Staunton, July 14 – Vladimir Putin has positioned himself as a defender of conservative values and won enormous support from many in Russia and the West who identify as conservatives, but Putin’s conservatism and the conservatism found in the West are two very different things, according to Ilya Shablinsky, a specialist on constitutional law.
In a commentary in today’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Shablinsky who is a professor of law at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that the two forms of conservatism on offer are so different it is difficult to believe that the followers of the one would honestly identify with the followers of the other.
European or Western conservatism, he writes, “has served as one of the foundations of democratic regimes in a large number of countries.” But what Putin calls conservatism “is called upon simply to justify and shape a regime of personal power as the most suitable instrument” for achieving his goals.
Shablinsky offers examples of this contrast. Western governments headed by conservatives long ago stopped being concerned about programs put on by foreign stars or tightly regulating the cultural life of their societies. Preserving traditional values like the family, religion and education simply doesn’t require that.
One reason conservatives have for taking this position is their experience with the three 20th century totalitarianisms, Soviet, German and Italian, an experience that taught them that trying to impose the views of the leader on everyone else is not only arbitrary and in violation of traditional values but inevitably involves the use of government force.
Those in Russia today who think that way, who want to impose their views by banning the views of others and through the use of force are not conservatives but totalitarians, Shablinsky says.
Another important characteristic of genuine Western conservatism is a stress on the idea that the rights of the individual are interconnected with his or her responsibilities. “Conservative politicians support the value of order, that is, the strict observation of law and supporting the important role of the police and army in this.”
Conservatives, Shablinsky continues, are always ready to support the needs of the force structures, but for them “order in the state is always and only a condition for the realization of freedoms!” No less than liberals and sometimes more, conservatives support the freedom of the individual and oppose the tyranny of the majority or of any one-man rule.
Russians who call themselves conservatives in contrast “are prepared to defend in every possible pay the one-man character of power.” Freedoms are important to them “only to the extent that they do not create threats or even simply discomfort for the unlimited power of the first person.”
Conservatives in the West, the Moscow scholar says, defend the right of private property as almost an absolute value. People in Russia who call themselves conservatives see property as conditional on the relationship between the individual who holds it and the leader at the top of the political pyramid.
And yet another subject on which the two groups disagree is nationalism. Conservatives in the West oppose setting one ethnic or religious group against each other, especially to the point of violence. They thus regularly condemn “aggressive nationalism” or indeed “any aggression under nationalist slogans.” Russian “conservatives” think just the opposite.
Dmitry Rogozin is among those Russian leaders who likes to call himself a conservative, but his understanding of conservatism is very much on display when he talks about the support European conservatives have given to Moscow with regard to Ukraine.
In fact, “all authoritative conservative parties in Europe” have denounced what Russia has done, the legal scholar points out. The only people who are backing the Kremlin are “in the camp of ultra-nationalists,” who sometimes like their friends in Moscow also misuse the word “conservative.”