Moscow conference

At the start of September I spoke at a conference in Moscow dedicated to exploring the current tensions in Russia-West relations. Paul Grenier has now produced an excellent summary of the conference proceedings for The American Conservative. You can read it here.

Conference participants raised a lot of really interesting ideas. I don’t agree with them all, but I thoroughly recommend Paul Grenier’s piece to you all, so that you can decide for yourselves. On top of that, his analysis raises a host of questions for future consideration:

  • Is there an ideological/philosophical divide lying at the root of current Russia-West tensions? In my own presentation, I suggested that perhaps there is: Russia and the West seem to have very different conceptions of what constitutes a ‘rules-based international order’. If this is the case, then our current difficulties are rather deeper than many people imagine and can’t be resolved simply by compromising over certain material interests. Instead, they require us to find some way of reaching philosophical agreement – not an easy task.
  • But is agreement even possible? Boris Mezhuev’s idea of ‘civilizational realism’ rests on an assumption that it isn’t, and that the only way for Russia and the West to live in peace is to recognize each other as separate civilizations, in effect to agree to disagree.
  • Is there any way that the West would ever ‘agree to disagree’? Western liberalism is essentially universalistic. I have my doubts that it could ever accept ‘civilizational realism’ as this would mean accepting that Western liberalism is not applicable to all. That puts us in an impasse: Russia and West appear to be philosophically divided; they can’t reach agreement, but they also can’t agree to disagree. I have to admit that I’m not sure how we get out of this.
  • Is the answer to be found in some sort of ‘post-liberal politics’? Is the only solution to our problems a re-imagination of what it means to be liberal, as James Carden suggests? Does it require a disassociation of globalization from Westernization, as Nicolai Petro says? Richard Sakwa raises an important issue, in explaining that the West doesn’t truly believe in dialogue. Globalization to date has largely been about spreading Western standards and modes of operation; it hasn’t involve a genuine exchange of ideas between different parts of the globe. Do we need, then, to abandon liberalism, as Adrian Pabst claims? (If we do, I’m not sure that we are capable of it.)

As I said in the conclusion of my own presentation to the conference, we don’t have any great answers to these questions, but at least conferences like this help us define what the questions are. It’s an important first step. Many thanks to Paul Grenier for  organizing our  meeting in Moscow, and to him and The American Conservative for making our deliberations available to a wide audience.

13 thoughts on “Moscow conference”

  1. “This dichotomy, Robinson argued, stems from recent innovations in what is known as “just war theory.””

    I feel that taking the ruse you call “liberal logic” at a face value is like explaining crusades by their theological justifications, instead of politics and economics.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for this post, Paul, and for the kind words. I agree that the politics of resolving this are by no means obvious. At the same time, it is hard to see this dilemma as not of a piece with the larger ‘crisis of liberalism.’ Any ideological system, once it loses the capacity for self-reflection, enters into a crisis, becomes a danger.

        I also agree with you of course that ‘ideas matter.’ Having all the solutions at hand is not a show stopper if one is willing to work through a process. What is one to talk with, by what means does one talk (a shame we don’t have an instrumental case in English!), if not ideas?. The whole point is carrying on that conversation/process.


      2. I wouldn’t call what you defined as “liberal logic” an ‘idea’. It’s a story, a narrative.

        I’m good, virtuous. Those who obey me are okay, for as long as they obey. Those who don’t obey are bad, sinful, evil.

        This is probably the oldest narrative in the world, but I don’t think it’s an ‘idea that matters’.

        Well, of course it does matter, and perhaps it’s even the only view that truly matters, but probably not in the sense you meant to convey there.


  2. Dear Mr. Robinson,

    I hope you’ll get this message, I couldn’t find the email address. I follow very closely the anti-Russian propaganda for many months ( years in fact) and acknowledged many times it was largely going past the USA. I only watch one channel, ARTE, this is a public, Franco-German channel usually very rich and daring but for a few months I also had to note the many documentary clearly done against Poutine and meanwhile against Russia and presenting his interference in the T. ‘s election as an obvious fact

    I don’t think you’ll be able to watch this documentary in the USA but here is the comments with a name, Mickael Kirk, you may know. the title itself is presenting the ” facts ” of Poutine being the instigator of the Russiagate, and worst, the very documentary is directed by Americans as a work of research. I don’t now if you could do anything with this but maybe Mickael Kirk and his group could deserve a bit of time to see whom they are working for

    My best regards Elisabeth Guerrier

    Comment la Russie s’est immiscée dans la course à la présidence américaine en faveur de Donald Trump. Un an après son intronisation, cette enquête fouillée résume les grandes lignes d’une ingérence sans précédent. Cette première partie passe en revue la carrière du “superbureaucrate” Vladimir Poutine, témoin à Dresde, où le KGB l’avait posté à ses débuts, de l’effondrement de l’Allemagne communiste, et résolu depuis à restaurer l’honneur de la Russie sur la scène internationale. De la guerre de Tchétchénie à la mise à mort de Kadhafi (il en aurait regardé la vidéo maintes fois et tiendrait Hillary Clinton pour responsable de la chute de son allié), archives et entretiens composent un portrait complet du dirigeant russe.

    Une guerre froide “hybride” L’intrusion russe dans les rouages de l’élection présidentielle américaine pour faire battre Hillary Clinton est-elle avérée ? Et si oui, quels sont les motifs et le modus operandi de ce qui constituerait alors une offensive sans précédent contre une nation étrangère en temps de paix ? En janvier 2017, trois semaines avant l’intronisation de Donald Trump à la Maison-Blanche, les agences de renseignement américaines ont publié un rapport accusant le président russe Vladimir Poutine d’avoir planifié des cyberattaques coordonnées afin d’influer sur le cours de la campagne, sans toutefois en livrer les preuves, “classifiées”, selon le jargon en vigueur. Près d’un an plus tard, au fil d’une enquête de six mois pour laquelle elle a interviewé au total cinquante-six sources (responsables politiques et militaires, journalistes et analystes majoritairement américains mais aussi russes, dont l’ex-directeur de la CIA John Brennan et l’ex-directeur de la NSA James Clapper, tous deux limogés par Donald Trump), l’équipe de Frontline accrédite ces accusations. Remontant à la prise du pouvoir de Vladimir Poutine pour en éclairer les motivations profondes, Michael Kirk s’attache ensuite à détailler ce vertigineux chapitre d’une guerre froide “hybride” qui n’en est peut-être qu’à ses débuts.

    2018-01-15 15:50 GMT-04:00 IRRUSSIANALITY :

    > PaulR posted: “At the start of September I spoke at a conference in Moscow > dedicated to exploring the current tensions in Russia-West relations. Paul > Grenier has now produced an excellent summary of the conference proceedings > for The American Conservative. You can read ” >


  3. Paul Grenier’s article was very valuable and interesting, as was your contribution. However, a trivial thought. I wonder whether one can understand the US’s reaction to Russia without understanding the US’s seemingly very different reaction to China. As my old physics teacher used to comment to confused students; “Ah, sometimes the laws of physics hold, sometimes they don’t.”


    1. I think this is a good point. The dominant narrative of Western Liberalism doesn’t allow for the recognition of the genuine legitimacy of “other civilizations”, but it does seem possible for Liberal states to accept, as a contingent (and in theory temporary) fact that a given state is non-Liberal and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. I think we saw this during the detente period of the Cold War, and now again with China. I think the issue with modern Russia is that, because of its history as part of “Europe” in the broad sense, because of its continuing close ties with Europe, and most importantly because of the disappointed hopes in the 1990s that Russia was “joining the West”, it’s harder for Western policy-makers to “let Russia go” than to do the same with China.


  4. I downloaded the Grenier article yesterday, but gave up my plan to finish it before bedtime. It just kept raising too many questions, one of which was: “How does this describe American/Official Washington’s behaviour?” It’s not liberalism per se (or any of its various add-ons and plug-ins), but what’s left of it thanks to American hypocrisy, double-dealing, regime-changing, dictator-bankrolling, warmongering, self-aggrandizing, anti-[fill in the blank] propagandizing, and scores of other ingenious ways of giving the finger to liberalism (and “just war,” human rights, and liberalism’s other moving parts) while causing as much chaos for itself and others as possible. How does liberalism drive all those behaviours?

    While Washington, with the (often reluctant) assistance of its vassal states, crashes around the globe destroying communities and murdering their peoples, China is embarked upon the largest development program ever undertaken in human history. The Russians are smart enough to know that’s where the future is; Washington is trying its damnedest to “contain” it. The containment of Russia is part of the containment of China and the rest of Asia. Curing the US of that grandiose fantasy will probably mean bloodshed.


  5. From the article:

    “But maybe this is to frame the problem the wrong way. As James Carden, foreign policy writer for The Nation, elegantly argued in a paper delivered at the conference in his absence, ours is not the first generation in the history of the world to have navigated an international disagreement about founding political principles. Others have done so and managed to maintain a relative peace and stability in the world. Isn’t this after all the essence of diplomacy?”

    Captain, sir! Your ship, the USS Obvious, is ready to set sail!

    I mean, nom seriously – these supposedly smart people, are they blissfully ignorant of the systems of international relations of the past and their guiding principles? What, only MURIKA brought its blessed order on the previous lawless primordial Chaos in 1991 1989 1945 (all who doubt that the US dominated Global liberal capitalist order began in that year ought to be purged for their subversive commie thoughts!)

    “Instead, he argues, Washington manifests toward Russia “a hostility borne of a frustrated project of liberal cultural imperialism.””

    Lo and behold! In the most ironic twist of history, the Anglo-Saxon World now is ideologically dominated by the constantly slandered, derided and mocked by them Great French Revolution and its mentality! Because:

    “What worries him, though, is that… the United States has allowed “social justice impulses” to undermine any responsible and rational foreign policy.”

    Is not a bug, but a feature. An integral gubbin. Key thingy. As they say in Odessa – the tzimmes of the matter.

    The sloganeering of “Peace to the huts! War on the palaces” now takes the form of “Peace to the Adorables! War on the Deplorables!”. Both in their essence are the slogans of the universalist Civil War and, as such, it ignores the nations and the principle of the sovereignty There is no permanent peace possible here – only short armistices with the leaders of Deplorables, to break which is no harm to ones handshakability.

    French Revolutionary wars had it all. The topplement of the “tyrants” to be replaced by the friendly puppet regimes, coupled with the unprecedented plundering of the “sister republics” in order to improve the shaky economy of your own country. Napoleon and his reign was the combination of the Old and New Regimes, but, ultimately, he proved to be equally nedogovornosposobny (one year – 1808, plenty of reasons).

    For the world to sigh a collective relief the Western messianic liberalism must be put down, but in such a way, so that the principle power won’t get resentful and rabidly revisionist. And, of course, anti-liberal of generations to come of the US citizens is a must. Thus and only thus could the current impasse be overcame – with the perseverance of the capitalist world order.

    “The alternative, suggests Pabst, is neither chauvinistic nationalism nor abstract cosmopolitanism. It is what he calls “post-liberalism.” This proposes a shift from unfettered liberal market capitalism to economic justice and a greater reciprocity of profit and social purpose. It signals a shift from rampant individualism and top-down, state-enforced egalitarianism to social solidarity and more fraternal, reciprocal relations. Politically, it signals a shift from the minority politics of vested interests and exclusive group identity to a majority politics based on a balance of interests and shared social identity.”


    1. In response to the last quote from the article – gee, for the Westies the term socialism is sooooo toxic even now 😉


  6. But isn’t the defining aspect of liberalism today the acceptance of social diversity? Think of all the sexual and social experimentations going on today, and it is all accepted as a good part of liberalism. Would it not be possible to simply extend that kind of thinking to other governments as well as our own people?


    1. Good question. I’ve seen the issue described as follows: liberals preach diversity within a given society, but uniformity across societies; whereas for conservatives, it’s the other way around – uniformity within a given society, but diversity across societies. I’m not sure that’s 100% accurate (and the liberal/conservative dichotomy is in any case debatable), but there may be something to it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s