Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Ship of Philosophers

On September 28, 1922, Communist Russia, at Lenin’s behest, sent at least 160 philosophers and intellectuals from Petrograd to Stettin, in Germany, aboard the Oberbürgermeister Haken. Another ship was also involved, the Preussen. Lenin’s active agent in this venture was Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Cheka, vividly familiar to all who have watched Reilly, Ace of Spies. On board the Oberbürgermeister Haken was Nicolai Berdyaev, the philosopher. Berdyaev had also spent some time in Lubyanka prison. Dzerzhinsky interviewed him there but found Berdyaev firmly centered in his philosophy and not apparently political. Berdyaev’s fate was therefore kinder than Reilly’s. The philosopher lived in Berlin for a while, eventually in Paris; he died there in 1948.

The ship of philosophers produced for Brigitte the association of The Ship of Fools. To set that in perspective, that name first attached to a satirical book of the same title by one Sebastian Brant published in 1494 and illustrated by Albrecht Dürer. The more famous painting of it is by Hieronymus Bosch from the same period (shown). The book parodies the vices and abuses of its times. An interesting association between “church” and “ship” and “fools” had long been present in earlier mediaeval times, what with navis meaning ship as well as the nave of a church, and corruption present in the Church. Hence…

Another passenger on that ship of the philosophers was Pitirim Sorokin, the sociologist-historian, a great teacher of mine, albeit only through his writings. And, come to think of it, on our own endless migration from the homeland caused by World War II, one of our stops along the way was also Stettin, now Szczecin in Poland.

My illustration comes from Wikipedia (link) by a round-about-way from Russia. The inscription beneath it says: “The ship with the long name ‘Lord Mayor Haken’ was one of those small passenger ships that, by way of many lines, linked the harbors of the Baltic one with the others. They were smaller than today’s Helgoland ships but were quite stately.” Another source on this subject may be found here.

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