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31 May, 2011  ▪  Oleksandr Kramar

Conservative Ideology Needed

A center-right ideology best meets the challenges posed by reforms and fighting a crisis

The contemporary center-right is based on a synthesis of the originally opposed ideologies of classic conservatism and liberalism. Its priorities include a strong and consolidated state with minimal government inference in the economy, growth of private businesses, a strong middle class, Christian philosophy and morals, and moderate nationalism.

THE DELUSIVE GLAMOR OF LIBERALISM

In the early modern age European social thinking was developing in opposition to monarchial absolutism, which was characterized by a combination of voluntarism and favoritism exercised by the powerful and the lawlessness of the rest, and quite expectedly produced the ideology of equality and liberty – liberalism. Advocates of the latter believe that the only source of progress could be the free, ideally almost unrestrained initiative of individuals and championed the absolute value of personality (“a person is more important than the state”), as well as equal political and economic rights for all people. The necessary prerequisites, in their opinion, are the rule of law, the inviolability of private property (above all, as protection against the arbitrary rule of the powerful) and freedom of private enterprise. Liberals reduced the function of the government to a minimum.

However, while the American War of Independence led to a rule-of-law democratic state based on elected government bodies on all levels and their responsibility before society, a similar attempt in Europe during the French Revolution led to the establishment of a number of dictatorial regimes. The first one of these was set up by the Jacobins, who considered themselves the “vanguard,” i.e., those who knew where society had to go and how. They accumulated all power in their hands, suspended legal procedure and launched mass terror against their opponents.

Precisely at this time and in a reaction to the chaos generated by French revolutionary radicalism, European conservatism started to take shape as an independent ideological movement. Its representatives favored the evolutionary, “natural” development and renewal of society.

CONSERVATIVE RESPONSE

Interestingly, the father of the new ideology, Britain's Edmund Burke, to the end of his days considered himself only a moderate liberal (“a person in whose chest the fire of anger would burst only against what he deemed tyranny, which was always on the side of decent people who protested any kind of oppression”). Before the French Revolution he closely cooperated with the British Whigs. Conservatism owes its present name to the French politician François-René de Chateaubriand.

Convinced that a state that cannot change cannot preserve itself, Burke perceived the danger in the fact that “a vessel may lose equilibrium due to excessive load on one side” and believed his own mission was to “shift the burden of my arguments to the other side and thus secure its stability.”

Conservatism began to undergo rapid modifications after the European revolutions of 1848. In order to secure it against upheavals, conservatives started appealing to a wider social spectrum, including mid-income and even low-income Europeans.

Their reforms, carried out in a top-down fashion, had some success in knocking the social foundation out from under left-wing extremists. The transformations of Otto von Bismarck in Germany and Benjamin Disraeli in Great Britain are good cases in point. The latter headed a conservative movement and formulated his party’s new ideology which was scathingly critical of industrialism, liberal industrialists and their social Darwinism. In his novels he portrayed England as being divided into two nations each going on with its life disregarding the other and perceived the solution in returning to a corporate society in which everyone would have obligations toward other people or groups. The Young England movement in whose creation he was instrumental called on the rich to use their power to protect the poor from being exploited by “wild” capitalism.

Starting from the beginning of the 20th century, liberalism and conservatism drew closer together under mounting pressure from radical socialist and communist ideas and increasingly often formed one center-right camp opposed to the left and center-left. The process was facilitated by such borderline ideas as liberal conservatism and conservative liberalism. Such values as private initiative, protection of property and free trade were essentially incorporated in conservatism and became an indispensable part of its worldview which its representatives fittingly called “conserved and protected.”

In the last quarter of the 20th century, conservatives, or rather neoconservatives (considering their adaptation to the post-industrial society), initiated dynamic changes — Thatcherism in Great Britain and Reaganomics in the United States.

United in two pan-European organizations, the European People’s Party and the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, present-day center-right politicians are playing a leading role in determining the future of the European continent. Their representatives are heads of the EU government (European Commission) and parliament and the EU’s two biggest powers, Germany and France.

UKRAINIAN CONSERVATISM: MISSION INCOMPLETE

Under imperial rule, the Ukrainian people were subjected to assimilation by the dominating peoples, which left little room for center-right forces. As a result, they had extremely limited representation during the attempt at nation state building in 1917-20 – part of the conservative camp which was looking for support from the tradition-favoring farmers and a handful of Ukrainophile higher-stratum representatives (landlords, executives and officers).

The origins of Ukrainian conservatism could perhaps be sought at least back in the time of the National Liberation War (1648-57), but it was only in the 20th century that first attempts to lay its theoretical doctrinal foundation were made. The doctrine was elaborated in a tortuous and lengthy process due to a heterogeneous social basis.

After the 1917 February Revolution, various left-wing parties dominated in Naddniprianshchyna, which set it sharply apart from, for example, the Baltic States and, later, the Western Ukrainian National Republic, where the right played the leading role. In Kyiv, even loyal and eager right-wingers were kept outside the government structures under the Central Rada. As a result, the paradigm of Ukraine’s development was determined by socialists and eventually led to the country being taken over by their most radical group – the Russian Bolsheviks.

All varieties of the Ukrainian left adopted a patently negative attitude to the idea of an independent state prior to and early into the revolution. On their part, they put forward an essentially utopian design to remodel the former Russian Empire into a federation, which caused a large part of ethnic Ukrainians who supported them to be indifferent to independence.

LOSING GROUND

Conservatism received a chance only under Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, who relied on landlords and businessmen, as well as wealthy farmers discontent with the Central Rada’s agricultural policies. However, too many former tsarist officials were allowed to become involved. Even though they were viewed as “professionals,” they had no Ukrainian language proficiency and, more importantly, had nothing in the way of national political consciousness.

Thus, despite the Ukrainophile position of the hetman himself, real power in his state was held by those who were largely indifferent and sometimes hostile to Ukraine being independent. This was caused by the distorted social structure of the nation at the time and the fact that its economically and socially influential stratum had mostly lost its national identity.

If we ignore the completely un-Ukrainian PROTOFIS (an association of large businessmen in cities and industrial regions), the right-wing forces in Ukraine at the time was represented by the Association of Landowners and the Ukrainian Democratic Farmers’ Party (UDKhP).

However, the problem was that the more influential, and second largest force (after the socialist revolutionaries), the Association of Landowners, was controlled by wealthy landlords who clearly put socioeconomic interests above national ones. Therefore, its leaders supported Skoropadsky’s government as long as it had no alternative and guaranteed the security of their property but could at any moment switch over, for example, to the Russian White movement with its pro-imperial ideology.

In other words, the Association, at least as long as it was embodied in its political leaders, was a powerful conservative force in Ukraine but was not Ukrainian. It included a Ukrainian wing which was largely composed of mid-income farmers, but they dared not become organized themselves and sever ties with the old leadership until they were pressed against the wall. Compromised, conservatism lost its chance when Skoropadsky yielded to the White Guard’s demand to have Ukraine incorporated in a restored Russia and the Directory emerged as a result.

The UDKhP alone was a purely Ukrainian conservative party at the time. Its program was from the outset based on Ukraine’s historical legitimacy and the priority of state interests over social ones, as well as on monarchy as an ideal form of government. Viacheslav Lypynsky’s Narys (Sketch) relied on three foundational principles: a sovereign Ukrainian state, private property guaranteed by law and distribution of redeemed large estates to meet the needs of land-starved peasants. However, most local branches of the party consisted exclusively of intellectuals who failed to get actual farmers involved.

After the fall of the hetman’s government and the Bolsheviks’ occupation of Left-Bank Ukraine, the party moved its activities abroad where a well-formulated concept of Ukrainian conservatism was completed. Its ideologue was Lypynsky. The foundation was the idea of Ukraine as a state based on political integration of all its citizens regardless of the ethnic origin of the “territorial” (political) nation. Lypynsky wrote: “We will not gain anything with our present-day promotion of culture and will not build anything if we rely on separate ethnic identities until we move to the fore the state-building aspect of our cause and get wide strata of our society interested in it, while laying economic oppositions between Ukraine and Moscow at the foundation of national-political propaganda.”

Aware of the authoritarian worldview of Russian society, he issued an appeal to abandon the struggle to democratize Russia, calling it a harmful thing which sapped energy and offered no return: “The Russian Revolution is feeding mainly on our strength but is bringing us further Russification and nothing else. To support a democratic Russia is to promote Russophilia in Ukraine.” Instead, Ukrainian conservatism had to set the goal of building a sovereign state whose citizens would enjoy economic, cultural and political freedom though limited by the authority of a stable national government.

Ukrainian conservatism experienced a deep crisis in the interwar period. But even after Ukraine proclaimed its independence, no political force expressed the intention of implementing a conservative platform like the one which served European countries well in their time.


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