31 October 2020

Parting Company with Peter Hitchens and Why Leadership Matters

There is no thinker or political philosopher that I agree with 100%, including the Mad Monarchist!

From The Mad Monarchist (15 February 2016)

First of all, let me begin by saying that I am a big fan of Peter Hitchens and there is much I agree with him on. I appreciate his often lone voice of sanity in British society and I hope he long continues to make himself heard. Even when I disagree with him, I still find his views thoughtful and well worth considering. That being said, I have increasingly found myself disagreeing with him, though it is not the first time. I can remember many years ago when he came to America and mentioned in an interview how woefully backward and cruel it was for the United States not to provide “free” healthcare to its citizens as the NHS does in Britain (though later he became quite known for his completely correct criticisms of that monument to inefficiency and government incompetence). In recent years he has taken on an increasingly pessimistic tone, effectively writing off the United Kingdom and the British people as done for. I would like to disagree with that but, as he lives there and I do not, I cannot say he is wrong, only that I hope he is. Where I do think he is wrong is his current infatuation with the Putin regime in Russia and how it relates to the rest of the world, particularly Germany.

Mr. Hitchens is always quick to begin by stressing that he believes Vladimir Putin to be a cruel and tyrannical despot before launching into a full-throated defense of the man, his regime, all it does and even his allies such as the Ayatollah in Iran (who Mr. Hitchens maintains is not nearly so dangerous as he pretends to be or that the rest of the world thinks he is, chants of “Death to England” not withstanding). Actually, there is, as it concerns Russia at least, some areas in which I still agree with him on. I can see as clearly as anyone, as Mr. Hitchens has pointed out, that it has been Russian power that has been shrinking and the membership of NATO and the European Union that has been expanding. I agree with him that Russia is quite right to be upset by foreign meddling in bordering countries and, while I will not say the same for Europe, I certainly would accept that what happens in the Caucasus or Ukraine (or even the Baltic, Poland or Finland) does not involve the vital interests or national security of the United States. Were America to pull out of Eastern Europe and Russia to swallow all of these countries tomorrow it would have no impact on anyone in North America at all. Where I do disagree with Mr. Hitchens is on the nature of the European Union and his view on its foreign policy in regards to Russia. It seems to me he is being quite inconsistent on the issue of “leadership”.

As to the nature of the European Union, Mr. Hitchens has often said that, “the EU is the continuation of Germany by other means”, a take on the famous quote from Clausewitz about war. He has said that the EU is simply the latest incarnation of the German empire which has the same goals and policies as Nazi Germany had and Wilhelmine Germany before them, particularly in regards to Eastern Europe. As he sees it, there is no real difference in the policies of the different German regimes, only the methods they employ to further what are the natural destiny of the German people to dominate the continent of Europe. I absolutely disagree with this both because I see very real and immense differences between the different German regimes, all they stood for and all they tried to do and I disagree with it because it seems to me to grossly exaggerate the power and influence of, if arguably the German government, certainly the German people who are, as we speak, rapidly becoming an endangered species in their own countries to say nothing of Europe as a whole. It seems to me to be an attempt on his part to rationalize the actions of Russia by saying that their paranoia regarding the Germans and all their friends and associations is entirely justified while at the same time arguing that all western, German or East European paranoia regarding Russia is totally irrational. This is where the inconsistency comes into play.

On almost every occasion that I can recall, in which Mr. Hitchens talks about Russia, he makes a point of saying that while he defends Russia today he totally opposed the Soviet Union. He stresses that the Soviet Union is dead and gone, Russia today is nothing at all like the Soviet Union and that the Soviet Union had global aspirations which Russia today does not have or desire. This is, in my view, not entirely wrong but it is inconsistent when compared to his portrayal of the European Union and particularly Germany. He is saying that Germany has natural drives which influence German foreign policy in a similar direction, no matter if it is a Bundeskanzler, Führer or Kaiser at the helm of the ship of state. However, at the same time he is saying that Russia has no such similar natural drives that would influence Russian foreign policy regardless of the governments that come and go in leading the Russian people. This is where things become a bit complicated but suffice it to say that, on the contrary, I believe there are certain trends in foreign policy that prevail because of things as permanent and immovable as geography but I also think it matters a great deal just what sort of government and what sort of leader a country, such as Germany or Russia, has at its head.

To put it another way, I think there was a very big difference between the Kaiser and Hitler, just as there is a very big difference between Putin and the Czar. I also think there is a quite huge difference between the actions, character and fundamental nature of the modern European Union compared to the vision of Europe that Hitler had or that Kaiser Wilhelm II had before him. This is why I say that leadership matters and peoples are not necessarily going to go on along a predestined course regardless of who is in charge. The Kaiser, for example, had no thought of dominating Eastern Europe before the war situation placed the opportunity before him. His focus was on colonial competition with Great Britain. It was only after the war started and the British blockade began to be felt that the German leadership began to look to the east as a source of vital resources which would make them invulnerable to British naval superiority. Indeed, it was one of the greatest hopes of Kaiser Wilhelm II, which he tried very hard to carry out, to split Russia away from the British to be an ally of Germany (though aside from the nationalist rivalry of the Teutonic vs. the Slav the real impediment to this was never Germany but rather Austria and whether Austria or Russia was going to have prevailing influence in the Balkans). Hitler, on the other hand, had an ideological rivalry with Soviet Russia which the Kaiser never had as well as ramping up the nationalistic/racial rivalry to its ultimate extreme. For him and his regime, a fight to the finish with Russia was inevitable because either National Socialism and the German race would survive or international socialism and the Slavic (and assorted eastern races) would. His views and character would not and could not permit any compromise.

On the Russian side of things, it is true, the nature of the current Russian regime is not the same as the Soviet Union but I disagree with Mr. Hitchens that there are no similarities in policy at all and I most adamantly disagree with him that the current Russian regime is in any way preferable to the Russian Empire under the Romanov dynasty, a view he has also expressed. While Putin has got many things right, taking actions I think a man like Czar Nicholas II would approve of, he has also done horrible things that no self-respecting Romanov would ever dream of doing. If Czar Nicholas II were around to deal with post-Soviet Russian leaders, I think he would have had Yeltsin shot as a traitor and would think Putin possibly insane. This is not to take the popular view, mostly fostered by knee-jerk anti-Russian sentiment in the west (mirrored by similar knee-jerk anti-western or anti-American sentiment in Russia) that Putin is some sort of bloodthirsty warmonger out to conquer and dominate as much of the world as possible. On the contrary, while I think there are actions Putin has taken which no Czar ever would have, I also think he has failed to take action and submitted to treatment by the western powers that the Czar would never have tolerated. Even Czar Nicholas II, one of the most mild mannered of his dynasty, was a man who may not have always won but who never failed to at least make every effort.

Despite what Mr. Hitchens chooses to believe, much of Russian foreign policy is simply left-over Soviet foreign policy. The same could be said for much of the foreign policy of the western countries and it is truly unfortunate that neither side has yet to produce a leader willing to be the ‘bigger man’ and break the vicious cycle. Sticking with Russia though, let us consider a few examples to compare and contrast the foreign policies of the Romanov, Soviet and post-Soviet governments to see what impact national leadership (such as having a Czar) had on the world. Czar Nicholas II pursued a pragmatic foreign policy that was based on geographic realties, tempered by his principles as a monarch who stood guard over part of Christian civilization. The Soviet Union pursued a foreign policy that was based on Marxist ideology and the pursuit of global domination. They wished to Bolshevize the world, supported Marxist regimes wherever they could (provided they accepted Russian dominance) and opposed non-communist regimes in all instances. Current Russian foreign policy seems to be partly maintaining what relationships the Soviet Union left behind and partly nothing more than short-sighted reactions to a mostly decrepit west which they fearfully insist is still a dire threat to their existence.

Czar Nicholas II, for example, would never have allied himself with Communist China. He certainly would never have ceded them territory or granted them special access to Russian natural resources. Even their fellow communists of the Soviet era had more sense than to help arm and enrich an ambitious country with a huge population right at their backdoor. For the Czar there was a principle in mind, as he saw himself as the guardian of Christian civilization as the Russians had always been since the dissolution of the Mongol empire. There was also practical reality to consider. Centuries of experience, including their own subjugation by the Mongols out of which modern Russia was born, made the Czar realize that Russia stretched rather precariously across the Asian continent and was determined to prevent any other power from threatening Russia’s position. If anyone tried, be it the Persians (Iranians), the British in India or the Chinese they would be met by a wall of Russian steel. When Japan began to rise in power and influence in the Far East, starting with the occupation of Korea, Czar Nicholas II made it perfectly clear that if they wanted to be dominant in the region they would have a fight on their hands. Russia lost the war but Japan ultimately did not feel like a winner and most of Manchuria and all of Mongolia remained within the Russian sphere of influence until the Russian Revolution. To befriend, arm and enrich a country like China in what simply seems to be an effort to frighten countries which China is not even able to reach, would, I think, strike the Czar as baffling.

Equally baffling, I think, would be the current Russian support of the Islamic Republic of Iran, again, for seemingly little reason other than to annoy foreign powers which Iran can do little to nothing against. The Czar maintained a firm hold on the Russian position with Iran and knew all too well what the current Russian regime seems to naively overlook; that while Russians today may have forgotten that areas such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Dagestan were gained at the expense of Iran, the Iranians still today have certainly not forgotten this and are not about to. The Czar would, I think, be quite astounded that a Russian government would do so much to arm and enrich countries with long-standing resentments against Russia, which offer little to nothing in return, espouse values totally opposed to those of his own and which long for the day when they can regain what they previously lost to Russia, be it Armenia for the Iranians or Vladivostok to the Chinese (a perusal of social media will show people still want these places back even after so many centuries). And all for what? Oil? A resource Russia already has in abundance and which, at the time of this writing, is rapidly becoming next to worthless? Simply because they hate the United States and Russia hates the United States as well, a country which has never fought a war with Russia, has no territorial disputes with Russia and shares not a single border with Russia? It makes no sense and I doubt seriously any of the old Czars would pursue it.

However, what about Eastern Europe? Here finally is an area where Mr. Hitchens and President Putin have a much better case to make. As stated earlier, the EU has been expanding far faster and to a far greater extent compared to Russia’s miniscule gains against Georgia or the annexation of Crimea. The inclusion of countries such as Finland, the Baltic states and Poland into NATO is something which no one with any common sense should have expected any Russian government worth its salt to simply accept. And yet, there is the problem and it is a problem of inaction rather than the actions Russia has taken in Asia. Because, Russian governments, Putin included, have accepted it and so it has become a fact of life that will stand firm until such time as the American voters grow tired of shouldering the risk and financial burden of standing guard over a continent whose peoples thoroughly despises them and whose independence or subjugation would have no impact on their lives at all. It is though, in the Balkans where I think rests the most glaring difference between modern Russian foreign policy and the foreign policy of a traditional Romanov monarch like Czar Nicholas II. Western anti-Putin or anti-Russian controversialists who like to paint Vladimir Putin as a warmonger should pay attention to this example because it disproves their narrative completely and that example is Kosovo.

To put it bluntly, if the Czar were in power in Russia today Kosovo would still be part of Serbia, no question about it. Once again, I fail to see what practical gain the separation of Kosovo has had for any of the western powers involved but that by itself bolsters my firm belief that if the Czar were around today it never would have happened. He would have made it very clear to all parties involved that he would not stand for such a thing and such an effort against the territorial integrity of Serbia would mean trouble with Russia. Had such a line been drawn, there is no doubt in my mind that no one would have dared to cross it because, again, even if most of the leadership in the west were not a bunch of feckless schemers, there would have been everything to risk for practically no gain on their part. It did not have to happen and if the Russian bear had showed her fangs there is not a doubt in my mind that it would not have happened and NATO would have shrugged its shoulders and walked away. Such an action might also have prevented Romania and Bulgaria from joining NATO in the next enlargement in 2004. Whether this would have pleased their peoples, I cannot say but it is demonstrably true that the security of Western Europe or North America is not impacted in any way by the status of Romania or Bulgaria which were dominated by the Soviet Union for decades, at times occupied by Russian troops and the member states of NATO got along just fine. Under different leadership, there would have been and had been different policies. I think the Czar would find it incredible that Russian forces would be put in harm’s way to defend a left-wing secular dictator in Syria but would not even be used as a threat to defend the territorial integrity of a fellow Slavic and Orthodox Christian country such as Serbia. The events which led Russia into the First World War demonstrate, I think, quite clearly that this would be so. And anyone can see that the leadership in Germany, for example, is not the same and would not have responded in the same way as the Kaiser did in 1914. No one would have gone to war with Russia for the sake of Kosovo.

Finally, just to bring it back to Germany and the European Union, leadership matters in this instance as well. The European Union does not stand for the German domination of Europe and a leader like Kaiser Wilhelm II would never be party to such a monstrosity as the current EU. I firmly believe this is so because, contrary to what some may think (though I fail to see how), the EU does not benefit Germany in any way, no more than it benefits any other country which is to say not at all. The German people gain nothing from the EU, indeed, they have only served to be milked like a cow by it. The Germans are not dominating Europe by the EU but rather are simply the guilt-ridden beast of burden that the EU bureaucrats, from various countries, are using to carry them to a life of wealth and power while the heart of western civilization is going to ruin. The EU political class has benefited from the EU but no country has benefited from it at all. The wealthier countries are exploited by it, they give and others take but even the most indebted member states, such as Greece, no more benefit from the EU than an addict benefits from his drug dealer. I will say though, to end on a note that Peter Hitchens just might agree with me on, whereas I do think President Putin has made some astounding errors, I do not think he can be compared to the leadership of those in power in countries such as Germany or Sweden or even the United States under Barrack Obama who, by their actions, have forced me to conclude that their “mistakes” are quite deliberate, that they generally despise their own people and are intentionally doing them harm. None more so, it seems, than Germany. Far from being about dominating Europe, the Germans will be lucky to even survive as a people thanks to the policies of the EU and their own government in Berlin.

Leadership matters. Russia was much better served when the Czar was in power, Germany was much better served when the Kaiser was in power and the English-speaking world was much better governed when the King still had at least some considerable influence and the House of Lords was not filled with political appointees. For that matter, America was much better governed when we had presidents that looked after American interests rather than trying to “make the world safe for democracy” or to cut us down to size because he thinks we’ve been too successful. Leadership does matter, the principles, the values (or the lack thereof) of leaders matters because they influence their decisions and those decisions have consequences. For myself, I look at the world today and would be very hard-pressed to name even a single country that is better governed now than it was in 1900. Leadership has changed dramatically and, in my view, clearly not for the better. I may be almost as sour in my estimation of the modern world as Peter Hitchens but I do think things have been better before. I absolutely do not agree that Putin is in any way or by any measure preferable to the Czar and while I do agree that Russia is not the same as the Soviet Union and should not be treated the same way, I would also extend the same courtesy to the Germans and say that Germany is not the same as it was under Hitler nor the same as it was under the Kaiser and should not be judged as such. Leadership has changed and those changes have made a significant difference, for themselves and the world

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