Putin’s Medieval Dreams

As much of the world makes amends for social and political injustices of the past, Russia is lionizing its despots, raising statues to the worst of them. Behind this phenomenon is an ultra-nationalist brand of conservatism that seeks to take Russian politics back to the Middle Ages.

While much of the world is busy dismantling monuments to oppressors, Russians are moving in the opposite direction, erecting statues to medieval warlords who were famous for their despotism. Understanding this revival can shed light on the direction of Russia’s politics.

In October 2016, with the endorsement of Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, the country’s first-ever monument to Ivan the Terrible was unveiled in the city of Orel. A month later, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for Lenin Avenue in Moscow to be renamed Ivan the Terrible Highway. And in July of this year, President Vladimir Putin christened Moscow’s own tribute to the tyrant, declaring, erroneously, that “most likely, Ivan the Terrible never killed anyone, not even his son.”

Most historians agree that Ivan lived up to his name; not only did he kill his son and other relatives, he also ordered the oprichnina, the state-led purges that terrorized Russia from 1565 to 1572. He also presided over Russia’s defeat in the Livonian War, and his misrule contributed to the Time of Troubles and the state’s devastating depopulation.

.. Joseph Stalin initiated the modern cult of Ivan the Terrible. But, since the mid-2000s, Russia’s Eurasia Party – a political movement led by the pro-fascist mystic Alexander Dugin – has moved to position Ivan as the best incarnation of an “authentic” Russian tradition: authoritarian monarchy.

Dugin’s brand of “Eurasianism” advocates the embrace of a “new Middle Ages,” where what little remains of Russian democracy is replaced by an absolute autocrat. In Dugin’s ideal future, a medieval social order would return, the empire would be restored, and the Orthodox church would assume control over culture and education.

.. Eurasianism, which was marginal in the 1990s, has gained considerable popularity in recent years by contributing to the formation of the so-called Izborsky Club, which unites the Russian far right.

.. Putin has referred to Eurasianism as an important part of Russian ideology

.. members of the Eurasia Party, who consider political terror the most effective tool of governance and call for a “new oprichnina” – a staunchly anti-Western Eurasian conservative revolution. According to Mikhail Yuriev, a member of the political council of the Eurasia Party and author of the utopian novel The Third Empire, the oprichniks should be the only political class, and they should rule by fear.

.. Cultural vocabulary is also reverting. For example, the word kholop, which means “serf,” is returning to the vernacular, a linguistic devolution that parallels a troubling rise in Russia’s modern slavery. Data from the Global Slavery Index show that more than one million Russians are currently enslaved in the construction industry, the military, agriculture, and the sex trade. Moreover, serf “owners” are also happily identifying themselves as modern-day barins.

.. Nostalgia for serfdom compliments the desire for a return to autocracy.

.. Putin’s tacit support for the Eurasian vision of a neo-medieval Russia invokes the historical memory of Stalinism. According to Dugin, “Stalin created the Soviet Empire,” and, like Ivan the Terrible, expresses “the spirit of the Soviet society and the Soviet people.” No wonder, then, that monuments to Stalin, too, are multiplying in Russian cities.

.. Neo-medievalism is rooted in nostalgia for a social order based on inequality, caste, and clan, enforced by terror.

The lionization of historical despots reflects the contemporary embrace of such pre-modern, radically anti-democratic and unjust values. For Ivan’s contemporary champions, the past is prologue.

A Russian Takes On The Benedict Option

the next step towards the Omega point of the history of Western Civilization will be society’s full acceptance of the idea of “open marriage.”

.. Susan Dominus. In her article, “Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?”, Dominus argues that, in general, yes it is happier, especially in the case where it is the woman who acquires many partners: jealousy spurs the sexual appetite of the man, and the sexual life of the partners comes into a nice balance.

.. Christianity, when you come right down to it, is really not a very demanding religion. It permits believers to eat pork and drink wine except on days of fast. On lay people it does not impose particularly harsh domestic norms. In fact, the only strictly tabooed side of life in Christianity relates to sexuality. Sex is permissible only in marriage and preferably for the purpose of giving birth to children, while deviations from this norm give rise to various suspicions.

.. It is either, as Chesterton once said, “the glad good news” of original sin, or else it is, along with other Abrahamic religions, an apparatus for suppressing something important and necessary in sexual life, something which, apparently, is stifled by traditional marriage and is of little use for the continuation of the species.

.. Among the things common to all religions is that they all impose taboos on female promiscuity, and on same-sex sex, but it is Christianity that adds that a person is obliged not only externally, but also internally, to be free from attraction to what is prohibited by the tradition.

.. How invulnerable to the threat of “sexual liberation” will remain Russia, China, the Islamic world?

.. should one remain politically loyal to one’s state even after you notice that it’s well on its way to hell?

.. Instead of fighting for the dominance of our faith in the public sphere, we are only trying to achieve corporate independence from the pressures of the secular state. Alas, I think this position is strategically untenable.

.. In one religious community, let’s say, all women could be subject to regular beatings on the principle that all of them are known to be sinners by nature. In another religious community women could be forbidden from entering into extramarital affairs, but if they do, they are threatened with divorce and exclusion from their community.

America’s Culture War On Russia

The [Russian Orthodox Church’s social teaching’s] ambivalence about individual rights and its emphasis on the religious community reflect central themes in Orthodox thought, which distrusts Western-style individualism. It is not simply a matter of rejecting the “excesses of individualism” in the matter of Western communitarian scholars. Orthodoxy often expresses discomfort with the very idea of the autonomous individual as a rights-holder.

.. Moreover, Orthodox thought conflates religious and national identities in a stronger way than in the West. To be sure, religion can serve as a marker of national and cultural identity in the West as well; consider Italy and Poland. And citizenship in Orthodox countries is not directly tied to religion; as a formal matter, one can be a Russian citizen and not an Orthodox Christian. But religion and nationality are intertwined in a particularly powerful way in the Orthodox world. In Russia, for example, it is a “widely accepted idea”—“shared by politicians, intellectuals and clergy”—that Orthodoxy is the fundamental factor in national identity.

.. I do want, however, to point out that when Orthodox countries reject liberal Western ideas (e.g., gay rights, religious liberty), they are not necessarily doing so out of bigotry, but because they have a fundamentally different view on what the human person is, what the church is, and what society is. They see the West’s war on their traditions in the name of secular liberalism as an act of aggression — and they’re right.