What drives Vladimir Putin? Germany’s most famous philosopher Peter Sloterdijk finds clear words. He also positions himself in the debate about arms deliveries and criticizes the reporting in Germany.
Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk sees Russian President Vladimir Putin as a relatively insignificant man who suddenly finds himself at the head of a vast political-military complex and fantasizes a fitting story to go with it. “He wakes up in the morning and sees Russia surrounded.”
In an interview with the German Press Agency, Sloterdijk not only provides a relentless analysis of the notorious liar in the Kremlin, he also warns against the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine and parries criticism from Ambassador Andriy Melnyk.
Mr. Sloterdijk, since your “Critique of Cynical Reason” you have been considered the expert on cynics and cynicism. Is Putin one of the great cynics in European history?
Sloterdijk: It could happen that one day it not only has a place in political history, but also in the history of ideologies, that is, of distortions of consciousness. One gets the impression that he is doing everything for it.
Question: When you hear “distortion” do you think of his justification for the Ukraine war? That he had to defend Russia from NATO, which had surrounded Russia?
Sloterdijk: He repeated things like this so often that they became his worldview. He wakes up in the morning and sees Russia surrounded. What distinguishes the biggest lie is that it doesn’t make simple counterfactual claims, it constructs a false story using a few correctly grasped particles of reality. You can see that very clearly with him. But one also regularly witnesses the most blatant lies with Putin. There has seldom been a politician for whom lies make up such a large proportion of his verbal utterances.
Naked lie – that would be his claim after the murder of a political opponent that he had nothing to do with it?
Sloterdijk: Or when he cynically remarks on Alexej Navalny’s poisoning, “if it had been us, the man would no longer be alive”. This is a top formulation of gentleman’s cynicism. The wrong consciousness took the step from the simple lie to a quasi-diabolical dimension, that of complete immoral disinhibition.
You recently described Putin as a 19th-century figure at the Phil.Cologne philosophy festival in Cologne. He wages old-fashioned wars of conquest, but also seems intent on recreating the feudal society of the Tsarist Empire with a tiny upper class. The great mass of the people should strive for nothing but poverty.
Sloterdijk: In his eyes, anything else would be the poison of Westernization, from which he pretends to want to protect his compatriots. Too much consumption makes you gay. The pure Russian soul is the one that can be at home in adversity. These are ideas that were probably compatible with the poor Christianity of the past millennium. They may have survived longer in Russia than in the West and are now experiencing their post-Soviet renaissance, also with the help of the Orthodox Church.
What ultimately drives Putin? He recently compared himself to Peter the Great. Is it his goal to go down in Russian history as a great conqueror?
Sloterdijk: Rather as a restorer of the “Russian greatness”, yes, a “Russian world”, which is of course largely fictional in nature. He begrudges the independence of the former Soviet republics and mourns the loss of the Soviet Union as if it were only a passing figure of Russian imperialism. He’s quite historically blind on this point. He concocts a history in the manner of half-educated people who have accidentally come into power. His reflections are on the level of Hitler’s rabulistic table talks – structurally one can definitely compare them.
The amateur who has read something here and there and is now very sure of his thing.
Sloterdijk: Yes, frenzied amateurism. Of course, he acts against the background of the fact that a small, relatively insignificant man has come to the head of a large political complex and is now fantasizing the associated script himself. Apparently Putin is in a second phase of this fantasizing, because initially he said completely different things. The Great Russian script only intensified in a second phase.
Has he become radicalized?
Sloterdijk: I would say he has increasingly become the victim of his auto-hypnosis. It was an empty tube that only had to be filled over time with a subsequent justification of its success. Autohypnotic self-induction into a historically significant role seems to be the driving force at the moment.
Her current book is entitled “Who hasn’t thought of gray yet”. The current Ukraine debate contains only a few shades of gray and nuances. Instead, clear commitments are demanded. The Gretchen question is: are you for or against the delivery of heavy weapons?
Sloterdijk: Objectively, we are experiencing a very confused situation, because the Western countries have allowed themselves to be persuaded to rhetorically declare a kind of unconditional solidarity with Ukraine. On the other hand, they are determined not to become a party to the war themselves. The entire discussion moves in this ambivalence. After all, supplying heavy weapons would be more or less tantamount to openly entering the position of the warring party. If Western politicians have shied away from this up to now, there are good reasons for that. Germany is by no means alone here, and France and the USA have also agreed so far to exercise restraint with heavy weapons.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sees things differently. In particular, he calls on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to finally position himself clearly.
Sloterdijk: It is in the nature of things that the Ukrainian side tries to talk the West into the war. This applies to both Selenskyj and the Ukrainian ambassador in Germany. More than any other side, they accuse the Germans of not having become a party to the war because they have a bad conscience in Germany and a tendency to cave in. They find willing collaborators in German journalists. Like disappointed theatergoers who would have liked to see more spectacle, some journalists accuse Chancellor Scholz of his cautious attitude. This is reminiscent of theater criticism gone awry.
Do you think that the journalists get carried away by the mood there? That they take sides too much?
Sloterdijk: Definitely. I’m very uncomfortable with all the so-called reporting. One hardly hears dissenting voices, voices admonishing moderation. Think of how unfairly they tried to discredit the initiators of Alice Schwarzer’s open letter.
And the population, how is it doing in your eyes?
Sloterdijk: I think that the Germans have presented themselves as friendly hosts in an astonishingly clear way, quite differently from what the Ukrainian ambassador said recently…
…Andriy Melnyk, who said that many Ukrainian refugees don’t feel welcome in Germany and are therefore going back.
Sloterdijk: I think that’s completely wrong. We ourselves have also taken in refugees on a number of occasions, and we know people who have also done so. We know firsthand that feelings of unwelcome are the exception rather than the rule. On the contrary, there is still a huge wave of friendliness and helpfulness. There are still around half a million Ukrainians with us, and if many have already returned to western Ukraine, it is because they only came temporarily from the start to seek protection, not as emigrants.
by Christoph Driessen, dpa
ABOUT PERSON: Peter Sloterdijk (74) is one of the most important German philosophers. Instead of pure teaching in the ivory tower, he seeks political discourse, so he moderated the “Philosophical Quartet” on ZDF for a long time. His Critique of Cynical Reason, published in 1983, is one of the best-selling philosophical works of the 20th century. Sloterdijk lives in Berlin.