1789 and all that: what the Russians can teach us

I have long argued that Russia is in many ways a mirror image of the West. Because the mirror is both concave and convex, it distorts the picture, but not beyond recognition.

Russians liberals find themselves on the wrong side of the barricades

That can serve as a useful lesson for us, if only by making our salient traits exaggerated and therefore more visible.

One such trait is an almost complete absence of true conservatism as a viable social dynamic and intellectual force.

In Russia the word is associated with everything Putin does or at least preaches: the worst features of the Russian Empire fused with what he sees as the best features of Stalinism.

In Britain it’s associated with the Conservative party, which has as much to do with conservatism as the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea has to do with the people, democracy or republicanism.

Hence decent Russians who see the Putin kleptofascist regime for what it is oppose all its policies and pronouncements as a matter of course. There they run headlong into the same problem as the one we face in Britain.

We see what we hate about our weak, unprincipled, vacillating, manifestly unconservative government as clearly as those Russians see what they hate about Putin’s junta. But what is it that we love?

Suddenly a fog descends and clarity disappears. We want to change things – so do those Russian opponents of Putin. That much is obvious. But to change them for what?

No one can answer this question sensibly without first laying a coherent philosophical foundation on which to build a complex intellectual structure. In Britain, we have precious few people capable of doing so. In Russia, they don’t exist at all.

At least in Britain we have something to fall back on, what with the seminal contribution the country’s thinkers have made to political science over centuries. The Russians have no such tradition: their thinkers have always tended to busy themselves with metaphysics above everything else.

That goes a long way towards explaining Russia’s awful political history. But we shouldn’t feel too smug either: our own tradition of political thought has been debauched and marginalised.

But the Russian opponents of Putin don’t realise this. Trying to mimic Western politics, they tropistically reach out for ‘liberalism’, the only trend they see as being opposite to Putinism.

Since they know little about Western conservatism and understand even less, they assume it’s sort of like Putinism, mutatis mutandis. Hence, proceeding apathetically from the negative, they use as their sources of political wisdom Western ‘liberal’ publications, such as The Guardian, Le Monde or The New York Times.

In Britain, one would think that, drawing on the legacy of Burke, Canning, Coleridge, Eliot, Chesterton et al, conservatives would be able to win any debate against their mock-liberal opponents. That, however, isn’t the case.

Political conservatism can only thrive in a fertile traditional – which is to say Judaeo-Christian – soil. When that soil was strewn with the coarse salt of atheism, it became barren.

Conservatives were no longer sure what it was they wished to conserve. ‘Liberals’, on the other hand, were dead certain about what it was they wished to destroy: every offshoot of Christendom, including its political legacy.

This being a short article rather than a long book, I’ll have to skip some intermediate steps describing the road to our political perdition. Suffice it to say that, as a direct result of the emasculation of conservatism, Britain is likely to get a Marxist government, which is a logical development of post-Enlightenment ‘liberalism’.

The Russians understand none of this.

Putin runs the Russian Orthodox Church in the best traditions of the KGB – the ‘liberals’, who constitute the only visible opposition, have to be militant atheists almost to a man.

Putin proclaims his commitment to ‘traditional values’ as camouflage for running the greatest organised crime gang in history – the ‘liberals’ turn to The Guardian and everything it represents.

Putin’s thugs beat up homosexuals in the streets – the ‘liberals’ support homomarriage with abandon. And so forth: if tomorrow Putin were to say that the sky tends to be blue, the ‘liberals’ will insist it’s polka-dot.

These thoughts crossed my mind yesterday, when the on-line magazines of the Russian opposition were full of obituaries for the liberal blogger Evgeniy (Zhenia for short) Ikhlov, who died a writer’s death, having suffered a heart attack at his computer.

I’ll translate a portion of one of the obits, while assuring you that they all say roughly the same things:

“Zhenia and I both belonged to the same camp… The camp of those who defend the values of the Enlightenment, rationalism, humanism, progress, liberty and human rights…

“Zhenia believed in them. He believed in liberty. He believed in human rights… In the rights of man and citizen – in the very sense of 1789…Just like me, Zhenia belonged to the liberté, egalité, fraternité camp.”

Allow me to paraphrase in a language closer to the real meaning of this excerpt.

Both the deceased and his obituarist belong to the ‘camp’ of those who destroyed our civilisation, turned France into a bloodbath, proceeded to murder further untold millions around the world in the name of the very slogans produced in that fateful year, have prostituted our culture in the name of egalitarianism, replaced ratio with rationalism – the very same ‘camp’ from which the only possible foray will lead its followers to socialism, eventually its extreme forms.

The Russians don’t realise this, but they have a good excuse: they have no serious tradition of political thought. We have no such excuse – and yet our ‘liberalism’ is about to culminate in the victory of what for all intents and purposes will be a communist government.

We were supposed to teach the Russians how to think about politics. Instead, because we’ve forgotten everything we used to know, they’re teaching us how not to do so.

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