Like all geopolitical issues, the recent events in the Ukraine were not specifically important in themselves, but revealed a lot about the attitudes of different shades of opinion in the West, and about the nature of Western society in contrast to Russia.
On the one hand, American conservatives and neoconservatives, and European liberals, saw in the protest movement the embodiment of a universal struggle for freedom and Western values. Indeed, for these currents of opinion, this was the only meaning of the events of the past weeks. Since the Ukrainian people is fighting for these values which we all hold so dear, we should assist it with all means at our disposal to throw of the yoke of Russian autocracy and its local stooges like president Yanukovich. On the other hand, traditionalist (especially European) conservatives were, as always, eager to point out the expansionist agenda of the United States and NATO: after all, the current government of the Ukraine has been democratically elected, it is a sovereign country, and if it chooses to deal with its Russian neighbor rather than with the excessively liberal European Union, we should respect that choice. Open support for the opposition from Western governments would amount to an attempt at neocolonial domination of the Ukraine.
Both viewpoints have something to recommend them, but both only embody part of the truth. It is obvious that deeper political and philosophical considerations underlie these opinions. Those who support the protesters make this abundantly clear; but underlying the critics' accusations is an equally coherent, and it must be conceded, in some ways more realistic vision of geopolitics, namely the rejection of the Western liberal model of governance and politics in favor of the more autocratic but at the same time more popular-oriented (as it seems to them) Russian tradition, a tradition that also chimes in perfectly with the wishes of a large segment of Eurosceptical opinion who long for the time when Europe was composed of sovereign nation states and the basis for foreign policy was still plain realpolitik – instead of the moralizing that has enmeshed us in so many purposeless, far-away conflicts.
The naivete of the first point of view should be obvious, although its moral foundation is mostly laudable. It is startling that so many American conservatives who are fervent critics of the European Union as well as the Obama administration, are suddenly blinded to the nature of both from the moment they are promoting “democracy” in the Ukraine. If the European Union is a semi-totalitarian construction, and Obama wants to transform the United States according to his multicultural, leftist dream, what does that tell us about their motives for the support of the Ukrainian “pro-European” movement? Are we to assume that they have suddenly become honest and brave exponents of western values, crusading against Russian autocracy and barbarism? What is one to think of a John McCain, who only recently called on the US government to boycott the new Egyptian regime, because Morsi's Islamic government had supposedly been democratically elected? Had the appeaser of Jihad suddenly become the representative of Western freedoms for the Ukrainian people? Needless to say, reality is more complex, and the main cause of this American naivete is the polarization toward Russia which seems to blur and confound any honest representation of issues as these.
I am not implying that some of the Ukrainian protesters might not genuinely long to be part of the West and suffer from the corruption that is rampant in their country; however, the sad truth is that these young people are be fighting a senseless battle. It has been noted how ignorant these protesters seem to be of the real nature of the European Union and the problems with which it is confronted: indeed, they see the issue entirely in terms of what the Ukraine should do in order to be admitted to this blessed organization. It is not difficult to see the cause of this ignorance: having lived their lives under communism and then the present semi-authoritarian chaos, they have cherished the dream of a free Europe or a free west, – the place that existed at the time these countries became communist- and their dream has never been refuted by reality. But the sad truth is that such a sunny place simply does not exist anymore, that the West itself is now slowly degenerating, and within decades will probably be worse off than their own country. The Eastern European countries that have already joined the EU are currently experiencing this, especially as they too are being forced to open their borders to third world immigrants and feel the ever more tight grasp of bureaucracy on their economies. We could call these East-Europeans who courageously struggle for their freedoms “the last of the Europeans”, fighting for a dream that has evaporated long ago, and caught in a time-vacuum, between the vision of the old west, the rise of a new totalitarianism, and the new course which Orthodox civilization still has to decide upon. As for the moral argument of American conservatives: in itself, nothing would be more laudable or the occasion for more enthusiastic encouragement than the expansion of Western civilization. The frightening question, however, is: what would “Western” expansion amount in these days when the West is no longer true to its ideals? It would mean the expansion of the area of the world to be conquered by the multicultural utopia of the European Union and presently, the Obama government, not expansion of human freedom and capitalism.
But as mostly is the case with such movements and historical phenomena, part of the facts is necessarily hidden from the view of the casual spectator. Are the protests really what they seem to be? Whose interests are served by them? Should we not first ask the question if this really is a popular movement, before we either dismiss it or encourage it? The current events in the Ukraine fit into a typically Western pattern of revolutions and uprisings, beginning with the French revolution. They are mainly bourgeois revolutions, movements of the middle classes. Whatever one says about the aspirations and principles of the protesters, it cannot be denied that the movement certainly is not a majority movement, that there is no question of the nation rising to break its chains. The lower classes are a lot more passive and are not thrilled by the European dream, simply because they do not perceive it or the overthrow of the current regime as serving their class interests. It is easy to see why the middle classes (and at that, mainly the middle classes of the Western third of the country) should support a pro-European course for the Ukraine: these emancipated young people are mostly waiting to emigrate to more well-off European countries, to take advantage of general economic opportunities in a common market with the EU, and, perhaps most importantly, like every middle class they wish to participate in the government of their country; closer ties to the EU would restrict the power of the Russian-influenced semi-autocracy and force it to give them a say in public affairs.
Contrary to a common notion, bourgeois revolutions are not really about freedoms or high principles at all: they are about class interests, about an emerging class craving for the power previously held by a now decrepit class, like the French revolution was all about the high bourgeoisie taking over the power of the corrupt, debt-ridden aristocracy. Of course these bourgeois movements will mask their purpose in idealistic declarations of principles and natural rights, because in the short run the implementation of such principles sets the bourgeoisie free of aristocratic privilege. But then the familiar western pattern emerges: once these principles have served their purpose, they are discarded. This is one of the reasons why a free society and capitalism have never been consistently defended in the nineteenth century: they simply served the temporary interests of a social class. Like all characteristics that make western civilization great, the idea of a free society also only arose as the result of hazard, as the outcome of specific events.
This argument applies to Western criticism of Russia as well. The main reason we have to criticize Russia is its different and traditionally inferior Orthodox civilization, but this criticism can never amount to more than a judgment, and certainly not to enact a neoconservative policy of spreading democracy anywhere we want, just because in itself it would be desirable if all countries were as free as ours. In effect, as De Maistre put it, every country has the only constitution it can have: a less developed society will automatically have a less developed political organization that would seem barbaric to more developed nations, and this cannot be changed overnight simply because that would be the more moral choice according to abstract thinking. Moreover, supporting democratic and western-oriented groups in Russia confronts us with the same problems as doing this in the Ukraine. The Khodorkovsky case embodies this problem perfectly. Ultimately, notwithstanding his spirited declarations of principles, this man's goal was not to give the Russian people freedom, but to become the leading force in politics himself. Khodorkovsky certainly was no saint: having unscrupulously built his fortune through shady connections in the chaotic nineties, it is clear his political ambitions amount to little more than an extension to his previous quest for economic power. The same applies to the women of “Pussy Riot”, but their revolt is that of the intelligentsia; both believed, in essence, that their wealth or sophisticated views on how society should be organized, entitled them to take over the government of their country. The Russian situation tells us a lot about human nature, since it is characteristic that it is has been precisely the stability and material progress (whether durable or temporary) which the Putin regime has brought, that now enables the middle classes to criticize him. Man craves independence and stability at the same time, and unless he succeeds in finding a proper, principled balance between the two, his political behavior will always be incoherent and unprincipled, as it has been throughout most of human history. As Louis XIV succinctly put it his Memoirs for the Instruction of the Dauphin:
“As long as all prospers in the state, people can forget the infinite benefits royalty produces and only envy those which it possesses: man, naturally ambitious and vain, never finds in himself the reason why another should command him, until his need makes him feel it. But to this very need, once it has found a regular and constant remedy, custom will make him insensible.”
But these these observations do not amount to sullen rejection of the human passions, or a vague plea for moderation. Individually, man can control his behavior or base it on principles; in society and in mass movements, this is impossible. It should be clear that the question of ideal political organization cannot be solved within the framework of the western state as we know it: the state can never be a neutral guardian or “watchman”, since various segments of society will automatically attempt to influence it and ultimately make it serve their own interests. This observation about the state was the great contribution of Hans-Herman Hoppe to political theory: since the end of the feudal middle ages, the centralized state has developed into in an instrument serving the needs of a constantly growing percentage of the population. Absolute monarchy was not, as we learn at school, a movement rationalizing the laws of the land and curbing aristocratic privilege, but the arrogation of local powers by the monarch with the help of low-born civil servants and intellectuals; constitutional government did not mean the introduction of a free society, (although that was its temporary by-product) but the conquest of the state power by a larger group of the higher middle classes; and modern democracy has nothing to do extending all freedoms, especially “economic freedoms” to all classes of society, but with making an ever growing unproductive part of the population dependent on the productive classes. The current situation is the inevitable outcome of the whole idea of the modern state. Conservatives often believe they can fight the progression of events that will ultimately lead to totalitarianism, (or, more likely, total collapse) but they wrongly assume the progression of state power is simply a result of the wrong ideology, while another factor is the inevitable interplay between human nature and a faulty institution, whatever the common man's beliefs and opinions may be.
However, I cannot follow Hoppe in his plea for anarchy, at least not in current conditions. Hoppe plausibly advocates a return to the medieval system of feudal lords and independent cities, when people where free to choose their allegiances and thus could satisfy their specific wants. The bugbear of medieval “barbarism” and “religious totalitarianism”, according to Hoppe, results from our confusion of the economic and scientific state of Europe in those days with its political organization. Had science and industry developed within the medieval framework of society, we would now be living in a highly developed anarchic society. However, like many libertarians, Hoppe does not sufficiently take in to account the broader context of western civilization. As I stated before, the western mentality suffers from a strong Utopian strain, religious in origin. The first emanation of this Utopian vision was the idea of the Christian Universal monarchy, all prospect of which was lost in the high Middle Ages. What is less commonly understood, is that the idea of universal monarchy found its direct successor in the concept of the centralized national kingdom that arose in the sixteenth century. The idea of the national state is that of a government burdened with, and competent to fulfill, the mission of enhancing the national welfare and well-being. In other words, the state that Hoppe criticizes was not simply created by the machinations of courtiers and interest groups, but was the product of a specifically western view of politics and life. To illustrate this point, we could contrast the western mentality with, for instance, the anarchical Hindu conception of life and the state: Indian society has traditionally been highly anarchical and there was little or no trace of the feverish upward striving or longing for political fulfillment that is so prevalent in the west – until western conceptions and ideologies like socialism introduced it. Indeed, India is not really a nation state and in the post-ideological future will probably once again be confronted with the prospect of dissolving into its various historical components. In short, the solution to the western political problem does not lie in a specific form of political organization, but rather in a change in our fundamental, implicit philosophy: the rejection of the utopianism implicit in our Christian heritage. Once this could be achieved, it would probably not matter much if we chose an anarchic or minarchist framework for society: we would not attempt to exchange the first for the centralized state, but neither would we see the state as a vehicle for a utopian vision in the second case.
Incidentally, one of the interesting things about the Ukrainian issue, is that societies in several stages of development of the centralized state are involved, and it serves wonderfully to illustrate the contrast. The Russian mode of governance and its foreign policy may be criticized for their lack of principle, but the supporters of Russia in this question are right when they consider the situation of that country more hopeful than that of Western Europe. After the implosion of the communist dream, Russia has essentially reverted to the nineteenth century. Where the supporters of Russia err, is in seeing Russia as the guardian of European values and Christianity; Russia is simply committed to realpolitik and its decisions, in domestic and foreign as well as domestic policy, are inspired solely by direct national self-interest. It will support Iran or other Islamic nations when this allows them to diminish the influence of the West, and as always with such short-viewed policies, the danger is that these policies may backfire and that the Russians, in their support of certain countries and movements, might ultimately be digging their own grave. But at least Russia, by a singular historical development, is in an earlier stage of development of state power than the west, and there is a lot more to save. Thus Russia's great weakness throughout the ages, namely its isolation from and frequent opposition to the West, has now turned into a definite advantage. No doubt, the current Russian administration is perfectly aware of the fact, and is doing its best to enhance Russia's power in order not to let the country be swallowed by a steadily degenerating West. And the greatest danger threatening Russia at the moment is not, as is assumed in the West, the increasingly authoritarian rule of the current administration, but the growth of its Islamic population. Let us remark, in passing, how astonishing it is that an openly totalitarian religion that is growing at breakneck speed in that country has escaped the attention of the leftist Western elites, people who are supposedly concerned with the welfare of the Russian people (and here, their behavior perfectly reflects their attitudes toward their own people).
Western Europe, -represented trough the European Union- on the contrary, is in the last stage of civilizational decline, and may be described as a fascist society in the making. There is much confusion on the meaning of and the historical causation that led to fascism: the leftist orthodoxy made us believe it is a mixture of militant nationalism and racism, but in fact it has never been anything of the sort. The historian of civilizations, Carroll Quigley, noted that our understanding of the Nazi state has been clouded by all kinds of popular notions about totalitarianism, while in reality the Third Reich did not originate as a totalitarian system at all. Rather, it was the ultimate outcome of the highly polarized and fractured society of the Weimar republic: it was the establishment of absolute state power, not in the name of some utopian ideal, but as a solution to the insolvable problems of the modern welfare state; in other words, the absolute dominance of the state in society for the sake of dominance itself. Characteristic of fascism is also the involvement of crony capitalists in the government, i.e., the government as the instrument of vested economic interests. In the long run, of course, these vested interests came to regret their surrender of power to the fascist elite, because this elite had a tendency to use the state for its larger, idealistic goals, of conquest, of racial planning of society, etc. Ayn Rand made the same point, with more openness and no leftist bias, in her 1965 lecture “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus”. The modern welfare state and its elites can no longer deceive the public with the old leftist utopias: now their sole argument to suppress all dissent is that opposition groups should not make “unreasonable” demands, should not raise their voice, should not upset the social balance. It is clear that the finale outcome of such a policy would be absolute power for the state and the dominant leftist elite, but it would be a power born out of exasperation and petty tactics, not out of revolution or communist dreams. This policy reveals the real nature of the aspirations of the leftist intelligentsia: from the start, these had nothing to do with the good of society, but were all about enhancing their own position as a social class. Now the mask has fallen, and their naked lust for power has been brought in the open.
The reader will have noticed that the latest developments in the European Union, and certainly the nature of that body, ideally fit this description of fascism. We encounter the same expansion of state power for no other reason than power itself, the discouragement of dissent for no better excuse than guaranteeing the cohesion of the Union, and most notably, the closely intertwined interests of the multinational corporations and the federal government of the Union. But under the surface we can also see more sinister elements of the fascist state emerging: the power-craving idealists imposing a multicultural dream on the defenseless peoples of Europe, the beginning active suppression of dissenting individuals, and an increasingly utopian view of the future of the great European project. It is to hoped that the fascism of the European Union will not result in the same bloodshed as its Nazi predecessor. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that Europe's attempt to pull the Ukraine into its orbit is an imperialist maneuver; however, it is clear that the European Union does not care about the freedoms of the Ukrainian people, and moreover, cannot be ignorant of the simple fact that giving up the Ukraine would make Russia defenseless in case of another invasion from the West. My guess is that the fascist project of the Eurocrats is primarily directed inwardly, in the form of multiculturalism and the encouragement of Islam. But in any case, the Ukrainian issue and the attitude of the EU towards Russia in general reveal its dominant mentality. Although Russia has even lower birth rates than Western Europe, historically speaking it is a young nation and the main country of a civilization that is rapidly rediscovering its origins and vigor, while Western Europe is a dying civilization, unless a new cultural impetus comes to its rescue. The frustration of Europe in its relations with Russia is of the same nature as its intolerance towards Israel: it is, as David P. Goldman so eloquently put it, the envy of the dead for the living.