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Putin’s Corrupted Orthodoxy

If you remember nothing else about Andrei Zvyagintsev’s film “Leviathan”, the whale will remain with you.

In a squalid coastal town in Russia’s frigid north, a man gazes over the skeleton of a beached whale, the bones stark in their white purity. Although clearly suggesting death, the skeleton’s beauty and majesty stands in sharp contrast to the ugly trivialities of the town’s human population, lost in their obsessions with power and greed, in their corruption and hypocrisy. In the context of the film, it is hard not to see that “leviathan” as a symbol of the gigantic aspirations of the old Soviet Union, that other dead monster. Although the film-maker does not for a moment suggest that the former Soviet Union represented any kind of lost glory, “Leviathan” does portray a modern Russian society stumbling through a contemporary world utterly devoid of standards, morality, or hope. Most startling for a Western audience, that society now camouflages its vulgar graspings not in the language of Marxism-Leninism, but of Christianity.

Although “Leviathan” has been widely reviewed in both Europe and the U.S., few commentators have picked up that central religious message. “Leviathan” stands among the greatest films ever made about the corruption of religion. (Warning: the film concludes with a major twist, which will be revealed here).

“Leviathan” is set in the small fishing port of Pribrezhny, which is recreated in horrifyingly convincing detail. The story focuses on Kolya, an auto mechanic who spends most of his life in a drunken haze. Tragically for him, he owns a property that is coveted by the local mayor, Vadim, who gets everything he wants, and who readily deploys thugs to enforce his will. Ultimately, Kolya is railroaded on false charges and loses his home. Most viewers take Vadim as a transparent stand-in for Vladimir Putin, who similarly rules through violence and extra-legal trickery. For both men, law is merely a tool for the powerful.

Beyond that obvious satire, the film places these everyday Russian evils in a cosmic context. “Leviathan” is immersed in Biblical symbolism, drawing both on the Book of Job and the story of Naboth’s Vineyard, in which an evil king trumps up false charges to seize the belongings of a poor neighbor. To a Westerner, the name Leviathan recalls Thomas Hobbes’s vision of the all-powerful state, but in this case we should rather turn directly to the Old Testament. The Biblical leviathan is mentioned on several occasions, sometimes as a seagoing animal, but of occasion as a fearsome monster of evil, slain by God himself in cosmic warfare. In this apocalyptic vision, the image becomes “the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent.” Modern Russians live in the shadow of the slain leviathan.

Putin’s Russia is a deeply inhospitable environment for political satire, and the country’s media have largely ignored the international sensation that the film has created, including its prestigious awards in Europe and the U.S. Most controversial of all, though, has been the film’s treatment of the church, which is far more innovative and daring than the critique of Putin. So he’s corrupt and thuggish? Yes, we knew that.

The film’s other central character is the local Orthodox bishop. The most chilling scene is an intimate dialogue between Vadim and the bishop, a spiritual adviser who not only justifies the boss’s excesses but actually drives him to worse deeds. Is Vadim a good Christian, asks the cleric? Well, says Vadim, he tries. As a Christian ruler then, says the bishop, he must know that all power comes from God. Vadim has the absolute duty to exercise the power given to him, to solve all his issues and problems himself, and with all his might, lest the Enemy think he is weak. All is in God’s hands, it is all His will. We almost hear the voice of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.

If the priest is not actually the driving force behind Vadim’s evils, he is at least an accomplice, and an enabler. In a devastating climax, we see exactly why Vadim was so desperate to steal Kolya’s property: he (and more specifically, the bishop) needed it to build a gaudy new Orthodox cathedral, as a shrine to Power. The film concludes with a splendid and utterly hypocritical sermon by the bishop, who thoroughly unites Russian nationalism with the interests of the Orthodox Church. His sermon calls for values of truth and justice, in a venue that exists solely because such values do not exist within Russia.

If Vadim is meant to be Putin, then Russian audiences waste little time before linking the priest to another prominent national figure, namely Kirill [Cyril], Metropolitan of the country’s Orthodox Church. He has also led his church into an intimate and, most would say, a profoundly unhealthy alliance with the post-Soviet regime.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Communist government savagely persecuted the Orthodox Church, killings many thousands of clergy and monastics, and closing the vast majority of churches and monasteries. When Communism fell, the church returned to visibility, and the last quarter-century has witnessed a startling and many-sided revival. Places of worship have been rebuilt, monasteries flourish again, and pilgrimage shrines have begun a new era of mass popularity. The post-Soviet religious restoration was supervised by the then-Patriarch Alexy II (1990-2008) and by his successor, Kirill.

In exchange for so many blessings, the church has of course given fervent support to the Putin government, lavishly praising it and providing ideological justifications for a strong government at home, and expansion beyond its borders. But such enthusiasm goes far beyond mere payback. Support for authoritarian regimes is deeply embedded in Orthodox political thought, and Russian Orthodoxy in particular has always been tinged with mystical and millenarian nationalism.

When Kirill presents Orthodox Russia as a bastion of true faith, besieged by the false values and immorality of a secularized West, his words are deeply appreciated by both the state and the church. The apocalyptic character of that conflict is made evident by the West’s embrace of homosexual rights, especially same-sex marriage. As so often in past centuries, Holy Russia confronts a Godless and decadent West. It is Putin, not Kirill, who has warned that “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan.”

We should not see Kirill as a rogue cleric abandoning the interests of his church to seek political favors: he really believes every word. Whether Putin and his circle literally believe the religious rhetoric is not relevant: they act as if they do. The solidly Orthodox framing of Russian nationalism also ensures that powerful Rightist groups happily rally around Putin and his not-so-ex-KGB clique.

Over the past few years, the nature of Russia’s military-ecclesiastical complex has repeatedly become evident. Kirill extended the church’s blessings to the pro-Moscow regime in Belarus after a highly troubling election. In Ukraine, Kirill completely echoed Putin’s line that the Russian-sponsored separatist guerrillas were well-intentioned local citizens who justifiably feared oppression by the Kiev regime. Kirill even granted church honors to Cuba’s Castro brothers. All is in God’s hands, it is all His will.

So egregious is the portrayal of the priest in Leviathan, and so blatantly based on real life circumstances, that Orthodox activists have been the leading advocates for suppressing the film altogether.

The United States spends a great deal of time worrying about the state of Iran, which is dominated by theocratic cliques who relish apocalyptic dreams, and who hope someday to obtain a handful of nuclear weapons. We don’t have to travel too far from Iran to find another state where ambitious theocrats shape the national ideology of a government that presently disposes of some 1,500 active nuclear weapons, not to mention another 8,000 or so in storage.

In Russia’s case, like Iran’s, we will not understand the state’s ideological motivations without appreciating that religious dimension.

Philip Jenkins is the author of Images of Terror: What We Can and Can’t Know About Terrorism [1]. He is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and serves as co-director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion.

44 Comments (Open | Close)

44 Comments To "Putin’s Corrupted Orthodoxy"

#1 Comment By Moshe the Beadle On March 24, 2015 @ 1:19 am

A professor at a Southern Baptist university might want to remove the logs from the eyes of his own church before he tries to remove the, well not motes, but branches, from the eyes of others.

#2 Comment By VikingLS On March 24, 2015 @ 1:52 am

If you substitute “coastal elites” for “decadent west” The Russian Orthodox Church and the Southern Baptists who send their kids to Baylor have the same concerns about the same people.

Readers if you want to know what the Russian Orthodox Church has to say about things don’t go through second-hand op eds. Here it is, all in English. [2]

#3 Comment By JEinCA On March 24, 2015 @ 2:35 am

The resurrection of Orthodoxy in Russia is nothing short if a miracle after 75 years of godless Communism (a Western import I might add). Jenkins you should take the beam out of Uncle Sam’s eyes before picking at the specks in Holy Orthodox Russia’s.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 24, 2015 @ 5:42 am

I take it we have moved from a century of fearing godless Soviet communism, which presided over far more territory, to fearing that our newly godless Americanism is existentially threatened by an indigenous Russian Christianity that resists aggressive hegemony?

#5 Comment By Brooklyn Blue Dog On March 24, 2015 @ 9:37 am

Until the United States came along, organized religion was the creation of the state and its greatest ally. Christianity went off the rails when it hooked up with Rome and became its appendage, and later the appendage of the states that emerged after Rome fell.

Thank goodness our religious and civic tradition holds that religion and the state should always be separate. Those who wish for a closer alliance between the two — as we now see all around us — should examine closely whether they really want to get what they wish for. (I have always suspected that what they really want is the power of the state on *their* side, to aid in their battles against other religions and the non-religious.)

A true conservative is wary of the combination of state power with church power. Think you don’t like the state now? Wait until everything it does is ordained by God and see how you like it then.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 24, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

“Thank goodness our religious and civic tradition holds that religion and the state should always be separate.”

First this is historically inaccurate.

Second, what separation exists is one sided and uneven.

One sided in that it does not deny people of fait from aking their with them to work, to school, political office and to the ballot box.

Uneven, in that the Constitutution ha protected sttes up until the late 18oo’s (I think – could be a stretch there) from noting state religious as official practice for most of ts citizens.

But most of all, the separation is to prevnt government from establishing a religion, not from citizens of faith and practice to engage in every aspect of US life religion in tow in process.

#7 Comment By AJ On March 24, 2015 @ 1:43 pm

Russia’s military-ecclesiastical complex has fueled a dangerous revival in religious nationalism.

A dangerous religious nationalism, really? Demonstrated by reviewing a film? Where’s the evidence for such an assertion? Putin may be evil, and there may be unsavory bishops in the Russian church, but they are Russia’s problem. There are no compelling US interests in the Crimea or the Donbas, and there is no reason to put out this kind of innuendo unless you are beating the drums war with the neocons.

#8 Comment By JonPatrick On March 24, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

“Until the United States came along, organized religion was the creation of the state and its greatest ally. Christianity went off the rails when it hooked up with Rome and became its appendage, and later the appendage of the states that emerged after Rome fell.”

Not true, at least in the West. The State was at least theoretically subservient to the Church up until the Protestant Revolution, when the newly formed “churches” came under the thumb of the various rulers. It was in reaction to this that emigrants to the US sought religious freedom, although in some cases it was only for those with the “right” religion i.e. Catholics need not apply.

Given that our concept of human freedom comes from the Judaeo-Christian principle of Man being created in the image of God and therefore loved by God, one wonders what happens ultimately when a society rejects the principle of the state being subservient to God. In our current society starting to unravel we are starting to see now the effects of 500 years of this trend.

#9 Comment By rbt in btn On March 24, 2015 @ 3:12 pm

I first read this post and thought, “Wow, this is going to be awesome. By the time I check back in, there’s going to be lots of comments spitting on Jenkins for daring to criticize religious-based far-right Russian imperialism, nationalism, and messianism. It’s gonna be great, because it will show the whole paleo-con movement for what it is: something that’s largely driven by chauvanisttheo-cons who worship the holy Russian state.

And guess what! I was right! Awesome!

#10 Comment By Jayrod On March 24, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

It seems to me that those who spent much of their adult life living during the Cold Way, especially protestants, have an incredibly hard time not fearing a resurgence of Christian cultural conservatism in Russia, simply because its Russia. Everything is viewed through the Cold War lens still. Its not only sad, it plays into the war aims of the NeoCons.

#11 Comment By KD On March 24, 2015 @ 4:23 pm

Thank God for glitzy movies that tell us compelling stories and reaffirm that our ways are better than those of the foreigners. What would we do without mass media to order our thoughts, loyalties and national aspirations?

#12 Comment By efroh On March 24, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

I’m disappointed to see so many defensive comments, but as a Greek Orthodox American, I’m glad that someone is taking a good hard look at the corruption in the Orthodox church, regardless of location (the Church in Greece and the Archdiocese in America would also benefit from such an examination). The greatest gift the Founders gave the world was the concept of church-state separation – it’s better for everyone concerned, especially religious communities.

#13 Comment By Zhidobanderovtsy On March 24, 2015 @ 6:19 pm

Patriarch Kirill likes a rich life so wearing incredibly-expensive watches goes with the post. However, his ROC minions know that if the public sees the Breguet watch, they may question. Bam! Photoshop and watch disappears – almost:

[3]

However, the Patriarch knows how to make money so in the basement of Christ the Saviour Cathdral, an American-made auto carwash is bringing profit to the churchmen:

[4]

#14 Comment By Zhidobanderovtsy On March 24, 2015 @ 6:21 pm

Corrected website link:
“$30,000 Watch Vanishes Up Church Leader’s Sleeve”:
[5]

#15 Comment By JonF On March 24, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

“The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops” – John Chrysostom.

#16 Comment By R. J. Stove On March 24, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Disappointingly for female fans of Wolf Hall, but mercifully for the annals of England, Thomas Cromwell never sought to impress the general public by anticipating Putin and taking his shirt off. The things that insomniac historians find themselves realizing at 3 a.m. …

#17 Comment By Patrick On March 24, 2015 @ 7:50 pm

Whilst the author is goes over the top and doesn’t understand, it appears, the Orthodox view of church and state, he isn’t so far off regarding Putin and Kyril. There is evidence Kyril was one of the lapdogs of the KGB for a time.

However, this is NOT Orthodoxy. This is a weird variant thread that has coursed through Russia for many centuries, sometimes waxing, sometimes waning. There is a strong “messianic” tendency in the Russians that, I think, predates Orthodoxy and most certainly existed even during the Soviet Union. And considering the fact that Orthodoxy has absolutely NO teaching/belief in the “messianic” property of any one people (in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew), this is clearly something that arose within Russian culture separate and apart from Orthodoxy.

Yes, the West is decadent, the West has turned from God and the Church, the pillar and ground of Truth. At the same time, there are issues in EVERY nation (krokodil, human trafficking, prostitution, abortion, graft, government theft sound familiar, Russia?).

However, I don’t think you can go quite so far as this author has attempted to go. I think he doesn’t understand that bishops and metropolitans and patriarchs are part of the Church and have a role but they do not constitute the Church itself. Just have St. Mark of Ephesus and the False Council of Florence in mind.

#18 Comment By Ken T On March 24, 2015 @ 9:54 pm

Mixing government with religion – what could possibly go wrong?

#19 Comment By redfish On March 24, 2015 @ 10:37 pm

JonPatrick,

The State was at least theoretically subservient to the Church up until the Protestant Revolution, when the newly formed “churches” came under the thumb of the various rulers.

I wouldn’t say subservient; you make it sound like it was a theocracy. The Church did act as a check on state power, defining the terms under which a ruler was seen as legitimate.

Your basic point is right, I agree, that the power relationship changed during the Protestant Revolution.

#20 Comment By Simon On March 24, 2015 @ 10:38 pm

It doesn’t even seem to have occurred to Professor Jenkins that the depiction of the Orthodox Church in the movie Leviathan might not be true to life.

#21 Comment By VikingLS On March 24, 2015 @ 11:31 pm

There’s a lo of speculation going on here. Please click the link I shared. You may not agree with what the Russian Orthodox Church is saying but you’ll see what it is saying in its own words.

There are criticisms of the Russian Orthodox Church that are valid, but there are things such as initiatives to aid the homeless and assist immigrants that are sadly rare amongst the Orthodox as a whole.

#22 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 24, 2015 @ 11:40 pm

One doesn’t have to view Russia as “Holy” in any way to detect the unmistakable failure to have the gift to see ourselves as others see us.

#23 Comment By Clint On March 24, 2015 @ 11:41 pm

Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin,
“On Ukraine, as elsewhere, the Russian Orthodox Church these days unfortunately cannot have any stance different from the state’s one because it is becoming more and more an instrument of state policy.”

#24 Comment By VikingLS On March 24, 2015 @ 11:48 pm

rbt in btn

Do you prefer far right nationalist American messianism? Jenkins works for a Southern Baptist university. I was raised Baptist, they flank the cross on the alter with the Christian flag on one side and the American on the other.

Unless you are a neocon you have no friend here on either side.

#25 Comment By VikingLS On March 24, 2015 @ 11:49 pm

sorry that should be altar, not alter.

#26 Comment By William Dalton On March 25, 2015 @ 12:44 am

It seems to me that it is possible for the Church to extol the God-fearing rulers of this world, be they American or Russian, and encourage them to use their God given powers to their fullest extent in His service, without then being disabled from speaking a word of judgment against those rulers when they abuse their powers. This is what Nathan did in the case of King David, what Martin Luther did with the princes of Germany, what American pastors have throughout the history of the United States. It is certainly possible for Kyril of Russia to do the same. If he doesn’t, the fault lies with him, not with the theology of a church which teaches that the State operates with powers derived from God for the purpose of administering justice.

#27 Comment By Monk Johanan On March 25, 2015 @ 1:25 am

Its a good and true article, but the modern paleo-con ingrates are so full of their own presuppositions (and fears) they can’t admit the truth, that Putin and ROC Church are one solid compact of spies that isn’t fading, but increasing! They and their agents have been sent into this ‘decadent’ West to undermine it even more, in fact to take over MORE sleepy Orthodox churches even. And the last person to chronicle this power grab, Vladyka Grabbe’s daughter, ended up at the bottom of a tall stair-well after a poor “unfortunate fall.” But the KGB Centre got what they coveted, the takeover of ROCOR and the undermining of the OCA.

#28 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 25, 2015 @ 2:17 am

I wanted to think about this for some time before commenting so I gave it a day. And my problem is that I am not convinced that the bridge between the state and the Orthodox Church is as supportive a contention as you’d like me to believe. It may be, but i must relay on your word and too much intuitive thinking.

And as noted previously, our own history is a bit problematic in this arena. Nearly the entire US religious community adopted a position thatno small proportion of its popuace was inferior because of some unknown mark given to Cain and designed it’s founding documents to no small disadvantage against them.

While corruption in any design is disagreeable in any organization, I am finding it hard to reconcile bleeding Russia on this matter.

And then there is this, the machinations of leadership as you note, while reflective cannot measure an entire body of belief.

#29 Comment By Miles Pilkington On March 25, 2015 @ 7:34 am

I am gratified to see this essay in TAC. The paleos, in general, are getting taken in by Putin’s Russia, which is not what it is pretending to be, i.e., the antidote to Western secularism and decadence. For the Catholics out there, your first clue should be Russia’s persecution of the Catholic Church.

#30 Comment By Jeff Martin On March 25, 2015 @ 11:39 am

I’ve greatly respected Prof. Jenkins’ contributions, in a variety of forums and fields, but I’m afraid I must demur from this column, and the entire context on critique from which it emanates. There is a line in leftish circles, intended to characterize certain conservative policy proposals, namely, that those proposals attack weak claimants, but spare weak claims. Something analogous is embodied in this column, and most of the hackneyed Russia-baiting that passes for commentary in mainstream outlets, be they Old Media or New Media. Russia is, for most Westerners with an interest in opining on the subject, and easy and inviting target, because the culture is alien to them, the political culture is incomprehensible to them (and no, it cannot really be understood by analogizing it to any of America’s recent demonologies; neither can it be grasped under the rubrics of authoritarianism, despite the appeal of that trope for Americans), and American media outlets will publish anything negative one cares to write about Russia and Russian culture, effectively insulating the critics from the natural consequences of error and ignorance. The problem is further exacerbated by the decline and marginalization of the proper academic study of Russia and Russian culture and politics; the field has been largely subsumed into the domains of agitprop which have overtaken other area studies programmes; much of the academic work deals, de facto, with how American instruments of policy might be brought to bear to induce compliance with the various sectors of the American apparat. But such instrumentalization is not understanding; in fact, it is quite inimical to understanding. Conservatives profess to understand this when the subject at hand is the liberal arts tradition, or religion, and yet this foundational truth vanishes from the mind, all too often, when the subject at hand is some other nation or culture.

Russia is an easy target, perceived as having weak claims by members of the American apparat, and by members of the American commentariat; Russian perspectives on the development of geopolitical order subsequent to the end of the Cold War are not really understood widely, and those who do grasp them and attempt to explicate them are typically demonized for their efforts; Russian perspectives on the development of discrete geopolitical controversies are never credited, even when they are vindicated, years after the fact. And so it is with the discussion of religion and the Russian state. As one who reads rather widely – rather too widely, given the demands on my time – it is manifest to me that there is not one nation on this Earth with a healthy balancing of religious and political interests, particularly if one considers, as one should, the countless effective surrogate religions, the innumerable political ideologies that have, in the hearts of their adherents, the position occupied by faith among the devout. Or have I missed the religious comity and tolerance achieved by French laïcité? Have I somehow hallucinated the controversies in Canada, stolid Canada, over religious convictions, freedom of speech, and minority rights? Has America herself been untouched by either religious fundamentalism in her politics, controversies over the balancing of religious and secular interests, ideological fanaticism in her foreign policy, or the proclamation of “Americanism” itself a great world religion, by a neocon ideologue? In fine, there is nothing terribly unique about the Russian religio-political conjuncture as a formal matter; to be sure, some of the details are unique, if we credit the critiques, and there is enough to give me, as an Orthodox Christian, cause for concern – for my faith. Nonetheless, the Russian conjuncture is not so different from the role of Evangelical religion in the Reagan and Bush-the-Lesser administrations, or from the role of that religion in the conservative coalition that has developed over the past 50 years. Or am I mistaken in believing that Ted Cruz, however much he belongs in the clown car of presidential aspirants, has declared for that office – Mr. Cruz being a Dominionist, a sort of Christian Reconstructionist?

One could go on in this vein at considerable length. At this point, I’d appeal to the venerable and salubrious conservative tradition of skepticism towards ideology, and observe that American political culture does not suffer from a dearth of ideologies, be they secular or religiously-inflected; still less does America suffer from a death of ideological fervor in the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy, whether by its own agency or by the agency of intermediaries, who have often been ideologues and fanatics of the worst sort. It is not, therefore, that Russia has weak claims per se, as that Russia is a weak claimant in the American context, albeit America and Americans are themselves weak claimants when they inveigh against the religio-political corruptions of foreign powers, the ideological fevers of those powers, and the consequences – real or hallucinated – of those foreign ideological fevers. The End of History thesis expressed a pseudo-Hegelian gloss upon the post-Cold War Washington consensus; neither the thesis nor the consensus were innocent of religious and ideological conviction; what is more, the geopolitical end which these were to legitimate – the preservation and extension of American hegemony, principally by ensuring the requisite degree of economic and political disunion on the Eurasian landmass – is itself an ideological delusion, and a sanguinary one at that. It cannot be achieved, at least not for long, and the trying has already exacted a monstrous, bestial toll in human lives, to say nothing of the treasure.

American, heal thyself.

#31 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 25, 2015 @ 2:37 pm

Good stuff, Jeff Martin. And I am a non-Russian American anabaptist, deeply suspicious of intertwining of church and state, but believing Christians have every right – and responsibility – to exercise a contrary prophetic voice against state overreach.

#32 Comment By KD On March 25, 2015 @ 4:50 pm

Russia is a great power and will have a sphere of influence outside of Russia, just as America has a sphere of influence. If not ordained by God, then this is ordained by balance of power analysis. Whether the ROC blesses the reality of a balance of power or criticizes it–Russia’s need for security will over-ride. So what if the ROC sanctions the status-quo? So what if Church-State relationships are different in Russia? Russia and Eastern Christianity have a different cultural history from America and Protestantism. Maybe we are even better. . . it does not matter because Russia will be Russia, not America, and Orthodoxy will be Orthodox, not Protestant.

#33 Comment By JEinCA On March 25, 2015 @ 6:36 pm

Orthodoxy is under attack from Donbass to Damascus and those who support the enemies of true Orthodox Christians are found not in Moscow or Tehran but in the halls of power in Washington, London, Brussels and Tel Aviv. May God grant victory to right believing Orthodox Christians.

#34 Comment By Mark Gordon On March 26, 2015 @ 9:53 am

For a much better analysis of what’s happening in Russia, see [6] on Johnson’s Russia List.

#35 Comment By Wes On March 27, 2015 @ 1:02 am

Miles Pilkington,

Way to go! I forgot about you in my first comment when I commended three other commenters for standing up to the pro-Putin paleo-cons on here, some of whom very well could be Russian government propagandists. JEinCA may not actually be in California or Canada, but is really in Moscow, Donetsk, Minsk, Damascus, or Beirut.

#36 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 27, 2015 @ 4:19 am

“For a much better analysis of what’s happening in Russia, see Paul Grenier’s essay on Johnson’s Russia List.”

I did, and it’s well worth reading. One would hope those espousing crass ideology crafted for them by others would consider a far more informed analysis not marred by name-calling.

[6]

#37 Comment By Wes On March 27, 2015 @ 11:42 pm

Rbt in btn, efroh, Monk Johanan:
Way to go all three of you for willing to stand up to all of the pro-Putin paleo-cons on here! Also, way to go, TAC, a traditionally paleo-con magazine, for willing to publish this article. For all we know, some of the pro-Putin paleo-cons on here are actually Russian spies or government propagandists. It has been reported that Russian government agents hide among commenters on Western news websites in order to give the Russian government’s point of view. Monk Johanan, thank you for your very informative comment. Are you really an Orthodox monk as your name implies? I had already submitted this comment, but for some reason the TAC website didn’t approve my comment.

[7]

[8]

#38 Comment By Wes On March 28, 2015 @ 12:55 am

Mark Gordon and Fran Macadam:
I read Paul Grenier’s essay. Well, it’s clear that Grenier, a scholar of Russian literature, culture, and politics has gone “native.” It really doesn’t matter what those three Russian philosophers may or may not have believed and taught. It only matters what Putin believes and how Putin interprets those three philosophers’ teachings. Putin probably cherry-picks those three philosophers’ teachings and twists their words. Those three Russian philosophers seem so curiously un-Putin. The primary reason that Putin probably has elevated those three Russian philosophers is that it seems that they are some of the most respected Russian philosophers. Putin wants post-Soviet Russians to take pride in aspects of traditional Russian culture, especially pre-Soviet Russia, even if they are Western, liberal, and ultimately antithetical to the political ideology that Putin wants for post-Soviet Russia. As Grenier wrote, every country has a past and roots. But it doesn’t matter what that past and roots really were if that country’s present political leaders twist the past and roots for their own evil ends. One correct thing that Grenier wrote in his essay is that it is indeed naïve to believe that Putin has an idealistic view toward Western liberal democracy.
I read another essay written by Grenier that he linked to in which he said that the Western liberal ideology, while long existent in Russia, is currently incompatible with Russia’s past and roots. It is indeed true that the traditional and dominant political culture in Russia, and to a lesser extent Eastern Ukraine, is illiberal and authoritarian. But that doesn’t mean that the Western liberal ideology can’t eventually become prominent and even the dominant political culture in Russia, not to mention Eastern Ukraine, which, while being historically and culturally distinct, is still part of Western and liberal-looking Ukraine. This is why the United States and our Western allies should do everything possible to help Ukraine—all of Ukraine—fight Russia and those Ukrainians who are pro-Putin and anti-Western liberal. Not all Eastern Ukrainians, probably not even most, want to gain their “independence” from Ukraine and eventually become part of Putin’s Russia.
For those people who don’t believe that the Western liberal ideology can eventually become dominant in Russia and Eastern Ukraine, look at Germany. When World War II ended and after two bloody, destructive world wars that Germany had caused, who would have thought that Western liberal political ideology—as practiced and instituted in the U.S., Britain, France and other Western liberal democracies at the time– would soon be highly successful in West Germany? In 1945, Britain and France didn’t trust Germany at all after two world wars that Germany had caused. France and Germany had been bitter enemies since France lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, which was the catalyst for a united German Empire. One of the purposes of NATO was “to keep America in (Europe), GERMANY DOWN, and Russia out.” In the late 1940s and early 1950s, who would have thought that today, Germany and France would be the closest of allies and the twin pillars of a peaceful and generally prosperous Europe.
The reason that the horror that was the Nazi Third Reich succeeded the weak democratic elected Weimar Republic as Germany’s political system is that most of the German aristocracy, and political, economic, and intellectual elites were generally hostile to liberal democracy. In fact, traditional German nationalism was generally incompatible with liberal democracy (just as many nationalisms are incompatible with liberal democracy, which is why Americans almost always talk about patriotism rather than nationalism). Traditional German nationalism had been sinister and generally incompatible with liberal democracy at least since Bismarck said in 1863, prior to a united Germany, that Germans are meant to and will dominate the world. But in Germany can become a liberal democracy then Russia eventually can to.

#39 Comment By jtgw On March 30, 2015 @ 1:16 am

Interesting choice of photograph above, but nothing in the post that explains its significance: the 2007 union of the Moscow Patriarchate, represented on the right by Patriarch Alexy, and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, represented by Metropolitan Lavr on the left.

The MP was created by Stalin in 1943 as part of his efforts to revive a certain degree of religious fervor to motivate Russians to fight the Germans. Of course, it claims to be the legitimate successor to the previous Patriarchate, whose last Patriarch, Tikhon, endured the first blows of the Revolution and died in 1925 under suspicious circumstances. But this claim was disputed by ROCOR, which was the church of the White emigres who had fled Bolshevism.

After communism fell, many in ROCOR refused to believe the MP had repented, considering it to be an essentially unreformed department of the KGB, indeed the only official Soviet-era organization that avoided any kind of reconstruction in the post-Soviet period. It took 16 years of concerted efforts by pro-MP elements to engineer the union, which itself caused a schism, with many ROCOR churches fleeing the union and forming their own synods.

If you want a flavor of the ROCOR ethos, imagine the conservative piety and respect for Russia’s Tsarist heritage without all the Stalin worship and romanticization of the “Great Patriotic War” that characterizes the ideology of Putin and his MP. I find it bizarre that pro-Putin paleocons gloss over his neo-Soviet nostalgia so smoothly. There’s more to conservatism than fighting the gay agenda!

#40 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 31, 2015 @ 8:41 pm

Anyone even mildly critiquing the neo-iconic line on Russia must needs be — a Russian secret agent! Sure. When facts fail, make something up, even an ad hominem attack of accusing treason. It is always a possibility that those who gin up false accusations against others, are drawing on their own personal situations of betrayal, or even have vested hidden interests themselves they aren’t being forthcoming about. Wanting to put those you disagree with in jail is not of classical liberal democratic character.

#41 Comment By Soteriy On April 1, 2015 @ 11:17 am

Allowing myself to ignore the “relevant subject” of the relationship between the Russian Church and State, I would like to call out Monk Jonahan, jtgw and other commenters claiming that the Moscow Patriarchate is an illegitimate Orthodox Church. The groups that these people belong to are TINY! they consist of a handful of “house churches,” they’re hierarchies are even more wrought with scandal than the “official” church. I have known people in these churches and have been highly unimpressed by their knowledge of how to actually practice Christianity and they have an incredibly high turnover in their membership and clergy. You would think that they are a significant contingency by their strong internet presence, but that is not the case. These groups consist of nothing more than a few internet trolls that have nothing better to do than criticize the Orhtodox Church that is baptizing millions around the world. I say this as someone who used to be part of a similar group.

#42 Comment By Jtgw On April 3, 2015 @ 1:10 am

Lol, soteriy. I don’t worship in a house church. I’m saying a traditional conservative can do better than support Putin and his national Bolshevik ideology.

#43 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 6, 2015 @ 11:09 pm

“I’m saying a traditional conservative can do better than support Putin and his national Bolshevik ideology.”

Unless, the people of Russia feel pushed or pressed, I am not inclined to believe that they will return to that the past, in part maybe, but nt in whole.

But more than that, as a traditional conservative, I will support Pres. putin and others where we find agreement on protecting beneficial social and economic foundations that enable people to obtain the best for themselves and or each other in this life.

And whatever issues i might have with foreign powers, I cannot for the life of me understand why we would provoke, the region to become incraesingly, authoritatrian by encouraging a revolution in what had been a somewhat stable democracy. I cannot think of anything more provocative than outright military use of force that would make the worst of what some claim here come to pass.

#44 Comment By J. On December 13, 2015 @ 8:56 pm

Le plus ça change…

This is basically what Aksakov and Solovyov were saying over a century ago. See “The Russian Idea” by Solovyov.