‘Needless to say’ is a curious phrase. It provokes the obvious pedantic reaction: ‘If there’s no need to say something, then why say it?’ But what ‘needless to say’ really means is ‘there ought not to be a need to say this, but nevertheless the need has arisen.’
Here’s a textbook example: ‘Needless to say, Vladimir Putin is not a conservative hero.’ That might seem a statement of the obvious given the ex-KGB officer’s status as the world’s leading antagonist of Western foreign policy, but according to Brian Whitmore in the Atlantic, the Russian President is on manouevers:
“The Kremlin leader’s full-throated defense of Russia’s ‘traditional values’ and his derision of the West’s ‘genderless and infertile’ liberalism in his annual state-of-the-nation address last week was just the latest example of Putin attempting to place himself at the vanguard of a new ‘Conservative International.’
“…just days before Putin’s address, the Center for Strategic Communications, an influential Kremlin-connected think tank, held a press conference in Moscow to announce its latest report. The title: ‘Putin: World Conservatism’s New Leader.’”
It would seem that lefty-liberal anti-war protesters in the West have got it all wrong. America’s military-industrial complex is actually on their side, making the world safe for political-correctness-gone-mad:
“According to excerpts from the report cited in the media, most people yearn for stability and security, favor traditional family values over feminism and gay rights, and prefer nation-based states rather than multicultural melting pots. Putin, the report says, stands for these values while ‘ideological populism of the left’ in the West ‘is dividing society.’”
But let’s hear from the man himself, specifically his Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly:
“Today, many nations are revising their moral values and ethical norms, eroding ethnic traditions and differences between peoples and cultures. Society is now required not only to recognise everyone’s right to the freedom of consciousness, political views and privacy, but also to accept without question the equality of good and evil, strange as it seems, concepts that are opposite in meaning.”
This is, of course, a translation – and, most likely, the original Russian would have referred to ‘conscience’ rather than ‘consciousness’. Still, “freedom of consciousness” is always a bonus when you’re peacefully protesting on the streets of Moscow.
Putin goes on to make a direct appeal to philosophical conservatives:
“We know that there are more and more people in the world who support our position on defending traditional values that have made up the spiritual and moral foundation of civilisation in every nation for thousands of years: the values of traditional families, real human life, including religious life, not just material existence but also spirituality, the values of humanism and global diversity.
“Of course, this is a conservative position. But speaking in the words of Nikolai Berdyaev, the point of conservatism is not that it prevents movement forward and upward, but that it prevents movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”
One has to ask if Russia’s support for the Assad regime in Syria is contributing greatly to the “values of humanism and global diversity.” Furthermore, if Putin wants to be seen as a defender of “traditional values” and “spirituality”, then why the diplomatic cosiness with the likes of China, Cuba and North Korea? There’s nothing spiritual about a Communist dictatorship.
However, it’s the reference to Berdyaev that really takes the biscuit. The Russian philosopher was a fascinating figure. Though a deeply religious man and a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church, his criticisms of the Church’s Holy Synod got him charged for blasphemy (a serious crime in 1913). Clearly, the irony is lost on Vladimir Putin – whose government jailed Pussy Riot for a blasphemous protest, also against the Orthodox hierarchy.
When Putin condemns the “destruction of traditional values from above” he elicits the sympathy of Western conservatives who find their beliefs coming under attack from cultural, political and judicial elites. But if he thinks that conservatism can also be imposed from above – especially through means more brutal than anything seen in the West – then he is completely mistaken.