Keller gives several examples of supposedly retrograde Russian behavior, including the jailing of two punk rock protesters for profane behavior in a Russian Orthodox cathedral. (Putin recently announced that the protesters will soon be given amnesty and freed.)
But let me ask you this, Mr. Keller. How would you react if punk rock protesters disrupted a New York Times editorial board meeting or perhaps the meeting of your favorite charity? It wouldn't be five seconds before you were on your smart phone dialing 911 to summon the New York City police.
Keller obviously believes that the Western developed nations are a model for a superior way of life--a way of life Russia should emulate. Unfortunately, in Keller's view, Putin seems bent on returning Russia to the Cold War era, "attempting to turn back 25 years of history." Keller cites a Harvard expert who described Putin as "a common European home wrecker."
Keller implies that Russia should jettison its Orthodox Christian heritage--a heritage that survived Stalinism--and join the hip and edgy postmodern culture of the West. But let's take a look at ourselves before we hector other nations to become more like us.
Today almost half of all American babies are born to unwed mothers. In California, almost one in four pregnancies ends in abortion. We have 47 million people on food stamps, growing inequality between the rich and the poor, and an open disdain for religious values. If you were President Putin, would you want Russia to become like the United States?
Russia obviously has enormous problems, and almost anyone would rather live in the U.S. than Russia if given a choice. But I suspect Keller's real beef with President Putin is Putin's refusal to embrace American postmodernism's view of sexual morality-- the cheery belief that there should be no standard for sexual behavior whatsoever. Indeed, as Keller notes, Putin sees "Europe as decadent and alien to the Orthodox Eastern Slav world to which both Russia and the Ukraine belong."
Frankly, I found Bill Keller's criticism of Russia distasteful. There is something offensive about a newspaper columnist lecturing the president of Russia in the New York Times, a newspaper that panders to the rich, that receives substantial revenues from advertising luxury goods, and which devotes its pages to breathless discussions about extravagant cuisine, expensive clothing, and exotic travel.
In fact, I think Mr. Putin may see American culture more clearly than Mr. Keller does. Perhaps he sees that American culture is not a culture of of liberality and freedom as Mr. Keller apparently believes. Rather our society is increasingly dedicated to self-gratification, materialism and the acquisition of power.
Time will tell whether Russia will eventually embrace Western social values as Bill Keller believes it should. But personally, we shouldn't blame President Putin for having reservations about postmodern American culture--especially as it is exemplified and celebrated by Mr. Keller and the New York Times.
Bill Keller. Russia v. Europe. New York Times, December 16, 2013, p. A23.