It’s evident that the Kremlin isn’t pursuing only geopolitical goals in Ukraine, like restoring “historical Russia” or containing NATO. The speeches of Vladimir Putin, as well as the official propaganda, point to an ambitious ideological goal – the complete revision of the political and moral concepts underpinning the European consensus since World War II. The core of that decades-long unspoken consensus can be encapsulated in the laconic “never again/nie wieder.” The assumption was that the page in history in which Nazism was possible as an ideology and a system of practices, had been forever turned and that Nazism couldn’t return in any form. For decades the foundation of this assumption was collective memory, which stood above any national borders and couldn’t become the object of any conflict in pursuit of state interests. However, generations changed. Memories lost their vividness. All that remained of Nazism was its status as an absolute evil that couldn’t be justified. Yet it was in this very status that Nazism was turned into a key justification for Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Putin’s “denazification” meant first and foremost that the war was not only acceptable but morally necessary. In a war against Nazism there can’t be any compromises, and the price to be paid doesn’t matter. In the battle between good and evil a peaceful settlement can’t be reached as it would only lead to the good side being corrupted and spoiled. Nazism defied all human laws and thus the Nazis themselves aren’t to be granted any universal rights. Like with terrorists, you don’t negotiate with Nazis – you kill them. Thus, if Ukraine has become a Nazi state, and the entire Western world collectively conspired for that to happen, then it is only Russia that can mete out moral justice. It thus receives the right to restore universal humanity, as the rest of mankind has lost its immunity to Nazism.
This is the monstrous logic of a recent article by Timofey Sergeytsev, which offers a moral justification for the massacres in Bucha. He writes that the fight against Nazism today has become a “purely Russian affair” due to the “anti-fascist nature” of “Russian civilization.” In an equation where military strength equals morality, the opposite is also true: morality is determined by force. If Ukraine is “denazified” as Sergeytsev proposes – through massacres and the “re-education” of the “Nazified” population in concentration camps – then this is exactly what a victory of good over evil, in a new world free of Nazism, will look like. Or, as Sergeytsev puts it, “the ideology of a denazifier cannot be disputed by the guilty party that is to be subjected to denazification.” The alternative is simple: either Nazism must be destroyed without pity or a “new Holocaust
” awaits Russians.
In her famous book The Origins of Totalitarianism
, Hannah Arendt wrote that Hitler (unlike Stalin) is a “new type of criminal” as he didn’t seek justification in the distorted humanistic morality of the past but sought to establish a fundamentally new one. The new morality would wash away the very concept of man as such (and, accordingly, his natural rights) and replace it with a struggle of races as biological species created unequal by nature. The right to life and death is thus not universal, but constantly being dynamically redefined in the existential racial battle for living space.
Franz Neumann, another astute scholar of Nazism, analyzed the deformation of Nazi Germany’s judicial system, which was based on a “phenomenological” approach to law. This means that the verdict in the Nazi court was passed on the basis of the essence and not the deed, primarily answering the question “who,” while “what” was entirely secondary. The court thus did not take an impartial position but was merely an instrument for the protection of the race, shielding it from any threats to purity and internal unity. The relativity of morality and law to the laws of nature, turned upside down by the continuous political and military struggle of antagonistic racial “entities,” constituted a key element of Nazi ideology. It was this vision of reality that was defeated in World War II and that should never again be revived (it would inevitably give rise to new wars).