Are We All Soviets Now? By Richard Miller (London)

Best-selling historian Sir Niall Ferguson and geo-political theorist, was interviewed by UnHerd's Freddie Sayers for a discussion of populism and its alleged problems.The discussion and extraction here will be in a number of parts, so nothing gets diluted by sheer length.

The first interesting take on the state of societies is Ferguson's claim that "we [Americans] are the Soviets now." America is following much the same political-cultural path of the former USSR. There is a corrupt gerontocracy, with only the names replaced; Biden and Trump instead of Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko et al. And the system, despite some elements of free enterprise remaining over state cronyism, is coming to resemble as Soviet style society. Certainly, in terms of culture, much has been taken over from the USSR and even Maoist communist China: "It's an ideology in which your identity, uh, whether it's class-based, race-based, gender-based, minority-based defines you rather than your individual merits. I mean, if you're a, a white male working class American it, it probably has sunk in that the game is now explicitly rigged against you in the elite, uh, institutions and probably elsewhere too. Uh, and so that, that seems to me quite distinctly Soviet that the elite now has an ideology that is very radically different from the ideology on which the United States were supposed to be based in which you... individuals were equal before the law and opportunity was equal for all. So I think that, that disconnect explains a lot of the, the crisis of, of morale in the sense that the American Dream has, in a sense, turned into some strange, uh, utopian nightmare in which progressive ideologies about race and, and gender now determine outcomes as opposed to individual merit and, and hard work. So it's not obviously a perfect match, but I think the critical point is that corrupt elites controlling a system with an ideology that ordinary people think is weird and hypocritical, are the common variable."

The endgame of this will be, as with the former USSR, cultural collapse, which seems to be happening more rapidly in the US than it was comparatively in the USSR. It is the fall of the Roman Empire in fast forward, and the crash will shake the world, including Australia.

https://www.malone.news/p/back-in-the-ussr-are-we-the-soviets

"Niall Ferguson: The elite now has an ideology that is very radically different from the ideology in which the United States were supposed to be based. That it would be like a Cuban missile crisis in reverse. In a war between the US and China, the disparity would be very serious. Donald Trump doesn't want to talk about it. Joe Biden doesn't want to talk about it too. You have to escalate to de-escalate. It will be DEI up the wazoo.

Freddie Sayers: Hello and welcome back to UnHerd and to one of the more momentous political weeks I can remember. The first round results of the French election are in and seem to show a drubbing of the centrists and a triumph for the right-wing National Rally Party. Here in the UK we are about to vote in what is universally expected to be a change of government election, nominally in the opposite direction. And, of course, the United States has an octogenarian who has been a US senator for 50 years, fighting to stay as the Democratic standard-bearer against a apparently confident seeming Donald Trump. Is there a pattern in all this or is it just chaos? Well, Sir Niall Ferguson, recently knighted by the King, is one of the best known historians and theorists of geopolitics there is. If anyone can bring this together for us and position it in the larger context, it is him. So I'm delighted that on this of all weeks he is in the studio here at UnHerd to help us do just that. Welcome Niall.

Niall Ferguson: Nice to be with you, Freddie.

Freddie Sayers: Quite a tall order I've set out there for you. I think given that we are about to vote in the UK, it's best that we end with that. So let's start looking at the situation in the US. You wrote a provocative column for The Free Press last week about how it almost feels like in this new Cold War the US is seeming like the Soviet side. Explain that for us.

Are We The Soviets?

Niall Ferguson: Well, the headline that we ended up agreeing on was We're All Soviets Now, but I really wanted to call it Are We The Soviets? Uh, a little bit like "are we the baddies?" Uh, and the idea is that some of the pathologies of the late Soviet Union are visible, uh, in the United States today. And most people like Jonah Goldberg, for example, immediately went, "But, but, but the economy." But my point is not about the economy, it's about political and social pathologies. And, uh, sure enough there was a debate between Brezhnev and Andropov. Oh, wait. No, uh, between Biden and Trump, two obviously over-the-hill old guys. One more manifestly senile than the other, but both old guys. And that's the choice? And, I guess, it probably felt a bit the same if you were on the politburo, uh, in the late '70s and, and early '80s. That's the choice? Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko? So that, that was part of the starting point for the argument. When your political system is only producing degenerated old guys, uh, there's something up.

Freddie Sayers: The gerontocracy comes when the fresh ideas are out. And it's the sort of stitch up among the old guard because they can't think of anything new.

Niall Ferguson: The Soviet Union had one party that monopolized power and therefore an elite, uh, that the new class that emerged out of the Bolshevik revolution. And over time it became a completely corrupt elite. In the United States, there are two parties. Uh, but there are only two. It's... So it's a duopoly. Uh, and one of them has that pathology of an entrenched and, uh, corrupt elite. They don't have dachas, uh, they have houses in the Hamptons. That's the Democratic Party. Interestingly, the Republican Party elite lost control of the party back in 2016 to Donald Trump and they've not been able to rest it back from him. But the Democrats look a lot like, uh, the Soviet Communist Party. Uh, this rigid hierarchy could only come up with Joe Biden as the candidate to beat Donald Trump, uh, in 2020 and they can't think of anything better, even although it's been perfectly obviously to anybody who knows Joe Biden even slightly that something's gone pretty badly wrong with his cognition.

Freddie Sayers: And it's worth saying, in the days since that debate, that slight Pravda atmosphere has very much returned. There was about a 24-hour window when it felt like the Democrats might possibly reconsider this was that bad. But already, the Congress people are back on the air, the spokespeople saying, "No, no, he's in better form than ever, it was a blip. He's come fighting..." You almost felt like the drugs kicked in-

Niall Ferguson: Yeah.

Freddie Sayers: ... for his post-debate-

Niall Ferguson: Yeah.

Freddie Sayers: ... sort of performance. It's, it is Pravda-esque.

Niall Ferguson: Right. But, but it's part of a wider pathology. It's very hard to find another example of an advanced economy where life expectancy declines, where mortality amongst young males rises. And I've been thinking for a while, "Why is this trend in the United States familiar?" It's been a, a trend for, uh, a while. Angus Deaton first started writing about deaths of despair quite a few years ago, uh, pointing to the increase in, uh, death from opioid overdoses, particularly fentanyl. Uh, but also, uh, deaths from alcohol, uh, abuse, deaths from, uh, gun shots, often suicides, as well as, as crimes. And so we have this strange pattern where Americans, particularly, uh, young male Americans, uh, or middle-aged white Americans, are dying, uh, prematurely. And life expectancy actually has gone into reverse. And this wasn't just COVID, this would've happened regardless of, of COVID. There's only one other case I can think of and it finally hit me, perhaps 'cause I was asking myself, "Why have we got these two old guys?" And it's like, "Oh, yes, the Soviet Union."

It was in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and then in Russia after the Soviet collapse, that we last saw a dramatic decline in life expectancy and a surge in premature mortality, particularly amongst males. It was mostly vodka, uh, although smoking also killed (laughs) a lotta Russians prematurely. But deaths of despair I've only seen once before and I remember it 'cause I spent time in Russia in the late '80s and the early '90s. And it was just a kinda grim scene. The s- the streets of, uh, what went from being Leningrad to being St. Petersburg or Moscow were j- were littered with people drinking themselves to death. If you walk through central San Francisco, the streets are littered with people drugging themself to death. So at the core of the piece what some people, I think, mistook for a provocation, was a very, very serious point. You cannot name another example where the trends in public health as so adverse, despite there being a very advanced economy.

Despair and DEI

Freddie Sayers: So why were people so despairing or drinking themselves to death in late Soviet Russia? And why are they doing it in the US?

Niall Ferguson: And this goes to the even deeper point, a crisis of morale. One of the, the really interesting things about the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the sense amongst ordinary people that the whole system was completely and utterly a sham, that the people, the nomenklatura who ran it, the Communist Party elite were just running it for their own benefit and everybody else was essentially just being handed hypocrisy account about the workers and peasants really being in charge. And I... The s- the same crisis of morale in the United States today. And you could see it in the polling. Confidence in the institutions is at an all time low, if you look at polling, uh, that Gallup has done all the way back into, uh, the 1970s. And it's amazing to see that something like 8% of Americans have confidence in Congress, their elected representatives, their legislature. And it's there right across the board, confidence, uh, in the press, confidence in the police. You name an institution and confidence has declined in it. So I think what we see here is a somewhat similar thing where ordinary people feel it's a rigged system and it's a hypocritical system.

The nomenklatura insist in diversity, equity, and inclusion, uh, that America is constantly progressing, that there should be all gender restrooms, that mentality which is ensconced at Harvard and, and Yale and Columbia, uh, is, uh, entirely at odds with the mentality of ordinary people.

Freddie Sayers: It's a very, very grave situation though if individuals are feeling like there is no point carrying on with their lives. I mean, uh, uh, you can't get a worse indictment to the society than that.

Niall Ferguson: Well, there... more, more people have died from these deaths of despair than died from COVID. And I don't think people in Aspen, Colorado, where I was, uh, last week have really any clue what's going on in those, uh, cities in the, in middle America where the fentanyl overdoses are at, at the highest, uh, level. Uh, uh, that disconnect between life in Aspen or in the Hamptons, uh, uh, and life in, in middle America, is very reminiscent of the disconnect between life if you were in the Soviet elite with your nice dacha and, and life at, at the sort of dreg... amongst the dregs of, of society. If you're at the top of American society your life can be prolonged until the point that you can be president into your 80s, just about.

Freddie Sayers: So at that lower end then, something is happening where, first of all, they're not meaningfully gonna get ahead.

Niall Ferguson: Right.

Freddie Sayers: So there's no point making an effort.

Niall Ferguson: Yeah.

Freddie Sayers: And somehow perhaps the structures are so big and far away and incomprehensible that it, it feels a bit like the Soviet structures did. And your, your positioning of DEI in that is interesting 'cause it often gets called just a culture war talking point, you know? This is... I heard some people respond to your latest, uh, column saying, "Oh, of course, now there he got the DEI mention in," as if it's this sort of headbanger talking point. But actually it is a, a good example of just that because if you don't feel you're being judged on your merits.

Niall Ferguson: Right.

Freddie Sayers: And you don't feel that you can advance through... up the ranks through your own efforts, the results are gonna be imposed top-down to fit some kinda criteria, that is quite a Soviet atmosphere.

Niall Ferguson: It's an ideology in which your identity, uh, whether it's class-based, race-based, gender-based, minority-based defines you rather than your individual merits. I mean, if you're a, a white male working class American it, it probably has sunk in that the game is now explicitly rigged against you in the elite, uh, institutions and probably elsewhere too. Uh, and so that, that seems to me quite distinctly Soviet that the elite now has an ideology that is very radically different from the ideology on which the United States were supposed to be based in which you... individuals were equal before the law and opportunity was equal for all. So I think that, that disconnect explains a lot of the, the crisis of, of morale in the sense that the American Dream has, in a sense, turned into some strange, uh, utopian nightmare in which progressive ideologies about race and, and gender now determine outcomes as opposed to individual merit and, and hard work. So it's not obviously a perfect match, but I think the critical point is that corrupt elites controlling a system with an ideology that ordinary people think is weird and hypocritical, are the common variable. 

 

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Friday, 19 July 2024

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