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Flight Forward or Calm Statecraft: a Day to Celebrate Leibniz

Statue of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz by Ernst Hähnel (1883) in Leipzig, Germany. Credit: Ad Meskens

On this day, 300 years ago, the Russian Academy of Sciences was born, as the key as to how to seriously run a country. Tsar Peter the Great established the Academy based upon his discussions and deliberations with the Renaissance thinker, Gottfried Leibniz. Leibniz’s original memorandum in 1697 called for the Tsar to: “Establish a general institution for the sciences and the arts” with members “well versed in science and the arts and of high genius…. Import foreign things that are worthwhile, … there will be large observatories, mills, shops, pharmacies and factories, which will contain all kinds of machines and inventions actually put into practice.… Determine the exact relations of the country to determine its needs.” And whatever is needed but lacking must be obtained by imitating and perfecting what is being done elsewhere.

Later, in person, the two discussed the modernization of Russia by a focus on education, science and the arts. The Academy in St. Petersburg would be at the center. Tsar Peter appointed Leibniz as his private advisor, and Leibniz proposed a variety of cutting-edge scientific projects.

Also, today, two heads of state, but with much different characters than Peter, treated their nations as proxies in a nasty, dog-eat-dog world, and plunged full “flight forward.” Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy fired his top general, UAF Commander-in-Chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, as part of his vow to clean out any unbelievers, those who doubt Zelenskyy’s mission of militarily conquering Russia. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu burned all bridges, announcing at his Feb. 7 press conference in Jerusalem that he’s sending his troops and weapons into the midst of over a million displaced Palestinians in Rafah, with no place left to go. Further, he announced that he’s ordered his forces to dismantle the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza—the only possible boots on the ground that can keep 2.2 million Gazans from starvation and disease.

Also, today, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin posed in his interview with Tucker Carlson, the inevitable new way of solving problems, centered around the BRICS. But, in this case, Leibniz had already posed the role of Russia, some 300 years ago, being the necessary link between the great, but separate cultures of Europe and China. Russia wasn’t supposed to simply “catch up” with modern times. For Leibniz, the Creator would not have allowed whatever positive factors had made for a European Renaissance or for an extended Confucian culture, to simply be two isolated forces with two separate success stories. The situation begged for Russia to adopt the singular mission of uniting the positive features of two bold and positive cultures—the original source of China’s vaunted “win-win” method, as folded now into the BRICS.

Statecraft works. It is an art within the capacity of mankind. The clinical, scary flight-forward behaviors of Zelenskyy and Netanyahu, in contrast, fall into the category of “those whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.” Today there was a competent example of calm, deliberate statecraft of someone concerned enough to take in the difficulties and complexities of the world, and be able to find and hold onto a win-win way to go forward. As Putin put it: “This will keep happening, it is like the rise of the Sun—you cannot prevent the Sun from rising, you have to adapt to it.”