Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
At the very start of this compact book, Lewis argues that democratization theories cannot explain Russia's political transformation because it has never been shaped by the 'binary relationship between democracy and dictatorship' (p. 6) but is instead centered on the idea of order. Behind this obsession with reducing the state-eroding chaos with centralized order looms the figure of Carl Schmitt, German political theorist infamous for producing a set of ideas underpinning the Nazi ideology. Schmitt's anti-liberal propositions have been examined and condemned so thoroughly that it might appear redundant to give them another scrutiny, particularly since he is quoted very rarely in Russian mainstream discourse. Lewis, nevertheless, shows convincingly that the impact of this nearly hundred-year-old theorizing on the self-perception and self-justification of Putin's autocratic regime is far stronger than its pundits dare to admit. The persistent desire to assert Russia's sovereignty understood as the privilege to defy the norms of international law is unmistakably rooted in Schmitt's philosophy. The annexation of Crimea, for that matter, is not only a manifestation of this exceptionalism but also an execution of the idea of land approbation, which goes beyond the forceful territorial expansion and engages the emotional side of politics with an almost mystical power (p. 140). The analytical exposure of this connection between the conservative trappings of Putin's regime and the old prescriptions for enforcing rigid order is not only informative but also practically relevant. The book concludes with the assessment of failures of Putinism rooted in the well-known shortcomings of Schmitt's thinking, which inescapably leads to an existential conflict between the inherently repressive and aggressive autocracy and the rule-based world community.