The New Russian Conservatism

Aleksandr Shchipkov

A state can only achieve the true sovereignty and world leadership, when its internal and external political agenda is consistent with its traditional national values. This is the main thesis of the article titled The New Russian Conservatism.

These are the times of great changes: economic, social, religious, cultural and ideological. We live in the anticipation of the world reconstruction.

What is the current state of the modern society? The 'end of history' promised by American political scientists did not occur. They made a mistake.

The neoliberal system is clearly unable to cope with the situation in the modern world. Globalization has reached its limits. International institutions and the global financial system can no longer provide sustainable development. The only way the globalization in its present form can keep developing is through military means.

Where economic and social levers are no longer sufficient to ensure the balance of forces and interests, we now see a number of artificially created lines of tension such as color revolutions, ethnic and religious conflicts and civil wars.

The old system defenders are moving from soft to hard management methods. Towards the strategy of the controlled chaos.

This model, however, has sprung a kind of trap for its own followers. It is no longer able to offer new meanings to the world. Having abandoned its Christian foundations, the global North has eventually lost the important basic values along with it its true identity. This is what His Holiness the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia spoke very convincingly about in his speech at the 22nd Worldwide Russian Forum opening.

Let's see how all this is reflected in the ideological and political spectrum.

Here, liberalism dominates. It has absorbed all other ideologies. And yet, it proves unable to be consistent with its own postulates.

We can see the international law becoming a convention. Protection of rights of some is carried out at the expense of rights of others. Democracy has been destroyed by the power of financial elites. Total competition kills the morality. The idea of the world enlightenment has been replaced by the war of civilizations.

In other words, liberalism claiming to be the universal social model has turned out to be false and proved to be an utopia.

The system is failing. The current events betray the erosion of not only the usual political mechanisms, but also of the ideology itself. On a global scale, this means that we should be looking forward to the transformation of political institutions and the replacement of the ideology that currently serves them.

This is the reason that makes us seriously consider Russias real position in the rapidly changing modern world.

We all remember arguing at the end of the twentieth century about the correlation between the West and the East in the Russian vector of development. The East-West issue has now been replaced with the problem of the global North and the global South. The North is still pushing the so called 'universal modernity' concept on the South, and insists, while speaking on its behalf, on the existence of 'the right side and the wrong side of history'.

The South does not trust the North. The ideology of the North is failing and is torn with more and more contradictions.

The position of Russia here is unique. In the field of cultural and scientific potential and military technologies, we belong to the North, and in the economic situation and worldwide cultural influence – to the South. Both Western and Eurasian ideas are only able to cover one aspect of our self-definition. In actual reality, however, Russia does not belong to the North or the South, but constitutes the Centre. And here is why. The North professes the idea of domination, and the South has been historically in a vassal position. Russia, however, exercises neither domination, nor submission. We have inherited the Byzantine principle of cultural mosaic and cultural equality. It is a Christian principle in its origins.

We are witnessing both the demise of the North-South paradigm and the end of the unipolar world. They are being replaced by a North-South-Center triad, where the Center is a semantic core of the Christian civilization. Here, we mostly speak of the center of values that can gain the global authority, rather than of the economic center.

Should Russia take such a place in the world and continue to strengthen its sovereignty, it is going to be the main part of the Center. Which means that it will have to undertake the historical role of overcoming the internal historic rupture of the West, which occurred in the 18th century. Here, we are talking about overcoming the age-old trauma of the European consciousness, namely, overcoming the split between 'tradition' and 'modernity'. Russia will need to recreate this kind of integrity by its own example, to get away from the false modernity/tradition dichotomy. For this, we have huge spiritual, or, as we say now, 'symbolic' resources accumulated in the course of our national history.

If Russia fails to meet this challenge, the role of the civilized center will be taken by some other country.

There was a time, when Russia chose its religion. Today, we are considering a choice of ideology. There are some scholars, who believe that the ideological space will undergo a tangible shift. At the same time, the center of the new ideological field will NOT be occupied by technologies. Neither digital technologies, nor technologies in management or social construction. The popular idea of a digital society is only a tool. It is useful for solving technical problems. Yet taking up the digit as an ideology only postpones taking the necessary decision. Because solutions always reside in the realm of meaning, in the realm of quality as opposed to the realm of quantity.

European and American philosophers are increasingly talking about the so-called 'conservative turn'. Yet the concept of 'conservatism' requires an explanation.

Where liberalism professes the priority of the basic value of liberty, and socialism professes the priority of social justice, conservatism, unlike liberalism and socialism, does not contain a pre-packed absolute value. It calls for the preservation, but does not specify what exactly must be preserved.

This kind of vagueness makes conservatism a subject of speculation. In this way, it is often mistakenly taken as some respectability. In practice, it is also used as a cover for the loyalism, conformism and nationalism. There is even the concept of 'situational conservatism', that is, the kind that radically changes its rhetoric depending on the situation.

As of today, conservatism lacks the unity and the single ground to unite all conservative-minded people. Why? Because today's conservatism is not an ideology. It will become one, only when it formulates its own set of values.

Self-definition is the main problem of conservatism.

Where liberalism is losing its set of values, conservatism is in the process of forming the one and separating itself from all kinds of radicalism. On closer examination, the two vectors of its development we can see today are: liberal and social.

In the first case, we are dealing with liberal conservatism (liberalism with a conservative style), in the second case, we are dealing with left-wing or social conservatism, which tries to combine the ideas of traditional values and the social justice. As Vladimir Putin said at the opening of the 22nd Worldwide Russian Forum, "You cannot go against your tradition."

In the framework of conservatism, traditional values have a broad interpretation. They are not tied to a specific tradition of a certain era, style and form, but belong to the interrelation between different eras and the continuity of the historical, social and religious experience of the Russian people. It is a kind of experience that opposes the idea of modernist revolutionary 'ruptures' and 'gaps'.

And here is where the question of values inevitably arises. All human behavior is based on the priority and the choice. The choice is always connected with a set of values. And where there are values, there is sacredness. For it is only sacredness that makes our values absolute and undeniable. Our values have been formulated in the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.

In conclusion, I would like to return to the topic of Russian sovereignty. Let me say it again: "The sovereignty of a state is the ability to maintain the country in such a state, when the political agenda coincides with the values of the people, as opposed to contradicting them."

On the international level, a state can take a leading position if it is able to offer its own agenda, complete with its own values, to the subjects around it. That is, to offer the world an agenda based on its own inherent rather than borrowed values.

Thus, the challenge that Russia will be facing in the near future will be to bring its political agenda and strategy in line with the historic national values. And we can define this challenge and this thesis as the defining criterion of the new Russian conservatism.

November 2018

Aleksandr Vladimirovich Shchipkov – Russian political scientist, sociologist of religion, specialist in church-state relationships, doctor of political science, professor of the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University, editor-in-chief of internet magazine "RELIGARE.RU".