There is a marked difference between freedom and liberty, a distinction which highlights the greatest defect of liberalism (especially as it has come to be understood in postmodern discourse).
“Liberty” implies liberation from something, which marks freedom as a negative category. Because of the connotations of liberty commonly understood in the West before the rise of left-wing concepts like liberation theology (i.e. Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech), the negative functions of liberty aren’t always obvious to people in the Anglosphere, even or perhaps especially those who consider themselves conservative.
The Eurasians don’t struggle with this bind. Alexander Dugin, the Russian political scientist maligned as a fascist in the West, gets to the heart of the matter in his book, Putin vs Putin: Putin viewed from the Right:
Today, in realizing the ‘liberty from’, we understand ever better that this nihilistic agenda is leading us to an abyss.… A declaration of individual freedom in effect means total dependence of the common man on the oligarchy. Individual freedom abolishes all forms of collective identity. One is not allowed to be a supporter of a national state or a religious institution, because this is not politically correct (Dugin 59).
It is not hard to understand why a Russian political scientist is suspicious of liberty as it has been sold by the Atlanticist powers (Western Europe and the U.S.) when too often neoconservative concepts of liberty involve liberating people from their lives, or neoliberal projects result in liberating nations from their resources. This asset-stripping facet of ostensible liberation is also not lost on Dugin: “In a former socialist country, where a capitalist coup was implemented on short notice, state and public property ended up in private hands and social guarantees…were done away with” (Dugin 59-60).
When people are convinced that the responsibilities that bind them to one-another (faith, community, ethnicity) are merely burdens to be shed, when they are sold individualism as a fetishized commodity that atomizes them, they are ripe for plunder and exploitation. Many on the Right cite Saul Alinksy’s Rules for Radicals as a foundational blueprint for how the Left operates (and it is), but no book encapsulates this nihilistic isolation as a desired state of affairs like Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, which holds that “liberals should fight against any ideology or political philosophy (ranging from Plato and Aristotle to Marx and Hegel) that suggests human society should have some common goal, common value, or common meaning” (Dugin 297). Billionaire Jewish business magnate George Soros was so apparently taken with the book, which he considers his “personal bible,” that he saw fit to borrow the title for his grant-making network, the Open Society Foundation.
Dugin is not the first political scientist to note this conflict between rooted peoples and rootless individuals attempting to break the will of larger groups in order to exploit them. Indeed, much of Dugin’s concept of a Eurasian political bloc arrayed against Atlanticist powers owes its formulation to the German political theologian and jurist Carl Schmitt, who took the biblical concepts of Leviathan (representing sea-based, thalassocratic trading societies) and behemoth (representing the land-based, traditional tellurocratic societies) and applied these ideas to modern geopolitics, itself an outgrowth of cartography and geography (especially as realized by Sir Halford John Mackinder).
Schmitt contrasts these two world-orientations in his The Nomos of the Earth. On the one side is the land, where hard work and loyalty to one’s ingroup is considered honorable “because human toil and trouble, human planting and cultivation of the fruitful earth is rewarded justly by her with growth and harvest” (42).
The “her” in this context is the earth, which might give feminists and other identity-politics apparatchiks a bout of cognitive dissonance, if they ever bothered to read conservative philosophers. Schmitt speaks of the “the solid ground of the earth [as] delineated by fences, enclosures, boundaries, walls, houses, and other constructs,” these “boundaries” of course being key to the contestation now between globalists who insist on open doors and open markets on the one hand, and those who want functioning borders and some form of protectionism in trade deals on the other. Schmitt also cites the landed society’s emphasis on attachment to, “families, clans, [and] tribes,” the last of which the globalists are certainly opposed to (except in the case of their own ingroup).
Contrasted with the land-based people are the sea people who experience “no such apparent unity of space and law, of order and orientation … On the sea, fields cannot be planted and firm lines cannot be engraved. Ships that sail across the sea leave no trace” (42). Schmitt acknowledges that freedom exists on the sea, but his description of freedom achieves eerie parity with Dugin’s negative liberation:
The axiom ‘freedom of the sea’ meant something very simple, that the sea was a zone free for booty. Here, the pirate could ply his wicked trade with a clear conscience. If he was lucky, he found in some rich booty a reward for the hazardous wager of having sailed the open sea. … On the open sea, there were no limits, no boundaries, no consecrated sites, no sacred orientations, no law, and no property. (43)
Schmitt is unsparing in his view of those who live free from the nomos/concrete abiding order of nature and her laws, seeing their realm as having “no character, in the original sense of the word, which comes from the Greek charassein” (42) (sein should be recognizable to readers of Heideigger, who spoke of Dasein in his existential philosophy).
As with Heideigger, Schmitt was not shy about addressing the Jewish Question, especially when citing Jews as an example of the quintessential, sea-based society (with antecedents naturally in the tale of the Wandering Jew). “In Schmitt’s presentation, the Jewish people, lacking a land and the corresponding ability to dwell in the land, also lack the status of being human” (Samuel Garret Zeitlin, “An Introduction to Land and Sea. Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation by Carl Schmitt. Telos, 2015, pp xxxi-lxix).
Liberalism and its economic and political system favor those with the rootless mentality over those who have attachments to anything beyond “the fields of economics and business” (276). This results in “creating a privileged society that advances a very specific type of individual (which the American sociologist Yuri Slezkine calls the ‘mercurial type’)” (276).
Yuri Slezkine, author of The Jewish Century, acknowledges that Jews fulfill this role and that they “provide services to peoples who produce food.” What Slezkine can’t or won’t say is that many of these “services” are not wanted or needed in the first place, have rapidly diminishing returns, and leave havoc in their wake.
For those who want to extrapolate into the future what this competition between those of the sea vs. those of the land will lead to, the Jewish economist Jacques Attali offers his prediction:
The next phase of capitalism will bring about a… world defined by nomadism, which will result from the development of social media and demographic pressures. The ultimate result of this would be a world in which nations cease to have meaning, dominated by an ultraliberal economic system (276).
For those who want a concrete example of what happens not in the future, but in the here and now when the sea tries “flooding of the Land” (82) in Dugin’s words, Russia serves as an instructive example, or perhaps cautionary tale.
Dugin sees the “shock therapy” of the post-Cold War years as the “accelerated transfer of Russia’s entire economy to the ultraliberal railway” (81) which had “catastrophic consequences: the impoverishment of the population, the devaluation of the economy, the complete decline of industry, the privatization of basic profitable enterprises, and the rise of new oligarchs who had seized key positions in the country by illegal means.”
Key institutions such as “media, informational, and even military structures” (82) were “corrupted by the new oligarchs or directly infiltrated by Atlanticist agents of influence.”
Malefactors include former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, who with aid and counsel from Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, led the way in privatizing state assets in a way that caused hyperinflation and mass suffering among the population, attended by the siphoning of the nation’s wealth to a small handful of oligarchs.
One of the most notorious of the billionaire boyars was “Mikhail Khodorkovsky…arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud and ultimately imprisoned” (20). He was found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering, but was freed from prison due to pressure from powerful friends abroad. The New York Times, of course, looked at the backlash in this period of Russian privatization and saw only the specter of groundless antisemitism looming over the Heartland.
Besides the physical privation suffered by the common people in Russia after neoliberal shock therapy (go to the 14:35 mark in this video for a typical view of how things changed under the oligarchy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9UIPh4BX9Y ) a more basic, existential conflict emerges when sea floods land, an erosion of one set of values and a replacement with another (null) set. Dugin lists the values of these two opposed systems in his book Last War of the World-Island, which deals with the Eurasian landmass that has Russia at its center as the apotheosis of Schmitt’s concept of Land (which can mean “land” in German but more typically means “country” or “nation,” although it lacks the volkisch connotations of Boden).
Key features of the Land are “conservatism, holism…the narod [as] more important than the individual,” (7) as well as values such as “sacrifice, faithfulness, asceticism, honor, and loyalty” (8).
These core values stand in opposition to those thalassocratic elements that are the “Essence of liberalism” (295) such as “anthropological individualism (the individual [as] the measure of all things)” and the “belief in progress…[that] the world is heading toward a better future, and the past is always worse than the present.” This temporal aspect is key not only to inter-continental conflict, but to our local political culture (think of the clash between Trump supporters wanting to “make America great again” as it was in the past, as people demonstrating implicit narod/volk values, versus those on the far-left who insist that “America was never great” and going so far as to wear hats stitched with the slogan).
The sea peoples view the heartland as the enemy and have created the paradoxical definition of democracy as “the rule of minorities…defending themselves from the majority” (295) which they believe to be “always prone to degenerate into totalitarianism or ‘populism.’” The horror with which the elite have reacted to Donald Trump’s overtures to make America work for Americans (whether sincere or not) perfectly encapsulates the struggle between a “dispossessed majority” (Dugin borrows the term from Wilmot Robinson) against a hostile minority that labels its oligarchic rule democracy.
It is understood that nihilistic liberalism has been routing Heartland conservatism in battle after battle in the culture war for a long time now, both in the Occident and in Eurasia. (It is debatable whether Putin is ultimately a bulwark or katechon1 against the rot encroaching from the West.)
However, the corrupt system emanating from the Atlanticist powers might be a victim of its own success. Liberalism, in Dugin’s view, “only begins to show its negative essence after victory. After the victory of 1991, liberalism stepped into its implosive phase. After having defeated Communism and fascism, it stood alone, with no enemy to fight” (298).
Once conservatism is subdued and the populists are marginalized or silenced, the post-victory honeymoon is over and recriminations start. At this point liberals begin to punish even slight deviations among moderates who consent to their overall program but question elements of it (think Tim Wise on a campus in a roomful of what John Derbyshire calls “goodwhites,” critiquing those who are with the program but still need to be hectored and groomed by a midlevel functionary antiracist/ human resources commissar):
Liberal societies began to attempt to purge themselves of their last remaining non-liberal elements: sexism, political incorrectness, inequality between the sexes, any remnants of the non-individualistic dimensions of institutions such as the state and the Church and so on. Liberalism always needs an enemy to liberate from. Otherwise it loses its purpose, and its implicit nihilism becomes too salient.
Having silenced, cowed, or destroyed the careers of anyone to their right, the liberals begin to attack each other because there is nothing else to liberate themselves from, or to justify the categorically negative orientation of their liberalism. This provokes an “implosion of the personality” (299) which leads to everything from gender confusion to various degrees of self-hatred dressed up as fashionable theory that results in a lot of confused, unhappy young Americans saddled with useless “studies” degrees and debt. Then denunciations start and the show trials commence, with members of the revolutionary vanguard criticizing other members of the same movement for not being liberal enough. For a modern example, see the internecine melee that emerged between the Think Progress and Jacobin factions of the left, documented here.
While watching circular firing squads between leftist foot soldiers is good enough sport, the bad news is that those pursuing the rhetoric of democracy, liberation and free markets further up the food chain are already engaged in the opening stages of a new Great Game with American, Russian, Syrian, Iranian, and Ukrainian lives as their playthings:
They badly need Putin, Russia, and war. It is the only way to prevent chaos in the West to save what remains of its global and domestic order. In this ideological play, Russia would justify liberalism’s existence, because that is the enemy which would give a meaning to the struggle of the open society, and which would help it to consolidate and continue to affirm itself globally. (Dugin 300)
The “they” currently coveting Russia is the Foreign Policy Initiative, founded by neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan, the former of whom wrote an editorial asserting that America’s interventions abroad in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya (and presumably anywhere else) should be thought of as liberations rather than invasions. If the names Kristol and Kagan sound familiar, they should. Both men also founded the Project for the New American century, a think tank which helped shape policy during the Bush administration (especially in pushing for the invasion/liberation of Iraq.) The FPI is just old wine in new bottles.
The only difference this time is that the chosen target now not only has the means but probably the will to fight back, and faulty or deliberately fabricated intelligence isn’t necessary to establish that the new nation in need of liberation has weapons of mass destruction.
One would like to think that the threat of assured mutual annihilation would deter a game of nuclear brinkmanship from getting out of hand. This threat still looms despite the victory of Donald Trump, who, notwithstanding the alarmist rhetoric against him, is probably a safer bet to have his finger on the button than Hillary Clinton. Robert Kagan, the key neocon, slandered Trump as a fascist and endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, which serves as its own endorsement of Trump as the less bellicose of the two (at least in regards to the Crimean Peninsula and Russia). But the threat of war is still very real regardless of who is in the White House, since, as Carl Schmitt himself knew, every chamber of power creates its own antechamber (here think tanks) and they are the ones pushing for war.
The neoconservative and neoliberal establishment have proven repeatedly that they are willing to make others suffer for their designs. One would at least hope that their hubris would find some check in the instinct for self-preservation, that they would know that human extinction would be a possible outcome through a chain of secondary effects in the event of a mutual strike (and Israel would more than likely be included in the annihilation). Even barring eschatological concerns and apocalyptic outcomes, the world that liberalism created is not a pretty one. Its implosion is a good thing inasmuch as it is an anti-volk/narod/populist force, but too many innocent people are in its orbit and suffering in the blast radius of the figurative fallout it has already produced: “[Liberalism] has now begun to implode. It has arrived at its terminal point and started to liquidate itself. Mass immigration, the clash of cultures and civilizations, the financial crisis, terrorism, and the growth of ethnic nationalism are indications of approaching chaos.” (299)
Let us hope for a reprieve for the people who have suffered unnecessarily and that those who have inflicted the suffering are at least divested of some of the power they wield in institutions, for the good of the rest of us. Let us also hope that at some point they will finally be held accountable for their crimes.
*The Katechon is a key part of Carl Schmitt’s political theology, borrowed from Thessalonians (2:6-7). This has been translated as everything from “forestaller” to “one who restrains” and was originally meant by Saint Paul to refer to something which prevented the antichrist from manifesting himself in the world. Tangential but not synonymous American political concepts are the ratchet effect and William F. Buckley’s declaration that true conservatives stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” in National Review’s mission statement.
Dugin, Alexander. Last War of the World Island: The Geopolitics of Contemporary Russia. Arktos, 2015.
Dugin, Alexander. Putin vs. Putin: Vladimir Putin viewed from the Right. Arktos, 2014.
Schmitt, Carl. Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation. Telos, 2015.
Schmitt, Carl. The Nomos of the Earth. Telos, 2006.
Zeitlin, Samuel Garrett. An Introduction to Land and Sea. Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation by Carl Schmitt. Telos, 2015, pp xxxi-lxix.