Streetwise Professor

June 10, 2007

How Do You Say “Tu Quoque” in Russian?

Filed under: Russia — The Professor @ 6:56 am

Although Putin’s recent remarks about targeting Soviet (oops! I mean Russian) missiles at Europe drew the most attention in the runup to the G-8 (really the G-7 plus a poser), what struck me is the nature of Putin’s rhetoric. He is a master at “tu quoque”–“you’re another”–as his stock response to any critique. Any criticism of Russia is met by a “well you are not so perfect yourself pal, so get off my back” response. Put differently, Putin is eagle-eyed when it comes to spotting the specks in our eyes, all the while ignoring the beam in his own.

Tu quoque is a very disreputable rhetorical trick. It is a means of avoiding any serious discussion or debate. It is defensive–but offensive at the same time. It equates 1 percent and 99 percent–because neither is 100 percent perfect.

It is also emblematic of a particularly aggressive mindset, not surprising from a secret policeman, especially a Russian secret policeman. And especially a Russian secret policeman that also happens to be a judo expert. Judo fighters turn their opponent’s strength against them. One of the West’s strengths (as Victor Davis Hanson is wont to point out) is self-criticism and the “audit” of public servants. Whereas criticism of Russia usually sparks angry reactions, tu quoque triggers the Western self-critical response. This plays into Putin’s hands.

It is well to be self-critical, but it is also advisable to remember the difference between 1 percent and 99 percent (or even 50 percent), and not to let tu quoque from would-be totalitarians (or at least authoritarians) put us off from robust and steadfast opposition to their machinations.

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