Monday, January 20, 2014

Putin and homosexuality

The vile homophobic policies and attitudes of the Putin regime in Russia are well-known. In a recent interview ago Vladimir Putin sought to provide a rationale of a sort for them when he said that Russia must "cleanse" itself of homosexuality in order to prop up its lagging birthrate.  He noted with satisfaction that Russia saw more births than deaths last year for the first time in two decades. Population growth he considers vital for Russia's development, and "anything that gets in the way of that we should clean up," he opined, using a word usually reserved for military operations.

I do not think, as has been suggested elsewhere, that Putin was simply channeling remarks made by Hitler in the 1930s.  The Russian leader’s claim reflects the confluence of two clusters of ideas that were broadly diffused throughout Western Europe, beginning in the 18th century.  First is the twins, Decadence and Degeneration.  The Decadence hypothesis (still with us in certain quarters) holds that civilizations grow old and feeble, with the spread of homosexuality ranking as a major element in this decline.  The related idea of Degeneration is biological, or rather pseudobiological, holding that society is assailed by hordes of degenerates, including criminals, the insane, and homosexuals. Alongside these notions arose the idea of pronatalism, which holds that the state must promote births and discourage celibacy.  Homosexuals, who supposedly have no children, are obstacles to this pronatalist program.

In Germany the Nazis adopted these ideas, as seen in the notorious exhibition of “Degenerate Art,” held in Munich in 1937.  Yet all of these notions had arisen elsewhere, notably in France and Britain.  Accordingly, there is no justification for the familiar, but mistaken ploy of the Reductio ad Hitlerum.

There are, to be sure, small but vociferous groups of neo-Nazis active in Russia.  However, Putin’s government has shown no affinity with them.  Rather his regime is of a conservative, authoritarian type, resembling those of Salazar in Portugal and Perón in Argentina.