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The Appetite of Tyranny

The German Emperor has reproached this country with allying itself with
"barbaric and semi-oriental power." We have already considered in what
sense we use the word barbaric: it is in the sense of one who is hostile to
civilisation, not one who is insufficient in it. But when we pass from the
idea of the barbaric to the idea of the oriental, the case is even more
curious. There is nothing particularly Tartar in Russian affairs, except
the fact that Russia expelled the Tartars. The Eastern invader occupied
and crushed the country for many years; but that is equally true of Greece,
of Spain and even of Austria. If Russia has suffered from the East she has
suffered in order to resist it: and it is rather hard that the very miracle
of her escape should make a mystery about her origin. Jonah may or may not
have been three days inside a fish, but that does not make him a merman.
And in all the other cases of European nations who escaped the monstrous
captivity, we do admit the purity and continuity of the European type. We
consider the old Eastern rule as a wound, but not as a stain.
Copper-coloured men out of Africa overruled for centuries the religion and
patriotism of Spaniards. Yet I have never heard that Don Quixote was an
African fable on the lines of Uncle Remus. I have never heard that the
heavy black in the pictures of Velasquez was due to a negro ancestry. In
the case of Spain, which is close to us, we can recognise the resurrection
of a Christian and cultured nation after its age of bondage. But Russia is
rather remote; and those to whom nations are but names in newspapers can
really fancy, like Mr. Baring's friend, that all Russian churches are
"mosques." Yet the land of Turgenev is not a wilderness of fakirs; and even
the fanatical Russian is as proud of being different from the Mongol, as
the fanatical Spaniard was proud of being different from the Moor.

The town of Reading, as it exists, offers few opportunities for piracy on
the high seas: yet it was the camp of the pirates in Alfred's day. I should
think it hard to call the people of Berkshire half-Danish, merely because
they drove out the Danes. In short, some temporary submergence under the
savage flood was the fate of many of the most civilised states of
Christendom; and it is quite ridiculous to argue that Russia, which
wrestled hardest, must have recovered least. Everywhere, doubtless, the
East spread a sort of enamel over the conquered countries, but everywhere
the enamel cracked. Actual history, in fact, is exactly opposite to the
cheap proverb invented against the Muscovite. It is not true to say
"Scratch a Russian and you find a Tartar." In the darkest hour of the
barbaric dominion it was truer to say, "Scratch a Tartar and you find a
Russian." It was the civilisation that survived under all the barbarism.
This vital romance of Russia, this revolution against Asia, can be proved
in pure fact: not only from the almost superhuman activity of Russia during
the struggle, but also (which is much rarer as human history goes) by her
quite consistent conduct since. She is the only great nation which has
really expelled the Mongol from her country, and continued to protest
against the presence of the Mongol in her continent. Knowing what he had
been in Russia, she knew what he would be in Europe. In this she pursued a
logical line of thought which was, if anything, too unsympathetic with the
energies and religions of the East. Every other country, one may say, has
been an ally of the Turk; that is, of the Mongol and the Moslem. The French
played them as pieces against Austria; the English warmly supported them
under the Palmerston régime; even the young Italians sent troops to the
Crimea; and of Prussia and her Austrian vassal it is nowadays needless to
speak. For good or evil, it is the fact of history that Russia is the only
Power in Europe that has never supported the Crescent against the Cross.

That, doubtless, will appear an unimportant matter; but it may become
important under certain peculiar conditions. Suppose, for the sake of
argument, that there were a powerful prince in Europe who had gone
ostentatiously out of his way to pay reverence to the remains of the
Tartar, Mongol and Moslem, left as an outpost in Europe. Suppose there were
a Christian Emperor who could not even go to the tomb of the Crucified,
without pausing to congratulate the last and living crucifier. If there
were an Emperor who gave guns and guides and maps and drill instructors to
defend the remains of the Mongol in Christendom, what should we say to him?
I think at least we might ask him what he meant by his impudence, when he
talked about supporting a semi-oriental power. That we support a
semi-oriental power, we deny. That he has supported an entirely oriental
power cannot be denied--no, not even by the man who did it.

But here is to be noted the essential difference between Russia and
Prussia; especially by those who use the ordinary Liberal arguments against
the latter. Russia has a policy which she pursues, if you will, through
evil and good; but at least so as to produce good as well as evil. Let it
be granted that the policy has made her oppressive to the Finns and the
Poles--though the Russian Poles feel far less oppressed than do the
Prussian Poles. But it is a mere historic fact, that if Russia has been a
despot to some small nations, she has been a deliverer to others. She did,
so far as in her lay, emancipate the Servians or the Montenegrins. But
whom did Prussia ever emancipate--even by accident? It is indeed somewhat
extraordinary that in the perpetual permutations of international politics
the Hohenzollerns have never gone astray into the path of enlightenment.
They have been in alliance with almost everybody off and on; with France,
with England, with Austria, with Russia. Can any one candidly say that they
have left on any one of these people the faintest impress of progress or
liberation? Prussia was the enemy of the French Monarchy; but a worse
enemy of the French Revolution. Prussia had been an enemy of the Czar; but
she was a worse enemy of the Duma. Prussia totally disregarded Austrian
rights; but she is to-day quite ready to inflict Austrian wrongs. This is
the strong particular difference between the one empire and the other.
Russia is pursuing certain intelligible and sincere ends, which to her at
least are ideals, and for which, therefore, she will make sacrifices and
will protect the weak. But the North German soldier is a sort of abstract
tyrant, everywhere and always on the side of materialistic tyranny. This
Teuton in uniform has been found in strange places; shooting farmers before
Saratoga and flogging soldiers in Surrey, hanging niggers in Africa and
raping girls in Wicklow; but never, by some mysterious fatality, lending a
hand to the freeing of a single city or the independence of one solitary
flag. Wherever scorn and prosperous oppression are, there is the Prussian;
unconsciously consistent, instinctively restrictive, innocently evil;
"following darkness like a dream."

Suppose we heard of a person (gifted with some longevity) who had helped
Alva to persecute Dutch Protestants, then helped Cromwell to persecute
Irish Catholics, and then helped Claverhouse to persecute Scotch Puritans,
we should find it rather easier to call him a persecutor than to call him a
Protestant or a Catholic. Curiously enough this is actually the position in
which the Prussian stands in Europe. No argument can alter the fact that in
three converging and conclusive cases he has been on the side of three
distinct rulers of different religions, who had nothing whatever in common
except that they were ruling oppressively. In these three Governments,
taken separately, one can see something excusable or at least human. When
the Kaiser encouraged the Russian rulers to crush the Revolution, the
Russian rulers undoubtedly believed they were wrestling with an inferno of
atheism and anarchy. A Socialist of the ordinary English kind cried out
upon me when I spoke of Stolypin, and said he was chiefly known by the
halter called "Stolypin's Necktie." As a fact, there were many other things
interesting about Stolypin besides his necktie: his policy of peasant
proprietorship, his extraordinary personal courage, and certainly none more
interesting than that movement in his death agony, when he made the sign of
the cross towards the Czar, as the crown and captain of his Christianity.
But the Kaiser does not regard the Czar as the captain of Christianity. Far
from it. What he supported in Stolypin was the necktie and nothing but the
necktie: the gallows and not the cross. The Russian ruler did believe that
the Orthodox Church was orthodox. The Austrian Archduke did really desire
to make the Catholic Church catholic. He did really believe that he was
being Pro-Catholic in being Pro-Austrian. But the Kaiser cannot be
Pro-Catholic, and therefore cannot have been really Pro-Austrian, he was
simply and solely Anti-Servian. Nay, even in the cruel and sterile strength
of Turkey, any one with imagination can see something of the tragedy and
therefore of the tenderness of true belief. The worst that can be said of
the Moslems is, as the poet put it, they offered to man the choice of the
Koran or the sword. The best that can be said for the German is that he
does not care about the Koran, but is satisfied if he can have the sword.
And for me, I confess, even the sins of these three other striving empires
take on, in comparison, something that is sorrowful and dignified: and I
feel they do not deserve that this little Lutheran lounger should patronise
all that is evil in them, while ignoring all that is good. He is not
Catholic, he is not Orthodox, he is not Mahomedan. He is merely an old
gentleman who wishes to share the crime though he cannot share the creed.
He desires to be a persecutor by the pang without the palm. So strongly do
all the instincts of the Prussian drive against liberty, that he would
rather oppress other people's subjects than think of anybody going without
the benefits of oppression. He is a sort of disinterested despot. He is as
disinterested as the devil who is ready to do any one's dirty work.

This would seem obviously fantastic were it not supported by solid facts
which cannot be explained otherwise. Indeed it would be inconceivable if we
were thinking of a whole people, consisting of free and varied individuals.
But in Prussia the governing class is really a governing class: and a very
few people are needed to think along these lines to make all the other
people act along them. And the paradox of Prussia is this: that while its
princes and nobles have no other aim on this earth but to destroy democracy
wherever it shows itself, they have contrived to get themselves trusted,
not as wardens of the past but as forerunners of the future. Even they
cannot believe that their theory is popular, but they do believe that it is
progressive. Here again we find the spiritual chasm between the two
monarchies in question. The Russian institutions are, in many cases,
really left in the rear of the Russian people, and many of the Russian
people know it. But the Prussian institutions are supposed to be in advance
of the Prussian people, and most of the Prussian people believe it. It is
thus much easier for the warlords to go everywhere and impose a hopeless
slavery upon every one, for they have already imposed a sort of hopeful
slavery on their own simple race.

And when men shall speak to us of the hoary iniquities of Russia and of how
antiquated is the Russian system, we shall answer "Yes; that is the
superiority of Russia." Their institutions are part of their history,
whether as relics or fossils. Their abuses have really been uses: that is
to say, they have been used up. If they have old engines of terror or
torment, they may fall to pieces from mere rust, like an old coat of
armour. But in the case of the Prussian tyranny, if it be tyranny at all,
it is the whole point of its claim that it is not antiquated, but just
going to begin, like the showman. Prussia has a whole thriving factory of
thumbscrews, a whole humming workshop of wheels and racks, of the newest
and neatest pattern, with which to win back Europe to the Reaction ...
_infandum renovare dolorem_. And if we wish to test the truth of this, it
can be done by the same method which showed us that Russia, if her race or
religion could sometimes make her an invader and an oppressor, could also
be made an emancipator and a knight errant. In the same way, if the Russian
institutions are old-fashioned, they honestly exhibit the good as well as
the bad that can be found in old-fashioned things. In their police system
they have an inequality which is against our ideas of law. But in their
commune system they have an equality that is older than law itself. Even
when they flogged each other like barbarians, they called upon each other
by their Christian names like children. At their worst they retained all
the best of a rude society. At their best, they are simply good, like good
children or good nuns. But in Prussia all that is best in the civilised
machinery is put at the service of all that is worst in the barbaric mind.
Here again the Prussian has no accidental merits, none of those lucky
survivals, none of those late repentances, which make the patchwork glory
of Russia. Here all is sharpened to a point and pointed to a purpose and
that purpose, if words and acts have any meaning at all, is the destruction
of liberty throughout the world.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

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