Friday, March 07, 2014

David Brooks on Vladimir Putin

David Brooks
New York Times

David Brooks, in "Putin Can't Stop" (New York Times, March 3, 2014), proposes some incalculable factors in Russian nationalism, as shaped by Russian messianism:
To enter into the world of Putin's favorite philosophers [i.e., Nikolai Berdyaev's The Philosophy of Inequality, Vladimir Solovyov's Justification of the Good, and Ivan Ilyin's Our Tasks] is to enter a world full of melodrama, mysticism and grandiose eschatological visions. [For example:] "We trust and are confident that the hour will come when Russia will rise from disintegration and humiliation and begin an epoch of new development and greatness," Ilyin wrote.

Three great ideas run through this work. The first is Russian exceptionalism: the idea that Russia has its own unique spiritual status and purpose. The second is devotion to the Orthodox faith. The third is belief in autocracy. Mashed together, these philosophers point to a Russia that is a quasi-theocratic nationalist autocracy destined to play a culminating role on the world stage.

These philosophers often argued that the rationalistic, materialistic West was corrupting the organic spiritual purity of Russia. "The West exported this anti-Christian virus to Russia," Ilyin wrote, "Having lost our bond with God and the Christian tradition, mankind has been morally blinded, gripped by materialism, irrationalism and nihilism."
Brooks declines to think that Putin takes these views so seriously, but worries that Putin might be unable to contain the nationalist forces he's using against the West for its support of Ukraine's rebellion. Keep in mind that quasi-religious urgings of this sort are "incalculable."

But . . . although Brooks is reminding us of some actual ideas with a long history among Russians, I wonder if he's being fair to the complexity of Berdyaev and Solovyov (Ilyin is perhaps a different matter). Or does Brooks mean that Putin has deformed the thought of these thinkers to support Russian nationalism's messianic bent?

Any experts out there among my readers who can better inform us?

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At 10:23 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

I can't add any topical insight, but that guy Vladimir Solovyov certainly looks grand.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

He certainly had a healthy head of hair for a man of 47! But he died only seven years later. I wonder why? Ill health due to poverty?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brooks totally mangled Berdyaev and Solovyov. Solovyov by the way converted to Catholicsm. Berdyaev was an existentialist devoted to the cause of human freedom and dignity. In exile he was a good friend of Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, who helped come up with the Universal Declaration of Human effing Rights! Don't much care what Brooks thinks about Vladimir P., but it's too bad these philosophers are not around to sue him. He misrepresented them badly.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That's what I gathered from looking over the Wikipedia pages on these two, but I don't entirely trust Wikipedia. Thanks for the input. I'd heard of these Russian thinkers but wasn't familiar with their works.

This is rather embarrassing for Brooks!

Jeffery Hodges

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