Sunday 16 March 2014

What is *really* happening in Ukraine and Crimea?


Don't ask me!

Ask somebody that is 1. knowledgeable on the topic and with access to independent sources of information, 2. honest, and 3. whose motives are good.

I mean, of course, ask Mark Hackard. 

Luckily, he has now explained it for us:



AlexT said...

Bruce, could you explain why westerners have such a deep seated antipathy towards Russia? I know that nowadays some of it has to do with geopolitics and a dislike of Russian conservatism, but i have always had the sense that this feeling is very old. Is there something about Russians in particular and Eastern Europeans more generally that just rubs westerners the wrong way? I have always had a feeling that even fair minded western historians were hesitant to give Russia credit for any achievement and quick to gloat over any failure. Interestingly this approach is noticeable when they write about Byzantium as well. Could it be rooted in the schism? Is it really so simple in the end? would love to hear your thoughts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AT - I really have no idea; until I became interested in Eastern Orthodoxy I knew almost nothing about Russia except what I had read in a few novels or seen in plays - and that always seemed very miserable. I hardly know much more now.

Of course the Western elites were extremely PRO-Russia when it was being run by the most evil regime in the history of the world.

Which may be a clue.

Boethius said...

The Message of Fatima had a very ominous warning regarding Russia.

"...(Russia)spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions against the Church..."

Some believe the Blessed Virgin Mary apparitions in Fatima and the subsequent "Miracle of the Sun" had eschatological connotations.

Rev 12:1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars

Arakawa said...

My impressions of Hackard's blog are extremely mixed; I get that people who are (justifiably) disappointed in Western society start to look abroad and seize on any society that looks like they might be getting things vaguely right... but seriously, Russia isn't it. Especially given that the result is wall-to-wall articles of pro-Russian stuff with the pictures of stony-faced troops and military equipment.......... well....

Yes, Putin can be given some faint praise -- (take your pick) a shrewd statesman, relatively honest (plus or minus routine political assassinations and covering for epic scale embezzlement), incredibly cynical, thankfully lacking in 'big ideas' that would be pursued over the corpses of millions of countrymen....

But, certainly and at the very least, Russian Orthodoxy doesn't even begin to come into this picture in any substantive way, for good or evil, and to the extent that it is being dragged in to give his government an aureole of mystical legitimacy, I get a unpleasantly "Meiji restoration" vibe from the proceedings.

Though I would not say that that is an entirely relevant interpretation. Putin's crew strikes me more as politicians in search of an ideology, which puts them in stark contrast with the Bolsheviks who did have an explicit stated ideology, for whose sake (or at least, under whose cover) they pursued power. So, if treating Putin like the new Orthodox Czar is what will go down well with the people, that is what you'll be hearing; if treating Putin like the second coming of Stalin is what will go down well, that's what you will end up hearing. However, Putin himself is a chameleon, and in the general schizophrenic breakdown of the Russian popular consciousness, none of these lines ever actually predominate or become official, but breed as in an experimental petri dish, mutating occasionally into the most bizarre of fringe propositions (Stalin as an Orthodox saint, anyone?).

So, between the English- and Russian- language mass media, I would actually be hard pressed to say which is more unhealthy. The English-language media is dominated by a single Big Lie, whereas the Russian-language media is a haphazard bazaar, resembling, as I said, the internal universe of someone suffering a schizophrenic breakdown, where any coherent structures of truth or lies are drowned in a sheer oceanic tide of unmitigated and conflicting nonsense that people are invited to gullibly swallow.

Arakawa said...

This schizophrenic breakdown is not dissimilar to the schism in worldviews that happened in Russian thought in the period leading up to the Revolution, so it comes through to a very small degree in Hackard's blog, as he translates and posts articles from a very disparate set of thinkers, mostly from that time period.

There is a haphazard list of names that crop up (in article translations, and in the list of admired authors on the about page) whose worldviews have, in reality, little to do with one another -- seriously, Dostoyevski and Leontiev? Berdyaev and Seraphim Rose? Given that Fr. Seraphim lists Berdyaev freely among "semi- or pseudo-Christians", Leontiev extols 'transcendent egotism' and writes polemics tarring Dostoyevski as a delusional apostle of liberal-humanist "pink Christianity", whereas Berdyaev would have very little tolerance for the White Russian reconquista-type stuff that gets heavy play on the blog, I see a lot of thinkers cited whose positions don't even begin to combine organically (you can't genuinely admire all of these people's worldviews without disagreeing strongly with at least parts of them), but I see no coherent governing philosophy that would adjudicate between the disagreements.

This is similar to how Putin's 'favourite philosophers' are stated to include Berdyaev, Ilyin, and Solovyov -- already between Berdyaev and Ilyin you could derive any worldview you like whatsoever, or no worldview at all. So, the practical upshot is that in front of the more intellectual admirers of "Russian thought" Putin can pull out whatever quotations happen to make the government's current course of action look pretty swell. Again, in Putin's Russia there is no coherent propaganda line -- everyone gets whatever intellectual pablum will serve to keep them going along at the moment.

My apologies if the tone of this comment was a bit agitated. My views on modern-day Russia are quite negative, but I'm submitting the comment in any case to give a counterweight to excessive romanticization of the current situation.

George Goerlich said...

When I found out that the Ukrainian partisans had a significant element of nationalists and the mass media was widely and unanimously supporting these forces, it became very obvious that there was something-bigger-at-stake for the West.

Imnobody said...

Great analysis but this post is better

It was written in 1848 but the resemblance with 2014 is striking.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - What you say is 'but things are more complicated than that' - which is always true.

However, after adding all the ifs and buts, we still *need* the kind of basic, essential understanding in terms of core motivations and causality which MH provides.

jabberwocky said...

From my uneducated perspective, Ara's comments seem much closer to the mark, or, than the MH!
MH's selections ring true as statements in and of the world, but whether they represent a living core, active in the present, and offering an description, as it were, of "causality", is another question.
I believe, BGC, that you may be yearning too much for a romantic, and fulfilling, story line.
Excellent blogging.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - I don't see anything romantic going-on - that seems a rather bizarre interpretation!

I see self-loathing, psychotic multilateral destruction versus common sense rational self-interest.

Nothing romantic going-on, but I know which I prefer.

If anyone has any alternative and more-plausible narrative to MH, which is as clear in its assumptions, I'd be happy to listen to it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - One point you might consider is the West's primary 'moral' justification for being anti-Russian - which is the aggressive demand for Russia to accept, approve and advocate the latest and most egregious aspects of the Western sexual revolution. What is (or should be) truly terrifying is that this is the West's self-justifying, preening explicit self-description and explanation - the subject, indeed, of stern ethical lectures by national leaders; not something being imputed to them by their enemies.

jabberwocky said...

J - I don't see anything romantic going-on - that seems a rather bizarre interpretation

I am not suggesting that the situation is, in reality, romantic, in any sense. I meant to refer to my sense of your attraction to MH's writing, with it's religious, and, perhaps, tragic, tone. I may have completely erred in this regard. It is interesting to read of your reaction to Russian novels and plays in your salad days. A mark(ed) transition?

Bruce Charlton said...

@j - I think you mistake the nature of my romanticism - I am indeed utterly dazzled by Russian (and Greek) Orthodox liturgy and devotion - in its full context.

But that is about the sum of my romantic feelings about Russia.

I am much more romantic about (for instance) the Black Forest in Germany - or the Rhineland, or New England, or the Swiss city of Berne, or Iceland.

And most of all about some parts of England such as Northumberland, Durham City, Keswick, Oxford, Bristol and Somerset, and Devon....

Arakawa said...

I think that, putting issues of optimism and pessimism aside (which rest on a subjective issue of how much one emphasizes or de-emphasizes certain events), my interpretation differs from Hackard's on the point that Hackard seems to think (as far as I can tell) that there's something essentially Russian or Orthodox at the heart of the current Russian restoration (the 'soul of the East', as it were), whereas to me the current situation resembles primarily a secular 'common sense' fascist system (modulo a different approach to staying in power due to there being intelligence-agency folks rather than army folks running the show, with a correspondingly different mindset).

... so, preferable to total screaming insanity, I guess.

Such a regime in Russia is accidentally, not essentially Orthodox, to the extent that common sense includes a notion of 'tradition', and tradition in Russia involves Orthodoxy (look e.g. at the wording used to justify the laws that give Orthodox Christianity special status)... but the practical upshot isn't that the ruling elite is pulled towards Orthodoxy, it's that Orthodoxy (to the extent that it is relevant in the popular consciousness) is pulled towards serving the interests of the ruling elite, by changing the emphasis of the religion. This is manifested as a tendency to downplay the aspects of the religion that would ordinarily put a rein on nationalism and play up the aspects of the tradition that work in service of nationalism. And there's more than enough grist for that mill in terms of 'Holy Russia' type exceptionalism.

I was under the impression (from the unqualified endorsements of the blog) that Bruce was leaning more towards Hackard's position on this, but it looks like I may have been wrong in that assumption?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - I was assuming that there has been a large and significant elite driven (top down) Christian Orthodox revival, growing since the 1990s.

I had this confirmed by a Russian Orthodox priest - an English convert Professor I know who has visited often:

I am also assuming that Putin is himself a part of this.

So my basic background understanding is that Russia has been a wholly atheist state that has gone some way towards becoming a Christian state - and this project has backing from a segment of elite converts. But of course there are counter-currents, disputes, and there is cynical (hypocritical) exploitation of these trends etc.

This may or may not be factually and causally accurate, but I don't see this as romanticism - although it is indeed inspiring to me that despite the extremely widespread and savage slaughters and suppressions of the 1917-1989 era - Christianity survived so strongly underground.

Agellius said...

Wow, that's a perspective I was pretty much totally ignorant of. Good at least to see another side of the coin, even if I'm still not sure whom to believe.