Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fred Weir: The tempest over Putin’s remarks on “liberalism”

While I agree with most of what Fred Weir writes here, I also think that Putin understands more about the Western liberal tradition that arose during the Enlightenment than Weir thinks. Nor was Russia a stranger to Enlightenment ideas then. Weir is also wrong in thinking that Russia has no liberal tradition. In fact, Russia adopted its own version of the Western liberalism in the period called "the Russian Enlightenment, which adapted Western thought to the situation prevailing at the time in the Russian Empire. Putin would certainly be aware of this.

Putin's own political party is liberal  in the broad sense and constitutes the largest and most powerful liberal political faction in Russia. This doesn't conflict with also being conservative. While Edmund Burke is considered a founder of modern Conservatism, he was solidly in the Western liberal traditions. American has a liberal and conservative faction in the context of American liberalism.

Reading Putin's interview with the Financial Times from which his recent criticism of liberalism is taken, it seems cleat that he is writing in the context of the liberal tradition and is criticizing what he sees as its contemporary excesses in the name of "freedom" and "human rights." Probably most American conservatives would agree with him, as Fred Weir opines. American conservatives regard themselves as the most genuine representation of Western values, meaning Enlightenment values.

I have been writing for some time on the paradoxes of liberalism and the transition of the historical dialectic socially and politically from the opposition of liberalism and fascism, on one hand, and communism, on the other, to the opposition of liberalism and traditionalism.

The issues have largely arisen from the West and the US especially, rushing to replace traditionalism with liberalism worldwide. As Putin observes, this has resulted in severe pushback domestically as conservatives in the liberal tradition have become uneasy with the messy process of social and political change that calls into question traditional values.

I don't see Putin as speaking philosophically here as much as pragmatically. Pushing liberalism to what many view as the extreme, especially too quickly, is resulting in dissatisfaction that is manifesting as the rise of nationalism and populism, as Putin mentions. It is also a push back against what many sees as incursions on democratic rule and national sovereignty.

So while I identify as a left libertarian, I am also a realist. But from the pragmatic point of view from which I believe Putin is speaking. I agree with him, the political idealists are getting ahead of themselves and this generating blowback.

The Committee for East-West Accord
Fred Weir: The tempest over Putin’s remarks on “liberalism”
Fred Weir

Fred Weir is a Canadian journalist who lives in Moscow and specializes in Russian affairs. He is a Moscow correspondent for the Boston-based daily The Christian Science Monitor, and for the monthly Chicago magazine In These Times — Wikipedia

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