I’ve always liked communist and socialist ideas.Vladimir Putin [i]
Carl Schmitt once said, “Tell me who your enemy is, and I will tell you who you are.” Writing before Hitler came to power in Germany, Schmitt noted that Central Europe was living under the eye of the Russians. Schmitt explained, “Their prowess in rationalism and its opposite, as well as their potential for good and evil in orthodoxy, is overwhelming.” He added, “They have realized the union of Socialism and Slavism, which already in 1848 Donoso Cortés said would be the decisive event of the next century.”[ii]
And now, in the twenty-first century, the union of Socialism and Slavism, under Putin’s management, is on the march. Yet the Russian offensive has apparently stalled; and the reason goes to the very heart of what Friedrich Nietzsche called “European Nihilism.” It may be argued, contra Nietzsche, that Russia became the primary vehicle of that nihilism. Here is an outcome Nietzsche did not foresee because his animus was so one-sidedly focused on the West.
Nietzsche wrote, “My objection to the whole of sociology in England and France is that it knows from experience only the decaying forms of society and takes its own decaying instincts with perfect innocence as the norm of sociological value judgement.”[iii] Nietzsche thought of Russia as a foil to Western nihilism when he wrote, “Our Socialists are decadents, but Mr. Herbert Spencer is also a decadent — he sees in the victory of altruism something desirable!”[iv]
Tsarist Russia was selfish. Tsarist Russia was imperialist – an imperium with real authority. Rebuking Western liberalism, Nietzsche wrote, “Freedom means that the manly instincts that delight in war and victory have gained mastery over the other instincts – for example, over the instinct for ‘happiness.’”[v] Nietzsche then denounced “shopkeepers, Christians, cows, women, Englishmen and other democrats.”[vi] Anticipating one of Hitler’s arguments, Nietzsche wrote, “Our institutions are no longer fit for anything….”[vii] Democracy, he added, “has always been the declining form of the power to organize….” The German Reich, he continued, was a decaying state. An ever-expanding Imperium was the only true basis for the renewal of authority – as in “Russia, the only power today which has durability in it, which can wait, which can still promise something – Russia, the antithesis of that pitiable European petty-state politics and nervousness which with the foundations of the German Reich has entered a critical phase…. The entire West has lost those instincts out of which institutions grow, out of which the future grows….”[viii]
To understand Russia and the West today, it would be useful to know where Nietzsche was wrong and where he was right. It must be admitted that profound insight may be tangled-up with profound error. In retrospect we can see that Juan Donoso Cortés was a better analyst and prophet than Nietzsche, and so was Dostoyevsky. These writers foresaw what Nietzsche failed to foresee; namely, that Russia would succumb to socialism in the twentieth century, and become the focus of a great calamity – a calamity that continues into the twenty-first century.
Why did Russia embrace Lenin’s nihilism in 1917? Why did Russia embrace socialistic atheism even more decisively than Europe? Why did Nietzsche fail to anticipate this turn? Perhaps the political philosopher Eric Voegelin discovered what Nietzsche missed. In his theory of political order (which is also a theory of nihilism), Voegelin indirectly suggested that communism’s triumph in Russia (in 1917) owed everything to Tsarist dogmatism. In itself this dogmatism was sufficiently “grotesque” that it offended the deeper noetic sense of those Russians who mattered most. This dogmatism especially offended the Russian intelligentsia, who were already susceptible to “philosophic” extremes. Consequently, intelligent Russians were driven further and further to the left in their nihilist revolt against Orthodoxy.[ix]
Here is an explanation for the Russian Revolution and its aftermath – an event modernity has not properly dealt with. And now, overtaken by events in Ukraine, few realize the extent to which the Russian Federation, as the USSR successor state, continues to follow nihilistic logic. It is more than a little curious that Nietzsche’s error regarding Russia is now recapitulated by a subset of paleoconservatives and traditionalists. Like Nietzsche, they see Russia as a foil to Western decadence. Like Nietzsche, they fail to see Russia’s nihilist core and its apocalyptic trajectory.
It is, especially, Russia’s apocalyptic trajectory that should concern us. By way of explanation, an Orthodox clergyman once told me a story. Eighty years ago there was a priest in the Russian countryside who passionately opposed the Communist Party. Inevitably the secret police came and arrested him. He was taken to Moscow but was not taken to jail. Instead, he was brought to the Kremlin. Escorted up to Stalin’s office, the priest said to himself, “God has given me this opportunity to preach God’s word.” Standing before Stalin, the young priest started to sermonize. Stalin held up his hand and said, “Father, excuse me.” The dictator went to the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a Bible, opening it to the Book of Revelation. Stalin pointed to Apocalypse of St. John and said to the Priest, “Father, I am following the word of God. I am doing what it says right here. Now go back to your village and tell them.” The priest was taken back to his village.
Whether this story is apocryphal or not, it is nonetheless revelatory. It was Dostoyevsky’s mistake, in this regard, to suggest that Christ’s second coming would take place in Russia. What took place with the advent of Bolshevism, of course, was not the Second Coming of Christ but the appearance of Antichrist. In William Butler Yeats’s poem, The Second Coming,” written in 1919, the horrors of the First World War, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Irish War of Independence are rendered metaphorically – along with the flu pandemic of 1918-1919. The poem reads as follows:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
It is appropriate, in this context, to acknowledge that Yeats’s poem is also about our time. The year 1919, in fact, has much in common with 2022 – though it may ultimately prove to be more intimately related to 1914 and 1939. So far, Russia has not made use of its real firepower. Even now there are military analysts who say, in private, that we are headed for a general nuclear war. Set aside, if you can, the ever sinister and sugary promises of our politically correct dogmatists, whose fatted heads are larded with expectations of the Millennium of equality and inclusivity. What we ought to expect is a “hard reset” as opposed to a Great Reset. Instead of the slogan, “You’ll own nothing and be happy,”[x] the outcome might well be that you’ll own nothing because you’re dead. Nihilism plays tricks of this kind on its disciples.
As if to confirm our worst fears, Congress’s nuclear war advisor, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, has suggested that the “whole point of Russia’s war in Ukraine could be to drag the West into World War III….”[xi] Perhaps Moscow does not really care about Ukraine or the Ukrainian people. Think of them as a “stepping stone.” In other words, the invasion of Ukraine was conducted to facilitate more far-reaching preparations; that is, preparations for a nuclear preemptive strike. Pry is the director of Congress’s U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum and he has been arguing for an increase in U.S. readiness levels. In an interview with Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, Pry said,
I think the administration and the intelligence community are either lying or have misconstrued the strategic situation … and this has been used to justify keeping U.S. strategic nuclear forces at their lowest readiness level, DEFCON 5, which potentially makes them more vulnerable to … surprise nuclear attack.
Given the Kremlin’s readiness to destroy Ukraine, why would Putin or his lieutenants have moral qualms about using nukes on countries they really hate? What is wrong with destroying cities, after all? The malignant narcissist and the psychopath, revolting in more than one sense of the word, are perfectly capable of flattening cities, continents, and more. The Russian president certainly belongs in this category. Just look at the evidence regarding the many brutal assassinations his henchmen have carried out over the last twenty years. Heidi Blake’s excellent book, From Russia with Blood, delves deeply into this subject. Here we discover the kind of people – or the kind of person – that rules Russia today. In this context it is worth quoting the deathbed statement of one of Putin’s leading victims, former FSB Lt. Col. Alexander Litvinenko, fatally poisoned with radioactive polonium.
At the beginning of his statement Litvinenko thanked the doctors and nurses who cared for him. He thanked the British government and police for investigating his case. He also thanked his beloved wife. And then he said,
But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death…. I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition. You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women. You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.
And now Putin threatens the whole world with nuclear weapons. Given the bizarre lockdowns in China, and given the fact that China is Putin’s main ally, what are we to make of the thousands of merchant ships piling up outside China’s closed harbors? What will happen when Walmart closes and the supply chain breaks? Is China preparing to nuke us? Is that what this is?
Of special interest in this regard: an active FSB analyst, working in Russia, has allegedly offered the following analysis of Putin’s stewardship. He says that “Putin was never a spy,” and that Putin’s competence has never been questioned because any such questioning would be regarded as treason. Furthermore, FSB analysts do not really know who the top decision-makers in Russia are! They do not know how strategic decisions are arrived at.[xii] “Most importantly,” he writes, “no one knew that there will be such a war – it was concealed from everyone. For example – you are being asked to analyze various outcomes and consequences of a meteorite strike – you research the mode of attack, and you are being told that it’s just a hypothetical and not to stress on the details….”[xiii]
Wait a moment. A hypothetical meteor strike?! Is this not a thinly disguised attempt, on the Kremlin’s part, to reassure itself that Russia can economically survive the destruction of the West? And who will direct these “meteorites” (presumably sent) toward Paris and London, New York and Washington? The FSB analyst then complains, “so you understand the report is only intended as a checkbox, and the conclusions of the analysis must be positive for Russia, otherwise you basically get interrogated for not doing good work.”[xiv]
And so, it seems, the “meteors” are coming. What kind of economic turbulence would Russia then experience? Better not make your report too pessimistic. We are, after all, determined to unleash these “meteors.” Just check the box and tell us what we want to hear. Instead of a rational, transparent process for decision-making, Kremlin decisions originate in intrigues that are initiated by “people who are trusted at the top.” These are the people who lobby the teams and lobby the decisions, etc.
“I personally have no contact with Putin,” wrote the FSB analyst, “but if I were to assess him as a target for recruitment … then we have the following….” The analyst then described Putin as suffering from “narcissistic disorders,” proneness to “cross dominance” in relationships, indecisiveness and unwillingness to take responsibility for difficult decisions. Putin is also described as unable to refuse offers from his closest colleagues but unwilling to make promises. Putin’s attitude is, “If you fail then you are to blame.”
The problem with Putin’s inner circle, said the FSB analyst, is that “no one anywhere has reliable information on complex issues.” All reports are adjusted to paint a rosy picture. Bewildered by the insanity of Russia’s strategic process, the analyst wonders if Putin is being manipulated – “there is a reason he is afraid to even allow his ministers near him.” Yet nobody knows what that reason is. The analyst continues, “But what I do know for sure,” is that Chairman Volodin of the State Duma of Russia “flew to Cuba prior to the war, and on the day of the invasion he wrote that it’s critical he fly to Nicaragua.”
According to the FSB analyst, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “is not a real military man.” He passes fake reports about military successes to Putin. Behind the scenes, officials are seriously discussing “how Putin is lately absorbed by finding ‘mystical meanings’ from numerology to the shamans…. Can’t say anything concrete – it doesn’t fit into any analysis.” Yet, somehow, “the Czar is not the Czar in fact. (Putin is not in charge anymore).”
In his first letter, the FSB analyst writes, “Our conditional deadline is June. Conditional because in June there will be no economy left in Russia – there will be nothing left.” Indeed, everything is coming to a head. Last May 9, the day of Moscow’s annual Victory Day parade, Putin was not looking for an offramp. The war is to continue. To what end?
What kind of maniac flirts with national collapse? Is it the same kind of maniac who flirts with nuclear war? “By and large,” writes the FSB analyst, “Russia does not have an out.” A bit further along he adds, “Now we are stuck waiting until some mentally screwed up advisor convinces the top to start a conflict with Europe, with demands to reduce the sanctions – they either loosen sanctions or war. What if the West refuses?”
Whatever Nietzsche said about “the advent of European nihilism” we are now confronted with the final consequences of Russian nihilism.
Notes and Links
[ii] Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 80.
[iii] Friedrich Nietzsche trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Twilight of the Idols: or How to Philosophize with a Hammer (London: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 101.
[iv] Ibid, pp. 101-102.
[v] Ibid, p. 102
[vii] Ibid, p. 103.
[viii] Ibid, pp. 103-104.
[ix] Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2002), pp. 381-398.
[x] The catchphrase was originated in an essay, published by the World Economic Forum, by Danish MP Ida Auken, titled “Welcome To 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy And Life Has Never Been Better.” The essay anticipates a mass surveillance society. Note: The article has been removed from the website of the World Economic Forum.
[xii][xii] Igor Sushko – #FSBletters from the Wind of Change inside the FSB (KGB) – Racing & Beyond: Active FSB analyst’s psychological assessment of Vladimir Putin, translation from Russian by Igor Shushko.
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