27 April 2022

Standing athwart history, yelling stop-and-go-back

What did Putin think he was doing when he invaded Ukraine?

The steady improvement in the human condition over the last few centuries has been frustrating for authoritarians.  Kings watched their hoary "divine right" evaporate; religious institutions saw increasingly-educated populations stop groveling before the superstitious nonsense in which their power was rooted; "supreme leaders" of every stripe fumed as their pompous slogans and puffed-up charisma met with suspicion or outright mockery.  In particular, the period since 1945 has been marked by a new kind of history, with international borders frozen in place, wars (except in the least-developed regions) far fewer and less bloody than they were before, and democracy and secularism becoming global norms to such an extent that even most tyrannies pay hypocritical homage with words like "democratic" and "republic" in their official names.

Dictators, would-be dictators and toadies, and in general that dying breed of clench-asshole who thrills to the vision of some pompous jut-jawed Glorious Leader basking in glory and adulation after gloriously vanquishing some demonized foreign nation or group, hate this kind of thing.  They can't stand the thought of the ordinary millions just living out their own lives their own way in peace and quiet instead of being conscripted into some great (and glorious) common project, finding their heroes in the arts and sciences instead of in ranting demagogues demanding crackdowns on the Jews or homosexuals or whatever.  They want mass mobilizations and herd conformity and chanted slogans and hysteria and collectivism and the Two Minutes Hate.  Individualism and freedom and irreverence and pluralism are boring to them.

This post at the Daily Kos (found via Green Eagle, who has had some excellent posts on the Ukraine crisis recently) argues that Putin -- who obviously falls on the authoritarian glorious etc side of the above divide -- has been deeply troubled by this change in the nature of history, and launched the futile invasion of Ukraine in a nihilistic effort to reverse it and drag the world, or at least eastern Europe, back into the blood-stained pre-1945 way of being.  That he realized that after he was gone, Russia too would drift closer to the new consensus of how things are supposed to be, and he could not endure that.  So he decided to go with a Samson-pulling-down-the-temple option, wrecking the new to let the old rise again in the ruins.

I wouldn't concur that this is the full explanation.  I don't agree that he knew in advance that the invasion would fail; it seems clear that, like most dictators, he was not getting accurate intelligence information and believed his military to be far more effective than it turned out to be, while grossly underestimating the Ukrainians' national feeling and will to resist, as well as the West's determination to meet the threat.  He really believed he could bring Ukraine under his rule quickly and at an acceptable cost, and is now winging it in frustration after getting smacked in the face by reality.

But there is probably some truth to the Daily Kos post.  Putin definitely yearns to unfreeze the map, repudiate individual freedom as an ideal, and return to the pre-1945 order.  And there are others like him.  Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un come to mind.  One could, with much more reservation, cite Erdoğan or Orbán or perhaps even Modi.  No, not the hopelessly phony Donald Trump, who is far more Gilderoy Lockhart than Adolf Hitler, and is too shallow to engage in philosophical thought even on a nihilistic level.  Most American far-right politicians (Boebert, Cawthorn, Palin, etc) are clowns, not thinkers.  But someone like Bannon or Miller might be a plausible American Putin if circumstances brought them to power (fortunately, that seems very unlikely).  And some more serious figures such as Mike Lee have expressed disdain for "rank democracy".

Like mold or dry rot, the pre-1945 mentality keeps cropping up in odd nooks and crannies long after being mostly eradicated.  We will need to be vigilant for some time yet.  The response to Putin's Ukraine atrocity, at least, offers reassurance that democracy and freedom are vigorous and aware.

o o o o o

Related links:

Now that Putin stands revealed as both more evil and weaker than we thought, the US hopes to diminish the threat he poses.

References to Ukraine are being censored out of Russia's school textbooks.

The liberated Kyiv suburbs are yielding more evidence of Russian atrocities, including mass rape.

Exhaustive analysis here of the whole Russia-Ukraine situation (found via Earth-Bound Misfit), including the risk that Western resolve may erode if the war lasts into the winter.

The Azovstal steelworks, where Ukrainian forces in Mariupol still hold out, is a vast underground fortress of tunnels.

Like old Nazi and Soviet propaganda, Putin's propaganda today uses dehumanizing language to legitimize the mass murder of its victims.  Ironically, today one of the most effective ways to dehumanize a target group is to smear them as Nazis.

Dissidents in Belarus have been working to sabotage Putin's war effort (found via Hackwhackers).

Finns are preparing to fight, just in case.

Person-in-the-street interviews in Moscow suggest that most Russians accept the prospect of Finland joining NATO.

The war has brought a new word to the Ukrainian language.

Green Eagle dissects another vomitous pro-appeasement MSM article.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Vlad totally miscalculated his move when he decided to bring that pre-1945 'glory' back. But that's a mistake dictators usually make: they can only listen to their voice or those of their yes men and live in their own little worlds, unaware that the rest have moved on.
Ukraine is suffering his wrath, because he's the spoiled child who will try to destroy the toy he cannot have. As for Bannon or Miller, they will never show their faces being the wretched human beings they are, they will always try to find a puppet like Cheeto, somebody malleable and stupid enough to think they will become somebody by playing the strongman.
Democracy is fragile, though. Small victories aside, it requires constant care, because the next Marie Le Pen is just around the corner.


27 April, 2022 04:01  
Blogger W. Hackwhacker said...

Excellent read, of course. Thanks for the many links, brother!

27 April, 2022 06:36  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I'm at the point where why does it matter why he did it....we need to rid the earth of that mother fucker.

27 April, 2022 06:41  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

It's hard to believe that he really thought that the Ukrainians weren't going to put up much of a fight and just go along to his take over. He's not right in the head and needs to be stopped.

27 April, 2022 12:41  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Thanks for the mention. I just want to add that, sad to say, when you say that there is a risk that Western resolve may erode if the war lasts into the winter, you may be far too optimistic. I fear that I see signs that "western resolve", at least in the United States, is already collapsing in the face of the least inconvenience to the American people. They wouldn't wear masks to save their own lives- why think they will pay a little more for gas to save the lives of people in Eastern Europe, even if they know the same monster is coming for them soon?

27 April, 2022 16:42  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

I always appreciate your thoughtful essays and the informative links you provide. I'm still hoping against hope that the war will end without destroying the entire planet.

27 April, 2022 20:25  
Blogger Bohemian said...

I think you nailed it, when everyone begins to prosper and see no need for living under oppression and tyranny with it's lies and absolute control, begins to just get along with the rest of the World, it scares those whose power and wealth has been dependent upon the whole grift and they become fearful of losing their grip and stranglehold on the populace. The ones who support such Authoritarian Leaders are the most insecure and hateful, the most bitter and feeling entitled to MORE, no matter that their Fantasy about living under such Rule would never be the Reality.

27 April, 2022 20:36  
Blogger jenny_o said...

It may just be the pessimist in me, but I tend to think we need to be vigilant about democracy for more than a while yet ... we need to be vigilant forever. Because there will always be those greedy for power and willing to do anything to get it.

I do appreciate your more optimistic take on things, though. It helps to balance the hopelessness that can take over when reading news sources whose livelihood depends on catching peoples' attention.

28 April, 2022 13:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: Ukraine is suffering his wrath, because he's the spoiled child who will try to destroy the toy he cannot have

Weirdly enough, that seems to be exactly what's going on. Tin-of-Pu can be just as childish as Trump.

Bannon and Miller don't strike me as "leader" types, true enough But they do have that "Trump, but with brains" aura that make them potentially far more dangerous if they ever were in such a role.

Hackwhacker: Thanks for your posts on this!

Granny: We'd all like to see him go, but it must fall to the Russians to do that. Nuclear weapons buy a country immunity from external attack. That's just the reality.

Mary K: Evidently he was believing his own propaganda -- that the Ukrainians basically "were" Russians who were being dragged toward the West by evil Nazi rulers, and would welcome Russian liberation. That's what comes of only trusting sources that agree with what you already think.

28 April, 2022 21:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Green: Thanks for your posts about the situation. I've noticed the whining about gas prices, but I think that just represents the usual American narcissism and self-centeredness. The people who make the most noise are often not the real majority, and the polling so far seems to be pretty solid in favor of continuing help for Ukraine. Remember, most people did wear masks -- but the tantrum-toddler minority got all the attention because, well, tantrums are loud.

Ricko: Thank you. I still think the odds are against a nuclear war, because both Biden and Putin seem to understand the necessity of avoiding direct NATO-Russia combat. But the situation is certainly risky.

Bohemian: They always imagine themselves sharing in at least a portion of the power. They forget how authoritarian leaders get more paranoid over time and tend to turn against even those who have been loyal.

Jenny_o: I think the fetishization of war and "glorious" leaders is declining and will eventually fade, but you're right that there are other threats to freedom and democracy that we may always need to be vigilant about. I've been shocked at how many cartoonists, bloggers, etc have started disparaging freedom of speech since Musk's take-over of Twitter became a story. Even on the left, there are many who cannot be trusted!

28 April, 2022 21:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would mention how American media are enamored with the paradox of "modernizing" dictators like the CCP and the House of Saud, who are, at the end of the day, no different from Putin.

It's a flaw with our society, thinking authoritarians can be reasoned with.

10 May, 2022 05:15  

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