I am reading a phenomenal book by Masha Gessen, “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.” I came across her on an interview on NPR. Impressive. Depth of insight and wisdom in expression. She tells the story of Putin’s Russia and of the Communist Soviet Union through the journeys of several people. Very personal with dramatic description. Her grasp of the intellectual battles in play, the grasp of the devastation worked by the Communists to shape the perfect Soviet Man, and the working knowledge she has of the currents of ideas and literature are thrilling to the hungry minds of readers who are grasping at air to understand just what happened in Russia over the last 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution.
One of the surprises to me is the importance she attributes to Western sociology’s introduction into the Russian universities to give the people conceptual abilities to explain what they were going through after having been stripped of Western thought by the Soviet regime. Sociology was particularly culled out of the curriculum in the academic world, for it offered explanations of human society apart from Marx’s pure materialism. Lenin insisted that economics alone and the battle against capitalism were sufficient to bolster the Soviet experiment. This left no place for the human in the human being.
I have been critical of sociology’s role in re-engineering Western society. University students set loose with sociology degrees, rooting themselves in government and social services, have been particularly to blame for the constant and unremitting attempts to secularize our country without reference to any transcendent order and with its particularly scathing appraisal of religion and its value for elevating the human condition. With calculators, statistical and demographic studies, charts, and a constant attack on the family traditionally conceived, they are our secular priests.
Yet Gessen attributes any gathering of light in Soviet society at least partly to the introduction of sociology. I’ll buy her point, which is that it focused on the human being as human apart from the ideology of the State.
Putin’s rise to power has been in her crosshairs in the book, “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin,” which I also want to read. Heard her interviewed on that book as well. She demonstrates a working knowledge of Hannah Arendt’s works and applies the lessons there to the Russian experience.