George Will

One reason they have been, in Trotsky's words, consigned to the dustbin of history is that Putin, who trained for democracy in the Soviet KGB, is using ``managed democracy'' to concoct a meretricious legitimacy for lawless authoritarianism. In a post-election statement, Putin blandly promised to correct ``shortcomings'' in the election. They include his measures suffocating independent media, controlling political communication from urban billboards to broadcasting, and jailing the richest Russian on the eve of the election. Optimists are construing his statement that Russia's constitution is ``the basis of stability'' as a promise not to repeal the two-term limit on the presidency. Do not bet on that.

Putinism is uprooting the shallow seedlings of democracy across Russia's 11 time zones. Putinism is becoming a toxic brew of nationalism directed against neighboring nations, and populist envy, backed by assaults of state power, directed against private wealth. Putinism is a national socialism without the demonic element of its pioneer who, 70 years ago this year, used plebiscitary democracy to acquire the power to extinguish German democracy. There probably are not enough Jews remaining in Russia to make anti-Semitism a useful component of Putinism. But do not bet on that either.

Responding to another act of anti-Semitic violence, an attack on a Jewish school, Rabbi Joseph Sitruk has suggested that Jewish men wear baseball caps rather than skullcaps in public and ``avoid walking alone'' lest they become ``targets for potential assailants.'' This is in France, birthplace of the Enlightenment, where Sitruk is chief rabbi.

Anti-Semitism in post-Holocaust Europe, where Jews are few, is a reminder -- especially to France, where Marxism was a long time dying -- of just how wrong Marx was. He said modernity -- industrialism and the attendant demystification of the world -- would drain the history-making power from premodern forces, such as religion and ethnicity.

Those forces will drive developments in Iraq for years. The durability of those forces, around the world, is the big news -- although there is nothing really new about it -- of 2003.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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