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Into the "Russian soul'
on 27 May 2016
This book offers a brilliant insight into the 'Russian soul", and more importantly, how it came about. An important aspect is that the author shows to what extent 'democracy' as most Western countries know it, is only really part of the people's DNA - and only has real roots, growing out of West European feudalism - in West-European countries; only 'natural' in those countries and the countries that were settled by them, like North America, Australia and the like. Richard Pipes shows us how Russia - from its earliest days right up to today - always was a patriarchal society, where the Prince - whether he be Ivan IV, Stalin or Putin - never was the embodiment of a State that had obligations towards its citizens just as much as they had obligations towards the State. The Prince, just as the ancient family father, had no obligations. He simply 'owned' everything under his command, from household utensils to the bodies and souls of his family members or subjects. Pipes makes the nice point that Russian rulers old and new never are or were 'depots'. This, because a despot rides roughshod over the rights of his subjects; a Russian patriarch's family or subjects however simply assumes them to have no rights. Everything a subject 'owns' - riches or even his life - is basically a favor of the patriarch who allows the subject to pretend ownership until the patriarch exercises his God-given right to take it away again.
We tend to think of this situation only in connection with the Russian serfdom. But Pipes explains how even highly placed nobles were in their relation towards the ultimate patriarch, the Tsar, no better off than the meanest serf. There are countless of instances of them summarily being robbed of titles, rank, possessions or life on the Tsar's orders. And that without any of them ever protesting against incursions on any 'rights' they had. The Tsar giveth, the Tsar taketh away; praised be the name of the Tsar. It explains of course also the fatalistic frame of mind of most Russians through the ages. And it explains why the Russian-in-the-street sees even today nothing abnormal in Putin endowing his favorites with billions in possessions, nor in his dispossessing them or anyone else if they fall out of favor. Basically this book explains how the Communist and post-Communist society and leadership in many ways was a straightforward continuation of relationships that developed in the earliest Middle Ages in Russia.
This book is NOT written as 'popular history', full of witticisms and telling anecdotes. On the other hand, is is clear and well-written, and offers information, analysis and insight on Russian society that is rarely found elsewhere. Highly recommended to everyone who wants a better understanding of Russian society and leadership - and why we laugh at Putin sitting bare-chested on a stallion, but Russians don't.