Articles by Bertonneau

I call to the attention of anyone who has interest my articles “H. G. Wells on the Dictatorial Century” at The Brussels Journal and “Reflections on Nicolas Berdyaev” at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website.  Topically, the two essays might seem divergent but they are, I believe, complementary.  The foundational anti-Christian impulse in modernity belongs to the discussion in both.

5 thoughts on “Articles by Bertonneau

  1. Thank you for the excellent summary of Berdyaev’s life and thought. I discovered him recently when I finally got around to reading the copy of “Destiny of Man” which a friend had given me many years ago. I need to chew on a few of his ideas a bit more (like his linking of freedom with the primal chaos out of which the cosmos was created) before reaching conclusions on them, but there is certainly much that resonates with the traditionalist view of things.

    • Dear Roger, thank you for taking the time to read the article. Berdyaev was a prolific author and it is something of a project to encompass his complete productivity. I recommend, in addition to The Destiny of Man, The Meaning of History, Freedom and Slavery, and Spirit and Reality. A sI say in the essay, one must approach Berdyaev on his own terms. He is never a quick or easy read, but he rewards patience. Again, thank you.

  2. I’ve just finished the Wells essay, which was illuminating. As you say, the later novels have essentially disappeared from the syllabus of today’s reasonably well-read man. While reading your discussion of Well’s vision of a technocratic world state, and of his ultimate disappointment, I was reminded of what Voegelin had to say about revolution and utopia. You’re a student of Voegelin, so you can probably see where I’m going. Voegelin writes that utopia requires a metanoia or spiritual regeneration if it is going to work. Humans as they now exist would wreck any utopia in a decade. In your essay you quote the character Karenin describing the necessary transformation as “self-abnegation, self-identification with the world spirit.” The problem, as Voegelin makes clear, is that utopians are secularists, and so have no spiritual power in which to place their hope. Their only tool is socialism, in the original sense of that word, meaning modification of the human soul through modification of the social environment. Since utopians propose a profound modification of the soul, they are inexorably drawn to the violence, mayhem, and psychic trauma of revolution. As you know, for Voegelin, the main point of revolution is not to kill the rulers; it is to regenerate the ruled by making them simultaneously the subjects and objects of destruction. They are simultaneously terrorists and terrorized, and they emerge from the experience altogether transformed. Only a dictator can keep the universal trauma going long enough for the human psyche actually to melt and take on the form of utopian man. Of course this is all diabolical thinking, but it is where all frustrated utopianism always ends. Wells himself was too middle-class, genial, and Fabian to go there, and I think that’s why he ended his life looking from afar at what he thought was the Promised Land.

    • Thank you, JM, for your clear-sighted remarks on the bourgeois limitations of Wells’ utopianism. A characteristic of Wells’ utopias is that they are helped into existence by circumstances beyond the control of those who finally embrace them. In The World Set Free (where we find Marcus Karenin), the atomic war, whose moral cause is “the sovereign state,” so wrecks the world that the technocrats have only to announce their salvaging regime and the whole world is eager to accommodate them. Elsewhere, in A Modern Utopia or Men Like Gods, the utopias simply appear — out of nowhere, as the word implies; people from our realm stumble on them by slipping through a rift in space or a hiccup in time, so that how the utopias came to be remains unexamined. Precisely, Wells was “too middle-class, genial, and Fabian to go there.”

      Wells was also a profoundly ambiguous secularist. It’s amazing how religion, as a theme, makes an Odyssey through his work from beginning to end. It is even the main topic of some books, like God the Invisible King and First and Last Things. I’d say that his last book, The Mind at the End of its Tether, is an item of apocalyptic. Of course in being a profoundly ambiguous secularist, Wells was also a profoundly ambiguous fideist, so he can hardly stand in our camp. And yet he is in many ways closer to us, culturally speaking, than the liberals of today.

      I urge you to take a shot at an extended Voegelinian reading of Wells. You have made an excellent beginning.


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