Putin’s Favorite Philosopher Discusses Fascism (Ivan Ilyin) This Russian Philosopher Believed Russia Was Made Great by Its Orthodox Faith (Ivan Ilyin). The Russian president’s favourite thinker is Ivan Ilyin, one of the intellectuals the Bolsheviks deported on one of the “philosophers’ ships” in. Who is Ivan Ilyin, and why is Putin so indebted to this marginalized Russian figure?
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He fears that under Trump, American and also European democracy may collapse into some sort of nasty fascist tyranny. And he wants us all to know who is to blame for this terrible state of affairs, so that we can defend ourselves against it while there is still time.
And who is to illyin You know the answer, of course. Snyder explains all this in his new book, The Road to Unfreedom: You will have to excuse me. This is going to be a very long review. Snyder is quite a high profile intellectual in the United States.
Ivan Ilyin – Wikipedia
For that reason, The Road to Unfreedom requires a detailed response. Please bear with me. Continue reading Book review: Timothy Snyder is at it again. In a long article published this week in The New York Review of BooksSnyder expands on the thesis he propagated in a much shorter piece for the New York Times a while ago, namely that the way to understand the policies of the Russian state is through the works of the philosopher Ivan Ilyin, and that this is super scary because Ilyin was a fascist.
Suffice it to say that Snyder ian I seem to be reading a completely different Ilyin, and my previous complaints on this subject made here uvan here still stand. Instead, what I want to address is a broader issue — how should one write history? It seems to me that when writing about a subject like Russian conservatism as with just about anythingthere are two approaches one can take.
The kvan seeks ilyiin approval of a large audience, for which it requires a simple overarching ilyim almost certainly exaggerated thesis. For this ilyni, it seeks to avoid contradictions and paradoxes, and tries to fit the past into the straightjacket of some pre-conceived narrative or ideological precept.
It sees the past not as something to be studied in its own right for its own sake but as a tool for contemporary political, economic, or social struggles, and therefore imposes interpretations designed to further a specific contemporary agenda.
These are, of course, extremely simplified models, but as long as one takes them as types rather than as rigid descriptions ipyin reality, they serve a useful analytical purpose. So, let us see how they might work in a given case — the history of Russian conservatism. How would you go about it? First, develop a clear overall thesis which fits with the current zeitgeist. Tell everybody how scary it is and shape your whole book accordingly. In the first place, you have a cast of characters who can easily be manipulated to look decidedly odd.
So cherry-pick the eccentricities and play them up. It will enable you to make the book entertaining as iva as informative, with readers i,yin at these crazy people you describe. The likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky ivwn Konstantin Leontyev will give you plenty to play with.
Next, focus on their more extreme and reactionary ideas — throw in some anti-Semitic comments, for instance. And skip over everything which complicates the simple story you are spinning. Make Russian conservatives out iban be foaming in the mouth nationalists and haters of the West.
Ignore all their statements about their admiration of the West. Make them out to be authoritarian and anti-liberal. Ignore all iliyn say about the limits of authority and their repeated stress of the dignity of the person and the need for freedom. Talk about Russian messianism and imperialism. Ignore the isolationist strand in Russian conservatism entirely.
People will love it. It will also be total rubbish. This approach cherry picks the past to suit a personal and political purpose. The second approach is different. Imagine that you want to write a history of Russian conservatism which is as accurate as possible. What do you do? You look at all sides of conservative thought. You study its nuances and complexities, its contradictions and paradoxes. So, a thorough study of the subject would require one to examine all the tensions and contradictions, all the multiple interpretations.
The result is going to be something which is perhaps rather dry. Many might even find it boring. Nor am I averse to writing in an entertaining way.
And this is why I object to Snyder. To make it work, he picks only those bits of evidence which suit his purpose and fills out his analysis with salacious allegations Ilyin was a fan of psychoanalysis, had peculiar ideas about sexual perversion, was rabidly anti-Semitic, etc.
Balance and complexity are entirely absent. Moreover, this thesis has an overtly political purpose. To do that he has to distort the past to make it fit his purpose.
This is an abuse of history. A few months ago I wrote a piece denouncing a lecture by historian Timothy Snyder which, roughly speaking, proposed the following thesis: Ilyin was actually of the view that in some countries, such as Switzerland and the USA, formal democracy worked well.
Rather, what exercises me is the assumption underlying his argument, namely that if someone quotes somebody who at some point said something else which was distasteful, then the person doing the quoting obviously shares that distasteful opinion in full. To show why this is wrong, let us consider somebody else Putin has cited: There is the Konstantin Aksakov who supported centralized state power.
But there is also the Konstantin Aksakov who was something close to ilyinn anarchist. There is the Aksakov who backed autocracy. And there is the Aksakov who opposed serfdom and was a fierce proponent of vian speech.
Which Aksakov is Putin? Take some other examples. Martin Heidegger was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, but he was also at one point a member of the Nazi Party.
Many philosophers continue to cite him and make use of his ideas. It would be ridiculous to claim that they are all Nazis. The jurist Carl Schmitt has become increasingly popular in academic works in the past decade. He too was a member of the Nazi party.
But it would be preposterous to call all the legal scholars who cite him fascists. There are as follows:. It cannot regulate scientific, religious, and artistic creation.
I will cite here Ivan Ilyin: Professor Snyder thinks that these quotations make Putin a fascist. I cannot imagine what definition of fascism he is using to draw this conclusion. Given what the newspaper is publishing nowadays, Duranty is facing some stiff competition. The Ivan Ilyin bandwagon continues to gather passengers. The lecture promotes a familiar theme, namely: Vladimir Putin cites Ilyin; Ilyin was a fascist; therefore Putin and ovan regime he leads are fascist.
Instead, its leaders have ilyim chosen to falsify elections and leave Putin in power almost indefinitely. At the same time, Snyder sees the war in Ukraine as an effort to break up the Ukrainian state and prevent the European Union from becoming a state.
According to Snyder Snyder says that Ilyin was My purpose here is not to defend Ilyin. Instead, my concern is the overly simplistic theme espoused by Snyder and others: In my last post, I said that the ideas of Eurasianism and Alexander Dugin were just several among many influencing Russian policy kvan, and even then in a ivxn bowdlerized way.
It is indeed true ivvan Ilyin said some positive things about fascism. But he was hardly alone in a lot of this.
In the end he had to flee Germany. Bolshevism, he wrote, was merely the external manifestation of the internal spiritual failings of the Russian people. He did not, as Snyder claims, say it was something imposed on Russia by the West although he certainly viewed Marxism as a Western, not a Russian ideology.
Next, when you look at the bits of Ilyin which Putin iylin quoted, they are definitely not the more authoritarian ones. Infor instance, Putin cited comments by Ilyin about the need to limit state power; and in he cited a statement by Ilyin about the importance of ilyyin.
Snyder, however, seems to prefer simplicity to complexity, and so misrepresents both Ilyin and modern Russia. He proposes that Putin is of more philosophical bent than commonly imagined.
It contains much interesting material, and I certainly learnt a lot from it. But to reach this conclusion he has to treat some sources differently from others. Meanwhile, he puts a lot of emphasis on things other philosophers wrote which could support the conclusion, even when the things in question are not what Putin was quoting. The result is misleading.