In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “Mankind has grown strong in eternal struggles, and it will only perish through eternal peace.” You can find this on page 310 of Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy, in chapter 12, “The End of Illusion.” Hitler was not the originator of this thought, but merely the foremost practitioner of modern times. He is preceded by Friedrich Nietzsche, in “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”, and his Übermensch.
To the above recipe for totalitarian dictatorship, add the interpretation of Hegel to say, “might makes right.” Hegel did not say it, but what he did say, “The state is the actuality of the ethical Idea”, has been so interpreted, notably by Karl Popper. (See Hegel: A Very Short Introduction, for an opposing view.)
All this must have been fuel for Hitler’s dreams, where, instead of sugar-plum fairies, Wagner’s Valkyries danced. Those ladies are eternally attractive, still gracing the covers of science fiction magazines and the themes of computer games.
In the world of the Theory of Relativity, there are no events. Nothing is created, destroyed, or modified. There are only experiments with clocks and rulers. Our governance ruler needs marks. On one far end of what can be lies Mein Kampf. Read it. In your hopefully ethical hands, it is just a mark on the ruler. On the other, more attractive end of the ruler lie the many thinkers of the Enlightenment and Liberalism. Appeals to the past, typical of conservative thought, are not marks on the ruler, but sometimes their positions can be inferred. The placement of many other philosophies of governance is variable, depending upon who is saying what.
But for someone who consciously went shopping for the constitution of a warrior state, we must look to antiquity, to Lycurgus of Sparta. His virtues are remarkably easy to understand: equality (among citizens), military fitness, and austerity. The Spartan system was cruel by western standards of 1945 to present; not so cruel 1933-1945, and positively enlightened compared to 1 July and 18 November 1916 on the Western Front, with more than a million casualties in the Battle of the Somme, or the two million of Stalingrad in a longer period.
Missing from Plutarch’s account of Lycurgus’ synthesis is the “why”, perhaps an anticipation of Richelieu’s “raison d’État“, which may have been sublimated as an ideal of “virtue.” This seems to be Putin’s major concern today, displacing the previously expressed desire to join the West and share in the fruits of prosperity. But after the financial crisis of 2007-2008 showed the literal bankruptcy of the prosperity aspect, it might have appeared to Putin that there is no connection between Western governance and prosperity. So why bother? Freed of that aspect, he went shopping for philosophy.
Critics of amateur psychoanalysis would ask, “How do you know this?” It’s like this. It doesn’t matter whether there is any reality or respect due to philosophy. Arguably, the history of philosophy is just a history of mistakes. After all, the philosophers couldn’t build a car, they didn’t solve the governance problem in a satisfactory way, and their medicine was lousy.
But as packages of thought with proven motivational value, the great philosophies fit the bill. They had followers; ergo, their ideas, however erroneous, were attractively packaged. With the sole exception of exalting the Russian identity, Putin appears to be an eclectic pragmatist. Perhaps he intended to give Russians the Good Life, based upon extrapolations of nearly limitless oil wealth. This would require only a very simple, paternalistic power structure to divy out the wealth, and some way to prevent jealous external forces from accomplishing the dismemberment of the country. Perhaps, after 2008, he decided that the pluralism of thought so necessary to an entrepreneurial economy simply wasn’t necessary. With all the wealth in the ground, it might even be dangerous.
But how, then, could the Russians be prevented from becoming something like the Eloi of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine? Disturbing trends already manifest. This, and dismemberment from the outside, threaten Russia like no other state.
Putin and Lycurgus appear to have a resonance:
- Asceticism of Putin’s personal existence and the austerity of Lycurgus.
- Putin’s shows and deployment of military force, and the military readiness of Lycurgus.
- Equality among citizens, with the inequality of the helots of Sparta inexactly represented by Putin’s sharp distinction between Russians and non-Russians, by the atrocities of Chechnya and dismemberment of Ukraine.
- Lycurgus’s design of the new Spartan state was eclectic, rational, and with no mention by Plutarch of divine inspiration. Similarly, Putin was handed a sick country with a request: “Do something with it”, and he did.
Next: A book Putin read. And maybe, The Grand Unification Putin Theory.