Is Putin’s Healthy/Moderate/Reasonable Conservatism Really A New Russian Ideology?
To put it simply, ‘healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism’ is all about responsibly managing inevitable changes in such a way that chaos can be contained while advancing objective socio-economic progress.
Observers are wildly speculating that the “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism” that President Putin proposed during last week’s plenary session of the prestigious Valdai Club represents a new Russian ideology. That’s the incorrect way to interpret his suggestion. It isn’t so much an ideology as it is a pragmatic managerial approach to the myriad problems that have emerged amid the ongoing global systemic transition. According to President Putin, “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism” is also embodied by the UN, which should thus make it the official international standard even though it’s not presently treated as such due to the influence of American unilateralism and its aggressive proselytism of radical “progressive” ideology across the world.
In order to better understand the basis of “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism”, it’s best to quote the Russian leader himself:
“I would like to add that the transformation that we are seeing and are part of is of a different calibre than the changes that repeatedly occurred in human history, at least those we know about. This is not simply a shift in the balance of forces or scientific and technological breakthroughs, though both are also taking place. Today, we are facing systemic changes in all directions – from the increasingly complicated geophysical condition of our planet to a more paradoxical interpretation of what a human is and what the reasons for his existence are.
In recent decades, many have tossed around fancy concepts claiming that the role of the state was outdated and outgoing. Globalisation supposedly made national borders an anachronism, and sovereignty an obstacle to prosperity. You know, I said it before and I will say it again. This is also what was said by those who attempted to open up other countries’ borders for the benefit of their own competitive advantages.
Only sovereign states can effectively respond to the challenges of the times and the demands of the citizens. Accordingly, any effective international order should take into account the interests and capabilities of the state and proceed on that basis, and not try to prove that they should not exist. Furthermore, it is impossible to impose anything on anyone, be it the principles underlying the sociopolitical structure or values that someone, for their own reasons, has called universal.
The state and society must not respond radically to qualitative shifts in technology, dramatic environmental changes or the destruction of traditional systems. It is easier to destroy than to create, as we all know. We in Russia know this very well, regrettably, from our own experience, which we have had several times.
The importance of a solid support in the sphere of morals, ethics and values is increasing dramatically in the modern fragile world. In point of fact, values are a product, a unique product of cultural and historical development of any nation. The mutual interlacing of nations definitely enriches them, openness expands their horizons and allows them to take a fresh look at their own traditions. But the process must be organic, and it can never be rapid. Any alien elements will be rejected anyway, possibly bluntly. Any attempts to force one’s values on others with an uncertain and unpredictable outcome can only further complicate a dramatic situation and usually produce the opposite reaction and an opposite from the intended result.
I have already mentioned that, in shaping our approaches, we will be guided by a healthy conservatism. That was a few years ago, when passions on the international arena were not yet running as high as they are now, although, of course, we can say that clouds were gathering even then. Now, when the world is going through a structural disruption, the importance of reasonable conservatism as the foundation for a political course has skyrocketed – precisely because of the multiplying risks and dangers, and the fragility of the reality around us.
This conservative approach is not about an ignorant traditionalism, a fear of change or a restraining game, much less about withdrawing into our own shell. It is primarily about reliance on a time-tested tradition, the preservation and growth of the population, a realistic assessment of oneself and others, a precise alignment of priorities, a correlation of necessity and possibility, a prudent formulation of goals, and a fundamental rejection of extremism as a method. And frankly, in the impending period of global reconstruction, which may take quite long, with its final design being uncertain, moderate conservatism is the most reasonable line of conduct, as far as I see it. It will inevitably change at some point, but so far, do no harm – the guiding principle in medicine – seems to be the most rational one. Noli nocere, as they say.
I have already mentioned the challenges international institutions are facing. Unfortunately, this is an obvious fact: it is now a question of reforming or closing some of them. However, the United Nations as the central international institution retains its enduring value, at least for now. I believe that in our turbulent world it is the UN that brings a touch of reasonable conservatism into international relations, something that is so important for normalising the situation.
Many criticise the UN for failing to adapt to a rapidly changing world. In part, this is true, but it is not the UN, but primarily its members who are to blame for this. In addition, this international body promotes not only international norms, but also the rule-making spirit, which is based on the principles of equality and maximum consideration for everyone’s opinions. Our mission is to preserve this heritage while reforming the organisation. However, in doing so we need to make sure that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes.
However, I would venture to say that our country has an advantage. Let me explain what this advantage is. It is to do with our historical experience. You may have noticed that I have referred to it several times in the course of my remarks. Unfortunately, we had to bring back many sad memories, but at least our society has developed what they now refer to as herd immunity to extremism that paves the way to upheavals and socioeconomic cataclysms. People really value stability and being able to live normal lives and to prosper while confident that the irresponsible aspirations of yet another group of revolutionaries will not upend their plans and aspirations.
The conservative views we hold are an optimistic conservatism, which is what matters the most. We believe stable, positive development to be possible. It all depends primarily on our own efforts. Of course, we are ready to work with our partners on common noble causes.
When I speak about healthy conservatism, Nikolai Berdyayev always springs to mind, and I have already mentioned him several times. He was a remarkable Russian philosopher, and as you all know he was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1922. He was as forward-thinking as a man can be, but also sided with conservatism. He used to say, and you will excuse me if I do not quote his exact words: ‘Conservatism is not something preventing upward, forward movement, but something preventing you from sliding back into chaos.’ If we treat conservatism this way, it provides an effective foundation for further progress.”
To put it simply, “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism” is all about responsibly managing inevitable changes in such a way that chaos can be contained while advancing objective socio-economic progress.
The UN forms the center of gravity for such efforts due to the principles enshrined in its charter. Although it’s far from perfect, it importantly enables a degree of predictability in International Relations which in turn reduces the prospects of conflict between countries. The UN’s role cannot be replaced even though it must naturally reform with the times. Even so, its spirit should remain the same in that the UNSC should remain its most powerful decision-making body and its permanent members’ veto mustn’t be removed. By staying true to the principles of the UN Charter, the international community can more effectively manage the ongoing global systemic transition in a way that’s mutually beneficial, at least in theory. Despite the formidable challenges connected to reaching such a consensus, Russia still thinks it’s worth trying.
Another important component of “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism” is that it acknowledges the continued role of the state in International Relations and the significance of its sovereignty. Globalization failed to completely erode that even though some considerable damage has indeed been dealt, especially among many Global South countries. In any case, they still retain some sovereignty and it’s thus crucial for them to regain as much as possible prior to comprehensively expanding it. The UN cannot properly function in a world where states are subserviant to non-state actors like multinational corporations, Big Tech, and disproportionately powerful international blocs and organizations. State sovereignty is the bedrock of the UN-enshrined international order, which is why it accordingly takes priority in all aspects of Russian policymaking.
The third pillar of “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism” is respect for national traditions and values, which differ by country. Foreign philosophies cannot be imposed upon others as this has proven to be counterproductive to socio-political stability. The US’ radical “progressive” revolution at home is its own business, for better or for worse, but its attempts to aggressively export it to comparatively more traditional states like those in Afro-Eurasia amount to the Hybrid War weaponization of these political processes for geostrategic ends. Russian society’s “herd immunity” to extremism is a valuable asset that inoculates the country from such ideological viruses, but others have yet to reach that stage and are thus far more susceptible to these destabilization plots. Russia can thus share its experiences to help them reach “herd immunity” too.
These principled approaches characterize the managerial model that President Putin sought to draw global attention to during his participation in last week’s Valdai Club plenary session. It’s more urgent than ever that the Russian leader’s words are heeded in order to restore as much stability as possible to International Relations amid the ongoing global systemic transition. His strong stance in support of “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism” stands in stark contrast to the US’ unilateralism and aggressive proselytism of radical “progressivism”. This further reinforces the perception that Russia and the US are “ideological foils” in the New Cold War even though this analysis argued that the Kremlin’s approach is more akin to a responsibly pragmatic managerial model influenced by the UN Charter than an actual ideology per se.