National Commentary

Putin’s Failing Obsession With Ivan Ilyin’s Fascism

One might think that, if nothing else, evidence of the evils of authoritarian government and the benefits of democracy would be underscored in this time by the mere stark realities of the current cruel and stunningly inhumane Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s all right there for the world to see, notwithstanding Russian efforts to deny its effects on social media and in their own broadcasts to their nation.


We see the effects of autocracy, in the unilateral decision of one person in power to inflict so much senseless misery and death on an entire nation. As imperfect as democracy may be by comparison, evidencing the kinds of shortcomings that caused British author E.M. Forster to compose a lucid volume after World War II entitled, “Two Cheers for Democracy” (not three), in theory and actually to a greater or lesser extent democracy is based on a collective, and not an individual’s, will.


At its core, this is the distinction we must point to that elevates one system, that of democracy, wholly above the other, and must consign the sentiments of today’s autocratically-inclined type. Trumpians in the U.S., to the moral trash bin.


Putin’s invasion of Ukraine comes as an act of desperation in the face of his failures in a many decades-long effort to advance his obsession of global dominion, as defined by his failure to orchestrate the re-election of Trump in the U.S. So going for the invasion of Ukraine this time was Putin’s Plan B, and its dismal effect is evidence that Putin wasn’t really prepared for it.


Former Trump national security advisor John Bolton intimated just this on a recent Bill Press podcast, noting how Putin viewed Trump as his “useful idiot” who would do its dirty work for him by weakening NATO to the point it wouldn’t stand against a takeover of Ukraine. But then, Trump lost his re-election.


It’s the view of Yale’s Timothy Snyder, writing “God Is a Russian” in the April 5, 2018 New York Review, that Putin’s deep commitment to the nationalist theories of Ivan Ilyin, a Russian philosopher of fascism booted out of his country in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, is at the heart of his passionate fixation on “annexing” Ukraine as part of an obsessive scheme to dominate the Eurasian landmass and the whole world.


Author of 23 works, Ilyin, a “white Russian” who wrote over his career of his admiration for Mussolini and Hitler, is frequently quoted by Putin. “Putin rehabilitated Ilyin as a Kremlin court philosopher with his addresses to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and the reinterment of Ilyin’s remains in Russia,” Snyder observed. “Ilyin had imagined that Russia, as a spiritual organism, served not only all the Orthodox nations and not only all of the nations of the Eurasian landmass, but all the nations of the world.”


Snyder added, “In an article published in Moskovskie Novosti in 2012, Putin envisioned Russia overcoming the European Union and bringing its members into a larger entity that would extend from Lisbon to Vladivostok.”


“Democratic elections, Ilyin thought, institutionalized the evil notion of individuality…’Freedom for Russia,’ as Ilyin understood it (in a text selectively quoted by Putin in 2014), would not mean freedom for Russians as individuals, but ‘the organic-spiritual unity of the government with the people, and the people with the government.’


“Citing Ilyin, Putin presented integration among states as a matter of virtue. The rule of law was not a universal aspiration, but part of an alien Western civilization; Russian culture, meanwhile, united Russia with post-Soviet states such as Ukraine. Ilyin had imagined that ‘Russia as a spiritual organism served not only all the Orthodox nations and not only all of the nations of the Eurasian landmass, but all the nations of the world.’


“The ongoing Russian campaign against the ‘decadence’ of the European Union is in accord with Ilyin’s worldview.


“As soldiers received their mobilization orders for the invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean province in January 2014, all of Russia’s high-ranking bureaucrats and regional governors were sent a copy of Ilyin’s “Our Tasks.” After Russian troops occupied Crimea and the Russian parliament voted for annexation, Putin cited him again as justification.”