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Statism with Liberalism


Some Western commentators have been quick to interpret Putin’s emphasis on Russia’s established values as the upholding of the decisively anti-Western, antiliberal, and antidemocratic traditions of the tsarist and Soviet history of government and ideas. Putin’s message, however, is more complex and stresses the need for a synthesis of traditional national values with what he describes, by drawing on the vocabulary of perestroika, as “supranational universal values.”  

Putin in a fighter plane. Photo:

These have entered Russian mentality and political culture in more recent decades and include freedom of expression, freedom to travel abroad, individual property rights, freedom of enterprise, and other fundamental political rights and human liberties. Only on the basis of a fusion of the traditional mores with modernizing influences can Russian society hope to overcome its internal disunity and find a path of development that would be desirable for and attractive to the overwhelming majority of Russians.

It is important to emphasize that Putin’s philosophy of a strong state does not hark back to the Soviet era of central planning. He knows that Russia needs a fully functioning, well-regulated, private-sector economy to thrive. At the same time, he has learned the lesson of Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s periods, which have vividly shown that Russia needs a strong central government to tackle its problems, from the struggling economy to the unruly regions.

Putin sees the state as “an efficient coordinator of the country’s economic and social forces that balances out their interests, optimizes the aims and parameters of social development and creates conditions and mechanisms of their attainment.” He admits that such a remit exceeds the liberal formula, which limits the state’s role in the economy to devising rules of the game and controlling their observance: “With time, we are likely to evolve to this formula. But today’s situation necessitates deeper state involvement in the social and economic processes.”

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