The 2022 escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict has brought something portentous up to the popular consciousness across the West. That portentous thing is not war. There are wars in Yemen and there were recent wars in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. A few peaceniks protest them but most of us are completely comfortable with those wars.
Ukraine though has us uniquely spooked. There is something different about it. Its exact form is hard to make out, but we feel it is something terrifying and outrageous. Every liberal mind is in a furor specifically over this war, out of all others. I believe I have seen the substance behind this ghost and in this essay I shall communicate it to you.
Liberalism, as a kind of group-think, has discovered in the Ukraine situation that its mission for global hegemony is not without effective opposition. Something is pushing back and that something might just be something larger and more effective than mere petty nationalism. Something that can put a block together to rival its own in size and power. Something that could replace Communism as the great enemy of Liberalism. Something that could once again put a road block on Liberalism’s path to global domination. That something is Eurasianism.
Before we look at this new beast brewing in the East, let us see how Liberalism came to be so confident that it had already won the world.
Mankind is a social animal, partly for the economic benefit of operating in a group but more importantly for the physical security of groups. The larger the group the stronger and more secure it is against other groups.
Any group needs a meaningful criteria for sorting the in-group from the out-group. This is a matter of identifying friend from foe. The most meaningful basis of identity for animals, and humans too, is genetic relation. However genetic relations can only build stable groups out to a certain size. The nation as a formal demarcation of extended genetic relations is about as large as that can go.
Naturally every tribe will develop a code of conduct and a founding mythos. This is partly to enhance internal relations by promoting adaptive behaviour and deterring maladaptive behaviour. It is also partly to reinforce the group identity; we are the ones who believe, they are the ones who do not. We can call this folk religion.
At some point some genetic or memetic mutation allowed for some folk religion to open up the offer of shared identity to genetic foreigners. Even further to give itself the mission of actively recruiting genetic foreigners into the religion. This shared ideological identity allows many different genetically distinct tribes to link together into a super tribe. These super tribes can grow in size, relatively unrestricted by genetic parochialism. Usually in war the larger side wins so these super tribes have adaptive value despite their necessary depreciation of genetic bias.
Perhaps Christianity was the first of these super tribes built by religious identity over genetic identity to go global. Islam followed soon after. Of course in being distinct and competing for the same souls these two super tribes came into conflict. We can understand the Dark Ages of Europe very well as a competition between the two super tribes of Christianity and Islam.
When a genetic tribe grows in size due to some good fortune or the successful extermination of a rival then successive generations of genetic drift and mutation can result in it splitting up as members of the tribe come see each other as distinct.
It turns out however that tribes based on memes instead of genes like Christianity and Islam are also prone to an ideological equivalent to mutation and genetic drift. So as the Middle Ages progressed the super tribe of Christianity split up into various heresies. Some were small and short lived like the Cathars, others were larger and persist to this day: Catholicism, Protestantism etc. Islam too has its own schisms.
It might be argued that Liberalism was one such Christian heresy. It began as a mutation from Protestantism. However this heresy became an aggressive and expansionist super tribe of its own over the last few centuries. Powered by the industrial revolution it became the dominant religion of the entire Anglosphere and of Western Europe. It was not without a rival though. Just as Christianity found a rival super tribe in Islam, Liberalism found a rival super tribe in Communism.
Communism is perhaps another Christian heresy. There again perhaps it is a heresy of Liberalism. Whatever its origins, it emerged as a rival to Liberalism just as Liberalism was beginning to conquer the world. During the Cold War that rivalry was at its most intense. This is not least because Communism was almost evenly matched in strength at this time.
Liberalism had the two great Atlantic empires of the United States and the Commonwealth Realms. While Communism gripped two of the greatest Eurasian empires, Russia and China among others. For a while these two great super tribes wrestled for global domination but then the internal contradictions within Communism brought it down and Liberalism emerged as the victor. The pivotal moment for this is the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Liberal tribe felt itself then to be utterly unopposed. The whole world would be theirs eventually, there was no longer anyone big enough to stop them. It would be the “end of history” as their leading theologians put it.
Well there was still Islam. Christianity had been more or less absorbed or subdued but Islam still ruled a big chunk of Africa and Eurasia uncontested. It is a testament to the hubris of Liberals that they really did not consider Islam to be a serious rival despite its size and long history. Neither did they consider the remnant communist regimes as rivals any longer, not even China.
It was a unipolar world now, the Liberals had the strongest tribe and the purest mission for total global domination. Total victory was in sight, it was just a matter of time before the hold outs were ground down and assimilated.
This is where the wars against the Islamic super tribe begin: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Syria, Libya and Yemen. These wars are not considered a true contest as with the Cold War, just the mopping up of remnant illiberal regimes. These wars were seen to be mere policing actions to enable future conversion.
Russia at this point was considered a remnant hold out too but one that was fast on the path to falling to Liberalism and more defeated than most. Liberal vanguard institutions like NATO and the EU were absorbing Russia’s former satellites states with not even a whiff of serious opposition.
This while Russia itself seemed relatively compliant with Liberal hegemony, dutifully selling oil and gas to the Liberal heartlands. They also observed the rituals of the Liberal hegemony, such as democratic elections. Of course they were understood to be second rate Liberals, the elections dubious and the free press not so free, but they would learn the ways eventually. Rome was not built in a day, but it would be built.
The old, old way of genetic bias, the original tribalism, still exists in a subdued form. We call this genetic bias Nationalism and Liberalism is increasingly uncomfortable with it, just as other super tribes like Christianity, Islam and Communism were and are. The larger they grow the more limited they feel by nationalism bubbling up from below.
The power of super tribes is in their ability to grow big tribes, far larger and faster than genetic groupings can. To facilitate this growth though the natural inclination to genetic bias has to be suppressed to some extent. An increase in Nationalism comes at the expense of Liberalism and vice versa.
Nationalism was no problem in the early days of Liberalism because Liberalism was more or less the tribal religion of the Anglo-saxons. When being a Liberal is virtually synonymous with being an Anglo there is no serious tension between genetic bias and super tribal allegiance.
However as Liberalism gobbles up more and more of the world then more and more genetically distinct people get admitted into the Liberal super tribe. Nationalistic sentiments both among new and old members of the Liberal super tribe will tend to be divisive for the super tribe, threatening to break it up.
A serious defeat for Liberalism came with Brexit. A key Liberal state used Liberal mechanisms to vote itself out of the EU, a key institution for building a New World Order for Liberalism. There was no mistaking that Nationalism was the cause of this schism. It was the first evidence that Liberalism might not win the world, that it may be passing its zenith. It was the first sign in generations that Liberalism could lose.
If any nationalist wondered why so many were so upset with the Brexit result; why their opponents were so willing to throw away their devotion to democratic principles to defeat it. It is this: it showed the true believers not only that they could lose but that they could lose to those within their own camp, preferring a rival ideology, Nationalism, that they assumed was functionally moribund.
Nationalism can never entirely go away. It is simply maladaptive for a reproducing DNA machine not to have some level of genetic bias for its own kind. This is an enduring contradiction for Liberalism, that as much as it wants to build a super tribe for the whole planet every healthy member of that tribe will carry the divisive seed of nationalism within them.
Nationalism works against Liberal expansionism but because it can not build super tribes of its own it can never be a true rival to Liberalism. As much as the Liberal hive mind resents persistent Nationalism within its ranks it has no fear of it as an external opposition.
For this reason the very same Liberals who despise the “populist” enemies within who spoiled their dreams with Brexit are now coming out as passionate “flag shaggers” for Ukrainian national sovereignty.
There is no hypocrisy here. Internal nationalism is a threat to Liberalism but Ukraine was being groomed to become part of the Liberal order before Russia spoiled the party. If Nationalism can be used to spoil things for Russia in turn then the Liberal will do that.
In the same way the Liberals encouraged Kurdish Nationalism in order to smash up Iraqi Nationalism. Or indeed they encourage Scottish Nationalism in order to break up British Nationalism.
There is a true rival to Liberalism brewing in Russia and it is not, and could not be, Nationalism. Russia has been incubating a dangerous new super tribal ideology and it has finally found its executive avatar in Vladimir Putin and institutional support in Russia’s military elite. This super tribal ideology is Eurasianism. As a distinct train of thought it is about a hundred years old but its current chief theologian is a scholar by the name of Alexander Dugin.
The last time Russia lead opposition to the Liberal hegemony it did so under the banner of Communism, but Eurasianism is a very different ideology than Communism. Indeed Communism and Liberalism have more in common with each other then either have with Eurasianism.
Both communist and liberal draw no lines to the limit of their ambition. They both hold that it is their sacred mission to bring the whole world into their respective dominion.
In contrast the Eurasian draws a line around the land mass of Eurasia. His mission is only to secure this area against “Atlantic” powers, which is to say the liberal world order centered in the USA.
Both communist and liberal tend to seek to impose their moral paradigms on those who fall subject. They have a universalist moral prescription for the world.
The Eurasianist holds that there are no universal values and that the duty of the Eurasianist is simply to secure his sphere of influence to allow those within to develop in their own way.
The Eurasianist says that ethnic Russians have a special duty and ability to lead this security union but not to rule or impose itself on those ethnically distinct from Russians. So it has a pro-nationalist dimension while at the same time having an imperial mission, a difficult pair of interests to reconcile.
Consequently Eurasian is perhaps less an ideology and more a strategic doctrine. It is perhaps comparable to the American concept of Manifest Destiny in that Russians have a special role to play in the mission. At the same time it resembles the Monroe Doctrine in that it is very concerned with geographic spheres of influence.
This is how Eurasianism is on a collision course with Liberalism and how Eurasianism has the potential to create a super tribe. Liberals want the whole world but not all the world wants to be Liberal. There are pockets of resistance everywhere. Islam and Hinduism represent big relatively indigestible blocks of independent values with a heavy presence in Eurasia.
The Eurasianist can be an attractive ally to the these illiberal cultures because the Eurasianist is undemanding for cultural change. The Eurasianist will allow the Islamist to be Islamic and the Hindu to be Hindi where the Liberal ultimately seeks to change them into Liberals too.
In Dugin’s version of Eurasianism, Russia would play a pivotal role in helping all the diverse ethnicities of Eurasia maintain security from the menace of Liberalism. In this way Eurasianism has the potential to create a super tribe able to rival that created by Liberalism but also a super tribe that suffers less from irritating petty nationalist concerns.
Dugin’s sees this pivotal role as a philosophical-geographic bridge between Europe, South Asia and East Asia. On a more practical level, I believe this would be a continuation of arms sales to clients in these areas. An arrangement that largely already exists. Dugin merely offers a sort of ideological justification for that.
Russians do have a talent for technology. One consequence for the long over investment in arms during the Cold War is that much of Russian technological prowess is invested in arms companies.
Eurasianism ultimately requires Liberalism to keep pushing to have a reason to be. India has no special need for Eurasianism, neither does Iran or China but for the push of Liberalism.
Like a bull before the matador Liberalism can not help itself but push. It almost had the world. It deserves the world. All the people of the world secretly demand its final dominance. So the Liberal feels in his heart.
For this reason Liberalism itself may end up giving life to Eurasianism.
Which team has your sympathies Liberalism or Eurasianism?