My live journal, Flowers of the Mind, is a little late this week, and I suppose any reader would know why. A world-historical event has happened. I will share some of my initial thoughts on the situation in this field of flowers, and in a podcast later today. I said in a podcast in December 2021 that the emergence of a multipolar world is forcing a negotiated peace settlement of the Hundred Years (mostly) Cold War. It is regrettable, but also realistic, to say that war precedes peace, and the events in Ukraine are the first of the last stage of that long war. We – especially we in the drowning Anglo-American empire – are in for a difficult few years. But first, the other events of my mind this week.
Earlier in the week, before the history-changing decisions of 24 February, I read an essay, “The liberal order is already dead” by Paul Kingsnorth. Perhaps Kingsnorth, who has adopted the Orthodox faith, has communed with the cultural vibe of a newly assertive Russia. Kingsnorth writes:
So what comes after liberalism? The question has filled plenty of column inches in recent years, but the Covid years have brought into sharp relief the likely future we face. In Why Liberalism Failed, Deneen predicts that two post-liberal worlds are on offer: “a future of self-limitation”, in which people choose to practice “self-governance in local communities”, or “a future in which extreme licence coexists with extreme oppression”.
I know which I’d prefer, but I also know which looks most likely. As extreme individualism deepens, and an all-powerful state intervenes ever more deeply and widely to manage the resulting fragmentation, Western democracies show every sign of transforming openly into authoritarian oligarchies in which dissent — especially dissent aimed at liberalism itself — is ruthlessly suppressed by politicians who claim to represent “the people”. The vast bulks of those stationary Canadian trucks are currently the perfect symbol of this process.
The immediate future looks to me like the grinding down of what previous norms remain, and the parallel expansion of the State-corporate leviathan to both mop up the resulting mess and profit from it. That in turn will generate more “populist” (i.e. anti-liberal) reaction from both “Left” and “Right” and neither, and a consequent deepening of repression and propaganda from the besieged minority defending the remains of the liberal order. All of this will take place in the context of a planet with nearly ten billion people on it, hitting economic and ecological limits on all sides.
It seems likely to me that the liberal era will end much as the communist one did: flailing and corrupt, hiding behind walls of its own making, its leaders in denial but its people increasingly open-eyed. Perhaps the Russians won’t roll into Ukraine and spell the end of the vaunted “liberal order”, but its end seems to have been baked in from the beginning. All ideologies are based on a view of human nature that looks better on paper than in the confusing mess of the world, and the one we grew up with was no exception. No man, as John Donne had it, is an island. Now we see how right he was.Paul Kingsnorth
I differ from Kingsnorth in one detail of his assessment that Western democracies are transforming into authoritarian oligarchies: I believe we live in post-democratic societies. The degradation of our republics became clear during the Trump years, as much in those who assumed for themselves the role of the “Resistance”, as in the flawed, erratic yet still elected President himself. The authoritarian temptation of progressives and “liberal democracy” were let loose to run the place during the ferments of 2020 and the response to the pandemic. And now, as Kingsnorth feared, a war fought in the name of democracy, standing for a state tainted by corruption and breaches of human rights, is closing down rational thought, reasoned discussion, political opposition, and diplomatic prudence. Democracy is not under siege in Kiev. The empire of lies about democracy is.
Decisions made in anger are repented at leisure. Unfortunately our elites in the post-democratic societies of the “West” – perhaps most acutely in the Anglo-American states – are too obsessed with posing theatrically in the media to understand that fundamental virtue of governing well – prudence. This weakness will cause the house of cards of the Western theatre state to collapse.
And so two brief comments on Ukraine.
First, at midday on 24 February I wrote to the Prime Minister of Australia in exasperation about the hysterical, Russophobic spiral that the elites of our post-democratic societies were entering. I had seen the carefully chosen language of the Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr. Jaishankar, including his impressive performance at the Munich Security conference, seated beside the fidgeting Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. Here is what I wrote in a ritual performance that citizens still have a voice in our post-democratic societies.
Dear Prime Minister
I am expressing my concern about the apparent position taken by the Australian Government on the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
I would urge the Australian Government to take a more prudent approach that urges restraint on all sides. The diplomatic approach of India offers a model of what Australian policy could be. It would be preferable in my view if we adopted a similar approach, rather than repeating talking points from the United States political leadership. I think ultimately this will lead to a more peaceful and balanced international system than if Australia continues to pursue its narrow Anglo-American approach to diplomacy.
I note there are many Russians who live in Australia and a larger number of people, such as myself, with strong ties and affinities with Russian culture or knowledge of Russian history. For these people your Ministers’ statements of “standing with Ukraine” are offensive since they are occurring while: Ukraine shells people in Donestsk and Lugansk (a war that has been occurring since 2015); Ukraine breaches basic democratic conventions (including language rights); Ukraine declares a state of emergency or martial law that may well lead to further abuses.
I also note the English Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has reportedly urged fellow MPs to avoid “casual Russophobia” since it may lead to British-Russians being victimised. I would encourage all Australian MPs of all parties and media organisations to pay heed to this belated warning. The hysterical comments of so many Australian politicians, journalists and think-tankers on Russian politics, history and culture are demeaning, deceptive and ignorant.
I would encourage you to read the following piece among many by Anatole Lieven and promote some reconsideration of Australia’s diplomatic stance towards Russia – https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2022/02/23/canceling-talks-with-russia-wont-achieve-anything/.
Dr Jeff Rich
Two hours later the world changed. My broad assessment has not changed. Nor despite the escalations of the West have the diplomatic strategies of India and China changed. I have yet to receive a response from our Prime Minister. I will let you know if I ever do.
Secondly on Ukraine – we are in an information war, and one in which it takes little reflection or thought to realise much of what is said or retweeted or hash-tagged by instant experts, commentators, media-theatre state actors and wannabe influencers is manipulated media or psy-ops. Extraordinarily stupid ideas are being traded wildly. Be careful about what you read, what you share, and do not succumb to a second mass formation hysteria, just after the COVID pandemic died with Omicron. I will address this situation more in my podcast; but please remember that history, culture, difference, generosity of spirit, and participation in the infinite conversation are dampen the flames of the burning archive.
Marina Tsvetaeva was one of the great poets of the twentieth century. She wrote in her essay, “Poets with history and poets without history”:
The pure lyricist always knows that nothing is going to happen to him, that he will have nothing but himself: his own tragic lyric experience.Marina Tsvetaeva, Art in the Light of Conscience, p. 142.
The Flowers of the Mind are my lyric, tragic experience.
Image Credit: ‘Marina Tsvetaeva by Max Voloshin, 1911’ – Wikimedia Commons