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The Long War Upon Us

Putin may be an imperialist and a bad man. But he is not the greatest threat to Western civilization
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I am writing this just as most Americans are waking up to the news that Russia has invaded Ukraine. I wrote earlier this morning, when I awakened here in Budapest to the news, that nothing excuses this outrageous act by Russia.  But in that post, I pointed out that we would be fools not to factor in the West’s blunders, beginning at the end of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union prostrate. For example, Americans have no idea at all how deep the Trianon Treaty of 1919 traumatized the Hungarian psyche, by dismantling Greater Hungary, removing two-thirds of its historic territories. The Slovaks, the Romanians, and others who benefited from Trianon (they lived in parts of Hungary where their own ethnic group was larger than ethnic Hungarians, prior to World War I) saw it as a victory for national determinism. The Hungarians saw it as a savage wound — and now, a century later, they still regard it as a monumental tragedy.

I had no idea about any of this prior to coming here. Do you know anything about Trianon? You cannot understand anything the Hungarian government does without factoring in Trianon. The Hungarians today are profoundly — profoundly — afraid of foreign domination, mostly because of Trianon. Whether you or I think that Trianon was a good treaty, a bad treaty, or somewhere in the middle, doesn’t matter. What matters is that most Hungarians are so grieved by it, even today, that the emotional and psychological power of that event cannot be overstated. This is why even though they want to be part of the EU, they push back hard against what they regard as unjust violations of their sovereignty by Brussels. It all goes back to Trianon.

So, when I read these days that much-quoted line Vladimir Putin uttered some years back, in which he lamented the tragedy of the USSR’s demise, I think of Trianon and the Hungarians. Though he was a KGB man, I don’t think Putin is a nostalgist for Bolshevism. He’s a nostalgist for Greater Russia — a Russia that was bigger, more powerful, and prouder on the world stage. If I had not come to Hungary last year and learned about Trianon, I am sure I would not have been able to grasp what this means to people whose countries have been dismantled or disempowered by war and historical fate.

Similarly, it has helped me to understand why so many Southerners feel so bitter about the Civil War and its latest iteration — the demonization of Confederate monuments and Southern culture. It’s not because anybody misses slavery. It’s because defeat and humiliation hurts like hell. A wise victor takes into account the pain of defeat, and doesn’t attempt to humiliate him. This is a lesson the victorious World War I allies did not learn in punishing Imperial Germany. Result: Hitler. It is perfectly understandable why the victorious American-led West pushed NATO’s borders so far to the East, taking advantage of Russian weakness — but it was a foolish mistake.

And don’t be under the mistaken impression that the US was a neutral outside broker in any of this. Here is the leaked transcript of the notorious 2014 phone call from senior US diplomat Victoria Nuland (now back in the State Department under Joe Biden) and the then-US ambassador to Ukraine. Nuland and the ambassador are talking about how America is taking advantage of the Color Revolution to select Ukraine’s next leader. If you’re Vladimir Putin, and you know this is going on, what do you think?

Another aspect of today’s news that we Americans should consider, but rarely do: the role of Ukraine, especially Kiev, in the Russian religious imagination. We simply have nothing to compare it to. Giles Fraser writes about it today. Kiev is where Christianity began in Russia, with the baptism of Prince Vladimir, leader of the Kievan Rus, and the formal introduction of Christianity as the religion of the people. Fraser:

Soviet Communism tried to crush all this — but failed. And in the post-Soviet period, thousands of churches have been built and re-built. Though the West thinks of Christianity as something enfeebled and declining, in the East it is thriving. Back in 2019, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, boasted that they were building three churches a day. Last year, they opened a Cathedral to the Armed Forces an hour outside Moscow. Religious imagery merges with military glorification. War medals are set in stained glass, reminding visitors of Russian martyrdom. In a large mosaic, more recent victories — including 2014’s “the return of Crimea” — are celebrated. “Blessed are the peacemakers” this is not.

At the heart of this post-Soviet revival of Christianity is another Vladimir. Vladimir Putin. Many people don’t appreciate the extent to which the invasion of Ukraine is a spiritual quest for him. The Baptism of Rus is the founding event of the formation of the Russian religious psyche, the Russian Orthodox church traces its origins back here. That’s why Putin is not so much interested in a few Russian-leaning districts to the east of Ukraine. His goal, terrifyingly, is Kyev itself.

Fraser writes, with sad (for me, as an Orthodox Christian) accuracy, about the subordination of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Russian state under Putin. American readers should also understand that the Ukrainian state has politicized the Orthodox Church there, leading a breakaway faction into declaring ecclesiological independence from the Moscow Patriarchate. Not all Orthodox believers living in Ukraine follow the new patriarch, but let’s not pretend that the politicization of the Church is a one-sided affair.

Fraser plainly thinks the Ukraine invasion is appalling, but he warns the West not to underestimate the religious dimension of this conflict:

The Western secular imagination doesn’t get this. It looks at Putin’s speech the other evening, and it describes him as mad — which is another way of saying we do not understand what is going on. And we show how little we understand by thinking that a bunch of sanctions is going to make a blind bit of difference. They won’t. “Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space” Putin said. That’s what this is all about, “spiritual space” — a terrifying phrase steeped in over a thousand years of Russian religious history.

The US Embassy in Kiev tweeted this the other day, in an attempt to shame the Russians. What the religious and historical illiterates there did instead was make Putin’s point about Kiev as the birthplace of Russian Christianity:

This response is funny:

There is another aspect to this war: the cultural one. I addressed that to a great extent in yesterday’s post about “Unpatriotic Conservatives.” The political economist (and my friend) Philip Blond tweeted this morning:

But what about the Western empire today? To my eyes, we are decadent, and ruled by an elite that despises our own history, traditions, and the unwoke deplorables among us. We are ruled by an elite who think of many of us as savages: racist, transphobic bigots who must be brought to heel, even if it means taking over the bank accounts of dissident. Look at what the interior minister of the new left-wing German government says:

While speaking with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung days ago, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD)—who’s previously labeled ‘right-wing extremism’ as the country’s most pressing threat, despite ample evidence which suggests otherwise—claimed that through ‘education’ young children can be inoculated against ideologies that she and her fellow far-left travelers deem to be ‘extreme.’

“We have to smash right-wing extremist networks,” Faeser began. “The rule of law must not accept calls for murder and threats. We are resolutely combating this breeding ground for violence. But the fight against right-wing extremism starts much earlier, namely with good educational work. He has to start in kindergarten.”

Faeser then called on kindergarten teachers to ‘educate’ young children in such a way so as to ensure “that they are not even susceptible to ideologies of exclusion,” adding the country needs “democratic education that makes it clear that it doesn’t matter where a family came from at some point, what skin color someone has, who they believe in or who they love.”

Do you see what’s happening here? Moral traditionalists — Christians, Muslims, anybody — who disagrees with gender ideology is a “right-wing extremist,” according to the German Interior Minister. The propaganda must begin in kindergarten. It’s the same in the US, as we well know. These people well and truly hate us. I talked recently with a European friend, a liberal shocked by the illiberalism of the Left today, who told me a story of a Syrian refugee family that made an epic journey on foot to a Scandinavian country to escape the war, but who is now thinking of getting out, because they fear that their family will be destroyed by the state. The child protection laws in this country are so strict that if a child complains in school that Mom or Dad as much as yelled at them, the state authorities can be there at your door the next morning, seize the children, and put them in foster care. Biological parents will be forbidden to have contact until they are 18.

“That is monstrous!” I said to my friend.

“It is monstrous,” he agreed.

But this is who we are. As you know from Abigail Shrier’s reporting, in the state of Washington, the law permits the state to seize minors 15 years of age and younger, and inject them with cross-sex hormones to facilitate sex change against the will of parents, if this is what those children say they want. Monstrous! But this is what many liberals — and some conservative elites — believe in (and if the conservative elites don’t believe in it, they certainly aren’t going to draw media fire by standing up against it). In a 2015 post about Sam Quinones’ terrific book about American opiate culture, Dreamland, I wrote:

The book is full of sad stories, but the saddest is the tale of Russian Pentecostals in Portland, Oregon. Massive number of these persecuted Christians emigrated from the Soviet Union to the US, and settled mostly on the West Coast. They were religious, conservative, and strict churchgoers. But their kids went to school with other Americans, and came to see church life as boring and too restrictive. They tried OxyContin, and moved into heroin. Hundreds of these Russian Pentecostal kids became addicts. Their parents did not know what to do. In one family’s case:

Two decades after Anatoly and Nina left the Soviet Union for the freedoms of America, each of their three oldest children was quietly addicted to black tar heroin from Xalisco, Nayarit. … [T]heir American dreamland contained hazards they hadn’t imagined. Remaining Christian in America, where everything was permitted, was harder than maintaining the faith in the Soviet Union where nothing was allowed. Churches were everywhere. But so were distractions and sin: television, sexualized and permissive pop culture, and wealth.

Think of it: these Pentecostals were better off in the USSR than in America, because American freedom led to extreme decadence.

Putin is an authoritarian who uses Western decadence in the same way the Soviet regime did: to justify its own repression. Nevertheless, that decadence really is there! Wokeness, if it comes to Hungary (given the ethnic homogeneity here, its primary expression will be gender ideology), is going to tear this society apart, as it is doing in America, by destroying families and alienating young people from their bodies and their instincts. I hear some Hungarians complaining about Viktor Orban’s cultural authoritarianism, and they’re not wrong about all of it. But I tell them that wokeness is so insane, and so intolerant, that if it takes hold here, you will not be allowed to dissent from it without risking your job and status. The choice seems to be increasingly not between classical liberalism and authoritarianism, but what kind of authoritarianism will we live under. I don’t like that choice, but this is where the West is today.

The Catholic friend who sent me the Giles Fraser piece said that conservative Christians (like him) feel uneasy today. “What civilization are we defending?” he said. I pointed out that Fraser is correct to cite the corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church leadership regarding its subservience to state power, and money. But, I pointed out, this is like the Evangelical Christian young Hungarian voter I talked to last year, who told me she plans to vote for Orban despite hating the high tolerance for corruption in his circles. Financial corruption is a familiar thing, she said: bad, but something that can be fixed. The kind of corruption represented by the West, however, is moral and intellectual — a far worse thing, and more difficult to eradicate. (She was talking about race and gender ideology with wokeness.)

My Catholic friend agreed, saying that the theological corruption of Pope Francis is “existential,” because “he puts into question the whole Catholic project.”

“Kirill [the Moscow patriarch] may be corrupt, but does he support pumping ‘transgender’ children full of puberty blockers, and surgically mutilating them like Fr. James Martin, SJ?” my friend asked rhetorically, referencing the American Jesuit and close Francis collaborator who is a high-profile LGBT advocate.

This is a question that liberals find absurd. But believe me, many conservatives do not, and should not. We are not defending the America, and the West, that once was. We find ourselves defending, or asked to defend, this rotten woke tyranny. You will recall Joe Biden’s claim about trans rights:

Well, here is something new from Beto O’Rourke, Democratic candidate for Texas governor:

Contrast that with a speech Vladimir Putin gave last fall in Sochi, the transcript of which is here. Excerpt:

The importance of a solid support in the sphere of morals, ethics and values is increasing dramatically in the modern fragile world. In point of fact, values are a product, a unique product of cultural and historical development of any nation. The mutual interlacing of nations definitely enriches them, openness expands their horizons and allows them to take a fresh look at their own traditions. But the process must be organic, and it can never be rapid. Any alien elements will be rejected anyway, possibly bluntly. Any attempts to force one’s values on others with an uncertain and unpredictable outcome can only further complicate a dramatic situation and usually produce the opposite reaction and an opposite from the intended result.

We look in amazement at the processes underway in the countries which have been traditionally looked at as the standard-bearers of progress. Of course, the social and cultural shocks that are taking place in the United States and Western Europe are none of our business; we are keeping out of this. Some people in the West believe that an aggressive elimination of entire pages from their own history, “reverse discrimination” against the majority in the interests of a minority, and the demand to give up the traditional notions of mother, father, family and even gender, they believe that all of these are the mileposts on the path towards social renewal.

Listen, I would like to point out once again that they have a right to do this, we are keeping out of this. But we would like to ask them to keep out of our business as well. We have a different viewpoint, at least the overwhelming majority of Russian society – it would be more correct to put it this way – has a different opinion on this matter. We believe that we must rely on our own spiritual values, our historical tradition and the culture of our multiethnic nation.

The advocates of so-called ‘social progress’ believe they are introducing humanity to some kind of a new and better consciousness. Godspeed, hoist the flags as we say, go right ahead. The only thing that I want to say now is that their prescriptions are not new at all. It may come as a surprise to some people, but Russia has been there already. After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones – all this was proclaimed progress and, by the way, was widely supported around the world back then and was quite fashionable, same as today. By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.

This, I believe, should call to mind some of what we are witnessing now. Looking at what is happening in a number of Western countries, we are amazed to see the domestic practices, which we, fortunately, have left, I hope, in the distant past. The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past – such as Shakespeare – are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what colour or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Countering acts of racism is a necessary and noble cause, but the new ‘cancel culture’ has turned it into ‘reverse discrimination’ that is, reverse racism. The obsessive emphasis on race is further dividing people, when the real fighters for civil rights dreamed precisely about erasing differences and refusing to divide people by skin colour. I specifically asked my colleagues to find the following quote from Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by their character.” This is the true value. However, things are turning out differently there. By the way, the absolute majority of Russian people do not think that the colour of a person’s skin or their gender is an important matter. Each of us is a human being. This is what matters.

In a number of Western countries, the debate over men’s and women’s rights has turned into a perfect phantasmagoria. Look, beware of going where the Bolsheviks once planned to go – not only communalising chickens, but also communalising women. One more step and you will be there.

Zealots of these new approaches even go so far as to want to abolish these concepts altogether. Anyone who dares mention that men and women actually exist, which is a biological fact, risk being ostracised. “Parent number one” and “parent number two,” “’birthing parent” instead of “mother,” and “human milk” replacing “breastmilk” because it might upset the people who are unsure about their own gender. I repeat, this is nothing new; in the 1920s, the so-called Soviet Kulturtraegers also invented some newspeak believing they were creating a new consciousness and changing values that way. And, as I have already said, they made such a mess it still makes one shudder at times.

Not to mention some truly monstrous things when children are taught from an early age that a boy can easily become a girl and vice versa. That is, the teachers actually impose on them a choice we all supposedly have. They do so while shutting the parents out of the process and forcing the child to make decisions that can upend their entire life. They do not even bother to consult with child psychologists – is a child at this age even capable of making a decision of this kind? Calling a spade a spade, this verges on a crime against humanity, and it is being done in the name and under the banner of progress.

Well, if someone likes this, let them do it. I have already mentioned that, in shaping our approaches, we will be guided by a healthy conservatism. That was a few years ago, when passions on the international arena were not yet running as high as they are now, although, of course, we can say that clouds were gathering even then. Now, when the world is going through a structural disruption, the importance of reasonable conservatism as the foundation for a political course has skyrocketed – precisely because of the multiplying risks and dangers, and the fragility of the reality around us.

This conservative approach is not about an ignorant traditionalism, a fear of change or a restraining game, much less about withdrawing into our own shell. It is primarily about reliance on a time-tested tradition, the preservation and growth of the population, a realistic assessment of oneself and others, a precise alignment of priorities, a correlation of necessity and possibility, a prudent formulation of goals, and a fundamental rejection of extremism as a method. And frankly, in the impending period of global reconstruction, which may take quite long, with its final design being uncertain, moderate conservatism is the most reasonable line of conduct, as far as I see it. It will inevitably change at some point, but so far, do no harm – the guiding principle in medicine – seems to be the most rational one. Noli nocere, as they say.

Again, for us in Russia, these are not some speculative postulates, but lessons from our difficult and sometimes tragic history. The cost of ill-conceived social experiments is sometimes beyond estimation. Such actions can destroy not only the material, but also the spiritual foundations of human existence, leaving behind moral wreckage where nothing can be built to replace it for a long time.

In that speech, Putin said the exact same thing that emigres fleeing Soviet communism for the West tell me in Live Not By Lies: that the liberal, woke West is creating a tyranny like the very one they fled! Who, conservative reader, has a more sensible take on culture today: Vladimir Putin or Joe Biden? It’s not even close.

That is not to say that Putin is right to have invaded Ukraine!
I believe he was very wrong to have done so. I only bring this up to warn my fellow American conservatives that the nature of the grand war upon us now is not what our media and our leaders would have us think.

One more thing. Do you remember the other day the excerpt from a 2017 interview that Klaus Schwab, the Dr. Evil figure who runs the World Economic Forum in Davos and instigator of The Great Reset, gave at Harvard, in which he boasted about how half of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet members (and many other senior figures in national governments) were graduates of his leadership program?

Take a look at this photo of the Master in his office:

I mean, really. There it is. That man, Herr Schwab, is one of the most important leaders in the West today. His people are at senior levels in all the world governments. He said in a speech not long ago that Justin Trudeau, the seizer of dissident bank accounts, is the ideal leader of the new world order.

Putin may be a bad man and a Russian imperialist. But he is not the greatest enemy of Western civilization. It’s not even close. The calls, as they say, are coming from inside the house.