Paul Craig Roberts Is Making a Mistake Quoting Lavrov
I can understand Paul Craig Roberts’s desire to find as many allies as possible in the war against the destructive alliance of Democrats and neocons that dominates politics at Federal level in the US. In a time when it seems that there is no hope for restoring America to what she has been just 30 years ago – let alone what she was supposed to be, by original design – any help, or support, or just moral approval from unexpected sources seem like manna from heaven.
But we still need to be careful who we admit to be our ally, even for simple moral support to our cause. Some “allies” may not be allies and may be just trying to use and abuse our cause for their own purposes. Admitting others may be dangerous to the cause of liberty and justice in other places around the world. And some “allies” may turn out to be enemies who simply want to plant themselves into our movement and destroy it.
With this mind, Mr. Roberts’s quoting of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is a mistake. And it is not just a tactical mistake, in terms of political expediency. It is also an ethical mistake, for Mr. Roberts doesn’t simply quote Lavrov, he also makes statements about Russia and the current political situation in Russia which are in themselves moral judgments – and they are incorrect. Mr. Roberts’s statements are also based on a view of reality and society that is strongly politicized, and therefore by default statist. He also fails to recognize that even quoting a politician or another public figure is already a statement in their favor, and Mr. Roberts hasn’t stopped to consider to what purpose that politician wants to use such publicity. Russia is not the US, and the motives of Russian politicians are often interpreted by American observers in American terms, and this may lead to severe blunders – as it has done in the past.
But let me start from the beginning.
Mr. Roberts starts with a statement that shows lack of understanding of the real political situation in Russia:
The Russians have come out of tyranny as America descends into tyranny.
Uhm, no. “The Russians” have not come out of tyranny. For a nation to “have come out of tyranny,” there needs to be a significant active minority (or hopefully, majority) that is capable of effectively opposing the government. There needs to be some consistent – even if not comprehensive – ideology of resistance and a common understanding of the value of the individual vis-à-vis the government. There needs to be an alternative system of governments and social institutions who have their hold on the people’s minds and loyalties independently of the government or of government approval or licensing. There needs to be something in the very people themselves that would make the government afraid of advancing its claims of total control over their lives. And there needs to be an understanding that the state is not identical with society, and is not even representative of society, but in many ways the state is an enemy of society and needs to be treated as such by individuals and non-government entities.
Nothing like this exists in Russia. The country is ruled by the same elite as before, the president’s party is the dominant party in the Duma, the official church is an arm of the government, there is no significant opposition to the government that is worth the name, and there is no common ideology or understanding of the value of the individual v. the state or of the limited role of the state in the society. If tomorrow the government in Moscow decides to return Russia to the Stalinist repressions of the past, half of the population would cheer, and the other half would have neither the tools, nor the ideology, nor the moral resolution to resist.
We can say that a people has come out of tyranny only when that people have fought against tyranny and have earned their freedom, not when the old tyrant has lightened the burden on his subjects a little bit because of political expediency. In Russia, we must say, tyranny has only re-grouped, or is re-grouping. There’s no other nation where the aggregate of all economic, political, religious, military, social, etc. decisions is so concentrated in the hands of an elite so small percentage-wise to the rest of the population. That elite is not even trying to hide the rampant corruption that has become its trademark, and it’s has no shame flaunting its unrighteous wealth in the face of the majority of the population which lives in abject poverty, by Western standards.
And tyranny is re-grouping not because of some threat coming from the Russian people, a threat of effective resistance, but because of external threat, of the visible economic failure that same tyranny produced throughout the better half of the 20th century. The Russian elite – Putin and Lavrov including – is largely ignorant and illiterate about economics or sociology or ethics but it understands the language of power, and it knows very well that tyrannies that fail to re-group fall prey to outside invasions. (Hitler’s Germany, for example.) The “liberty” produced by that re-grouping is not much more than the liberty produced by Lenin’s New Economic Policy; its purpose is to replenish the economic resources of the Russian economy, and therefore of the Russian state. This re-grouping is not motivated by some belief in liberty on the part of the elite; neither is it motivated by some belief in morality or genuine remorse and repentance of the slaughter of multiple millions of Russians by that same elite in the previous generation. And therefore, that “liberty” will always be controlled: enough to create the illusion of progress so that the populace is more enthusiastic to work and produce (as opposed to Communism where no one cared) but not too much to shift too many economic resources in the hands of the individual Russians to make them a political threat to the regime.
Tyranny is not gone. It has only become more enlightened as to how to make people work more and produce more, for the purposes of the elite.
Given this, it is of course helpful for Lavrov and the elite in Moscow to maintain the illusion that “Russians have come out of tyranny.” When such opinion comes from an American writer of Mr. Roberts’s magnitude, the propaganda is complete. What Mr. Roberts has done, though, without realizing it, is that he has decreased the chances of a very small minority in Russia which is working to awaken Russians to true liberty, to succeed in their task. He has lent a hand – and his whole reputation – in service to tyranny. A serious mistake.
Then, of course, he uses the fact that the US government has been immoral on many accounts, especially foreign wars: it bombed innocent civilians, it nuked innocent civilians, it lied about many things, etc. All this is true and I am not trying to justify the actions of the US government. In fact, I am ashamed of our government, and as a Texan, my political attitude towards the Federal government can be summarized as, “Texas, secede!” (The government of Texas is not necessarily the most moral government in the world but then again, it’s much easier to control on a local level.)
But we need to understand that in the world of political propaganda – and Lavrov’s piece is political propaganda – all such value judgments are comparative. (Not the ethical values themselves but the judgments.) Without any thought of justification for the wicked actions of the US government in the last one century, in this specific case we need to understand that other side – the Russian elite – has exterminated incomparably more people, and in incomparably crueler manner. Close to 60 million by conservative estimates, and may be as many as 100 million population, killed not by two bombs in the instant of a second, but by starvation, barbaric torture, concentration camps, etc. And the regime did that not only to its external or domestic political enemies, it did it even to those who bravely fought and sacrificed for that same regime. (Thousands of disabled veterans were rounded up after WWII and starved to death in concentration camps in order to cleanse the streets of the Soviet Union of any sight of disabled men.)
The continuity between that regime and the current political elite in Moscow is almost 100%; and yet, there has never been any outward sign or statement of repentance or at least some formal separation from the past. Putin’s regime not only doesn’t officially condemn the wickedness of the Soviet regime between 1917 and 1991, it in fact launches propaganda efforts to restore the image of that regime. The paraphernalia and symbolism of the old regime are returning back to Kremlin – and which is bizarre, the Russian political elite adapts much of Nazi Germany’s former symbolism to its current activities, especially old Nazi marching songs.
Lavrov is every bit a loyal servant of the old/new regime. He was trained for a party apparatchik back in the 1970s, he has worked as a party apparatchik his whole life in the USSR, he continued working as a party apparatchik for Putin’s party, and his whole life is a life of loyal service and bureaucratic ascendance in a career of a party apparatchik. He has never shown any remorse for being part of a murderous regime that has exterminated a larger percentage of its own population than any other regime in history; he has never said anything that could be interpreted as repentance, or regret, or compassion with the victims of the government he has been part of, or anything else that would show some moral conviction in him. He has continued in his career, disinterested in the moral legacy in which he operates.
Such a person is hardly a person who can school the world about moral values, ethical integrity, or issues of justice and equity. But it can be expected that he would want to see the crimes of the US government mentioned quite often so that the crimes of his own clique of criminals are glossed over. Mr. Roberts, then, plays right into Lavrov’s hands. This will also weaken the position of any liberty-lovers in Russia itself, because nothing strengthens the public image of the regime at home as positive reports from influential writers abroad. This is one reason the Soviet regime in the past courted Western intellectuals with the purpose of getting positive reports from them. Mr. Roberts did that without being courted.
The worst blunder, though, is in the principal statement of Mr. Roberts’s article:
. . . the moral leader of the world is Russia, not Washington.
And why is this? Because of the sins of the US government, and because of a piece of political propaganda by a Russian official, designed to attract the attention of Mr. Roberts and people like him in America.
But such value judgment is based on a faulty presupposition: that moral leadership centers on political action by governments – or worse, on political rhetoric by crafty politicians. The government in Washington DC committed sins and continues to commit sins; therefore America is not the moral leader of the world. The Russian foreign minister delivered a speech that mentions something like moral considerations in it, therefore Russia is the moral leader of the world. It’s all politics, and political rhetoric. The deeper dimensions of culture, the moral character of the nation and its people, the real political and moral situation and conditions of the nations mean nothing. Moral leadership can shift from one nation to another by just a few words said by politicians at public events.
This politicization of morality is strange when coming from someone like Mr. Roberts who is known at least partly for his aversion to politicization of life. Why would we even talk about “moral leadership” and mean governments? Why is “moral leadership” tied to government policies? Why isn’t moral leadership tied to the broader cultural context of a nation or a culture, irrespective of what governments do? Is “Russia” the Russian government, or is it the Russian people who so far have been passive and helpless against their tyrannical governments? Is “America” the corrupt political elite in Washington DC or is it the culture of property rights, Christian work ethic, entrepreneurship, and future-orientation which define America against the rest of the world? Those average people of the world, when they look up to America and want to learn from her or immigrate to her, are they inspired by the corrupt actions of the Federal government, or are they inspired by the example and the opportunities the American culture presents?
And most of all, who profits from such politicization of morality? The answer is obvious: The one who is most proficient in creating propaganda images. It is naïve to think that Lavrov believes in liberty or morality in any reasonable meaning of these words. But it has always been a tactical principle of Moscow’s propaganda to support verbally the strongest opposition groups in other nations, believing that such support would weaken them politically. Lavrov’s speech is just another application of that principle: He knows what the opponents of the current administration are saying, and he is repeating it. For what purpose? Publicity, in his own country. Once he gets the approval of public figures like Paul Craig Roberts, Lavrov’s circle of political masters will use to their populace: “See, even American celebrities admit we are the most moral government in the world.”
Lavrov is playing a political game; and it is not a political game for morality and freedom in the world, but for preserving the political monopoly of the Russian elite over the lives of their Russian subjects. In our fight for restoring America back to what she was supposed to be, politically, culturally, and economically, we shouldn’t remain blind to the fact that there are good and honest and active people in Russia who have a fight very similar to our own, against a government as corrupt and immoral as our own. Except that their fight is much tougher, and their hope is much smaller, because they have worse start than us who have an established tradition of resistance to tyranny, and of ideology and legislation and social and political structures that give us some footing in the battle. Our Russian friends have no such luxuries; they are starting from scratch; and every our word of even indirect moral support for their tyrants can deal huge damage on their precarious position.
We don’t need Lavrov to support our case against tyranny. And in Mr. Roberts’s place, I would avoid calling on tyrants to fight our battles, or to give us support.