According to the outlook that might be described as the democracy-idealism/neoconservative-interventionist school, the only way to achieve a lasting settlement is for Russia to cease being what it is at the moment and to become instead much more like the United States. Russia should become a liberal democracy. Only then—because, as many Wilsonian idealists have argued, “liberal democracies don’t fight one another”—can the relationship be stabilized for the long term.
The theory is not entirely implausible. There are indeed forces within Russia that strongly identify with American liberal democratic values. American diplomats and journalists frequently run into people who hold such sentiments. They pop up among one’s well-traveled Russian-intelligentsia friends and are widely quoted in the articles written by prominent journalists who happen to be imbued themselves with the Wilsonian sensibility.
The problem with this line of thought—aside from the impossibility of imposing it from the outside—is that the Russian version of liberal democracy differs fundamentally from the American version.
The fact is that Russia today is already in many ways liberal. But its liberalism is of a peculiarly Russian sort. It does not deny rights and freedom, but it grounds them not negatively (in terms of what government shall not do), as does the Enlightenment liberalism of Locke and Hobbes, but rather in terms of Eastern Christianity’s image of what man is. As a result, there is no Russian liberalism, or Russian politics of any other sort—including its standard semi-authoritarianism—that separates the state from religion in the way that the United States does today.
An authentically Russian liberalism, in other words, is hardly less starkly different from our secular, liberationist order than is Russia’s present political arrangement under Vladimir Putin. The fact is that there simply is not available to Russia a political order that is aligned with the present-day American version of secular liberal democracy. Both its history and its mores exclude it. And if we try to impose it anyway, in defiance of Russian history and self-understanding, then we will find ourselves repulsed in the same way Napoleon was. As Henry Kissinger wrote, “No power will submit to a settlement, however well-balanced and however ‘secure,’ which seems totally to deny its vision of itself.”….The article is well-written and the author is very insightful in comparing and contrasting US and Russian visions and values. Worth reading the whole thing.
Americans tend to project, and this projection makes in difficult to understand others with different histories, visions and values. That sets up a conflict.
The American Conservative
Legitimate Differences — A new approach to Russia