Reflections on the Progress of the War
The absolute worst and most immoral thing to do would be to assist Ukraine’s effort in its war of self-defense just enough, and just long enough, to heighten the severity of the conflict and ensure that millions of innocent people will be killed or displaced, and then to get skittish, pull back, and become all prudish and pragmatic about not wanting to disrupt the established order of things too much. But by determining that such a course would indeed be the absolute worst and most immoral thing to do in the situation, we have simultaneously determined that this is exactly what the West, collectively, will do, since if there is one thing we can say with certainty about the Western nations today, it is that they are hellbent on demonstrating to the heavens what life devoid of a moral compass looks like. It looks like France. It looks like Germany.
If truth is relative, if equality and democracy depend on the faith of cultural relativism, and if the refusal to stand in judgment over anything (including yourself) is the only moral virtue, then the intransigent willingness to die for what is right and true, however appealing it may seem in the abstract or in the immediate moment, will gradually come to appear unsettling, antiquated, and absolutely immodern — maybe even a sort of moral outrage against the premises of modernity. After all, Vladimir Putin has his needs and interests too, not to mention his own view of history, which we have no reason to think is any less legitimate than any other. Shouldn’t we try to be more understanding and less judgmental? And isn’t Volodymyr Zelensky’s bravery and stolidity beginning to remind us of those intolerant old days when people actually believed in good and evil, true and false, and were unwilling to accommodate themselves to the relativity of values and the need to compromise on all things, and on principles above all?
The democratic world’s majority was for Ukraine’s self-defense when Ukraine appeared to be an exciting cause of the week, a mild little David about to be wiped out by a raging pro-Trump Goliath, Vladimir Putin. The popular enthusiasm grew as Ukraine, the obvious underdog, was seen to be putting up a great fight, showing pluck and insouciance in the face of the Russian behemoth, much like Greta Thunberg did against the global capitalists, or like Black Lives Matter did against the police. Now, as Ukraine, with weapons assistance from its alleged friends, has actually turned the tide of the war decisively in its favor, and is showing signs of actually being able to win — that is, not to be the hopeless underdog anymore — popular opinion will begin to sway gradually against Ukraine. It is not that the world’s democratic peoples will become supporters of Putin per se, but that they will weary of cheering for the winner, and will begin to wonder whether it is such a good idea to overturn the global order so dramatically. They will start to worry about the same thing the Chinese Communist Party is worrying about, namely what might happen if the democracies see how effectively they can decimate a mammoth tyranny if only they set their collective will to the task. And of course they will worry most about what late modern man always worries about most — his own comfort, convenience, and stability.