The Western “anti-disinfo” industry can go hang it: Putin is telling the truth.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Reykjavik, Iceland, on May 19, 2021. (State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain)
The U.S. government would like to inform you that Western civilization is not, in fact, collapsing. If you’ve ever suspected otherwise, if you’ve looked around and noticed widespread signs of material and cultural decay, you should seek a narrative reset immediately. Because chances are, you’ve fallen victim to a false narrative injected by the Kremlin’s “disinformation and propaganda ecosystem…into the global information environment.”
That’s according to a “fact sheet” on “Russia’s Top Five Persistent Disinformation Narratives,” published last week by the State Department. The document perfectly illustrates how American elites try to deny realities that underscore their misrule, while treating the resulting popular discontent as a devious plot hatched by foreign conspirators.
Not every point in the fact sheet is flat-out wrong, to be sure. It’s true that the Kremlin portrays “Russia as a perpetual victim,” whitewashing Soviet crimes and blaming Western-stoked “Russophobia” for any and all international hostility toward Moscow, as the document charges. If our ruling class takes a masochistic pleasure in treating our historical legacy as irredeemably stained, Vladimir Putin Co. tend toward the opposite extreme.
But then we get to this doozy: “Russia pushes the false claim that Western civilization…has strayed from ‘traditional values.’” The whole bit is worth quoting at length:
The demise of Western civilization is one of Russia’s oldest disinformation tropes, with claims of “the decaying west” documented since the 19th century.
This “values”-based disinformation narrative evokes ill-defined concepts including “tradition,” “family values,” and “spirituality.” Russia argues it is the bastion of so-called “traditional values” and gender roles and serves as a moral counterweight to the “decadence” of the United States and Western countries. For example, President Putin has claimed the West has practically cancelled the concepts of “mother” and “father,” and instead has replaced them with “parent 1 and 2,” while Foreign Minister Lavrov wrote that Western students “learn at school that Jesus Christ was bisexual.”
This gaslighting is shocking. Let’s first unpack the supposed falsehoods here.
Have Russian thinkers prophesied doom for the West going back to the 19th century? Sure. So have plenty of Western thinkers of various stripes going back even longer.
The revolutionary enormities of the 18th and 19th centuries gave birth to a whole constellation of European thought concerned with the same sense of civilizational crisis: Chateaubriand, Bonald, Maistre, Donoso Cortés, and, yes, Dostoevsky are a few of the luminous names. And although Marx counted himself a revolutionary, we might as well add his name to the list, insofar as he diagnosed the dislocations and miseries brought about by the rise of industrial capitalism and bourgeois liberalism—the same forces against which the reactionaries reacted.
No one expects high philosophic insight from the Biden administration; basic coherence about domestic and foreign affairs would be blessing enough. But it is not “disinformation” to measure the post-Enlightenment West against the ideals of the classical and Christian civilization that preceded it—and to find the modern world wanting.
Are tradition, family values, and spirituality “ill-defined concepts”? Yes, they are now, the predictable consequence of decades—no, centuries—of liberal efforts to sever the individual from the natural bonds, inherited obligations, and unchosen communities that used to enclose him and that imbued existence with meaning. The very term “family values” is symptomatic of this transformation, since it suggests the natural family is just one among many values or lifestyles the individual might choose in his quest for self-definition.
Next up: Are liberals in the United States and Western Europe seeking to overthrow nature and natural law, family and tradition? To prove that this is a false Russian “narrative,” the State Department points to two examples. The first is Putin’s warning that Western elites are at war with the very concept of mother and father—which is perfectly accurate.
Last year, House Democrats changed their chamber’s Standing Rules to remove “gendered” references to “father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, step sister, half brother, half sister, grandson, granddaughter.” In place of such oppressive language, the new Standing Rules substituted “parent, child, sibling, parent’s sibling, first cousin, sibling’s child, spouse, parent-in-law, child-in-law, sibling-in-law, stepparent, stepchild, stepsibling, half-sibling, or grandchild.”
Even better: The same State Department that published the disinfo fact sheet denying a war on “mother” and “father” removed references to “mother” and “father” in U.S. passport applications, in favor of “gender-neutral language”—a decade ago. And that’s not even to mention Western media’s relentless celebration of “moms” with penises and “dads” without penises. The Western “anti-disinfo” industry can go hang it: Putin is telling the truth.
As for Lavrov’s statement that Western educators increasingly frame Jesus Christ as a bisexual (or as otherwise LGBTQ), that, too, is no falsehood. Pressed to defend the foreign minister’s claim, the Kremlin pointed to a Scottish teachers union’s recent decision to stage The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven “by Jo Clifford, a man who identifies as a woman, and reimagines Jesus as a trans woman,” as Christianity Today reported.
The Russians might also have mentioned Holy Cross theologian Tat-siong Benny Liew, whose “scholarship” speculates that “Jesus of Nazareth may, in some New Testament writings, be seen as a feminine figure, and in other writings may be best read as a ‘drag king’ [with] ‘queer desires,’” according to Inside Higher Ed .
Liberals and NATO jingoists can’t have it both ways: to defend such blasphemous subversion as a shining example of what makes our societies so wonderfully free—and simultaneously deny that it takes place at all.
The more disturbing point is the apparent addiction of U.S. and Western elites, including those at Foggy Bottom, to conspiracy theories. For that is what we’re ultimately dealing with here: a kind of middlebrow conspiracy theory designed to shield Western power centers from criticism from below. If the common people, vast swaths of their own populations, are unhappy with today’s economic, cultural, and political arrangements, it must be because they are Kremlin agents or unwitting Kremlin dupes, not because they are badly governed.
Why did a decisive majority of British voters choose to exit the European Union in 2016? Because the Russians fooled them, not because the E.U. project served globalist interests while leaving many working- and middle-class people behind.
Why did voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin cast their lot with Donald Trump the same year? It was because of Russian Facebook memes, not because the reality-TV host spoke to their anxieties over immigration and working-class jobs and wages.
What triggered the rage of France’s yellow vests in 2018? You guessed it: It was Russian disinformation, not President Emmanuel Macron’s highhanded green policies that jacked up gas prices for rural and working-class people.
Why do many people in the West feel as if civilization itself is collapsing, that they are being plunged into dystopia? Don’t blame the material inequality, the inflation, the riots, the iconoclasm, the critical race theory, the gender madness, the permanent Covid regime—but blame the troll farms of Saint Petersburg.
about the author
Sohrab Ahmari is a contributing editor of The American Conservative and a visiting fellow of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University. His books include From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith (Ignatius, 2019) and The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos (Convergent/Random House, 2021). He is currently writing a book about privatized tyranny in America.
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