Friday, April 14, 2017

"Tsar Nicky" Syndrome

Somewhere way back in my days of reading Russian history, I came across a memorable characterization of Russian Tsar Nicholas II. (I guess it's redundant to say it was memorable, because it must have been close to 30 years ago, and here I am, remembering it. Anyway ...)

He was, by this account, an admirable family man: a doting husband, a loving father.

Not necessarily bright - well, almost certainly not very bright - and poorly trained up for the task of ruling a massive empire where the governing ideology was that all authority and legitimacy was to flow down from him.

But a nice man.

True, he was in charge of an empire that supported the frivolity of a few on the backs of tens of millions, a government that sent people to Siberia for choosing the wrong words in their expression of concern for those tens of millions. And to save that government in the face of the 1905 revolution, he granted a constitution and a legislature then spent the next two years undercutting the efficacy of that legislature in order to continue ruling as the autocrat that he felt it was his responsibility to be. He thus closed off a promising avenue of peaceful evolution, contributing to the cataclysm that 12 years later would destroy him and his lovely family - and his country.

Still, in person he was apparently a nice man.

But the part of the characterization that really stuck was about his beliefs.

He was convinced that autocracy was the natural, moral, God-given structure of government for Russia, and as the son of the previous tsar he had the unfortunate responsibility of maintaining that structure, for the honor of his descendants and the good of his country.

He was convinced of little else.

The result was that he tended to agree with the last person who had had his ear, which made for incoherent and erratic policy.

Ever since, I have thought of that trait as "Nicholas II Syndrome."

And I thought of it when I read David A. Graham's piece in The Atlantic, where he writes:
Trump’s tendency to take up the position of the last person with whom he spoke on a given issue has been widely noted.
Hmm, ...
  • Not very bright.
  • Poorly trained up for the task of overseeing the government of an empire-sized country, where the governing ideology is that legitimacy and authority flow from the people, but where he seems to view himself more like a king.
He could use some work on being a nice man, a doting husband, a loving father (now now - I know what you're thinking).

But in terms of the traits that made Nicholas II a horrible ruler - the traits that made him, in fact, the last Tsar of all the Russias - he's doing a bang-up job.

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