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Putin’s exceptionalism and our own

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

It is mind blowing to have Vladimir Putin lecture President Obama and the world on democracy and justice. But there it is, in the New York Times no less, just days after the President punted on Syria.

Like politicians everywhere, Putin is a self-promoter and a peddler of half-truths and lies. As in, Russia is a model citizen in the United Nations. Or that’s his country’s history is so pacific internally and non-interventionist externally that he can speak from a moral platform.

In Putin’s vision of Russia the Gulag’s are mirages and the Iron Curtain is already too ancient a history to be accessed. His historical amnesia extends to his personal life and his achieved dictatorial ambitions. Listen to Putin-speak at your own risk.

Putin’s pretense of Russian altruism and search for democracy in Syria is ridiculous. Nor should Putin’s systematic rebuilding of Russia’s empire mentality and political promotion of the regressive Russian Orthodox Church be forgotten. Nonetheless, when at the close of the editorial Putin chastises President Obama on American exceptionalism, his words are worth contemplating:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Putin’s closing paragraph is a textual goldmine, starting with his relationship with President Obama. “Growing trust” is an interesting way of cloaking a partnership that is more like a divorced couple who can’t get each other out of their minds. Or former lovers who circle each other looking for the next opportunity to throw a verbal jab. Putin and Obama are increasingly tied together. If either disappeared the other would be bereft.

For a man who perpetually moves from President to Prime Minister and then back again, Putin doesn’t think the equality clause applies to him. And if you pay attention, the exceptionalism charge leveled at America doesn’t apply to him either. Putin thinks he’s the only person fit to rule Russia. If we stretch Putin’s sensibility to Russian literature, Russia’s Fifth Gospel, is there anywhere to be found a more self-involved and exceptionalist-oriented literature?

It takes one exceptionalist culture to know another. But isn’t that true with all cultures – and religions? You can’t find a more exceptionalist religion than Christianity – unless you look over your shoulder and see Islam. Over Islam’s shoulder is Judaism. Don’t forget Hinduism and Buddhism and their exceptionalist claims. Beware, too, of modernity-loving universalists lurking in the background. They enable the most exceptionalist empire enterprise the world has ever known.

My takeaway from President Obama’s claim to American exceptionalism and Putin’s critique in service to his own Russian brand of exceptionalism? To one’s own exceptionalism be true.

With this caveat: Let our exceptionalism be real, embodied and active in the world, in service to others, with others, critically thinking through our own claims and the claims of the other, too. Let our exceptionalisms enhance and discipline the others’ exceptionalism and bring out the best in all.

This includes the various forms of Jewish exceptionalism alive today – the unjust and abusive Constantinian Jewish form and the justice-oriented and assertive form that Jews of Conscience embody. For what is the world without a sense of destiny and uniqueness except a meaningless playground where we live out our lives and die for no reason other than having lived? How can we struggle for justice without an ideal beyond what we find ourselves and in the world we encounter?

Exceptionalism is a highly charged concept. And, of course, exceptionalism has to be disciplined at all times, which brings us back to the prophetic, the deepest exceptionalism, in service to others.

Perhaps it would be better for Putin and Obama to think through their relationship to the prophetic than to their self-serving politics of the moment. If the prophetic was centered on the suffering people of Syria, the politically posturing of both Presidents might be seen for it is. Then instead of arguing about chemical weapons the world might be mobilized to do whatever is necessary to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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55 Responses

  1. seafoid
    September 12, 2013, 10:17 am

    The promotion of “American exceptionalism” is a methodology used to keep Dick and Jane distracted while the elites take a bigger share of the national pie.

    It is closely related to the concept of “the greatest generation”.

    • Krauss
      September 12, 2013, 1:28 pm

      It’s well understood that as a rumor, or story, passes through each person re-telling it, details are added, scrubbed or tweaked. Do it enough times and the story that emerges is totally different.

      So, too, with American Exceptionalism.
      How it came about was concerning the observation that America, warts and all, was probably one of the freest societies of it’s age(again that’s not saying much in 21st century America but in the 1800s, it was).
      People observed nations overseas and saw that even in Europe, there was a aristocratic class, a strong monarchy while America was spared both.

      Thus, American Exceptionalism was born as a concept to show that America was indeed the exception to tyranny and segmented socities.

      Today, of course, America has a lower social mobility, higher ineqality and many other issues than many European, particularly Northern European nations, have. You can add more welfare-oriented Western nations such as Canada or Australia to the latter group.

      So the exceptionalism is not longer accurate. Plus, it has morphed into something that is quite similar to Jewish exceptionalism, that America has a role and a duty in the world unlike any other nation. But that was never the original foundation. That was added after the fact to rationalize military intervention and empire-building, particularly post-WWII.

      • seafoid
        September 13, 2013, 10:12 am

        It would be great if De Tocqueville could somehow do a second tour of the US and comment on the progression of the country since his first trip.

    • ziusudra
      September 13, 2013, 3:30 am

      Greetings Seafoid,
      As an american seeing the last 20 yrs that Russia pulled out of the cold war was worse for people of all countries. Echoing Churchill, both must have the bomb
      for stability. Governments & Mankind must perpetually be kept in check, as simple as that sounds because we corrupt all institutiions in time.
      In causality, triggar & result:
      Mother Trurtle gathered Food (worldly resources)for her two Baby trurtles saying she was leaving,(triggar) & that they should share, only eat when they get hungry (consumption of necessasary resources). Instead of living their lives, they eyed one another out of mistrust, (causality) the food went bad (war, destruction), both turtles died of starvation (result!)
      Still, i say bring back the cold war for balance, controlling mankind w/o war.
      Allow the doctrines for war to die.
      Don’t place trust in the empires of the east or west.

  2. HarryLaw
    September 12, 2013, 10:54 am

    “Putin’s pretense of Russian altruism and search for democracy in Syria is ridiculous”.
    In this case it is not possible to ascribe any motive for Putin’s actions because he has been consistent in wanting, like Assad to involve all citizens of Syria in the political process and if the people decide he [Assad] will respect their wishes and stand aside, it is the people of Syria who must decide their future,to this end Assad has promised to attend Geneva Conferences 1 and 2 also elections were all political parties can take part etc, what more can he do? Putin wants Syrians only to decide their future, that’s elementary, it is also in line with the rules of International Law, the breaching of which makes the UN system redundant, this is what is so important about Putin’s article, if International law can be sidelined as in the case of Iraq [ here the argument was that opposition to US/UK action was the unreasonable use of the veto by the other 3 permanent members] Syria quite rightly is the line in the sand for the Russians and Chinese, especially after they were conned on Libya, no country would be safe from a stronger neighbor, the law of the jungle would prevail. It just so happens that Russia’s geopolitical needs are satisfied with this argument and it cannot be discounted that it influences Russia’s stance, but in my opinion his view on International law is central to his thinking, it is by no means ridiculous.

  3. Citizen
    September 12, 2013, 10:59 am

    Email I received today:

    “Putin’sSpeech on Feb. 04, 2013 > > > This is one time our elected leaders should pay attention to the advice > of Vladimir Putin…. > > > How scary is that? > > On February 4th, 2013, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, addressed > the Duma, (Russian Parliament), and gave a speech about the tensions Sounds like a plan! Werner with minorities in Russia: > “In Russia live Russians. Any minority, from anywhere, if it wants to > live in Russia, to work and eat in Russia, should speak Russian, and > should respect the Russian laws. If they prefer Sharia Law, then we > advise them to go to those places where that’s the state law. Russia > does not need minorities. Minorities need Russia, and we will not > grant them special privileges, or try to change our laws to fit their > desires, no matter how loud they yell ‘discrimination’. We better > learn from the suicides of America, England, Holland and France, if we > are to survive as a nation. The Russian customs and traditions are not > compatible with the lack of culture or the primitive ways of most > minorities. When this honorable legislative body thinks of creating > new laws, it should have in mind the national interest first, observing > that the minorities are not Russians. ”
    > The politicians in the Duma gave Putin a five minute standing ovation. > If you keep this to yourself, you are part of the problem! >
    > It is a sad day when a Communist makes more sense than the leaders of > non-Communist countries (i.e. U.S.A., Canada, etc.), but here it is!!!! > >”

    • American
      September 12, 2013, 1:34 pm

      ”The Russian customs and traditions are not > compatible with the lack of culture or the primitive ways of most > minorities. When this honorable legislative body thinks of creating > new laws, it should have in mind the national interest first, observing > that the minorities are not Russians. ”

      I would agree with the idea that all russians should be russian, all americans should be americans, in the national interest sense, and so on..but I wouldnt go so far as to call all minority cultures ‘primitive’.
      I think it would be enough to not tolarate those that threaten national interest or laws, but still leave room for them to maintain their culture if it’s not morally repulsive to society as a whole. For example I dont want the Alaskan tribe that claims it is their ethnic cultural ‘right’ to hunt whales to be allowed to do so when it is verboten in general. Or practices like circumsions done by Rabbis or ‘de-sexing’ of young Muslim females, practices that socety in general considers medically primitive or that are enforced by minority culture against an individual’s will or right to chose for themselves….those should be outlawed.

      • RoHa
        September 12, 2013, 9:19 pm

        “I think it would be enough to not tolerate those that threaten national interest or laws, but still leave room for them to maintain their culture if it’s not morally repulsive to society as a whole. ”

        Of course, most of them are.

        “that are enforced by minority culture against an individual’s will or right to chose for themselves”

        And this is where the real action is.

        (1) Every member of a minority culture should be free – in practical terms, not just theoretically – to reject that culture and become a member of the majority culture. But children do not have this freedom, and being brought up to think of oneself as “different from the other kids” is not only dubious in itself, but also makes it harder to reject the culture later. This is made even worse by airheads tossing around fashionable nonsense about “identity”, “communities”, “be true to your roots”, and so forth. We should not allow people to be trapped in these minority cultures.

        (2) All citizens should have full access to all the opportunities available to, at least, members of the majority culture in the country. Minority children can end up having the opportunities limited by the cultural limitations imposed on them by the minority culture. This is clearly inequitable.

        Neither of these issues is easy to resolve, but refusal to consider them does not help.

      • gamal
        September 14, 2013, 6:16 pm

        ” We should not allow people to be trapped in these minority cultures”

        yes freedom is mandatory and mainstream, we should not, as we know the purpose of life, allow any deviation from the mainstream, all deviation is repulsive, perhaps a freedom police could patrol the streets and enforce it, I couldnt agree more minority culture is often repulsive, I mean just look at the Aboriginals, do you have bleaching cream in Oz as we do here in Ja. I love the shoulds, how utterly foolish, do you not see the problems inherent in such an attitude.

        None of my kids has ever prayed have any interest in religion and their culture they picked on the streets of North London, from various sources, but i have no opinion on what minorities “Must” do, is totalitarianism mainstream now Roha? what an inhumane and repellent statement. What is a minority culture, as opposed to the mainstream culture.

        “We should not allow people to be trapped in these minority cultures” ah as i suspected you have no culture whatsoever and are, unlike the poor encultured other, free, good for you how did you get there and when are you coming to save us, do we get a new family and milieu with our acceptance of mainstreamy truthy freeliciousness, jobs and advancement. Look at all those first nations and Aboriginals forcibly mainstreamed by kidnap and prison like schools, beaten for speaking the wrong language, their gratitude is less than forthcoming at the moment. pedantry is closely related to totalitarianism. Would you like Gary Foley’s, he is at Melbourne Uni, history dept, email address I think he could help you out of your mainstream prison, even though he is a mere urban “Abo”, which is, I can tell you, the mainstream designation for guys like him, sweet eh.

      • American
        September 15, 2013, 1:34 pm

        “All citizens should have full access to all the opportunities available to, at least, members of the majority culture in the country. Minority children can end up having the opportunities limited by the cultural limitations imposed on them by the minority culture. This is clearly inequitable.”

        RoHa…there is no way for a government, much as both liberals and conseratives try, or want, to ‘micro manage’ the culture within the majoriy or minority family cultures.
        Cant be done except thru fascist type government.
        The best you can do for chldren of minorty cultures is make education ‘netural’ for those who use publc schools. Not much you can do about relgous schools for instance that people opt to send their children to.
        For the other aspects/problems all you can do there is enforce national or social moral norms or laws wthout exceptions.

    • W.Jones
      September 12, 2013, 4:19 pm

      You really might want to check that. It’s an email, so what is the source? There are alot of email scams claiming things. Russia does not need minorities while true seems like something he might not say. The USSR was big on protecting minorities’ rights. Yes I know that there was factual discrimination, but the state ideology, which carried over to Russia, was all about brotherhood of peoples. I know that ideology is not reality, but my point is that it means a speech openly going against minorities in general is less likely.

      • piotr
        September 12, 2013, 7:09 pm

        I minority group won Russian Eurovision.

      • Bandolero
        September 12, 2013, 7:33 pm

        “You really might want to check that. It’s an email, so what is the source?”

        If you would know Russia a bit, you would know it’s fake. The text is obviously against anything Putin fought for in his life.

        If you don’t know Russia a simple google query for Putin’s “February 4, 2013 speech” answers what it is – some anti-Russian hatemongers peddling black propaganda lies.

        Vladimir Putin’s Supposed Speech to the Duma on Minorities and Sharia Law Outline

        Widely circulated message claims that, in a February 4, 2013 speech to the Duma, Russian President Vladimir Putin bluntly advised Russian minorities that they should speak Russian and adapt to Russian culture if they wish to live in the country and that, if they prefer Sharia Law, then they should go somewhere else to live.

        Brief Analysis
        There is no record of Putin making such a speech. Nor are there any credible news reports about the Russian President’s supposed words.


      • Citizen
        September 12, 2013, 7:45 pm

        @ W.Jones
        Thanks for the input. I found a lot of web site repeating that Putin speech, but none sourced it. So I went to the Kremlin web site and it’s not listed as a speech Putin gave to the Duma on Feb 4, 2013:

  4. DICKERSON3870
    September 12, 2013, 11:09 am

    RE: “Putin’s exceptionalism and our own”


    [EXCERPT] . . . In closing, the president claimed that the US had for seven decades has been the “anchor of international security” and he insisted that “the world’s a better place” because of that role. It’s an appallingly ahistorical statement that the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, who lost upwards of three million civilians to American bombs, gas, napalm, anti-personnel bombs and bullets, the people of Iraq, who lost over a million civilians to US weapons, and who are still suffering massive birth defects from the depleted uranium that was callously spread across their land by US forces, and that the people of Afghanistan, whose country has been ripped apart by 12 years of US occupation and war, would certainly find repellant.
    No, the world is decidedly not a better place because of America’s endless, unilateral and criminal wars and depredations, and Syria will fare no better following an American assault. . .

    SOURCE –

    MY COMMENT: So Obomber says that the U.S. is “exceptional” because it has made “the world . . . a better place”. Sound familiar?
    So you see, the “exceptional” U.S. has just been doing its Tikkun Olam by invading all those countries over these past seven decades! ! !
    • Vietnam War = Tikkun Olam!
    • Replacing the elected Allende (in Chile) with the dictator
    Pinochet = Tikkun Olam!
    • Invasion of Afghanistan = Tikkun Olam!
    • Invading and destroying Iraq = Tikkun Olam!
    • Bombing/destroying Libya* = Tikkun Olam!
    [continued ad nauseam]

    * A Region in Turmoil; Lawlessness and Ruin in Libya –
    * ‘Violent chaos’: Libya in deep crisis 2 years since rebels took over –
    * Since Benghazi attack, Libya worse off, families in lurch –
    * Why gunmen have turned off Libya’s oil taps –

  5. W.Jones
    September 12, 2013, 11:15 am

    Nor should Putin’s systematic rebuilding of… the regressive Russian Orthodox Church be forgotten.

    The largest church among Palestinians is the Orthodox Church, and Kairos Palestine was authored by an Orthodox bishop and the head of the International Orthodox Charity’s director in Jerusalem, among others. The Orthodox Church plays a helpful, charitable role in Russian society. In line with your earlier comment about Thomas Paine’s belief in the value of having religion in society for a moral force, the Orthodox Church in Russia plays a helpful role.

    You criticize Stalin’s GULAG. Many Russian clergy were imprisoned in it and Christianity was discouraged. The leader of the Russian church in Ivan the Terrible’s time opposed the Tsar’s brutality and was killed. Several Orthodox saints were martyred for helping Jews in the Holocaust (Alexander Schmorell and Maria Skobtsova), and the Church of course opposed the Nazi genocides like it opposed the Nazi atrocities in general.

    While some members of the Orthodox Church really are regressive, and support an illusory desire for a return of the Monarchy, that is not a general view in the Church.

    The growth and support (“Putin’s rebuilding”) of the Orthodox Church is welcome after the church was discouraged by the government for so long, and its strong revival is part of freedom of religion, since 80% of the population is Orthodox.

    • xanadou
      September 12, 2013, 11:34 am

      Stalin’s massive cruelty was made possible by two of his most faithful henchmen: Yagoda and Beria. Without them his ascent to power would likely never had happened. Between them, the 3 psychopaths have more than 20 million Russian, Ukranian, Byelorussian, etc., lives on their conscience; including the Holodomor.

      Why not give the likes of Putin the benefit of the doubt? We have everything to lose, including the planet, if this insane and pointless race to oblivion goes forward.

  6. John Douglas
    John Douglas
    September 12, 2013, 11:15 am

    It’s not surprising that the three Abrahamic religions are exceptionalist. Each employs a revelation-based theology. If a transcendent and omnipotent god takes time from its busy day to speak to you in a language you are meant to grasp, well, that makes you pretty exceptional. When that god tells you that your brutality, unlike that of the less or un-exceptional, is just, required even, that makes the world a good deal more dangerous.

  7. American
    September 12, 2013, 11:15 am

    There are no ‘exceptional’ countries or people, anywhere, ever.
    Once in a while a exceptional ‘individual’ arises…some are good and some are bad.
    Could be an ordinary man who risk his life to save someone else.
    Could be some egotistical leader like Napoleon who made history or anyone who convinces people to follow him’ into’ exceptionalism.
    Unfortunately many people are herd animals and many want to beleve they are part of something exceptional—-so they will often follow the “exceptionalist” for better or worse.

    • Citizen
      September 12, 2013, 11:58 am

      @ American
      They used to be called “true believers” back in the 1960’s. If memory serves, wasn’t that Eric Hoffer?

      • American
        September 12, 2013, 12:32 pm

        @ Citizen,

        I think so, rings a bell.

  8. piotr
    September 12, 2013, 12:26 pm

    Russian Orthodox Church is no more regressive than Southern Baptists or Roman Catholic Church or whatever it is that IDF rabbinate preaches to soldiers.

    Claims of altruism are quite the norm.

    Similarly, a lot of nations have some ideological “exceptional” believes. I know only few languages so I can elaborate a bit about Americans, Russian, Poles, Israelis and Lithuanians (although I do not know Lithuanian or Hebrew).

    However, do Russians SERIOUSLY believe (and practice) that they can get away with much more than other nations? I would argue to the contrary.

    For a recent example of true exceptionalism, I was totally taken aback by the belief of many American politicians that USA is entitled to have Edward Snowden delivered back to USA, against all laws and customs (American domestic law is, well, domestic).

    • W.Jones
      September 12, 2013, 4:25 pm


      You do not agree that the Russian Church is “regressive”? Is the Russian Church a political body that wants to go back in time and oppress people’s political rights?

      The Orthodox Church in Poland is basically the Russian Church’s branch there, and has many members. Do they have a political movement or viewpoint favoring bringing Poland to old-style repressive ways?

      Now that the Polish State is not officially socialist and doesn’t favor atheism, does that mean the regrowth of the Orthodox Church in Poland is “Putin’s rebuilding”? Or do you see the regrowth of the Church as a positive development that is natural and reflects freedom of religion? Maybe it is natural that the church would regrow in Russia too?

      • xanadou
        September 13, 2013, 12:48 am

        “The Orthodox Church in Poland is basically the Russian Church’s branch there (…)”

        Uh, no. Both traditions are as different as the Southern Baptists are from the Church of England. Furthermore, the Russian OC has never had any interest in asserting itself at any time in PL’s history, and shows no such inclination today.
        Also, unlike the Orthodox Church, PL’s Catholics are aligned with the Vatican; likely an anathema for the OC.

        As for Putin invoking religion in his NYT piece: that was a bit of tasteless pandering that he could have phrased more diplomatically, better yet. should have left out altogether.

      • James Canning
        James Canning
        September 15, 2013, 7:17 pm

        Being Catholic was part of being Polish (rather than Russian). To a degree.

  9. Bandolero
    September 12, 2013, 12:47 pm

    This article seems proof to me that Putin was too polite to make the US public understand his point of critic.

    Barack Obama ridicously claims that the US has to launch a non-UNSC-sanctioned military operation against Syria to enforce the international law, ie the prohibition of CW warfare. I don’t see this claim challenged in the US as much as it should be. Most arguments in the US against this military operation is focused on the costs of such a military operation and the slippery slope to more costs – in cash and in military terms.

    As I understand Putin his point is that unilateral military action against Syria cannot lead to a strengthened rule of international law, but it is bound to seriously harm or even destroy the whole system of international law:

    It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

    Putin aims at Obamas hypocratic claim that by waging an illegal war of aggression, that is by committing the gravest violation of international law, the US will strengthen international law. How can it be that the US public and pundits doesn’t laugh out loud in the face of such a total contradiction in Obamas reasoning for war?

    During the Nuremberg trial, the chief American prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, stated:

    To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

    And that’s how it was ruled. How can it be that Obama was not arrested after he said he decided to commit the crime of launching a war of aggression against Syria?

    Obama is already in gross violation of law in regard to Syria. Providing military support to a non-governmental faction in a foreign civil war, something what Obama is claiming that he is already doing, is a clear violation of international law, and the threat of using force against a foreign goverment is also a clear violation of international law.

    That is the background. Putin offers the readers that the reason for this might be exceptionalism, the deep feeling in the US public that the US is not equal among nations under law, but above the law. And Putin says that it’s dangerous, because when one party feels to be above the international law, the international law will break down and that has grave consequences. Here is one of these consequences, in the words of Putin:

    The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

    To put this into prespective: The US exceptionalism to be above the inetrnational law has already had grave consequences. When Gaddafi gave up Libyas WMDs againsta US garantee of non-aggression the US said to North Korea: Watch careful how well Libya is off since it gave up it’s WMD programs. After the US started bombing Libya, North Korean state press agency reminded these talks and the North Korean leadership said: We watched carefully the example of Libya and came to the conclusion that our dear leader was right, Western promises of non-aggression are worthless and only nukes will save us from being aggressed by the US.

    Looking at the US dealing with internatioal law there can be seen a pattern. Be it the illegal war of aggression against Yugoslavia, the illegal war of aggression against Iraq, be it shielding Israel from consequences for violating many norms of law: the US regularly violates international law in the gravest terms without seeing the consequences that such “exceptional” behaviour does not only harm the rule of international law and for the people affected, but it does great harm to the US, too.

    Maybe Putin was just too polite to get this point of grave criticism of Obama’s war reasoning against Syria understood in the US?

  10. American
    September 12, 2013, 1:02 pm

    “”If we stretch Putin’s sensibility to Russian literature, Russia’s Fifth Gospel, is there anywhere to be found a more self-involved and exceptionalist-oriented literature?””

    I am confused by this….is it saying Russians consider their ‘literature’ to be some kind of fifth gospel or is it refering to this relgous “Fifth Gospel” defintion I found when looking up Russian Fifth Gospel?

    “After two centuries of biblical archaeology, it is possible to read the Bible in a new light. It has become clear that ancient Palestine was an integral part of the whole cultural area of the ancient Middle East. Archaeology confirms the existence of fertility cults in Canaan and supports the theory that there was not a sudden era of conquest by Hebrew tribes in the premonarchical period. Excavations have also failed to find evidence that would support many of the biblical descriptions of the monarchial period.

    Archaeology cannot confirm theological truths or articles of faith. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient leather and papyrus scrolls first discovered in 1947 in caves on the NW shore of the Dead Sea. Most of the documents were written or copied between the 1st cent. B.C. and the first half of the 1st cent. A.D.
    ….. Click the link for more information. in 1947 and in the subsequent decade and the finds at sites in the vicinity of Qumran Qumran , ancient village on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It is famous for its caves, in some of which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Archaeological work at Qumran has yielded a profile of its history.
    ….. Click the link for more information. have revolutionized the understanding of Judaism in the New Testament era. The discovery of several manuscripts of the Greek New Testament of the 2d and 3d cent. A.D., the finding of the Nag Hammadi Nag Hammadi , a town in Egypt near the ancient town of Chenoboskion, where, in 1945, a large cache of gnostic texts in the Coptic language was discovered. The Nag Hammadi manuscripts, dating from the 4th cent. A.D.
    ….. Click the link for more information. corpus of Gnostic scriptures in 1946, and the steady publication of Egyptian papyri in the 20th cent. have enlarged perceptions respectively of the accuracy of the New Testament text, the diversity and vibrancy of early Christianity, and the kind of Greek in which the New Testament was written.

    Someone explan ths to me please.

    • W.Jones
      September 13, 2013, 7:53 pm

      “it saying Russians consider their ‘literature’ to be some kind of fifth gospel ”

      Yes. The 4 gospels are in the Bible, and Russians love their literature alot. Thats what he means.

      • American
        September 14, 2013, 10:24 am

        thanks jonesie, got it.

  11. Dan Crowther
    Dan Crowther
    September 12, 2013, 1:11 pm

    Is this is a joke? Putins remaking Russia’s Imperial Mentality? How about he’s trying to get the US military and it’s henchmen out of his backyard? Ever seen a map of US bases and missile installations? They literally surround Russia. This article is sort of a joke.

    Why ascribe ulterior motives to a guy who’s trying to not have another hot war started in his backyard – with millions of refugees flooding into the Caucuses and eventually his country? Is it really that hard to understand why Russia doesn’t want war in Syria. And what about the rest of the world? Are there dark forces behind their objections to Washington’s plans as well? Seems to me, Putin is smack dab in the middle of the international consensus.

    And you want to talk about regressive churches? HA! The fact that an American can even muster this statement about another country’s religious institutions is itself laughable. Again, a big joke.

    A lot of folks are sure to make a big deal about the “anti gay” laws in Russia etc etc. and how it shows just how backward Russian society is and so on. I would encourage those folks to take a look at the Abu Gharib photos and the descriptions of Bradley Mannings confinement and torture at the hands of the US gov’t and then tell me if Americans have a right to lecture others on their treatment (whether official or unofficial) of gay people or of having some enlightened views on sexuality. You don’t force men to have mock sex with each other if you don’t think there’s anything wrong with men having sex with each other.

    The Cold War is over, Ellis – throw your template out, brother

    • American
      September 12, 2013, 2:12 pm

      ‘A lot of folks are sure to make a big deal about the “anti gay” laws in Russia etc etc. and how it shows just how backward Russian society is and so on.”

      I agree, this is getting ridculous….so now we have what?….a World Wide Nation of Gays like the World Wide Nation of Jews trying to direct the policies of other nations? Obama is now suppose to make US Russia policy about gays?
      How come they arent all incensed about Israel’s marriage policies or larger life and death issues? I am fed up wth the single issue brats that make everything about their ethnic, or sexual or religious brethern.

      • xanadou
        September 13, 2013, 1:23 am

        Agree. I find it reprehensible that the US govt, reps and media have used the LGBT community, in the US and Russia, as a pathetic fig leaf hoping to deflect from issues of international law that (should) bind both countries. It’s rank hypocrisy for the US to get hot and bothered in response to the murky circumstances of the Syria gassing, while Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and most egregiously of all, Iraq, are, to this day, struggling with the devastating and long lasting effects of the A-bomb, Agent Orange and DU (as applicable), to the sound of total silence of the entire international community.

        BO did zip nada for the LGBT community at home, yet was going to make a “point” by meeting with their counterparts while in Russia. Why? In both instances it is a domestic issue that is tied to very different laws that govern both societies. There are still a great many States in the US where gay/lesbian couples cannot marry and partake in benefits granted to hetero couples. If BO is so pro LGBT, why not make a show of it on a domestic national forum, if he views it as such a critical issue?

    • libra
      September 12, 2013, 3:27 pm

      Great comment, Dan.

    • W.Jones
      September 12, 2013, 4:41 pm


      You write

      And you want to talk about regressive churches? HA! The fact that an American can even muster this statement about another country’s religious institutions is itself laughable. Again, a big joke.

      The Cold War is over, Ellis – throw your template out, brother

      The idea that the Russian Church is regressive does not necessarily seem to be a Cold War style criticism. The Cold War rhetoric is that Russia is totalitarian and godless. 1950’s Cold Warriors focused on how the Church was persecuted. They didn’t really focus on it being backward, right?

      I admit though that someone can, out of Cold War attitudes, label Russia that way. But Ellis was with the left in Central America. I guess he is not immune from Cold War attitudes though, which existed even among antiwar socialists of the 20th century, and were not completely baseless either.

      Anyway, how do we know the Russian church is “regressive”, Dan? It doesn’t agree with gay marriage, but that has been the Church’s position for 2000+ years, and a general one in Russian society. Does that mean the Church is trying to oppressively turn back the clock of social development from what it is?

      Besides, homosexuality and abortion are just two issues. So what makes the Orthodox Church a basically “regressive” force? It is one of the world’s largest Churches, with millions of adherents. Very many ideas can be found within the church, including a wide range, and many of its members must be even proponents of socialism, democracy, liberal capitalism, etc. etc. At this point the Church favors democracy and freedom of religion, and has positive interfaith relations with Catholics, Muslims, Rabbinical councils, etc. etc. How is this a basically “regressive” Church, unless you focus on certain issues debated by western liberal capitalists?

  12. tombishop
    September 12, 2013, 1:28 pm

    A laughable view of how the promoters of “American exceptionalism” look to the rest of the world:–a-girl-and-a-pita-place?fb_ref=fblike_web&fb_source=email

  13. pabelmont
    September 12, 2013, 2:30 pm

    I don’t mind “exceptionalism” per se, but only when it is asserted — as a should-be-obvious-and-therefore-won’t-be-argued consequence thereof — that we (the exceptional) can do as we please, not trammelled by international law, national law (even our own), our Constitution, decency, or anything else.

    Sadly, “le monde, c’est moi — and let the law be damned” is the motto of American Exceptionalism. Israel takes the same view, of course, and gets away with it because the USA protects it from the bad consequences that ought to flow from Israel’s massive crimes (i.e., the by-now-surely-illegal occupation, the settlement program inside occupied territories, Mavi Marmara, and so much more).

    • crone
      September 13, 2013, 1:39 pm

      I do mind the assertion of “exceptionalism” as it does not exist…

      Thinking one is exceptional is delusional… toxic.

      Thinking one’s group is exceptional is also delusional and toxic… and the major component of conflict.

  14. James Canning
    James Canning
    September 12, 2013, 2:33 pm

    I for one do not find it “mind-blowing”, for Putin to give advice to Obama et al re: justice. And fair play. Hillary Clinton could use a few pointers, for that matter.

  15. piotr
    September 12, 2013, 3:09 pm

    USA is also getting lectured by China, and with some good reasons. China made a big show of capturing a dangerous terrorist (basically, a drug lord from Golden Triangle) who committed a massacre in China (not far from the border) by painstaking manhunt in Myammar and Laos, after securing cooperation with local authorities that were initially cowed and/or bribed and getting him to trial, as opposed to using aerial attacks.

    USA may have superior gay rights to China and Russia, but it does not justify using drones without agreement of the country or supplying weapons etc. to terrorists in violation of treaties and UN charter.

  16. mijj
    September 12, 2013, 4:09 pm

    > “It is mind blowing to have Vladimir Putin lecture President Obama and the world on democracy and justice.”

    Why? .. given US’s extremely nasty recent history, someone needs to step up to lecture it. A lecture on democracy and justice is far more reasonable coming from Putin than any US politician.

  17. mijj
    September 12, 2013, 4:10 pm

    ps .. any chance of an opportunity to make a donation in Bitcoins?

  18. W.Jones
    September 12, 2013, 5:37 pm

    Nor should Putin’s systematic… political promotion of the regressive Russian Orthodox Church be forgotten.

    The Orthodox Church teaches basic Christianity. It is a force for keeping families together in a broken world. Yes, that can mean family values and non-abusive patriarchy. Respect for authority is also an idea in Orthodox life, going back to St. Paul’s writing about respecting the Roman empire. But it can also mean going against the emperor’s rule. Orthodoxy also means showing people compassion and caring for them. Charity work for all people plays a big role.

    That is Orthodoxy and the Church. Someone can claim it is basically “progressive” or “regressive” and make arguments from modern politics to show it.

    I understand the criticism that the Church as an institution has a supportive relationship with the State, so the criticism has a basis. But State ideology is not a major part of the religion. It does not give people religious teaching to support the State. In the US, charities, including labor unions, get State support and cooperation. They often favor the State in the same way the Russian Church does.

    From Peter the Great’s time on, the Russian Church did not have a Patriarch, because the Tsars considered the Church to be a possible competitor to the State’s power. Just to give a recent example, the Russian Church openly discouraged Russia’s war with Georgia. These are why longstanding western liberal models portraying the Russian Church as simply a tool of the State are very misleading.

    Mondoweiss, as a critical blog on foreign policy, especially the Mideast with its native Orthodox churches, must take this into account. It is important to use critical thinking when it comes to other countries, beyond simple portrayals.

    What “liberation theology” looks like in the Orthodox context is going to look and feel different than in the Roman Catholic one you are familiar with. Christians in Syria and the Holy Land are predominantly Orthodox, and the equivalent of “liberation theology” there is going to reflect their Church and perspective, just as your writing takes place in a Jewish context, Marc.

  19. dbroncos
    September 12, 2013, 7:13 pm

    Putin is schooling Obama in how to be a clever political player. Putin, with little to lose and a lot to gain, steps into the breach of Obama’s dithering and offers the weak and floundering President a way out of his “red lines” predicament. If Putin’s chem weapons plan is embraced by the US, Putin will get credit for being the peace maker who saved lives, averted war and tamed Obama the war monger. If his plan is rejected he can say, “Well, I tried…”

    Meanwhile, Obama still faces choices that range from bad to worse because there’s no way for him to escape with his credibility intact. If he works out a chem weapons deal with Russia and Assad, no matter how favorble the terms are to American “national security interests”, he’ll be pilloried on the right for putting America’s national security in the hands of a Russian President and an Arab tyrant. Conversely, if Obama rejects Putin’s chem weapons offer as a diplomatic means to ensure that Assad won’t use them again, he’ll again be facing a Congress that’s unlikely to approve his war plans and critics who’ll be questioning his motives – is he using the excuse of chemical weapons as a subterfuge for his plans to attack Syria and oust Assad from power?

    Obama will emerge from this Syria fiasco weaker than ever. All this moral high ground fluffery, whether its Obama or Putin talking, is just nonsense. What’s for real is Putin showing Obama how to be not just a smart politician but also clever – something Obama lacks altogether.

  20. bilal a
    bilal a
    September 12, 2013, 9:27 pm

    Jewish Telegraph Agency doent want us talking about the Israeli lobbying for war, at least not in context:

    Harvard’s Stephen Walt ‏@StephenWalt 11 Sep

    Just love how groups like AIPAC lobby for war in Syria and then Abe Foxman & ADL smear anyone who points this out.

    JTA;s Ron Kampeas ‏@kampeas 9h
    @StephenWalt B) if u say lobbying for strike at admin’s behest, and in consideration of a variety of factors, altho outcome for Israel.

  21. NickJOCW
    September 12, 2013, 10:44 pm

    One doesn’t need to be a saint or have a squeaky clean reputation to come up with a sensible solution. It should be obvious that the immediate problem in Syria is the chemical weapon stockpiles, not because someone used them against Syrian citizens although that is bad enough but because they might get into the hands of one or more of the disparate rebel groups, particularly while there is fluctuating control of territory. IMHO what is important now is to gain Assad’s confidence so the plan can proceed as swiftly and safely as possible. Assad doesn’t trust the US, and why should he. Here’s his position in an RT interview.

    Israel should be deeply worried about these stocks falling into the wrong hands, everyone should be. Iran is. Here is the Iranian Foreign Minister on the subject. Specifically around 15.

    Obama, Kerry, Hague, Hollande etc. are all spouting poetry, they should be talking prose.

  22. braciole
    September 12, 2013, 11:52 pm

    Perhaps the author of this disappointing article should look at the dirty reality of American Exceptionalism rather than indulging in wishful thinking.

  23. HarryLaw
    September 13, 2013, 4:38 am

    Some comments by representatives of the “exceptional people” “I almost wanted to vomit” Menendez D-NJ, Speaker John Boehner R-Ohio said he was insulted by the Putin column and the POW who sang like a canary in Vietnam McCain R-Ariz called the column an insult to Americans. Oh how the truth hits home, thank goodness the American people have more sense than these perverts. Putin had it right about McCain some time ago when he said….“I think that he has enough blood of peaceful citizens on his hands. It must be impossible for him to live without these disgusting scenes anymore,” he said according to the Telegraph. “Mr. McCain was captured and they kept him not just in prison, but in a pit for several years. Anyone [in his place] would go nuts.”

    • just
      September 13, 2013, 4:34 pm


      ” In a first-of-its kind arrangement, the editors of Russian newspaper Pravda have tentatively agreed to publish a column by Sen. John McCain that will attack the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement comes one day after Putin criticized the United States in a widely-read column in The New York Times.

      “If John McCain wants to write something for us, he is welcome,” Dmitry Sudakov, the English editor of Pravda tells The Cable. “Mr. McCain has been an active anti-Russian politician for many years already. We have been critical of his stance on Russia and international politics in our materials, but we would be only pleased to publish a story penned by such a prominent politician as John McCain.”

      When The Cable reached the senator’s office with the offer, McCain’s communications director Brian Rogers responded within minutes. “On the record: Senator McCain would be glad to write something for Pravda, so we’ll be reaching out to Dmitry with a submission.” ”

      Looks like one of the biggest fools on the Hill is gonna embarrass himself even further………..

  24. Stogumber
    September 13, 2013, 7:21 am

    “For a man who perpetually moves from President to Prime Minister and then back again, Putin doesn’t think the equality clause applies to him. … Putin thinks he’s the only person fit to rule Russia.”
    Putin has ruled since 1999.
    FDR probably thought he was the person most fit to rule the United States. Had he survived he would have governed from 1933 to 1948.
    German chancellors: Adenauer ruled 1949-1963, Kohl 1982-1998, Merkel probably 2005-2017. So, from a German point of view, the “Putin era” in Russia is not exceptionally long. (It’s painful for the opposition, of course, but that can’t be helped.)

  25. crone
    September 13, 2013, 1:35 pm

    Two excellent analyses from the Asia Times Online

    “China stitches up the (SCO) Silk Rd”

    “Putin eyes Obama’s Iran file”

  26. just
    September 13, 2013, 3:45 pm

    “Oh how the truth hits home, thank goodness the American people have more sense than these perverts.”

    I’ll second that– I hope to see more American people become more informed and hungry for the truth. It’s the only way out of the miasmic swamp of special interests, warmongering and the constant fertilization of the MIC on Capitol Hill.

    • American
      September 13, 2013, 4:18 pm

      @ just

      Add this to the exceptionalism – most poltcans think they themselves are ‘exceptional”. Steaming piles of excreted ego.

      Why ‘This Town’ Loves Going to War
      The politics of war and peace are a gold mine for Washington’s power players.
      By Leon Hadar • September 12, 2013

      While vacationing on the shores of the Mediterranean this summer, I was able to keep an eye on the shores of the Potomac by reading the “hottest” book in Washington, Mark Leibovich’s This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral. It provides a very depressing, yet hilarious account of how my neighbors in Bethesda, Maryland, and other residents of the Greater Washington area spend their long days and nights getting rich at the nexus of big politics, big media, and big money.
      Government officials, lawmakers, journalists, and the many, many lobbyists, lawyers, political strategists, and PR professionals who comprise this book’s cast of characters seem to be drowning in the millions of dollars that interest groups and big corporations spend on purchasing their services to win media exposure, peddle influence, buy votes, and shape legislation and policy in the most powerful city in the world.

      There is nothing new about the notion of political corruption in Washington. What is new—and actually quite astounding—is how big, how ugly, and, yes, how outright corrupt it has all become, especially when it comes to the amount of money passed between politicians and lobbyists every day. What was once done behind closed doors, thanks to a sense of shame, is now regarded as legitimate, if not respectable.
      Written against the backdrop of the financial meltdown, the ensuing Great Recession, and the election of President Barack Obama, much of Leibovich’s book focuses on how these guys and gals drive policy making and the legislative process on economic issues: Wall Street regulation, budget battles, and the like. Unfortunately, there is almost no discussion of the role that the power players and the media in “this town” have in determining U.S. national-security and foreign policy.
      As someone who has worked and spent time in Washington from the First Gulf War through W.’s military misadventures in Mesopotamia and the Hindu-Kush, I read the book trying to figure out how Leibovich could have integrated a discussion of foreign policy into his narrative. He could have told how the small elite in “this town” that made a mess of the American economy has also been dragging the American people into costly and never-ending military interventions around the world.
      So I enjoyed reading Conor Friedersdorf do just that in the Atlantic recently, when he described how an “insular Beltway elite” has been driving the push for military intervention in Syria at a time when public opinion polls make it clear that a large majority of Americans are opposed.
      Friedersdorf does a good job detailing how hawkish journalists and “experts” have succeeded in setting the policy and legislative agenda so that any challenge to the idea of attacking Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is marginalized within Washington, and how that creates powerful pressure on the White House and Congress to “do something.”
      Yet my own experience in Washington suggests that the interventionist syndrome in Washington reflects more than just an insider urge to use U.S. military power in the service of an ideological agenda. It goes beyond the foreign-policy agendas and political-ideological biases of the neoconservatives and liberal-interventionist crowd, trying to advance American interests and/or values as they see fit.
      Politics and ideology do play a role, certainly. The progressive-era ideas that take for granted the need for the American government to fight evil at home and abroad have become a policy axiom among our political and intellectual elites, who have been programmed to respond with an activist approach whenever this or that Bad Guy rears his ugly head in the world. They all seem to agree that we have an obligation to fight monsters here, there, and everywhere.

      Following in Leibovich’s footsteps, though, perhaps we should apply his main thesis to the debate over foreign policy and national security. What drives political players in Washington today has less to do with the partisan fights between Republicans and Democrats, or the ideological struggles between conservatives and liberals, and more to do with the personal and institutional interests of the powerful men and women who rule this city. These are the people who use their position to advance their own interests, to gain fame and make money.
      Ask yourself why there is this continual effort by the Beltway insiders and journalists to elevate foreign policy and national security to the top of the agenda. Could it be because they believe a “player” in Washington has a better chance of drawing public and media attention, of gaining recognition, and of accumulating power when he or she is dealing with matters of war and peace as opposed to, say, the makeup of the next budget?
      After all, we remember the names of the American presidents—and the men and women who advised them and the journalists who covered them—who led the nation into war or otherwise operated during those “interesting times” when “the fate of humanity was hanging in the balance.”
      Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the kind of foreign-policy template that officials, lawmakers, and journalists hope will define their experience in Washington. They fantasize about being “present at the creation,” of taking part in a great historical event as all the world waits and watches. These kinds of foreign-policy crises, especially if they are followed by wars, have become a political and financial goldmine for the players participating in this global drama, covering it as journalists, or explaining it as experts.
      Think about the ways our involvement in the Middle East and the so-called war on terror has helped advance the careers of government officials through bigger budgets, new departments, and more exposure and influence. Not to mention how these crises have enriched outside contractors and businesses, sent war correspondents to new assignments, and opened new avenues for TV face time and think-tank fellowships for the experts.
      Let’s not forget the huge advances policymakers and their aides receive to write their memoirs describing how they saved America, Western civilization, and the world, and how such high-stress experience qualifies them for corporate boards and speaking engagements at all the best investment banks.
      The good news is that even if you actually messed things up by leading us into a disastrous war in Iraq, or wrote columns predicting that said war would be a great success, your friends in this town have a tendency to forgive and forget. Don’t worry. You’ll still receive those big consulting contracts, be invited to appear as an analyst on cable news shows, or get to write columns for our leading newspapers. Someone else will pay for the mistakes you made in Iraq, and those you’re trying to make in Syria.

      • Citizen
        September 14, 2013, 11:13 am

        I keep thinking of Krauthammer, and Bill Kristol. And Chaney and BlossomTurd Rove. Also Bolton and North. Geez, they are all on Fox news as gurus every week.

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