Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Putin’s ‘Traditional Values’ are Neither Traditional Nor Values, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – “So-called Traditional Values’” now being used by the Kremlin to justify all kinds of repressions are neither traditional nor values and have no fixed meaning, Sima Orekhanov says. Instead, they are a confusing “mix of liberalism, communism, sacred knowledge about Hyperborea, fascism and the devil knows what else.”

            They haven’t been defined because they can’t be, the Moscow commentator says – each person gives them a different meaning -- but they have entered Russian life and become the basis for all kinds of “specific laws and unwritten rules” that the authorities use to intimidate and repress the population for the benefit of the elite (

            In many ways, the commentator suggests, “traditional values are like the architecture of Luzhkov’s Moscow, who attempted to mimic now one style and then another and in the end arose something new and very eclectic, quite ugly and however odd this seems when applied to an ideology which appeals to tradition deeply post-modernist in its essence.”

            The “traditional values” now on offer “do not arise from one of the great ideologies of the 20th century. They are not liberalism, communism, fascism and even not conservatism. Being a mutant, they are a combination of pieces from literally all of these and not only these trends of European thought.”

            And it appears, Orekhanov writes, that “this is a unique example of an ideology which lacks any strict explanation, theoretical texts, and guides for practical applications and all the other attributes of any philosophical trend.” That is because it arose not as an idea but as a means of repression.

            Attempts to link what Putin calls “traditional values” to Russian conservative thought are doomed to fail, he continues, because as another Russian commentator has observed, “classical Russian conservativism was much more syncretic and much less servile” than those who follow this current set of notions.

            But in fact, he says, none of the supposed sources for “traditional values” withstands a close examination of that status. “Even Ivan Ilin, ‘Putin’s favorite philosopher,’ isn’t suited for that role [because] he so hated the USSR that he didn’t hide his sympathies for Hitler and after the end of the war hoped to return to Russia in a NATO fighter.”

            Nor are any of the conservative thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century appropriately designated as the sources of “traditional values.” Not Berdyaev, not Leontyev, Not Solovoyev and not Rozanov.  As a result, those who are honest about this recognize that these values are “a construct of artificially collected parts of various ideologies.”

            Indeed, Orekhanov says, “if thinks whose ideas are not declared to be part of this ideology were to find out that they were being combined in this way, they would be more than a little surprised and hardly happy about it.”

            At the start, “traditional values” were defined by negation.  Grigory Yudin of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics has written that this notion arose in response to Dmitry Medvedev’s playing with modernization ideas. And when it appeared the population might rise in support of that and then against Putin, “traditional values” became a weapon against the people.

            At first, this development manifested itself in various legislative proposals, open letters and the like. But it quickly moved “from words to action” as in the case of the banning of gay propaganda in the name of defending “traditional” family values.

            When the Crimea issue arose, Putin shifted the focus of these “traditional” values from the family to politics, “a strange shift from the sexual to the geopolitical of well-known values” and an indication of how the Kremlin leader saw them strictly in terms of the ways to which they could be used.

              Those commentators who tried to make sense of this, Orekhanov continues, quickly fell into terminological and other difficulties.  Linking “traditional values” to traditionalism or traditional society illustrated this. The first drove some Russians back to “the exotic doctrine of the French philosopher Rene Genon, who by the way did not use this term.

            But Genon was not entirely acceptable. He accepted Islam and viewed “de-secularization and a return to a religious worldview to be part of the return to Primordial traditions. He never supported the Nazis, but his ideas exerted a great influence on the theoreticians of fascism,” Orekhanov says.

            Those who turned to the concept of “traditional society” in anthropology and sociology also had problems: those disciplines developed this notion not for a post-modern Russia but for primitive societies. And that got many thinkers in trouble as well.

            Perhaps a better way to approach the sources of Putin’s “traditional values” is to consider Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 dystopian novel, “Submission,” which tells the story of what happens in France after a Muslim government takes power in Paris.  The parallels between that and what is taking place in Russia are striking and frightening.

            Among the things the Muslim government in France does in Huellebecq’s novel are “an increase in military spending, a reliance on the Abramaic religions with the preservation of religious freedom, the rapid growth of social inequality” and so on as the new regime moves toward the imposition of shariat.

            Putin may not be seeking to impose Muslim law, but his notions about imposing “traditional values” on Russia have too many parallels with the Muslim project for comfort.

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