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Putin and the End of History by Brian Patrick Bolger

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Putin and the End of History

Photo: Kremlin Press Office

There was a glowing feeling amongst the liberal left in the 1990s that the era of globalisation had ushered in a period of ‘settlement.’ That is, that the great questions of the day were not to be settled by Bismarckian ‘blood and iron,’ but by international trade, global agencies, the World Bank, and the IMF. ‘Liberal democracy’ was the partner of this globalised regime; it was believed that autocratic states would see the benefits of the liberal world and that they would gradually liberalise, democratise, and open markets to international trade. Political theorists such as Francis Fukuyama advanced the idea of the ‘End of History.’ The Hegelian process of history would not, he claimed, result in a Marxist utopia but in a liberal democratic one. The movement of history would end with the stasis of liberal democracy. This analysis, however, was based on some fundamental misconceptions about economic history and culture. Liberal democracy was not the globalised ‘Promised Land’ and it was naive to view one particular epoch as the cul-de-sac of history. 

Since 2011, there has been a reversal of globalisation. This was based on increases in domestic GDP worldwide and due to China’s reorientation towards domestic markets. There has also been a huge leap in protectionism worldwide. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has been hit by the impacts of COVID-19 and now, security threats. Although there are ups and downs in the overall trends, the volatility highlights the unstable nature of global capitalism. Therefore, whilst trade becomes more aligned to domestic markets, the trade in services has moved its axis eastwards, where China has taken a greater share of the business. The geopolitical realities of protectionism and nationalism are a result of the negative consequences for poorer domestic populations who are not party to the liberal global leverage of the transnational elites. The ‘End of History’ liberal utopia has not been played out in peripheral and developing countries. Putin’s position has pivoted around these factors. In fact, Putin has noticed, with relish, that it is not globalisation or liberal democracy which is the driver of history, but resource scarcity. 

Russia has leverage ability with resources, especially fossil fuels, and has used this to its advantage. Developing nations, like those throughout Africa, will be co-opted in the need to secure oil and gas. Putin is aware that the 19th century ascendancy of the liberal states of Europe was geographic and resource-based, born out of industrialisation and colonialism. This resource-based theory sees each culture as unique, as the nation struggles in a cyclical flow without any ‘ideal’ end-game such as liberal democracy.

One of the seminal factors that American geographer and historian Jared Diamond outlines as a reason for the collapse of past societies is the demise of essential trading partners. He describes how the Polynesians on Pitcairn Island suffered from the demise of their trading circle in shells. Once the Henderson and Mangareva islands suffered internal destruction over resources and land, Pitcairn was essentially isolated. That is why resource protection is the driving force behind modern geopolitical developments rather than ‘democracy’ or ‘human rights.’ It also dwarfs Samuel Huntington’s idea that future conflicts will be essentially ‘culture wars,’ i.e., between the West and Islam.

Huntington saw the delineation line in Ukraine as between the Catholic west and Orthodox east. These are important factors but not seminal. The Russian worldview also sees a clash of cultures; however, their dividing line is between Russian tradition and a great Eurasia as the nemesis of the liberal world. In this clash Putin takes counsel from a coterie of influential Russian thinkers who advocate a type of ‘Christian authoritarianism.’ Ivan Ilyin, the ‘white’ emigre philosopher who died in exile in 1954, echoed Dostoevsky in his desire for a buffer to Western liberalism. However, it is the more recent book Foundations of Geopolitics by Alexandr Dugin that sits prominently in Putin’s library and explicitly mentions the annexation of Ukraine. In this, the concept of a great ‘Eurasia’ must oppose all aspects of ‘Atlanticism.’ Allied to this ideological underpinning is the geopolitics of Putin, which takes its cues from the awareness that Russia has a major resource which can be used to isolate or leverage power through substantial cash flows. This is evidenced in the paltry effect of sanctions. The unwillingness of some, particularly the Germans, to reduce this trade dependency is well noted in the Kremlin. 

Our age is characterised by a convergence of catastrophes. Now is the winter of our discontent, and this is accounted for by Spengler’s ebbing and flowing of civilisations, not Fukuyama’s idealisation of one kind of settlement. We have at once a geopolitical resource war, an environmental nadir, and a global pandemic. These are symptomatic of a collapse of the materialistic age (whether capitalism or communism) and its corollary, liberal democracy.           

Previous collapses tended to be regional or isolated, whereas now the nature of a global system pushes the whole of humanity to the edge of the precipice. Guillaume Faye, in Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post Catastrophic Age (1999), predicted: 

A dramatic chain reaction of events is converging towards a fatal point which I believe may occur in the early 21st century, between 2010 and 2020. This will plunge the world as we know it into chaos and cause a genuine cultural earthquake. These catastrophe lines concern the environment, demography, economy, religion, epidemics, and geo-politics.

We are now at this point of a seismic shift in the telos, or purpose, of the modern world. This has occurred because of a neglect and abandonment of communal values, of family and tradition. The brave new world of progress and scientific rationalism has been proven to be a chimera. The West has lost its telos, and replaced it with the empty values of the liberal market. 

What Putin has seen is a collapse of courage in the West, an inability to protect itself from external existential threats and a peculiar, weak slavishness to liberal culture, whilst it erodes the values of traditional societies. Western states have been prepared to sacrifice internal cohesion and security for vacuous liberal sentiments, mass immigration, and a continuous assault on family, biological sex, and community. This assault on tradition is necessary to ‘atomise’ the individual, to uproot the individual from community, to make the human more pliable by the market. This is not to suggest that Putin’s barbaric regime represents anything better; it is merely a form of gangster capitalism which has brutalised its own population. They do, however, possess a clarity of ‘realpolitik’ which is absent in the bureaucratic careerist classes of Western government and institutions.      

The future will be periodic crises and wars pertaining to resource accumulation. The Chinese will be eyeing Taiwan where the TSMC foundry has a near monopoly on semiconductor production. The Donbass region of the Ukraine has massive coal resources and a huge supply of Lithium fields. The simulacrum is a type of ‘Sudetan’ persecution of ethnic Russians in the region, but the real mover is the substantial mineral and resource wealth of this part of Ukraine. The Ukraine war continues the trend of ‘Resource Wars,’ which have been ever present since the establishment of farm based societies and which Diamond outlines in Guns, Germs and Steel

It is important that the conflict is not seen as a fight between liberal democracy and the autocratic ‘far Right’ of Putinism. This would be another miasma of deceit, for it would absolve the West for their culpability in resource accentuation, of liberal free markets, and the global elites’ pursuit of transnational capital flows. It should be viewed as the spluttering demise of the liberal world. There is a general movement towards authoritarianism in both the Occident and the Orient; this can be seen in the limited scope of ‘representative democracy,’ in the ‘executive dictatorship’ of the UK system. This is a result of the gradual movement to ‘Asiatic norms’ which have bypassed liberalism on the way to functional authoritarianism; it was visible in the way ‘democratic’ states were able to suspend freedom during the Covid pandemic. Liberalism is only as viable as the next crisis. The ‘End of History’ is premature; as Spengler noted in The Decline of the West: “History is direction, but nature is extension, ergo everyone gets eaten by a bear.”

Brian Patrick Bolger has taught political philosophy and applied linguistics in universities across Europe. His new book, Coronavirus and the Strange Death of Truth, is available now in the UK and U.S.. His articles have appeared in publications such as The Montreal Review, The Salisbury Review, The Burkean, The Daily Globe, The, and elsewhere.