Preface by Alexander Mercouris
We publish this long article in full not just because intellectually speaking it is something of a tour de force but because it is packed with exceptional insights both about Russia and about the foreign policy of the US and the methods used by some of the supporters of that foreign policy.
Before commenting on some of the points made in the article we would make one warning:
There must be some doubt about the true extent of Putin’s familiarity with the three philosophers discussed in the article.
Contrary to his image in the West, Putin is a highly educated and well-read man who is known to read academic works of history and to like classical music.
Whether he has the time or the inclination to familiarise himself with the very complex and difficult material contained in the works of the three philosophers discussed in this article is another matter. More likely Putin knows these philosophers from summaries provided by his advisers rather than from personal study.
Putting that point aside, the article makes a valid and important point – the philosophers Putin endorses are genuine intellectual heavyweights whose ideas do not set out a program or blueprint for an aggressive, expansionist, ethnocentric, authoritarian, “messianic” Russia, as Western critics of Putin allege, but on the contrary do the diametric opposite.
As the article also says, the philosophers under discussion were highly regarded in the West until Putin endorsed them. At that moment – but not before – their ideas suddenly became “dangerous” and “sinister”.
This brings us to our next point. The article shows how cynically the ideas of the three philosophers are being misrepresented in order to prove the thesis of a dangerous, aggressive and authoritarian Russia.
This sort of misrepresentation is now no longer the exception but the rule.
As a general principle no quotation of Putin’s or of any other prominent Russian official or politician that appears in the Western media can be assumed to be true. Given the relentlessly hostile anti-Putin and anti-Russian agenda that now dominates Western commentary, any quotation is almost certain to be distorted either through mistranslation or by being taken out of context.
The situation is now so bad that even someone as senior as the former President of the European Commission will deliberately misquote words Putin told him in private conversation if he thinks he can get away with it. Recently it has become clear that some quotes attributed to Putin have actually been invented by his Western critics.
What this article shows is that this process now extends not just to living Russians like Putin, but to Russian intellectuals who are long dead. It seems the words of any Russian, living or dead, are now fair game for those in the West who want to convince others that Russia poses a threat to the West.
This is a very sinister development, which makes (and which is intended to make) an understanding with Russia all but impossible. Note Dr. Grenier’s astute comment about this:
“Critics say that Russia recently has become a nation filled with hate. But how are Russian citizens and President Putin himself to interpret the twisting (and what we have seen above is just the tip of the iceberg) of their own words and their most cherished traditions in such an apparently spiteful and even violent way?”
That is not however the worst of it.
Such a ruthlessly manipulative approach to the words and ideas of people long dead can be genuinely called Orwellian.
People who show such disrespect for truth are dangerous. By engaging in such cynical falsehoods they reveal where the real danger to world peace comes from. They also expose who is really responsible for the present disastrously bad state of relations between Russia and the West.
It also incidentally shows that anything people like this say simply cannot be relied upon since truth for them has no value save to the extent that it serves their political purpose. When they therefore say things like “the Russian army is invading Ukraine” there is no more reason to believe them than when they say people like Putin or Solovyov said things they did not in fact say.
Dr Grenier, the writer of this article, is clearly aware of this. One other way in which this article stands out is in its insight into the ideological and ultimately corrupt thinking of those behind current US foreign policy. Consider this quite brilliant summation at the end of the article with its implicit warning of the incipient totalitarianism of current US thinking:
“…….if America’s political ideal is as nearly perfect as can ever be achieved in this ‘fallen world,’ then the thing is to carry on and win, thereby bringing the perfect good (that’s us!) to everyone.
Why bother seriously familiarizing oneself with a competing system? Clearly Brooks and Co. made no such effort. It was enough for them to know that Russia’s political ideal significantly differs from America’s: therefore it is illegitimate, Q.E.D.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, ‘The curious logicality of all isms, their simple-minded trust in the salvation value of stubborn devotion without regard for specific, varying factors, already harbors the first germs of totalitarian contempt for reality.’
That America does not actually live up to its own ideals, as I have written here previously, changes nothing for the ideologue. After all, every further increase in America’s power brings closer the day when its actions (which are generally realist) and its speech (which is always democratic and idealist) can come into harmony. Then history can truly and finally come to an end.”
What started the new Cold War? According to the State Department, it was Russia’s illegal violation of Ukraine’s sovereign borders. The Kremlin, for its part, insists it was a U.S.-facilitated coup in Ukraine which destroyed the constitutional order there, causing chaos and dangers to Russian security to which Russia had no choice but to respond.
According to academic foreign policy “realists,” the cause was the imminent threat of Ukraine’s integration into an ever-expanding military pact dominated by the United States. According to George Friedman, president of Statfor, the private strategic intelligence firm, the Ukraine crisis itself is more effect than cause: the conflict started in 2013 when the United States decided Russia’s increasing power was becoming a threat.
And according to Kiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin created the whole crisis. He invented the threat of Ukrainian so-called “fascism” and was motivated throughout by a combination of imperial ambition coupled with a fear of democracy.
It is not my present goal to try to adjudicate among the above claims. Despite their obvious differences, they also all share a common trait: none provide any clear direction for how to get out of this mess. It’s time to approach it from a completely different angle.
When the first Cold War ended, Francis Fukuyama explained, more in sadness than in triumph, that the United States’ model of liberal democratic capitalism had won and that this was why “history” – the struggle to find the correct answer to the political question regarding the optimal form of society – had ended.
What had won, in fact, was a set of answers to such key questions of political life as the origin and purpose of the state; what it means to be human; what it is that all humans do, or should, strive for. The classic sources of the specifically American answers to these questions are well known: they are the sources of liberal political thought as such.
Here is another thing well known to the point of being cliché: since 2001, the end of history thesis has been repeatedly challenged by events. In point of fact, Fukuyama’s thesis cannot be challenged by mere events, because he never said that unpleasantness would cease to be part of the human experience. He said that humans were unlikely to come up with a more effective and attractive compromise solution to the key political questions than the rather dull set of answers that make up the liberal, democratic capitalist world.
To those who point out that ISIS has disproven his “end of history” thesis, Fukuyama could with good reason reply: “Well, if you find that sort of thing attractive, you may accept my congratulations.”
But I am writing neither to defend nor to attack Fukuyama. I am simply suggesting that we are doing ourselves no favor by ignoring all answers to the political question that differ from liberal orthodoxy. There may be in liberalism and democracy and capitalism much that is correct, but there is every reason to suspect that we have not yet discovered the final truth about either human beings or political man.
Fukuyama himself offered his own critique: his skepticism about the human material is what made him set his sights so low. It is not necessarily a criticism of Fukuyama to point out that there are many in the world today who aspire to something besides our world of comfortable autonomy and the possession of rights in the purely Lockean sense.
Among those who so aspire are many in the Slavic world, with its roots in Eastern Orthodox Christianity; or the Chinese sphere, with its Confucian heritage which is just beginning to awaken; and of course the Middle East. And that is just to name the groups the United States has identified as in dire need of a makeover.
Diversity and Liberalism
The West, and specifically the United States, has before it a fateful choice: should it seek a “live and let live” co-existence of the liberal and non-liberal nations of the world, or should it try to make the rest of the world liberal at gunpoint, and in that way prove that history really has finally ended? Should we make the world safe for diversity, or should we make the world uniform for the safety of the United States?
In the Middle East the choice has already been made. It is to be made liberal and democratic at gunpoint. The enormous difficulties this has presented has convinced the American party of war, which appears to be in the majority, that it is time to double down and try harder, not only in the Middle East, but now in the Slavic world as well.
This raises a crucial question about diversity and difference. What is it that makes a nation itself and not something else? Is it the presence of borders? Is it running one’s own elections using one’s own manpower? Clearly, it is neither of these things, nor anything like them.
To be one’s own nation, to continue to exist in fact, means exactly to continue to realize over time one’s national idea, that is to say, as Ernst Renan put it (Qu’est qu’une nation?, 1882, as quoted by Hannah Arendt) “to preserve worthily the undivided inheritance which has been handed down.”
That nations frequently borrow cultural content from others is undeniable, and often laudable. But it is crucially important, as American historian William Appleman Williams once noted, who makes the choice of those borrowings. Are they adapted freely from the inside, or are they forcefully imposed? The failure to understand this latter distinction is what keeps bringing about The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (also the title of Williams’s book).
When nations fully share the American liberal world view, these separate nations become, in a certain sense, no longer fully “separate.” This is by no means necessarily a bad thing. The nations of northern Europe do not suffer for the most part from their close alliance with the United States, including in the cultural sense.
But here’s the six trillion dollar question: is the United States willing to countenance the existence, on a permanent basis, of other great powers that do not accept liberal civilizational values as America defines them? I say other “great powers” because in the long run only a great power, or a protectorate of a great power, can assure its own continued existence.
The non-liberal status of Russia has been presented recently as a dire threat to the security of both America and the world. In support of this storyline, the Russian president has been associated with thinkers from Russia’s past who are, supposedly, the source of a fanaticism that justifies speaking of Vladimir Putin and Russia (the two are melded together in the endlessly-repeated “Putin’s Russia”) in the same breath as ISIS.
But the ideas of this non- or not-entirely-liberal Russia are by no means all dangerous. To the contrary, they offer a fruitful avenue for rethinking some of our most cherished assumptions about the nature of politics and the nature of the international order.
Then and Now
When communism was abandoned in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it became apparent to thoughtful Russians and outsiders alike that a new concept of the state, a new concept of man, and a new public philosophy would have to be created.It was then, and remains today, an open question whether the new Russian identity would end up being an import from the West, something from the native vault of pre-Communist philosophical thinking, or perhaps a combination of the two.
As might be expected from the country that brought the world Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, when it comes to philosophy, Russia has got a deep bench.In the months immediately following the February 2014 change of power in Kiev, and the resulting growing tension between Washington and Moscow, three Russian philosophers, only two of them widely known outside of Russia, came to be increasingly associated with the name of Vladimir Putin. The subsequent interpretation of these philosophers on the pages of several of America’s most influential newspapers deserves to be considered in detail.
Maria Snegovaya, a doctoral candidate in political science at Columbia University, initiated the discussion with a March 2, 2014 article in the Washington Post. Putin’s “pro-Soviet worldview,” Snegovaya wrote, is poorly understood:
“To get a grasp … one needs to check what Putin’s preferred readings are. Putin’s favorites include a bunch of Russian nationalist philosophers of early 20th century – Berdyaev, Solovyev, Ilyin — whom he often quotes in his public speeches. Moreover, recently the Kremlin has specifically assigned Russia’s regional governors to read the works by these philosophers during 2014 winter holidays. The main message of these authors is Russia’s messianic role in world history, preservation and restoration of Russia’s historical borders and Orthodoxy.”
Mark Galeotti, writing in Foreign Policy (“Putin’s Empire of the Mind,” April 21, 2014) also found fault with these same three philosophers. “These three, whom Putin often cites,” Galeotti writes, “exemplify and justify [Putin’s] belief in Russia’s singular place in history. They romanticize the necessity of obedience to the strong ruler — whether managing the boyars or defending the people from cultural corruption — and the role of the Orthodox Church in defending the Russian soul and ideal.”
Finally, David Brooks, writing for the New York Times (“Putin Can’t Stop,” March 3, 2014), likewise expressed alarm about the influence of Solovyov, Berdyaev and Il’in. “Putin doesn’t only quote these guys; he wants others to read them,” Brooks wrote. Three main ideas unify Solovyov, Il’in and Berdyaev’s work, Brooks wrote:
“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.”
Under the influence of these “guys,” Brooks continues, “The tiger of quasi-religious nationalism, which Putin has been riding, may now take control. That would make it very hard for Putin to stop in this conflict where rational calculus would tell him to stop.” Brooks concludes that Russia can no longer be considered a “normal” regime and “a Huntingtonian conflict of civilizations with Russia” may be the result.
Analyzing the Analysts
What are we to make of these analyses, all of them published in authoritative U.S. periodicals?
One thing is certain. These assessments represent an enormous and surprising reversal in the viewpoint of educated opinion in the West, particularly as regards Solovyov and Berdyaev (with Il’in, as already noted, being much less well known).
Up until these articles in March-April of 2014, I do not recall reading a single negative assessment of either of these Russian thinkers, at least not among Western specialists, nor a single one accusing them of being hostile to the West, nor a single one suggesting that they are friendly to Russian chauvinism or nationalism.
In Russian Thought after Communism, James Scanlan, a leading Western expert on Russian thought, described Vladimir Solovyov (1853 – 1900) as “by common consent the greatest and most influential of all of Russia’s philosophical thinkers.” In a recent Cambridge University Press history of Russian philosophy, Randal Poole writes that “Solov’ev is widely regarded as Russia’s greatest philosopher.”
There are, it is true, a handful of dissenters from this nearly unanimous assessment of Solovyov. The contemporary Russian philosopher Sergei Khoruzhy considers Solovyov a very great philosopher, but a bit too western in orientation to deserve the title of greatest Russian thinker in the narrow sense.
Moreover, even scholars known to be generally hostile to things Russian, such as former Harvard professor Richard Pipes, nonetheless speak respectfully about Solovyov: “The Orthodox Church never found a common language with the educated because its conservative outlook made it pronouncedly anti-intellectual … One by one it pushed away from itself the country’s finest religious minds: the Slavophiles, Vladimir Soloviev, Leo Tolstoy and the laymen gathered in the early 1900s around the Religious Philosophical Society …” (Russia Under the Old Regime, 243.)
In short, Snegovaya’s misapprehension of Solovyov could hardly be more thorough. In what possible sense can Solovyov, who had no inkling of anything Soviet, be considered supportive of Putin’s alleged “pro-Soviet world view”? In point of fact, the writings of this supposedly “pro-Soviet” philosopher – exactly like those of Berdyaev and Il’in – were banished by Soviet censors.
How can Solovyov be described as a “nationalist,” when his magnum opus, The Justification of the Good (the book which Putin is said to have urged his governors to read), states precisely the opposite? It is hard to imagine a more absolute condemnation of national exceptionalism than that contained in Solovyov’s definitive work of ethics:
“It must be one or the other. Either we must renounce Christianity and monotheism in general, according to which ‘there is none good but one, that is, God,’ and recognize our nation as such to be the highest good that is, put it in the place of God — or we must admit that a people becomes good not in virtue of the simple fact of its particular nationality, but only in so far as it conforms to and participates in the absolute good.”
This same anti-nationalist theme runs through Solovyov’s entire corpus. He argued bitterly against the Slavophile nationalists of his day. To learn of Solovyov’s views on this subject, Snegovaya, who reads Russian, might have consulted the book State, Society, Governance, a scholarly volume of liberal social science co-published in 2013 by Mikhail Khodorkovsky (not known for his fondness for Putin). In this Russian-language compendium of essays by leading Russian liberal theorists, Solovyov is marshaled as an authoritative critic of Russian nationalism, including the nationalism occasionally voiced by Dostoevsky. [S. Nikolsky and M. Khodorkovsky, ed., Gosudrastvo. Obshchestvo. Upravlenie: Sbornik statei (Moskva, Alpina Pablisher: 2013)].
In the article by Prof. Sergei Nikolsky, Solovyov is quoted at length precisely as an authoritative critic of Dostoevsky’s disrespect for other faiths and nations and specifically for Europe. For the sake of balance, Nikolsky might have noted that elsewhere, for example in his “Three Speeches in Honor of Dostoevsky,” Solovyov praises Dostoevsky in the highest possible terms and specifically denies that his political ideal is nationalist.
It is worth noting that Nikolsky, in this same article, attacks Il’in for his too rosy views of Russian Czarist imperialism. Nikolsky probably has a point here.
Criticizing the Church
Finally, far from being a fanatical proponent of the Russian Orthodox Church, Solovyov harshly criticized the Russian Church, calling it “totally subservient to the secular power and destitute of all inner vitality.” As ringing endorsements go, this one sounds decidedly weak.And again, all this is well known. Many, including even such prominent theologians as Urs von Balthasar, believe Solovyov renounced Orthodoxy and became a Catholic, so warmly did Solovyov praise the Catholic Church.
Solovyov, the supposed conservative Orthodox zealot, praised the Catholic Church, among other reasons, for what he saw as it independence from nationalist temptations, and for its readiness to act in the world.
“The East [meaning Eastern Orthodoxy] prays; the West [meaning Roman Catholicism] prays and acts: which is right?” asks Solovyov rhetorically in his famous Russia and the Universal Church. Mixing with the world is good if it is the world that changes, Solovyov continues. Changes in what sense? In some respects, in the same sense as that advocated by Western progress.
What the French Revolution destroyed – treating men as things, chattel or slaves, deserved to be destroyed. But the French Revolution nonetheless did not institute justice, because justice is impossible without the truth, and first of all the truth about man, but the French Revolution “perceived in Man nothing but abstract individuality, a rational being destitute of all positive content.”
As a result, the “free sovereign individual,” Solovyov continues, “found himself doomed to be the defenseless victim of the absolute State or ‘nation.’ ”
It is impossible to reconcile the Solovyov we find in his actual writings with Snegovaya’s and Brooks’s portrait of a religious chauvinist and Russian nationalist, one with pro-Soviet tendencies to boot.
The reference to messianism, coming from Brooks, also demonstrates a striking lack of self-awareness. But that particular example of the kettle calling the pot black has already been ably handled by Charles Pierce (“Our Mr. Brooks and the Messianic Mr. Putin,” Esquire, March 4, 2014).
Philosopher of Freedom
Berdyaev (1874 – 1948) wrote a great deal, and on a number of subjects changed his mind, but in as much as it was Berdyaev’s The Philosophy of Inequality which Putin urged his governors read, it makes sense for us to start with that.
Do we find here a repository of ‘pro-Soviet’ views? Not even close. Instead, we find an emotionally-charged condemnation of everything the Soviet Union’s founders stood for (the book was written immediately after the 1917 Revolution and Berdyaev was full of outrage and grief).
Berdyaev spends much of the book berating the Bolshevik movement for its exaggerated exaltation of a particular political form. But in truth, Berdyaev insists, political forms are always secondary to the human spirit. Whether a person is kind or vicious, devoted to justice or its opposite, has little to do with whether someone is a monarchist or a democrat, a proponent of private property or a socialist.
Why specifically “the Philosophy of Inequality”? Not because the philosopher is indifferent to exploitation and injustice. And still less because he favored tyranny – he was to the contrary a tireless critic of despotism, which is the word he used to describe the Czarist order.
Berdyaev never completely abandoned his early interest in Marx, even after his conversion to Christianity around the turn of the century. He was by temperament a person more of the left than of the right, despite a lingering influence of Nietzsche.
What concerns Berdyaev is the inequality between what is higher or lower in the realm of spirit and culture. Berdyaev mostly approves of liberalism and finds in it something aristocratic or at any rate not revolutionary. By contrast, democracy and socialism, precisely because they have pretensions to fill all life with their content, can easily become false religions.
At times Berdyaev’s philosophy even overlaps with libertarianism, which likewise rejects any abuse of the freedom of the individual person for utilitarian ends.
Berdyaev’s religious views are difficult to characterize. He was a Christian, an existentialist and someone who believed in the absolute primacy of freedom, but not necessarily all three of these at once (they are not entirely compatible, but then Berdyaev was not always consistent). The writings of Dostoevsky were of enormous religious importance to him.
It is easy to misread Berdyaev because of his lack of system, and because he looks at the same concept from sometimes contradictory perspectives. Take for example Berdyaev’s paradoxical understanding of national uniqueness.
Dostoevsky, Berdyaev writes, “is a Russian genius; the Russian national character is stamped on all his creative work, and he reveals to the world the depths of the Russian soul. But this most Russian of Russians at the same time belongs to all of humanity, he is the most universal of all Russians.”
And the same can be said for Goethe and other national geniuses, who likewise are universal not by being more generic, but precisely by being more who they are; in the case of Goethe, by being specifically German.
Berdyaev’s perspective here is particularly helpful if we want a world made safe for both unity and diversity. A global civilization that would level all differences is ugly, while a messianism that would exalt one nation over others is evil. [N. Berdyaev, Sud’ba Rossii [The Fate of Russia], (Moskva: Eksmo-Press, 2001), p. 353 and 361]
Christianity as such, however, is messianic, because it affirms what it considers a universal truth, the truth of Christ. But this truth has no coercive power.
Until early 2014, the view that Solovyov and Berdyaev represent particularly humane and attractive alternatives for Russia was not, as far as I am aware, doubted by anyone, at least, not by anyone who gave the matter any thought.
In the time of perestroika, when Russian philosophy was finally being rediscovered inside Russia, the likely positive influence of these philosophers was warmly affirmed. Bill Keller, writing for the New York Times, praised the Soviet magazine Novy Mir for focusing attention on “the more Western-inclined 19th-century Russian thinkers such as Nikolai Nekrasov, Aleksandr Herzen, and the Christian philosophers Vladimir Solovyov and Nikolai Berdyaev.” [Emphasis mine]
These were the sort of thinkers, Keller emphasized, who would help encourage “a humane alternative to zealous Leninism and the darker Russian nationalism.” By publishing such writers, Keller continued, Novy Mir was demonstrating that it “occupies a key centrist position, attempting to reconcile the Westernizers and the Russian patriots on a common ground of tolerance and democratic ideals.”
The ‘Liberal Conservative’
The case of Ivan Il’in (1883-1954), whom Putin regularly quotes and whom Putin is known to particularly respect, is more complex. Some of Snegovaya’s suspicions in his case are indeed accurate. Il’in has a conservative temperament.
It is fair to call him a nationalist, though one concerned with Russia alone, and with no messianic ambitions. As will be seen below, Il’in was not against authoritarianism. Il’in was, however, complex and worthy of much more careful consideration.
The suggestion that Il’in is a source of that famous “pro-Soviet” stance is easily disposed of. The Cheka interrogators who arrested and interrogated Il’in six times between 1918 and 1922 would have been very surprised at such a characterization.
According to Prof. Iu. T. Lisitsa, who has reviewed the records on Il’in from the KGB archives, Il’in “even in the hands of the Cheka, under threat of execution … remained adamant, precise, and articulate in his opposition to the Bolshevik regime.” [From “The Complex Legacy of Ivan Il’in, Russian Thought after Communism, in James Scanlan, ed., Russian Thought After Communism: The Recovery of a Philosophical Tradition (Armonk, New York, M.E. Sharpe: 1994), 183.]
The “pro-Soviet” characterization also does not jive very well with the fact that Il’in, along with Berdyaev and a host of other leading Russian philosophers, was banished from the USSR in 1922 for their anti-Soviet “agitation.” Il’in’s literary corpus is said to include over 40 books and essays, some of them written in scholarly, technical language, so it is not an easy thing to characterize his worldview, but a good place to start is Il’in’s Our Tasks.
Not only is this a book which Putin likes to quote, it is also another of the books, along with Solovyov’s Justification of the Good and Berdyaev’s The Philosophy of Inequality, that Putin urged his governors to read.
The book Our Tasks is a compilation of journalistic essays written by Il’in between 1948 and 1954. Their overriding theme is the need to put an end to Soviet rule, defeat communism and plan for Russia’s restoration and recovery from the devastating physical, moral and political woes visited on Russia by the Soviet system.
It is difficult to imagine a more uncompromising condemnation of Soviet ideology and practice than this collection of Il’in’s essays. If anything, one might fault him for exaggerating the faults of the Soviet system. It must be remembered, though, that Il’in (who died in 1954) did not live to see the post-Stalin era, or even to hear of Khrushchev’s speech condemning Stalin (in 1956).
And yet Il’in was not only a critic of communism, he was also a critic of Russia’s past leaders when they were vicious (as in the case of Ivan IV) or incompetent, as in the case of Nicholas II. Like Berdyaev, Il’in was also, on occasion, bitingly critical of the Russian people, who he felt were politically immature and in need of a crash course in legal awareness.
After the fall of Soviet power, a fall he was sure would eventually take place, he was skeptical in the extreme that the character of the people living in Russia at that point would be capable of wise self-rule, which is why he urged, as a temporary expedient, a transition period of authoritarian government.
Here is how, in Our Tasks, Il’in described the character of the “Soviet man” that the future Russia would inherit: “The totalitarian system … imposes a number of unhealthy tendencies and habits … among which we may find the following: a willingness to inform on others (and knowingly falsely at that), pretense and lying, loss of the sense of personal dignity and the absence of a well-rooted patriotism, thinking in a slavish manner and by aping the thoughts of others, flattery combined with servility, constant fear.
“The fight to overcome these unhealthy habits will not be easy … It will require time, an honest and courageous self-awareness, a purifying repentance, the acquisition of new habits of independence and self-reliance, and, most importantly of all, a new national system of spiritual and intellectual education. [I. A. Il’in, Nashi Zadachi (Our Tasks), sobr. soch. (collected works), vol. 2 (Moskva, Russkaya Kniga: 1993), 23-24.]
Il’in was indeed deeply concerned about the danger of Russia’s disintegration and indeed was concerned about the defense of its borders, although, of course, not their restoration. To avoid such disintegration, Il’in urged Russians to not repeat what he considered the fatal mistake of the February Revolution – its premature push for full democracy.
In this, as in many other respects, Il’in’s policy recommendations overlap with those of Solzhenitsyn, who was profoundly influenced by Il’in. That Il’in is a major influence on Putin’s brand of “liberal conservatism” was noted already in 2012 by the Canadian scholar Paul Robinson.
Unlike Solovyov and Berdyaev, in the early years of perestroika Ivan Il’in was poorly known both inside and outside of Russia, although Il’in had been quite prominent during the years preceding and following the Russian Revolution, including while he was living in exile.
His fame early in the Twentieth Century stemmed largely from a celebrated academic study of Hegel’s writings, a work still lauded both in and outside of Russia as among the best ever produced.
Il’in burst onto the post-Soviet scene in 1991, when essays from Our Tasks were first published, including the prescient “What Does the Dismemberment of Russia Bode for the World?” In this essay, Il’in wrote that the rest of the world will, in its ignorance of the likely consequences, eagerly underwrite the breakup of Russia and will to this end provide lots of development assistance and ideological encouragement.
As a result, Il’in wrote, “The territory of Russia will boil with endless quarrels, clashes, and civil wars that will constantly escalate into worldwide clashes …” To avoid this fate, as mentioned earlier, Il’in urged for Russia a transition period of authoritarian rule.
This point is made emphatically by Philip Grier in his Complex Legacy of Ivan Il’in. Grier, it should be added, who is the former president of the American Hegel Society, is also the translator of Il’in’s two-volume analysis of Hegel published by Northwestern University Press in 2011.
Although Il’in quite plainly admired the United States and Switzerland for what he saw as their mature democratic self-rule, it is not clear that Il’in was confident that democracy was tailor-made for a nation and culture of the Russian type.
What is absolutely clear, however, is Il’in’s fervent devotion to rule of law and legal awareness, something that sets him apart from the Slavophiles whom he in other respects resembles.
A Russia, Liberal and Christian?
There are very important differences between these three thinkers. Nevertheless, all three writers considered freedom essential to human culture and the human spirit, though they differed in emphasis. Undoubtedly, then, the worldview of all three is irreducible to a liberal formula even if their views include important liberal or modern elements.
All three agreed with the liberal world that all humans, regardless of nation, religion, or any other difference, are equally endowed with infinite dignity. But for them it was not a throwaway phrase when they added that this dignity is conferred on humans by God, which means, among other things, that a right to be absolutely secure cannot trump someone else’s right not to be tortured (Il’in’s absolute prohibition against torture, or anything even coming close to torture, in the above-mentioned book is excellent and quite timely).
There has been no space here to attempt more than a brief introduction to these thinkers. But it should already be clear that the tradition we have just described offers, if we would only engage with it, an opportunity: a chance to form a partnership with a Russia that, though different from our present state of mind, shares much of our own past, and perhaps suggests some ways forward as we negotiate an increasingly dangerous world.
As his reading list recommendations strongly suggest, “Putin’s Russia” represents an attempt to reconnect with this tradition, however flawed that attempt may be. Take Putin’s famous speech (to the Federal Assembly) in April 2005. Although Western commentators have ad nauseum berated him for showing his true colors and displaying nostalgia for the Soviet order, in reality, as the entire text and the following excerpt makes clear, he did no such thing:
Putin said: “‘State power,’ wrote the great Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, ‘has its own limits defined by the fact that it is authority that reaches people from outside… State power cannot oversee and dictate the creative states of the soul and mind, the inner states of love, freedom and goodwill. The state cannot demand from its citizens faith, prayer, love, goodness and conviction. It cannot regulate scientific, religious and artistic creation… It should not intervene in moral, family and daily private life, and only when extremely necessary should it impinge on people’s economic initiative and creativity.’”
Is it naïve to impute such idealism to Putin? Perhaps. But Putin is not in fact the issue, but Russia. We engage after all a country, not a single person in it, and the tradition we are describing has sufficient roots in the Russia that actually exists that, if we chose to engage with it, there would be the chance for an actual productive conversation, one capable of rebuilding trust and creating an order.
Critics say that Russia recently has become a nation filled with hate. But how are Russian citizens and President Putin himself to interpret the twisting (and what we have seen above is just the tip of the iceberg) of their own words and their most cherished traditions in such an apparently spiteful and even violent way?
Knowledgeable analysts have correctly noted that Russian nationalists such as Alexander Dugin consider the United States to be Russia’s implacable enemy. Representatives of this “Eurasianist” camp are waiting in the wings if Putin falls.
America’s efforts at “regime change” might even succeed at facilitating such a drastic change for the worse. And then, by means of that “curious logicality” of the American ideology, we will once again, with “stubborn devotion without regard for specific, varying factors,” have brought about yet another catastrophe.
A Brief Footnote on Ideology
For all the United States’ vaunted freedom, it exhibits surprisingly little freedom of maneuver when it comes to its foreign policy. Far from taking into consideration Russia’s vital security needs, to say nothing of Russia’s identity, U.S. ideologues have behaved as if both are either non-existent or fundamentally illegitimate. Such compulsive political behavior is the sure sign of ideological infection.
Brooks, Snegovaya and Galeotti apparently have all made use of the same basic logic when they examined the philosophical sources of Putin’s thinking. That logic went something like this: a) Washington considers Russia a problem, therefore, b) Vladimir Putin is a thug; and therefore, c) the Nineteen Century philosopher Vladimir Solovyov dreamed of restoring the Soviet Union to its former Christian glory and might.
Such sloppy thinking would not have happened were these three otherwise intelligent people not (one hopes temporarily) previously incapacitated by ideological blinders. Unfortunately, the same ideological thinking dominates nearly all of U.S. discourse vis-à-vis Russia, making a political settlement impossible.
After all, if America’s political ideal is as nearly perfect as can ever be achieved in this “fallen world,” then the thing is to carry on and win, thereby bringing the perfect good (that’s us!) to everyone.
Why bother seriously familiarizing oneself with a competing system? Clearly Brooks and Co. made no such effort. It was enough for them to know that Russia’s political ideal significantly differs from America’s: therefore it is illegitimate, Q.E.D.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The curious logicality of all isms, their simple-minded trust in the salvation value of stubborn devotion without regard for specific, varying factors, already harbors the first germs of totalitarian contempt for reality.”
That America does not actually live up to its own ideals, as I have written here previously, changes nothing for the ideologue. After all, every further increase in America’s power brings closer the day when its actions (which are generally realist) and its speech (which is always democratic and idealist) can come into harmony. Then history can truly and finally come to an end.
And yet, in light of the above review of an important part of the Russian tradition, there is something we are now in a much better position to point out: Russia has also taken the trouble to have ideals.
Paul Grenier is a former Russian simultaneous interpreter and a regular writer on political-philosophical issues. After advanced study in Russian affairs, international relations and geography at Columbia University, Paul Grenier worked on contract for the Pentagon, State Department and World Bank as a Russian interpreter, and at the Council on Economic Priorities, where he was a research director. He has written for the Huffington Post, Solidarity Hall, the Baltimore Sun, Godspy, and Second Spring, among other places, and his translations of Russian philosophy have appeared in the Catholic journal Communio.
Prehistoric art in Spain: The 27,000-year-old cave art found under graffiti in Spain’s Basque Country | Culture
Diego Garate, doctor of prehistory at the University of Cantabria and a specialist in Paleolithic art, was surprised when he came across a 27,000-year-old painting of a bison a meter and a half long, hidden under graffiti, in one of the Aizpitarte caves in the Basque Country. The discovery of the artwork, obscured by the word “exit” and an arrow indicating the way out of the cave, took place in September 2015. Now, following years of research, investigators claim it indicates the existence of a shared artistic culture in ancient Europe.
According to Garate, the bison painting was found when he and a team of speleologists explored the cave in search of cave art. “We went through a small, very low arch about 50 centimeters high, that led into a passageway and when I raised my head I saw an impressive bison covered by graffiti on the rock,” he says. “Its characteristics were similar to those of other bison found in at least 17 caves in different parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe.” Garate and his team’s research, which was published last week in the journal PLOS One, also includes studies of paintings found in three caves in the area of bison, horses and a bird in an artistic style previously unseen in the Iberian peninsula.
Garate began searching for Paleolithic paintings in Spain’s Basque Country a decade ago. “Very little was known about the cave art in this region compared with neighboring areas such as Cantabria, which has the Altamira cave; or the central Pyrenees, which is full of decorated caves; or the French Dordogne, which is famous for its paintings of bison and mammoths,” says Garate.
In the center of that geographical triangle is Basque Country, which then – like now – was a transit area for people crossing between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe. “It was paradoxical that there was so little cave art considering it was the only pass available to the men and women of that period,” says Garate. In 2011, when he began his research, only six caves with artwork were recorded in the entire Basque Country. Now that number has risen to 28.
Manuel González Morales, a researcher at the International Institute of Prehistoric Research in Cantabria, says that Garate’s work is “extraordinarily” significant both archaeologically and historically as it has revealed more locations containing Paleolithic art in an area that, until several years ago, appeared relatively empty of this kind of historical evidence. Beyond purely aesthetic considerations, González says these paintings represent “new examples of how underground spaces, including some difficult to access, were used for the development of artistic activity.”
Garate claims that the discovery of the bison paintings in that region of Spain proves that its inhabitants exchanged ideas, shared graphic expressions and had similar and recurring motifs. “We have discovered that human groups in the area communicated with each other,” says Garate. “For example, they used the same tools fashioned from bone to sculpt the stone. We found the remains of those tools in the same caves where we found the paintings.”
The research also points to the existence of exchange networks rather than the same groups of humans moving or migrating from one place to another. “These bison are proof of what would be the first instance of globalization on a continental scale, from Central Europe to the Iberian Peninsula, something like the first European Union 27,000 years ago,” says González, who adds that Garate’s findings show that Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups made contact with other groups and exchanged technical and stylistic ideas.
One of the most notable features of these paintings is their perspective, which is very different from what we use today. “The type of art that was developed on the continent 27,000 years ago was expressionist,” explains Garate. “The artists did not try to depict reality, but to offer their own interpretation of it.” Consequently, the animals in these paintings appear disproportionate – their faces are grotesque while their legs and horns are two dimensional, like the art found in Egyptian temples.
Garate explains that the style of the paintings is difficult to appreciate today, not because the artists could not portray the subject of their art as they saw them, but because there was an established painting technique. “It gives us the feeling that the art was controlled; subject to rules imposed from a place of power,” says Garate. “The artist would be more like a craftsman. Rather than doing what occurred to them, they could only do what they were ordered to do. It was a collective rather than an individual form of art.”
But experts still don’t know the purpose or meaning of these paintings. “There are multiple interpretations and perhaps there is more than one answer,” Garate acknowledges. “We know that for 30,000 years, animals rather than plants, humans or stars were depicted. Over that period of time, there were several different human groups, but the art is limited to the same motif. We also know that they [the paintings] did not depict the animals that were hunted and eaten, which makes us think that these paintings have a very strong message, perhaps related to social cohesion; to that need to keep the group together in order to survive.”
English version by Heather Galloway.
See For Yourself, 30 of the New, Modern, Amazing Airports of ‘Stagnating Russia’ (Great Pictures)
The author is CEO of the Awara Group, which offers consulting, accounting, tax, and legal services. He is the author of several books on politics and philosophy, as well as Putin’s New Russia. He speaks fluent English, Russian, Finnish, and Swedish, and German, French, and Spanish less fluently. He resides in Moscow.
What prompted me to write this Awara Accounting report on the impressive development of Russia’s airports was to produce a cure for the but-beyond-the-MKAD syndrome. The MKAD is the 110 kilometer outer ring road around Moscow. And this syndrome refers to the habit of the detractors of Putin’s Russia to claim that any visible development of Russia, if any, has happened only within the limits of Moscow city – “just go outside the Ring Road and you’ll see there’s nothing but poverty and ruin.”
Many of those who suffer from this syndrome live in a deep-seated cognitive dissonance where they just refuse to trust their lying eyes, while some of them are just peddlers of pure propaganda or victims of the latter.
So, let’s see what actually happens beyond the MKAD. Amazing airports have been built or reconstructed both in Moscow and across the vast country and many other impressive projects have been presented.
And it is not just airports, it is roads and bridges, too. Those Awara has covered in other reports in the series on Putin’s incredible infrastructure investments. You can read about the amazing new bridges at this link: Putin the Pontiff – Bridge maker and the great development of Russia’s roads here.
What’s remarkable is also the efficiency and speed of the construction of the new airport terminals. Most of them have been built in three years and some in two or even less. The Simferopol airport (above) was built in two years and was up and running within three years from the decision to initiate the project. Krasnoyarsk (below) needed only1.5 years to complete the construction.
Russia’s 79 international airports
Our method was to review all the airports in a list of all of Russia’s international airports. (An international airport is one into which a plane can fly directly from a foreign country as it runs a passport control). There were 79 airports in our list. From what I had registered from the news and in my travels, I expected that there would be some 10 or 15 cool new airports to present. But no. The task proved much more overwhelming as it turned out that almost every one of the listed airports had been reconstructed or was due for reconstruction.
Instead of writing up an easy piece with nice pics, I ended up spending weeks on identifying and digesting all the information. The investigation showed that practically each one of the 79 airports had either been modernized or about to be so. I identified less than 10 airports on the list of international airports which were not brought up to modern quality standards since 2000 or on the way to it. And of those half were either remote outposts or military airfields. I am confident, that all the passenger airports in the major Russian cities (defined as having some 150 thousand or more inhabitants) will be totally modernized within the next 6 years.
Practically all the development of the international airports has been funded by both public and private money, where the infrastructure like runways and flight controls have been recipients of public funds whereas the terminals have been mostly built by public funds.
In addition to the 79 international airports there are some 60 regional airports with more or less regular traffic. These will all also be upgraded according to a multibillion government program on development of regional airports running up to 2024. This forms part of a broader strategic program ordered by President Putin to improve the Russian economy, demographics and infrastructure with public and private funding amounting to a total of $400 billion.
An important goal with the development of the airports is to help decentralize the economy by way of increasing direct interconnectivity of Russian cities instead of people having to fly transit through Moscow, which has in the past really hampered the overall development of the country.
The new airport facilities are really needed to keep up with the passenger boom
The new enlarged and reconstructed airports cater to a growing number of passengers. In 2000, when Putin first took office, the Russian airports served 35.5 million passengers, but by 2018 the number had grown sixfold to 205 million. That surpasses the 135 million passengers of the USSR in the 1980s. The growth has been huge and accelerating, just in five years from 2014 to 2018 the number grew by one third.
In the meanwhile, the Moscow air cluster with 97 million passengers (2018) has become Europe’s third largest air hub after London (126 mln) and Paris (104 mln). Sheremetyevo – Europe’s fastest growing airport – alone has grown 4.5 times since 2000 to present 46 million. At the same time, Moscow’s second airport Domodedovo grew from handling 2.8 million passengers in in 2000 to 30 million in 2017.
Air travel is a very solid indicator for economic activity, these figures then show that there is much going on that does not catch the eye of the GDP.
When I first came to Moscow by air in 1993, the city did not have a single modern airport. Actually, back then the Sheremetyevo international airport, present day Terminal F, should have formally counted as a modern one as it was built only about a decade earlier in 1980 in time for the Moscow Olympics. But the airport – built by a West German company – was terribly outdated in design and functionality from the start. Both the façade and the interior design was informed by a dark and gloomy style prevailing in Russia during the 1970s. My impression as a passenger was that that the terminal must have been in operational neglect at least three decades by then.
I used to hate having to travel through that airport and each time I would wish they’d remove the heavy copper circles which were misdecorating the ceilings and literally weighing over the heads of the passengers. One day sometime in the early 2000s it did happen; the copper was gone and a white suspended ceiling was there instead. Somebody told me that the reason was that the commodity price of copper had surged. Whatever, I was happy for it. In the 1990s the restrooms where stinky and you’d be lucky if they were furnished with paper. And then there was the strong kerosene fumes wafting around the whole airport. An odor which you would connect with Russia in good and bad. For me it actually became so characteristic of Russia, that I later found myself upon arrival inhaling that fume, like one would mountain air, happy as I had returned to Russia from the increasingly oppressive West.
But today all has changed, if Sheremetyevo Terminal F was probably the worst of all the world’s major airports, I considered the new Terminal D as one of the best when it opened in 2009. Presently the terminal is overcrowded as it operates way over its planned capacity, but that should ease when the domestic traffic is fully transferred to the new Terminal B, which opened in 2018.
If Sheremetyevo Terminal G was depressing, then the domestic terminal then called Sheremetyevo 1 was like a parody of all that was wrong with the later stages of the USSR just before its demise. Moscow’s second airport, Domodedovo, at that time was very much the same, but today Domodedovo along with Sheremetyevo are modern international airports meeting the highest global standards. There is a third major Moscow airport as well, the Vnukovo airport. And a smaller, fourth Moscow cluster international airport, Zhukovsky (Ramenskoe) opened in 2018.
In 2018, in time for the FIFA World Cup, Moscow’s Sheremetyevo got the new Terminal B for domestic flights. This one will be merged with present Terminal C, after the renovation of the latter, to form a hub for domestic flights, while Terminals D, E and F will serve international flights. An underground shuttle train opened in 2018 already connects the domestic and international terminals.
The old Domodedovo terminal in Moscow
A waiting lounge at the old Domodedovo
The new Domodedovo (above and below)
New, in 2012 (above) and old, in 2000 (below) Vnukovo, Moscow’s 3rd airport.
Let’s now go beyond the MKAD and look at the other new amazing airport complexes around the country. This is just a selection, there is much more.
Saint Petersburg was really in a need of a modern airport, and it was therefore such a relief when it finally opened in 2013
Belgorod a city of 350 thousand inhabitants close to the Ukrainian border got this new beautiful terminal in 2013.
Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East got a new airport terminal in 2012 as part of the preparations for the APEC 2012 summit.
Yekaterinburg, Russia’s third largest city on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains received a new terminal in 2009.
This new airport complex was erected in 2012 in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia’s sixth most populous city. It was built in the run up to the 2013 Summer Universiade and enlarged for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
This new airport in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave at the Baltic Sea, opened in 2017
The new airport in Nizhny Novgorod was also built as part of Russia’s infrastructure upgrade in preparation for the 2018 football World Cup.
The new airport in Novosibirsk is from 2015. Novosibirsk with 1.5 million is a city in Siberia at the Ob River. The Trans-Siberian Railway fueled much of the city’s growth in the 19th century.
The new terminal in Perm from 2017 is a real architectural gem. Perm has a population over one million and is located in the, Urals 300 kilometers north-west of Yekaterinburg and 400 kilometers north of Ufa.
Rostov-on-Don is one more of the cities which got a new airport terminal (opened 2017) in preparation for the FIFA 2018 World Cup. In fact, this was a brand new airport built on virgin field, whereas the other airports in this survey represent development and enlargements of previously existing airports.
SABETA, YAMAL PENINSULA
Sabetta on the Yamal peninsula got an airport in 2014 in connection with Russia’s push to develop its Arctic regions and in this case especially the Yamal LNG project and the Yuzhno-Tambeyskoye gas field.
In 2014 opened the new airport in Samara in the southeastern part of European Russia on the east bank of the river Volga.
Simferopol airport in Russian Crimea is probably the nicest airport in the world. Built in 2018, four years after Crimea’s liberation from Ukrainian occupation.
It was an amazing feeling travelling through that airport. The architect has really managed to do what is most important in places like that, to neutralize the stress factor. Everything is so spacy, harmonious and green that you get a feeling that you are in a giant spa instead of an airport. The Simferopol airport really calmed my nerves on a busy travelling day.
The Sochi airport was built in 2009 and enlarged in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
This airport in Talakan in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) opened in 2012.
The new international terminal in Tyumen was opened in 2017. Tyumen was the first Russian settlement in Siberia and now has an estimated population of 750 thousand.
Ufa, the capital city of Bashkortostan at the Urals received this new air terminal in 2015.
This is the airport in Volgograd, the WWII name of which was Stalingrad. A new international terminal was constructed in 2016 and in 2018 another terminal for domestic flights was opened to accommodate football fans for FIFA 2018.
The newly constructed airport in Krasnoyarsk opened in December 2017. Krasnoyarsk is located at the Yenisei River in Siberia. With a population over one million it is the third largest Siberian city after Novosibirsk and Omsk. Novosibirsk got a new airport in 2015 and Omsk will get one before 2022.
Those were some of the airports built and upgraded within the last decade, now let’s look on some airport projects underway.
The Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov presented in May 2018 this bold project for the new airport in the Chechen capital Grozny. The construction is expected to commence in 2020.
The projected new terminal at the Saratov airport is one more of the new Russian airports with daring architecture, not only functionality but beauty, too. Saratov on the Volga River and with a population of some 850 thousand will have this airport up and running in 2019.
The Irkutsk airport will be modernized with this new terminal in 2020. Irkutsk is a city of 600 thousand people near the Lake Baikal.
Krasnodar, Russia’s fastest growing city, in the South of the country will get a new airport and air city hub by 2023.
This new terminal in Nalchik is due by 2020. Nalchik is a city of 300 thousand situated at an altitude of 550 meters (1,800 ft) in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is Russia’s easternmost big city situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Interestingly, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is actually situated quite a bit eastward from Tokyo if you go by the latitude of geographic coordinates. That should really give you an idea how huge Russia is. This new airport terminal will be erected there by 2021.
As part of Putin’s drive to develop Russia’s Far East, Khabarovsk will get a new modern airport terminal by 2019. Further the airport will be developed into a logistic hub with an air city consisting of business centers, hotels and an exposition center. Khabarovsk, a city of more than half a million people, is located at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers about 800 kilometers north of Vladivostok and only 30 kilometers from the Chinese border.
Chelyabinsk is just to the east of the Ural Mountains and 210 kilometers south of Yekaterinburg. This city with more than 1 million inhabitants will soon get this new airport terminal which is due in 2019. The construction was spurred by the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits to be held in Chelyabinsk in 2020.
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with a population of 200 thousand is on the Sakhalin island, one thousand kilometer west from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their new airport terminal is due by end of 2019 so as to accommodate growing needs of tourism and business.
We will round off this survey with this impressive new airport terminal which will be erected in Gelendzhik. Gelendzhik is a Black Sea resort 250 kilometer west from Sochi. In fact, between Sochi and Anapa on the whole coast, there are no high quality resorts except for Gelendzhik, but this one is truly a gem. The new terminal will be built by 2021. Gelendzhik is the only one in our survey which does not presently have the status of international airport, but that should be taken care of by the time this new airport is done. With Gelendzhik completed, Russia’s Black Sea region will have six modern large airports – Sochi, Gelendzhik, Anapa, Simferopol, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don – in a matrix of roughly 300 kilometers between airport. That is an impressive density in itself and doubly remarkable considering there was not a single decent airport there before 2009. Considering also the road building happening in the region, the area is on its way to develop into a Russian Provence, with which it already shares the climate and nature.
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