Is Vladimir Putin nuts? After a phone conversation with the Russian president this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly concluded that he's "living in his own world," and may not be "in touch with reality." Ah, but whose reality? In the reality of the West, the Soviet Union lost the great "clash of civilizations," and its collapse was a triumph for capitalism, democracy, and human rights. But from where the former KGB agent sits, the dismemberment of the USSR was a tragic mistake. For a window into Putin's worldview, says David Brooks in The New York Times this week, we should look closely at the three Russian nationalist philosophers from the 19th and 20th centuries he often quotes and has assigned underlings to read: Nikolai Berdyaev, Vladimir Solovyov, and Ivan Ilyin.
All three, Brooks notes, advocate a grand, quasi-religious notion of "Russian exceptionalism" in which Russia is destined to play a pivotal role in world history. The West, these philosophers preach, is morally corrupt, excessively materialistic, and weak; hence Putin's embrace of the Russian Orthodox Church and his disdain for homosexuality and feminism. Only Russia, awakened to its destiny by a bold visionary such as himself, can lead mankind out of the darkness. "The hour will come when Russia will rise from disintegration and humiliation," Ilyin wrote, "and begin an epoch of new development and greatness." Putin, in other words, is the mirror image of an American neocon — messianic, Manichaean, and disdainful of international law and the sovereignty of other, lesser nations. Recent history would suggest that when a country's leader is blinded by grandiose ideology, his adventures abroad — and at home — will not end as he envisions.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- Girls on Film: 5 essential World War II movies directed by women
- Your weekly streaming recommendation: The One I Love
Subscribe to the Week