Book Review: Moscow Rules

Here goes with another long book review (of what is actually quite a short work, which I read in a single afternoon). But bear with it. As so often, the book, while not revealing much of value about Russia, does provide valuable insight into how Russia is viewed by its Western critics.

Keir Giles of Chatham House in the United Kingdom wants to enlighten us about Russia, and has written a book, Moscow Rules, to that end. A clue to his thesis lies in the subtitle: What Drives Russia to Confront the West. According to Giles, the problem in East-West relations is that Russia is ‘confronting’ the West. Why? Because, basically, Russians aren’t like us, they’re ‘un-European’. They’re innately ‘expansionist’, distrustful of the West, untruthful, and authoritarian. The West should rid of itself of any delusions that it can live in peace with Russia, and instead focus on deterrence and containment.

Giles notes that Westerners have been surprised by Russian behaviour under Vladimir Putin. But they shouldn’t be. One can see a ‘remarkable consistency of specific features of Russian life over time,’ meaning that Russia today is just an extension of Russia in the past. The problem, in short, isn’t Vladimir Putin, it’s what one might call ‘eternal Russia’. As Giles says, ‘throughout the centuries, Russia’s leaders and population have displayed patterns of thought and action and habit that are both internally consistent and consistently alien to those of the West.’ Russia, claims Giles, is ‘a culture apart’, and ‘Russia is not, and never has been, part of the West, and thus does not share its assumptions, goals, and values.’

moscow rules

So what distinguishes Russia from the West?

First, Giles focuses on Russia’s desire for respect on the international scene. Russia, he says, considers itself a great power, and wants to be recognized as such. I have to say that I don’t see what is particularly Russian about this, but Giles has an answer of sorts: unlike other countries, who understand that respect can be earned in many ways, ‘Russia equates respect with fear’. He continues:

Reaching international agreement through compromise and cooperation that goes beyond direct self-interest is not in the spirit of Russian public diplomacy. … The instinctive rejection of cooperative solutions is reinforced by the belief that all great nations achieve security through the creation and assertion of raw power. In this view, one sides’ gain is automatically the other side’s loss, and win-win situations are not envisaged. … Russia’s belief that insecurity of others makes Russia itself more secure … implies that to realize its great-power status, Russia must necessarily diminish the power and status of competitors.

These are quite dramatic claims. One wonders what the evidence is for them. Unfortunately, Giles doesn’t produce any. He appeals to history, but history actually points in an opposite direction. Russia has repeatedly entered into cooperative alliances (the Franco-Russian entente for starters), has signed large numbers of international treaties (including a whole swath of Cold War era agreements), and has worked together with multiple other countries in a friendly, cooperative fashion (current trading relations with China and other countries; membership in multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization, Eurasian Economic Union, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and so on and so forth). Giles’ thesis is simplistic to the point of absurdity. It’s also completely impractical. No state could actually view the world as Giles describes it and engage in meaningful international relations.

Next, Giles attacks the Russians for another allegedly innate aspect of their character: expansionism. According to the Chatham House expert,

continued expansion by direct conquest or colonization has been Russia’s default option since the foundation of the Muscovite state. … The rationale and claim to legitimacy for expansion may change over time, but the ambition to expand has remained consistent.

Once again Giles fails to provide supporting evidence for such a sweeping claim. For sure, there have been some periods of massive expansion in Russian history, but there have also been periods in which Russia has been content to sit within its borders as well as periods of contraction. And even if the claim is true, it’s hard once again to see how it makes Russia so very different from the West (which Giles never defines). The British Empire covered a quarter of the globe. The United States expanded from 13 colonies on the eastern coast of America all the way across the continent, and then overseas to Hawaii and the Philippines. The United States now has military bases in over 100 countries around the world. Who’s the real expansionist?

Giles is perhaps aware there’s a problem here, so he comes up with the following riposte. Sure, other states were imperialist, but they’ve got over it. Russia hasn’t. Russia, he says, ‘has not traveled as far along the path of postimperial normalization as countries like the United Kingdom, France, or Portugal had a quarter century after the end of empire.’ Thus, ‘there is little in mainstream Russian political consciousness to curb Moscow’s relentless instinct to expand the area over which it exerts control.’

Again, this is a highly dubious assertion. The United Kingdom has fought more overseas wars than any other country in the world since 1945. Just in the past 20 years, its troops have seen combat in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and are currently assisting the Saudis in Yemen. Its defence minister talks of reversing the country’s withdrawal from ‘east of Suez’ and of building military bases in Asia and the Caribbean. Is it really true that Brits have rid themselves of their imperial mentality? Methinks not.

The next element of the Russian character Giles identifies is paranoia – ‘the unchanging assumption that other states are inherently adversarial.’ After many pages telling us that Russia is innately expansive, this is rather ironic. As proof, Giles mentions the EU’s Eastern Partnership Progam, which he says,

was perceived as a signal to Moscow that the West intended to exert influence in Russia’s natural domain. Actions that have nothing to do with Russia are seen as hostile because in Moscow the notion that they could be conceived and planned without taking Russia into account is difficult to grasp. … In the absence of any rational – to Russia – explanation for EU interest in Russia’s neighbourhood, or U.S. interest in Ukraine, the only remaining explanation is hostile intent toward Russia – and Russia acts on this understanding. … Interest by the United States, EU, and NATO in cooperation with Russian neighbors is not anti-Russian.

The problem with this is that there is some evidence that the creators of the Eastern Partnership Program – Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski – very much intended it as ‘anti-Russian’, seeing it as means of pulling former Soviet states out of Russia’s orbit and scuppering Russia’s efforts to establish the Eurasian Economic Union. Giles, though, is having none of this. Russian suspiciousness is ‘perennial … it is deeply ingrained in Russian thinking about security and Russia’s position in the world … every trivial error of action or message by the West is taken as evidence that Russia’s assumption is correct.’

I especially like the phrase ‘trivial error’. I guess by that, Giles would mean things like invading Iraq, or overthrowing Gaddafi and sowing chaos in North Africa. Trivial indeed!

Having dealt with external affairs, Giles next examines how Russia’s views of the world are shaped by characteristics of its internal life. What follows is a succession of clichés which Giles backs up with references to the likes of 16th century English traveller Giles Fletcher and 19th French visitor Astolphe, Marquis de Custine, whom one can hardly describe as the most neutral of observers.

Russia’s political tradition, we are told is ‘despotic government’ – ‘a political system that not only differed fundamentally from that of Western Europe from its very beginnings but also diverged further through failing to develop over time.’ Giles quotes Russian philosopher and sociologist Aleksandr Akhiezer as saying, ‘Russia is populated by an archaic people with a peasant consciousness, who have no need of a state, only of a czar and a few of his minions.’ Russian society is founded on the ‘subordination of individualism to the interests of the group …  throughout the centuries the ideas of legality and liberty, of the rule of law and the rights of the individual, have been largely outside of Russian experience.’

Russians don’t value the individual, Giles adds, as shown by ‘Russia’s operations in Syria, where both the final objective and the means used to get there are repellent to Western sensitivities.’ Russian leaders also engage in foreign adventurism in order to boost domestic legitimacy, we are told.

It is a critical point for understanding how Russia differs from the West. It is simply that when describing most other European countries, analysts and commentators do not need to engage in this discussion of the legitimacy of power – because it is unquestionably legitimate to start with.

It reads like a history of Russia written by Richard Pipes. What makes it appealing is that there is an element of truth to it, but it’s also grossly simplistic. Historians have poked serious holes in Pipes’ theory of the ‘patrimonial state’, while there are sociologists who argue that Russia’s real problem is not collectivism but rampant individualism. Giles doesn’t provide any supporting evidence for the claim that Russian leaders wage war to boost domestic legitimacy nor for the claim that Western leaders don’t do likewise. And his description of Russian military methods in Syria ignores the equally massive damage done by America and its allies in places such as Raqqa and Mosul.

That’s not the end of the exaggerations and simplifications, however. Giles adds another one. Russians are inveterate liers. As he puts it:

The West does not always fully understand the power and effectiveness of Russian willingness to tell a lie that both the speaker and the listener know is a lie. …[In Russia,] deception is an established, acknowledged, and in part accepted component of political culture. … [This] provides the background for what is often perceived as the fundamental duplicity of Russia’s stated goals in international relations.

In contrast to ‘Russian leaders’ … habitual mendacity’, claims Giles, ‘Western politicians lie as an exception. … Russian politicians and officials lie by default.’ But do they? As so often, Giles provides no data to support this assertion. I have seen analyses of the speeches of American politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Presidents Trump and Obama which calculate what percentage of their statements were untrue. To back up his claim, Giles would need to produce data from similar analyses of Russian politicians’ words. He doesn’t. He just states it as fact. Personally, from my own studies of Putin’s speeches, I rather doubt that you will find significantly more untruth than in Western leaders’ words. What you certainly won’t see is evidence that he and other Russian politicians ‘lie by default’. The claim is almost certainly untrue.

Giles concludes his book by arguing that the prospects for change in Russia are slim, at least in the short to medium term. Western analysts pay too much attention to members of Russia’s liberal fringe, he says, and so exaggerate the extent of opposition to the regime (for once I concur with him). Putin’s eventual departure from the scene won’t change matters, as the problem lies much deeper in what he describes as ‘the key to the Russian enigma …the toxic blend of paranoia, delusion, isolation, and inability to adjust to the notion of cooperation for the common good.’ Opportunities to improve relations may arise, but ‘These opportunities are rare and depend entirely on internal Russian circumstances.’

In other words, current East-West tensions are entirely Russia’s fault and depend on Russia changing. Since that is unlikely to happen, the West should stop kidding itself that it can enjoy a positive relationship with Russia. Instead, the West needs to develop the ‘political will to use hard and soft power to defend boundaries and values … Political will also requires a demonstrable readiness to resort to force in this defense, and under no circumstances to allow Moscow to become convinced that it can act without consequences.’ Giles concludes, ‘Russia’s traditional and persistent respect for brute military force as the key determinant of national status and the right to assert national interests means that the United States and Western alliances must respond in kind.’

One can see why many in the West find this message attractive. It tells them Russia is fully to blame for our mutual differences; that the West is entirely ‘innocent’ (Giles’ own word); that any mistakes it may have made are ‘trivial’; that the root of the problem lies in Russia’s innate difference from the West, including its inherent aggressiveness, paranoia, and lack of respect for individuals; and that the West must therefore take a hard line, and invest more in deterrence and coercion, including, one assumes, military spending. But while attractive, it’s also rather dangerous. It’s based on oversimplified analyses of Russia’s past and present, exaggerates differences between Russia and the West (which nowadays includes many Eastern European countries which have no more historical experience of democracy and so on than Russia), and displays an extraordinary lack of self-awareness. It leads to recommendations which are likely to intensify conflict as much as remedy it.

Towards the end of his book, Keir Giles laments the neglect of Russian studies in the West and the consequent lack of understanding of Russia. Reading this book, one has to agree that he’s at least right about that.

20 thoughts on “Book Review: Moscow Rules”

  1. Yeah, projection.

    It’s quite obvious that there is no civilization on this Earth as expansionist, ruthless, brutal, relentless – you name it – as the European civilization. Otherwise, how would you explain them owning Australia, New Zealand, Falklands, Palestine, South Africa? Hell, both Americas?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. “Keir Giles of Chatham House in the United Kingdom wants to enlighten us about Russia, and has written a book, Moscow Rules, to that end. A clue to his thesis…”

    … is the name itself – “Moscow rules [of spy engagement]”. As they say in the Blighty – “a load of crock”, made up to sell spy thrillers, but what credulous armchair Cold Warriors from across the Pond took for real thing.

    “What Drives Russia to Confront the West. According to Giles, the problem in East-West relations is that Russia is ‘confronting’ the West. Why? Because, basically, Russians aren’t like us, they’re ‘un-European’. They’re innately ‘expansionist’, distrustful of the West, untruthful, and authoritarian. The West should rid of itself of any delusions that it can live in peace with Russia, and instead focus on deterrence and containment”.

    [whistle]

    Time out!

    Russia IS European, while not Western. OTOH, the Worst (South) Korea is Western, but not European (and corrupt as hell btw). UK, btw, for a long time identified itself as something completely different form the European Continent, built its empire thanks to the expansionism, was paranoid and distrustful of the continental Hegemon or alliance of powers and, effectively, represents nowadays a model Police (Surveillance) authoritarian State. By, I think some fine fellow is projecting here, what no?

    “First, Giles focuses on Russia’s desire for respect on the international scene… unlike other countries, who understand that respect can be earned in many ways, ‘Russia equates respect with fear’.”

    British defence minister Gavin Williamson:

    “This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the Second World War, when we can recast ourselves in a different way, we can actually play the role on the world stage that the world is expecting us to play. … This is our moment to be that true global player once more… [T]he rest of the world saw Britain standing 10 feet tall – when we actually stood six feet tall – Britons saw us standing five feet tall, not the six, and certainly not the ten” (c)

    I’m sorry… the tea… makes me…aaa…aaaargh!

    “…continued expansion by direct conquest or colonization has been Russia’s default option since the foundation of the Muscovite state”

    […]

    “The next element of the Russian character Giles identifies is paranoia… Russian suspiciousness is ‘perennial … it is deeply ingrained in Russian thinking about security and Russia’s position in the world … every trivial error of action or message by the West is taken as evidence that Russia’s assumption is correct.’”

    […]

    Google “Putin/Russia weaponizes…”

    “and 18th French visitor Astolphe, Marquis de Custine”

    19th.

    “Russian leaders also engage in foreign adventurism in order to boost domestic legitimacy, we are told.”

    […]

    This trope needs to die in acid. In 2007 Putin’s “reiting” was 70%+

    “It is a critical point for understanding how Russia differs from the West. It is simply that when describing most other European countries, analysts and commentators do not need to engage in this discussion of the legitimacy of power – because it is unquestionably legitimate to start with.”

    ^THIS. Any Western or pro-Western regime is legitimate Just Because. Finally, someone from their own admitted this hypocrisy.

    “In contrast to ‘Russian leaders’ … habitual mendacity’, claims Giles, ‘Western politicians lie as an exception.”

    Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Trump (to name a few) give thumbs up.

    “What you certainly won’t see is evidence that he and other Russian politicians ‘lie by default’.”

    Zhirinovsky promised lots of things – including to build gigantic fans that would blow radioactive air across the border with Estonia… Are you implying he was lying to us?! Shocked, shocked! 😉

    “the West (which nowadays includes many Eastern European countries…)”

    Wait… Poland can into West?! Wheeeee!

    [But not in space ;(]

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  3. Ah!Ah!Ah!Ah!
    What to say really? One would expect better from The Royal Institute of International Affairs…Such a name!

    Thank you so much for this book review. Interesting indeed as usual. I am happy and grateful to you as I will save some money and not spend a penny for buying this trashy Chatham House propaganda.
    “Keir Giles laments the neglect of Russian studies in the West and the consequent lack of understanding of Russia. Reading this book, one has to agree that he’s at least right about that.”
    So do I…
    Ah!Ah!Ah!Ah!
    Should the Great Britain kingdom rely on the information delivered by this “honorable” “NPO and ONG”, the reasons why the kingdom foreign policy is doomed to fail are more than understandable.

    I still have to really find out the roots and to understand from where this centennial (or even more) british animosity against Russia come from and why it perpetuates…

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  4. Chapter 7 — Creation of the Russian Civilization

    …These ideas which became part of the tradition of the West did not become part of the tradition of Russia.

    The influence of Greek philosophic thought remained strong in the
    East. The Latin West before 500 used a language which was not, at that time, fitted for abstract discussion, and almost all the dogmatic debates which arose from the incompatibility of Greek philosophy and Christian religion were carried on in the Greek language and fed on the Greek philosophic tradition. In the West the Latin language reflected a quite different tradition, based on the Roman emphasis on administrative
    procedures and ethical ideas about human behavior to one’s fellow man.

    As a result, the Greek philosophic tradition remained strong in the East, continued to permeate the Greek- speaking Church, and went with that Church into the Slavic north. The schism between the Latin Church and the Greek Church strengthened their different points of view, the former being more this-worldly, more concerned with human behavior, and
    continuing to believe in the efficacy of good works, while the latter was more otherworldly, more concerned with God’s majesty and power, and emphasized the evilness and weakness of the body and the world and the efficacy of God’s grace.

    As a result, the religious outlook and, accordingly, the world outlook of Slav religion and philosophy developed in quite a different direction from that in the West. The body, this world, pain, personal comfort, and even death were of little importance; man could do little to change his lot, which was determined by forces more powerful than he; resignation to Fate, pessimism, and a belief in the overwhelming power of sin and of the devil dominated the East…

    …The general trend of intellectual development in Russia in the years before 1914 could hardly be regarded as hopeful.

    To be sure, there were considerable advances in some fields such as literacy, natural science, mathematics, and economic thought, but these
    contributed little to any growth of moderation or to Russia’s greatest intellectual need, a more integrated outlook on life. The influence of the old Orthodox religious attitude continued even in those who most emphatically rejected it.

    The basic attitude of the Western tradition had grown toward diversity and toleration, based on the belief that every aspect of life and of human experience and every individual has some place in the complex structure of reality if that place can only be found and that, accordingly, unity of
    the whole of life can be reached by way of diversity rather than by any compulsory uniformity.

    This idea was entirely foreign to the Russian mind. Any Russian thinker, and hordes of other Russians with no capacity for thought, were driven by an insatiable thirst to find the “key” to life and to truth. Once this “key” has been found, all other aspects of human experience must be rejected as evil, and all men must be compelled to accept that key as the whole of life in a dreadful unity of uniformity.

    To make matters worse’ many Russian thinkers sought to analyze the complexities of human experience by polarizing these into antitheses of mutually exclusive dualisms: Westerners versus Slavophiles, individualism versus community, freedom versus fate, revolutionary versus reactionary, nature versus conventions, autocracy versus anarchy, and such. There was no logical correlation between these, so that individual thinkers frequently embraced either side of any antithesis, forming an incredible mixture of emotionally held faiths. Moreover,
    individual thinkers frequently shifted from one side to another, or even oscillated back and forth between the extremes of these dualisms. In the most typical Russian minds both extremes were held simultaneously, regardless of logical compatibility, in some kind of higher mystic unity beyond rational analysis. Thus, Russian thought provides us with striking examples of God-intoxicated atheists, revolutionary reactionaries, violent non- resisters, belligerent pacifists, compulsory liberators, and individualistic totalitarians.

    The basic characteristic of Russian thought is its extremism. This took two forms: (1) any portion of human experience to which allegiance was given became the whole truth, demanding total allegiance, all else being evil deception; and (2) every living person was expected to accept this same portion or be damned as a minion of anti-Christ.

    Those who embraced the state were expected to embrace it as an autocracy in which the individual had no rights, else their allegiance was not pure; those who denied the state were expected to reject it utterly by adopting anarchism. Those who became materialists had to become complete nihilists without place for any convention, ceremony, or sentiment. Those who questioned some minor aspect of the religious system were expected to become militant atheists, and if they did not take this step themselves, were driven to it by the clergy. Those who were considered to be spiritual or said they were spiritual were
    forgiven every kind of corruption and lechery (like Rasputin) because such material aspects were irrelevant. Those who sympathized with the oppressed were expected to bury themselves in the masses, living like them, eating dike them, dressing like them, and renouncing all culture and thought (if they believed the masses lacked these things).

    The extremism of Russian thinkers can be seen in their attitudes toward such basic aspects of human experience as property, reason, the state, art, sex, or power. Always there was a fanatical tendency to eliminate as sinful and evil anything except the one aspect which the thinker considered to be the key to the cosmos.

    Alexei Khomyakov (1804-1860), a Slavophile, wanted to reject reason completely, regarding it as “the mortal sin of the West,” while Fedor Dostoevski (1821-1881) went so far in this direction that he wished to destroy all logic and all arithmetic, seeking, he said, “to free humanity from the tyranny of two plus two equals four.” Many Russian thinkers, long before the Soviets, regarded all property as sinful. Others felt the same way about sex. Leo Tolstoi, the great novelist and essayist (1828-1910), considered all property and all sex to be evil. Western
    thought, which has usually tried to find a place in the cosmos for everything and has felt that anything is acceptable in its proper place, recoils from such fanaticism.

    The West, for example, has rarely felt it necessary to justify the existence of art, but many thinkers in Russia (like Plato long ago) have rejected all art as evil. Tolstoi, among others, had moments (as in the essay What Is Art? Of 1897 or On Shakespeare and the Drama of 1903) when he denounced most art and literature, including his own novels, as vain,
    irrelevant, and satanic. Similarly the West, while it has sometimes looked askance at sex and more frequently has over-emphasized it, has generally felt that sex had a proper function in its proper place.

    In Russia, however, many thinkers including once again Tolstoi (The Kreutzer Sonata of 1889), have insisted that sex was evil in all places and under all circumstances, and most sinful in marriage. The disruptive effects of such ideas upon social or family life can be seen in the later years of Tolstoi’s personal life, culminating in his last final hatred of his long-suffering wife whom he came to regard as the instrument of his fall from grace. But while Tolstoi praised marriage without sex, other Russians, with even greater vehemence, praised sex without marriage, regarding this social institution as an unnecessary impediment in the path of pure human impulse.

    In some ways we find in Tolstoi the culmination of Russian thought. He rejected all power, all violence, most art, all sex, all public authority, and all property as evil. To him the key of the universe was to he found in Christ’s injunction, “Resist not evil.” All other aspects of Christ’s teachings except those which flow directly from this were rejected,
    including any belief in Christ’s divinity or in a personal God. From this injunction flowed Tolstoi’s ideas of nonviolence and nonresistance and his faith that only in this way could man’s capacity for a spiritual love so powerful that it could solve all social problems he liberated. This idea of Tolstoi, although based on Christ’s injunction, is not so much a reflection of Christianity as it is of the basic Russian assumption that any physical defeat must represent a spiritual victory, and that the latter could be achieved only through the former.

    Such a point of view could be held only by persons to whom all prosperity or happiness is not only irrelevant but sinful. And this point of view could be held with such fanaticism only by persons to whom life, family, or any objective gain is worthless. This is a dominant idea in all the Russian Intelligentsia, an idea going back through Plato to ancient Asia: All objective reality is of no importance except as symbols for some
    subjective truth. This was, of course, the point of view of the Neoplatonic thinkers of the early Christian period. It was generally the point of view of the early Christian heretics and of those Western heretics like the Cathari (Albigenses) who were derived from this Eastern philosophic position. In modern Russian thought it is well represented by Dostoevski, who while chronologically earlier than Tolstoi is spiritually later.

    To Dostoevski every object and every act is merely a symbol for some elusive spiritual truth.

    From this point of view comes an outlook which makes his characters almost incomprehensible to the average person in the Western tradition: if such a character obtains a fortune, he cries, “I am ruined!” If he is acquitted on a murder charge, or seems likely to be, he exclaims, “I am condemned,” and seeks to incriminate himself in order to ensure the punishment which is so necessary for his own spiritual self-acquittal. If he deliberately misses his opponent in a duel, he has a guilty conscience, and says, “I should not have injured him thus; I should have killed him!” In each case the speaker cares nothing about property, punishment, or life. He cares only about spiritual values: asceticism, guilt, remorse, injury to one’s self-respect. In the same way, the early
    religious thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian, regarded all objects as symbols for spiritual values, all temporal success as an inhibition on spiritual life, and felt that wealth could be obtained only by getting rid of property, life could be found only by dying (a direct quotation from Plato), eternity could be found only if time ended, and the soul could be freed only if the body were enslaved. Thus, as late as 1910 when Tolstoi died,
    Russia remained true to its Greek-Byzantine intellectual tradition.

    We have noted that Dostoevski, who lived slightly before Tolstoi, nevertheless had ideas which were chronologically in advance of Tolstoi’s ideas. In fact, in many ways, Dostoevski was a precursor of the Bolsheviks. Concentrating his attention on poverty, crime, and human misery, always seeking the real meaning behind every overt act or
    word, he eventually reached a position where the distinction between appearance and significance became so wide that these two were in contradiction with each other. This contradiction was really the struggle between God and the Devil in the soul of man.

    Since this struggle is without end, there is no solution to men’s problems except to face suffering resolutely. Such suffering purges men of all artificiality and joins them together in one mass. In this mass the Russian people, because of their greater suffering and their greater spirituality, are the hope of the world and must save the world from the materialism, violence, and selfishness of Western civilization. The Russian people, on the other hand, filled with self-sacrifice, and with no allegiance to luxury or material gain, and purified by suffering which makes them the brothers of all other suffering people, will save the world by taking up the sword of righteousness against the forces of evil stemming from Europe. Constantinople will be seized, all the Slavs will be liberated, and
    Europe and the world will be forced into freedom by conquest, so that Moscow many become the Third Rome.

    Before Russia is fit to save the world in this way, however, the Russian intellectuals must merge themselves in the great mass of the suffering Russian people, and the Russian people must adopt Europe’s science and technology uncontaminated by any European ideology. The blood spilled in this effort to extend Slav brotherhood to the whole world by force will aid the cause, for suffering shared will make men one.

    This mystical Slav imperialism with its apocalyptical overtones was by no means uniquely Dostoevski’s. It was held in a vague and implicit fashion by many Russian thinkers, and had a wide appeal to the unthinking masses. It was implied in much of the propaganda of Pan-Slavism, and became semiofficial with the growth of this propaganda after 1908. It was widespread among the Orthodox clergy, who emphasized the reign of
    righteousness which would follow the millennialist establishment of Moscow as the “Third Rome.” It was explicitly stated in a book, Russia and Europe, published in 1869 by Nicholas Danilevsky (1822-1885). Such ideas, as we shall see, did not die out with the passing of the Romanov autocracy in 1917, but became even more influential, merging
    with the Leninist revision of Marxism to provide the ideology of Soviet Russia after 1917.

    https://archive.org/stream/TragedyAndHope_501/CarrollQuigley-TragedyAndHope_djvu.txt
    http://www.carrollquigley.net/books.htm

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    1. Bankotsu, this is the second time you post this wall of text. This will be the second time also, when I point out, that all of it Orientalistic bullshit.

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      1. I wasn’t sure if it was the same chapter. Are you?

        Rather superficial and here it feels it starts to be misguided and from my subjective perspective wrong.

        As a result, the Greek philosophic tradition remained strong in the East, continued to permeate the Greek- speaking Church, and went with that Church into the Slavic north. The schism between the Latin Church and the Greek Church strengthened their different points of view, the former being more this-worldly, more concerned with human behavior, and continuing to believe in the efficacy of good works, while the latter was more otherworldly, more concerned with God’s majesty and power, and emphasized the evilness and weakness of the body and the world and the efficacy of God’s grace.

        Lutheran Anders Nygren, it feels, would want to disagree with Quigley. In his Eros and Agape, published in Swedish and German in the 1930’s initially in two volumes- English translation title Agape and Eros–argued that the Catholic Church fathers were heavily influenced by Greek thought. I found his argument rather convincing considering the historical context. The genesis of the Christian Church in time and place up to a state religion.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_Hellenistic_philosophy

        **********
        I am not familiar with Tolstoy, but his grasp of Dostoevsky feels rather limited. So why would I want to believe his take of Tolstoy?

        https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/54507291/FULL_TEXT.PDF

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      2. Note on the study:

        Chapter 3 explores the split subject in The Idiot. Prince Myshkin wants to reflect on the final moment just before consciousness collapses. He likes to freeze that moment and contemplate the possibility of an afterlife. But this wish is eclipsed by the seizure or, in the case of a guillotine execution, the immediate arrival of death, which continues to create a contradictory existence.

        Its only a collapse of self-consciousness not of consciousness as such, or the “patient” experiencing some different plain of consciousness, as far as I am concerned. A very, very fascinating mystical moment hard to communicate. But he managed to do it well.

        **********
        I should learn Russian to read The Idiot in its original language.

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  5. I have sometimes wondered whether I should take the trouble to read Carroll Quigley.

    Someone who takes a remark of Dostoevsky about seeking ‘to free humanity from the tyranny of two plus two equals four’ as indicating that he ‘wished to destroy all logic and arithmetic’, I fear, simply manages to demonstrate a combination of a complete incapacity at textual analysis and an utter lack of a sense of humour.

    (Something people often do not realise about Dostoevsky is that he can be is a wildly funny writer. When young, I used to find his caricatures of Russian ‘liberals’ hilarious, but way over the top. But then, in those days I had not come across Masha Gessen …)

    In relation to current dilemmas, thinking the Quigley piece has much relevance to contemporary realities obscures a central fact about ‘Putinism’ – that it is anti-universalist.

    As Professor Robinson has brought out rather well, rather than not being influenced by ‘Western’ ideas, a strong strand in ‘Slavophilism’ was shaped by currents in German thinking which, in response to the impact of French and British thinking, saw cultural diversity as both an inescapable fact and actively desirable.

    The rather valuable remarks he produced on these matters open:

    ‘“All great nations,” wrote Fyodor Dostoevsky in an 1873 letter to the future Emperor Alexander III, “have manifested themselves and their great powers…and have brought something, if only a single ray of light, into the world, precisely because they have remained themselves, proudly and undauntedly, always and presumptuously independent.”

    ‘The West firmly disagrees. Despite their stated commitment to multiculturalism, most Western states in fact believe that the whole world should be like them – secular, democratic, and capitalist. Consequently, they tend to interpret any attempt by Russia to be “presumptuously independent” as an aggressive act. As Russian foreign policy has become more assertive in the past decade, the result has been a crescendo of accusations that Russia has started a “new Cold War”.’

    (See https://www.c2cjournal.ca/2015/04/the-wests-new-cold-war-is-with-dostoevskys-russia-not-stalins/ .)

    What quoting Quigley exemplifies is a very widespread tendency in the West to assume that, if there is an ideological challenge from Russia, it has to come from another version of universalistic messianic ideology. (They must be like us, and as our universalism defeated theirs last time, we can be confident it will do so again!)

    This blinds people to the power of the actual ideological challenge: which is based, quite precisely, upon the belief that recent historical experience demonstrates that universalistic messianisms get us nowhere. We must all do our best to build bridges from our pasts into some kind of tolerable future, and contempt for where one comes from is no more help than nostalgic celebration of the past.

    As to origins, following up some of Paul’s observations, I think that, here as elsewhere, it might be interesting to set Putin in German contexts – perhaps he could be seen as the leading modern exponent of a tradition in which a central figure is Johann Gottfried Herder.

    With relation to the universalistic pretensions of the Soviet system, these are very complex matters.

    However, it is interesting to look at what the supposed architect of the ‘containment’ strategy, George Frost Kennan, had to say on the subject, in an exchange of letters with the historian John Lukacs, published in 1995.

    (See https://www.americanheritage.com/world-war-cold-war )

    Among many other interesting claims that Kennan makes to Lukacs, he explains that:

    ‘Many Americans jumped quickly to the primitive assumption that the Soviet aim was to overrun the remainder of Europe militarily and then to replace the governments there, including the West German one, with Communist puppet regimes. But if one had tried to look at this assumption from Moscow’s standpoint, particularly from Stalin’s, its unsoundness would have become immediately visible. Stalin had very good reason for rejecting any such course of action.
    ‘For one thing, it would have involved the unification of Germany under a single Communist government. But this was the last thing Stalin would have wanted to bring about.’

    So, if what Kennan says here deserves to be believed, the whole of post-war Western strategy was based upon a ‘primitive assumption.’ Moreover, what we were actually dealing with was not so much one such ‘assumption’, but two.

    We obsessed about a military threat, which had no substance. Meanwhile, we failed to realise that, although he could not admit it, Stalin’s greatest nightmare was those nasty uncontrollable German communists – given them half a chance, and they’ll accuse him of being an ‘Asiatic deviationist’, and come out in support of Bukharin or Trotsky – would come to power in Berlin.

    Making confusion worse confounded, later in the exchange, Kennan explicitly claims to Lukacs that his ideas had not changed since his period of influence.

    Does Lukacs probe him on the clear implication, that unless the supposed father of ‘containment’ is lying, his actual conceptions had very little to do with the interpretations put on them by others – so that either this has to be the case, or he has to be lying, or both? Does he ask whether Kennan attempted to correct this ‘primitive assumption’, at the time?

    Of course not. One really cannot expect Western historians actually to read Kennan, rather than using ‘proof texts’ to persuade themselves he thought what it is convenient for them to believe he thought – just as Quigley does with Dostoevsky.

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    1. We obsessed about a military threat, which had no substance. Meanwhile, we failed to realise that, although he could not admit it, Stalin’s greatest nightmare was those nasty uncontrollable German communists – given them half a chance, and they’ll accuse him of being an ‘Asiatic deviationist’, and come out in support of Bukharin or Trotsky – would come to power in Berlin.

      David, First, i am pleased to have one of my longtime sparring partners around. Although considering Quigley, Babak especially his theory about the two cradkes of culture: in Europe the land inside the Diocletian Borders in the ME inside the Seljuk ones might be more helpful to create further confusion. 😉 Put another way clarifying for all people who happen/ed to be born outside those borders are ultimately beyond hope. Although concerning Russia he seems to have modified his theory somewhat.

      Concerning the German Romantics it makes sense to differentiate between Romantics the arts and purely political Romantic strain, as one contemporary German philosopher does:

      I may have never satisfactorily differentiated between our own and their British coevals:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture#Early_modern_discourses

      PR seems to use multicultural slightly different from how you used it in our debates. I am sure that Herder popped up in our multicultural vs melting pot debates.

      *********

      Second and here I am more curious: Who were those nasty uncontrollable German communists? The more unlucky German Nazi emigres in Hotel Lux, Moscow? Any specific ones? I am not to familiar with George Lucaks specific time in Russia, but apparently he survived and managed to return to Hungary in 1945.

      The Kennan-Lucaks-debate is interesting. Although needs more time and definitively a closer look at the larger debate in time and space, in 1995 that is.

      Like

    2. David, the Kennan-John Lukacs exchange is fascinating.

      I think I now understand what passage may have been on your mind concerning: “Stalin’s greatest nightmare was those nasty uncontrollable German communists”

      You seem to have Kennan’s latest response to Lukacs in mind.

      Interestingly I both agree and disagree with him here. I don’t think that Stalin’s intention ever was to further expend the sphere of communist expansion West. Here I agree.

      While this passage mirrors to this nitwit the huge wave of fears that haunted Germany’s European neighbor’s concerning the reunion of Germany. Could a reunited Germany be trusted? Wouldn’t it be a danger once again?

      … Many Americans jumped quickly to the primitive assumption that the Soviet aim was to overrun the remainder of Europe militarily and then to replace the governments there, including the West German one, with Communist puppet regimes. But if one had tried to look at this assumption from Moscow’s standpoint, particularly from Stalin’s, its unsoundness would have become immediately visible. Stalin had very good reason for rejecting any such course of action.

      For one thing, it would have involved the unification of Germany under a single Communist government. But this was the last thing Stalin would have wanted to bring about. A German Communist regime, presiding over the entire population and commanding all the resources of the German state, could not have been expected to remain for long a puppet of Moscow. Such a Communist regime presiding over all of Germany would eventually occupy a position in world communism at least the equal of, or perhaps even superior to, that of any Russian Communist regime. But Stalin never forgot that to lose his pre-eminence in the world communist movement would be to endanger his position at home. He never doubted that the loyalty to himself professed by a great many senior Soviet Communists rested not in any great love for him personally but in the fear of him that he had himself inspired. And he had never been free of the fear that men of this ilk, chafing under the humiliations and dangers that attended their subordination to Stalin’s tyranny, might find means of playing the international communist movement off against him, thus extracting themselves from his power and even occupying positions from which they could successfully oppose him.

      Lukacs looks interesting. Both really. But if rendered correctly on Wikipedia, I think here Lukacs is wrong:

      In Lukacs’s view, Operation Barbarossa was not inspired by anti-Communism or any long-term plan to conquer the Soviet Union

      Yes, no doubt Ribbentrop wasn’t very successful in selling Bolshevism as the biggest danger one had to fight together in London. 😉

      Not too long ago I watched a documentary that looked into the different diplomatic players Britain, supposedly dominating France, a Russian (endangered Mensheviks?) at the Russian embassy in London, events leading up to the Hitler-Stalin pact. Available till 3/8/2019 with English subtitles. Here’s the French version link.
      https://www.arte.tv/en/videos/080961-000-A/the-hitler-stalin-pact/

      Like

      1. LeaNder,

        A critical point about the exchanges with Lukacs is his lamentable failure to probe Kennan on a central question they put into sharp focus.

        At the outset, the latter points to the papers he sent back to Washington from the Moscow Embassy at the end of the war – the ‘Russia – Seven Years Later’ paper of September 1944, and the paper on ‘Russia’s International Position at the Close of War with Germany’ of May 1945.

        A fundamental issue raised by these papers has never been satisfactorily addressed, even though it is more than half a century since – as Kennan notes to Lukacs – they were reproduced at the end of the first volume of his memoirs, published in 1967.

        Ironically, it was put into sharp focus by the Russian historian Vladimir Pechatnov, in a paper entitled ‘THE BIG THREE AFTER WORLD WAR II: New Documents on Soviet Thinking about Post War Relations with The United States and Great Britain’ in the same year as the Kennan-Lukacs exchange appeared.’ This reviews reports written by Maisky, Litvinov, and Gromyko at precisely the period when Kennan was writing those papers.

        (See https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-big-three-after-world-war-ii-new-documents-soviet-thinking-about-post-war-relations .)

        As Pechatnov points out, Soviet objectives are specifically not defined, in these papers, in terms of world revolution, or indeed global hegemony. Having noted that what these Soviet diplomats writing privately corresponded with what was being said publicly, and had to do with security against threats from the West, he writes:

        ‘Indeed the traditionalism of that desiderata, which dates back to the late Tsarist diplomacy, is quite impressive and was clearly understood at the time by experienced Russian observers in the West. George F. Kennan, for one, would not have been surprised by the Maisky-Litvinov objectives: his September 1944 definition of Kremlin’s basic goal after the war (“to prevent the formation in Central and Eastern Europe of any power or coalition of powers capable of challenging Russian security”) is very close even textually to Maisky’s formula of the same year: “to prevent the formation in Europe of any powers or combination of powers with powerful armies”.’

        In a footnote, Pechatnov writes:

        ‘For an insightful description of Soviet threat perception at the end of the War (quite similar to what emerges from the documents reviewed here) see, Michael McGwire, “National Security and Soviet Foreign Policy,” in M. Leffler and D. Painter, eds., Origins of the Cold War: An International History (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 60-62.’

        There is a ‘back story’ here. The paper by MccGwire (yes, that is the correct spelling!) is a shorter version of an unpublished analysis he had produced in in July 1987 entitled ‘The Genesis of Soviet Threat Perceptions’, which is now available on the net.

        (See https://www.ucis.pitt.edu/nceeer/1987-800-05-McGwire.pdf )

        Having earlier been the Royal Navy’s most important expert on its Soviet counterpart, in the ‘Eighties MccGwire was a member of the remarkable group of ‘security studies’ thinkers employed by the late John Steinbruner, when he ran the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, a very different place then from now.

        Part of the point of the ‘Genesis’ paper was to argue that to understand the changes under way in Soviet security policy following Gorbachev’s accession, it was necessary to grasp that central assumptions of the tradition arising out of the NSC 68 paper, masterminded by Paul Nitze in April 1950, had turned out to be wrong.

        An irony however is that – as he himself brings out in the exchanges with Lukacs – Kennan himself had already sharply parted ways with that tradition by the time that document was written.

        However, Nitze has always claimed that he was simply working out, in the new and more dangerous situation created in particular by the Soviet acquisition of an atomic capability and the emerging possibility of the vastly more destructive thermonuclear weaponry, the implications of Kennan’s analyses.

        A problem to which this pushes back is the glaring contrast between the papers of 1944-5 to which he refers Lukacs, and that provided in the so-called ‘Long Telegram’ Kennan sent from Moscow on 22 February 1946, also reproduced at the end of the first volume of the memoirs.

        For in his most influential literary production, Kennan argued that ‘Russian rulers’ had ‘learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.’ And specifically, he suggested that the Soviet leadership saw their security as dependent on the destruction of American power.

        Further compounding the problem is an element of the picture which features prominently in MccGwire’s account of the ‘genesis of Soviet threat perceptions’, and was illuminated by a study published the following year by Christopher Simpson, entitled ‘Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War.’

        However, Simpson’s account of the influence on post-war American policy of two erstwhile diplomats at the pre-war German Moscow Embassy whom Kennan, and even more his friend and fellow Soviet expert Charles ‘Chip’ Bohlen, knew from their time serving there: Gustav Hilger and Hans-Heinrich (a.k.a. ‘Johnnie’) Herwarth von Bittenfeld – misses some fundamental ironies.

        Certainly, the problematic effects of the exploitation of Germans and German collaborators who had been involved in the war in the East, a strategy in the genesis of which both Hilger and Herwarth had some part, is a very important part of early Cold War history.

        What those who have written on the subject commonly fail to grasp, however, is that while the professional competence both of Gehlen’s ‘Fremde Heere Ost’ and the ‘Abwehr’ is questionable, the German Moscow Embassy of the ‘Thirties was a peculiarly intellectually formidable organisation.

        A central irony, however, is that its members were inclined to take an essentially Trotskyist view of Stalin – and on this basis made arguments to Hitler almost diametrically opposite to those of the ‘Long Telegram.’

        So the political project of the German Ambassador to Moscow in the period leading up to ‘Operation Barbarossa’, Werner von der Schulenberg, became, in essence, to incorporate in the Anti-Comintern Pact the power against whom it had been directed: thus forming an invulnerable ‘continental bloc’ of Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union.

        Moreover, fundamental elements of the German diplomats’ analysis are echoed in some very interesting recent historical work. So the Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky’s 1999 study ‘Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia’ is essentially a recapitulation of the German Moscow Embassy view.

        Likewise, central elements of the analysis underlying this, as set out in Herwarth’s 1981 memoir ‘Against Two Evils’, are echoed in Liliana Riga’s 2012 study ‘The Bolsheviks and the Russian Empire’ – which is summarised in her 2008 paper The Ethnic Roots of Class Universalism: Rethinking the “Russian” Revolutionary Elite.’

        (See https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/the-ethnic-roots-of-class-universalism(cd65ec7a-7a63-4dcf-914f-52ce158effcf).html .)

        One then however comes to a paradox. In the months leading up to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Herwarth moved from supporting Schulenberg’s strategy to attempting to subvert it, warning Bohlen and other Western contacts in Moscow that the Western powers needed to make terms with Stalin before Hitler did.

        This however did not reflect a change view about Stalin – rather the fact that Herwarth was in contact with the circles, in which both elements in the Auswärtiges Amt and also Abwehr were central, who believed that ‘appeasement’ was likely to precipitate, rather than prevent, war.

        An irony is that – as the ‘Memoirs’ actually make clear – Kennan’s whole view of Stalin’s policy had been that of the ‘appeasers’, according to which one of its central goals had all along been to finesse Germany and the Western powers into war: a view which neither Herwarth nor Hilger held, and which Gorodetsky’s book is largely devoted to demolishing.

        Following the end of the war, Stalin restated familiar Marxist-Leninist orthodoxies about the inevitability of eventual military conflict with capitalist powers, and the need for three or more five year plans to insure against ‘all contingencies’, in his pre-election speech on 9 February 1946.

        This was interpreted by Nitze and James Forrestal as indicating that the war he had in mind was with a coalition involving the United States. They took the ‘Long Telegram’ as confirmation of this interpretation, which was actually totally wrong both as a reading of the speech, and of Kennan’s analysis of it – which was opaque, because the historical understandings beneath could not be made fully explicit.

        So Kennan found himself promoted to a key role in shaping American policy towards the Soviet Union, on the basis of a misreading of his actual views.

        Contrary to what Kennan wants to suggest to Lukacs, the parting of ways between him and Nitze at the end of the ‘Forties reflected the fact that the actual thinking behind the ‘Long Telegram’ had never been accurately understood by his fellow-countrymen.

        However, to understand his behaviour during this period and later, however, one needs to bring a key feature in the German Moscow Embassy analysis into the picture. A key argument alike of Herwarth and Liliana Riga is that much of the momentum behind Bolshevism had come from intellectuals from ethnic minority groups.

        A central argument of Stalin’s 9 February 1946 speech was that the Soviet system had successfully solved the ‘nationalities’ problem. If this was wrong, then it was natural to conclude – as Kennan already had in the May 1945 paper, from which he quotes at the end of his exchanges with Lukacs – that in attempting to control Eastern- and South-Eastern Europe, Stalin had given a colossal hostage to fortune: increasing the prospects of revolts which could spread uncontrollably back into the Soviet Union itself.

        In a 2010 paper, ironically, Vladimir Pechatnov argued that this analysis had, in essence, been vindicated. A problem, however, was that Kennan’s confidence that he could see how to push the Soviet system into collapse caused him to adopt measures which had the effect of persuading Stalin and his associates that the Americans and British might resort to war to achieve this objective.

        (See http://biweekly.ada.edu.az/vol_3_no_20/The_Cold_war_A_Russian_perspective.htm .)

        Likewise, Kennan’s bitter disappointment at the repudiation of his suggestions that the Western powers should seek realistic negotiations over Germany, expressed once again at the conclusion of his exchanges with Lukacs, ignores the fact that he had himself undercut the basis on which a coherent argument for such negotiations could be made.

        As may be apparent, a lot of these issues echo onwards, not least in relation to Germany.

        Like

      2. Thanks a lot David, appreciate your response a lot.

        You mentioned Kennan and the famous telegram a lot over the years. I doubt I ever fully grasped your points. …

        You may have finally managed to make me take a closer look. Not least by pointing out paradox or ironical turns of history and/or reception, by the way. Although heavy work load of family matters concerning my aging parents at the moment. Not much time.

        Quigley, by the way, felt very, very American this time. Is it the Zeitgeist only that changes my reading? I may read his respective chapters while following your hints.
        http://www.carrollquigley.net/pdf/Tragedy_and_Hope.pdf

        thanks again. Take care over there on the Island. 😉

        Like

  6. Nikolai Berdyaev:

    ” The Russian people did not achieve their ancient dream of Moscow, the Third Rome.

    The ecclesiastical schism of the seventeenth century revealed that the muscovite tsardom is not the third Rome.

    The messianic idea of the Russian people assumed either an apocalyptic form or a revolutionary; and then there occurred an amazing event in the destiny of the Russian people.

    Instead of the Third Rome in Russia, the Third International was achieved, and many of the features of the Third Rome pass over to the Third International. The Third International is also a Holy Empire, and it also is founded on an Orthodox faith.

    The Third International is not international, but a Russian national idea.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Berdyaev

    Carroll Quigley:

    “This mystical Slav imperialism with its apocalyptical overtones was by no means uniquely Dostoevski’s.

    It was held in a vague and implicit fashion by many Russian thinkers, and had a wide appeal to the unthinking masses. It was implied in much of the propaganda of Pan-Slavism, and became semiofficial with the growth of this propaganda after 1908.

    It was widespread among the Orthodox clergy, who emphasized the reign of righteousness which would follow the millennialist establishment of Moscow as the “Third Rome.”

    It was explicitly stated in a book, Russia and Europe, published in 1869 by Nicholas Danilevsky (1822-1885).

    Such ideas, as we shall see, did not die out with the passing of the Romanov autocracy in 1917, but became even more influential, merging with the Leninist revision of Marxism to provide the ideology of Soviet Russia after 1917…”

    Like

    1. Load of crap.

      You decided to support you inane claims… by quoting from the same source, Can you think for yourself, Bankotsu? Can you form your own thoughtsm or just quote and quote walls of text?

      Like

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