Sunday 2 April 2017

Christopher Caldwell Tells Us How to Think About Vladimir Putin


Christopher Caldwell is the most interesting journalist I read. Do read this talk he recently gave, gentle reader. 
'Yet if we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, which involve the defense of borders and national flourishing, Putin would count as the pre-eminent statesman of our time. On the world stage, who can vie with him? Only perhaps Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.
'When Putin took power in the winter of 1999-2000, his country was defenseless. It was bankrupt. It was being carved up by its new kleptocratic elites, in collusion with its old imperial rivals, the Americans. Putin changed that. In the first decade of this century, he did what Kemal Atatürk had done in Turkey in the 1920s. Out of a crumbling empire, he rescued a nation-state, and gave it coherence and purpose. He disciplined his country’s plutocrats. He restored its military strength. And he refused, with ever blunter rhetoric, to accept for Russia a subservient role in an American-run world system drawn up by foreign politicians and business leaders. His voters credit him with having saved his country.
'Why are American intellectuals such ideologues when they talk about the “international system”? Probably because American intellectuals devised that system, and because they assume there can never be legitimate historic reasons why a politician would arise in opposition to it. They denied such reasons for the rise of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. They do the same with Donald Trump. And they have done it with Putin. They assume he rose out of the KGB with the sole purpose of embodying an evil for our righteous leaders to stamp out.'
The speech makes very interesting points, most of them right, though he gets some things wrong. 

For example, Mr. Putin did not intervene in Syria to defeat ISIS, but to defeat the 'moderate' rebels for whom the US and UK were rooting and who included Al Qaeda. 

And Russia is not 'flourishing'. Her economy is doing very badly, but things are much better than under Yeltsin. 

The Russian population has been growing gradually since 2009 after falling for 14 years. Life expectancy in 2016 reached 72, higher than the 69 years reached in the Soviet era.

Personally, I hold two ideas in my mind at the same time about Vladimir Putin, which is what they call cognitive dissonance. I think the former street-thug turned KGB desk weasel is a grossly corrupt, pathologically dishonest authoritarian, who invaded and annexed another European country's territory. I also understand exactly why he did so, felt justified in doing so and is greatly admired by most of his people for doing so.

In invading Ukraine he was acting very culpably, yet behaving much like leaders have done throughout history, whether it's Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Theodore Roosevelt, the Kaiser or Hitler. Or Nehru, Brezhnev, Saddam. 

Were David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy justified in intervening in Libya, come to that?  

Pat Buchanan loved Mr. Caldwell's piece and asked:
What has Putin done to his domestic enemies to rival what our Arab ally Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has done to the Muslim Brotherhood he overthrew in a military coup in Egypt? What has Putin done to rival what our NATO ally President Erdogan has done in Turkey, jailing 40,000 people since last July’s coup—or our Philippine ally Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over the extrajudicial killing of thousands of drug dealers?
The answer, I suppose, is that they did not invade other countries. It is true that Mr. Erdogan intervened in Syria, without the government's permission, to defeat the Kurds. But everyone has intervened in Syria in some form.

A Romanian friend of mine who has moved from being anti-PSD to being anti-EU and anti-globalist, says Putin is the best leader Russia could have at this moment. I'd much prefer a genuinely conservative anti-Communist with a strong Orthodox faith and preferably a monarchist, but it's too early for that. Or rather, probably too late. But at least a leader who does not steal.

But not stealing is a tall order.

Mr Caldwell is right that acting in national self-interest is the sin against the spirit of the strange new age in which we find ourselves marooned, at least as understood by Western academics. Add to that Russia's old fashioned reserve about the sin of Sodom, intended, I suspect, to be symbolic more than anything else, and you have the making of a very useful enemy for the liberal order.

Christopher Caldwell could have an interesting dialogue with 'realist' John Mearsheimer, whom I find hard to rebut, though I do not quite want to agree with him.

If you have time, I strongly recommend Mr. Caldwell's really masterly book Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West. If you don't have time, or to whet your appetite, the ideas in the book are briefly set out here.


  1. Russia's demographic "death spiral" has been much exaggerated. In terms of the pace of race replacement Britain and France seem to be in a much worse position.

    You can't complain about corruption in Russia while simultaneously condemning authoritarianism. Not being corrupt is only really a genetic trait of Anglo-Germanic peoples. The less authoritarian Russia is the more corrupt it will be. Any liberal oriented "anti-corruption" movement is highly suspect and usually has Soros' greasy fingerprints on it.

    1. "Not being corrupt is only really a genetic trait of Anglo-Germanic peoples" -
      Sounds a bit crazy... really so actually.

    2. I think it's about religion rather than genetics. Climate is irrelevant, as proven by corrupt Southern Ireland.

  2. Caldwell's article is fascinating.

  3. On a quick skim this strikes me as an excellent essay, saying a lot of things that very much need to be said...

  4. If we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, Putin would count as 1400 ounces Troyes, 1 Piedmont yard and 5 Venetian inches.
    Mark Griffith

    1. Mark, you remember that I explained to you that a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold. I just realised, however, that an ounce of feathers weighs less than an ounce of gold.

  5. I cannot provide any decent analyses by your mainstream media because they are rarely being decent lately. But here you can find some explanation of Russia entering to support Assad: “The $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey….would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey… The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would have given the Sunni Kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. ….

    In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally….

    Assad further enraged the Gulf’s Sunni monarchs by endorsing a Russian approved “Islamic pipeline” running from Iran’s side of the gas field through Syria and to the ports of Lebanon. The Islamic pipeline would make Shia Iran instead of Sunni Qatar, the principal supplier to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran’s influence in the Mid-East and the world…”