‘The Russ’ had a more tragic future than Paine foretold

I was struck by the ironic contrast between two things I read today. First there was this passage from Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man:

Never did so great an opportunity offer itself to England, and to all Europe, as is produced by the two Revolutions of America and France. By the former, freedom has a national champion in the western world; and by the latter, in Europe. When another nation shall join France, despotism and bad government will scarcely dare to appear. To use a trite expression, the iron is becoming hot all over Europe. The insulted German and the enslaved Spaniard, the Russ and the Pole, are beginning to think. The present age will hereafter merit to be called the Age of Reason, and the present generation will appear to the future as the Adam of a new world.

Perhaps “the Russ” was beginning to think. But that nation’s future was not nearly so glowing as Paine envisioned. Note this piece by George Will from the same op-ed page that contained the Harrell piece I praised earlier. It speaks of a Russia that is falling apart, and a people that is rapidly fading away:

Nicholas Eberstadt’s essay “Drunken Nation” in the current World Affairs quarterly notes that Russia is experiencing “a relentless, unremitting, and perhaps unstoppable depopulation.” Previous episodes of depopulation — 1917-23, 1933-34, 1941-46 — were the results of civil war, Stalin’s war on the “kulaks” and collectivization of agriculture, and World War II, respectively. But today’s depopulation is occurring in normal — for Russia — social and political circumstances. Normal conditions include a subreplacement fertility rate, sharply declining enrollment rates for primary school pupils, perhaps more than 7 percent of children abandoned by their parents to orphanages or government care or life as “street children.” Furthermore, “mind-numbing, stupefying binge drinking of hard spirits” — including poisonously impure home brews — “is an accepted norm in Russia and greatly increases the danger of fatal injury through falls, traffic accidents, violent confrontations, homicide, suicide, and so on.” Male life expectancy is lower under Putin than it was a half-century ago under Khrushchev.

Martin Walker of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, writing in The Wilson Quarterly (“The World’s New Numbers”), notes that Russia’s declining fertility is magnified by “a phenomenon so extreme that it has given rise to an ominous new term — hypermortality.” Because of rampant HIV/AIDS, extreme drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and alcoholism, and the deteriorating health care system, a U.N. report says “mortality in Russia is three to five times higher for men and twice as high for women” than in other countries at a comparable stage of development. The report, Walker says, “predicts that within little more than a decade the working-age population will be shrinking by up to 1 million people annually.” Be that as it may, “Russia is suffering a demographic decline on a scale that is normally associated with the effects of a major war.”

Apparently, the arrival of the Age of Reason was not enough for Russia.

5 thoughts on “‘The Russ’ had a more tragic future than Paine foretold

  1. Greg Flowers

    One can only hope that the downward spiral of the nation will, at some point, lead to a series of simultaneous revolutions based on ethnic and geographic factors which will break it into a number of smaller states at least some of which will be friendlier towards the West and reducing the overall threat.

    On a related point it appears to me that NATO has outlived its usefulness and, by and large, the defense of Europe on a supernational level should be provided by the EU.

  2. SCnative

    Other nations have had the population growth stabilize or dip below zero due to the deliberate efforts of couples avoiding pregnancy. France and other European nations experienced this during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    Thomas Paine, first and foremost, disliked monarchy. America was the only nation positioned to handle the self-government created by its leaders. The revolution in France was led by the nobility, against the rising merchant class and the king who was overseeing the demise of royalty. It was fomented by foreign powers outside, through the secret societies who were the forerunners of communism 40 years later.

    Russia is a country whose gene pool has been degraded by the systematic extermination of intelligence and learning under the rule of common criminals, from Lenin, to Stalin, and the present thug, Putin.

  3. phillip

    The essay by Eberstadt is fascinating. Brad, if you’re making the link to Paine’s clarion call to freedom, then it would seem that finally “the Russ” was heeding that call in the late 1980’s with the onset of Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika and the dissolution of the Soviet empire. But the point of Eberstadt’s piece seems to be that the breakdown of the family unit, the spiraling cycle of depopulation, and the shifting-into-overdrive of a sort of national alcoholism, really began AFTER the Iron Curtain came down.

  4. SCnative

    Among American liberals, the murder of 50,000,000 subjects of the USSR has never counted. They were going to die, anyway, sooner or later.

  5. Brad Warthen


    I only provided the link earlier in the week, and didn’t read the Eberstadt piece until last night (Will’s synopsis had been enough to prompt me to post this).

    It’s pretty startling. And Phillip’s right that some measures have gotten much worse since the fall of the USSR. But some of these alarming trends date back to the 60s, while at least one measure of wealth rose sharply in the 90s (because of oil).

    What strikes me is how deep these problems seem to be in Russia, and how the spiral continues downward on most fronts no matter what sort of political system is in place.

    And with the collapse of oil prices, things may be about to become much worse.

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