Fifteen or so years ago, when I was still working, I gave a presentation at a conference on my usual subject which was that it was not actually a very good idea to turn Russia into an enemy. In the discussion, one of the audience – who I later found out was the retired head of a very important pillar of the NATO intelligence apparat – objected, saying that the Russians didn’t share our values.
“Our values” – usually called “European values” – were a staple of discussions in the 1990s. NATO, in those days, was proudly said to be an alliance of common values, “European values” to be specific. (Still does today, not quite as loudly perhaps.) I remember a Spanish Eurocrat lecturing me about those values. (Think about it: a Spaniard who had grown up in the Franco days thinking he could tell a Canadian about democracy and freedom. But such were the conceits of the time).
I found this very tiresome indeed. For one thing, Franco, Hitler, Marx, Engels, Mussolini, Robespierre, Napoleon, Quisling and so on and on were all Europeans. Every single one of them based his ideas and political views on sources deeply rooted in European thought and experience. And, for damned sure, had it not been for the Soviets and the Anglosphere, the “European values” Eurocrats and their flunkeys would have been boasting about in 1995 would have involved a lot more leather, jackboots and stiff-armed salutes: the French, Spanish, Belgians, Danes, Dutch and Italians didn’t liberate Europe from the Nazis, did they? Added to which NATO was a military alliance; it had happily cruised through Salazar in Portugal, the colonels in Greece and various military coups in Turkey. It did hesitate to swallow Franco, but the US had so many arrangements with Spain that formal NATO membership was irrelevant. In those days, when NATO was a defensive alliance, real estate and a common enemy trumped “values”. Nonetheless, t’was all the fad in the 1990s to gas on about “common European values”.
Now I will admit this was not entirely meaningless. I disliked the sanctimonious word “values” but I did think that the fall of the USSR had demonstrated something rather important. Contrary to the fears of some people in the 1970s and 1980s that the apparently unbending Soviet system would triumph over our slipshod stumbling, it was the Soviet system that fell apart. The lesson to me was not “values”, it was that the West had made a discovery and that discovery was pluralism. Simply put, since the future is unknown, the system which preserves many possible solutions will endure, because today’s answer will not be tomorrow’s. We see this in nature – there isn’t only one kind of tree, there are many; and so, there will always be trees. Democracy is political pluralism, freedom of speech is mental pluralism and free markets are economic pluralism. The Soviet system, and the Nazi system, had One Big Answer for all questions; it worked until a problem came up that its Big Answer had no answer for. I believe that Putin understands this, by the way, even if few in the West still do, and we see him saying it here:
History proves all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are intransient. (История убедительно свидетельствует, что все диктатуры, авторитарные системы правления преходящи. Непреходящей оказываются только демократические системы.)
So, it seemed to me that there were conclusions that could be drawn and lessons that could be learned. But they weren’t. Instead we got the pharisaical and complacent glorification of “European values” that had, apparently, descended from Heaven on our heads. But not, apparently, on their heads: we had ’em; they didn’t. And that was that: they either learned from us (if, indeed, that was even possible), or they went down.
So where are we today two decades later? Not looking so good it seems. Political parties that stray from the prescribed view are swiftly demonised: read this, all it tells you is that the Front National is “far right” and it tells you that seven (seven!) times. So you know it’s bad without having to learn anything about it. A volley of adjectives kept in the ready round box are immediately fired at any party or individual who threatens the established order: Donald Trump is “racist“, “fascist“, “stupid“, “homophobe” and “anti-women“. Freedom of speech is greatly constrained by speech codes, hate speech laws and political correctness. Government eavesdroppers are everywhere. Death by drone is routine. As to market freedom, the world now seems to run by and for financial prestidigitators. Pluralism is decreasing and the fabled “European values” look rather tattered today.
Listen to some ancient Europeans on where this leads: “Divine Justice will extinguish mighty Greed the son of Insolence, lusting terribly, thinking to devour all.” Our triumphant “values” have morphed into hybris, the genitor of koros and today ate rules us.
Then comes nemesis to execute vengeance and restore balance.