30 Minutes With a Statesman

On Tucker Carlson’s Interview with Vladimir Putin

“There is a famous story that Charles de Gaulle was arguing with the British ambassador, and he exploded “I’ve been telling you this for a thousand years!”, before catching himself. A leader should feel inhabited by his nation’s history.”
— Pascal-Emanuel Gobry

It would be an understatement to suggest that Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin has been met with an unenthusiastic reception by the American intellectual class. At the start of the interview, Putin spent almost 30 minutes talking without interruption about the history of Russia beginning in 882 AD. Although Carlson did maintain his famous dumbfounded expression throughout all of it, he barely said a word.

Americans were not impressed with Putin’s encyclopedic knowledge of Russian history. Perhaps it was boring for them because many Americans have no sense of history and prefer things to be presented in black-and-white terms, with good guys portrayed as superheroes who can do no wrong and bad guys deserving everything that’s coming to them. Others accused Putin of historical inaccuracies, distortions, and propaganda. Putin, they say, exaggerated the extent of Polish collaboration with Nazis, and failed to mention, for instance, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR which saw the two countries divide Poland in half, even though Putin did mention the pact.

Others engaged in one of the widely acceptable forms of contemporary racism, that is, accusing Russians of being uniquely predisposed to evil, motivated by historical grievances, and incapable of letting old resentments go. Of course, should you ask them why, if they are so motivated by resentment, Russians barely mention injustices they suffered at the hands of Mongols or the Germans, they would shriek that you are “an apologist for Putin.”

Still, why did Putin spend such a long time talking about Russian history, given what he knows about Americans? Perhaps Putin wanted to explain that Ukraine is uniquely important for Russia. The Russian leader views Ukrainians as essentially Russian, and that is also why he is not planning on invading Poland or any other Eastern European country. 

Another answer, however, is summarized in the quote above by French journalist Pascal-Emanuel Gobry: “A leader should feel inhabited by his nation’s history.” A true leader effectively becomes the state he rules. He no longer acts as a private individual, but as a statesman – he rises above ideology and makes decisions based on what he thinks will benefit his country. It is not a coincidence that very little is known about Putin’s private life – he has almost ceased to be a private person.

This doesn’t mean Putin is a perfect leader. To outsiders, he certainly isn’t. But let’s look at some of the facts: Russian writer Anatoly Karlin has documented the changes in Russia since 1999. Numbers per 100,000 show that Russia’s homicide rate plunged 75% nationwide. This was not accompanied by a drastic change in incarceration, which suggests it was driven by a general improvement in quality of life. Putin’s policies also led to an increase in the fertility rate. In 1999, before Putin came to power, many reported on the problem of depopulation: Russia had a TFR of 1.16. Now the fertility rate in Russia is 1.76, on par with America’s. There has been also a significant reduction in the number of abortions performed since Putin took office, dropping from 2,138,000 in 2000 to 506,000 in 2022. The most important improvement, however, is the increase in life expectancy. Since 1999, it has risen from 65 to roughly 72. Russia is also one of the few countries with a closed tech cycle — it can operate (most of) its military-industrial complex on its own, without depending on imports, thanks to the production structure created during the Soviet Union.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Russian people consider Putin to be a good leader? I would not personally choose to live in Russia – as a contrarian, I probably wouldn’t do well under a regime notorious for suppressing dissent. Nor did I support the invasion of Ukraine. But I can’t fault the Russian people for having strong faith in Putin. Major improvements that made the lives of average Russian people much better have taken place during his rule of the country, and can be directly attributed to his policies.

Putin does not govern as an ideologue, which is why he easily transitioned from communism to market capitalism. He is instead one of those leaders who understands himself to be ‘destined’. In this, he reminds me of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth famously put her grievances against Catholics – including her religious zealot sister – aside to unite England. In doing so, she became England. She never married, nor had children, putting instead the needs of her nation above everything else. In contrast to her sister, who governed as a religious zealot and cared more about her faith than the good of England, Elizabeth was able to rise above her personal beliefs. She governed as the Queen of England first and only second as a Protestant. In other words, she abandoned her personhood for the good of her country. 

Her famous speech to the troops at Tilbury shows exactly how committed she was:

“My loving people, We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the meantime, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

Another great leader who was able to sacrifice his personhood to be a good king was Henry IV of France. Henry IV’s famous line “Paris is worth the mass” followed the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. He knew that he needed to convert in order to rule France.

A great leader has no ideology and is devoted to the state, and in that, he is devoted to himself. That’s also why the Left will never produce good rulers: ideology, in the leftist worldview, trumps everything else. But only a man without real ideology, motivated mainly by a commitment to the glory of his nation, can rule effectively and lead his nation to greatness. In this respect, what the Tucker Carlson interview should make everyone wonder, above all else, is whether Vladimir Putin has become Russia itself. “Are we having a talk show or a serious conversation?”, asked the Russian President at the start of the interview. Watch the next 30 minutes and ask yourself: is this the last real statesman?

Mocha is a New York-based blogger and a hostess of The Temple of Friendship podcast.

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