By Ryan Sederquist
In the book Midnight in Siberia – A train journey into the heart of Russia – by David Greene, host of NPR’s Morning Edition and former Moscow bureau chief, the author continually rubs against Russians who, despite knowing the fairly severe consequences of an authoritarian regime, resist moving out of what they know in order to embrace democratic ideals. Though they know the Soviet way was harsh and truly created great struggle, they also can’t let go of some of the comforts – free housing, government supplied jobs, a few basic necessities, etc. – either. A natural disposition to obey authority is baked into their culture as well. Standing up and fighting for a cause is seen as weak. Stoically pushing through your circumstances, no matter how grim, unfair, or difficult, is the Russian way. All of this has resulted in a lack of lasting commitment to democracy by Russia’s people or government, to date. Putin’s current regime has moved the nation farther from democracy yet.
The Pew Research Center polled Russian, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, and people in other neighboring countries. They asked questions like “would you prefer a strong leader or democratic values?” In 1991, the majority wanted democratic values. Today, the opposite is true. After the Soviet fall, people obviously wanted a new system. Like an abused child who is freed from a violent home – but then left on the street to fend for themselves – the chances of the nation just ending up with a sustainable democracy was preposterous. They lacked the capacity to construct one and they carried the baggage of their Soviet past, which kept bringing them back out of the light and into the seemingly never ending cycle of suffering, hurt, and perseverance (the cycle observed and recognized by Greene and other historians in this text and others I’ve read as well).
Greene, along his trip across the entire nation via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, visits Memorial, a nationwide organization that highlights the repressions of Soviet times, helping citizens in their quest for civil liberties. A thorn in Putin’s chest, Memorial’s local director has a telling quote about the current state of Russia, saying, “What we have is not democracy. … We have legislation. … All the accessories of democracy. But anyone with common sense here knows we live in an authoritarian state.” When asked why the people put up with this, his response is concerning, even prescient, given the status of many young people in our own country, ripe and ready to embrace socialism. First he says, “Two-thirds of our society was shaped in Soviet times.” Then, the hammer: “And young people? There are young people who agree with Stalin’s ideology. So for them it’s not fear driving them, but something else.”
I guess if you are removed far enough from the millions of deaths, random arrests on account of being “enemies of the state,” gulags, famine, poverty, and all the rest, you can be re-convinced to adopt about any type of system of belief.
Here is something: remember being in the government schools here in America and always being lectured about how terrible it is for the US to try and establish democracy in authoritarian states? Well, I do. I did not really verbalize any strict arguments either way, but one point which I never could devise a great response to was the fact that the US simply was not effective in establishing democracy in other nations, and therefore, they should stop. That has, admittedly, been somewhat accurate. Whether it was nations in the Middle East or one like Russia (not that the US ‘tried’ to democratize Russia…I don’t think we have like we maybe have in Afghanistan). once the communist, terrorist, or fascist state was removed, a healthy democratic one rarely was firmly planted. In the case where the US has ‘boots on the ground,’ once they do leave and try to allow the new nation to autonomously flourish, things typically spiral out of control. Why is this?
Well, think of our own Revolution. Remember the part where that other country came alongside the patriots writing the Declaration and said, “Look, we’ll free you from the British, but then, you know what, you should really try this government with freedom, inalienable rights based on being made in God’s image, justice etc. It’s awesome.”
Yeah, I don’t remember that part, either. Maybe it will show up in history textbooks here soon, but until then, the history goes more like this: the system of government, organized by the constitution, rooted in the ideals found in the declaration, was founded on Protestant values. The founders assumed what was written in the Bible about themselves and about government, namely, that people were valuable and deserved freedom and have inalienable rights because they’ve been given them by a Creator. Also, that the standard for justice, freedom, and rights is objective, and can be found in the ultimate authority of every Protestant: the Bible. Given these foundations, deomcracy wasn’t so much a ‘great idea.’ It was the necessary conclusion – in terms of government – for the Christian worldview. This is precisely why John Adams accurately concluded,
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Unfortunately, the country did not live up to the ideals found in the declaration – namely, racism and slavery – for over a hundred years. We aren’t a perfect people, and the government is not a perfect system (because, even though it might be rooted in a perfect revelation, it is still a man made interpretation of that perfect revelation).
In Soviet times, the government banished and eliminated all organized religion (I wonder why….). This is currently happening in China, today. Here is my grand thesis of the paper: Without a sure, objective, ultimate standard and foundation to derive democratic principles from, it makes sense that a form of government with those ideologies would not resonate with people and society enough to stick.
Remember, one of the amazing things about the American Revolution is the level of conviction the revolutionaries had. Why do you think that was? It was because ultimately, they weren’t standing just for freedom for freedom’s sake, but for freedom as a virtue given from their Heavenly Father, whom they’d gladly die for.
Unfortunately, if what I’m saying is true, then the farther we stray from those Biblical foundations (which….is happening) the more likely the USA will be to let our democracy dissolve, too. The necessary conclusion of a secular worldview is not the democracy we have today. It holds on by a thread – a borrowing from the Christian worldview. As soon as the right group/people/leader realize that….well…then it will be time to read this post about the “little flock” inheriting the world.