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On "Liberals". - Alex Belits
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abelits
On "Liberals".
I believe, by now whatever English-speaking friends I have who can read Russian, and all my Russian-speaking friends who can read English, should be thoroughly confused by the content of whatever Facebook throws at them on my behalf. That is, everything in Russian that refers to "Liberals" and everything in English that refers to "Liberals" seem to mean groups of people that don't have much in common except for some least important activities and attributes, and only the most confused members in common. The problem has nothing to do with me, in the current environment I can be best described as a Socialist, however since I happen to be an unwilling connection point between the two, I think, I have to provide an explanation.

First of all, at this point there is no such political movement as "Liberalism". The word is based on "liberty" or "freedom", however in description of political forces it is not presented as opposite to whatever group of people proclaims its goal to somehow reduce freedom in general. In fact, there is not even a word for such a group because no one proclaims such a ridiculous goal. I guess, some Monarchists in Republics may proclaim that they want not just to place a Monarch at the center of the political system but also re-instate a system of feudalism and aristocratic privileges, but I don't think, such idea is going to produce a movement or require a Liberal (in this case, the name would be entirely justified) opposition.

The supposed opponents of Liberals in US are Conservatives, people who proclaim that they want to preserve society as it is (or was, and usually it's what they believe it was some time ago). If language of politicians was more straightforward, the opponents of Conservative politicians would be Progressive, however history of those terms is not straightforward at all, and "Progressive" was replaced by "Liberal" as a proxy. After all, most highly visible changes in US politics that happened over the last century and a half involved or claimed to involve reduction of someone's oppression -- abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, establishment of some resemblance of labor and consumer protection laws, elimination of discrimination of some form, etc.

At the same time US Conservatives completely eradicated all American Communist and Socialist movements in highly effective McCarthyism campaign, so any political movement in US that has any roots going farther than late 50's, is either Conservative, religious or ethnocentric/nationalistic, and usually combination of all three. The movements that appeared after the end of McCarthyism (or supposedly recovered, but there is no real connection between "before" and "after" on all but superficial level) to oppose Conservatives' idea of racist, misogynistic society of 50's, had no connection to anything at all except for the faint, memory of abolitionists and suffragettes.

They were "Liberal" because they promoted the idea of recognizing and protecting rights that Conservatives were obviously oppressing. Basically, at the time Conservatives were then so disgusting, that a bunch of fresh-baked hippies and anti-racist "Civil Rights" movements, combined with pseudo-religious Black Muslim organizations (whose connection to Islam was pretty much a way of saying "We claim some history, too!") was sufficient to put Conservatives into the defensive position over 60's-70's. What is called "Liberals" now in US, is entirely derived from those, ridiculous by all but American standards, movements.

In 80's those "Liberals" suffered a crushing defeat at the hand of Conservatives. With no background in anything that recognizes class warfare or Imperialism (you really need Communists, Socialists or any movement derived from there, to do that) they watched idly when economy was taken over by monopolies, production moved out of the country, inequality grew, and Conservatives' response to Middle East's role in the oil crisis of 70's was an unbroken chain of wars and intervention in the region. Having no tools to deal with systemic problems, "Liberals" reduced themselves to the role of ankle-biters, and supported whatever causes they could scrape from the bottom of the empty barrel of the non-Conservative political discourse. Having little of meaningful content, they went truly overboard with form -- every cause had to be approached at least as seriously as racial discrimination in late 50's-60's.

This is the origin of "Political Correctness" requirements for the language, overblown application of what was supposed to be "don't-sleep-with-a-secretary" laws and other pseudo-feminism, ineffective anti-war campaigns. This also is seen in a bizarre way of how rights of gays and other sexual minorities are now being defended by US-based organizations -- by creating as much noise as possible, achieving a goal, then creating even more noise long after the goal is achieved. The rest of the world can only wonder -- "Great, we now know that homosexuals are not sick and not a threat, so we stopped persecuting them -- can we now go with the rest of our lives?" only to get an earful of "But why don't you support gays to compensate for the persecution?!!!" While I won't even dare to refer to ridiculous instances of pseudo-feminism, I believe, it would be ok to point out that targets of loud protests now include "trigger words" in public and private speech that supposedly have damaging effect on activists with mental problems caused by past traumatic experience and all genetically modified food regardless of the details. Worthy causes, like environment pollution, war, monopolies, and occasionally even economic inequality, are approached in exactly the same way as "trigger words" or supposed sexism of using "he" pronoun to refer to a person in general.

At the same time they do not recognize economic foundation of the social systems, support the idea of the "middle class" that is defined purely by income, excluding only dysfunctionally poor and mind-bogglingly rich. They weakly protest against consumerism, but do not recognize that its fundamental problem is not increase of consumption by itself but its complete disconnect from production within the society. I, as a Socialist, recognize modern consumerism as a consequence of the new stage of Imperialism -- the markets for products are now nearly completely unified and homogenized, however production is concentrated and localized, creating massive imbalance and instability. With no foundation, or even knowledge of any truly Leftist tradition, they have no way to derive this -- they can't re-invent or understand Marxism because it is tied to supposedly obsolete conditions in the 19th century, so they can not evolve the understanding of the current situation from it. They also can not create their own theory that would achieve similar understanding of modern economy because they are not accustomed to dealing with complex systems, and frankly current system is so obfuscated, it's very hard to understand without historical background that they are unaware of.

To make things worse, those "Liberals" do not recognize themselves as any kind of unified political force. "Liberals" is not even the name they apply to themselves, it's how Conservative call them.

American Conservatives, on the other hand, have long and unbroken history with deep roots going into pretty much the whole history of mankind. However not all of those roots are equal -- for example, not having to deal with ten-and-something centuries of Middle Ages in the context of their own country's history they happily embrace all remnants of Feudalism, from overblown significance of land ownership, to crippling inequality in their society, anti-intellectualism, religious intolerance, militarism, hereditary elites -- all those things that the rest of the world was getting sick of for a large chunk of the recorded history, and seen as something they had to overcome in their own countries. Americans gaining independence from British Empire early in their history may be seen as a divorce from those ideas and traits of society, but in reality it's more of a not recognizing those problems as in any way being a possibility in their own society. So what would be a dreadful possibility of establishing a decadent, dysfunctional elite for a non-American, is for them a great [relatively] new way of promoting virtue and entrepreneurship in a meritocratic system.

With support of Austrian-school and their own Chicago School economists (that, again, as a Socialist, I see as a worthless extension of pre-Marxian crap on par with what Alchemy would be if practiced now), American Conservatives have a solid ideology and consistent view they can impose on their society -- what in economics is almost as good as making sense. Compared to their opponents (whom they call "Liberals") they are great as far as organization and having a foundation in philosophy, economics and culture is concerned. Mind you, those foundations are full of shit, but it's still better than having no foundation at all.

There is however a problem. Conservative ideas are, to put it plain, extremely unattractive to anyone but a Conservative. And that has to be a rather old Conservative, too. No one actually likes the idea of tiny minority of the society owning most of the wealth and controlling the rest, while everyone else serves and worships it, no matter what is the cause or justification behind it. So there is a "recruitment poster" version of the Conservative ideology, Libertarianism. That is basically a layer of glaze made of status quo and naturalistic fallacies and anti-government rhetoric, on top of plain old Conservative ideology. Proclaiming unregulated Capitalism to be the ideal form of society, it attributes to that system the same capability to regulate itself toward the optimal outcome that was seen -- and demonstrated to be wrong -- in the most early and primitive economic theories. Just like those primitive economic theories, it proclaims to describe actions of "free" and "rational" individuals always reaching optimal or close to the optimal outcome for themselves and the rest of society through trade and ownership. Any action of the government that somehow tries to affect this process is seen as "oppression" of "free individuals".

This is, indeed, attractive. Especially for a person who is, or led to believe that some oppressive forces stifle his ability to achieve success. Libertarianism promised true liberty and success to all teenagers who are ready to leave home for a university, and be finally away from the brutal oppression of parents, teachers, policemen and mall guards. Just apply the idea consistently, and get rid of everything that controls your life except for money. Money are important, and if you only leave them, fair trade will emerge on all levels of society.

It promises exactly the same to the citizens of formerly "dictatorial" countries if they only get rid of all those pesky governments. And who doesn't like easy answers, complex self-organized systems, kicking people that [maybe] wronged you and feelings of self-importance, and freedom? It takes a very smart person to recognize that what is promised, is nowhere close to what is actually happening, or what kind of people (Conservatives) are behind this. Certainly not an average Soviet intellectual who spent most of his life behind Iron Curtain, or his son, see above about a teenager going to a university.

What finally answers the question, who are those Russian-speaking "Liberals". They are people who adopted Libertarian propaganda in late 80's-90's. Despite Libertarianism having roots in ex-Russian Ayn Rand, there is no commonly accepted Russian word for Libertarianism, I have to use transcription of English when writing it in Russian. However since the premise of it is "liberty", those Libertarians (with some mix of American "Liberals" wherever their idea of shrieking promotion of random causes matches "individual rights" ideology), they are, completely counter-intuitively, called "Liberals" in Russia and other ex-USSR countries.

The hatred they gathered from the rest of society is comparable to the hatred between US Conservatives and US "Liberals", but the nature of the conflict is completely different.

(Russian version)
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