Friday, June 8, 2018

What Country and What Leader is This?

“We hear constant complaints that there are no practical people among us, that there are, for instance plenty of politicians and plenty of generals, and that any number of managing directors of various sorts can be turned up at a moment’s notice, but no practical people. At least, everyone complains that there are none. It is even said on certain railroad lines there is no adequate service personnel. It is supposed to be altogether impossible to set up a tolerable administrative staff to manage a steamship company. You hear of trains colliding and bridges collapsing. You read of a train wintering in the middle of a snowfield, the passengers having set out on a trip of a few hours only to spend five days in the snow. They tell of hundreds of tons of merchandise lying rotting for two and three months before being dispatched, while elsewhere, (though this is hard to believe) a certain administrator- that is an inspector of some sort – has administered a punch in the nose to a merchant’s agent who has been pressing him to dispatch the goods, and has moreover justified his administrative action on the ground that he became ‘hot under the collar.’ There are so many posts in government that it is frightening just to think about them; everyone has been in the service, everyone intends to be in the service; so that you would think that from such an abundance of material it would be possible to form a decent administrative staff to manage a steamship line. A very simple answer is sometimes given for this – so simple that one hesitates to believe it.  It is true, we are told, that everyone in the country has served or serves now and that this has been going on for two hundred years on the best German pattern (military control of the economy administered by civil servants), from grandfather to grandson; but the people in the civil service are precisely those who are the most impractical, and it has reached the point where an abstract turn of mind and a lack of practical knowledge have even recently been considered by the civil servants themselves as being of the highest virtues and the best of recommendations. . . There is no doubt that overcaution and a complete lack of initiative have always been regarded in our country as the hallmarks of a practical man – and are so regarded now. But why-if this opinion is to be taken as a disparagement – blame only ourselves? Lack of originality has from the beginning, the world over, always been considered the prime characteristic and the best recommendation of the businesslike, practical man of affairs, and at least ninety percent of mankind (at the very least) has always gone along with that opinion, and only one percent at most, now or in the past has ever thought otherwise.
                Society has always regarded inventors and geniuses at the beginning of their careers – and very often at the end of their careers too – as no better than fools; that is, that is, to be sure, a platitude familiar to everyone. For example, if everyone, for decades put his money into a state savings and loan bank and millions had been invested in it at four percent, then quite obviously when the bank ceased to exist and everyone was left to his own devices, the greater part of these millions would inevitably be lost in frantic speculation and fall into the hands of swindlers – as required, indeed, by decency and propriety. Yes, propriety; for if a proper diffidence and decent lack of originality have, until now, in our society, been by common accord the inalienable qualities of a proper, well-regulated man, then it would be too disrupting, and even indecent to change the state of affairs so suddenly. What tender and devoted mother, for example, would not be horrified and sick with fear if her son or daughter took the slightest step off the beaten path? ‘ No better to be happy and live in comfort without originality.’ And from time immemorial our nurses, as they rock the children, have crooned, ‘Dressed in gold you’ll go your way, and be a general one day.’ So, even to our nannies the rank of general represents the ultimate of ______ bliss, and this has always been the most popular national ideal of gracious felicity. And, indeed, once he has passed his examinations and served his time for thirty-five years, who in our country can fail to become a general eventually, and pile up a tidy sum in the bank? . . . Not to become a general is possible here only for an original man; in other words, a restless and searching man.”

From “The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Russian Author published in 1878.
In 1855 Alexander II began his reign as Tsar of Russia, and presided over a period of political and social reform, notably the emancipation of serfs in 1861 and the lifting of censorship. His successor, Alexander III (1881-1894), pursued a policy of repression and restricted public expenditure, but continued land and labour reforms. This was a period of population growth and significant industrialization; nevertheless Russia remained a largely rural country.
Political movements of the time included the "Populists" (Narodniki), anarchists, and Marxists. A revolutionary organization called "People's Will" (Narodnaya Volya) assassinated Alexander II. Another current of thought was embodied in the Slavophiles, who opposed modernization and Westernization.
Russia continued to expand its empire, occupying the CaucasusTashkent and Samarkand. In foreign affairs, the period began with the conclusion of the Crimean War. Russian policy brought it into conflict with other European powers, in particular Austria-Hungary, as it sought to extend influence over the European portions of the receding Ottoman Empire and regain naval access to the Black Sea. This culminated in a successful war with the Ottoman Empire in 1877–1878, followed by the Treaty of San Stefanoand Congress of Berlin in 1878 by which an independent Bulgaria came into being, and by acquisition of former Ottoman territories in the South Caucasus. Russia joined Germany and Austria-Hungary in the League of the Three Emperors, but friction continued with both partners over Bulgaria, and the alliance with Germany came to an end in 1890.
 I read this passage in the book just after someone posted a quote from Dostoevsky which to me was an obvious comparison to Donald Trump. I wanted to post this from the book because I think the continued focus on the problems in this country being due to the personality of one person is dangerous. We need to take a look at historical situations and think for ourselves how this has happened and stop doing the same things over and over until we reach a crisis situation which is where we are today. Arguing and political power struggles as well as alliances with oligarchs or supposed “free” allies (who only ally with us for our military might) is not going to make a difference.

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