Why Putin's 'Conservatism of Optimists' Approach Resonating With Traditionalists in US and EU
President Vladimir Putin defined Russia's ideology as a "conservatism of optimists", while delivering his remarks at the 18th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, titled 'Global Shake-Up in the 21st Century: The Individual, Values, and the State'.
"For the coming period of global reconstruction, which may continue for quite some time and the final outcome of which is not known, moderate conservatism is the most reasonable approach, at least in my opinion," Vladimir Putin stated, addressing an international audience on 21 October.
Russia's conservatism encompasses spiritual, traditional and family values, a positive attitude to the nation's historical heritage, and the placement of an individual's personal qualities above his or her sex, ethnicity or the colour of their skin, as well as national sovereignty and an approach to international collaboration driven by concern for the common good, according to the Russian president.
Russia's 'Conservatism of Optimists'
"President Putin’s words will not resonate with the political establishment in the West, that is liberal to the core. Nevertheless, his words will resonate, or are already resonating, with various conservative and traditionalist groups in Europe and the US," emphasises Adriel Kasonta, a London-based foreign affairs analyst and former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at Bow Group, a conservative think tank in the UK.
The West is presently undergoing a severe identity crisis that breeds the need to either appreciate or stabilise it, the foreign affairs analyst underscores. That’s why Russia, perceived as a predominantly Christian and traditionalist nation, is so appealing to conservatives in the West, he says.
"The late Professor Andrzej Walicki wrote a very important essay in 2015 titled 'Can Vladimir Putin become the ideological leader of world conservatism?' where he addressed this issue in detail," Kasonta says.
President Putin's term "conservatism of optimists" seems to connote frustration at the direction in which gender rights is going in the US, according to Dr. Samuel Hoff, the George Washington Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at Delaware State University. "Many social conservatives in America would agree with Putin's characterisation," he notes.
Is the Western Agenda Really Progressive?
Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club meeting, the Russian president remarked that the battle for equal rights in some Western nations has turned into a farce. The so-called "progressive" agenda advocated by some forces in the West has translated into cancel culture, reverse racism, attacks on history and basic values such as respect for mothers, fathers, families or even basic definitions concerning gender difference, he noted. According to the president, Bolsheviks propagated strikingly similar ideas in the wake of the October 1917 Revolution. Russia has learnt this lesson, turning its historical experience into a competitive advantage
, he said.
Currently, a "real generational battle is going on, at least in the US, over competing ideologies, views, speech, and even over the past", says David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. He highlights that there is "a big push back in the US against the cancel culture too".
The US, the West and the world as a whole needs to foster an environment for competing opinions, as the support for this is currently eroding, according to the political scientist.
"I want to see everything debated," echoes Peter Kuznick, professor of History at American University, who defines himself as a progressive, but doubts that the current liberal political agenda fully corresponds to this term. "I want to see different opinions being given. I want to see students being able to refute this kind of criticism or attack on identities, rather than feel like they need to isolate themselves or insulate themselves from that kind of thing."
True progressivism refers to a movement in American history which was notable for reforms (1900-1920), recalls Hoff, adding that the very idea that people who support cancel culture call themselves modern-day "progressives" appears "insulting" to the aforementioned period.
Treating History Selectively
"Both Americans and Russians would both admit that some of each nation's own past is ugly," Hoff highlights. "But to hide those facts and events is to ignore the lessons of the same and to deny history."
However, it's not only Western liberals who treat their historic past selectively but also their conservative counterparts, according to the foreign affairs analyst.
"They tend to pick and choose what is convenient for their narrative, while conservatives in the East, especially in Russia, were able to rise to the challenge and deal with the Communist past and accept it as part of their national narrative’s continuum," Kasonta stresses. "When it comes to the former, they would rather forget about the inconvenient colonial history, which is the root cause of the problems we see in modern times. Living in denial is a receipt for a disaster. Russians know this very well."
Russia and West Have More In Common Than One Imagines
The international observers agree that the attempts to rewrite history and distort facts pose no lesser risk than a "historical amnesia".
"The ramifications of rewriting history are widespread, including creating an education gap between generations and ignoring how others may continue to view that nation," says Samuel Hoff.
One glaring example is the West's attempt to depict Russia as an antagonist, according to the professor. While some Americans are reading about Russia's leaving NATO as an observer
or not coming to the UK climate summit they might easily get the wrong idea about Russo-American relations.
However, Russia and the US have lots of points where their interests converge as well as a shared past, including cooperation in outer space, during the first Gulf War, as allies during the Second World War, as members of the same UN committees, holding superpower summits, and signing a plethora of bilateral treaties and agreements, according to the political scientist.