Flowers of the Mind, history

Flowers of the Mind 24

The tweet above by Dmitri Simes contains an excellent discussion of the errors of interpreting Russian history that dominate the Anglo-American mediaplex including in the form of some prominent historians. Stephen Kotkin is one of those, put forward by the Hoover Institution, which is headed by former George W Bush National Security Adviser, Condaleeza Rice, and staffed by institutionalized Russophobes, neo-conservatives and military-industrial-security complex (“The Blob”), like H.R. McMaster and Niall Ferguson.

Many of the points he makes are also covered in teh excellen The Russia Anxiety, by Mark B. Smith.


I had been looking out for a while to see whether Dominic Lieven, historian of Imperial Russia, would comment on the Ukrainian crisis, and after a quick search engine check I discored he was giving a talk this week at Trinity College old boys club, Trinity in Japan.

In fact I was so excited I wrote to the organisers to see if I could participate, but it was just a closed club of self-regarding British elites. I did send two questionsto the organisers:

  1. Prof Lieven has remarked previously on the 300 period of Anglo-American dominance in the world. Is the Ukraine crisis the beginning of a chain of events that will bring that to an end?
  2. There has been an extraordinary wave of hatred towards Russia, often personalized in the figure of Putin, and seemingly especially acute in the elites of the British and Anglo-American world. The Ukraine Crisis has brought to an extreme peak a wave that has built for many years. What explains this (especially in Britain), and how might those of us with an affiliation to Russian culture, history and people endure it?

Neither question was asked so I might need to develop my own response. You can watch Dominic Lieven’s talk on Youtube here. Dominic Lieven’s reflections were deep, profound and insightful, and I would highly recommend the first hour of so of the video in particular, prior to his discussion with the questioners and after his initial pontification. I must say I was a bit disappointed with Lieven’s aristocratic virtue-signalling. But he makes some good points and possible solutions, if rather tainted by an offensive smell of noblesse oblige (“Putin is just not well brought up”). He is a better historian than diplomat.

In particular, his separation of the story of ethno-linguistic nationalism from the history of imperial orders is important. So much of the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the tragic encounters of the elites of empires and ethno-linguistic national identities. We are seeing a new version of this struggle between confected social media national identities, concealing troubled and exclusive ethno-lingusitic reasoning, and collapsing imperial orders.

In a way, the situation in Ukraine reminds of stories in John Darwin’s history of the British Empire, about how local elites, with often venal interests and disordered thought patterns, drive forard imperial adventures in accidental and disastrous ways.


Speaking of exclusive ethno-linguistic thinking, a major cultural institution of the Ukrainian Government disgraced itself this week with the tweet below, expressing the view that “Ukrainians” are pure-blood Slavs, whereas “Russians” are mixed, contaminated races from the “barbaric East”, whose faults are “visible to the eye”. You can read it below, though the propagandists quickly realised they had made a PR mistake and took it down.


“A sense of the past is far more basic to the maintenance of freedom than hope for the future.”

Robert Nisbet


I released a bit of a patchy podcast late yesternight on the strategic confusion of the United States in the Ukraine Crisis of the Emerging Multipolar World – Ukraine Conflict – Who Miscalculated Most – Russia or USA?.

My essential point is also made in this video by Andrei Martyanov on the game plan in the United States – essentially regime change in Russia.

I will develop this thought further – I think we are seeing a dynastic collapse in the United States and a remaking of the world, and there is an awful lot of uncomfortable squirming from the elites who have sat if a lazy dominance in the Anglo-American institutions of the world, like Trinity College, Oxford.

Image Credit – Dominic Lieven

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