Unlike Pat Buchanan and some other conservatives, I don’t think that Vladimir Putin’s support of traditional values makes him a good guy. Freedom comes first. I also support traditional values but I don’t want the government to shove them down my throat. Banning obscenity from entertainment media, Putin’s latest ukase, would keep Shakespeare, Goethe and Dante out of circulation in their original form, not to mention Rabelais or Villon.
What we do with our freedom is another thing. Apple has just bought Dr. Dre’s earphone company for $3.2 billion, making the rapper one of the country’s wealthiest men. One presumes that the selling point of his earphones is not their superior technical characteristics but their association with Dre’s rapping, which is too disgusting to illustrate on this site; readers may satisfy their prurient curiosity here. Dre raps about drug use, rape, pimping and violence: he is a repulsive degenerate whom a healthy society would excrete and forget. Dre’s $3.2 billion score gauges the popularity of evocations of rape and murder.
There is no guarantee that freedom will prevail over dictatorship. I reviewed some of the history here.
Democracies do not necessarily field the most efficient or enthusiastic armies. The French under Napoleon and the Germans under Hitler were the best soldiers of their day. Democracies have one important advantage, namely the capacity to correct errors. Democracies do not necessarily make better decisions than dictatorships in each case, but they are less like to perpetuate errors. It is easy to replace an elected leader who goes mad; not so a charismatic tyrant. This makes the ultimate victory of democracies more probable, but hardly inevitable. It may be likely that a charismatic tyrant will make decisive errors, but it is far from assured that such error will be made soon enough to make it possible to defeat the tyrant at the right moment. I like to think that providence was at work during the Second World War, but that sort of question is above my pay grade.
A people can will itself out of existence democratically as well as by any other means: France did so during the 1930s, and survived the clutches of Nazi Germany thanks to the Allies.
Putin’s mission is to save Russia from dissolution. Ten years ago, with a fertility rate of just 1.2 children per female and fourth-world life expectancy for men, Russia seemed doomed. The fertility rate since has recovered to 1.7, for reasons we do not adequately understand. Part of the reason surely is renewed national self-confidence.
Russia is not a shallow country. The opening pageant for the Sochi Olympics set Russian skill at ballet against the music of Russia’s great composers in an idealized (to say the least) depiction of Russian history. Still, it was quite beautiful. Contrast this to the bathetic clowning at the London Olympics, with James Bond and Elizabeth II sky-diving into the stadium.
Putin’s seizure of the Crimea has made him an object of opprobrium in the United States and a hero at home. He has revived the old pre-1914 nationalism with some degree of success. This was never a pleasant thing (as my ancestors who suffered in the Russian Empire well knew), but it is the only identity Russians appear to have after the fall of Communism. The attraction of this kind of national renewal should not be underestimated. The West thought that it dealt a blow against dictatorship at Maidan, but only succeeded in boosting the popularity of Russia’s dictator to an extent few considered possible.
I do not know whether Putin will succeed. But I am sure beyond the shadow of doubt that if we keep making billionaires out of scum like Dr. Dre, we will fail. There was something better than Russian-style nationalism once. It was American patriotism. If we forget it, the land will puke us out.