Ross Douthat: Will The Ukraine War End the Age of Populism?

Is populism a poor fit for this particular moment?

In light of the American attention span, I would caution that we should wait more than three weeks before jumping to conclusions. The country also briefly seemed united at the height of the George Floyd mania and during the earliest days of COVID when Red States were in lockdowns. Nearly a million people dying here over the past two years didn’t unite America and only exacerbated our existing social divisions and that was far more of an immediate threat than a distant frontier war in Ukraine.

New York Times:

“If the past 10 years of Western history have featured an extended wrestling match between populism and liberalism, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has inspired many liberals to hopefully declare the contest over, their opponent pinned.

And with some reason. Putin’s war has struck two blows against populism, one direct and one indirect. First, there is the embarrassment involved for every populist leader, European or American, who has either offered kind words for Putin or at least held him up as an adversary whose statecraft runs circles around our own incompetent elites. Such flirtations have now largely ended in backpedaling and reversal, forcing populists to choose between self-marginalization or a shameless pivot. Which is to say: Don’t be surprised if Donald Trump somehow evolves into the biggest Russia hawk you’ve ever seen come 2024.

The more damaging blow, though, is the indirect one, the way the Ukraine invasion has revealed how uncertain and at sea the populist instinct becomes when it’s confronted with an adversary that doesn’t fit easily into its focus on internal Western corruption, its narratives of elite perfidy and folly. …

Since those problems are crucial to understanding where populism came from in the first place, it’s reckless for liberals to declare victory based on shifts in the international order while simply waving domestic discontents away. Populism’s poor fit for this particular moment has given an opportunity to its enemies and critics. But they will squander the opportunity if they convince themselves that the external challenge has somehow made the internal crisis go away.”

This moment will also pass.

The shock of the Russian invasion already seems to be wearing off.

At the end of the day, we will be left facing the same brutal reality that only populists have diagnosed and have been willing to face, which is to say, America is in terminal decline. The American Empire is coming to an end whether we like it or not. “History” is not inevitably moving toward liberalism.

The recent defeats that have been inflicted on our ruling class at the hands of COVID and Afghanistan are consistent with this trend. The events in Ukraine and the rumblings in Saudi Arabia can also only be understood in light of the perception that American power is in decline. From both the inside to internal critics and from the outside to rising powers, the United States looks like a decadent, overstretched, hollowed out empire that is ripe for a fall. This quarrel with Russia over the status of Donbas is the epitome of imperial overstretch. It is a place of utterly no value to the United States. In fact, it is reminiscent of Danzig which also wasn’t worth fighting over and which carried enormous risk for the British Empire and triggered its collapse, but we are going to do it anyway because that is what Twitter wants. The cause of World War II was Neville Chamberlain giving a worthless guarantee to Poland when he wasn’t in any position to help Poland stop Germany but only to harm his own people and their interests.

Populists are the only faction in American politics who have adjusted to the coming reality. We can sleep soundly at night without being tortured by the withdrawal from Afghanistan. We don’t care about Ukraine or Taiwan. The entire history of Ukraine is being dominated by one empire or another and mostly Russia for as long as our own country has existed. Vladimir Putin’s Russia looks to us like Russia as it has always existed. Similarly, we are indifferent to Hong Kong or Taiwan being absorbed into China. We don’t have any problems living in a multipolar world where Russia is dominating its near abroad or China has recovered from its troubles in the 19th century and is once again the Great Power in East Asia.

It is the liberal imperialists who are unable to come to grips with reality. This is why I tend to believe we are in for a very hard landing rather than a soft landing from the American Empire. Perhaps it was always naive of us to assume that we would just give up on the Empire. Instead of scaling back our ambitions and commitments and focusing on our own massive internal problems at home, liberals are getting even more delusional and fail to see the disconnect between their own power and ambitions abroad. In both the domestic sphere and now in our foreign policy, liberals are much more willing to wield arbitrary, despotic power on the basis of groupthink and knee jerk reactions based on “moral clarity.”

The end is now coming into view. We have always wondered how the American Empire would come to end in our lifetimes, but now the answer is obvious. It will end in fit of self-righteous rage and “moral clarity” on Twitter where a series of stupid, rash and highly emotional decisions will be made by our degenerate elites which will have consequences that historians will argue over for generations to come.

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9 Comments

  1. Lots of support for Ukraine, at a distance. Populism has hardly been damaged by this. This will soon pass, and all the problems are still here. It’s a bit like a couple who have marriage problems, headed to divorce, taking the kids to Disneyland. For one day all is fun, then, when everybody’s home, the problems come back. The same stupid people are still in charge, doing the same stupid things. No, populism ain’t going away….

  2. For Ross Douthat…He hates Vladimir Putin because Vladimir Putin doesn’t embrace the wholesome family values of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Hollywood…….

    And because of this………Ross Douthat argues that young pregnant Orthodox Christian Women in Donbass deserve to be slaughtered by Azov Brigade artillery shells…

  3. “Populism” is just the name that has been given to general discontentment with western elite incompetence, hubris, insularity, hypocrisy, and arrogance. Since those qualities have not changed and will not change, “populism” will remain. This was never a war of ideology, so “populism” cannot be proven incorrect by any particular event. It was and is a class war, that is only loosely ideological, with each side having changed positions on ideology numerous times.

  4. Re: “Perhaps it was always naive of us to assume that we would just give up on the Empire”:

    Imperialism is a habit that is impossible to break. Populist reformism will make no real difference because imperialsm is essential, integral to capitalism. Even the British empire after more than a century of decline has still not given up its “commitments,” still maintaining almost 200 overseas millitary bases, and still inviting immigrants by the thousands from all races and ethnicities from its colonies and allies all over the world to join its homeland population, and still eager to engage in cold, hot, financial, and information (propaganda) wars, along with its protege the United States, that continue to bring in the booty of stolen wealth from every nation.

    “Populists are the only faction in American politics who have adjusted to the coming reality”:

    Populism when it even succeeds (rarely) is mere temporary reform, a necessary step back by the U.sury S.ystem before taking two steps forward. The logic of capitalism/imperialism is to always move forward with world domination, globalism, monopoly, privatisation of all remaining public services and common wealth, and ever-increasing austerity (screw tightening, enslavement) for the masses. The history of populism proves you cannot have your capitalist cake and eat it too (unless you are one of the elites) – you only remain capitalist. You cannot go backward in time either – reverting to one of the pre-capitalist systems such as feudalism, tribalism, etc. – in this over-crowded, highly advanced (scientifically and technologically, not morally) globally-interconnected world filled with evolving diseases, nuclear and chemical facilities, radioactive waste and other potentially deadly threats that must be managed constantly.

    Re: “we will be left facing the same brutal reality that only populists have diagnosed and have been willing to face, which is to say, America is in terminal decline. The American Empire is coming to an end whether we like it or not. ‘History’ is not inevitably moving toward liberalism”:

    Populists have made a diagnosis of the decline, but only socialists have diagnosed the reality accurately. I agree that History is not moving toward “liberalism,” which is another name for capitalism. It is also not moving toward Populism which is capitalism too. Another way of saying this is that NATURE is tending toward the most natural system. Ethnocentrism is a natural tendency that is incompatible with capitalism/imperialism but congruent with Ethno-national socialism, “in one country,” that respects, trades and lives at peace with all other ethnies and all of humanity. Note well: You cannot be a good nationalist if you are not also a true internationalist, with respect and good will for all nations.

    Re: “The shock of the Russian invasion already seems to be wearing off”:

    I still say it is a targeted police action to disarm and arrest the U.S.’s Khazarkrainian proxy forces, NOT an “invasion” (conquest) – although a full conquest may be needed now, because the U.S. continues to fight Russia (through its Khazarkrainian proxies). I agree that the shock may be wearing off, because the U.S. population always wants to ignore HOW imperialism does what it does, but they WANT imperialism. They want what imperialism does for them – bringing home the loot (they know some of it trickles down) and keeping “Americans” on top of all the nations.

    • Even the British empire after more than a century of decline has still not given up its “commitments,” still maintaining almost 200 overseas millitary bases, and still inviting immigrants by the thousands from all races and ethnicities from its colonies and allies all over the world to join its homeland population, and still eager to engage in cold, hot, financial, and information (propaganda) wars, along with its protege the United States, that continue to bring in the booty of stolen wealth from every nation.

      This is an excellent point which I’ve seen hardly anyone else make. That’s why Vox Day refers to the Empire of Lies as “The Empire That Never Ended”. It’s not truly a British empire – even though the upper class of British were all for it – just as the upper classes are here. The legendary empire “upon which the sun never set” was controlled from the (((City of London))), whose chief agent was the East India Company. A more accurate term to describe who controls the empire would be Judeo-Masonic. India and China in the 19th century is an excellent example of how the racket worked.

      The East India Co. entrapped and enslaved Indian farmers (millions of small farms) via debt-racketeering to grow opium instead of food. Enslaved by debt, they ended up in hock to the banksteins more each season, having to borrow to eat. The opium was then taken by the racketeers and sold in China, who was forced to allow this by British gunboats and marines in a series of opium wars (socializing the costs while privatizing the profits – sound familiar?). The (((Sassoon))) family soon became known as the “Rotschilds of the East” – there’s still an impressive Art-Deco building in Shanghai with their name carved on it. Most native Britons were themselves trapped in various debt-racketeering schemes so they ended up either as cannon-fodder for various colonial adventures on behalf of the imperial owners or in industrial sweat-shops. Those were the “good old days” of the empire too.

    • In the manner of every communist, you project your desire to dominate on anyone who accomplishes anything and who thus vexes your ego. Socialism is a non-concept.

  5. “It will end in fit of self-righteous rage and “moral clarity” on Twitter where a series of stupid, rash and highly emotional decisions will be made by our degenerate elites which will have consequences that historians will argue over for generations to come.”

    Fuck historians and the entire chattering class of navel gazers and intellectual nabobs, affixed to the ass of modernity like useless barnacles.

    This post smacks of fatalism. I for one will have to work through the collapse and not have the luxury of just writing about it from a 10,000 foot view.

    The time is now for the states that constitute this fracturing union to assert themselves, taking responsibility for their own in more flexible geographic unions.

  6. I’ve always assumed it would all end badly and bloody, so I’ve been at peace for a long time now.
    My goal was to live long enough to see it fall, because nothing gets better until the rebuilding out of the ashes

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