It is often argued, mainly by Westerners, that current geopolitical rivalries cannot be compared to the Cold War, because there is no conflict of ideologies. Communism has been defeated and the capitalist triumph is eternal.
Their point of view is that of the “end of history”, as the scholar Francis Fukuyama proclaimed. The problem is, Fukuyama proclaimed the triumph of liberal democracy over three decades ago. It’s fair to say the world has changed a bit since then.
It’s hard to deny that the ideological competition is now back. And it seems that in the decades to come, the clash of ideologies will only intensify. The three great powers of today – the United States, China and Russia – are arguing more than material power. Representing distinct ideological denominations, they also compete for human souls. There is also a fourth competing ideology – radical Islamism – but it is now disembodied and devoid of a “carrier state” after the defeat of its most vocal defenders.
The United States is now championing a liberal-progressive ideology, which in its most extreme version is known as revival. In Awakening, the two main ideological currents of the modern West that have their origins in the European Enlightenment – liberalism and communism – finally come together after a bitter internal feud. When opponents of enlightenment compare it to radical Bolshevism, it is not without reason. In its struggle against structural oppression, enlightenment is ultimately about destroying social hierarchies in the name of justice – and at the expense of order.
Taken to the extreme, this new Western ideological struggle for fairness and equality leads to universal homogenization, inevitably destroying the diversity of social and even physical identities. In a novel by Mikhail Sholokhov, one of the characters, a fiery Bolshevik, dreamed of a post-revolutionary world in which borders crumble and people marry so that there are no more dominant groups and oppressed: “Everyone’s appearance will be pleasantly brown – and everyone will be the same. “ This 1920s Russian Bolshevik could join the awakened squads in Seattle or Bristol in the 2020s.
China and Russia are often grouped together as “autocratic companies”. But, in fact, Beijing and Moscow defend very different ideological models. China is a synthesis of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist socialism mixed with traditional Chinese pathways, such as Confucianism and legalism, all enhanced by advanced digital technology. The West is increasingly fearful of China, not only because of Beijing’s growing economic and military might, but also because modern China’s extremely successful development record seems to validate the CCP’s ideology.
The coronavirus pandemic was a watershed moment that demonstrated the effectiveness of the Chinese system. While most Western states, along with Russia and India, have failed disastrously to protect their populations from the disease, the world’s most populous country has effectively won the battle against the virus. The Chinese system has a dystopian tendency, but it is currently the most efficient when it comes to providing material wealth to the masses and protecting human life.
It is true that China lacks individual freedoms, but does man really need a freedom the burden of which is often unbearable for the average man? The famous monologue of the Grand Inquisitor in Fyodor Dostoyevsky Brothers Karamazov may well belong to someone in the upper echelon of the Modern Chinese Communist Party: “They will understand themselves, finally, that freedom and bread for all are inconceivable together, because they will never, never be able to share among themselves!
So where does Russia stand? Many in the West mistakenly believe that President Vladimir Putin is seeking to revive the Communist Soviet Union. In fact, the current Russian leader has made it clear on several occasions that he is very ambivalent about the Soviet model. Putin, in short, is not a communist – in reality, he looks more like a neo-feudal ruler. Its top-down system of government, which is a hybrid of a traditionalist empire and a modern nation-state, is probably the only possible way for Russia to continue to exist as a single political entity.
Instead of Bolshevik radicalism, Putin’s preference seems to be the old Tsarist model: no plans to build an overseas empire, just a vast autocratic continental power backed by nuclear weapons, “healthy conservatism” and a “tradition that stands the test of time”. Putin’s system is totally opposed to revolution. His alleged spiritual confidant, Metropolitan Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church, has repeatedly warned of the dangers inherent in uprisings and upheavals. The Russian leader himself openly hates instability as a fundamental evil, having said: “The political system of Russia evolves regularly in order to prevent any revolution. We have reached our limit of revolutions. Putin’s words often sound as though they came straight from “Thoughts on the Revolution in France” by Edmund Burke, the conservative leader.
Putin’s Russia has its ideals mainly in the past. This is one of the main reasons why the ideology of modern Russia appeals to many right-wing conservatives in Europe and North America who view Russia as the last great state to adhere to the values of what was once the European Christian civilization. Putin’s Russia has another advantage. Among the competing ideologies, it is the most aesthetically appealing. Perhaps this is because for the state of Putin, order takes priority over justice. Justice, especially the unlimited justice of the “awakened”, is often messy and even ugly. The order, especially hierarchical, has a powerful beauty. Think about the aesthetics of The Lord of the Rings Where Dune. Similar to Hollywood epics exploiting medieval narratives, much of the appeal of the “Putin universe” can be based on the themes of power, masculinity, hierarchy, and the miracle.
Another appeal of the Russian system is that, although it is somewhat flawed in terms of political and civil rights, it probably has one of the highest levels of private liberty in the world. The state in Russia is generally reluctant to interfere in the privacy of its subjects, if only because it lacks the capacity to do so – and apparently does not seek that capacity, outside of Covid measures -19 most recent, which he opposed and revised to the same extent.
The Russian model has a major drawback. It is ill-suited to ensure economic and technological development. For a decade now, the Russian economy has stagnated and it is unlikely to take off anytime soon. However, the lack of economic dynamism could be a systemic characteristic that Putin is keenly aware of, accepting it as a reasonable price for political and social tranquility. To achieve breakthroughs in development, you must be prepared to conduct massive, company-wide experiments, sometimes bordering on revolution. Despite all the differences in their ideological creeds, the West and CCP-led China share a desire to experiment with their future. It is a lost irony that the new facial recognition system developed in China to ensure safety in public places is called Celestial Net, echoing the dystopian AI that haunts the world of The Terminator movie theater.
Mankind can now choose between the wokeism of the West, the neo-feudal conservatism of Russia, and the slightly dystopian digital socialism of China. It’s far from a wide choice on the menu, but it’s nice to have a choice anyway.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.