The silver lining behind Putin’s thuggish behaviour

Russia rousing the ‘Free World’ from its deep slumber

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Robert-McGarveyEDMONTON, AB, Mar 31, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Once again the world is holding its breath while senior diplomats (U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov) meet in a luxurious hotel (this time in Paris) in an attempt to de-escalate a dangerous European crisis.

Meanwhile, Russian tanks and troops are assembling in ever-larger numbers on the Ukrainian border, preparing to invade.

History seems to be repeating itself.

Just when we thought the world was safe, the ghouls of the Cold War are striking back hard. It’s like one of those cheap horror movies, where the bludgeoned and banished evil-one suddenly reappears, refusing to die.

But this is no fiction; Russia is once again aggressively threatening the peace of Europe and the world.

There may be many reasons for this high-risk strategy, but an emerging rationale seems to be that a somewhat ambiguous Russia desperately needs an enemy to define itself against. In forcing a conflict with its historical enemy – the West – Putin is rallying his nation while consolidating his personal power base.

The great irony is, the same is true in reverse. The West seems to need an enemy to define itself against and recover its sense of larger purpose.

Ever since the end of the Cold War and the loss of an ideological boogieman, the Free World has stumbled. The West used to proudly (and somewhat arrogantly) trumpet the superiority of its representative democratic systems, its commitment to universal human rights and upholding the dignity of the average person.

For example, it is impossible today to imagine leaders of the giant rival powers having a ‘Kitchen Debate’, as happened between U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev.

In 1958, at the National Exhibition in Moscow, Nixon and Khrushchev had a very public and very heated debate in a model American kitchen that had been assembled complete with high-tech appliances and a (near miraculous) color TV. In (very) heated language the Vice President championed the ability of Western capitalism to deliver higher standards of living for average citizens, damning Soviet Communism for its failure to elevate the living conditions of the poor.

Amazingly, in the ideological heat of the Cold War, the quality of life of the ‘average’ citizen was of central, strategic importance. The idea of a similar debate today is laughable.

Now after two decades of globalization, a War on Terror and the rise of the surveillance state – all of these noble sentiments have vanished, and with them the integrity of the ‘Free World’.

The simple notion that society judges itself on its ability to improve wellbeing – the quality of life – of its citizens has been replaced by a new and quite different ideology. The modern world focuses attention on economic growth (defined narrowly as increasing corporate profits) and the security of the state (not the person).

Globalization and free trade, which were sold historically as a means of elevating (what used to be called) the Third World, have contributed to a rapid ‘flight to the bottom’ for industrial wages and living conditions in the developed world. Western businesses in the 21st century no longer argue for universal human rights; they situate their factories in nations that have the lowest wages and the least onerous regulatory regimes.

And, presuming it is not possible to move production to the lowest wage nations, here in Canada we have the Temporary Foreign Worker program. Never mind that these foreign workers now dominate many domestic industries, have no rights of citizenship and work for a fraction of the cost of Canadian workers – it all fits nicely with the ideology of our times.

In an age dominated by the War on Terror, the older notion that freedom was founded on the integrity of the individual is simply trumped by the security services need (and capacity) to gather data. Recent NSA revelations are shocking, but they’re small beer compared to the privacy invasions carried out every day by private companies like Google and Facebook.

The principle of democracy, that the individual citizen and their privacy are the foundation stone of the state, has been lost. These bedrock qualities are what previous generations fought and died for and they’re the virtues that differentiated the Free World from tyranny and dictatorship.

As dangerous as Putin is, perhaps he’ll arouse a large sense of purpose in the West as we awaken from our deep slumber. Perhaps we too need an enemy to help clarify who we really are.

Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and co-founder of the Genuine Wealth Institute, an Alberta-based think tank dedicated to helping businesses, communities and nations built communities of wellbeing. Robert is the author of The Creative Revolution, an historical guide to the future of capitalism.

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