Is Putin a Thomas More Who Caved?
Ukraine and an Unenduring Response to “The Meaning Crisis”
The following is written March 2022, during Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. By the time you read this, I hope the situation has been resolved. Still, I think it’s worth examining the geopolitical event as a national response to “The Meaning Crisis,” a topic around which Belonging Again orbits. For me, the philosophical grounding of the invasion might be contained in the word “spirit,” as used throughout Russian thought, though by no means do I want to suggest that geopolitics aren’t paramount. Many factors are at play.
I was inspired to write this article by “Special Operation Z,” written by Alexander Dugin and published on March 9, 2022, as presented by James Kourtides. Also, I heard on Rebel Wisdom that Putin was assigning readings on Nikolai Berdyaev, who discusses “spirit” in The Meaning of the Creative Act, The Destiny of Man, and throughout his work.
1. When Alexander Dugin, Nikolai Berdyaev, and other Russian thinkers discuss “spirit,” I think they are generally discussing identity, belonging, meaning, and nonrationality, all of which are concerns which fall under the umbrella of “The Meaning Crisis” (as coined by John Vervaeke).
2. For many Russian thinkers, “the loss of spirit” is basically “The Meaning Crisis,” and the effort to “defend spirit” is basically efforts to avoid “The Meaning Crisis.”
3. If the thinking of Dugin, who speaks of “spirit,” aligns with Putin’s, then Putin is perhaps positioning Russia as an alternative culture and society to “Neoliberalism,” which has arguably caused “The Meaning Crisis.” Putin seems to be working to separate Russia from “The Neoliberal Order,” which has caused America, Canada, etc., to undergo a loss of identity, belonging, the mental health crisis, and the like.
4. By invading Ukraine to strengthen its geopolitical positions against Neoliberalism, Putin is fleeing “The Meaning Crisis,” not facing it — a critical distinction. In “The Meaning Crisis as a Sign of Hope,” it was argued that we do have solutions to “The Meaning Crisis,” such as nationalism, isolationism, xenophobia, racism, fundamentalism, and the like, but that many today are “raising themselves to higher standards” where they do not fall back on such “prior answers.” Now, “prior answers” aren’t even answers, but failures. Time calls us to improve.
5. Considering this, many people under Neoliberalism are choosing to suffer “The Meaning Crisis,” similar to how Sir Thomas More chose to face imprisonment and execution versus betray his values. More refused to grant Henry VIII a divorce, but at any moment More could have granted the annulment and freed himself. He did not. He waited on a solution to his problem that did not require him to surrender his convictions. When that solution did not come, he accepted death. He endured.
6. We have mistakenly discussed “The Meaning Crisis” metaphorically as “a dead end,” as if something we stumbled into and can’t escape. Under this framing, due to Neoliberalism, we are in a desperate situation that has resulted from our ignorance, carelessness, and foolishness. This only helps Putin rationalize efforts to separate Russia from Neoliberalism, but if we framed “The Meaning Crisis” differently, future invasions and similar reactions to “The Meaning Crisis” might prove more difficult to rationalize. For this reason, there is urgent imperative to metaphorically think of “The Meaning Crisis” as a situation in which we are like Thomas More. We do know how to solve “The Meaning Crisis,” but we’d rather suffer and perish than fall back on old solutions. In this way, there is a nobility to our existential suffering. “The Meaning Crisis” is a sign of hope.
7. What we see in Putin is a Thomas More who decided to grant Henry VII a divorce. In invading Ukraine, Putin is failing to endure.
We need to immediately stop discussing “The Meaning Crisis” like a “dead end”: it is self-imposed in the name of higher morals and values. By emphasizing the desperateness of “The Meaning Crisis” versus the honor and nobility of its suffering, we are encouraging people, leaders, and nations to act like cornered animals. Ideas have consequences, and metaphors matter. Bad metaphors lead to bad outcomes.
Trying to understand someone is not the same as agreeing with them. I do not support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It is a violation of the 1994 Budapest Agreement. “Understanding” and “defending” are not similes, a conflation which renders us defenseless. After all, how can we stop what we don’t understand? Luck and force, I fear, neither on which I like to depend.
Whenever I mention “Russia,” please do not mistake me as suggesting that all Russians agree with Putin. To avoid generalizing, I try to avoid the language of “Russia” as much as possible, though I ultimately fall short, both here and in the audio summary.
What is Putin thinking? Is he power-hungry? Hoping to reestablish the Soviet Union? Easily: my intention is only to consider different possible angles. Mainly, I want to explore why Putin might be a Thomas More who decided to grant King Henry a divorce. What do I mean? I mean that Putin is caving to the pressures of “The Meaning Crisis” to give up searching for “new solutions” and is instead falling back on “old measures” like nationalism, isolationism, aggression, and the like to stop further advancement of Neoliberalism, which I think he sees as the cause of “The Meaning Crisis.” In resisting Neoliberalism, Putin is also resisting Transhumanism, AI technologies, and the like.
I’m being vague—forgive me—I intend only to suggest the shape of my argument before attempting to articulate it (I find it easier to hang a hat when there is a hook waiting to catch it). Basically, I will attempt to think of Putin’s action in line with Russian philosophers like Alexander Dugin and their notion of “spirit,” a term I will associate with identity, belonging, meaning, and nonrationality (note I didn’t say “irrationality,” as elaborated on elsewhere, say regarding the work of Benjamin Fondane). I don’t mean to suggest that the word “spirit” only entails concern with these topics, but that these are enough for me to make the points I’d like to make. Obviously, by “spirit,” Russian thinkers also suggest religious and mystical concerns, but I would submit to you that “the key signs” that a society is “not spiritual” for them are a lack of identity, belonging, meaning, and the society’s “capture” by and according to “instrumental rationality” and “technological thinking” (a concern which we also find in Heidegger). This doesn’t mean technology is bad, only that Neoliberalism can encourage us to let “technology do our thinking for us,” which is when we become a tool of technology versus technology stay the tool.
Spiritual realities cannot be viewed directly, ultimately transcendent, so determining “the spiritual health” of a society requires “indirect means.” Because identity, belonging, meaning, and nonrationality are “the fruits of the spirit,” per se, then I would like to think of Russian thought in terms of these values and avoid using the language of “spirit” as much as possible (though I will use it some). Practically speaking, “the presence of spirit” means a society possesses identity, belonging, meaning, and nonrationality, and so the presence or absence of these will be signs of “spiritual health.” Personally, I think the language of “spirit” (used in Russian thought) can make it easier for Americans to “other” Russians and think of them as “behind the times,” but if instead we think of Russians as suffering “The Meaning Crisis” just like us, we can start to better understand what is concerning them. This doesn’t mean we’ll agree with Putin’s actions, but it does mean we’ll have a better chance of understanding Russian thought so that we can stop Putin from invading the world further. Understanding is undertaking.
The Meaning of the Creative Act by Nikolai Berdyaev is a favorite of mine, and I was just recently reviewing it to write on Benjamin Fondane when I heard on Rebel Wisdom that Putin had assigned Berdyaev to higherups in the military. This shocked me: Why in the world would Putin view Berdyaev as central to his vision? I knew about the influence of Alexander Dugin, but not Berdyaev. Did Berdyaev and Dugin overlap? Contemplating this, the word “spirit” employed by Dugin came to mean something different.
In Russian thought, the line between theology and philosophy is thin—as it should be, according to Russians. We see in Berdyaev constant references to “spirit,” and though I will wait until “The Most Rational and Suboptimal of All Possible Worlds” to really elaborate on Berdyaev, I will claim here that Berdyaev is a thinker concerned with answering the question, “What is the human being?” This leads us into questions about meaning, belonging, and the tendency of rationality to “overreach” and terrorize the world. “Spirit” resists what can be called “autonomous rationality,” a topic which I constantly discuss regarding Hume and throughout The Conflict of Mind. Listening to Dugin, I cannot help but associate his “spirit” with how I’ve come to assume many Russians use the term. Dugin also regularly employs Heidegger, another thinker concerned with “new ways of being” and avoiding “instrumental rationality.” Is this, philosophically, what the invasion of Ukraine is about?
A critical point of clarification: I am not saying there aren’t geopolitical reasons for Putin’s actions. For elaborations on those topics, I suggest John Mearsheimer, whose classic lecture is making the rounds, as well as his recent discussion (March 2022). The other presentation I suggest is by Vladimir Pozner at Yale, back in 2018. I am no expert to say if these presentations are correct (and Vladimir Milov offers an alternative perspective), but from what I know of geopolitics, their “tragic” and “ironic” explanations seem plausible to me. The world is rarely black and white; from space, it’s mostly blue.
Regardless if Pozner and Mearsheimer are right (and Niall Ferguson is also worth noting), my focus is on describing how Putin is fleeing “The Meaning Crisis” by resisting Neoliberalism. “Neoliberalism” is a term that means many things to many people, but I find it useful here, and please know I simply intend it to be an “umbrella term” to refer to the interconnected parts of Global Capitalism, economic influences, individualistic values, and technology. Normally, I don’t like the term “Neoliberal,” for it is used to dismiss without engagement, but I couldn’t think of a better term to use here (“Capitalism” felt too weak), and the emptiness of the phase actually helps it “stand in” as “that which is opposed to ‘spirt.’” I also prefer using “Neoliberalism” versus “The West,” precisely because Russia is so hard to identify as either a Western or Eastern nation (and because global issues are rarely helped by simple dichotomies, though admittedly I can’t promise that I always avoid such language). That ambiguity is precisely part of the problem, I think, contributing to Russia’s “Meaning Crisis.”
Putin, and the Russians who agree with him, seem to view America as a Neoliberal civilization of technology, individualism, self-organization, and “instrumental rationality,” and they have watched American fall into depression, suicide, decadence, social upheaval, self-righteousness, and act imperialistically in the Middle East. America has fallen into “The Meaning Crisis” and responded pathologically (consider the January 6th riots), which is to say America has lost “spirit.” If I understand him correctly, Dugin argues Russia must resist the forces that did this to America, but doing so is not easy, because the entire Global Order, thanks primarily to American, is Neoliberal (which suggests that fleeing “The Meaning Crisis” means fleeing the world). To say the Global Order is Neoliberal is to say that the world is driven by Capitalistic values which weaken social units, increase atomization, and motivate people to put their faith in a technology that might soon unleash an uncontrollable Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps Dugin and Putin read about “The Singularity” one night, and perhaps neither slept well. Even if history shows that fighting technological innovation is a losing battle, perhaps both men have concluded that the fight is worth it this time, just so that humanity might have a fighting chance.
Americans often discuss the “inevitability” of change, Transhumanism, and “The Singularity,” and yet also discuss how these changes might unleash forces from which we never recover. Arguably, Putin and Dugin see themselves as trying to keep Pandora’s Box closed. Dugin critiques Object-Orientated Ontology, which I believe he associates with Transhumanism, as “releasing the object from the subject,” making the object the center of the universe versus the human, a release Dugin thinks of as releasing true nihilism. For some geopolitical reason, Russians like Putin have concluded that invading Ukraine is necessary to succeed in this effort to avoid “true nihilism.” America tells the world that technology cannot be stopped, that “the future is inevitable,” but this might mean that “The Meaning Crisis” proves inescapable. Must we accept being locked inside dead without a fight?
“Invading a sovereign nation is never justified,” Americans might respond, but if the future really is an “endless Meaning Crisis,” should that argument be accepted so easily? Trump-supporting Republicans justified invading The Capitol on grounds of “saving America,” as some Liberals turned a blind eye on riots committed in the name of justice. It is said we all have a demon living inside of us, but it might be better to say we all have a desire to “save the world” growing by the day. Few of us wouldn’t justifying throwing a match at a home blocking a road to Eden. But what if that act makes Eden disappear? Hold on now, let’s not lose hope before burning down the house…
Russians are suffering a Meaning Crisis just like Americans. I recall Dugin discussing once the need to talk about “angels” and theological matters in order to open us up to “new kinds of being” and “new ways of thinking” (he seems to prefer “angels” to “God” because “God” is a concept that is too easy to treat as an empty concept—angels are starker and more demanding of us). “New ways of being”—why do we need those? Well, again, because we are suffering a “Meaning Crisis,” and if there is a single or new “World Order,” it will probably be Neoliberal, and that means the world may lose identity, meaning, belonging, and nonrationality. For Dugin, a Neoliberal world would be a world where “The Meaning Crisis” was omnipresent. Yes, perhaps we could still overturn the global system, but that would likely prove impossible. If there really aren’t any “new solutions” to “The Meaning Crisis,” then we would be stuck. Perhaps Putin rather not take the risk, but that entails “giving up” the search. It is to quit.
I agree that the loss of “nonrationality” (and/or “spirit”) will be the loss of what makes humanity uniquely “human,” and if the Neoliberal Order indeed requires “the death of spirit,” then Neoliberalism requires “the death of the human.” If it is true (as discussed elsewhere) that we require “nonrationality” to avoid Nash Equilibria (or what I call “Rational Impasses”), which are “suboptimal results” which arise when everyone is rational, because what is needed is a “nonrational action,” then the loss of “nonrationality” will declare the inevitability of suboptimality. And do note all horror and misery is “suboptimal”—we are not necessarily talking here of mere mediocrity. I also agree with the Russians that the loss of “belonging” and “identity” are extremely consequential and contribute to radical existential anxiety, as discussed throughout Belonging Again. Suffering this, people indeed fall into depression and mental health problems, all of which to Russian thinkers could be evidence of a civilization in decline due to “a loss of spirit.” Neoliberalism is to blame for this loss, it is thought, and if Russians don’t act (according to Dugin and Putin, it seems), they will find themselves pulled into Neoliberalism, a tempting Satan in the wilderness. No exit.
To focus on one thinker, Dugin doesn’t believe Neoliberalism can be stopped or eradicated (as far as I can tell), so the only hope is for Russia to split itself apart from the Global Order and support multiple “spheres of influences,” notably between Euro-Asia and nations aligned with America. Dugin discusses “Neo-Eurasianism” and stresses that Russia was never part of Europe, but always its own unique culture and civilization. He describes the “diversity” cherished and praised in Neoliberalism as cheap and fake, because that diversity always reflects Neoliberal views of the individual, Neoliberal ontology, and Neoliberal epistemology. Dugin positions himself as supporting “real diversity,” seeing cultural differences as far deeper than what Neoliberalists often realize, and in the name of preserving and respecting those differences, Dugin believes in dividing the world up into different “blocks.” Without such division, he thinks “real diversity” will be impossible to maintain: “diversity” will always secretly be in service of Neoliberalism, which is to say “diversity” will always be cheap, never deep.
Perhaps simplistically, I understand Dugin’s view as something like “Global Federalism,” alluding to the system of different States in America which follow different systems of “state laws” and values. But though I think Dugin would be fine with trade and interaction between Euro-Asia and America (though only if it didn’t transfer Neoliberalism), I don’t think he would support “a strong global government” equivalent to the central government seen in America over the States. I see Dugin’s “Global Federalism” as more secessionist than unified, but that would get us into a discussion on political science that I don’t think is necessary. Mainly, the point is that I think Dugin supports establishing clear distinctions between Euro-Asia and Neoliberal nations so that Euro-Asia can be a place free of Neoliberalism and “The Meaning Crisis.” The nations of Neoliberalism can then do what they wish: “belonging” will still be possible somewhere in the world; it will not be lost.
Dugin would have Euro-Asia focus on values which maintain belonging, while Neoliberal nations can continue to sink deeper into its crisis. Euro-Asia will ascribe to one “kind of being,” while the Neoliberalists ascribe to another, and Euro-Asia would “practically” secede from the Global Order. If indeed Dugin is an influence of Putin’s thinking, then perhaps this helps explain what Putin is doing in Ukraine. But “understanding” is not “forgiving” (a conflation which has hurt our capacity to think deeply, strategically, and wisely): Putin violated the 1994 Budapest Agreement, and, as I will now argue, Putin is failing to “rise to the challenge” of “The Meaning Crisis.” Instead, Putin, through force, is surrendering.
Putin fails to appreciate that Neoliberalism causes “The Meaning Crisis” because it takes away from us old options of meaning which were immoral. Neoliberalism doesn’t simply destroy all meaning but disallows sources of meaning which Neoliberal posits are beneath us. Though I share in many of Dugin’s concerns, I also think that Neoliberalism, despite the risks and challenges, calls us to higher standards. Yes, Neoliberalism threatens “the human spirit,” but it also challenges it to evolve. Neoliberalism reflects the contingent progress of Hegel: it calls us to make the present the best world yet, but does so through means which, if we misuse, will be our destruction. In Hegel, the future is better than the past or else there is no future. Putin seems to have concluded that this risk is too great, and perhaps Neoliberalism will indeed ultimately destroy itself, as Thomas More was ultimately executed (as depicted brilliantly in A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt). But the nobility of Neoliberalism shouldn’t be overlooked: as we need to be nuanced in our thinking about Russia, Russia needs to be more nuanced in its thinking about Neoliberalism.
For Dugin, it seems that freedom must be “spiritual,” which is to say “nonrational,” for otherwise it will be “captured” and organized by rationality, which inevitably comes to serve “the powers that be.” For Dugin, without “spirit,” rationality naturally becomes “instrumental rationality,” and at that point we will “rationally” and logically live and work on behalf of Silicon Valley, the corporations, the Neoliberal government, and so on. The mind cannot be free without nonrationality, for it is trapped on a “horizontal plane,” per se, which is totally controlled by Neoliberalism. In this situation, the only hope for freedom is “vertically,” and only “the spiritual” opens up that possible road (if “The Flatland” is totally controlled by Neoliberalism, per se, then the only “escape” is by adding a new dimension). Now, Dugin is not “anti-rationality”: like Benjamin Fondane, Dugin wants to place rationality “in its proper bounds.” And I actually agree with the idea that we require “nonrationality” to avoid being “captured” by “autonomous rationality,” which can prove to be a source of totalitarianism and oppression. All of this constitutes dimensions and defining features of “The Meaning Crisis”: the Russians are not wrong in their analysis. However, I think Putin is responding to “The Meaning Crisis” by fleeing it, while I think we can face it and endure.
Far from acting courageously and honorably to resist Neoliberalism, Putin is fleeing from the existential pressures and difficulties caused by “The Meaning Crisis” in resorting to “solutions” which others under Neoliberalism are brave enough not to entertain. It is Putin who is giving into the temptations of Satan in the act of resisting what he sees as the temptations of Neoliberalism. Putin has become what he has judged. We have not helped our case though, for we have regularly discussed “The Meaning Crisis” like a room we have foolish stumbled into and heard the door slam shut behind us. We race back to open it, but the steel and impenetrable door is locked. We kick it. We cannot escape. Following this metaphoric schema, desperate measures seem justified to assure people never stumble into the room in the first place. Putin perhaps views Neoliberalism as an escort, smiling and treating us like a friend and encouraging us to go on ahead into the room, only to then slam and lock the door behind us. No exit. Once we’re in the room, it’s too late. “The Meaning Crisis” is inevitable.
Metaphors shape the world: they are hands hanging decorations more than mere decorations themselves. In America discussing “The Meaning Crisis” as a situation we have no clue and idea how to solve, the critiques and concerns of Russia thinkers against Neoliberalism seem justified and warranted. If America is in decline, say in terms of happiness, social cohesion, political efficiency, its capacity to control its technologies, and so on, then why shouldn’t Russia try to defend itself from the system of Neoliberalism which America champions and embodies? Ideologies and systems of value are very hard to defend against, for they creep in gradually, quietly, like smoke under a door. The only way for Russia to assure it avoids “the soft power” of Neoliberalism is perhaps by taking drastic action now to better isolate itself—if it waits much longer and acts less aggressively, it might find itself locked in a room it cannot escape.
I am not saying any of this follows or is the case; rather, my point is that by discussing “The Meaning Crisis” in desperate terms, America and other nations are making it easier for Putin to rationalize geopolitical steps to isolate itself from Neoliberalism. This in mind, we need to change our language and tone about “The Meaning Crisis” immediately.
In “The Meaning Crisis as a Sign of Hope,” despite how we talk, I argue that it is not the case that we don’t have solutions to “The Meaning Crisis.” We do: fundamentalism, isolationism, xenophobia, opposing Pluralism, violence—I could go on. Rather, we now refuse these immoral “solutions,” so much so that we don’t even think about them “as solutions anymore.” We are holding ourselves to higher standards. To borrow liberally from the paper:
It is not that we have stumbled into a dead end with no road out, or that we are locked in a room without a key—our inability is self-imposed, because we view the available options as wrong. Past generations didn’t find these options wrong, and so they did not suffer a crisis of meaning like we do. We, however, have raised our standards, and for that evolution we are paying the price. Instead of a child who has found himself lost in the forest without any idea of how to escape […] I would argue that, from another angle, we are more like Thomas More being offered freedom by King Henry if only he will accept Henry’s annulment, or Malala refusing to follow orders from the Taliban. Both More and Malala suffer for their refused to “give in,” but there is something grand and noble about their refusal.
We are suffering a crisis of meaning not simply because past generations were wiser than us and we more “Postmodern,” relativistic, and foolish, but because past civilizations were more comfortable with options that we no longer accept. Yes, certainly, “relativism” and the destabilization of “givens” under Pluralism is a very big part of the story, and we somehow have to figure out how to address that problem (as “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose argues). However, it should be noted that the “destabilization of givens” alone wouldn’t have caused us “The Meaning Crisis” if we also didn’t disqualify certain options from consideration because we now view them as immoral and/or outdated.
Personally speaking, realizing that “the problem of meaning” is as old as humanity, and that we are suffering and experiencing the need acutely due to our refusal to use old and immoral solutions, helps me live with it. I am not stuck in a room I cannot escape, for I could escape it anytime, in the same way that Thomas More could escape execution by granting King Henry the annulment. Instead, I am choosing not to escape by a way that would have me repeat the wrongs of the past. I’m looking for a new way, a way I am still trying to figure out. That way may ultimately not exist—there is a real risk here—and the longer I look without finding the answer, the more intense and difficult the pains and tensions of “The Meaning Crisis” will become for me.
[...] Once I think about “The Meaning Crisis” as “a problem that has always been with us” and resulting from a noble refusal to accept “old solutions,” our very suffering of the Meaning Crisis starts to feel noble and heroic. We can be seen like Bonhoeffer, imprisoned for our beliefs and principles, or Malala, shot by the Taliban for doing what’s right. “The Meaning Crisis” can be seen as a price we pay for our beliefs, and there is something inspiring and charactered about paying that price.
Now, please don’t mistake me: I think we need to keep searching for a solution to the Meaning Crisis, and hopefully the works of O.G. Rose aid in this search. There is nothing wrong with More or Bonhoeffer accepting freedom from their imprisonment if they can do so without compromising their principles, and it is not wrong for anyone to try to save their lives on the right terms. So, again, please do not mistake me as saying that we should accept “The Meaning Crisis” and not try to do anything about it. Rather, I am saying that we should not metaphorically think of our crisis of meaning as a room we cannot escape. We can escape, and we know how, but we do not accept the terms. Instead, we’d rather face the existential anxiety resulting from trying to love our country without treating it like a religious idol, from accepting the complexity of life versus simplify it into fundamental premises (which requires taking on everything The True Isn’t the Rational trilogy explores), from us accepting different races, worldviews, cultures, and the like. We are committed to not using violence to escape our existential crisis, though we easily could. For this restraint, we are suffering, but that suffering is noble.
The paper goes on, but here it is enough to emphasize that “The Meaning Crisis” entails nobility. We have not spoken about it this way, and so we have perhaps made it easier for Putin to rationalize and justify aggression. We need to change our language, for we are unintentionally feeding the impression that Neoliberalism must be avoided “at all costs.” If we keep talking as if “The Meaning Crisis” is the Apocalypse, then nothing is lost in risking the Apocalypse to try and stop it.
In “Special Operation Z,” Alexander Dugin discusses a transparent clock. From one side, the clock is “progressing” normally, but, from the other side, the clock is “ticking backgrounds.” Dugin’s point is that what is “progress” from the perspective of materiality can be “regression” from the perspective of “spirit.” It’s the same clock, but based on our perspective, progress can be death.
What constitutes progress in terms of economics can constitute devolution in terms of belonging—I agree with Dugin’s point. However, using Dugin’s own metaphor, if we view “The Meaning Crisis” as a sign of hope, as resulting from a Thomas More choosing to uphold his principles, what to Putin might look like a progressive step against Neoliberalism is actually a loss of faith in what humanity can overcome. If Putin believes he is fighting to save the human soul, then he believes the human soul must be saved. He doubts us.
What is happening in Ukraine can only be rationalized as noble to those who think of “The Meaning Crisis” as Apocalyptic; to the rest of us, Putin does not believe humanity can rise to the challenge of our age. Putin has concluded that enduring “the negative space” of “The Meaning Crisis” is nothing more than “waiting for Godot.” I refuse to accept this.
‘I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.’¹
Dilsey, the hope for music in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, was not mistaken to stand.
In his work, Nikolai Berdyaev stressed “creativity” as uniquely spiritual and human, and in turning to “old ways” of finding meaning, Putin, a supposed reader of Berdyaev, is failing to encourage humanity to enact our creative spirit. In the name of saving our humanity from Neoliberalism, Putin is encouraging us to give up our humanity. In the name of saving our spirit, Putin would have us leap from a high place so that Dugin’s angels could catch us. In the name of saving our souls, Putin would have us bear no cross.
Did America not invade Iraq? Are we really a shining example of a country and people “enduring” like Dilsey? No, we are not. America is imperfect, as is Russia. On grounds of this shared imperfection, I would hope we can extend Russia an open hand. America would not want the world to never forgive us for our actions in the Middle East, and I do not think we should treat Russia like a black sheep. We can view their actions as a response to “The Meaning Crisis,” and though I think it is the wrong response, a resistance to Neoliberalism is understandable. We have not been good representatives of new possibilities. We have failed to inspire. But we can start.
In closing, I believe Putin is fleeing “The Meaning Crisis” versus face it. But though we won’t do it perfectly, and many days will be hard, we must work toward a new solution to “The Meaning Crisis,” a new system of managing trade-offs that transcends the immorality of past ages. But what if ultimately there is no alternative solution? What if we cannot succeed? We can. We can endure. We can prove the human spirit. And we will.
Rev. Bruce Klunder
All of them let there be light.
All of them prevailed.
¹The Noble Prize Speech of William Faulkner, as can be found here.
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