What if Ukraine submitted

I think there’s important value in thinking about an alternate scenario in which Ukraine simply conceded everything which Putin’s Russia demands.

In a sense this is farfetched. Ukraine has proved very united in fighting for its independence.

But I think the question is still important as a hypothetical. We didn’t know, beforehand, that would be the case. Many other governments were counting on Ukraine folding, in fact, maybe not willingly but folding nonetheless; had that happened, it’s fair to say that most would have accepted it as fait accompli without concern over Ukraine’s opinion. Plenty of governments still, even now, advocate Ukraine simply conceding (and their ranks may grow further).

More generally, why should it seem farfetched for Ukrainians to submit to an autocrat’s demands that they accept life without democracy, independence, rights, etc.—when so many people do so?

As far as I can tell, the main thing which makes voluntary submission by Ukraine seem unreasonable, to most center-left political opinion, is its separation from Russia by an international border. That border’s current streak of existence is just over 30 years; Russia (backed up by many other governments) now deny that said border is valid; ultimately, these are abstract things which we make up.

Is that the traditional liberal order’s only “firm” determiner for whether your claim to rights is valid, or whether you are obliged to submit when an authority figure says so? I have a strong, very uncomfortable feeling that it is.

That certainly seems to be the case in the United States. I am increasingly convinced that all the speculation about “civil war” or a “constitutional crisis” in this country is way, way off base. American liberalism’s institutions and leadership and culture seem hardwired to defer to formal processes and authority. Two years ago, someone posted an almost casual aside that “America is so authoritarian” and the full truth of that only sank in gradually, for me. But I have to agree at this point.

In real ways, the center-left spectrum is actually more authoritarian than the right. Rightwing America is fanatically partisan: all for authoritarianism as long as it’s theirs, but increasingly for cheating, nullification, insurrection, etc, where other authority is concerned. Center-left America seems like the true believer, in contrast. As long as a group of people’s passports are all issued by the same source, those people have only such rights as the formal authority says they do. If formal authority says those rights are void, the center-left’s responses are strictly limited to:

  • “we’re introducing a [message] bill,” which won’t become law even if you have more votes for it than oppose it
  • “vote them out,” even if they are rigging the elections
  • “we’ll sue,” even if they have rigged the courts
  • “protest, peacefully,” no matter that they ignore your protest or even make it illegal

This is not exaggeration or parody. Some get this reality, especially the marginalized, but institutions and leadership mostly don’t; we don’t seem at all close to them getting it, or to replacing them. I’ll just be direct at this point: a day could come when American authorities order people, whom they are dehumanizing right now, into gas chambers, and if five people in black robes decline to rule swiftly against the gas chamber order, the same traditional liberalism which is aghast at atrocities in Ukraine will wring its hands and say how terrible it feels about this and stand there promising to never stop fighting but, of course, expect that the selected victims do have to go into the gas chamber because rule of law.

I know full well people can deny the above, but I don’t know how anyone denies it while being informed and honest about either contemporary events in Ukraine or human history. Of course people would do that. Of course Americans would do that. We’ll send Ukrainians weapons, because they have different passports from the people insisting that they have no rights and must accept that. But when people with American passports do the same thing to other Americans, the center-left will lead only in submission to them, so long as they have won an election, or even just stolen an election by some nonsensical standard of “fair and square.” As I wrote a couple of months ago, our supposedly democratic elites seem absolutely, genuinely convinced that Mike Pence, alone, could have actually made Donald Trump president again had he just chosen to do so. Maybe “authoritarianism” isn’t the exactly correct word for this, but it’s too close.

What if Ukraine had that kind of “democratic” leadership in place when Yanukovich was still in power? What if, instead of a revolution driving him out, Ukraine’s opposition kept focused on waiting until the next elections and just counting on “workarounds” to “out-organize” cheating? What if Yanukovich stayed in place, consolidated power, and Putin’s demands were echoed by a local authority with a Ukrainian passport?

Well, Western liberalism would wring its hands, and cluck its tongue, and stand by as villains grow that much stronger relative to them.

I must expect that’s what they will do, here.

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  1. Pingback: A bit more about bipartisanship | Matt Kuhns

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