Last week, Rule of Faith, a new Orthodox Christian online journal, published my article, “V. S. Soloviev and the Russian Roots of Personalism.”
The article examines the nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Soloviev’s philosophy as it relates to the twentieth-century social philosophy known as personalism. While the tradition includes much variety — spanning figures such as Martin Buber, Nicholas Berdyaev, Jacques Maritain, and Pope John Paul II — several themes common to these figures can be found in Soloviev’s thought as well, namely the centrality of human dignity, human agency, and human relationality.
I recently wrote on this blog that Christians ought not to be determinists. Hope, along with faith and love, is one of the three theological virtues, and determinism can breed a fatalistic, despairing attitude toward our actions, as if nothing we do really matters. Soloviev speaks of a few varieties of determinism, adding the helpful qualification that moral actions are not arbitrary because they are determined by the good end at which they aim.
As I write at Rule of Faith, “To be morally and rationally free, to Soloviev, is to be free from the lower forms of necessity—mechanical and psychological—and bound to the ideal of the good.” In this sense, purely arbitrary action — action with no regard to what is good and right — is the definition of evil. I would not call this true freedom, however. We might think of the words of Christ that “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34), and he conversely said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
This conditional understanding of freedom puts the human person at the center, affirming our nature as free beings without losing sight of the source of our true fulfillment: goodness, righteousness, holiness, and truth.
True liberty in society is, thus, ordered liberty. It must be conditioned by the natural law and by a culture — and hopefully by faith — that guides its members along the narrow road that leads to life. Vladimir Soloviev has helped me think through these issues while keeping the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, at the center. If nothing else, his intellectual efforts and contributions have mattered to me, and that gives me hope that maybe mine will matter to someone else too.
It is understandable when the present state of things looks bad to give in to pessimism. There is nothing wrong with being realistic, of course. But hope is the fuel that makes moral progress possible, both for our individual lives and our broader societies, even our economies.
If that whets your appetite for more, I hope you’ll read the article for a deeper exploration of Soloviev’s insights here.
Image credit: Portrait of hhilosopher Vladimir Soloviev by Nikolai Yaroshenko (1895), Public Domain
More from Acton
For more on this topic, Religion & Liberty featured a profile of Vladimir Soloviev in its December 2011 issue here.