"There is no happiness in life,
there is only a mirage on the horizon,
so cherish that."
V.V.Putin - 16 June 2021
Putin - Conservatism of Optimists
President Vladimir Putin defined Russia's ideology as a "conservatism of optimists", while delivering his remarks at the 18th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, titled 'Global Shake-Up in the 21st Century: The Individual, Values, and the State'. "For the coming period of global reconstruction, which may continue for quite some time and the final outcome of which is not known, moderate conservatism is the most reasonable approach, at least in my opinion," Vladimir Putin stated, addressing an international audience on 21 October 2021. Russia's conservatism encompasses spiritual, traditional and family values, a positive attitude to the nation's historical heritage, and the placement of an individual's personal qualities above his or her sex, ethnicity or the color of their skin, as well as national sovereignty and an approach to international collaboration driven by concern for the common good, according to the Russian president. Putin was deeply critical of the current cultural revolution in the West that aims to liberate itself from its own history, culture, traditions, faith and even biological realities such as gender.
Putin's remarks about moderate conservatism and fake "progressivism" have resonated with American conservatives. Many Western conservatives now reject the liberal versus authoritarian divide, and instead view the main struggle as a cosmopolitan-globalism versus national-patriotism divide. Through this prism, Russia transitions from being an adversary to an ally. Putin explicitly compared the revolutionary mood in the West with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia’s own past as the past is purged to give way to new social realities untainted by the flaws of history. This message predictably was well-received among many American conservatives.
Putin criticised how the liberal ideology that justified the former hegemonic order has manifested itself in a revolutionary and destructive 'woke' ideology. The challenge ahead is thus to restore a balanced multipolar international system to restrain the “uncontained hyper use of force”, and recognise the need for conservative principles as an anchor of stability against revolutionary liberalism. Putin opined that the current trajectory of the West is not sustainable in terms of economic development and revolutionary liberalism, and these problems cannot be resolved by using Russia as an external bogeyman and thus doubling down of bloc-based politics.
"President Putin’s words will not resonate with the political establishment in the West, that is liberal to the core. Nevertheless, his words will resonate, or are already resonating, with various conservative and traditionalist groups in Europe and the US," emphasises Adriel Kasonta, a London-based foreign affairs analyst and former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at Bow Group, a conservative think tank in the UK. he West is presently undergoing a severe identity crisis that breeds the need to either appreciate or stabilise it, the foreign affairs analyst underscores. That’s why Russia, perceived as a predominantly Christian and traditionalist nation, is so appealing to conservatives in the West, he said. "The late Professor Andrzej Walicki wrote a very important essay in 2015 titled 'Can Vladimir Putin become the ideological leader of world conservatism?' where he addressed this issue in detail." Kasonta says.
However, it's not only Western liberals who treat their historic past selectively but also their conservative counterparts, according to the foreign affairs analyst. "They tend to pick and choose what is convenient for their narrative, while conservatives in the East, especially in Russia, were able to rise to the challenge and deal with the Communist past and accept it as part of their national narrative’s continuum," Kasonta stresses. "When it comes to the former, they would rather forget about the inconvenient colonial history, which is the root cause of the problems we see in modern times. Living in denial is a receipt for a disaster. Russians know this very well."
President Putin's term "conservatism of optimists" seems to connote frustration at the direction in which gender rights is going in the US, according to Dr. Samuel Hoff, the George Washington Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at Delaware State University. "Many social conservatives in America would agree with Putin's characterisation," he notes. True progressivism refers to a movement in American history which was notable for reforms (1900-1920), recalls Hoff, adding that the very idea that people who support cancel culture call themselves modern-day "progressives" appears "insulting" to the aforementioned period. "Both Americans and Russians would both admit that some of each nation's own past is ugly," Hoff highlights. "But to hide those facts and events is to ignore the lessons of the same and to deny history."
Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club meeting, the Russian president remarked that the battle for equal rights in some Western nations has turned into a farce. The so-called "progressive" agenda advocated by some forces in the West has translated into cancel culture, reverse racism, attacks on history and basic values such as respect for mothers, fathers, families or even basic definitions concerning gender difference, he noted. According to the president, Bolsheviks propagated strikingly similar ideas in the wake of the October 1917 Revolution. Russia has learnt this lesson, turning its historical experience into a competitive advantage, he said.
Currently, a "real generational battle is going on, at least in the US, over competing ideologies, views, speech, and even over the past", says David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. He highlights that there is "a big push back in the US against the cancel culture too". The US, the West and the world as a whole needs to foster an environment for competing opinions, as the support for this is currently eroding, according to the political scientist.
"I want to see everything debated," echoes Peter Kuznick, professor of History at American University, who defines himself as a progressive, but doubts that the current liberal political agenda fully corresponds to this term. "I want to see different opinions being given. I want to see students being able to refute this kind of criticism or attack on identities, rather than feel like they need to isolate themselves or insulate themselves from that kind of thing."
The international observers agree that the attempts to rewrite history and distort facts pose no lesser risk than a historical amnesia. "The ramifications of rewriting history are widespread, including creating an education gap between generations and ignoring how others may continue to view that nation," says Samuel Hoff. One glaring example is the West's attempt to depict Russia as an antagonist, according to the professor. While some Americans are reading about Russia's leaving NATO as an observer or not coming to the UK climate summit they might easily get the wrong idea about Russo-American relations. However, Russia and the US have lots of points where their interests converge as well as a shared past, including cooperation in outer space, during the first Gulf War, as allies during the Second World War, as members of the same UN committees, holding superpower summits, and signing a plethora of bilateral treaties and agreements, according to the political scientist.
The main message of Vladimir Putin's Valdai speech to the Western audience was that the former path of liberal hegemony has reached a dead end, says Norwegian Professor Glenn Diesen, adding that bloc-based politics and revolutionary liberalism can be overridden by recognising that Russia remains an inalienable part of Europe and the West.
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