolutionary intelligentsia, while also polemicizing against the otherworldliness and passivity enjoined by historical Christianity. He believed that a Third Testament would supersede the Old and the New Testaments.

Expelled from Russia by the Bolshevik government in late 1922, in 1924 he settled near Paris and played an active role in émigré and French intellectual and cultural life. His books were translated into many languages. His critique of the revolutionary intelligentsia and his articulation of the Russian idea had a profound impact on late Soviet and post-Soviet thought.

Berdyayev's philosophy is anthroposophic, personalistic, subjective, and eschatological. He emphasized the supreme value of the person, opposed all forms of objectification, and exalted a freedom unconstrained by norms or laws, including the laws of nature. Rejecting all dogmas, orthodoxies, systems, and institutions, and all forms of determinism, he linked freedom with creativity, which he considered man's true vocation, and taught that man is a co-creator with God. By "man" he meant men; he regarded "woman" as "generative but not creative." He interpreted the Bolshevik Revolution as part of a pan-European crisis, the imminent end of the civilization that began in the Renaissance, and looked forward to a period he called the new middle ages.

The literature on Berdyayev is extensive and varied. Some authors exalt him as a philosopher of freedom, others emphasize his utopianism, and still others consider him a heretic.


Berdiaev, Nicolas. (1955). The Meaning of the Creative Act, tr. Donald Lowrie. New York: Harper.

Lowrie, Donald. (1960). Rebellious Prophet: A Life of Nikolai Berdiaev. New York: Harper.

Zenkovsky, V. V. (1953). A History of Russian Philosophy, tr. George L. Kline. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal

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Berdyayev, Nikolai Alexandrovich

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