In her brilliant essay, For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand described two philosophical archetypes:
Attila, the man who rules by brute force…respects nothing but the physical reality immediately before him, respects nothing but man’s muscles, and regards a fist, a club, or a gun as the only answer to any problem—and the Witch Doctor, the man who dreads physical reality, dreads the necessity of practical action, and escapes into his emotions, into visions of some mystic realm where his wishes enjoy a supernatural power unlimited by the absolute of nature (pp. 8-9).
Both types function at the perceptual level and are united against reason. “An Attila never thinks of creating, only of taking over.” (p. 11). But how does he get a moral justification for his actions? The Witch Doctor provides it. “His method is the conquest of those who conquer those who conquer nature.” p. 12). He claims to perceive a “higher” reality which allows contradictions and which he rationalizes by getting others to obey through claiming to possess a higher truth.
Russia today provides a perfect example of why Attila and the Witch Doctor work together. They need each other.
Putin is an Attila
Everyone knows that Putin is an Attila. He has been the absolute dictator of Russia for over 20 years. He is basically the ruler for life. Those who oppose him (including nosy reporters) are assassinated or imprisoned. There are fake but no genuine elections; it is a one-party system. There is no separation of powers. There is no real freedom of speech or the press. He is surrounded by well-armed former KGB agents at all times. He allows selected business people to make fortunes so long as he gets a substantial cut.
It is clear that Putin was devastated by the collapse of Communism and specifically the loss of empire. He ruthlessly put down a revolt in Chechnya and seized the Crimea. He invaded the Ukraine after promising not to. When his Army got bogged down, due to incompetence and the heroic efforts of the Ukrainians, the Russians simply destroyed everything they could in every city. They bombed apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, Red Cross centers, women and children with impunity. They killed people who were trying to leave the country.
Some newspaper accounts suggest that Putin has been misinformed by his military about what is going on because they fear punishment for their failures, but my hypothesis is that he would approve what his henchmen are doing regardless. His pseudo self-esteem depends on winning by any means he can get away with. He has even threatened nuclear war. He claimed he was ridding the Ukraine of Nazis, but it turns out that he was the Nazi. Every statement he and his lackeys have made about the conflict has been a lie. Faking reality is essential to his mission and his illusion of morality. He is trying to enlarge his empire by bringing death to people who want freedom.
Russia’s Chief Witch Doctor, Patriarch Krill
To the surprise of many, but fully consistent with Ayn Rand’s insight, recent headline news has revealed that there is a close connection between Putin and Russia’s chief Witch Doctor, Patriarch Krill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox church. They desperately need each other.
With the collapse of Communism, which was a philosophy of sorts, Russia was left without a moral base and the church has eagerly filled in the void. It claims to be the true savior of Christian civilization. The new orthodoxy has been especially popular within the military.
Krill asserts that Putin’s rule was a “miracle of God.” Putin clearly agrees. He has been baptized and highlights his religiosity. He claims with Krill to be a defender of traditional Christian values. Both men are ardent nationalists and want “unity” which, of course, means taking over of the Ukraine by force. Victoria Smolkin, a scholar of communism at Wesleyan University names the issue, “What they are after is salvation. Not just of the Ukrainians but of themselves.” They are going to need it. The combination of Attila and the Witch Doctor is a recipe for evil.
How the war will play out is anyone’s guess.
If Putin comes out with any sort of a win (such as taking over half the country), it will be a very bad precedent because it will show that invading free countries pays off. Any sort of compromise will be a win for him. Worse, any agreements that Putin might make could not be trusted since he is a pathological liar.
The just ending to the war would involve: Russia withdrawing all of its troops, Putin being arrested and put on trial along with his top cronies, Russia paying reparations for all the damage they did, and Ukraine joining NATO.
One thing is clear: we need a new way of “ordering” the world so as to protect nations which respect individual rights from dictators who have atomic missiles. Hint: the solution is not unilateral disarmament. I will be writing about this shortly.
FYI: Newspaper sources re: religion: The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2022, p. C3 and The Los Angeles Times, March 29, 3022, p. A5