11 November 2021

Blog name change

So, over the past several months, I have had the fortune (whether for good or ill, or simply funny) to be mistaken for a British person based on the title of my blog. This being in spite of the explanation I have had linked in the sidebar for the past several years. I am not, in fact, British and have no intention of being so. I do have British ancestry. I also have been a member of the Episcopal Church in the past and still feel a sense of fondness and warmth toward that faith and toward English culture generally. Yet, it still seems a bit misleading, even sinful, to encourage my readers or visitors to persist in a misconception about who I am and where I come from, especially given the importance I place on doyikayt. As such, I am renaming the blog The Heavy Anglophile Orthodox, which should hopefully place me in the minds of my readers on the correct side of the pond. In the meantime, I can only apologise for the confusion I have already caused!

08 November 2021

A spectre is haunting Christendom…

In his article ‘Philosophical verity and intelligentsia truth’, written for Landmarks in 1905, Nikolai Berdyaev made the following observations about Marxism and its interpretation by the Russian intelligentsia.
It must be said that the objective and scientific side of Marxism contained a healthy kernel… but on the whole we misunderstood economic materialism and Marxism. We construed them ‘subjectively’ and adapted them to the intelligentsia’s traditional psychology. Economic materialism lost its objective character: production and creation were reduced to secondary importance, while the subjective, class side of Social Democracy came to the fore. The Russian Marxists were possessed by an extreme love for equality, combined with extreme faith in the nearness of the socialist consummation and in the possibility of achieving this consummation in Russia even sooner, perhaps, than in the West. The element of objective truth was completely submerged in the subjective element.
Berdyaev would maintain this line throughout his career. His book on The Russian Revolution, compiled in 1931, more fully explored this theme. Berdyaev’s understanding of Karl Marx was twofold: on the one hand, he deeply respected Marx as an objective social critic and the explicator of a particular method of analysis. On the other hand, however, he found certain of Marx’s assumptions objectionable on metaphysical grounds. What he objected to most in Marx was his lack of a qualitative dimension in the consideration of production – he could find no room in Marx for the æsthetic, the purely creative impulse. In Berdyaev’s reading of Marx, all production was quantitative, was ‘ant-hill’ production. (Personally, I find this objection a trifle unfair. Marx had a genuine and heartfelt love for the poetry and pathos of William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets that both transcended and illuminated his class analysis.) His other objection to Marx’s thought was that it carried with it a deterministic teleology grounded in an unfulfilled or frustrated messianic religious impulse: and here I tend to think Berdyaev is on firmer ground.

But note what both of these criticisms share! Berdyaev aimed his critiques of Marx at his implied metaphysics, not at his methodology! Indeed, Berdyaev’s praise above of the ‘objective and scientific side’ of Marxism refers precisely to his ‘materialist’ methods of historical analysis. What he found dangerous in Marxism was the tendency – a tendency Marx himself warned against – of imbuing the proletarian class with a kind of religious-idealist ‘mystique’. In the Russian-Soviet formulation of Marxism, this mystique became the criterion against which all cultural and ideological output was judged. And it was precisely this mystique that Berdyaev characterised as a Christian hæresy in The Russian Revolution. It was precisely this mystique that Berdyaev convincingly convicted of having its own mythology, its own sacred rites, its own priests, its own holy texts, its own apocalyptic messianism.

Berdyaev’s understanding – however amorphous and unsystematic – of a Christian socialism, attempted to merge what he considered to be the objective methodology of Karl Marx with the subjective impulse for the creative that animated a decided non-socialist like Solovyov, the relational impulse for the vertical ascent that animated a reactionary socialist like Leont’ev, and the metaphysical impulse to explore the individual in all his moral and subconscious depth that animated an ex-radical Orthodox Christian novelist like Dostoevsky. It is not altogether clear that he succeeded in doing so, and indeed by the end of his career he cast doubts on his own wisdom in that pursuit. But it was in pursuit of just such a synthesis that Saint Maria of Paris and Saint Il’ya Fondaminskii won martyrdom for the Orthodox faith at the hands of the Nazis.

This would seem to suggest that the liberation theologians in the tradition of Gutierrez and Boff were, in a certain sense, right. Inductively, the Marxist methodology appears valid, and is a valid way of representing a fuller sense of historical truth. For obvious reasons, Christians cannot accept the metaphysics that grew out of Marxism, which lend themselves to a hard determinism and to a tolerance of ‘natural’ evil and sacrifice of personhood. Berdyaev, who began his career as a dedicated Marxist, ultimately found this intolerable. But still, the spectre of Marx continues to haunt us, and with good reason, as we see a billionaire class which is hoarding ever greater shares of the world’s resources, intruding into all of our lives with greater frequency and impunity, entertaining fever dreams of hacking human beings (see also here).

As the global œconomy transitions from capitalism into something even more hideous and unrecognisable – what Yanis Varoufakis calls ‘techno-feudalism’ – the billionaire class is currently attempting to harness the world’s wealth toward cheating death with cryogenics and consciousness transference and guaranteeing their own survival (but no one else’s) in perpetuity. If humankind wants to survive on any sort of recognisable level, we must find some way to stop this ‘project’ before it strips human beings of their humanity. All theologies, insofar as they can inform anthropologies, must become theologies of liberation.