Saturday, March 24, 2018

Putin’s Real Innovation is Baseless Hatred that Feeds on Itself, Epstein Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 24 – Unlike his Soviet predecessors and most other leaders in the world, Vladimir Putin has shown that “hatred doesn’t need any world-historical justification,” that it “feeds upon itself,” and thus becomes “a kind of perpetual motion machine,” according to Russian-American philosopher Mikhail Epstein.

            This understanding lies behind the Kremlin leader’s invasions of Ukraine and the use of Novichok against those who have offended him in Great Britain, he continues.  And it has the ability to create fear and hatred in others that become the only justification needed for the hatred of Russians for others (

                “Novichok,” the name for the nerve agent used against Skripal, in Russian means “amateur,” and many of Putin’s biographers have suggested that he is one. But in fact he has turned out to be an AMATEUR but in all capital letters,” someone who uses his one insight to lay down “the shortest path from any starting point to a final point of nonexistence.”

            Putin doesn’t need to be distracted as other leaders are by ideological considerations. In that regard, the North Korean and Iranian leaders are people of the past while Putin is a man of the 21st century, Epstein continues.  He doesn’t need to engage in “the scholasticism” which often ties them in knots.

            As a result, the Putin regime can “in an instant” make use of “the simplest impulse” of human beings, the division between “we and they – or simply the smell of blood.” That has become possible for the paradoxical reason that with the increased flow of information, people have been simplified down to their biological essence, to the simplest reflex of hatred.”

            Novichok, the nerve agent, Epstein says, is “something unique in world history to the extent that there are no arguments of ‘a higher order,’ nothing besides a skeleton in the closet, it has nothing and doesn’t need anything either.”  Of course, there “a mass of rhetorical means” available when it is exposed but they ultimately are meaningless except as sources of hatred.

            Every Putinist action is justified by claims that others caused it not Russia itself. Why did Moscow seize Crimea? Because it is “holy for Russians.” Why is it hostile to the West? “Because our partners don’t understand or respect us. “Why did the Kursk sink? Because it sank.” Within the Putin system, nothing more needs to be said.

            Here then is “the invention of Putinism which potentially can complete the course of history: cold hatred which insistently seeks weak places in the world order and figures out ways to beat at them” without having a genuine cause or a genuine goal beyond doing just that, Epstein argues.

            But, and this may become Putin’s tragedy as well, “what is the nature of this hatred?”  Perhaps, Epstein suggests, “it is a hitherto unseen and perverted form of love?”  Aleksandr Blok in his poem, “The Scythians,” suggested something of that when he wrote that the Russians were attacking with hatred what they at another level in fact love.

            But there is a more recent and more suggestive example of this, Epstein says. In March 2014, a Russian shouted at a Moscow meeting about the Ukrainians the Russian government had just attacked: “We love you. You are our brothers” to suggest that the Crimean Anschluss and the invasion of the Donbass were in fact a manifestation of love not hatred.

            All of this takes Russia back to pre-historical times because it resembles “an ancient cannibalistic custom: to love means to eat the beloved down to the skeleton. It would seem,” Epstein says, “nothing could be more archaic than that. But with Novichok” – in both meanings of the word – “it turns out that it has something futuristic about it as well.”

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