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Forthcoming article: Ukraine and the Hinge of History

Like many of you I have been horrified and transfixed by Putin's unprovoked military aggression against Ukraine, which is rapidly evolving into a massive atrocity as the Russian military's expectations of a quick and decisive victory are frustrated and they pivot to the methods of wholesale and indiscriminate destruction they used in Grozny and Aleppo.

Leon Trotsky observed after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution that wars are the "locomotives of history", creating and accelerating trends that reshape the world, as World War I did by creating the conditions for the rise of the international communist movement.

I am working on what I expect to be a major article that puts this unfolding series of events in a longer historical context, taking up a question already being debated by a group of intellectuals in the UK—are we living in a period of exceptional and disproportionate influence on the future of humanity, are we in a hinge of history

It will address questions like (this is a pretty tall order so I will probably not get to them all, so let me know if you would like to address specific aspects):

  1. What impact will Ukraine have on the emerging challenge to the West (defined in terms of values not geography—Taiwan and South Korea are part of the West) posed by the autocratic alliance centred on Russia and China. Already it has served as a colossal wake-up call for the European democracies with formerly  stictly neutral and pacifist states (Sweden, Finland, Switzerland) joining efforts to arm Ukraine. The turnaround in Germany is nothing less than astonishing.
  2. Will this be the death of the concept of globalization that has prevailed for the past forty years that saw large international trade flows and dependencies as both economically rational and essentially benign, even if they confer huge leverage to the autocracies, as with Europe's dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal.
  3. What are we to make of the ideological debates and fissures on both Left and Right  that have emerged In Ukraine's wake, especially in the United States where we see commentators, formerly closely allied, on Fox News stridently attacking positions taken by each other, with a strongly pro-Ukraine Republican mainstream criticized by neo-isolationists like Tucker Carlson as well as an arch-reactionary fringe (e.g. Marjorie Taylor Green) drawn to Putin's "conservative values".
  4. How have different theories of international relations fared, with some pointing to Ukraine as a decisive refutation of the "realist" school led by the "conservative realist" George A. Mearsheimer that holds that, whatever their ideological pretensions, great powers rationally seek to maximize their interests, and the world is a better place that they do. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014 Mearsheimer predicted with great confidence that the Russians would not annex the whole of Ukraine. How realistic are the realists?
  5. If Putin is not a rational actor, contrary to widely held pre-Ukraine views, what are we to make of him? What makes him tick? Various theories have been put forward, from assertions that he is a "high performing psychopath", to an authoritarian committed to a rebirth of Christendom, to a nationalist ideologue committed to reuniting the traditional Russian lands and peoples, to someone who (according to one Russian commentator, safely out of Russia) operates according to the norms of a 1990s era St Petersburg gangster, ever ready to raise the ante in confrontations.
  6. How durable will the reawakening of the West be? Will relations and dependencies revert to normal after a "decent interval"? Will this force a re-balancing between the preoccupation with climate change and geostrategic issues when it comes to energy policy (Germany, again amazingly, has led the way here). How to secure the democracies' supply chains?
  7. How durable will the Russian/Chinese alliance of convenience be? Will proud Russians be happy, in the long term, with their status as very much a junior partner as the power disparity between them grows ever greater with time to their point where according to Nina Kruschevina (Nikita's great granddaughter) Russia could become a vassal of China? What about the deep historical antipathies between the two powers that, decades ago,  led the famous New York Times correspondent Harrison E. Salisbury to predict an inevitable war between them?

If anyone with specific expertise would like to collaborate on this, or if you have any comments,  please let me know via the contact form.

PS I have not forgotten about the final part in the three-article set about the Left that I promised a couple of weeks ago. It has been deferred, in the light of events, but not canceled.

The Covid debates and the fog of ideological war

Posted by Peter Baldwin on Feb 18, 2022

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a succession of debates on how the virus originated and how it should be managed. From the outset, starting with the argument about whether travel bans are racist, each of these debates has become highly politicized, with "left-wing" and "right-wing" positions on all manner of things, including some that should be purely scientific.

How, in this climate, with rival teams of experts lining up on opposite sides, is the non-expert to gain a reasonable approximation of the truth? Has this situation led to important pandemic management options not being properly considered?

This is a summary... Read and discuss the full article

The CCP and the moral corruption of Western elites

Posted by Peter Baldwin on Feb 04, 2022

Modern businesses, especially the largest and most powerful ones in big tech and finance, like to be thought of as highly moral entities with a strong commitment to social justice. Just about all of them nowadays have internal bureaucracies concerned with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and have embraced internal cultures that are highly intolerant of employees expressing views inconsistent with their "equity agendas".

But what becomes of those commitments, all that moral exhibitionism, when their business interests are really on the line? Say, when dealing with the rising would-be global totalitarian hegemon, the Communist Party of China (CCP) regime? 

A new book by the American author Peter Schweizer sheds some astounding and profoundly disturbing light on this.. The virtue signaling lions become tame pussy-cats, expressing fawning, indeed awestruck, admiration for the CCP dictator Xi Jinping, and exhibit a willingness to collaborate with the regime in developing the means to fulfill its global ambitions, including strengthening the CCP's military.

The CCP has developed a sophisticated strategy to exploit these proclivities that espionage experts term "elite capture". Or in a pithy quote attributed to Lenin "when the time comes to hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope".

This is a summary... Read and discuss the full article

What is this strange thing called the "Left"? Part 2

Posted by Peter Baldwin on Jan 28, 2022

The generational radicalization of the 1960s, spurred especially by the Vietnam War, led to the emergence of a New Left that seemed to many to represent a clear break with the totalitarian impulses of the old Marxist-influenced movement. Theorists like Herbert Marcuse called for this radicalization to be consolidated by a "long march through the institutions" that would transform the universities, then the wider society.

The subsequent success of this long march would have astounded its early advocates. But what has it wrought? In this article, the second of two about the modern Left, Peter Baldwin contends that modern progressivism has morphed into an abomination that discards and deprecates what was good about the old Left while perpetuating and extending some of its worst pathologies.

This is a summary... Read and discuss the full article

What is this strange thing called the "Left"? Part 1

Posted by Peter Baldwin on Jan 14, 2022

Ponder this thought experiment. Suppose a left-wing activist circa 1970 was put into a deep sleep like Rip Van Winkle, and woken up in our own time. What might such a person make of what counts as being "left-wing" or "progressive" nowadays, given the Left's wholesale embrace of identity politics during his/her long slumber?

In this article, Peter Baldwin argues that he would likely find the currently fashionable "woke" variant of leftism not just deeply strange but profoundly reactionary, the antithesis of what leftists used to believe about matters like race and racism, human universality and the Enlightenment legacy.

This is a summary... Read and discuss the full article

The Capitol riot and its aftermath

Posted by Peter Baldwin on Jan 01, 2022

What poses the greater threat to American democracy—the riot at the Capitol on 6 January 2021, or the political and institutional response to it? 

This is a question well worth asking a year out from this episode, especially given that we now have much more information on which to base an assessment than was available during the saturation media coverage in the immediate aftermath.

Media pundits and politicians have variously described the riot as an insurrection—even an "armed insurrection", a veritable coup d'etat, some even claiming it is the greatest threat to American democracy since the civil war.

The Biden administration has contended that the riot was the result of an organized conspiracy by "white supremacists", and has proposed a rewriting of the law pertaining to domestic terrorism to focus overwhelmingly on this element.

How should we assess these claims, and the proposed policy responses,  in the light of the far greater body of information now available?

This is a summary... Read and discuss the full article