All around us, we see the horrible fires of the global democratic revolution. The flames from this blaze have scorched Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Ukraine. A trait common to all these revolutionary wars is democratic rhetoric, lethal action, and the collapse of imperfect regimes in favor of perfect chaos. The “Color Revolutions” always seem to have one hue: blood-red. Nikolai Karamzin, the excellent Russian conservative thinker, once wrote in similar times of the French revolution: “We saw the horror of the fires from afar and each of us returned home to thank the Heavens for the totality of our lot and to become reasonable.” When will we become reasonable?
On the modes of Political Change: Revolution and Restoration
We live in an age not unlike the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. The political changes which took place in Europe and Russia in the years 1989-1994 are comparable to the American war for independence in 1776. That war was not so much a revolution as a restoration of modified British traditions: a gentleman’s rebellion. The King was replaced by the Constitution, but the content of that Constitution was for the most part an outgrowth of the traditional rights of Englishmen elevated to the status of universal rights in the Declaration of Independence. In his politics, President George Washington saw no place for transforming the American war for independence into a global democratic crusade. Quite the contrary, he warned against imperial adventures and foreign intrigue. Similarly, the years 1989-1994 in Europe and Russia were not a revolution, but a peaceful restoration of the humanist, Christian, and national traditions of Eastern Europe and Russia. The tragic case of Yugoslavia was the only exception to this rule. No one overthrew communism in 1989 in order to spark a global crusade in pursuit of an abstract utopia. The characteristics of the changes which took place in 1989 were prudence, temperance, and a realism which moderated all idealism not firmly rooted in the natural and organic evolutionary experience of political culture.
The Bloody Harvest of Liberal Revolutionary Hubris: Now & Then
Given the relative success of the American war for independence, European revolutionaries at the turn of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries gained confidence that Enlightenment idealism, merged with force, might transform not only the essence of political orders, but of human nature itself. They were soon to live through the Terror of the French revolution. They observed with stupefied amazement as the most enlightened classes of society, having liberated themselves from morality in favor of an absolutized Reason, became the slayers of humanity, butchers, masters of the guillotine, and the arsonists of order in Europe. Today, a similar process is unfolding as a handful of contemporary liberal democratic ideologues with significant hold over Western imaginations have convinced themselves that the specific character of the political transformation in 1989 can be systematized and exported to lands which are utterly remote from the political cultures which culminated in the downfall of communism. The result of this liberal democratic hubris and greed has been the agony and death of millions of human beings.
Russia’s Alexander I: The Dam which halted the French Revolutionary Wave & Saved Europe
Earlier, when the civilized world was threatened by the French revolution, it was Russian firmness combined with the political virtue of Alexander (who at times made peace with Napoleon and at times made war against him) that helped save Europe—along with the Polish nation—from Bonapartism. The Poles, however, due to the complex and difficult nature of Polish-Russian history, viewed Bonapartism with sentimental eyes. To this day, Nikolai Karamzin is known amongst Poles for his anti-polonism rather than for his desire to rescue “the totality of our lot” from the fires of Napoleon’s wars. Our humble and Catholic nation continues to romanticize the French revolution which built “Temples of Reason” in the place of devastated Churches and led the people to the guillotine rather than the Eucharist. At best, Poles follow their national poet, Zygmunt Krasiński, and argue that the Tsar was the “Robespierre of the East.”
Zygmunt Krasiński: A model of Prudent Polish Patriotism
Poles little note the fact that Krasiński did not take part in the November Uprising, that his father served the Tsar well in the military, and most importantly that the measure by which Krasiński himself attacked the vices of the Tsar was the French Revolution which he opposed. Insofar as the decision not to partake in the 1831 uprising was an agonizing one for the poet-bard, by 1848 he came to the defense of the Holy Alliance without hesitation when, together with Norwid, he physically opposed the Roman revolutionaries threatening the Pope and screaming “Long Live Jesus the Constitutional Christ!” and “Death to the clergy!” Krasiński dreamed of a free Poland, but not at the cost of Poland becoming the foreground of inhumane bloody Western revolutions. He was a liberal to the same extent that the young Karamzin or Pope Pious IX had been. Each man turned his back on liberalism when they witnessed how it progressed beyond the bounds of pride and towards a readiness to set Europe aflame. This honorable political comportment is alien to contemporary Polish political elites.
The Marxist vision of Revolutionary Poland
Paradoxically, despite the fact that Polish and Russian culture is so similar, the modern Polish political elites appear to consider Napoleon a savior and in fact view all of the nineteenth century through Marxist lenses. Marx and Engels often wrote of revolutionary Poland as the avantegaurd of the fight for Socialism on the continent. Polish faith in the virtue of Western revolution often took on such stubborn extremes that not even events like the Galician massacre of 1846 could dissuade Poles of their revolutionary fervor. When this revolutionary politics took hold of Russia herself in 1917 and then Germany, its result was – in the final analysis – the suffering and near death of all of Europe and Russia. None of the “miserable” peace compromises of the nineteenth century brought such ruin to Europe as the revolutionary wars of the twentieth century. The twentieth century proves that the common thread linking thinkers like Karamzin and Krasiński is far more important than their differences. This common thread was their distrust of the myth of Enlightened Western revolutionary salvation. We might even say that Poland’s poet bard was more Russian than Karamzin insofar as Karamzin treated religious faith according to the dictates of his teacher, Machiavelli, as purely instrumental. Krasiński, like Kiriyevski and other renowned Slavophiles, held a deep and abiding faith which flowed through all of his political thought.
Dreams of a Revolution in Moscow are Nightmares waiting to happen
Despite such a beautiful heritage, the Polish elites are embarrassed by the words and deeds of their great statesmen who, through prudent political work in the Russian Duma and Galician parliament of Austria-Hungary acted to restore an independent Poland. Instead, the Solidarity elites celebrate all sorts of trouble makers and rabble-rousers who effectively set back the Polish cause in the nineteenth century through their uprisings which resulted in less autonomy for the Polish Kingdom. These rabble-rousers also solidified a certain stereotype in the minds of Western and Russian statesmen; a stereotype of the Pole as eternal Jacobin. It is the spectre of the Polish Jacobin that we bear witness to during the current crisis, when his heir apparent, the Polish color revolutionary, acts and speaks about European affairs. These modern insurgents, eternally in search of an uprising, are frustrated by the fact that they now have their own nation-state and thus nowhere to direct their revolutionary ire. Since their nation-state demands of them political virtues such as calm work and wise political thought, the modern Polish Jacobins have channeled their revolutionary impulses into the Ukraine. One saw it already during the Orange Revolution where these imprudent Polish elites played a key role. By 2014, the fact that democratic legal mechanisms existed in Ukraine meant nothing to these eternal insurgents. During the Maidan, they were ready to tear down even the democratically elected government of Ukraine to satisfy their lust for an uprising. Their openly proclaimed dream for a color revolution in Moscow is a nightmare waiting to happen.
Do we want a Russian state modeled on Iraq?
The matter of what a revolution in Moscow might look like in practice was elucidated for us all long ago, during a press conference between then US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in 2006. After patiently listening to President Bush lecture on his hopes for more democracy in Russia and blossoming freedom in Iraq, President Putin replied stoically: “I sincerely hope that the democracy which we find in Iraq does not come to exist in Russia.” This type of democracy, this chaotic, bloody, destructive Iraqi democracy has now been exported to Ukraine. This bloody democracy is at the border of both Poland and Russia, and it is slaughtering the people of the Ukraine with whom the destiny of the Polish and Russian nations is intertwined. In Poland, we have adopted certain aspects of this democracy as can be seen in the existence of CIA torture prisons, a practice fully in line with the best traditions of “democracy in Iraq.” Politics cannot and does not consist in never-ending uprisings. The colors of all revolutionaries always have one hue: blood red.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This article first appeared in Sputnik news on May 24th, 2015 and is republished here with gracious permission.