Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Russians are coming

I was interested to learn that Vladimir Putin appears to have read (and is recommending his regional governors to read) books by Nikolai Berdyaev (The Philosophy of Inequality), Vladimir Solovyov (Justification of the Good), and Ivan Ilyin (Our Tasks). Apparently he has quoted from these in recent speeches.

To put this in context imagine hearing that David Cameron had ordered his ministers to read parts of the Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas, or Hegel, or Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West. This is only meant to give a sense of the heavyweight nature of these philosophers, but I think the point is clear - it would be hard to imagine Cameron, or any western leader doing such a thing.

Commentators have superficially characterised Berdyaev, Solovyov and Ilyin as being concerned with Russian exceptionalism, devotion to the Orthodox Church, and autocracy. Some (who clearly haven't read them) have called their writings lurid and grandiose.

I offer here a couple of snippets of Solovyov and Berdyaev's writing (I am not so familiar with Ilyin). I know very little about Putin beyond what gets reported in the western media, and I am not claiming that he is some kind of philosopher-king. If he takes these writers at all seriously (if he has even fully read them) I am sure he would have to endure some kind of cognitive dissonance between them and many of his own policies!

But I think if you look at these writings you get a sense of the way Putin may be thinking about himself. Certainly some recent events have shown that he is styling himself as guardian of tradition against the vacuity of European and American liberalism and relativism.

Here then are a few things I have gathered together. First Berdyaev.

From an article on the American Conservative website: “We must begin to make our Christianity effectively real,” Berdyaev wrote, “by a return to the life of the spirit.” Economic matters, he continued, “must be subordinated to that which is spiritual, [and] politics must be again confined confined within their proper limits.”

And: "One can also see elements of Berdyaev’s mysticism in his claim that the Russian people, while freely choosing “comradeship in AntiChrist,” have now (as of 1917) provided incontrovertible proof of evil in the world and demonstrated what the loss of Christendom really means to the world."

And Solovyov. According to Michael Martin (Second Spring Issue 16) "Solovyov's work is characterized by an interesting blend of ice-cold logic, mysticism warmed by eros, and puckish good humour. His main themes include the failure of positivism, the union of the churches, and the power and reality of Christ's Resurrection."

Michael Martin is impressed by Solovyov's eschatology: "his vision of the end times of the ultimate crisis - God's people succumbing to evil disguised as good. This, in its way, is a quiet eschatology...Christians in unity present the greatest - indeed the only - possible threat to the powers of darkness."

Valentin Tomberg, another Russian author, wrote "Europe is haunted by the shadow of the Emperor. One senses his absence just as vividly as in former times one sensed his presence." Tomberg goes on to show that Napoleon and Hitler attempted to take on this mantle, but by trying to rule with the sword they did not succeed. The Emperor rules by use of the sceptre. Symbol of hierarchy, with the cross of Spirit placed over the sphere of the World. Sacred order is only established through submission to the ultimate authority of God. Solovyov and Berdyaev and Tomberg know this - does Putin?