True enough the Moscovite leader has invoked God routinely. So did Stalin. In public the Georgian mass murderer played the God card whenever it suited him. Places of worship were forcibly closed. Most of them were destroyed. All religions were virtually banned and their followers were exterminated by the millions. But when the Third Reich invaded the USSR, Stalin opened the Orthodox churches. Was God on his side? Is God on Putin’s side when he cracks down on the Catholic Church or the evangelicals, expelling priests and missionaries?
By Marek Jan Chodakiewicz | April 28, 2014
Lenin and the KGB Sword-and-Shield emblem superimposed over Lubyanka, the notorious KGB headquarters building in Moscow
“In the culture war for the future of mankind, Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity,” Patrick J. Buchanan recently wrote. “The West’s capitulation to a sexual revolution of easy divorce, rampant promiscuity, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, assisted suicide – the displacement of Christian values by Hollywood values.”
Buchanan quotes Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post saying that “she was stunned in Tbilisi to hear a Georgian lawyer declare of the former pro-Western regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, ‘They were LGBT.’” He cites Masha Gessen, author of the book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, saying, “Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s defense of decent civilization, however, is as legitimate as Lenin’s New Economic Policy was free market. Its salient point is reducing the West to LGBT. To oppose it is to claim a moral high ground in the world. Yet, it should be obvious that the Kremlin’s approach is absolutely relativistic. One should not be surprised when, sometime in the future, Russia invades Poland to free its oppressed sexual minorities.
Why does Pat Buchanan ask then “Whose side is God on now?” Surely, not the Kremlin’s. For Putin is involved in a subtle dialectical game with the West in congruence with the vilest Soviet experience. This is a deception operation par excellance. In other words, the master of Moscow has put on a show and the leader of paleoconservative neo-isolationists has fallen for it.
Buchanan unrolls a scroll of Putin’s alleged virtues. The Russian leader has slammed the West’s capitulation to this sexual revolution. Invoking the nefarious legacy of Moscow as “the Third Rome,” Putin pledges to lead the rest of the world against the United States and its Western allies in a battle of moral purification. And God is on the Russian President’s mouth. You see, the Lord is thus with him.
True enough the Moscovite leader has invoked God routinely. So did Stalin, in private most frequently, as a figure of speech. In public the Georgian mass murderer played the God card whenever it suited him. Places of worship were forcibly closed. Most of them were destroyed, while some converted into musea of atheism. All religions were virtually banned and their followers were exterminated by the millions. But when the Third Reich invaded the USSR, Stalin opened the Orthodox churches. Was God on his side? Is God on Putin’s side when he cracks down on the Catholic Church or the evangelicals, expelling priests and missionaries?
Putin thunders about the absolutes: “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.” Stalin routinely inveighed against “the rotten West.” Imperialism, capitalism, and liberal democracy were degenerate. The salient propaganda topics barely changed between 1917 and 1991: the dichotomy of (Eastern) proletarian wholesomeness vs. (Western) capitalist decadence applied throughout. And it continues to do so.
Buchanan’s failure to see that Putin has not endorsed Christian orthodoxy but rather extols principally Orthodox (Russian) Christianity illustrates best the success of the Kremlin’s deception operation abroad. And there is a huge difference. Christian orthodoxy is about the belief in God who has charted in our hearts natural law. Russian Orthodoxy tends to be about the subordination of that belief to the state. Putin’s loud championship of Russian Orthodoxy has less to do with his epyphanic embrace of the faith than with his reinventing the Byzantine legacy of caesaro-papism. In the Byzantine Empire, there was no division between the Church and the State. The Emperor was also Pope. The same applies in the Russian Federation. This giddy relationship is so much more ambient for Putin also because the bulk of the Muscovite Orthodox hierarchs are connected to the old KGB: they were either its officers or snitches. And, as Russia’s president has said himself, “once a Chekist, always a Chekist.” Is God on the side of the Chekists? Obviously not. Most of the Kremlin’s domestic pro-Western opposition understands that perfectly well. A furious objection to caesaro-papism was behind the misguided, sacrilegious attack on the Orthodox cathedral by the punkettes of the Pussy Riot band.
Why does Pat Buchanan see Vladimir Putin as a defender of natural law then? The neoisolationist hero projects his unfulfilled fantasies of a Christian America onto a post-Soviet Russia and fails to note that its master’s effusions on behalf of “Christendom” are merely part and parcel of post-Communism. First, Putin defines the Russian Federation as anti-U.S., just like the old USSR was. Hence, he needs to negate the most salient features of the West as they, unfortunately, emerged rampant from the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s. In the post-Soviet zone and in much of the Third World we are now defined as liberal, LGBT-style: Count Donatien Alphonse François de Sade meet Michel Foucalt rather than John Stuart Mill and St. Francis of Assisi (and definitely not Adam Smith, who would recoil from Russia’s crony capitalism magnum). Russian propaganda takes advantage of this malignant perception of the United States.
There is more than a grain of truth in the Kremlin’s propaganda line. LGBT commands an enormous amount of attention of the liberal opinion makers, movie stars, media types, and leftist politicians. Through the warped logic of equality it has piggyback ridden on the blood, sweat, and tears of Martin Luther King, Jr., and other fighters for human rights. Yet, it remains a rather elite phenomenon in the U.S. Gays are highly visible, well educated, fabulously wealthy, but not dominant. Their rather frivolous concerns pale next to the burning pain of the inner city. It is baffling that the official successors to the human rights struggles of the 1960s fail to see this just as they are blind to the evils of abortion. It is in that way that we are truly experiencing a moral crisis of unprecedented dimensions in the West. As the Mozilla case has plainly shown, where the top executive was forced out for his support of traditional marriage, the challenges to natural law, expressed now, among other things, as gay rights, have entered a rabid stage. It is obvious that under the guise of tolerance various self-proclaimed champions of the minorities have emerged to challenge and destroy the civilization of the majority of Americans and they will stop at nothing short of imposing their tyranny over the rest. As Georgetown’s erstwhile legal scholar Chai Rachel Feldblum (and now Commissioner with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) has put it, “When religious liberty and sexual liberty conflict, I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.” (David French, “Restore the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” National Review, April 21, 2014, p. 26.) It is a real problem. Buchanan recognizes it clearly. However, his Moscowphilic remedy is sorely misplaced, if not lethal.
According to the famous Sovietologist Robert Conquest, to argue that modernization, including industrialization, requires collectivization and mass terror is like claiming that to obtain a high protein diet one must turn cannibal. Buchanan’s latest paean to Putin entertains a similar fallacy. It is equally mischievous to hold that one should admire and follow the Kremlin way to defeat the onslaught of the “culture of death,” as John Paul II put it. And it is lethal for the conservative project to emulate the Moscovite way in our own domestic crusade. By assigning the moral high ground to Putin, Buchanan undercuts our own efforts at home and abroad.
Instead of following Putin-bessotted Buchanan, as many paleoconservatives have, one should heed the advice of Richard Weaver: “The Russians with habitual clarity of purpose have made their choice; there is to be discipline, and it is to be enforced by the elite controlling the state. Now the significance of this for the West is that one choice is made from it too; there will be discipline here if the West is to survive.” Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, p. 124. However, this must be our own brand of discipline: self-discipline and not the knout of the tsars and the commissars, now swishing through the air in the hands of the post-Communists.
Meanwhile, stay away from the Kremlin-yes corner. During the Cold War, many liberals tended to be pro-Communists because they saw in Communism and the Soviet Union the fulfillment of their progressive fantasies. We called them useful idiots. How do we refer to conservatives who fall for the same trick? Victims of active measures. Admittedly, that is better than those, like leftist Stephen F. Cohen, who blame America for the Cold War and – by extension – for the current Ukrainian crisis.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is author of Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.