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Il'in, Ivan Aleksandrovich (1883–1954)

IL'IN, IVAN ALEKSANDROVICH
(18831954)

Ivan Aleksandrovich Il'in was a Russian religious philosopher, legal and political theorist, philosopher of Russian national identity, orator, and publicist. Born in Moscow of a noble family, he studied law at Moscow University, from which he graduated in 1906. Deemed an extraordinary scholarly achievement, his dissertation on Georg Hegel (17701831) earned him at once master's and doctoral degrees in 1918. The two volumes of his published dissertation, Filosofiia Gegelia kak uchenie o konkretnosti Boga i cheloveka (The philosophy of Hegel as a doctrine of the concreteness of God and man, 1918), have been described as one of the more significant commentaries on Hegel published in the twentieth century in any language (Grier 1997). As a resolute foe of the Bolsheviks, he was exiled from Soviet Russia under threat of execution. Il'in and his wife left Russia for Germany in 1922. He was a renowned anti-Bolshevik and anticommunist, which suited the Nazis, but his critique of totalitarianism was not at all appreciated by the Nazi regime. Moreover, in 1934 he refused to accept their orders to spread Nazi propaganda in the Russian Academic Institute and was subsequently removed from his post by them and banned from all further employment. Finally, in 1938 he and his wife escaped from Nazi Germany and found refuge in Switzerland.

In his book Religioznyi smysl filosofii (The religious meaning of philosophy, 1925) Il'in proposed the following task to his readers: "To find authentic, spiritually objective environments." The spiritual labor of such a philosopher approximates that of the monk. They differ only in that the former occurs in the realm of cognition, while the latter seeks redemption. Both the philosopher and the monk comprehend, Il'in believed, that the world is "really a school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, a training ground where they learn to know God" (see St. Basil the Great's [c. 329379] Hexaëmeron 1.6).

Political Theory of Legal Consciousness

Convinced that Hegel's doctrine of right and the state was ultimately a failure, Il'in began to elaborate his own theory in 1919, while still in Soviet Russia. It was published posthumously as O sushchnosti pravosoznaniia (On the essence of legal consciousness) in 1956. The central notion in it is pravosoznanie, from pravo (right or law) and soznanie (consciousness), which can perhaps best be translated as "legal consciousness." He formulated three axioms of legal consciousness"a feeling of one's own spirit dignity; an ability to self-obligation and self-government; a mutual respect and trust of people to each other" (1956b, chapters 15, 17, 19)and added nine axioms of authority, which included its pravovoe polnomochie (legal plenary powers), that the state authority must be edina (singular) and that it must be realized by "the best" people who meet ethical and political qualification (chapter 14). Then he joined natural law and positive law (i.e., legal norms including agreement with morality and justice, and legal norms established by legal authority and being subject to application) in an appropriate way: "A rational system of positive law would reflect the structure of natural law" (chapters 5, 6). Unfortunately, our political reality does not give a good example of even an approximate realization of such a doctrine.

Ethics Doctrine

On the Essence of Legal Consciousness contains a number of uncommon but profound observations that are useful to any national leader who wishes to have "a deeper religious and moral motivation" for ruling, for example, to follow Il'in's conception in which "the ultimate justification of state authority would be the development in the citizenry of a moral, legal and spiritual culture in which the requirements of natural rights would be so widely exemplified in human conduct as to make genuine self-government a reality" (Grier 1998, p. 693)

In 1925 Il'in published his polemical book O soprotivlenii zlu siloiu (On resistance to evil by force), concerning an important dual ethical problem: "May a human being who is trying to achieve ethical perfection resist evil by force, using the sword?" and "May a human being who believes in God and accepts His creation, and who knows his place in this created world not resist evil by force, using the sword?" (1925, chapter 19). Il'in gave a single direct answer to both: that one not only may but must also resist evil by force. He wrote:

Physical intervention and coercion may become the direct religious and patriotic duty of a human being; and once this happens one must not evade it. To fulfill this duty is to become a participant in the great historical battle between God's servants and the forces of the underworld; and this battle will force him not only to draw his sword but to take upon himself the burden of homicide. (chapter 19)

This book evoked a strong response not only in the Russian émigré community but in the Soviet Union as well (Poltoratzky 1975, Lisitsa 1996).

Il'in lived and worked with the single-minded purpose of reconstructing Russia in an authentic way in the aftermath of the Bolshevik regime. He wrote Osnovy gosudarstvennogo ustroistva: Proekt Osnovnogo Zakona Rossii (The foundations of government: A proposal for the fundamental law of Russia, 1996) as a post-Bolshevik constitution. Between 1940 and 1954 he produced 215 anonymous bulletins for a restricted list of readers only, and these Nashi zadachi: Stat'i 19481954 (Our tasks: Articles 19481954) were published in 1956 in two volumes only after his death. This two-volume work is nothing other than an "Axiomatics of Political Life," analogous to his Aksiomy religioznogo opyta (Axioms of religious experience, 1953); it is clearly intended to treat the disease of "political nihilism."

Religious Thoughts

Between 1938 and 1945 Il'in created in German a wonderful literary triptychIch schaue in Leben: Ein Buch der Besinnung (I am peering into life: A book of thoughts, 19381939), Das verloschollene Herz: Ein Buch stiller Betrachtungen (The singing heart: A book of quiet contemplations, 1943), and Blick in die Ferne: Ein Buch der Einsichten und Hoffnungen (A look in the distance: A book of reflections and hopes, 1945)and described it as "devoted not to theology, but to a quiet, philosophical praising of God." Despite all the striving of humanity to unveil the mystery of world creation, it has been losing access to this mystery on the path that it has selected. "For the world remains as before," wrote Il'in, "i.e., a great mysterious wonder, created by a rational inner Authority, carried by a rational inner force, and moving toward a certain inner goal" (Put' k ochevidnosti [The path to self-evidence], 1957, chapter 18). And this "lost mystery" might be returned to humanity through a contemplative heart, but only if the heart is open, loving, and marveling.

In 1953 Il'in published in Paris Axioms of Religious Experience, his main work, in two volumes on which he had been working for thirty-three years. It was a profound and original investigation of the personal "religious act." One of its axioms, "The autonomy of religious experience," and the motifs connected with it, such as "loneliness" and "tragedy in the world," were received somewhat critically by the Russian theologians Archimandrite Kostantin Zaitsev and Father Vladislav Sveshnikov. And yet Il'in derived this axiom from one of the Church Fathers, Petrus Chrysologus, who described God as solus, sed non solitarius (God alone is, but He is not lonely).

When Il'in died on December 21, 1954, and was buried in a cemetery in the village of Zollikon, near Zürich, there appeared on his monument an epitaph composed by the philosopher himself:

Alles empfunden (Felt it all
So viel gelitten Suffered so much
In Liebe geschauet Had it revealed through love
Manches verschuldet Guilty of some things
Und wenig verstanden Understood very little
Danke Dir, ewige Güte! Thank you, eternal Goodness!) (Il'in 1993).

Il'in's legacy is enormous and well preserved. It contains more than 40 books and brochures, 600 articles, 100 lectures, a large collection of letters, humorous poems, several "naive political fairy tales," memoirs, and documents that are in several archives in various countries. Il'in's largest archive was organized in 1963 by Professor Nikolai Poltoratsky at Michigan State University Libraries. This collection and other materials are being published as a project of the publisher Russkaia Kniga (Russian Book) in Moscow, and are expected to contain forty volumes in the series I. A. Il'in: Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh (Il'in, I. A., Collected Works), Moscow: Russkaia Kniga, 19931999.

See also Authority; Consciousness; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Natural Law; Philosophy of Religion, History of; Russian Philosophy.

Bibliography

primary works

Aksiomy religioznogo opyta (Axioms of religious experience). 2 vols. Paris: n.p., 1953.

Blick in die Ferne: Ein Buch der Einsichten und Hoffnungen (A look in the distance: A book of reflections and hopes). Affoltern a.A.: Aehren-Verlag, 1945.

Das verloschollene Herz: Ein Buch stiller Betrachtungen (The singing heart: A book of quiet contemplations). Bern: Verlag Paul Haupt, 1943.

Filosofiia Gegelia kak uchenie o konkretnosti Boga i cheloveka (The philosophy of hegel as a doctrine of the concreteness of God and man). Moscow: Russkaia Kniga, 2002. Originally published in 1918. 2 vols. (Moscow: Izd. G.A. Lemana i S.I. Sakharova, 1918).

I. A. Il'in: Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh. Vol. 1. Moscow: Russkaia Kniga, 1993.

Ich schaue in Leben: Ein Buch der Besinnung (I am peering into life: A book of thoughts), Berlin: Furche-Verlag, 19381939.

Nashi zadachi: Stat'i 19481954 (Our tasks: Articles 19481954), 2 Vols. Paris: Izd-vo Russkago Obshche-Voennago Soìuza, 1956a.

O soprotivlenii zlu siloiu (On resistance to evil by force). (1925). London, Canada: Zaria, 1975.

O sushchnosti pravosoznaniia (On the essence of legal consciousness). Münich: n.p., 1956b.

Osnovy gosudarstvennogo ustroistva: Proekt Osnovnogo Zakona Rossii (The foundations of government: A proposal for the fundamental law of Russia). Moscow: Rarog, 1996.

Put' dukhovnogo obnovleniia (The path of spiritual renewal). (1935). Münich: n.p., 1962.

Put' k ochevidnosti (The path to manifest truth). Münich: n.p., 1957.

Religioznyi smysl filosofii (The religious meaning of philosophy). Paris: YMCA Press, 1925.

secondary works

Grier, Philip. "Il'in, Ivan Aleksandrovich." In Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 4. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

Grier, Philip. "The Speculative Concrete: I. A. Il'in's Interpretation of Hegel." In Hegel, History, and Interpretation, edited by Shaun Gallagher, 169193. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Lisitsa, Iurii. "O soprotivlenii zlu siloiu pro et contra. Polemika vokrug idei I.A. Il'ina" (On opposing evil with force pro et contra: The controversy over I. A. Il'in's ideas), an appendix to I. A. Il'in: Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh. Vol. 5. Moscow: Russkaia Kniga, 1996.

Poltoratzky, N. I. A. Il'in i polemika vokrug ego idei o soprotivlenii zlu siloiu (I. A. Il'in and the controversy surrounding his idea of opposing evil with force). London, Canada: Zaria, 1975.

Poltoratzky, N. Ivan Aleksandrovich Il'in: Zhizn', trudy, mirovozzrenie: Sbornik statei (Ivan Aleksandrovich Il'in: Life, works, worldview: A collection of articles). Tenafly, NJ: Ermitazh, 1989.

Robinson, P. "On Resistance to Evil by Force: Ivan Il'in and Necessity of War." Journal of Military Ethics (2003) 2 (2): 145159.

St. Basil the Great. Hexaëmeron. The Master Christian Library, Version 5, 1997, AGES Software, www.ageslibrary.com

Iurii Lisitsa (2005)

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