False roots

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March 10, 2014 by AK

Maria Snegovaya, a Columbia University doctoral candidate in political science, writes on The WaPo‘s Monkey Cage blog:

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.

Her Russian piece published in Vedomosti adds Danilevsky to the list of Putin’s favorites.

As far as the early Eurasianist Danilevsky and the one-time fascist sympathizer Ilyin are concerned, Snegovaya’s theory makes sense and fits with what I have read or heard about Putin’s intellectual pursuits.

But neither Solovyev nor Berdyaev were nationalists other than in an absurdly broad sense of the word. (Nor was Solovyev, 1853-1900, an early 20th century philosopher.) If you’re a nationalistic conservative looking for quotes to back up your prejudices, any 19th- or early 20th-century writer except the most unorthodox/progressive will offer something – but you’ll have to be seriously selective.

Berdyaev consciously built upon contradictions. He treasured the “aristocratic liberty” of man but detested excesses of inequality since they strip man of his dignity. As he appreciated Marx and de Maistre, the trick is to quote only the de Maistre parts and never mention that freedom and creativity are seen as central to Berdyaev’s thought.


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