March 17, 2022
“But why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?” —Louis XIV, King of France, on his deathbed
Once upon a time there was a dashing Russian prince who died in a beautiful American town. The world had known him, in the later bloom of his adult years, as a wealthy New York entrepreneur, publicist, socialite, and man about town, the toast of Manhattan society, the husband of a Romanov, then of an Astor and lastly of a Grosse Pointe industrialist’s daughter, the graceful Detroit suburb being his final resting place and later the auction site of his art collection of Russian treasures. Upon his passing the world media covered the event, detailing the belles soirées, bons mots, and bon ton that animated the life of this popular but mysterious noble, a town and country chronicle of names and titles of transatlantic dynasties, between the aging charms of the Old World and the youthful ambitions of the new one.
Yet behind this sheen of glamour, there was a quality about the prince that was somewhat inscrutable, intangible. He had been a hero. But a hero of two worlds, two civilizations, and, in a sense, two centuries, in Russia and America. A childhood companion of the young Tolstoy counts, a constitutional monarchist trained in British law, and a member of an early-20th-century generation of aristocratic reformers in Russia, his culture was rooted in St. Petersburg at the height of that city’s pre–World War I glory; as the economist Cecil Hirsch wrote of the era before the Great War and of the descent of Russia into a bloodbath less than a decade later: “The world that disappeared in 1914 appeared, in retrospect, something like our picture of Paradise.” The prince found himself at the center of the convulsions: Oxford-educated, he was a captain of the Imperial Chevalier Guard under Tsar Nicholas II, the legendary heavy-guard regiment originally organized by Catherine the Great. Having distinguished himself on horseback, he escaped to Crimea during the Bolshevik Revolution and led a horde of Tatar horsemen against the Red invasion of that peninsula. No sooner did the news of his counterrevolutionary successes reach Moscow, than a plump bounty was placed on his head. Then, in a series of midnight-train adventures that then prompted his derring-do escape to Switzerland in disguise, the prince made his way to that country, later to make his way to the United States. Once an American citizen, he was in all the way: He enlisted in the Army at the outbreak of the Second World War at the age of 50 and later, as a lieutenant colonel, was selected by William Donovan of the OSS to lead the landing and Allied capture of Sardinia, where 20,000 German troops controlled the island and where an Italian garrison of nearly a quarter million men was stationed. He made his first five jumps in the summer of 1943 as the oldest paratrooper in Army history; all the while the bounty on his life remained in force by Moscow. While outmaneuvering Germans on the island, the prince was assigned to carry letters from President Roosevelt, from the Italian king, and from Prime Minister Badoglio to the garrison commander, General Basso, ordering him to surrender. A few days later, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. arrived with a token occupation force led by this Petersburg aristocrat and formally accepted the surrender of the 270,000 Italian troops on Sardinia.
Later the prince returned to the New York high life, working in public relations and advertising, the extent of his anti-terrorist, anti-totalitarian achievements on two continents for two civilizations known but to a few. He died in the Detroit suburb in 1978.
The life story of Prince Serge Platonevich Obolensky is superficially an adventurous chronicle of an exceptional man. On another level it is symbolic, within the person of this one individual, of a once-conceivable Russian-American relationship now destroyed. The prince was the best of both countries, both worlds, merged as one mindset and outlook: the wizened, aristocratic survivor of “History,” on the one hand, and the energetic, optimistic idealist (at least as America meant at the time), on the other. The prince had been personally decorated by Tsar Nicholas II, whose statues were remounted in Russia a few years ago. He was honored by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose warning of the military-industrial complex has been realized in establishment foreign policy (“neocon”) expression. As a symbol of what-was and what-could-have-been, the Russian noble is spiritually representative of what the country now must become.
The harmonization of two powerful Christian civilizations united against the fascisms and totalitarianisms of the 20th century might have been a lost ideal of that time. In the past two decades, such an ideal reconfigured to confront anti-sovereignty globalism, terrorism, leftism, and cultural Marxism was briefly possible in the early days of Vladimir Putin, who extended an olive branch to the U.S. in the wake of the disaster that was, ultimately, Yeltsin. Now, in foreseeing the likely aftermath of this current war, and of the presidency of Putin, it is imperative that Russia look back to the future for its own survival. In this regard, an enlightened monarchist prime minister and a tsar would be the most important step the country could make since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Constitutional monarchy will preserve the country and restore its prestige; liberal democracy, which the West will push, will be its soft demise.
Russia was despised by certain elements in the West long before that country’s invasion of Ukraine got underway. By “certain elements” we mean three concentrations of power: first, the neocon foreign-policy establishment (Washington-based and Europe-wide), which did not get the “sober Yeltsin,” in New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof’s phrase, that it wanted in Putin, who, for better or worse, asserted a sovereign geopolitical will that clashed with U.S. interests. The second element is straight economic, one that seeks, among other things, an advantageous position in Russia’s enormous natural resources, estimated at $83 trillion by the World Bank. Russia’s economy is small, and now obviously very damaged. But under Putin’s tenure, the country’s fiscal efficiency, low debt, and high gold reserves have been admittedly exemplary practices, while its threats to dismantle the dollar as a reserve currency are perceived as threatening. The third element is the nihilistic left churning away in the rising sewers of the West, which sees in Russia a far too conservative, too illiberal, too “Christian” cultural identity that rejects, among other things, the kind of diversity and open-border society permeating the countries graced with the once-dignified status of “liberal democracy.”
Of these three elements (which I categorize together as “globalism” in the fullest sense of defining that word) it is this last that poses the biggest threat to Russia, though they essentially work in tandem just as they are within the West’s decline.
Let us first define what is meant by this “cultural dimension” and Western “decline,” etc.
(1) While U.S. cities are falling apart at warp speed, and one cannot enter a subway without fear of being pushed to one’s death by a night-of-the-living-dead maniac, Russia’s two major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, were on their way to becoming the next London and Paris; their metros clean, well-maintained, and in many cases architecturally beautiful, not plagued by menacing homeless.
(2) While our “Christian Church” is either a Protestant playground for holy-woke indoctrination or is embodied in a Pope whose controversies and political activism have inspired contempt among devout Catholics, the Orthodox Church is a strict Christian church that knows its place, stays in its place, and is largely scandal-free.
(3) While we have numbskulls canceling culture and a minority-obsessed pseudo-left ideological movement seeping into our schools, Russian students were required by Putin to read three works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; the Russian president oversaw the construction of the first memorial to the victims of Stalin—the giant “Wall of Grief,” unveiled in 2017—and he restituted the statues of monarchs around the major cities.
(4) While mantras of “diversity” and “tolerance” pile up along with body counts in U.S. urban hellholes and racial hostility is more aggressive than ever, Russia’s 20 million Muslims have been living in a stable society, the Chechen problem healed rather remarkably some years ago, and the well-being of Jews in the country has been such that in 2012 Ronald S. Lauder praised Putin for the relative lack of anti-Semitic attacks in the country.
(5) While our government is swimming in trillions of dollars of debt and Fed-enabled pseudo-capitalism, Russia was, prior to recent events, fiscally in good shape. Though a small economy, Russian debt has been low as a percentage of GDP (about 19 percent). The country’s gold and foreign currency reserves covered at least twice the amount of that debt, and Russia is one of the largest accumulators of gold, running neck-and-neck with China for first place. In addition, for years Moscow has been expressing its unwillingness to remain at the monetary mercy of the U.S. (specifically, President Putin’s longtime economic adviser Sergei Glazyev), and its conservative economists here have predicted during that time that Moscow’s outspoken dismay with dollar hegemony could mean gold being used as a possible currency-war weapon.
(6) While American education is in an abysmal state and the National Center for Education Statistics recently stated that over the past decade there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance in the U.S., Russia was seeing a surge of investment by private entrepreneurs/oligarchs to establish world-class schools; one of these new academies, Letovo, scored the highest mean IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Program) scores in the world.
(7) While the U.S. is demoralized by identity and gender politics, professors and teachers fear for their careers in the event of using the wrong pronoun, and men and women are increasingly hostile or sterile toward each other, Russia is, shall we say, old-school. By law, the country does not permit what it calls “gay propaganda” (for example, exhibitions and events cannot be publicly advertised as gay, nor are “parades” allowed, etc.), and marriage is officially defined in the constitution of the country as that between a man and a woman. (Specifically, a constitutional amendment of 2020 is defined as “a defense of the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman; the creation of conditions for a decent upbringing of children in the family, as well as for the responsibilities of adult children to care for parents.” The U.S. State Department responded by hanging a rainbow flag outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.)
We have here just a brief glimpse of two civilizations tending toward opposite directions, at least one keen on overtaking the other. If Washington and its vassals want Russia to be on its knees and under its control, internal disintegration is key, of which Putin, to his credit, has been aware. During the 2017 unveiling of the monument to the victims of Stalin, he stated: “We must never again push society to the dangerous precipice of division.” That division will follow should the West take the lead and maneuver a select hand puppet such as Gary Kasparov or Mikhail Khodorkovsky to commandeer the helm. In view of such a possibility, one thing will keep Russia from an inevitable divide-and-conquer, and that is the “monarchy, interrupted” of over a century ago.
“Ten years of such economic development as Russia has witnessed in the ten years just passed will make her enormously stronger than she is today,” wrote economic historian Charles Conant in 1899. He added: “Thirty years will make her almost irresistible.”
Despite the American belief that Russia lurched from Ivan the Terrible to Trotsky/Lenin/Stalin to Putin, the years between 1890 and roughly 1911 constitute those that best represent Russia at its peak, even with the grave social unrest (the Menshevik Revolution, the reactionary autocracy of Nicholas II) subverting the progress. There was a liberal monarchist–Oxford-educated reform culture that permeated the best in class of the country’s leadership. The aristocratic prime minister Pyotr Stolypin was one of the country’s best statesmen in history, cited with Alexander Nevsky (first) and Josef Stalin (third) in Russia-wide polls as the nation’s all-time “greatest.” Western-educated aristocrats with names like Obolensky, Nabokov, and Galiztine constituted the best and brightest of legal reformers; Russia was a fiscal model for the world then, led by two astute finance ministers, Count Sergei Witte and Count Nikolai Bunge, both architects of Russian capitalism and through whose management the country survived the economic turmoil of the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, the later Russo-Turkish wars, impending Balkan Wars, and not to mention the land-reform domestic dramas of the early 20th century, with the country’s finances intact.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has written: “Stolypin’s reforms produced astounding results within a few years. Between 1906 and 1915, thanks to the efforts of Stolypin’s farmers, the productivity of crops nationwide grew by 14 percent, in Siberia by 25 percent. In 1912, Russia’s grain exports exceeded by 30 percent those of Argentina, the United States and Canada combined.”
The Bank of Russia at the turn of the 20th century was one of the most sound banks in Europe. The country possessed the first- or second-largest gold reserves in the world up until the outbreak of World War I. According to The Economist of May 20, 1899, Russian holdings were 95 million pounds sterling of gold, while the Bank of France held 78 million sterling worth; the Imperial Bank of Austria-Hungary 30 million sterling worth of gold; and the Bank of England 30 million sterling worth of both gold and silver. That Russian bank once required 50 percent to 100 percent gold backing of all notes issued. “Russia up to the very moment of rupture [with Japan, 1904–1905] was working imperturbably at the progressive consolidation of her finances,” reported Karl Helfferich of the University of Berlin, at a meeting of the London-based Royal Economic Society in December 1904. “Even in years of industrial crises and defective harvest, her foreign trade showed an excess of exports over imports more than sufficient to compensate for payments sent abroad. And, as guarantee to her monetary system she has succeeded in amassing and maintaining a vast reserve of gold.”
To most Americans at the time, the Russian Empire was a half-civilized state, populated by the oppressed victims of a military tyranny or sacrificed to barbarian swarms. “Whatever warrant for this conception may have existed in the past, it is rapidly ceasing to be true,” wrote the English historian Charles Conant in 1912. “Russia organized the machinery of her economic system in a manner to make her the early and dangerous rival of the great industrial nations; banks for assisting peasants and mechanics of small means are rapidly spreading over Russia.” He continued, “The finance minister opened a peasant bank and credit, and there are plans for the central bank to support rural banks, as in Germany and Austria.” Banking historian Eugene Patton wrote in a 1911 article for the Academy of Political Science in New York: “The growth of the Russian savings deposits has been phenomenal in recent years.”
In addition, the Russian Empire had industry. The world’s first two-cylinder steam engine was produced in imperial Russia; one of the world’s first tracked vehicles was invented by Fyodor A. Blinov in 1877; an early electric car was created by well-known engineer Hippolyte V. Romanov in 1899; and in the years preceding the 1917 October Revolution, Russia produced a growing number of Russo-Balt, Puzyryov, Lessner, and other vehicles, held its first motor show in 1907, and competed at Monte Carlo and the San Sebastián Rally (15,000 kilometers in Western Europe and Northern Africa in 1913). The country also produced an airplane with a wingspan to rival that of Boeing. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union and Germany negotiated agreements that allowed Germany to violate the Treaty of Versailles by building military aircraft and training German military pilots in the USSR. This provided the Soviet Union access to the latest aviation technology developed during the tsarist period and prevented them from falling too far behind the West in this crucial sphere. The future father of one great chapter of aviation was born in Kiev, in 1889, and 1912 marked the rise of Sikorsky’s career in that empire.
Space limits dissection of what soon was to follow and the end of the monarchy at Ekaterinburg. While the Romanovs were dismembered and doused in acid, Trotsky was on his way to New York to find funding by Wall Street bankers, and a few years later much of that Russian gold would make its way to the coffers of the New York Federal Reserve as reported, for example, in one issue of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bulletin in 1921. That bank was headed up by William Boyce Thompson, a good friend of Trotsky and himself known as “the Red Wall Streeter.” A strong Russia was wanted neither by the communists nor the capitalists. The same is just as true today.
What was killed off in 1919 was set in motion again in 1991 when cronies and globalists pushed Russia from Gorbachev to Yeltsin and into the hands of Putin, whose sovereign posture became intolerable to our establishment. Today, the country will survive its sanctions, survive the necessity of a pivot to the East. But it will not survive if it is attacked where it is strongest and most vulnerable at once as a nation: its soul. The next incarnation of Russia must venture back to liberal monarchy—liberal in trade and commerce, monarchical in tradition and Christian identity. “You, gentlemen, are in need of great upheavals; we are in need of Great Russia,” said Pyotr Stolypin at the end of his Duma (parliamentary) speech on May 24,1907. He was assassinated by political opponents four years later in Kiev. Those words are the epitaph of his grave, and they are the echo of a country whose spirit never died but still awaits resurrection.