The Decomposition of Militant Liberalism

Translated by Ollie Richardson


Throughout the 20th century liberalism, as an ideological current dominating in the West, repeatedly changed its shape. Liberalism tried more than once and in different ways to define itself, although in general it was unsuccessful. Without going into the discussions that have tied the West up, it is possible to note that liberalism, which stands up for freedom, has an inherent internal contradiction: it doesn’t accept any tradition that rejects its stereotypes. And it isn’t capable of having dialogue with this tradition. In this sense, liberalism is a militant doctrine.

And if today liberalism starts to be criticised by the western politician, then such a politician is declared to be either a marginal, populist, or nationalist. Attempts are made to dump Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen, Alternative for Germany, Polish politicians undertaking objectionable to the European Union judicial reform, and even sometimes Donald Trump in this “container”.

In an article by Michael Brendan Dougherty, which was published at the beginning of December in the American magazine National Review, and which is devoted to consideration of the reasons for the crisis of liberalism in the West, an attempt is made to link these reasons to what the author calls “Putin obsessives”.

“Putin’s influence is a way of explaining why the destiny of liberal champions was upset by populist ogres, why liberal policies haven’t pulled us into the final glory at the end of history, or why the liberal world was vulnerable to these ‘mistakes’, the ones produced by voters … In this way, obsession with Putin can act as a kind of infantile escapism for depressed liberal elites. At its most benign it is a convenient way for them to explain away real and troubling problems that the last generation of liberal governance has bequeathed to our societies, and to dismiss the hot disagreements that are the result, as a foreign plot.”

And Dougherty continues: “The obsession with Vladimir Putin’s supposedly decisive influence over events in the West, particularly the unwelcome ones, is spreading from America’s political class outward.” The listing of “undesirable” events from Russian hackers, which, as it turns out, are Donald Trump as the US President and the exit of Great Britain from the European Union, the author of article notes: “The politics of the last few years in the West has featured a subtle, but very direct, conflict between democracy and liberalism”. And this “obsession” aggravates the conflict.

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The signs of the decomposition of liberalism vary. In Europe, the liberal elite says that history demands the continuous development of supranational institutes, the ever more free flow of capital, goods, and people. I.e., the entire project of “united Europe” is declared as the ideological property of liberals, because of which all other political trends with which Europe is rich, from communists to ultra-conservatives, are declared as anti-European. In bipartisan America, the most important social issues, writes Dougherty, “were protected from real democratic checks by the way the political class could hide them behind a bipartisan ‘consensus’.

If the political defeat of liberalism can’t be explained by the malevolence of “Russian hackers” or “ubiquitous Putin”, then ubiquitous “populism” as a bugbear is used as an explanation. When a range of socio-political forces in Hungary, Poland, Germany, England, France, the US, and other countries begin to fight against liberalism, they are smeared with this general label of “populism”, which in fact has only one meaning: an ideological disagreement with the liberal consensus.

However, there is a politician in the West who cannot be labelled as a populist. This is Sir Winston Churchill, “the angriest hater of Soviet power”, according to V.I. Lenin. The honorary member of the British Academy, Nobel Prize laureate in literature, “the greatest Britain in history” (according to poll a BBC poll) cannot be called a “useful idiot”.

In his “World War II” book (Churchill W.S. The Second World War. London, 1951) Sir Winston named a scathing characteristic of liberalism in its claim to organise the general world order. Liberalism, in his eyes, bears the main responsibility for the ascension of fascism in Germany, for unleashing World War II. Versailles, which was some kind of triumph of liberalism, created a system that became the fuel for Hitler’s military machine.

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“The victors,” writes Churchill, in particular, “imposed on the Germans all the long-sought ideals of the liberal nations of the West … A democratic constitution, in accordance with all the latest improvements, was established at Weimar. The prejudice of the Americans against monarchy had made it clear to the beaten Empire (Germany in 1918) that it would have better treatment from the Allies as a Republic than as a monarchy. Wise policy would have crowned and fortified the Weimar Republic with a constitutional sovereign in the person of an infant grandson of the Kaiser. Instead, a gaping void was opened in the national life of the German people. All the strong elements, military and feudal, that could have rallied to a constitutional monarchy were for the first time being unhinged. The Weimar Republic, with all its liberal trappings and blessings, was regarded as an imposition of the enemy”.

Churchill devoted a lot of space to describing how the liberal West paved the way for Hitler to unleash a new World War, but it is worth lingering on the most important things from the point of view of the fate of the peaceful days of August, 1939, in the statement of Sir Winston: “New attempts [by western powers] to agree with Soviet Russia. A special envoy had been sent to Moscow. Instead of Eden, this important mission was assigned to Strang, not having any influence. The sending of so subordinate a figure gave actual offence. The negotiations wandered around the question of the reluctance of Poland and the Baltic States to be rescued from Germany by the Soviets. Britain sent Admiral Drax, who, as it has appeared, possessed no written authority to negotiate. The meeting soon faltered because of the refusal of Poland and Romania to allow the transit of Russian troops. The next day [on August 23] Ribbentrop arrived in Moscow … Hitler and Stalin understood that it could be a temporary expedient. On the Soviet side it must be said that their vital need was to hold the deployment positions of the German armies as far to the west as possible … They must be in occupation of the Baltic States and a large part of Poland by force or fraud before they were attacked …”

The old liberalism, with its limitations and impracticability, burned down in the flames of World War II, but its prejudices survived all shocks and remain in force to this day. When in 1947 Friedrich Hayek gathered in Switzerland, at the foot of Mount Mont Pèlerin, colleagues, united by the task of “a fresh formulation of effective ideals” capable of becoming “a stronghold of the capitalist order in front of socialist aggression”, they were most of all pulled together by the hostility towards the Soviet Union. And one of the participants of this meeting pathetically exclaimed: “It is possible to achieve something with the Russians only if you treat them not as people”. This is how militant western liberalism expresses itself, which encroaches on democracy and isn’t capable of conducting dialogue with Others outside the Western world.

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