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The Wall of Contentment

Reading all the various, though scarcely varied, opinions on the Ukraine “crisis” – after nearly 100 years of Russian misrule in Europe, one may think the word would be safely devalued, but no, they use it like St. James’s clubmen circa 1855 discussing the latest from Balaclava – one again becomes conscious of the political realignment that has befallen the West since the Soviet regime so cleverly rolled on its back, playing possum. The occasional intellectual convulsion of that realignment may even be felt in these pages, closed as these ought to be, and ordinarily are, to moral equivalence mongers, relativity theory popularizers, and other philosophers of expedience.

Basically, in life, there are but two values: liberty and property. Those who hold the former supreme (that is, those who say it is supreme, rather than, for instance, believe or act as though it is) belong on the left of the political spectrum, while those who champion the latter (that is, those who say they do, without necessarily being prepared, for instance, to die in defense of their preference) belong on the right.  Moreover, the left (oddly enough, with John Stuart Mill) holds that, given liberty, property will follow, whereas the right (paradoxically, with Karl Marx) claims that, on the contrary, liberty is consequent to the fundamental issue of property.

During the Soviet era it was pretty clear to the West’s heroes and hypocrites alike that the regime over there was depriving people of liberty and property in equal measure, and so, by and large, a certain consensus could emerge. At least a “conservative Democrat” could agree with a “liberal Republican,” for instance, whenever a dose of diplomatic brouhaha might need administering or an aircraft carrier might need commissioning.

Deep down, however, members of this broad consensus disagreed as to what they were defending – for whom and from whom. The right thought: “Are we holding the Soviets at bay to safeguard our pornographers?” The left thought: “Looks like we’re paying for the nation’s defense so the Washington pork barrel can keep going!” The right thought: “Do those Russian hippies, with hair just as long and filthy as in Greenwich Village, really deserve our prayers just because they’re called dissidents?” The left thought: “So they don’t have churches in Russia, and what of it? We could do with some less Bible-thumping in this country.” And so it went, ad infinitum.

Once Russia began playing possum – feigning internal turmoil, fostering common geopolitical threats, seeding private property, allowing newspapers and churches, and jettisoning verbal allegiances perceived by the West as menacing, such as “communism” – all these murmured misgivings thundered forth like sewage from a busted drainpipe. A cross-party realignment began, and a new consensus has emerged. The gist of it is that Russia is now a good guy, so paying for defense and pursuing a strategically viable foreign policy generally – to keep Washington’s barrel in pork and Moscow’s dissidents in Scotch and pornographic videocassettes – is no longer necessary.

What chance has the Ukraine “crisis” to break through this wall of contentment? It is more substantial than the one that divided Berlin, because it is being built from both sides. 

Andrei Navrozov

Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles.  The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator.  His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.

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