Geopolitical Notes and Quotes (Not to Mention a Map)

“The separation of the Crimea from the Russian empire . . . is equivalent to cutting one of her arteries.” 

Karl Koch, The Crimea and Odessa (1855)

The Russo-Ukrainian war is being fought over what was once called Little Tartary.  Until the end of the eighteenth century, the north shore of the Black Sea, from the mouth of the Danube to the Caucasus, was a barren steppe inhabited by nomadic Tartars.  These Tartars were organized into hordes that generally acknowledged the supremacy of the Tartars of Crimea, who themselves generally acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottomans in Constantinople.  The primacy of the Crimean Tartars was largely owing to a range of low mountains that wring rain from the atmosphere, and to the streams that run down from these mountains to sustain a more settled population.

The Russian Empire took possession of the steppes of Little Tartary at about the same time as we Americans were winning our independence and ratifying our Constitution.  This was the result of the decay of Ottoman power and Russia’s desire to export its agricultural surplus through ports on the Black Sea.  About twenty years after the Russian Empire took possession of Little Tartary, we Americans took possession of the Louisiana Purchase, thereby acquiring our own steppe in the Great Plains, our own nomads in the tribes of Sioux, Cheyenne and Comanche, and our own port to export agricultural surplus at New Orleans.

The steppes of Little Tartary were at that time similar to what Stephen Long would soon call The Great American Desert, although the Tartars fed on domesticated flocks and herds rather than wild game, and travelled in wagons rather than on foot (or more recently horseback).  It was to hide the fact that Little Tartary was a desert that Grigory Potemkin built his ersatz and eponymous “Potemkin villages” to reassure the Empress, Catherine the Great, when she inspected her new southern domain in 1787.

For some years after, Little Tartary was known to the world as New Russia.  The name of Ukraine (which means “border”) was at that time confined to a region farther north on the Dnieper River, in the vicinity to Kiev.  on this 1840 map, Ukraine is bordered with blue and New Russia with brown,


All of this is in the way of an introduction to some interesting excerpts from the travel diary* of Karl Koch, a German botanist who made a tour of what had been Little Tartary, and then later New Russia, in 1844.  This was about sixty years after the Russian occupation, so these excerpts can be compared with descriptions of the American Great Plains in the 1880s.

* * * * *

The first excerpt notes the disappearance of of the native Tartars, who were like the American Indians unwilling to give up a nomadic life, and who therefore withdrew into what were still then desolate regions.

“Most of the Tartars, however, quitted the country after the occupation of the land by the Russians in the year 1783, and sought refuge partly among the Circassians . . . and partly among their countrymen in Bessarabia.  Scarcely one third of the inhabitants remained, and, in spite of the efforts on the part of Russia, they have only partly relinquished their wandering lives.  If the advantages which accrue to husbandry are pointed out to these people, they usually answer, ‘My father led a nomadic life and was happy; I will therefore do the same;’ or, ‘As God has given understanding to the Franks [Europeans], and the plow to the Russians, and the chequer to the Armenians, he has given us the wagon.’” (pp. 50-51)

As on the Great Plains of North America, a large and heterogeneous immigration followed this depopulation.

“The Russian government has done all in its power, since the territory has been included within its jurisdiction, to repopulate the deserted district, and the Emperor presented the land to different nobles of his kingdom, on condition that they should plant colonies upon their new possessions. The members of various sects were settled on the barren districts of the Taurian continent [Crimean Peninsula] and some Germans, chiefly Anabaptists and Roman Catholics, took possession of the better part of the land: Greeks and Armenians also found a ready reception, and latterly the Jews have been settled here, though not to the advantage of the country. By this means Little Tartary has once more obtained a population which might in some degree approach in numbers that of the second half of the last century.”

The new society of New Russia was composed of Russian officials, Levantine merchants, German craftsmen and farmers, Russian and Polish serfs, and Tartar vagabonds.

“In each of the towns, and consequently here also, all the officials, with few exceptions, are Russians; but the wealthy merchants are Greeks and Armenians, sometimes Italians: the poorer, on the other hand, are Jews, and the tradesmen are generally Germans; here and there some gypsies may also be seen. The Tartars, the original inhabitants of the Crimea . . . with few exceptions . . . wander about as long as they are able with their flocks of sheep and cattle, and pass the winter in wretched villages” (pp. 39-40)

As Koch said, Jews were generally merchants in a small way, and so dealt more directly with the peasants.  Owing to Jewish particularism, these dealings were often sharp and unscrupulous, and there was everywhere an intense dislike and mistrust of the Jews.

“Though the complaints against the Jews in Prussia and Germany are frequently unjust, it is unfortunately true that the descendants of Abraham are the curse of Russian Poland and the southern provinces of the empire. Until this injurious element of society is effectually rooted out, all the efforts of government to raise these provinces will be fruitless . . . . It is the rarest instance when Jewish families there support themselves by the work of their hands and by industrious habits; for, with few praiseworthy exceptions, they shun labor as they would fire, and fix themselves like bloodsuckers upon the remaining better portion of the inhabitants, in order, by the industry of these last, to maintain themselves in an easier manner. They generally carry on a profitable trade with all kinds of small ware, and serve as intermediate agents to the common people, who, in Poland and Russia, as almost everywhere else, are still in a most miserable condition. The traffic, however, with the poor and ignorant peasantry is not maintained on an honorable footing, for every means is employed by the Jews to derive as much advantage as possible, and cheating is not uncommon. As the Jew alone has ready money, it is to him that the peasantry apply whenever they require it, and they must then either pay an increasing rate of interest, which at length becomes exorbitant, or sacrifice the revenue they derive from their corn or cattle for several years to come. In addition to this the Jews generally keep the brandy-shops, thereby directly contributing to the demoralization of the people.” (pp. 57-59)

By 1844 Odessa might well have been called Russia’s New Orleans.  Both cities were established in the late eighteenth century and both served as the outlet of a vast agricultural hinterland.  Both cities were also much more cosmopolitan than empires they served

“Odessa is a Russian trading city, but it has so little of the Russian stamp about it, that it might be supposed to belong to any other nation. The number of actual Russian inhabitants bears no comparison with the Greeks, Italians, and Germans. The only Russians are the military population and host of officials; but even among these last many are not Russians, but principally French and Germans . . . . Odessa is in possession of something from all parts of Europe. Externally, both in public life and in the opera and public buildings, it resembles a city in the south of Europe, and has a marked Italian character. The better kind of shops are in imitation of the French, but with less refinement and elegance, although their owners are Frenchmen, who chiefly deal in articles of luxury. The artisans, as almost everywhere in Russia, are Germans, and the markets are supplied principally with vegetables by the German gardeners from the neighboring colonies . . . .” (pp. 255-256).

*Karl Koch (1809-1879), The Crimea and Odessa: Journal of a Tour (London: J. Murray, 1855)

24 thoughts on “Geopolitical Notes and Quotes (Not to Mention a Map)

  1. I don’t have a problem with anti-imperialism; I’m sure lots of current-day French and Quebecois wish the French imperialists had never set foot on the leeward shore of Hispaniola. Just like lots of current-day Southerners wish the Southern planters had paid free white wages, or found something else to do with all that land.

    But I really have a problem with all these “sovereign” pretend-countries we have now, existing only to launder foreign aid, extract the most wealth from their citizens for the least infrastructure maintenance, and to punch the career tickets of Permanent State bureaucrats like Pete Buttigieg, Evan McMullin, and Nina Janckowicz. (I don’t like the term “Deep State” as it implies some degree of actual competence, e.g., the Turkish CUP and the Chilean General Staff).

    Ukraine, Lebanon, Haiti, Kosovo, and lots of others would be better off as semi-autonomous provinces of the nearest superpower. Of course, historically empires end up bankrupt, socialist and populated by their enemies. Just a bad deal all around.

    • Ukraine, Lebanon, Haiti, Kosovo, and lots of others would be better off as semi-autonomous provinces of the nearest superpower.

      By my understanding, the are already. The modern world–or maybe just the modern West was hand-crafted by post-war delegations to both balance power and provide buffer states. Buffer states are states whose only job is to be diplomatically confounding and whose people are designed to grease the treads of enemies before an aggressor gets to the borders of another great power. NATO is an explicit coalition of remote provinces, and that’s the whole reason this Ukraine war came about, to my mind. NATO trod on the remote border provinces of Russia and Russia responded as if her own territory had been violated–which in a sense, it had.

      This status quo is not really healthy or sustainable, I am curious whether there will be fewer countries in the future or more. Kristor has written about “the great sortition” and I wonder sometimes if this is what it looks like.

      • If the liberal world hegemony triumphs, there will be more countries, mostly minuscule, negligible and fake. After Scottish independence comes secession of the Highlands, and then the Outer Hebrides. If the multi-polar anti-globalists come out on top, there will be fewer countries because all of today’s fake countries will have become some sort of dependency or protectorate. This doesn’t entail loss of independence since you cannot lose what you never had in the first place.

    • Empire is really a neutral term. It only means rule or command. The liberal world hegemony has given it scary connotations so that people will feel glad they live under liberal world hegemony. Most of the countries we see on the map are semi-autonomous provinces of the liberal world hegemony. The test of sovereignty is whether you can violate “human rights” and get away with it. That means nukes and some sort of sanctions-immunity. The many fake countries are like the unemployed twenty-something who lives with his parents and calls himself an adult.

  2. Thank you for this, especially the comparison to the American experience and Koch’s personal account. Unwelcome observations these days, but at least the Prussian Jews come out clean (always good to hear some forebears vindicated)!]

    Very diverse world they had there . . . but before someone mocks about diversity’s being our strength (Prof. Smith’s brilliant insight as to whom “our” signifies aside), the Germans really did contribute much to the Balkans and to Russian lands. The Donauschwaben and the Wolgadeutschen did actually enrich the lands where they settled; they did make them more “vibrant.” Their sad fate befits the woeful 20th century.

    • The Germans made a similar improvement to the general quality of the population here in Texas. They were better educated, more orderly, less violent, etc.

  3. JMSmith,

    If the liberal world hegemony triumphs, there will be more countries, mostly minuscule, negligible and fake.

    This is a rather strange assertion, given the liberals’ open attempts to erase national borders and erect a unified global government. It seems to me that it would be more accurate to say that if the liberal world hegemony triumphs, there will be only one country. I am also curious how you define “fake” in this context.

    If the multi-polar anti-globalists come out on top, there will be fewer countries because all of today’s fake countries will have become some sort of dependency or protectorate.

    What multi-polar anti-globalists? It sure sounds like these supposed “anti-globalists” have the same goals as the globalists, which makes me suspect they aren’t actually anti-globalist.

    • The globalists are in favor of weak nations, and therefore small nations. Nowadays they would probably support the Confederate States of America because none of those “sovereign states” was large enough to actually be sovereign. A “fake” country has a flag and a parliament, but it can’t do anything “the international community” disapproves because, if it did, the IC would bomb or sanction it. The aim of the anti-globalists, as I see it, is a multi-polar world of regional hegemons.

      • As I see it, sovereignty is fundamentally a matter of authority, not of power; it is the God-given authority of a nation to govern itself, subject to His Law. Simply put, your argument seems to prove too much; if one accepted your argument as valid, then one would have to agree that families are “fake” because no family can stand against the power of the state.

        Globalists are centralizers; a plethora of small, weak nations runs counter to the observed tendencies of centralizers throughout history and to the observed tendencies of modern globalists. As I see it, the so-called “anti-globalists” ultimately want to establish a globalist order in their favor; multi-polarity is only an intermediate goal. I think you have fallen into the trap of thinking that the enemy of your enemy is necessarily your friend, and of thinking that whoever stands opposed to one set of lies/liars must necessarily be telling the truth.

      • A “God-given right” isn’t worth anything if you’re not strong enough to hold on to it. What the globalists want are weak, dependent countries (like, say, Ukraine) that are not strong enough to tell the “international community” to go pound sand. The European Union strongly promotes regionalism in its member countries because those regions are even weaker than those countries. A family is not sovereign, but one might say that a family is “fake” when the state has stripped it of any meaningful autonomy. Failing to inform parents of “gender-affirming care” would seem to be an example. The test of meaningful sovereignty is whether a country can rule itself in ways that shock and horrify the “international community.” Otherwise countries are in the position of Henry Ford’s customers when Henry said, they buy Ford automobiles in any color they like, so long as it is black.

      • Your comments here read like a denial that there is such a thing as an objective moral law. I doubt this is what you intended, but it is the logical implication of what you have written. If God’s ordained moral order depends upon the ability of a creature to personally defend that order against anyone/everyone who might wish to transgress it, then there is no moral order (or that order, in your words, “isn’t worth anything”). If power is the only thing that matters, then there is nothing morally wrong with liberalism; liberals have power, and no one has any principled basis to complain about what they are doing. Your position, as written, implies that neither murder nor adultery nor theft nor any other sin is really wrong; these are merely instances of the strong exercising power over the weak. I find your argument rather strange coming from someone writing for a site which purports to defend Christian orthodoxy.

        Again, you assert that liberals want small, weak nations, even though this is directly contrary to their observed behaviour throughout history and today. Liberals have always favoured, and still favour (as evidenced by their behaviour), consolidation and concentration of power into ever larger, stronger states (or corporations), with the ultimate goal of establishing a unified global government. It is mind-boggling that you claim liberals want something directly contrary to everything they have ever done. Liberals have always sought to destroy smaller social units in favour of larger social units, to subvert regional loyalties in favour of national loyalties and to subvert national loyalties in favour of loyalty to “democracy” or “humanity”, which they do because larger social units are easier to control/corrupt. Liberals are busy, as they always have been, trying to recreate Babel, yet you claim they are not doing what we can plainly see they are doing. It is even more bizarre that you claim (in an earlier post) that liberals would have favoured the Confederate States of America, given that liberals were/are the most virulent opponents of the CSA, and are even more determined to erase Southern regional loyalty than they are to erase American national loyalty. Your hypothesis about the motives/desires of liberals conflicts with observed reality, yet you cling to that hypothesis and reject reality. I think you are in danger of becoming the very sort of monster you set out to slay.

      • I don’t deny the existence of a moral law, but do deny that the moral law enforces itself. We live, it appears to me, in a universe in which a good legislator has made good laws, but in which the policemen mostly work for the Mob. If I have a “God-given right” to speak my mind and yet will be shot for exercising that right, that right isn’t worth much. It would allow me to go before the firing squad with a clear conscience, and perhaps to enjoy rewards in heaven, but it does not allow me to, you know, speak my mind. The moral law comes from God, but moral law enforcement comes from men.

        A world state cannot tolerate a residual nation state that retains sufficient power to defy the world state. The centralization of power always involves sucking power out of the older and more decentralized centers of power. As the power of the American central government grew, for instance, the power and independence of the states declined. When power is concentrated, weakness and dependency will be widespread.

      • I don’t deny the existence of a moral law, but do deny that the moral law enforces itself…The moral law comes from God, but moral law enforcement comes from men.

        Thank you for the clarification. I agree with you here. I suspect a large part of our disagreement lies in the ambiguity of the word “sovereignty”, whether it refers to the highest (worldly) authority, to the greatest (worldly) power, or to both. It seems to me you have been using it in the “power” sense, while I have been using it in the “authority” sense. Therefore, for you, whoever has the most power, even if he is an usurper, is sovereign; however, for me, whoever has the highest authority, even if he is powerless, is sovereign. You say rights without power are meaningless or not worth much; in temporal terms this is true. However, I have not been speaking in exclusively temporal terms; if I had been, I would not have bothered discussing rights or authority at all, because such things are inconceivable in an exclusively temporal sense.

        A world state cannot tolerate a residual nation state that retains sufficient power to defy the world state…

        I can’t tell whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with me here. Of course a centralizing world state cannot tolerate any of its constituent parts retaining sufficient power to defy it; however, neither can it tolerate any nation retaining even nominal independence from it. Therefore, I don’t see what this has to do with your claim that the globalists desire to establish a multitude of small, weak nations, unless you are speaking in terms of their intermediate goals. I have been speaking about the globalists’ ultimate goal, to establish a single, worldwide nation, and had assumed you were doing likewise since you spoke of there being “more countries, mostly miniscule, negligible, and fake” in the event of the triumph of liberal world hegemony. I had assumed, based on your wording, that you were talking about ends, not means. If you are claiming that the globalists want to break pieces off existing nations so that those pieces may be more easily absorbed into the globalist hegemon, then your claim is plausible. However, the globalists ultimate goal remains the establishment of a single, worldwide, irresistible nation, not a multitude of small, weak nations.

      • For practical purposes, the sovereign is that which cannot be overruled, so that which is overruled is not sovereign. Christianity obviously has a strong bias in favor of “return of the king” narratives, but things seldom work this way in real life. The sovereign is that which ultimately decides, not that which ought ultimately to decide according to the constitution, bylaws or tradition.

        With respect to the political geography of the world state, I’m saying that it will appear on the map as a particolored patchwork of micro- states with sham sovereignty, just like the Soviets of the old Soviet Union.

      • If God’s ordained moral order depends upon the ability of a creature to personally defend that order against anyone/everyone who might wish to transgress it, then there is no moral order (or that order, in your words, “isn’t worth anything”).

        I have some very bad news for you: as far as this Earth goes, we are all we have. Without Christian men willing to take up arms and defend Her, there is no Christendom. The pandemic restrictions were just a taste of that. Christianity can be squashed like a bug and if the Christians are too old, too sectarian, too pacifistic, etc., then that’s that. Christianity joins the Greco-Roman pantheon in the dustbin of history.

        Also, the international order is anarchic, not civic. That’s what being “sovereign” means: there’s no higher authority. If Holland wants to shoot its farmers and confiscate their land to house immigrants, then Holland can do it. It’s good to be sovereign. The “rule of law” is something the sovereign imposes on its subjects.

        And it gets worse: there’s really no such thing as the rule of law, only the law of rule. When rule is by men named Washington, Adams, Jefferson, or even Jones and Smith, you get the common law and the rights of Englishmen. When it’s by Continental mutts like Yellen, Klain, Schumer, Pelosi, Mayorkas et al., you get democratic fascism.

        The good news is, sovereignty’s always up for grabs. But I’m not feeling too optimistic these days.

      • I have never claimed that the moral law is self-enforcing, nor have I argued that Christendom will endure even if most Christians abandon their posts (there will always be some who hold to their duty). The discussion JMSmith and I have been having is over the nature of sovereignty, whether it is a matter of authority (the right to do X) or of power (the ability to do X). The problem is that “sovereignty” refers to either authority or power or both, hence my preference for the more specific terms. JMSmith has been using “sovereignty” primarily in the “power” sense (whoever has the most power is sovereign, even if he is an usurper), while I have been using it in the “authority” sense (whoever has the highest authority is sovereign, even if he is powerless); I suspect this is a major part of our disagreement.

        It is true that having authority without having power (whether force, persuasion, or some other form of power) makes that authority ineffective; however, I have never disputed that. Among the issues I have been addressing (and the one which is relevant to this comment) is whether (and in whom) authority exists; I maintain that it does exist, because it is instituted by God, even if the temporal wielder of that authority is ineffective in doing so or is usurped by someone stronger. The question, for me, is not whether the moral law is self-enforcing (it isn’t), but whether it exists (it does) and what it is. Following from this, the question becomes not whether we need to defend/advance the moral order, but what, specifically, it is we ought to be defending/advancing.

      • To have authority without power is to be in the position of a ship’s captain in the midst of a mutiny. Just as a mutiny can be put down by the arrival of a larger ship filled with loyal sailors and marines, so the mutiny of man will be put down by the Second Coming. But the question, as I see it, is how does the ship’s captain survive the mutiny as he awaits the larger ship filled with loyal sailors and marines. In the midst of a mutiny, his powerless authority is a liability.

    • I would guess the emphasis is on the fake. As you say, no real independent power. The other option, to make it more fake, is having borders in name only and paper nationalism. Basically, a Disneyland world.

  4. We will never get a world without empire, which is a shame because they’re generally bad, both for their subject and host populations. Or rather, we shall, but only when the second Jerusalem is founded.

    However, we could get rid of the liberal world hegemony, and dare I say it? liberalism itself. That is a long enough road for me.

    • I don’t think it is bad to be a protectorate of a benign hegemon. Kept countries shouldn’t strut about boasting that they are sovereign, but “tending one’s own garden” is not a bad life. It’s the proletariat of an imperial power that really suffers. They get to fight wars that are not in their own interest and then get flooded and displaced by an inrush of colonials.

      • I tend to agree. Too, paying a not-too-ruinous tribute to be left to your own devices and let someone else take the task of militarily protecting their golden goose seems like a pretty good bargain, right until your protector gets too greedy. But ‘right until your protector gets too greedy’ is always the case, whatever the political relations are, so that’s hardly specific to protectorates and tributaries.

  5. Pingback: NATO war on Russia? | Winston Scrooge


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