Catherine the Great

I’ve been reading the biography of Catherine the Great (by Joan Haslip).  Though I am less than half-way through it, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with the wider public.
I find my self admiring her – for her cunning, patience, determination and the suffering she endured prior to her rise to power.  Here was a woman who knew what she wanted, set her goals high – and achieved them without undue bloodshed.  Her treatment of my ancestors, though not fair, certainly could have been a lot worse.  Nevertheless, the things she did, in order to seize power, might be considered morally questionable today (to put it mildly).
But, compared to Empress Elizabeth (who preceded her – if we disregard her infantile husband, Peter), she was quite merciful.  Empress Elizabeth had found it necessary to incarcerate the infant Czar, Ivan VI in the fortress of Shlusselburg, where he rotted for his entire miserable life.  This dastardly deed was considered acceptable in order to gain power.  Empress Elizabeth was a deeply religious woman.  Apparently, she felt there was no sin in locking an infant in a dungeon for life so that she may rule.  Perhaps “superstitious” would be a more appropriate description of her than “religious”.  For her, religion was no more than one, of many, means to further her advancement and secure her power.
Catherine also shamelessly used religion to fool the masses into thinking she was as sincere in her faith as they were.  We are told about the throngs of peasants, who came to pay their last respects to Empress Elizabeth at her funeral (pg. 108):

Not one of them could fail to notice the veiled woman in black, kneeling at the foot of the bier and apparently so lost in prayer that she seemed unaware of their presence.  It was the new empress, sharing the mourning of the Russian people, kneeling on the cold stone and prostrating herself in prayer like the most fervent of Orthodox believers.  She was there every day and almost all day, a heroic effort for even the healthiest of women, but doubly so for one who was already six months gone with child… but never did she falter, thereby winning the crowds…

Things have not changed much regarding the role of religion in politics.  Politicians still feign devoutness to win over the masses – and it still works.
But Catherine knew tenderness, passion, shame, anger and pity – just like the rest of us.  She was no less human.  In studying this woman, and in asking myself why I admire her, I found myself asking why I have admired the Romans.  Especially given the horrors they perpetrated upon my own people.  Until now, I had never given it much thought; I had simply assumed it was some sort of misplaced nostalgia, romanticism or a holdover from the education of my youth, when Roman civilization was still highly regarded (for their accomplishments and culture) in public schools.
It is possible that all the above is correct – but, in any case, now I have a more legitimate reason:  The Romans – and Catherine the Great – represent a perfection that I, myself, lack.  Having been raised in liberal America, I am flawed.  My flaw is that I care too much about other people.  I am too sensitive and have too much empathy.  I am not the only one; much of Western civilization suffers from this affliction.  If we view, as a continuum, a lack of empathy that progresses toward an overabundance thereof, the question presents itself:  Where, in this continuum, should we strive to stand?  A society composed of sociopaths cannot function.  It should be obvious that too much empathy is also not a good thing.  Clearly, Western society has taken empathy too far, and this excess empathy is leading us to our demise.
What is the optimum amount of empathy?  I do not believe there can be a precise answer to this question, but there surely must be a range, at the middle of the continuum, that is healthy.  Perhaps we can view this in terms of genetic interests.  We should strive for just enough empathy to benefit ourselves and those close to us – but not so much that we worry about outsiders to the detriment of family or clan.  As we move to the right, we pass through an area of  “praiseworthy”, which gradually fades into “foolhardy”.
In a monarchy, like 18th century Russia, a person like Catherine could rise to the top and make a difference for her nation.  I admire her for her (apparent) good balance of empathy and cruelty.  What about recent American presidents?  Did they also maintain such a balance?  I can’t answer that question – but here I tread on dangerous ground.  It’s against my faith to admire politicians – and I just shot myself in the foot!

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17 Responses to Catherine the Great

  1. Good post.
    Hitherto, the only fact I had known about her was that the wretched story of her dying in that gnarly way is a complete fabrication.
    (Straightdope has it, if you haven’t heard of it.)

  2. Maybe one of the reason you admire some of these people who at times had rough relations with people of your ethnic group is because so much time has passed that you can observe them without those emotions associated with those rough relations getting in the way of you seeing certain personal qualities of those people.

  3. WD says:

    I recently read this biography and excellent it is indeed,far superior to a previous one I read years ago,the author of which escapes me at the moment.
    In the context of her times,and place Catherine was undoubtedly a humane ruler,perhaps even enlightened at times.

  4. Annoyed says:

    I think denial of reality is as big a problem as empathy.
    I talk to my parents about race, they agree with me but still refuse to accept the necessity of race based national policies. Like most, they want to avoid the issue and pretend the problem of impending racial displacement does not exist.
    Interestingly nonwhites do not share any of these problems. Perhaps the white population is genetically flawed in this way.

    • (un)concerned says:

      Things just haven’t become bad enough yet for people to resort to that sort of thinking. Being intellectually aware of the time bomb isn’t the same as actually realizing it.
      And then there’s the matter of what type of racial politics to pursue. At this point, it might be better to just accept that the US isn’t going to be defined as a white country any more and begin practicing the kind of self-interested racial politics at which non-whites excel. Trying to bring back the good old days isn’t going to be possible and any attempt to do so would be an atrocity, to say the least.
      Another reason that some white folks aren’t motivated is that they’re simply unaware of the problem. Liberals, in particular, honestly believe that white people are still 100% in charge of the United States. It’s comical. This was perfectly illustrated by an interview of Robert Redford in which the S-Kid informed the reporter that there are three types of voters in the country. As I read his descriptions of all three categories, it dawned on me quickly that non-whites don’t fall into any of them.

    • @annoyed
      We already have race based national policies and having them is the problem. The solution isn’t to establish certain race based policies. The solution is to abolish race based policies. We need to end affirmative action and we need to stop asking people their race on the census, in job applications, and education related forms.

      • Annoyed says:

        How would doing any of the things you listed make any difference in terms of ending the demographic and cultural displacement of the white population?
        Unless they result in ending nonwhite immigration and significantly reducing the number of offspring nonwhites have they are not going to make any difference.
        The only way nonwhites will be stopped from immigrating is either by forcibly blocking them at the border or making their life worse here then in their previous country. In regards to their reproduction there are a number of viable ways to achieve a lowered birth rate but all will obviously be race based regardless of if it is explicitly stated or not.

      • @annoyed
        I am against immigration too. I am against immigration and affirmative action. Being against immigration isn’t a race base policy. Being against immigration is a pro-working class policy because mass immigration reduces the wages of the workers.
        I disagree with implementing policies to reduce non-white births, they definitely should not implement policies to reduce the birth-rate of non-whites.
        They should however eliminate welfare. Welfare is stupid. SO what I propose is: eliminate welfare, immigration , and affirmative action.
        I am opposed to any race based policies whether those policies be “pro-white” or anti-white.

      • Annoyed says:

        Suppose it was shown that nonwhite immigration was shown to not have any negative affect in terms of the standard of living as currently defined. Would you then not have a problem with it?
        More directly are you interested in ending the demographic and cultural displacement of the white population or is it something you don’t care about?
        If not then that’s your choice but it would seem kind of odd to be on this blog if you hold such an opinion.

      • @annoyed
        I’m not against non-white immigration. I am against immigration. I don’t want white or non-white people immigrating here.
        If it was shown that immigration didn’t negatively impact peoples standard of living I wouldn’t believe it. But in a hypothetical universe where it was true that immigration didn’t negatively impact peoples quality of life I would oppose immigration due to the fact immigration disrupts cultural stability,
        My interest is discussing racial issues in a way that is not manichaen. Manichaenism refers to viewing the world as consisting of two opposing forces trying to destroy each other in a struggle for existence and generally one force is presented as good and the other is presented as evil.
        I am not against stereotyping people based on race or ethnic group however I am against having a manichaen attitude about it.
        I am white and proud.
        The issue of the survival of the white race is beyond my capabilities, it is not something I have any goals related to it. Whether or not the white race survives is in Gods hands.
        As far as the displacement of whites in various areas that is beyond my capabilities too.
        I am just a guy talking about stuff with people.

  5. SFG says:

    You can’t reduce every single civilization or person to ‘was it good for the Jews’. Beethoven had no problem admiring Napoleon until he took dictatorial power. While I don’t expect you to, say, admire Hitler’s leadership qualities, nations come into conflict over the normal course of history, and those that are unable to defend themselves, lacking a homeland, take more heat than most. You’ll remember Machiavelli’s exhortation to liberate Italy from the barbarians; with no Italy, Italians could be easily pushed around. Same for Poles or even the Germans themselves.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Agreed – but she still wasn’t fair to the Jews; she taxed them at twice the normal rate. Still, I am not condemning her as completely “bad for the Jews” or praising her as “good for the Jews”.

      • Ryan says:

        The thing that most Jews don’t seem to get is that it was because of their oppression by European Christians that they exist today- which isn’t a bad thing at all. Think about it. If Jews had not been somewhat “oppressed” they would have been quickly assimilated overtime, or at least the vast majority of Jews because there would have been no reason to stay a collective for such a long time. A similar thing is happening today in that because European Jew and Gentiles don’t have any necessary bad feelings for each other- we all view each other as being part of European Civilization because we are all part European- that Jews easily assimilate with other Europeans in countries outside of Israel.
        The thing with Catherine and other leaders is that though they might not have been that good to Jews, they still created the environment in which Jews were still able to live and survive.

    • @SFG
      Dude you totally missed where jewamongyou was coming from. He only brought up her unpleasant policies with regards to the jews as a side note, he wasn’t treating it as a major deal in terms of his assessment of her character.
      His overall assessment of her was that he admired her DESPITE some of her policies that he disagreed with and wish she had not implemented but then he compared her to other monarchs and recognized she was relatively benign towards the jews compared to the others.
      SFG when you claimed that jewamongyou reduced every question to the notion of “was it good for the jews” you were not making an observation of jewamongyou rather you were were seeing an ideology… an ideology was determining what you see rather than the raw events themselves.
      Because in this case jewamongyou was doing the exact opposite of what you claim he was doing. He made note of a one of her bad qualities but said despite that she possessed other qualities that were good. He certainly was not reducing this to an issue of “is it good for the jews”.
      There are some people in all ethnic groups who are overly tribal-minded and there are people in all ethnic groups who are objective. There are blacks who are always asking “is it good for blacks”. There are whites, jews, and asians who do that too. That characteristic is a universal characteristic held in common by all ethnic groups, all ethnic groups have ultra-tribalist members.
      BUt just because there are some Whites or some American Indians who are very tribally-minded that does not mean all Whites or all American Indians are always asking “is it good for our ethnic group”.

  6. jewamongyou says:

    @ Ryan: Absolutely. I even published a post once called “Is Anti-Semitism good for the Jewish people?”

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