Streetwise Professor

September 22, 2009

The Patrimonial State

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:31 pm

Early Russia (Muscovy, actually) was a patrimonial state, in which everything–everything–theoretically belonged to the Tsar. I read something quite disquieting today that suggests that Obama–or at least some officials in his administration–has a similarly patrimonial attitude towards the United States (beyond his affinity for Czars):

Mr Obama has rejected the Pentagon’s first draft of the nuclear posture review as being too timid, and has called for more far-reaching options consistent with his goal of abolishing nuclear weapons, European officials say.

The options include:

– Reconfiguring the US nuclear force to allow for an arsenal measured in hundreds rather than thousands of deployed strategic warheads.

– Redrafting nuclear doctrine to narrow the conditions under which the US would use nuclear weapons.

– Exploring guaranteeing the reliability of nuclear weapons without testing or producing a new generation of warheads.

The review is due to be completed by the end of the year.

One official said: ”Obama is now driving this process. He is saying these are the President’s weapons, and he wants to look again at the doctrine and their role.”

I’ll give you a minute to absorb that.

“These are the President’s weapons.”

Uhm, no, not really.  Indeed, I have never even heard anyone at any time suggest that, even metaphorically, any piece of the US military or the US government is the President’s real or chattel property.

It is deeply disturbing that an administration official would view things in this way.  It reflects a very perverted view of the role of the executive, and the role of the individual holding the supreme executive office, in an ostensibly constitutional republic.  I would hope that Obama does not hold these views personally, but I would hardly be surprised if he does.  Indeed, the “He is saying” formulation lends itself to that interpretation.

Now, the substance of the proposals reported above is bad too, but that’s a subject for another day.  I don’t want to distract attention from the truly extraordinary nature of this characterization of Obama administration views.

Another random example of patrimonialism redolent of Russia old and new:  It was widely reported that Obama is actively working to force David Patterson from the governor’s race in New York.  Now, Patterson is indeed pretty embarrassing, but that’s hardly a disqualification for a governorship in the US; he has a lot of company.  And I know that Obama is not the first president to attempt to influence state politics.  But it is yet another example of the extent to which Obama inserts himself in political and business matters that are not part of his official responsibilities.  And it brings to mind the fact that one of Putin’s most important steps on his march to centralize power in Russia was to make governorships an appointed, rather than elective, post.

[Of course, there’s potentially another explanation for Obama’s desire to force out Patterson.  It was rumored some weeks ago that Hillary was considering resigning as Secretary of State to run for governor of New York.  She has been marginalized–to put it mildly–in the Obama administration, and no doubt Obama would be quite willing to be rid of her yesterday, given that her selection as SoS was almost certainly just part of a bargain to secure her agreement not to take the nomination fight to the convention last year.  So, an Obama already well practiced at heaving friends under the bus would have no compunction about doing the same to Patterson if it would allow him to get that Clinton woman out of his hair.  LOL.]

The primary source of cognitive dissonance I experience when evaluating Obama’s governance style is his deference to his boyars–the Democrat Congressional leadership–in advancing major elements of his agenda.  But, inasmuch as these boyars seem to share his mania for centralization, perhaps that is not so contradictory after all.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. I talked with a commie today. A real, hardcore commie, not a rootless cosmopolitan who likes to toy with Marxist theory from time to time like myself.

    Funnily enough, he dislikes Obama as much as you do. Obama is just as enmeshed in the System as you or dyed in the wool “Go USA!” Republicans, it’s just that he covers up his imperialism and class oppression under a cloak of faux-leftist rhetoric.

    Comment by poluchi fashist granatu — September 22, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

  2. Yes, my brother- and sister-in-law, who ironically host this site, are hardcore lefties who similarly disdain Obama.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 22, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  3. “Early Russia (Muscovy, actually) was a patrimonial state, in which everything–everything–theoretically belonged to the Tsar.”


    Nice tabloid cliche that’s typical.

    “Early Russia” was Rus.

    In a number of instances, the post-Mongol state with the Moscow area as capital wasn’t so radically different/backwards than what was evident elsewhere.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

  4. Picky, picky, picky.

    Re the characterization of Russia as patrimonial: Lemme see, Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Old Regime vs. some anonymous somebody who calls him/her self “Cutie Pie.” Wow. Give me a tough choice, why don’t you?

    Or . . . here’s an even better one: Max Weber, Economy and Society v. “Cutie Pie.”

    Calling Pipes and Weber tabloid writers?

    And your reflexive whababoutism is such a riot! You don’t leave home without it, do you?

    Did I make a comparison of Russia/Rus/Muscovy to anywhere else? Why, no, as a matter of fact. So why do you feel compelled to say “whatabout! whatabout!”?

    Are you denying Russia/Rus/Muscovy was patrimonial state? If so, provide some evidence. If not, your comment just suggests a compelling need to take issue with everything I say relating in any way to Russia.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 22, 2009 @ 9:39 pm

  5. There’s little doubting that Tsarist Russia was a patrimonial state (and to an extent, this pattern resurfaced from the early 1990’s), but there are several caveats, namely:

    1. A patrimonial state is the norm rather than the exception, world-historically – Cutie Pie has a point there.

    2. And the reason being was that it was the optimal state of affairs for enhancing state power, at a time when technological and economic factors made all-out centralization too destructive and destabilizing. I think any other political economy in those times would have led to Russia’s dissolution.

    Comment by poluchi fashist granatu — September 22, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

  6. Pipes fits in the “Russophobe” category.

    On Russian history, I’ll take Vernadsky and Kliuchevsky over him any day.


    Note how the Professor caricatures Russia unlike some other countries. As he suggests, he’s not alone. That point doesn’t negate what I said.

    The extreme fallback example typically given is how popular opinion in a certain advanced country was in the 1930s. This point shouldn’t be taken to mean that anyone at this thread (at least so far) is a Nazi. Likewise, Pipes is by no means someone to be reasdily accepted on every point he makes.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  7. FYI, among others, Solzhentisyn has been critical of the book the Professor references.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  8. Pipes is right about how Soviet and some non-Soviet left historiography misrepresent the Allied presence in the former Russian Empire during the Russian Civil War.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

  9. Professor:

    I think you may be missing the gist of the statement by focusing too literally on the words, “….these are the President’s weapons…”

    The way I understand this statement is that the President of the United States, who always has the “nuclear football” with him at all times, is the person who ultimately makes the decision on whether to launch the warheads were there to be a strike against the United States. Were there to be a unilaterally nuclear strike against the US, there would be no time for debate with Congress and certainly no time for the President to seek a declaration of war from Congress. Rather, the President of United States would be the one person on earth who would have to decide whether to launch a retaliatory strike. Therefore, in a sense, these weapons are, in fact, the President’s weapons.

    Perhaps the statement “….these are the President’s weapons…” should have read, “….these are the weapons of the Office of the President…”?

    Comment by Timothy Post — September 22, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  10. PS. Sorry to divert the topic here, but this is a fascinating question I haven’t been able to find a proper answer for (are the details classified?)

    If the President (and his nuclear football), Defense Secretary and Chief of Staff are destroyed – e.g. by a decapitating strike on Washington DC fired from a Russian sub off the Atlantic coast – and then Russia proceeds to launch a massive strike on US nuclear and military assets. Would the US be able to react in time to launch a retaliatory strike? Who would give authorization? How long would this take? Will the bulk of US nuclear assets (e.g. the B-2 bomber base and Dakota ICBM fields) be destroyed before retaliation, so the enemy could then hold its civilian targets hostage? etc.

    Comment by poluchi fashist granatu — September 22, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

  11. Gee, someone’s been reading the Belmont Club…maybe the Prof should have just linked to the original.

    I often wonder if the real clash these days is no longer between Left and Right but between nationalists around the world and transnationalists. By that, I mean, how else do you explain George Soros equal loathing for an America and Russia both that have the will to act unilaterally and his efforts to undermine said nationalism through Colored Revolutions,, etc.?

    Samuel Huntington in his final book Who Are We? wrote about this. A lesser known essay is John Fonte’s “Transnational Progressivism”.

    This clash seems to be highlighted too in AK’s recent essay. Even in the alternative profiling and disdaining of Glenn Beck of late, I sense the conflict in the mainstream media between those empathetic at least to middle class America left behind by globalization (Time magazine) and all those who sneeringly dismiss such rightwing populism as warmed over Dixiecrat racism (Bob Herbert of the New York Times).

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — September 22, 2009 @ 11:34 pm


    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 23, 2009 @ 1:05 am

  13. And yes, I see some picky points in the above linked article, which I’ve a good deal of agreement with (by no means a complete agreement with).

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 23, 2009 @ 5:00 am

  14. Hey, S.O, what’s with your moniker change? And, you just wouldn’t by chance and the suspiciously similar grammatic style also be “Cutie Pie” would you?

    Otherwise with all four(?) of the established pro-Pootie team here on the thread, please, continue to talk among yourselves.

    Comment by penny — September 23, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  15. […] Fonz said, "I knew that". Or was it Barbarino? Anyway, I knew that. Anyone check out the Streetwise Professor? Excellent analysis on how BHO is the Putin of the USA. […]

    Pingback by USA Politics - Hamster Wheel - Page 16 - PPRuNe Forums — September 23, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

  16. D and R are fossils. Though used currently, they convey only what they meant perhaps fifty years ago, if not longer. The paradigm as I see it is ‘Statist-Globalist’, Statist-Nationalist’, or some form of alienated ‘Libertarian’. Obama doea give one pause, he has yet to impress me as anything other than a well-connected hale fellow well met POL. No Hope, and lots of change? Unless you see it as ‘BigGummint bring Hope, comrade.’ I don’t.

    Comment by Will Fraser — September 23, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

  17. “suspiciously similar grammatic style also be “Cutie Pie” would you?” Coming from Penny, who’s generally identical to La Russophobe or at least a part of that swarm, this is pretty weak. The Steve J. is obviously not AK nor is Cutie Pie. The Prof can see all the ISPs.

    We’re not the “Pootie” team, we’re just the anti-anti-Russia team.

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — September 23, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  18. Steve J. Nelson on the FSB/KGB propaganda payroll ?

    Russia most certainly works on its image abroad, and I fully believe that they may pay the reporters for them to use Russian sources. This is not surprising at all, as many governments hire PR companies for public presentation purposes.

    The Associated Press report about head of the Tskhinvali-based non-governmental organization Lira Tskhovrebova’s alleged links to the South Ossetian and Russian security services. The report came amid Tskhovrebova’s visit to the United States, which was organized and planned by U.S.-based public-relations firm, Saylor Company.

    As for the actual story of the genocide of South Ossetians, of course it sounds ridiculously .

    Now I can meet in Russian media occasional hints that US “endorsed” Ukraine becoming a nuclear power – perhaps they are going to search for nuclear weapons in it shortly .

    Comment by Oleg — September 23, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

  19. GO TEAM!

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 23, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

  20. “The Associated Press report about head of the Tskhinvali-based non-governmental organization Lira Tskhovrebova’s alleged links to the South Ossetian and Russian security services. The report came amid Tskhovrebova’s visit to the United States, which was organized and planned by U.S.-based public-relations firm, Saylor Company.” Oleg, you know very well that the Georgian government spoonfed that leak to the AP/Washington Post, who dutifully reported it. Russia is merely starting to catch up with the Georgian and Western Ukrainian lobbies in this sense. Big deal. Mark Saylor wasn’t on the staff of former Senator John McCain like Randy Scheunemann, who was paid $800,000 by Saakashvili.

    As it stands, the Georgians cannot provide any evidence to support their version of events August 7-8, save for a vague recording of some South Ossetian militiamen. If Russian tanks were pouring through the Roki Tunnel that night Uncle Sam could have leaked the satellite photos or implied that they exist by now. The fact that no one has come forward speaks volumes about what was actually happening on the ground. Of course I know the Professor and others will likely dismiss the upcoming EU report and Der Spiegel articles putting most of the blame on Saakashvili for starting the war as German appeasement of Moscow, but there it is.

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — September 25, 2009 @ 8:41 am

  21. Steve J. Nelson is little Putin puppy .

    Der Spiegel ,Gazprom and the former Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder do not like a independent Saakashvili ?

    Do the Germans like the neo-weimar corporation with the neo-stalinists in Putin mafia ?

    Those who unleashed war in my region and led ethnic cleansing campaigns in my country – said yesterday in this very hall, from this very rostrum – that they had to do it, I quote, “to implement the principle of indivisibility of security” – in order to, “step over the legacy of the past era”. La langue de bois ; very classical la langue de bois from old times.

    The only thing that they stepped over was our sovereign border.

    They said they had to do it… as their predecessors had to invade Poland in 1939, Finland in 1940, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979.

    And they had to erase a capital of 400,000 inhabitants – Grozny, to destroy and exterminate the proud Chechen nation and kill tens of thousands of innocent women and children.

    Comment by Oleg — September 27, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

  22. A selectively suggestive morality, given (among other things) the civilian dead in Iraq since 2003.

    In comparsion, Russia’s counterattack last year took the form of humanitarian intervention.

    1938 came before 1939, with the former influencing the latter. For strategic reasons, the mentioned 1940 offered a land exchange to avert war.
    The point being that it wasn’t as offensively minded an aggression as some others.

    1956 and 1968 weren’t exclusively all Soviet Communist and all Soviet Russian affairs. As Brzezinski has gleefully acknowledged years after the fact, the lead-up to 1979 was in part provoked by others. It involved some scum of the earth among the “freedom fighters.” The kind of which are still evident.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 30, 2009 @ 11:30 am

  23. Russia’s counterattack last year took the form of humanitarian intervention.


    The 9-month international investigation into the 2008 war in the Caucasus concludes that Georgia triggered the war, but that Russia had prepared the ground, broke international law by invading Georgia as a whole and that Russia-backed South Ossetian militias conducted ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians[..] [W]hile there was evidence that regular Russian troops as well as volunteers and mercenaries had entered South Ossetia in Georgia before the start of the conflict on Aug. 7, no evidence was found of the full-scale Russian invasion to which Georgia said it was responding

    Financial Times: “While the onus of having actually triggered off the war lies with the Georgian side, the Russian side, too, carries the blame for a substantial number of violations of international law”, Ms Tagliavini says. “These include, even prior to the armed conflict, the mass conferral of Russian citizenship to a majority of the population living in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia. It also includes, in terms of an additional violation of international law, the military action by the Russian armed forces on Georgian territory, [which went] far beyond the needs of a proportionate defense of Russian Peace Keepers in Tskhinvali who had come under the [initial] Georgian attack.” [..] Russia’s subsequent recognition of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent must also “be considered as being not valid in the context of international law, and as violations of Georgia´s territorial integrity and sovereignty.” The report rejects outright Russian allegations that Georgia was carrying out a genocide against the South Ossetian population. But it accepts Tbilisi’s charges that ethnic cleansing took place against ethnic Georgians driven from South Ossetia.

    New York Times published an article today by the Leader of the EU Fact Finding Mission, Heidi Tagliavini where she discusses the “Lessons of the Georgia Conflict”

    Now what?
    Now it’s up to the PR advisors on both sides to claim that the report was in favour of them. I have no doubt that Georgia will be the looser in that battle, mainly because the report, in stating that Georgia “started” the war, (although Russia spent months preparing for it and provoking it), gives the EU/NATO countries who has taken a stand against Georgian NATO membership an argument. The report will surely also make it easier for EU to pursue friendly relations with Russia. But can EU accept that Russia has occupied a sovereign country, violated international laws by ethnic cleansing, recognised two rebel republics, and not honoured the seizfire agreement negotiated by French President Nicholas Sarkozy /EU?
    Yes, I think they can.

    Comment by Oleg — September 30, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

  24. In comparison, the 1999 Clinton led administartion bombing of Yugoslavia and 2003 Bush administration led attack on Iraq leave something to be desired.

    Saying that Russia prepared for war in Georgia can be misleading. Under Saakashvili, the Georgian government was doing some brazen things, in a way that reasonably necessitated a Russian response.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 30, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

  25. Nice try Cutie Pie

    Under Putin, the Russian government was doing some brazen things, in a way that reasonably necessitated a Georgian response.

    From Norwegian journalist Eistein Guldseth

    Friday, July 11, 2008
    War with Russia?

    I think it’s a bit too late for action. What do you say, Angela? What will happen if Lilliputin closes the valve on you? And what will happen with Ukrains steel industri if they apply the MAP? No more gas, at least it will be too expensive for them to compete with other vendors.
    I guess Lilliputin will continue annexing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, force Ukraine to stay out of NATO, and finally build The Empire.
    Smart move, Godfather…
    As a PS, I saw that more than 60 journalists have been killed during the war in IRAQ. In the same time span 115 journalists have been killed in Russia.

    Comment by Oleg — September 30, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress