Loyalists without a cause

I want to think a little about the psychological happenings in the West in response to the war in Ukraine. I’m not really concerned with the war itself. Doing a few searches here, I seem to have done a mostly OK-ish job over the years of avoiding falling into Putin fanboyism — better than I managed with Trump, for instance. I do not accept that the invasion of Ukraine is unprovoked, but I am not going to bother trying to claim that it is justified. Actual geopolitical conflict is above my pay grade. I also note that if I were in Russia I would be (about equally) ill-advised to argue for the foreign side. I think it would be traitorous of me to take up the Russian side of the argument here, and insincere to resort to mostly-forgotten slogans like “liberalism” or “freedom” that I don’t believe in. I don’t think I can quite bring myself to wave a Ukrainian flag, but maybe for the purposes of what I actually want to discuss, we can assume that I am doing so.

What is bothering me is that when Russia controlled not only Ukraine, but Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and half of Germany, our orchestras still played Tchaikovsky. We still played chess tournaments against Russians.

I always thought of Jingoism (a term, of course, originally referring to the propaganda of a war fought against Russia in Ukraine) as being an extremist thing. There is a pro-war party, quite likely nationalist in outlook, which seeks to hype up hostility against a foreign nation and to encourage war against it. The strongest supporters of this position produce the most hate-filled and inflammatory propaganda.

Over this last week I have found myself frequently doing a double-take on Twitter, as I see the most outrageously jingoistic statements (“Putin is insane!”, “Firing artillery at cities is a war crime!”) coming from what I think of as moderate, centrist accounts.

Maybe this is something new in the world. But I suspect that it is not, and that my former assumption was just wrong. Historical episodes of Jingoism, especially WWI, look very much like this.1

The real horror of the current frenzy is its non-partisan-ness. There’s this idea that partisan politics is harmful because it makes people approach questions with the attitude of “which answer helps my side” rather than treating them all on their merits.

Like so much social pseudoscience, that is built on the hidden assumption that people are perfectly rational unless affected by Phenomenon X, and we can assess the effects of Phenomenon X by examining how the behaviour of those affected by it differs from perfect rationality. (see also: religion).

I’m starting to think that political partisanship is a protection. A political partisan will approach a political problem with the attitude, “does this help my side or the other side”. An enlightened person free of this handicap, it seems, will approach a political problem with the attittude “OH MY GOD THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER WE MUST ALL DO ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING WE CAN ABOUT IT IMMEDIATELY NOTHING ELSE COMPARES TO THIS”. Say what you will about partisanship, at least it’s a context.

How much of the insanity of the 21st Century is due to this? I wrote before that it is the decline of conspiracy which allows sentiment to overwhelm strategy. This is another angle on that. It seems a bit questionable to describe the fanaticism of today’s social revolution as “non-partisan”, but I think at least in the psychological sense it is. To the extent that there is political opposition to it, it is a largely fictional caricature.

I’m getting deep into the weeds here, but it’s relevant and important: the modern right, it is clear, is not in any sense a conservative tradition. It is a combination of LARPers trying to recreate one, and left radicals with cold feet. It is not independent of the non-partisan mainstream, it is that mainstream’s own fantasy of its enemy, made more or less real, as Satanists are to Christianity. (Moldbug has said things like this many times). Also, from the point of view of the non-partisan mainstream, the opposition is remote. Day to day, members do not encounter opponents and have to think about how to defeat them, but every day they encounter rivals and have to compete with them. This is the whole “virtue-signalling” scenario – Mao’s mangoes and all that.

  1. Mark Almond writes in The Critic: “The goody-goodies of the Peace Society suspended their statutes so they could wholeheartedly support the Crimean War while Richard Cobden excoriated his old friends for supporting a ‘war in which we have a despot [Tsar Nicholas I] for an enemy, a despot for an ally [Napoleon III], and a despot for a client [the Ottoman Sultan]’.”