November 14, 2005


INTERVIEW: There Is No Freedom Without Moral Responsibility: Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (Yuri Polyakov, editor-in-chief, ‘Literaturnaya gazeta’ weekly, November 2-8, 2005)

It seems to me that the most important questions facing us today are those of the meaning of life. There are perpetual questions, but they have become very acute in our reality. In this connection, the present CDP leader Angela Merkel, with whom I had a long talk during my recent visit to Germany, expressed an interesting idea. She said that the slogan of 'A Better Life', which was so incredibly popular before, is no longer relevant for the Germans. Therefore, she wants to address a different message to the nation with a focus on the spiritual realm of human life.

The same problems are of concern to me. We know that all the reforms and all the revolutions were undertaken for the sake of a 'better life', that is, a full, well-provided-for and comfortable life. For seventy years millions in our country lived in the name of such 'bright future', denying themselves everything, and many even died for this idea. It has turned out that it cannot be realized in real life. The Socialist experiment failed not because our socialism was 'wrong' or the mechanism of economic government was too bulky and clumsy or competition was absent, etc. But why then did it fail? For me as a believer the answer is clear: because there was no blessing of God, because the ideology of the Soviet society was not so much atheistic, that is, ungodly, but expressly theomachistic.

Now the ideological vector of the state policy has changed. But look, the purpose of life upheld by the people has remained the same: to live better, meaning for most people to be richer and more successful. And this is all!

It is my profound conviction that on the basis of historical experience gained by Russia, we, as nobody else, can address ourselves to the world with a unique message and say: Building a welfare state will never make humanity happy if the search for this welfare is undertaken outside the context of human spiritual needs.

It is a complicated and manifold theme and it can hardly be understood on a single conceptual level. But the first thing I give attention to and reflect upon is the correlation between human freedom and moral responsibility. Can human freedom exist without moral responsibility and does a person who has no freedom have any moral responsibility?

In the Enlightenment age, the human being was declared the center of the universe. The human being was thought to be sinless from birth. Russeaux, for instance, as much as set forth a theory of education implying a natural social influence-free development of natural human inclinations devoid by definition of any sinfulness. Indeed, if a man is born immaculate, he should be offered full freedom to realize his potential. Hence the idea of absolute value of human rights and liberties has prevailed now in the Western liberal society. The French Revolution put this paradigm in the context of political logic to determine virtually the political thinking of the European nations and to be put in the basis of international organizations in the 20th century. Ask today's European bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg how they see their task. They would say: in the first place it is to protect human rights and freedoms because all the existing troubles are caused by failure to observe these rights in particular staes.

I am convinced that human rights and freedoms need to be protected. But I am also convinced that a human being is not born sinless. Even if the theological aspect and the Christian anthropology with its teaching on the corruption of human nature as a consequence of the fall are excluded, we can state with regret that every child inherits not only the physical but also moral vices of his parents. The latest genetic achievements have only re-confirmed this depressing truth.

It is evident from this that the 'liberation' of the individual, his free development without any correction by society will lead also to the liberation of dark 'Dionysian' principle, as the Greeks put it, which is present in every person. This is a dead-end, a destructive way for our civilization. Therefore, the liberal principle: My freedom should not restrict the freedom of another person, is very dangerous, if it is the only restraining principle.

Sometimes the opponents would say: You, the Orthodox, simply suffer from a latent allergy to the very theme of rights and freedoms. No, it is not at all so. In the Soviet time our Church as nobody else suffered from oppression by the authorities. Moreover, the very idea of rights and freedoms is based on the Christian understanding of the human being as the image of God, thus determining the high dignity of human person. But if we separate the task of observing and protecting of human rights from the moral responsibility of the individual before God and people, then we condemn humanity to the liberation of passions, to such an upsurge of instincts that can easily turn society into a pack of wolves.

The question arises: Can one be reconciled with another? Yes, but it is a rather complicated task to do. A success can be achieved when rights and freedoms are combined with traditional ethical values as they are presented in religion and the national awareness of the people.

Because the End of History does not necessarily bring people this understanding though liberal democracy does depend on it, the end will be literal for most peoples.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 14, 2005 10:31 AM

I keep seeing references to the End of History, but I seem to have missed the definition. I didn't find it in the Glossary, so I was wondering what it might be.

Posted by: Jay at November 14, 2005 11:55 AM