Nicolai Berdyaev wrote The Destiny of Man as an exile in Paris, following a long philosophical journey that began in his native Russia. Born in czarist Russia in Kiev to an aristocratic father who was a skeptical disciple of Voltaire and to a mother of French descent sympathetic to Catholicism, Berdyaev gradually moved from skepticism to Christianity in the form of the Russian Orthodox faith, following a brief infatuation with Marxism as a youth. From the first he rejected the materialism of Marxism, and he had turned to philosophic idealism before embracing the passion for spiritual freedom in certain Russian thinkers, most notably in Fyodor Dostoevski’s impressive fiction.
After reactionary forces in czarist Russia exiled him to a rural province near Kiev, Berdyaev began to engage in religious speculation with intellectual groups during residence in St. Petersburg, Paris, and Moscow before accepting the Orthodox faith. Despite his conversion, however, he explored Christian theology from a critical position, an approach that brought him into conflict with his church’s conservative hierarchy, and his lifelong support of social reform and liberal causes caused friction first with the czarist government and later with the Soviet administration.
An energetic writer, Berdyaev published numerous articles and books on religion and social issues during his fourteen years in Moscow, despite much opposition. However, after the Russian Revolution, his work brought him into irreconcilable conflict with the Communist government, thereby causing permanent exile in 1922. After a brief residence in Berlin, he settled permanently in Paris, where he became a lecturer and prolific author on theological themes and often worked to bring about rapprochement between French Catholics and French Protestants.
Berdyaev considered himself to be an existentialist because he did not believe in the validity of building a philosophical...
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