Thursday, 28 May 2009

Conservative Russia, Revolutionary America

Mark Hackard writes:

How times have changed! When Russia today opposes Kosovo independence or articulates its regional role in terms of history, culture, and ethnic solidarity, it looks downright counterrevolutionary.

Russia’s secret services also provide an example of shifts in ideology. Soviet intelligence once composed the vanguard of atheistic socialism. The Cheka and its successors knew no equal in ruthlessness or professional skill. Through the recruitment of agents in the West and various means of subversion, Moscow’s spies were charged with ensuring the eventual triumph of World Revolution. By the reasoning of dialectical materialism, any method, fair or foul, could be justified to advance the Communist cause. The Bolshevik sack of Heaven would be preceded by secret police infiltration.

Today Russia’s counterintelligence service, the FSB, maintains an Orthodox Church on the grounds of its headquarters at Lubyanka Square. It is nonetheless remarkable to see one of the Soviet Union’s top cold warriors profess Orthodox Christianity and call for the rebirth of tradition in Russian society. Nikolai Leonov wasn’t just any KGB officer; he was Moscow’s original point man for contacts with Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Castro brothers before the Cuban Revolution. He would later run the KGB’s analysis directorate and become deputy chief of foreign intelligence. In possession of accurate information on the state of affairs in the USSR, Leonov knew in the 1970s that the outlook was grim. By the time of the Soviet collapse, Marxism-Leninism had been the organizing principle in Russia for three quarters of a century and the results were in.

The wreckage of Communism left Russians in an ideological void, and the chaotic 1990s gave them little hope in market democracy or the oligarchs who looted the country at will. Demographic freefall, crumbling infrastructure and other socio-economic ills have their roots in the Soviets’ murderous imposition of modern ideology. What Lenin and his successors wrought, however, was only aggravated by initiatives at westernization. Wars in Chechnya, NATO expansion, and U.S. lectures on human rights and “backsliding” on democracy played a large part in Russia’s disillusionment with the values espoused by the contemporary West.

Many Russians, including influential men such as Leonov, returned to their faith and the centuries of tradition reflective of the truth it reveals. They also rediscovered the Church as the principal source of order in society. As the old spy asserts,

Orthodoxy is Russia’s one common bond. The historic role of the Church in the fate of the country, its spiritual authority, moral legitimacy, and the deepest national roots make Orthodoxy a most important component in our ideology.

Per Russian tradition, Leonov and like-minded colleagues support a powerful state, but in light of the Soviet experience are conscious that unity cannot be imposed upon a people through administration or coercion. The harmony of a nation derives from shared culture, the source of which is the cult, man’s relation to the transcendent.

The revival of Orthodoxy and a Christian worldview in the land of the Tsars still faces formidable challenges. Corruption, hypocrisy and the abuse of authority are ever-present in Russian society, though such phenomena are hardly limited to Russia alone. Pernicious remnants of the Soviet legacy, such as abortion and the callous regard for human life it implies, create profound psychic and spiritual trauma, as well as a tortured national conscience. Modern Russians are also well acquainted with Western-style consumerism and hedonism. Yet in spite of these numerous dysfunctions, the hazy realization that men and nations form part of a divine order is becoming clearer.

As Russia returns to the status of a conservative power, the United States has enthusiastically taken up the revolutionary mantle.

In the U.S.-Soviet competition, the Bolshevik ideology was more radical than liberalism, but only in a relative sense. Both systems affirm only material realities and lead man to spiritual desolation. With the defeat of Communism, Washington could attend to the enforcement of its own transnational vision. U.S. foreign policy has functioned as an instrument of revolution, from the “humanitarian” bombing of Serbia to attempts to reform Muslim societies and Islam itself.

Living up to its revolutionary nature, liberal internationalism shares a series of practices with its vanquished Soviet rival. Most noteworthy is a heavy reliance on covert action. Institutes such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy act as vehicles for regime change, just as Western labor unions and political parties were once manipulated by the Comintern.

The 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, as well as other uprisings, were not as spontaneous as portrayed. Both ideologies also have a record of using armed intervention as a means of social engineering. The invasion of a foreign state such as Afghanistan or Iraq is widely hailed as liberation, while counterinsurgency is a sure way to bring the grateful natives into the fold of progressive humanity.

U.S. foreign policy is carried out under the banner of progress, not only for rhetorical purposes, but because American leadership in “expanding the frontiers of freedom” is taken as a matter of faith. A radiant future for humanity is the promise of all modern ideology, though it varies in its forms. What is constant is a materialist reductionism that divorces man from the realm of the spirit. In this way individuals and entire peoples are deprived of uniqueness, traditions, and their place in the Cosmos. Global democratic capitalism, administered by our enlightened elites, corrodes faith, family and culture just as surely as Soviet state socialism. Marx’s appeal to the proletariat has given way to the equally soulless and inane “Consumers of the world unite!”

A discussion of man’s place in the Universe might seem far afield from talk of a second Cold War, but it is intimately connected. Beneath the dynamics of US-Russian strategic rivalry is an underlying battle of ideas. However inadvertently, the conversions of former KGB men can remind us of our own religious tradition, obscured by modernity but not yet lost. The secular parody of universal brotherhood, dedicated to accumulation and enjoyment, only leaves us isolated from each other and the source of life itself. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asks a decadent West:

Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?

We are haunted by the specter of another Cold War, but such a standoff is not inevitable. Russia is not a foreordained enemy, and it has no vital security interests that clash with those of the United States. In order to avoid the danger of renewed conflict, it’s time to reevaluate both the “lifestyle choices” and policies we have long celebrated. At the present moment, the revolutionary fantasies of unlimited consumption and world empire are leading America from one disaster to the next.

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