Many have discussed Russia’s pursuit of a new identify following its disastrous experiment with communism. Would Russia have a purpose on the world stage, or would it merely be an ad-hoc pragmatic power, largely selling the world natural resources on its way towards a full blown kleptocracy?
It turns out Russia does have a purpose and it is the restoration of social conservatism.
Putin is the movements leader.
This effort is obviously strategic. Consider the following from Alina Polyakova’s brilliant piece, Putinism and the European Far Right.
“Europe’s far-right parties and the Putin doctrine frame their respective nations and people as being in the middle of a culture war between Western liberal plurality and traditional Christian values. In 2013, the Center for Strategic Communications—a Russian based think-tank— published a report entitled “Putin: The New World Leader of Conservatism.” Putin, according to this report, stands for traditional values in a world fraught with instability: law and order, family, and the Christian heritage. The FN’s Marine Le Pen has praised Putin for standing up for Christian civilization and traditional values, hailing him as a “natural ally to Europe.”
You can read the report in its entirety here.
That is the title of a 2014 Wilson Quarterly piece by Andrew J. Bacevich in which he discusses the impact of the Gulf War on the public views towards the military and the role the military should play in the world.
Here is one instructive section.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the legacy is the war’s powerful influence on how Americans now view both the immediate past and the immediate future. When it occurred near the tail end of the 20th century, just as the Cold War’s final chapter was unfolding, the victory in the desert seemed to confirm that the years since the United States bounded on to the world stage in 1898 had been the “American Century” after all. Operation Desert Storm was interpreted as an indisputable demonstration of American superiority and made it plausible to believe once again that the rise of the United States to global dominance and the triumph of American values were the central themes of the century then at its close.
In the collective public consciousness, the Persian Gulf War and the favorable conclusion of the Cold War were evidence that, despite two world wars, multiple episodes of genocide, and the mind-boggling criminality of totalitarianism, the 20th century had turned out basically all right. The war let Americans see contemporary history not as a chronicle of hubris, miscalculation, and tragedy, but as a march of progress, its arc ever upward. And that perspective — however much at odds with the postmodernism that pervades fashionable intellectual circles — fuels the grand expectations that Americans have carried into the new millennium.
Bill Clinton has declared the United States “the indispensable nation.” According to Madeleine Albright, America has become the “organizing principal” of the global order. “If we have to use force,” said Albright, “it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further than other countries into the future.” Such sentiments invite derision in sophisticated precincts. But they play well in Peoria, and accord precisely with what most Americans want to believe.
You can read the ungated version here.
Writing as early as 1880, Russian writer Dostoyevsky wrote that man
“will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: “Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!”
This is from his masterpiece The Grand Inquisitor, the final chapter of a larger piece of work, The Brother Karamozov. The “us” is the Church but can be any form of authority. There is a tradeoff between freedom and security, and as readers of this blog know I don’t think that their balance is the same for all cultures. You obviously have to be nuanced when discussing the “Russian soul.” There are Russians who prefer liberty to state control and cultures can adopt and change. The Korean peninsula was for the most part culturally homogenous in 1952 but today have a full democracy next to a full totalitarian state. Yet, as reported in the Washington Post, “Sixty percent of Russians believe that Internet censorship — in particular, the banning of certain websites and material — is necessary…” To me, this number is especially telling considering it is well known, even by the Russians, that the media is largely an apparatus of the state and alternative views are found on the web.
Freedom is an artifact of historical circumstance and there are good reasons why it is not as valued in Russia as highly as it is in America.
More data is available and you can read the WaPo article in full here.