Snatching you up (mendicants and Gulags)

I’ll get to Feyerabend, but first Solzhenitsyn:

However, the root destruction  of religion in the country, which throughout the twenties and thirties was one of the most important goals of the GPU-NKVD, could be realized only by mass arrests of Orthodox believers. Monks and nuns, whose black habits had been a distinctive feature of Old Russian life, were intensively rounded up on every hand, placed under arrest, and sent into exile. They arrested and sentenced active laymen. The circles kept getting bigger, as they raked in ordinary believers as well, old people, and particularly women, who were the most stubborn believers of all and who, for many long years to come, would be called “nuns” in transit prisons and in camps (37).

It’s true that Christians were viciously persecuted by socialists in the USSR, and what makes matters worse is that few historians, and fewer journalists, point this out. Bishops and patriarchs living in mansions were the official targets of socialist purges, mind you, but mendicants, village priests, and old church ladies were the ones who actually got dragged away and put to work for The Cause. Why? Because they actually believed. They already had a moral compass, so there was no need for a strong state. In socialist countries, alternatives ruin plans. So in socialist countries, alternatives get snuffed out.

As I read through the Gulag Archipelago I can’t help but think of the Russia I hear about on NPR and read about online. Russia is the left’s new boogieman, for obvious reasons. But I wonder, with Solzhenitsyn in mind, just how close the Orthodox Church actually is to Putin and his henchmen. I’m sure the top brass are close to Putin, but what about the village priests and the others? Did socialism wipe out the old, more mystical Christianity that was prevalent in the Russian countryside before the Revolution? Are there any mendicants left in post-socialist Russia? All those decades of violent repression, starvation, ethnic cleansing, and forced labor, and the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church hums along as if nothing ever happened. The actual believers, on the other hand, are gone, along with the unique culture they spread throughout the Russian Empire and, via the mediums of literature and art, the world.

Nightcap

  1. The other side of broken windows Eric Klinenberg, New Yorker
  2. “Peace through strength” is weakening Putin at home Krishnadev Calamur, the Atlantic
  3. How to cleanse the Catholic Church Andrew Sullivan, Daily Intelligencer
  4. The garment of terrorism Azadeh Moaveni, London Review of Books

Why Hayek was Wrong About American and European Conservatism I

The title of this post refers to F.A. Hayek’s essay ‘Why I am Not a Conservative’, which can be found as an appendix to his 1960 book The Constitution of Liberty. What this post is really about is the deficiencies of American conservatism and the general idea of liberal conservatism or a natural alliance between classical liberals and conservatives. However, first a few words about Hayek’s essay as Hayek is an important figure for liberty advocates. The essay in question is well known and particularly easy to find online.

Hayek’s criticism of conservatism overestimates the extent to which it is just a limiting position, slowing down change. The relation of conservatism to tradition is seem too much as conservatism being too slow to accept changes to tradition. Traditionalist conservatism, however, has been a much more active and dangerous force than that. ‘Traditionalism’ as far as I know is a 20th century term used particularly in France (René Guénon) and Italy (Julius Evola) to refer to a spiritual based for politics of an extreme conservative kind which found natural alliance with fascism. It seems clear enough that it has precedents in late 18th and 19th century conservative monarchist thinkers like Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, and Juan Donosó Cortes.

Carl Schmitt, who was maybe the greatest 20th century admirer of those thinkers, joined the Nazi Party in 1933, though found himself purged as not properly Nazi from his post as head of a jurists’ association in 1936. Not only did Schmitt admire the French and Spanish thinkers mentioned, he was a great admirer of Edmund Burke. Burke is a favourite of those claiming a conservative-liberty affinity. It would be unfair to suggest that Burke would have welcomed National Socialism (though the same applies to de Bonald, de Maiste, and Donosó Cortes).

It is a fact that a large part of conservative thinking of the time of the rise of Fascism, and allied forms of illiberal government such as corporatism, regarded it as a legitimate counter to Bolshevism and disorder. Even Ludwig von Mises defiled his own 1927 book Liberalism with generous words about Fascism as a counter to Bolshevism. The reality is that at the time such regimes came to power there was no immediate risk of Communist take over and this is a horrifying position, which cannot be justified by suggesting that Mises was writing in the heat of the moment as Bolsheviks stalked power in any particular country. Winston Churchill welcomed Fascism in Italy and even initially welcomed Hitler’s rise in Germany, before becoming acquainted with the reality of his regime. It is of course the case that Fascism and National Socialism had socialist roots as well as traditionalist conservative roots, but then a liaison between socialism and traditionalist conservatism as a counter to liberal individualism has a history going well back into the 19th century.

We can see right now in Europe the growing force of conservatism with a populist-nationalist emphasis targeting abnormals (as in everyone who does not fit their assumptions of a normal person in their country). This is not some new addition to the repertoire of the right. The strong man of the Northern League in Italy, Metteo Salvini, has aligned himself with Mussolini recently by tweeting a variation of Mussolini’s slogan ‘many enemies, much honour’ on Mussolini’s birthday. The Hungarian equivalent of Salvini, the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has rehabilitated the pre-war authoritarian leader Miklós Horthy. The Legue, Orbán’s Fidesz party, the Bannonite wing of the Republican Party and the like are stuffed with Vladimir Putin apologists, or at least as in Bannon’s case slippery arguments according to which he does not like Putin, but we should ally with him. In any case, Bannon is very active supporting the pro-Putin parties in Europe.

These parties draw on long traditions of conservative populism, monarchist anti-liberalism, and the like. The appeal to conservative love of monarchy, state church, and social conformity was a major weapon of monarchist conservative forces after the 1848 Springtime of the Peoples in Europe, helped by violent Russian intervention in the Austrian Empire to ‘restore order’. We see something like this now in the growing strength of a brand of conservatism which does not just limit change but fosters change in the direction of illiberalism, nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, Christian identity, free trade, liberal protections of the individual from state power, the rights of civil society organisations to stand up to the state, and economic protection, seeking inspiration from the kleptomaniac nationalist authoritarian regime in Russia.

Enthusiasm for Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan is less obvious, but Orbán has put him on his list of ‘illiberal democracy’ heroes, and we can reasonably say that the rhetoric and methods of Erdoğan have been an inspiration for the populist right throughout Europe, even as, like Órban, it puts Islamophobia at the centre.

The role of Donald Trump and Steven Bannon as friends of, and models for, European populists should give reason to wonder whether Hayek misunderstood US conservatism. More on this in the next post.

The Helsinki Follies

Myself, my wife, Rush Limbaugh, and a couple of others on FB, alone of those who express themselves publicly, have taken leave of their senses. The obvious has stopped waiving at the American intelligentsia (Russian word, on purpose).

Mr Mueller, in charge of demonstrating that Russia gave Mr Trump the election, announces three days before a president’s meeting with Mr Putin that he has charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with crimes (presumably, violations of American law).

Several things are wrong with this picture.

First, is it a surprise that Russian military intelligence is trying to mess with us? Is this new? Did they used not to? Why make a major announcement of it? It’s routine stuff. Catch them; slap them! Is it the case that US intelligence agencies never tried to mess with Mr Putin’s endless re-elections? What’s their excuse if they did not? Is it the case that our intelligence agencies are not interfering with, say, Venezuela’s political processes today? Really? I liked better the days when our CIA had balls and was the scourge of everything and everyone progressive and socialist.

Second, ignoring the futility of the charges, what’s the chance any of the twelve is going to show up to be tried in America? Not great? Reminder, tentative reminder: Kidnapping them on foreign soil to bring them to American justice would probably violate someone’s law. So, why bother; why indict them? What was the purpose? What was the purpose, a couple of days before President Trump was to meet Mr Putin publicly? Was the purpose other than satisfying justice? Was the purpose to cover up and distract from something more important? Did it have to do with Mrs William Clinton?

Mr Putin offered – short of extraditing the twelve – several compromise solutions so that Mr Mueller could interrogate the Russian intelligence officers named. Will Mr Mueller accept any of those offers? Why not? Give a good reason why he should not.

Reminder: Extradition treaties between countries are always reciprocal: I send you the people you charge; you send me the people I charge. There are really good reasons the US should not want to have such a treaty with Russia.

Does Mueller really want to interrogate the Russian intelligence officers he charged, really? Does he want the truth? (Isn’t it already known?)

How was Mr Trump supposed to respond to such a brutal and vicious attack on his honesty, proffered by Mr Mueller while he was going to be on foreign soil? Was he supposed to lower his eyes, smile sweetly and keep mute? I would not have! He should not have! Should he not have allowed doubt about our intelligence agencies pass his lips, after what the FBI, for example, did? Is he crazy; is he stupid?

Putin is a brutal dictator, a meddler, and probably a murderer. With its nuclear arsenal, his country is the only one really capable of hurting us irreversibly. Good reason to talk to him. We don’t have to be friends but some formal courtesy is required.

The collective reactions of the American political class to the Helsinki meeting tells me that it has lost touch with elementary reality. It’s folly; it’s in a state of collective hysteria. I remember being there before. That was in the eighties.

Warning: If you are sensitive, please, don’t read the next sentences.

In the 80s, the media were awash with denunciations of brutal sex abuse of small children by Satanic cults. People were charged, convicted and sentenced on the testimony of four-year-old coached by eager, man-hating social workers. I remember well, especially, a story in The Atlantic. A father of two confessed to nailing his small daughters to the floor of his living room so his buddies could rape them. The next day, the girls would go to school as usual. No problem! I believe no apologies were ever issued. The justice system was very reluctant to let go of the imprisoned.

A senior Wall Street Journal journalist, Dorothy Rabinowitz, had a solitary struggle of several years to get the wrongs righted.

Wake up, America; get a grip! Those are wooden nickels you are taking!

Nightcap

  1. The global reaction to “America First” Brands & Feaver, War on the Rocks
  2. Putin’s new Cold War Lawrence Freedman, New Statesman
  3. The “borders” of Gaza Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  4. A difficult question on Trump’s tariffs Arnold Kling, askblog

Nightcap

  1. A question about Israel for a Bleeding Heart Libertarian Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  2. How Putin has changed, and subjugated, Russia Christian Esch, der Spiegel
  3. Russia’s bite is not nearly as powerful as its bark Daniel DePetris, the Skeptics
  4. Who cares about Washington anymore? Parag Khanna, Politico

An update from Memphis (Russo-Baltic edition)

Dr Znamenski (bio, posts) sent me an email updating me on his recent shenanigans:

I also appreciate your remark that we need to reach out to other libertarian-leaning people rather than singing to only a libertarian chorus. Even though I am notorious for not contributing to NOL, I devoted this summer to reach out to liberty-minded people in Europe by going to St. Petersburg, Russia, and delivering there a public talk (in Russian) on “Heroics of the New Deal and Its Critics” at a downtown hotel and afterwards I met with the audience for a free-style interactive talk on current challenges to individual liberty. Then I proceeded to Tallinn, Estonia, where I met a group of Estonian libertarians and delivered a talk (in English) on geopolitical imagination of Russian nationalism (used current Alaska-related Russian patriotic rhetoric as an example). Then proceeded back to Russia, where at Samara University again I gave a talk on the mythology of FDR and New Deal Keynesianism and how it was appropriated in 2003-2008 by the Putin regime that was building the “vertical” of its power. My argument was that politico-economic regime whose “validity” was “scientifically” proven by Keynes in 1936 by now became a kind of a fetish that is associated with a good government. Hence, the “Heroics of the New Deal” title. The Estonian visit was especially pleasant and inspiring.

I also met an informal leader of Estonian libertarians […] Very productive and charismatic guy. I need to navigate him to you and to NOL, which will greatly benefit from his contributions (if any). His English is impeccable too. See his picture attached to this letter (they have Mises Institute of Estonia) in addition to a few other images from Estonia (the country where all paper work exists only in electronic form and a flat tax return occupies only one page!). The country [Estonia] was the first in Europe to introduce universal flat tax (1994), which replaced three tax rates on personal income and one on corporate profits. The flat tax rate was on 26%, which later was reduced to 20%. Several countries of Europe followed the suit and benefited from this. Very simple system, which helped this tiny backwater country of 1 million plus something people to dramatically raise its well-being. To their frustration, even Russian nationalists, who remain quite influential in Estonia due to the presence of a large Russian minority, have little economic discontent among Russians to chew on. The latter simply compare their economic situation in their historical homeland where average salary is $500 and Estonia where this salary is $1150.

Dr Znamenski has some excellent ideas brewing (on US-Russian relations in the Arctic, Crimean secession, and Foucault), and hopefully he can find the time to post them in the very near future. Notice, too, that Dr Znamenski refers to Russians as Europeans (or, at least, considers St Petersburg to be European). A small observation, I know, but one that I suspect has big sociological implications. Check out these pictures he sent me:

This is the Estonian libertarian Dr Znamenski mentions above. I hope to someday meet him.
This is a photo from the Museum of the 20th century in Tallinn (the capital city of Estonia).
This is my favorite picture. It’s a view of Tallinn with a curious visitor, and highlights Dr Znamenski’s sense of humor, which I greatly appreciate.