March 22, 2014
When Francis Fukuyama headily proclaimed The End of History and the final victory of Western capitalist liberal democracy over the corpse of Soviet Russia, I guffawed. Being deep in the Evangelical world, we were already bearing the oppressive onslaught of a triumphalist secularism. I had anticipated that an evident counter-reaction would lead to a global-wide theist-secularist schism, which would lead to civil strife, of various degrees and temperatures in the evenly-divided United States. I detected a widening economic disparity and centralization as the Thatcher-Reagan corrective to the sclerotic, over-regulated, over-taxed, labour-tilted 1970s was moving toward imbalance in the other direction. And I knew sufficient of Russian history and culture, (and with a little cheating from Ezekiel’s eschatology), to know that capitalist, liberal democracy lacked for a conducive cultural milieu in Orthodox Russia.
I expected that after a Weimar-like interregnum in the 1990s, the new Russia would emerge as a modern, updated version of Tsarist-like autocracy without the Tsarist trappings. At worst, this prognostication underestimated the extent of anticipated Orthodox Church collusion with the new tsars; or the social conservatism, which Putin, a modern Talleyrand chameleon, might cynically exploit, possibly even believe. Perhaps, the ghost of Solzhenitsyn has been more insidious and enduring than cursory outside observation could possibly understand. It becomes the height of irony that the modern Russia becomes the vanguard of moral virtue against a decadent West, including what was once an irritating, at least to European hearts, overzealous moralist America.
New Russia’s Putin, despite having a weaker hand to play with, has outwitted a hapless U.S. President and totally obtuse Washington Establishment on both wings of the political spectrum. That obese ‘hyperpower’ is beginning to resemble a Cathay to the Mongols and a Persian Empire to the Macedonians.
An exceptionalism-blinded, history-illiterate America with its venal and venial political class, highly credentialed but obtuse intelligentsia and fawning journalistic soothsayers, completely misdiagnoses Putin and the current geopolitical paradigm. From neocons to Rodney Clinton, their myopic historical memory seems to extend no further back than little before World War II. Conventional ‘wisdom’, such as it is, depicts Putin as some Boys from Brazil incarnation of Hitler and the new situation as a Cold War echo.
However, it would seem that Bismarck would be a more appropriate, meaningful and useful analogy. American foreign policy has engaged in hubristic overreach into the heart of historical Russia, far from its own lines, and beyond the sphere of what could be reasonably defended. A nationally proud Slavic nation, already sporting from the humiliation of Soviet disintegration, is further galvanized into the restoration of Russian greatness by this psychologically obtuse foreign policy. Putin’s Realpolitik feints into Georgia, the annexation of Crimea; all are reminiscent of Prussian efforts to unify the hitherto myriad of weak German duchies and principalities into a Pan-Germanic state in the 1860s.
And in the ongoing demise of Pax Americana hegemony, we are living in a multi-polar global version of 19th Century’s Europe; where petty national self-interests replace ideology as the guiding impetus. All jockey for geopolitical position like old Republican patrician families, contracting temporary alliances like paterfamilias contracting strategic marriages of their wards. Putin’s ambitions are far more modest and calculated than Hitler’s. And thus, we should expect further coercive consolidations with the Slavic orbit, at least initially. After all, Bismarck’s Prussia did surround Paris.