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Davos Woman And Her Wars

Anne Applebaum's call for eternal militancy against those who reject her idea of democracy
Screen Shot 2022-04-01 at 4.35.10 PM

I have said it before, and I will say it again: I really like Anne Applebaum’s histories of the Soviet world. But man, her chronic neoconnery is awfully hard to take. Here she is in The Atlantic, talking about how if the world’s democracies don’t defend themselves, autocracy will destroy them all. Excerpts:

There is no natural liberal world order, and there are no rules without someone to enforce them. Unless democracies defend themselves together, the forces of autocracy will destroy them. I am using the word forces, in the plural, deliberately. Many American politicians would understandably prefer to focus on the long-term competition with China. But as long as Russia is ruled by Putin, then Russia is at war with us too. So are Belarus, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua, Hungary, and potentially many others. We might not want to compete with them, or even care very much about them. But they care about us. They understand that the language of democracy, anti-corruption, and justice is dangerous to their form of autocratic power—and they know that that language originates in the democratic world, our world.

Wait … what?! If a country doesn’t agree with Davos-Man liberal democracy, it is “at war” with us, and must be treated as an enemy nation?! Even Hungary, a European nation and a democracy which, if it were a real autocracy, would not have to care about this weekend’s elections. If Orban is a shoo-in, nobody has told my Fidesz friends, who are on pins and needles. Is Hungary not a democracy because people here don’t vote in the way Anne Applebaum wishes they would?

Look, Belarus is not my idea of an ideal country, but do we have to be at war with it? With Nicaragua, which the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega has turned into a shithole, but which is not at war with us — so why should we consider ourselves to be at war with it? “Potentially many others” — good grief, these people. They really are revolutionaries, ready to make war on the entire world to establish the sole legitimacy of one way of governing a nation.

This morning in Budapest I had a long breakfast with a visitor from western Europe. This man, whose name I won’t use because he’s something of a public figure, and he follows international economic and sociopolitical trends for a living. He had the expectation that we were speaking privately, generally talked about his expectation that we in the West are headed toward an economic collapse sometime in the next three years. And when economic collapse happens, he said, we are going to see exactly the cost of the rot we have sunk into over the past decades.

“Have you seen a map of which countries are not sanctioning Russia?” he said. “It’s most of the rest of the world, outside the West. They hate us. Well, maybe it’s not the case that they hate us as much as it is that the hate what we have become.”

He talked about his years of working in Africa, and how the Africans, for all their many problems, look at us and think we are crazy. We spoke of the civilization-destroying triumph of gender ideology. I had not yet seen this, but I wish I had done, so I could have shared it with him:

We talked about the Cathedral (though not using that neoreactionary term), the relatively small group of Westerners who run the world. Silicon Valley is one of the Cathedral’s heartlands, of course, but not everybody in the Cathedral is wealthy. I have no idea how much Anne Applebaum is worth, but she is an important chorister in the Cathedral. I wouldn’t say that she is woke, exactly (though she may be), but she is certainly a very significant voice for neoliberal/neoconservative ideology. I honestly don’t understand these people anymore. I have zero interest in living in or defending the undemocratic systems she criticizes (though of course I strongly reject her slander against Hungary), but I cannot for the life of me understand why she and people like her insist that we have to be at war with the whole damn world.

I believe Russia was wrong to invade Ukraine, but let’s not pretend that Ukraine was a nation full of sanctified innocents, and let’s really not pretend that the US wasn’t up to no good there (as Hunter Biden’s laptop, among other evidence, will attest). Don’t they get sick of these costly and stupid wars to convert the rest of the world to their ideology? Look at this piece from the Washington Post about how the Russian military’s failures in Ukraine have given the Pentagon new “swagger”. Excerpt:

But one month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, senior Pentagon officials are brimming with newfound confidence in American power, spurred by the surprising effectiveness of U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces, Russia’s heavy battlefield losses and the cautionary lessons they believe China is taking from the war.

“Let me put it this way,” said one senior Pentagon official of America’s standing in the world. “Who would you switch places with? Seriously, who would you switch places with?”

It’s a stunning shift in tone for a department that in August ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan with a chaotic withdrawal as an ascendant Taliban returned to power. Even though the U.S. military has not played the primary role in the American response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, senior Pentagon officials are quick to tout the still-unfolding war as proof of America’s economic, diplomatic and military strength.

The senior Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, said that the last few weeks have shown that the United States can marshal its “primacy in the global financial system” and its network of allies “in ways that can absolutely pummel aggressors.”

Just like that, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, tossed down the memory hole. We have nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine. And if it’s not, send the lantern-jawed tranny lieutenant colonel to sort the evildoers out.

If you talk to some Hungarians about the kind of militant “democracy” Applebaum advocates, they see partisans of a narrow, secular, socially liberal model that is highly intolerant of any dissent, and that demonizes those who disagree. The Hungarians passed a law last year trying to protect their children from the kind of horrific indoctrination into gender ideology now sweeping the West — and for this unforgivable crime, the Applebaum class condemns this country as a rogue Putinist state that doesn’t belong in Europe. It tells you something that the straw that broke the camel’s back with the EU was about protecting children from gender ideology.

Ryszard Legutko, the Polish philosopher, has rightly written about the “totalitarian temptations” within the Applebaum-Davos model of liberal democracy. Here is Legutko, in an excerpt from his excellent The Demon in Democracy, discussing the strange similarities between the Soviet barbarians who took over Poland, and the softer, more sophisticated ones that moved in after the fall of Communism:

Their strikingly loutish manners and coarse language did not have its origin in communism, but, which many found astonishing, in the patterns, or rather anti-patterns that developed in Western liberal democracies. Of course the new order was different and had different mechanisms, but despite the differences it was directed against the social forms, types of conduct, norms and practices to which the old order had been also hostile. Life underwent further vulgarisation; the few practices and social norms that survived the previous invasion of the barbarians were subject to new attacks by the new forces of barbarism; the ugliness of communist Poland did not disappear, and beauty was as much a rarity as it had been before. The new barbarians could hardly be called Bolsheviks or Soviet thugs, but there was something in their attitude that led to seeking similarities with their predecessors.

Their vulgarity was, so to speak, of the second order, as opposed to that which we had seen in the communist Poland and which had had something primordial about it. What happened in liberal democracy did not result from the absence of culture, and there was nothing primordial or natural about it; nor did it come from outside of the realm of civilisation. In that it differed from the vulgarity of the communists who, before they captured the power in Poland, had lived in environments  practically  unaffected  by  Polish  culture.  Having  been  long exposed to the Soviet influence they felt an intense instinctive antipathy towards the West as such, not knowing exactly what it was, and in particular for all forms of civilised conduct and of propriety, which they thought both decadent and perfidious. The new barbarians of liberal democracy, on the other hand, were the products of the West which at a certain stage of its history turned against  its  own  culture;  the  respect  for  its  achievements  was  gone,  being replaced by contempt, and the rules of civility and propriety derided. To put it simply, the vulgarity of the communist system was pre-cultural while that of liberal democracy is post-cultural.

One may wonder why the new barbarians in Poland (and, I imagine, also in other former Soviet-bloc countries) appeared so rapidly and in such a great number. A major reason would be, perhaps, that what happened happened through mimicry. Hundreds of thousands of people started imitating, voraciously and almost piously, the behaviour, language and mental patterns of what they observed in the Western liberal democratic countries, and what they believed to be the essence of the modern society and the natural expressions of freedom. This alleged ambiance of modernity was so overwhelming that society meekly surrendered to the new tastes. The society did not have the will to oppose them, nor did it have a sufficient confidence that it should. The new barbarians easily took over public space and established its dictatorial rule. Twenty years after the fall of the communist regime, the chances of pushing them out are as slim as ever.

In both systems, man compensated his commonness with the image of a large, well- functioning system: communism in one case and liberal democracy in the other, which, through the pursuit of collective goals – such as equality for all, peace, prosperity, etc. – released him of a necessity to seek personal excellence and to aspire to the ideals that from the perspective of the political system might look redundant. A dream of greatness and a fear of downfall which the pursuit of greatness generated were thus transferred to the respective political system: the greatness of man was the greatness of the system, and his downfall was conceivable solely as caused by the forces hostile to the system. Hence, he did not feel his mediocrity and even if he did, he was not ashamed of it. The vulgarity he quite often indulged in was a tangible symptom of his sense of superiority as the only authority to set rules and standards, and this sense did not come from his own extraordinary qualities – those he obviously lacked – but from a powerful political and ideological mechanism that backed him up.

It is therefore hardly surprising that just as “communism” (or “socialism”) was the favourite word of the communist man, “democracy” has been such a word for the liberal-democratic man. The former liked to say that “but in communism”, “because in socialism”, and suchlike, and the “argument from communism” was always the most ultimate of all ultimate arguments and by definition irrefutable. The latter loves saying, always with due piety mixed with a touch of audacity, that “but in democracy”, “because in democracy”, and the “argument from democracy” refutes all others. The number and frequency of the words “communism” (or “socialism)” and “communist” (or “socialist”) in the ancien régime are equal to the number and frequency of the words “democracy” and “democratic” in the new regime. The eagerness to use these words as trumps was not thought by the users to be a symptom of intellectual and moral capitulation, but rather, and quite sincerely, a manifestation of independence, courage, assertiveness and autonomy. To a mediocre man, an organic assimilation with the system was the easiest way to develop a conviction of being exceptional.

It is striking to see how Applebaum used the word “democracy” to mean “what my international managerial class in the West believes to be a just order,” as if this were uncontestable. She writes:

Take democracy seriously. Teach it, debate it, improve it, defend it. Maybe there is no natural liberal world order, but there are liberal societies, open and free countries that offer a better chance for people to live useful lives than closed dictatorships do. They are hardly perfect; our own has deep flaws, profound divisions, terrible historical scars. But that’s all the more reason to defend and protect them. Few of them have existed across human history; many have existed for a time and then failed. They can be destroyed from the outside, but from the inside, too, by divisions and demagogues.

Democracy? I had a conversation recently with a businessman from a western European country, who told me that one of his kids — a 15-year-old daughter — can’t decide if she is a girl or a boy. He knows that she’s going through what most girls do at that age: a struggle with the effects of puberty and burgeoning sexuality. And she has the misfortune of growing up in a civilization that has lost its mind, and tells kids like her that normal middle-school anxiety over sex and physicality is a sign that you might need to lop off your breasts and jack yourself up with testosterone, so you can be your “true self.”

The beleaguered father said to me, “As a parent, you feel like you have no chance to help your kid. It’s just you against this whole wide world.”

Yep. The blessings of liberty, I guess, include watching helplessly as your children’s minds and bodies are stolen by Disney, woke educrats, and the media. If this what democracy has become in the West, no wonder much of the rest of the world is skeptical. The Western democracies have become societies where the anti-liberal ideology of wokeness has become the successor ideology to liberalism, but people like Applebaum speak and write as if nothing has changed. The dispossession and marginalization of large numbers of people on the basis of their race, or their moral or religious opinions, is of no matter. For example, Applebaum says conservative opposition to Critical Race Theory signifies a conviction that “schoolchildren should not be taught the history of racism in America” — an incredible claim, but typical of the blindness even an intelligent, sophisticated observer like herself has to the radicalization of what used to be liberal culture. I am a small-d democrat, for sure, but if democracy means having to surrender yourself and your family to what Paul Kingsnorth rightly calls The Machine, then to hell with it. Kingsnorth:

Out in the world, the rebellion against God has become a rebellion against everything: roots, culture, community, families, biology itself. Machine progress—the triumph of the Nietzschean will—­dissolves the glue that once held us. Fires are set around the supporting pillars of the culture by those charged with guarding it, urged on by an ascendant faction determined to erase the past, abuse their ancestors, and dynamite their cultural ­inheritance, the better to build their earthly paradise on terra ­nullius.

I do not see the rival ideologies, or autocracies, as ideals or leaders worth following. But what would Applebaum have us defend? What culture, what civilization? What order are they fighting for? Seriously, I do not understand these people, these Davos Men And Women, but I do know this: their wars are not my wars. They want to invade the world, eternally. And they never, ever learn.