Monday, 16 June 2014

Russia's Turkish Option

According to some political commentators, there exists today a Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis. The peddlers of this fanciful theory are typically Shiites with leftist inclinations or Western leftists enthralled by the anti-colonial oratory emanating from South Lebanon and Iran. It is conveniently forgotten that the Mullahs of Qom cooperated with the Israelis in order to neutralise Iraq's nuclear capabilities, that they were not averse to doing business with the Reagan administration qua Iran-Contras affair, or that they are currently begging the Americans to assist them in dealing with the menace of insurgency in Iraq.

Given the capricious nature not only of Iran but of nations at large, it is naive to assume that Russia's perceived commitment to a given nation is of a permanent nature. Russia pursues multiple and conflicting agendae in the Middle East, as the following four relations clearly demonstrate:

(A) Russo-Turk Relation: Turkey is the historical foe of Russia, but both parties have come to appreciate the fact that containment through friendship is preferable to mutual animosity. Turkey enjoys considerable leverage amongst the Turkic peoples of the former Soviet Union; rather than let Turkey exert a subversive influence on former member states of the Soviet Union, it makes ample sense to integrate Turkey into a larger Eurasian co-prosperity zone. Furthermore, Turkey is becoming increasingly alienated by its Western allies, and we have reached a point where Turkish intellectuals are openly advocating the severing of their country's ties with NATO. The inclusion of Turkey in the SCO will provide China and Russia with access to the Meditarranean, thus significantly altering the power balance between East and West as well as shortening the trading routes to Africa.

(B) Russo-Arab Relation: The Russian secret service is crammed with Arabists, and the reason for this is perfectly simple: what happens in the Arab world is likely to have repurcussions within Russia. For the West during Cold War, it was a matter of pushing the Arc of Islam deep into Russia, whereas for Russia it was a matter of diffusing the very possibility of the emergence of political Islam. The problem of fundamentalist Islam was not solely a product of American machinations in the region; the root cause was social in nature. As Michel Afleq, the great theorist of Baathism pointed out, the anti-colonial struggles in the Arab world were spearheaded by feudal lords, who in attaining liberation imposed political structures conducive to medieval obscurantism, whereas the authoritarianism of the Baathists was viewed as the Arab analogue of the Russian dicatorship of the proletariat. The recourse to ruthless measures was seen as a necessary evil: it would facilitate the development of a political culture that was secular to the core and it would do away with social relations that were feudal in nature. This was the logic that dictated the Soviet Union's support for nationalist regimes in the Middle East.

(C) Russo-Kurd Relation: The Kurds are something of an albatross around Russia's neck. This they have been ever since the communist Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was abandoned by Stalin in 1946 in accordance with the agreements reached at the Yalta Conference. Left on their own, the Kurds were an easy prey to the surrounding powers, and the Republic of Mahabad ceased to be. The attendant influx of Kurdish refugees into the Soviet Union led to the maintenance of the political ties between the two peoples. But for Russia in particular, the asssociation has always been an uneasy one, as it runs the risk of provoking those nations whose territorial integrity would be jeopardised by the Kurdish aspirations for national autnomy. For this reason, the Kurds are a liability rather than an asset.

(D) Russo-Iranian Relation: The perceived Russo-Iranian friendship has been imposed on Russia by history itself; it was never willed by Russia. The emergence of Iran as a regional power was viewed as an unfavourable development by Yevgeni Primakov. Furthermore, Iran and the Gulf states are the main agents of sectarianism in the Arab world. The Saudis with their pig-headed Salafism and the Iranians with their equally odious Shiism have eclipsed the secular forces in the Arab world and brought about an ideological polarisation. Furthermore, Press TV's constant designation of all Sunnis as 'Takfiris' is symptomatic of the sectarian mindset of the Iranians. The modus operandi of the Shiites is strikingly similiar to that of the Ahmadiyas, who deliberately defame the majority while presenting themselves as the forces of moderation partly with a view to winning new converts. This is proselytisation at its worst. Russia's relationship with Iran rests on purely pragmatic considerations, and too close an association with the sectarian Mullahs of Qom would only come at the cost of Arab ire. In other words: it is not worth it.

As can be seen from the foregoing, Russia has carved out paths for herself in the Middle East that do not all admit of being traversed to the very end: a relation that proceeds beyond mere diplomatic etiquette to the creation of an alliance will necessarily be to the detriment of another relation. Hence the relations A-C and B-D are both contradictories. For instance, the Kurdish demand for a separate homeland will inevitably impinge on the territorial integrity of Turkey. Thus far the Turks have shown considerable restraint, but beware the rage of the Turk.

Russia's choice in regard to these relations will ultimately be dictated by the circumstances, and insofar as conscious decision-making on Russia's part enters into the frame, it will have to rest on the law of large numbers: Turkish enmity is not worth the patronage of the Kurds, nor is alienation from the Sunni majority worth the accolades of the sectarian Mullahs of Qom.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Russian Collectivism, Western Individualism

Immanuel Kant, who was a very wise man, once wrote that “it is manifestly absurd to expect to be enlightened by reason, yet to prescribe to it beforehand to which side [of a debate] it shall incline.” This provincialism of thought, decried by Kant, is intrinsic to man, and the prerequisite to the rectification of this primordial flaw, which has been haunting man ever since he came crawling out of the slime, is to become aware of it.

All too often we hear that the West is individualistic, whereas the East is collectivistic. The reductio ad absurdum of this apparent truism is that in the East the collective is everything, whereas the individual is nothing. Nations and societies at which this accusation is hurled are typically the Eastern opponents of Western hegemony. Thus Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, an American expert on Russia, makes the following observation with respect to the Russian society:

"Any Westerner who has visited Russia for an appreciable length of time knows how it feels to be treated as a ‘zero’ by the collective. Consider, for example, the abuse accorded to individuals in the crowds. On a bus, in a train, or in a crowded subway, one has to expect a certain amount of pushing, elbowing, even punching from others as they struggle to get wherever they are going. The remarkable thing from a Western viewpoint, is that no one seems to mind." (Cf. The Slave Soul of Russia, p. 205. New York, 1995)

This grotesque feat of cultural learning, by means of which mundane occurrences are seen as being symptomatic of the Russian character as such, allows of further application, provided we be willing to play Mr Rancour-Laferriere’s ludicrous game: those of us who have travelled by bus or subway in the major cities of Europe such as Vienna and Frankfurt am Main during the rush hours know very well that the travel experience of a European is quite similar to that of a Russian in St Petersburg or Moscow. We can put up with the antics of an insolent passenger or we can reciprocate his crudeness; civilised men exercise restraint.

Let us, admittedly for purely satirical purposes, dwell a little further on Mr Rancour-Laferriere’s argument, so as to lay bare its absurdity. The fact that there is pushing and shoving going on in Russia would surely indicate that the Russians’ sense of individualism is so strong that it willingly tramples underfoot any considerations for the collective. Could it therefore be that Mr Rancour-Laferriere, in adopting a collectivistic viewpoint, is merely betraying that he himself hails from a society in which the indivual is reduced to nullity?

"Such a recourse to tu quoque is not strictly necessary, and by being candid about the actual state of affairs, we could readily concede that Russian history contains some truly horrific examples of violations of the dignity of man. Perhaps the most revolting incident involved Turgenev’s grandmother who smothered a serf boy to death with her bare hands and proceeded from this act of murder to matters befitting a lady of the gentry with a staggering nonchalance.

But how were things in the West? We know that Tocqueville, often considered a champion of the Western notions of liberty, viewed instances of British repression in the colonies as necessary measures, considering that the colonial subjects were no better than wild animals. We also know that Locke, another alleged champion of Western liberty, recommended a heavyhanded treatment of the Irish, because the Papists were unworthy of having toleration extended to them. We shall now consider how well the vile theorisation of these Western paragons of liberty conformed with praxis in the Western society, and the America contemporaneous with Turgenev serves as a fitting case in point:

"Announcements of the lynchings [of Negroes] were made in the local newspapers […]. So as to enable kids to witness the lynchings, they were allowed to take a day off from school. The spectacle could involve castration, flaying, bonfire, hanging, or shooting. Souvenirs from the event included fingers, toes, teeth, even the reproductive organ of the victim as well as postcards.” (Cf. Freiheit als Privileg by Domenico Losurdo, p. 431. Cologne: 2011)

This juxtaposition of the crimes of East and West is ultimately a futile undertaking, because it provides us with no viable clues as to their relative inclination towards individualism and collectivism. What is important to keep in mind is that individualism and collectivism are no more than ideal types or abstractions. But even if view them as no more than abstractions, we cannot rule out the possibility of their socio-political ramifications. Furthermore, we must endeavour to uncover the contradictions inherent to a political idea. By contradiction we do not mean the violation of the rules of formal logic; no, what is of far greater interest is the obliqueness intrinsic to a philosophical idea and its being transposed to the social realm. Kant, as we have seen, was deeply conscious of man’s propensity to committing such an error, whereas Marx discovered that the deliberate propagation of this error was the order of the day. More than this, the aforementioned obliqueness was deemed to be in the very nature of things by the purveyors of this error, and as we all well know: there is nothing man can do to alter the laws of nature.

So as to dispel the charges of an unnecessarily abstract mode of exposition, it would serve our purposes well to offer a concrete example of the foregoing, and we shall let John Locke speak on behalf of liberalism:

Reading the epistemological works of Locke always brings a smile to one’s face: his common sense philosophy is all too English. At times Locke is so pedantic, even though he has nothing profound to say, that the aforementioned amusement quickly turns into indignation, and one can only sympathise with Nietzsche, according to whom Englishmen were unfit for philosophical thinking. It is only in Locke’s works of political philosophy that we begin to discern an intriguing piece of perversity: Locke’s advocacy of the case for liberty has no bearing on the question of the dignity of man; something else is at stake, and nowhere else does this become more apparent than in Locke’s treatment of the question of property in conjunction with considerations of circumstances under which it would be legitimate to do away with the life of a human being:

"[T]he preservation of the army […] requires an absolute obedience to the command of every superior officer, and it is justly death to disobey or dispute the most dangerous or unreasonable of them; but yet we see, that neither the sergeant, that could command a soldier to march up to the mouth of a cannon, or stand in a breach, where he is almost sure to perish, can command that soldier to give him one penny of his money; nor the general, that can condemn him to death for deserting his post, or for not obeying the most desperate orders, can yet, with all his absolute power of life and death, dispose of one farthing of that soldier’s estate, or seize one jot of his goods; whom he yet can command any thing, and hang for the least disobedience." (Cf. Two Treatises of Government, II, § 39. New York: 1953)

It is possible that a self-congratulatory Western reader may discern in these words a noble confirmation of the high esteem in which private property is held in his part of the world, but it is also a possible that a reader with a penchant for social satire could see in these words the mutterings of a miserly English Puritan all too concerned about being deprived of the money in his wallet. However we may decide on this matter, there is one conclusion that, according to Domenico Losurdo, inevitably forces itself upon us: that Locke views the "absolute inviolability of private property [as] more inviolable than life itself."

But there is another tradition represented by the Chinese, the Russians, and last but not least: the Germans. The Russian Staatstheorie, being an amalgamation of ancient Eurasian customs and German political philosophy, is at odds with its Western counterpart: in Russia, life is deemed to be more valuable than property. In order to understand this Staatstheorie, we need to reflect on the words of Hegel: in his lectures on religion, Hegel points out that love is essentially the act of making an exception for a human being, and to universalise this love would entail that it would be deprived of its fervour. Assuredly, there are saints who are said to have loved the whole world in a passionate manner, but it would be foolish to expect the average man to be capable of such heroic display of charity. Furthermore, it only makes sense to conceive of love in the negative: to love or not to love is a choice that each and every one of us has. Such a conception of charity in the negative is at the heart of Western liberal tradition: to help or not to help the poor is a choice that I have. And if I do help them, I also have the privilege of moral satisfaction. Hegel wishes to deprive you of your choice as well as your moral satisfaction. You shall be forced to love your fellow man, and once such a duty has been enjoined upon you, we are no longer dealing with love but with justice.

Russia cannot afford the luxury of the ‘love’ of the Western liberal. It is owing to liberal policies that most of Eastern Russia lies in ruins today. As the Russian thinker Alexander Zinoviev pointed out, given the harsh climate, life in many parts of Russia is twenty times more expensive than in the West, and government subsidies are absolutely essential to the maintenance of the Russian civilisation in Siberia. The long term aim is a self-sustainable Russian civilisation in the East, but the channeling of government subsidies to the East is a necessary precondition to the attainment of such an objective. These government policies may appear wasteful to the liberal, but they shall prove worthwhile in the long run.

The Russian commitment to collectivism is in the best interest of the individual; and this renders the Western dichotomy of individualism and collectivism wholly meaningless. A significant contribution to the collective is demanded of the Russian by the state, and the man who refuses to abide by this principle of justice shall have his property taken away from him. This was the fate of Alexander Solzhenytsin. "Let the whole world perish, so long as I may keep my fief." These words could well have been carved on this Russian gentleman’s grave. He had his property expropriated by the state, and he would never forgive the Soviet authorities for divesting him of his aristocratic privileges. He fled to the West, wrote fictional accounts of how terrible life was in the Soviet Union, and his imaginary ramblings are today part and parcel of the canon of Western Sovietology. To Solzhenytsin, property was more valuable than the reputation of his Motherland, and as in the case of Locke, it was more valuable than life of his fellow man. This is liberal pathology at work; any remnants of this Western disease, this morality of animals, must be uprooted from the Russian soil and cast into the furnace.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Israel's Role in Ukraine

In the events that have unfolded in Ukraine during the past weeks, the role of Israel is by far the most interesting. As far as the Americans and the European Union are concerned, it is a question of pursuing old-fashioned power politics vis-à-vis Russia with a view to minimising the latter's influence in Europe. The role of Israel, on the other hand, can be adequately appraised only by taking into account the financial interests of the following individuals, whose plight was reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on 2 July 2013:

"In the past decade, wealthy businessmen from the former Soviet Union have flocked to Israel in private planes via the Moscow-Tel Aviv route. Once here, they buy mansions in wealthy communities and get around in luxury cars. Most of them have come to Israel to escape the grasp of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They live below the radar, zealously guarding their privacy and hiding their assets and Israeli citizenship. [...] Many of them fear that if their Israeli assets and citizenships were revealed, it would complicate their relations with Russian authorities or hurt their business interests."

Gone are the days of cowboy liberalism when Western tycoons and businessmen would treat Russia with the condescension of a colonial lord towards his African subject. The economic system currently in force in Russia is corporative in nature: the state works with the businessmen, and those amongst these businessmen, Khodorkovsky being a case in point, who object to the interference of the state into their financial dealings can count on heavy reprisals.

The oligarchs of Russia are left with no choice but to cooperate with Putin, lest they suffer the same fate as Khodorkovsky. Some of these oligarchs prostrate themselves with great gusto at the feet of the ruler in Kreml, but the modus vivendi that they have found with Putin is an uneasy one. After all, these oligarchs are in possession of state assets of the Soviet Union purchased at a fraction of their actual value. At some point in time these assets will have to be returned to their rightful owners: The Russian People.

The long term aim of these oligarchs is to determine the political culture as well as the legislative framework of Russia in such a way that their property is shielded from being expropriated by the state. The procession from liberalism towards corporatism, which in the future could lead to further centralisation, is a process that these oligarchs are at pains to reverse. The first step towards such a reversal is to prevent Putin from extending his sphere of influence into their safe havens in the former Soviet Union, of which Ukraine is the most important.

Press TV was one of the few news outlets to report on the Israeli involvement in the riots in Ukraine:

"A former Israeli army officer is playing a leading role in the anti-government protests in Ukraine [...]. [This] unnamed Israeli was commanding a group of 20 Ukrainian militants while four other Israelis, who had also previously served in the army, were said to have taken part in opposition rallies in Ukraine's capital of Kiev. They were born in Ukraine but migrated to Israel and joined its armed forces before returning [to Ukraine] for the demonstrations [...]"

The Press TV report went on to state

"that an Israeli tycoon provided financial support to the opposition in Ukraine [...]"

On 16 December 2013 Jerusalem Post reported that

"some young Jews working for international organizations such as JDC, Hillel and Limmud have taken to the barricades [in Ukraine, and they were] 'really active' in offering support as well as 'organizing the barricades'."

One may well be tempted to view these young Jews as useful idiots, but it is far more plausible that they were in fact provocateurs with a political agenda of their own. Ukraine is not just a safe haven for oligarchs on the run from Putin; it is also a country in which Israel exerts a high degree of political influence.

What should be troubling to Russia is the extent of the cooperation between Ukraine and Israel in the fields of military and intelligence. During the European Championship in football in 2012, which was held in Poland and Ukraine, Mossad was partly in charge of security. And the cooperation went much farther than the overseeing of sports events:

(i) Exchange of security information between the two countries; such an exchange is most likely skewed in Israel's favour.

(ii) Cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism.

(iii) Israel is granted wellnigh unlimited access to Ukrainian databases; this facilitates the halting of the influx of undesired elements into Israel as well as the apprehension of potential or imagined terrorists.

Indeed, the cooperation between Israel and Ukraine in the field of intelligence is so extensive that Israel saw it fit to appoint Reuven Dinel, a former Mossad agent, as ambassador to Ukraine. It is worth noting that Dinel was caught spying in Russia during the 90s and was subsequently declared persona non grata. So tarnished was Dinel's reputation that Turkmenistan refused to grant diplomatic status to this enemy of Russia. Ukraine had no such qualms.

Ukraine is today a veritable den of russophobic Israelis. On the one hand, Israel's interests coincide with those of the West in the sense that they both wish to limit the Russian sphere of influence, whereas on the other Israel is advocating the agenda of oligarchs with dual or multiple citizenships jealously clinging on to assets stolen from the people of Russia.

Russia has no choice but to treat Israel as an enemy state.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

How Mongols Saved Russia

Some months ago Pavlo Lapshyn, a Ukrainian studying in England, stabbed an aging Muslim man of South Asian origin to death in an unprovoked incident. Pavlo's blind hatred of the Muslims made no sense to his shattered father: after all, Pavlo's own grandmother, Raziya Halili, was a Tatar Muslim. The father recounted how the grandmother would shower her grandson with love; hence he was at a complete loss as to Pavlo's animosity towards the Muslims.

Pavlo Lapshyn is clearly ashamed of his ancestors, and the different traditions of the world do not have pleasant things to say about men like him. According a proverb, presumably of Native American origin, "the whole universe conspires to destroy the man who is ashamed of his own ancestors." The Bible is perhaps even more candid in regard to this matter: "The eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures" (Proverbs, 30:17). According to the great Confucius, filial piety (hsiao) is a virtue that no honourable man can do without. Indeed, it is my firm view that one of the secrets to the longevity of the Chinese civilisation is its cult of ancestors.

Pavlo Lapshyn's hatred of his own ancestors, for which an innocent immigrant in England had to pay a heavy price, should not be viewed as an isolated incident; rather his revolting conduct is symptomatic of a social disease with which large segments of the Ukrainian society is infected.

The Ukrainian battle against Russia has a vital mythohistorical dimension which is often lost sight of: Ukraine is the custodian of the slavic heritage, whereas Russia is the bastard remnant of the Mongol yoke.

This mythohistorical narrative, hailing from the West, has created much discord in Russia during the last two centuries. Russians are no strangers to blaming the Mongols for a variety of social ills, from the apparent lack of democratic institutions to alcoholism. In the writings of Vissarion Belinsky, a mediocre thinker who had a significant impact on Russian intellectual life in the ninteenth century, the abiding Mongol tyranny was the cause of Russia's misfortunes. In a famous denuciation of the pro-Czarist intellectual Nikolai Gogol, Belinsky accused him of being a lover of the Mongols:

"You [, Nikolai, are a] defender of the [rulers'] whip, you [are a] prophet of ignorance, [...] you [are a] champion of the Mongol way of life. Behold the ground underneath your feet. You are on the verge of perdition."

According to Belinsky, the Russian czardom was a continuation of the Mongol rule. He was partially right. After all, Ivan IV (1530-1584), known as "the Terrible" in the West, was directly related to Gengis Khan, whereas Emperor Boris (1551-1605) hailed from the Golden Horde.

Mongol ancestry amongst the Russians is actually quite commonplace. Lenin, for instance, had two grandparents who were Kalmyks, and by all accounts he was not at all troubled by his Mongol ancestry. Stalin, for his part, was certainly no Mongol, but he clearly liked the idea of being one (cf. picture), much as I do.

The game called Blame-the-Mongol is still considered a worthwhile pastime in Ukraine, whereas this is no longer the case amongst the majority of the Russians. In Russia, "various segments of the elite [...] have started to either directly or indirectly associate themselves with the great Mongolian warrior [Gengis Khan] and his empire."

Russia's tilt toward the East makes sense not only from a strictly geopolitical point of view; it is also a question of embracing your past and who you really are.

According to the narrative of the European historians, the Mongol yoke insulated Russia from the liberating influence of European ideas. This ridiculous claim of the European historians should be treated with utmost contempt by the Russians. Papist absolutism, pigheaded Protestant fideism, Catholics and Protestants slaughtering one another in the millions during the religious wars, the extermination of the natives of America, and pseudoliberal thinkers like John Locke deeming property more valuable than human life are also the products of the Europeans' propensity to the universalisation of their tribal whims.

To this provincialism of the Europeans one should counterpoise the genuine ecumenism and humanism of the Mongols. The Mongols advocated non-interference in religious matters and they were passionate patrons of the arts. In comparison with the openminded and tolerant Mongols, John Locke, ironically considered a great champion of freedom in the West, comes across as the hypocritical and murderous Puritan that he was:

"It is impossible either by indulgence or severity to make papists [...] friends to your government, being enemies to it both in their principles and interests, [...] they ought not to enjoy the benefit of toleration, because toleration can never, but restraint may, lessen their number, or at least not increase it, as it does usually all other opinions which grow and spread by persecution, and recommend themselves to bystanders by the hardships they undergo [...]. But I think it is far otherwise with Catholics, who are less apt to be pitied than others because they receive no other usage than what the [...] cruelty of their own principles and practices they are known to deserve [...]."

These were the perverse European ideas from which Russia was shielded by the Mongols' alleged yoke. The Mongol might was legendary throughout the known world. The Mongol fury would turn Baghdad into ashes within the space of a few hours and it made the whole of Europe tremble in fear.

According to the great Soviet historian Lev Gumilev, the Mongols were no impediment to the blossoming of the Russian civilisation. To the contrary, the Mongols saved Russia from being overrun by the European hordes, whose murderous track record in their colonies is well known to us all. Without the Mongols, the whole of Russia would have become latinised, and the Russians would have been no more than a footnote in the history books of today.

Gumilev's school of thought has given the Russians an indigenous historical narrative that does justice to all those who have contributed to the making of the great Russian civilisation, including the Mongols. And it should surprise no one, that President Putin, who is a great intellectual in his own right, frequently quotes Gumilev in his speeches. The unveiling of Gumilev's bust at MGIMO, Moscow's elite university for aspiring diplomats, is another testimony to his exalted standing amongst the Russian intelligentsia.

Russia has at last come to terms with its past, whereas Ukraine is still beholden to a historical narrative befitting village idiots.

To the Ukrainian who beats his chest over his European grandfather, but who is too ashamed to admit that his grandmother was a Mongol, I have the following to say: a mad dog's death would be too kind a fate for people like you. And it is my ardent hope that at least an iota of your consciousness remains while worms and maggots gnaw away at your decomposing flesh.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Russian Justice

People occasionally ask me what history book they should read in order to increase their knowledge of Russia's past, and my reply is always, "NONE!" If you wish to understand Russian history, you should read the spiritual counsels of Theophan Zatvornik, the epistles of Nil Sorsky, and the novels of Ivan Turgenev.

How could you fathom the idealism of the Narodniki, the young aristocrats who went to live amongst the peasantry, unless you understand what Sorsky has to say in regard to renunciation? And how could you discern the rationale behind the heavyhanded approach of the Bolsheviks unless you understand why the Narodniki were hounded out of the countryside by the peasants whom they held in the highest esteem?

The ignorance of the Russian peasantry is legendary. Well-meaning doctors who went to the villages to attend the sick were often accused of being witches and murdered in the most barbaric fashion. When Russia lost the war against Japan in 1905, there was the widespread belief amongst the Russian peasantry, that the Japanese had transformed themselves into microbes and crawled into the boots of the Russian soldiers, thus rendering them motionless. Russia had been defeated by occult means. How do you deal with such astounding nescience? There were two solutions:

(i) Let the peasants continue leading a life of blissful ignorance. You will do them no good by educating them. After all, as the Bible says, "he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow."

(ii) The second solution was that of Stalin: the Russian peasantry would have to change its ways - by force, if necessary. As Marx had pointed out during one of his truly Hegelian moments of inspiration, "the classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way." The despicable creatures who have never read Marx, and who are too stupid to understand Hegel, see in these words a call for genocide on the part of Marx, whereas, to the contrary, Marx is merely explicating the laws of history. The races who would be vanquished were those who remained ignorant of the mechanisms determining the course of history, and this tragedy could be averted by educating the masses so as to enable them to pursue a line of action in accordance with their own best interest. Stalin saw it as his sacred mission to guide the Russian peasantry out of obscurantism; thus he sought to ascertain that the people whom he loved were not sacrificed on the altar of history. And those, such as the feudal Kulaks, who resisted this act of liberation, would have to be crushed by the iron fist of the state. Stalin knew very well that what he set out to do would be controversial, and he had the following to say to his detractors: "when I die, my people will defile my grave with litter; but much later they will understand that I did the right thing."

This conflict between those who wish to let things remain as they are and those who wish to bring about a revolutionary change to the Russian society is at the heart of Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons. On one side you have the weary generation of the fathers, whereas on the other you have Yevgeny Bazarov, a character as inritiguing as Ivan Karamazov. Bazarov excels as an intellectual, and he intimidates his foes with his extensive knowledge of the different branches of philosophy. Not only does Bazarov embody the Russian ideal of ferocious intellectuality; he is also a precursor to the Bolsheviks.

People who think that Bolshevism was some sort of a Jewish conspiracy betray their appalling ignorance of Russia's history. 80% of the officers in the Red Army were former Czarists. Furthermore, without the support of the Russian people, there is no way the Bolsheviks could have defeated more than a dozen foreign interventionist powers along with the Whites. Even the two symbols adopted by the Bolsheviks were as Russian as they could get: the hammer signifying the urban workers of Russia and the sickle signifying the peasantry.

The Bolsheviks were deeply Russian. They personified the Russian ideals of universal learning, and they displayed a genuinely Christian sense of justice, as outlined in the epistles of Sorsky: "do not waste your money on the decoration of the churches; distribute it amongst the poor instead."

The messianic sense of justice dictated that the Bolsheviks bring redemption not only to the people of Russia, but to the whole world. The Bolshevik hatred of Russia's feudal lords would be extended to the ruling elites all over the world. The world had never seen anything like the Bolshevik scourge; one day this scourge shall return.

It is incumbent on the young Russians to follow the example of Lenin and meditate on the toughest works of philosophy: Kritik der reinen Vernunft by Kant, Phaenomenologie des Geistes by Hegel, and Das Kapital by Marx. Great philosophical ideas engender great men. Once this knowledge has been assimilated, the gates of fury shall once again burst open, the Scythian hordes shall once again lay siege to the world, and any force impeding this sacred onslaught shall be pulverised.

Chinese Success, Indian Failure

The study of colonialism is a study in pathology, and it is so because the colonial masters sought to construct a specific kind of bastard-breed in the colonies. According to Lord Macauley, the longevity of the British colonial rule hinged on whether one succeeded in manufacturing an obedient elite of colonial subjects or not. These native middlemen may have yellow, brown, or black faces, but they ought to be decidedly British in terms of worldview, tastes, and manners. The extent of the British success in this respect varied from place to place. The Chinese proved difficult to reform for several reasons, the chief amongst which were as follows:

(i) The language barrier: The native languages of China are not Indo-European; for a Westerner, the mastering of these languages would require an excessive amount of time and effort. The colonial masters never succeeded in penetrating the Chinese mindset.

(ii) The collective memory of (recent) greatness: China was the world's leading power until the eighteenth century; this fact was never forgotten by the Chinese. The eclipse of Chinese supremacy is temporary and China is slowly reverting to its place of pre-eminence. The following facts provided by James Petras and John Hobson are worth pondering:

(a) "As early as 1078, China was the world’s major producer of steel (125,000 tons); whereas Britain in 1788 produced 76,000 tons."

(b) "[China's] innovations in the production of paper, book printing, firearms and tools led to a manufacturing superpower whose goods were transported throughout the world by the most advanced navigational system."

(c) "China’s ‘agricultural revolution’ and productivity surpassed the West down to the 18th century."

(d) "China possessed the world’s largest commercial ships. In 1588 the largest English ships displaced 400 tons, China’s 3,000 tons. Even as late as the end of the 18th century China’s merchants employed 130,000 private transport ships, several times that of Britain. China retained this pre-eminent position in the world economy up until the early 19th century."

(iii) A uniform native culture: What I find admirable about the Chinese is their collective spirit. This spirit is not something unique to the Chinese; one encounters it amongst the Japanese and the Koreans as well. The Prussian virtues for which the Germans are occasionally lauded are a second nature to the Chinese. This vitality to the Chinese civilisation is intrinsic in nature, ensuing as it does from a spiritual-cum-philosophical substratum. The Confucian ideal of learning encourages one to abide by the dicates of those who know better. There are few places in the world where learned men are held in as high an esteem as in China. The reliance on the judgments of a selfless intelligentsia is the best way of ascertaining that the right decisions are made in the economic realm. The Chinese ideal of statesmenship signifies the politics of the future. The post-colonial nations who care for their own well-being must disband their western pseudo-democratic institutions and adopt the genuinely democratic Chinese model: a well-functioning welfare state matters far more than parliamentarianism and a free press.

China has succeeded where so many post-colonial nations have failed. In this regard, it is of interest to contrast the Chinese success with the Indian failure. The Chinese were never blinded by the ideological superstructure of their colonial masters and concentrated the surplus of their efforts on the rebuilding of their great nation as soon as the imperialists had been defeated, whereas the Indians succumbed to the ways of the white man and are - till this very day - more concerned with fighting the white man's wars, whether against China or as tools reinforcing the white man's racial stereotypes in the latter's war on the black man.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Sympathy for the Hermit Kingdom

North Korea: Another Country

A Review

The three ideological pillars on which the North Korean (DPRK) state rests are the following: (i) self-reliance, (ii) national independence, and (iii) independent economy. Any nation doing its utmost to stand on its own feet commands our admiration, but as even a cursory reading of our newspapers reveals to us: the DPRK is almost always reviled rather than extolled. The author endeavours to unravel the mechanisms behind America's irrational hatred of this great nation, and succeeds in his task quite well. The anti-DPRK hysteria in America is rooted in the following two factors: ignorance and indoctrination. The author's second aim is to explain the rationale behind DPRK's Realpolitik. As a post-colonial nation with deep-seated memories of the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the American terrorists and marauders during the Korean war, the DPRK feels compelled to adopt a stalwart posture vis-à-vis the Americans. The Koreans have taken the following law of the jungle to heart: the strong devours the weak. Therefore, if and when the Yanks come knocking, the DPRK will have one nasty surprise after another in store for the unwanted visitor. An American general estimated that in the case of a new Korean war, "he would need as many as 80,000 to 100,000 body bags for American soldiers who would die" (p. 72). The Americans are not willing to pay such a high price, and this the Koreans know.
The three ideological pillars on which the North Korean (DPRK) state rests are the following:
(i) self-reliance, (ii) national independence, and (iii) independent economy. Any nation doing its utmost to stand on its own feet commands our admiration, but as even a cursory reading of our newspapers reveals to us: the DPRK is almost always reviled rather than extolled. The author endeavours to unravel the mechanisms behind America's irrational hatred of this great nation, and succeeds in his task quite well. The anti-DPRK hysteria in America is rooted in the following two factors: ignorance and indoctrination. The author's second aim is to explain the rationale behind DPRK's Realpolitik. As a post-colonial nation with deep-seated memories of the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the American terrorists and marauders during the Korean war, the
DPRK feels compelled to adopt a stalwart posture vis-à-vis the Americans. The Koreans have taken the following law of the jungle to heart: the strong devours the weak. Therefore, if and when the Yanks come knocking, the DPRK will have one nasty surprise after another in store for the unwanted visitor. An American general estimated that in the case of a new Korean war, "he would need as many as 80,000 to 100,000 body bags for American soldiers who would die" (p. 72). The
Americans are not willing to pay such a high price, and this the Koreans know.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

What is Risibility?

Just what is it that makes people burst out in laughter? There are many theories on risibility and each amongst these is valid on its particular plain of reference. The most ancient theories on risibility - at least those which are known to us - stem from Plato and Aristotle.

According to Plato, laughter is often caused by the delight we take in the misfortunes of others, be it their lack of intelligence, beauty, or means of sustenance. Hence it is hardly surprising that laughter was decried by the great philosopher:

"A composer of a comedy or of any iambic or lyric song shall be strictly forbidden to ridicule any of the citizens either by word or by mimicry, whether with or without passion; and if anyone disobeys, the Presidents of the Games shall on the same day banish [the culprit]" (Laws, 11, 935-6).

According to Aristotle, "that [which] excites laughter, is something ugly and distorted without causing pain" (Poetics, 1449A1, 5:30-40). The "distorted" is that which is in disconformity with what should be the natural course, e.g, a conclusion that does not follow from the premises is likely to induce laughter in us, especially if the conclusion is all too obvious. Other cases likely to be deemed risible are those of fallacious analogies, whether puns or when you pick up a hot iron to answer the phone.

If Aristotle is right in suggesting that risibility is a property unique to the human species, then this is something that we will have to learn to live with. Still, it would be a good idea to reflect on why you laugh, because there is always the possibility that you are laughing when you shouldn't. Indeed, why on earth do people laugh at videos of Indians living in extreme poverty or FSA fighters having their heads blown off? As for the anonymous world of the internet, the individual who concludes his contribution to a lost debate with a wretched "LOL" lays bare his ignorance as well as his lack of tact to all those who know better.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Anglo-American Claptrap

The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer

A Review

"Statt der selbsteigenen Werke der Philosophen allerlei Darlegungen ihrer Lehren [...] zu lesen, ist wie wenn man sich sein Essen von einem Anderen kauen lassen wollte." Thus spoke Schopenhauer. But as he probably knew himself, the savouring of regurgitated food is not an uncommon practice in the animal kingdom. Schopenhauer was a master of clarity, and sensitivity to beautiful prose should help one a long way towards understanding the philosophy of someone who was also a master of the German language. Nevertheless, there are two obstacles of which one should be wary. (i) A full understanding of Schopenhauer's philosophy requires familiarity with the philosophy of Kant. (ii) One should have read and understood his doctoral dissertation dealing with the four varieties of objects qua representations - viz., real objects, concepts, space-time, selfhood - and the laws by which their becoming is governed. Owing to these two obstacles, introductory texts are likely to prove worthwhile. Unfortunately, the collection of essays on hand fails to serve its purpose. The ultimate objection to this collection is that its editor seems to have failed to understand that the contributors must be asked to do their utmost to maintain their focus on the subject matter: the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Anything that may prove disruptive to such a focus must be treated as anathema. Furthermore, the most difficult themes must be identified - for instance the immutability of the human character - and treated of in a rigorous manner. The latter demand is met in an admirable fashion by Günter Zöller, David Hamlyn, and F.C. White, whereas most of the remaining essays can be said to oscillate between the silly and the irrelevant. And finally there are essays dealing with themes which are less than challenging, viz., an intelligent reader is in need of no assistance when it comes to understanding these particular aspects to the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Silliness and its cases in point: Moira Nicholls's crude understanding of Nibbana - her main source in this regard is the catechism of Sri Rahula, available in all New Age bookstores - proves less than helpful in terms of comparing Schopenhauers doctrine of salvation with its Eastern counterpart. Christopher Janaways's essay entitled "Schopenhauer's Pessimism" is an instance of theoretical exercise in the quest for eudaimonia: (A) Strive toward X (B) Attain X and rejoice (C) If not, pout. This is sure to bring back memories of philosophy courses at high school. Another point of criticism is the appalling myopia of these Anglo-Americans. A survey of their footnotes reveals a great deal. The only contributor who is not active in the Anglo-American domain, is Günter Zöller. An examination of his footnotes shows that he is familiar with both English and German sources on Schopenhauer. As for the others, they seem to be relying almost exclusively on Anglo-American sources. One is tempted to ask the following question: is no relevant research on Schopenhauer being carried out in his own country? There are several excellent books on Schopenhauer in the German language, which should have been listed in the bibliography section. The most elementary texts on Schopenhauer in the German language, keep track of things that seem to have bypassed these Anglo-American experts on Schopenhauer. For instance, Sebastian Gardener writes about "Schopenhauer's frequent asylum tours" (p. 386) and refers to an essay by R.K. Gupta in which it was, according to Gardener, "claimed" that Schopenhauer used to visit mental asylums (n. 59, p. 412). Incidentally, Schopenhauer does write about these visits himself in his Handschrifliche[m] Nachlaß (I:87) and in WWV (I:3:36), as pointed out Klaus-Jürgen Grün in his rather unpretentious introduction to the philosophy of Schopenhauer (p. 121). If Gardener's lack of familiarity with the corpus of Schopenhauer is in any way representative of the level at which the other contributors find themselves, then there is every reason to shun this collection. Schopenhauer's philosophy views the world as a riddle, it attempts to account for all the contradictions to the human existence, and it culminates in mysticism; precisely for these reasons it does not lend itself to analytical hair-splitting: Schopenhauer's "methodische Drehen und Wenden der Standpunkte umeinander und gegeneinander - in der Sekundärliteratur häufig übersehen oder als Widersprüche im Denken Schopenhauers, als Denkfehler abgetan - sucht die dogmatische Festschreibung einer einzelnen Betrachtungsweise zu verhindern" (p. 10). The follies against which we are warned by Volker Spierling, are committed again and again in this collection, not least by the editor himself. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all my foes.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Israel and Pakistan: Ghetto States

Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea by Faisal Devji

An Interpretation 

You can take the Jew out of the ghetto, and you can take the ghetto out of the Jew as well. This has always been my view. Cosmopolitanism is a prerequisite to intellectual achievement, and if you consider the history of the Jews, you will find that the Jews who have excelled in the intellectual field were precisely those who turned their backs on the ghetto.

Living in the ghetto has its benefits: mutual solidarity, extended families, and a sense of belonging are all prized assets. The severing of the ties that bind one to a group so as to confront the world like the matador faces the raging bull is not a challenge that most men would be wont to embracing. In the heart of every single man, a Jew is to found: the ghetto Jew or the cosmopolitan Jew. You need to ask yourself the following question: What sort of a Jew am I? Schlomo the Schmata or Spinoza the Sage?

A terrible tension is to be found not only in the souls of men, but even at the core of many nation-states. It was the ghetto instinct that prompted the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent as well as the Zionists to seek and create a separate homeland for themselves and their brethren. Inherent therein was a veritable antinomy: how do you reconcile your quasi-transcendental ghetto with the socio-political context in which it was created?

The Jews who emigrated to Israel dissociated themselves from the history of the countries in which they had been living for centuries and sought refuge in the mythology of the Israelites instead. Likewise, the Pakistanis rejected their Hindu heritage so as to live like parasites off the past triumphs of the Arabs, to whom they have no blood relation whatsoever. Add to this the grim social realities facing both the Israelis and the Pakistanis: the former thought they had come to a land without a people, only to discover that the country was already populated by its native Palestinians, whereas the latter came to realise soon enough that the regional interests of the various ethnic groups always override the desire for unity on religious grounds. Both the Israelis and the Pakistanis sought the security of the ghetto, only to realise that they had crawled into the lion's den. Israel the hi-tech fortress, with its citizens popping themselves full with antidepressants in order to come to terms with the harsh reality of being surrounded by enemies on all corners, and Pakistan, the world's second tallest dungheap, surpassed only by the dungheap that is India, are failures in the realms of the ideal as well as the real. Unlike great ancient nations such as China and Russia, who have developed organically during the course of millenia, both Pakistan and Israel are modern aberrations and the hideous byproducts of colonialism - nations that should never have been created in the first place.