Putin Dons the Armor of God, or Was That the Devil's?

Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Vladimir Putin recently made waves when he withdrew Russia from its last remaining nuclear arms control agreement with the U.S., citing Russia’s determination to stop decadent Western evil as motivation. But the first prominent mention of Russia’s new role as champion for good against Western evil didn’t come from Putin but in a Red Square speech by Ivan Okhlobystin, an actor and defrocked priest dressed as Dr. Strangelove.


Putin’s militant virtue would be foreshadowed there. But even before Okhlobystin, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn pointed out in his 1983 Templeton Prize speech that the war on God had already been started by Karl Marx and the French revolution. “Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is … the central pivot.” The Kremlin had been in the good vs evil game for a long time, mostly on evil’s side.  But by 1983, it had gone beyond narrow academic circles into the popular culture of the West in general. Solzhenitsyn wrote:

The primary key to our being or non-being resides in each individual human heart, in the heart’s preference for specific good or evil. Yet this remains true even today, and it is, in fact, the most reliable key. The social theories which have promised so much have demonstrated their bankruptcy, leaving us in a dead end. The free people of the West could reasonably have been expected to understand that their environment includes numerous freely nurtured falsehoods, and not to allow lies to be foisted upon them so easily.

Those social theories are collectively called Woke. Biden’s counterspeech to Putin was also themed on good vs evil, but in a PC way. It dodged the problem of who are the baddies. Should we believe, like TV, that they are all on one side or the other — the Democratic Party perhaps or the Davos elite — or believe like Solzhenitsyn, “that the demon of evil, like a whirlwind, triumphantly circles all five continents of the earth.” Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that ‘world leaders’ should be talking in terms of good vs evil, God, and the Devil at all. How, in the middle of the 21st century, after a hundred years of deicide, can we behave as if what we so thoroughly buried had risen so swiftly from the grave that His presence haunts the councils of state? God, or external reality if you prefer, would not be a problem if He did not exist. But let’s not tread there, for thither lie dragons.


Putin is not the opposite of Woke, nor vice versa, just as Stalin was not the antithesis of Hitler. Both adduce the ‘better me than him’ argument, as if that were a meaningful choice, to gain political support. But that is never the end of the matter. One could, like Churchill, make a tactical alliance with one devil against the other. Churchill, a long-time anti-communist, understood this and remarked, “if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference of the Devil in the House of Commons.” But Churchill also knew that one had to face both devils in the end. One down, one to go. The Cold War came as no surprise to him after Hitler was gone. He invented the phrase “Iron Curtain” for the long and deadly confrontation that he knew must follow. But only the phrase; Stalin invented the fact.

One must be careful, in Putin’s invocation of the right against the Woke or the claims of the Woke to be the embodiment of the fount of liberty not to imagine the good to be all upon one side or the other, any more than Stalin or Hitler had the monopoly of it. Elon Musk’s dictum that “the woke mind virus is either defeated or nothing else matters” and “the Kremlin’s aggression is the greatest threat to humanity today” can both be true. There’s always unfinished business. Perhaps we should let Freeman Dyson, another Templeton Prize winner, finish the train of thought Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn began.


I do not claim any ability to read God’s mind. I am sure of only one thing. When we look at the glory of stars and galaxies in the sky and the glory of forests and flowers in the living world around us, it is evident that God loves diversity. Perhaps the universe is constructed according to a principle of maximum diversity. The principle of maximum diversity says that the laws of nature, and the initial conditions at the beginning of time, are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth. This is the confession of faith of a scientific heretic. Perhaps I may claim as evidence for progress in religion the fact that we no longer burn heretics.

The future is uncertain, but we’ll make it; at least we hope to. “I will bear the ring though I do not know the way.”

Books: Against the Great Reset: Eighteen Theses Contra the New World Order Kindle Edition by Michael Walsh (editor). In this timely and necessary book, Michael Walsh has gathered trenchant critical perspectives on the Great Reset from eighteen eminent writers and journalists from around the world. Though I wouldn’t exactly consider myself an eminent writer, mine is one of the 18 chapters in this book, and I think it’s worthwhile.

Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb by George Feifer.
Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 by Ian W. Toll.
Year Zero: A History of 1945 by Ian Buruma.



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