Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Nikolay Berdyayev, one of the foremost religious thinkers of modern Russia, pays homage in MIROSOZERTZANIE DOSTOIEVSKAGO (original English title: THE WORLD-OUTLOOK OF DOSTOIEVSKY) to the major influence upon his unique interpretation of Jesus Christ and the role of Christianity in the twentieth century. While his critical study throws considerable light on Dostoevsky’s philosophy, it admittedly reveals Berdyayev’s own religious and ethical concerns to such an extent that critic and subject are inseparable. In the first part of his analysis Berdyayev, beginning with a portrait of the Russian mind, discusses Dostoevsky’s conceptions of man, freedom, evil, and love. In the second, he turns more to the implications of these conceptions in terms of modern Russia, politics, and especially their most complete statement, THE GRAND INQUISITOR, the famous chapter from THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. Altogether, the critical study provides a significant key for the understanding of Berdyayev’s remarkable intellectual career as well as for Dostoevsky’s works.

Asserting that he thinks Dostoevsky Russia’s greatest metaphysician, Berdyayev wants to unfold the dynamic ideas that he calls Dostoevsky’s conception of the world. The Russian mind, he claims as a basis of his study, is an antagonistic dualism, in which the natural tendency is to seek such extremes that the individual is sharply torn by mutually exclusive positions. The “nihilists” avidly seek anarchy, atheism, and self-destruction; the “apocalypsists” want only the most excessive ascetism and a messianic revival. These two sides of the Russian spirit are more fully expressed in Dostoevsky’s fiction than in any other philosophy or literature; they create the passion that makes his novels so disturbing. This passion is the tragic view of human destiny, a view that he was able to communicate because he fully expressed the dualism that he found in himself and also because he saw life in depth, never on the surface. By holding the dualism that he found in himself and also because he saw life in depth, never on the surface, and by keeping the dualism always in its greatest tension, he created the true human spirit as it faces tragedy, undergoes purification through suffering, and finds release in Christ.

Although opposed to Humanism, Dostoevsky’s absorbing theme was man and man’s destiny; this theme was developed in such an intense manner that the inability of Humanism to solve the tragedy of human destiny is completely undermined. All of his novels are built around a single character who is the center of a whirlpool of passions that drive him away from a social framework; once the character completely alienates himself, he believes that he is emancipated from law and from God. But this “freedom” is the condition through which Dostoevsky plunges into the inner depths of man. According to the Humanistic view of the modern world, this alienated character should be free, but Dostoevsky shows that his freedom is really a descent into Hell, for the character develops an unhealthy self-love that makes him introspective and consequently miserable. Human nature, being extreme, antinomian, and irrational, is overwhelmingly attracted toward lawless freedom, and this lawlessness can end only in the deification of man or the discovery of God. In other words, freedom is a test that leads either to misery or to release; it is the essential condition of tragic suffering.

The justification both of God and of man rests in human freedom; thus, all of Dostoevsky’s novels are concerned with the experiment of human liberty. Freedom is an...

(The entire section is 1494 words.)