Ed West has written an excellent analysis of why so many people on the populist Right are either pro-Putin or regard Putin’s Russia and Zelensky’s Ukraine as morally equivalent. He thinks these conservatives are suffering from ‘oikophobia’ – Roger Scruton’s word to describe the loathing of their homeland by some elements of the Left. The reason Jeremy Corbyn and his fellow travellers always side with Britain’s enemies, no matter how unsavoury, is because they cannot stand Britain and the West and siding with our enemies is a way of expressing that contempt. West thinks that some elements of the Right are now suffering from the same phobia. Here is an extract:
During the Cold War various politicians, writers and artists were prepared to apply a completely false equivalence between the two superpowers. Indeed, one or two of the USSR’s defenders are still MPs today. In the U.S., Angela Davis’s career has not been harmed by her open support for America’s enemies; indeed, it seems to have helped. Others went on to bat for various murderous regimes, including even revolutionary Iran, which Foucault praised as “the most insane” (yes it really was, you old paedophile).
So the far-Left’s initial moral equivalence on the Russian invasion is normal and predictable; it would be worrying if they didn’t side with our enemies, or claim that ‘both sides’ were at fault – if only the anti-bully alliance hadn’t provoked the bully into bullying its neighbours, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Were aliens to invade earth next week, in some Independence Day or War of the Worlds-style scenario, you’d get at least 10 Labour backbenchers blaming America for the conflict. Their radio waves provoked them, or something.
It’s not that they particularly like what Putin stands for, it’s just that they can’t envisage a situation where it’s not our fault, a form of narcissism in which America and her allies are all-powerful and morally culpable. But the radical Left also believe that supporting the West means supporting the values they believe to be in control – the forces of conservatism, capitalism and neoliberalism, all of which will be empowered by Western victory.
That is a fairly rational calculation, and it’s noticeable how some conservatives now come to a similar conclusion. They don’t hate their inheritance like the radical Left, but they hate what their home has become, where progressives wearing the skin of the civilisation they have killed, like a zombie Western civilisation. They also feel that any victory will only further strengthen those in charge.
That perhaps explains why so many populists have badly misjudged this conflict. As Eric Kaufmann wrote this week: “I watched as Tucker Carlson and J.D. Vance defended Putin, or adopted the Kremlin’s critique of Ukraine,” Carlson calling it a “pure client state of the United States State Department”. While there are claims for a realist case “tempering Ukrainian demands and accommodating reasonable Russian security concerns, the inability of some to reject the moral equivalence of Ukraine and Russia was glaring”.
Like oikophobes in times gone by, some on the Right have created an imaginary foreign country to reflect on their own society’s shortcomings. “The perception that Russia is a masculine, white, Christian country unafraid to stand up for its traditions forms part of its appeal to conservative populist thinkers,” Kaufmann writes. “‘Putin ain’t woke,’ Steve Bannon said last month. ‘He’s anti-woke.’ The Russian President’s 2019 interview with the Financial Times, when he declared that liberalism has ‘become obsolete’ clearly impressed many Western conservative populists. Against Drag Queen Story Hour and self-flagellation about the sins of the past could be set Putin’s macho, Christian, nationalist Russia. Clearly, some populist elites took the bait.”
None of these beliefs about Russia are really true, as Kaufmann points out, for “any honest appraisal of Putin’s Russia would reveal that its religiosity is weak, immigration substantial, and the Eurasianism of Putin and Alexandr Dugin would readily trade cultural homogeneity for more territory… Putin’s Russia is a ramshackle, corrupt, aggressive despotism. It is not ‘really hot stuff’ as Donald Trump put it once. It is not a post-woke paradise.”
But then that doesn’t really matter. Like British radicals praising a French Revolution that was first a bloodbath and then a dictatorship, their real concern is with home – the oikos. And perhaps they fear that any victory by the West in 2022 will further entrench a largely progressive-dominated establishment, including now the military, which has followed the great inversion of the past few decades. That is why, in foreign conflicts as in much else, Right is the new Left.