Liberalism is in retreat

Last year I was fortunate to attend the World Congress of Families, an annual conference for conservative and traditional thinkers to share ideas and rebuild society from the dire straits in which we currently find ourselves. In Romeo and Juliet’s Verona towards the end of spring, amid fine weather and even finer company, one had the sense that this community of intellectuals, politicians and activists is the future.

The traditionalist Italian Minister for Family and Disabilities at the time, Lorenzo Fontana, argued for the need to bolster family support and reverse steep demographic decline in Europe. Dr Steve Turley, an eccentric American writer, showed that there is ‘massive backlash all over the world against globalisation’. He has presented evidence that statistics indicating low fertility rates in countries such as France betray an underlying religious demographic surge.

At the conference there were a number of outstanding speakers with radically conservative ideas. There were perhaps too many to comment on, but I would like to mention just one for now. 

The Georgian scholar and businessman Levan Vasadze might help us develop our thinking about how we can rebuild society when the thunderstorm passes. In what was a Soviet satellite state, later confronted with the liberalism of the West as the USSR collapsed, Georgia has experienced what Vasadze calls the ‘anti-family, anti-Christian, anti-traditionalist agenda’ to an increasing degree. 

In his considered view, there is only one war in our world today, a battle between the “life culture, family culture, humane culture” and the “anti-family culture, the death culture, consumerism and hedonism. The front line of this war is no longer found on geographic maps, but in every living room and every bedroom…We are all to choose which side we must take in that war”.

Emerging from the USSR, the West was for Georgia “the shining city on the hill…pro-freedom of speech, free enterprise, private property”. Then he remarks: “Twenty-five years on, what a metamorphosis…in our quest towards the West, sometimes we can hardly recognise it. You can no longer freely express your opinion about what is shameful, and disgraceful, and you are crucified for that”.

Vasadze also notes that last summer’s LGBT parade went ahead in Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi, despite a TV survey recording 97 per cent opposition to the parade taking place, and just 3 per cent support. It is a staggering reminder of how aggressive the ironically-called ‘liberal’ agenda needs to be, to grab attention in a society that, after seventy years under communism, is all too aware of potent threats to its moral and religious values.

What is Vasadze’s proposition? For Georgia, it is what he calls ‘selective Westernisation’, learning from the West everything they would like to learn, particularly in relation to institutional reforms and technology. He jokes that if his tooth hurts, he would not look for anything but Western-produced equipment. But the ‘alarming moral condition of Western society’ is not something Georgians should be rushing towards, or be required to accept.

For the world he advocates ‘modern traditionalism’. His speech at the Congress called for the world’s first constitution based on the rights of a human family and on the obligations of a human being and the society towards this family. The Cartesian obsession with the individual must be discarded.

Vasadze’s conception of ‘modern traditionalism’ is an outward-looking philosophy, one that is based on duties as well as rights, and acknowledges that rights stem from an order of priorities starting with God, family, country, and then the individual. It rejects universal application of the kind sought by communism or Nazism, and recognises the collective intellect and character of individual nations, as well as a purely unique pace of the flow of individual events. Different countries will return to tradition according to their different characters and timelines. 

We can see that Western attempts to impose democracy on pariah states in the Middle East have exposed the globalist and universalist character of liberalism, and shown its shortcomings. Questioning democracy is clearly not a hallmark of modern liberal thought. But it is this same democracy that conservative and traditional thinkers must be ready to question moving forwards, for not everything can be put to a vote or defended by one.

There are other deeply entrenched modern doctrines, enjoying their final moments in the sun, that conservatives should be ready to confront. Just as liberalism attempts to remove the constraints of moral authority on the individual, thus reducing the discipline and incentive required to build a civilisation, consumerism encourages precisely that same agenda: taking rather than creating or producing.

Globalism resists local and personal ties, including those between families, the lifeblood of a civilisation. The atheism of Nietzsche and the individualism of Descartes also hinder civilisational progress, insofar as they presume the godship of the individual, a self-contained being who does not need to contribute to a greater community. By contrast, the life-affirming doctrines of Catholicism, as well as Orthodox and evangelical Christianity, and to some extent Judaism and Islam, indicate where the religious and civilisational pendulum will swing in the twenty-first century as one generation succeeds the next. 

In the words of Vasadze, the existential challenge we face is to rediscover the true joys of life. “People say they want hedonism”, he concludes, “I’m a hedonist too. I believe in pleasure. But family is the greatest pleasure that I’ve seen. That’s the only way to be truly hedonistic, to be a family man.”

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