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New Book - Tim Snyder

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  • New Book - Tim Snyder

    Inside the Russian mindUnderstand Putin by understanding his favourite thinkers
    A fascist-admiring monarchist and a believer in cosmic rays as the source of national power have influenced the Kremlin’s ideology
    THE ECONOMIST Russian Ideology April 7, 2018
    Russia, Europe, America. By Tim Snyder. Tim Duggan Books.

    IT IS a long way from the stranger corners of Russian philosophy to the bloody events which began on the streets of Kiev in early 2014. Yet Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian and prolific writer on central Europe, sees an intimate connection. “The Road to Unfreedom” documents a determined effort by Vladimir Putin’s Russia to undermine liberal, law-based democracy. But it also examines the ideological underpinnings of that effort.

    His narrative flashes from protests in Kiev, the Russian takeover of Crimea and the Russian-backed “uprising” in eastern Ukraine to the ideas pumped out by Russian officialdom, including Mr Putin himself, to justify the Kremlin’s actions. The Russian president’s favourite thinker is Ivan Ilyin, one of the intellectuals the Bolsheviks deported on one of the “philosophers’ ships” in 1922. An ideologue of the Russian diaspora, Ilyin admired Italian fascism, though he fell out with the German Nazis under whom he lived in the 1930s. He thought a monarch, rather than laws or constitutions, should be the supreme authority in Russia.

    Also present in Mr Putin’s thinking is an even more extreme anti-liberal ideology: that of Lev Gumilev, who thought that nations draw their collective drive, or passionarnost (an invented word), from cosmic rays. In this bizarre understanding of the world, the West’s will to exist is almost exhausted, whereas Russia still has the energy and vocation to form a mighty Slavic-Turkic state, spanning Eurasia.

    What these ways of thinking have in common, Mr Snyder argues, is a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers, which sets aside the need to observe laws or procedures, or grapple with physical realities. The spiritual imperative transcends everything, rendering politics, and the pursuit of truth in the ordinary sense, superfluous or even dangerous.

    As Mr Snyder shows, the lines coming from Moscow during Ukraine’s conflict have shown a bizarre disconnection from reality—but have been in many quarters insidiously persuasive. For example, state-guided media claim that Russia’s enemies are Nazism and a Western decadence epitomised by homosexuality. In the West, leftists fear the first and social conservatives the second. But Russians seem open to persuasion that they constitute a twin menace. Faced with such adversaries, no response could be too draconian.

    Mr Snyder also traces the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine the European Union by fostering Eurosceptic parties on the extreme right and left, as well as its drive to weaken America’s body politic. He believes that the election of Donald Trump, and the discrediting of Hillary Clinton, were with good reason seen in Moscow as a sweet success, achieved above all with the manipulation of electronic messages. In his view, this mood of triumph was felt not so much because of the policies that Mr Trump would follow, but because his cavalier attitude to the rules of the political game was subverting the American system. As Mr Snyder sees it, Russia finds flawed democracies easier to live with than healthy ones.

    The book lucidly argues that getting into the heads of Americans and Europeans has become easier than it was during the cold war. The Soviet Union had to offer physical evidence that it was achieving more, scientifically and materially, than the West. But when voters spend hours a day in front of electronic screens, much can be achieved simply by a deft use of the messages flashing in front of them.

    Combining topical reporting with delvings into the history of ideas and some political-philosophical musing in the author’s own voice, this relatively short book covers a vast canvas. The tone often shifts between intelligent but polemical journalism and metaphysical reflection.

    That might sound an impossible mix, but Mr Snyder carries it off. He might defend his choice of material by pointing out that geopolitics and political discourse are both shifting at a furious pace. A roller-coaster world calls for a news editor’s skill in processing facts and a philosopher’s ability to dissect ideologies. He has both.

    https://www.economist.com/news/books...ource-national

    æ, !

    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp
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