In Spite of Social Crises, Each Person Has a
Connection with Eternal Truth and the One Law
Ivan A. Il’in
Ivan A. Il’in (1883-1954)
The historical epoch now being experienced by the nations must be comprehended as an epoch of great spiritual unmasking and revision.
The calamity of world wars and revolutions, which has overtaken the world and shaken the entire life of nations to its very root, is in essence a natural phenomenon, and therefore it can have only natural causes and grounds. But everywhere nature flares up, where it, once ignited, seizes possessions of people’s affairs and fates, everywhere that people find themselves helpless before its blind and shattering upsurge, there is everywhere hidden the imperfection, or immaturity, or degeneracy, of the spiritual culture of humanity: for the business of this culture consists precisely in subordinating every element of nature whatever to its law, to its development and to its end. A natural calamity always reveals the defeat, the limitation and the failure of spirit, for the creative transformation of nature remains its highest task. And however great this calamity, and however vast and overwhelming the sufferings caused by it, the human spirit must accept its failure and in the very acuteness of its suffering discern a call to rebirth and regeneration. But that means comprehending the disaster befalling us as a great spiritual unmasking.
The nature that by now has involved humanity in the immeasurable misfortune of great wars and upheavals is the nature of a disordered and embittered human soul.
However great the significance of the material factor in history, with whatever power the needs of the body rivet to themselves the interest and attention of the human soul, the human spirit is never reduced, and never will be reduced, to a passive, non-acting medium subordinated to material influences and the demands of the body. Moreover, a blind, unconscious obedience to these influences and demands diminishes spirit’s dignity, for its dignity consists in being a creative cause, creating its life in accordance with higher ends, and not in being a passive medium of natural processes in matter. Every influence entering into the human soul ceases to be a dead weight of causality and becomes a living inducement, attraction, reason, subject to spiritual transformation and rational guidance. To the very essence of the human spirit belongs this gift: to apprehend, interpret, transform and direct anew every influence intruding from without. And to the extent that the human spirit does not possess this gift in sufficient measure, to that extent natural elements of the world oppress it and fracture its life; to that extent its immaturity is unmasked and revealed, to that extent new tasks and the possibility of new achievements open up before it.
But in order to take possession of this gift and use it in all its world-transforming power, the human spirit must take possession of its own nature: the nature of the irrational and semi-rational soul. It is impossible to organize the world of matter not having organized the world of the soul, for the soul is the essential creative instrument for organizing the world. A soul submissive to chaos is powerless to bring about a cosmos in the external world: for a cosmos is created in accordance with higher ends, while a psychic chaos rushes about, confused, among a multiplicity of trivial, contradictory “ends”, obedient to blind instinct. The unsettled soul retains a real potentiality for spirit: it perceives and refracts, but does not transform and direct anew the influences intruding from without. Its “ends” remain passive marks of causal pressures, and their confusion is always fraught with new calamities. Internally unsettled in its tasks, strivings, and abilities, the human soul vainly seeks salvation in mastery over the external world: in technically conquering matter, it creates for itself only a new helplessness; in overcoming external nature, it prepares an insurrection of internal chaos; its successes forge the mould for a new, unexpected defeat.
Presently, before our eyes, the modern world repeats the path of ancient suffering; the new experience leads to old conclusions. These conclusions once again teach that self-knowledge and the self-transformation of the human spirit must lie at the basis of all life, so that life should not fall victim to chaos and degradation; they teach that the inner disintegration of the human soul renders social order impossible and that disintegration of social organization leads the life of a people to ignominy and despair. And still more, these conclusions teach that the formal orderedness of the individual soul and of the social economy doesn’t make the life of a human being secure from substantive degeneration and criminal ways. Through all the sufferings of the world the ancient truth arises and flares up, and summons people to a new understanding, recognition and realization: the life of a human being is justified only when his soul lives from a single, objective center, moved by an authentic love of Divinity as the supreme good. This love and the will born of it lies at the base of the entire developing spiritual life of a human being, and outside of it the soul wanders, becomes blind, and stumbles. Outside of it knowledge becomes a parody of knowledge, art degenerates into an empty and banal form, religion is converted into a dishonest self-intoxication, virtue is replaced by hypocrisy, law and the State become instruments of evil. Outside of it a human being cannot find a single suitable end in life that would convert all of his “activities” and “business” into a single affair of Spirit and would assure the human spirit of its victory. Only a vital and authentic craving for Perfection ensures this victory, for it is itself the source of the greatest power, invincible by any “circumstances” whatever, and introducing order into the inner and the outer world. This is explained by the very nature of spirit: it is that creative power of the soul that seeks authentic knowledge, virtue and beauty, and intuiting the Divinity as the real focal point of any perfection whatsoever, cognizes the world in order to realize His law in it as its own. But the soul, ever preserving within itself the potentiality for spirit, can convert this possibility into actuality only when within the soul flares up, as a holistic and joyous fire, a love for the Divine and a craving to become Spirit, to find a path to it, and to reveal it to others.
History shows that it is not easy for a human being to find this path, that it is difficult to follow it, and easy to lose it. The chaos of trivial desires and petty ends imperceptibly disperses the powers of the soul, and human passions extinguish its fire.
The soul loses its access to spiritual contents and therefore cannot maintain the form of spirit: for it can be in the shape of spirit only when it lives authentically by means of spirit’s real contents. Having lost the shape of spirit, it becomes a victim of its own chaos and gets carried away by its spinning to collapse and calamities. And then its task is to perceive in these very calamities and sufferings its own falling away from God, to hear His call, to recognize His voice, and subject its own false path to unmasking and reexamination.
At present philosophy has the great and responsible task of initiating this reconsideration and unmasking. Such a staggering spiritual failure of humanity as a stream of unheard of wars and unprecedented revolutions witnesses with unquestionable power and clarity to the fact that all aspects of spiritual existence lived and developed along false paths, that all of them are in a state of deep and severe crisis. Humanity lost its way in its spiritual life, and chaos overtook it with unheard-of calamity. This witnesses to the fact that the very mode of spiritual life was false[1], that it must be reexamined to the roots, and renewed and regenerated from the roots up.
And if the task of organizing a peaceful and just community of people on earth is a task for law and legal consciousness, then the contemporary crisis lays bare above all the profound disease of contemporary legal consciousness.
In the souls of people there are always such aspects that can for a long time not attract sufficient attention to themselves, dwelling in obscurity from generation to generation, only partly recognized. This occurs not only because these aspects possess in their very essence an instinctive character and are, as it were, crowded out from the field of consciousness; and not only because they are in themselves spiritually insignificant or secondary in practical terms and, as it were, get lost among other equally inessential nuances of life – but also because the cultivation of them requires a particular effort of will and attention, while their spiritual significance, in terms of their basic nature, stands opposed to the self-interestedness and myopia of everyday consciousness.
One can always find quite a few people prepared to be sincerely surprised at the fact that in them dwells a certain worldview, that they possess their particular aesthetic taste, that they stand in a certain constant relation to the voice of conscience, that they possess a legal consciousness characteristic for their souls.[2] And meanwhile each person, independently of his age, education, intellect and talent, lives by these aspects or functions of the soul, even when he himself has no suspicion of it. In such case his judgments and actions are formed directly under the guidance of instinctive attractions and impulses and express the structure of his psyche, his personal character, his individual level of life, despite the fact that he perhaps knows nothing of this and does not even suppose that people inevitably have a worldview and a legal consciousness, that they inevitably live according to an aesthetic taste and a conscience. A limited, narrow, obtuse worldview remains a view of the world; undeveloped, perverted, bad taste makes an aesthetic choice in its own way; a suppressed, deadened conscience, not listened to, still struggles and calls from within, and a deformed, unfree, weak legal consciousness directs people’s acts and creates their relations throughout life.
It is impossible for a human being not to possess legal consciousness; everyone who realizes that there are other people in the world besides himself possesses it. A human being possesses legal consciousness independently of whether he knows it or does not know it, values this asset or looks upon it with disdain. The entire life of a human being and his entire fate are formed with the participation of legal consciousness and under its guidance; moreover, to live means for a human being to live by means of legal consciousness, within its function and within its terms: for it always remains one of the great and necessary forms of human life. It also lives in the soul even when positive law is as yet lacking, when there is as yet neither “law” nor “custom”, when no “authority” whatever has yet spoken of “rightful”, correct behavior. A naive, half-conscious, immediate conviction that not all the external acts of people are equally admissible and “correct”, that there are completely intolerable actions and there are “just” outcomes and decisions – this conviction, as yet unaware of the distinction between “law” and “morality”, lies at the basis of any “law” and “custom” and genetically precedes any law-creating activity. And even in those cases when the content of custom and law is defined by the self-interest of the powerful, when law is “unjust” or “bad” law – at its basis lies nevertheless an immediate conviction of the necessity and possibility of distinguishing “correct” and “admissible” from “incorrect” and “inadmissible” behavior and of regulating people’s lives on the basis of this generally-obligatory criterion.
In this is revealed the distinctive tragi-comedy of living under law: deformed, perverted legal consciousness remains legal consciousness, but it perverts its content; it addresses the idea of law, but takes from this idea only a schema, uses it in its own way, abuses it and fills it with unworthy, perverted content; there arises unjust law which however is called “law” and is presented as law, compromising the very idea of law in people’s minds and undermining faith in it.
This tragicomedy is characteristic not only of law-creating activity; it is the tragicomedy of the entire spiritual life of humanity. Every person possesses within his exclusive individual inner experience the sole medium connecting him with the heights of spirit – with the true, the good, the beautiful, with revelation and the law – and the sole source for cognizing them and for judgements concerning them; each one knows concerning these objects only that which he has independently and authentically experienced and creatively verified. [3]
And so people continually forget about these fundamental conditions of spiritual activity: they do not seek authenticity in experience and objectivity in research, but base themselves on personal inclinations and satisfy themselves with subjective opinions. And as a result of this there arises an unworthy and comical spectacle: people make judgments concerning what is most important and supreme, not knowing what they judge; each one makes claims, and encroaches, having no basis for it; supra-personal self-manifesting truth is replaced by personal certainty; there arises an endless multiplicity of disagreements, the mind wanders, vacillates, and arrives at a fruitless “subjectivism” and a groundless “relativism”. Belief in the possibility of genuine knowledge, in the unity of the good, in the objective value of beauty, in the possibility of genuine revelation, in just and spiritually true law, is lost, and with it inevitably the will to discover the true path to the cognition and realization of these supreme contents withers. Personal interest remains the sole guide, and life imperceptibly degenerates.
This objectivity of the content of the object as it relates to law can be described such that in the external relations of person to person there is a certain unitary and objective rightness which it is possible to cognize only through inner experience, through an authentic, objective examination and disclosing of natural law. The experience of natural law is inherent in every person, but for the majority it remains a vague, uncertain and unrecognized “feeling of right”, as it were an “instinct for the right”, or in the best case an “intuition of right”. To become aware of the content of this natural law and to disclose it means to initiate a mature natural legal consciousness, to make it an object of will and justified emotion, i.e., to convert this unitary and objective rightness into a needed and desired end in life – it means to develop and realize in oneself a natural legal consciousness.
In particular, a natural legal consciousness as the object of knowledge of the “most”  “genuine” unitary law itself must lie at the basis of any judgment of “law” and of any legal or judicial decision, and for that reason it must also lie at the basis of those “laws” which are established in various communities and States by authorized representatives under the name of “positive law”. The more developed, mature, and profound the natural legal consciousness, the more perfect will be in such a case both “positive law” and the external life of the people guided by it; and conversely: vagueness, inconsistency, lack of objectivity and weakness of natural legal consciousness will create “non-objective”, i.e., senseless, false, unjust “positive law” not corresponding to its prototype. Then the “law”, unitary and true according to its idea, bifurcates and enters into a peculiar internal contradiction with itself: natural legal consciousness does not affirm what a knowledge of positive law speaks of, and as a result the soul acquires two different legal consciousnesses, for side by side with natural legal consciousness there arises a positive legal consciousness, not corresponding with it in terms of content. Such a bifurcation of the law, such a contradiction of legal consciousnesses, witnesses, of course, to a spiritual failure befalling a human being: he doesn’t succeed – owing to lack of will or insufficient ability – in becoming aware of the content of natural law and placing it in the unshakable foundation of any judgement  concerning “positive” law; but since the ability always depends upon the heart which loves, and upon the will which forges and cultivates the ability, then all that great  spiritual failure in the matter of law-creating activity rests upon the universal, historically stable hardening of hearts and lack of will to just law.
From this it is already clear that normal legal consciousness leads not to a bifurcated, but to a unitary and holistic life, and if that consciousness sees before it an historically given bifurcation of law, then it wholly devotes itself to the struggle for a unitary, just law, and for the restoration of its own inner, objective spiritual unity. At the same time, it, as a spiritually true and holistic relation of the soul to the Law, is not reduced to “consciousness” and “cognition”, but lives always in the form of a will to perfection, justice and right, awakened by the heart and conscience. Normal legal consciousness knows its object; it is a knowing will to the law; recognizing it in its objective significance and obligatoriness, and recognizing it because the will recognizes its end. Therefore, normal legal consciousness is above all a will to law as an end, and for that reason also a will to the law; and from this the necessity arises for it to know the law and the necessity to realize it in life, i.e., to struggle for the law. Only in this holistic form does legal consciousness appear as normal legal consciousness and become a noble and inexorable power, nourishing itself from the life of spirit, and in turn determining and cultivating spirit’s life on earth.
Normal legal consciousness can be depicted as a particular mode of life by which the soul lives, objectively and truly experiencing the law in its fundamental idea and in its singular modifications (institutions). This order of psychic life is of course something ideal, though not in the sense that this “ideal” would be unrealizable. On the contrary, this mode of life is already given in embryo to each person, and depends upon each of us to become aware of, develop and establish this embryo in ourselves. And in this self-training the closest dependence is discovered between the “awareness” and the vital “strengthening”: the investigation of normal legal consciousness succeeds only in the presence of a creative will to the law as an end, but precisely an objective cognition of this end strengthens the vital will to it.
The scholar putting before himself this task enters inevitably into a struggle with a whole multiplicity of prejudices: a relativist viewpoint on the law will be perhaps the most persistent of them.
Seemingly, the very conditions for the creation and realization of the law favor this prejudice. Within the law, apparently, everything is relative. Human consciousness gets accustomed surprisingly easily and firmly to the idea that the law is “conditioned” by time and place, interest and power, persistent will and blind chance. What is “now” and “here” the law may “tomorrow” and “here”, or “now”  and “there”, not be law; what is forbidden today may be permitted tomorrow and perhaps imposed as obligatory a month from now;  organized interest becomes a power and pronounces as “just” what tomorrow will be overthrown as an “accidental” confluence  of circumstances. Within the archives are preserved piles of “outmoded norms” and entire codes, and a resourceful mind, serving a momentary interest, is able to interpret and adapt “prevailing” law however one wishes. The content of the law is always sufficiently “indefinite” and “conditional”, and its meaning is always “provisional” and “relative”.
Contemporary legal consciousness grows and lives in this conviction; it is deeply penetrated by relativism and doesn’t know about itself that it can and must be other. The conviction that law is something “relative” – both in terms of its content and its obligatoriness – arises imperceptibly, unconsciously, and for that reason is rooted in souls particularly strongly and deeply: this conviction converges with selfish and myopic interest, is nourished by it, and in its turn, serves such interest. There arises a vitally important vicious circle: darkness begets evil, and evil supports the darkness. “Educated” and uneducated circles of people identically decline to believe in the objective value of law and do not respect its prescriptions; they see in it either an unpleasant constraint, or in the best case, a convenient means for defense and attack. Legal consciousness is reduced to a stock of unreasoned bits of information from the sphere of positive law and to the ability to “make use” of them; but behind this “knowledge” and “use” it conceals in itself the most profound failures and defects, inward degeneracy and spiritual impotence.
A blind, self-interested, unprincipled, and impotent legal consciousness directs the life of humanity. And thus these diseases of legal consciousness unleashed the natural element of the soul and prepared its spiritual failure.
The life of spirit requires indeed a profound re-examination and renewal.  
[1] This is a particularly significant point in the original teachings of theosophy.  See for instance Letter 10 in “The Mahatma Letters”. The volume “The Mahatma Letters” is available in PDF in our associated websites. (CCA)
[2] The voice of conscience is the voice of what theosophists call Antahkarana, the abstract bridge between the lower self and the spiritual soul. Legal consciousness is a sense of right and wrong and includes a commitment to right action. (CCA)
[3] A powerful description of Antahkarana.  (CCA)
The above text is reproduced from the book “On the Essence of Legal Consciousness”, by Ivan A. Il’in; Wildy, Simmonds & Hill Publishing, 2014, UK, 391 pp., see pp. 115-123. The volume was introduced and translated by William E. Butler, Philip T. Grier and Vladimir A. Tomsinov. Notes of the editors are not included in the present transcription.
The content of pages 115-117 in “On the Essence of Legal Consciousness” was also published at the December 2015 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, under the title of   “Taking Possession of Our Own Nature”.
Ivan A. Il’in was born on 9 April 1883 (or 28 March 1883, old style), and died on 21 December 1954
Readers are invited to see in our associated websites the articles “Theosophy as Natural Law”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline, and “Spiritual Respect for Oneself”, by Ivan A. Il’in.