Unfreedom

During the summer holiday I read a book by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder entitled “the Road to Unfreedom” (published by Tim Duggan Books in 2018). It is an intriguing if very depressing overview of the ways in which totalitarian political philosophies, failed governance, dreams of past imperial glory, the saturation of the media with lies and the dominance of powerful oligarchies (“crony capitalists”) have affected our societies in the last few years. The focus is on Russian machinations, initially through destabilisation of Ukraine, including annexation of the Crimea and low intensity, unacknowledged military intervention in Donetsk and elsewhere, followed by the dramatic surge of false information through the TV and social media in various European countries, as well as – since Don the Trumpet was bought out by Vlad Bootin and his cronies in 2013 – in the USA.

According to Professor Snyder a quasi-religious belief system emphasising Russian greatness, intense homophobia and imperial ambitions in Asia and Europe – establishing an empire which would stretch “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” – has been combined with highly effective use of the internet to spread distorted lies and inflammatory rumours with the aim of destroying trust in the rule of law and in science as well as in reporting on the truth. Fear and ferocious extermination were the main achievements of Stalinism, with countless millions dead in famines, in the gulag and in wars between the 1930s and the 1950s. The awful thing is that the entrenched occupants of the Kremlin don’t look back in horror at this period, but in admiration!

“The temptation the Russians offered Trump was the Presidency. The temptation Trump offered Republicans was that of a one-party state, government by rigged elections rather than by political competition, a racial oligarchy in which the task of leaders was to bring pain rather than prosperity, to emote for a tribe rather than perform for all. If all the federal government did was maximise inequality and suppress votes, at some point a line would be crossed. Americans, like Russians, would cease to believe in their own elections; then the United States, like the Russian Federation, would be in permanent succession crisis, with no legitimate way to choose leaders. This would be the triumph of Russian foreign policy of the 2010s; the export of Russia’s problems to its chosen adversaries, the normalisation of Russia’s syndromes by way of contagion” (p. 277).

If these scenarios are accurate, then we’re in for a bad time… Thomas Wright, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, has recently argued in The Atlantic magazine, that Trumped up has “defected to the other side” and that if he wins a second term in the 2020 election ”we can expect US withdrawal from NATO and a partnership with Russia to be on the table.”[1] The argument is echoed in ex-German foreign minister and Green Party member Joschka Fisher’s recent observations on ”two systems, one world”, contrasting the success of authoritarian rule in China with the weakness of pro-democracy movements in Russia, Hong Kong and elsewhere.[2] Dark ages, here we come!

[1] See: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/trump-defects-autocrats/596518/

[2] See: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/western-democracy-versus-chinese-model-by-joschka-fischer-2019-08

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