Forget communism and capitalism, the new ideological conflict between Russia and the West is altogether different…
Written by Johanna Ross, a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
No-one would dispute that the decades-long Cold War between the USSR and the West was based on ideological competition. The difference in values between the two systems of capitalism and communism was too great to be reconciled. Yet having entered what is arguably a much more tense period in western-Russian relations we too often hear it said that there is no ideological conflict between the two sides. It is asserted that communism was defeated in 1991, and scholars of Russia go to great lengths to attribute the current crisis to inherent Russophobia of the West, or to President Putin, or a lingering cold-war mindset on both sides. What is however neglected is the role that the two dominant global ideologies of today play in shaping geopolitics: liberalism and conservatism.
Globalisation and more importantly, the internet, has had a profound effect on human society, and therefore politics. It has been recognised that there is a link between social media and populism, and that many European populist movements share conservative values as opposed to liberal ones. Professor Greg Simons from Uppsala University in Sweden has written on the ‘challenge mounted against the liberal hegemonic order’ and the seismic shift which is happening in our political life in ‘Conservatism, Populism and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy: New Political Relationships in the Making?’ In this fascinating paper Simons argues that the labels of ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ are no longer appropriate in describing political affiliation. He says that although they have not yet rendered themselves obsolete, there is now a new ‘axis of political orientation’, that of ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ establishment. Simons also warns of the backlash against the ‘negative campaign’ waged by the liberal order against populist, or conservative values and ‘the attempt to create an echo chamber through the participation of mainstream media with mainstream politics’. He states this ‘disconnect’ with the public mood is reflected at the ballot box.
I would argue however that the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ are in fact already irrelevant in political discourse and don’t provide us with an accurate picture of how society is developing. The world is now divided roughly into two camps: liberalism and conservatism. The liberal hegemony which existed after the fall of communism is waning. As the age of the internet has speeded up our lives and thrown us into a period dominated by secularism instead of religion and transgenderism and LGBTQ lifestyles in place of traditional family values, for many it has been a step too far, too fast. Particularly, as with this liberal ideology comes a political correctness of an aggressive nature which means that anyone who disagrees with these ideals will be publicly chastised and socially isolated. This was perfectly illustrated in recent times with the case of British author Joanne Rowling, who was hounded over her concerns over transgenderism.
Thanks to the internet, country borders are no longer so relevant. People are identifying themselves according to a values system as opposed to a nationality: identity politics has replaced nationalism. If we look at international relations through the prism of liberalism versus conservatism we therefore have a much more realistic picture of geopolitical alliances. The West is a group of ‘liberal’ democracies, but the minute a more conservative or populist government is elected within this ‘bloc’ it becomes a threat to its existence, and is ostracised. We have seen this with Trump’s America, Boris Johnson’s Britain, and Victor Orban’s Hungary in the EU. Hungary under the Fidesz party may in fact have more in common with Russia, than any of its European neighbours, as I shall explain in due course.
If we apply the labels of conservatism and liberalism to the world around us, suddenly the conflict between Russia and the West is more transparent. Russia has become increasingly conservative in the last two decades, as Professor Paul Robinson writes in his book ‘Russian Conservatism’, as ‘a response to the pressures of modernization and Westernization’. Robinson could equally have said ‘as a response to liberalism’ however, as conservatism is also undoubtedly a backlash against the ‘anarchy’ of the 90s – a period which the average Russian remembers with a shudder. It also corresponds to the resurgence of the Orthodox Church.
The fact is, Russia’s refusal to promote the liberal agenda has made it the bane of the West’s existence. Widespread conservative attitudes to homosexuality in Russia are constantly being used as a weapon in the information war. When Russia adopted a law against the promotion of homosexuality to minors in 2013, it was portrayed in western media as anti-gay legislation. A recent similar law adopted by Hungary has also been branded in this misleading way. There is a refusal in the western media and political establishment to accept these conservative attitudes on the subject.
This was aptly demonstrated recently during the Tokyo Olympics when western media accused Russian media of homophobic slurs against British swimmer Tom Daley. Commentators on the prime time Russian TV show 60 minutes reportedly branded Daley and other LGBT athletes as an ‘abomination’. This news item was obviously created to stir up tension, for it is unlikely that Tom Daley, or any other native Brit watches Russian news programmes. For a start, most of them are not translated into English. And what the western media fails to remember, is that not so long ago, similar attitudes were commonplace in Britain, whereas now someone will express a negative view towards homosexuality or transgenderism at his/her peril.
This authoritarian liberalism and crushing of free speech is generating a rebellion from voters at the ballot box. It is partly what has driven the Brexit movement in Britain, Trumpism in the US, the Five Star Movement in Italy and the AfD in Germany. It is uniting people together across Europe and the world, as populations reject the liberal agenda dictated to them by the mainstream media.
Russia is currently leading the charge for conservatism globally. As foreign policy expert Andrei Tsygankov has written, the country’s ‘newly stated commitment to “conservative” values of national unity, sovereignty and traditional family put it at odds with the liberal Western priorities’ meaning that on ‘major issues, Russia and the Western nations had little to agree on’. On the contrary we see that President Putin has even on a personal level, got on well with conservative politicians such as France’s Marine le Pen and the Austrian foreign minister. And who could forget Donald Trump’s words that he had a ‘very, very good relationship’ with the Russian President?
As such, Russia incurs the wrath of the liberal establishment. Therefore we have Russia accused of meddling here, there and everywhere; of causing the election of Donald Trump and engineering Brexit in Britain. The liberal elite refuses to wake up and smell the coffee; their world order is dying and they need someone to blame. Who better to blame than the very country that openly promotes conservative values; a country whose society and media demonstrate that liberalism is not a fete-a-complis and that a modern, organised, flourishing culture does not have to adopt western liberalism to succeed. It’s not about communism any more, or some age-old Russophobia. Russia is a threat to liberal hegemony and it’s not going to be allowed to forget it.
You can follow the author on Twitter.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Vietnam VS Transgenders War Launched In U.S.
- Mark Dankof: U.S. Liberal Democracy Turning Into Totalitarian Regime Reminiscent Of The Soviet Union