I’ll start with a link to another insightful and honest analysis by Paul Robinson, a seemingly true expert on Russia who is a professor at the University of Ottawa: Patriotism is enough.
Western analysts often mistakenly describe the people now governing Russia as nostalgic for the Soviet Union, an idea which Putin’s recent statements about Lenin should surely discredit. But if it’s easy enough to say what Putin is not, ideologically speaking, it is much harder to say what he is. Judging by a comment he made on Wednesday, the man himself might tell me that I am wasting my time trying to work it out.
What were Putin’s words as quoted by Professor Robinson?
We do not have and cannot have any unifying idea other than patriotism. … You said that public servants and business and all citizens in general work to make the country stronger. Because if that is the case, then each of us, each citizen will live better, and have higher incomes and be more comfortable, and so on. And that is the national idea. It isn’t ideological, it isn’t connected with any party or any stratum of society. It is connected to a general, unifying principle. If we want to live better, then the country must become more attractive for all citizens, more effective, and the public service and state apparatus and business must all become more effective. As you said, we work for the country, not understanding it in an amorphous way, like in Soviet times … when the country came first and then there was who knows what. The country is people, that’s what working ‘for the country’ means.
And Robinson ends by telling us:
That doesn’t mean that Putin lacks personal beliefs. It’s just that he appears to draw a distinction between what he believes and what he thinks should be the ideology of the state. Take Lenin, for instance. Putin doesn’t like him. But he’s made it clear that that is his personal opinion. If other people happen to like Lenin and want to have a statue of him in their city, or name their town square after him, then Putin isn’t going to stop them .
I think we have trouble distinguishing between what might be called ideologies and principles. Ideologies are cathedrals, more often than not the product of some insane architect. Principles are more like general rules of building, perhaps even the materials as well.
Principles are mostly embedded in some way in our very bodies. For example, Lt Colonel Dave Grossman (in his book On Killing) deals with the imperfect but significant instincts found in some (many? or most?) species not to kill other members of their species. There are warriors and psychopathic sorts who enjoy killing. There are warriors who don’t enjoy killing but can do it under moral circumstances without being disturbed, though they might walk away feeling genuine sympathy for the poor bastards they just killed. Most men, at least in the West, can’t kill a recognizably human target without being greatly disturbed, perhaps in a slowly diminishing way for the remainder of their lives, yet men can kill members of their own species with greater ease than wolves can. Men can even be taught to see members of other tribes or ethnic groups as being non-human. Moreover, there is some reason to believe that some ethnic groups have stronger reluctance to kill, or abuse, other human beings; some have weaker reluctance.
The Fifth Commandment is written in DNA, though imperfectly. There is a principle there, which can be greater or lesser in scope. More people and types of peoples can be included in that category of human beings. Probably, more or fewer specific acts (rape, beatings, psychological torment, etc) can be included as what is to be excluded.
So, there is something that might be described loosely as a principle of non-killing which can be extended to non-violence and even non-coercion.
So, what is this `patriotism’ Putin claims to have as a political leader of Russia? I’d suggest it is simply a principle of bonding which leads to a significant unity not defined by accident (though based upon accidental circumstances) nor by utility—though not fully independent of utility.
Whether intending to do so or not, Putin has wisely retreated to a more fundamental stage of social morality, a stage where various peoples not yet one (and maybe not really headed towards unity) act as if one by way of a form of patriotism. Putin’s patriotism seems to certainly cover those who live near each other and perhaps are intermingled with each other, but it is more general than that.
Before continuing, I need to point out that I write and speak of a worldview as being an understanding of what exists and that I regard abstractions which have real effects as abstract being. If you wish, you can call it an effort to combine what seems right about dualistic theories of being with what seems right about more monistic or reductionistic theories of being. An ideology is a corrupted worldview, though sometimes a once plausible worldview which has rigidified and become entrenched, even if clearly at odds with reality. It has also become necessary for the continued existence of human institutions of various sorts.
The people and peoples of the West hold ideologies which are nearly caricatures of a partially formed worldview of a more Christian West through 1800 or so. That older worldview was never more than partial, but that was a good thing because a Christianity which respects God and His works in Creation, respecting also currently existing understandings of God and those works but not idolizing those understandings, remains always open to revisions in its worldviews. During the centuries from, perhaps, the 11th century, human understandings of Creation have been growing rapidly, becoming richer and more complex, including new understandings of those parts of empirical reality which are human history and traditional human texts, such as the Bible. These new understandings often presented great difficulties to received ways of understanding the words of Jesus or the Christian Creeds, but great thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas could deal with those difficulties. Sometimes this enrichment and complexification was in the form of technologies developed by trial-and-error and sometimes by way of more exact and more accurate knowledge of a misformed astronomy or chemistry (alchemy). But understandings which were forced by results of trial-and-error came from an honest effort to deal with a world rapidly becoming richer and more complex, partly because of growth in human communities and forms of human relationships and sometimes just because of rapid growth in knowledge of the earth and the heavens and abstract reasoning, especially mathematics. In other words, evolving and developing human communities were truly new forms of human being and they were evolving and developing in a world becoming much richer and more complex, a world of great and open possibilities.
Putin, for whatever reason and at whatever level of explicit awareness, has seemingly regressed from a `pure’ idea of Russian civilization (which may or may not be misguided) and is pushing a patriotism which covers many people and peoples, some Orthodox and some Catholic and some Protestant and some Buddhist and some Muslim. It’s not even clear to me that the current autocratic state is intended to be permanent, even by the standards of this quite impermanent world. Even with smooth development and evolution of human communities, I couldn’t even guess what we will see result if Russia, in its mixtures of peoples, and some neighboring countries, succeed in creating some entity generating true patriotic devotion. It might be something different from what we seen in history, in our tribes and kingdoms and empires and democracies and republics and theocracies.
In what way will it be different? A question worth addressing but the answers will be misleading and dangerous if you forget that we’re dealing with a world which is more open, richer and more complex, than we humans can anticipate—God has a very powerful imagination. We can only anticipate ranges of possibilities and then try to remain openly perceptive of what happens and responsive to it.
Ideologies become still worse when they are hijacked by careerists, as seems to have happened in the United States with its system of politics which is not a democracy and not a republic, not truly liberal and not at all conservative. The United States is dominated by political machines which deliver the goods if they wish to get their required revenue. (It’s certainly a distributed machine so that much of the money and benefits go to cogs or to smaller machines rather than all of it going to the national parties of Democrats and Republicans. See Political Machines Run the United States, It’s Not a Liberal Democracy for a little more discussion.)
Putin seems to be aiming at a new form of political organization but not directly—he has maybe retreated to a process of of growth, of development, by way of a general principle which he labels `patriotism’, which seems to truly be patriotism though not of a jingoistic, or barbecuing, sort as found in the United States on those grand party days of Memorial Day and Independence Day. Veteran’s Day, which consists mostly of simple ceremonies to honor those who served and most especially those who died isn’t such a popular holiday. Who wants to plan a barbecue in Maine for November 11? Maybe it’ll be warm, but…
Anyway, despite seeming to be a true Russian Orthodox, Putin is trying to define a patriotism which might bind together a new Russia which would include a variety of Slavic peoples and Turkic peoples and others, of Christian and non-Christian peoples. Despite being from an autocratic tradition and seeming to be a member of an unofficial hierarchy of intelligence professionals, he has made no obvious claim to dictate who will be his successor—the truest mark of an autocrat of any sort. He also seems inclined to lay back a little and let the situation develop before responding, perhaps by temperament or perhaps by deliberate choice.
The contrast between Putin and American leaders is extraordinary. If he is corrupt, as some of his enemies strongly claim with no presented evidence, that has little effect upon his ability to take care of the interests of Russia—unlike the two thieves named `Clinton’ and the Wall St gangsters which are the (seemingly short-lived) dynasty founded by Prescott Bush. Though admitting that the Bushes were true patriots so long as American interests weren’t in conflict with the interests of those they served and perhaps still serve—their Walker relatives and perhaps other families from the Harriman and Brown Brothers branch of the House of Rockefeller, that isn’t enough in a complex world where such conflicts will regularly develop. If Putin is financially corrupt, he’s managed to arrange his investments to match the interests of Russia.
Even more important is the contrast with the American leaders who view the world and plan their actions according to a complex ideology which doesn’t seem to match reality, though many seem to profit despite the mismatch. That profit is a loss for the country as a whole, but the think-tankers as well as the politicians and generals and weapons-manufacturers walk away with wads of cash from each disaster Americans create overseas and others profit in a similar way from such disasters as Obamacare and the welfare system which is the real lure for illegal immigrants.
But Russia does seem to be in a bit of a mess after at least a couple centuries of misrule, brutal misrule under the Bolsheviks. And Russia has what we might label `entanglements’ with various non-Russia peoples. Rather than take up with pre-existing Russian ideologies, such as various sorts of Pan-Slavism or `right-wing’ Russian nationalism, Putin seems to have chosen that retreat to a patriotism which is not non-nationalistic but rather pre-nationalistic as well as pre-ideological—if `nation’ and `ideology’ are the right concepts to cover what is growing up. It isn’t clear what is going on, but Putin seems to be offering to lead the formation of an expanded multi-nation of sorts, a multi-nation including a variety of peoples living in or near Russia.
Could this be one of those great ironies of history? Putin and some of his allies are exploring the possibilities of that multi-nation or whatever it should be called, while Americans blab on about multiculturalism despite our proven inability to assimilate, that is—rationalize relationships with—native Americans, African-Americans, and now a variety of peoples who brought to the United States cultures radically different from those of the Anglo-American world, most of those recent immigrants not showing signs of interest in the cultural possibilities of the Anglo-American world. I would claim that, if we Americans were a people capable of respecting others and compromising with them, we should have long ago peacefully absorbed both Canada and Mexico into some sort of confederation of republics—with the current United States perhaps entering that confederation as several separate republics.
No peoples in their right minds would ever trust the current ruling class in the United States. The British peoples had struggled for centuries to `tame’ their Celtic and Anglo-Saxon and Norman warlords. Breaking away from those nations with their imperfect but somewhat effective ways of offering something to the already powerful and the ambitious in return for good behavior, the American peoples seem to have regressed so that we have a ruling class largely composed of soft-boy gangsters, banksters and fern-bar warriors, without even the warrior virtues of the earlier rulers of the British peoples.
Americans, especially those in the ruling class, are ignorant and bereft of imagination. Apparently, neither is true of Putin and perhaps this is why American leaders hate him—it’s the hatred of barbarians for one who seems to understand something they just can’t perceive, let alone conceive.