Home/Daniel Larison/Strong Leader, Weak State II

Strong Leader, Weak State II

“People do not see that they have politicians who can save them, guarantee their security and stability and who can suggest any kind of solution,” said Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research organization. “They would love to see a tough, harsh, resolute president, but they have not seen one. Russia has lost its president in these days.”

“Politics is really dead, but in a way that is dangerous for Putin. This is the moment of truth for the country. The Duma is afraid to convene an emergency meeting,” she said, referring to the lower house of parliament. “Nobody has made a comment. The president is hiding. The government is hiding. This is the end of politics, when no one wants to take responsibility.”~ The Washington Post

Ms. Shevtsova’s comment is illuminating in what it reveals about a presumably learned Russian opinion on this subject. It reminds me of the tremendous dissatisfaction with the President among many Americans on September 11 and with the Washington leadership for several days thereafter. I distinctly remember, as I was driving cross-country, Michael Savage berating the leadership on his radio show and all but declaring the government a complete failure, more than he usually would (his view of the Bush administration has improved considerably since then). He was not alone in criticising the President and congressional leaders for their apparent lack of action in those early days. Subsequent events, whatever one may think of them, suggest that such reactions are not really sensible or serious.

This demand for immediate comfort, immediate gratification, and immediate security is a disgusting, decadent modern phenomenon that would have made our ancestors ashamed and probably would be regarded as a kind of impious self-importance by the Church. If people do not want intrusive and obnoxious government, they should become accustomed to a dangerous world in which they may live free and on their own resources. However, if they want the government to instantly address their wants rather than their needs (which is what most of democracy is over the last fifty years), then they had best become used to being disappointed while nonetheless losing whatever freedom they ever had.

The Post story was noteworthy in that it cast Putin’s response to this crisis in the worst possible light, when President Bush’s nearly ten or eleven-hour absence from all communication with the public on September 11 has all but been forgotten. What that day offers is some perspective: government, politics and ordinary life were not irreparably changed, and they all went on pretty much as before. The same will be true in Russia. The difference is that the Russians are engaged in a real war with an enemy that can strike more often and with more lethal effect than the foe that Americans face.

The government is, of course, supposed to organise the defenses of the country, but the outrage and frightened disappointment with the government in such circumstances only increases in proportion to the intensity of a statist view of politics. Those who come to expect the government to coddle them or, good grief, “save” or “guarantee” security will always regard their governments as failures, because only a police state can guarantee security and no government “saves” anyone in any meaningful sense. Ms. Shevtsova demonstrates the weakness of the presumably highly educated, democratised element in Russian life: they crave to be led, and fault the government less with the horrible disaster at the siege than with its failure to engage in public relations. Perhaps Russian authorities are engaged in doing necessary and perhaps vital security planning, and do not assume that their priority is to make the public feel better.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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