Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Is Trump the Real Manchurian Candidate?

This series, Philosophy in the Contemporary World, is aimed at exploring the various ways philosophy can be used to discuss issues of relevance to our society. There are no methodological, topical, or doctrinal limitations to this series; philosophers of all persuasions are invited to submit posts regarding issues of concern to them.  Please contact us here if you would like to submit a post to this series.

By Eric Meyer

Does anybody remember The Manchurian Candidate? In this Cold War thriller, the American President is brainwashed by Soviet/Chinese agents to carry out an attack against the United States. The President does not know he is a Soviet/Chinese agent, but at a subliminal signal from his handlers, he will launch a deadly attack that will sow confusion and fear in the American population, that will cause the American people to turn and fight against each other, and that will finally destroy, not only The American Way of Life, but Life As We Know It on the Planet Earth… In the 1950s Cold War spy-novel, the Soviet/Chinese attack is narrowly averted, and The Free World is saved. But the danger exposed by this byzantine allegory of brainwashing and subversion, of subliminal suggestion and thermonuclear terrorism, still persists, not least in the post-Cold War world of President Donald Trump’s America, where the sensationalistic fictional account of the clandestine manipulation of the American presidency has become, unfortunately, only too real.

The Soviet Union is now defunct, the Cold War is over. But the threat of espionage, subversion, and even nuclear attack against the United States, has not gone away. The Russian nuclear arsenal still exists, and currently slightly exceeds U.S. nuclear capability. And the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, has actually threatened, for example, to use remotely-guided submarine-based nuclear weapons to carry out attacks against coastal cities. After Putin’s war against Georgia, his annexation of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Crimea, his instigation of a perpetual ‘frozen war’ in Eastern Ukraine (the Donbas), and his interventions in Syria, Turkey, and Iran, Putin’s Russia is not only in control of Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, but is also dangerously close to preempting the United States as the number one global superpower. And “[w]hen Western leaders objected to Russian adventurism in Ukraine,” David Satter observes, “Russian leaders began threatening them with a nuclear attack.” At a meeting of retired U.S. and Russian generals in March 2015, Satter continues, “the Russian delegates said that any attempt by NATO to win back Crimea for Ukraine would evoke a nuclear response, and that ’the United States should understand that it would be at risk.’” (David Satter, “Putin Is No Partner On Terrorism,” Foreign Affairs, December 22, 2016). And yet President Trump, in a White House red-line phone-call to Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, stubbornly refused to endorse the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), opening the door to further dangerous escalation. Above all, Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation is now a greater threat to international nuclear security than Nikita Khrushchev’s Soviet Union, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. And all these sinister maneuvers and clandestine threats might have been predicted—and, perhaps, prevented—if Western observers had only paid attention to the crackpot prognostications of the Russian philosopher known as “Putin’s Rasputin,” or “Putin’s Brain”: Alexandr Dugin.

What’s the background of Putin’s belligerent political stance? Is there really a discernable philosophy that supports it? And why does Putin despise the United States? Briefly, the background is as follows: When the Hungarian government opened its borders in August, 1989, and Eastern European citizens fleeing Communist oppression began flooding into the West, Vladimir Putin was a KGB agent in Dresden, East Germany, tasked with recruiting informants from German colleges and universities for the Soviet Communist regime. When the Berlin Wall began to fall in November, 1989, Lieutenant Colonel Putin found himself facing an angry crowd of East German citizens, ready to storm the KGB offices, without the support of the Soviet military in Dresden, which, in response to Putin’s pleas, simply answered: “There’s nothing [we] can do to help.” Dressed in his Soviet uniform, but without his KGB-issued pistol, Putin single-handedly confronted the angry crowd. With steely bravado and icy resolve, he warned them: “This house is strictly guarded. My soldiers have weapons. And I gave them orders. If anyone enters this compound, they are to open fire.” (Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015]: 50-51.) The confused crowd, fearing bloodshed, dispersed, and returned to tearing down the Berlin Wall. But at that moment, Putin was forced to realize that the Soviet Communist regime had collapsed, the Soviet-backed East German government was in freefall, and the Cold War was finally over. For the East German citizens of the Soviet puppet regime, it was a spectacular moment of relief and liberation, presaging the reunification of Postwar Germany. But for Vladimir Putin, confused and angry at this failure of the Soviet Communist government to support its faithful KGB lieutenant, it was a world-shaking catastrophe. And the distraught Putin then swore two things: 1) Never again would Russia (Putin) be so humiliated; and 2) He (Putin) would get revenge on that country or agency he considered responsible for this humiliation: The United States of America.

In Post-Soviet Russia, Putin began his slow ascent to power by attaching himself, first, to St. Petersburg (Leningrad) mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and, subsequently, to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In the service of these purportedly democratic politicians, whose politics he secretly despised, Putin gained a reputation for unswerving loyalty, and for the unscrupulous tactics he used to support his superiors and to seize power for himself. Relying on his KGB training, Putin destroyed the careers of opposition politicians by framing them with false crimes, filming them with prostitutes, and exposing the damning information thus gathered in public newscasts: a KGB tactic known as kompromat. And so, when Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov threatened to expose Sobchak for corruption, on March 17, 1999, for example, Russian state television broadcast a videotape showing two young women, “described as prostitutes,” in a Moscow apartment with a man who, they said, “’very much resembles the Prosecutor General.’” Skuratov had been informed, sometime before the tape became public, that the kompromat existed, and immediately sent a letter of resignation and checked into a hospital; and Yeltsin had already accepted his resignation. But after the videotape surfaced on Russian state television, “[a] joke soon circulated that the source of the video was a man who ‘very much resembles the director of the FSB, Vladimir Putin.’” (Myers, The New Tsar, 136-137.)

After the fall of Boris Yeltsin in 1999, Putin positioned himself as Yeltsin’s heir apparent, when he became responsible for the brutal conduct of the Second Chechen War, in which Russian forces systematically devastated the Chechen countryside, at enormous costs in civilian casualties, and finally installed a puppet government under Ramzan Kadyrov. Substantial evidence exists, compiled by Russian reporters like Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian bureau, to suggest that Putin also engineered his ascent to power by staging false-flag terror attacks—the Moscow Apartment Bombings, the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis, the Beslan Hostage Crisis, the Moscow Subway Bombings, and many others—which were publicly attributed to Chechen terrorists, but which were actually instigated, if not carried out, by Russian FSB agents, with or without Putin’s direct oversight. And even if FSB agents did not actually instigate the attacks, the mis-management of the incidents itself reached criminal proportions. “On September 1, 2004,” for example, when “Chechen terrorists seized a school in Beslan,” in North Ossetia, “taking more than a thousand teachers, parents, and children hostage,” Putin refused to negotiate the hostages’ release, and, instead, the Russian Spetznaz (special police) forces attacked the building “with flamethrowers and grenade launchers,” and, as a result, “332 hostages were killed, including 186 children.” Most of them, David Satter notes, “had been burnt alive.”

In one notorious case, FSB agents were actually caught planting sacks of high explosives in the basement of a Russian apartment building. Putin, of course, denied allegations of complicity; and the FSB claimed its agents were performing training exercises. (See Myers, The New Tsar, 167-171.) But the subsequent assassinations of Putin’s critics who reported on the Chechen War, and upon Putin’s brutal, ruthless KGB tactics, like Politkovskaya, Litvinkenko, Natasha Estimorova, or, more recently, Boris Nemtsov, lend weight to the allegations. When Nemtsov was shot in February 2015, he was working upon an exposé titled simply: “Putin, War.” Nemtsov was assassinated, Steven Lee Myers writes, “as he walked along the bridge leading from Red Square. He died within sight of the Kremlin, his death, like Politkovskaya’s in 2006, a casualty of a larger war. It was no random act of violence, but a highly organized assassination carried out in the middle of one of the most heavily policed places on the planet”: a place ruled over by “The New Tsar,” Vladimir Putin. Boris Nemtsov’s murder, also like Politkovskaya’s, was conveniently blamed upon Chechen terrorists, some closely associated with Putin’s Chechen strongman, Kadyrov. “As with Politkovskaya’s murder—or Alexander Litvinenko’s or Sergei Magnitsky’s,” Myers continues, “Putin may not have been personally involved or aware, as his supporters insisted,” of the circumstances of the assassination. “By then, however, it was difficult to argue that [Putin’s] epoch was not washed with the blood of his harshest critics,” and supported by the assassinations of his most courageous political opponents. (Myers, The New Tsar, 478.)

There is also substantial evidence, contained in a dossier first given to Senator John McCain by a former British MI6 agent, and then presented to President Obama and President Elect Trump at a White House briefing, that Putin’s counter-intelligence agents manipulated the 2016 American presidential election by staging cyber-attacks against opposition candidates to spread disinformation among the American public, and that Putin’s agents have compiled kompromat against American President Donald Trump.* And yet President Trump still appears to consider Putin his number one foreign ally. Some are concerned that President Trump will undo the civil rights legacy of the Obama administration, will purge the colleges and universities of critical philosophers, or will continue the escalation of America’s nuclear arsenal already begun by Obama, thereby provoking a confrontation with Putin’s Russia. These are, of course, serious concerns. But a far greater threat is to U.S. national security is presented by clandestine infiltration of America’s nuclear program—and of the Trump White House—by Putin’s counter-intelligence agents, even if President Trump has not actually been secretly brainwashed to submit to the subconscious orders of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Vladimir Putin is obviously not what we call a philosopher, a thinker, a man of ideas, since for ex-Soviet KGB-man Putin, philosophical ideas are simply ideologies—that is, simply weapons, to be employed in the psychological war-games he plays against his enemies. And for the non-philosopher Putin, political debate, unlike philosophical dialog, is often settled by violence: by assassination, murder, torture, war. But even Putin sometimes needs philosophical ideas to buttress his political positions in his elaborate psychological war-games; and when he does, he turns to the Russian philosopher known as “Putin’s Rasputin,” or, “Putin’s Brain”: Alexandr Dugin. (See Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, “Putin’s Brain: Alexandr Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin’s Invasion of Crimea,” Foreign Affairs, March 31, 2014.) Despite his close association with Vladimir Putin, Alexandr Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory (tr. Mark Sleboda and Michael Millerman [London: Arktos Media, 2012]), is a respectable book of contemporary philosophy: well-written, closely-argued, and supported by extensive readings of Western philosophers, albeit often of a distinctly right-wing slant—Julius Evola, Rene Guenon, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger—but also including Marx, Gramsci, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, and so on. What betrays Dugin’s thinking as non-philosophy, however, is not simply his excessive dislike for Western European (post)-modernity and Anglo-American liberalism—which, by the way, Dugin himself considers versions of fascism—and his propagandistic promotion of a “National Bolshevik” or “Eurasianist” political thought that clearly supports Great Russian imperialism in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Middle East—hence Vladimir Putin’s piquant interest. Instead, it is his willingness to endorse political violence, warfare, and even terrorism, in support of his philosophical positions, which can, arguably, be called fascist—as is evident in Dugin’s wildly outspoken support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has so far cost at least 10,000 lives, and which threatens to destabilize or to overthrow the pro-Western Ukrainian government.

“[T]he ferocity of [Dugin’s] statements in favor of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” John Sweeney observes (“Who are the figures pushing Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin together?,” BBC Panorama, 16 January 2017) have also resulted in Western sanctions against Dugin, and should therefore help to remind us that Dugin’s philosophical ideas—like those of Plato, Hegel, Heidegger, Badiou, or Žižek—can have a pernicious influence upon the political thinking of his listeners, like Vladimir Putin—as Putin’s political positions are a pernicious influence upon President Trump. But objectionable as they may be, Dugin’s philosophical ideas are not pernicious, in and of themselves, except when those philosophical ideas are employed as psychological warfare, to instigate political violence against his perceived enemies, or to eliminate or silence his opponents, thereby quashing dialog and debate. By the same token, it is not politically correct to simply accuse Vladimir Putin—or Donald Trump, either—of being fascists, absent specific evidence of politically-motivated violence or terrorist attacks against their perceived enemies. But when propaganda and polemic, rhetoric and jargon, cross the thin red borderline into political violence and terrorist warfare, then it is time to draw the line, and to stand upon it: to insist that political violence cease and desist, before the political debate and philosophical dialog stop, and the brutal crushing of dissent and stamping out of opposition begins.

Nobody wants to bring back the Cold War, or to spark an episode of McCarthyism. But being blithely indifferent to the dangers of cyber-attacks, subversion, espionage, and even nuclear warfare, that exist in the contemporary world is not just foolish, it’s downright dangerous. And the American President certainly must be constantly aware of this danger. By the same token, philosophical critics should certainly be aware of the dangerous political implications of otherwise innocuous ideas. President Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin, however innocuous in itself, as a belated juvenile flirtation between strange political bedfellows, nonetheless presents a clear and present danger to American national security, even if President Trump is not currently—or is not yet—so completely under Putin’s influence as to qualify as The Manchurian Candidate. But it is still sincerely to be hoped that, before taking on the responsibilities of America’s highest office, President Trump will be debriefed by his handlers on the stark realities behind Putin’s reign of terror, and will cease and desist from his sordid love-affair with the Russian President. Before the danger to American national security reaches a critical point. And the fictional threat become all too real.

 

  • The McCain dossier, compiled by former MI6 agent, Christopher Steele, has been extensively reported by, inter alia, The Independent (20 December 2016, 5 January 2017, 12 January 2017, 13 January 2017), The Guardian (10 January, 2017), The Washington Post (January 10, 2017, January 13, 2017), and The Observer (January 17 2017).

 

Eric D. Meyer is a semi-retired fence-builder and former English professor who writes book reviews for philosophy journals like Dialogue, Symposium, Philosophy in Review, and Marxism and Philosophy Review of Books. He has recently published an article entitled “Sacrificing Sacrifice to Self-Sacrifice: The Sublimation of Sacrificial Violence in Western Indo-European Culture” in Existenz: An International Journal in Philosophy, Politics, Religion, and the Arts, Vol. 11/1 (Spring 2016).  (http://existenz.us/volumes/Vol.11-1Meyer.pdf). His recent book is Questioning Martin Heidegger: On Western Metaphysics, Bhuddhist Ethics, and the Fate of the Sentient Earth (University Press, 2013).

4 thoughts on “Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Is Trump the Real Manchurian Candidate?

  1. Each person is entitled to hold political opinions. Using this specific blog as an outlet for political emoting does not inform those who are truly interested in philosophy. That is the fault of the persons who manage this blog and misuse it to advance their own political agenda.

  2. Mark Guyer,

    You are certainly welcome to challenge any statement of fact or opinion in the blog. You are also welcome to cite conflicting evidence or opposing points of view. I would have gladly supplied further documentation of every statement made here, and you will find further references on the updated version of the article on researchgate. You are also welcome to read Alexandr Dugin’s “Fourth Political Theory” and to disagree with my opinion that it constitutes legitimate philosophy, even if Dugin’s statements supporting the Russian invasion of Crimea and Ukraine do not. My opinion in this blog is that all political opinions are legitimate subjects of debate and dialog, but attempts to silence dissent or to use violence against dissidents are not. I have been following Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian politics for several decades, and I could cite many more instances in which violence has been used to silence dissent and eliminate political opposition in Russia. And it is precisely the purpose of this blog to argue that that should not happen in the US of A. I have also attempted to put some humor into the article, but apparently you did not appreciate it. Please feel free to respond when you actually have a critical opinion on any of these issues, and I will gladly respond to your criticism. Thanks for your comment.

    Eric D. Meyer

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