The Agenda

Peter Pomerantsev on Vladislav Surkov, Vladimir Putin’s Chief Image-Maker

For a fascinating look at power politics and the corruption of high culture in Putin’s Russia, I recommend Peter Pomerantsev’s excellent essay in the new LRB:

This fusion of despotism and postmodernism, in which no truth is certain, is reflected in the craze among the Russian elite for neuro-linguistic programming and Eriksonian hypnosis: types of subliminal manipulation based largely on confusing your opponent, first developed in the US in the 1960s. There are countless NLP and Eriksonian training centres in Moscow, with every wannabe power-wielder shelling out thousands of dollars to learn how to be the next master manipulator. Newly translated postmodernist texts give philosophical weight to the Surkovian power model. François Lyotard, the French theoretician of postmodernism, began to be translated in Russia only towards the end of the 1990s, at exactly the time Surkov joined the government. The author of Almost Zero loves to invoke such Lyotardian concepts as the breakdown of grand cultural narratives and the fragmentation of truth: ideas that still sound quite fresh in Russia. One blogger has noted that ‘the number of references to Derrida in political discourse is growing beyond all reasonable bounds. At a recent conference the Duma deputy Ivanov quoted Derrida three times and Lacan twice.’ In an echo of socialism’s fate in the early 20th century, Russia has adopted a fashionable, supposedly liberational Western intellectual movement and transformed it into an instrument of oppression.

There’s more where that come from. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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