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Should America be more like Ukraine? Western society is being liquified

A world of moral entropy (Evgen Kotenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

A world of moral entropy (Evgen Kotenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)


November 5, 2022   9 mins

For those of us in the West, the Ukrainian response to the Soviet invasion has been somewhat embarrassing. We are used to living in peace and prosperity and are not in the habit of fighting for our way of life or making sacrifices for the common good. I don’t think I’m alone in asking myself whether, under similar circumstances, we would be as courageous and unselfish as the Ukrainians have proved themselves to be. The question brings a blush to the cheeks.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on us. Crises can inspire people to do uncharacteristic things. Let me delicately point out that liberal values have never been deeply rooted in Ukraine, nor were its citizens known for their sense of fraternity and civic responsibility. Very few observers who knew Ukraine’s history could have predicted the surge of resistance that followed the Russian invasion. Vladimir Putin was not alone.

How long this feeling will last once the war is over is anyone’s guess. There are countless historical examples of wars changing the DNA of nations; take post-war Germany, for instance. But as we know from our personal relations, the camaraderie forged by a crisis tends to dissipate over time. There is a law of entropy in human relations, just as there is entropy in the physical world. There is even such a thing as moral entropy; one can only expect people to be good for so long.

But for now, the resistance of the Ukrainians and their sense of solidarity is an inspiration to the rest of us. Yet to some, it is more than an inspiration: it is teaching us a lesson. Already certain liberal intellectuals are using the Ukraine war to criticise our own liberal democracies. Why, they are asking, can’t we be more like Ukraine?

This is not a wise question, but it arises out of a genuine concern. The feeling is that we have lost a strong sense of civic purpose, that democratic norms are being openly flouted, and that there is a chilling indifference to the public good. Our countries look less like republics of citizens today than assemblies of consumers and web surfers glued to their screens. Meanwhile, a xenophobic nationalism is replacing a generous patriotism that once reflected optimism about the democratic prospect. And so, yes, why can’t we be more like Ukraine?

A good example of this line of question comes from David Brooks, one of the most sober political journalists in the United States. Last month, he wrote in the New York Times that: “The war in Ukraine is not only a military event; it’s an intellectual event. The Ukrainians are winning not only because of the superiority of their troops. They are winning because they are fighting for a superior idea.” For Brooks, that idea is liberal nationalism. He believes that Ukraine is teaching us that a feeling of national belonging need not contradict a commitment to individual liberty. On the contrary: liberalism can ennoble nationalism, teaching it to be generous. And an elevated nationalism can connect liberalism to our feelings of attachment to each other, and inspire us to fight for what we share. And so: let us all be liberal nationalists now.

This is an admirable wish. But it begs the following question: why are we not liberal nationalists now? Why is there so little concern for the public good in contemporary democracies? Why are we such indifferent citizens? Why has illiberal nationalism acquired such appeal?

Rather than try to answer these difficult questions, it is much easier simply to charge our leaders and fellow citizens with a failure of nerve in the face of threats to democracy. (Brooks was not doing this, but others are.) One could write an interesting little book about the role that the “failure of nerve” charge has played in modern politics. We usually associate it with the reactionary and militaristic Right. One of the ironies of the present conflict is that Vladimir Putin, who often weaponised this charge, is now the target of it. Because of his military failures, his courage has been thrown into question by the radical Russian Right he helped to create.

But the charge has also been used on the Left. Anyone familiar with the history of communist states and post-colonial revolutionary regimes will recognise the phrase “insufficient revolutionary zeal”, which was employed to explain regime failures or to purge troublesome public officials. Why have we not met the quota set by the five-year plan? A lack of revolutionary zeal. Why has the collectivisation of farms caused famine? A lack of revolutionary zeal. Behind the magical economic thinking of Marxism-Leninism was a theory of the will to power.

Defenders of liberal democracy developed the unfortunate habit of employing similar rhetoric during the Cold War. Looking back at the writings of the period, it is striking how often the terms faith and war appear. We must have faith in democratic principles! We must win the war of ideas! It is understandable that liberals began to speak this way. After all, communism was a messianic faith and communist intellectuals were not above using force to reach their ends.

But the only legitimate object of faith is a god, not an idea. And ideas are not weapons developed to serve armchair generals. Ideas serve our pursuit of truth through reflection and criticism; that is all they do. Ideologies, on the other hand, do inspire faith, and they can, and sometimes must, be employed in political conflicts. But there is no such thing as a “war of ideas”. The real power of ideas is their capacity to unmask ideologies, not propagate them. Those who look to Ukraine today to scold their own democracies seem on automatic pilot. They have genuine worries, which I share (and even wrote a book expressing them a few years ago). But I do not think that the sorry state of our democratic societies has much to do with a failure of nerve, or a loss of faith, or the lack of a unifying idea like liberal nationalism. The older I get, the more a materialist I have become. Not a materialist in the sense of Karl Marx, but in the sense of Alexis de Tocqueville.

In recent years, I have been spending a lot of time with Tocqueville, and I am struck by what a subtle and convincing materialist he was. His masterpiece, Democracy in America, does not begin with an invocation of democratic values and why we must fight for them. It begins with the geography of North America — the forests, the swamps, the mountains, the rushing rivers. In the face of the vast, unspoiled American landscape, the early settlers found themselves in a state of relative material equality. Nature was very big, and they were very small. They needed each other.

In Tocqueville’s view, this fact of equality was a necessary condition for establishing the principle of equality in American democracy; and that principle then inspired a passion for equality. In other words, live passions are rooted ultimately in material reality. Tocqueville did not believe, as Marx did, that political ideas just mirror a society’s material relations. But he knew that no political idea is convincing for long, or even relevant, if it is utterly detached from present social reality. This is a challenge to all utopian thinkers: they must imagine a new state of affairs that does not seem utterly divorced from present reality.

There is an important correlate to Tocqueville’s materialism: if political ideals that once captured people’s imaginations no longer do, our first instinct should be to ask what change in social conditions might be behind the change, making the old ideals less compelling than they once were. It should not be to adopt a prophetic pose and implore everyone to return to the true faith or embrace a new one. And so, if we are concerned, as we ought to be, about a lack of civic attachment, social solidarity, and respect for the common good in Western democracies, we must ask ourselves the following question: What has changed in the way we live now to erode our sense of democratic citizenship?

My own thinking about this question is not original. It seems to me that the ultimate source of democratic erosion is the fact that our societies have become more liquid and less solid, to adopt the terms of the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Bauman’s use of the term “liquid” was an oblique reference to The Communist Manifesto, in which Marx and Engels declared that under capitalism, “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”.

Bauman pointed out that Marx and Engels took solidity to be a good thing. In this sense, they were conservatives. And their expectation was that once unstable capitalist societies were overthrown, a new, solid type of society under communism would emerge. Marx and Engels did not preach permanent revolution; they were not Maoists. For them, the whole point of engaging in socialist and Communist politics was (ideally) to restore solidity and establish certainty so that human beings could live healthily in line with their natures. Hence the importance of socialist values like solidarity, and policies like economic planning.

Today, the communist utopian dream is dead and capitalism remains in place. But its power to liquify human relations has massively increased. Capitalism in the wide sense — including modern science and technology — no longer just eats away at solid social institutions. It prevents new solid ones from even forming. This was Bauman’s most important insight.

We now live in a world where people have begun to anticipate that fewer of our institutions and norms will endure as they once did. They have factored this into their thinking and — even more importantly — into their feelings. We know that children of divorced parents have more trouble than most in developing solid relationships with others. Having lost a sense of certainty about the families they grew up in, they lack confidence that they can establish stable ones of their own. My sense is that this is now happening in society more generally. From the importance of biological sex to the dominant role of the family, fewer and fewer of the social institutions and norms that exist when someone is young will exist when they are old. If this trend continues, it is hard not to imagine that we are in store for a radical transformation of human consciousness and social life.

Obvious examples of this liquidity abound. In the economic sphere, deregulation, “flexible” labour markets, privatisation, global finance and trade, and the dismantling of social protections have made workers’ lives and their communities more fragile. In the technological sphere, the unavoidable internet offers young people a vast menu of human possibilities, which has undermined the transmission of national and religious customs and values. It has also subjected all of us to psychological and moral viruses that ricochet around the globe instantaneously. In the medical field, rapid advances in research and treatment render today’s therapeutic wisdom obsolete tomorrow, leaving less-educated people confused and increasingly sceptical of the medical establishment. Finally, and most dramatically, we see the effects of liquidity in new ideologies of fluid psycho-sexual identities.

This is an historically unprecedented situation. The nature of human society has always been conservative. Its function has been to offer a stable environment in which individuals can develop psychologically and cooperate with each other; it also, crucially, has transmitted knowledge and norms to subsequent generations. The ideas and institutions of liberal democracy developed in societies that functioned in this conservative way. But our contemporary liquid societies do all this less well. They are becoming, so to speak, less social. Their energy is centrifugal, not centripetal.

What I have just put forward is just a thesis, and not an original one. But if it is even half right, we need to engage in much deeper thinking about liberal democracy and civic engagement than we are accustomed to. In an unstable environment where institutions and values have trouble getting rooted, just what does the term “common good” mean? Or solidarity? When the forces that determine human destinies are global and ever changing, what does democratic citizenship mean?

These are not intended to be rhetorical questions. They are, to my mind, the fundamental political questions of our time. We need answers to them before we can think clearly about much else. We cannot “fight” for liberal democracy if we don’t know what it is still capable of, given the societies we must now live in and the expectations and feelings we now have. Many people today are convinced that the greatest threat to liberal democracy is xenophobic nationalism, not liquification. They are concerned about ideologies that want to make our societies less open, less diverse, and less subject to dissent. I share this concern, at least in the short run: today’s self-declared illiberal nationalists are trouble and can cause a lot of damage.

What they cannot do, however, is change the laws of social physics. The so-called “national conservative” activists who gather in Budapest these days to hear the gospel of Christian integrism are children of liquid societies. Whatever their nostalgic fantasies about a world they’ve never known, and never existed in the form they imagine, their psychological outlook presumes liquidity, movement, independence. They are bees who were born outside a hive — like the rest of us. They are not built to live in even a hive as inviting to them as a fully “integrated” Catholic nation.

The fact is that today’s nationalists can never achieve their goals. History has erased the possibility of sustainable, homogeneous theological-political regimes. We should still be concerned about today’s far-Right nationalists and resist them politically. But that is because political movements that fail to achieve their ends are often more dangerous than movements that do.

What we all hope is that soon, very soon, Ukraine will be able to join the community of liberal democratic nations in full security. We also hope that the experience of war will establish enough trust among Ukrainians to allow democratic institutions to operate as they are intended to, with loyal opposition and respect for opposition.

But the truth is that even were these hopes realised, Ukraine would then find itself subject to all the centrifugal social, economic, and psychological forces other liberal democracies are contending with. Every regime faces them today, even Russia. It is worth remembering that in the early weeks of the war, few Russian citizens demonstrated against it, and almost no one demonstrated for it or rushed to enlist in the military. Instead, they rushed to IKEA to buy furniture in fear that the store would close for good.

An early version of this article was presented on October 14 at the 2022 Freedom Games conference organised by the LibertĂ© Foundation in ƁódĆș, Poland.


Mark Lilla is an American political scientist, historian of ideas, journalist, and professor of humanities at Columbia University in New York City.


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Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

What a rambling word salad. Anyone else wondering what this point of this was supposed to be?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I believe it was a liberal’s attempt at criticizing his own movement, hence the asides about ‘resisting far right nationalists’ that aren’t really necessary and detract from his purpose, but liberal readers expect that stuff and I’m sure he doesn’t want to get kicked off the list of acceptable public speakers at major universities. It’s written for the educated class that already agrees with him, has plenty of money to afford inflated prices for everything, and appreciates rambling psychobabble. I occasionally read liberal sites like Vox, etc., just to familiarize myself with other viewpoints, and this rambling self-reflective style of navel gazing seems quite popular there. His point, distilled to its simplest form, is that liberals should be more nationalistic, to the extent that that inspires people to sacrifice for the good of the nation and the common good, because basically all their policies (especially net zero) require that attitude to succeed (insufficient revolutionary zeal indeed). It sounds like gobbledygook because liberalism as it exists today is simply not compatible with nationalism. He’s performing mental and linguistic gymnastics to attempt to wedge a square peg into a round hole. One cannot be both a nationalist and a globalist simultaneously. Nationalism is ultimately based on human tribalism, which, by definition works by defining an ingroup ‘us’ by our distinguishing characteristics, against one or more outgroups, ‘them’. There has to be more than one, they have to be different, and to some extent, people have to prefer their own. This runs exactly contrary to basically everything modern liberalism does and advocates for. Almost all liberal policies, unrestricted trade, open borders, net-zero, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and so on are either impossible to achieve at the national level or actively undermine the people’s sense of being one people or both. All the globalist dreams like net-zero, a UN with actual authority, open borders, will ultimately fail just as surely as Communism did, and for the same reason, insufficient revolutionary zeal to overcome actual human nature. Ukraine will not fail, though, because they aren’t fighting for the common good as the author imagines. They’re fighting for themselves, their country, their language, their values, and their families. They took the invasion personally, as many of us would. The Ukrainians are much closer to the ‘far-right nationalists’ the author fears than they are to people who call themselves liberals these days.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Superb comment.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

Superb because it is truthful

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Oh, I got a lot of that. Once I tried to condense the language anyway. I just have no respect for articles loaded with excessive buzz words just to try and sound smart and have trouble maintaining a coherent train of thought. I mean just try to break down this paragraph.
“What they cannot do, however, is change the laws of social physics. The so-called “national conservative” activists who gather in Budapest these days to hear the gospel of Christian integrism are children of liquid societies. Whatever their nostalgic fantasies about a world they’ve never known, and never existed in the form they imagine, their psychological outlook presumes liquidity, movement, independence. They are bees who were born outside a hive — like the rest of us. They are not built to live in even a hive as inviting to them as a fully “integrated” Catholic nation.”
My high school English teacher would have thrown a fit if I wrote something like this.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt Hindman
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Mine as well. I was lucky. Many of my teachers were old and nearing retirement, and they still taught in more traditional ways, so I ended up with a fairly good HS education. Had I been a few years older in the same district, I would have missed some of the lessons that grounded my thinking in reality instead of touchy feely nonsense.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Hmm. It seemed perfectly clear English to me, except perhaps the last sentence could have been better constructed. However, I think the concept of ‘Catholic integalism’ is much more widely recognised in American national conservative circles than in the UK, and to suddenly allude to it en passant as it were at the end of the article, was a mistake.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Thank you for that comment. I really couldn’t understand how liberalism in its current form could achieve the goals the author seems to want or why he gratuitously criticized nationalism.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Not all nationalism is the same. Hitler was a nationalist, unfortunately his nationalism did not accept that of the Poles.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

So was Lenin

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

”I believe it was a liberal’s attempt at criticizing his own movement’

I think he pretends that, — ”I believe it was a liberal’s attempt at Justifying his own movement” – justifying being warmongers as much as a hard modernist Liberal can philosophically argue. The most ardently for this war are all Neo-Liberal warmongers in fact. The ‘Uniparty’ Left and Right are both 100% for this war – because it is a Globalist War.

Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Spot on. We need to get passed the uniparty to a civilised common sense politics based upon freedom, private property and the national interest.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Patrick Nelson

Yes. But be careful to define “nation” properly. It does not merely mean “people enclosed within a certain geographical border.”
A “nation,” properly understood, is a common culture, language, set of values, etc. It is a biological-cultural construct. Some people call it “race,” but that is verboten these days, since the inegalitarians were bombed into submission last century.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

I gotta disagree! There’s no good reason why a nation can’t be made up of many ethnicities and sub-cultures. The problem recently has been because of “identity” thinking, which is mostly an expression of crankiness. Understandable but childish.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Switzerland being a good example, but that is a country with a very long historical development, which can’t just be forced, as in Iraq and many other largely artificial nations.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

I think history has demonstrated repeatedly that you are incorrect

Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

Research has shown that the more ‘diversity’ happens in neighbourhoods the less social solidarity there is. And now whole neighbourhoods of often hostile immigrants as seen in places in Yorkshire and Lancashire has damaged loyalty to the country. How many now would volunteer to fight for the country?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Kathleen Stern

No longer my country might well be the response

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Patrick Nelson

‘Spot on’?! To this condemnation of ill defined “neo-liberal” warmongers (I would like people to be very much when they spray around these terms) while somehow not managing to mention the fact that Putin’s Russia started this war, as indeed they did the annexation of Crimea and the military subversion of Donbass and Luzhansk.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Actually Biden (and his handlers) invited him in! No fan of Putin, but this is a proxy war for the American Democrats and too many RINO’s (exposed or still hiding) and hopefully, they will be run out of Dodge in the next several cycles of voting in the USA.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

“Globalism” is a euphemism for egalitarian totalitarianism, which is what the West is actually exporting all over the world and has been since 300 years ago, and with particular vehemence since 1945.
In fact, “globalism” is merely a symptom or consequence of this exported ideology. It is not the end itself. The end is “equality” — everywhere, between all differentiable sets of concepts (people, things) — all over the globe. Naturally this implies open borders, “free” trade, mass migration, etc.
“For every thousand men hacking at the leaves of the Tree of Evil, there is one who is striking at the root.” Strike at the root. The root is equality-obsession.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

How do you come to that conclusion? I don’t think a moment’s reflection on the history of the Portuguese, Spanish, French, British etc traders, explorers, sailors, conquerors and colonisers would support the notion that to promotion of ‘equality’ had anything to do with it, nor the economic globalism and high degree of integration in the High Victorian and Edwardian epochs. They often had a notably disdainful or actively hostile attitude to the other cultures they encountered, even as they sought to trade with or exploit them.

And, despite a lot of virtue signalling around the issue and the almost universal adoption of ‘progressive’ views among the elite, I don’t think that ‘equality’ is a true motivating ideology in any real sense. To take one recent example: Bernie Sanders seemed for a moment to possibly threaten the wealth of some on his own side, and was then rapidly side-lined in favour of Biden. Inequality in greatly increasing, not decreasing, in the modern West.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

I am ardently for this war as a conservative, because I disapprove of torturing mass-murdering communist-fascists invading sovereign nations.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

These are excellent reasons to support Ukraine. Putin and Xi represent a much greater evil and a much more immediate threat than misguided technocrats and their pie in the sky philosophies.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I agree – many on the ‘anti-woke’ side have embarrassed themselves (or should have done) with their shameful support of Putin and his regime. It seems to be analogous with the ‘anyone but the West’ position of so many on the far Left.

The rhetoric and ‘arguments’ they use would among other things entirely de-legitimise Britain’s similar resistance to Hitler’s Germany in 1940, despite their oft-proclaimed patriotism / nationalism. (Perhaps nationalism where they get to decide who is in and who out!). Funny how so many are so much more supportive and understanding of Russia than their own nations – a rather odd ‘nationalism’ that!

Indeed, if we look historically, Russia was a major adversary of Great Britain for much of the 19th century, so they don’t even have history on their side. Of course I hasten to say that history should not be a prison, but it is they themselves who so often wax lyrical about deep historic roots, traditions etc.

Of course Ukraine has suffered corruption and is any thing but a perfect society, any more than Britain was in the 1930s, and the West has made many mistakes in dealing with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However none of that in any way justifies this invasion.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

You’re not wrong, but the Ukrainians are not exactly globalists. Zelensky is a nationalist who has been pushing a nationalist agenda that emphasizes Ukrainian history independent of Russia, a separate Ukrainian language, and so on. That’s as much the source of the conflict as anything. The Ukrainians have every right to their own history and culture as much as anyone else. I don’t blame them for accepting aid from wherever they can get it. War demands compromise in the name of victory. I mean take WWII where the UK and US were allied with the Soviets despite being ideological opposites. I don’t support intervening in foreign conflicts generally, and I recognize the motives of those in power for pushing this war are questionable, but I do support the Ukrainian people, who are fighting for self-determination, and anyone who opposes globalism should support that right.

Simon James
Simon James
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I thought it was a bit simpler than that, although it did skid around a lot. Isn’t he simply saying: the game’s over? The game being liberal democracy, the cause of defeat being capitalism.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon James

But he hopes after the war is over Ukraine will join the club of liberal democracies.. I think just being a democracy would be a step forward, find a solution to the civil war, control the oligarchs, stop imprisoning former presidents, and that sort of thing.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

“find a solution to the civil war”
Like Lincoln did? It consisted of destroying the competing civilization, razing to the ground, and erasing its institutional memory.
“control the oligarchs”
Like Google, Facebook, Twitter… ?
“stop imprisoning former presidents”
Like we are trying to do with Trump in the US at present?
There’s nothing so great about “democracy,” and any lack of “democracy” has little or nothing to do with the above problems.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon James

The liberal hasn’t been born that can pull the word “capitalism” off the shelf without it falling on him and crushing him flat.
“Capitalism” is nothing more than the right to keep what you earn, create, or are freely given. All other commentary about “capitalism” by leftists is merely equality-obsession attempting to disguise itself in economic jargon.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

Great first sentence.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

Sorry. Gotta disagree again. Capitalism is when people with piles of excess wealth lend that wealth out to businesses for interest. They sit at home a collect the wealth created by the labor of the workers. Only a very small minority actually participate; the rest of us just keep paying. Usary writ large.
Your definition is just anti-liberal spin. If all your preferred policies were suddenly enacted you don’ really think that would mean “no more taxes” for you, do you?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

Liberals, of any variety, aren’t anti-capitalist now or historically. Socialists are. I haven’t yet seen the government appropriation of Big Tech, Big Pharma etc. It sounds like you are just employing the American Right’s pejorative use of the term.

Capitalism has many different flavours but means quite a bit more than your definition, including the notion of a legal ‘personality’ being afforded to corporations.

And, to anticipate some of other possible objections to modern ‘liberals’, ‘woke’ capitalism is certainly possible!

Martin Spartfarkin
Martin Spartfarkin
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

Liberalism is a capitalist political philosophy. Always has been.

And capitalism is precisely based on denying workers the right to keep what they create. Profit would be impossible without that.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

A much more focussed comment than the article. Human behaviour is motivated by fear and greed. These lead to in groups and out groups. Ideologies try to rationalise this but to succeed they have to use fear and greed. And they fail when fear and greed overcomes them. To understand their failure you need to distinguish between the ideology and its particular implementation.
A collective fear in Ukraine unites them. In the West, whilst appeals are made to Nationalism and/or consideration for others, politics is driven by different in groups with different fears. Not a common national interest.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

The only proper way for a liberal to “criticize his own movement” is to renounce and condemn “equality” as the highest good, once and for all.
It is that obsession with “equality” — among individuals, groups, nations, peoples, whatever — that leads to all the other ills, including the obsession with “democracy.”

Martin Spartfarkin
Martin Spartfarkin
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

When has liberalism ever portrayed equality as the highest good? Equality of opportunity perhaps, and equality before the law, but never equality of outcome. You seem to be confused about the difference between liberalism and socialism.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I agree with much of what you say, especially that ultra liberalism and especially open borders societies tend to dissolve the social bonds built up over a long period. But that doesn’t exonerate the more extreme and toxic elements of nationalism. Great Britain wasn’t a ‘far right nationalist’ society in the Second World War, any more than Ukraine is today. There was however a tremendous civic patriotism, which wasn’t based on race. Whatever the sometime hypocrisy over this, there was genuine warmth and brotherhood with the many Empire soldiers, sailors and airmen who did support us in our time if need. That is really worth holding on to.

The problem with just extolling nationalism, and not thereby criticising the more extreme versions of it, is that obviously these very often become in conflict with each other. Both Putin and Xi rely heavily on and promote xenophobic nationalism. Why are THEY illegitimate? We need to distinguish between benign forms and much more dangerous forms.

And, I know it is probably anathema among most commentators on here, but nationalism isn’t enough – it does need to be moderated by international agreements and a measure of trust, and thereby not promoting your national claims as intensively as you might wish to. Victor Orban would like to incorporate large areas of former Hungarian territory that were allocated to Romania etc after the First World War – I very much doubt he will try to do so, and sensibly focuses on internal Hungarian affairs within the modem state.

R K
R K
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Spot on.

The Ukrainians as a people are fighting for their very existence — a unifying factor if ever there was one (and Nationalistic by definition).

Tried to hang with the author’s highbrow hand wringing. But, alas, I failed to see a point worth pointing out.

A. M.
A. M.
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

It was fun to see him trying to differentiate “good” Liberal Nationalism vs. the bad one. And Ukraine is supposedly fighting for the ideals of democracy (good), and not in defense of their borders (bad).

BN2020
BN2020
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

hahahah Totaly agree …. I tried multiple time to get the point and finally gave up. Glad I am not alone.

John 0
John 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

The point may be to get the U.S. to send more money to Ukraine for what has become another “forever war” at a corrupt, far away mish mash.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  John 0

Yes. Every nation on Earth must implement American-style democracy, which is the only legitimate form of government ever to have existed. Or else those nations must perish.
The “Equality” will continue until morale improves.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Yes. Most definitely.
Tiresome.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Could have been said in 5 words.

It’s the open borders, stupid!

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Martin Spartfarkin
Martin Spartfarkin
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

There are no open borders. Well, except for Schengen and that between the UK and Ireland. Otherwise borders tend to be pretty rigorously policed.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Spartfarkin
Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

OpenAI.org must have finally got their Hegel GPT up and running – it had me fooled

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Agree, and so full of false claims it’s not even worth bothering to refute. For instance, communism is not a “messianic faith.” (What individual is the “messiah” in communism?)
And barely literate. Anyone that does not know what “to beg the question” means (it means: to take the truth of an argument’s conclusion as one of its own premises) has no business writing anything for public consumption.
Poor thinking, worse writing. The site is called “Unherd,” but this piece is 100% egalitarian herdthink.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

Isn’t Marx their Messiah?

George Dunn
George Dunn
1 year ago

The proletariat is.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

Sorry, every Communist regime became a personalist dictatorship, witness Lenin, Stalin, Mao, even Brezhnev. In their time, only they were deemed fit to lead the given country into the Promised Land.

Might actually read a little history.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Yes, I too lost patience with it, while getting increasingly irritated by his vapid assumptions — to begin with his repeated claim that in the US, “a xenophobic nationalism is replacing a generous patriotism”. The US is and remains generous by nature and is not “xenophobic” but welcoming, as I, as an immigrant myself, can attest. But neither patriotism nor nationalism can survive when a country’s borders are effectively abolished by a Washington DC clique so enthralled by its “global citizen” ideology that it can see no problems arising from 3 million illegal immigrants flooding the country in one year. Legally and constitutionally this amounts to treason, because the regime is facilitating an invasion — and they are not the least bit shy about it.
Next, I invite this scribbler to go back about a hundred years, to an era when his “generous patriotism” still reigned. At that time strict rules and national quotas were in force and enforced, (ever heard of Ellis Island?) for the simple reason that the public feared that the country’s cohesion might be lost if the massive immigration numbers of the late 19th century continued — and that it must be managed, so the country would have time to “digest” its new inhabitants. The new system worked, if not perfectly, then well enough. Something like it needs to be brought back, and a border wall or other barrier must be finished; but none of that means the end of immigration, or the emergence of some academic bugaboo, like ‘Fascism‘.
Then there is his glib, stuck-up verbiage like this: “Let me delicately point out that liberal values have never been deeply rooted in Ukraine, nor were its citizens known for their sense of fraternity and civic responsibility. Very few observers who knew Ukraine’s history could have predicted the surge of resistance that followed the Russian invasion.”
This is enough to wonder if HE knows Ukraine’s history, for the atrocities inflicted on that unfortunate country by Russia in merely the last hundred years are staggering. First, after the 1917 revolution Ukraine, along with the Baltic states and other lands “annexed” by Russia in the past (sounds familiar?) fought for independence, which they had been promised, but after several years the movement was put down by the Red Army, and the country was left devastated. Next, as soon as signs of prosperity returned, the Russians dispossessed, deported and murdered every Ukrainian farmer who had managed to rise even slightly above dire poverty. This, known as “dekulakization“, was followed by the deliberate confiscation of everything edible, in the early 1930s; Ukrainians have not forgotten their ‘holodomor‘, when some parents ate their children, but exactly how many millions starved to death will never be known. Still, it’s not hard to find photos of emaciated Ukrainian corpses, stacked like cordwood. Next came Stalin’s “purges”, in which local commissars were given quotes of how many of each nationality, including Ukrainians, must be shot in the head after confessing to made-up crimes.
I’m trying hard to avoid being as languidly verbose as he is, so let me close with his effectively exploded assertion that Ukrainians don’t have much of a “sense of fraternity and civic responsibility”. Anybody who believes this must be living in outer space, in a galaxy far, too far away to follow the news on Earth.

Last edited 1 year ago by Wim de Vriend
Laurian Boer
Laurian Boer
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well said, it’s a word salad indeed. And the dressing is sweetened with aspartame.

Vaughn C
Vaughn C
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

He is thinking out loud and allowing us to hear. His language is as liquid as his thesis on how liquid our liberal democracy has become. Largesse and the destruction of work ethic are the culprits in my opinion. That is quite ironic because capitalism gave us the largesse and the Leftists war on work and pursuit of government dependence gave us the other. How do we get out of it? A crisis. Economic depression. Food shortages. In other words, hardship. I don’t like it, but here it is.

Laurian Boer
Laurian Boer
1 year ago

I’m sorry to say it but I can’t believe I’m reading this in Unherd. It read to me like half parody half an almost childish propaganda article from some nationalistic possibly lightly fascist-populist East-European newspaper from the ’30s. Almost each paragraph contains at least one fallacy. And here’s what was the most ridiculousy ideological conclusion of the author: there are good patriots in Ukraine (presumably liberal) and bad right-wing patriots (everywhere else, especially in Hungary, possibly in US or UK and definitely not in Poland where the speech took place). Really?

Last edited 1 year ago by Laurian Boer
Dominic S
Dominic S
1 year ago
Reply to  Laurian Boer

Any of us who dare to be even ‘centre’ in politics these days is automatically ‘bad’. I am deeply disappointed at the level of debate that is now rampant in the minds of many.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 year ago

The only interesting sentence was “ We should still be concerned about today’s far-Right nationalists and resist them politically”,

Why? Because the good guys are on the left or the technocrat middle? I was left waiting for his reasoning
..

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

That is his unspoken assumption.

Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

To simply be a moderate 1980s style Conservative now puts a person into the category of ‘far right’ in this CCP + woke dominated era.

Dominic S
Dominic S
1 year ago
Reply to  Patrick Nelson

Precisely so. Sadly.

rob clark
rob clark
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

My sentiments as well.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

This author makes a common but fatal flaw in the use of the term “liberal democracy”. Educated liberals use this word salad all the time (even some conservatives do), but it’s an oxymoron. It can’t exist because the two pieces conflict by nature. One of these values will always trump the other.

It’s not hard to see. Just consider Hungary’s law restricting LGBT material. This was a law passed nearly unanimously in their Parliament and then confirmed in a public referendum. Is this law an affront to liberal values, or is it a triumph of democracy?

There is no way out of this problem. If you are a “liberal” first (like Ursula), you will view any law that violates your liberal tenants is illegitimate, regardless of how many people voted for it. If you are a “democrat” first, you will demand that the will of the people be respected, even if that will is not liberal.

In my own case, I am generally a democrat first and a liberal second. I place them in that order because I believe once you decide to sacrifice the “consent of the governed”, you have taken a huge step toward authoritarian government.

And just so we’re clear, Ukraine is not liberal (by Western progressives’ standards) and is only marginally democratic.

EDIT: Just came across this tonight on The American Conservative: “One of many tensions inherent to liberal democracy is the fact that enough sensible people, given enough time, may well make a democratic choice against the substantive commitments of liberalism. When forced to follow that mandate or admit that their commitment to liberalism trumps their attachment to democracy, our left-wing elites will choose the latter.”

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Villanueva
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago

The contradiction is real, but it is built into the system. We have managed to live with it for a long time. A fully democratic society would never have stopped burning witches, or executing people.

Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The death penalty is more humane and a better deterrent than a long prison sentence. It is also cheaper.
As for burning anyone for any crime at all – there is just no taste or call for it from any section of the populous – so stop being silly.
The last government that burned its enemies (by dropping them into a volcano) was that of Papadoc Duvalier – a voodoo witch himself.

Last edited 1 year ago by Patrick Nelson
Dominic S
Dominic S
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Given the example of Athens, and the slaughter of the people of Salamis by popular vote, you make a good point.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Taking Switzerland as closest to a full direct democracy, then yes a fully democratic society would vote for a ban on executing people. It was banned via the referendum on the 1874 constitution. It was then re-introduced by referendum in 1879 before being removed again in the 1938 referendum on the 1937 constitution. Democracies are subtler and more complex beasts than the caricature of mob-rule majority.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You’ve managed to live with it for 300 years only by running on 1700 years of Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian inertia. That’s gone now.

Liberalism needs injections of purpose, meaning, culture, standards, norms… from some source outside of itself. It can’t develop things thing on its own.

Of course democracy can be taken too far. But so can liberalism. And right now, we don’t have an excess of democracy, we have an excess of authoritarian liberals. It’s not mob rule that we have to worry about; it’s elite totalitarianism.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Villanueva
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

I was disinclined to comment on a singularly vacuous article where the author seems to be playing with abstract words in a way that fails to illuminate anything. But I will comment on your much mere interesting observation.
The trouble is that too many who claim to be liberal are actually not liberal in the classic J S Mill sense. While it is true that J S Mill was a passionate defender of free speech he did recognise that there were limits which he described as follows:“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” The Hungarian people have democratically decided through their parliament that freedom of expression should be curtailed to prevent harm to others. They wish to ban propaganda which might encourage the young to take puberty blockers and mutilate their bodies to achieve a simulacrum of a sex that they were not born to. 

Many in the bureaucracy of the EU favour such propaganda. Instead of engaging in the market of ideas that J S Mill favoured they wish to blackmail Hungary to change their stance on this by withholding funds that otherwise would be due to Hungary. They do so on the basis of an absolute right to free expression that in fact nowhere prevails in the countries comprising the EU.

As you rightly observe the EU’s stance clashes with the democratic decision of the Hungarian parliament. The decision the Hungarians have made is one I suspect would be supported by the majority of the populations of most EU countries hence the EU’s reference to vague Rule of Law principles so as to obscure the real nature of the quarrel from the population of the EU. The EU bureaucracy is an institution with its own ideology in this respect which does not in fact align with the preferences of the the citizens who I believe would accept the view of the Hungarian parliament to curtail freedom of expression on the JS Mill principle of preventing harm.

Liberals in the modern sense are not liberals in the Jj S Mill sense in that they largely favour shutting down debate about a whole range of subjects ranging from climate change and compelled speech in respect to trans issues. They are in fact profoundly illiberal in their outlook.

While J S Mill was distrustful of the tyrannical power that a majority can wield I do not believe he would support the blackmailing behaviour of the EU where it comes to a difference of opinion over the extent to which the harm principle can abrogate the right to free expression.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Interesting to read your comment after the one Rasmus makes about capital punishment. Would Mill oppose capital punishment, despite majority support for it, because it represents the ultimate harm against another person, i.e. taking away their life?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

In fact Mill supported capital punishment according to this article:
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-the-history-of-economic-thought/article/abs/note-on-john-stuart-mills-views-on-capital-punishment/F795951FDD4A35AB8EAE59B55BAE2260

So he would certainly not qualify as a modern liberal. Indeed he would be regarded as to the right of most Conservative MPs.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Modern liberals are nothing but nihilistic degenerates. It hs a compliment to anyone to say that they “don’t qualify” as that kind of “liberal.” Frankly, calling modern leftists “liberals” is a severe misnomer. There is nothing “liberal” about them.
We have many such nonsensical misnomers and oxymorons these days. “Gay marriage,” for instance, or “human rights.” Terms that are completely without meaning, such as “justice” and “equality,” are thrown around as if they had actual referents, and were not just rhetorical devices for propagandizing or seizing power.

Last edited 1 year ago by Adam McIntyre
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

It’s nice to read someone who actually understands what’s going on in Hungary and doesn’t just scream “fascist” at the mention of Orban’s name.

I think you’re completely right Jeremy. I just also believe (as Patrick Deneen does) that liberalism is an anticultural acid which eats away the cultural supports of its own society.

Aivaras Vizgirda
Aivaras Vizgirda
1 year ago

Orban is fascist because of his support of Russia’s aggression

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“The EU bureaucracy is an institution with its own ideology in this respect which does not in fact align with the preferences of the the citizens”. So the Brussels EU bureaucracy and the one in Washington DC, are two of a kind, both demonstrating that once any governmental organization grows past a certain point, it takes on a life of its own. C Northcote Parkinson would not have been surprised.

Last edited 1 year ago by Wim de Vriend
Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

The disagreement with the left is obviously about what constitutes “harm.”
And, the left is wrong. The celebration of trans, homosexuality, etc. is degeneracy, and degeneracy is harm — to individuals, and to society.
Even though the left is wrong, it’s helpful to be careful about exactly what they’re wrong about.

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago

And that is why the architects of the quintessentially liberal event in history, the American Founding, did not give America a democracy, but rather a republic, with deliberately anti-democratic elements in the Constitution: the Electoral College, indirect election of Senators (the abandonment of which was, in my estimation, a grave mistake), divided powers (which is subtly anti-democratic, as it is an impediment to majoritarian rule), the Bill of Rights (described by Kevin Williamson of National Review as “a list of things you idiots don’t get to vote on).

Last edited 1 year ago by David Yetter
Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago

Or as Peter Thiel put it: “I no longer believe that freedom is compatible with democracy.”
“Freedom” means “liberty,” which is what “liberal” used to mean. Nowadays however, “liberal” means “leftist,” which means socialist, which means slavery.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Pretty much what I’d expect from a political “scientist” (believe the science!) and “historian of ideas”, whatever that might be. Professor almost sounds like a real job, but then humanities and Columbia University accompany the title, so you sigh and giggle a little and look forward to an astute, cogent conversation with the guy installing your post-hurricane storm shutters.

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
1 year ago

Brilliant!

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago

”the Ukrainian response to the Soviet invasion has been somewhat embarrassing.”

Oh for FFS… what unmitigated postmodernist drivel this is from beginning to end..

”asking myself whether, under similar circumstances, we would be as courageous and unselfish as the Ukrainians have proved themselves to be. The question brings a blush to the cheeks.”

It is two Oligarch, 99% corrupt, Mastodons fighting out in the tar pit wile the citizen pawns are being killed and economically destroyed…..

On the sidelines the Biden corporatist Oligarch, and his lackeys. are sticking the barbed banderillas in the stronger one’s neck – the point to keep the fight going and going by denying either the ability to win, Or stop fighting……till both are wrecked and completely beaten down.

That it also is killing Europe, and the global economy, and the Ukraine, and causing Biden’s own nation financial stress, and forming the world into opposing camps, seems to suite him just fine….. We, who have watched this from the beginning know none of any of this is what it appears; it is some thing dark, and so far unknowable….

All your dithering on about ‘liquification’, and Marx, and Civic Attachment, and Tocqueville’s materialism, and endless lines like: ”gospel of Christian integrism are children of liquid societies.” is meaningless..

The Essay is Neo-Marxist Modernism babble, dressed up as some kind of clever stuff – to justify his kind being For this war – forget it, this war is a huge puppet show we all watch; distracted wile they pillage our world and usher in the New World Order by creating a Great Reset (which involves taking all we have – You will own nothing and be happy – ha!)

Last edited 1 year ago by Aaron James
rob clark
rob clark
1 year ago

“We should still be concerned about today’s far-Right nationalists and resist them politically.”
Indeed, and lets just ignore ANTIFA, BLM and the growing far left cancel culture shall we?

Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale
1 year ago

America should be more like America, as it was founded to be.

Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson
1 year ago
Reply to  Nathan Hale

We in Britain could also do with a rather modified (non-Republican) version of the US Constitution for ourselves to enshrine our traditional rights and freedoms.
America could do well by actually following their constitution and setting up a federal agency to vigorously eliminate any forces (foreign or domestic) who try to subvert it.
It is clear to see that the Reds are no longer under the bed – they are in the Whitehouse. With hindsight we can see that McCarthy was right and his methods were proportionate to the threat.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 year ago
Reply to  Patrick Nelson

Creating yet another federal agency, even for the purpose of protecting the Constitution, may be the ultimate mistake. Sooner or later (mostly sooner) it will be captured by the Left, which will then impose its own Constitution. Check how many Democrats there are in DC !

George Ziffo
George Ziffo
1 year ago

I stopped reading when I got to ‘the Ukrainian response to the Soviet invasion.’ Dear God, do these people feel so self assured that they don’t even bother to read what they’ve written?

Last edited 1 year ago by George Ziffo
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

What is this nonsense on today of all days,
. the 5th of November?

Today we should be celebrating the valiant attempt by Guy Fawkes & Co to achieve some basic Parliamentary reform, or as he himself so beautifully put it :”to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains”

Fortunately the small town of Lewes (!) East Sussex will be celebrating with gusto this evening!

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

Lewes, in Sussex.

Lewis is in the Hebrides, among the “native mountains” !!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well spotted! A Freudian slip? No, slovenly typing!

Roger Rogers
Roger Rogers
1 year ago

A little homily. In the 1960s, when I was a studying for my GCE A Level in History, there was one point in the syllabus when we were looking at Germany in the inter-war period and the rise of Nazism. One day our teacher started the class by getting up with a wry smile on his face and announcing that “Hitler was a Liberal”. Most of the students identified themselves in those days as Liberal-Left or Marxist and they thought it was a great joke and howled with derision. When the noise abated, the teacher went on to explain the idea that Nazism was actually an extreme form of Liberalism and not a phenomenon of the Right. This would make sense of the situation in Ukraine where the regime as anything but “Liberal”, yet presses what it thinks are the right Liberal buttons in the hope this will keep Western public opinion of its side. I think that “Liberal Nationalism” is an oxymoron.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

“I don’t think I’m alone in asking myself whether, under similar circumstances, we would be as courageous and unselfish as the Ukrainians have proved themselves to be. The question brings a blush to the cheeks.”
Who exactly is this “we”. And typically we have an academic speaking for others. Maybe “he” wouldn’t be as courageous and unselfish. If I was him I would certainly blush.

Dominic S
Dominic S
1 year ago

Ukraine has been described by newspapers in this country, of every political colour, from the Guardian to the Telegraph, as being the most corrupt country in Europe. Now it is a one-party state – Zelensky and his cohorts having declared every other political party illegal. If the author thinks that is a good pattern for anyone to follow, let alone the USA, I wouldn’t like to be inside his head.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic S

While I don’t claim to be an expert on Ukrainian politics which certainly seems complex with enormous numbers of parties with little actual membership involved in them. I think you are incorrect to say Zelinski has declared every other political party illegal. He has banned just eleven parties with strong ties to Russia only one of which has significant representation in parliament amounting to about 10% of the seats. The others being unrepresented. The principal party banned is led by a man with close ties to Putin and who it was suggested would be installed as Prime Minister had Putin’s initial attack on Kiev succeeded. I seem to remember we interned Sir Oswald Mosley and banned his party during our war with Germany without it being suggested Churchill was assembling a one party state. Ukraine may well be corrupt but at least their citizens seem keen to route the Russian invaders.

MĂ„ns Johansson RĂŒder
MĂ„ns Johansson RĂŒder
1 year ago

As a conservative leftists, two things irk me;

1) The claim that nationalists are dreaming about a time that never existed.
– How could the claimant ever know what theyre dreaming of, and is this not simply the claimant professing their own arrogance?

2) That reasonably homogenous societies are a thing of the past and may never return.
– So humanity walked out of Africa as ready made englishmen, fremchmen and swedes, and now that is irrevocably lost? As if world history doesnt consist of an unending series of the deaths and births of ethnicities.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
1 year ago

“ Laws of Social Physics”. Eh????

Scott McCloud
Scott McCloud
1 year ago

Is there a Thomas Hobbes in Ukrainian/Russian/Polish/Moldovan/Romanian history?

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott McCloud

Well spotted – this essay is totally distraction talk wile the WEF Leviathan gobbles us up….

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott McCloud

No, but life in those places having been nasty, brutish and short for so much of recorded history, Hobbesian conclusions might have been drawn by many without there being a particular analogue of Thomas Hobbes.

Bob Ewald
Bob Ewald
1 year ago

Tocqueville also understood the moral underpinning of our Republic. We are now secularized from leadership on down through the media. Without a national moral conscience there is no longer an accepted common good.

M. Gatt
M. Gatt
1 year ago

Ukraine is winning which war? This guy is too busy tossing word salad. He needs to look past NATO/ Ukraine/EU war propaganda and get the whole picture. And its not a pretty one if you are Ukraine. And the idea that Ukraine is a Liberal nationalist state is a joke.

Victor Whisky
Victor Whisky
1 year ago

“What we all hope is that soon, very soon, Ukraine will be able to join the community of liberal democratic nations in full security.”
I was in Kiev the last year of the Soviet Union existance. The statue in the photo was hated by Ukrainians. That statue was built by the Soviets to commemorate the friendship in war with Ukraine and Russian soviet armies against the German hordes. The statue was purposely built to face in the direction of Moscow. Strange to have this symbol used as a PR prop of Ukrainian nationalism.
As for democracy, the US financed coup in Kiev overthrew a legally elected president and all parliamentarians representing Easter Ukraine, which has always been more Russian in nature, were forced to resign from office with a gun pointed to their heads. They were all replaced, hand picked, including the new Ukrainian president, by Victoria Nuland of the US state department who engineered this coup. In Odessa, those against Nuland’s newly installed parliamentarians protested and were attacked by Ukrainian nationalist, some beaten to death and when the rest seeking shelter in a buidling, it was burned, killing about 50 to 60 of them. The entire US congress hailed this coup as democracy in action, while the far less tame incursion of the white house by demonstrators on January 6th was described as local terrorism and many who participated were hunted and arrested and given jail sentences.
Apparently, the west has two different standards of democracy. One for itself and one for everyone else. Victoria Nuland is a unintelligent pretentious failed person as her action have not resulted in regime change in Russia as she was certain it would, but in the sure destruction of Ukraine as we knew it and the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians and Russians. Do all these senseless deaths bother her? It would seem that, like Kissinger, aka the butcher of Vietnam, she gets off watching people killing each other over her idiotic policies. Not only will Ukraine never be the same and smaller in size, if it will be left to exist at all, but Victoria may well lead us into a nuclear Hollocaust.

Arnold Attard
Arnold Attard
1 year ago

Indeed, just add the adjective ‘liberal’ and you get away with anything: liberal fascist, liberal Nazi, liberal communist. You cant tell the difference between a liberal and a war monger these days.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Attard
Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson
1 year ago

This article is pure lunacy. The Ukrainian government is a money laundering outfit which banned the opposition, shelled civilians before the war even began and has ties – top to toe – with neo-Nazism. Very disappointing to see such lunatic nonsense propaganda in Unherd.

El Uro
El Uro
1 year ago
Reply to  Patrick Nelson

Firstly, the war began in 2014 with the invasion of the Russian army into Ukraine. It’s about shelling “civilians”… As Putin said, “we will be behind the backs of women and children and let them only dare to shoot” (it’s a quote, buddy!)
Secondly, I am not going to deny the fact that Ukraine suffers from severe corruption. I just want to note that those who are at least a little familiar with the history of the post-Soviet countries are well aware that all these countries suffer from corruption the more seriously, the more the longer they built a “communist society”.
All I want from you is to get an answer to the question, is the corruption in the country a sufficient reason to invade, to rob, rape and kill the people of this country?
I sincerely hope for an honest answer from a person who most likely lives in a country in which the president is Joe Biden

Last edited 1 year ago by El Uro
ian wright
ian wright
1 year ago

I’ll confess to having struggled to get halfway through this rambling collection of pretentious drivel. In commenting “Very few observers who knew Ukraine’s history could have predicted the surge of resistance that followed the Russian invasion.”, the author clearly demonstrates that he knows nothing of Ukraine’s history – in fact I doubt he could have found the country on a map six months ago. Like the US in pursuing this proxy war the regime in control of Ukraine cares little for the lives lost in achieving “Slava Ukraini”.
The OUN values the life of its members, values it highly; but—our idea in our understanding is so grand, that when we talk about its realization, not single individuals, nor hundreds, but millions of victims have to be sacrificed in order to realize it.” -Stepan Bandera

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago

The entire male population between 18 and 60 was conscripted. The peace party was imprisoned . Very Britain WW2.

Alex Cranberg
Alex Cranberg
1 year ago

Encouraging actually that a liberal appreciates the purpose and importance of nationalism. As Steve Jolly’s comment below suggests, there’s a certain amount of strained effort to distance himself from National Conservatives perhaps to protect his “cred”. But he mischaracterizes NatCon. Two examples: constant references to it being xenophobic, which is simply a liberal scare-word. To favor immigration laws and enforcement that strengthen and not weaken the nation is not xenophobia. Many NatCons are pro immigration but favor actual enforcement of laws. Catholic integralists are a small subset of NatCons and in fact have alienated themselves from much of the National Conservative movement.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

“But if it is even half right, we need to engage in much deeper thinking about liberal democracy and civic engagement than we are accustomed to. ”
Maybe yes, maybe no. By all means think deeply about liberal democracy – it will perhaps be useful. But it is a mistake to think that philosophy or political thought can lead from the front in changing societies for the better. An intellectual fallacy perhaps. One that collectivist thinkers often make and creates great suffering when ‘the people’ don’t do what they should do.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 year ago

I couldn’t read another sentence of this tripe. Are you suggesting the US Army fires shells or missiles at the red states, tortures some Trump supporters, drives them out to Mexico?
I suggest you send your 101st Airborne home before they and there bizarre coalition of misfits get sent home permanently. Look into your history books to see what those Romanians did to Odessa in ‘41 or the Banderistas did to the Poles. But knowing you lot you’ll destroy Odessa first and just retreat anyway, a bit like Kabul and Baghdad. Oh, I know, I watched you lot drive past us in Najaf sneaking back to Kuwait like thieves in the night.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeff Andrews
JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
1 year ago

A prime example of an intellectual looking for love in all the wrong places.
I’ll skim over such ludicrous notions as “Soviet invasion” and Ukraine’s driving ideology as “liberal nationalism”, when in fact opposition parties have been outlawed and the dominant ideology of the parties still permitted is actually proclaimed as “Socialist Nationalism”. I understand that Mr. Lilla needs to set up a foil to the nub of his argument, which is directed at the Western democracies, though the wanton trashing of all formerly hallowed constitutional principles over the last 30 months surely no longer qualifies us for that notion.
Mr. Lilla identification of our malaise is fairly standard and, as he admits, not original. But if we fantasise our foil and misdiagnose our own framework, what chance do we have of prescribing sensible cure? Following Mr. Lilla will I fear leave us all the more exposed to ideological nihilists itching to take us into a brave new world. There is no ideological fix, and there is no system that is foolproof. We are both free and cursed to take responsibility for our society through our own daily actions.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“Why, they are asking, can’t we be more like Ukraine? This is not a wise question.”
Yes it bloody is.

Thomas Harrington
Thomas Harrington
1 year ago

Translated Lilla. I’m really interested in some of things that Putin and Orban are actually doing to salve the sense of precariousness and rootlessness induced by savage globalism among their people. But I know i cant say that and retain my place in the club of approved mainstream-ish thinkers. So I make an argument in favor of what they’re doing, but I ridiculously try to pin it on the donkey of the Ukrainian kleptocracy which, with its total dependence on, and obeisance to, the US is about as bad of a patriotically liberal country as you could dream up

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
1 year ago

I think it’s simpler than that. Capitalism is just barter, and barter is the only real way to add value to human endeavour. It works because it harmonises with human nature in the quest to better oneself and one’s family.

Patriotism is not the same as Xenophobia. It is out of fashion with the liberal elite because democracy prevents them from controlling the very people they originally existed to protect. That’s an absurd viewpoint given that, in every other respect, they claim small is beautiful.

Communities achieve more than individuals. What’s wrong with that community being a nation?

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

Capitalism is a little more than that. It’s the right to invest your surplus with somebody else who can use it to produce more than they could without it – in exchange for getting more back than you invested.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 year ago

Interesting article and the source of the problem is surely the ‘Big State’ … the State has taken over our lives and allows us to be more materialistic than is good for us … we are ignoring our own welfare and that of others because the State takes care of it for which we pay enormous sums of taxation.
Its a really bad model and as it continues we lose more freedoms and the State becomes ever more powerful.
We are proceeding towards a totalitarian World … but the good news is the ‘State’ cannot cope … it is breaking down in every sphere … a revolution is coming albeit different than Ukraine’s it will not be without violence

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

Speaking about England I’ve always seen us as divided. Yes, we have the King, the Union Jack and all the gung ho baloney but, ever since the Black Death, we can’t stand each other. Folk in adjacent villagers still huddle in distrust of outsiders bringing what, lately Covid, in from outside.
Overseas people ask if I live in London. ‘Good God, no.’ I say. London is a vile place where tourists get ripped off and the natives shoot and knife each other. Worst, the government live there, lately everybody’s enemy whichever flag they fly. We vote for the least worst. Ukraine is supported because we don’t like Russia. Until Feb 24 we couldn’t point to Kiev on a map, and cared less.

Charly Cadou
Charly Cadou
1 year ago

I tried to follow the rational of this article until I got to “…David Brooks, one of the most sober political journalists in the United States.”. That was it for me. David Brook? The consummate Neocon sitting on the knee of the ventriloquist. Victoria Nuland, the author of this Ukrainian morass is part of the same gang.

Johnny Smaltz
Johnny Smaltz
1 year ago

Nationalism is just nationalism. It is always attatched to an ethnic identity, either one that is historic or one that is emergent after great conflicts. America is past the time of great conflict and emergent ethnicity. I think their was an effort to use 9/11 as a 21st century pearl harbor to re-forge American identity, but we had already ascended by that point and even fulfilled our civic purpose.

Last edited 1 year ago by Johnny Smaltz
Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson
1 year ago
Reply to  Johnny Smaltz

Nationalism can surpass ethnicity when a national identity is based upon shared values and ideals.

Johnny Smaltz
Johnny Smaltz
1 year ago
Reply to  Patrick Nelson

I don’t think strictly civic nationalism is a strong enough glue to bind a nation. You need a shared struggle and shared history. You kind of have that with pre mid century America who experience WW2 and the great depression together. They had begun to emerge as an ethnicity. I don’t think you can have shared values and ideals build a nation under constant migration and no shared historic struggle and achievements.

Adam McIntyre
Adam McIntyre
1 year ago

The writer, like so many other libs, misses the point that “liberalism” (AKA egalitarianism, AKA “equality,” AKA Progressivism, etc. etc.) is itself a “messianic faith.” The West has been busy attempting to impose it on the rest of the world for centuries.
Also, any analysis of the Ukraine/Russia war that fails to mention the ~2017 Ukrainian language law signed into effect by Zelensky, together with its consequences for Russian culture in Ukraine, is pure bullsh-t.
So also is any comment on Russia/Ukraine that fails to mention that these two nations have been fighting each other for hundreds of years. The Russians have been suppressing Ukrainian culture since the tsars.
“Nationalism” is only a dirty word to leftists because nationalism doesn’t care about “equality” among nations. The reason nationalism so often is espoused by the illiberal is because everyone else has been forbiddden to even consider it. For Progressives, “equality” is the highest good; therefore national health (“nationalism”) must take a back seat, and even be villified.
“Nationalism”: the other n-word.
The last time the Anglophone West got itself involved in a European border dispute, forty million people died. We should have just let Hitler have the part of Poland he wanted. It was 95% German anyway. Any “referendum” would have made it part of Germany.
The “democratic” history of the 20th century is pure bullsh-t. Any theory of history or commentary (like this article) that takes that “history” as truth is merely derivative bullsh-t, since if you take bullsh-t as your premises, you can only create more bullsh-t.

Last edited 1 year ago by Adam McIntyre
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McIntyre

That bs principle could just as easily be applied to your drivel about “letting Hitler have the part of Poland he wanted”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago

“Our countries look less like republics of citizens today than assemblies of consumers and web surfers glued to their screens.”

I don’t know about the US, but the move to convert the UK from a tolerant, peaceable, law-governed realm is far advanced precisely toward the ‘republic of citizens’, perhaps the worst form of state devised in the West in the last 250 years (I blame the French). Of course Americans think such states are ‘egalitarian and democratic’, which is the worst form of Government devised for such awful states. Basically it amounts to letting the ignorant, power-mad, greedy, morally narcissistic and emotionally-incontinent decide who ‘runs’ the state. But this in itself is a mistake about the fundamental nature of sovereignty, law and custom. None of these latter things have to do with ‘running’ any kind of so-called ‘state’ at all. Real institutions in fact set parameters within which people are free to behave, lawfully. as they see fit, free of unnecessary interference from Govt..
This tacit acceptance by the overwhelming majority of the legal and ‘religious’ status quo (given freedom of exit (emigration) – unlike say the USSR) is in fact the true definition of a real ‘state’.
Republicanism is, in fact, top-down government founded on some notion of an ideal realm , to be created and manned by ‘the wise elite’ (usually exclusively male). It’s self-serving gobbledygook.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

Can anyone tell me, not just opinion, whether Ukrainians in general wanted this war or agree with it? I know they may be against Russia’s actions, but were they consulted about war, was there a public feeling about it? Did they understand the repercussions of Zelensky’s actions? Did they have any choice? It’s all very well saying they’re fighting for their freedom, but who are “they”?

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I have learned from a couple fo sources that following Russia’s grab of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine made great efforts to upgrade its military — efforts that have clearly paid off, albeit in part thanks to the considerable technical assistance and donations from the West. And when you look at videos of Ukrainian fighters in action, like Hromadske’s, their high morale is obvious. Contrast that with the Russians, half a million of whom have fled their country to avoid the Ukrainian meat grinder. Morale is such a key element in warfare, and Putin seems to have forgotten all about it, going by the confusion of the Russian POWs who had been told they were there to fight “Nazis”.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

I was referring to citizens, not the military.

Petter Baldwin
Petter Baldwin
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Of course they didn’t want the war. It was imposed on them when the Putin regime launched a massive invasion of their country.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Petter Baldwin

Russia invaded the eastern regions. I don’t know what the rest of the Ukraine population thought about that, whether they thought it was worth defending them. Of course no one wants war, which is what my question was about.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Martin Spartfarkin
Martin Spartfarkin
1 year ago

I think what most of the commenters here are missing, in the article and generally, is that the fragmentation of society is not the result of the hated “liberalism” but of capitalism and the logic of technological development. Trying to put that genie back in the bottle is never going to work, however much the populist right pushes for it.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago

Just a suggestion to Unherd.
The guardian has an article about the likelihood of a coming civil war in the US according to various commentators. It is a bit tilted, as you might expect (how can you talk about the political polarisation of the Supreme Court without mentioning that Roe v. Wade was polarising to start with?)., but a lot seems on the ball. Anyway, could Unherd come up with a counterpoint, a comment from another side on how likely such a civil war is, and what could be done to avoid it? Or just how one would get a trusted result from a presidential election where one side has run on refusing the results of the previous one?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

I think the one thing that the US and Ukraine (and to a lesser extent the UK) is that they are run by corrupt in-group elites who control the MSM

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Nancy Fraizer
Nancy Fraizer
1 year ago

hlo

Last edited 1 year ago by Nancy Fraizer
Nancy Fraizer
Nancy Fraizer
1 year ago

good

Last edited 1 year ago by Nancy Fraizer
Andrea Rudenko
Andrea Rudenko
1 year ago

Should America be more like Ukraine? I think the question is really asking — do Americans love freedom as much as Ukrainians do? I think the last time this was true was during the American Revolution. Today a great many Americans are willing to submit to coercive authority and sincerely argue that many of the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution are obsolete and should be overturned.

For most Americans freedom is an abstract concept that they have never given much thought to. The Americans who have the greatest understanding of freedom are those who have immigrated from other places where freedoms are severely limited. But serious discussions of what freedom really means to an individual and to society are not often heard here in America. Many Americans, if placed in circumstances that called on them to defend their freedom, would just be confused.

Ukrainians have been fighting for their freedom for a thousand years. Defending their freedom is in their DNA. Russians, by contrast, haven’t experienced freedom for a thousand years. Ukrainians understand freedom in ways that Americans cannot. The poorest Ukrainians understand that their connection with the land and with their Orthodox faith, being able to provide for themselves and living at peace with their neighbors IS freedom at an elemental level. Of course they will fight for it. 

Increasingly I hear pundits saying Ukraine should negotiate with Russia to end the war. Really? There is only one negotiation that Putin would accept and that is for Ukraine to give up its sovereign territory. Let me ask: if a gang invades your house, and you are being attacked, and you beg them to stop, and the gang leader says ok, we’ll take your right arm and leg, and you can keep the rest — how would you feel about that negotiation? That’s what Putin wants. Ukraine will never negotiate their land away. It’s an absurd idea. Ukrainians may lose the war, but they will die defending their land.

Lastly, the question is repeatedly being asked: should the U.S. keep supporting Ukraine in this war, given the expense and all the problems here at home? My answer is: of course we should continue to do everything possible to support Ukraine because Ukraine is teaching the world a lesson in freedom. Ukraine, in this moment, is a picture of freedom – and its defense – for all the world to contemplate. The world is rapidly dividing into two camps — those countries that love and strive for freedom and those that rule by coercion. Ukraine is on the cusp of this divide, and their fight is for all of us. If America pulls back now, we should hang our heads in shame and just stop talking about freedom.

It is time, in my view, for freedom loving countries everywhere to form an alliance with the same principle as NATO – an attack on one is an attack on all. It has been encouraging how many countries around the world have stepped up to support Ukraine in some way. We should do the same for Taiwan and any other freedom loving place that is under threat from tyrants.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrea Rudenko
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea Rudenko

You are so right. And (from your name) it sounds like you are part of the conflict, rather than just pontificating about it, like the rest.

I would still disagree with you on one, hypothetical, point. If this was merely a question of territory – like Crimea – one could at least consider talking. Both Russia and Ukraine have some semblance of a claim, and there might be Crimeans who would want to go either way. It might be deeply unjust, and I would not expect Ukraine to accept it unless forced. But even an unjust outcome might be worth considering if it provided a lasting peace. Unfortunately it looks like Russia’s minimum demand is not a piece of land, but to take control over Ukraine as a whole, one way or the other. And if you give them that, they can take anything else they want later, no matter what they have promised. Here there is no compromise possible – it is surrender or nothing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Rasmus Fogh
Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea Rudenko

Hear, hear — and the down-votes you got are from Putin’s Useful Idiots.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

“Why has illiberal nationalism acquired such appeal?”

The reason the question even makes sense to be asked in the first place is due to the West’s persistent tolerance of the hijacking of the word “liberal”. Most people accept the word at face value in any given context, but the fact is that the word can be used in such a broad range of contexts that it is effectively either meaningless or self-contradictory when all those contexts are considered together.

We in the UK are familiar with the running joke that is the Liberal Democratic Party, who have proved time and again that they are neither Liberal nor Democratic. The same goes for the USA’s Democratic Party, which managed to lose the 2016 election against an orange buffoon for no better reason than American voters had had enough of being treated like fools. And most people are now at least vaguely aware that there is a thing called liberalism which seems to be the exact opposite of what many self-titled Liberals (with a capital L) espouse.

The reason why we in the West may find it difficult to answer the question above is that we’ve damaged our own institutional ability to contemplate the question. For people outside the West, the answers are probably straightforward.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
1 year ago

Thoughtful article, I suppose, however
“The war in Ukraine is not only a military event; it’s an intellectual event. The Ukrainians are winning not only because of the superiority of their troops.”
Eh, no. Obviously, tumblingly not. This is so disingenuous so as to be absurd. Also
“We also hope that the experience of war will establish enough trust among Ukrainians to allow democratic institutions to operate as they are intended to, with loyal opposition and respect for opposition.”
Who is “we?” Surely not most nations in the West, which increasingly are amalgams of globalist corporate and buraucratic interests.

A. M.
A. M.
1 year ago

All the “what happened” questions are answered with Iraq War & Afghanistan. That was the moment when Liberal Nationalism got a whole lot of warm bodies into soldiers uniforms. That was the revolutionary zeal burning bright. And now it`s 20 years later, and we learned our lesson. Nobody is fooled anymore.

Ilya Bakharev
Ilya Bakharev
1 year ago

Excellent article. More of that type of thinking may improve the world.