Staunton, May 28 – David Satter makes an important point when he says that the West is “not accustomed to deal with people who operate in a [moral] vacuum” of the kind the characterizes the leadership of Russia today, Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko notes; but he suggests that the West does have that experience but not so often in political life.
In a commentary on the Kasparov.ru portal, he argues that after Georgia and Ukraine, no Western leader can fail to see that Vladimir Putin and his regime are lacking in any moral scruples and will do anything they can to advance their own power by any means whatsoever (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=574886A35D060).
The American journalist, Yakovenko says, is wrong to think that there aren’t people in the West “who operate without moral scruples” and with whom political leaders must deal. In fact, the Russian commentator says, “in the upper reaches of business, there are many such people … [and] the moral vacuum in which they operate is described” in many novels.
He cites the characters of Arthur Hailey’s 1990 novel, “The Evening News,” who are quite prepared to sacrifice every moral principle including respect for freedom of speech for profit, and suggests that those characters have come to life in the upper reaches Putin’s Russia today.
Indeed, Yakovenko continues, Deputy Media Minister Aleksey Volin, in explaining why the leadership of RBC had to be changed, uses arguments which are almost word for word taken from the sleazy characters presented in Hailey’s novel of a quarter of a century ago. It almost appears that Hailey was describing Russian political life now.
“Both mentally and morally, the real Russian Volin and the American literary figure [from Hailey’s novel] are twins,” he writes. “Both the one and the other exist within a moral vacuum” and act accordingly.
There does not exist any instrument to “measure the percent of moral idiots I society as a whole and among those in power in particular,” but “most likely, the Volins form a majority among Russians in places of power and at the top of Russian business.” Yakovenko says that he personally can’t rate the share of such people “in the power structures and business of the West.”
“But the chief distinguishing feature between the two is not in the share of moral idiots,” he argues, although this is an important indicator and it would not be a bad idea to learn how to measure it.” The real difference is that social mechanisms which make it “extremely difficult” for people like Hailey’s hero “to say publicly what he says privately” do not exist in Russia.
There, Yakovenko points out, Russian officials are constantly “showing their moral idiotism in public, aren’t ashamed of doing so, and do not suffer as a result.”
In the West but not in Russia, concerns about reputation keep people from flaunting their lack of moral principles even if they don’t have them. “And even if this is recognized as hypocrisy, one must welcome it” for the simple reason that “as is well-known, ‘hypocrisy is the tribune which vice pays to virtue.’”
What is also striking and potentially very important for the future, Yakovenko points out, is that Russian culture as a whole has been moving in a positive direction in this regard over the last century while the position of the Russian ruling stratum, at least in the last two decades, has been moving in exactly the opposite one.
This divergence, he continues, is “camouflaged” by repeated official statements that the Russian people overwhelmingly support the Putin regime. But that is a complete myth, put out by the elite with the same lack of moral scruple or concern with accuracy that informs all of its other actions.
As a result, a gulf is opening between a regime totally unconcerned about morality and a population which increasingly albeit slowly is very much concerned about that. And “the more rapidly this gulf will be overcome, the less painful and bloody it will be, including for the representatives of those in power.”
“Unfortunately,” Yakovenko says, “the growing degradation of people in power is keeping them from understanding that.”