In my experience, zealously liberal intellectual elites decry any form of determinism, championing the idea that individuals have the power to shape the world around them at will. Individualism is of course the crux of liberal ideology, individual property rights particularly, betraying the vested interest behind this ideology. For them however liberalism has nothing to do with socio-economic contingency, class interest, shifting concrete economic power under mercantilist empire and industrialization and so on. For them Liberalism is the product of noble ideas, progress and man’s quest for freedom.
For this to make any sense much of history must be ignored. First is that liberalism as we know it, that is as something other than a Dickensian Nightmare, is entirely endebted to the Bolshevik Revolution and the threat of organized western labour to replay it at home by disposessing powerful ‘free individuals’ of their property and lives en masse. This threat, regardless of the actual outcomes of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, is the overwhelming factor that convinced capital to make the series of compromises which took us from Dickensian to Social Democratic. Despite window dressing these compromises as noble and value driven, they did this kicking and screaming, reversing them as soon as strategies like offshoring had emmasculated the threat of organized labour. Self-righteous smear campaigns were launched early on to permanently bury the threat of labour. Revolutions are always profoundly traumatic and best avoided by basic attention to justice in the broadest sense. As with other revolutions many died in terror and famines after the Bolshevik one, though less than half of early liberal estimates such as those of Robert Conquest. The liberal imagination has abandoned proportion or objectivity in assessing these tragedies. More died in the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jews and Slavs and spread Germany to the Urals. Far more again died under classical liberal slavery and amerindian genocide. Any ideology which claims human reason as its authority is bound to fail, whether liberalism or communism. The tragedies of communism were as much a product of personal dictat, the deep trauma of the Great War and the logic of revolution, whether Bolshevik, Jacobin or Iranian as anything else. They are not a unique ideologically driven tragedy.
One reason the hegemonic liberal power of the USA experiences school shootings and similar tragedies while others do not is its insistence on a rationalized, ideological concept of the good, couched in liberation. This makes no reference to human nature or say, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Liberalism coaxes its young to judge their elites and society on what they say rather than what they do. Unqualified liberation of the individual, implitictly to own property, but explicitly ambiguous, is raised as a higher good than justice or love. What is the individual? Our stream of consciousness, our urges and desires? Any civilization worth its salt concluded long ago that the only true liberation is not of the self but from the self, found in service, sacrifice, quieting the conscious stream and pull of desire.
Subconsciously we all know something is wrong. We all operate on the same human nature which hasn’t evolved since long before the rise of civilization, giving us a framework to operate in society of sentient animals with emphases on competition and cooperation varying based on conditions, primarly the availability of vital resources. Subconsicously we know that putting the self first doesn’t work. We know that parents who put their urges, desires, lifestyle choices, self realization before the welfare of their family are disfunctional. We know that leaders with no vested interest in the long-term well-being of society, who treat their position of power as a cash and carry opportunity for self-enrichment are not real leaders. We know that the basic values and priorities of society, liberty and idolization of greed, vapidity, distraction, fadishness, are not real values and priorities. But to function in liberal society and belong, we must assume the emperor is wearing clothes.
It’s becoming more and more difficult to deny that he isn’t. Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Ukraine and others are slipping away from liberalism despite all the best efforts of the EU and west at large. Never mind Trump and Brexit. It can’t be flaws and hypocricy within the liberal order, we say we are noble so we are. It’s all Russia’s fault.
Why isn’t Russia liberal? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the West screwed it up. Geoffery Sachs and his Harvard Team coordinated shock therapy with ‘reformsts’ like of Gaidar, concentrating wealth in about fifteen pairs of hands while creating apocalyptic ‘living’ conditions for 200 million more. Meanwhile, the liberal media waxed hagiographical about this many spleandored ‘transition to democracy.’ There was no basic social order, gangs tied to banks murdered each other in the streets on a daily basis, while those banks and their oligrach bosses appropriated the people’s property leaving the masses without means to live, or even believe in the value of life. This is still looked back on as the ‘glory days’ of Russian democracy in the west, before the tragic return of the state monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, not to mention basic social services, during Putin’s first term.
The west actively rape and celebrate the rape of Russian society under ‘democracy,’ with much of the oligarch’s blood-soaked gains arriving in the UK, Switzerland or other western areas with sound rule of law. But not only that, they took credit for a ‘cold war victory’ for which they had almost no part in. The Soviet Union had overcome far bigger crises than the economic woes of the 80s in the past, and various forms of reform may have been possible. President Bush was not in favour of the chaos a collapse of the USSR may cause. It was in fact the nomenclatura, long used to enriching themselves and making the economy work through ‘informal’ or even criminal means, that decided it was time to become wealthy, comfortable oligarchs rather than austere cadres. There never had been a ‘communist’ system, only supposed progress toward one. Eager for reform and cooperation, Yeltsin’s foreign minister once said ‘Russia has no interests separate from US interests.’ All they asked for was respect for their basic national interests, including the non-expansion of NATO in exchange for German unification. But they overestimated the West’s civility, and capacity for strategic thinking. It proved far more alluring to bask in cold war triumphalism that the west was handed rather than having earned than to deal with the complexity and challenges of the new world. Again, it doesn’t take a genius to understand Russian thinking. Years of Soviet ideology, or maybe something deeper, has led Eurasian people to make judgements on actions far more than on words. Facing an obstacle to property accumulation in Russia via Putin and his restraining of the most pro-Western Oligarchs, the liberal elite decided to spread NATO across the Former Warsaw Pact and even into the Baltics, while mounting a constant informational campaign against Russia. This reached a couple of peaks when Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia, prompting a Russian peacekeeping response, and in the Maidan in which Ukrainian nationalist manipulated anti-corruption, pro-EU protests to seize powers disporportional to their popular support. The leader they overthrew had been democratically elected and was neither pro-Russian nor pro-European but was simpley pro-money. Nevertheless, it proved easier to demonize a Russia which didn’t virtue signal the way the west and its new vassals did, expecting it’s constant implosion as an inherently disfunctional and inept people, rather than try to treat Russia with respect and build on that original deep willingness to cooperate and become a part of the west. Obviously, policymakers in the west were spoiled on three decades of wealth and comfort which made their way of life look uncontingent and natural. Statesmen forged in the threat of great depression, fascism and spread of communism as those of the immediate post-war era were likeley would have handled things differently.
It’s not like the liberal west has been morally above working with less than pristinely democratic regimes elsewhere. Indeed, when surveying the current deep and comprehensive crisis of western liberalism, besides noting that the balance of forces between capital and organized labour which made it possible no longer exist, some blame must lie on the west’s active support for other illiberal regimes. Nixon famously went to China to build some kind of anti-Soviet alliance. Long ago in Stalin’s great retreat the Soviet Union had given up global revolution, but for a fanciful US elite, they were a threat to their most sacred individual property rights wherever they manifest. This US-China collaboration eventually led to deep US support for China’s ‘capitalism with asian characterists’- a social contract of constant growth and a better future under a competitive econonmy would allow the party to indefinately continue a now basically fascistic rule. The howls of indignation from the west over this lack of democracy are hardly audible over those against Russia, which at least carries out regular elections, has no death penalty and doesn’t institute cultural genocide against its minorities. Is this consent for Chinese illiberal capitalism, fasicsm basically, constituting now the second most powerful economy in the world, not problematic for liberal democracy? What happened to the beautiful values?
But an even more key international relationship for the global economy is that between the US and another anti-Soiet ally, Saudi Arabia. Deeply opposed to Soviet atheism, the KSA was happy to accept american defense guanantees in exchange for selling oil only in dollars, and re-investing those dollars almost entirely through Wall Street. This allowed the US dollar to become the global reserve currency and medium of trade. Meanwhile, this absolute, head-chopping monarchy guided by a fascistic and fanatical interpretation of its religion, funded, trained and spread terrorism throughout the world, most usefully for the US, in Afghanistan against the Soviets. But then there was 9/11 and the recent wave of attacks in Europe. Not to mention Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and so on. For some reason, the liberal West with 500 years of experience with colonialism expects their ‘co-Europeans’ to accept their trans-continental multiculturalism as easily as they do, but without the benefit of half a millenia of practice, particularly in a climate where many of the migrants are at high risk of ascribing to the wahabbi terrorist ideology of our Saudi allies.
This is to say nothing of the myriad democratically elected leaders the west has overthrown, from Mossadegh to Arbenz to Sukharno to Allende. Are we really surprised that liberalism is in crisis? Would it have been so difficult to wine and dine Russia when they had the chance rather than turning it into a pariah, bound to fail, while our own debt levels and demographics more glaringly indicate the same for us?
It’s baffling how people sustain their mental narratives within this hypocrisy. Liberalism is clearly a religion, with all the same rituals of acceptance, sacred texts, biases, creeds of faith and so on as any other. Those of us who have long since given up on it just out of a sense of self-preservation eschew this religious way of thinking where we believe, support and pursue the set of values we believe to be most good. We are pragmatists, we don’t care how ‘good’ it is if it doesn’t function, if it isn’t sustainable. We analyze what is actually working, what is realistic and practical, what is going to be stable enough to stake our future on, and liberalism isn’t it, sorry.