I wrote this some months ago. With the ruble crashing and the existential crisis that will put Russia in, perhaps some Orthodox polemics will fizzle out.
In a fascinating article by Vladimir Moss, we have a capable discussion of the Orthodox political theorist Alexander Dugin, particularly his relation to Vladimir Putin. Moss’s article is important because it is written by a conservative Orthodox scholar who hates globalism, modernist Orthodoxy, yet has suspicions about Putin’s conservative Christianity. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his twice-humiliating Obama (e.g., Syria and Ukraine) have forced conservatives to reevaluate their Russophobia and the future of international conservative thought.
I want to build upon Moss’s analysis, with which I mostly agree. My goal is to show tensions in Russian history that Moss doesn’t note and ponder the implications for Orthodox engagement today.
Who is Dugin?
Back in my Russophilic days I was watching Dugin’s career really take off. Dugin had abandoned the National Bolshevism Party (!!) and started his own Party. Eventually, he saw that Russia’s future was with Putin and cast his lot there. My Orthodox friends were emailing me pdfs of Dugin’s books long before they were in print. I was leaving any form of Orthodoxy at that point so I really wasn’t interested.
Leaving aside Dugin’s own political views, Moss highlights his “eschatological ecclesiology.” Moss rightly notes that Dugin’s views cannot be understood apart from his Old Ritualist beliefs. The Old Ritualists separated from the Moscow Patriarch NIKON in the 1660s because they saw Nikon modifying the liturgy (and they were correct–this has huge and embarrassing implications for semper ubique and an always united church).
Old Ritualists see the world as corrupt and expect a future, purifying catastrophe (a common theme among many Christian sects), even sacrificing themselves in the fire. I hope you make the connection between their own suicidal deaths by fire and Dugin’s call for nuclear war. It is not accidental.
Dugin’s own analysis of Revelation is bizarre (yet no more arbitrary and subjective than Reformed amillennialism) and while entertaining, largely beyond the scope of this essay. However, it does break down Christian history into three phases: Pre-Constantinian, Constantinian (and later Muscovite) and post-1660 Muscovite. The middle period is the Millennial Reign and the Third Period is the Age of Antichrist. This means, as Moss notes, that little good can be seen in the post-1660 Orthodox Church (which argument by the Old Ritualists is one reason I never joined).
Dugin’s analysis is strained when he comes to the Soviet era. He can’t simply defend it because of its atheism, but he does give it moderate praise. He sees God’s exercising a strange power through the Soviet world, but that doesn’t bother Dugin since he’s already identified America as the Antichrist (which is odd, given his dating of 1666 as the beginning of Antichrist).
Contra Moss, Dugin is correct to note that the “spiritual conformism” of the Nikonite patriarchs is no less revolutionary than the Sovietism of the Church. With exception of Fr. Raphael Johnson, very few American Orthodox have owned up to this problem. Dugin sees the future Philadelphian Church as a combination of the Old Ritualists, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the ROCA church. This is problematic, to say the least, since all of these churches have condemned each other for “schisming from the true faith” (this is a huge psychological problem for convertskii. Quite frankly, for any honest inquirer this problem is insurmountable).
Dugin’s eschatology allows him to see Putin in a new, monarchical role, especially in opposing America. There are many aspects of American liberalism that should be rightly opposed, but one gets nervous in reading the nuclear overtones of Dugin’s proposal! The rest of the article is an analysis of Orthodox and Dispensationalist eschatologies, which do not concern us here.
So what do converts to Orthodoxy say about Dugin’s analysis? Few likely have heard of them and that’s expected. However, everyone in America has to face up to Putin’s Russia, whether good or bad. Some convertskii have pointed out many goods of Putin’s Russia: it refuses to tolerate sodomy and speaks out for oppressed Christians in the Middle East, much to the anger of the Beltway Alliance.
I suspect American Orthodox will break down in several lines on this question. The hard-core convertskii will understandably praise Putin(and by extension Dugin). They will see Russia as the last bulwark against the New World Order. The more moderate convertskii, those perhaps enamored with Schmemann, Thomas Nelson Publishing, and Ancient Faith Radio, might find Dugin’s analysis embarrassing. Yet he can’t simply be dismissed: if you accept Putin as a normative figure you have to account for Dugin’s influence on him.
Is Putin King Arthur Redivivus?
I used to think he was. I like him better than Obama, to be sure, but I do not think the future belongs to Russia, no matter if it is secular, Orthodox, or Communist. Putin divorced his wife and has taken up with a young and attractive gymnast. Hardly the actions of the leader of conservative Christendom. While Russia’s own situation has improved since the 1990s, it’s future is far from certain. The abortion, suicide, divorce, and prostitution rates in Russia are abysmal. Civilizations have been destroyed for far less (Boer Afrika had its problems, but they didn’t have the decadence of today’s Russia, either, yet they were destroyed by the Marxist torturer Nelson Mandela. Maybe South Africa did sin. She was formally covenanted to God).
I thought about doing a sociological analysis on Russia’s birth-rate and related variables. I used to have the info for that, but those days are long gone. I will give a snapshot analysis:
- While Russia’s energy reserves are formidable, she needs markets. While she has Western Europe by the balls, energetically speaking, her economy is fragile and severe enough sanctions could tip the scale.
- Even though her birth rate has improved, much of it is from Central Asian Muslims, not white Orthodox Christians.
- Most importantly–religiously–she does not appear to have the “want-to” to survive. Though Bulgakov and Dostoevsky could speak in eschatological veins, Orthodox theology is more inward, mystical, and onto-focused; overcoming estrangement. I realize I am speaking in generalities, but history’s bears it out. Where is the “Protestant” work-ethic–so famous and so maligned–among the Slavic lands? It was the Protestant understanding of the Covenant and the law of God that allowed them dominion in Europe and the New World.
- Finally,and I realize few will share my analysis, God doesn’t reward the worship of images. Civilizations that are built on language and communications are healthier than those built on fetishism.
Even the best of civilizations fall. If the criteria of success is longetivity, then few will last. However, we can analyze the nature of their lasting and the religious impulses within it.
While I reject as naive those narratives that say the Covenanters produced modern republicanism, the impulses which drove the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians did create a New World. Jock Purves writes,
The United States of America, too, is a great result of the further development of the Reformation in the orderings of the most High. It might have been settled by the Spanish or Portugese, and therefore, now been as South America, Romish, backward and dark. But in genius and constitution, in its strong depths and grand heights, it is a Protestant land. This is because of a people, such a people, in moral and spiritual stature incomparable, the finest expositors of Scripture ever known, the English Puritans (42).
Whatever else you say about Protestantism, ask why all of the economic and political developments for the common good in the modern world happened in historically Protestant lands? Whenever there is a crop shortage in Russia, why does it always turn into a catastrophe? Even under the decimating reigns of the Clintons and Obamas, America hasn’t had that.
I can only wonder what would have happened if King James I hadn’t murdered Sir Walter Raleigh at the behest of the Spanish Ambassador. Raleigh was talking of settling Latin America.
Only religion can bring life to a land. I hope and pray that Orthodoxy in Russia stops women becoming Prostitutes and aborting their babies. But it will take more than 10% of the population.