WAR, PROGRESS, AND THE END OF HISTORY, INCLUDING A SHORT STORY OF THE ANTI-CHRIST: THREE DISCUSSIONS
WE are living in a time when half the world is plunged in the bellicose element and the normal life of mankind has imbibed war as its natural component, which like a fluid has filled it to its farthest boundaries, penetrating everywhere, bringing its hydraulic pressure on every member of the human community, crushing and sweeping away the weak and unstable, and strengthening and consolidating those endowed with a more robust constitution -- when, in a word, war has become a matter of everyday life and, in common with everyday occurrences, has restricted our attention to the events of today and the possible developments of tomorrow. At such a time a peculiar significance attaches to the voice of a philosopher who, by the power of his mighty spirit, is able to probe into the destinies of mankind farther than has been granted to others, and to whom a new and startling aspect of the purpose and meaning of human life has been revealed.
In a characteristically Russian manner, Vladimir Soloviev refuses to confine himself to the immediate bearings and aspects of the war-problem, but fearlessly subjects it to examination sub specie aeternitatis. For him war is only a part of the more general question of fighting evil, and it is his original conception of evil which is the guiding principle in his analysis. It is impossible to go into the metaphysical theories of Soloviev here. A few explanations are, however, necessary, lest the reader, puzzled by the quaint and seemingly unsubstantiated prophecies of future developments, should regard them as the product of an irresponsible mind given to fancies and hallucinations. "The Three Discussions" is not a creation of an inexperienced young man, whose youth could, perhaps, be held responsible for its "fantastic character." On the contrary, it is the crowning achievement of the philosopher's life, embodying his last and final conclusions on the evolution and future of mankind.
Through all the works of Soloviev there runs one cardinal thought: the idea of the evolution of the world which has made humanity a factor in the life of Deity itself, has imbued it with God's spirit in the form of "God-human-ness" and has destined it for a final union with God "the all-unity" by overcoming that power which, though emanating from God, has severed itself from Him, has created the material world, and has been the cause of existing evil. The realisation of this process in the life of humanity, the ever-growing unity with God, was pictured by Soloviev differently at different periods of his life. There was a period when he believed that such a unity would be possible in this world, and that it would be accomplished by a transformation of the present-day states into a world theocracy. In this transformation a mission of special importance was assigned to Russia, who was believed to nourish within herself the idea of universal salvation. Soloviev was not alone in these hopes of God's Kingdom on Earth, and of the mission of Russia in their realisation. He shared them and, moreover, practically worked them out in close co-operation with his friend, Dostoievsky, who, for his own part, gave expression to them in his famous novel, "The Brothers Karamazov." But towards the close of his life, Soloviev began to see things differently. No longer could he believe in the realisation of God's Kingdom in this world. Only by a complete victory over the world that is sunk in evil, only by a general resurrection of all living beings could the unity with the "All-One" be achieved. And this end will be attained, not through the union of the State and the Church, led and headed by the spiritual power of Russia, as he previously believed, but by means of the union of true Christians of all persuasions, fighting against those who regard this world as the only Kingdom of God.
This idea forms the basis of his "Story of the Anti-Christ," and it will be observed that in his picture of the reign of the Anti-Christ he actually turns the weapons against himself and his former aspirations of God's Kingdom on Earth. But fearless as this renunciation is, it is not presented altogether fairly in the "Three Discussions." Here Leo Tolstoy has been made the scapegoat of the philosopher's indignation. Apart from the truth of Soloviev's conception of evil and the Anti-Christ, which, of course, can be disputed on more grounds than one, the fact that Tolstoy, with his preaching of non-resistance and moral perfection, is singled out as a forerunner of the Anti-Christ, shows all the signs of a bias, sincere and involuntary, no doubt, but nevertheless hardly justified in fact; particularly so in the light of Soloviev's own opinion that the element of Anti-Christ has been present in all the historical forms of Christianity, and, we may add, was not entirely absent from even his own system. This inconsistency, however, detracts very little from the value and significance of Soloviev's teaching. In whatever form a man's own intuition may assimilate the external world, whatever metaphysical conceptions may be built up on the basis of such intuition, one cannot help recognising that in Soloviev's philosophy an original and singularly profound aspect of the world finds an extremely lucid, consistent, and exhaustive presentation. The essential feature of Soloviev, as of all the Russian thinkers and, one would like to say, of all the spiritual life of Russia, is the earnestness, the burning spirit with which truth is sought and the aims of life are conceived and pursued. It is for this reason that a mere rational comprehension can never suffice for a full and true appreciation of a Russian thinker. To experience his truth one has to descend below the mechanism of his ideas to the abysses of his spirit where the eternal thirst for knowledge moulds itself into his individual perception of the world. Unfortunately, not everybody is capable of doing so, and just at present there is to be perceived a dangerous tendency to "superficialise," if one may say so, the hitherto much ignored spiritual life of Russia, in the attempt to present it to the eyes of the British public: since the essential condition of appreciation is a personal experience, and the agony and vicissitudes of spiritual development seem to be little familiar to the greater number of would-be interpreters of the Russian soul. Yet it is this depth and earnestness that distinguish Russia as a nation. If any mission be at all assigned to her in the future destinies of Western Europe, it is not to deliver any particular message, but rather to stimulate and set aflame the slumbering spirit of the cultured world. "Ex oriente lux" the Slavophiles used to say -- "Ex oriente ignis" would, perhaps, be more in conformity with the ardent spirit of Russia.
Whilst translating the "Three Discussions," I have been fortunate enough to secure the assistance of a number of English friends, to whom I wish to record my great indebtedness. In particular, my thanks are due to Mr. Robert Finch, who has carefully edited my manuscript; and to Mr. G. H. Green, who has helped me in the work of reading the proofs, and has also rendered Count Alexis Tolstoy's verses into English metre, preserving, as far as possible, the grotesque character of the Russian original.