Eastern promises: illusion and the holy East
I will attack a shibboleth held by the right: Eastern Europe is not very religious—it is actually less religious than the West, and the same goes for Russia (although Russia, unlike the East, inclines in a more religious direction). The reason for this to be the case is that Communism was really very brutal: the West is decadent, yet it has never had its religious core ripped out by violence and decades of full Communism implemented within it. While it is true that the West lives under little “c” communism, this is not the same as Marxism-Leninism. The reason why this is relevant is that religion is heavily connected to symbolism: Westminster Abbey was never blown up, Russian cathedrals were—and this makes a considerable difference.
The reason the right thinks that the East is more religious than the West is threefold: firstly, there is a natural tendency to romanticise distant things—Western Communists, ironically enough, did this with the USSR and Cuba (as with with the three Wise Men and “Eastern wisdom” all Eastern things are seen as spiritual and mysterious); secondly, it is true that certain Eastern countries, notably Poland, had a religious core that resisted Communism; thirdly, Communism could not innovate—it tended to flash-freeze bourgeois high culture (hence you see an ultra-strict female ballet mistress with a stick disciplining her Afro-Cuban ballet students—although children from the slums are gathered into the ballet school, the same martinet bourgeois standards remain, high culture for everyone; meanwhile, in the West, people listen to Dua Lupa and slouch at their desks).
The conservative attraction to the USSR is quite old; for example, Enoch Powell admired the patriotism and discipline he saw in the USSR. This is because socialism inevitably turns a country into a military camp and conservatives naturally react positively to this disciplinary element in socialism. Further, men like Stalin represent decadent manhood; they are like gangsters and gangsters are masculine—they are inverted knights, the perverse side to brotherly knighthoods. Hence the knight and the gangster seem more alike than the softy middle-class businessman or wet university professor who are rational, cozy, and “herbivore”. The conservative reacts positively to what is manly in gangsterism, disdains his own wet liberals—and can find common ground with the gangster in that. Hence once the Communists ditched their wets—ultimately ditched Trotsky and company—and became realistic-if-still-ideologically-motivated gangsters, conservatives began to respect their toughness (if not their ideas).
For the above reasons, conservatives admire Eastern Europe; and, really, because Eastern culture was flash-frozen in 1945 conservatives love it because conservatism is a non-ideological yearning for what was so in your childhood or, at most, your grandparents’ generation. For conservatives, Eastern Europe is like a theme park where their utopia actually exists—not economically, of course, but culturally; if conservatives are really conservative progressives then the East is the ideal place for them—cultural values like my granddaddy had; no “youth culture”, no decadence from consumerism because Communism had enforced austerity.
Conservatives have this idea—a false idea, in my view—that “what we need is another war” or “stick ‘em in the army that will sort ‘em out”. I think this is wrong because Britain experienced considerable militarised austerity in WWI and WWII and if anything her decline accelerated after austerity. Luxury does promote decadence, but it is only part of the story. Nevertheless, conservatives generally like the idea of privation—especially self-privation; hence, as masochists, they like to lose to the left and have a good moan about it.
So Eastern Europe fulfills many fantasies held by generic conservatives—it is like a time-travel theme park where people still like ballet and Rachmaninoff because, basically, there was nothing else to do and that was all the Communists put on the telly to entertain and elevate you (to elevate you up to bourgeois levels circa 1945). Further, due to the Eastern Bloc’s cultural autarchy and anti-Western stance, the Eastern countries still valued and preserved their folk culture—so it had yet to be out-competed by Hollywood pap; so, paradoxically, internationalist Communism preserved folk culture whereas nationally-based free-market systems eliminated it. The consumer is a lowest common denominator, once censorship has been removed by liberals the market gives him exactly what he wants—fat-bottomed girls in track suits on rap tracks…inject it into my eyes.
The first point to note is that Eastern Europe is just on a time lag. Hungary has not gone woke because Hungary is culturally about 15 years behind the West—although the temporal gap is not permanent and is closing fast. Eastern Europe is Europe: once she was over the 1990s transition hump she began to move in the same direction as the rest of Europe—she had accumulated uncorrupted social capital, but there is no reason to think an Eastern student is immune to Western influences. It took a while for the intellectual strata to catch up: the Communist intelligentsia were distrusted, so the cultural head was dead—the new intelligentsia may not be completely Westernised, but it is Westernised enough. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic—all will go woke.
The reason why the West is implicitly more religious than these states is that she never had her intellectual and religious core destroyed. Poland had the Katyn massacre; and that was about the same as if in Britain Bertrand Russell, JRR Tolkien, and CS Lewis had all been shot—and then the Hitlerites appeared and finished off Wittgenstein for good measure. This was followed by a period, per Kołakowski, where there was no progress in philosophy—in any of the humanities—for about fifty years. Although bourgeois high culture was frozen in aspic, unlike in the West, the damage to the continuity of tradition in these countries was considerable.
Further, although the Western right complains about censorship, ideas like the link between race and IQ have never been completely extirpated from public life in the West—even if only published in small-circulation journals and discussed semi-privately. You could never do anything like that even privately in the East without ending up in prison at the very least. So, in my view, the East and Russia have had a lobotomy in the areas of the humanities, religion, and some scientific research—now, the lobotomised patient may be immune to certain sophisticated manipulative advertisement (wokeness) to an extent, but this is only because he is dead in key areas of mental faculty.
Religion only appears “alive” in the East because it was quick-frozen at a certain stage—it has now begun to defrost—and also because for some people in the East it was a way to resist Communism. What this means is you have an inversion of the West: in the West you have this hardcore determined group of very prominent atheists, yet most people are not atheists—they say, “There must be something, maybe a God, but I don’t know what—but there’s definitely something”. In the East, you have a very determined highly religious group who attract attention in the West—and they are surrounded by people who say, “There’s nothing. Absolutely nothing.” This is worse in Russia because Russia received the full brunt of proper Communism. By the time Stalin occupied the East, the system has compromised on religion and all sorts of things just to survive—to win the war. Hence the Communists never went into full cathedral demolition mode in the East—yet in Russia you had a good fifteen years where a proper atheist state was tried, a proper realm for the League of the Militant Godless.
I think what happened in Russia—her spiritual lobotomy—was even worse than the East. This is because I find that Russians think in really peculiar ways—Dugin is a specific example of this trend. I say this not as a national or racial “gotcha”; it is not to do with race, nation, or religion—I say this because Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky do not think in this peculiar way I notice in modern Russians. Modern Russians think in this peculiar way because they have been lobotomised by Communism: thirty years is not a long time to recover from the previous situation—the damage is extensive. If you want to understand the nature of the damage, dig out a philosophical or cultural text published in the USSR in about 1975. In it you will find the most peculiar and convoluted reasoning you can imagine—and that was the weird thought process that comes about when you cut all ties to tradition, ban religion, and then practice mass murder and repression for decades on end.
Western critics only understand this as a free speech issue; yet, being liberals, they cannot grasp that the problem is not just that “individuals cannot express themselves”, the problem is that the roots that make up the culture have been severed and, secondarily, a total atheist state is a historical novelty and is as perverse as holding a baby under water and expecting it to breath normally. Ironically, Western intellectuals will defend bands like Pussy Riot on the grounds that “their free speech is being suppressed, just like in Soviet times” when bands such as Pussy Riot, if you look into what they believe, want to go back to Communism—when we had feminism, not cathedrals; and that is why they target cathedrals.
The damage has barely been repaired in Russia, and this is why Russians think (and, to an extent, act) in such odd ways. I reiterate that this is not to do with Russianness—it is not in pre-Bolshevik Russia, it is something to do with the way Communism distorted Russia and the way this distortion has yet to be corrected. Put another way: Westerners are not very overtly religious because they still have their cultural patrimony and many traditions to fall back on; in the East, small numbers of people are intensely and overtly religious because they are very conscious that this patrimony has been lost and the links severed—and this creates a false impression in Western conservatives that the East is “very religious” and “our hope”. The person who has an intact family often wanders far from home and acts autonomously because they are confident “home is always there”—the orphan or person from a broken home is often neurotic, unadventurous, and overtly fascinated by the notion of “family” because they have no home to which to return; and the same applies to the West and the former Eastern Bloc. People who have it don’t speak about it.
I would say, in my experience, that there is something different—something unpleasant—about people from the East; and this is again not a racial, national, or a cultural comment—it is that there is a common, basically, nastiness to people who come from the former Communist world, whether Russian or Czech. The commonality is the damage done by Communism—by what Jeffers called “the Communist rat-fight”, the damage goes right down to collective nurseries and other weird social experiments Communism implemented. Their souls have been twisted over several generations; and this accounts for a particular savagery you find in Easterners and a harshness—also a certain indifference and lassitude; and I mean this apart from whether they are Slavs or not.
If you want to understand what I mean, compare a video of Count Nikolai Tolstoy to Vladimir Putin—now Tolstoy has some mistaken political views, but there is a sensibility to him that is different; and it is men like Tolstoy who should really run Russia, not Putin—ultimately, Putin was trained by a corrupt organisation, the KGB, and that training is not easily extirpated; for example, when he is interviewed he curls his toes up in his shoes and that is because spies are taught this technique to make it easier to lie—it can also help defeat a polygraph—because it burns energy, so making you much calmer. Essential spycraft, but also a whole education in lies—and Putin is relatively among the better Russian politicians.
This damage also exists at the symbolic level: for example, the British flag is not just “a national flag”—it recreates the ancient Druidical closed precincts, the same arrangement, with different colours, can be seen on the Breton flag; and that is because the Druids, Arthur, and the Grail are linked to Brittany—so Britain, in line with her imperial period, existed under a very deep primordial religious symbol and still does. By contrast, the Easterners had their symbolic continuity disrupted for a long time, and even now it has not been fully recovered and is still mixed in with Soviet iconography—not that when a Russian tanker today flies a hammer and sickle he means “Communism”, he means “we beat the Germans under this flag”; and yet the symbols from Communism still exist in Russia and, contextual changes notwithstanding, exercise a baleful influence.
So I am very sceptical as regards this notion “the East is very religious”; it strikes me as wishful thinking—now, this is not to say Russia does not head in the right direction; she certainly inclines in the right direction—yet she is also engaged in a massive repair work to regain many things that we in the West actually take for granted.