Even Putin – who is clearly not a president of a democratic country – can’t just decide to end the war. The stakes for him are much higher than for Zelensky. Zelensky wants to remain president while Putin wants to remain alive. Putin is sitting in the midst of a population of 140 million, 139 of which are very into the war. How is he supposed to tell him, “OK, guys, I changed my mind. Go home now”? On what planet would this work? There are hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have been fighting, who saw their comrades die. Are they going to forget it because some guy said something? How about the Russian soldiers who were incarcerated for violent crime and released to go to war? Will they happily return to prison? How is this supposed to work?
This tendency to see everything in terms of personal failures of isolated individuals is what I call neoliberal subjectivity. The idea that two (or three or five) guys caused a war and all that’s needed to end it is for these guys to hash things out among themselves is utterly nuts but people have absorbed this thinking to the point where they don’t notice how crazy it is.
We’ve seen this with COVID where people just couldn’t accept that modifications in personal behavior can’t stop a virus. We are seeing it in US politics where people get obsessed with personalities and don’t notice that policy exists outside of the personal failures or merits of presidents as individuals. We see it in the incapacity to appreciate works of art or achievements of scientists if their authors were not creatures of absolute, luminous, unmarred perfection.
Neoliberalism is the death of the “we” and the birth of the perennially wounded “I” in search of a symbolic Mommy who will be perfect and cure every ill with her unblemished goodness. But Mommy is the answer to every problem only in early infancy. After that, things get more complicated and sometimes even get to the point where no single individual – no matter how perfect – can solve the problem.