The opponent might have been conservative situationally, formally; however, substantive conservatism was on both sides: the liberals and their reactionary opponents. Anti-populist elitism is a late inheritor of the so-called theory of the masses from Gustave Le Bon to Elias Canetti and Ortega-y-Gasset, favorites of the Russian intelligentsia. As such, the masses theory must be viewed not independently, but as part of a larger liberal-conservative creed.
Another peculiar and symptomatic conservative (rejecting, in fact, any idealistic values) ideological feature was technocratic managerialism. In post-Soviet Russia it assumed, in continuity with the late Soviet Union, an unusually autonomous form of “methodology”
and “political technology.” Being ideologically ambiguous, authoritarian
rather than narrowly conservative, the methodologists
played into the conservative hands through their complete identification with the elitist leadership regardless of its goals. The second generation of the “Methodologists,” like the son of the founder, Petr Shchedrovitsky, explicitly moved to the right already in the 1990s.
All of this fits well with the more typical features of conservatism, such as the imposed cult of the nuclear family. “Family is one of nature’s masterpieces” (George Santayana) was a poster filling all Russian metro stations for years, roughly from 2009 to 2015. Another feature was gender traditionalism, ubiquitous in the mass culture of the time, originally without any marked ideological character. However, the liberal ideology in Russia also contained some properly liberal elements such as the belief in progress, idealization of the “West,” the insistence on coming to terms with the Stalinist past and, more generally, criticism of the state from the human rights perspective.
What is symptomatic is not just the presence of conservative elements in society (they are present in every society) but their correlation with the radicalness of oppositional or reformist stances and their inclusion in the paradigmatic, ideal-type cases. As an American friend living in Russia the 2000s told me once, perceptively: “here a person who would normally, in America or Germany, be on the extreme Left, by his looks, by his clothes, by his connections, turns out to be on the extreme Right!”Major examples
In the 2010 article, I took some paradigmatic cases that were seen by the public as symbols of the changes. The film of Tengiz Abuladze Repentance
is a story of a modern Antigone, a religious revolutionary who mourns a restored “temple.” Many liberal essays, most famously Igor Klyamkin’s, were using this motif as an allusion to the historical path of Russia, asking: which street leads to a temple?