N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)

WAR AND ESCHATOLOGY

(Russian)


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Journal Putí, 1939, No. 61, p. 3-14.

(1939 - # 452)

I.

"Ye shalt hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled; for it is necessary for all this to be. But this is not the end: for nation shalt rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shalt be famines, plagues and earthquakes". This is spoken in a small apocalyptic passage in the Gospel [Mt. 24: 6-7]. The Bible is full of narratives about wars. The books of the Prophets, the summit of the religious consciousness of the ancient Hebrews, has as one of its chief themes the reconciliation of the terrors and injustices of wars with an almighty Jehovah, with the Providence of God. And with the Hebrew people namely there was most of all a particularly acute and strong sense of the almightiness of God. Great misfortunes in the fate of the Hebrew people they attempted to explain as the inscrutable ways of the Providence of God, leading His people to a final victory through tribulations, sufferings and chastisements for their falling-away. The problem that was faced is the same, as the problem that faces also the modern consciousness. Jehovah was initially a tribal God, a war-God. Only later did there arise the consciousness of the universal God, the all-encompassing God. There occurred a contention between the universal God and a merely pagan-like natural God. And in essence the modern civilised consciousness also, having returned to the ancient paganism, has withdrawn not far off from that ancient pagan aspect of the awareness of God in the Jewish people. Modern Germany stands is set fully upon that ancient pagan mindset.

The eschatological problem within Christianity facing us can assume two different senses. All the Christian faith-confessions have their own eschatological aspect, all the theological tracts have their eschatological chapters, although the eschatologies tend to be shoved off to the background. But the problem can be put otherwise. There is possible an eschatological understanding of Christianity. Many of the scientific historians of Christianity, independent of any confessional grounds, insist upon the eschatological understanding of Christianity, as the solely credible. At any rate, the earliest Christianity was eschatological. The eschatological understanding of Christianity, which was the Gospel good-news about the coming of the Kingdom of God, became confused with an historical understanding. Christianity entered into history. Between the First and the Second Coming o Christ was discerned a prolonged and tortuous historical process. Historical Christianity rendered itself accommodating to this world, in compromise with this world, a distortion of the true and eschatological Christianity, the Christianity of the end-times, as the onset of the Kingdom of God, replacing it with a Christianity of the personal salvation of the soul. But it is impossible to deny, that Christianity is essentially eschatological. There can be naught other, besides the eschatological, without distorting Christianity.

History has always been about the military aspect primarily, and full of wars. There were only comparatively brief periods of peace, of relative quiet, which was easily shattered. History has elapsed upon a volcanic soil and periodically the lava has erupted out. History ought to have an end, to finish, since history is war. There is an eschatological moment within history, as though an inner apocalypse of history. This eschatological moment is sensed with an especial alacrity during catastrophic eras, during the wars, during the revolutions, during the crises of civilisation. War is an historical phenomenon primarily, and together with this, the terrors of war provide people a sharp eschatological sense of the near closeness of the end. Thus also in the life of individual people the eschatological sense becomes heightened in catastrophic tribulations, in sufferings, in the closeness of death. War is a matter of history primarily, and together with this, war is always a point of contact with the end of history. We tend to speak conditionally about apocalyptic epochs and in such epochs people are readily tempted by false prophecies about the ensuing end of the world in a certain year of historical time. But in a more profound sense all epochs are apocalyptic and the end is always near. Only in relatively tranquil times does the eschatological sensed become dulled for people. The rise of apocalyptic dispositions does not however yet signify a chronological closeness of the end of the world. And indeed it would be a mistake, chronological understanding of the end of the world, its objectification within historical time. For 1,000 they have awaited the end of the world. In the era of the Reformation there were strong eschatological outlooks. After the French Revolution and during the era of the Napoleonic Wars, intellectual Europe was saturated with apocalyptic and eschatological currents. They awaited the end of the world, the appearance of the Anti-Christ. Jung-Stilling predicted the end of the world in 1836. In the presentiments and predictions of the impending end of the world there is an allure and people often find diversion in such things as these. People often experience it as the end of the world, when there ends an historical epoch, which they loved and to which they were connected, when the customary social order is broken up, or when a social class is displaced, to which they belonged. Shouts that the Anti-Christ is coming, when something is going badly, are very much misused. Presentiments of the end of imperial Russia, flying it off into the abyss, evoked eschatological outlooks and predictions. Presentiments of the end by K. Leont'ev and by Vl. Solov'ev can retrospectively be interpreted as presentiments of the onset of the end of old Russia, but not the end of the world. We see the same thing in the Russian poetry of the pre-Revolutionary era, with A. Blok, A. Bely and others. "We live in an apocalyptic epoch", at present say people, who not at all believe in any sort of Apocalypse. One thing only is believable and indisputable. We live in an epoch of catastrophic historical upheaval, when it is impossible to judge about contemporary events according to the old categories. The weakness of the politicians in our time frequently can be explained by this, that they too much remain under the sway of the old historical categories, and are swept away by the transpiring struggle.

II.

Of the Books of the New Testament, the Apocalypse has always evoked towards itself a wary attitude and generally has been hushed over. This book is an unpleasant reminder about the catastrophic end, about which people prefer not to think, although all make preparations for it. A special literature of interpretation of the Apocalypse exists, which is of a rather low level. It usually presents a completely contrived interpretation of the symbolics of the Apocalypse and bears an obscurantist character. In order to deal critically with the Apocalypse, it is necessary to establish some principles of criteria in regard to the text of Holy Scripture. We cannot still so naively avow the inerrancy of the literal word for word text of the sacred books. The Voice of God, the Word of God, reaches us through the mythic and obscured human means, i.e. corresponding to he spiritual condition of the people and the structural composite of their consciousness. The Word of God is not received by people automatically, as something always identical and passive, independent of how the people are constituted. In the apperception of revelation there is also man that is active. And often this activeness can be negative, reflective of the lower aspects of people. In the human interpretation of he Word of God we find elements of distortive sociomorphism. There is therefore necessary a gradual cleansing, a spiritualisation and humanisation of the means, apperceptive of the Word of God. A tremendous spiritual effort is necessary, to hear the Word of God in its purity. A tremendous significance in this process of cleansing can be had by Biblical criticism, by an impartial historical science, by creative philosophical thought. An anthropomorphic and sociomorphic apperception of the Word of God, in the bad sense, corresponds to the enslavement obtaining in the condition of human societies, it has set its own special seal also upon the apocalyptic books, in the form of a vengeful eschatology. A most interesting pre-Christian apocalyptic book, not included in the canon of the Bible, is the Book of Enoch, and it is pervaded by motifs of revenge of the righteous, of the good against sinners, the wicked. It describes the judgement trial over sinners, taking place in the presence of the righteous, who as it were sit in the front rows and take delight at the terrifying trial of the sinners, and who delight at the fierce punishments, to which the sinners are sentenced. The end of the world becomes thus an horrid blood-letting, a fierce war. And there is an element of a vengeful, fierce eschatology also in the Christian Apocalypse. There is nothing more contrary, than the spirit and style of the Apocalypse from that of the Gospel of John. And it is difficult to admit, that these books were written by one and the same person. Vengeful eschatological motifs play a large role also in the teachings of Bl. Augustine about the two cities. The earthly city for him begins with a murder, with the deed of Cain, and it ends with murder, with war, death and hell. The interpretation of the Apocalypse, which often is avowed as being in an orthodox framework, was drawn upon the conditions of this world and received essentially a very materialistic hue. This was an interpretation set within the mindset of the enslavement of this world, in which reigns determinism and fate. And it cannot be otherwise, since the Apocalypse is, first of all, the foresight of the immanent paths of evil, the paths opposed to the search for the Kingdom of God. Therefore into the darkness of the end only seldom does there break through rays of light of the new heaven and the new earth, and the vision of chastisements predominates over any visions of transfiguration. But in this is the conditional aspect of the apocalyptic prophecies, about which N. Fedorov speaks so boldly and profoundly. The basic problem, which faces us here, is the problem of Christian eschatology and progress.

III.

The Apocalypse prophesies about the paths of evil, about the appearance of the Anti-Christ, about the destruction of this world. Pessimistic interpretations of the Apocalypse indisputably predominate. The philosophy of the Apocalypse, which is a philosophy of history, leads in summation to a basic problem. Is the Apocalypse to be understood, as fate, as an inexorable pronouncing of condemnatory-sentence by God in regard to human destinies, as a denial of human freedom? I think, that such a fatalistic understanding of the Apocalypse is profoundly contrary to Christianity, as a religion of God-manhood. The final fate of mankind is dependent upon God and upon man. Human freedom and human creativity co-participate in the preparation of the end, and it is a Divine-human process that leads up to the end of things. The end of history and of the world not only is wrought over man, but also is wrought by man. Man goes forth to meet the Second Coming of Christ in the preparatory deeds done by him, the acts of his free creativity make ready for the Kingdom of God. Christ will come in power and glory to a mankind, preparing itself for His Coming. It is impossible to consider the activities of God in regard to mankind and the world, as being merely those of a deus ex machina. The attitude towards the end of the world cannot be only an awaiting by man, it ought also to be an activity of man, his creative deed. Least of all can there be justified the passivity of man, a folding of the arms, a refusal of any creativity on the grounds, that the catastrophic end of the world is nigh. This -- is a defeatist mindset, a betrayal of the task, set before man. Each man is prepared for death, amidst poor health, and in his declining years he cannot sustain before him the prospect of a prolonged time. But from this personal eschatological awareness it cannot be concluded, that a man ought to give up on every activity and every deed. Creative activity in view of this can even become heightened. The acts, done by man, have no sort of connection with these cosmic and historical times, they are connected with existential time.

Alike false is both the idea of necessary progress and the idea of necessary regress. There does not exist a law of progress and a law of regress. This is a product of a false deterministic world-outlook, a transfer onto spirit of the naturalistic categories. The problem of progress is a problem of spirit, and not a problem of a process within nature. Progress, i.e. improvement and ascent, is a task set before the human spirit, and not some sort of law-posited natural and historical process. Within empirical history there are alike both progressive and regressive processes, and there is not some sort of law of necessity, on the strength of which one process ought to win out over the other. The theory of progress from the XIX Century, transformed into its own peculiar religion, is false, a theory not corresponding to reality. But this no wise substantiates the right of the reactionary antagonists of progress. Eschatological pessimism is often employed for reactionary and anti-human ends. In this has been the negative side of apocalyptic mindsets, their decadent aspect. And herein it is necessary to deal with a certain equivocation. They tell us, that Christian truth, that the Kingdom of God upon earth, cannot be realised, that no sort of progress is possible, that evil but grows more in the world, that freedom merely begets the evil. And here the question arises, why do they say, that Christian truth is unrealisable, is it because, that with grief and sorrow they recognise that it cannot be realised, or is it, that they do not want its realisation, that they take a wicked delight that it should not be realised? I am convinced, that at the basis of all the reactionary dispositions, in asserting an eschatological pessimism, there lies a lack of desire that the truth should be realised, an aversion to that man should move forward and upwards, that in human life there should be a greater freedom, justice, humanness. The tremendous merit of Konstantin Leont'ev was in this, that he was not afraid to say this straight out, with the radicalism characteristic to him, that he was taking the eschatological pessimism to its logical conclusion. K. Leont'ev did not wish, that Christian truth should be realised in human life, whereby the social life of people should become more human, and free and just, for to him this perspective represented something repugnant, and contrary to his aesthetic mindset. For K. Leont'ev, the realisation of truth was contrary to his aesthetics, while with others, with the majority, it was contrary to their interests. When they tell me, that a more just and human social order cannot be realised, then I always question, where moreso is their emphasis in talking, whether it be upon the realisation of such an order or whether upon its unrealisabilty, since they seem to doing everything they can that it not be realised. And I think, that in the majority of instances, the second scenario is the more credible.

It is necessary to remember, that the very idea of progress, insofar as it is not employed against Christianity, is of Christian origin and connected with the messianic consciousness, with movement towards the Kingdom of God. The idea of progress was foreign to ancient thought, it was absent in Greek philosophy. The utopias of a perfect social order and of unending progress in the first half of the XIX Century are representative of secularised forms of the religious messianic idea, of the messianic expectation, that the Kingdom of God would come. It is striking, that the adherents of eschatological pessimism distinctly believe in the possible realisation of their aims -- a powerful state, an imperialistic expansion of nation, the domination over this earth by their class. The eschatological pessimism no wise leads them to disavow this. The strong and forceful rule of power, which they want to participate in, presents itself to them as an act of God upon earth. Amidst the supposition, that the world lies in evil and that human nature is hopelessly sinful, they want to hold under an iron grip not themselves and their own, but others, oppressed by them. Amidst this condition, life does not present itself so gloomy a thing for them. The practise of an imperialistic will to rule of might, a thing to which are not loathe those eschatologically antagonistic to the liberating processes of mankind, demands a vigourous energy.

The end of the world and history is a Divine-human deed and it presupposes the activity and creativity of man. The end is not something merely awaited, but the rather prepared for. It is impossible to consider the end merely as an immanent chastisement and desolation. The end is likewise a task for man, the task of the transfiguration of the world. "For lo all is made new" refers also to man. The end of the world is a new heaven and a new earth. But the path to this transformation is not a worldly, gradual evolution, this path lies through tragic catastrophes, through desolations. In order to accomplish the transfiguration of the world, i.e. in order that God's design should succeed, man ought to progress, ought to make creative acts, ought to respond to the call of God. There is a fatalism to evil, i.e. its fatal consequences, but there does not exist a fatalism of good. Evil is subject to necessity, the good is oriented towards freedom and is freedom. Automatic good consequences in accord with principles of the laws of the world process there cannot be. Eschatology sets before man a task, an orientation towards freedom. The world will not be transformed and God will not transfigure it by way of coercive act of force. Man ought to transform the world, to transfigure it with God, i.e. to make the Divine-human deed. It is necessary therefore to cast away both alike the pessimistic and the optimistic eschatology. The most accurate thing of all that might be said is that the world has two ends: wars, the rising up of people against people, of kingdom against kingdom, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, the awaiting of the immanent consequences of evil, and -- the transfiguration of the world, the new heaven and the new earth, the Second Coming of Christ.

IV.

Both mistaken and harmful is a sharp opposition between this world and the other, the world beyond the grave. Amidst this perspective, the realisation of Christian truth is wholly displaced over into the world beyond the grave, while yet for this world there remains the beastly law of the jungle, receiving its supreme sanction from eschatological pessimism. In actuality, "this world" does not at all possess untranscendable boundaries, it is not a locked-in world, it is not at all simply a most real of real worlds, within it are possible rifts, in it are possible breakings-through from the other world. In "this world" the authentic world is situated in its modus of existence, characterised as weight of gravity. But there is possible a transfigurative transformation of this world. In the terminology of Kant one could say, that "this world" is appearance and it corresponds to a certain structure of consciousness, whereas the "other world" is the thing-in-itself, which discloses itself amidst a different structure of consciousness. But in distinction to the opinion of Kant, the thing-in-itself is not hidden away in total by an impassable barrier, it breaks through in the appearances, the phenomena, it is active in the world of phenomena. That, which Kant calls a mentally-posited freedom, acts within the world. Therefore it can be said, that in this world there are two worlds, there is in a particular sense this fallen world and there is another world, acting within this world. The basic dualism in essence is not a dualism of two worlds, amidst which every truth is rendered identical in the other world, but rather a dualism of freedom and necessity, of spirit and nature, comprehended as a genuine causal connection. But freedom works acts in the realm of necessity, spirit works acts in the realm of nature. There is possible the struggle of spirit and freedom against the slavery of man in the world, against the slavery of the world itself. From this perspective, the end of the world is a spiritual revolution of the world, a revolution of spiritual freedom. And it signifies, first of all, a transformation of the structure of consciousness. The ossification and restriction of consciousness, corresponding to the heaviness of gravity, ought to become uncongealed and broken apart. If there is a patently false dualism, then it is the dualism which asserts, that eschatology has no sort of relationship to historical actuality, to the social order. Eschatology obtains for every relation, it possesses a relation to every significant act of life. The search for the Kingdom of God encompasses all the fullness of life not only personal, but also social, and the search for the Kingdom of God cannot be understood, as merely the search for the personal salvation of the soul. The restriction of Christianity to the personal salvation of the soul, whilst consigning all the world to falsehood, to evil and the devil, was a distortion of Christianity, its adaptation to the condition of the world and a great failure. The exclusively as such ascetic Christianity, despite its heroic manifestations in the past, was opportunism, a renouncing of the path of the transfiguration of reality.

Quite false is the distinction between the morality of personal acts and the morality of social acts, and it had fatal consequences within the history of Christianity. Every personal act is as such also a social act, it possesses a social effect to a certain degree and extent. Every social act is as such also a personal act, since beyond it stands a man. Man is an integrally whole being and he discloses himself in the acts of his life. A man cannot be a fine Christian in his personal religious life, whereas in his social life, in the capacity of father of a family, the owner of a firm, a representative of power, -- and then draft laws in the spirit of the Anti-Christ, be inhuman, cruel, a despot and an exploiter. This twofold manner of book-keeping has been a disgrace of Christian history. There exists only one morality, one set of God's commandments, and it is not a morality, based upon obedience to a fallen and enslaving world. Opposed to eschatology is morality, the conformity to which is intended to uphold this world. But amidst a more profound perspective it mustneeds be acknowledged, that no sort of morality is there nor can there be except the eschatological, if under morality it be understood, that man makes an hearkening to the Voice of God, and not to the voice of the world. Every authentically moral, every authentically spiritual, authentically creative act is an act eschatological, it ends this world and begins an other and new world. Every moral act is a victory of freedom over necessity, of Divine humanness over natural humanness. If one feed the starving or liberate the Negroes from slavery, to use here examples most elementary, then one makes an eschatological act, one makes an end to this world, since this world is hunger and slavery. Every genuine creative act is an onset of the end of the world, it is a passing over into the realm of freedom, and an exit from going in vicious circles within the world.

The Kingdom of God cometh imperceptibly, without theatrical effects. It approaches in every triumph of humanness, in real liberation. In genuine creativity there comes nigh the end of this world, a world of inhumanity, of slavery, of inertia. God acts within the freedom of man, in freedom and through freedom. God is present by His energies not in the Name of God, as assert the magic-like teachings of the Name-Praiser Imyaslavtsi, nor in power, as assert the magic-like theories of the priestly realm, God is present by His energies in freedom, in the free act, in the activator of liberation. God is revealed in Christ, foremost of all the Liberator, and therefore the end of the world ought to be understood anew, to be understood not exclusively as judgement and punishment, but as deliverance and illumination. Certainly, the end of the world is the Dread Last Judgement, but a judgement, as immanent consequence of the paths of evil, and not as external chastisement from God. The creative freedom of man stands before the problem of the end. And the approach towards the problem of the end ought to intensify the exertion of creative activity. Vl. Solov'ev was incorrect in his passive understanding of the Apocalypse, whereas N. Fedorov was so in his active understanding of the Apocalypse. In the "Tale of the Anti-Christ", Vl. Solov'ev settled up accounts with his own past, he expressed the collapse of his theocratic utopia, which was just as false, as is every theocracy. But it is necessary to contend against the decadent apocalyptic moods, reflected in the "Tale of the Anti-Christ", a work otherwise very remarkable. Quite higher and more accurate an idea of God-manhood is in the article of Vl. Solov'ev, "Concerning the Decline of the Medieval World Outlook", and it has an affinity to N. Fedorov. One can relate critically to Fedorov's project of the resuscitation of the dead and see in it mere fantastic elements. But the mindset of N. Fedorov was very lofty, one of the most lofty in the history of Christianity. He more deeply than anyone saw in the Divine-human truth, that the end of the world is dependent also upon the activity of man, dependent on his common task, dependent upon directing of the integrally whole being of man upon the universal restoration of life, upon a final victory over death. This common task is the opposite of war, which sows death. N. Fedorov understands man, first of all, as a resurrector, a bearer of life. But N. Fedorov was not a pacifist of the vulgar type, he understood the inability to realise eternal peace within the spiritual and social conditions of the modern world, a world based upon the triumph of death. War is a pre-eminent phenomenon within history, it is an utmost denial of the value of the human person, even though war be a struggle for the dignity of man, for his right to a free existence. Wars of liberation do exist. Absolute good in the murky and evil cause of peace has paradoxical appearances. I would thus formulate the eschatological problem, which war and the catastrophes of history pose: history ought to end, since that within the bounds of history the problem of person remains unresolved, there remains unresolved its unconditional and utmost value. Within history there ought to begin a process of repentance not of individual people only, which always there has been, but of the collectives, of states, nations, societies, churches. The most terrible transgressions are committed in history not so much by individual people, as rather by human, or more accurately, inhuman collectives. It is namely through them and in their name that man has most of all tortured his fellow man, spilled blood, created torment and hell upon the earth. This is a repentance for the sin of the duplicious morality, governing the world and justifying the torture of people. The most terrible tortures and crimes are committed in the name of idols, to which man sometimes has become supremely devoted. And this usually has happened with the idols of collective realities, or more accurately, the pseudo-realities, which demand always the offering of human sacrifice. With the fashioning of idols is connected the catastrophes and terrors of life. The idol-fashioning leads to an end, but it is not to the end with transfiguration, rather to an end with destruction and ruin. And the most dreadful of all idols, are those connected with the will to power.

V.

Eschatology is connected with the paradox of time. In this is the difficulty of the interpretation of the apocalyptic prophecies about the end. The perverseness of these interpretations is usually connected with this, that the end becomes objectified in time and materialised in accord with the categories of "this world". The end thus ought to ensue within this historical time. And hence the predictions of the end of the world in some certain year. But the end of the world never does ensue in this historical time, and historical time possesses a perspective of a bad infinitude. The end of the world can only be thought of as an end of time, an egress from time, an exit from the time of this world, and not as an end within time, within this time. 1 A naturalistic eschatology is unthinkable and absurd, and the only possible is a spiritual eschatology. The end of time, the end of the world, the end of history is a passing over into another frame of consciousness. To the structure of consciousness, corresponding to cosmic and historical time and sustaining this sort of time, there cannot be revealed the end of the world. It is revealed for another structure of consciousness, not subject to necessity and the massiveness of this world, but rather within another, an existential time, it is revealed in spirit and reveals spirit. In the creative activity of spirit, in freedom, man emerges out from the power of this world, subject as it is to necessity and endless time, he enters into existential time, enters into meta-history. Man can make existential acts, which likewise can be called eschatological acts. Then before him is revealed eternity, and not a bad infinitude. Yet as not only spiritual, but likewise a natural and historical being, man objectifies the perspective of the end. And therein he foresees frightening apocalyptic pictures of the destruction of the world and the triumph of evil, he remains fettered to the objectified and material world. In this is the twofoldness of man, the twofoldness of the world, the twofoldness of the end. Man sees the end of the world in time rather than seeing it as the end of time. Within time the end is seen only as destruction, but in eternity -- as transfiguration.

History cannot not be of war and war is a contact-point towards the end, as an immanent result of evil. All readily admit, that war of itself is evil, although perhaps a lesser evil. In war here is a demonic principle. Et together with this, when war has broken out, people and nations cannot not face the question about the meaning of the war, they try to make sense of it, just as in all the significant events in life. But terminologically it is erroneous to posit the question of he meaning of war. War does not have a meaning, there cannot be the appearance of a meaning, war is meaningless, it is an outrage against meaning, and within it act irrational and fatal powers. The sole purpose of war is victory over an enemy. But the question can be put otherwise. There can be put the question about the causes of the war and about the tasks, which it puts before peoples and nations. The war itself per se will not create new life, it is destruction. But the people, living through the terrors of the war, the people, discerning within themselves a creative freedom, can direct their powers to the creativity of a new, a better, a more human life. Upon these paths they will prepare for the end, as transfiguration. Alike it can be said, that the world will end by terrible war and by eternal peace. War has an affinity with revolution. Revolutions are destructive and fatal. Yet together with this, in revolutions can be perceived new creative powers and there can arise a new life. The necessary thing to desire, however, is not destructive and fatal wars and revolutions, but rather the creative and free transfiguration of life. And if the war be an act of fate, personified in the enigmatic and horrid figure of the German dictator, then grant it to be that the life, arising after the war, will be an act of freedom.

Nikolai Berdyaev.

1939

© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1939 - 452 - en)

VOINA I ESKHATOLOGIYA. Journal Putí, oct. 1939 / mar. 1940, No. 61, p. 3-14.

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1 This is an antinomy, similar to the antinomies of Kant. The teaching of Kant about the antinomies is one of the most genius-inspired within the history of philosophic thought.

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