Liberal Democracy isn’t Dead or Defeated but It has a New Opponent, Feudalism 2.0, Gontmakher Says

Kremlin and River

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, November 27, 2019)

When the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR fell apart, it was widely assumed and even stated by Francis Fukuyama that there was “no alternative” to liberal democracy; but the last 30 years have shown that one has emerged, “Feudalism 2.0,” and in Russia first of all, Yevgeny Gontmakher says.

When communism fell in Eastern Europe, the elites who came to power there wanted liberal democracy in their countries, the Moscow social theorist and commentator says. “The Soviet perestroika intelligentsia …set ‘socialism with a human face’ as its goal (mk.ru/politics/2019/11/27/v-rossii-poyavilas-novaya-model-obshhestvennogo-ustroystva-feodalizm-20.html).

“But the values of respect for human rights, the creation of a market economy, the guaranteeing of political competition and media freedom” overwhelmed that original perestroika-period position in Russia and ensured that “by the end of 1991,” Russian leaders made the achievement of liberal democracy their position too.

Now three decades later, it appears that these dreams have dissipated. Eastern Europe has moved in a populist direction, although most of its members completed their European choice by joining the European Union and NATO. Russia in contrast “from the start of the 2000s has slowly but undeviatingly distanced itself from Europe” in a still unknown direction.

The system Russia and some others have created shows that there is alternative to liberal democracy, one in which “an unchangeable power controls or seeks to control the judicial system, the leading media, relies on strengthening ‘traditional’ values for the particular place, which smacks of primitive nationalism and xenophobia.”

According to Gontmakher, “in some cases, this model includes state control over the economy as well as targeted and sometimes even massive repressions against the political opposition.” And in it, the state has primacy over the individual, while in liberal democracies, the liberal and his rights have primacy over the state.

It thus turns out that “30 years after the end of communism,” competition between two systems has been renewed, competition between liberal democracy on the one hand, and something as yet unnamed on the other. None of the proposed terms, including “illiberal democracy” is satisfactory, he argues.

Picking up on the recent remark of Valery Zorkin, chief justice of the Russian Constitutional Court, that serfdom was one of the main supports for “the internal unity of the nation,” Gontmakher proposes that the competitor of liberal democracy be called “‘Feudalism 2.0.'”

In this competition, some declare liberal democracy to be dead and even profess to see advantages to this new feudalism; but people including Russians want not just stability but freedom, opportunity and dignity – and those are only possible with liberal democracy, the social commentator argues.

“Liberal democracy,” he points out, “is built on the basis of political pluralism. As a result of transparent processes, the left, the conservatives and the nationalists may come to power … In this consists the spirit of liberal democracy which of course isn’t reducible to pure liberalism as an ideological trend.”

He cites the Oxford Manifesto of the 48th Congress of the Liberal International in 1997 concerning the liberal agenda for the 21st century which called for the support of values that have far more support than the feudals do (liberal-international.org/who-we-are/our-mission/landmark-documents/political-manifestos/oxford-manifesto-1997/).

Consequently, Gontmakher continues, despite all the problems and difficulties of the past three decades in Eastern Europe and Russia as well, liberalism is fated to win out. Those who want it to come sooner rather than later must prepare themselves, analyze their own errors and those of others, and take responsibility.

This won’t be an easy struggle or even one that will be won once and for all, but for those who believe in freedom, opportunity and dignity, it is one ever more people are going to join.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/liberal-democracy-isnt-dead-or-defeated.html]