You’ve heard of Brexit? We could call the theme of this piece Czentrance.
Simply put, I think the world and their country would be well served if the Russian people reinstated a monarchy, albeit a constitutional one.
Given that Russian history has been an interest, even a passion of mine for decades and that I served in U.S. Army intelligence in Europe during the 1980s, where my primary job was to understand the motivations and potential geopolitical moves of Russia, I would love to tell you that this piece is borne of recent deep thought on the subject.
Well, perhaps it comes more from past deep thought. But the immediate impetus of this thinking comes from sitting through three and a half hours of the tedious and badly cast 1956 film version of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
If you’ve got nothing to do on a lazy Saturday midday and wonder just how much a production can stray from credulity, with a 57 year old Henry Fonda playing 20 year old Andrei to mechanical horses to Fonda’s Midwestern American twang intoning Tolstoy’s theatrical yet befuddled metaphysics, look no further than this for your viewing pleasure.
As I gazed upon this cinematic travesty my attention wandered and I came back to this proposition, which probably has been germinating in my mind for several years.
Now I’m not calling for a return to the Holy Russian autocracy. I don’t have to because there already is one currently in place. If you’ve ever, and I highly recommend it for the sheer 19th century grandeur of the thing, seen one of the Putin inauguration entrances into the Kremlin, you’ll get the drift. Vlad is already Czar in everything but name. They ought just to make it de jure.
Because, given its Asiatic tendencies, there is a strain of despotism and darkness in the Russian soul that needs to be channeled into something non-threatening to the West and its Russian neighbors. One can make the point without too much exaggeration that the Putin regime, wildly popular in Russian for some time, is a natural product of that darkness, that penchant for absolutism.
Much of it is caught up in hero worship of the classic strongman, like Vlad, and the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution in which Putin has shrewdly wrapped himself. Russia is one of the most socially ultraconservative of mid-ranked world contenders. Press restrictions, violations of individual rights, and a Wild West economic environment are some of the less attractive features of the Putin regime. Know what? The Russian people eat it up and ask for more.
Yes, they had their fling with the Enlightenment and with a palimpsest of liberty in the 1990s. But when the former Soviet nomenklatura of the immediate post communist state used those new freedoms solely to enrich themselves and cripple Russia’s self image, Newton’s Third Law took over and the result is the government in Moscow today. One could even say that Russia in 2019 is more institutionally conservative than after the 1905 reforms and the last decade of the reign of Nicholas II.
And most of Russia, by honest polling likely in the 70 percentiles given not only Putin’s popularity but recent election results, is just fine with it. Anglo-American ideals of political process? The modern Russian psyche balks at such frivolous exercise of the proper order.
We in the West (Bush the Younger was a serial abuser of this fairy tale in Iraq) can try by narrow historical analysis and golly gee narcissism to convince ourselves that all people want freedom as we define it. That is utter bosh.
A free market, freedom of expression, and constitutional limitations on government work for us and for the other societies in which they work (there are a few exceptions) because our history lends itself to it. Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the European liberal revolutions of 1848 all brought us to our form of government. We are shaped by that history and the process of thinking through those ideas as a people. All of that experience bypassed Russia and the legacy of those ideas has rarely permeated the Russian outlook on power and the state.
Would Czar Vladimir and the attendant imperial hoopla only encourage his and his people’s bad habits? Internally, who cares? Their business. In foreign relations and national security? I think it will have the opposite effect as the Great Bear will be able to look inward to Russia for glory, rather than seek to prove it along their borders. That is important to our country as several of those nations on its borders are NATO members.
The mechanics of a czarist restoration could be given a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy, as a Czentrance referendum could be held. After the inevitable win for a constitutional monarchy the obvious candidate, you know who, would have the option of taking the crown or passing on it to retain real power. This after being offered the throne by a probably compliant vote in the Duma and by the Church fathers.
Would Vlad trade power for glory?
Essentially Putin has been in power since 1999 and he has already announced that he will not be running for reelection in 2024. Would that not be a perfect time to kick him upstairs and ensure stability after his presidency? Wouldn’t Vlad serve more than adequately as an eminence grise well into his dotage, letting the Russian thirst for overweening status and international regard play itself out at the feet of a constitutional monarch of Holy Russia? Wouldn’t his quiet but powerful ego dig it?
I can hear you now, but would it be a constitutional monarchy?
As I said before, don’t give a fig. I merely want their need for glittering power baubles focused on royal pomp instead of foreign adventurism.
But to return the serve, I think it would because a proper monarchy can guarantee relative stability, as the state and a semblance of final power rests with the sovereign anointed by God, not with grasping politicians and their cabal of the month.
Yes, it would be almost a continuation of the current setup, plus a royal house, for the foreseeable decades. Quasi-democratic change, however, could be forthcoming in the medium term as the House of Putin tries to remain in the Winter Palace (establish the royal seat to St. Petersburg but keep the government in Moscow) and stay relevant in a slowly changing society, but a changing 21st century society nonetheless.
So ready the bells of St. Basil’s and tell the Cossacks to take their finery out of mothballs, as a restoration awaits. A March 15, 2025 Ides coronation would be one hundred and eight years to the day since the Czar was deposed.
Too long to wait, for a people fit for a king.
Photo Credit: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images