Saturday, May 31, 2014

Buzzwords ...

As I compile, for my sins (which are many), the Public Diplomacy Review, I become more and whore aware of buzzwords. Here's a recent public-diplomacy related item, containing words that are, in government announcements and the semi-official press, repeated over and over again, repeated to the point of meaning nothing. They are highlighted in the below:

Workshop on Generation Change Entrepreneurial Skills ends -

News Date: 30th May 2014
A select group of public workers, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and students have undergone a two-day Generation Change Entrepreneurial Skills Training Workshop to harness their skills to manage businesses.
The workshop, which ended in Tamale on Wednesday, formed part of the Global Management Challenge facilitated by Sankofa Worldwide Limited with sponsorship from the United States Embassy in Accra with the aim to empower participants to start their own businesses and manage them (businesses) effectively for success.
It was facilitated using the Generation Simulation Training module, which allowed participants to make immediate management decisions under given scenarios to maximise profit or increase their companies' share price.

Mr Anani Yao Kuwornu, Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S Embassy in Accra, said the training was to empower participants with entrepreneurial and managerial skills to enable them to take critical management decisions to sustain and improve the profitability of their companies in the current highly competitive business environment.
This is, I'd venture to say, the "generic," official model explaining how people got money from the USG to meet other people and (let's hope) have a good time ... Of course, nothing wrong with that.

I must say, at the risk of sounding linguistically pretentious that, of the words highlighted above, the ones I am most inclined to despise are:


BTW, one of my favorite songs is, "WDIANA ROSS and THE SUPREMES what the world needs now (is love sweet love)

More drones, less literacy

L.A. drones: LAPD gets new UAVs to combat crime - Kellan Howel, The Washington Times [ca. 1:00 pm, 5/31/2014]: The Los Angeles Police Department announced Friday it had added two “unmanned aerial vehicles” to it’s [sic] arsenal on Friday.

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"Engagement" and public diplomacy

As is quite well known (see, item one) "engagement" is (or at least was, for several years) the Obama administration's favorite buzzword to describe what the USA should to interact effectively with foreign audiences, replacing the arguably outdated 1960s-, Cold-War American-produced term -- further infected by the Bush II administration's "why do they hate us war on terror" -- "public diplomacy."

So, quite interesting how "engagement" is defined in a business-oriented article that just appeared in the New York Times on "Why You Hate Work":
Engagement — variously defined as “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” — has now been widely correlated with higher corporate performance. In a 2012 meta-analysis of 263 research studies across 192 companies, Gallup found that companies in the top quartile for engaged employees, compared with the bottom quartile, had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent higher customer ratings, 28 percent less theft and 48 percent fewer safety incidents.

A 2012 global work force study of 32,000 employees by the consulting company Towers Watson found that the traditional definition of engagement — the willingness of employees to voluntarily expend extra effort — is no longer sufficient to fuel the highest levels of performance. Willing, it turns out, does not guarantee able. Companies in the Towers Watson study with high engagement scores measured in the traditional way had an operating margin of 14 percent. By contrast, companies with the highest number of “sustainably engaged” employees had an operating margin of 27 percent, nearly three times those with the lowest traditional engagement scores.

JB: Incidentally, when I hear the word passion mentioned above -- a favorite six-letter expression in essays of college applicants -- I take out my whiteout (no, don't worry -- I don't have a revolver).

Passion, dear college applicants, is between lovers, not for getting into college or
landing upon a "great-paying" job upon graduation.

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The Art Hitler Hated

New York Review of Books
The Art Hitler Hated

Michael Kimmelman

Ingeborg and Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Self-Portrait, 1934/1937
As he had lived, Cornelius Gurlitt died at eighty-one early in May, in thrall to a trove of inherited art he kept hidden for decades mostly at a modest apartment in Munich. The announcement last year of the collection’s discovery by German authorities yanked the reclusive Gurlitt from the shadows. Stories about him busied the front pages of newspapers for weeks.
He seemed a figure out of Sebald or Kafka. He had never held a job, kept no bank accounts, was not listed in the Munich phone book. Aside from sporadic visits to a sister, who lived in Würzburg and died two years ago, he had had little contact with anyone for half a century. Der Spiegel reported that he had not watched television since 1963 or seen a movie since 1967, and that he had never been in love, except with his collection.
The art, nearly 1,300 works, some of which belatedly turned up in a second home in Salzburg, was mostly nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European pictures, a good deal of it what the Nazis called Entartete Kunst, or degenerate art, who knows how much of it seized from museums and Jews. Cornelius’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, accumulated the collection. Under the Nazis, Hildebrand was dismissed from two museum posts—one in Zwickau, “for pursuing an artistic policy affronting the healthy folk feelings of Germany” by exhibiting modern art, the other in Hamburg, partly for having a Jewish grandmother. But then Goebbels handpicked him, among a few others, to sell abroad confiscated modern works. That is how Hildebrand spent the war years, placating his Nazi bosses while enriching himself, then afterward lying to Allied investigators about the destruction of his collection in Dresden.
He died in a car wreck in 1956. His widow, Cornelius’s mother, died a dozen years later, when Cornelius seems to have taken over the collection, selling the occasional picture to stay afloat but otherwise holding the art as a sort of sacrament. His father had written a self-serving essay shortly before his death describing the collection “not as my property, but rather as a kind of fief that I have been assigned to steward,” which Cornelius clearly took to heart, until his nervous behavior on a train from Zurich made Bavarian customs officers suspicious.

Early in 2012, police, customs, and tax officials descended on his Munich apartment and spent three days removing works by Picasso, Matisse, Otto Dix, Emil Nolde, and Oskar Kokoschka, along with older artists like Renoir, Courbet, Dürer, and Canaletto. Gurlitt was ordered to sit and watch. He told Der Spiegel that it was worse than the loss of his parents or his sister. By the time newspaper and television reporters discovered him and his story more than a year later, he was ill and bereft.
The usual media chatter focused on how much Gurlitt’s hidden art was worth, a noise that competed with the sound of slow, grinding wheels, justice belatedly turning toward restitution. “All I wanted was to live with my pictures,” Gurlitt said, but of course who knows how many original owners of the works would have said the same, had Hitler’s henchmen not stolen the art from them. In Gurlitt’s ruin, and the liberation of captive art, one could also make out the twisted echoes of families discovered hiding in attics, of fleeing refugees unmasked on trains.
A culprit, a figure divorced from time—far removed from a century of hedge fund investors buying $100 million paintings—Gurlitt loved the art he hoarded truly and too well. The pictures survived him, like Paul Celan’s bottles tossed into the ocean, suddenly returned from oblivion, inevitable tokens of lives lost and reminders of art’s endurance. Hitler couldn’t exterminate modern art—the great Jewish Bolshevik cultural conspiracy, as he saw it—whose daring and pungency, obscured by today’s babble about money, somehow gained new life in the story of Gurlitt and the Nazis’ degenerate campaign.
I suspect this partly explains the popularity of “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937,” at the Neue Galerie in New York, where lines stretched out the door as soon as the show opened in March. Seeing the exhibition, you can recover a sense of what was once radical and thrilling about pictures by Expressionists like Max Beckmann, George Grosz, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. A debased term, the avant-garde gets its jive back. Art matters again. The Nazis raised the stakes by stigmatizing modern art. As Genet once put it, fascism is theater. So modernism returns to its role as tragic hero in the show.
It is organized by Olaf Peters, an art historian and board member of the Neue Galerie, whose founder, the billionaire collector Ronald Lauder, was United States ambassador to Austria and outspoken on issues of Nazi repatriation. The exhibition retraces ground covered a generation ago in a 1991 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Far larger than this show, that one, put together by the curator Stephanie Barron, also revolved around the notorious 1937 “Entartete Kunst” exhibition in Munich that the Nazis mounted to coincide with the opening of the first “Grosse Deutsche Kunstaustellung,” or Great German Art Show, of approved Nazi art. Barron recovered nearly two hundred of the 650 works crammed into the original show in Munich, along with Nazi films and archives. The Los Angeles catalog provided a wealth of information, illustrations, and biographical details, many about German artists who had slipped down the memory hole.
The Neue Galerie exhibition condenses the same story into a handful of rooms. It is modest in size but ingenious, poignant, pointed. It traces the concept of degeneracy back to its well-known roots in the writing of a nineteenth-century rabbi’s son, Max Nordau, and connects the 1937 “Entartete Kunst” to smaller Schandausstellungen, Exhibitions of Shame, staged by extremists earlier in the 1930s in cultivated cities like Dresden.
The New York show brings together vivid propaganda and photographs, identifying the degenerate art campaign as a prelude to extermination. It recovers empty picture frames from paintings now lost, which speak volumes hung side by side. Artists like Paul Klee come across as genuine provocateurs. A suite of Klee’s twittering, toylike pictures, with their spidery symbols and scribbly shapes, whimsical and ingenious, indebted to children’s art and the art of the insane, were like Davids to the Nazi Goliath. And it’s hard to miss the heartbreak in a self-portrait by Kirchner, the artist staring straight ahead, face half in shadow, or more likely erased, a work begun in 1934 but finished in 1937, when Kirchner added yellow bands, like bars, almost forming a swastika, handcuffing his wrists. The Nazis had confiscated hundreds of Kirchner’s works that year and put dozens in “Entartete Kunst.” A fragile, sickly man, Kirchner committed suicide, an early victim of Hitler’s cultural cleansing.
The show’s opening room lays it all out, pitting works from “Entartete Kunst” against art from the “Grosse Deutsche Kunstaustellung,” or GDK, a clash encapsulated by the pairing of two large triptychs: Beckmann’s Departure (1932–1935) is a dark riddle about torture and loss; Adolf Ziegler’s The Four Elements (1937), an academic quartet of marmoreal, Teutonic nudes, as mundane as the Beckmann looks mysterious, exemplifying what Susan Sontag meant when she wrote years ago in The New York Reviewabout fascist nudes being “sanctimoniously asexual.”
It was Ziegler who gave the opening speech for “Entartete Kunst” in 1937 (“monstrosities of madness, of impudence, of inability and degeneration,” he said, calling the artists “pigs”); and Hitler hung The Four Elements over his fireplace at the Führerbau in Munich, until Ziegler fell out of favor, for joining secret peace negotiations with the Allies in 1943. Dachau was his penalty.
The show also pairs works like Richard Sheibe’s bronze Decathlete (1936), a typically airless Nazi nude, with Karel Niestrath’s Expressionist Hungry Girl (1925), emaciated, streamlined, proud. Sculpture seems to have mattered more than painting to the Nazis because it could be large, outdoors, and lent itself to the glorification of the Reich and the cult of the body. But one still senses a fuzzy, almost arbitrary line that often divided banned from accepted art. Sometimes there’s hardly any difference at all. At the same time, the Nazis borrowed modernist graphics to vilify modernism. Peters has told me that he believes that the big public misconception is that there was, from National Socialism’s early days, a cultural master plan, an aesthetic agenda.
But there wasn’t. Culture’s role for the Reich was improvised, ad hoc. Here the catalog makes fascinating reading for its accounts of the organization of both theGDK and “Entartete Kunst.” Ines Schlenker, an art historian, in an essay about the GDK, writes how, when fire destroyed Munich’s traditional exhibition hall, a new building was commissioned for which Hitler laid the cornerstone. The Haus der Deutschen Kunst was one of the early Nazi monuments, a neoclassical temple of marble and light with a grand colonnade and a skylit nave, built to showcase the art Hitler liked. Its first big exhibition was to be the 1937 “Grosse Deutsche Kunstaustellung.” Some 554,759 people attended the GDK, fewer than the two million who saw “Entartete Kunst,” but as Schlenker writes, the Nazis inflated the degenerate figure by mass visits of party organizations, enacting rituals of derision.
The GDK number exceeded attendance at all other contemporary art events in Germany that year. In subsequent years, attendance for the annual GDKshows rose, peaking at 846,674 in 1942. Hundreds of works were sold out of these exhibitions to buyers seeking favor with the regime. The Nazis touted the sales as proof that Germans loved Nazi art.
But what was Nazi art? It was, from the start, whatever Hitler felt at the moment. For a while there was a chance it was going to be a kind of Nordic Expressionism, until the Führer decided it wasn’t. Beckmann, Kirchner, and Oskar Schlemmer imagined working with the state as late as June 1937, when Hitler ordered thousands of their works and others impounded from German collections. The Bauhaus had had hopes, too, until it didn’t. Organizers of the first GDK sent invitations to Nolde, Ernst Barlach, and Rudolf Belling, all of whom would simultaneously end up in “Entartete Kunst.”
Nolde, who had participated in an exhibition of young National Socialists in Munich, was infuriated. Along with Barlach and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, he had signed a loyalty oath to Hitler after Hindenburg died. More than one thousand of his pictures were confiscated from German museums, and twenty-seven included in the degenerate display. As for Belling, the Nazis were so confused and disorganized that a bronze sculpture he did of the boxer Max Schmeling made it into the first GDK while two other works of his simultaneously landed in “Entartete Kunst.” An open call to contribute to the GDK had been issued to German artists months earlier with the empty promise “to neither favor specific art trends nor exclude others in the selection of the works.” This elicited 15,000 submissions, whittled down by a jury for inspection by Hitler, whom Goebbels recorded in his diaries as “wild with rage” at the results.

Walter Klein, ARTOTHEK/Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
Karel Niestrath: Hungry Girl, 1925
“The sculptures are passable, but the paintings are in some cases outright catastrophic,” Goebbels noted. Hitler fired the jury and enlisted a friend, Heinrich Hoffmann, who shared his taste for nineteenth-century Bavarian kitsch: genre paintings, classical nudes, portrait busts, animal pictures. The exhibition opened on July 18, 1937, with nearly nine hundred works by more than five hundred artists. It was a mess.
Peters writes that “Entartete Kunst” was devised by Goebbels in part to obscure the failings of Nazi-approved art. An admirer of Expressionism before Hitler condemned it, Goebbels recorded the idea for an Entartete Kunst exhibition in his diary on June 4, 1937, just weeks before the show opened. He imagined an exhibition (at first in Berlin) of “works from the era of decay. So the people can see and understand.” The era was Weimar Germany, with its cultural prologue in the fin de siècle. Peters believes that Goebbels cooked up the degenerate display because he felt threatened by Hoffmann and fearful when two of his allies were among the jurors dismissed from the GDK. This was how he wanted to get back into Hitler’s favor.
The show was hurriedly crammed into the galleries used for the plaster cast collection at Munich’s Archaeological Institute, not far from the Haus der Deutschen Kunst. Walls were painted with mocking texts, to silence skeptical visitors. A crucifixion by Ludwig Gies was hung at the entrance, a provocation to devout Christians who couldn’t recognize the work’s clear Gothic debts, mobilizing what Peters calls “Catholic-tinged anti-Semitic resentment” against modernism—notwithstanding that the Nazis had risen to power on an anticlerical platform.
Much was made in the exhibition of modernist contortions of the human body, of antiwar art by figures like Grosz. Carl Linfert, reviewing the show inDie Frankfurter Zeitung in November 1937, could not fail to see “Entartete Kunst” as a diversionary tactic. “Goebbels and Hitler sought refuge in revenge and radicalization,” as Peters sums up Linfert’s argument. “If they could not establish anything significant themselves, they could at least manage to destroy the hated counterimage.”
It would be a few more years before modern art was used directly to justify mass murder, in propaganda films and literature, with Himmler pushing a concept of culture infecting the masses like a plague “against the healthy body.” Works by Otto Freundlich, who would be murdered at Majdanek, were juxtaposed with nudes by Josef Thorack in SS brochures. Degenerate art, Himmler wrote, spread through the culture; it had the same effect as the “mixing of blood.” From 1937 to the early 1940s, the notion of degenerate art underwent “a deadly transformation,” as Peters writes.
That transformation now seems inevitable, but clearly art had remained a moving target for the Nazis, an existential threat, which haunted Germany’s fate and still does. Sebald described in The Emigrants a forgotten Alpine climber whose bones suddenly turn up in a glacier decades after he had disappeared. “And so they are ever returning to us, the dead,” he wrote. A few years ago, workers digging a new subway station near City Hall in Berlin unearthed a rusted bronze bust of a woman, a portrait, as it turned out, by Edwin Scharff, one of those forgotten German modernists. Soon more banned sculptures emerged at the construction site, eleven in all; a couple of them had been exploited in one of the more notorious Nazi propaganda films. They were known to have been stored in the depot of the Reichspropagandaministerium, which organized “Entartete Kunst.” German authorities concluded that they ended up near City Hall because they came from a former building across the street. During the war, a tax lawyer and escrow agent, Erhard Oewerdieck, kept an apartment at 50 Königstrasse. He is history’s answer to Gurlitt, the Munich hoarder.
Oewerdieck is remembered at Yad Vashem. He helped the historian Eugen Taübler and his wife flee to America, preserving part of Taübler’s library. He and his wife gave money to another Jewish family to escape to Shanghai. He hid an employee in his apartment. German investigators today guess that, having somehow got hold of the sculptures from “Entartete Kunst,” he hid them in his office before fire from Allied raids in 1944 consumed the building, which collapsed, burying the office’s contents.
So the art remained for all these years until the workers digging for the subway turned up, like the police and customs agents at Gurlitt’s door, like the bones of Sebald’s Alpine climber.

Why Putin Says Russia Is Exceptional: Such claims have often heralded aggression abroad and harsh crackdowns at home.

Why Putin Says Russia Is Exceptional: Such claims have often heralded aggression abroad and harsh crackdowns at home. LEON ARON, Wall Street Journal

May 30, 2014 2:16 p.m. ET
Tim O'Brien
In the winter of 2012, something surprising happened to Vladimir Putin: He discovered, as he wrote in a government newspaper, that Russia isn't just an ordinary country but a unique "state civilization," bound together by the ethnic Russians who form its "cultural nucleus." This was something new. In his previous 12 years in office, first as Russia's president and then as prime minister, Mr. Putin had generally stayed away from grand pronouncements on culture and ideology.
And Mr. Putin wasn't done with this theme. Elected in March 2012 to a third term as president—in the face of massive antiregime protests, replete with banners and posters scorning him personally—he told the Russian Federal Assembly the following year that it was "absolutely objective and understandable" for the Russian people, with their "great history and culture," to establish their own "independence and identity."
What was this identity? For Mr. Putin, it was apparently easier to say what it was not: It was not, he continued, "so-called tolerance, neutered and barren," in which "ethnic traditions and differences" are eroded and "the equality of good and evil" had to be accepted "without question."
To Mr. Putin, in short, Russia was exceptional because it was emphatically not like the modern West—or not, in any event, like his caricature of a corrupt, morally benighted Europe and U.S. This was a bad omen, presaging the foreign policy gambits against Ukraine that now have the whole world guessing about Mr. Putin's intentions.
There is ample precedent for this sort of rhetoric about Russian exceptionalism, which has been a staple of Kremlin propaganda since 2012. In Russian history, the assertion of cultural uniqueness and civilizational mission has often served the cause of political, cultural and social reaction—for war and imperial expansion, as a diversion from economic hardship and as a cover for the venality and incompetence of officials. As the great 19th-century Russian satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin wrote: "They [the powers that be] are talking a lot about patriotism—must have stolen again."
The pedigree of Russian exceptionalism stretches back to a 16th-century monk, Philotheus of Pskov, a city about 400 miles northwest of Moscow. Constantinople had fallen to the Turks a century earlier and Rome was possessed by the "heresy" of Catholicism, so it fell to the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, Philotheus averred, to preserve, strengthen and expand the only real and pure Christianity: the Russian Orthodox faith.
Muscovy wasn't just a growing principality but, Philotheus wrote, a "Third Rome," endowed by God with a sacred mission to redeem humanity. Such ideas were ready-made for the centralizing ambitions of the founders of the modern Russian state, Vasily III and his son, Ivan IV, known as "The Terrible." This is how Ivan became "czar," the first Russian sovereign to be so crowned—a title derived from Caesar and, in the new state mythology, a ruler whose authority could be traced back to Augustus himself.
"Two Romes have fallen. The Third [Rome] stands, and there shall be no Fourth," Philotheus declared with a literary flourish, which has inspired Russian messianism ever since. Ivan the Terrible, for his part, responded during his reign (1547-84) with incessant wars in the West and the East, imperial expansion and sadistic purges.
These are the seeds of Mr. Putin's newly adopted worldview. But Russians themselves have often rejected this notion of national uniqueness. In particular, a number of Russian leaders have tried time and again to bring their country into the orbit of the "civilized world."
In the early 18th century, the brutal modernizer Peter the Great forced his nobles to shave off their traditional beards, to swap their Byzantine robes for stockings, breeches and wigs, and to send their sons to Europe to learn navigation, engineering and the modern sciences. Catherine the Great's effort at Westernizing Russia during her own rule (1762-96) was incomparably milder, but she was just as determined. Nor was the "Third Rome" to be found in the discourse of Russia's three greatest liberalizers: Czar Alexander II, who freed the serfs in 1861, and Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, who brought the Soviet Union to an end and explicitly sought what they called a "road to the European home."
By contrast, Mr. Putin's recent rhetoric harks back to Russia's two most reactionary rulers: the 19th-century czars Nicholas I and his grandson, Alexander III. These are the sovereigns who made Russia's secret political police a key state institution, with Alexander giving it virtually unlimited powers by declaring, in effect, a perennial state of emergency. At the same time, Russia's allegedly distinctive identity was crystallized in the official state ideology of "Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality." With minor linguistic adjustments, this slogan of Nicholas I and Alexander III seems now to have been adopted by Mr. Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Russia has a unique civilization apart from the West. Reuters
One of the most troubling aspects of this concept of Russian uniqueness is that it is has been defined largely in opposition to an allegedly hostile and predatory West. According to Mr. Putin's favorite philosopher, the émigré Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954), "Western nations don't understand and don't tolerate Russian identity…They are going to divide the united Russian 'broom' into twigs to break those twigs one by one and rekindle with them the fading light of their own civilization." Mr. Putin often quotes Ilyin and recently assigned his works to regional governors.
One can hear distinct echoes of Ilyin's views in the fiery speech that Mr. Putin delivered this past March after Russia's annexation of Crimea. The West, Mr. Putin said, "preferred to be guided not by international law in its practical policies but by the rule of the gun" and wished to "drive Russia into the corner." He traced this hostility as far back as the 18th century and said that, in the post-Soviet era, Russia "has always been deceived, has always been [confronted with] decisions made behind its back."
In Mr. Putin's view, it is the West's intention to interfere with Russia's historic mission and to thwart the rightful "integration of the Eurasian space." As for those in Ukraine who resisted this effort, he described them as boeviki (fighters), a term that, until then, had been used only to designate Muslim militants fighting in Russia's North Caucasus. Mr. Putin's other innovation was to label the critics of his regime not just as "fifth columnists" but as "national-traitors," natsional-predateli—a precise Russian equivalent of Nationalverräter, the term used by Hitler in "Mein Kampf" to refer to the German leaders who signed the treaty of Versailles after Germany was defeated in World War I.
Mr. Putin's approval ratings, which fell to the low point of his career at the end of 2013, are now sky-high. How could they not be? Russian government propaganda about the Ukraine crisis goes completely unchallenged on state-owned and state-controlled national television networks, where 94% of Russians get their news. In this coverage, Mr. Putin is presented as the defender of the motherland and his ethnic Russian brethren in Ukraine, who are said to suffer assault, torture and butchery at the hands of the "junta of fascists" in Kiev. To Russian ears, "fascist" inevitably recalls the Nazi invaders of World War II.
Russians are hardly the only people in modern history to be intoxicated by the ideological cocktail of national victimhood and triumphalism, by the vision of a heroic nation-on-a-mission, abused by foreigners yet always ultimately victorious. Over the past century, Germans, Italians, Japanese and, more recently, Serbs have embraced such narratives, once their regimes silenced critics through censorship, harassment, forced exile, jail and murder. These and other histories of state-sponsored campaigns of national "uniqueness" suggest that the regimes and leaders that flatter their peoples most shamelessly are precisely the ones that end up decimating them with the greatest indifference and in the largest numbers, whether through war, starvation, concentration camps or firing squads.
It is hard, then, not to be troubled by Mr. Putin's suddenly opining, at the end of his four-hour call-in television show last month, about the "generous Russian soul" and the "heroism and self-sacrifice" that allegedly sets ethnic Russians apart from "the other peoples." The last time Russians were praised in similar terms was in Stalin's famous toast at the May 24, 1945, victory reception in the Kremlin for the commanders of the Red Army. The dictator extolled ethnic Russians as "the leading people," blessed with "steadfast character" and "patience" and, most of all, an unshakable "trust in the government."
As he spoke, Stalin was putting hundreds of thousands of those very same Russians through the hell of "filtration camps" and in cattle cars on the way to even greater suffering in the Gulag, where many of them died. The toast also presaged the end of wartime cooperation with the West, still greater repression at home and a campaign of aggressive, exclusionary patriotism, including the hunt for "rootless cosmopolitans" and "Zionists" in the service of American imperialism.
But today's Russia isn't the Russia of old. The period of highly imperfect but real democratization under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, as well as the protest and open discussion of recent years, has made Mr. Putin's assertions of Russian exceptionalism even more transparently self-serving. Leonid Kaganov, one of Russia's most influential bloggers, recently posted what he labeled the "Ten Commandments of the New Russian State." It opens, in pitch-perfect parody of the regime's latest line, with the statement: "Russia is [the country] biggest in size, population, level of development, culture, intelligence, modesty, honesty and justice." It goes on to lament that "We are completely surrounded by Gayropa and its whores on all sides," who "falsely worship a notion of liberty deeply alien to us."
Or maybe not so "alien."
Asked in a 2012 poll if their country needs to have a political opposition, more Russians agreed than disagreed. In polls over the past six months, a majority also endorsed the propositions that a state should be under society's control and that power should be distributed among different political institutions, rather than being concentrated under one entity.
Russians also have abiding doubts about Mr. Putin. In a 2013 poll by the Levada Center, Russia's most credible independent polling firm, Mr. Putin was "admired" by 2% of Russians and "liked" by 18% (the corresponding numbers in 2008 were 9% and 40%), while 23% were either "wary" of him, could say "nothing good" about him or disliked him, and 22% were either "neutral" or "indifferent."
Asked if they thought that Mr. Putin was guilty of the abuse of power, 52% answered "undoubtedly" or "probably" (13% were convinced that it wasn't true, while 18% thought that it didn't matter, even if true). Perhaps most alarmingly for Mr. Putin, more than 50% of Russians in another Levada poll in April 2013 didn't want him to remain president after 2018. In the words of Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, by January of 2014, "Putin stopped being a 'Teflon' [president]."
In today's Russia, these sentiments have been drowned in a wave of patriotic euphoria and anti-Western paranoia. But Mr. Putin may soon find that the effects of such strong and fast-acting stimulants are only temporary, with a heavy hangover to follow. In the short term, he is likely to continue manufacturing external hostility and "saving" ethnic Russians in Ukraine (and possibly in other regions as well). He will blame the inevitable economic hardship on the machinations and sanctions of the West, thus making it a patriotic duty to bear the deprivation stoically.
But the country's patriotic rapture will eventually cool as the economy declines even more sharply. After all, as Mr. Putin lamented a few years ago, almost half of Russia's food is imported (up to 85% in some of the largest cities), most of it from the EU countries. And this year the ruble has hit record lows against the euro.
Terror, censorship and indoctrination have long allowed dictators to maintain power even amid deprivation. Just look at Cuba and Zimbabwe, not to mention North Korea and Stalin's Soviet Union.
Mr. Putin's appeals to the unique ways of Russia and Russian civilization may not be enough, however, to force the country back toward dictatorship, especially after the brilliant moral explosion of glasnost and a decade and a half of liberty. Russia's fate will be determined by how much repression he is prepared to deploy—and by the wishes of the Russian people, who now face a choice between living in a normal country or in one that is aggressively and chauvinistically exceptional.
Mr. Aron is a resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. His latest book is "Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991."

Book Review: 'Strange Glory' by Charles Marsh

Book Review: 'Strange Glory' by Charles Marsh
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man of contradictions—and his theology the essential response to modernity.

By CHRISTIAN WIMAN, Wall Street Journal
May 30, 2014 5:30 p.m. ET
When I was a kid growing up in the Baptist badlands of far West Texas in the 1980s, the only serious theologian I ever heard a word about was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This was odd in one sense. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran, and his theology was stringent, complex and fraught with a kind of vital void, a meaning in meaninglessness that Christians were just beginning to piece together from the shards of modernism and its tidal violence. By contrast, the sermons I heard in Texas tended toward fire-eyed warnings of the Rapture or clear-cut moral imperatives about fornication (bad) or football (good).

Strange Glory

By Charles Marsh
Knopf, 515 pages, $35
bpk, Berlin/Art Resource, NY
In another sense, though, the reference was apt, for Bonhoeffer (1906-45) was Christocentric to a secularly alarming degree, and so were we. He believed that God's remoteness was woven into the flesh and blood of living existence and that, moreover, "we are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth." For Bonhoeffer, the church must penetrate every aspect of the lives of its parishioners; either it acknowledges and answers intractable human suffering and from that suffering wrings a strain of real joy and hope, or it is simply an easy extension of secularism and thus an abomination. That image of the upright, uptight, Yankee Episcopalian sitting rigid in his pew—God's frozen people and all that—well, let's just say that occasionally Bonhoeffer provided our more apocalyptic preachers with some potent rhetorical ammunition.
Plus, his was one hell of a story. There was the little boy with the taste for eternity deciding at 13 to become a theologian. There was the aristocratic, patriotic and astonishingly accomplished family crushed by the country they would have died to save. (The Bonhoeffer family lost four members to the Nazis.) There was the consummate intellectual who, safely ensconced in New York City at the start of World War II, returned almost immediately to Germany because, as he put it, if he did not suffer his country's destruction, then he could not credibly participate in her restoration.
By that point Bonhoeffer was already well-known, and not simply in Germany. He had written what still may be his most famous book, "The Cost of Discipleship" (1937), which is both bracing and haunting to read in light of the events that followed. ("Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only insofar as he shares his Lord's suffering and rejection and crucifixion.") Faith, Bonhoeffer stressed, could be found only in actions of faith: "Only he who obeys, believes."
Just about the entire German church, Catholics and Protestants, turned up its belly to Hitler —and was gutted. Bonhoeffer was undeceived from the start. Within two days of Hitler's ascension in 1933, with storm troopers already in the streets, Bonhoeffer gave a dangerous radio address in which he proclaimed resistance to the Reich and support for the Jews. His sense of Christian responsibility and fraternity would only grow firmer. "Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing the Gregorian chant," he said in 1938.
Eventually this gentle, cerebral man became a quite capable double agent, ostensibly working for German military intelligence while he was actually passing information to the nations at war with Germany, as well as helping Jews escape. The pacifist so adamant that at one time he believed all violence was demonic joined a group that launched multiple assassination attempts on the life of Hitler. "Both the no and the yes involve guilt," Bonhoeffer told one of his anguished co-conspirators. The only consolation lay in knowing that the guilt was "always borne by Christ."
And Christ—the immediacy of him in other men's faces, the suffering that was both shearing and shared—was what Bonhoeffer clung to when the Gestapo arrested him in April 1943. For a time his circumstances, aside from the extreme isolation, were relatively mild because of his family connections and because the full extent of his "betrayal" was not known. Writings of all sorts—letters, fragments, sermons, poetry—poured out of him.
A different side of Bonhoeffer's theology emerged in prison: "The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God." His family would eventually find these writings, which gained an enormous readership after Bonhoeffer's death, a great consolation. Not only did they reveal his strength of character and existential serenity even as things grew truly awful—Bonhoeffer suffered degrading, painful torture and was finally executed in April 1945—but they ameliorated some of Bonhoeffer's early sternness. They also restored the more mystical side of Bonhoeffer that had made him become a theologian in the first place.
Charles Marsh's excellent biography, "Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer," enters a crowded and contentious field. For years the standard life, and certainly the most theologically comprehensive, has been the book written by Bonhoeffer's closest friend, Eberhard Bethge, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian, Christian, Contemporary." But it is almost 50 years old, it's a thousand pages long and of course Bethge had no access to any of the information that has been unearthed in the intervening years.
More recently, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, founder of the Bonhoeffer Society and a close friend of Bethge, published "Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance" in 2010. Unfortunately for Mr. Schlingensiepen, his scrupulous and erudite book appeared at almost exactly the same time as Eric Metaxas's blockbuster, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" (notice how the descriptors are amped up for a broader audience). Mr. Metaxas sought to "reclaim" Bonhoeffer, both from a certain strand of liberal Protestantism that reads most attentively from the existential, in extremis late work (my favorite part of Bonhoeffer, I should admit) and from the secular humanists who had, in Mr. Metaxas's view, sought to praise Bonhoeffer's courage while purging his Christianity.
Mr. Marsh does not even mention the Metaxas book or the enormous attention it brought to Bonhoeffer. He is a scholar, and Mr. Metaxas is a popular biographer, and it's possible that Mr. Marsh found no new information in the Metaxas book that he needed for "Strange Glory." Still, though Mr. Marsh deals quite well with the intractable contradictions of Bonhoeffer's beliefs and actions, he misses the chance to situate the theologian and his ideas more clearly within the contemporary context. A simple preface would have helped.
But he goes about his business quietly and professionally (the notes alone are a treasure of information), and he has a rare talent for novelistic detail—which requires a genuine creative imagination as well as scrupulously documented research in order not to become ridiculous. It's lovely to read of young Bonhoeffer and his twin sister, Sabine, lying awake at night "trying to imagine eternity":
When the twins got separate bedrooms they devised a code for keeping up their metaphysical games. Dietrich would drum lightly on the wall with his fingers, an "admonitory knock" announcing that it was time once again to ponder eternity. A further tap signaled a new reflection on the solemn theme, and so it went, back and forth, until one of them discerned the final silence—usually it was Dietrich. And with the game concluded, he lay awake, the only light in his room coming from a pair of candle-lit crosses his mother had placed atop a corner table.
It's inspiring to almost feel Bonhoeffer slipping verses or notes of comfort into the sweaty hands of fellow prisoners either coming or going from torture. Mr. Marsh is so good at these scenes, so deeply embedded within them, that you almost miss when the bombshell drops.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay.
Well, no, that's not what Mr. Marsh says, not outright. What he says is that for a number of years Bonhoeffer and Bethge, who had been teacher and student, lived very much like a couple: sharing a bank account, giving gifts under both of their names, traveling together, sleeping by warm fires, and rapturously reading books and playing the piano madly at all hours. Their intimacy was that of lovers, not friends.
There is no question of consummation, nor even the suggestion that Bonhoeffer ever actively sought it. "Bonhoeffer's relationship with Bethge had always strained toward the achievement of a romantic love," writes Mr. Marsh, "one ever chaste but complete in its complex aspirations."
But what about Bonhoeffer's engagement, at the age of 36, to Maria von Wedemeyer, who was 20 years his junior and the first "girlfriend" he'd ever had? Mr. Marsh stresses not only that last fact but also the severe formality between them and their intellectual incompatibility (he had been her teacher—and flunked her!). Bonhoeffer made his proposal just two weeks after Bethge made his own (to Bonhoeffer's 17-year-old niece) and, according to Mr. Marsh, "took it as a test of his own mettle—his capacity for entering into and sustaining a romance with a woman and thus keeping pace, as it were, with the man who was his soul mate."
On one level, it's hard for me to care about any of this. It is possible for a man to fall in love with another man and not be gay. It is possible for a woman to fall in love with another woman and not be a lesbian. Or perhaps in both instances the lovers do warrant the words but in some more elastic and empathetic versions than contemporary American culture—or at least conservative religious culture—seems inclined to allow. Human desire is a complex phenomenon. Just think how much more complex is the human desire for God, or God's desire for what human love ought to look like.
Still, there's another way of looking at this. Theology is not a discipline like science, sociology or even philosophy. You can't draw some stark line between the life and work of the theologian, because in a very real sense the life is an active test of the work. When Martin Luther wrote, late in his life, that the Jews are a "base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and . . . must be accounted as filth," and then went on to suggest that the only Christian thing to do to Jews might be to kill them, the comments not only anticipated and almost ordained the rise of Nazism but also seeped like sewage back through the rest of Luther's truly beautiful work, which can now never have quite the same smell.
And Bonhoeffer? He "became a theologian because he was lonely," wrote Bethge, who would have known best. That loneliness is woven into the early, Wordsworthian experiences with nature that Bonhoeffer claimed—in a letter from a Gestapo prison—"made me who I am." It is evident in the conflicted way in which he approached divinity: the awful longing for an absent God, the hunger for the hot touch of an absolute Christ. And one sees it most acutely in the way he pursued an always deeper intimacy with Bethge, who clearly determined the limits of their relationship, finally declaring in a letter that he simply could not give Bonhoeffer the kind of companionship he wanted.
There will be blood among American evangelicals over Mr. Marsh's claim. For some, it will be more damning to Bonhoeffer's memory than any anti-Semitic aside that Martin Luther made half a millennium ago. I suspect that's precisely why Mr. Marsh has written his book with such subtlety and circumspection: He didn't want this story to bethe story. He may be in for quite a shock.
As for myself, I feel both grateful for and pained by the revelation. Mr. Marsh's evidence does seem compelling—though I think he may underestimate the feelings Bonhoeffer developed for his fiancée. I am grateful because the research casts a different, more introspective light on some of Bonhoeffer's ideas and inclinations (his extreme need for a community that was bound together both physically and spiritually, for example). I am pained for the same reason: The discovery reveals the rift of emptiness, of unanswered longing, that ran right through Bonhoeffer and every word he wrote.
But this is precisely the quality that makes Bonhoeffer so essential to believers now. He embodies—and refuses to neutralize—the contradictions that have haunted and halved Christianity for well over a century. The same man who once declared that the church was the only possible answer to human loneliness also suspected that we were entering a stage in which "Christianity will only live in a few people who have nothing to say." The same man who once called marriage "God's holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time" was almost certainly in love with another man—right up to his dying day.
This is where Charles Marsh's book becomes truly beautiful and heartbreaking. Though by all accounts Bonhoeffer projected great strength and cheer even in the direst conditions, "fears of oblivion were a different matter," Mr. Marsh writes; "the worst times were those when the past felt lost forever. 'I want my life,' he had whispered [in a poem] in the dark in the summer of 1944. 'I demand my own life back. My past. You!' "
It takes a moment to realize just how poignant and surprising this longing is. Fear, when you are close to death, can be as much about memory as mortality. The fear is that all the life that has meant so much to you, the life that seemed threaded with gleams of God, in fact meant nothing, is unrecoverable and already part of the oblivion you feel yourself slipping into. Faith, when you are close to death, is a matter of receiving the grace of God's presence, of yielding to an abiding instinct for that atomic and interstellar unity that even the least perception, in even the worst circumstances, can imply. "Lord, that I am a moment of your turnings," as the contemporary poet Julia Randall wrote.
"Strange Glory" is a splendid book. It counters the neutered humanism extracted from Bonhoeffer by secularists who do not want to admit that his bravery and his belief might have been inextricable. It is honest to Bonhoeffer's orthodoxies, which were strict, and distinguishes him from the watery—and thus waning—liberal Protestantism that has emerged since the 1960s. And, best of all, Mr. Marsh very properly emphasizes the importance of the volatile, visionary thoughts in the last letters and fragments, which Bonhoeffer himself believed might be his best work.
The multiple Bonhoeffers offered up by competing camps are a chimera. There is only the one man, who was aimed, finally, in one direction. As Charles Marsh (channeling Bonhoeffer) says so eloquently at the very end of his book: "The word of God does not ally itself with the rebellion of mistrust, but reigns in the strangest of glories."
—Mr. Wiman teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. His most recent book is "My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer."