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Nicholas Berdyaev, Prophet for the Catholic Worker Movement: The Bourgeois Mind

Arranged by Peter Maurin

A Spiritual State

l. What does the word actually mean?

2. It has remained unexplained though it has been so much used and so often misapplied.

3. Even when superficially used it is a word with a magic power of its own and its depth has to be fathomed.

4. The word designates a spiritual state, a direction of the soul, a peculiar consciousness of being.

5. It is neither a social nor an economic condition; yet it is something more  than a psychological  and ethical one – it is spiritual, ontological.

6. The state of being bourgeois has always existed in the world.

7. Its immortal image is forever fixed in the  gospels with its equally immortal antithesis, but in the nineteenth century it attained its climax and ruled supreme.

Enslaved Society

l. Though the middle-class society of the last century is so spoken of in the superficial social-economic significance of the term, it is bourgeois in a deeper and more  spiritual sense.

2. This middle-class mentality ripened and enslaved human society and culture at the summit of their civilization.

3. Its concupisence is no longer restricted by man’s supernatural beliefs as it was in past epochs.

4. It is no longer kept in bounds by the sacred symbolism  of a nobler traditional culture.

5. The bourgeois spirit emancipated itself, expanded and was at last able to express its own type of life.


l. But even when the triumph of mediocrity was complete a few deep thinkers denounced it with uncompromising power.

2. Carlyle, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Leon Bloy, Dostoievsky, Leontiv, all foresaw the victory of the bourgeois spirit over a truly great culture on the ruins of which it would establish its own hideous kingdom.

3. With prophetic force and fire these men denounced the spiritual  sources and moral foundations of middle-classdom and repelled by its ugliness thirsting for a nobler culture, a different life looked back upon Greece or the middle-ages the Renaissance or Byzantium.

A New Type

l. History has failed,  there is no such thing as historical progress.

2. The present is in no wise  an improvement upon the  past.

3. A period of high cultural development is succeeded by another wherein culture deteriorates qualitatively.

4. The will to power, to well- being, to wealth triumphs over the will to holiness, to genius.

5. The highest spiritual achievements belong to the past, spirituality is on the wane and a time of spiritual decline is a time of bourgeois  ascendency.

6. The knight and the monk the philosopher and the poet have been superseded by a new type – the greedy bourgeois conqueror, organizer and trader.

7. The center of life is displaced and transferred to its periphery the organic hierarchical  order of life is being destroyed.

Leon Bloy

l. One of those whose rebellion against the bourgeois spirit was most uncompromising and bitter was Leon Bloy the remarkable and little known French Catholic writer.

2. Bloy, who lived all his life unrecognized and in dire misery, has written an extraordinary book L’Exegese des Lieux Communs which is a searching examination of the commonplaces of bourgeois wisdom.

3. He gives a wonderfully witty metaphysical interpretation of the pronouncements which are the bourgeois rule of life.

4. Thus in “Dieu ne demande pas tant” – God does not ask all of that – he endeavours to penetrate the secret movements of the heart mind and will of a bourgeois to expose his specular metaphysics and mysticism.

Leon Bloy’s Sayings

l. The bourgeois, even when he is a good Catholic believes only in this world in the expedient and the useful he is incapable  of living by faith in another world and refuses to base his life on the mystery of Golgotha.

2. The magnificent superiority of the bourgeois is based on unbelief even after he has seen and  touched.

3. Not upon the utter impossibility of seeing and touching due to unbelief.

4. The bourgeois is an idolater enslaved by the visible.

5. Business is the bourgeois God his absolute.

6. It was the bourgeois who crucified Christ; on Golgotha he cut the world off from Christ, money from the poor.

The Poor and Money

l. The Poor and Money are great symbols for Bloy

2. There is a mystery of money its mysterious separation from the spirit, and the middle-class world is governed by this money benefit of the spirit.

3. Middle-classdom is opposed to the absolute, it is destructive of eternity.

4. A bourgeois may be religious and this middle-class religiosity is more hateful  in Bloy’s eyes than atheism.

5. How many such bourgeois idolaters did he discover amongst “good Catholics” – the Lord Christ is very decorative in shops.

6. Leon Bloy studies the average bourgeois but the problem can be deepened.

7. In the higher degrees of a  spiritual life the bourgeois spirit paralizes all spiritual movement and extinguishes the fire which is the very essence of the spirit.

The Bourgeois Spirit

l. The bourgeois is out for the conquest of the world and Jesus says to him “Woe to you because you love the uppermost seats in the synagogues and salutations in the market-place.”

2. And his interests in this world are repudiated by Jesus in the words “Seek not what you shall eat or what you shall drink… for all these things do the nations of the world seek.”

3. Christ said to those whom he chose: “If you had been of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”

4. The world is the bourgeois  spirit; it is not God’s creation, the cosmos which the Son of God could not deny but the enslavement  and the over burdening of God’s creation by passions and concupiscence.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 4, May-June 1995. Reprinted from The Catholic Worker, July-August, l935.