In the past I have had very good – and challenging – dialogue with a commenter, Norbert Szolnoky. He brings a viewpoint to my posts regarding Eastern Europe and Russia for which I am grateful.
Recently he offered a thoughtful comment to my post entitled “The Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault.” I offer certain portions of his comments in this post, with my replies.
I would like to see you sometimes write from the common man's viewpoint in these conflicts, too….
I have been quite fortunate that I have not lived in or directly experienced living in a hell known as a war zone. I have enough relatives that have experienced this first-hand to certainly empathize with those unfortunate enough to be stuck in such a situation.
The common man? I will break the population into three groups, for ease….
First: I think about being a father in such a place – you send your children off to school, not knowing if you will ever see them again; your wife goes to market – will she return alive? All the while knowing there is almost nothing you can do about the risk. Or you flee to a refugee camp, with its own set of risks and unknowns.
I picture myself in such a situation; it is almost depressing. My parents faced this, my grandparents faced this. Many of their relatives did not survive. At its most basic, this is the common man’s view that I think about – not the revolutionaries, not the soldiers, but those who just want to survive and make a half-decent living, who just hope that their children get a decent education and a better future; maybe a way out.
Second: The revolutionaries (those on the street in the square) I do not consider to be “common” men (and women). It takes uncommon courage (and in some cases stupidity) to stand in front of those who can legally kill you without ramification or recourse. I cannot write much of anything about these individuals – I applaud them for their courage; I pray that they take such actions having fully and rationally considered the risks.
Third: The fighters / soldiers? To the extent they are defending their homes and those of their neighbors, I applaud them. To the extent they feel oppressed and have exhausted other means to relieve the oppression, I can understand. Unfortunately, history has shown that the most common outcome of a violent revolution is something approaching more of the same – at best. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
It's very unfortunate that they live in the "borderlands" of empires;
What a hellish place to live for the last 100 years and more – in Central and Eastern Europe. Continuous war, often genocide, murder by the tens of millions. The sporadic and short interludes of being able to live somewhat peacefully (in relative terms) in a police state were heaven compared to most of the history these people have suffered.
But I also think about this history and compare it to today – whatever difficulties suffered today are incomparably minor compared to what the parents and grandparents of those now living have suffered. In general and on average, man globally is much more free today than any time in the last century or more: China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe – at least half the world’s population has an almost infinitely better condition today than in the recent past.
In fact, it may be reasonably accurately stated that it is only in the West, and especially in the United States, where this is not true – although, on the whole, I think it is arguably true even here.
…so the question is: will the elites from both sides let them have their freedom?
I haven’t yet decided if there is a “both sides” in this conflict or any other, when it comes to the elite. Instead of elaborating in this post, I offer this.
As to letting them have their freedom? We will see continuing decentralization, with inherent improvements (in general) in freedom. This will happen because the social promises cannot be kept and the truth cannot remain hidden. But this transition will take decades – we have been living it in some ways in the last several decades. In the West, for example, I expect the elite will do about anything to maintain the people’s faith in regulatory democracy. This will take time.
Is there a strong enough grassroots freedom movement with staying power against all these ruling forces from all sides?
As long as man is human there will be an ebb and flow. History is full of advances and declines in freedom, in different places and at different times. I believe we are in the midst of a long-term continuing trend toward freedom. If you are asking specifically about the Ukraine, I will come to this later.
One of the authors you recently analyzed (van Creveld?) said he envisions a future of many smaller states, smaller separate autonomous polities, and I think you agreed with that.
Barzun concluded something like this, and van Creveld sees the decline of the state. I do agree with this view.
Wouldn't that vision correspond with the things happening in Ukraine? … If the elites actually allow that for whatever reason, or the "force of history" inevitably leads to that direction then doesn't Ukraine fit into this picture?
It is possible – Crimea could certainly become another “sovereign,” for lack of a better term, within a Russian sphere of influence; why not peacefully allow the remainder of Ukraine to split into two or more pieces? This result is not terribly unlikely.
Isn't [Ukraine] perhaps one of the first such a movements toward that ideal?
One could argue that the USSR splitting into a dozen states, Yugoslavia into a half dozen, and Czechoslovakia in two, all have been such examples. Brussels wants to hold the EU, yet cannot even hold Belgium. Spain? The United Kingdom? Iraq?
Finally, you are Christian, right?
Where do you think God fits into this whole thing? I would really love to see a post form you on this. Doesn't God guide history (albeit slowly due to our freedom and responsibility which we often screw up) toward a society of love, peace and freedom? Isn't God ultimately more powerful than the total of any scheming elite?
I choose not to write through this lens; when it is germane to a point I am making, I comment on my faith. I try to keep my blog focused on economics, politics, elite speculation, and libertarian thought. What I believe about Christianity and God will only invite controversy with no benefit to me.
I will say with certainty: God is more powerful than the elite and God is in control (even these few words are controversial to many, for many different reasons). How that applies to the history we know and to that which we live through today and will live through in the future? I will keep my thoughts to myself.