I’m so old I remember I remember when Christopher Caldwell was supposed to be a reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s reactionary. At least the last of those still applies:
Western critics of Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics have picked up too much speed and risk skidding off piste. A justifiable attempt to scrutinise the government of President Vladimir Putin has degenerated into an exercise in schadenfreude and ill will.
Now, don’t think that Caldwell is blind to all of Putin’s flaws (apologia italicized):
Certainly Mr Putin’s respect for the democratic process has been fitful at best. Political opponents have been arrested and jailed throughout his time in office, even if several were released in December. He cracked down on a peaceful demonstration in May 2012, and eight of those arrested are still facing trial. Such conduct merits scrutiny, even if an Olympics is not the best forum. Of course, Mr Putin did not come out of nowhere.
“Fitful respect for democracy ” is…one way of describing a leader who not only routinely suppresses dissent but refuses to hold competitive elections. “Authoritarian” would be the far more accurate term. But, you know, George Bush did see his democratic soul.
Does Caldwell dismiss the systematic violence against gays and lesbians, indirectly and directly supported by the state, in Putin’s Russia as a mere “short list of causes beloved of western elites”? Of course. The rest is a classic of poetic justice as fairness, as Caldwell argues that Pussy Riot had it coming, and then argues that liberals are really just like Putin anyway:
But “stand quietly by” is what many of these writers did when the UK’s Labour government passed a blasphemy law just eight years ago (the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006), at the behest of some of the very groups (including the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs) that tried to ban Mr Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, in 1989.
First, note the “uncited liberals have not criticized every injustice and therefore should not criticize any injustice” move, a longtime self-refuting favorite of conservative hacks. The other argument is no better. I would not have voted for any version of the British statute, which strikes me as overbroad. But to call is a ban on “blasphemy” is grossly misleading at best, the Muslim-baiting attempts at guilt-by-association farcical, and to make it equivalent to Putin I’m afraid Caldwell is going to have to ID some political dissenters in the UK subjected to lengthy prison terms.
I wish I could say that Caldwell is was an outlier on the American right, but sadly, no. John Yoo, after all, did not come out of nowhere.