Vladimir the Great

Ralph Peters writes that the world has only one towering figure in the halls of power, one ruler of genius:  Vladimir Putin.

There is one incontestably great actor on the world stage today, and he has no interest in following our script. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — soon to be Russia’s president again — has proven remarkably effective at playing the weak strategic hand he inherited, chalking up triumph after triumph while confirming himself as the strong leader Russians crave. Not one of his international peers evidences so profound an understanding of his or her people, or possesses Putin’s canny ability to size up counterparts.

Putin’s genius — and it is nothing less — begins with an insight into governance that eluded the “great” dictators of the last century: You need control only public life, not personal lives. Putin grasped that human beings need to let off steam about the world’s ills, and that letting them do so around the kitchen table, over a bottle of vodka, does no harm to the state. His tacit compact with the Russian people is that they may do or say what they like behind closed doors, as long as they don’t take it into the streets. He saw that an authoritarian state that stops at the front door is not only tolerable but also more efficient.

As for the defiant, he kills or imprisons them. But there are no great purges, no Gulag — only carefully chosen, exemplary victims, such as anti-corruption activist Sergei Magnitsky, who died in police custody, or the disobedient billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, imprisoned on charges Russians regard as black humor. Western consciences may be briefly troubled, but Putin knows the international community won’t impose meaningful penalties. Seduced by Kremlin policies — from oil and gas concessions to cynical hints of strategic cooperation — Western leaders have too many chips in the game. And at home, the common people, the chorny narod, don’t mind. Instead, they gloat when the czar cuts off the beards of the boyars — or humbles an envied oligarch. As for gadfly journalists, Putin wagered that they could be eliminated with impunity, as in the case of Anna Politkovskaya. Our outrage is pro forma and temporary.

Domestically, Putin’s tactile sense of his people is matchless. His bare-chested poses seem ludicrous to us, but Russians see a nastoyashi muzhik, a “real man.” And his sobriety makes him the fantasy husband of Russia’s beleaguered wives.

Not least, Putin has renewed Russian confidence in the country’s greatness. Consistently playing an international role far greater than Russia’s capabilities warrant, he reawakened the old Stalinist sense that while the people may suffer, they do so in service to a greater destiny.

via The genius of Vladimir Putin – The Washington Post.

Which brings up a bigger issue:  Could democracy be finished?  The canny authoritarianism of Putin is “more efficient” than democratic alternatives.  That approach can “get things done” in a way that democratic processes don’t seem to be able to.  The “China model” that trades freedom for prosperity is being hailed as the one economic and political system that is “working.”  Meanwhile, democracies such as ours are paralyzed.

Is democracy doomed?  Is some form of Putinism in government and the China model in economics the wave of the future?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://concordiaandkoinonia.wordpress.com/ Rev. Mark Schroeder

    In print, I saw a picture of a billboard with the ‘evangelistic’ message: “Elect Jesus as Savior”. Not commenting on the false theology of same, it seems to me on that billboard we could easily substitute any presidential candidate’s name for “Jesus”. In fact, the last presidential candidate who won had that p.r. aura about him. The point: Putinism is thriving in this democratic land, or maybe the electorate wants it. We want a president to rule, but still the Constitution is still a check on that and so then paralysis may be a good thing, democratically speaking. And maybe the renewed interest in the Constitution in our day is salutary to follow anew the covenant of our founding as way through this dark night. A colleague said in a Bible study that he thought a mistake was made to use the term “homeland” and then defend it, but he said that was never the case because we always defended an idea: the Constitution. It is reflected in the oath that presidents, senators, military officers take: preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America. And the Constitution has worked.

  • http://concordiaandkoinonia.wordpress.com/ Rev. Mark Schroeder

    In print, I saw a picture of a billboard with the ‘evangelistic’ message: “Elect Jesus as Savior”. Not commenting on the false theology of same, it seems to me on that billboard we could easily substitute any presidential candidate’s name for “Jesus”. In fact, the last presidential candidate who won had that p.r. aura about him. The point: Putinism is thriving in this democratic land, or maybe the electorate wants it. We want a president to rule, but still the Constitution is still a check on that and so then paralysis may be a good thing, democratically speaking. And maybe the renewed interest in the Constitution in our day is salutary to follow anew the covenant of our founding as way through this dark night. A colleague said in a Bible study that he thought a mistake was made to use the term “homeland” and then defend it, but he said that was never the case because we always defended an idea: the Constitution. It is reflected in the oath that presidents, senators, military officers take: preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America. And the Constitution has worked.

  • SKPeterson

    This is part and parcel of the perennial infatuation WaPo, the NYT and other mainline liberal papers have for authoritarianism. How many paeans have been printed about the craftiness and political acumen of Castro? How many were written extolling the virtues of Mussolini or Stalin? “See, foolish democrats: that is Leadership, that is what you lack! Do not mind the intrusions, the violations, the moral morass, the evil. This man can lead!”

    I also note the irony of a member of the press complaining that “[o]ur outrage is pro forma and temporary” when it is precisely the press that jumps from hot story to hot story. If only there was a leader who would curtail our press freedoms and focus us on the issues that really matter!

  • SKPeterson

    This is part and parcel of the perennial infatuation WaPo, the NYT and other mainline liberal papers have for authoritarianism. How many paeans have been printed about the craftiness and political acumen of Castro? How many were written extolling the virtues of Mussolini or Stalin? “See, foolish democrats: that is Leadership, that is what you lack! Do not mind the intrusions, the violations, the moral morass, the evil. This man can lead!”

    I also note the irony of a member of the press complaining that “[o]ur outrage is pro forma and temporary” when it is precisely the press that jumps from hot story to hot story. If only there was a leader who would curtail our press freedoms and focus us on the issues that really matter!

  • Tom Hering

    “Is some form of Putinism in government and the China model in economics the wave of the future?”

    Nah. Putin’s rule depends on Russia’s culture. The Chinese system depends on China’s culture. And both are Eastern cultures.

  • Tom Hering

    “Is some form of Putinism in government and the China model in economics the wave of the future?”

    Nah. Putin’s rule depends on Russia’s culture. The Chinese system depends on China’s culture. And both are Eastern cultures.

  • kerner

    Ralph Peters is kind of an eccentric. I mean, sometimes I agree with him, but I bet there’s a reason he topped out as a Lt. Col.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Peters

  • kerner

    Ralph Peters is kind of an eccentric. I mean, sometimes I agree with him, but I bet there’s a reason he topped out as a Lt. Col.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Peters

  • Kirk

    Tom’s got this one down. Eastern cultures have been historically authoritarian and communal meaning that individuals are easily and readily sacrificed for the good of the whole. I see the west, and particularly the US, as being more individual focused. It’s more the whole looking out for the interest of the individual and opposed to the individual pursuing the interest of the whole.

    As to whether or not democracy is doomed, I think it depends on what people want more, freedom or efficiency. I believe that democracy is inherently inefficient and exploitable, but I still feel that these weaknesses are vastly preferable to the weaknesses of authoritarianism or communism. The recent clamor for security which so frequently comes at the expense of principled liberty has been a disturbing trend. I don’t think it’s the end of democracy, but it could be a gradual slide into something less than democratic.

    http://dailycaller.com/2011/09/26/oh-no-he-didnt-putins-most-badass-pictures-slideshow/putin10/

  • Kirk

    Tom’s got this one down. Eastern cultures have been historically authoritarian and communal meaning that individuals are easily and readily sacrificed for the good of the whole. I see the west, and particularly the US, as being more individual focused. It’s more the whole looking out for the interest of the individual and opposed to the individual pursuing the interest of the whole.

    As to whether or not democracy is doomed, I think it depends on what people want more, freedom or efficiency. I believe that democracy is inherently inefficient and exploitable, but I still feel that these weaknesses are vastly preferable to the weaknesses of authoritarianism or communism. The recent clamor for security which so frequently comes at the expense of principled liberty has been a disturbing trend. I don’t think it’s the end of democracy, but it could be a gradual slide into something less than democratic.

    http://dailycaller.com/2011/09/26/oh-no-he-didnt-putins-most-badass-pictures-slideshow/putin10/

  • WebMonk

    “Which brings up a bigger issue: Could democracy be finished?”

    I was going to comment on the article because I know a little bit about what’s going on over there, especially with their Duma elections.

    But, then I got to that execrably moronic, completely asinine, ridiculously overblown, breathlessly stupid statement I quoted above, and I lost all motivation.

  • WebMonk

    “Which brings up a bigger issue: Could democracy be finished?”

    I was going to comment on the article because I know a little bit about what’s going on over there, especially with their Duma elections.

    But, then I got to that execrably moronic, completely asinine, ridiculously overblown, breathlessly stupid statement I quoted above, and I lost all motivation.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Could democracy be finished?”

    Ya think?

    Democracy never worked, certainly not with universal suffrage. That is why our founders crafted a republic with lots of checks and balances, which over time were dismantled to be more democratic and therefore less fair.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Could democracy be finished?”

    Ya think?

    Democracy never worked, certainly not with universal suffrage. That is why our founders crafted a republic with lots of checks and balances, which over time were dismantled to be more democratic and therefore less fair.

  • trotk

    WebMonk, your bluster and over-reaction looks incredibly foolish in light of the fact that you read a statement where a question was written.

    The question is too vague. It depends on where and when.

    Of course democracy could be finished at some point in the future in some current democratic state. It is even possible that it could be finished soon in America. But it isn’t finished right now in America. Will it be some day? Eventually. Will it return some day after that? Probably. Should it be finished? Probably. What should it be replaced with? In my opinion, local republics or even democracies, depending on the size, not large empires governed by overly powerful emperors who die and bequeath the empire to a stupid son.

  • trotk

    WebMonk, your bluster and over-reaction looks incredibly foolish in light of the fact that you read a statement where a question was written.

    The question is too vague. It depends on where and when.

    Of course democracy could be finished at some point in the future in some current democratic state. It is even possible that it could be finished soon in America. But it isn’t finished right now in America. Will it be some day? Eventually. Will it return some day after that? Probably. Should it be finished? Probably. What should it be replaced with? In my opinion, local republics or even democracies, depending on the size, not large empires governed by overly powerful emperors who die and bequeath the empire to a stupid son.

  • WebMonk

    I guess I was trying to be too clever and failed trotk.

    My own over-the-top bluster and over-reaction was purposeful and intended to comment on Dr. Veith’s question.

    Ok, so Putin is kicking butt on the geopolitical stage so we suddenly need to start asking if Democracy is finished?!?!? WTH?!

  • WebMonk

    I guess I was trying to be too clever and failed trotk.

    My own over-the-top bluster and over-reaction was purposeful and intended to comment on Dr. Veith’s question.

    Ok, so Putin is kicking butt on the geopolitical stage so we suddenly need to start asking if Democracy is finished?!?!? WTH?!

  • trotk

    The question, though, is valid. What if we elected a president that “kick[ed] butt on the geopolitical stage?” What is we elected a president who fixed the economy and brought back a sense of national pride? What happens if that president were re-elected by an enormous margin? What happens if that president were appointed during the tenure of his successor’s first term to some position of major influence and power, and was effectively ruling behind the scenes?

    I know that this isn’t exactly Putin’s story, but would groups of Americans (or America as a whole) willingly cede freedom to gain material, economic, religious, social advantages or success? Would civil strife (or the threat of outside terror) cause us to gravitate to a ruler who limited our freedoms for greater stability? If so, the prescription for the demise of democracy as outlined in book 8 of Herodotus’ Histories would be coming true.

    I think that democracies and republics are always at the brink of collapsing. It just takes the right conditions coming together with the right leader. Totalitarian governments are also always at the point of collapsing; again, it also only takes the right conditions coming together with the right leader.

    As to the eastern/western divide, I don’t put as much stock in it as Tom. I believe the greater issue is cultural unity. Where it exists, totalitarian governments spring up more naturally. Where it doesn’t exist, totalitarian governments have to put down dissent and revolt too regularly to be effective in the long run. From this standpoint America is pretty safe, but it also means that our window of world power is limited. We were most effective and powerful when we were most unified.

  • trotk

    The question, though, is valid. What if we elected a president that “kick[ed] butt on the geopolitical stage?” What is we elected a president who fixed the economy and brought back a sense of national pride? What happens if that president were re-elected by an enormous margin? What happens if that president were appointed during the tenure of his successor’s first term to some position of major influence and power, and was effectively ruling behind the scenes?

    I know that this isn’t exactly Putin’s story, but would groups of Americans (or America as a whole) willingly cede freedom to gain material, economic, religious, social advantages or success? Would civil strife (or the threat of outside terror) cause us to gravitate to a ruler who limited our freedoms for greater stability? If so, the prescription for the demise of democracy as outlined in book 8 of Herodotus’ Histories would be coming true.

    I think that democracies and republics are always at the brink of collapsing. It just takes the right conditions coming together with the right leader. Totalitarian governments are also always at the point of collapsing; again, it also only takes the right conditions coming together with the right leader.

    As to the eastern/western divide, I don’t put as much stock in it as Tom. I believe the greater issue is cultural unity. Where it exists, totalitarian governments spring up more naturally. Where it doesn’t exist, totalitarian governments have to put down dissent and revolt too regularly to be effective in the long run. From this standpoint America is pretty safe, but it also means that our window of world power is limited. We were most effective and powerful when we were most unified.

  • steve

    China’s system might be hailed as a system that “works”, but is it a system than works? Hint: don’t look under the rug. Everything is grand from 30,000 feet!

  • steve

    China’s system might be hailed as a system that “works”, but is it a system than works? Hint: don’t look under the rug. Everything is grand from 30,000 feet!

  • Cincinnatus

    I’ll second–wait, third–Tom’s observation regarding “oriental despotism.”

    But democracy truly understood has been finished for quite some time. I’m not sure that this is something to lament. Athens, or, if you like, New England townships, were the last true democracies.

    Meanwhile, can centralized/authoritarian regimes accomplish far more projects far more efficiently than the intentionally fragmented governing structures in a constitutional republic? Absolutely. We’ll never build thousands of miles of high-speed railways like the Chinese can and have. But greatness and efficiency come at a price.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’ll second–wait, third–Tom’s observation regarding “oriental despotism.”

    But democracy truly understood has been finished for quite some time. I’m not sure that this is something to lament. Athens, or, if you like, New England townships, were the last true democracies.

    Meanwhile, can centralized/authoritarian regimes accomplish far more projects far more efficiently than the intentionally fragmented governing structures in a constitutional republic? Absolutely. We’ll never build thousands of miles of high-speed railways like the Chinese can and have. But greatness and efficiency come at a price.

  • steve

    @12: “But greatness and efficiency come at a price.”

    You mean like the cost of acquiring the technology from companies in truly innovative countries? Or the cost in lives to build the rails? Or the cost in lives of those who died in rail accidents?

  • steve

    @12: “But greatness and efficiency come at a price.”

    You mean like the cost of acquiring the technology from companies in truly innovative countries? Or the cost in lives to build the rails? Or the cost in lives of those who died in rail accidents?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X