Ĺ. Ŕ. Belzhelarsky. Logic and Sense of Modern Liberalism

< previous part
next part >

Are Russian Orthodoxy and Liberalism compatible with each other? Let’s consider the fundamental truths: liberalism puts man at the center of the world, whereas in Orthodoxy, that center will forever belong to God. In Orthodox tradition, love towards mankind does not include indulgences in his weaknesses and sins. Love itself should help man overcome these vices in order to kneel as a blessed child before God. Therein lies one major difference between these two worldviews. But the differences between them are nearly infinite.

Liberalism of the Past and Present

Had we lived in the 18th century reading John Locke, the founding-father of liberalism, and his doctrine of "natural rights" (a prototype of today’s human rights), the above argument would have sufficed to show the distinctions between Orthodoxy and Liberalism. Along with Locke, we would have also expressed a deep interest in Robert Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population, which simply reasons that a necessary "natural decline" of the human masses should happen as a result of epidemics, wars, and competition for resources in order to save the planet from overpopulation.

In the 20th century, the concepts of an all-out competition gave rise to a wide range of theories named Social Darwinism. Note that Charles Darwin himself had nothing to do with these theories as he applied his findings only to the animal world. One common aspect of these theories has always united liberals: the strong shall survive at the expense of the weak.

This idea has been articulated in many forms and modified to bizarre extremes. Eventually, the differences did not appear so stark as minor qualities between them were scrutinized to adhere to new theories. And the principles of the survival of the fittest went beyond the original consensus. Different, more rigid doctrines came to be, which traditional liberals swear off completely like a bastard child, in particular the Nazi version of society (the völkisch movement of 1930’s Germany) and the core values of Bolshevism formed in the 1920’s.

In these and other instances, the discussion time and time again has led to the survival of one group at the expense of another. But these instances prove that survival comes not just at the expense of individuals, but at the expense of entire classes, nations, races, and social groups.

What an enormous waste of time it would be to even estimate the amount of ink used on works dissociating "benign" liberalism from its malignant qualities. After all, any normal person could inquire "why is ‘the free competition’ (that is, the fight for survival) acceptable in the liberal consensus, but that same ‘free competition’ between nations, classes, or social systems is deemed wrong and unacceptable? What is the main difference?" As expected, discussions on this topic often become heated. Thus, liberals have offered little explanation regarding the "acceptable" and "unacceptable" methods of the "war of all against all." Has any figure in history been stopped by these conventions during wartime? Who? Henry VIII with his political enclosures? The British guilds who planted opium for a good quarter of the Chinese population? Maybe the Brits who created the first concentration camps during the Second Boer War?

The undeniably naïve reasoning given for these examples are that they involve two separate issues – war and politics. Clausewitz once wrote that "War is an extension of politics by other means." In the 20th century, Michel Foucault, who dedicated a great deal of his work analyzing liberal systems of power, put this idea on its head: "Politics are an extension of war by other means."

Through the smoke of the Cold War’s battles a new political structure could be made out. The Comintern (Third International), which survived for close to 25 years, was replaced by another neoliberal project on a global level. This new all-out "war of all against all," rather than having the usual confrontation between two systems, loomed on the horizon.

At last it broke out. Humanity found out about it at the turn of the 20th century when social ideology began to change rapidly. This was a time of profound mimicry of old liberalism. The infamous liberal values and their adherents were now defined in a new way, not on common social-philosophical bases, but through differences from the Soviet Communist doctrine. In fact, a substitution of the thesis occurred, although sociologists and politics scientists prefer not to talk about this. For example, liberal society’s respectful attitude towards political rights and freedoms became emphasized, as opposed to what took place during Soviet times. This was true. However many progressive publications overlooked the identical situation regarding social rights.

The so-called authoritarianism in a liberal society arose not at the state apparatus. It is ingrained in every single corporation, virtually built on the principles of a totalitarian sect. Artist, essayist and philosopher Maksim Kantor commented on this a few years ago: "To build a democratic country meant to build independent corporations, and their work principles are nowhere near democratic. To call it as it is – the corporations are a totalitarian government, functioning within a so-called democratic government and ensuring its own ability to live... Is the famous matryoshka doll an example of an open or closed structure? A matryoshka constantly opens, but when it is opened it only reveals another closed matryoshka. The ability to eternally be opened happens in vain, this eternal combination of opening and closing is just like the given model." (Kantor M. Matryoshka as a Mode of History. Totalitarian Essence of an Open Society).

In fact, at the heart of the liberal and soviet socialist debate laid an elementary dialectic, carefully concealed by both sides. After the fall of the Soviet Empire this manipulation was successfully adjusted by the liberal party’s political scientists to tackle new challenges. It is in the foundation of the theory of totalitarianism and the "end of history" doctrine developed by Francis Fukuyama.

The theory of modernization, or "catching up," in countries of the former Eastern Bloc was founded on the same basis. While these countries were obligated to join a kind of remedial class, they were in fact integrated into global policies and economies on a donor basis (in particular, new sales markets). By the way, they "forgot" to mention that the rules of the game under economic disproportion would not disappear but only increase. In fact, the theory of modernization was nothing more than an updated version of colonization. Before, when modernization was applied to a distant countries and colonies like India or Algiers, it was justified as a Western protectorate. Then, this former conceptual carcass was thrusted into new realities. After a slight upgrade, the old communist dogmas were exchanged for new, neoliberal ones, that they would have to experience as freshly baked stepchildren of global society, including Russia (our modernization was strongly supported by the establishment after 2008).

However, it is interesting that European left-wing intellectuals of the 1960’s (Foucault, Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, among others) clearly understood the applied and manipulative character of the Western "political superego" – they in turn, using Freudian-Marxist jargon, defined the neoliberal trend. But whatever they knew in Europe remained unknown in Russia. Only in the last decade can the increasing criticism of the neoliberal catechism be found in the Russian press. (for example: Kagarlitski B.Y. Bill for Millions. Good Facism and Bad Facism. Russian Life. 2009 No 11-12; Buzgalin A.V Social Liberation and Its Friends (Anti-Popper) / Economic-Philosophic Notebooks. 2003. 1).

A Divided Society and Its Creators

Even the most curious mind sometimes seeks simple definitions. It is possible to apply the following basic definition to liberalism: the modern version of liberalism has an ideology of big business. What does this mean? If we ease off on the human rights rhetoric that accompanies the liberal line of thought, then the real, utilitarian idea of liberalism would consist of solving one problem: limiting any authority except the monetary one. "Buying means everything." It does not matter that the instruments of embezzlement easily make printing presses (emission factors). Thus, different forms of power and equipment are declared taboo in advance as ideologically unacceptable. Of course, under these rules any policy can easily be adjusted with the help of the economy. For example, the desired result of an election is achieved with the financial help, limiting the unwanted players’ access to the electoral propaganda machine. Even in a relatively "transparent" electoral process you can attain the desired results.

The inevitable question remains: what about, for example, defending minorities’ rights and other humanitarian aspects of liberalism? Indeed, these rights are extremely popular in a liberal society, but actually play a functional role. The fight for minority rights is necessary for the ruling class so that they may limit the rights of the majority. This fight could even split the majority up. In essence, we are dealing with the same "divide and rule" principle that is as old as government itself. Only now it used in a new way. The differences between "the minorities" are not only used, but they are deliberately cultivated. The "Otherness" culture, the "Different" culture, imposed on society, requires a response in the form of "tolerance." But the problem is that this new "Otherness" does not appear out of thin air. It is created artificially, first as a concept and then only implemented as a phenomenon (in vivo would be the opposite).

For example, the fight for gay rights does not stop at the protection of privacy, but goes to the requirement of legalizing same-sex marriage and assigning them the status of "family," which then leads to changing the criteria of a traditional family from biological to gender-based. This, of course, is an entirely different discussion. But the majority’s rights in this case are remembered by nobody. Upon closer examination, it is likely that to the usual homosexual, mere mortals, this whole saga regarding "family" is unnecessary. The horizon of their expectations is the lack of legal restrictions on the free choice of an adult sexual object. But this saga is very necessary to the ruling elite

Or take for example the creation of the Muslim enclave in the very heart of Europe, the recognition of authority, and later the annexation of the historical territory of Serbia.

Actually, the information society’s entire socio-political engineering is founded on this principle: reality is selected and built by ideas and verbal constructions. By means of definitions and communication, language becomes an instrument of creating reality. Many questions surround the quality and future of this reality.

Theoretically, a liberal society is host to never-ending potentials of the minority, various points of view ("pluralism"), and forms of consumption.

In practice, the framework of the ideological consensus is maintained and can be called as one pleases: political correctness, positive discrimination, social control. In the consensus’ framework and bold investigative journalism it is possible to discuss the stranglehold of transnational corporations and global brands and the indecent role of financial capital. Except this role and this stranglehold will never be loosened. In this case words do not "create" reality, but rather "ramble on" about it. However, to go on and on about reality does not always achieve the same results. Now and then conflicts flare up among the quasi-minority: take for instance Anders Breivik, the Arab Spring, and the fate of multiculturalism.

The artificial cultivation of the "significant Other" prescribed by the neoliberal catechism has actually led to a fatal disunity in society while at the same time strengthened the opportunities of control of societies through controlled chaos. A liberal society intensely divided internally is not capable of confronting power, let alone a real democracy. Even the minimum level of political solidarity under these conditions is unattainable. Genuine solidarity occurs when citizens productively fight (not by way of the controlled media) for their rights, but this solidarity is successfully being eliminated.

This substitution should be discussed separately. The notions of "democracy" and "liberalism" are frequently used as synonyms (which led to the term "liberal democracy"). But this is purely a linguistic trick. In fact, they are not identical. They are antipodes. If we step back from the theoretical constructions of philosophers and political scientists and focus our attention a little more on the real life of society, then it becomes clear that a chasm between democracy and liberalism exists in real society. An obvious example is the controversial construction of minarets in Switzerland, a country with remnants of real democracy, which the owners of liberal discourse here have labeled as "archaic" and "underdeveloped." Instead of solving the problem, they once again swept it under the rug. Nevertheless the contradiction purely surfaced at a linguistic level.

But the official experts declined to dwell on these political anomalies. However, when oxymorons like "liberal democracy" and "left-wing Liberalism" slightly graze the consciousness of the critical-thinking layman, they lull him with lectures on two types of democracy: archaic and modern. Sometimes, instead of multiplying political entities, the opposite was applied in a reduction of one of them. For example, as Boris Kagarlitsky put it precisely, when we are told "in the absence of private property the Gulag became necessary, while in bourgeois economic order Buchenwald and Auschwitz turned out quite by accident, as an exception" (B. Kagarlitsky, Bill for Millions. Good Facism and Bad Fascism//Russian Life. 2009 11-12)

This is the painstaking propaganda work carried out by liberal missionaries today. And while we are on the topic, it must be noted that it is being carried out with great success because of the discrete, post-modern model of society ("shared society") dominating today. Liberalism validates the model and its rebuilding is achieved by controlled chaos: bringing together disparate social groups and establishing order. In extreme cases, coercive methods of control can be used: "humanitarian bombings," "the fight against terrorism," and other "missions."

One goal is to be achieved: total control of resources and the concentration of power. In a market society, power is dictated by financial groups that seek nothing more than the concentration of capital. Monetarism shies away from this Marxist concept, but in essence says the same thing.

A Two-Way Street
Capital in exchange for ideology

It is crucial to understand that different societies and countries are obviously in unequal positions when it comes to capital. The difference lies in the fact that there is a constant outflow of capital from third-world countries (including Russia) to core countries (USA, England, different parts of Europe). This constant outflow works because of firstly, the system of the international division of labor, where products are cheaply produced on the periphery and sold in expensive Western markets; second, the global bank system: any stabilization funds and currency reserves are invested into the economies of countries who own these bank accounts, rather than to the governments where these accounts exist (situations regarding personal activities are analogous). Third, this privileged role of the emission center of the USA, whose public debit, as you know, is unlimited. The WTO and other similar organizations play a special role binding clients with debt obligations and influencing their economic policies. This is the fourth tool of the world economy. The fifth and final reason is purely power. Bombers and commando units are needed when it comes to such an important matter such as energy.

Nothing is left to interpretation in this mechanism. Everything is out there for all to see. Analysis and criticism of it is the bread and butter of left-wing political thought. We mention this only to transition to the main question: how does liberal political philosophy maintain this machine and what causes its gears to spin?

The sacred tablets must be consulted: Philosopher Karl Popper, who devoted much of his work The Open Society and Its Enemies to apologetics of liberalism would be much more accurately and honestly rename his "open society," a "divided society." Considering even that pluralism, taken to the limits or created artificially, does not lead to the flourishing complexity, or to the archaic "war of all against all" (in the original meaning of Thomas Hobbes), or to the sophisticated New Leviathan dictatorship.

Still, a deep reason will definitely in the term "open society," unless the vector rethinks its mobility. The discussion should not focus on its illusionary inner freedom (here we mean the diffusion of power instead of the usual convergence for the Soviet people), but on the principle of voluntary-compulsory exchange (that is, voluntary in theory but compulsory in practice).

What are its characteristics? And what is an "open" society open to exactly?

The fact is that the economic and political system of the neoliberal era is a two-way street and each party directs its own traffic. When it comes to the export of capital, the movement comes from the periphery to the core (for example, from Russia to the United States). But not vice versa. When it comes to the export of ideology, on the contrary, it starts from the core and is sent to the periphery, i.e. to the rest of the world. Oil capital is stored in banks in the US and Britain. The positions of the Chicago School of Economics, European tolerance, conditions for joining the WTO, etc. are all taught in Russian (Ukrainian, Filipino, Brazilian) universities. Not vice versa. This is the basic rule of the system: the capital in exchange for ideology. Here, in a broad sense, we apply the term "unequal exchange".

Whatever system was implemented in colonial times still exists and at the moment is relatively stable.

The ideological guarantor of this stability is precisely liberalism. Therefore, it (as well as the system as a whole) is certainly appeased as the beneficiary of this exchange – as a core country and transnational elite – and not at all helpful to the involuntary peripheral countries. It is this set of ideas rather than a "flawed democracy" that preserves peripheral countries’ cultural, scientific and technical backwardness. Of course, the core players need to keep the situation as it is while peripheral countries, whenever possible, need to destroy it.

An important conclusion is drawn from this position: liberalism will work and even appear different in the core and peripheral countries of the global economy. The differences are both essential and stylistic in nature.

In the first case, it will call for the preservation of stability and the protection of traditions, national interests, and private property. In the second case, liberalism will come calling to adhere to Big Brother’s rules of the game and to remove cultural barriers and customs. And as for the urgency to "modernize" society, such as social policy? Financial flows should go where necessary, not to the elderly and the disabled. Or education? Currently, the WTO severely limits investments in education and, as we have witnessed, damages educational standards and closes schools. But that is not all.

They call for the change of even the traditional family. It is interesting that only now the Western world refuses the juvenile justice system, while Russia strongly pushes for it, yielding a living product and a powerful instrument of control over the population. Hence, too, hails the "gender revolution". From the Western liberal’s point of view, science and industry have to expand. They can invest their and others’ capital in these spheres. From the peripheral liberal’s point of view it is best to abandon the normal industry in favor of a raw material economy. Russia’s industry, as well as education, are spheres for unreasonable expenses. Because of this, finance lingers on the domestic market while it should to go to outside markets – these are the stringent requirements of the "open" economy. And in Russia, they have closed the "extra" colleges, and argue that there should be fewer people with higher education. Non-core assets!

How can this economic plunder of colonies be stopped?

Recipe number one: do the opposite. Accumulate national capital, invest it at home and not on the foreign market. Export own ideology, impose own rules and do not hire someone else.

This, if anything, is a utilitarian economic sense of loyalty to national ideals. When an honest conservative cares about this loyalty, he intuitively chooses the correct answer to the challenge of our time.

Optimization of the Spirit

In order to fully understand how the liberal economy and ideology are connected with the spiritual sphere, it is necessary to take into account one important point. The fact is that in modern society, liberalism is not obliged to serve the economy of classical capitalism. After the era of classical capitalism passed a kind of reversal of the pendulum occurred. The current situation can be assessed as a monetary feudalism of the information society.

Curiously enough, when speaking with Russian liberals, they still uphold the conventional values of 19th century liberalism. Current social disproportions and totalitarian tendencies, which give rise to the financial capital dictatorship, are blamed on the alleged departure from the precepts of liberalism. Criticizing the practices while protecting the theory. Communists did this as well when they called upon the return to "Leninist norms".

But in fact, the present state of society is a natural stage of development of the very same liberalism. It mutates like this, because that is the only way it CAN mutate, found in its internal genetic makeup.

The main question is not whether liberalism in general is good or bad (this abstract exists only in textbooks) but in what conditions do economic and cultural dependencies take place?

We know the opportunities to create a "free society" in Russia by means of liberal patterns are propped on the colonial model, generated by the same liberalism but at a global, worldwide scale. And this is accompanied with talks about "modernization". Therein lies the problem, or rather, the unresolvable dead end of Russian liberal thought.

But examples of how our curators of an open society and free economy violate their own rules are sufficient. Take even the global crisis. Have Russian banks gone bankrupt, gave way to someone else and left the market? No, they did not recognize defeat from the competition, but went to the state with an outstretched hand, demanding more and more loans. This same social security is what other bankers scorn when it comes to pensioners, doctors, and teachers. As a result of the crisis, we received real socialism. But socialism only for bankers, not for the whole country.

Recently at one of the European forums German Gref put quite bluntly to never trust the people in political initiatives. He is certainly not the only one to think this.

But the most pathetic fact remains that colonial-wing liberalism lays claim to not only the material but also the spiritual. Appealing to the "secularlism" of "political correctness," it strives to limit incentives for society to unite and mobilize, which guarantee economic and cultural vitality. Liberal spin doctors cannot allow this. Pitting society against the power of the financial elite is a nightmare for liberals. The system of global politics and the "global economy" needs to play out like clockwork. Hence the constant monitoring by global institutions of any society and nation as well as the scorching of anything associated with traditional values, community, non-profit motivation and deep passionarity from the social environment.

To optimize the capital it is necessary to optimize the spirit. This has been the liberal ideology in countries like Russia.

In Russia, the first strike is aimed at traditional religion and the memory of the Great Patriotic War, the two most powerful factors of national unity. The intense anti-church and anti-Orthodox campaign in Russia (and not only in Russia, it is important to note the events in Athos, Greece) speak about the "restraining" role the Church holds. The global elite cannot reconcile with this. It is unacceptable that in a "modernized" country remain "un-modernized" institutions. That is why Church today is put under political ultimatums and battered with the concepts of a secular reformation.

And here again we come to the question of the two countenances of liberalism, only in the spiritual and moral dimension. Take Pussy Riot for example: different understandings of their actions can be taken many different ways by liberals in Russia and Europe. There, in the free world, is an absence of similar precedents. Two or three years' of imprisonment for desecration of the church is not only permissible, but also common practice in the European judicial system. But as soon as a similar crime is committed in Russia, the case is immediately declared political, and on this basis demands are given to release those responsible.

Or take another example. Everything associated with the Byzantine heritage has been removed from the cultural lexicon of the average European. Here, it seems, lies an inexplicable, deep-rooted fear. The fear of the division of "I," the fall of western society’s identity. You cannot even admit that criticism of modern European civilization can come from the outside, but only from within. This is the very same Europe that undoubtedly belongs to Orthodox Civilization. From here originate hackney paraphrases defining the Byzantine and Russian lines in Christianity like an Eastern schism. And just what about the vaunted pluralism? Nothing. Double standards? Without a doubt. But this is not about some personal ill-will. Double standards exist because liberalism is two-sided: for internal and external use.

Our "internal" Russian liberalism, like any peripheral country, is doomed for a destructive, anti-social identity. It does not matter that the leaders are bad. This is just how a system like this works in global politics. You cannot avoid these functions. A colonizing government cannot be democratic in practice.

Left Conservatism
Escape from the Liberal Dead End

One of the peculiarities of Russian politics is that, like in many other third-world countries, political poles attempt to unexpectedly converge.

Let’s say liberals and conservatives in England and the US live on opposite ends of the political spectrum, while for us we have conservatives and socialists speaking in different languages but often saying the same things without even realizing it.

Why is that? Very simple. Because the majority of people are both poor and conservative in Russia. A minority are liberal and revolutionary. This design attempts to flip itself over all the time. In the US the opposite is true: the majority is affluent, and because they are both liberal and conservative, and the left and right extremes are the destiny for the political outcasts. The center reliably balances out the edges.

That is exactly why in Russia it is more appealing than the West, independent leftist economists say, calling to exclude peripheral countries from the global economy (for example, Immanuel Wallerstein in his book After Liberalism). They oppose the liberal theory of modernization (according to which the Third World countries are supposed to catch up with the developed countries), the concept of a dependent and peripheral capitalism (these can be found in the texts of I. Wallerstein, S. Amin, R. Prebisch, Myrdal G. et al.).

The neoliberal program being implemented now in Russia is totalitarian. It covers all areas, from housing and high schools to the juvenile justice system and the Church. Its goal at this stage is a thorough cleansing of the political landscape on both the left and right. From the Left: from the remnants of the social state. From the Right: from traditional values and those who even dare say the word ‘Church.’ That is why the Church, for example, is left no alternative but to defend the wrong and deprived. This is a movement to the left. The left-wing politicians only have one road – towards the conservative values and traditions, that is, to the right.

In Russia, the wall between socialist and conservative ideas is an illusion. Expressed in a completely different vocabulary and grammar, however, these ideas give similar answers to the questions of the day. But the very existence of boundaries between them is unnatural. These boundaries are one of the clearest manifestations of liberal society’s essential qualities as a society divided within itself. But there is reason to believe that we are able to overcome this division. After all, the left-conservative alliance is the death of Koschei the Deathless, which inhabits the tip of the liberal needle.

The union of left-wing and conservative ideas is inevitable. When they will unite is unknown, but a lot depends on the ability and willingness of both sides to accommodate each other.

Evgenii Belzhelarsky