Unilateral Illiberalism (Brian Stewart, 7 Mar 2024, Quillette)

When Ayatollah Khomeini granted Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci an interview in the holy city of Qom in 1979, the meeting was terminated when she tore off the chador she had been made to wear, calling it a “stupid medieval rag.” When Fallaci met Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, she was blunt: “I want to understand why everyone dislikes you so much, why you are so little loved.” And after an extended harangue from Yasser Arafat about the need to eradicate Israel with revolutionary violence, Fallaci drily remarked, “Conclusion: you don’t at all want the peace that everyone is hoping for.”

Bemused viewers of Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with Vladimir Putin saw no evidence of the skepticism or thinly veiled contempt that La Fallaci (as she liked to refer to herself) brought to her craft. Nor were they rewarded with an informative glimpse into the Russian despot’s mind. Instead, they were treated to an unedifying display of sycophancy that permitted Putin to filibuster for more than two hours. In The Rebel, Albert Camus spoke of tyrants conducting “monologues above a million solitudes.” Thanks to Carlson’s flaccid performance, Putin’s semi-coherent and ahistorical monologue reached millions more than usual. […]

Did Carlson really expect anything less? Did he really think Putin would inveigh against the San Francisco school board or Hunter Biden? Imagine how disappointed he must have been to learn that the former KGB colonel is not a regular viewer of Fox, let alone Carlson’s show on Twitter. […]

But if Carlson thought that touting Putin’s credentials as a good Christian leader and a champion of law and order would earn him the approval of the Russian tsar he was mistaken. During the interview, Putin seemed to mock Carlson and later complained about the absence of “so-called sharp questions.” Seldom has there been such a poor return for ceremonial self-abasement before a blood-drenched ruler. Putin’s sneering hauteur could not conceal that he is not a leader to be trusted, still less to admired. And as Carlson fawned over the Russian despot, he displayed a personalized version of what the French philosopher Alain Finkelkraut calls the West’s “penitential narcissism.”