Good people can love Putin too

It’s easy to dismiss Western Putinistas as crypto-Nazis, people who feel an irresistible longing for the Übermensch at the helm. Since that pagan longing isn’t satisfied domestically, they reach out tropistically for the nearest foreign model.

That human type and that longing aren’t necessarily new. In the past, it was either Hitler or Stalin perched on that totem pole – or both, as any reader of G.B. Shaw’s essays and speeches can confirm.

Both monsters had their prominent champions in the West. When the monstrosity in question became public knowledge, most changed their tune. However, some didn’t.

Not all of them were fanatical Nazis like Unity Mitford or Stalin’s agents of influence like Walter Durante. Most of those champions of evil were simply ignorant simpletons who looked for some personification of their political ideals and were misled into believing that Stalin or Hitler came close – for all their obvious faults.

They had an excuse for their ignorance, not a good one but some. Mass media didn’t reach the masses in those days, certainly not on today’s scale. Unless a man subscribed to several newspapers or was prepared to read books, he might not have realised that Hitler wasn’t just a motorway builder, and Stalin wasn’t just seeking to industrialise the country.

Most of the time ignorance was just an excuse, not the real reason. Typically, those people didn’t know because they didn’t want to know. But at least their excuse was plausible.

But today every fact is at people’s fingertips, those they use to press the keys on their laptops. Using those appendages people can instantly learn… well, perhaps not everything there is to know, but certainly enough to piece together the true nature of Putin’s regime.

And yet many good, literate conservatives cling on to the myth of the “most conservative and Christian country in Europe”, to quote the most consistent British Putinista, whose links with that regime merit a forensic investigation.

That is puzzling. After all, Europe hasn’t had such an unapologetically Nazi regime since 5 March, 1953, the date on which Stalin’s death was announced.

So why do some good people (of whom the pundit in question manifestly isn’t one) repeat Putin’s propaganda verbatim without in any way activating the critical faculties I know they possess? One such man is a good tennis player who took a set off me the other day.

Following an ironclad tradition at tennis clubs around the world, after trying to castrate each other with tennis balls for two hours, we then had a friendly beer and chat. Usually, I steer clear of political subjects after matches, for fear of running out of people to play with.

But since I like this chap I didn’t dodge his direct question: “So what do you make of that situation in Ukraine then?” When I told him what I made of it, which is what I’ve been writing since before anyone even heard of Putin, my tennis friend said: “But isn’t it Nato’s fault?”

He then went on to list all the salient stab points of Kremlin propaganda, those that get a weekly airing in The Mail on Sunday.

He: Putin felt threatened by Nato’s eastward expansion (I: “Do you think Nato was hatching up plans to attack Russia? Does anyone?”)

The Ukrainian government came to power illegally (“Zelensky won a perfectly democratic election.”) Yes, but the 2014 putsch ousted a legitimate government. (“A Putin puppet.”) But Zelensky is a puppet too. (“Whose?”) America’s. (“First, that simply isn’t true. If he were, he would have traded territory for peace long ago, that’s what America wants. And aren’t you invoking the old moral equivalence falsehood? They have the KGB, we have the CIA and MI6, what’s the difference? In any case, the Ukraine is a sovereign country, and whatever her people do is their business, provided they don’t threaten anyone else.”)

And so on, for two beers or so. You see, I have a lot of time for that chap. He is intelligent, kind, well-mannered, always votes the right way, attends conservative conferences, loves Penelope’s playing – the salt of the Tory earth. Yet I’m sure I didn’t convince him, though I hope I made him think.

He made me think too. Why would such a man, and he is far from the only one, stubbornly cling to Putin even after hundreds of thousands have been killed, maimed, left homeless, raped, tortured in his frenzied attack on a West-leaning neighbour?

That is one of those phenomena that escape a casual glance. One has to delve deep in search of any understanding. Such excavation will reveal that Westerners have been conditioned to accept make-believe as real.

Every few years they go to the polls to empower a politician whose rhetoric appeals to them. They know from experience that there is little behind those words – the promises won’t be kept, the projections won’t come true, and even if they do it won’t be because of what this politician has done but rather in spite of it.

But then the same is true of the other candidate too, isn’t it? Yet his rhetoric doesn’t sound as good, so he is out. A few generations of this sort of thing, and people begin to cherish virtual reality, while ignoring the actual kind.

When it comes to someone like Putin, they tend to like his rhetoric more than anything their own politicians say. Putin comes out ahead in the virtual reality stakes, and that’s all that matters. Actual reality is ignored – especially when it’s far away.

Their own actual reality is harder to ignore, and conservative Westerners hate what they see.

Corrupt and vacillating governments, moral fibre tattered to shreds, a systematic creation of a parasitic underclass, countries inundated with illegal aliens, atheist anomie reigning supreme, crime rates climbing, living standards growing sluggishly if at all, education that doesn’t educate, healthcare that doesn’t care for health, little children asked to choose their sex from a long menu of options, increasingly unjust justice – and so on, ad nauseam.

Some Western politicians may take issue with one or two of those outrages, but no one will take them on collectively, as symptoms of a subcutaneous malaise. But Putin does. He and his propagandists loudly castigate the West for all those failings, and Western conservatives discern a kindred spirit emerging out of the fog of virtual reality.

They respond on cue like Pavlov’s dogs: these are the terms in which they’ve been trained to think. They are happy to compare Putin’s rhetoric with Western reality and find the latter distinctly wanting.

They move towards Putin so fast that they can’t stop and shift their thinking into the sphere of actual reality. If they could, they’d see that yes, our governments and societies could do a hell of a lot better.

But at least 90 per cent of our people don’t go undernourished, living in abject poverty on, say, £200 a month. People who disagree with our governments aren’t thrown into prison for 25 years or simply ‘whacked’. We don’t murder foreign nationals we dislike with battle gases and radioactive compounds. We don’t ban free expression, and our TV channels aren’t the state’s lapdogs. We don’t declare other nations to be genetically inferior to us. Our government officials may be corrupt, but they don’t siphon off purloined billions into their personal offshore accounts. Our churches may be failing, but at least they aren’t adjuncts of the secret police. Above all, we don’t pounce on our neighbours like rabid dogs, trying to bomb them out of existence.

None of that happens in the West; all of that happens in Putin’s Russia. Our actual reality is infinitely superior to his any way you look at it: morally, politically, geopolitically, economically, legally, culturally, religiously, aesthetically.

We live in relatively free, just and prosperous countries – not nearly as free, just and prosperous as they should be, but still. The Russians are living in a foul obscenity of a country, in terms of actual reality, that is.

But the virtual reality of Putin’s rhetoric trumps our actual reality in the eyes of some good conservative people. Their brains have been too queered for them to compare our deeds with theirs, not our deeds with their words.

Just as I write this, I peek out of the corner of my eye at the news coming out of that “conservative and Christian” nation. The other day six of Putin’s supposedly unstoppable ‘hypersonic’ missiles were shot down by Ukrainian Patriot systems. Hours later the scientists and engineers who had developed those Kinzhal rockets were arrested and charged with treason. Quarter-century sentences beckon.

If that’s what “conservative and Christian” countries do, I’ll take our awful agnostic Britain any day of the week. Especially on Sunday.

7 thoughts on “Good people can love Putin too”

  1. As I was reading the first half of this article it dawned on me that what you are doing is practicing anti-Putin apologetics. You answered each of your tennis partner’s questions and asked a few of your own – questions that did not expect an immediate answer. You did not need to convince him then and there. What you want to do is put a stone in his shoe. “To give that person something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.” (to quote from Gregory Koukl in his book, “Tactics”.) Keep up the good work. Some of us are listening (reading).

  2. “Most of those champions of evil were simply ignorant simpletons who looked for some personification of their political ideals ”

    Regrettably all a result of WW1. Two worlds. Before WW1 and after WW1. Confidence in the European ideal gone after 1918. People trying to find answers and it was either communism or fascism. Those Christian Democrats of Weimar and other nations just seemed to be lacking. The big broom sweep was seen as the answer and you could go in one of two directions.

  3. You may not have persuaded your tennis-playing friend to change sides but, during the past year or so, you’ve pretty thoroughly persuaded me. The accumulation of evidence (which I find only in your blog, not anywhere else) demonstrates that Putin isn’t the saintly successor of the Czars whom conservatives hoped to see in Russia (especially Christian conservatives, and we Orthodox Christian conservatives most of all), but the rather less saintly successor of Lenin and Stalin. Alas, Moscow is all too literally the Third Rome.
    So I have to thank you for being only the third person I’ve encountered in my 58 years who has significantly changed my opinion about anything.
    Thank you, Mr Boot!

      1. The first was Jane Cowan, who in 1980-1981 transformed my understanding of music.
        The second was an older Oxford contemporary, who in 1984-1985 transformed my understanding of theology.
        Changing my opinion of Putin is small in comparison, but not trivial. Next time I listen to Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, my understanding will be informed not only by Cowan and ******* but also by Boot. And next time I vote in an election or donate to a church, the Boot influence is likely to predominate.
        It’s a pity that I’d offer you no challenge at tennis. And you’d probably brush me aside at chess. Backgammon or bezique, however, ….

    1. I don’t mention Spengler because many of my ideas are superficially similar to his. But ‘superficially’ is the key word. Spengler’s cyclical view of civilisational history, with decline as its essentialand pre-determined part, is rooted in Hinduism or rather its perversion, Buddhism. My view is teleological and linear, which is to say Christian. I treat civilisational decline as a reflection of original sin, a tendency but not pre-determined outcome of the human drama. Spengler discounted free will, tossing it under the wheels of his cyclical determinism. That’s very alien to me. But it’s true that I first started thinking about such things seriously under the influence of Spengler’s book.

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