An unfortunate legacy of the Cold War is the negative attitude some American conservatives yet harbor toward Russia. Conditioned for decades to see Russia and the Soviet Union as synonymous, they still view post-communist Russia as a threat. They forget that Tsarist Russia was the most conservative great power, a bastion of Christian monarchy loathed by revolutionaries, Jacobins, and democrats. Joseph de Maistre was not alone among 19th-century conservatives in finding refuge and hope in Russia.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is emerging once more as the leading conservative power. As we witnessed in Russia’s rescue of President Obama from the corner into which he had painted himself on Syria, the Kremlin is today, as the New York Times reports, “Establishing Russia’s role in world affairs not based on the dated Cold War paradigm but rather on its different outlook, which favors state sovereignty and status quo stability over the spread of Western-style democracy.”
In his own Times op-ed on Syria, Putin wrote, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it.” Sen. Robert A. Taft and Russell Kirk also doubted it.
Moscow appears to understand better than Washington that the driving foreign-policy requirement of the 21st century is the preservation of the state in the face of Fourth Generation war waged by non-state entities, such as those fighting on the rebels’ side in Syria. Russia has rightly upbraided Washington for destroying states, including Iraq and Libya.
When Putin came to power following the chaotic Yeltsin years, there was a real possibility the Russian state itself would disintegrate. Putin’s greatest achievement, and the reason for his popularity within the country, is that he saved and strengthened the Russian state instead. Blinded by their worship of the clay god “Democracy,” Washington elites cannot perceive the importance of what Putin did, but conservatives should. Russia can be an effective ally against Fourth Generation entities, and conservatives prefer states to stateless anarchy. Russia’s new-old conservatism is evident not only in its foreign policy but at home as well. In September the Financial Times reported:
Vladimir Putin called on Russians to strengthen a new national identity based on conservative and traditional values such as the Orthodox church yesterday, warning that the west was facing a moral crisis. … Mr. Putin said Russia should avoid the example of European countries that were ‘going away from their roots’ by legalizing gay marriage and excessive ‘political correctness.’
“People in many European countries are ashamed and are afraid of talking about their religious convictions,” Putin is quoted as saying, with religious holidays “being taken away or called something else, shamefully hiding the essence of the holiday.”
“We need to respect the rights of minorities to be different,” he added, “but the rights of the majority should not be in question.” American conservatives can only dream of an American president saying such things. Should we not cheer a Russian president who dares to defy “political correctness?”
The world has turned upside down. America, condemning and even attacking other countries to push “democracy” and Jacobinical definitions of human rights, is becoming the leader of the international Left. Russia is reasserting her historic role as leader of the international Right. This is a reversal of historic importance. American foreign policy should be based on America’s interests, not on affinity for any foreign power. But putting America first does not require being hostile to Russia or anyone else. On the contrary: American conservatives should welcome the resurgence of a conservative Russia.
William S. Lind is director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation.