They are quite serious, actually.
Your treatment of history definitely drew me into this article. Nonetheless, the thesis seems to be that the current war on Russia is just based on a misunderstanding or poor thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. The war on Russia and soon China is based on the desperation of the ruling class of the west. The RC see their socioeconomic system crumbling and seek to militarily oust their rivals while taking their resources and expanding western capital across the "world island". The dying man of western capital sees this as the rejuvenating shot in the arm that can allow it world dominance once again. It's a crazy idea but it's not due to some confusion about WW2, it's due to the fact that the western RC can find no other means at this point to save their once dominant position in the world. Similar imperial calculations led to WW1 and WW2.
The ghosts of WW2 may still haunt the general population and to that extent the essay is somewhat interesting, but the RC of the west knows exactly what it's doing and why, despite the overwhelming propaganda of the last years, so overwhelming in many cases it would make Hitler jealous.
If readers want an explanation of why we are once again on the precipice of nuclear war, Lenin's imperialism will give you a much clearer picture of what's happening today.
US imperialism is not a democracy, it's not responding to the feelings of it's populous. It's crafting those feelings through extreme propaganda to get the populace to accept and even desire WW3 with Russia and China. It sees that great war as it's only chance to regain it's dominant position before China is too powerful to stop. It includes nuclear warfare in it's calculations this time around, so it's also clearly gone insane in it's efforts to turn back the clock.
There is no reasoning with the RC on this issue. They (the billionaires and both oligarchical parties in the US) and their system must be removed from power in the west before they launch a third and last WW.
You are right, Aurelian but not quite. The most important objective of US policy in Europe has been for years to destroy the cooperation between Russia and Germany. Nordstream always was the litmus test. I know from a participant of a talk of bankers with a high ranking member of the SPD in Munich that even in the summer of last year there was optimism in the German government that the Ukrainian crisis would be resolved and Nordstream reopened. The pressure on the German government from industry and the unions was tremendous and therefore the pipeline simply had to be blown up. The war in Ukraine has finally forced Germany back into the US orbit. That is as clear as daylight to me. The war in Ukraine is anything but irrational. War in Ukraine was the objective of US policy since 2014. The only question is whether things aren´t spinning out of control now. That is whether the US is about to fall into her self laid trap. I think that is where we are heading: chaos.
One might add, to the picture of confused "Western" narrative of World War 2, the increasing penetration of the Eastern European worldviews, in which (Nazi) German liberators freed them from the Soviet (or Yugoslav/Serbian in some cases) yoke. Nazi collaborators are openly extolled in Croatia, the Baltic States and the Ukraine, while the memory of the Soviet/Yugoslav era are increasingly obliterated, after all.
So NATO was a defensive alliance but as soon as the Wall fell they started to brew wars in the Balkans and in the Caucasus culminating with an all hands on the deck (including Germany) war against Yugoslavia. And BTW, the EU is the Fourth Reich, new clothes and a cleaner image but same goals via different means.
To be honest, there are genuine parallels to Russia post Cold War and Germany after World War I, except for the leap of imagination that draws extension to Hitler (and his supposed exceptionalism--something that AJP Taylor warned about).
1. In both cases, a large number of ethnics of the putatively defeated power were left stranded in countries gripped by nationalism hostile to their "homeland." The German denizens of Sudetenland and Danzig, in a sense, became even more hypernationalist than their brethren back in Germany precisely because of the hostility they were subjected to by the Poles and Czechs. They have their parallels in the large number of Russophones in the Baltic States and Ukraine.
2. Following up on #1, both find themselves confronted by hypernationalistic neighbors--Poland and Czechoslovakia for Germany, the Baltic States and, well, Poland again, for Russia (perhaps Ukraine is more like Czechoslovakia than not? A divided country with population split in 3--back then, the Czechs hated the Germans--both in Germany and Czechoslovakia; the Slovaks resented the Czechs and didn't have much beef against the Germans, and well, a third were German, increasingly more nationalistic than the Germans in Germany; a third of Ukraine, more or less, is Russian, another third didn't have much beef, and another third, in the West, hate both Russians and Russophone Ukrainians). These hypernationalistic neighbors were pretty open about their hostility being directed at Germany then, Russia now--Poles in 1920s, in particular, openly talked about invading Germany and taking advantage of its demilitarized state ("Cavalry ride to Berlin" and all that) and a lot of Reichswehr's planning was directed at how to manage the likely conflict with the Poles and/or the Czechs.
3. Neither country was "defeated," or, at least, was perceived to have been defeated by their own populations. In case of Germany, the military situation was dire and the defeat was inevitable at a huge cost if they hung on--but that was obvious only to the leadership, not the general population who did not know the particulars at the front. In case of Russia, it's even murkier because the Soviet leadership wanted to reform their system and sought reconciliation with the West in process, except it unleashed a series of events that fatally undermined their institutions from within. Yet both were treated as defeated powers by the supposed "victors" in particularly humiliating fashion, to be ruthlessly manipulated for the latter's sole benefit. In particular, we know that the French hawks really wanted to split up Germany into small manageable pieces like before 1870, or even earlier, harking back to the Napoleonic Era, (with the Saarland occupation, after both World Wars, in fact, being designed to bring about such a result) and that drew much German ire. Splitting up Russia into manageable pieces seems to have been constantly on the agenda of the Western powers since 1991 onward.
This brings us back to Taylor's argument that seeking to restore Germany to the position of a great power commensurate with its national capabilities, by reversing the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, was something that any German leader would have pursued (and did!), and that clash with Poland and Czechoslovakia was almost certainly inevitable. These events, in the end, did take place and set the stage for the Second World War, and that had nothing to do with the evils of Hitler. So could we have expected anything otherwise from Russia now? Taylor's argument was that the crises in the 20s and 30s was exacerbated because of the wobbly decisions made by the Western leaders--but he makes the argument with the recognition that they really did have very little choice, given the multiple pressures they were facing--and that the presence of an obviously evil (for reasons unrelated to foreign policy) Hitler made accommodating Germany in an international framework difficult. I suppose where the argument deviates for today is that there were opportunities for accommodating Russia at various times that were unavailable in 1920s. After all, Cold War was not World War I: it stayed mostly peaceful (at least in Europe) and Russian leaders, even Putin, were not "obviously evil" in their domestic policy. Instead, again to paraphrase Taylor, the West learned all the wrong lessons from World War 2.
I've always thought that one of few things to admire about Reagan was that he was at least willing to consider that the others did not share our own views of ourselves, even as he was himself responsible for reinforcing (and feeding from) the American/Western exceptionalism. After Able Archer 83 (and learning about how the Soviet beliefs about imminent NATO aggression almost led to World War 3), Reagan supposedly commented ""I don't see how they could believe that (that NATO is always planning an aggressive war)—but it's something to think about." It is pretty clear that he was a changed man after learning how close we came to a nuclear exchange. IMHO, it does make Reagan a more human a leader (and by extension, a better foreign policy leader) than many American presidents in the past 75 years or so.
A great essay, and many thanks. I could comment on so many levels and points that you raise.
I recently had a long and quite liquid conversation with a very dear friend the other day about - you guessed it Ukraine. He could not understand why Russia might be p*ssed by it joining NATO. My point was this was not about his view but about the views that Russian defence experts and politicians hold and have expressed clearly on many occassions. They told us this was a red line and it was. We in the West encouraged the war to start - on this basis.
In an age where we lack religion, and that includes me, we hang onto a sense of self and tribal values and belief systems. The two become intertwined. I am not saying I am immune to these influences - exactly the opposite. When you believe certain things about the world and the way it works in the widest sense - and are an intelligent, educated and accomplished person - well it is hard to rethink things. And it is difficult spending your time appearing like a lunatic with people you like.
If you regard the classic renaissance man, he was very smart, a thinker and captured by and large by religion. It is simply that we in the west have replaced God in our lives by something else. It might be green climate alarm, or wokeness, or CoVid fear or maybe even a fear of the evil Russian bear - or maybe veganism or whatever. People that subscribe to these modern religions genuinely believe they are the rational ones and that the heretics are mistaken at a moral level. Non-believers are the pagans, the fallen.
Science and the media are the new Priests, leading us to the truth. We have sin, repenetance and redemption.
I'm going to have another glass of wine. Non-organic. Even the doc knows it helps my blood pressure.
I love the fact that you insist on history and ask us to take other people seriously. It's incredibly fresh. It's rather telling and depressing of the state of things that such position feels fresh.
I am just wondering about the absence of materialism in any of it, a fortiori historical materialism of course ;-)
For example, it's one thing to say that political fundamentalist Islam is rising in some places and that those people are really serious and committed to their belief system, without further qualifications; but it is quite another to simultaneously point out that Islam is not itself homogenous, neither in space or time, that there are presumably reasons for a particular kind - rather conservative or rather progressive say - of Islam to 'resonate' and be taken up by wider segments of population whether in the West or elsewhere.
Indeed, in a direct sense a terrorist is a terrorist, whether Islamic or not. I personally feel closer 'ideologically' to a progressive Muslim than I do to an atheist Identitarian racist, and I think there is good reason to.
Yet still, to make things even more complex, not all terrorisms are equal either, whether in terms of tactics or goals: some aim much more at institutions and property than they do at people, and there have been 'terrorisms' fighting for emancipation rather than to install 'terror' or fundamentalism as a goal e.g. IRA, ANC, etc (with their own internal streams and friction).
Further, it is important to note that the 'historical materialist' observation holds equally true for Western liberals' belief system (whether states or individuals): they aren't homogenous across time and space, nor are they all equally hungry for domestic or international confrontation. Again, there are reasons beyond people's seriousness about their belief systems. One can use religion as easily as rationalism to justify war, whether responsive or first strike. What tends to matter ultimately is why a particular narrative appears to resonate with large enough sections of the population, and those reasons are presumably ultimately socio-material, even if, as we know, ideas also shape material conditions.
The West's near sole explanation for Ukraine is: evil and Putin. It's indeed pretty ridiculous for even dictators need a following, otherwise, if the narrative doesn't hold for a large enough section of the population, then the dictator gets deposed. So what were the socio-material conditions that made invading Ukraine so resonant with Putin and a large enough section of the Russian populace? And what are the socio-material conditions that make so resonant for the West to frame Ukraine the way it does? And the same holds for what are the socio-material conditions that make the mainstream media opt for the lazy 'single person good-evil' analysis rather than offer a serious and insightful analysis? (tip: same as governments, they primarily need to sell to their audience not necessarily provide quality analysis)
*it'd be nice to get a source for the 50k adherents to radical political Islam in France.
Dear Aurelien, as always, you manage to make connections that would never occur to me.
"When you have eliminated everything that is ideologically unacceptable, whatever remains, however stupid, must be the truth."
Right and wrong at the same time. Right, because liberal societies actually think that way. Wrong because neoliberalism has no ideology. It prefers pragmatic views. Right is what is good for me. Neoliberalism plays with ideologies. Globalization used to be good, now it is bad. Security used to be indivisible, and today even a Nazi Ukraine is allowed to join NATO.
I would like to read an essay of yours in which you address the influence of neoconialism, the work of intelligence agencies and their media manipulations on world events. Because this is where I see the missing link to your outstanding texts.
I always find your writing enlightening.
You touch on this in your article, but one point to draw out that helps explain the behaviour of the governing class captured by Liberal ideas occurred to me as I mulled this further this morning. Since Liberalism preaches that all men are atomized rational utility maximizing machines, and it sees this purely or nearly-purely on a material basis and no other (thanks Adam Smith, we have enough pins now), it makes members of the governing class uniquely blind to not just the effect but even the existence of their own symbolic logic.
This becomes a cybernetic loop when combined with the natural class filter effects of any governing class, and you eventually end up with a PMC completely incapable of even elementary theory of mind.
Aside, this is one area where Marxism has one up on Liberalism. Marxist ideologies are also materialist, but being based on Hegelian dialectic, at least recognize the existence of symbolic logic in guiding human behaviour. It just insists these symbols arise uncomplicatedly from material circumstances.
Interesting take. As with all your pieces, many interesting skeins, each worthy of extensive further treatment....
Small observation: it occurred whilst considering your thrusts about our not understanding other or different POV these days, which also means we tend to be unable to appreciate previous faith-based perspectives that
a) this has always been true on some level and
b) we have largely eliminated traditional class systems.
a) in days of yore when our shared religious faith defined our worldviews, I believe often we were unable to appreciate different views based on different faiths, or cultural regions or whatever. Did Christians, Jews and Muslims, for example, all three branches sharing similar philosophical and regional origins, ever see eye to eye, or even see well into the other's eyes or minds? I don't know, but that has not been my impression.
b) growing up in England (born in the fifties) there was still a very strong class system. There still is but it is much diluted in terms of how it appears in the public sphere. But in those days you could tell someone's class almost instantly, just as their accent revealed within a few miles from where they came (if you had an ear like Professor Higgins!). In such a cultural milieu, everyone was daily exposed to people who didn't think like them, not only because of peer-level differences - which are certainly commonplace - but mainly because of class differences. How the Master views the latest scandal in the village is very different from how his Butler or scullery maid would view it, moreover the Butler and scullery maid were very well aware of that fact. In other words, we were all aware that different people view the same thing quite differently. That was part of everyday experience.
In that context, interestingly, shared religious faith smoothed over the obvious differences in the classes (which were as much good as bad things) by providing a universal collective Heaven principle under which all equally lived. So they enjoyed a sense of shared unity with each other along with stark differences.
It was a more layered, sophisticated culture. I think since the Great War European culture in general has been in steady decline. Which also means our intelligence level has been going down and no doubt our ability to gauge what other nations are doing is fairly abysmal.
If you compare the Heads of State of Russia, China, India, Iran with the US, UK, France, and Germany, say: well, 'nuff said.
"...all decisions (including, implicitly political decisions) as made for reasons of utility maximisation on a purely rational basis, and with perfect information."
When I taught game theory, I openly told the students that we make these (very SILLY!) assumptions so that we can use math to analyze social situations, not because real people act like this. This confused them enormously. Apparently, even "real" people do act like this if they are sufficiently "educated.".....
Thanks. Very stimulating.
This line confuses me, and maybe I am misinterpreting:
"It’s’s hardly surprising, then, that in our hyper-secular age, the idea that there might be people out there who believe that their religion is literally true, and that those who do not share the particular interpretation of their faith are enemies to be literally destroyed is hard to accept. So far from western Liberal understanding were these ideas, that it was only the terrible events of 2015-16 that forced them into public awareness."
I read this as a claim that religious extremism is the cause of terrorism. But, were not the numerous wars of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria not a contributing factor? By wars of choice I mean - the decision of 'Western' countries to invade or intervene in these different countries to various degrees. And thus, how can religious extremism be the causal factor, if it is itself a response to an external factor?
Perhaps I am misunderstanding the argument, or over analyzing a minor point. Or maybe I am just wrong about terrorism.
One wonders where European societies will be in 50 years, if only because in their liberal dreck they have nothing good to direct their societies toward. (Political Christianity is dead as of Westphalia in Western lands)
One suspects a great growth in Islamic converts, for the basic fact that it has something to propose for people's lives. (Which Western Christianity refuses to do so, and hides from interaction with the culture)