A little bit of history repeating

Like many people, I watched the Tucker Carlson interview with Putin a week or so ago. Perhaps it was just because the build-up to it was intense that I found the interview itself a bit of a let-down. The most interesting thing that happened was right at the start. Carlson started with a very simple question to Putin: why did you start the war in Ukraine? Putin then went into a 30 minute overview of Russian history starting literally from the beginning (sometime in the 800s) and, eventually ending up in our time.

Now, as long term readers would know, I am something of a history buff. In fact, almost all of my posts contain some element of history in them. Some of them, like this one, are entirely about history. But Putin’s little history lesson reminded me of an excruciatingly boring high school history class on a Friday afternoon in late summer with the teacher up at the front of the room blathering on about names and dates.

“Can anybody tell me in which year so-and-so won the battle of such-and-such in some kingdom that hasn’t existed for five hundred years?” Pretty sure the look on my face back then was the look on Tucker Carlson’s face listening to Putin.

“Is this dude for real?”

There were, however, a couple of interesting things in Putin’s history lesson. Firstly, he referenced the fact that the current borders of Ukraine were created by Lenin. This is actually a very important point because it shows that the Bolsheviks did to eastern Europe what the British and other Europeans had been doing for a long time; namely, drawing relatively arbitrary borders on maps. The problems that caused are ongoing in many places but it’s not well remembered how much trouble it brought to Europe itself.

For example, when Napoleon shattered the hollow shell that was the Holy Roman Empire, he set in chain the long and painful sequence of events by which Germany and Italy became nation states. We all know how that ended up. Then, when the same thing happened to the Austro-Hungarian empire in the aftermath of WW1, there was a similar period where eastern European borders needed to be redrawn. Ukraine’s border was drawn by Lenin in 1922 and then again by Stalin after WW2.

One of the effects of the shattering of the two great empires was that identity became predicated on national boundaries that were often brand new and arbitrarily drawn. Many national identities were stitched together by little more than common language. There was now a nation for people who spoke German and a nation for people who spoke Italian etc. This might have worked in some cases but was particularly problematic in central and eastern Europe where all kinds of languages were mixed together. None of this had mattered under the various empires since they were multi-lingual and multi-national by definition, but it very much did matter to the governments of the new nation states which, apart from anything else, were eager to prove their legitimacy.

By the way, the origin of concentration camps is bound up with these developments. When WW1 broke out, anybody who happened to have a different national identity became untrustworthy. Pretty much all combatant nations in the war took to locking up “foreigners” in concentration camps. The same thing happened after the war. With all these new borders, there were countless people who suddenly became stateless. Many were placed in concentration camps until governments figured out what to do with them.

This is also why, when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, his official justification that he was bringing German speaking peoples under the protection of their rightful motherland was not considered unusual. As Putin touched on in his interview with Tucker Carlson, Poland and other nations in that area also took that opportunity to claim land that “their people” were on.

We can see, therefore, that the Ukraine conflict is a continuation of the problems left over from the 20th century. A more or less arbitrary border was drawn up by Lenin which included predominantly Russian-speaking people in the east. Russia now claims to be coming to their rescue. The parallels with Hitler and the Sudetenland are obvious as is the suspicion of ulterior motives which are certainly not helped by the fact that Russia is running a huge trade surplus while investing heavily in munitions, something the Nazis also did.

Mark Twain was one of the most famous members of the Anti-Imperialist League set up to argue against US empire-building

Why is America involved? Well, why did America get involved in WW1 and WW2? In those days, there was a strong isolationist sentiment in the US. In fact, presidents Wilson and then Roosevelt got the US into both wars against the wishes of the majority of Americans and the US has been in Europe ever since. What Putin has done in Ukraine is to force the US government to do in public what it has been doing in private for decades; namely, guaranteeing the “peace” in Europe. The fact that most Americans don’t understand that is a big part of the domestic political problem in the US.

But there is another historical parallel that is arguably more important in relation to the Ukraine War. Why does the American public have such a strong non-interventionist ethic? This goes right back to the founding fathers and George Washington in particular. In his farewell address, Washington urged his fellow citizens to make use of America’s geographically isolated position to stay out of foreign engagements. America should trade freely with the world but be neither excessively friendly nor excessively belligerent to others since both options would create relationships of dependence. The whole point of America was that it was independent, especially of the problems of old Europe.

When Wilson and Roosevelt got themselves involved in the two world wars, they had violated the foundational principles of the US, at least as far as a large section of the US public believed those principles to be. This was especially a problem for Wilson who won election in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war” and then, as basically his first action as re-elected president, promptly announced the US was getting into the war.

In order to win the support of a sceptical public, Wilson formed the very dry-sounding “Committee on Public Information” which produced films, wrote books and pamphlets, took out newspaper advertising, recruited celebrities and otherwise did all the things that have become part and parcel of the brainwashing that US and other western governments have relied on ever since when they need to get the public to support something they wouldn’t otherwise agree with. The methods of state-sponsored propaganda have become increasingly sophisticated since then.

Whether the US actually needed to get involved in the wars is the big question and this comes back to a paradox that was built-in to the very foundations of the US. The political independence of the US was supposed to be guaranteed by a policy of “free trade”. The problem is that relationships of trade also create dependence. It’s just a different, less obvious, form of dependence.

If your economy relies on trade, then you are dependent on those who buy your goods which means they can harm you by refusing to buy. That doesn’t include other threats to trade like piracy or withdrawal of access for transportation. Once you’ve gone to war once or twice to protect your trade interests, where do you draw the line from going to war all the time to protect your trade interests? It is this paradox which sits at the heart of America’s current psycho-political battle and it’s been there from the start. “Free trade” is not some magic wand that keeps you out of politics.

But there’s another paradox built-in to the foundation of the United States and this one correlates directly with the Ukraine War. Back when the founding fathers were debating about war against the British, they knew that they could not win the war without external support. They had to ask for help. Most of that help ended up coming from the French with a decent amount also from the Spanish. How did the French support their American friends? In exactly the same way that America is now supporting Ukraine: by sending materiel to support the war effort.

But the parallels do not end there. The French and Spanish had been covertly sending materiel to the Americans for two years before they joined the war officially. As Putin noted in his interview with Carlson, that is exactly what the current US government was doing in Ukraine for many years prior to the current war. The US had attempted to keep the dealings in Ukraine covert just as the French had in the US War of Independence.

Here’s yet another parallel. Benjamin Franklin was sent to France to win French diplomatic support and extra military aid in 1776. At the time, the French aristocracy had a soft spot for the “children of nature” which they believed the American colonists to be.

Not exactly Benjamin Franklin material, but, oh well

Franklin, who had worked in printing and knew a thing or two about propaganda, played up to the public image and became something of a celebrity by refusing to wear the usual clothing and hairpieces when visiting the French court. Zelensky has been pulling much the same trick by foregoing the customary suit and tie for quasi-military clothing.

The American colonists were fully well aware that, in pursuing the support of the French king, they were in danger of substituting one “tyranny” with another. They were aware that the French help came with strings attached. They managed to stay free of excessive French influence after the war by negotiating a secret peace treaty with the British. That very much soured diplomatic relations with the French and might have caused significant blowback except for one little fact: France was bankrupt.

Let’s flip the perspective around. Why were the French interested in supporting the Americans? Well, there was an ideological element involved. There was a revolutionary movement that had been growing in France that was inspired by much the same set of ideas that the Americans were pursuing. America was setting an example that at least a subset of the French wanted to copy.

Louis XVI

For the French king and other aristocrats, the main driver was resentment against the British for defeat in the Seven Years War which had ended French hegemony. The French were already planning their retaliation but were not yet prepared to have another all-out war with the British. Their covert support for the Americans was predicated on the belief that it would weaken Britain. They also hoped to secure a predominant position as America’s main trading partner in the aftermath of the war, another move which would weaken their main rival.

And here, of course, is yet another parallel with our time. Why is the US in the Ukraine? At least partly, it’s because of trade. As Putin mentioned, Ukraine has had very close trading relations with Russia. America wanted a slice of the action but the trade deal they wanted with Ukraine could not be accepted by the Russians since there was a free trade zone between Russia and Ukraine. Was America simply oblivious to Russian concerns or are they  doing exactly what France was doing in 1776: trying to strengthen their trading position at the expense of a rival.

The trouble for France in relation to the Americans was that it was in no financial position to provide either covert or overt support. The fiscal disaster that resulted from their involvement in the US War of Independence led directly to the French Revolution. The main reason why the Americans were later able to get away with screwing over Louis XVI was because he had other problems; problems like not having a head.

America’s betrayal was the last of Louis’ problems

If the historical parallels are accurate, does this mean the US is getting itself into a similar financial meltdown? Possibly. The strength that the US has is that it can export the cost of the Ukraine War onto the rest of the world since it controls the financial system that underpins the global trading system. That’s why inflation is running rampant pretty much everywhere. Whether the Ukraine War will collapse the system is anybody’s guess.

It’s worth remembering that the reason the French couldn’t really afford to support the American colonists back in the day was because of their shaky financial position held over from the Seven Years War. The Ukraine War comes directly after the corona debacle during which time the system had already racked up war-like debt and inflation.

The real history lesson that Putin needed to give Tucker Carlson if he really wanted to mess with American heads was not a boring 9th grade history lesson about Russia but a real-time history lesson on America. The US is now displaying the exact kind of tyranny it had fought against at its inception. The US government is a combination of Louis XVI and George III.

The reason this is still not understood is because, unlike the old imperialism that was based on a tyrannical leader, US imperialism is almost entirely of the covert sort that the French were only experimenting with a couple of hundred years ago. It is that form of covert imperialism that became the main game in the 20th century. It’s the same covert imperialism that Wilson and Roosevelt engaged in when they dragged the American people into war using industrial quantities of propaganda. Much like the drug addict needs to increase the dosage of the drug in order to get the same high over time, the strength of the propaganda fed to the US public has now turned into outright psychological warfare.

Therein lies the answer to Tucker Carlson’s question to Putin of whether there is a demonic force at play in the world. In medieval Christian terms, yes, there is. That’s how Luther saw the corruption of the Church. The corruption of the United States government is almost identical to that of the Catholic Church in Luther’s time. It professes one thing while doing something completely different behind the scenes. It betrays the ideals that many of its own citizens believe it is supposed to stand for.

In modern psychological terms, what is going on is that US imperialism is all done covertly which means it is pushed down into the Unconscious mind. The reason why the US currently resembles a deranged mental patient is because, as Freud and Jung both discovered, when you push things down into the Unconscious, they re-emerge as completely unrelated psychoses. The psychoanalyst’s job is to unpack the psychoses and try to get to the root source of the problem.

The root source of America’s problem is that it is a nation founded on a rejection on tyranny and imperialism and yet it has become an imperialist itself. It was surreptitiously led into that position by its own elites who now add fuel to the psychological fire by engaging in 24/7 gaslighting of their own population. Until that root problem is solved, the US can expect all kinds of goblins to continue bubbling up from the collective Unconscious.

16 thoughts on “A little bit of history repeating”

  1. Simon: “Ukraine’s border was drawn by Lenin in 1922 and then again by Stalin after WW2.”

    Don’t forget Khrushchev! He’s the one who gave Crimea to Ukraine. It didn’t matter until it did.

    Simon: “Whether the Ukraine War will collapse the system is anybody’s guess.”

    Hey! That sounds an awful lot like “whether COVID kills the 87-year-old grandpa suffering from [long list of ailments] is anybody’s guess.” But yes, the system might indeed collapse “with” Ukraine.

    BTW, funny parallel between Franklin and Zelensky. 😉

  2. Irena – it certainly seems like it should collapse and many people think it will. My question is, what if it doesn’t? What if they pull a rabbit out of the hat and keep it going? Can you imagine the state of society in even 20 years let alone 50.

  3. Simon: “Irena – it certainly seems like it should collapse and many people think it will. My question is, what if it doesn’t? What if they pull a rabbit out of the hat and keep it going? Can you imagine the state of society in even 20 years let alone 50.”

    Anything’s possible, I suppose. But the system seems so brittle, that I doubt it can go on all that much longer.

    Anyway! You’re the history buff here, so tell me what you think about this parallel that I’ve been playing with. Napoleon’s France was extremely successful for a while, until it pissed off pretty much all the rival powers in Europe, which led them to put their differences aside for a bit and form a coalition that eventually defeated Napoleon. And the United States was extremely successful for a while, until it pissed off pretty much all the rival powers globally, which seem to be in the process of putting their differences aside and forming a coalition, and… See where I’m going with this?

  4. Irena – the Europeans had been doing that for centuries. Basically, whoever became the most powerful was then ganged up on by everybody else to restore the balance. Napoleon was the first who genuinely came close to creating a universal state. That was the problem with industrial capitalism, it created the conditions where one nation could “win”. That’s actually what was going on in WW2. If it wasn’t for Roosevelt’s Lend Lease program, Hitler almost certainly would have taken all of Europe including Russia. At the end the of the war, the situation was reversed. If America didn’t stick around, Stalin would have taken the whole lot.

    I think this is a big part of the psychosis that exists around Hitler in the US. He was the one who forced America to betray its founding ideals.

  5. I would differ in that appraisal of US Imperialism, it’s important to remember it just started out as 13 colonies not the huge expanse it is now. The USA has really been in a constant state of aggressive military and economic expansion since its founding, first west, then south, then overseas to Asia. It’s always been a tyrannical expansive empire and it only got covert about it recently. It has never followed a non interventist principle, it just focused on its own backyard first.

  6. “I think this is a big part of the psychosis that exists around Hitler in the US. He was the one who forced America to betray its founding ideals.”

    whoa… you are ALWAYS making my brain go BOOM!


  7. Skip – yep, but that’s part of the paradox. The founding fathers were well aware that trade could be used as a form of imperialism. Jefferson talked about this in some of his letters. He preferred trade-based imperialism since less people died. The US has practiced both forms but they’ve always preferred the imperialism of trade since its less “tyrannical”. The British played the same game. I can’t remember the name of the historian but somebody coined the phrase “the imperialism of free trade” which is what the US was founded upon.

    Erika – I’m still chuckling over Kanye West’s “I love Nazis” thing. Even Alex Jones couldn’t stomach that.

  8. Maybe in the later periods sure, but outside of the Louisiana purchase (which then had to be conquered or negotiated at gunpoint off the natives anyway) and Alaska, everything else was military conquest either from the local native population or from other empires, in particular Mexico and Spain. It’s all well and good to go for the trade option once you have militarily conquered an area the size of old Europe but with far more resources.

    I honestly think the supposed idealogical exceptionalism of the USA is complete baloney, they just had a vast region with plentiful resources that was easily conquered right on the door step. I think the only difference is, as they were an outgrowth of the British they had aristocratic rule rather than a Emperor so it never felt quite the same as say the eastward expansion of the Russian Empire.

  9. Skip – this has ended up becoming the subject of my next book whose title is now almost certainly going to be “The Universal State of America: An Archetypal Calculus of Western Civilisation”.

    I haven’t had a chance to do an exhaustive check, but I’d say one way America is exceptional is that it is an empire without an emperor. Actually, the British had already achieved this but they had a king which amounts to the same thing (even though the king wasn’t really involved in the operation of the empire). This pattern of empire does seem new and has been given the name Informal Empire. The fact that most Americans don’t think they are running an empire, or shouldn’t be running an empire, also contributes to the “exceptionalism” and ties in with their psychological issues. So, yes, the whole thing might be BS but it’s very exceptional BS 😛

  10. Hi Simon,

    Yes, I agree. It is very much a problem to believe one thing (or to be told one thing), whilst doing something which is entirely at odds with that belief. There’s a psychological term for that isn’t there? Cognitive Dissonance? All policies and programmes are subject to diminishing returns.

    The parallel you wrote about is fascinating, and it’s something I’m going to cogitate upon. You’re probably right. Top work.

    Incidentally, as global trade slides away from the US dominated financial arrangements, that is a serious problem for them. It’s also another reason that inflation has now become ‘sticky’ as it is so described. Part of the reason for this change in the long term arrangements is that the fear of certain reprisals is diminishing. It is not lost on me that Libya once tried to settle oil deals in Euro.

    The losing of the head sentence was pure comedy. Thanks for that.



  11. Chris – cognitive dissonance is a good way to frame it. In fact, it’s a common thing to see all of the responses to cognitive dissonance on display in public discourse, often coming from the same person. The progression goes something like this: “This isn’t happening” — “Ok, it is happening, but it’s not important” — “It is happening, and it’s good”. Those are the main responses that the original researchers into cognitive dissonance discovered. Note that this is the exact process that Carl Jung discovered. He called it enantiodromia. In the first stage, you deny that the bad thing is happening. In the last stage, you solve the problem by now saying it’s a good thing. It’s easy to see how this process leads to civilisational decline since nobody tries to stop the bad things from happening, they just convince themselves that the bad things are now good things.

  12. Yeah it’s a bit confusing because defining empire is tricky. The Roman Republic was a reluctant Empire, and Empire comes from their word Imperator which originally was a military honorific bestowed on generals and politicians so there was always a military component to it that became the sole possession of Augustus when the Empire started.

    To me there are a bunch of parallels and similarities between Rome and the USA. Both to the far west of the cultural homeland and therefore slightly provincial and barbaric (interestingly, so were the Qin of Ancient China, the Ottomans of the Islamic world and the Aztecs of the Mesoamerican), both ruled by business and a focus on the material world over the ideas and philosophy of the cultural homeland, both reluctantly drawn east to sort out issues in the homeland and then finally just take over to keep the peace. They even both have an unconquerable rival to the far east (Russia for USA, Parthians for Rome) where greedy politicians find their doom (Crassus/the Democrats?).

  13. Skip – therein lies the paradox. The US was founded as a rebellion against the old-fashioned form of imperialism which centred around what I call the Tyrannical Father archetype – tyrants and the standing armies is what the American colonists objected to.

    With the victory of the colonists, the belief was that tyranny had been overcome and everybody would be “free” now. Except, that right from the beginning, it was clear that trade and commerce could easily be weaponised and, in fact, the USA was born out of exactly that kind of weaponisation; namely, the commercial sabotage of dumping a lot of very expensive tea in the harbour. 250 years later, the US is following the same pattern by, for example, blowing up gas pipelines.

    Spengler wrote about this. He called it “economic warfare”. It’s one of the few things he was wrong about in that believed WW2 would see the return of the old-fashioned form of military imperialism. Instead, we have the Universal State of America running an Informal Empire based (mostly) on economic warfare.

  14. Maybe in the minds of some theorists, but no British monarch had had any power since the English Civil War so it’s hard to see how the elite American colonists were really rejecting him or ‘tyranny’. To me it was a just a domestic British struggle between rival economic interests, and there was of course a substantial royalist faction. The victory of the revolution was just that profits were kept at home and the colonial elite could flourish instead of fattening the one in England. Even then, the two upper classes rapidly reconnected over the 19th century and by WW1 were all interbred.

    Aren’t we are least 50 years before the similar turn to Roman military Empire? WW2 in Spenglers scheme is way back level with the Punic and Macedonian/Seleucid wars, not with the later turn to Empire. Hitler, Churchill, Eisenhower are approximate to Scipio, Hannibal, the later Phillips, Ptolemy’s and Antiochus’ (roughly 110 or so years after Alexander/Napoleons death) not Caesar and Pompey.

    World War 1 and 2, along with the American civil war and all of the minor 20th century wars have been wars of the bourse capitalists and financial powers. It would make sense that our conflicts of this period would focus on overt economic targets and means; the Punic Wars were fought for similar reasons and were won by similar means, with a large Naval focus (especially the first one). Hannibal was by far the better military commander but the Romans played the longer economic and diplomatic game and won. Similarly the armies on the continent all through 19th and early 20th centuries were the better soldiery but were economically and nautically eclipsed by the Anglos playing a longer game. Hell, even the treaties signed bear a striking similarity to Versailles; economically backbreaking with a built in excuse to recommence hostilities at any moment.

    If we take those timeframes at face value then we are still decades from the start of turn to the full extrinsic military Empire in the West. Now there is an argument that we are on an accelerated timeframe because of resource depletion, but until we go through the timeframe to me it’s too early to conclude pure military force won’t destroy the powers of money in about 50 years or so.

  15. Well, Spengler died before the atomic bomb became a tangible idea so he couldn’t factor that in. Many people thought there would be a WW3 almost immediately after WW2. The only reason there hasn’t been is because of the bomb. As long as there’s a tangible threat of nuclear attack, I don’t see how there can be direct military confrontation. (Having said that, maybe it will happen sooner rather than later – https://edition.cnn.com/2024/02/21/europe/trident-missile-uk-failure-intl/index.html)

    By the way, I agree that the elites of the American colonies knew what they were doing. Their grievances were with the British parliament. Nevertheless, the US declaration of independence pins all of the blame on poor old King George. So, we might say the founding document of the US was written for propaganda purposes for an audience that was anti-pope/anti-king. The elites of the US then proceeded to levy taxes exactly like the bad old king. Hence, the whiskey rebellion.

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