It’s no secret that many conservatives (and some liberals, for that matter) have a Napoleonic impulse: the desire for a Strong Man to emerge who scoffs at the niceties of rational argument and the inconveniences of process and law and civility, and who embodies the vital spirits, the tough frontier ethic, the proud brutality that earns healthy respect from America’s enemies. It is particularly noticeable among cultural conservatives who fear the “feminization” of society, and believe the tolerance and universalistic values of contemporary liberalism make this country easy pickings for Marxists or Islamists or non-Westerners generally who have none of our scruples.
Though it’s a familiar theme on the Right, it’s not very fashionable at a time when U.S. conservatives are forever wailing about the lawlessness and arrogance and messianism of the Tyrant Barack Obama. But National Review‘s Victor Davis Hanson, taking a break from his usual preoccupation with the destruction of California by rich hippies and poor Hispanics, spends some time watching Vladimir Putin on his TV screen, and cannot restrain himself:
[W]hat is Putin? He is a constant reminder to the postmodern Western mind that the human condition has not yet evolved beyond the fist. He is a bumper-sticker example of Aristotle’s dictum that it is easy to be moral in your sleep, given that verbiage without power is hardly moral or difficult. He is also a reminder about what is important in the most elemental sense. As we debate former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s remonstrances on oversized Cokes or Michelle Obama’s advocacy of celery sticks, Putin has dogs shot down to spruce up the Olympic grounds. We calibrate to the point of paralysis just how large a carbon footprint the Keystone Pipeline may or may not have; Putin ignores the Arctic tundra to enrich kleptomaniac Russian oligarchs and prop up his dysfunctional state.
That’s just the throat-clearing preface to Davis’ remarkable essay in Putin-envy. Suddenly Barack Obama is not the vicious religion-hating thug lifted by affirmative action and vote-buying into a colossus threatening Western Civilization itself, but the epitome of the effete and relativistic Girly Man:
Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns — what Obama dismisses as “tough-guy schtick.” Perhaps. But Putin is almost saying, “You have ten times the wealth and military power that I have, but I can neutralize you by my demonic personality alone.” Barack Obama, in his increasingly metrosexual golf get-ups and his prissy poses on the nation’s tony golf courses, wants to stay cool while playing a leisure sport.
Then Davis gets more explicit:
Putin is a reminder not just of our dark past, where raw force, not morality, adjudicated behavior, but, more worrisome, perhaps of a dark future as well, in which we in the West will continually overthink, hyperagonize, and nuance to death every idea, every issue, and every thought in terror that it might not be 100 percent fair, completely unbiased, absolutely justified. We will do anything to have the good life above all else; Putin prefers the bad life on his own terms.
After a detour into the western Shane and Milton’s Satan, Davis concludes with some T.S. Eliot:
[Putin] ends up existing to warn us in the West of what we are not, and to demonstrate that in a strange sort of way our loud principles without toughness are not much better than his toughness without principles. In that regard, he gives us a valuable look into ourselves — we the hollow men, the stuffed men of dry voices and whispers.
Methinks Davis would think otherwise if Obama stopped being “prissy” and issued, say, really tough utility rules or legalized half of the country’s undocumented workers. But if and when Republicans do return to total power in Washington, it will be worth remembering that there is a persistent constituency on the Right for the unapologetic exercise of that power at home and abroad that knows no bounds.