A self-satisfied philistine invariably makes the mistake of assuming that everybody else is, or longs to be, just like him.
Since philistine mentality is now dominant, it’s mainly for this reason that the West always misunderstands nations that aren’t like us at all.
Russia happens to be in the news today, and suddenly our philistine mentality is being shaken out of its torpor. After an uneasy lull, the current events are reminding us yet again that the Russians are different.
Yet our smugness won’t cede its position without a fight. As we worship at the altar of democracy, we assume that so do the Russians. We assume they share our affection for the rule of law, as opposed to the arbitrary rule of a dictator. We’re certain that, like us, today’s Russians dislike the Soviet Union.
All these assumptions are wrong, which goes beyond intellectual folly. For none of the Western countries is currently blessed with governments whose thinking is superior to that of the statistically average philistine. Hence they pursue misguided policies, and the voting public doesn’t mind because it thinks along the same lines.
All this is predictable, and protesting against it is as pointless as protesting against natural disasters. One-man-one-vote democracy inevitably brings to the fore those the average voter recognises as his moral and intellectual kin.
This voter projects his own personality on his leaders and insists that they comply. A few generations of such symbiosis will ineluctably produce public officials who no longer have to pretend they’re carbon copies of the average voter – they actually are.
What upsets me is that this philistine contagion has infected many otherwise respectable, intelligent and moral people known as conservatives.
They too show every symptom of the same malaise: looking at Putin’s Russia through the prism of their own preferences, frustrations and disappointments.
British conservatives specifically still miss the British Empire, as well they should. Yet because of that they identify with Putin’s empire re-building, as well they shouldn’t.
The Russian Empire was no more similar to the British than cold vodka is similar to warm beer. A successful empire doesn’t just conquer and rule other territories. It civilises them by giving them the benefit of the same just institutions that have made the metropolis what it is.
This is what the British Empire tried to do, if with variable success. Its successes included equipping some former colonies, such as the USA, for surviving as independent nations. Its failures included some violent episodes, along with insufficient sensitivity to the innermost feelings of the conquered peoples.
The Russian Empire also displayed violence and insensitivity, the difference being that there was little to counterbalance them. The Russian metropolis itself was never ruled by law, its people’s interests were never adequately represented in the political mix, many of its colonies were Russia’s cultural and political equals (not to say superiors).
Still, if Putin and his Russo-Ukrainian bandits wanted to restore the Russian Empire as it was, say, in the nineteenth century, there would be something to discuss, some pros to weigh against the cons. But they don’t.
They want to restore the Soviet empire that, though it undoubtedly evolved out of its Russian predecessor, raised evil to a level never before seen anywhere in the world – and not even in Russia herself, although Ivan IV presaged many of the Soviet practices and institutions.
The Soviet Union was the first and only imperial metropolis that was systematically exterminating and enslaving its own people, never mind those it conquered.
In parallel it destroyed the nation’s culture, religion and whatever passed for its civilisation. At least 60 million Soviet citizens perished in Cheka cellars and concentration camps, but the psychological and cultural damage was even greater.
This reminds me of a story I’ve read somewhere about a bear who spent all his life pacing his zoo cage, 20 by 20 feet. Then all of a sudden the cage was removed, and the animal was free to roam.
Yet he continued never to overstep the 20 by 20 boundaries that no longer existed. The cage was no longer around him; it was within his head.
The metaphorical Russian bear, the Russian nation, suffers from the same deprivation. The Russians overwhelmingly support Putin’s brutality, because they miss the Soviet Union, and this goes even for the youngsters who’ve never lived in the country bearing that name. Technically, the Soviet Union is dead. In reality it lives on in the people’s heads.
Yet British conservatives praise Putin’s commitment to ‘conservative values’, his ‘Christian faith’ and his ‘patriotism’. They are desperate to see in him the conservative leader they can’t have in their own country.
Putin is indeed a conservative, but not in our sense of the word. What he wishes to conserve, or rather to reinstall, is the same cage cum abattoir that was the Soviet Union. The abattoir ideally wouldn’t have the same throughput, but the cage would be just as strong.
Yet our conservatives see in the KGB colonel the strong leader they wish we had. This is sheer folly.
Churchill, my friends, was a strong leader, but so was Stalin. Putin is very similar to the latter. He has nothing in common with the former.
Wishful thinking comes together with ignorance to produce a particular desensitisation, where we lose our sight, hearing and olfactory sense.
We don’t see that fascism is on the march. We don’t smell the rat running around Putin’s propaganda. And we don’t hear desperate shrieks coming from those few Russians who refuse to live in a cage.
Such as the Moscow columnist Alexander Skobov who the other day correctly described Putin’s Walpurgisnacht in the Ukraine as ‘fascist’ and stated, again correctly, that it presents “the same threat to the Russian as to the Ukrainian people: the threat of totalitarian restoration”.
Every time we pine for a Putin-type strong leader, we betray Russians like Mr Skobov – as in the past we betrayed those Russian officers who in 1918-1920 fought the Bolshevik hordes to the last bullet, the last drop of blood, the last breath.