Behind the scenes

Very few people realize that what we see as politics is the end result of politics.

Like a light puppet show projecting the shadows of our hands onto a wall by the glow of a candle, what we see as politics is people discussing the effects of politics, and breaking it down into issues that we can grasp.

These are appearances of truth, or symbols of truth, or even dramas acting out the power struggle, but they are not the struggle itself. They are the effects; it is the cause.

European-descended peoples are still fighting WWII in their heads, itself a descendant of WWI, and that a descendant of the French Revolution in 1789. We have certain political narratives we tell each other.

The first is of Russian victimization and then heroism. A subtler story presents itself:

The roots of the democratic institutions spawned by morally charged revolutions may prove too shallow to sustain a functioning democracy in a society with precious little tradition of grassroots self-organization and self-rule. This is something that is likely to prove a huge obstacle to the carrying out of the promise of the Arab Spring — as it has proved in Russia. The Russian moral renaissance was thwarted by the atomization and mistrust bred by 70 years of totalitarianism. And though Gorbachev and Yeltsin dismantled an empire, the legacy of imperial thinking for millions of Russians has since made them receptive to neo-authoritarian Putinism, with its propaganda leitmotifs of “hostile encirclement” and “Russia rising off its knees.” Moreover, the enormous national tragedy (and national guilt) of Stalinism has never been fully explored and atoned for, corrupting the entire moral enterprise, just as the glasnost troubadours so passionately warned.

Which is why today’s Russia appears once again to be inching toward another perestroika moment. Although the market reforms of the 1990s and today’s oil prices have combined to produce historically unprecedented prosperity for millions, the brazen corruption of the ruling elite, new-style censorship, and open disdain for public opinion have spawned alienation and cynicism that are beginning to reach (if not indeed surpass) the level of the early 1980s. – Foreign Policy

This narrative doesn’t go back far enough. What are Russians?

Genetics tells us they are the aggregates of the people of Central Europe, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, the middle East and far East.

History tells us the story this way: Russia was basically unclaimed farmland, ruled over dispassionately by a series of warlords, until the Mongols came. That forced politicization and unification of Russia under a monarchy composed of Europeans.

This meant that for every ten thousand Russians, one was an artistocrat from Europe, and the others were Eurasian peasants. The IQ gap was formidable.

As always happens in such situations, the peasants prospered under the aristocracy, and so bred like little rabbits, at which point they were no longer prosperous: they were starving. They then attacked, deposed and murdered the aristocrats for not stopping the peasants from destroying themselves.

In short, they were furious that their leadership was not totalitarian enough. It took them several centuries, but in 1917, they finally “liberated” themselves to officially make bad leadership choices. This they promptly did through a series of disasters culminating in Stalin.

What happened after Stalin was a slow reversal, as Russians first tried to justify and then hide what Stalin had done, finally culminating in the comedy of the Soviets, unaware that the West was oblivious to Stalin’s actions because of a sympathy for fellow leftists, certain that they faced universal criticism when they did not.

Gorbachev acted on that impulse. His citizens did not quite follow along, and so once Communism was done away with, they re-instated totalitarian rule — but this time, with American blue jeans. Progress!

Another myth is that of the United States being an aggressor in Europe that controls it for its own ends. While there is some truth to this, and the postwar record of Americans in Germany is shameful, not all Americans behaved that way. In fact, many tried to help Europe through a difficult time:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Most Germans would likely disagree.

Ritschl: That may be, but during the 20th century, Germany was responsible for what were the biggest national bankruptcies in recent history. It is only thanks to the United States, which sacrificed vast amounts of money after both World War I and World War II, that Germany is financially stable today and holds the status of Europe’s headmaster. That fact, unfortunately, often seems to be forgotten.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happened back then exactly?

Ritschl: From 1924 to 1929, the Weimar Republic lived on credit and even borrowed the money it needed for its World War I reparations payments from America. This credit pyramid collapsed during the economic crisis of 1931. The money was gone, the damage to the United States enormous, the effect on the global economy devastating.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The situation after World War II was similar.

Ritschl: But right afterwards, America immediately took steps to ensure there wouldn’t be a repeat of high reparations demands made on Germany. With only a few exceptions, all such demands were put on the backburner until Germany’s future reunification. For Germany, that was a life-saving gesture, and it was the actual financial basis of the Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle (that began in the 1950s). But it also meant that the victims of the German occupation in Europe also had to forgo reparations, including the Greeks. – Der Spiegel

Germany, with its ethnically integrated population and aristocratic tradition, took the opposite perspective as the Russians: it sought a hierarchy and high command that would lead first, rather than wait to react to the disaster. Specifically, the Germans rebounded from a series of disasters.

The French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars and Congress of Vienna all counteracted the two German instincts: a hierarchy by ability and a strong national bond. These are instincts that were forged of centuries of intensive civilization-building, which leads one to distrust a crowd and instead, trust those with proven leadership abilities.

America, as the nation of seemingly racially-mixed people, was at the time over 60% German by heritage; most of the rest was Western European, German-related populations like the English and Dutch. If you added it all up, America was mostly German, to the point that until Pearl Harbor, America was staying out of WWII.

Geneticists claim that as many as half of Britons have German blood, a consequence of Anglo-Saxon migration after the Roman Empire fell.

“There is no use in denying it,” Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, wrote this week. “It is now clear the nation which most dislikes the Germans were once Krauts themselves.”

University College London academics studied a segment of the Y chromosome that appears in almost all Danish and north German men. They found that half of British men also have the segment. – The Telegraph

Western Europeans have more in common than they do not. As a result, America was positively disposed toward Germany, and barring the actions of (a) certain democratically-elected American leaders and (b) certain ill-behaving Americans, generally in favor of union with its brothers and sisters back in Europe.

We should then ask this: who is the better friend to Europe, those who share or blood and traditions, or those who have dedicated the past centuries to overthrowing those traditions and bloodlines?

Eurasia — Eastern Europe, Anatolia, Armenia and parts of the Middle East — can go either way. It is both Asian and European. Its allegiances lie in both places. It can partner with China, or India, or both; it can partner with the West, but that requires overcoming not just distrust since 1945, and not just the distrust since 1917, but the distrust since the Mongols breezed through the disorganized Russian defenses and attacked Western Europe.

Behind the scenes, politics is a far different game than what we see in our newspapers (and, without saying, in the bloviation of our politicians). Everyone knows the electorate will behave like Russian peasants or German reactionaries, and so we mask what’s really going on.

12 Comments

  1. 1349 says:

    “the atomization and mistrust bred by 70 years of totalitarianism.”

    Lies.
    The soviet/Russian society was much less atomized, and the citizens cared much more about the “res publica” before 1991 than after 1991.

    “neo-authoritarian Putinism, with its propaganda leitmotifs of “hostile encirclement” and “Russia rising off its knees.””

    But then again, Putin’s slogans are a facade rather than what he really does.

    “This meant that for every ten thousand Russians, one was an artistocrat from Europe, and the others were Eurasian peasants.”

    Peasants are peasants; kshatriyas are kshatriyas; or do you believe the corresponding IQ gap in Western Europe was by default less?

    “It took them several centuries, but in 1917, they finally “liberated” themselves to officially make bad leadership choices. This they promptly did through a series of disasters culminating in Stalin.”

    1) What makes you think that leaders like Stalin or Trotsky were ever chosen by people?
    2) What actual disastrous events connected to Stalin are you talking about? Just to know where you stand.

    “They then attacked, deposed and murdered the aristocrats for not stopping the peasants from destroying themselves.
    In short, they were furious that their leadership was not totalitarian enough.”

    Are you parodying politicians telling fairytales to electorate?
    Both Eastern and Western Europe had peasant wars, and the reasons behind them were complex. And notice that western peasant wars, just as bourgeois/liberal revolutions, happened earlier in time.

    1. Peasants are peasants; kshatriyas are kshatriyas; or do you believe the corresponding IQ gap in Western Europe was by default less?

      This was not addressed by the article, because the point was (a) the peasant-to-aristocrat ratio and (b) that they were from different ethnic groups.

      What makes you think that leaders like Stalin or Trotsky were ever chosen by people?

      I don’t buy the oppression hypothesis. Every group gets the leaders it chooses, even if by inertia after a series of bad choices. You pick Lenin, you get Trotsky; having done that, it’s inevitable you’ll get a Stalin. Stalin, for all his excess, was not dissimilar to other tyrants. He just had a grander vision.

      Are you parodying politicians telling fairytales to electorate?

      No. I’m being literal. I think people often rebel against leaders who have not led enough.

      1. 1349 says:

        (What is the quote tag?)

        “I don’t buy the oppression hypothesis.”

        Traditional peasants are not politically active. They could live without the state. If Russian peasants ever “chose” someone, the choice was through passiveness, – yes, inertia. The revolution was the result of struggle between politically active groups. Some peasants in Siberia learnt that there was no more tsar only some day after WWII. =))

        “Stalin, for all his excess, was not dissimilar to other tyrants. He just had a grander vision.”

        What if Stalin was a… necessary “reality filter”?
        Also, mind that the tyranny of Stalin is systematically, persistently promoted by the media and is a kind of a sacred cow, at least here in exUSSR. (This might broaden your understanding of the whole scene.)

        “rebel against leaders who have not led enough.”

        I guess this is not the same as “fighting leaders who are not TOTALITARIAN enough”?

        1. AnHero says:

          “I guess this is not the same as “fighting leaders who are not TOTALITARIAN enough”?”

          Short answer – yes. People will fight leaders who are not sufficiently imposing to keep things running smoothly.

          Leaders organize. Failure to organize can have drastic consequences. The people are not fond of those consequences and blame the man in charge.

          Like the Romans, they don’t mind if their leaders are harsh so long as they’re benefiting from it. And they will give in to most demands to remain a member of the (prosperous) club.

          If the leader doesn’t give enough direction (make enough demands), things go wrong and it’s now worth it to the people to fight him, because the situation is worse than before.

          Doing a job half-assed can be worse than not doing it at all.

          1. 1349 says:

            Come ooon… The problem consists in another thing, not what you’re explaining.
            I was just trying to stand up for Russians (not being Russian myself), because i thought that phrase
            (“In short, they were furious that their leadership was not totalitarian enough”) to be pejorative.

    2. AnHero says:

      “Are you parodying politicians telling fairytales to electorate?
      Both Eastern and Western Europe had peasant wars, and the reasons behind them were complex.”

      Maybe there was a complex series of events that led up to the revolution, that doesn’t mean the peasant’s motivations were themselves complex.

      It’s usually about something simple like food. That’s what started the French revolution. Sure, there’s plenty of rhetoric about Liberty and Fraternity, but the people’s motivation was that food was becoming scarce. Same thing in Egypt – food prices got too high and then there was a revolution. Peasants don’t care about Liberty, Rights and Fraternity unless they are told it means they will get want they need or want.

      Funny thing about the French Revolution – I remember seeing a show on the little ice age and how it was causing food scarcity in Europe. Potatoes had just been imported from the new world and while the English didn’t have any problem with growing them (the potatoes being very robust and could survive the cold), the French wouldn’t have any part of it. Their King even spread rumors that he liked potatoes to get the French to grow them, but to no avail. When the peasants got tired of being hungry they claimed it was a result of their rights being violated and killed their King.

      Then when this Egypt thing came up – same story. Mubarak begged people, “before having children think of how to provide for him”. But they didn’t do it. When they started getting hungry, they overthrew him.

      1. King tells peasants to do something to avoid disaster.
      2. Peasants don’t listen.
      3. Disaster strikes.
      4. Peasants blame King.
      5. WTF?

      Now I’m sure the peasants weren’t actually thinking: “Why wasn’t he more oppressive when we needed him to be?!” But being more oppressive may have been the solution.

      1. Mihai says:

        We must also consider the KIND of people that these subversive revolutions were made with.

        The French revolution resulted from the bourgeois, merchant class (a great many of them jewish), who, having no direct access to the ruling positions (save for a few bribes every now and then), instigated the pariahs, the lowermost elements of the kingdom, into destroying that which they did not understand.

        On the other hand, there was little support from the peasants who truly respected their place and contributed to society, by honest earnings made from work.

        The same example is to be found in the soviet subversion of 1917. That so-called revolution was not done with the peasants who had their own domain where they fulfilled their work that they had to fulfill. The soviets relied on the vodka drinkers, parasites who did not take a single responsability to have a place in life, and other such vermin.

        All such masses did not gather spontaneously out of some ideal of “freedom” that the counterfeit history tries to tell us. They were instigated by subversive elements who used the masses as tools to overthrow the aristocratic order and grab power for themselves.
        Of course, they also had the advantage of a quite decadent aristocracy by then, that did little to save itself.

      2. 1349 says:

        “It’s usually about something simple like food.”

        Agreed. The fall of the USSR started with a sudden disappearance of cigarettes and toothpaste from supermarket shelves. But i incline to think these simple things were just used as an impulse for the controlled crowd.

        “food prices got too high and then there was a revolution.”

        I’m not sure food prices got too high just because of population growth. Those controlling the food production/distribution could just raise prices to use the peasants’ anger as a tool to overthrow Mubarak.
        Still, i really know nothing about the Egypt situation, including who controlled food there.

        What i know a little better is the case of today’s Belarus. Another attempt has been launched to get rid of Lukashenka, this time through economic mechanisms. How exactly?
        Most of Belarusan economy is import-dependent (machine building, electronic industry, transport, energetics etc). In short, it has to buy foreign currency (primarily USD) for Belarusan roubles in order to buy the things it needs. Several months ago the exchange rates of BRB/USD, BRB/EUR, BRB/RUR etc. “miraculously” doubled! Now almost everything is about twice more expensive or completely gone from stores. Even those ill-fated cigarettes disappeared =), except for, the cheapest, Belarusian ones.
        Simultaneously, the liberal media started persistently repeating that Lukashenka is to blame for everything.
        The rabble, the alcoholics etc. who had always been adoring Lukashenka (and hating “jews and America”), now hate him. Never seen this before…

        “It’s usually about something simple like food.”

        Sometimes other things are necessary. A sacrifice, for example. The Tunisian revolution ignited after a merchant’s suicide. The Russian (attempted) revolution of 1905 started after the “Bloody Sunday”. The Belarusan opposition today extensively uses the mysterious death of an “independent” news site editor to gain political points (to be honest, i suspect they killed their friend themselves). Maybe you know other examples.

  2. Repair_Man_Jack says:

    I loved that FP article, thanks. That combined with an old Gonzalo Lira here
    http://gonzalolira.blogspot.com/2010/10/coming-middle-class-anarchy.html
    led me to hypothesize that things could get a lot more ugly here than the experts would believe.

    http://www.redstate.com/repair_man_jack/2011/06/24/one-spark-away-from-glasnost/

  3. Ben says:

    Little historical correction – the mongols never attacked wester europe, they stopped at eastern prussia because the climate was not suitable for their type of warfare – too moist. Actually, western europe was the main benefactor eurasia from the mongolian invasion since thier enemies were put back while they were free to harvest the fruits of trade relationships with the mongolian empire, which led to significant technological progress

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