Sunday, November 25, 2018

Traditional Institutions Don’t Foster Totalitarianism But Block It, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 – Vladimir Putin’s invocation of traditional institutions as a slogan has led many to conclude that these can be the foundation stones in an effort to construct a new totalitarian system, but Dimitry Savvin argues that such institutions are “the only reliable barrier on the path toward totalitarianism.” 

            Taking his point of departure Friedrich von Hayek’s observation that only those who could remember the period before World War I, know what real liberalism looks like, Savvin, the editor of the Riga-based conservative Russian Harbin portal says that is because before that war, traditional society remained strong in Europe (

            Its presence allowed liberalism, the émigré Russian scholar continues, “at the basis of which lies the idea of personal freedom as the highest value,” to flourish in the years before the first war because it was and in fact remains “organically connected with traditional society and its institutions.” 

            According to Savvin, “practically the only function of the state in traditional society is the defense against foreign enemies.” Family, religion and local communities regulate everything else. They are both mutually reinforcing and provide a kind of mobility for those uncomfortable in one to move to another.

            Those revolutions, like the American, that left the basics of traditional society alone, have done far better than those like the French who attacked tradition in the name of enlightenment.  But as the economies grew, the role of the state did as well; and the state moved into ever more parts of life, “beginning with goods and ending with thoughts and the marriage bed.”

            The expansion of the state, Savvin says, opened the way to totalitarianism to the extent that it moved to destroy the institutions of civil society and replace them with bureaucratic control.  The more the state pushed in that direction, the greater the danger became. “Civil society” by itself won’t stop that process.

            Regardless of what the state calls itself, it “will get involved in the economy, in the education of children, in the formation of worldviews and in general in everything. Competition and alternatives will no longer exist; accounting and control will take their place. This is totalitarianism and the logic of socialism, any socialism, leads in that direction.”

            That’s why von Hayek was right, the Russian conservative writes. Before 1914, Europe still retained strong traditional social institutions which could stand up to the state. Now, it has fewer of them; and the state is stronger than ever before – and liberties have been destroyed as a result.

            And that leads to the conclusion, Savvin says, that “the single reliable defense from totalitarianism and a real guarantee of liberal values in our era are the institutions of traditional society, a strong family, a religious community, and local organization.” If they don’t exist, then “the government will automatically fill all gaps” – and it will be “impossible” to oppose it.

            For Russians in particular, recognition of this reality is especially important, the commentator says because it provides the basis for “a political union of right-conservative and genuinely liberal forces. Paradoxically,” Savvin concludes, “today we very much need one another.”

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