Winning the Territory, Losing the War: Why Conchita Wurst Is More Powerful Than a Russian Army

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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  1. Avatar Tod Kelly
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    Great piece.

    This is something I noted to Mark earlier, but I’ll go ahead and throw this out to the comments sections as well:

    “Putin seeks to stoke Russo-nationalism (and thereby preserve the Russian Empire) by defining “Russian” entirely by a set of cultural markers… For Putin, all that is necessary to be “Russian” is to share a certain set of cultural values, and one who does not share those values is not “Russian.”

    It is thus Western culture writ large – rather than merely Western or American leaders, as in the past – that is to be feared and stopped. As we have seen with the recent Russian anti-gay laws, tolerance and respect for LGBT lifestyles is high on the list of Western values to be feared…

    But it is near impossible to see how such a rigidly defined culture can spread or remain influential outside of its political borders, where it must compete with other, more fluid, cultures. Nor will it be able to stop completely the inflow of other cultural influences, no matter how much it seeks to restrict those influences…

    Indeed, as Ms. Wurst’s victory shows, Putin’s vision of a “Russian world” may already be dead.

    As Mark correctly pointed out to me, there are major differences, but I think it’s still quite striking how easily the bits above reflect what’s happening with movement conservatism here at home. Replace “Putin,” “Russia,” and “Western culture” with “movement conservatism,” “America,” and “liberalism” I think it’s a pretty damn on target — especially in regards to the use (and eventual backfire) of public fear of gays and lesbians.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Tod Kelly
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      Tod stole my comment.

      For Putin, all that is necessary to be “Russian” is to share a certain set of cultural values, and one who does not share those values is not “Russian.”

      It’s True Scotsmanism at its finest. It’s even better than the US iteration that we had in the early-to-mid 2000s.Report

  2. Avatar North
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    We’ve seen this before. When the waters of liberalism hit the burning wrecks of repressive societies and cultures there’s a violent reaction. Steam flies, there’s disruption and even violence, but the water keeps flowing, eventually the heat subsides and in the long run the waters rise and quench the fires. Patience, prudence and an open confidence in the strength of our values is all that is required for victory.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy
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    “…the advance of Western culture and values cannot be stopped, nor may the decline of the Russian/Soviet empire be reversed…”

    Can you specify which values you mean? Because there are some Western values I’d love to see exported and some I wish never existed.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy
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      Honestly, I have no idea. Despite the triumphal tone of this piece (since I obviously believe this particular Western value is a good one), I’m not offering an opinion on whether Western values on the whole are better than traditional Russian values – to do that would be foolish, and certainly the advance of Western culture could on the whole be ugly just as much as it could be good.

      That said, reactionarianism is, IMHO, never a good thing wherever it occurs. Reactionarianism prevents the culture from being itself, replacing it instead with a rigid, fixed, highly idealized vision of culture that ignores what makes culture valuable.

      While, as I said in the discussion Tod references above, there are differences between Putin’s “Russian World” and American movement conservatism, the similarities are quite striking. Over the years, there’s been a number of discussions in these parts (and I’ve even had these discussions off-site with some movement conservatives) about how there is so little good creative work produced by movement conservatives. Well, the reason for this, IMHO, is that reactionarianism inherently seeks to stifle creativity and to prevent culture from evolving, instead insisting on a return to a set of “traditions” without seeking to place those traditions in context. The result is an imitation of culture rather than culture itself – it’s functionally the equivalent of Disney saying that the China Pavilion at EPCOT Center actually is Chinese culture, or at least is itself a part of Chinese culture, rather than an artificial and sanitized representation of Chinese culture.

      None of which is to say that the advance of Western culture means the end of Russian culture. It doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t. Instead, the likely result is that it should meld with Russian culture in a way that denizens of Eastern Europe and Russia choose by virtue of their revealed preferences.

      Vienna itself is actually a great example of this. Much as was the case for Moscow and St. Petersburg, it spent its imperial days as a cultural hub for its sphere of influence, developing a unique and peculiar culture that I don’t think could be said to have been integrated within Western culture. After the fall of the Hapsburg Empire, it went through a particularly intense reactionary period (to say the least; I’d go so far as to say that the fall of the Hapsburgs was one of the most tragic things to come out of WWI). It’s the prospects of such a reactionary period that we should obviously be most concerned about; that said, the difference here is critical – we’re now talking about a situation where militarily restoring empire to a meaningful extent is not remotely feasible and where the digital/internet age has made artificial cultural barriers extremely porous.

      Post-WWII, though, it’s safe to say that Vienna is fully integrated with the West. American TV shows and movies, for better or worse, are on TV and in the theaters constantly, and American/British music dominates the radio stations. Nearly everyone you encounter is likely to speak fluent or near-fluent English, from the checkout girl at the grocery store on up. And so on.

      And yet…..it still retains its distinct cultural character. Viennese people are proudly “grumpy” in a manner consistent with its history as a center of bureaucracy despite the fact that they enjoy about the highest standard of living on the planet. Concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein still sell out months in advance. The coffee houses are just as crowded at 4:00 PM in the low season as they are during tourist season. The Opera Ball is broadcast live on at least three of the national TV stations.

      Nor is this distinct cultural character entirely stuck in the past – Hunderwasserhaus was built in the early 1980s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundertwasserhaus

      And there are few things more simultaneously cutting edge and uniquely Viennese than the Gasometer and the community that has developed within it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasometer,_Vienna

      The point I guess is that the end of empire and the ascendancy of Western culture hasn’t prevented the Viennese from choosing to maintain and develop their own distinctive culture or from choosing the elements of Western culture they could do without.

      But the key to that has been that they’ve been able to make those choices themselves rather than preventing those choices from being made by erecting artificial cultural barriers.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Mark Thompson
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        Spot on Mark. It should be clarified that the ideologies that are the most successful in infiltrating other cultures aren’t distinctly western nationalistic. People aren’t putting on cowboy hats or throwing tea parties. We’re talking about the bland indispensible ideals; individualism, egalitarianism, religious and racial pluralism, democracy, anti-tribalism, anti-sexism. These things are so powerful that even many repressive regimes feel motivated to try and play lip service to them or claim that in reality their regime (and theirs only) is the true defender of this or that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson
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        Got it. Thanks for clarifying. Re-reading that section, I see a interpreted a certain sense of triumph behind that statement that wasn’t warranted. Your analysis was a more objection accounting/prediction of what happened/is happening.

        Great piece, by the way. I should have led with that.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Mark Thompson
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        @north Great point.
        @kazzy Thanks – the fault for your original interpretation is mine, though, if only because it’s hard to keep the triumphalism that I felt with this specific event from seeping in. I appreciate you asking the question because it helped me clarify my own thoughts on this quite a bit more and get into something that I felt was important but struggled to find a place for in the OP.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe
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    You know who else rose out of Austria to dominate Europe?

    But seriously, I don’t mean to knock Wurst…ok, I’m done now…but as you say, these are reactionary forces. A movement for LGBT equality (and more generally, social and political small l liberalism) may both have moral righteousness and (by this point) numerical majorities, but those are insufficient for ‘victory’. It still requires a continuous fight – mainly in the cognitive realm, but, if necessary, in the physical one as well. (because not everyone can be Ghandi or MLK). Declarations of ‘unstoppable’ inevitably seem a little pre-mature. (even though I’m on the record as saying that LGBT rights are much less likely to get rolled back than, say, racial minority ones, as there is more pre-existing socio-economic equality between the LGBT community and the so-called ‘mainstream’)

    Plus, Putin is a code word master:

    “There is no need for anyone living in America to forget their religion or ethnicity. But they should identify themselves primarily as citizens of America and take pride in that.”

    This statement, on its own, would find wide acceptance on the US political scene, I think. Our contextual interpretation would be ‘melting pot’, not ‘cultural hegemony’. In some ways, they are largely one in the same – and not necessarily a bad thing. It almost entirely depends on point of view – just ask the French both in North America and Europe about their anti-English language laws.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kolohe
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      I don’t mean to knock Wurst

      Putin publicly deplores that brat Wurst (but feels differently in private).Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Kolohe
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      You guys are just hot dogging with all your fancy pants puns.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kolohe
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      @kolohe I think my response to @kazzy above is probably applicable here as well, at least in terms of clarifying what I’m trying to get at. It’s not so much that I think respect (or at least tolerance) for LGBT people – or any other specific aspects of Western culture – will inevitably become dominant in Russia or other parts of Eastern Europe. What elements of Western culture that get adopted or don’t get adopted will be a function of local, organically-revealed preferences over time.

      Instead, my point is more that Putin’s attempt to salvage the remnants of empire by using a rigid and artificial definition of Russian culture as the linchpin is doomed to failure.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Mark Thompson
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        @kolohe Also:

        “There is no need for anyone living in America to forget their religion or ethnicity. But they should identify themselves primarily as citizens of America and take pride in that.”

        This statement, on its own, would find wide acceptance on the US political scene, I think. Our contextual interpretation would be ‘melting pot’, not ‘cultural hegemony’. In some ways, they are largely one in the same – and not necessarily a bad thing. It almost entirely depends on point of view – just ask the French both in North America and Europe about their anti-English language laws.

        I agree, and actually debated taking that part of Putin’s statement out of my post for that reason. But I decided to keep it in because I thought it provided some helpful context in light of the manner in which he defines Russian culture as essentially synonymous with the Russian state. That makes it a bit different from the concept of the melting pot, in which separate identities are able to subtly alter the pot as a whole even as the pot alters them. Instead, it’s more of a chocolate-covered nut concept- you can be whoever you want on the inside, as long as you allow yourself to be completely covered in an opaque shell of Russian culture and make no attempt to let your inner identity show.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Mark Thompson
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        But only in the sense, if he (really, they, because it’s a team sport) continue to, as you said, continue to treat as congruent State and Culture. (a principle feature, in fact, of the Nazis)

        The speech you link too, particularly the excerpts, are, imo a lot more subtle. And thus more powerful (and not entirely wrong).

        Casting the Russian experience over the course of a millennium as the forces of civilization against the forces of barbarism has the merit of being technically true (to a point), and echoes the common American myth (which also has some basis in fact), born* in the time of TR and Wilson, of America being the ramparts of Western Civilization against the Hun, the Nazis, the Commies, and now the Al Qaeda (the last one, of course, is one where Putin is a self-proclaimed ally).

        * though it is incorrect to say it was born at the dawn of the 20th century. Rather, it was born in the century before, as ‘civilization’ was what the white folks were doing, and ‘not-civilization’ was what the aboriginals were doing. Which also parallels the Russian experience of the 18th and 19th centuries, but unlike Americans, the Russians subjugated but did not try to exterminate its continental co-inhabitants.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Mark Thompson
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        I wrote the above before reading your 1:39 reply or the full text of Putin’s speech.

        I do substantially agree with you, but I still say that Putin’s idea has a great deal of power, because it will have a great deal of resonance towards its intended audience. (and one that could be given to stir up ethno-nationalism in many people, given the right inputs of historical & cultural allusion)Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Mark Thompson
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        @kolohe Oh, it definitely has emotional power – it’s no small part of why Putin is incredibly popular in Russia. But it’s a power that doesn’t project very far outside of his own borders, nor is it a power that, in this day in age, realistically stamp out the spread of Western influence. At best, he can slow it by building internet firewalls (which he seems to be in the process of doing) and disengaging from the West. But that’s not going to get him very far if the goal is salvaging a sense of empire: it’s hard to expand your cultural influence when you’ve disengaged from other cultures.Report

      • Avatar scott the mediocre in reply to Mark Thompson
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        @kolohe

        Nice. BTW, have you ever read “The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretative History of Russian Culture” by James H. Billington (1966)? Long OOP, but many libraries have it. I think you would really like it. Billington does a lot to tie the 19th/Silver Age Russian proto-revolutionaries like Chernyesvsky to much earlier strands in Russian experience (earlier meaning anything from the 14th C expansion of the monastic system into the virgin forests of Russia above the steppe line through the 16th C theocratic controversies over Nikon’s reforms and the like).
        Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Mark Thompson
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        There are a significant number of ethnic Russians outside the Russian Federation. (as I’m sure you’re aware)

        My thinking on this particular speech isn’t about stamping out Western influence (though he deliberately draws comparisons to the West and America to make Russia look relatively better, as is his wont) It’s about Russia, [heck] Yeah! a more encompassing sentiment (but by no means universal, the way, say, Marxism was or Democracy is)

        I am, however,actually at loss to figure out what he’s saying about migrations and the downfall of the Soviet Union, and what internal (to the Russian Federation) migrations going on today – other than the worldwide trend (in each of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd worlds) of rural areas de-populating and cities expanding ( which I imagine in the Russia context, is people coming from the Eurasian interior to Moscow & St. Pete)

        I also imagine his mentions of ‘isolated minorities’ are a specific dig at the peoples of the Trans-Caucasus (and once upon a time Jews, but I think most of those enclaves have decamped to Israel over the past 3 generations).Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Mark Thompson
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        @scott-the-mediocre No, can’t say I’ve heard of it. My knowledge of Russian history is more than a bit cursory and very amateur, learned in the context of Pacific Ocean security studies. (and taught by people that had just finished fighting the Cold War and were mostly still in that mindset)Report

  5. Avatar StevetheCat
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    No offense Mark, but you’re clutching at straws.Report

  6. Avatar Damon
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    “the advance of Western culture and values cannot be stopped, nor may the decline of the Russian/Soviet empire be reversed.”

    Yeah, just like “this is a new economy and there never will be another depression.” See when I hear comments like this, I’m reminded that, generally, they are wrong. Yep, empires fall. The Russian empire fell to be replaced by the Soviet empire, only to fall into what we have now. But let’s not forget that the American empire rose from the ashes of the British Empire and will also collapse. I’m not so optimistic that “western culture” will ever soldier on to cover the globe.

    First off, those embodying the west aren’t reproducing. The radicals and ideologues are and they hate western liberalism. We’ve already seen push back. What do you think will happen when those “bastions of freedom” begin to collapse? To use North’s imagery, the volcanos of unrest and hate will erupt and the lava will evaporate the waters of tolerance, leaving only oceans of ash and salt.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Damon
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      Pessimistic, but also factually incorrect Damon as far as I can see. Population growth is levelling of globally, including in repressive societies. Antideluvian social traditions have demonstrated virtually no staying power when exposed to liberal democratic ideals. There isn’t an immigrant ethnic group yet that has maintained any form of strict adherence to undemocratic ideologies past a couple generations. We don’t need to outbreed revanchist societies, their children are fighting tooth and nail to move here (and it sure as hell ain’t to spread their ideology or creed).
      What are the illiberal rival ideologies that we see on the march? Do you have any names for these terrifying volcanoes?Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to North
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        Radical Isalm?

        The west’s birthrate is below population sustainability, immigrants are the only way to keep populations level. Immigration in Europe has created all kinds of social/political/religious issues, fueling distrust and hatred as the newcomers, who are “different” than the locals, establish themselves.

        Don’t recall the murders of the dutch guy by the radical islamics? The soldier in the UK that was decapitated by them? The push for sharia law?

        Given that all empires fall, what will happen when they do? All these data points suggest a fracturing of the society back along racial, religious, etc. lines after the fall. After all, there won’t be much ability to maintain the status quo then. What logically follows is conflict.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        Radical Islam? Call me when they manage to sustain their furor in two generations or so. Currently their accomplishments have amounted to a handful of innocent people murdered, a bunch of useful idiot Liberals folding on the subject of some plays and newspaper contents and a bunch of useful idiot Conservatives trying to magnify them into a new Soviet menace to justify Bush the Lesser’s foreign adventures. That does not a civilizational or ideological threat make. Hell, we’ve had social/political/religious issues fuelling distrust and hatred of newcomers as long as we’ve had liberalism. I see no credulous reason to think that the Islamic newcomers are different than the Jewish, Hindu, Catholic or Protestant* newcomers before them.

        Especially not when you contrast the Canadian and American experience where Muslims communities have fit into the existing liberal order as easily as the Irish, the Italians and so many other ethnic groups before them.

        Canada had a party that advocated national yogic flying. They’re about as likely to succeed as any Islamic group is to convince the west to adopt Sharia Law.

        All empires do not fall, many of them merely decline. Also we seem short on a liberal empire. Where is it? What is there to collapse? What would it look like if it did?

        *Though I understand and concede that the First Nations peoples maintain a serious issue about the early protestant immigrants.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to North
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        @North,
        I’m not trying to say that radical Islam is going to end the world as we know it. I’m saying it’s a factor. One radical Islamic seemed to have been quite successful in triggering the “global cop” to spend it’s blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan, and Somalia quite effectively.

        Empires fall / decline. I consider that semantics. Did the Roman Empire fall or just decline slowly away? Does it matter? Is it a fall if it ends in in violence and is it a decline if the empire just slowly goes bankrupt?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        Well, since the “empires” are not remotely approcahing bankruptcy and are not empires per say I’m still unconcerned.
        Granted the Islamics were able to induce a harmful reaction with their shenanigans I think we’re past peak Islamic-panic at this point and hold out hope that our inherent inertia and cheapness may begin to reverse course on that.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to North
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        @north
        Technically, the american empire is bankrupt, but it depends upon how you value/determine assets and liabilities.

        Yes, america isn’t an empire like Rome or even England, but it’s still one. You know we have a military presence is almost every single country on the globe? The dollar is the “reserve currency” of the globe. We’re the global cop. May not walk like a duck, but it quacks like a duck….Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        Damon, America- empire or not- is not remotely approaching bankrupt. Frankly I’m surprised to see you using such a nonsensical fiscal hawk talking point.

        Greece, in contrast, was bankrupt. Greece had extremely high levels of taxation, extremely high levels of tax evasion and extremely high levels of spending on things that enormous portions of their population were perfectly willing to riot over. Their debt was/is huge compared to the size of their economy.

        America, on the same measure, has few of these problems. Setting aside their reserve currency status and their ability to print their own money America’s debt compared its economy is quite modest, their taxes were (and remain) historically low and their spending has significant margins that -while politically suicidal to cut- would be unlikely to prompt riots if they were reduced. A modest alteration of fiscal policy combining tax increases and spending cuts could have balanced the books any time that the political will existed. Hell, you could log onto the NYT or the Washington post websites and balance the budget on their budget calculators in fifteen minutes. America’s woes were political, not fiscal and that is the definition of not bankrupt. Really the only problem for anyone trying to balance the budget would be retaining political office after they did it or trying to do it by cutting out an element like by doing it without tax increases (The GOP’s favored policy) or doing it by only raising taxes (mercifully not the Dem’s position) both of which would have been draconian.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to North
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        North,
        We’ll have to agree to disagree regarding america’s debt. What about the empire? Still think we’re not one?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        Damon, if you’d like to lay out your assertions that support the claim that America is technically bankrupt I would happily consider them. I think I made a concrete explanation of how it is not.

        America having a military presence in every country on the globe is a remarkable claim. Are we talking about embassy security or is this something else? I don’t consider America an empire under any of the traditional understandings of political empires; America is not ruled by an Emperor/Empress, they do not dictate policy to occupied territories under military or colonial rule. I suppose Empire is a spongy term so we’d probably have to define it more concretely to nail down if America is or is not one. Nevertheless western liberalism does not rise or fall on the fate of America alone; far from it. In fact the fact that western liberalism is the actual or professed governing philosophy of the entire developed world and much of the developing one is itself a sign of its’ pervasive strength.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to North
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        North,
        No we’re not talking embassies. We’re talking troops on the ground, where we’re doing “stuff”. This would include the military in Nigeria/Chad helping Nigeria locate the girls abducted by Boka Haram (sp?), to military bases, to intelligence gathering groups, training and support efforts, etc. It doesn’t include “black” programs. In some cases it may be a few individuals, or it may be much more. This info is PRE 9/11 but I see no reason to doubt its accuracy, or any reason to believe that the number of countries we’re operating in is lower now than back then. More likely it’s higher, although some of this effort may have been delegated to contractors.

        No, while we have no emperor, we have an imperial foreign policy. We determine if a country needs ”regime change” and we go do it: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, Cuba, Egypt, etc. Maybe we pick up a few countries along the way to help us out, but it’s mainly our air power and, more importantly, our military logistical capabilities that are of use, such as AWACS. (No, we don’t “dictate policy”, we just change the gov’t.) Let’s take Iran as an example. Changed the gov’t and installed the Shah. Ever since the Iranian revolution we’ve imposed sanctions on the country under the claim they we can’t allow them to develop nuclear weapons. Really? Under who’s authority do we claim that? Our own. Sounds empire-ish to me.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to North
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        Damon,
        Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. That’s international law.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        Could you cite the info you’re referring to, I honestly had no idea that we have such a pervasive military presence world wide. It’d be interesting to see.

        As to empire, by this defintion there are a lot of empires present today and there have been a lot of empires present historically, far more than commonly thought.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Damon
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      First off, those embodying the west aren’t reproducing.

      ugh.

      The radicals and ideologues are and they hate western liberalism.

      Double ugh.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Damon
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      I think Damon has a reasonable point here. There have been plenty of golden ages, or at least good times, that lasted for hundreds of years then collapsed. Southern Spain (Andalusia) was highly progressive, tolerant and a bastion of learning for 2 or 3 hundred years under the Muslims but then was overrun by christian spainards which wiped up much of the tolerance. There is no guarantee any good times will remain. Are things different now with the intertubes, air travel, frequent travel/migration, the modern world? Maybe that will prevent huge slides backwards, maybe, but to believe we have some futuristic ratchet that locks in all our gains is short sited.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        Human history is a history of ideals Greginak. Andalusia was a brief pocket of learning that existed in a society predicated to the ideals of theocracy and divine right of monarchial kingship. The ideals were usurped by new ones. The same with the Muslim era. What are the ideals that are threatening western liberalism? Where are our civilization principles being rolled back or routed?
        Historical references to the downfall of past civilizations and eras are dramatic but where are the replacements?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to greginak
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        Reactionary social conservatism ( as in Putin, many Arab coutnries or the worst of SoCon’s here) is a powerful force and would love to role back all the progressive gains that have been made. In some ways they are pretty good at it to. While human ideas may have advanced, if you lived in Andalusia in the decades after the Christians came back life might have really sucked. If could have been bad for generations or led to forced migrations. The ideas may have lived on, but for people their lives may have been taken or crippled. My point is simply that there is no guarantee of perpetual progress or that we may not slide back for decades or even hundreds of years.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak
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        “What are the ideals that are threatening western liberalism? Where are our civilization principles being rolled back or routed?
        Historical references to the downfall of past civilizations and eras are dramatic but where are the replacements?”

        If any or all the following are true:

        1) the current economic malaise is actually the start of a secular trend and not merely a cyclical dip,

        2) the extreme predictions that ‘labor is obsolete’ are even partly right,

        3) the economic fallout and forced migration (either by nature or humans or both) due to climate change

        Then we are heading for an era of illiberalism and ‘othering’ where all the principles of the Enlightenment and classical liberalism are on the table. And any or all may be swept off.

        It’s worth remembering that Europe was down to about 4 democracies in 1943. And half of those were more or less actively helping the Nazis.

        So even the current ‘golden age’ was a close run thing, by some measures.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        Reactionary social conservativism would concern me, Greg, if social conservatives were capable of more than rear guard action and if they could get even their own kids to sign on to their agendas. My entire life I’ve watched as socialcons fought like hell. Their greatest, most storied, triumphs were times then they held the line and gave not an inch to the forces of liberalism and those triumphs were few and far between. When the rules of the game are heads liberalism wins a chit and tails socialcons don’t lose any chits then eventually all the chits end up sitting on the liberal side.
        Reactionaries the globe over are a similar story, much screeching and inveigling, much horrible violence, the incoherent spittle flecked rage of Falwell and the Islamic Mullahs alike but all the while their children are seething against their parents oppressive regimes and abandoning religious faith in droves. Iran’s current generations are the most atheist and secular in the history of that ancient nation. What are the Mullahs? The Arabian Princes or Putin? They’re a bunch of opportunistic parasites selling their resource curse to the west and using the money to cause mischief. There’s no ideological threat there. People in other nations aren’t going to be inspired to set up their own socially backwards petro states by Putin’s example.

        Kolohe:
        #1 is an interesting one. If Piketty’s diagnosis is correct (and I have serious reservations) then that would prepresent a significant economic challenge to the existing economic theories. It would not be, I suspect, an insurmountable one and I think liberalism could adapt (though I think Piketty’s prescriptions are nonsensical). It would not necessarily be so much a competing ideology so much as a real world problem that our existing ideologies would have to proffer answers to.

        #2 is again a challenge rather than a competing ideology. I actually am pretty sanguine about this one. An obsolescence of labor to any degree means that we’re looking at a future of enormous wealth. Some sort of guaranteed basic income paid for by capital would be pretty much inevitable in a democratic state in the face of that challenge (and in an obsolescence of labor world capital would be able to afford it).

        #3 is again a challenge but not a competing ideology. If climate change starts wreaking mass havoke we could see wars or global disasters that could unseat the order and prosperity that is most condusive to liberalism. In that case we’d potentially devolve back to more primitive ideologies in a worst case scenario but I would presume that once the disruptions are past that liberalism would resume.

        Also the 1940’s can suck it. I think the golden age of liberalism is right now.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to greginak
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        says:

        North,
        “Islam is the Answer” writes Geraldine Brooks — a cheap slogan, perhaps, and yet she finds it echoed across the middle east. And I don’t think you can cite some sources proving that this current generation is the most secular. Prove me wrong.

        Saudi Arabia’s cruel version of Islam has swept through all of the Middle East, save Iran, and in its wake girls die, and are maimed. We allow it, we are culpable, we support them.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak
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        says:

        But North, that’s exactly what I saying. We got to the late 20th century ‘end of history’ of market capitalism tempered by liberal democracy when everything else that arose from the reaction to the shift to industrial economics eventually fell by the wayside.

        I need not name a competing ideology, just that a broad-based dissatisfaction with the status quo – even if things are getting better in some manner and/or for many people – will give rise to *any* competing ideology that will claim it has the answers for what ails society. That’s how both Bolshevism and Fascism came into being. And why any sort of ‘classical liberalism’ or even simple political pluralism is such a fragile thing in the developing world – it often teeters between one group of crony capitalist insiders and a different group of populist bureaucratic authoritarians.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Kimmie, I stated that Iran’s youth are the most secular in the history of that specific country and out of the massive number of articles on the subject I picked this one for your convenience:
        http://en.qantara.de/content/turning-away-from-shia-in-iran-a-tsunami-of-atheism

        That “Islam is the answer” is echoing across the seething, slowly transforming and struggling middle east is dog bites man news. When you can show me that “Islam is the answer” is surging across the white suburbs of Pittsburg or the mexican communites of California maybe I’ll give credence to the threat of those dessicated bloody 200 year old tribal traditions hiding under the prayer shawl of Islam.

        We are culpable in Saudi Arabia’s mischeif only in that we purchase their oil. Their ideology will crumble as soon as their oil runs out (and probably sooner).Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Yes Kolohe, but inch by inch the developing world has been edging towards the developed liberal world.. they can fall along the way, I would never claim it’s an easy transition or a fast one, but once there they arrive they generally tend to stay liberal and developed.
        Syria was developing, now it’s a hell hole, it is a setback but it isn’t a threat to liberalism unless we suddenly see hordes of people hoisting posters and placard of Assad all over the developed worlds cities.Report

      • Avatar scott the mediocre in reply to greginak
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        says:

        @kolohe
        It’s worth remembering that Europe was down to about 4 democracies in 1943. And half of those were more or less actively helping the Nazis.
        ? My list would be (UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland). Ireland under the Emergency Powers Act was pretty damn marginal as a democracy (I hate DeValera, but that’s orthogonal to whether Ireland was a functional democracy in 1943). But however you categorize Eire, if you are claiming that any other than obviously Finland were “more or less actively helping the Nazis”, I strongly disagree. I assume you’re probably including Sweden and the Kiruna iron ore (and perhaps the permittentraffik); I’d say the Swedes took rather more risks (like, Swedes being killed) to get ball bearings to the UK than to get iron ore to Germany.

        Please elaborate on the “more or less actively helping”.
        Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Swiss (in)famously with its banking system, and yes, Swedes selling stuff to the Nazi war machine. That they sold stuff to both sides is of questionable merit in that particular war. Unlike the Finns, who did have the excuse of it being primarily a war *against* the aggressions of the Soviet Union, the alliance with Germany being accidental and mostly pro-forma.

        I did mischaracterize Finland as not a democracy, (though the measure of political freedom and independence post-WW2 is questionable – there was undeniable Soviet influence in their affairs, and anyone who is President for 25 straight years makes the validity of elections questionable)

        I also was putting Ireland in the ‘democracy’ column, but can leave them out easy enough. (but they did get better) I did give them a pass -which not everyone does- for not allowing basing or overflight of maritime patrol aircraft during the war, which directly led to an increase in Allied deaths to the gaps in Trans-Atlantic convoy air support.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak
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        says:

        I still dunno North. If my time in Afghanistan taught me one thing, is that there’s a lot of invisible glue that holds society together in America and in the West that everyone takes for granted.

        Robustness does matter, but split seams can still turn into tears which turn into rags given enough time and force.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        They can Kolohe, or they can split, heal, seal and be stronger than ever. General pessimism is always in vogue, bunkers bullets, canned food and Ron Paul books on gold are always available but I shan’t avail myself of them yet.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Let’s just be clear what I am addressing (which partially agrees with Damon’s launching off point). It’s not DOOOOOOM!

        This statement:
        “the advance of Western culture and values cannot be stopped, nor may the decline of the Russian/Soviet empire be reversed.” which Damon quotes above, has a similar implicit premise to the common myth that history ‘progresses’ toward a more ‘advanced’ state. (it’s the basis of the turn of the 20th century movement of the same name, and re-iterated in a somewhat famous MLK quote).

        But it’s a myth. Historical forces (which include economic relationships, geographic influences, technological advances, and human decision making) just are what they are.

        Things are indeed better now than they have ever been. (something that is true but for a relatively few places in the world) The point is that’s neither an historical inevitability or an historical necessity. And right now, the social and political fabric in the western world is robust enough, but nothing guarantees that it will continue.

        I’m not seeing any serious existential threats to ‘the Western Way’ in this half of the 21st century. But in the 2nd half, definitely maybe (when most of us reading this will have passed away – or not depending on technological advances)Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        True, perhaps that line was over the top. But if you narrow it very slightly I think it remains pertinant. There are a variety of ways that the march of history can be stopped or stalled, but I do not see any of them that lie within the control of actors like Putin*.

        *short of nihilistic things like sparking a nuclear war but I’m not 100% certain that the Russian military wouldn’t just put a bullet in his head if we walked in one say and said “ya know, fish it, lob some nukes at DC.”Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Damon
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      says:

      You’ve been reading Moldbug and those other Dark Enlightenment folks, haven’t you?

      There is a whole set of contrarian assumption at work in what you are saying that are fatally flawed in that they aren’t contrary to any real set of beliefs. A belief that the scope of tolerance and liberalism will continue to expand its scope is not the same as a belief in some sort of colonizing force of western culture.

      I’ll say the same thing that I say to everyone who starts talking in these grandiose “war of civilizations/the dark forces are going to take over and extinguish the light” terms, make a prediction. Stop talking in vague terms and say something concrete and falsifiable.Report

  7. Avatar Paul Barnes
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    says:

    As mentioned earlier, I think a lot of North American liberals (Canadians and Americans) DO subscribe to an ‘end of history’ thesis. Even in the comment section, where LGBT rights are (obviously) the moral position to take and will win out because…liberalism! I suspect that this is not the case. I also suspect that most people don’t want to be liberals and that they just consider it as another aspect of Western/American imperialism.Report

  8. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    First of all, the central insight of the second section of this post to me seems to be that Russia’s expansionism is not aggression but defensive, and that the objective of the effort is neither economic, political, or military but rather cultural. This had never particularly occurred to me before; I’d considered that the annexation of Crimea was for economic (specifically petro-economic) and military (warm water ports being a Russian mania since Peter I) reasons.

    That it was intended to exercise and magnify cultural Russophilia had never, ever occured to me. Perhaps that’s because I’ve thought of Russia as an imperial power and by (Western) definition empires expand spheres of direct and indirect political control across multiple cultural groups. Perhaps that’s because I have difficulty distinguishing between significant differences between Russian and Ukranian culture, although past posts here on this very online magazine should have educated me to the contrary.

    With that said, the acceptance of LGBTQ people and desire to extend full civil rights and social acceptance to them is but one facet of Western culture, and that is in fact a relatively novel one — one which seems ascendant here in the US and in many other western countries, but which is not yet widespread enough to say is as thoroughly infused into our shared cultural identity as, say, our enjoyment of going to the movies or treating shopping for luxury goods as a recreational activity unto itself.Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Are extensive differences between Ukrainian and Russian culture needed for them to act as separate identities with potential to spark conflict?

      The cultures of Serbia and Croatia are very similar but that didn’t prevent the wars of the 1990’s, football fans can show extreme hostility to rival teams and fans even though they literally have to be colour coded before you can tell them apart.

      I guess what I’m saying is that group loyalty isn’t really about the signals that identify/define the group. It’s about saying “we are us and they are them” and pretty much anything will do to make the distinction.Report

  9. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    I share at least the spirit of the concerns raised by Damon, Kolohe, and Greginak above. The triumphalism seems a bit too….triumphant for me. That’s not necessarily a criticism of Mark’s OP. He defines his terms and hews closely enough to actual facts to make his argument one worth considering and not dismissing. But I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s the pessimist in me. Here are a few of my concerns:

    1. We’re nearing the anniversary of the beginning of World War I. I think if you look back at what passed for “western” commentary, we’d see superficially similar discussions of the primacy and inevitability of the West’s dominance. I say “superficially similar” because, of course, things are different now from then, not the least of which are that the West now has by and large abjured formal empire and that it has achieved a degree of economic integration not realistically feasible in 1914.

    Still….things unraveled pretty quickly. Can we be sure they won’t unravel again? I confess that I can’t really name any mechanism by which things would unravel. And of course, just because golden ages have always collapsed doesn’t mean this one will too, or that it will collapse as irretrievably or as spectacularly as they did before. (Also, prior “golden ages” are largely myths that then contemporary commentators and later nostalgic historians with their own agendas created.) I’m just really uneasy about it all.

    2. The OP points out, probably correctly, that Putin-Russia’s aggression is largely a defensive maneuver, or at least Putin-Russia probably sees its aggression that way. But I imagine that except for very brief periods Russia’s history from Peter the Great onward, its leaders and stakeholders saw their aggression as “defensive.” Maybe sometimes this defensiveness was along economic lines, or along putatively militaristic lines, or dynastic lines, or even “cultural” lines (The slavophilia of the late 1800s early 1900s could be construed as cultural, and the OP notes a similarity there.)

    In fact, I’d say that most aggression from nation-states (yes, a precise word I’m using imprecisely and question-beggingly) is envisioned by the aggressors as “defensive” in nature. Even Bush II’s doctrine of preemption was based on the fiction that preemption was justified because Iraq or someone on its behalf would somehow attack first.

    3. Much has been made in this thread and the OP about the “artificiality” of Putin-Russia’s attempt to control and broker what counts as a putatively “Russian” culture. Against this artificiality we have the putatively more open and embracing society represented by the (in my opinion good) spread of LGBTQ acceptance and welcoming, but also represented by the free flow of ideas and respect for individual autonomy. As a good neoliberal, I like all those things. But we should remember that culture is made by humans and is therefore itself “artificial,” and counterposing Putin-Russia’s artificiality to a “natural” or “organic” spread of the incidents of cultural value is risky. Not wrong, but risky.

    Well, #3 is a pedantic point inasmuch as I’m insisting on using “artificial” to mean more than what the OP and others here intend. But I’m not convinced I’m wrong to note the similarity between the fact that culture is human made and that “artifice” is that which is made by humans. No culture happens in a vacuum, and I’d go so far as to say that no culture evolves free of the “artificial” structures erected around to facilitate and sometimes stymie it.

    Again, Mark’s post is a good one, and he tempers his triumphalism with a heavy dose of reality and with an acknowledgment that “western values” mean more than just welcoming LGBTQ people. But there’s something too optimistic. And the fall might come sooner than we think.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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      says:

      WW1 is a good point. The impressive, developed, civilized countries brought themselves to ruin in a way none of them could foresee. The destruction was so far beyond their imagination. The end of their empires, or least beginning of the ends, was nothing they saw coming. The change in the psyche of the western world was profound.

      Both nazi germany and imperial japan saw war as their only option lest they be smothered.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Nuclear Weapons. Total war is pretty much off the table. Also the long and the short of it is that there’s no parity of military force nor even anything approaching it. If a world war occurred, even absent nukes, the east would be flattened. Even more importantly everyone knows this.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to greginak
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        says:

        @north

        I think I agree, but…..is the triumph of “western” values to be maintained by force and the threat of “our” military superiority? Maybe, but I fail to see how that’s not an artificial construct, and one potentially as rigid as Putin-Russia’s is. And, say, 50 years from now, the non-nuclear balance of forces might very well be different, so that a sure (or at least swift) victory for the “West” against the “East” might not in future times be such a done deal.

        A challenge has been made in some of the comments above to identify ideologies or other likely competitors to the “West’s” values. And I confess I can think of none. So maybe my demurrers are all off base, or at least they lack substance. I just think that history has a way of bedeviling triumphalism, all the while I realize that “history” is not an independent conscious force, but a shorthand for very real actions and circumstances, and if I cannot name them, then maybe my pessimism is displaced.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Oh no Gabriel, I don’t consider this military asymmetry to be remotely related to the current triumph of western ideals; if anything it’s a side effect. The USSR imploded from her own internal contradictions impoverished and hollowed out by her ideologies. At that point the growth of the west’s military might slowed considerably but the contervailing nations militaries were ravaged by economic distress and they’ve only recently begun putting them in order (using economic resourced obtained primarily by embracing the west’s economic ideals).

        My point was only in response to Greg’s interesting World War I comparison. On the eve of World War I the various sides had relative parity in military strength and what differences where were between them was obscured by the fog of war. Strap a WWI general down and administer truth seurum and he could honestly say with some confidence that he thought war was winnable for his side. Do the same with any general today and they’d be forced to say that there’s really no comparison between the military capacity of the west and the east (excluding the supreme leveller of nuclear weapons). That means that the prospect of a World War bursting out in the almost uncontrollable manner that WWI occurred is quite remote.

        Also since we’re chatting let me add how delighted I am to have a fellow person of neoliberal inclinations rattling about the commentariate.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Thanks, @north . I tend to eschew labels, but “neo-liberal” is about as accurate as any of them. Even though I used it above to describe myself, I’m still not sure what it means. But yes, I usually stand where you are whenever there are policy discussions.

        About the likelihood of another world war, what you say makes sense.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to greginak
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        says:

        @north I agree there is almost no chance of a world war or the US losing military superiority any time in the next 20-30 years at the minimum and likely farther out than that. I don’t see socon ideologies as overwhelming the West although they remain a potent inclination. However history never ends and unpredictable things happen. If we can’t see where our progress and civilization might fall back then that is where our weakness is.

        Hell the Jedi fell because they were blind to the evil in front of them. Of course they suffered the dual handicaps of being written and directed by Lucas, being pretty dumb and had overwhelming hubris. Okay the three handicaps. But as Gandalf said evil comes where you least expect it.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to greginak
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        says:

        @greginak

        But they did something right. If they had admitted Jar Jar into Jedi School, the collapse would have come sooner.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        For sure Greg, but in that you cannot defeat something with nothing the original assertion that we have chewed over: that Putin cannot defeat western culture or values emerges mostly unscathed though I’d add that I think western values are what cannot be stopped whereas I see little danger of western culture taking over much beyond the west.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    A Bearded Lady Wears the Hapsburgs’ Crown

    After she proved direct descent from Charles V and his wife via 172 distinct paths. (Her closest rival only had 147.)Report

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