Timothy Snyder described Ivan Ilyin’s nationalism this way after the revolution of 1917:
“Ilyin thus portrayed Russian lawlessness as patriotic virtue. “The fact of the matter, “ he wrote, “is that fascism is redemptive excess of patriotic arbitrariness.
Again, this is music to Putin’s ears.
Snyder sees religion as playing an important role in Russia fascism just as it does in American fascism:
“Ilyin’s use of the Russian word for redemptive, spasitelnii, which means released a profound religious meaning into politics. Like other fascists, such as Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf he turned Christian ideas of sacrifice and redemption towards new purposes. Hitler claimed that he would redeem the world for a distant God by ridding it of Jews. “And so I believe that I am acting as the almighty creator would want, “ wrote Hitler. “Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am dong the work of the Lord. “ The Russian spasitelnii would usually be applied by an Orthodox Christian, to the deliverance of believers by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. What Ilyin meant was that Russia needed a redeemer who would make the “chivalrous sacrifice” of shedding the blood of others to take power. A fascist coup was “an act of Salvation,” the first step towards the return of totality to the universe…To make war against the enemies of God was to express innocence. Making war (not love) was the proper release of passion because it did not endanger but protected the virginity of the national body…True “passion” was fascist violence, the rising sword that was also a kneeling prayer.”
All this follows from the core belief that that the nation is pure, innocent and holy. Hence, in effect, Ivan Ilyin argued for Christian fascism. His fanaticism was theological. To love God meant to fight his enemies without restraint or limit. Anything else was evil. The leader of that fight would be the redeemer. One can see how Vladimir Putin would find a fantastic role for himself. He would be the redeemer of Russia. The redeemer must be strong and uncorrupted. He must be a man like Hitler, Bolsonaro, or Donald Trump.
For these reasons Snyder said, “Fascism, however, is about a sacred and eternal connection between the redeemer and this people.” This was an idea later implicitly endorsed by Trump and Putin. As Snyder said, “A fascist presents institutions as the corrupt barriers between leader and folk that must be circumvented or destroyed.”
Snyder described the fascist leader in a way that would include Hitler, Putin, and Trump:
“The redeemer should be regarded as “leader” (gosudar) “head of state,” “democratic dictator,” and “national dictator,” an assemblage of titles that recall the fascist leaders of the 1920s and 1930s. The redeemer would be responsible for all executive, legislative, and judiciary functions, and command the armed forces.”
I would submit that this is perfect description of what Hitler, Putin, and Trump have each tried to achieve, with varying degrees of “success.” According to Snyder Ilyin would make Russia a “zero party” state. This again was taken up by Trump in 2020 when the entire Republican Party platform was Trump. No policies were needed. Whatever Trump wanted was the platform. The Republican Party all but disappeared in the 2020 presidential campaign. If I thought Trump ever read, I would think he must have read Ilyin or at least got a précis from Putin. Ilyin thought Russians must overcome democracy “by political habits that excite and sustain Russians’ collective love for their redeemer.” The resemblance to Trump and Putin is remarkable. As Snyder said, “Voting should unite the nation in a gesture of subjugation.”
Ilyin had the same attitude to law as Putin and Trump:
“By “law” he meant the relationship between the caprice of the redeemer and obedience of everyone else. Again a fascist idea proved to be convenient for an emerging oligarchy. The loving duty of the Russian masses was to translate the redeemer’s every whim into a sense of legal obligation on their part. The obligation, of course, was not reciprocal. Russians had a “special arrangement of the soul” that allowed them to suppress their own reason and accept “the law in our hearts.” By this Ilyin understood their to suppress their own reason in favor of national submission.”
Isn’t this exactly the doctrine enunciated by Trump’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz at Trump’s impeachment trial and later enthusiastically endorsed by Trump and his minion Rudy Giuliani. Whatever Trump did was lawful. What he wanted was lawful. And amazingly, only 1 Republican voted to impeach Trump and later, more than 73 million Americans voted for Trump in the presidential election that followed. More than73 million Americans voted for fascism!
In Russia this was all given a religious gloss. Here is how Snyder described it:
“The Russian nation, summoned to instant war against spiritual threats, was a creature rendered divine by its submission to an arbitrary leader who emerged from fiction. The redeemer would take upon himself the burden of dissolving all facts and passions, thereby rendering senseless any aspiration of any individual Russian to see or feel or change the world. Each Russian would experience this immobility as freedom. Unified by their redeemer, their sins washed away in the blood of others, Russians would welcome God back to his creation. Christian fascist totalitarianism is an invitation to God to return to the world and help Russia bring an end to history everywhere.”
The sleep of reason leads to treating the nation and its leader as holy.