Yesterday I wrote to a friend that Putin’s Russia has a unique ability to dumb down even otherwise intelligent conservatives. When this subject comes up, their intelligence vanishes, closely followed by their moral judgement.
It’s not that they reach conclusions different from mine. The trouble is that they reach them on the basis of crepuscular inferences drawn from the well of staggering ignorance.
Since even erudite men are ignorant on some subjects, there’s no shame in not knowing much about Putin’s Russia. There is, however, shame in enunciating strong opinions regardless.
No sooner had I finished my e-mail than I saw an article on Putin in the on-line magazine The Imaginative Conservative. It was as if the author had set out to vindicate every observation above.
Usually this website is quite worthy. But mention Putin, and The Imaginative Conservative instantly becomes neither.
The author Joseph Pearce tries to strike a balance summed up in his last sentence: “[Putin] is not a saint and none but a fool would seek to canonise him, but nor is he a tyrant and none but fools should seek to demonise him.” Fools? Pretty strong stuff from a man who decries demonisation.
However, showing demons for what they are is a moral and intellectual duty of a conservative, imaginative or otherwise. No balance between good and evil can exist, and being unable to tell one from the other is a failure of both intellect and morality.
“Putin… believes that big problems require the intervention of big government,” concedes Pearce. “As such, he has much in common with Barack Obama…” Yes, all Western politicians are more or less statist. Yet what makes this parallel inane is that, unlike Putin, they operate within the law.
Dirigisme unchecked by legal constraints is called tyranny, and Pearce either doesn’t realise this or doesn’t know that Russia is ranked somewhere near Zimbabwe in the rule of law category. That makes him either daft or ignorant.
Pearce has produced a book on Solzhenitsyn in exile, and he tries to squeeze the issue into the confines of his chosen subject. Hence he insists on Putin’s virtue because the KGB colonel put on a show of friendship with Solzhenitsyn and included three of his works in the school curriculum.
Allow me to explain why. Solzhenitsyn, for all his admirable qualities, was a Slavophile jingoist and a believer in Holy Russia’s mission to save the decadent West.
Without doubting that the West is in need of salvation, one may still question Russia’s suitability for the role of the saviour. However, this happens to be the message Putin too hoisted up his flagpole when he realised that Russia would fall apart without some ideology.
Since his predecessors had discarded communism, replacing it with a quest for self-enrichment, the only remaining option was traditional Russian chauvinism with a fideistic dimension. The rallying cry of third Rome was supposed to make the Russians forget that they are third world.
This is where Solzhenitsyn and Putin converged. The writer who had shown the evil of the KGB’s rape of Russia began to hail one of the proud rapists (“There’s no such thing as ex-KGB,” Putin once said truthfully, “this is for life.”)
Having dug a hole for himself, Pearce keeps on digging: “Asked by the German newspaper Der Spiegel how he could have such a friendly relationship with Putin, a former KGB officer, Solzhenitsyn responded that Putin’s work was in foreign intelligence and that, therefore, he was not a KGB investigator spying on Russian dissidents…”
This is either a lie or ignorance. In fact, Putin began his KGB career in the Second Chief Directorate, whose function was precisely ‘spying on Russian dissidents’. It was only later that he was transferred to foreign intelligence.
Nor does foreign spying exculpate membership in a criminal organisation, a principle established at Nuremberg. For example, Walter Schellenberg, head of the SS intelligence service, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment – and the SS didn’t murder nearly as many people as Putin’s sponsoring organisation.
Pearce approvingly quotes Solzhenitsyn as saying that “George Bush Sr. was not much criticized for being the ex-head of the CIA.” I’ve heard of moral equivalence, but this is obscene: the CIA didn’t murder millions of Americans, while the KGB murdered millions of Russians. Solzhenitsyn went bonkers late in life, as this statement proves. Is Pearce mad too?
He then sticks another feather into Putin’s KGB hat: “He has taken on many of the worst oligarchs, has restored the Russian economy to a position of relative health…”
This again is either a lie or ignorance. Putin hasn’t “taken on many of the worst oligarchs”. He’s the worst oligarch himself, who has surrounded himself with cronies he has turned into oligarchs too, by encouraging them to steal the country blind.
The oligarchs he has slapped down were those who, like Khodorkovky and Berezovsky, dabbled in unauthorised politics. Those who toe the political line have elevated money laundering to the top of Russia’s commercial activity, turning Putin himself into one of the world’s richest men – presiding over one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Only a liar or an ignoramus can talk about the ‘relative health’ of the Russian economy. According to the information issued by the ruling junta itself, 15.9 per cent of the population subsist below the poverty line, more than in such economic powerhouses as Albania, Sri Lanka and Tunisia. And the poverty line in Russia is drawn at a monthly income of less than £100 – with a cost of living comparable to ours.
Pearce graciously allows that “None of this justifies or excuses acts of imperialism on Russia’s borders”. At least he doesn’t say, along with so many of his likeminded colleagues, that Russia claims nothing that doesn’t belong to her by right.
However, it’s disingenuous not to mention that Russia shares borders with several NATO members, meaning that such ‘acts of imperialism’ can trigger a world war. Perhaps ‘criminal brinkmanship’ would have been a more accurate description.
Putin has wiped out free press and had at least 250 journalists murdered (the latest one last week), along with such political opponents as Nemtsov and Litvinenko. Committed in London, the latter crime was the first ever act of nuclear terrorism.
Really, there’s no need to demonise demons. They do a good job of it themselves.