Voices from Russia

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Ivan Ilyin: An Exceptional Twentieth Century Religious Philosopher

Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954), renowned Russian religious and political philosopher


The collapse of the Russian Empire in the wake of the February 1917 democratic revolution, the Bolshevik takeover, and the civil war that followed later bitterly split the Russian nation. It forced anti-Bolshevik-minded Russians into self-imposed exile in Central and Western Europe. It was a terrible tragedy, not only for the Russian émigrés who dreamed of someday being able to return, but also for the country as a whole, for it lost some of its very best children… until the very end of the Soviet regime in the early 1990s, national reconciliation was absolutely out of the question. However, it finally came true with the consecration at the Donskoi Monastery in Moscow of the cornerstone of a chapel to commemorate the victims of revolution and civil war, and those who found eternal peace in foreign soil. This event was a prime example of this much-awaited reconciliation, as was the return to Russia of the remains of General Anton Denikin, one of the leaders of the White Guards, and of Ivan Ilyin, a religious philosopher. Their reburial in the monastery’s memorial cemetery was in October 2005… truly, Ivan Ilyin is one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. His extensive philosophical, cultural, and spiritual heritage, previously unknown here in Russia, has come as a real revelation to millions of Russians.

Ivan Ilyin was born on 10 April 1883 into an old family of Russian aristocrats. His intellectual gifts were manifest early on, and after his graduation from the law department of Moscow University, Ivan Ilyin stayed on and spent several years teaching law there. Then, he took interest in philosophy and human morality. His doctoral thesis was about Hegel’s ideas, and this work is still one of the very best on the subject. A staunch monarchist, Ivan Ilyin rejected the February 1917 democratic revolution that abolished the Russian monarchy, seeing it as a catastrophe for Russia and the rest of the world. Ilyin declared ideological war on Bolshevism, and turned out scores of anti-Soviet lectures and articles that, on several occasions, landed him behind bars. In September 1922, the communists arrested him for the sixth time and sentenced him to death. Later, the authorities commuted this to a sentence of exile. A month later, Ivan Ilyin was amongst a large group of leading scholars, thinkers, historians, and writers banished from Soviet Russia. Ilyin initially settled in Germany, and following the Nazi takeover in 1933, he moved to neighbouring Switzerland.

Studying the causes of the twentieth century Russian tragedy, Ilyin wrote, “The Russian revolution is a reflection of the religious crisis we are living through now, an attempt to establish an anti-Christian public and state system thought up by Friedrich Nietzsche, and economically and politically realised by Karl Marx. The West exported this anti-Christian virus to Russia… Losing our bond with God and the Christian tradition, mankind has become morally blind, and gripped by materialism, irrationalism, and nihilism”. To overcome the global moral crisis people need to return to eternal moral values, that is faith, love, freedom, conscience, family, motherland, and nation, above all faith and love, Ilyin wrote. He trusted that “to make Russia great again, the Russian people should believe in God, and that this faith will strengthen their willpower and their mind, and will make them strong enough to overcome themselves”. Ilyin believed in the religious gift and talent of the Russian soul. He prophesied, “Russian history is all about morality triumphing over difficulties, temptation, danger, and enemies. That’s how it was, and that’s how it’s always going to be, even better…”

20 October 2005

Russia in Personalities

Voice of Russia World Service


I have posted a portrait of Mr Ilyin on Art and Faith, the URL is:



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