The Decline of Europe and Russia’s Future

23 june 2012

Why We Need a Lee Kuan Yew Style of State

Nikolay Spasskiy is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. He holds a Doctorate in Political Science.

Resume: Russia needs a Lee Kuan Yew style of state – with inevitable adjustments, because we are not Chinese. A strong, robust and honest state. A wise one. And tough, if need be.

In the Soviet Union, very few read German philosophers in the original language. At best we learnt about their theories through the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Me too. In that sense, the following rhymed irony by 19th century poet and satirist Alexei Zhemchuzhnikov is surely not about my generation:

“On the squeaky old cart of a peasant
For a gent right and noble like me
No other pastime is as pleasant
As indulging in Hegel’s philosophy.”

Yet today, many years after I left university, I still remember Hegel’s dangling phrase “One believes one is saying something great if one says that ‘man is naturally good’. But one forgets that one says something far greater when one says ‘man is naturally evil’.” These words are probably the sole recollection of mine about Engels’ fundamental work titled Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. And the reason why Hegel’s words came to my mind’s eye is the crisis that is engulfing Western Europe.

WELFARE PARADISE

Once upon a time, in the 20th century A.D., there lived Europe. By a combination of parameters it was the most progressive and comfortable place of all time. For its civilizational maturity it had paid a very high price: two super-sanguinary revolutions – the Great French Revolution and the Great October Revolution, two world wars, several civil wars, including those in Russia and in Spain, Communism and Nazism – as social engineering experiments, and a whole lot more.

Lastly, after the end of World War II, which literally halved the territory of Western Europe, the top leaders of the Western European ruling class must have got together for a secret meeting. They had a quick word with each other and decided that Europe would not survive another big war or a real revolution.

Some practical action was taken on this fundamental conclusion. NATO was established to reconcile the primordial antagonists – Germany and France – to have firmly attached both to the structures of one military and political union, directed against the USSR. Furthermore, there was created the European Community – truly a project of a genius, cementing the new Franco-German proximity with economic integration. But that was not the main thing, though. As a matter of fact, the whole of Western Europe set course towards creating a welfare state. The Western European politicians of that day borrowed some most significant achievements of the Soviet Union in protecting the rights of working class people to have introduced these rights and guarantees at home.

The farther you go, the closer you get. Working hours were shortened everywhere and the right to strike guaranteed. The minimum wage was fixed. Unemployment benefits grew tangibly. All countries lowered the retirement age and established pension insurance allowing retirees to live a decent life. In most countries employees were entitled to paid sick, maternity and childcare leaves and free medical care. Medicine subsidies became standard practice. The employer’s right to dismissal was emasculated to nothingness.

In the meantime, labor productivity growth in Western Europe was already lagging behind the growth of employees’ overall incomes (wages plus fringe benefits).

Alongside the growth of these guarantees, the public and semi-public sector kept expanding – government-financed health care, education and other services provided by the state. A huge self-reproducing system emerged. In this way Western Europe turned itself into a place where the long-cherished dream of the Russian proletariat – a decent life without excelling at work and with no risk of being fired – came true.

The Western European working people were ignorant of this stroke of luck. They developed the habit of looking at all these rights and benefits as something to be taken for granted, as their innate privilege. In fact, they owed this “socialist paradise” chiefly to the Soviet Union, although now few agree to admit that. By virtue of its existence the Soviet Union forced the Western ruling class into colossal, hitherto inconceivable concessions to the working people, quite often outpacing ones, with a huge surplus.

All looked nearly perfect, but for one little thing. Capitalism is a system that works as long as it derives profit. No profit – and the whole system goes wrong. However, profit does not come out of nowhere. Profit emerges in the process of exploitation of hired labor. Respectively, since the exploitation of Western European working people in this new situation stopped yielding the expected profit, capitalism in the West faced the risk of dying down as a system.

With their no small rights, protected by the trade unions, which had lost all responsibility for the future of their countries, the Western European employees were doing an ever poorer job. Naturally, even though there were some angry murmurs and protest demonstrations from time to time, they were pretty happy with their current status. They kept living quite comfortable lifestyles, though not indulging in luxury. And without bothering too much. From that standpoint one can say that the social experiment the founding fathers of modern Europe had staged turned out to be very successful. In that realm of the working people’s rights the Soviet Union was fighting a losing battle.

In the meantime, the problem of the Western European countries’ shrinking industrial potential went from bad to worse as a result of a heavy slump in birth rates. In general this is quite normal. In this particular case one more brush stroke should be added to the picture. Child-bearing and rearing is hard work, by the mother in the first place. And enormous responsibility. As they lost the skills and the habit to work hard, the Western European working classes lost the wish to have children.

To put it in a nutshell, on the basis of its own resources Western European capitalism was unable to ensure growing reproduction and the deriving of profit.

THE CRISIS

Starting from the 1950s, the Western European countries have been importing labor resources from their former colonies, and also from Turkey and Yugoslavia, on an ever greater scale. With time the migration patterns made U-turns. Whereas in the 1950s and the 1960s Italy exported excessive labor resources, later it turned into a country of mass immigration itself. With the fall of the ‘iron curtain’ and the incorporation of the former Soviet bloc countries first by the European Union, and then by the Schengen area, there began the massive migration of workforce from the East of Europe westwards. Migration flows from China joined in.

The Western European workforce was drifting to the high-waged and well-protected prestigious sectors of the economy and the public sector. The influx of migrants from the South and the East compensated for these losses. Immigrants were toiling at the factories and mills, building homes, cleaning the streets, waiting upon customers at restaurants, etc. At first, they were doing that for meager or semi-meager pay with no right to protest.

It might seem that the Western European capitalists at last resolved the centuries-old dilemma of the capitalist system to have achieved a wolves-are-fed-and-sheep-are-safe idyll: a situation where the indigenous employees are happy and don’t strike, but in the meantime the job is being done and profits keep pouring in. How very naive it was of them to think so.

If your inner motive is to prevent a surge of social discontent, there is no way in which it might be possible within one system – compact and open, of which any modern Western European democratic state is the type – to preserve internal hurdles and keep two isolated sub-systems – one for the indigenous citizens and the other, for new arrivals and immigrants.

At this point, a brief footnote. The legal basis of the Western European welfare state was created alongside an adequate political and psychological super-structure. If one leaves aside marginal out-of-parliament parties and sentiment, it would be right to stay that the political landscape has undergone reformatting that is unprecedented in history.

Leftist ideas and sentiment (near-left would be a more appropriate term, though) have begun to dominate. The doctrine of social responsibility and social justice began to be professed not only by the traditional social-democratic parties and trade unions, but also by some political organizations that had been considered right-of-center ones all the way – the Christian Democrats, etc.

In this world everything has a price. Social peace, too. The Western European societies have had to pay for the reality of social peace in life with a phantom of social peace in people’s minds. Indeed, Western Europe these days is worshiping the very same values that Socialist propaganda once relied on. Everybody has the right to a decent life, the socially vulnerable and weak should be helped, the state must take away part of the wealth from the strong and successful to redistribute it among the weak and unsuccessful, etc.

Clearly, the assertion of these values arouses tremendous admiration. The problem lies elsewhere – without a balance of rights and duties society stops to function.

Lastly, the guest workers themselves are in no mood to put up with their destitute position. They had come to the West not for the sake of living only a slightly better life than the one they had abandoned at home. They are here, and many more will follow in their footsteps with the hope to live precisely the lifestyle enjoyed by the population of the host countries and to have the same amount of social rights and guarantees.

The Marxist classics often talked sense. They were a hundred percent right, when they postulated that capitalism cares only about today. So it is in this case.

During the lifetime of a whole generation the system based on attracting cheap labor resources from the South and from the East kept yielding super-profits. But that system had been doomed from the outset.

Slowly but surely immigrants were gaining the same amount of social rights and guarantees as the local population. Also, as any organized minority, they began to demand extra rights, first and foremost, the right to religious, cultural and lifestyle identity.

As it has turned out, in modern democratic Britain, the country of the Great Charter of Freedoms and the Habeas Corpus Act, the use of the Sharia law is allowed. But that is beside the point.

The massive attraction of labor resources from the poor countries has enabled the Western European states to cope with the shortage of labor resources, but left the root problem intact: How to go about the business of giving decent remuneration and real rights to all employees to make them feel contented and at the same time to ensure the competitiveness of production and the generation of profit?

But our Western European friends had one more trump card up the sleeve.

As is known, capitalism, just as the proletariat, is international. When capital is unable to get a high rate of profit at home, it seeks a better fortune elsewhere. This is precisely what happened in post-war Western Europe. As soon as it started losing profit at home, capital headed abroad. At first, to relatively civilized Latin America; then to the countries of Southeast Asia; with the fall of the Berlin wall, into Eastern Europe; and lastly, to China and India.

Capital has employed this well-tested tactic on hundreds of thousands and millions of occasions. This time it worked again.

Large and relatively up-to-date operations were established in Latin America and in Asia. In the context of cheap labor and proximity of natural resources the Western European capital was skimming super-profits again. Manufactures started flowing around the world and back home, as well as to the bottomless virgin markets of Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, India, China and other third world giants. It might seem everybody was feeling happy again.

There was a BUT, though. Products manufactured some place in the third world – be it the branches of Western European companies or operations created by the very same Chinese on the basis of replicated Western technologies – as soon as they arrived in Western Europe, easily beat their counterparts manufactured inside Western Europe proper. It does not matter what – cars, vacuum cleaners, TVs, PCs, kitchenware, toys, or clothes.

Here are the results of a simple survey an aide of mine has done while surfing the Net.

 



True, Western European manufactures are of better quality. But the high-waged labor force and over-bureaucratized labor market in Western Europe make the same goods so much more expensive than their Chinese counterparts – which are only slightly inferior in quality and durability and less safer to health, but in principle quite acceptable – that the Western European producer has to bite the dust behind third world competitors. In one’s own home market.

Something remarkable is happening. Once again we are witnesses to an amazing dualism of the proletariat’s mentality. On the one hand, the Western European employees are protesting and demonstrating to demand from their government protection of the local producer from unfair competition by China. But on the other, when they come to the supermarket, the very same people prefer Chinese goods, because these are lower-priced.

It might seem that it would be enough to declare an all-out boycott to Chinese goods and to start buying those of domestic manufacture – of better quality, good, nice-looking and nice-feeling, safe to your health and manufactured in strict compliance with the myriad of labor and environmental conservation laws. The problem of competition would be resolved once and for all. But that does not happen, because one’s purse, too, has no home country affections.

So the whole scheme of moving manufacturing facilities from Western Europe to third world countries, originally conceived as a measure to support Western European businesses and help it get the habitually high profit rate, is ending with its utter failure in front of our eyes.

Western European governments and big businesses have lost control of a process that they had largely promoted themselves for the past few decades. Powerful industries have emerged and gained strength in China, India, Turkey and other countries in the South and in the East to have offered insurmountable competition to Western Europe’s traditional industrial powers. The days of the manufacturing industries in these countries, in particular, of the heavy and light industries, are numbered. The high-tech sector is still afloat, but it is beginning to give in, too.

This total degradation of the industrial base in Western Europe, in effect tantamount to de-industrialization of a vast region that had once been the “workshop of the world,” in combination with the zero growth and fast aging of the local population and the influx of migrants, is pushing the whole Western European civilization towards a systemic crisis. This crisis has no chances of being settled within the framework of Europe’s welfare state model.

The on-going events in Greece, Italy and Spain are the moment of truth. It has been postponed many a time, but now it is unmistakably here. The tragedy of the Western Europeans is this – to start emerging from the crisis they should first carry out a very unpleasant revolution in their minds. From the humanitarian standpoint one can only feel sorry for the Western European working class people. They have enjoyed colossal social gains. They are in the habit of being well-paid, enjoying long vacations, traveling about the world, having free medical care, retiring at an early age and getting nice pensions, etc.

But to be able to afford all that the nation is to begin to produce. When a nation stops producing, a huge bubble is inflated. It can be maintained for a while with borrowing. But sooner or later the bubble will burst. As a matter of fact, this is precisely what has just happened in Greece.

Regrettably, for our Western European friends there can be only one way out of the overall crisis that has hit Europe – the dismantling of the welfare state system. Because that system no longer works. An overwhelming majority of the population gets from the state far more than it gives the state in return. To get out of the crisis the Western Europeans should learn to live by their means. It hurts.

In our lifetime each of us lives through no end of episodes that might seem very insignificant and not very special, but which nevertheless have immeasurably greater and long-term effects for our perception of life. To me one of such impressions was a Monday morning of August 19, 1991.

It was the first day of my vacation. The windows of my parents’ 16th-floor apartment overlooked Vernadsky Avenue in the southwest of Moscow. Down below an endless column of battle tanks was rolling into the city. I was reading Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, pages devoted to Caesarism. Suddenly I had a thought – “Speak of the Devil. This is what Caesarism looks like in reality.” I was wrong. Caesarism was nowhere near. It was a silly escapade by the good-for-nothing elite of the late Soviet era. What I am about to say is different. Then, as I watched the dismantling of the Soviet Empire, I surely could not have the slightest suspicion that in just twenty years’ time I would be able to witness the real crisis of the whole Western European system. The real decline of Europe. In the meantime, it happened.

Now, let us try to see what this crisis may have in store for us, for Russia. And what we can do about it.

WHAT WE SHOULD BRACE FOR

First of all, we must admit that we are looking at today’s troubles in Western Europe with some sort of malicious joy. It was for too long that we had to live under the pressure of the inferiority complex next to well-off and comfortable Western Europe. One has the same kind of feeling when a successful, high-handed neighbor, who almost never wished you good morning, suddenly gets in trouble and you change places.

In its history, including recent one, Russia has had to experience quite a few injustices from Western Europe. However, one should get rid of this gloating the sooner the better.

Western Europe still remains our civilizational safe haven and the main source of modernization resource. That was the case in the days of Ivan III and Peter the Great. It is so today. Western Europe is Russia’s number one trading partner, Russians’ most-visited tourist attraction, and number one source of capital investment in Russia.

In whatever way we may position ourselves as a center of power in its own right – which is quite fair – Russia will be an integral part of greater Europe. However special our national history, including the key fact that the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment barely scratched its surface, Russia took shape within the mainstream of the pan-Western and pan-Christian historical process. In their perception of the world Russians are Europeans. It’s no worth trying to deceive ourselves. As we laugh at the current turmoil in Western Europe, in fact we laugh at ourselves.

The crisis in Europe is not something casual or isolated. It is a systemic crisis, characteristic of a certain stage of a highly advanced capitalist society. It inevitably stems from the late capitalism’s immanent desire to reconcile the irreconcilables – social peace, economic growth and super-profits.

The October Revolution pulled Russia out of that mainstream for 75 years. But in the 1990s, we suffered a shock and chaos and plunged deep right into the middle of that stream. We almost drowned but stayed afloat. And now we are safely drifting along with our fellows professing the same principles of social-economic development. We are drifting in the same direction as the Western Europeans, slightly lagging behind. We are heading towards the creation of a welfare state bearing a great burden of responsibilities to their citizens and dealing with the growing problem of labor shortage through the mass import of workforce.

Our people are not very much spoiled yet by and large, thank God! They are used to feeling contented with very few essentials. In particular, those in the provinces. We are still very far away from the European level of life and the standard of social expectations. But the trend is unmistakably there. History moves fast. If we fail to make some adjustments now, in just 20-25 years’ time we shall be faced with a similar imbalance crisis, but spiced with Russia’s characteristic brutality of all historical manifestations and a much more dramatic nature of the depopulation problem.

Incidentally, the United States is following the same road, although still farther behind. It has not experienced large-scale de-industrialization so far. The natural population growth is quite decent. Immigration continues to be digested. In other words, society still works. But, nevertheless, all signs of the Western European disease are unmistakably there. The advent of a systematic crisis is a matter of time.

In a situation like that we should honestly and firmly derive lessons from the Western European experience, see where we stand, and take measures to fundamentally improve the ongoing trends – before it is too late.

For this one fundamental question is to be answered.

What do the current historical changes have in store for us? Or, to put it in a nutshell, can we expect that the current changes in the world will gradually bring about a world community of kindness and justice? Should we just take it easy and not try to fall over ourselves to maintain our security, because the historical process will do that for us?

NATIONAL SECURITY AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF GOOD AND EVIL

It is beyond doubt that the historical process, whatever its zigzags and setbacks, does bring about gradual growth in well-being, welfare and comfort around the world. There where most people once walked about barefooted and wearing just loincloths these days they have sandals and cheap saris. There where famine claimed hundreds of thousands of lives a year these days it kills tens of thousands. There where in the past starvation was the plight of one in two, these days only one in four or one in eight go to bed hungry. Where the life expectancy averaged 25 years, today it is 50-60. Where there was one bicycle per several villages, these days cheap scooters and mobile phones are an everyday essential enjoyed by the poorest families in the remotest provinces.

True, the current scale of human misfortunes as it is, these calculations look cynical. But history, like any science of big numbers, is rather cynical. It is a hard fact – socio-economic parameters, including those characterizing such necessities as the availability of fresh drinking water, sewage, fresh foods, professional services of an obstetrician and other elementary medical aid, telephone communication, etc., are steadily improving even in the most far-away poor and backward corners of the world.

However, material progress is one thing, and the assertion of kindness in inter-human relations is something very different.

Judging by today’s social legislation in Western Europe and the activity of humanitarian organizations, one may have the impression that inter-human relations and, respectively, inter-state ones (because the latter do not exist separately from the former) are becoming ever more humane. At least, in Western Europe.

This would have been so. If only 80 years (just one human lifetime) ago Nazism had not risen to power in one of the most humanistic and respectable countries of Western Europe and not created a system of mass systematic extermination of human beings with a view to spreading this system around the world. Industrialized production of human bone meal and hand-made production of lampshades from human skin is not very compatible with the assertion of humanistic values.

Incidentally, the state of affairs in Russia in the very same 1930s was not very much better. In 1937-1938, about 1.5 million people were repressed, including 680,000 executed by firing squads. Very many of the victims suffered not only from sinister troika tribunals or sadistically-minded executioners, but tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in no way different from the victims.

That transformation of victims into executioners and back was massive and sometimes it happened several times during a person’s lifetime. People betrayed, dooming their relatives to immense suffering and sometimes death just to ward off the terrible risk from themselves, to move to better housing, to get a career promotion, or just out of elementary human jealousy, envy or personal dislike.

Let us not forget that Russia, with its great classical literature and no less great music, had been considered, alongside Germany, one of the citadels of spirituality.

These “malfunctions” make one perceive the “excesses” accompanying changes in the far less well-to-do countries of the world in a somewhat different way. As Russian 19th-century literature classic Ivan Turgenev once put it, “If the cream tastes bad, what is to be expected of the milk?”

Manifestations of cruelty and evil in the modern world are too many to be ignored. Treating the disease requires the correct diagnosis.

All of us would like to hope that as the historical process goes on, the general level of education and culture grows, law is perfected and poverty is eradicated, and that respect for human life will be asserted as a universal value of any human society and system of inter-state relations. That’s a basic principle, an ideal.

Therefore making the national security of one’s own country and the well-being of fellow citizens dependent on “kindness” of other parties to international affairs who have to be contacted today would be just not serious and irresponsible. Some day, several decades or centuries from now, when there emerges a planetary community of human beings and when kindness triumphs on the globe, it would be possible to rely on humanistic self-regulation of inter-human relations and give up reliance on force. But that will not happen soon.

I would like to make a special reservation to the effect that the postulate of humanistic maturity of modern human beings is not something artificial for the purposes of our discussion of how to ensure Russia’s security and safety in view of the approaching systemic crisis of the Western civilization. States are not something supernatural or mechanical, something autonomous from the individuals of whom they consist. The will and actions of a state, just as those of an international organization or a party, etc., are derivatives of the will and actions of citizens of that state, members of that organization and members of that party. The Taliban are killing and exploding not because somebody had programmed it once and for all, but because tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and probably millions of people in various parts of the world wish to kill and explode in the current social, economic, political and psychological situation.

If one leaves aside the hope for the universal triumph of kindness, the state has two ways in which to go about the business of maintaining its national security. One is through building up its own national power, all components of it – hard and soft. The other is entering into alliances with stronger partners, whose protection you are prepared to more or less comfortably accept.

At the current historical stage neither Russia nor other key international players are prepared to consider an option that would assign to Russia the role of a junior partner of another, stronger state – like the role of Austria-Hungary in alliance with the German Empire, or Britain in alliance with the United States.

God forbid that we should ever see the day when such an option will be regarded as something natural.

Consequently, we have no way out but to rely on our own forces to take a decent niche in the modern world and to protect ourselves from its excesses. This is a universally accepted principle. A great deal has been written about that. So it would make no sense to add something else. But, to round up my thought, here is another story – about the tool which, however insufficient and imperfect, is the sole one that still opens up the possibility of overcoming the systemic crisis that is threatening Russia. In a word, it is about the role and tasks of the modern Russian state.

 

THE STATE AND DEMOCRACY

In principle, any state is called to cope with three tasks. Firstly, to protect its population and its territory from outside threats. Secondly, to ensure economic growth and the minimum level of wealth and stability at home. And thirdly, to maintain public order and, as human civilization grows more mature, to assert the value of human life. The state should not be too strong and invasive, because otherwise it will trample underfoot both civil society and the individual. But it cannot afford to be too weak and amorphous, because otherwise there will inevitably follow chaos, crime rampage and suppression of the individual. The golden mean lies somewhere in between.

In Western Europe, as NATO has not fallen apart ultimately yet and still provides some kind of security guarantees for its members, the center of gravity – as far as the function of the state is concerned – has shifted to the second and third dimensions. For us it is all basically the same, although in our situation the state also has to take care of external security. But, again, the main challenge facing all states in the Old World, including Russia, is pulling their countries out of the deepest systemic crisis.

If our states succeed – the European civilization will have a future. If not, the internal processes of depopulation, de-industrialization and socio-political disintegration will inevitably accelerate with a high probability these countries will lose any tangible role in the world’s development.

Of course, in abstract terms any state is evil. It suppresses the individual. But people have not yet learned the way to live without the state. There where there is no state, the criminal gang takes its place as a form of social organization.

It is unnecessary to go as far as Africa for examples of unbridled human behavior. Take the strongest country of modern democracy, so much proud of its democratic maturity – the United States. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the largest city in the state of Louisiana. The population had to be evacuated.

Within a matter of days the people who seemed to have learned the habit of observing very strict rules of human co-existence at their mother’s knees, displayed complete inability to self-organize and maintain order as soon as government supervision and control (figuratively speaking, the guy with a big stick) was gone. Such basics of human co-existence as respect for the old and care of the weak were forgotten at once. Massive desertion of civil servants, marauding, rape, hooliganism …

I have recalled all this not because I wish to take a dig at the “American imperialists.” It just shows all too well that even in the most advanced societies people are not yet prepared for doing without the state.

In fairness, I must admit though that in Japan, after last year’s earthquake and tsunamis, which caused tremendous destruction, nothing of the sort happened.

The European civilization will have no exit from the ongoing crisis other than through enhancing the role of the state. How effective today’s states will eventually prove in overcoming that crisis will be the main yardstick future generations will apply to measure their success in general.

From the standpoint of the historical process and the lives of individual people it makes little difference what form this or that state has – if it is a mature democracy or a slightly authoritarian regime. All other things being equal, the democratic form of rule is preferable in principle, particularly so during long historical periods and with no fundamental internal crises or external threats in sight. No more, no less.

But let us not forget that democracy is only a form of organizing the political system of a state, which lately has been ever more often associated with free elections. By itself democracy will be unable to resolve a single problem – bring about an industrial upturn, fight with crime, cure the sick, take care of minors, etc. Everything depends on the content we fill this form with.

Honestly, I am disappointed to see our Western partners, whom I really respect, and our domestic opposition obsessed with a simplified assertion of democracy. This enthusiasm is not for the 21st century with its problems. In the 20th century, when the ideals of liberalism and democracy were confronted with several totalitarian ideologies, this trend did have a reason, although with great reservations.

Indeed, let us have a big discussion over whether democratic procedures were a hindrance to or a contributing factor for the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany. After all, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) did collect its 13-17 million votes. Probably, we shall unearth the truth. But I would prefer a fundamentally different scenario – I wish those not quite free and democratic elections in Germany had never taken place at all. Instead, some brave army general, for instance Walther von Brauchitsch or Ludwig Beck, would have staged a military coup and just shot and killed the top Nazis. Then, most probably, there would have been no World War II, at least the brutal genocidal version of it that happened. Humanity’s subsequent development would have followed a very different track – very probably, a more humane one.

Or here is another example from the recent past. In 2006, the United States was pressing for and ultimately achieved free elections in the territory of the Palestinian Autonomy, although it had been nakedly-clear from the outset that in that type of situation HAMAS would surely win. So it happened.

Now, the question. Was it worthwhile going to such great lengths to secure free and democratic elections at that situation?

Another example. Iraq now, after nine years of the U.S. occupation, is a free and democratic country. Formally free elections are held there. And this is just wonderful. Before, it was ruled by a vicious dictator, who was brutally oppressing his people, using chemical weapons against the Kurds, drowning Shiites in the Shatt al-Arab, fighting wars with neighbors and threatening the whole region. All this is very true.

But in those days young women in Baghdad were free to walk about in miniskirts and bareheaded. And the Christian minority of 1.4 million felt quite safe and had no problems with professing their fate.

Now Iran’s Christian community has shrunk to 500,000. And what life is like for Iraq’s women today we all know from TV news. Also, we know that the position of women and religious minorities is one of the most common indicators characterizing the civilizational maturity of any society.

So I am asking: Was it worthwhile?

I do realize that these arguments of mine are not quite correct from the ethical point of view. Human lives and deaths are not abacus beads that show at once – life is better there where there are less deaths. The life of one child is of no smaller value than the lives of a million children and adults. But, nevertheless, from the standpoint of practical politics one finds it impossible to avoid using human lives to measure the price of the decisions that we make.

Over the past decades humanity has come a long way. Time is ripe for us to learn to rate the maturity of states and societies not by the degree of democracy of their election process, but by the real quality of life of real citizens, the security and comfort of the individual human life. This evaluation is far harder to make. If we fail to learn the skill of using it, we’ll promptly lose our bearings in the neck-breaking changes of today’s world.

 

* * *

In fact, this is the answer to the question what Russia needs today to find the way out of its own crisis that followed the chaotic dismantling of the Soviet Union and the formation of Russian statehood in the 1990s, and not plunge into the growing crisis of the Western welfare state. Logically, we are doomed to slide into it. The safer and wealthier our life will be, the faster we shall follow our Western European friends – but without having their safety nets and the habit they have developed over the past decades of settling differences in a non-violent way.

Cutting the long story short, we need a Lee Kuan Yew style of state – with inevitable adjustments, because we are not Chinese. A strong, robust and honest state. A wise one. And tough, if need be. The rest will come.

To the Western Europeans I can wish the same – a strong and effective state, capable of addressing social and economic issues, forcing people to work hard and protecting them – from terrorists, from crime and from financial and economic turmoil.

The alternative? Under the best case scenario Western Europe in the lifetime of one generation from now will turn into a shopping area and an amusement park for the Chinese, Hindus, Americans and, probably, for Russians. Not the worst outcome, too.

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