How is this manifested?
First of all, in the concept of justice. This is what was conceptualized by Andrei Bezrukov
, a spy unmasked in the US who is now actively involved in Russian politics and teaches at MGIMO. He expressed this idea very well when he said that in the 1980s and 1990s the main agenda was the agenda of freedom. But now the global trend has changed: people want justice, not freedom.
Moreover, justice can be understood in different ways: as international justice, as economic justice. And here Putinism is quite attractive to many outside and inside Russia, because the West has truly failed to cope with the challenge of uneven economic development across the globe.Before we talk in more detail about Putinism, I would like to clarify: why did liberal conservatism, which they tried to build at the beginning of Putin’s rule, not take root in Russia?
This is probably the main tragedy of Russian intellectual history in the post-Soviet period. Because liberal conservatism could well have been an engine of progress. But there are several problems. First of all, it is the country itself, with the structure of its historical development. Because conservatism is always about organic development. Conservatives like to use the metaphor of a plant: a plant grows naturally, but if we somehow trim it or put it in a box, it will only wither; therefore, let society, just like a flower, grow without outside force being applied.
But in Russia there were periods when the “plant” did not grow naturally at all. There were revolutions, wars and other upheavals. And what has grown since 1917? Is this the natural growth of the “flower” or is it an unnatural hybrid that needs to be gotten rid of?
In fact, a conservative’s intuition should tell him that yes, this is a terrible hybrid, let’s forget about the USSR as a nightmare. But this is impossible, because the Soviet Union, for the majority of Russians and for Putin’s elite, was the highest stage in the development of Russian civilization. And behind this view there are objective facts – the achievements of the Soviet Union in science, in education, in the international arena.
And the question arises: what, exactly, should a Russian conservative “conserve?” What tradition? If it is the Soviet tradition, then this is no longer conservatism, but rather revanchist communism. If it is the tradition before 1917, then ideologists should radically abandon the Soviet period and identify with the White movement, but they are in the minority and will never enjoy the support of the majority of the population.
And then the idea arises: instead of specific political constructions, let’s preserve the identity of Russia in terms culture and values. Russia was once the Tsardom of Muscovy, then the Soviet Union, then a post-Soviet democracy, and so on. But the essence remained the same, and the people have always been the Russian people with a stable set of values. For me, as a historian, this is complete heresy. But for many people this sounds convincing, and even in the Russian Constitution, after the 2020 amendments, it is written that Russia is characterized by its “thousand-year history.” This suggests that each period of this thousand-year history is valuable and important, but the identity of the people is unchanging.
This is a special conservatism that no longer has anything in common with liberal conservatism. Everything else is built on the basis of this identitarian conservatism.