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Caution for the Ukraine Discussion

Editor’s note: reminder in November to pray for the dead of the Ukraine Crisis.

Back in July, OnePeterFive published two articles pertaining to Russia and some mistaken notions we might have of her. The first, Solzhenitsyn on NATO, Ukraine, & Putin, published July 21, authored by Dr. Edmund Mazza, implies a highly unpopular conclusion, which is the very opposite of the mainstream media. Dr. Mazza invites readers to respect and share what he believes are the positive views Alexander Solzhenitsyn held about Russia and Vladimir Putin. The second, Solzhenitsyn against American Trad Myopia on Russia and Ukraine, published July 29, written by Mr. Benedict Carter argues for the more popular narrative. Mr. Carter tells readers (whom he refers to as ‘Putin lovers’), who are not in adherence to “Wake up, banish the likes of Dr. Mazza from your minds.” This is, more or less, a summary of many loud voices in the Anglophone world on this matter.

My article will argue for Dr. Mazza but endeavor to tackle the issue beyond just Putin, Solzhenitsyn, NATO, and Ukraine and attempt to investigate the greater context going way back to the Bolshevik Revolution, Our Lady of Fatima, and the concept of the Third Rome and the Eastern Schism. But before doing so, I will first review and answer Mr. Carter’s perspective and claims—primary of which, is as his title suggests—that American Trads are myopic on their views on Putin as the “Champion of Christendom” and that Dr. Mazza “cherry-picked Solzhenitsyn from the problematic last few years of his life, when he reversed himself,” after having  “several long conversations with Putin and was evidently persuaded by him of certain things” and became “one of the Fathers of Putinism.” This first article will serve as a caution to the discussion on the Ukraine crisis, while two subsequent parts will lead the reader deeper into the Russian question.

Reality Check

As a published academic who is ironically not a fan of the primacy of inductive logic in the world of the peer-review, I must say, reading Mr. Carter’s article led me to have a bit more appreciation for the necessity as claims (especially quite fiery and strong ones) can obscure, confuse, and mislead. Reality isn’t what is, simply because we believe it to be as such and we say it is as such. The following is an example from Mr. Carter:

NATO is a defensive treaty organization of democratic States who accept the Rule of Law. Russia has shown itself to be in the sway of a demonic national hysteria of envy, resentment and hate; and is the wager of aggressive, imperialistic war on a neighboring country it refuses to accept even is a nation.

That NATO is ‘a defensive treaty organization of democratic States who accept the Rule of Law’ is certainly the claim, even by those who created and control NATO itself but as we said, reality isn’t what is, simply because we say it is what is. There is actually a more accurate way of determining whether this claim is real—and it is by simply looking at certain incontrovertible situations that make it highly unlikely that NATO, which was created and is operated by the US, is simply for defense and the Rule of Law when: 1) It has constantly been involved in conflicts for over a century (see here and Ukraine in 2014 to the present here and here); and 2) US ‘defense’ budget is far more than the next nine countries combined with Russia (‘wager of aggressive, imperialistic war’) only at rank five.

Emotional Appeal

In addition, Mr. Carter’s article is littered with ‘written for literature’ or the Hollywood blockbuster and CNN-type emotional and loaded words such as ‘demonic,’ ‘envy,’ ‘resentment,’ and ‘hate.’ These are descriptions one can’t argue with as they are not arguments but attempts at labeling and peering into someone’s soul and claiming to capture what another’s soul is. This is an appeal to emotion, not evidence and rationality. He just condemned the entire Russian nation to being in ‘demonic national hysteria of envy’—of which, 3 out of 5 words are leading and loaded, requiring much emotional unpacking. At this point, I’d like to recall St. Thomas Aquinas’ Sources of Morality—object, circumstance, and intention—and of the three, the least accurate, inefficient, and leads to the danger of being uncharitable would be the last. Hence, I tend to almost never go there and stick with the first two. St. Thomas himself reminds us of the significance of ‘giving the benefit of the doubt.’

A certain economic school of thought, which I adhere to, known as Austrian Economics, gives a similar advice. Hence, the use of Praxeology, the deductive study of the science of human action, placing a premium on a priori knowledge, which necessarily comes from understanding and therefore enjoys a strict universality, as its validity is determined by the principle of noncontradiction; as opposed to the inductive approach that governs modern science and academia with the focus on a posteriori knowledge, which, coming from sensations, offers assumed and comparative universality (through induction)—hence, a kind of ‘majority rules’ system among intellectual published elites, who get to formulate and establish ‘what is.’ The former, essentially holds, ‘what is logical is empirical,’ similar to the precept and implication of lex orandi, lex credenda (‘the law of what is prayed is the law of what is believed’), and the ultimate Logos Incarnate.

While Mr. Carter’s article gave me a renewed appreciation for the necessity of induction via citation, I remain with the more superior deductive approach in the attempt to find out and establish.

Ad Hominem

Related to this, another problem with departing from deductive logic is the tendency to fallacious ad hominem reasoning, where the validity of an argument is based on an attribute of the person putting it forward. Mr. Carter employs this fallacy in two ways:

  • When he accuses Dr. Mazza and some Traditionalists of ‘national selfishness’ and the inability to ‘separate themselves from an obsession with judging everything in light of politics and boundless speculation’ but fails to give a grounding for his claim. How exactly did he come to that conclusion? Hence, my contention on the significance of ‘object’ and ‘circumstance’ and the near uselessness and dangers of going the way of claiming to figure ‘intention.’ It is not surprising how this approach leads to the ad hominem fallacy, clumsily packaging together John Meersheimer with Noam Chomsky, whom he can ‘safely’ label ‘Leftist.’ It’s a muddling and obfuscation of the attempt to ‘appeal to authority’—because Chomsky is a known ‘Leftist,’ then perhaps, the reader will hence be convinced, Dr. Mazza’s view is wrong. But Mr. Carter fails to qualify the case of Meersheimer, a true expert on geopolitics in the region and not a Leftist, who has been popular among Libertarians and Conservatives. At the same time (and while I have not looked into Chomsky’s current stance), it is quite possible even for a ‘Leftist’ to get some things right. Simply stating one is on the ‘Left’ (which I am certainly no fan of), is not an appropriate argument to establishing another’s ideas inferior or in error with regards to NATO and Russia.
  • Carter accuses Dr. Mazza of presenting ‘his arguments as an expert on Russia and causes of the present war’ – this followed by the non-sequitur ‘but his article closely followed the argument of John Meersheimer and the Leftist Noam Chomsky.’ But nowhere in his article does Dr. Mazza claim to be an expert. In fact, Dr. Mazza never talks about himself—the closest reference to himself would be at the bottom, at the end the article, where authors are usually briefly described. Dr. Mazza merely shares what he offers—‘online courses in Church and World History’ as well as some books he has published and his former work. But he does not invoke any of this as a way to prove his arguments right or as having any weight. Dr. Mazza invokes a more deductive approach—presenting a reading of Solzhenitsyn based on the very words of Solzhenitsyn himself, coupled with specific events and acts (object) and context  (circumstance) in making his case. Meanwhile, Mr. Carter invokes the fallacious ad hominem, citing what he believes are credentials such as ‘someone who lived and worked in the ex-USSR from 1997 to 2010, speaks Russian, have been (many times) to Ukraine, the Baltic States, the former Central Asian Soviet republics and founded and operated a business in Moscow for many years.’ He adds, ‘Although I am not a professional historian, I do hold two degrees in History from Cambridge University in England’ and that his ‘reading is deep and broad on the subject of Russia, its history and government.’ Mr. Carter is establishing expertise.

And because Mr. Carter fails to follow a more logical and deductive approach, his foundational assertions are based on the temptation and tendency to interpret Dr. Mazza in his same emotional lenses of viewing reality in his effort to focus on the least accurate source of morality (intention). Hence, he summarizes  Meersheimer and Chomsky’s position as ‘it’s all the West’s fault.’ He claims ‘this is too simplistic and closely overlaps with Russian propaganda’ but does not venture to provide the two more accurate sources of morality—object and circumstance.

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