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  • Victor C. Bolles

The Difference between Lying and Delusion

I was going to write about Vladimir Putin this week even before the attempted mutiny in Russia last weekend. You may think that I am minimizing the importance of the actions taken by the leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, last Saturday (others have called it rebellion or even - gasp – insurrection) but one must keep in mind that it was mutinies by tsarist soldiers and sailors mired in a losing war on the Eastern front that precipitated the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1918. Most analysts are saying that the abortive munity has weakened the Putin regime even though the putsch seemingly evaporated almost before it started. As of this writing, Putin is mum as is Foreign Minister Lavrov, Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of Staff Gerasimov. So who knows? A good explanation of recent events can be found in the Wall Street Journal article, “Why Wagner Chief Prigozhin Turned Against Putin” June 26, 2023.

But even when these Russian creatures crawl out of whatever hole they have been hiding in, we will have very little clarity on what actually happened. Anything they say will be littered with lies, misstatements, falsehoods and partial truths. We will not only have to examine what they say but also what they don’t say. And that takes me back to what I wanted to write about in the first place – lying.

Vladimir Putin lies a lot. He lied about the apartment bombings in 1999 that killed 300 innocent people and used those deaths to start the Second Chechen War that helped propel him into the presidency. He lied about Georgian oppression in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to justify his invasion of that country in 2008. He lied about the 2014 referendum in Russian occupied Crimea that he used to justify its reunification with Russia. And he lied about the fascists taking over Ukraine in 2022 to justify his invasion of that country.

But according to Yale history professor Timothy Snyder as he described in his book The Road to Unfreedom, Putin also believes in Euroasianism, a belief first described by the obscure Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin in the early 20th century. Ilyin believed (as reported in Wikipedia) that “Russia does not belong in the "European" or "Asian" categories but instead to the geopolitical concept of Eurasia governed by the "Russian world", forming an ostensibly standalone Russian civilization.” According to Professor Snyder, Putin has surrounded himself with Eurasianists who reinforce his Russia centric beliefs. No one tells him bad news. He believes that he is the leader necessary to bring this great Russian civilization to full flower. He further believes in Russia as the victim of Western oppression that is constantly trying to undermine Russia’s rightful place in the world.

That is why Putin insists that there is no such thing as a Ukrainian nation or a Ukrainian people. He believes that Ukrainians are just part of the greater Russian Eurasian civilization and that their desire to join the EU and NATO is a betrayal of this great civilization, a betrayal of their heritage and a betrayal of their own people. Lying would be justified in furtherance of this great cause. But is it lying if he actually believes what he is saying? Is he so obsessed with the idea of a great Russian Eurasian civilization that he believes that black is white and white is black? Is he living inside a delusion that is aided and abetted on a daily basis by his sycophants and courtiers?

We have seen similar versions of such obsessive delusions here in the US. Most people think that former President Donald Trump is lying about the fact that he won the 2020 election. Donald Trump lies a lot. Just like Putin. Maybe even more than Putin. I don’t think Mr. Trump has any compunction about lying. Lying is just another way to get what he wants. But what if he truly believes that he won the election. He, like Putin, is surrounded by sycophants – hoping that some of his power or his billions of dollars will slough off him and land on them. Mr. Trump fires anybody who disagrees with him. Loyalty is the only requirement. He doesn’t believe the mainstream media or any outsiders. So if his delusion is that he won the 2020 election is he lying when he states what everyone else believes is a falsehood.

And such delusions are not limited to MAGA Republicans. President Biden continues to have faith in the innocence of his son Hunter and mistakenly believes that all the accusations are just a bunch of malarkey despite rising mounds of evidence against him.

Leaders often suffer from delusions. It was Spiderman’s Uncle Ben that advised, “with great power comes great responsibility.” But great power also comes with great delusions. Delusions of grandeur. Delusions of empire. Delusions of God’s authority. Delusions that can justify any action free from the restraint of reason.


Most Russians do not suffer from the Eurasian delusion that afflicts President Putin. Too bad. There is little that they can do about. But many of them suffer from a different delusion – faith in their leader, Putin. The French people had faith in Napoleon even though they did not suffer from his delusions of grandeur. The German people had faith in Hitler even though they did not believe in Lebensraum for the Third Reich. And many Americans have faith in their leaders Trump and Biden even though those men are clearly living within their own delusions.

Lying requires agency. Liars know that they are lying. Deluded people don’t realize that they are saying things that are not true and that people do not believe them. This can lead to serious lapses in judgement, like invading Ukraine, believing in a son’s innocence and making the 2020 election an issue for the 2024 election.

We live in a world chock full of leaders living within their fevered delusions. Clearly Kim Jong-Un and Nicolas Maduro fit in that category. Now that Xi Jinping is president for life he appears to be sliding into delusions of Chinese grandeur as no one in the Communist Party of China (or anyone else for that matter) dares to defy him. But world leaders with nuclear weapons such as Xi and Putin that are obsessively deluded by unreal visions is really scary. Even scarier, however, is an American president who is as deluded by unreality as other demented world leaders.

Neither President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump have a sufficient grip on reality to navigate our country through the perils that confront us. We need presidential candidates for the 2024 elections that has the mental capacity to navigate our country through the deluded lies of autocrats and potentates. The Republicans have a few candidates that might qualify. I am not so sure about the Democrats.

We live in perilous times. Choose wisely.

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