gary lachman holy russia
The American clairvoyant Edgar Cayce once said, "Through Russia, comes the hope of the world." He spoke those words in the era of Stalin, and it would be another 60 years or so before the end of Communism. But starting in the tumultuous 90s, the great country straddling East and West not only has made a comeback on the world stage - it is seeing a spiritual revival of sorts. Forgotten thinkers are being resurrected in the minds of Russians, new movements are cropping up, and old ones reinvigorated.

While most Westerners may be familiar with Russia's turbulent period of totalitarianism, and the works of a few of its literary giants, there are whole areas of the nation's philosophical, scientific and spiritual inquiry that are largely unknown to many observers. Until now.

This week on MindMatters we are joined by Gary Lachman, author of the new book The Return of Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening, and the Struggle for the Soul of the World - and delve into some of the history, movements and individuals that helped shape the religious, social and cultural DNA of its people. It may come as some surprise to know that many developments in science, as well as religious questions, were being seriously addressed and worked out in Russia shortly before the scourge of revolution squelched, and in may cases destroyed, the lives of the people who dared go where few had gone previously.

Join us as we see how this resurgence of Russian thought isn't an anomaly, but is, perhaps, a kind of synthesis, and integration of its hard-won lessons learned, and part of a long tradition we can all learn from.

Running Time: 01:27:57

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Here's the transcript of the show:

Harrison: Welcome back to Mind Matters everyone. Today we are pleased to have Gary Lachman joining us. Gary is an author and lecturer on various topics including pretty much the whole of esoterica and occult literature and counterculture. His latest book, which we'll be discussing today, is The Return of Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening and the Struggle for the Soul of the World. Here is the book. We've got it right there. As a side note maybe we can talk about this too; Gary is a founding member of the rock band Blondie and he currently lives in London from where he is speaking today.

So first of all, welcome to the show Gary. It's a pleasure to meet you and to have you on.

Gary: Oh well thank you very much.

Harrison: To start out, I hadn't read any of your books before Gary. I'd heard of a couple of them but I never got around to reading any of them until I was browsing around on Amazon and I found this one and it piqued my curiosity. "Oh, what's that?" I clicked on it and read some of the reviews and some of the blurbs and thought, "This looks really interesting" because the topic is something that I'd been aware of to some degree for the past several years, ever since Russia became big in the news. I'd seen several of the quotes you use in one of the opening chapters from people like Edgar Cayce about this concept of a future where something about Russia is important and spirituality is important and there might be some kind of rebirth of some sort of a new spirituality or something in Russia or from Russia.

So this idea was in the back of my mind and I saw this, got the book, read it. I think it's a great book. I'd call it a spiritual history of Russia. Would you agree with that as a way of characterizing the book?

Gary: Yes, more or less.

Harrison: So you go through pretty much all of Russian history. For anyone who's not familiar with Russian history - I'm Canadian, we didn't learn a lot of Russian history. I know my American co-hosts probably didn't learn a lot of Russian history - so it's a good way to get an introduction into Russian history and also from a perspective that's not as boring as, let's say, some high school courses in history might be. It has got all kinds of esoterica and things like that in there.

So just for that reason I'd recommend reading the book, but it's in that thread that you weave throughout the narrative where a lot of the interest lies for me as well. We want to get into several aspects of the book and several time periods, but to start out, could you comment on those figures that predicted something about Russia, what you think about that and how that relates to the Russian character. That might be a better place to start actually, the Russian character. Who are Russians? What sets Russians apart from others? Why are they so interesting?

Gary: Well in the introduction to the book I do kind of set the scene for this notion that there's something special, or new or some kind of rejuvenating cultural impulse was thought to be coming out of Russia before the Bolshevik revolution, in the early 20th century. I start the book with an account of Rudolph Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy (wisdom of the human being) and a great esoteric teacher in the early 20th century. He was quite popular in Russia. In 1906 he gave a series of lectures in a suburb of Paris during a big theosophical jamboree. He was the biggest exponent of theosophy or one of the heads of the Theosophical Society on the continent in the German language.

And in this series of lectures much of his audience was made up of Russians who had left Russia after the 1905 revolution and they were part of this intelligentsia, this generation that were known as the god-seekers. It was during a time subsequently called the silver age. It was a time of great interest in mysticism and spirituality and so on. Steiner had this sense that somehow Russia was going to somehow unite and harmonize these two antipodal energies or forces at work in the world at the time and still are; the technological, scientific rational, west and the sort of mystic, intuitive, spiritual east. Somehow Russia was a place geographically and also psychologically and spiritually for the union of these two things.

A lot of Russians at the time felt something like this idea. There was some messianic sense of something that was expected of them, on its way, from different writers of the time - Dostoevsky, the most famous one just before the silver age in the 1880s, was writing about this. But this whole notion that there's a kind of peculiar spiritual character to the Russian people is something I also talk about. The German writer Herman Hesse, a novelist who was very popular in the 1960 and 1970s, so at least my generation, in 1919 published a small book called The Glimpse Into Chaos.

It was about Dostoevsky and his novels, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. He talked about this character that he calls Russian man and it's a peculiarly strange, contradictory kind of soul that's able to hold in itself all of these oppositions, polar opposites and contradictions and is turbulently explosive in a kind of protean kind of chaos. He saw this on its way and he talks about the Karamazov brothers as exemplifying this and different characters in Dostoevsky's novels that talk about this.

It's this sort of indiscriminate yay-saying or what he called a frightening sanctity. Everything is become holy and so even what we would consider from a western or more straightforward normal or moral point of view as reprehensible or morally repulsive, this Russian soul that's able to say yes to everything, would be able to embrace it. In one sense, by this time a clichéd figure of this would be Rasputin and even his tag as the holy devil shows this kind of antinomy and union of the opposites.

So this is a kind of character, a sort of psychological profile that runs throughout the book along with others as well. There's this kind of bovine docility of the Oblomov character in Goncharov's novel. He takes 50 pages to get out of bed. {laughter} So there's this lethargic, heavy inanimateness of the Russian psyche as well which periodically gives way to these eruptions of chaotic strangeness or vicious violence and all that.

So there's all these strange, stormy, turbulent psychic energies going on in the Russian soul. That's why Russian history itself is wonderful, just in terms of drama and conflict and Shakespearean tragedy and things of that sort. It was sort of a Game of Thrones scenario. You have all this working out throughout its entire history.

Elan: There's something that I've noticed with a lot of the short biographies that you include in your book Gary, and that is that a lot of these figures, many of which I've never heard of before, are fascinating in that they might begin as Marxists or proto-Marxists or they might begin their intellectual, religious career or whatever career they were embarked on, in the church. Then they would vacillate. This seems to be quite common. They would go from one kind of ideology or world view to another 10 years later and then back again and it's as thought they were embodying the very struggle of working out how the world worked with great intensity, in their writings, in their associations with other contemporaries.

It's a fascinating strain of discovery and of trying to come at something like the truth of what is or how the world is really composed. So I wonder if you might speak about this struggle that so many of these figures you write about are working out on a personal and even an impersonal level, on the Russian stage of daily life.

Gary: Well I think this is one of the things that set the Russians apart from the west, even earlier than the Soviet period. In a way the Soviet period put an end to this sort of volcanic, eruptive character. It dampened it down quite a bit. Here's one of the stories that Nikolai Berdyaev, a great Russian philosopher - you talked about people who start out as a Marxist and they do that - well he's one of these. He was a Marxist but then he became very critical of Marx and certainly very critical of the Bolsheviks. He was a very unorthodox Christian and he was kicked out of the church at one point. In a way, the revolution prevented the actual punishment of him being exiled for something. He was exiled anyway, but not for religious reasons.

But then he became an existentialist and he wrote a series of books in exile in Paris about freedom. He was known as a philosopher of freedom. But he tells this wonderful story about how all these intellectuals and poets were hanging out in a café and arguing and it's 4:00 in the morning. The café owner wants to close shop and they say, "No! We can't go home. We haven't decided whether god exists or not!" {laughter} They keep going.

So they take these kinds of questions that seem to us kind of naïve or immature or jejune as Woody Allen would say, as serious! When you compare people like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, even between the two of them they're very different but still they are fundamentally obsessed with these kinds of existential questions about the meaning and purpose and all of that.

You look at Flaubert, the contemporaries. They're great artists but he isn't really concerned with those sorts of things, even if Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina are dealing with the same kind of issue in their life and all that. This is something that runs through and it goes earliest on. Again, I'm not a Russian scholar. I've never been to Russia. I don't read or speak Russian, I've read everything in translation - but I'm a great fan of Russian literature and all that. A fun thing about doing this book was that I didn't know much about Russian history and some readers may say well obviously I still don't {laughter} and the book is evidence of that.

But it was fun for me to learn and to tell that story. It is full of all these very extravagant, intense characters. But this goes back, I would say, to the roots. The old story is that the indigenous Slavic people invited these Danes or Vikings, Rurik, to come and be their police force. "Instead of coming and invading us every now and then, why don't you stay here. We're kind of chaotic, the two different sides. There's this chaotic 'we really can't get our act together on our own' side of the Russian people. We need a strong authority to give some boundaries to our turbulent, chaotic energies. So why don't you, Rurik and your Viking clan come here and we'll take care of you very nicely and you can rule us and you can keep all the other Vikings away?"

That mixture is supposedly there from the beginning. You have these kinds of tensions, these opposites at play in the very beginning and then there's this intensity. In the 17th and 18th century when you have the rise of freemasonry, the 18th/19th century is the real start for Russian thought and thinking. It doesn't really get going until the 19th century but you have these elements in the century before. Again, it's taking all these moral and religious questions absolutely seriously. The apocalyptic history is in the sub-title here. It's from the publisher. But it is about this sense of taking the apocalypse seriously and this is one thing when the Russian people took on Greek orthodoxy, this whole notion of the end times. History was heading toward something. It was going to be this great transfiguration. And they really believed that and that's something that's there and it comes out in all of these tensions.

Harrison: And it comes out in so many different ways in all of these periods of history, even in the one up to the Bolshevik revolution and communism. I want to get into that but first I wanted to read a couple of sentences from The Russian Man chapter in the book. I'll give you my image of the prototypical Russian from YouTube. {laughter}

You wrote "This is in anticipation of the world to come. Russians are often anxious to get there and see the intervening historical process as, at best, a nuisance, at worst a barrier, impeding the arrival of the last days." That goes to what you just said about the apocalyptisicm returning in Russia, but the image I have in my mind is when the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk several years ago, there is the video that became viral on the internet of one Russian driver - because they've all got dash cams, right? - it's trained on this guy driving, he's going like this and then there's a massive explosion in the sky that caused tons of damage, several injuries from glass blowing out in all these buildings because it was a giant air burst in the sky from the meteorite. This Russian driver is just driving and the sky lit up brighter than the sun when this happened and you see him driving like this and he just puts down his dash {laughter} to shield his eyes and keeps driving. "I'm not going to be nuisance by this meteorite exploding in the air and causing all this destruction."

That's the typical Russian in my mind. So I like that quote because there is a kind of dichotomy, a strange contradiction, for someone who's not Russian at least, looking in at Russians. I know quite a few Russians and they're great guys and gals, but everyone forms an image of other cultures, a kind of stereotype or a mold that a lot of people tend to fall in. Like you said when you were quoting Herman Hesse's writing on it and others, there does seem to be a Russian character and there are great contradictions and, as Elan was saying, often in the same person, where it's a vacillation between ideas and this deep wrestling and grappling with these ultimate questions.

That shows itself in the history where we have cycles. When I was reading the book I had an argument with myself in my mind. If you look at any other country you can find all of the variations in human nature and you can find all of these extremes everywhere but at the same time it seems like Russia...

Elan: It's very specific.

Harrison: It's very honed in. It's almost epitomized or idealized - I can't think of the right word. When it happens in Russia it's bigger than life. When reading your book, it was like the history of Russia is almost like the history of everything encapsulated in this one nation, a very large nation, but it's all there. Right from the beginning, like you said, in the legend - we don't know how true it is - of Rurik being invited in to police the tribes there - you have these warring tribes or clans and a strong man that comes to bring things right and to bring some unity and you have that happen a several points. The introduction of orthodox Christianity was a big part of that. And then right after that you had more of these wars against rival brothers and descendants of the ruling class.

We just watched a western here, A Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood and there's a great line in that, that a town can't have two bosses. That seemed to be a theme that comes up again and again where you have things falling apart and this striving for unity and that unity takes different forms, in thought, in practice and in the thinkers trying to conceive of this unity. Could you speak about that? What are some of the different ways that Russians have sought unity and found it, good and bad?

Gary: Well you said early on, you have the descendants of Rurik in Kiev, creating what later became kind of an Arthurian age for the Russians, this golden age of Kievan Rus' where Kiev is the center of it and you have different rulers at different times. It lasts for a couple of centuries. It isn't actually that long. And then with Vladimir the First, they adopt Greek Orthodox Christianity.

There's a wonderful story of Queen Olga who had already converted to Christianity, going to Constantinople. It was both her own trip to go there because she wanted to see it and she also wanted to be re-baptized in the church and all that, but it was also a political mission as well to set up relationships with the Byzantine empire and all that. But she was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of Constantinople and she was transfixed by Hagia Sophia, which is in the news again now, originally built by Constantine back in the beginning of the Byzantine empire and the second Rome and then captured in 1453 and turned into a mosque and then Ataturk turned it into a museum, now back into a mosque and all that. So it's strange how this place is once again back in the news.

But then she goes back and she wants to bring back not only the Christianity but the beauty. This whole notion that beauty will save the world. Beauty in itself is one thing that is a kind of unifying idea to the Russians. One of the things that seems to be the case is more than one Russia historian that I read when I was doing the book, is that the Russians seem to take something from someone else and give it a certain twist and turn it into something that's theirs. It's suddenly Russian. It starts out somewhere else and then they do something to it and it becomes Russian, that kind of thing.

There's the old joke during the Soviet period that anything that ever happened in history, the Russians had it first {laughter} which is the opposite of what actually really happened. But you have the church trying to bring it all together and then the pagan gods, once Vladimir the First converted and married into the royal family and all that, he went from town to town and place to place in Russia and threw the old gods into the rivers, sometimes by force of arms and established the new church.

Usually in terms of the social and political structure, he's somebody who brings it all together. He has sons and he says to the sons, "Look! See what we have made! Once I am gone do not war among yourselves. Here is a fair share for all of you" and so on and so on. They all say yes we will do that and as soon as he's dead the first thing they do is start fighting.

There seems to be a short-sightedness, not only in the Russians, obviously this happens in other places as well, but it does seem to be a short-sightedness and a go for it first, smash and grab kind of attitude. Then every now and then you get someone who's a bit more far-sighted and recognizes the need to unify. That was one reason why Vladimir adopted the church because he wanted something to bring everybody all together. There's a story that he had sent some of his people out to check out other religions and they checked out Islam, Judaism and Catholicism and the only one that they really liked, because it had the same effect when they went to Constantinople and they said that they didn't know whether they were on earth or in heaven.

So there is this wonderful aesthetic kind of character and the Russians take it very seriously. Art for them is something that's salvific. Art should have a salvational character to it, not just satisfying; again, it's the difference between someone like Tolstoy or Flaubert later on. But there does seem to be this kind of "Let's bring it all together" and then it dissipates and then a stronger force comes, the Mongols came and did Kievan Rus' and they were under the Mongol yoke for a while.

Then you had the rise of Moscow after that, after a few centuries. We have these very powerful, authoritarian, paternal figures, the one that most people know is Ivan the Terrible, basically traits of theocracy. It's as if all of Russia became a huge monastery under his rule. He has the first secret police, the Oprichnik and all that kind of thing. That falls apart after his death as well and you have the time of troubles and it all disseminates.

Harrison: I wanted to talk a bit about good old Ivan. I was in Moscow and St. Petersburg for a few days just over a year ago on a little vacation and went though some of the big museums. I think it was in the Tetyakov I think is the name of the museum, where a lot of the old Russian masterpieces are. They've got some Andrei Rublev all the way up to the present. So there are some of the famous paintings and sculptures of Ivan and there's the one of sitting on his throne. Whenever there's someone in history who's either universally hated or loved I'm always skeptical about what might be the truth. In this sculpture he looks like a pretty menacing guy. He looks dreadful or dreaded, like the translation probably should be.

Gary: Yes.

Harrison: But then reading your book, even in Ivan the Terrible there's a contradiction where arguably it seems to me inarguable that he was a pretty nasty person. Like you said, it seems inescapable that he enjoyed watching people being tortured, for instance, and he did set up the secret police. But on the other hand he did seem perhaps to be genuinely spiritual or at least very good at using that for his own purposes. Was he the one that had to leave the city at some point and walk to this monastery and all the faithful followed him?

Gary: Oh yeah. He was deeply religious as many of the Czars were. It's sort of like the mafia bosses who are really catholic. Somehow they're able to hold these contradictions together. So similarly there, but he was also well read for someone of his time and literate, and he promoted education and things of that sort. But he seems to be an example of a personality type that I borrow from British writer Colin Wilson.

He actually borrowed it originally from the American science fiction writer A.E. van Vogt and it's a character called the right man or the violent man, but he's better known as the right man. And van Vogt wrote mostly science fiction but he did write at least one non-science fiction, a cold war story, a piece called The Violent Man.

In any case it's someone who under no circumstances whatsoever can ever admit to being wrong and who will go into a rage if his wishes are in any way impeded. He has to be right and usually it's a little Hitler. He's fine and dandy at work and everybody thinks he's a real good chap and all that and when he's home he dominates his wife completely and his children. But sadly, in many cases, not only in Russia, history has thrown up several of these characters into places where they can actually go to town in their position and power to really dominate people in this way and he was one of them.

There's a famous story where he kills his own son. He had an iron rod that he carried with him that was supposed to be encrusted with semi-precious stones that had occult virtues that he was supposedly aware of and in some fit of rage he struck his son. Boris Godunov who took over after Ivan died, he tried to stop the blows or something like that. There's a famous painting - I can't remember the painter's name - where there's a scene after he struck his son dead when he realizes what he has done. But he seems to have been someone who was unable to retain his rage if he was in any way contradicted or impeded or anything like that.

As you said, what he wanted to do was to centralize the control. He wanted to take more and more power away from the Boyars who were the nobles and semi-independent. He was gradually taking more power away from them and when they tried to resist them this is when he said "Okay, I'm leaving." This is somebody who had already killed thousands and thousands of people. One of the most gruesome stories is the rival city to Moscow at the time was Novgorod which itself has a long history of a more liberal or western, let's say, approach to things rather than this authoritarian approach. It wasn't part of the Czarist system.

But through some perceived slight that Novgorod had made against him, he had the whole city walled up and he massacred 40,000 or something like that. He was sort of like Vlad the Impaler too. He liked to see his victims tortured. Things were different then. {laughter}

Harrison: Yeah.

Gary: We can cut him a little slack, people like that. {laughter} They're invading. The thing is that we sensitive {laughter} people in the 21st century look back on everyone before us as being horribly, incredibly immoral and guilty of every crime. So things were different back then. But I think we can say that Ivan went a little step too far in things like that and yes, dreaded is what it's supposed to be but as I said, it's terrible however way you want to look at it. And there are several figures like that and not only in the secular field but in the religious as well.

Harrison: One of the interesting threads that I saw were these advisors, sometimes rulers, sometimes advisors. I'll never remember this guys' name but I took a note so that I could say it. There was a guy who was advisor to Nicholas I, was it Pobedonostsev?

Gary: Pobedonostsev (correcting pronunciation).

Harrison: Pobedonostsev (correcting pronunciation). Yeah, he was this advisor and he along with de Maistre ...

Gary: Oh yeah, Joseph de Maistre.

Harrison: ... Joseph de Maistre and Nikon. They all had this view of human nature, that human nature is so bad that we need a strong figure to keep people in line and to control their lives.

Gary: Yeah.

Harrison: That reminded me of a book called Political Ponerology - I don't know if you've heard of it - by a Polish psychologist. He wrote it based on his experiences living in Poland during the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s and the communist regime there. He wrote this book as a psychological analysis of the nature of communism or totalitarianism and one of the things that he pointed out was that often in these types of systems they are guided by a philosophy that has what he characterized as just that statement, that that is inherent in these philosophies that support these systems. He calls it a schizoid declaration because he says that people with schizoid personality disorder tend to think like this.

So I found it interesting that this pops up again and again. Was it Nicholas I who he advised?

Gary: No, I think it was one of the Alexanders.

Harrison: Maybe it was Alexander III.

Gary: Yeah, it was later. Because Dostoevsky apparently based at least some of his ideas about the grand inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov on Pobedonostsev.

Harrison: Right.

Gary: It's an extreme religious point of view; human nature is fallen. It's the opposite of the progressive view, which is the western view, that man is malleable. Or John Locke. Nothing in the mind that didn't get there through the senses. So if you create the right environment, the right things get through into the mind and then you can make the perfect world or the better world and there's a variety of different utopias like that, from B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity to Lenin. Lenin tried to do that. It's the opposite of this notion that humanity has a nature and man is a beast and it needs to be driven and you can get something good out of humanity if you have a strong authority over it.

Again, that's a pull in the whole western thing itself. You mentioned Nikon. He was a religious figure and he was the adviser to Alexis and this was during the period of the great schism, the Raskol, when he wanted to introduce strict Greek practices into the Russian practice in the church rather than the Russian church's own. So it seems like a simple thing whether you make the sign of the cross with three fingers or two, all this kind of thing, but it was the equivalent of Protestantism and Catholicism, the modernizing of it. He wanted to do that but for a time he was running the country. He was in control.

This was another time when there wasn't any difference between the religious and the secular world. In many ways, for much of Russian history that was the case, totally different from America where you're supposed to have separation of church and state in the ground rules for it. That was never the case in Russia until the Soviet time or during Peter the Great, the westernizers. The secular powers increasingly tried to gain further control. But Nikon was a time when he ran the country and it took quite a bit of will on the part of Alexis, the Czar to face him down and all that.

Who was the other one you mentioned? Oh, de Maistre. He was adviser to Alexander I. Isaiah Berlin has written a brilliant piece on him. He's one of these radical, far-right, ultra-conservative thinkers that came up after the French Revolution or around that time and he basically said, "The hangman's noose is the sign of civilization." {laughter} This notion that man is a beast and really needs to be brought under control. Many of these people start out as more liberal thinkers but then they're disabused of that illusion. Human nature shows through and then they realize this is the only thing.

Again, this all feeds into Dostoevsky's grand inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov where Ivan tells the story of Jesus coming back during the inquisition and he's arrested and the grand inquisitor interrogates him and the upshot is 'man doesn't want the freedom that you offer. People want a burden taken off of them. They want to be told what to do and you should thank us that we've taken on this horrible job of dealing with messy humanity and trying to bring some order and peace. Why do you want to come and stir things up again?'

This was a question Dostoevsky himself - if you know his novels - he deals with in Crime and Punishment where Raskolnikov - and again Raskol goes back to the schism - so he's a heretic. It's before Nietzsche but again, Raskolnikov is one of these new men, new rationalists who says there's no good and evil. "There's no moral reason why I shouldn't murder that pawn broker and take her money. I'm a higher type intellectual and I need it" and all that. So he thinks he can do that.

So Dostoevsky charts out this actual life. "Okay, let's see what happens. Let's take that formula. There is no god anymore. We're just cogs in the wheel of some great machine. Let's see what happens when somebody takes that to its logical conclusion." As we know Raskolnikov commits the murder but he can't get away with it in the sense that his own guilt, much like Poe in The Telltale Heart. There's a lot of Poe in Dostoevsky.

Elan: Gary, you discuss the rumblings of revolution during the period of Czar Nicholas II and the 1905 revolution which was another foreshadowing and precursor of what would come later with Lenin and Trotsky. Concurrent to the 1905 revolution there are also these movements that are quite open-minded and moving into these groups that your book describes as symbolists or cosmists, all these various angles of religious and intellectual curiosity.

There's also a darker strain, an occult strain, exemplified by guys like Konstantin Balmont who authored a book called Evil Spell, a book of exorcisms. At one point you write in your book that the suggestion that dark forces may have been responsible for the 1905 revolution, which reminded me a little bit, in fact your whole book reminded me a little bit of Peter Levenda's Unholy Alliance which is the occult strain and connections that led up to the fruition of Nazi Germany and how there was a strong interest in the occult, mediumship and spiritualism that played a very big part in the Reich.

I guess my question is, do you think that there was an energy or an opening that was created by this intense interest in things occult in that part of the century that may have had some influence in one way or another, in opening up the chaos that would ensue with the revolution?

Gary: Well I would say it's possible. I can't think of a reason why I would categorically say it wasn't possible. I kind of hint at the possibility of it rather than going into it. But people at the time, Rudolph Steiner who was very influential in Russia at this time and in fact in the early days of the revolution there were a lot anthroposophical fellow travelers as it were, with the Bolsheviks and for a time they were working with them, just like much of the early cubo-futurist artists like Malevich and the poets like Mayakovsky and all of that.

But there's this whole theme that what's happening in human history, that that's the phenomenon, the numina, that's the effect. The cause is something on another plane in some way. As I say, I'm open to the idea. I don't explore it in particular, but that's something that I touch on in more recent times with the book that I wrote before Return of Holy Russia, Dark Star Rising which was actually compiled in the age of Trump which is about the rise of the cult politics in contemporary times. The Russia book kind of came out of that because I have a chapter on what was happening in Russia there.

There are certainly people involved in the political world these days on the far right extremes and on the far left. There's the witches against Trump in the states and other kinds of magic for the resistance going on. But there certainly did seem to be a resurgence of occult politics on the far right. In occult philosophy when there's a lot of attention to this kind of stuff, the idea is that you create an atmosphere in which something can take place. I don't say that in the Russia book but I do say it in the book on Trump. There's all this stuff about people using the internet to help Trump get elected and all of that and the Pepe the Frog meme. {laughter} I don't know how much you're aware of that. Pepe went from being an innocuous amphibian slacker to becoming this charged talisman of evil power and all that kind of thing, supposedly saturating the net with images of Pepe hanging out with Trump or being Trump. That bled into the real world and made it happen.

But this is something that you can find throughout. Julius Evola is an interesting Italian esoteric thinker from the 20th century who also had very, very far right political sensibilities. He tried to ingratiate himself with Mussolini and then the National Socialists but in the 1920s he was doing something similar to what the people who were supposed to have helped Trump were doing. He was using his magic spells. What he wanted to do was infuse Mussolini's fascists with more of the ancient Roman spirit. I don't know how successful he was at that. You'd have to ask the Ethiopians I guess.

This stuff goes on and I have an open mind about it. If you asked me is it possible I would say yes. Did it happen then? Well I don't know.

Elan: Sure.

Gary: But it certainly would have been a place where something would happen. At the time you're talking about with Balmont and the symbolists, there was an occult revival going on in London, Paris and other places but it was febrile in St. Petersburg. It was feverish. There was a hallucinatory character to it and if you know Andrei Biely's novel Petersburg, Biely was a contemporary of Balmont. He was another one of these symbolist poets, a fantastic visionary using precise language. He was a student of Steiner.

But this novel, which is around the same time, the 1905 revolution and it's about the assassination of a senator. But it takes place against a backdrop of St. Petersburg that's informed with all of this anthroposophical and theosophical ideas about auras and different levels of being and things like that. There was a feverish character to what was going on at the time. You have the Book of Spells. There were black magic clubs. There were suicide clubs. I ask in the book, "How did they keep up the membership?" {laughter}

The devil, Satan, was very, very popular. Giapaolin was one of the great singers at the time, who was famous for doing Gounod's Faust. There was a real dark magic to it but at the same time there was a deep spirituality in people like the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov or Nikolai Berdyaev or P.D. Ouspensky who was known mostly for being the most eloquent exponent of Gurdjieff's system. Before that he was a familiar figure on the St. Petersburg and Moscow art, cultural and esoteric scene. He was a theosophist but he was well known for writing for different journals and newspapers and he was a familiar figure at a place called the Stray Dog Café which had people like Anna Akhmatova and Bieli and Mayakovsky and many others hanging out at this time.

So it was this wonderful blend. It had a hothouse kind of character to it. It was super-heated. Everybody expected something to happen, whether it was going to be Atlantis or the messiah. That's why in many ways Lenin saw the fuse was there and he put the match to it, basically.

Harrison: That seems like another period of time, a condensed period of time where there are explosions of extremes. Like you said, there was a dark aspect but there was this really light aspect as well and it just seems all mixed together and broiling up. It seems that that energy, whatever it was, Lenin was pretty expert at exploiting it and then completely breaking down the existing social order. It was a social order that definitely had problems. But then you have a guy like Lenin who just tears everything down then systematically in the years when communism took over, eliminating all of these occult groups.

As you showed in the book, you start out with some interest in the Cheka or the secret police areas, interest in anthroposophy or theosophy and you have some collaborations going on between some controversial figures and people in the system. Then eventually anthroposophy gets banned. Pretty much any kind of occult thing gets banned but that's when you move into the ESP era of psychic spies, remote viewing and all that kind of stuff.

I wanted to ask one more thing about the silver age guys. It was about Ouspensky because Ouspensky managed to leave. Gurdjieff got out of Russia. Ouspensky followed him later and managed to trek his way out and eventually they made their way to Europe. But a lot of the other philosophers, even some of the silver age philosophers had a special boat out.

Gary: {laughing}

Harrison: Maybe you could speak a little bit about the way a lot of these guys got shipped out of Russia.

Gary: I mentioned Berdyaev earlier. He and many, many other philosophers, literary critics, historians, poets, artists, academics, who were opposed to the Bolsheviks but they were fellow travelers until Lenin took over. They knew things had to change. They were against the Czar and the old system but they weren't sold on Marx completely and certainly not on Lenin's version of it.

But when he came to power he knew he had to get rid of them but he didn't want to just eliminate them because the press would have been too bad so what he did was get two boats. They were known as the philosophy steamers. There's a wonderful book by Lesley Chamberlin about it, Lenin's Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia and it tells the story of all these different intellectuals being put on boats and sent out into the Baltic and then they wound up in Germany and then were all disseminated to different places. Some stayed in Germany. Some went to Czechoslovakia. Some went to Paris. Berdyaev was in Berlin first then he settled in Paris until he died there in the late 1940s.

It was this exodus or diaspora of these Russian intellectuals who were just told, like you said, "The town can't have two bosses. This town ain't big enough for the 57 of us {laughter} so you guys have to go." Some of them did okay. Some of them didn't. There was one particular group known as the Eurasianists and they were very interesting because in recent years they've come back into the news. They were these anthropological, ethnographic kind of thinkers who thought the Bolshevik revolution wouldn't last, that it would collapse fairly soon. They weren't like the White Russians, wanting to go back to the Czar, but they knew that they wanted to go back to Russia once the Bolshevik thing collapsed and to have a new identity for what Russia was.

This was the notion of Eurasia and it was the idea that Russia wasn't a separate country; it was actually this whole new civilization that had its own history, its own culture, its own sense of values, its own sense of religion. It wasn't a backward cousin of the west and it wasn't trying to keep up with the west which is part of Russia's story ever since Peter the Great. He tried to force Russia to become modern, 18th century at least, and become western. There was this whole struggle, resistance. The Slavophiles would typify that in the 19th century.

But the Eurasists wanted to come back with this whole notion of an ethnic group, a language group. Everything was completely different. It wasn't European in any kind of way and it wasn't Asian. It was a combination of the two. It turns out that the revolution lasted longer than they thought and so many of the original group died out eventually. But their ideas were picked up recently. You can see them in Putin, in many of his speeches and interviews. He talks about Eurasia and the Eurasian federation like the EU, Eurasian Union, things of that sort.

It's one of these strange, contradictory antinomian characters. This fellow Alexander Dugin who is a contemporary. I told you about the Eurasian meme. He was promoting this whole idea. There's reason to believe that some of his ideas about this Eurasian super civilization that's coming up in the 21st century informs some of Putin's decisions in Ukraine and Crimea.

Harrison: You write in the book that one of the motivations for the book was that Putin had given a speech in 2015 and he'd given a reading list to all the Russian governors which included three of these silver age philosophers-Solovyov, Berdyaev and Ivan Ilyin. So you'd known some of these guys. You'd read them so that was an inspiration to take a deeper look into what was actually going on here. I thought that was interesting. I won't get into those guys unless you want to speak about that a little bit?

Gary: No, whatever. Go on.

Harrison: Okay. I want you to tell us a little bit about the Russian cosmists, particularly Fedorov and then following him, Tsiolkovsky, some of their ideas and how it's interesting that they were the foundation of the Russian space program. I didn't know any of this stuff when I read this.

Gary: It's one of these very, very strange things. {laughter} You said earlier something about anything that happens in Russia is stranger and weirder, bigger, or something like that. This is one case in which this is true. The cosmist school gives it away with that name. Nikolai Fedorov is considered the founding father of cosmism although the term wasn't used during his lifetime. But he was someone in the late 19th century and he influenced Dostoevsky. He influenced Tolstoy, Vladimir Solovyov and he had long debates about things.

He had this one sort of idée fix. I mentioned Isaiah Berlin earlier. He tells the story of the hedgehog and the fox. The fox knows many, many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing and the one big thing that Fedorov knew was what he called the common task and the common task was to revive the dead. He had no idea how he would do this but he believed that once people recognized that yes, this is something that we have to do, that it became a moral imperative, once we recognized the moral imperative of having to revive the dead and once we recognized that everyone had to put their shoulder to this particular wheel to join together in the common tasks to do this, we would find a way to do it. We would unite the entire planet in this one brotherhood of man.

It sounds mad, but this was something that he debated. The Russians didn't give lip service to the whole Christian notion of resurrection. They really believed in this sort of thing. We today think 'what are they talking about?' This is one of the crazier sides of Christianity that most, except for the Christian fundamentalists, don't take seriously. Most Christians don't even think about this notion. But the whole idea was, 'Yes, really!' The question of blood and bone is going to come back and all that. Solovyov thought this was going to be a spiritual resurrection, a transformed angelic body. Fedorov said "No, no. We're actually going to bring back the dead. Once it happens the first time, that's going to be a snowball effect."

I'm just giving you the shortest kind of story. He's one of these incredible Russian figures who was a saintly, holy man. He wasn't part of the church although he was deeply religious. But he worked for many, many years in a famous library in St. Petersburg and then it was moved and he used to sleep in the library. He didn't have a bed. He slept on a kind of chest and he had a book as a pillow and he gave away all the money he had. His great fear was to be found dead in the street with some coins in his pocket. He never wanted to have any money on him. He gave it away. He gave away all his clothes.

There's famous stories of him freezing in the winter because he gave away the one frock coat that he had. So he was one of these ascetic, remarkable holy figures that Russia produced, these kind of holy fools. But he was also someone who knew every book in the library, what was in every book, where you could find it, where you could find something like it. He was like a walking Wikipedia or a computer these days. He just knew everything.

But he had this incredible idea of reviving the dead and how this led to the space program is that he said, "Once we learn how to revive the dead then we're going to have to collect all of the dust from the previous dead and previous generations and not all of that is on this planet. Some of it's out in space. So we're going to have to figure out a way to go out in space to track down the dust of the ancient dead. But not only are we going to have to go out into space to track down the dust, because once we revive all the dead, where are we going to put them? The earth isn't big enough to have all the dead come back again and live here. So we're going to have to find habitable planets with which to house the dead."

How this got onto the actual space program was when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was a young boy, he was one of these people who used to sit literally at Fedorov's feet in the Rumyantsev library and listen to him talk about all these kinds of things. Fedorov didn't know how to do these things but he knew they had to be done. This is the thing. He had this kind of moral drive. It was like the motivation to do it rather than how we will do it.

But Tsiolkovsky was actually the one who worked out the rocket science - not to revive the dead but to get out into space in order to collect the dust and all that. So he worked out the actual science of how to do this. He developed his own strange ideas about the cosmos. After him it became known as the cosmist school. Again, this is something that seems to be typical or at least characteristic of the Russian way of looking at things. They don't think about the individual. It's a difference between western "me" and the Russian "we" and it's about the brotherhood. It's about the mass. It's about everyone. It's not about you, your fretting little ego. No, it's about that you're part of this larger body of humanity.

That itself is part of the larger body of the cosmos. Somebody else who's part of this school is a fellow named Vladímir Vernadski who was a great Russian scientist. He's not that well known in the west but he worked out the whole geoscience and how living things affect the actual planet, how oxygen in the air comes from plants and a variety of different things. He basically sees humanity as equivalent to forests or herds of animals in some way and we're more or less influenced by cosmic radiations, cosmic rays and a variety of different kinds of things.

This was another idea that Tsiolkovsky had and various other kind of cosmist thinkers, up until a more recent character named Lev Gumilyov who spent many, many years in the Gulag and was the son of Akhmatova and his father, the poet Gumilyov who was shot by the Cheka in the early days of the revolution. But he too developed this whole notion about how ethmoid, large ethnic bodies are influenced by cosmic radiations. We think we have free will. We think we make decisions for ourselves but actually we're pushed and pulled by forces out in the cosmos.

With all these kinds of ideas, the west doesn't really think like that. We think that's kind of science fiction and weird comic book stuff but that actually informed much of the Russian space program and literally got it off the ground.

Harrison: And got some of those cosmists on coins and money and they're recognized as Russian heroes and part of the legacy.

Gary: Oh absolutely.

Harrison: Which is so interesting. Fedorov and Tsiolkovsky are just two of this example of so many of these highly original thinkers. Just like Russia exemplifies or whittle down everything into this extreme form, you have this almost shotgun approach to ideas where there's just all of these ideas that are thrown out there and even in one particular philosopher you'll see something that just seems totally made but next to it is something that seems totally almost revelatory, some nugget of truth.

That's what I saw in Fedorov with his idea because it is almost like a materialist version of the resurrection, of the more orthodox Christian view of what's going on. It seems that that was almost a product of that time where you had these currents of materialism and spirituality and he himself, like you said, was a very spiritual person himself, but this idea of the resurrection being a literal - the dust that you were is going to be used to recompose your body - is a very western-influenced materialist interpretation that is embedded within his wider spirituality, which just seems so strange and so interesting at the same time. And then that inspires one of his students to come up with these equations. It is a story that you can only hear about Russians, right? It would make a great movie. Well, the political climate isn't really right for having an interesting movie made about old Russians, but it would make a good movie.

Gary: I was going to say, I think our western ideas about transhumanism and all that stuff, is very similar...

Harrison: Yeah.

Gary: I'm sure some of the transhumanist thinkers are already hip to that. I think transhumanism is a great idea but I think the problem is we're not even human yet. {laughter} So I think we're still working on that. I actually have an idea for a book about transhumanism. It's called Transhuman: All Too Transhuman as Nietzsche said some years ago. {laughter} But it is a kind of scientific mysticism or it is something like - who's the guy? Kurzweil or something.

Harrison: Yeah, Ray Kurzweil.

Gary: Sending real rats out into space or Tiffler and all that kind of thing and seeding the universe with humanity-sentient - I guess sentience would be in computers or something doing that. But it's a similar kind of idea. There's this great grand scale, hugely heroic scale of things. They think big. The Russians are not really miniaturists. There's a real big kind of thing. When you say the shotgun method, it is. It's the kind of thing where, as you said, it's bound to be wrong in many places but when it's right it's probably right in a very interesting way...

Harrison: Yeah.

Gary: ...that may give birth to some other things. And all this stuff is revived now. Fedorov died in the 1900s or something around that time. Tsiolkovsky was long after that. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has all been revived. It's got the imprimatur of Putin too who wants to revive - this is how I got interested in doing the book - Putin had Berdyaev and Solovyov and Iliyan who's a different kind of thinker but he's around the same time, the silver age. On reading this he gave it to his regional governors and he has talked about these people in his speeches and all of the figures from that time are experiencing a great revival and the cosmist school is going and his museum's going and research programs and all this kind of thing.

We don't know any of these people. There might be a documentary about them on PBS or something but we don't know about them, but they're the equivalent of our great scientists over here. There has always been strange stuff. Lasenko and the whole weird thing that was going on during the Soviet period where they were Lemarkians and the rest are Darwinians. It's a kind of political Russian science. It's a different kind of thing too.

One of the points I try to make in the book is that certainly by the time of the silver age, or at least the 19th century, when Russian philosophy is going, Solovyov is considered the first Russian philosopher but there were thinkers before that. The thought appeared in fiction in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But there was all this compensation for what the west had lost, which is the soul. The west had given itself away to utilitarianism and pragmatism and the greatest good of the greatest number, everything being quantified and so on. The qualitative, inner, spiritual kind of dimension of reality had been jettisoned and considered superstitious rubbish that we have to get rid of.

This is why when Dostoevsky and Tolstoy erupted it was overpowering because they were so intensely aware of the need for this. So there's always that element and you have to remember the Soviet stuff was a western implant. Marx is western. What might have happened there had not Lenin gained control could have been something very different. We'll never know. But it could have been something very different.

Elan: One of the things that you so well describe is Lenin's philosophy to crush the inner life. There is no inner life. There is no religious being separate from the state or his idea of communism and his version of egalitarianism and how it effectively crushed the soul of Russia for 70 years. So it's fascinating Gary, the way that you describe all of these great thinkers coming back into awareness in Russia over the past 20 or so years and there being, would you say something of a renaissance in thought? In values?

Gary: I would think it's something that they should do. Again, this is one of the things. I read this article about Putin giving these philosophers on the reading list. David Brooks at the New York Times was saying, "Putin's telling his regional governors to read these messianic Russian exceptionalist - is the term we use these days - thinkers who see Russia as having this singular, great apocalyptic role to play in history. And yes, to some extent that's true but you have to understand what they mean when they say that. But he only saw it in this jingoistic, 'Go Russia!' kind of view.

It may be what Putin's doing with them. He's a politician. I'm not saying Putin is any great spiritual character although I do think he takes it seriously to some extent, again, like the mafia boss who goes to church and all that. He takes it seriously but he also has his job to do. But I thought David Brooks' response and some of the other western critics' responses were very narrow minded and simplistic in characterizing these philosophers who were deep philosophers - and what they had to say was something that they believed the west needed to hear back then when they were saying it. What I try to say in the book is now 100 years later I think we still need to hear it, whether it's Putin reminding us that they've written this stuff or not.

Again, why couldn't there be a kind of resurgence? There certainly is on a popular level. I just give it a brief overview of a variety of different resurgences or religious values and spiritual values. Some things seem kitsch and kind of overwrought and overblown. Other things seem serious and important. One of the things they talk about in the book is how in the late 1980s, the Esalen Institute in California which was one of the first alternative communities and spiritual retreats to start up in the 1960s. They had a whole program of cultural exchange that had nothing to do with the governments of either country, between the US and Russia. They went and visited there and people from Russia visited and they said, "In Russia we met so many people! We've met the kind of people that go out of their way to come to us at Esalen, almost everywhere in Russia. So people into yoga, meditation and ESP and a variety of different spiritualities, they have to book in advance to come stay with us for a while. We met them everywhere there."

Thus the cliché of 'scratch a Russian and you'll find a mystic'. There's a whole undercurrent of that which I guess may be a cliché for the Russians. I'm sure there are many westernized Russians who say 'Oh no, this is all a big cliché about us just like Indians must feel it's a horrible cliché about the mystic east all the time. But it seems to be true to some extent, more so than in the west which has always marginalized that kind of stuff. You still have this kind of woo-woo, X-File attitude about it.

You mentioned about the pursuit of parapsychology during the Soviet period and they did early on. There's the fascinating story of a fellow named Glebocki and Alexander Pachenko, who were both involved in the Cheka and - long story short - they wound up trying to get funding to go to Tibet to bring back the secrets of meditation so that they could transmit the message of the revolution though mental powers and they were really serious about it, and also bring back the super science that they believed the yogis had there, some kind of cosmic power in some way that they could actually use.

They didn't actually end up going but there were many expeditions to Tibet and places like that. There's a long story about this that came out in the 1970s Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain and still goes on today. That stuff was going on in the west but it's the kind of thing they have to apologize for in some way and kind of mumble about whereas the Russian just said, "We did this." {laughter} "Oh, it's very interesting. This happened."

Again, I haven't been following up but see on Twitter all this UFO disclosure stuff that's going on now. I don't know if you've been following that.

Harrison: Yeah.

Gary: There's supposed to be some big announcement of something.

Harrison: Yeah, there's some things going on. That's funny because that's bringing out another difference between Russia and the United States which kind of contradicts what you've been saying is true in other cases. So in other cases you have this scratch a Russian, find a mystic and you find the reception to all this and an openness about this history and yet I was speaking to some Russian friends of mine who say that in Russia there's absolutely zero information from the authorities on UFOs whereas if you come to the states in recent years there have been trickles from the US. So there's an interesting reversal of roles when it comes down to that and that might have to do with whatever's going on in the states for those developments to be happening, but that's a whole other show I think but very interesting to watch.

Gary: I know nothing about Ufology in Russia. I'm sure it's fascinating.

Harrison: Apparently there was some interesting stuff in the 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union George Knapp just did an interview on Joe Rogan where he talked about how after the fall of the Soviet Union he realized 'Things have fallen apart. That system is no longer really in place. I wonder if I can talk to some of the KGB guys that were high up there and see what I can find'. So he knew somebody who knew somebody who gathered around a lot of these high ranking people and then George Knapp, the Las Vegas journalist, went over to meet with all of them and talk with all of them and they were giving him documents. "This is what we were researching in the 1970s and 1980s." Really interesting. Very cool.

Gary, I know that we've already gone over time. Do you have time for another question?

Gary: Maybe another five minutes or so.

Harrison: Okay.

Gary: Do I have a question. I probably do but I can't think of it right now.

Harrison: Okay. To end the show with then, to get back to the mysticism just a little bit, I want to read a paragraph from your book on Solovyov.

"In his last years Solovyov came to see that his plan for a literal world theocracy was a dream and that the kingdom of heaven on earth would be established only through a kind of inner apocalypse, a spiritual awakening in individual men and women, not by decree. The only theocracy worth establishing, he saw, was one that arose spontaneously in the hearts of men."

Solovyov seems like a very interesting guy. First of all you talk about he was a mystic himself. He had visions and he spoke with the dead like Rudolph Steiner and as a younger man, I don't know about as an older man, but he had this vision of a Russian universalism. Was that Solovyov or Berdyaev?

Gary: No, that was Solovyov.

Harrison: And this unity. I thought that was a beautiful paragraph and a beautiful thought that brings together what I see as the strain of light throughout this Russian history, going back to the Hezacast tradition in Russian monasticism from Mount Athos and Greek Orthodoxy and the idea of inner light and inner transformation. You see that in guys like Gurdjieff with the focus on transforming the self as opposed to imposing by force a change on a society that seems like that's one of those truths that's mixed in the shotgun shell that I think is one of those gems that stands out and it's a new way of knowing too. You haven't talked about that yet today because the contrast between the Russian and the western approach which is this certain way of knowing - analytical, quantitative like you said, but there's this other way of knowing.

I know that you've got another book on it that I haven't read. But maybe you could just speak about that. Do you think that's the most important idea of this strand of Holy Russia and what is that way of knowing and why is it important?

Gary: It is. I hate this phrase, but it's the take away at the end of the book. I say in the book that we know what the west had to offer Russia - rationality, logic, progressive ideas, systemized thinking - in a word, modernity. But what did Russia have to offer to the west? I say in the book that it's this idea that Russia seems to pick up things from someplace else. They play around with it and they turn it into something of its own. What they had was something that the west had but didn't want. Briefly, you talk about this other way of knowing.

In the wake of the enlightenment in the late 18th and early 19th century we had this movement in the west known as romanticism and there's very different forms of it and so on; Beethoven the romantic composer and so on. But fundamentally it was a response to the overly analytic, reductive, mechanistic, 'let's take it apart' scientific sensibility of the western enlightenment which obviously gave us many, many good things but along the way it lost something else. It lost this other side, this intuitive, poetic, metaphoric, spiritual way of engaging with the world and actually knowing aspects of the world that this analytical way of approaching the world can't know just by definition.

This was something that the Russians picked up through a German philosopher Friedrich Schelling who most people don't know about but he's one of the great philosophers of the early 19th century in Germany. He had this notion of what he called absolute knowledge. Fundamentally it's a kind of intuitive knowledge. It's a way of knowing things from their inside rather than on the surface. I can only say that we all experience something like this and these are what we call our poetic moments or aesthetic kind of moments or even if you have a deep sort of moment like that it's kind of a mystical experience in some way.

It's an experience, a way of knowing things in which the distinction between inside and outside is made permeable for a time and there's a continuity, a participation, rather than how we tend to see things as this outer world that's radically other than me out there and I have to kind of observe it in different ways and take measurements of it. It's a qualitative engagement, participatory encounter with the world rather than this quantitative, mechanical measuring sort of way.

That's the soul and for some reason the Russians picked up on this and said 'this is something that's real. Why don't you westerners understand this?!' The thing is you can't prove the existence of the soul in the same way that you can prove a mathematical formula or some kind of chemical reaction or something. It's just not in the nature to do that. You can show it. You can imply it. You can somehow present it but you can't turn it into 2+2= whatever. Famously Dostoevsky in one of his books says "Always remember 2+2=5."

It's this radically other kind of thing and fundamentally evidence for our freedom too. We're not just mechanical cogs in a wheel. Again, Dostoevsky says in Notes from the Underground, that even if you can prove to me that the universe is this wonderful kind of contraption that just runs perfectly and mechanistically and everything works out for the best in the end, I will go insane on purpose in order to prove that I'm free.

Again, it's this passionate thing. Russians suffer. They have this capacity for suffering but the suffering is a way of knowing that they're alive and the utopian, progressive, rational systems that want to eliminate all suffering can do that but at the expense of feeling alive. One of the earliest dystopian tracks which predates even Zamyatin's We which is earlier than Huxley or certainly Orwell, is this long short story called The Republic of the Southern Cross by Valery Bryusov who is one of these characters from the silver age who is a satanic, dark, decadent, magical writer.

But he writes about this perfect society in Antarctica where everyone is so sick of perfection that they develop what's called contradiction mania. It's sort of like the old Bizarro World in the Superman comics. When you mean yes you say no and black is white and the world is square. So they just started contradicting everything. So when they would tell someone they loved them they would beat them up or slap them or something like this and this whole perfect society just does what Dostoevsky says. It goes insane on purpose because your freedom is preferable to the most perfect world even if suffering is the only way that you can experience the freedom. The freedom is what's more important.

This is something that the western pragmatic, utilitarian, John Mill way of seeing the world just can't make sense of. And that's why in many ways Putin is right in saying that the west has run out of steam because it doesn't have anything to offer people anymore. You can pursue happiness but there's no idea telling you what happiness is anymore. And it certainly isn't just acquiring more and more material things because we've been doing that for a long time and it doesn't seem to make people really happy. I'm not saying Putin's world is better but at least he actually points to something that's true. It's a true critique of the west.

Harrison: Yeah. And at the very least he's opening people to get a wider perspective on Russia's history and philosophers and these silver age guys. And that's what you do in the book so Gary, we'll close it there...

Gary: Thank you.

Harrison: ...and I just want to say again the book is The Return of Holy Russia, Gary Lachman. Gary, what website can people go to, to find out more about your work?



Gary: I'm on Twitter and Facebook as well. I'm not hard to find.

Harrison: Great.

Gary: Thank you very much for the conversation.

Elan: Thank you for talking to us.

Harrison: Thank you Gary.

Gary: My pleasure. Alright. Take care.