Americans must grasp the communal forces that rule most of the world.
Seldom has it been more important for Americans to form a realistic assessment of the world scene. But our current governing, college-educated class suffers one glaring blind spot.
Modern American culture produces highly individualistic career and identity paths for upper- and middle-class males and females. Power couples abound, often sporting different last names. But deeply held religious identities and military loyalties are less common. Few educated Americans have any direct experience with large groups of men gathered in intense prayer or battle. Like other citizens of the globalized corporate/consumer culture, educated Americans are often widely traveled but not deeply rooted in obligation to a particular physical place, a faith or a kinship.
Most of the 7 billion people on Earth today are not such modern atoms. As in the past, they live in territorial ethnic groups and language communities — extended family units that in turn connect with national and religious identities uniting adult males. Such brotherhoods blend the blood ties of kinship with the shared blood sacrifice of religious military covenants.
If we are to be realists, we must understand that such large communal loyalties, for which men will gladly fight and die, explain a great many of the world’s conflicts — and mark the pathways to peace. American and European educated elites may be outgrowing the “superstition” of religion, the “chauvinism” of nations. But armed men elsewhere navigate by a different compass.
Let us enter their world for a moment, in the name of realism.
Russia: Waking up Orthodox
For modern individualists, nothing is so enlightened as our present era. So it was considered a major insult in the West to tell Russia’s president that “you just don’t, in the 21st century, behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country.”
But Vladimir Putin sees the 19th century not as an inferior age but as the time before his Orthodox nation was seized by an atheist movement from the West that poisoned the soul of a Christian people. He knows that the battle for Sevastopol in the Crimean War (1857) was lost by Russians at the hands of an unholy alliance of Muslim Turks and nominally Christian British and French troops.
There is no question to Putin (or most of his citizens) that Crimea is part of an organic unity called Russia, baptized 1,000 years ago and paid for with blood. But Orthodox Crimea is not Catholic Poland. The Russian nation’s claim to one implies no claim on the other. (And eastern Ukraine is likewise a special case, where use of the Russian language marks the key fault line.)
The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state representing international communism, sworn in the end to abolish all nations and religions as ruling-class frauds. Mother Russia and the Orthodox Church were its first victims.
Must it be said that Russia is not the USSR and Putin is not Stalin?
Russians remember clearly that 100 years ago this summer the Catholic Austro-Hungarian empire and the Lutheran German Reich united to crush the national aspirations of Orthodox Serbia. Russia came to the aid of her religious and ethnic sister nation, setting off World War I. Weakened by the struggle, Russia was hijacked by revolutionaries.
In the 1990s, the first European capital to be bombed since World War II was Belgrade, in Orthodox Serbia. Russia protested again — this time without arms. The Western NATO alliance is no longer Catholic or Protestant, but it is still capable of the old enmities against the East.
The resurgence of the Orthodox religion and her nations is the last in a long series of religious revolts against the atheism of Soviet Communism. Decades earlier, Catholic Hungary and Catholic Poland from the west, and the Islamic fighters in Afghanistan from the south, undermined that godless empire with the steely resolve of theocratic nations (a term that seems less sinister when we remember its heroism against the atheist superstate).
Freed from the armed atheism of the Gulag, Russians are not embracing the unarmed atheism of the Western sexual revolution. Nor will they privatize their national resources in the name of capitalist liberty. Solzhenitsyn taught us decades ago that Russia would one day wake from its Soviet nightmare, not as a Western democracy but as a devout Orthodox nation.
For decades, American Catholics ended worship services with prayers for the conversion of Russia, for a healing of the breach in Christian brotherhood that divided European nations from Russia and made both vulnerable to the homicidal states of pagan Nazis and materialist Reds.
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