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Generalissimus Putin

One thing we can credit Ivan the Terrible with is candor. When his dissident political advisor Kurbsky fled Moscow for exile in Lithunania in the mid-16th century, Ivan struck up a blistering correspondence with him, a kind of running Machiavellian … Read More

By / June 4, 2007

One thing we can credit Ivan the Terrible with is candor. When his dissident political advisor Kurbsky fled Moscow for exile in Lithunania in the mid-16th century, Ivan struck up a blistering correspondence with him, a kind of running Machiavellian dialogue but in which the cynical philosopher was also the sovereign. Kurbsky had repeatedly castigated Ivan for his unmitigated autocracy, to which the dread czar replied: 

"Is this then the sign of a 'leperous conscience,' to hold my kingdom in my hand and not to let my servants rule? And is it contrary to reason not to wish to be possessed and ruled by my own servants? And is this 'illustrious Orthodoxy' — to be ruled over and ordered about by my own slaves?…. And as for the godless peoples–why mention them? For non of these rule their own kingdoms. As their servants order them, so too do they rule. But for the Russian autocracy, they themselves from the beginning have ruled all their dominions, and not the boyars and not the grandees… And is this 'darkness' for the tsar to possess his kingdom and for his slaves slavishly to fulfill his orders? How, pray, can a man be called autocrat if he himself does not govern?… And we are free to reward our slaves, and we are free to punish them… Hitherto the Russian masters were questioned by no man, but they were free to reward and to punish their subjects; and they did not litigate with them before any judge… Am I vainglorious in that I order my slaves, who are subjected to me by God, to carry out my wishes?

The instructions for absolute self-rule here outlined were followed dutifully throughout centuries and vicissitudes of the Russian experience. One can easily state with some assurance that the only thing that has vanished from Moscow — and did so in the early decades of the 20th century — is the open acknowledgement that autocracy is the preferred mode of governance. What made Communism so alluring to fellow travelers and Western dupes was that it presented its actual state of existence as one of popular consent and social liberation when in fact the exact opposite was the case. Russia is unlikely to elect, or simply be ruled by, a man who claims he alone should wield total power over his "slaves," but don't be fooled by the liberal pretenses that try to mask that inner conviction. The more meretricious the dictator's boast, the worse the reality.

Here is Vladimir Putin, sounding like Stalin at his lying best:

"Of course I am an absolute, pure democrat. But you know the problem? It's not even a problem, it's a real tragedy. The thing is that I am the only one, there just aren't any others in the world."

Putin said the West's record on democracy was less than perfect.

"Let's look what happens in North America — sheer horror: torture, the homeless, Guantanamo, keeping people in custody without trial or investigation," Putin said in the interview ahead of this week's summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations.

"Look what's going on in Europe: the harsh treatment of demonstrators, the use of rubber bullets, tear gas in one capital or another, the killing of demonstrators in the streets."

Khodorkovsky, Gasparov, Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, Yushchenko… Fantasists and anti-democratic subversives, every one.

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