“Apathy and detachment, combined with acceptance.”

In this excerpt from Sketches From A Life, George F. Kennan is discussing Stalinist Russia in 1952.  It does not take very much imagination to believe he is talking about America in 2016:

The spiritual breach between the rulers and the ruled is one of the things that most strongly strikes a person returning to Russia at this juncture after a long absence. Somehow or other, the betterment of material conditions for the mass of the people seems to go hand in hand with a certain sort of withdrawal of these masses from emotional participation in the announced purposes of the regime. This is not to be confused with political discontent. On the contrary, it is attended by the steady disappearance of those age groups which have any sort of recollection of prerevolutionary times or any ability to imagine any other sort of government than this one. It even is attended, I think, by an increasing acceptance of Soviet power and, in general, Soviet institutions as a natural condition of life, not always agreeable or pleasant, sometimes even dangerous, but nevertheless something that is simply “there,” like the weather or the soil, and not to be removed by anything the individual could possibly do– something that simply has to be accepted and put up with.

But in this very acceptance of Soviet power as a sort of unchangeable condition of nature, there is also implied the very lack of living emotional and political relationship to it, about which I am speaking. Thirty years ago people were violently for it or against it, because all of them felt Soviet power as something springing from human action, capable of alteration by human action, and affecting their own lives in ways that raised issues of great immediacy and importance with respect to their own behavior. Today most of them do not have this feeling. Their attitude is one of increasing apathy and detachment, combined with acceptance– acceptance sometimes resigned, sometimes vaguely approving, sometimes unthinkingly enthusiastic. In general, I think it fair to say that the enthusiasm varies in reverse relationship to the thoughtfulness of the person and to his immediate personal experience with the more terrible sides of Soviet power– such things as the experiences of collectivization, recollections of the purges, or personal unhappiness as a victim of the harshness of the bureaucracy.

It is my feeling that the regime is itself in a large measure responsible for this growing emotional detachment of large masses of the people. For one thing it has rendered itself physically and personally remote from the rest of the population to an extraordinary degree. One had a feeling fifteen or twenty years ago of a much greater personal impact of the members of the Politburo on the actual running of the country, an impact which created a certain sense of intimacy between them and their subjects, and even such of their subjects as were suffering at their hands. More was known and felt by people of the personalities, the views, and the moods of the top rulers. Today these rulers sit in inscrutable isolation behind their Kremlin walls. For most people they are only names, and names with a slightly mythical quality at that. The relatively few changes in personnel at the top bodies in the past fifteen years have meant that even that link with the public which is provided by the normal flow of advancement into prominent position of people who once had normal ties with friends and neighbors and coworkers is now largely missing.


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