Monday, March 26, 2018

Tim Snyder on Ivan Ilyin: Some Notes

This article (below) by Timothy Snyder captured and rewarded my interest in several ways.

1. It's by Timothy Snyder, a preeminent historian of 19th and 20th century Eastern Europe and Russia and an outspoken voice warning of the dangers facing contemporary America and seeking to defend American values (e.g., democracy, the rule of law, equality, free speech, etc.). Snyder has a new book forthcoming in April, THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM: RUSSIA, EUROPE, & AMERICA, which I'm looking forward to.

2. This article examines an otherwise obscure (at least to me) early 20th-century Russian thinker whose thought has been resurrected by Putin in defense of Putin's regime. Putin's promotion of this otherwise forgotten figure raises an interesting question: why? Putin, whom, like the current American president, seems to have little interest in ideas or a deeply held sense of any guiding ideology other than grasping and maintaining power. So what motivated him to identify this obscure fascist writer and to bring back into the public eye? To what extent (if any) is Putin or any within his inner circle guided by this thinker (or any thinker)?
What makes humans so fascinating (and vexing) is that we are motivated by such a wide array of factors, from the bodily to the unconscious to the vaguely expressed ideas of groups (cultures, religions, classes, families) to carefully articulated public ideas. It seems that if even the most basely motivated of men [sic] (those focused on wealth and power) want a patina of legitimation upon their actions, even if only a rationalization (after-thought). Some, of course, are guided by beliefs, such as those found in religion (traditional and unorthodox, not to mention esoteric and occult) and political ideologies that are little different from religion in mythic structures (Marxism), or ideas that are modern (Enlightenment liberalism) and that seek to avoid religious or metaphysical foundations. We can take someone like Putin and run up and down Maslow's hierarchy of needs to identify motivating deficiencies and desires. Or we can talk about interests, emotions, and beliefs (how we model the world). Whatever rubric we use, our maps have a hard time capturing human complexity and identifying the primary motivating factors guiding any particular actor.

3. How did a person like Ilyin, grounded in Russian Orthodoxy, Kant, Hegel, and Husserl become a raging fascist bent on violence and a unique national (i.e., Russian) calling? The inputs (listed) don't predict the outputs. (The same problem applies famously to Martin Heidegger and his romance with Nazism.) But while I'm new to Ilyin, there were many others in 20th century Europe who preached the fascist path as well as that of totalitarian Marxism (Soviet ideology). How do we explain this development of this path of thought? (Julius Evola is another example of a thinker who went helter-skelter down the road of fascism.) The messianic and utopian train of Marxist thought with its attendant lack of a political theory is easier to grasp because collective action and a reduction of class conflict were widely identified as positive goods, unlike the less attractive visions of violence and domination promoted by fascists and National Socialists.

4. For those interested in the ideas that swirl around current authoritarian regimes (and wannabes), keep an eye our of Gary Lachman's "Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump," which is scheduled for release on 29 May, and which I anticipate will provide an account of the more subterranean influences (and justifications) that authoritarians and radicals draw upon in addition the more obvious sources, such as bare-knuckle capitalism, kleptocracy, white supremacy, anti-immigrant sentiments, etc.

A closing quote from Snyder:

"Ilyin meant to be the prophet of our age, the post-Soviet age, and perhaps he is. His disbelief in this world allows politics to take place in a fictional one. He made of lawlessness a virtue so pure as to be invisible, and so absolute as to demand the destruction of the West. He shows us how fragile masculinity generates enemies, how perverted Christianity rejects Jesus, how economic inequality imitates innocence, and how fascist ideas flow into the postmodern. This is no longer just Russian philosophy. It is now American life."
Writing for White Russian émigrés in the 1920s and 1930s, Ivan Ilyin provided a metaphysical and moral justification for political totalitarianism, which he expressed in practical outlines for a fascist state. But his ideas have now been revived and…
NYBOOKS.COM

1 comment:

Gary Lachman said...

Fascinating material on Ilyin who may not be as frothing a fascist as some Western pundits have painted him, although, like many Russians, he did see a need for a 'temporary' dictatorship, to steer Russia through the chaos that would ensue following the collapse of the USSR - which he envisioned in the 1950s. Putin is nodding in his direction, and also toward Vladimir Solovyov and Nikolai Berdyaev, two Russian philosophical mystics with a less political take on Russia's destiny. One has to say that at least Putin is asking his governors to read some demanding material.