Foreign Policy Blogs

When 'Living Dangerously' Is A Life Sentence, Not a Lifestyle Choice


Most people would find it hard to upstage a meeting between the head of a giant nuclear power and one of the world’s most high profile rock stars.

But most people are not Putin (thank God!?). By single-handedly  harpooning a whale while shouting “Living in general is dangerous!”, the Prime Minister not only made Medvedev’s tea with Bono look positively Austenesque, but even settled an old score with Captain Ahab.

The point of the stunt was clear: for all his Deep Purple fandom, Medvedev does not live dangerously. Bono at least salvaged some machismo by even accepting a cup of tea from a Russian official.

Putin’s political embrace of manliness, courage and danger (except when facing calls for open and transparent elections!) has a long pedigree most clearly espoused by the Italian futurists. Unfortunately, that pedigree links him to some of the less savoury characters in history, from generations of Latin American junta leaders to Margaret Thatcher.

That’s because a Nietzschian taste for danger, which puts hair on your chest and separates the men from the boys, is a central tenet of this particular strain of right wing politics: an obsession with the extraordinary, a worship of the strong and virile, a distaste for the morass of listless, dirty, wussy masses, a distrust of intellectualism and nuance. Danger, motion, dislocation are the forces that throw up strong leaders and destroy the vacillating and the weak; there is no room or allowances for the old, the vulnerable, or even the ordinary. There is room only for a few.

Because the cult of danger is so inherently disruptive, elitist and authoritarian, it is the perfect theoretical crutch for such conservative agendas as neo-liberalism, free market capitalism and political gauchoism.

For Putin and his ilk, living dangerously by flying helicopters, doing karate or going after whales (surrounded by dozens of bodyguards and doctors on call, natch) on the rough seas is a life-affirming thrill.

Meanwhile, for most of his citizens, living dangerously by negotiating work and life in a ruthless capitalist society stripped of a social welfare net, a functional health system and any long term stability is the life-crushing norm.

The old Labour leader Neil Kinnock put it best on the eve of Thatcher’s election in 1979:

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old

Conveniently, none of that applies to Russia’s extraordinary Prime Minister, so what’s the problem?

  • I live in a ruthless capitalist society stripped of a social welfare net and a functional health system – but my leader is golfing in Martha’s Vinyard. Frankly I’d rather Obama were out saving bears…


Vadim Nikitin
Vadim Nikitin

Vadim Nikitin was born in Murmansk, Russia and grew up there and in Britain. He graduated from Harvard University with a thesis on American democracy promotion in Russia. Vadim's articles about Russia have appeared in The Nation, Dissent Magazine, and The Moscow Times. He is currently researching a comparative study of post-Soviet and post-Apartheid nostalgia.
Areas of Focus:
USSR; US-Russia Relations; Culture and Society; Media; Civil Society; Politics; Espionage; Oligarchs