All three contemporary great powers — the United States, China, and Russia — are competing for more than material power. Representing distinct ideological faiths, they are also in competition for human souls. There is also a fourth competing ideology — radical Islamism — but it is now disembodied and lacks a ‘carrier state’ after the defeat of its most vociferous advocates.
The US now champions a liberal-progressivist ideology, which, in its most extreme version, is known as wokeness. In wokeness, the two main ideological strands of the modern West that have their origins in the European Enlightenment — liberalism and communism — finally reunite after a bitter internecine feud. … Taken to its extremes, this new Western ideological struggle for equity and equality leads to universal homogenization, inevitably destroying the diversity of social and even physical identities. …
China and Russia are often lumped together as ‘fellow autocracies’. But, in fact, Beijing and Moscow stand for very different ideological models.
China’s is a synthesis of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist socialism blended with traditional Chinese ways, such as Confucianism and legalism, all boosted by advanced digital technology. The West increasingly fears China not only due to the growth in Beijing’s economic and military power, but also because modern China’s hugely successful record of development seems to validate the CCP’s ideology. …
There is a misconception among many in the West that President Vladimir Putin seeks to revive the communist Soviet Union. In fact, the current Russian ruler has repeatedly made clear that he is very ambivalent about the Soviet model. Putin, in short, is no communist — in reality, he is more like a neo-feudal ruler. His system of top-down government, which is a hybrid of a traditionalist empire and a modern nation state, is probably the only possible way Russia could 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 continental autocratic power relying on nuclear weapons, ‘healthy conservatism’, and ‘time-tested tradition’. Putin’s system is utterly opposed to revolution.
Putin’s Russia has its ideals mainly in the past. That’s a major reason why the ideology of modern Russia appeals to many right-wing conservatives in Europe and North America who see Russia as the last major state that adheres to the values of what used to be European Christian civilization.
Putin’s Russia has another advantage. Among the competing ideologies, it is the most appealing aesthetically. This may be because for Putin’s state, order is prioritised over justice. Justice, especially the unlimited justice of the ‘woke’, is often messy and even ugly. Order, especially a hierarchical one, has a powerful beauty. Think of the aesthetics of The Lord of the Rings or Dune. Similar to Hollywood epics exploiting medieval narratives, much of the appeal of ‘the Putin universe’ may be drawing upon the themes of power, masculinity, hierarchy, and miracle.
Another attraction of the Russian system is that, despite being somewhat imperfect in terms of political and civil rights, it probably boasts one of the highest levels of private freedom in the world. The state in Russia is generally reluctant to intervene in the private lives of its subjects, if only because it lacks the capacity to do so — and apparently does not seek this capacity, outside of the most recent Covid-19 measures, which have been opposed and overhauled in equal measure.
The Russian model does have one major drawback. It is ill-suited to deliver economic and technological development. For a decade now, Russia’s economy has been stagnating and it is unlikely to take off any time soon. However, the lack of economic dynamism might be a systemic feature Putin is perfectly aware of, accepting it as a reasonable price for political and social tranquility.
Fukuyama’s “end of history” remark when the Soviet Union collapsed was always just a joke, a poke at the pomposity and silliness of Karl Marx and his earnest followers.
hat-tip Stephen Neil