I was reminded of this when entertaining a famous Russian writer known for his opposition to Putin. My guest is an erudite man, who even understands philosophy. Yet he doesn’t understand politics very well, which is only worth mentioning because such ignorance is typical of Russians, whatever their political hue.
Even straining my memory to breaking point, I can’t recall a single Russian political thinker worth mentioning, now or ever. Such a lacuna has had catastrophic consequences for much of the world, but above all for Russia herself.
At some point, the writer requested my thoughts on the EU. When told I thought it was evil, he lost interest. “So you’re on the Right then?” “I am,” I replied, “in the sense of being in the right.” The writer yawned and shifted the conversation to sex, apparently his preferred subject.
He was correct in some way. The watershed between Leave and Remain in Britain roughly overlaps with that between the political Right and Left.
Russia too has her own watershed on this issue. Putin hates the EU, while his ‘liberal’ opponents, such as my guest, love it almost to a man – both for wrong reasons.
Putin wrongly associates the EU with the Light Brigade charging the guns of Balaklava as an expression of perennial pan-European Russophobia. Yet if Putin and his junta could change their kleptofascist KGB mindset, they’d see that the political ideal they see in their mind’s eye closely resembles the EU.
The same corruption, no accountability, focus on self-service rather than public service, state worship, contempt for public opinion and pluralism, hostility to traditional Western customs and principles, socialist megalomania – one struggles to identify a serious bone of contention. Bukovsky is right when referring to the EU as the EUSSR.
To be sure, the propaganda used by the two wicked entities is different. The EU understandably relies on internationalism, while Putin swears by nationalism. Yet, as the Nazi-Soviet pact demonstrated, underlying visceral kinship can trump diverging slogans.
If I were Putin, I’d seek membership in the EU. That may involve giving the Crimea back, but hey – if Paris was worth a mass to Henri of Navarre, surely pan-European domination should be worth a scrap of land to Vladimir of Russia.
For, if Russia joined the EU, she’d dominate it, as the most virile military power within an empire always does. Hence the empires we talk about are Roman, not Etruscan; Austro-Hungarian, not Czech; or, more apposite, Russian, not Finnish.
Russian ‘liberals’ love the EU for the same wrong reason Putin hates it: they perceive it as being fundamentally different from Putin’s junta. They associate European federalism with European civilisation, failing to realise how thoroughly the EU breaks away from it.
The liberals’ approach to such matters is negative and therefore primitive, based as it is on an unsound syllogism. Thesis: Putin professes to like strong nationhood and religion, while disliking homomarriage and Muslim immigration. Antithesis: The EU dislikes strong nationhood and religion, but not homomarriage or Muslim immigration. Synthesis: because we hate Putin, we love the EU, along with homomarriage and Muslim immigration.
Russian ‘liberals’ think of the West in leftwing clichés one finds in The Guardian, Libération or The New York Times. And they see the West as a monolith, rather than an amalgam of competing philosophies.
Hence they shun Western conservative thought without ever bothering to find out what it actually is – conservatism is associated in their minds with Putin’s kleptofascism.
If they studied such matters seriously, they’d detect in the EU the same features they hate about Soviet or Putin’s Russia. They’d realise that the essence of Western, which is to say Christian, political thought is reducing the size of central government, shifting much of its power to local institutions.
Centralism riding roughshod over localism is a survival of our pagan history, the nightmare of our recent past and present, and the peril of our near future. With some serious thought, the liberals may see that seeking more centralism, especially of the supranational type, is asking for trouble.
They might even perceive that the Marxism they correctly detest is a child of the Enlightenment, the logical development of atheist liberalism, their own philosophy. Hence meaningful opposition to it – or its fascist offshoots – can only come from Western, pre-Enlightenment political tradition.
That Putin steals the language of conservatism for his evil purposes, while detesting the essence of conservatism, doesn’t make the essence any less true. Likewise, if Putin opined that water is wetter than stone, his opponents would be ill-advised to try to drink rocks.
It’s true that throughout Russian history conservatism has stood for tyrannical obscurantism. That’s why Western conservatism probably has no historical base in Russia. But then neither does Western liberalism – every time the Russians tried to plant its saplings, they produced a deadly blight.
Rather than repeating leftist shibboleths long since compromised in their native habitat, the Russian opposition to Putin – if it’s to be meaningful – should come up with a sensible idea of what they want, rather than just what they don’t want, and then hold the idea to a strict intellectual test.
Doing that, however, is hard. Spouting Guardian slogans is much easier.