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Putin’s questioning of ‘liberalism’ causes existential shock

Putin’s questioning of ‘liberalism’ causes existential shock
I imagine a shocked hush descending on newsrooms across the western world; perhaps a disturbance in the woke forcefield had warned them in advance.  Vladimir Putin had questioned liberalism.

In an interview with the Financial Times ahead of the G20 meeting in Japan, the Russian President gave his view of : “...the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose.”

The shock in the headlines was palpable, how could anyone question the dominance of liberalism?  Liberals will accept anything (literally, that is the point) but they turn distinctly authoritarian when their beliefs are questioned. 

Putin holds the view that the “liberal idea has become obsolete”, which suggests to me that he has not tried to get a job in the mainstream media recently, where not only is it not obsolete, it is a prerequisite for even getting inside the building.

The existential crisis caused by Putin’s dismissal of liberalism was such that, in a wide-ranging interview that took in the potential dangers of a nuclear arms race, war between the US and China, and even the Salisbury poisoning saga, the FT chose to headline it’s scoop with “Putin says liberalism has become obsolete.”  

You may have noticed that is the same sentence structure small children use when they run to tell their mother what the big boy next door just said that blew their mind. Don’t believe me? Say this out loud: ‘Mummy, Putin says liberalism has become obsolete!’  You see?

Personally, I am a Liberal myself, there’s very little I can do about it, I hope history is kind to me and my ilk.  I am also a drinker, yet whether it’s drinking too much beer or opening the nation’s borders to mass immigration, I’m self-aware enough to wonder whether the long-term consequences might come back to bite me.    

So, it’s worth delving into the details of what the Russian president said, beyond the nuance-free soundbites that have been cherry-picked for a wider audience, to see what he actually said.

“As for the liberal idea, its proponents are not doing anything. They say that all is well, that everything is as it should be. But is it?” or “The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population”.

Objectively speaking, if there really is a wave of political populism washing across the western world, then it is probably failures with the liberal consensus that is largely to blame. People do think they’re being let down, and they blame the ideology of liberalism. A lot of people are concerned about the impact immigration has had on their lives, or they are confused about the new rules of gender, or they feel no one is representing them and that the elites are moving ever further away. If Liberals are not able to take all this into account, then electorates will find someone who can.

Also on rt.com ‘Liberal idea’ failed the West, elites forgot about people: Putin in interview

Later in the interview, Putin said: “Various ideas and various opinions should have a chance to exist … it does not mean that [the liberal idea] must be immediately destroyed. This point of view, this position should also be treated with respect.” Sorry, Mr President, liberals are not in the business of allowing different points of view.

So could an outside view lead to some soul searching, a discussion on whether liberalism has become ideological dogma which doesn’t always work when confronted by reality?

Well, no, Putin is the chosen bogeyman and, because he was the one who said it, Liberals will take that as a sign they must be on the right course.  But a view from the outside can be extremely useful, if you’re willing to consider it. 

By Simon Rite

Simon Rite is a writer based in London for RT, in charge of several projects including the political satire group #ICYMI. 

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