“Liberalism is obsolete,” declared Vladimir Putin to the Financial Times in an interview, published in the respected newspaper only hours before the Osaka G-20 summit. The Russian president is once again center stage in international politics, it seems.

This was also apparent at the Japanese summit itself, during which Putin acted with a new authority. All attempts to try and relegate him to the margins of global geopolitics, as so many of his enemies did, clearly failed.

Putin and the containment of globalization

The motive of opposition, from which the conflict with Putin originated, is another issue on which he is indomitable. His determination to defend Russia’s interests against the dictates of globalization is founded on the demise of nation states.

On his own, Putin “contained” the forces unleashed by globalism, until Brexit and Trump’s victories brought the clash between these forces and the nation-state within the western world.

The war is over: globalization remains, but in a completely different form. This was proved by the Osaka summit, where not just Putin, but all heads of state who took part, spoke for and on behalf of their own country.

Politics has resumed, at least in part, its role, after years during which globalization, having eroded the power of politics and handed it over to finance, had reduced its highest offices to empty catwalks, while the powers governing the world were clearly expressed elsewhere.

Putin’s declaration to the FT on the demise of liberalism should be read within such a context. Not as a challenge but as an observation. This caused a reaction in the West.

Mishra and the clash within the liberal sphere

An acute reading of such reactions can be read in Bloomberg, in an article by Pankhaj Mishra. In response to Putin’s statements, “a contemptuous silence might have been preferable, saving us the embarrassment of Boris Johnson invoking ‘our values’, or European Council President Donald Tusk claiming, against overwhelming evidence, that it was authoritarianism that was obsolete.”

Mishra explains how liberalism expresses itself in two ways: “one offering genuine human freedom, the other entrapping humans in impersonal and often ruthless market mechanisms.”

These liberalisms have run parallel, and often in opposition. With time, however, the second expression won, in fact triumphed, over the first.

So according to Mishra, the self-appointed defenders of liberalism “should examine their reflexively fanatical faith in market mechanisms,” given that the survival itself of liberal freedoms is “endangered by grotesque levels of oligarchic power” and an increasing “inequality”.

Stiglitz and the demise of neoliberalism

On the same wavelength, but positioned more to the left, is an article by Joseph Stiglitz on Project Syndicatea website which can be traced back to George Soros, staunch supporter of neoliberalism, entitled, “After Neoliberalism.”

Stiglitz writes: “The neoliberal experiment – lower taxes on the rich, deregulation of labor and product markets, financialization, and globalization – has been a spectacular failure”.

“Growth is lower than it was in the quarter-century after World War II, and most of it has accrued to the very top of the income scale.” Given the extent of the tragedy, “neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried”.

Everyone has their own recipe. According to Mishra, we should resume a form of liberalism founded on individual freedom. According to Stiglitz, it is necessary that the markets “are governed by the rule of law and subject to democratic checks,” to restore a balance and a more equal distribution of wealth.

But whether it be right wing or left wing, neoliberalism at its core is always convergent. With everything that this entails – new times, or shifting towards different scenarios, we shall see.

We are left with the Russian president’s statement, which has quasi-historical value, like the little boy in the crowd who exclaimed “The emperor has no clothes!”. Putin has Venetian origins, and in Veneto’s dialect, puteo means child.

Today Putin will be in Rome, as was announced during Sergej Lavrov’s visit to San Marino, which took place concurrently with Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy. The president will also be meeting the Pope. It might help.

Translation by Audrey Sadleir

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