14 April 2022, The Tablet

How Putin's faith in philosophy is underpinning the use of force in Ukraine

The role played by abstract thought it legitimising acts of ruthless force should never be under-estimated.

How Putin's faith in philosophy is underpinning the use of force in Ukraine

Political and religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. Inset right: Ivan Ilyin
Photos: alamy/pictorial press; alamy/private collection


Among the intellectuals that Vladmir Putin has drawn on to legitimise his cruel war against Ukraine is one of the most subtle and attractive thinkers of the twentieth centur

Russia has always stood out as a country where ideas – even abstract and metaphysical ones, about the nature of God or the march of history – are deemed to matter as much as artillery shells do. That has been well understood both by those who conceived strange or brilliant thoughts, and by those who sought to banish them.

As Vladimir Putin speaks darkly about the need to “detoxify” Russian society from the influence of liberal-minded traitors, it is telling to recall what happened very nearly a century ago. About 220 academics and intellectuals, including great religious thinkers, were deported from Russia in preparation for the establishment of the Soviet Union.

Ironically, those deportees included two of the thinkers by which Putin now claims to be guided. They were both religious philosophers, albeit not exactly theologians. Both were idiosyncratic adherents of Orthodox Christianity; both came from noble, military families, with a dash of West European blood. Both were multilingual polymaths, given to vast generalisations about the destiny of nations and religions.


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