Jürgen Osterhammel on the Crimean War

The Crimean War, which it lost, and resistance to its great-power pretensions at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, drove the Tsarist Empire to look farther eastward.  Siberia acquired a new luster in official propaganda and the national imagination, and a major scientific effort was made to “appropriate” it.  Great tasks seemed to lie ahead for this redeployment of national forces.  The conviction that Russia was expanding into Asia as a representative of Western civilization — an idea that had originated in the first half of the century — was now turned in an anti-Western direction by currents inside the country.  Theorists of Pan-Slavism or Eurasianism sought to create a new national of imperial identity and to convert Russia’s geographical position as a bridge between Europe and Asia into a spiritual advantage.  The Pan-Slavists, unlike the milder, Romantically introverted Slavophiles of the previous generation, did not shrink from a more aggressive foreign policy and the associated risks of tension with Western European powers.  That was one tendency.  But after the 1860s, after the Crimean War, also witnessed the strengthening of the “Westernizers,” who made some gains in their efforts to make Russia a “normal” and, by the standards of the day, successful European country.  Reforms introduced by Alexander II seemed to restore this link with “the civilized world.” But the ambiguity between the “search for Europe” and the “flight from Europe” was never dissolved.

That is from the just-published The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century.  Here is my previous post on the book.

Here is Bryan Caplan “You Don’t Know the Best Way to Deal with Russia.”  Here is a short piece on how much sympathy some Germans have for the Russians.


But the ambiguity between the “search for Europe” and the “flight from Europe” was never dissolved.

I disagree. I think that this is precisely the role that Marxism-Leninism was able to fulfil.

I usually have some time for Brian Caplan, even if I don't agree with him. But here he seems to be .... I am not sure how to put that politely.

Historically naive for one:

Notice: The Economist presents no empirics about past experiences with "standing up" versus "backing down." If it bothered to do so, it would find many supportive examples - plus many unsupportive counterexamples. World War II is the poster child for "standing up." World War I is the poster child for "backing down." The Korean War - standing up. The Vietnam War - backing down.

Actually it is not obvious that any of these examples serve as he claims. There are plenty of people who think WW1 was a war worth fighting. WW2 is hard to argue about, but blundering into the war when the West did was hardly in anyone's interests. The Korean War was probably a waste of time and we would have been better off allowing the North to reunify it. While the Vietnam War was an entirely just war. The fact that the West won in Korea does not make the War in our interests. The fact that the West lost in Vietnam, along with the people of Indochina, does not mean it was not worth trying to save them.

Anyone who knows basic history can multiply such examples endlessly. International relations is inherently complicated.

Everyone knows that you can multiply these examples endlessly. Which is why historians hate counter factuals. Yes, it is inherently complicated. Who says otherwise? I think that Dr Caplan may find that even the Economist knows this. Every single person who has made a comment he has commented on knows it is inherently complicated. But they have offered an opinion anyway. Is that opinion worth any more because they put a fake number on it?

This doesn't mean, of course, that empirical study of foreign policy is fruitless. Maybe an exhaustive study would reveal that standing up works better 55% of the time, and backing down works better 45% of the time. But unless you hide behind lame tautologies ("I favor smart standing up. That never fails!"), you're unlikely to reach a stronger conclusion.

Favoring smart policies is not a tautology. You can measure smart and dumb policies. The Obama administration's policies are dumb because they are so incoherent. He has no idea what he is doing and is blundering from crisis to crisis. Bush's policies were probably dumb but they had the minimum of competence - a vision of the world which gave coherence to what he was trying to do.

The worst thing we can do is let Putin think we won't fight for Latvia when in fact public opinion would insist on it. We can look at what policies we are following and see this is incoherent, facile and probably futile.

"While the Vietnam War was an entirely just war. The fact that the West won in Korea does not make the War in our interests. The fact that the West lost in Vietnam, along with the people of Indochina, does not mean it was not worth trying to save them."

What does this have to do with the question of whether the Vietnam War was in the national interest of the United States or, indeed, the long-term interest of everyone else? A theoretical war fought with laser-guided bombs (not invented until 1968) and not commanded by General Westmoreland or fought along the lines that it was might have worked out better. It is interesting how wars are the one government activity that people who are otherwise strongly skeptical of government think should be judged starting from the premise that America's politicians and military leaders are expert technocrats and planners with pure motives. The reality is that governments screw up all sorts of things but it is in military matters that a government screw-up (like fighting a conventional war of attrition against an enemy with no concept of how much punishment that enemy is willing to take) means tens or hundreds of thousands of people die. That observation ought to go into the "stand up/back-down" calculus.

I don't think leaving the people of Indochina to the joys of genocidal extremists was in America's interests. The mistake America made was handing the war over to the military. The British in Malaya gave it to a policeman. The Thai solution - and they did halt the expansion of Communism - was basically death squads. Which worked.

But let us all agree that America's politicians and military leaders are not expert technocrats and do not always have pure motives. So what? They screw up. But they did not and do not intend to murder millions to create a utopia. Tens or hundreds of thousands may have died in the war, but millions died when the people America tried to keep out of power came to power. Simply allowing them to murder millions a generation earlier is not the sort of policy most people would defend, but if so, you have to enter twenty five years of Khmer Rouge power into that calculus, not just the four they got.

The truth remains that at the time, the decision was a no-brainer. America had the chance to keep communism contained, prevent genocide, by fighting against people who couldn't even afford proper shoes much less tanks. Sure it looks obvious now they were going to lose, but it wasn't at the time.

How is all this an argument against the Korean War ("The Korean War was probably a waste of time and we would have been better off allowing the North to reunify it)?

It isn't. That decision was a no-brainer as well. A direct challenge to America that was going to get a response. However if American politicians had sat down and thought about what they really wanted to do, South Korea might not have made the list. In fact Acheson probably did and was probably right to exclude it. It remains pretty much indefensible. In a real shooting war, it is hard to see how North Korean and/or Soviet units could have been kept out. In peacetime it mainly acted as a way of keeping American soldiers away from the real fighting.

Keeping out of a land war in Asia usually makes sense.

In retrospect, the Syngman Rhee regime was awful. It provided a lot of propaganda for America's enemies (notice that even an American TV show like M*A*S*H has nothing bad to say about the North, and nothing good to say about Rhee's government). Even when life in South Korea got better, South Koreans have not been grateful. To this day the former student protesters are a strong force in South Korea and pretty much to a man they wanted reunification - they idealized the North. Even the former military regime mandated ripping the US Forces off with every contract they could.

So the West lost a reasonable number of lives to save people who were and are not remotely thankful for it and America had to continue to intern a middling percentage of its own soldiers to act as a trip wire for a country that was probably indefensible anyway. It probably did make sense to shorten the length of territory America was committed to protect in Asia.

Which might be, I guess, an argument for not thinking clearly.

(The difference with Vietnam is that Korea is surrounded by sea. Chinese soldiers could and did cross the border to carry Communism into Vietnam. Vietnamese soldiers could and did cross the border to take Communism into Laos and Cambodia. Both provided logistic support for Communists in Thailand and China for those in Burma. But a re-unified Korea could hardly do much to support guerillas in Japan)

In retrospect, the Syngman Rhee regime was awful.

He ran an ordinary authoritarian state. Per Kim Dae Jung, it was more pluralistic in its inclinations than the military regimes in charge from 1972 to 1988 (which were not of abnormal severity).

Art Deco

He ran an ordinary authoritarian state.

I don't know what you mean by ordinary. When the number of people tortured and executed gets into six figures, you're dealing with someone who wasn't that ordinary. Of course they were not ordinary times - and Rhee was vastly better than the North. But he is only pleasant in comparison with the North. He makes the Japanese look good.

Per Kim Dae Jung, it was more pluralistic in its inclinations than the military regimes in charge from 1972 to 1988 (which were not of abnormal severity).

Well I have a lot of time for Park Chun-hee but it is a measure of how useless Rhee was that when Park came to power, South Korea's per capita GDP was about $70. In other words, South Korea had done nothing, or even gone backwards, under Rhee.

Park obviously did not have the problems that Rhee did, and there were so few Communists left to shoot that his regime was bound to be less oppressive. Rhee probably would have had Kim Dae-jung executed. Park did try to have him sleep with the fishes. I don't see much in it.

Both were vastly better than the North.

I don’t know what you mean by ordinary. When the number of people tortured and executed gets into six figures,

In your head.

'I don’t think leaving the people of Indochina to the joys of genocidal extremists was in America’s interests.'

The French disagree - they felt handing off their problem to the U.S. washed their hands of what happened in their reconquered colonial realm (unless you believe the Vietnamese, for example, just invited the French back in after the Japanese were defeated). Mainly because the French, just like the Vietnamese, could care less about America's 'interests.'

Sorry P-A but you think that this is somehow a coherent response?

The French did think it actually. They thought the Americans cared and so lobbied them for aid. They were right - America ended up paying for much of the French war. They then handed as much of Vietnam as they could over to the Americans, not the Soviets.

The French didn't wash their hands. The French fought hard and long and lost.

Bur I agree, they probably didn't and don't care about America's interests. Nor would the Vietnamese. So what? Altruistic countries and people are very rare. Most people in the world are baffled by them. But they exist.

"I don’t think leaving the people of Indochina to the joys of genocidal extremists was in America’s interests"

The genocidal extemists in that part of the world were the Khmer Rouge and ironically it was the Vietnamese Communists who were the only ones willing to and capable of stopping them.

And if your objections to genocidal extremists are so strong, why on earth is it acceptable to subject Koreans to what clearly is that kind of government?

"The fact that the West won in Korea"

That "fact" might have come as a surprise to Lt. Jerry Pournelle, who was approaching the Yalu River when ...


I am not sure what Jerry Pournelle's politics were in the 50s. I expect that like Reagan he found the Democratic Party moved to the Left of him rather than being out there on the fringes his whole life. But either way, what matters is what the American government wanted.

Yes, let's agree that Douglas MacArthur, one of the most unpleasant men to ever command an American Army, wanted the whole loaf. To take the war into China as a matter of all likelihood. But did America? I don't think Truman did. I don't think the UN Resolutions under which America fought had a lot to say about the Yalu river. I don't think the American public cared much either way, but they were probably not dreaming of spending the next fifty Christmases guarding the Yalu.

So America got its way. Korea was not united under the North. Communism was contained. I might agree the fighting was a bit of a draw, but politically it was an American victory. As draws go, it was a lot better for the US than it was for anyone else.

That “fact” might have come as a surprise to Lt. Jerry Pournelle,

Who cares? The Republic of Korea is a prosperous and benevolent state. Why is that a failure?

How many dead and wounded Americans did it cost, how much money has it cost the US taxpayer for supporting South Korea for more then 60 years. How many dead and wounded plus billions of dollars will it cost the US if war breaks out again.

South Korea being properouis has had no benifit to me, yet I have born the cost.

About 33,000 dead. IIRC, expenditures amounted to about 9% of one year's contemporaneous domestic product. Future costs are unknowable, just as they would be if North Korea were in control of the whole peninsula. I believe garrisons in South Korea have usually comprehended about 2% of the manpower of the U.S. military at one time.

Of course, if you don't care what goes on outside your own skin, the cost is too much.

“”””if you don’t care what goes on outside your own skin””””

Obviously I care about more then my own skin since I mentioned the cost to the US in dead, wounded and money.

South Korea is a sovereign country, its responsible for defending itself. Why should the US subsidize its defense? Why should the US go deeper and deeper into debt to pay to defend other countries? Why should the US risk its own people lives so that South Korea can fail to pay for the defense it needs?

Less than one percent of the current federal budget is fairly attributable to the costs of garrisons in South Korea. That's not an important contributor to the debt.

That is just the forces in South Korea, it does not include the forces outside which will be sent in case of war. Nor does it count the cost of war if it starts up again. Better to avoid it all by letting the South Koreans take care of their own defenses.

I'll wager deterrence is cheaper for all concerned.


1. The point is that the US doesn't want East and Southeast Asia to be dominated by China. Sadly for us, that is exactly what China wants and is hoping to attain over the course of this century, just as Japan tried to do in the last century, which the US wasn't very happy about either. It really has nothing to do with sentiment toward Koreans in particular.

2. There is the added wrinkle that in this wonderful nuclear age of ours, preventing nuclear proliferation is a worthwhile goal. The US (and to some extent the other nuclear powers as well) have struck a deal with the rest of the world that essentially amounts to "you don't develop a nuclear arsenal, and we will use our arsenal to protect you." Most countries go along with it because it suits their interests. It's better to have the US be the only nuclear power in the Western Hemisphere than for each country in LatAm to have their own stockpile. So if the US decided to just pull out of Asia, how many seconds do you think it would take before Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines all got their own nukes to ward off China? These are modern industrial countries. They could get nukes pretty quickly if they wanted.

I highly recommend that every isolationist libertarian read John Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Bryan Caplan in particular. Sometimes he is so naive about foreign policy that it's almost painful to read.

The Korean War was probably a waste of time and we would have been better off allowing the North to reunify it. -

False. And grotesque.

I think that South Korea in the 1950s looked very different than South Korea in the 2010s. Many changes have taken place in the meantime. Now we know that NK is an impoverished country with frequent food shortages, while SK is a highly developed country. In the immediate decade after the war, both Koreas were below Ghana income and GDP levels and it is possible that NK looked more prosperous to the world (no one can deny the overall efficiency of communist propaganda - they are really, really, really good at it).

Nobody in power cares that Vietnam is a dictatorship, all they care about is that they allow the world financial system access to its sweatshops. In fact they are pushing a "free trade' agreement to get even better access to the sweatshops.

After all as we have learned from China, nobody keeps the workers under control better then the workers party.

If North Korea kept its rhetoric under control the world financiers would be happy to make use of the sweatshops of North Korea


this completely ignore the point that the Korean War established a red line for the spread of communism that the US would fight to defend had a major impact on the conduct of the Cold War until Viet Nam showed something different.

Korea probably sharply reduced the danger and expense of the cold war in the 1950s and 1960s.

"WW1 was a war worth fighting"

a war worth fighting ... for who?

The UK paid a high price, yet got little out of it.

France paid a terrible price, yet it had no choice but to fight.

The USA paid a very small price, as compared with the other belligerents, yet turned the tide of war.

How did the French have 'no choice'. This was the one ware in recent history where every single belligerent could just have chosen to stay neutral. Every fu..ing single one of them.
They all wanted it. They all felt like there was something to gain.

And the UK as well as France got exactly what they wanted - even if the price was to high: the eventual loss of their empires and the seeds of WW2.

True though: The only major power that made considerable strategic gains were the US. But they would have made these gains even without the war due to the economical power advantage.

Paris occupied = Paris neutral?

Belgium was unable to choose to stay neutral.

I could smell this stupid but dangerous confrontation coming a long way off: I started calling this World War G last August after reading the umpteenth New York Times series the persecution of gays in Russia:


What does the 'confrontation' amount to other than an exchange of brickbats in the newspapers? Why is that dangerous? Why is that 'stupid'?

If Putin sends troops into eastern Ukraine, why is anyone but Putin responsible for that?

Because when bear-baiting, it's smarter to pick on a small bear rather than a huge bear.

He's not a bear. He's a politician perfectly capable of weighing costs and benefits. And he is not being baited either. He's just facing political dilemmas in a situation he does not have under control.

Are we talking about Putin or Obama now?

The fundamental conflict is that Russians are, for reasons of history and geography, naturally inclined toward czarism -- it's a backward place so Russians have backward political inclinations. In contrast, for reasons of family history (see "Fiddler on the Roof"), American Jews are anti-czarist. It's their most ingrained, knee-jerk political attitude.

So, Putin's reconstruction of a quasi-czarist state after the anarchy of the 1990s inevitably set off the Pogrom Alarms of many influential American Jews. Thus, the U.S. government employed folks like Masha Gessen and Victoria Nuland to bait the Russian bear at American taxpayer expense.

The most effective step to avoid future blundering into a Great Powers conflict in Eastern Europe is for American gentiles to be allowed to express a public sense of humor about the lack of self-awareness of both Russians and Jews about their basic bigotries.

I'm not optimistic.

Steve Sailer on Bigotry. Now that'd be a book I'd love to read.


Mr Sailer's arguments are usually fact-based to an extent unusual in American life. You'd think that economists, whose discussions are so often fluff-based, might show a little more humility.


Because it's better to risk a land war in Europe than to admit your own biases.

How is that a coherent reply to 'Mr. Sailer's arguments are usually fact-based...'??

Post of the day!

Yeah, citing 'Fiddler on the Roof,' a Broadway show that opened in 1964, is a fine example of American style fact based discussion.

Just wait until he starts to talk about Irish-American affairs citing 'Finian's Rainbow,' and how ethnic Catholics are unsuited to live in America's democratic structures.

"Fiddler on the Roof" provides most Americans with their picture of the oppression of Jews under the Czarist regime. As for the actual events dramatized in "Fiddler," new research by Steven J. Zipperstein, the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University, casts a fascinating new light on the subject:

"The political ramifications of his research ran contrary to what he believed. But he had come to understand that some of 'my deepest political beliefs are predicated on historical half-truths.'” ...

"The Plehve letter was a “smoking gun” that attained “the most unassailable” and “canonic” status in Jewish consciousness, Zipperstein said: it showed that the Russian government was in on the pogrom. And it was “all but certainly a forgery,” he said. ...

Nonetheless, Jews widely blame the czar for Kishinev [pogrom]. Zipperstein said this was “the most resonant of all lessons to learn from the massacre, namely that the government at the highest levelwas directly responsible for it all, that it was intent on wreaking havoc, perhaps little less than the annihilation of its Jews.” ...

Zipperstein said the belief in the czar’s role in the massacre became the “resilient glue” of liberal Jewish identity in the U.S. “Vast and large and emblematic,” Kishinev’s mythology informed the Jewish understanding of right and left and our relationship to non-Jews and to government.


"how ethnic Catholics are unsuited to live in America’s democratic structures."


Well, if his book on bigotry is as well researched as his extensive writing on race and IQ, we'd all benefit, I think. Wasn't his blog the top-rated site for accuracy about IQ research anywhere?

But I do take your mood affiliation. You believe Sailer holds views on race that you find detestable (whether he does or not) and want to make sure you tell the internet community of his heresies.

Me? I find Sailer agreeable at times, in opposition others, but always informative. I wish all my political opponents were as well read and original. Life would be more interesting.

'as well researched as his extensive writing on race and IQ'

Not to mention his political observations, such as this gem from this very comment section -

'My vague impression of Ron Paul supporters from Facebook is that they are disproportionately Old Americans: Scots-Irish, WASPs, Germans, etc.


I don’t think libertarianism appeals all that strongly to, say, Catholic ethnics.'

The Irish, for example, being notably non-Catholic. Just like southern Germans.

One could think that Sailer's emphasis on 'Catholic ethnics' depends on nothing resembling actual facts, but is instead just another one of a long string of attempts to find just the right combination of terms to avoid having to take responsibility for uttering them.

I prefer the straightforward public honesty of a politician like Franz Schönhuber, who at least had the courage to say that his time in the Waffen SS was the best time of his life. You know exactly what sort of man Schonhuber was, a fact worthy of respect in his acknowledgment of it, compared to the never ending public contortions of a figure like Sailer.

But then, Schönhuber was made of much sterner stuff - though being a Catholic ethnic from Bavaria, it is true that Schönhuber was never a fan of libertarianism. See? Sailer's observational powers are certainly book worthy.

You do know that the Scots-Irish, by definition, are not Catholics, right?

I see nothing particularly wrong in what you have quoted Steve Sailor saying here. Libertarianism does not much appeal to non-Whites. Or at all in fact. And among Whites, he is probably right - it appeals more to WASPs and people like them. But if he isn't notice he is flagging an opinion. He calls it his impression. He does not state it as a fact.

Sailor is actually a model of how people should go about internet debates. Even if you do not agree with his politics or his views. He is always polite and I have never seen him lose his temper. He is well read in areas he comments on. He finds niches and makes them his area of expertise - ask him about sports stats for instance. He provides a wealth of data.

And I do find him increasingly convincing. So lift your game.

"I don’t think libertarianism appeals all that strongly to, say, Catholic ethnics.’"

Leaving aside "prior approval's" bizarre Hitlerite flight of fantasy, what could be less controversial than my observation about "Reagan Democrats," such as my Catholic ethnic in-laws in the Chicago area who felt that having a government job with a pension was something to be proud of: it showed you were a stable, responsible provider for your family.

I think that one of the reasons why Russia keeps returning to authoritarian rule is the fact that the liberty-minded segment of the population was decimated over the last century. Either physically (during the era of Lenin and Stalin) or through emigration out of the country. This outflow has significantly increased after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The EU, as well as Israel and the USA, are full of Russian speakers who moved out of their homeland. Some of them did so for purely economic reasons, but many of them emigrated in search for a more liberal political and social climate.

As a consequence, the support base for non-authoritarian rule in Russia proper has eroded beyond political viability. St. Peterburg may be the only exceptional region.

A more proximate cause would be the hash made of building private enterprise during the period running from 1988 to 1998, policy mistakes not made in China or in much of the rest of Eastern Europe. Poland concentrated on price reform and put enterprises on the auction bloc only gradually. The economic depression which swept over the quondam Soviet republics after 1988 was violent in a way it was not in Poland or Hungary and incorporated breakdowns in mundane industrial relations (wage arrearages) you seldom if ever see on a mass scale. Note also that Soviet Russia and Yugoslavia dissolved into their component parts. Suggest that provided a conduit for the efflorenscence of organized crime networks. At one point Russia had a national homicide rate of 20 per 100,000, something you seen in America only in inner city zones. One might argue that in Latin America, urban mayhem on that level is a baseline expectation and does not injure the legitimacy of the government. In a European context, it does.

All this seems reasonable to me. But proximate causes also have causes. For example why were Russia's privatisations done so badly? It might have been free-market-ideological-rush-of-blood-to-the-head; but then we would expect the Poles and Baltics to have done even worse. More likely the elites in the USSR were just somewhat less competent or somewhat more corrupt than their Warsaw pact bretheren.

No clue. You notice it took place in the context of a dismantling of the central government, so you had this institutional challenge along with everything else.

Or, Russia received more advice from American economists such as Stanley Fischer, Larry Summers, Andrei Shleifer, and Jeffrey Sachs.

What about their advice was bad in all circumstances, not applicable in context, or simply not followed?

Adrian Ratnapala: "For example why were Russia’s privatisations done so badly?"

1) Minimal to nonexistent indigenous experience in how to implement it properly.

2) The obvious cultural and economic headwinds given the local context. Rule of law, property rights, free markets--these were (and, honestly, still are) all utterly alien concepts in Russia. Keep in mind, this is a country that didn't abolish serfdom until 1861.

3) A weak, ineffective, and corrupt leader in the form of Yeltsin.

4) Lack of effective intervention by the U.S. and European powers. Put another way, we didn't do with Russia after the Cold War what we did with Germany and Japan after WWII. That said, it's a dubious proposition that we had the resources, much less the political will, to do so.

5) The fairly natural decomposition of a massive, deeply corrupt authoritarian state into a massive, deeply corrupt array of organized crime fiefdoms.

Effectively liberalizing (in the classical sense) Russia was at least a generation-long, extremely intensive, and resource-heavy proposition. Doing it right was going to make more will, patience, and energy than anyone, including the Russians, had. So, instead, they tried to do it quick on the cheap, and it failed miserably.

Re. #2 USA is a country that didn’t abolish slavery until 1865.

Rahul, +1, and that conditionally.

Rahul: "Re. #2 USA is a country that didn’t abolish slavery until 1865."

Apples and oranges. Both fruits, but different kinds. White Americans imported a foreign population--West Africans--for their slave underclass; the Russians had enslaved large portions of their own ethnic group for centuries. A relevant one-to-one comparison would be if, instead of importing West Africans, the Southern plantation class had enslaved the poorer whites living around them.

My point was to illustrate just how far behind the West that Russia has historically in terms of developing modern political and economic norms. Russia emancipated its serfs in 1861; in contrast, serfdom had ended in Britain--America's parent culture--by the 16th century.

Another problem with Russia in the 1990s was the nonstop propagandizing by all respectable media and establishment figures in the United States. Around 1993, my elderly father told me Russia was being raped by those Harvard economists. As a true-believing reader of the Wall Street Journal editorial page back then, I scoffed at him.

Of course, there's never been much public accounting for what American economists did to Russia in the 1990s. For example, Stanley Fischer of MIT, who quietly played an important role in the Russian debacle, went on to run the Bank of Israel and will now be Deputy Chairman of America's Fed:


Around 1993, my elderly father told me Russia was being raped by those Harvard economists

How? What did they get out of it but some consulting fees?

You could argue that the American South did just that, or that Northern carpetbaggers did, during Reconstruction.

I take your point, but I think sometimes it's useful to see history as ebb and flow. For example, my grandparents' generation either owned their homes or didn't, mortgages were rare. Today, they are normal, so that most home owners actually live in homes owned by the bank. The last housing burst bubble pointed out that many folks were subject to the whim of a lending bank in a very apples to oranges but still fruit similar way to the serfs being bound to land owned by another.

I'm not sure Russia was behind the rest of the world on a progressing timeline, so much as in a trough when some of the rest of the world was on a crest. Of course, I'd have to admit to having difficulty pointing out a time when Russia was riding the wave while other nations were on the down side -- easier for someplace like China or Egypt.

“”””policy mistakes not made in China””””

You mean the mistake of not supporting the Soviet communist government with trillions in loans and trade so that it would not collapse and instead provide a dictatorship which can supply the global financiers a cheap source of sweatshop goods that they could use to drive Western business and workers out of a job?

What 'trillions' in loans?

China was in 1979 a severely underdeveloped country. It's not terribly surprising that wages there are low.

Of course, a majority of the ex-Soviets in Israel vote for the party of Avigdor Lieberman:


In the long run, Russia and Israel may well kiss and make up:


Yisrael Beitanu has merged with Likud.

That aside, so what? There is nothing out of the ordinary about Avigdor Lieberman (other than Martin Peretz loathes him for some odd reason). He is more pragmatic than the median in Israel on certain questions (such has his suggestion that Israel cede to some other party the predominantly Arab swatches of the Galilee).

I am not acquainted enough with the Israeli political scene to know whether A.L. is an equivalent of Putin; if I had to guess, at least from the article, I would guess that he is a loud-mouthed populist.

As far as Russo-Israeli relations are considered, I do not believe in viability of the concept. Russia is quite antisemitic on the popular level. This attitude was cultivated by the ruling class for centuries. It may be tuned down in the official media for pragmatic reasons, but not even Kremlin can re-program the population and its worldviews on whim. Any Russian politician who would push for closer ties with Israel would be digging his own grave (perhaps literally so, some of the nastier street movements would definitely consider such movements to be treasonous). Also, losing the Middle Eastern connections which have been cultivated for decades would be a significant loss for the Russian foreign interests.

I am not acquainted enough with the Israeli political scene to know whether A.L. is an equivalent of Putin;

He's lived in a parliamentary republic since he was 20 years old and worked within its institutions without incident (bar an indictment on corruption charges for which he was acquitted) for over 20 years. Prior to entering politics, he was the manager of a night club, not a colonel in the secret police / espionage services.

Rupert Murdoch's key career insight was that "In America you don't need all the Jews on your side, but you do need some of them." (Nixon and Moynihan came to the same conclusion in 1969, and thus decided to sponsor neoconservatives.)

Russia will continually take a drubbing in the media until it has some Jewish support. The most plausible path to a better image for Russia in America is via making friends with the Israeli right (e.g., Avigdor Lieberman and eventually Netanyahu), which has influential friends among Republicans (e.g., Sheldon Adelson) and has protectors among the Democrats (e.g., Haim Saban).

It's a 'key insight' because it agrees with your usual shtick?

Russia is quite antisemitic on the popular level.

People keep saying this but is it true? Look, the Russian population has had its anti-Semitism tested. American Jewish advisers (and notice the ones that Steve Sailor lists - Stanley Fischer, Larry Summers, Andrei Shleifer, and Jeffrey Sachs - are all Jewish) worked with former Soviet officials who happened to be Jewish as a general rule (such as Anatoly Chubais) to manage the transition from Communism and just so happened to transfer a lot of State assets to mainly Russian Jewish oligarchs.

The Russian population seems mostly fine with this. If it happened in America, even America, there would be pogroms. The neo-Nazis would be living off this for generations. I am not saying it was a Jewish plot or provides evidence of what the anti-Semites say. But it could be spun that way - and presumably it is - it is just that the vast majority of Russians don't buy into those sort of conspiracy theories any more.

The Russians clearly are not all that anti-Semitic.

"the vast majority of Russians don’t buy into those sort of conspiracy theories any more."

Right. Putin has done an impressive job of defusing the potential anti-Semitic backlash against the 1990s when 5.5 of the 7 main oligarchs were Jewish (see Amy Chua's "World on Fire") by running a sort of diversity initiative to make the oligarchs look more like Russia. By latest estimate, the percentage of billionaires in Russia who have Jewish surnames is now around 20% or about 100 times the Jewish percentage of the Russian population. That's seems satisfactory to most Russians, Jewish and gentile.

But the American media continues to get all bent out of shape over the one 1990s Jewish oligarch who Putin tossed in the slammer for ten years -- to encourage the others -- for auctioning off 2% of the world's oil reserves to himself as the only bidder.

All this would be a lot less murky if American gentiles were allowed to publicly discuss interesting and important topics such as the ethnic makeup of the Forbes 400 lists of billionaires. (You might even think that economists might be interested in the Forbes 400 lists as an interesting data source ...)

One more comment. Russia of 1914, even though ruled by a czar, was probably on average more liberal than today. The development of the "bourgeoise" segment of the Russian society between 1905 (defeat in the Russo-Japanese war) and 1914 was towards more liberty and rule of law.

The fundamental conflict is that Russians are, for reasons of history and geography, naturally inclined toward czarism — it’s a backward place so Russians have backward political inclinations.

There is no such thing as a 'natural inclination' toward czarism or any other political order. Neither is the political order set in stone and very abrupt and stark alterations in the political system have happened often enough in the post-war period. Constitutional institutions have been known also to survive in some of the most inclement circumstances. Larry Diamond, who is a serious student of the subject offered this: "the only pre-requisite for electoral institutions is the will of a political class to impose such as system".

Russia is not even that backward. Bracketing out extractive industries, Russia is a middle-income country, with living standards roughly equivalent to the United States in the 1920s. A number of Latin American countries are in the same economic ballpark and, like Russia, have contemporary problems with organized crime and urban disorder. They also have decades-long histories of electoral politics and fairly vigorous public deliberation (Costa Rica, Uruguay, and the Dominican Republic to name three examples).

There is no such thing as a ‘natural inclination’ toward czarism or any other political order. Neither is the political order set in stone and very abrupt and stark alterations in the political system have happened often enough in the post-war period.

Well, I think it can be safely said that the idea of authoritarianism enjoys different levels of support in different regions, and that those levels do not fluctuate too wildly. You may call it 'natural inclination' or not, it is definitely not 'set in stone', but subject to great inertia.

Abrupt and stark alterations in the political systems are probably easier to pull off in a small country, or in an aftermath of a catastrophic defeat (Germany and Japan 1945). People usually do not change their political views much once they reach the age of 30, so an outside force is usually required to effect any abrupt and stark changes.

I would agree with you, but what you said is not what he said.

A number of Latin American, African, and East European countries actually did have abrupt shifts in political practice without a general catastrophe - the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Bulgaria, and Benin to name four off the top of my head. How that will play out over time is anyone's guess and the quality of public life in each loci is debatable; just to note that none of these places has seen a breach of the legal order since 1990. If your minimum standard is Switzerland, you are bound to be disappointed with just about anything, of course.

The Mongols introduced Oriental Despotism to Russia. Ever since, they've assumed that if they stick together and follow orders, nobody can conquer them. To Americans, it's obviously a deplorable attitude ... but we do have thousands of miles of ocean protecting us.

I have no particular insight into what randomly selected people in a foreign country 'assume'. I merely note that Russia is not a severely authoritarian state at this time, that there is more pluralism in Russia right now than there was at any time between 1918 and 1988, and the place has gone through three or four distinct phases in the last 30 years. It seems sort of foolish to speak of the current moment as if it were some sort of abiding pattern.

Art Deco

There is no such thing as a ‘natural inclination’ toward czarism or any other political order. Neither is the political order set in stone and very abrupt and stark alterations in the political system have happened often enough in the post-war period. Constitutional institutions have been known also to survive in some of the most inclement circumstances. Larry Diamond, who is a serious student of the subject offered this: “the only pre-requisite for electoral institutions is the will of a political class to impose such as system”.

I more or less disagree. I disagree weakly. Democracy is incredibly hard to introduce. Again this is one of those things that no one has been able to do particularly well. If you're White and a Northern European Protestant, sure, you have fewer problems than other people. But if you're not, you're going to struggle.

Very abrupt and stark political changes *seem* to happen but that does not mean they do. Thailand *looks* like it has gone through a lot of changes, but it hasn't. Nor has the Philippines. And saying it depends on the will of the political class is simply backwards. The political class reflect the culture of the place and time. If that is not democratic, it is not democratic.

A number of Latin American countries are in the same economic ballpark and, like Russia, have contemporary problems with organized crime and urban disorder. They also have decades-long histories of electoral politics and fairly vigorous public deliberation (Costa Rica, Uruguay, and the Dominican Republic to name three examples).

So in their six centuries of existence, the fact that the very short period of near total American domination in Latin America, where the Americans even tell the Armed Forces of their enemies (as in the Venezuela coup) to stay in the barracks, has seen an American-style system, proves what exactly? Not that the peoples of Latin America naturally take to democracy but that the US can impose what it likes on people who need its aid money. As in Africa.

Both Africa and Latin America are great examples of the labels on the tin changing, but not the underlying nature of the politics or the state. Latin America is still, basically, a colonial regime made up of Whites (who cast off control from Madrid but remain in power) ruling over a mass of down trodden and impoverished darker peoples. They have flags and talk about fighting for independence, but nothing much has changed. Africa is even better - they have such an interesting understanding of democracy that when the ruling parties lose elections, the African Union agrees that leaving office would be unfair and it is best for all the parties to share the loot of office. The Big Men in Kenya and Zimbabwe did not have to go just because they lost. No, the African Union all agreed that democracy did not mean an actual transfer of power. They just had to share. A little.

The burden of your comment is that the goalposts get moved until your thesis is confirmed.

So Sailer you make an interesting assertion:

Russia is a backward place.

Can you elaborate? Based on what metric? Just because you say so? If Russia is backward, how about China, Poland, Greece, Hungary?

Can you enlighten us about how one splits the world into these backward and forward camps?

Poland and Hungary are less backward politically than Russia, but are more backward than Britain. Is this really all that obscure to you?

I think he is suggesting your point is tautological. Russia is 'backward' therefore x. But we know Russia is 'backward' because x happens.


We can know a country is economically advanced by examining production statistics, labor market statistics, and income distribution and then correcting for the effect of natural resource bonanzas on aggregates. Assessing the quality of its political life is more subjective and can only be done with ordinal rankings.


The National Interest had an article some years ago (by William Odom, as I recall) making ex cathedra pronouncements as to who had the more 'mature' democracy, assigning superordinate positions to some Eastern European states, even though there are Latin American states with more experience with electoral institutions and such than most Eastern European states. A great deal of this sort of talk is just gas. One exception to that among opinion journalists is Stanley Kurtz. Kurtz is a lapsed social anthropologist so has something to say about how basic patterns of human relations in particular societies influence the prospects for constructing political systems with given properties.

It's this kind of ridiculous characterization of peoples generally (and consistently: to Sailor it is always the quickest way to understand any political or social circumstance) that, no doubt, he has very little actual expert knowledge of is why I know that paying Sailor's ideas much heed is not a path to better understanding. He is very good at repeating the same thing over and over. That is a known pathway to persuading people your view is correct, even if the quality of your argument never improves.

"The National Interest had an article some years ago (by William Odom, as I recall) making ex cathedra pronouncements as to who had the more ‘mature’ democracy, assigning superordinate positions to some Eastern European states, even though there are Latin American states with more experience with electoral institutions and such than most Eastern European states A great deal of this sort of talk is just gas."

After all, what did General Odom, who smuggled Solzhenitsyn's personal papers out of the Soviet Union for him after the great man was exiled, who was Zbig's military intelligence expert under Carter, who ran the NSA under Reagan, and who was the strongest voice against the Iraq Invasion among retired officers, know about anything?


Note: I had dinner with General Odom in 1999, which wrapped up with Mrs. Thatcher coming over to our table to continue an _intense_ ten minute argument over the wisdom of German unification in 1990. (Don't ask me who was right: it's over my pay grade).

I assume he knew a great deal about x, y, and z. He was not omnicompetent and was not trading in a well-delineated set of categories or well-delineated understandings of collective behavior. Some people toss off impressions and opinions without giving it much thought. Remember Adm. James Stockdale?

Well thank god they are focused on Israel and not Russia. I mean, how could we have made it through the cold war.

'on how much sympathy some Germans have for the Russians'

The problem with reading translations is the time lag.

Because some Germans see Putin in another light. Such as Bundesfinanzminister Wolfgang Schäuble, who said this just yesterday -

'"Das kennen wir alles aus der Geschichte", sagte der CDU-Politiker mit Blick auf Russlands Präsidenten Wladimir Putin und dessen Vorgehen auf der Krim. "Mit solchen Methoden hat schon der Hitler das Sudetenland übernommen - und vieles andere mehr."' http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/krim-krise-schaeubles-putin-hitler-vergleich-sorgt-fuer-wirbel-a-961748.html

Schäuble managed to present some accurate history in a couple of sentences, and the parallels can be drawn - such as a descent of the Ukraine into lawlessness, thus opening a chance for Putin to restore order to protect his 'countrymen' (a familiar propaganda theme during the 1930s in Germany). And Schäuble did have a positive response regarding such a historical lesson - the West must support the Ukraine financially and politically to prevent such a disintegration, to stop Putin from taking advantage of such a possible opportunity.

It is true that most Germans find comparing Putin to Hitler tasteless or incorrect - but it isn't as if there is all that much sympathy for Putin, really. The Spiegel does an excellent job (at a higher level than the Bild, admittedly) of creating the story it wants to write. But when at least half of an article is based explicitly on the sympathies of East Germans who supported the SED regime, and another significant part is connected to political figures with political and business dealings with Russia, it seems a bit strange to label such people as representing 'Germans.'

But then, that is the Spiegel's charm - never really right nor wrong, but always ensuring it remains part of the conversation.

I feel this is my charm as well.

BITCOIN is up again today!

Schäuble managed to present some accurate history in a couple of sentences, and the parallels can be drawn – such as a descent of the Ukraine into lawlessness,

Supposedly, there are about 2,400 homicides in the Ukraine per year (or about 5 per 100,000 people). The place does not seem that lawless given its population (and is proportionately safer than Russia). As for the political violence in recent months, more blood was spilled in America in July of 1967 during the course of urban riots.

Is there a single war that john mccain opposed.?The neocons are the greatest threat to america.

'neocon' is the answer to the crossword puzzle clue "what's a six letter word for 'Jew'?

John McCain is a Jew? Who knew?

I don't disagree that "neo-Con" is often used to mean "Jew", in ways that are absurd, but suggesting it is used in that sense here seems ..... odd.

Actually, it's a complete nonsense term. It was coined by Peter Steinfels in 1979 to adhere to a modest collection of publicists who were dissatisfied with one or another current of thought within the Democratic Party. Some of those people returned to the Democratic Party in stages and some remained Republicans. They do not (as Norman Podhoretz has admitted) represent a distinct strand of thought within the Republican Party. William Kristol has his own personal associations and history and emphasis. So does anyone else in the word merchant sector. He does not, on any broad swath of issues, dissent from what is the modal viewpoint among Republican politicians and publicists. There is no "neo-conservative" popular mobilization, and never was. There is no "neo-conservative" fund raising and consulting nexus of any significance, and never was. The closest thing to a 'neo-conservative' policy shop is the Manhattan Institute, which pays little attention to foreign affairs (and whose star writer was skeptical of the Iraq War, btw). Most of what you might identify as a 'neo-conservative' publications have either ceased (The Public Interest), been put under antagonistic editorial management (The American Scholar, The National Interest), or hardly concern themselves with foreign affairs (City Journal, The New Criterion).

The only reason people use the term is when their looking for a bogie to propagate a political fiction.

Neocons have a few other obscure little outlets to get their ideas out: the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, and Fox News.

The Wall Street Journal's news pages are written and edited by standard issue press types (which Wm. Kristol is not). That aside, none of these outlets in their editorial sections trade in notions that are not modal within the Republican Party bar the affection for open borders on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. There's no point to referring to it as 'neo-conservative'. The contrary categories might be 'palaeo-conservative' or 'libertarian', but neither of these strands represents much more than 10% or 12% of the Republican electorate.

The book Vodka Politics has a great few pages on how drunk off their asses the Russians were during the whole war. It includes soldiers raiding the abandoned vodka stores, drunk generals mistakenly ordering soldiers to fire on their own men, and orders to ramp up the drinking before an attack to bolster the men's courage. Here is an excerpt: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/vodka-crimean-war-russia-disaster-104771.html

Der Spiegel and the other mainstream publications have the collywobbles over the fact that their readership, the comment sections and the German public in general didn't buy into their one-sided, russophobic narrative. They have expressed their disapointment with the german public and their readership in several recent opinion pieces.

They have even coined new terms such as "putin understander" and "russia understander" for those who point out inconvenient facts about the conflict and its context. This from the same press that constantly tries to psychoanalyze Putin.

Does the German public's sympathy for Russia stem from the corresponding discomfiture of America? Germans seem to enjoy any story that takes down the Americans a notch or two.

It's hard to say what motivates people, but I don't perceive that the US is at the center of this debate in Germany. Such debates tend to be more polarized because there is a strong pro-American faction in Germany too.

Germans are said to be sticklers for facts, conservative and critical of revolutions. There are also economic concerns and wariness about messing with Russia. There is also a historic mutual respect and admiration between Germans and Russians.

But all of this is hard to quantify.

Perhaps the Germans are dreaming of their own referenda in Silesia and Prussia?

There are hardly any Germans left in these places (<1%).

The largest remaining german community in the east is probably the one in Kazakhstan (180000). The former eastern settlements are considered to be a lost cause. They are not part of public discourse. Large segments of the younger generations are unaware that there ever was such a thing.

Going back to the original quote, I would note that indeed it was in the 1870s that Russia fully conquered the central Asian khanates of Samarkand and Bukhara, thus getting full control of territories that would again become independent nations after 1991, most of them arguably more authoritarian than Russia, with two of them still ruled by former members of the Soviet politburo, Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan and Karimov in Uzbekistan, with the ruler of Azerbaijan, Aliev, the son of a former Soviet politburo member.

As for this matter of going back and forth between Euro-westernizing and Asiatic-Slaviphilizing, this has been going on back and forth throughout Russian history. Many would date it to the westward lurch by Peter the Great, usually #1 in polls in Russia of who was its greatest leader ever, but careful reading of deeper histories such as The Icon and the Axe make clear that this oscillation has been going on from much earlier. It was the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 by Narodnaya Volya, the anarchist "Peoples' Will" that led to the end of his westernizing and a stiff bout of Asiatic Slavophilizing under his reactionary son, Alexander III. In many ways, Putin resembles this hoary figure from Russian history.

Keep in mind that "Westernizing" usually meant "fighting a land war in Europe" -- the Crimean War, for example, had a huge death toll; while Siberian expansion was more like American cowboys and Indians fighting in terms of death tolls.

Now now, Steve. For some of the bigger westernizers like Peter I and Catherine II and Alexander II they were involved with land wars in Europe, but to say that this is what it meant is silly. These rulers were also very much interested in bringing in western ideas and cultural attitudes and did so, with Peter the Great's journey to UK and Holland an example. Do not be so simplistically reductionist here, please.

Ah, but that would rob Sailer's arguments of their very essence.

If there's one way to sum up his approach, "Simplistically reductionist" it is!

Peter wanted to Westernize Russia by having a port on the Baltic. Unfortunately, he didn't own any land on the Baltic, so he had to go conquer it, which led to a long series of war with countries like Sweden. Westernizing in practice meant massive warfare to conquer lands to the west, which also had the result of putting czars in charge of lots of Jews for the first time, which did not work out well.

.. as an Englishman I find it hard to critique Putin's defence of ethnic Russians in Crimea given my unqualified support of Margaret Thatcher's actions in the Falklands. The methods used leave much to be desired but the death toll is minute in comparison to Western actions in Afghanistan Iraq and even Libya. What makes this different to other historical events is the background of massive movements of population that occurred in Stalnist times which have left large pockets of ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan Kirghystan and elsewhere.

A large fraction of the ethnic Russians in Central Asia packed their valises and went home. In both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the foundational nationality is again the majority, which was not the case in 1979. I think the Russian population has declined by nearly 20% in the former and by 60% in the latter over that time.

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