Communities of Dialogue Russian and Ukrainian Émigrés in Modernist Prague

Conference | Paper

Berdjaev's Titanic Response to Titanism

Emanuel Landolt

Thursday 23 May 2024

16:45 - 17:30


Titanism is considered as the expression of a crisis in the referential values determining human acts. Human agency should be liberated from its inner and external moral, institutional constraints. As a transitory state (the titanic figures lives on the edge of his epoch) titanism can either persist in its tragic dimension or lead to a real transmutation of values and actions. It is both the expression of modern anxiety and solitude and of new possibilities and horizons. Berdiaev's philosophy bears witness to an ambiguity inherent in Titanism itself, at once fascinating and critical. In The Sources and Origins of Russian Communism (written in 1937), Berdiaev traces the genealogy of Titanism, re-reading it as an intensification of characteristics specific to Russian culture (apocalyptic spirit, nihilism, etc.).  Russian communism becomes the hypostatic expression of titanism in Russian (and world) culture (the triumph of a collective will) and thus appears as an organic, internal process, in which cultural dispositions unfold towards progressive radicalism. If titanism reflects an inner cultural process (in which early manifestation of its spirit are already seminal), then Titanism must be read against itself and not as an external phenomenon (which would be an imposed model), and more broadly as an heroic struggle of human nature against itself which could definitely lead to weariness and melancholy as described in essays by Masaryk and Černy.

We will try to answer the question whether anarchism or radical existentialism are forms of titanic responses to titanism destined to complete human transmutation. A transmutation exposed to the risk of destruction. Read from an anthropological perspective, titanism is an overcoming of human nature, through the rebellion against all kinds of order, or moral laws. If man has the capacity to resist the titanic temptation (through ascesis, Berdiaev opposes the figure of the saint and the genius), he is also able to endorse it fully and direct it towards something creative rather than destructive, etc. Therefore, in order to escape the titanic tragic condition (Faust), Berdiaev explores a radical escape from man’s tragic condition through freedom, mystical anarchism and creation, thus forming an idiosyncrasic titanic response to titanism. A process described later by philosopher Reiner Schürmann (reading Heidegger) under the striking oxymoron of the “principle of anarchy” which appears on periods of epochal changes.  Human agency is now without arché, and metaphysics is not able to refer to originary principles to regulate human acts. Berdiaev articulates this discovery of the anarchic dimension of human agency through his critique of metaphysics in two aspects, corresponding to different evolution phases, particularly in his philosophy of creation, insisting on the possibility of theurgy and in his philosophy of freedom (notably in his reading of Boehme's Ungrund).