Sunday, June 30, 2019

Putin has Always Opposed Liberalism, Moscow Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – Many in the West were taken aback by Vladimir Putin’s attacks on liberalism in his recent Financial Times interview, but two Russian commentators have pointed out what should have been obvious to everyone: Putin has been fighting against what he defines as liberal values his entire professional life.

            Petr Mezhuritsky, who lives in Israel, is blunt: “Putin from his youth has been a professional fighters against liberal values, which the USSR KGB considered a hostile ideology” even though his ascent to the highest office in Russia was possible only because of the partial victory of liberal ideas in Russia (

                According to the Kasparov commentator, Putin was clever enough “for 20 long years not to acknowledge his hatred for liberalism.” But now he feels no constraints in doing so because of changes in Russia and changes in the world and so is quite prepared to speak out against liberalism and even to take credit for being the leader of those who oppose liberalism.

            “Civil freedoms in Putin’s mind are imaginary,” Mezhuritsky says. “And that attitude toward civic freedoms the Muslim and Chinese worlds completely share with Putin.” Indeed, “to speak out today in defense of liberal values can only idealists as it should be noted has always been the case.”

            The Kremlin leader, of course, “has never been an idealist but rather a pragmatic Russian nationalist.” He knows very well that “even in the countries of liberal democracy the full and final triumph of liberalism at the level of ideology has never happened. Judaism and Christianity in themselves do not consider liberal democracy the only state system pleasing to God.”

            “With medical precision,” the commentator continues, “Putin has described the place of liberalism in the world today as extremely shaky” and declared that there is “a crisis in liberalism” in many countries.  He didn’t directly call for the destruction of its advocates, but his ally Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has done just that. 

            Hatred of liberalism exists in many places, and Putin is “not alone” in his feelings. Instead, he now accurately believes that the world is moving in his direction and that the liberal verities are being rejected by more and more people not only in his country but even in the bastions of democracy, the United States and the United Kingdom.

            Liberals, of course, have made this easier for him by not living up to their own principles.

            Russian blogger Mikhail Pozharsky expands on this by explaining how Putin’s hatred of liberalism grows out of his worldview, a worldview that has guided his policies first within the borders of the Russian Federation and more recently in his subversive interventions in other states (

                For Putin and those who think as he does, there are only “two forms of societal construction.” The first is “the polis (in antiquity), the nation state (in the modern era) and the society of citizens. This is what Putin calls ‘liberalism.’” The second is “the empire, ‘the old order, fascism and Nazism (in the 20th century).”

            In the first kind of society, the fundamental social unit is the citizen. Power is established and transferred by formal procedures and is not viewed as sacred. Instead, it is viewed as a source of rules “universal for all the citizens of the community,” something that requires “a developed bureaucratic apparatus.”

            In the second kind, power is “more unlimited,” isn’t based on formal procedures but on “mystical rituals” intended to cement “the unity of the ruler with the people … The basic social unit is not the individual but the group,” the rural community, the social stratum, the city or so on. These often enjoy real autonomy as long as they don’t challenge the ruler.

            Each of these kinds of state considers the other “evil.” For lbierals, “the paradigm is freedom of the individual to live as he wants in the framework of universal law. And no one except the law can give him orders.?

            “In the paradigm of imperial conservatism, freedom is freedom of the community to lvie according to ‘traditions,’ ‘customs,’ or the decisions of the majority, even if this majority wants to burn witches, throw stones at adulterers, or eat children for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

            Consequently, “when Putin says that the elite of Western countries is cut off from the people,” Pozharsky continues, what he is talking about is representative democratic where some are chosen to make laws but are isolated from “’real things.’”  In his vision of empire, the people and the ruler unite in such things as the “direct line” program.

            Putin is opposed to any universal principles except the right of those with power to impose it on others. Thus, when he condemns migration in Western countries, he isn’t condemning migration as such but only the notion that migration should be allowed according to some universally recognized law.

            Thus, Pozharsky concludes, Putin is “a completely sincere anti-liberal and champion of ‘the old order.’ It is just that this ‘old order’ looks like present day Russia and always has.”

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