Is Putin a Romantic?

I found it quite difficult to recollect myself for Mass this morning as a thought kept stabbing into my mind – the similarity between Aleksandr Dugin’s ideas, representing Russian and European New-Right traditionalism and Romanticism, at least on the surface. Are the Woke people right in cancelling everything, culture and difference, in their lust to dominate? Is Putin a traditionalist? A Romantic?

As far as I am concerned, there is nothing in common between even someone like Lord Byron who fought against the Turks for the Greeks, and Putin who has shown himself to be a bloody tyrant!

Had he lived today, Byron would have gone to fight for the Ukrainians against the Russian army.

However, there may be some foundational ideas that seem to narrate a myth. I haven’t gone into Dugin’s thought enough to know what he thinks and knows about Romanticism as it developed in Germany, post-revolutionary France and England.

At a superficial level, Dugin would seem to be contrasting a “traditionalist” Russia emerging from the Soviet era against a western world that would be nothing other than coldly scientific and materialist. However, Dugin rightly criticises the development of some western agendas like LGBT, gender issues and Woke. It goes beyond tolerance and shows a face not dissimilar from that of Robespierre. It becomes an ideological war against which traditionalists invoke Catholic or Orthodox tradition and old values like the nation and the family.

Russia was not very traditionalist during the Soviet era, and America is quite religious and sometimes extremely zealous in conservative issues. For Dugin, Russia never had an Enlightenment. Cough! Splutter! Cup of tea sprayed all over the place! What about their nihilism, the Underground Man, the denial of God and adoption of Marx? Two things are missing from modern Russian society. We have neither reason nor will. What does that mean? Dugin rejects the idea that Russians might be irrational or lack intellectual capacity, but offers the idea according to which they give priority to faith and religion over the idea that science and materialism are the nec plus ultra.

I would rather advance the idea that what Dugin extols in the Russian soul actually came from the west. Russian Orthodoxy has had its mystics and saints, but someone like Nicholas Berdyaev gave much more importance to Jakob Böhme as did Novalis in his time, and Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. Even in the USA, there were men of the Transcendentalist school like Emerson and Walt Whitman. Even the USA was (and is) not devoid of humanity. This is not to deny what is good and noble in the Russian soul, but it is not alone.

Traditionalism is not about aggressive politics, but what happened in France at the extreme end of the eighteenth century and Russia in the early 1990’s before the gangsters and oligarchs came on stage to get what they could get out of it. The idealism did not last for long. Dugin can make a caricature of the west, as we cry “Borscht for brains!“. There is both good and evil to be found in Russia, Europe and America.

We all have progress to make towards that ideal that is not a monopoly of Russian Orthodoxy and the Patriarchate of Moscow. That ideal was found in Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and every spiritual expression, even if not explicitly Christian. As an immature youth, I imagined that Germany was Bach, England was Elgar, France was Fauré or the philosophical and literary equivalents of those musicians. The nobility of spirit we yearn for in other people and places has to be found within ourselves. We need to stay put for a while to make that discovery within ourselves of immanent divinity.

The idea that Putin is a traditionalist or a Slavic Romantic is nonsense. He is a gangster. Power has gone to his head. He is killing people, murdering child and widow alike as well as young mothers – and giving the most discredited justifications for it. He is a multi-billionaire and plays God with his wealth and arrogance. I am glad that the western sanctions are hitting him harder than in the balls – in his wallet and bringing down the oligarchs. This is a real Russian Revolution, to free humanity from this monster, not only the person of Putin but what he represents. The same problem exists in the west too in the form of oligarchs, people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk who find themselves the butt of conspirary theories. The latter at least is actually a humanitarian and wants to use some of his wealth to help.

Romanticism essentially had the same message in the wake of the French Revolution and extreme rationalism. The nineteenth century was a miracle in terms of reviving Christian faith and values, just as in Russia with Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy among others. Sometimes great evil comes from sublimity, and this can happen in any of us. He who goes high will suffer a greater fall. I naively believed in Putin until this invasion happened.

Perhaps this clash between Russia and the West, if it doesn’t bring on the nuclear winter and the death of us all, will help to bring out a new humanity and appreciation of truth, beauty, goodness and love.

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