Making Peace with Empire
This week: conversations with Nina Khruscheva, Jeffrey Sachs, Anatol Lieven, and Andrew Bacevich about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our site.
This week, Open Source hears again the argument that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was provoked by the United States’ conflict with Russia. Economist Jeffrey Sachs, shortly after participating in a UN working group at the Vatican, says:
The point of the working group that the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network brought together is that this is a war that is provoked by a contest between two big powers, the United States and Russia.
It is really a war over Ukraine. The truth is, neither side should have Ukraine. Ukraine should be an independent, sovereign, and neutral country. Probably Russia wants domination over Ukraine. On the other hand, the United States wants Ukraine as a military ally, and that’s too close for comfort to Russia.
Nina Khruscheva, professor of international affairs at the New School and the great-grandaughter of Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev, joins us as well, and describes a collision with an imperial Russia:
Putin sees himself as the descendant of those greats. You know, Vladimir the Great, the baptizer of Kievan Rus’ in the 1800s, then Catherine the Great and Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great and Stalin and Koba the Dread. And now Vladimir Putin the Great. So history weighs very heavily on him. And for the Russians, I think it’s important. For still I mean, Russia, even if it collapsed in ’91 and shed a lot of territory, it’s still an empire. I mean, it certainly has this imperial mentality that the state is most important. Russians do talk about, you know, in the past, we were revered and respected and now look at us. And now under Putin, we’re feared and respected once again.
As we conclude In Search of Monsters—our limited-series collaboration with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft—we check in with Quincy fellow Anatol Lieven, who started this series with a call to neutralize Ukraine in order to prevent war, and the Quincy Institute’s president, Andrew Bacevich. Lieven reiterates his argument about the US, NATO, and Ukraine :
Since, as everybody has now acknowledged and as Zelensky, President Zelensky has said, NATO was not actually going to offer membership to Ukraine in any foreseeable future, we could and should have offered a treaty of neutrality. And since this was first on the list of Russian official demands, if we had offered that, I think it would have been very difficult or even impossible for Putin to have launched this war.
Andrew Bacevich reflects on the Quincy Institute’s principles; he says:
John Quincy Adams favored effective, vigorous, creative, imaginative diplomacy. I don’t know that the diplomacy that preceded the Russian invasion of Ukraine exhibited any of those of those qualities. And so I would argue strongly, matter of fact, that the the depth of the catastrophe that is unfolding and the fact that—well, maybe not the fact. The claim that, my claim—that this war could have been avoided had we had more effective diplomacy—makes the case for restraint as a principle of foreign policy.
Gunfighter Nation and Texas John Slaughter
Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation has been coming up in our conversations lately about violence. And so, on the strange, nightmarish subject of American violence: here’s the theme song to Texas John Slaughter, which was a Disney show from the 1960s, including these lyrics: “Texas John Slaughter made ’em do what they oughtter, cause if they didn’t they died.”
When overturning of Roe v. Wade, Clarence Thomas signalled an intention to continue to take away civil rights. The future looks bad for anyone who cares about such rights, with continued vigor from anti-liberal forces like Thomas, like various election-deniers and that strangely global, theocratic, autocratic drift.
Some ideas and terms from the Open Source archive for intellectual clarity and moral sustenance:
In our show with Cornel West and Susannah Heschel on moral prophecy, West described a commitment to moral consistency (and praised Noam Chomsky in particular for his consistency). Of his and Heschel’s own commitment, West said:
We’re part of the prophetic legacy of Jerusalem that says we’re anti-injustice anywhere, anywhere, any country that engages in forms of greed and hatred and contempt, we will bring a critique to bear.
West criticizes Edmund Burke for a lack of moral consistency:
Burke, you know, he had to be checked by the great Mary Wollstonecraft when he wrote Reflections on the French Revolution, because he didn’t have the consistency. You see, he had a powerful critique of the empire. But when it came to back at home, when it came to what was going on among working poor people at home, he was on the side of the deep conservatives.
That kind of moral consistency is obviously a high standard, often beyond contemporary politics. See, for instance, those who fear speech-suppression by campus progressives yet remain unconcerned by right-wing book-banning legislation. Et cetera.
To propel you through the problem of societies (and thought) riven by contradictions, consider David Wengrow and David Graeber’s instant classic The Dawn of Everything.
Our show with Wengrow was a big hit. The Dawn of Everything offers a theory on how people define themselves in opposition to others (creating all sorts of consistency-wrecking fractures). This is Marcel Mauss’s idea that societies “live by borrowing from each other, but they define themselves rather by the refusal of borrowing than by its acceptance.” And so we have schismogenesis, creation of societies by way of schisms—and cultural differentiation based on oppositions (as in mask-wearers vs. anti-maskers; anti-liberals vs. liberals).