Putin’s Deception and Ours

by | Mar 28, 2024 | Europe

Blaming others, such as the U.S. (e.g., CIA, etc) is a standard rationalization for the failure of dictatorships such as Cuba and Venezuela and  for the unlimited power it gives the rulers.

I have written previously about the fact that because dictators rule by the gun and not by consent, they have to justify their power by pretending they are fully moral and omniscient.  A case in point is the recent killings in Moscow by Islamic terrorists.

Putin was warned two weeks ahead by the  U.S., based on intelligence they had gathered, that such attack might occur and that a concert hall was a likely target. Putin rejected the warning claiming that it represented U.S. blackmail (whatever that was supposed to mean).

Then the U.S. warning proved correct. So what was Putin going to do?

The same thing dictators always do: blame the attack not just on the terrorists but on the Ukrainians who they claimed help plan it including an escape route. There was no evidence for this at all. But that was not enough. The U.S. was treated as complicit despite our attempt to prevent the slaughter because we supported the Ukraine’s fight for freedom. These big lies enabled Putin to evade the fact that he m a drastic error in judgment.

Blaming others, such as the U.S. (e.g., CIA, etc) is a standard rationalization for the failure of dictatorships such as Cuba and Venezuela and  for the unlimited power it gives the rulers.

If there were freedom of the press and honest elections in dictatorships, they would not last long and the dictators know it. That is why they cannot tolerate even a single admission of error or a single voice of dissent.

In “Collectivized Rights” (in The Virtue of Selfishness) Ayn Rand defined a dictatorship as a country that does not recognize individual rights. She identified four characteristics of dictatorships: executions without trial or mock trials for political offenses (clearly meaning: criticism of the dictator or the ruling party); one-party rule (fake elections do not count); expropriation of private property (which would include fascism); and government censorship (no freedom of speech or the press).

In the Ayn Rand Letter (1972, Vol. 1, Nos. 13-15) “The Shanghai Gesture” she documented President Nixon’s abject, moral surrender to Communist China, a totalitarian dictatorship. He failed to state or defend America’s fundamental principles (nor Taiwan’s right to be a free country). He projected pragmatist humility, agreeing that the US and China had different political principles but never stating what they were nor whose were right. In contrast, the Chinese Communists projected moral certainty and their right to do whatever they want (backed up by numerous rationalizations).

How frightened are dictators like Putin? Observe that Russia cannot even tolerate a small amount of dissent. Consider Russia’s assassinations and assassination attempts of even lone critics who have no followers or only a very small number of them.  These types of actions reveal how philosophically vulnerable, and actually terror-stricken, dictators are. Their rule is based on guns (include secret police) and lies, not consent, and they fear that even a minuscule amount of criticism and the resulting dissent could mushroom out of control, motivating a subordinate or rival group to seize power. Contrast this with free countries like the U.S. where the President is either disliked or hated today by more than 70 million voters and is criticized daily in the press and yet survives due to our Constitution that protects rights.  In sum, dictators are philosophically bankrupt, and they know it. Ironically, the media likes to call dictators Strong Men.

Obviously, the core problem in opposing dictatorships is the moral self-doubt of our politicians and that of other free countries. But what is it that hand-wringing pragmatists are counting on when cooperating with dictators? The naïve belief that they can make a political deal. This error evades the fundamental nature of the dictator’s actual philosophy.

Consider, first, that dictators come into power and retain it by physical force. Even if there are initial elections with some semblance of honesty, real voting cannot last. One-party systems, often with fake voting, are axiomatic.

Second, because a dictator is not chosen by consent, he needs a moral sanction to rationalize his power. Ayn Rand said that “morality is the greatest of all intellectual powers.”  The dictator needs to believe that his use of force is morally good. This cannot be achieved by reason, only by rationalization based on faith in some irrational philosophy (e.g., religion, Communism). This allows him to eliminate those who disagree with him without compunction. If he comes across as fallible or immoral, his rule can easily collapse. Dictators know that they cannot defend their power or decisions by reason, so they have to use force to eliminate negative opinions. To cover up any failures that cannot be hidden, they routinely blame it on foreign powers, agencies such as the CIA, or Ukraine.


Also in this series on Foreign Policy and Dictatorships by Professor Locke:

Attila and the Witch Doctor Rule Russia Today
Russia today provides a perfect example of the combination of the two philosophical archetypes Ayn Rand described in her brilliant essay, “For the New Intellectual.”

Putin’s Return to Stalinism as Russia Invades Ukraine
What Putin fears is not just NATO’s defensive armaments but their ideas—most fundamentally, America’s arms and ideas, specifically the concept of individual rights.

Today’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Four countries have the desire and potential to destroy the free world and bring us to a new Dark Age with them as rulers—a real Apocalypse.

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is: EdwinLocke.com

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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