Back in mid-December, the right-wing gadfly Patrick J. Buchanan created a minor stir with an op-ed column positing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the new leader of transnational conservativism. Entitled “Is Putin One of Us?” this provocative piece noted how very paleoconservative many of the Kremlin boss’s public comments actually seem. Though hardly a household word in America, paleoconservatism is the branch of the right-wing movement that rejects post-modernism and still sticks uncompromisingly to “traditional values”; Buchanan – the former Republican operative and ex-Cold Warrior turned popular polemicist – can be considered the movement’s de facto leader, though the mainstream GOP these days keeps paleos at arm’s length, fearing being tarred with racism, sexism, and other Officially Bad Things.
While Putin’s remarks disparaging homosexuals, feminism, and unrestricted migration have raised much ire in the West, for Buchanan, the consummate culture warrior, they are a positive sign that, finally, a major world leader is on the paleo wavelength. To Buchanan and his ilk, Putin’s comments about traditional values are wildly encouraging, an indication that the cause of resisting post-modernism may not be lost after all. As Pat noted:
Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian. And what he is talking about here is ambitious, even audacious.
He is seeking to redefine the “Us vs. Them” world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.
“We do not infringe on anyone’s interests,” said Putin, “or try to teach anyone how to live.” The adversary he has identified is not the America we grew up in, but the America we live in, which Putin sees as pagan and wildly progressive.
It should be noted that such thoughts are not unique to Buchanan, nor are they new in paleoconservative circles. Retired Professor Paul Gottfried, who coined the term paleoconservatism, has been adamant that, whatever the West did to triumph over the Soviets, it has lost the struggle against what some on the Right term “Cultural Marxism.” Another paleo thinker, the Serbian-born Srdja Trifkovic, maintains that, with the end of the Cold War, the United States switched places with the USSR and became the global force for revolution, waging wars to spread post-modern individual, social, and sexual values, while Putin’s conservative Russia stands as a bulwark against it.
But few Americans outside paleocon circles pay attention to such authors, so there was some shock in the media when Buchanan let the cat out of the bag about Putin’s circle of admirers in the West. Progressives were reminded that they had always regarded Pat as a quasi-fascist anyway, leading one Washington Post columnist to sum up Buchanan’s Putin piece thus: “The Intolerant International. Bigots of the world, unite.”
Moscow’s take, however, was rather different, and only two days after Buchanan’s op-ed appeared, a Kremlin newspaper ran an article observing that Pat actually was entirely correct: Vladimir Putin is indeed the de facto leader of global traditionalism and conservatism. The piece appeared in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Kremlin’s official paper, so it has regime imprimatur. Entitled “In the spirit of healthy Conservatism: Society’s demand for conservative policy has been building for a long time, and Putin has clearly responded,” the op-ed was authored by Aleksei Mukhin, a Kremlin-approved public intellectual.
Noting Putin’s recent move towards an open embrace of traditional values, Mukhin observed, “He has, in fact, taken the position of a global conservative leader. This was noted not just by his supporters, but also by longtime critics, including in the U.S. media.” Mukhin continued, extolling what he calls Putin’s “healthy conservatism”:
In his recent address to the Federal Assembly, the President confirmed the chosen direction toward conservatism, revealing the main components of the new policy: protection of traditional family values, and the consistent defense of his own position. This position is dear not only to Russians, but to the international community as a whole.
Few would dispute that today, on a number of key issues in global politics, it is Putin who not only expresses his own view or outlines Russia’s position, but also takes on the full weight of responsibility to defend the point of view of a significant part of the population of developing or even developed countries.
Moreover, among them are such states that traditionally oppose Russia in the international arena.
Additionally, Mukhin observed that Putin’s vigorous defense of national interests, traditional values, and state sovereignty has attracted admirers far beyond Russia:
Putin has made no secret of the fact that he acts primarily to provide protection for Russia’s national economic interests and directly for domestic producers, as a head of state should act: honestly and openly, not hiding behind humanitarian considerations and Pharisee morality.
Opinion polls show that this position gets the most lively response from Russians – for more than seventy percent of the population, it is important that the country’s leader enjoys authority among the people of other states.
Moreover, the current strengthening of Putin’s international image is by no means the result of the efforts of image makers and political strategists, but largely the result of his own vigorous activity.
After a sidebar extolling Putin’s triumphs in international diplomacy in 2013, including handling the Syrian situation ably, defending the Kremlin’s ally Assad while showing President Obama to be inept and incompetent, thereby restoring Moscow to a prominent role in global affairs, Mukhin returned to his main message:
Let us note that few world leaders today hold such a clear and consistent position on issues so “slippery” for tolerant Europeans and Americans as the protection of traditional (i.e. heterosexual) family values, the role of traditional religions, and a balanced migration policy. And it is clear that the approaches demonstrated by the Russian president in this direction are again dear to the majority of the population in various countries. In his address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin drew attention to the fact that, “today in many countries norms of morality and ethics are being revised, national and cultural distinctions are being blurred.” And, as the president noted, the result is that people are required to recognize the equivalence of good and evil – “concepts which are opposite in meaning.”
However, not all foreign politicians are willing to engage in polemics with their aggressive minorities, so Putin’s influence in the global arena is growing steadily. It is growing particularly among ordinary people, who are now beginning to subconsciously delegate their aspirations and shift their concerns to the Russian president.
Among conservative politicians, such positioning by Putin generally meets with understanding and support, whereas it is mostly liberal-minded competitors who are critical of it. It seems that, as a result, Russia’s president is seen as a leader, if not the main leader, of the “global party of conservative values.”
Sycophancy aside, this is an important message from the Kremlin that Moscow is seeking allies abroad who share its traditional values. Putin is now unambiguously the head of the international “Faith, Family, Nation” coalition. Might we soon see from the Kremlin a new Comintern for the 21st century, based not on global revolution but, in fact, resisting it? It’s significant that some are now taking notice of the increasingly visible ties between Moscow and the far-right in Europe, which openly admires Putin for all the reasons Mukhin’s op-ed elaborated. Pat Buchanan may have more correct than he imagined.