by Juliette Faure
Since the mid-2010s, ‘tradition’ has become a central concept in political discourses in Russia. Phrases such as ‘the tradition of a strong state’, ‘traditional values’, ‘traditional family’, ‘traditional sexuality’, or ‘traditional religions’ are repeatedly heard in Vladimir Putin’s and other high-ranking officials’ speech. Paralleling a visible conservative rhetoric hinging on traditional values, the Russian regime demonstrates a clear commitment to technological hypermodernisation. The increased budget for research and development in technological innovation, together with the creation of national infrastructures meant to foster investments in new technologies such as Rusnano or Rostec, and the National Technology Initiative (2014) show a firm intent from the regime.
At the level of official rhetoric, the conservative conception of social order conflicts with a progressive politics of technological modernisation. The Russian president blends a traditionalist approach to social norms based on a fixed definition of human nature, and a liberal approach to technological modernisation emphasising the ideas of innovation, change, speed, acceleration, and breakthrough. The concept of tradition entails cultural determinism and heteronomy: individuals are bounded by a historical heritage and constrained by collective norms. On the contrary, technological modernisation relies on a constant development that strives to push back the limits of the past and nature.
In fact, recent studies of science and technology in the post-war USSR increasingly document the positively correlated relations between technoscientific modernisation and political liberalisation. Scientific collaboration with the West, the importation of standards, the multiplication of ‘special regimes’ for scientific communities, and the objectivisation of decision-making through the use of computer science and cybernetics have contributed to the erosion of the Soviet system’s centralisation, the normalisation of its exceptionalism, and its ultimate liberalisation. The USSR arguably failed to sustain itself as a ‘successful non-Western modernity’. The Soviet experience therefore substantiated the technological determinism assumed by liberal-democratic convergence theories.
Despite that, there has recently been an increasingly visible effort by contemporary Russian conservative intellectuals to overcome the dichotomy between authoritarian–traditionalist conservatism and technological modernity in order to coherently articulate them into a single worldview.This form of conservatism was already advocated in the late Soviet period by the journalist and writer Aleksandr Prokhanov (1938–). In the 1970s, Prokhanov opposed the domination, among the conservative ‘village prose’ writers, of the idealisation of the rural past and the critique of Soviet modernity. Instead, he aimed to blend the promotion of spiritual and cultural values with an apology of the Soviet military and technological achievements. After the fall of the USSR, Prokhanov’s modernism became commonplace among the members of the younger generation of conservative thinkers, born around the 1970s. Young conservatives framed their views in the post-Soviet context, and regarded technological modernity as instrumental for the recovery of Russia’s status as a great power. One of the leading members of the young conservatives, Vitalii Averianov (1973–), coined the concept of ‘dynamic conservatism’ to describe their ideology. This ideology puts forward an anti-liberal conception of modernity where technology serves the growth of an authoritarian state power and a conservative model of society. Unlike classic conservatism, ‘dynamic conservatism’ resembles the type of political ideology that Jeffrey Herf identified, in the context of Weimar Germany, as ‘reactionary modernism’.
The intellectual origins of ‘dynamic conservatism’ across generations of conservative thinkers: Vitalii Averianov and Aleksandr Prokhanov
In 2005, ‘dynamic conservatism’ served as the programmatic basis of one of the major contemporary conservative collective manifestos, the Russian Doctrine, co-authored by Vitalii Averianov, Andrei Kobiakov (1961–), and Maksim Kalashnikov (1966–) with contributions from about forty other experts. The Doctrine was put forward as a ‘project of modernisation of Russia on the basis of spiritual and moral values and of a conservative ideology’. The leading instigator of the Doctrine, Averianov, described the ideology advocated by the Russian Doctrine as follows:
'The purpose of the proposed ideology and reform agenda is to create a centaur from Orthodoxy and the economy of innovation, from high spirituality and high technology. This centaur will represent the face of Russia in the 21st century. His representatives should be a new attacking class—imperial, authoritarian, and not liberal-democratic. This should be the class that will support the dictatorship of super-industrialism, which does not replace the industrial order but grows on it as its extension and its development.'
In his essay Tradition and dynamic conservatism, Averianov further explains that the ‘dynamic’ aspect of conservatism comes from two paradigmatic shifts that occurred in 20th century’s Orthodox theology and history of science. Firstly, he resorts to the theologian Vladimir Lossky’s (1900–1958) concept of the ‘dynamic of Tradition’. Vladimir Lossky developed this concept in order to address and reform what he perceived as the Orthodox Church authorities’ formal traditionalism and historical inertia. Secondly, Vitaly Averianov appeals to the work of the physicist and Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine (1917–2003). According to him, the discovery of non-linear dynamic systems disclosed the ‘uncertain’ character of science and offers a post-Newtonian, post-mechanic, and ‘unstable’ view of the world. As Averianov puts it:
‘We situate ourselves at the intersection between Orthodox mysticism and theology, which are embodied by Lossky, who coined the term [of dynamic conservatism], and on the other hand, systems theory and synergetics.’
In 2009, the authors of the Russian Doctrine convened in the ‘Institute for Dynamic Conservatism’, which subsequently merged with the ‘Izborsky Club’ founded in 2012 by Aleksandr Prokhanov. Born in 1938, Prokhanov is a well-known figure in Russia as one of the leading ideologues of the putsch against Gorbachev’s regime in August 1991, as a prolific writer of more than sixty novels, and as the current editor-in-chief of the extreme right-wing newspaper Zavtra. In 2006, he articulated a theory about the restoration of the Russian ‘Fifth Empire’, according to which the new Russian ‘imperial style’ should combine ‘the technocratism of the 21st century and a mystical, religious consciousness’. More recently, Prokhanov adopted Averianov’s formula, ‘dynamic conservatism’, to describe his own worldview, which is meant to ‘ensure the conservation of resources, including the moral, religious, cultural, and anthropological resources, for modernisation’.
Prokhanov’s reactionary modernism is rooted in the Russian philosophical tradition of ‘Russian cosmism’, which regards scientific and technological progress as humanity’s instruments to achieve the spiritualisation of the world and of human nature. The philosopher Nikolai Fedorov, regarded as the founding figure of Russian cosmism, offered to use technological progress and scientific methods to materialise the Bible’s promises: the resurrection of the dead, the immortality of soul, eternal life, and so on. Fedorov articulated a scientistic and activist interpretation of Orthodoxy, according to which humanity was bound to move towards a new phase of active management of the universe, thereby seizing its ‘cosmic’ responsibility. Following on from Fedorov, 20th-century scientists such as Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, the ‘grandfather’ of the Soviet space programme, or Vladimir Vernadskii, the founder of geochemistry, also belong to the collection of authors gathered under the name ‘Russian cosmism’, since they too advocated a ‘teleologically-oriented’ vision of technological development.
Prokhanov and other Izborsky Club members claim the legacy of Russian cosmism in their attempt to craft a specifically Russian ‘technocratic mythology’, as an alternative to the Western model of development.
A strategic ideology branded by a lobby group at the crossroads of intellectual and political milieus
Introduced as a rallying ‘imperial front’ for the variety of patriotic ideologues of the country (neo-Soviets, monarchists, orthodox conservatives), the Izborsky Club seeks to ‘offer to the Russian government and public […] a new state policy with patriotic orientation’. With more than fifty full members and forty associated experts—including academics, journalists, economists, scientists, ex-military, and clerics—the Club gathers together the largest group of conservative public figures in contemporary Russia. Aleksandr Dugin (1962–), the notorious Eurasian philosopher, is one of its founding members. Despite Dugin’s promotion of Orthodox traditionalism and his critique of technological modernity, his membership of the Club was based on his long-standing relationship with Prokhanov. In this new context of their ideological alliance, Valerii Korovin (1977–), Dugin’s younger disciple and another member of the Izborsky Club, has spelled out a reformed understanding of traditionalism, which regards technological modernity as an instrument for the promotion of Russia as an imperial great power in confrontation with the West:
'We have to separate scientific and technical modernisation and its social equivalent. There is a formula that Samuel Huntington introduced—‘Modernisation without Westernisation’. Russia is developing scientific and technical progress! Our scientists are the best in the world. They create breakthrough technologies. With this, we achieve modernisation while rejecting all Western delights in the field of human experiments. That is—no liberalism, no Western values, no dehumanisation, no mutants, clones, and cyborgs!’
In spite of its ideological variety, the Izborsky Club therefore put forward a ‘traditionalist technocratism’ or the ‘combination of ultramodern science with spiritual enlightenment’ as stated in one of its roundtables in September 2018, or as a glance at the Club journal’s iconography rapidly evinces.
In blunt opposition to democratic convergence theories, the Izborsky Club brands dynamic conservatism as a strategic ideology for Russia’s development as a great power. The concept of ‘dynamic conservatism’ goes further than simply challenging the normative argument of Francis Fukuyama’s modernisation theory. It also contradicts its empirical claim, which contends that democracy is the regime naturally propelled by the development of modern natural science. Indeed, Fukuyama argues that the success of ‘the Hegelian-Marxist concept of History as a coherent, directional evolution of human societies taken as a whole’ lies in 'the phenomenon of economic modernisation based on the directional unfolding of modern natural science. This latter has unified mankind to an unprecedented degree, and gives us a basis for believing that there will be a gradual spread of democratic capitalist institutions over time.'
Based on this technological determinism, liberal modernisation theories claim that economic modernisation, especially in its latest innovation and information based ‘post-industrial’ phase, is incompatible with an authoritarian regime and central planning. What is more, liberal-democratic modernisation’s theorists expect that a ‘post-industrial society’ would eventually lead to the convergence of societies and the ‘end of ideology’.
By contrast, ‘dynamic conservatism’ holds that the success and performance of the Russian techno-scientific innovation complex requires the strengthening of the state’s sovereignty under an authoritarian power. They oppose what they perceive as ‘the myth of post-industrialism, aimed at undermining and permanently destroying the real industrial sector of the domestic economy’, and instead advance the need for ‘super-industrialism’ and total ideological mobilisation. In this endeavour, Izborsky Club members frequently refer to the Chinese experience as a lasting challenge to the technological determinism described by liberal modernisation theories. They have voiced their admiration for China’s ability to maintain state ownership and state control in the organisation of its economy. Furthermore, they seek inspiration in China’s process of defining a national idea, the ‘Chinese dream’, combining a ‘harmonious society’ and a technologically advanced economy. Likewise, the Izborsky Club advocates a vision of a ‘Russian dream’ based on a national-scientific and spiritual mythology as an alternative to the ‘American dream’.
The Izborsky Club has secured close ties with political, military, and religious elites. The Club’s foundation in 2012 was supported by Andrei Turchak (1975–), who was at the time the governor of the region of Pskov and is now the Secretary-General of the ruling party ‘United Russia’. Moreover, the Club received a financial grant from the presidential administration in its first years of operation. Members of the government or of the presidential administration have often attended the Club’s roundtables and discussions. The Club also entertains close ties with governors and regional political elites in the federal districts, where it has established about twenty local branches.
The ideology of dynamic conservatism has also attracted the interest of the Russian Orthodox Church’s authorities. Vitalii Averianov’s experience working for the Church as the former chief editor of the newspaper ‘Orthodox Book Review’ and as chief developer of the most read Orthodox website Pravoslavie.ru, has been key to engaging with the Church at the time of the publication of the Russian Doctrine. Patriarch Kirill (1946–), then Metropolitan and chairman of the Church’s Department of External Relations, displayed public support for the doctrine. In 2007, when discussing the text at the World Russian People’s Council, a forum headed by the Orthodox Church, he declared:
‘This is a wonderful example of Russian social thought of the beginning of the 21st century. I believe that it contains reflections that will still be interesting to people in 10, 15, and 20 years. In addition to purely theoretical interest, this document could have practical benefits if it became an organic part of the national debate on the basic values of Russia.’
Finally, the Izborsky Club is vocal about its proximity with the military-industrial complex. The rhetoric, symbols, and iconography used by the Club in its publications portray the army as the natural cradle of the ‘Russian idea’ that they advocate for: ‘Our present military and technical space is the embodiment of the Russian dream.’
Beside Prokhanov’s declarations, such as ‘The Izborsky club will help the army prevent an “Orange revolution” in Russia’, actual cooperation with the military-industrial complex has been demonstrated by the regular organisations of the Izborsky Club’s meetings in military-industrial factories. Also significantly, in 2014, a Tupolev Tu-95 bomber was named after the Izborsky Club and decorated with its logo, thereby following the Soviet tradition of naming military airplanes after famous national emblems.
In today’s Russia, the patriotic, spiritualised ideology of technological development has been increasingly able to compete with the secular and Western-oriented liberal socio-technical imaginary. This polarity is brought to light by the leadership of technology-related state corporations. The nomination of Dmitrii Rogozin (1963–) as the head of Roscosmos, the state corporation for space activities, in 2018, contrasted with the nomination of Anatolii Chubais (1955–) as the head of Rusnano, the government-owned venture in charge of investment projects in nanotechnologies, in 2008. While Chubais is a symbolic representative of the Russian liberals, as vice-president of the government in charge of the liberalisation and privatisation program of the post-Soviet economy during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, Dmitrii Rogozin is one of the key leaders of the conservative political elites. He is the former deputy prime minister in charge of defence industry (2011–18), the co-founder of the far-right national-patriotic party Rodina, and a close ally of the Izborsky Club. In line with the agenda advocated by the Izborsky Club, Rogozin has been an active promoter of a nationalist, romantic, and messianic vision of the Russian space programme. According to him:
‘The Russian cosmos is a question of the identity of our people, synonym for the Russian world. For Russia cannot live without space, outside of space, cannot limit the dream of conquering the unknown that drives the Russian soul.’
While Vladimir Putin’s discourse runs through a wide and heteroclite ideological spectrum spreading from traditional conservative social values to neoliberal policies of technological development, the ideology of the Izborskii Club flourishes in specific niches in the ruling elites. The impact of their vision on the direction Russia is taking relies on the balance of power negotiated among these elites.
 Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 12 December 2012, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/17118; Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 12 December 2013, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/19825; Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 4 December 2014, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/47173; Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 1 December 2016, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53379.
 See for instance his references to the Russian people’s ‘genetic code’ and ‘common cultural code’. Vladimir Putin, ‘Direct Line with Vladimir Putin’, President of Russia, 17 April 2014, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20796.
 This liberal-progressive vocabulary was particularly dominant in Vladimir Putin’s March 2018 address to the Federal Assembly. The discourse included 12 occurrences of the word ‘breakthrough’ (‘proryv’), 60 occurrences of the word ‘development’ (‘razvitie’), 10 occurrences of the word ‘change’ (‘izmenenie’) and 40 occurrences of the word ‘technology’ (‘tekhnologiia’). Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 1 March 2018, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56957.
 In 1972, the creation of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Austria provided a place for scientific collaboration between the United States and the USSR until the late 1980s. See Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, The Power of Systems: How Policy Sciences Opened up the Cold War World (Ithaca ; London: Cornell University Press, 2016); Jenny Andersson, The Future of the World: Futurology, Futurists, and the Struggle for the Post Cold War Imagination (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018).
 As evidenced by the participation of Soviet delegates in the meetings of the Hasting Institute and the Kennedy Center in the United States to establish an ethical framework on biotechnology, and the USSR’s adoption of the DNA manipulation rules of the US National Institute of Health that were established at the Asilomar Summit. Loren R. Graham, ‘Introduction: The Impact of Science and Technology on Soviet Politics and Society’, in Science and the Soviet Social Order, ed. Loren R. Graham (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Pr, 1990), 1–16.
 Kevin Limonier, Ru.Net: Géopolitique Du Cyberespace Russophone, Carnets de l’Observatoire (Paris : Moscou: Les éditions L’Inventaire ; L’Observatoire, centre d’analyse de la CCI France Russie, 2018).
 Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2002).
 Egle Rindzevičiūtė, ‘The Future as an Intellectual Technology in the Soviet Union - From Centralised Planning to Reflexive Management’, Cahiers Du Monde Russe 56, no. 1 (March 2015): 111–34.
 This argument is developed by Richard Sakwa : ‘the Soviet developmental experiment represented an attempt to create an alternative modernity, but in the end failed to sustain itself as a coherent alternative social order’. See Richard Sakwa, ‘Modernisation, Neo-Modernisation, and Comparative Democratisation in Russia’, East European Politics 28, no. 1 (March 2012): 49; Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, ‘The Civilizational Dimension of Modernity: Modernity as a Distinct Civilization’, International Sociology 16, no. 3 (September 2001): 320–40.
 As famously articulated in Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York : Toronto : New York: Free Press ; Maxwell Macmillan Canada ; Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992); Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1973); Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties: With a New Afterword (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988).
 This argument was also formulated by Maria Engström in Maria Engström, ‘“A Hedgehog Empire” and “Nuclear Orthodoxy”’, Intersection, 9 March 2018, http://intersectionproject.eu/article/politics/hedgehog-empire-and-nuclear-orthodoxy.
 On the ‘village prose’ movement and the different forms of conservatism in the late Soviet Union, see Yitzhak M. Brudny, Reinventing Russia: Russian Nationalism and the Soviet State, 1953-1991, Russian Research Center Studies 91 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998).
 See Juliette Faure, ‘A Russian Version of Reactionary Modernism: Aleksandr Prokhanov’s “Spiritualization of Technology”’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 27(1), published online at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13569317.2021.1885591.
 On the younger generation of Russian conservatives, see Alexander Pavlov, ‘The Great Expectations of Russian Young Conservatism’, in Contemporary Russian Conservatism. Problems, Paradoxes, and Perspectives, ed. Mikhail Suslov and Dmitry Uzlaner (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2020), 153–76.
 Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
 See the list of experts and contributors involved in the writing of the Doctrine: http://www.rusdoctrina.ru/page95506.html
 ‘Russkii Sobor Obsudil Russkuiu Doktrinu’, Institute for Dynamic Conservatism (blog), 21 July 2007, http://www.rusdoctrina.ru/page95525.html.
 Vitalii Averianov, ‘Nuzhny Drugie Liudi', Zavtra, 14 July 2010, http://zavtra.ru/blogs/2010-07-1431.
 Vitalii Averianov, ‘Dinamicheskii Konservatism. Printsip. Teoriia. Ideologiia.’, Izborskii Klub (blog), 2012, https://izborsk-club.ru/588.
 In Order Out of Chaos : Man’s New Dialogue with Nature, that he co-authored with Isabelle Stengers, Ilya Prigogine concludes that science and the ‘disenchantment of the world’ are no longer synonyms. See Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature (London: Flamingo, 1985).
 Averianov, ‘Dinamicheskii Konservatism. Printsip. Teoriia. Ideologiia.’, art. cit.
 On the Izborsky Club, see Marlène Laruelle, ‘The Izborsky Club, or the New Conservative Avant-Garde in Russia’, The Russian Review 75 (October 2016): 634.
 Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Imperskii Stil’, Zavtra, 30 October 2007, http://zavtra.ru/blogs/2007-10-3111.
 Quoted in Dmitrii Melnikov, ‘"Valdai" na Beregakh Nevy’, Vesti.ru (2012) : https://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=944192&cid=6
 Juliette Faure, ‘Russian Cosmism: A National Mythology Against Transhumanism’, The Conversation (2021): https://theconversation.com/russian-cosmism-a-national-mythology-against-transhumanism-152780.
 George Young, The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Fedorov and His Followers (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
 Michael Hagemeister, ‘Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today’, in The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, Bernice G. Rosenthal (Ed.) (Ithaca ; New York: Cornell University Press, 1997).
 Faure, ‘Russian Cosmism: A National Mythology Against Transhumanism’, art. cit.
 See the ‘about us’ page of the Izborsky Club’s website: https://izborsk-club.ru/about.
 Laruelle, ‘The Izborsky Club, or the New Conservative Avant-Garde in Russia’, 634.
 Other prominent members of the Izborsky Club include the economist Sergei Glaziev, the Nobel Prize physicist Zhores Alferov (1930-2019), Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov, the writers Iurii Poliakov and Zakhar Prilepin, leading journalists for Russia’s TV ‘Channel One’ such as Maksim Shevchenko or Mikhail Leontev, who is also the press-Secretary for the state oil company Rosneft.
 See Faure, ‘A Russian Version of Reactionary Modernism: Aleksandr Prokhanov’s “Spiritualization of Technology”’, art. cit., p. 9.
 ‘Na Iamale Otkrylos Otdelenie Izborskogo Kluba', Izborskii Klub (blog), 1 April 2019, https://izborsk-club.ru/16727.
 ‘Stenogramma Kruglogo Stola Izborskogo Kluba "V Poiskakh Russkoi Mechty i Obraza Budushchego"’, Izborskii Klub (blog), 10 October 2018, https://izborsk-club.ru/15978.
 See for instance the cover pages of the Club’s journal 2018 issues : https://izborsk-club.ru/magazine#1552736754837-283c3fe0-bb20
 Francis Fukuyama, ‘Reflections on the End of History, Five Years Later’, History and Theory 34, no. 2 (May 1995): 27.
 Francis Fukuyama reformulates Friedrich Hayek’s argument. See Friedrich Hayek, ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’, The American Economic Review 35, no. 4 (1945): 519–30. The compatibility between a centralised and authoritarian political system and the development of an economy of innovation was however considered by Joseph Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942, Harper & Brothers).
 Bell, The End of Ideology, op. cit.; Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, op. cit.
 Averianov, ‘Nuzhny Drugie Liudi', art. cit.
 According to Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘without ideology, there is no state at all’, see Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Raskol Intelligentsii’, Institute for Dynamic Conservatism Website, 11 October 2013, http://dynacon.ru/content/articles/2039/.
 See for instance Aleksandr Nagornii, ‘Kitaiskaia Mechta Dlia Rossii', Izborskii Klub (blog), 9 April 2013, https://izborsk-club.ru/1130.
 Faure, ‘Russian Cosmism: A National Mythology Against Transhumanism’, art. cit.
 Faure, ‘A Russian Version of Reactionary Modernism: Aleksandr Prokhanov’s “Spiritualization of Technology”’, art. cit.
 The ‘about us’ section of the Izborsky Club website writes : ‘The governor of the Pskov Region A.A. Turchak played an important role in the creation of the Club.’ See : https://izborsk-club.ru/about
 For instance, the Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinskii took part in the inauguration ceremony of the Club in September 2012.
 For a list of the Izborky Club delegations in the regions, see : https://izborsk-club.ru/contacts
 ‘Vsemirnii Russkii Narodnii Sobor Rassmatrivaet "Russkuiu Doktrinu" v Kachestve Natsionalnogo Proekta'’, 28 June 2007, http://www.rusdoctrina.ru/page95531.html.
 ‘Stenogramma Kruglogo Stola Izborskogo Kluba "V Poiskakh Russkoi Mechty i Obraza Budushchego"’, art. cit.
 Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Izborskii Klub Pomozhet Armii Predotvratit "Oranzhevuiu Revoliutsiiu" v Rossii', Izborskii Club (blog), 13 March 2019, https://izborsk-club.ru/16616.
 Laruelle, ‘The Izborsky Club, or the New Conservative Avant-Garde in Russia’, art. cit.
 Rogozine has founded the Rodina Party with Sergei Glaziev, a permanent and founding member of the Izborsky Club. Regarding his strong personal relationship with Aleksandr Prokhanov, see Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Strategicheskii Bombardirovshchisk “Izborskii Club”’, Zavtra, August 21, 2014, http://zavtra.ru/content/view/strategicheskij-bombardirovschik-izborskij-klub/.
 Dmitrii Rogozin, ‘Rossiia Bez Kosmosa Ne Mozhet Ispolnit Svoi Mechty', Rossiiskaia Gazeta, 11 April 2014, https://rg.ru/2014/04/11/rogozin.html.
Constructing ‘alternative’ ideological narratives in conservative thought: Populist strategy from village politics to a post-truth world
by Richard James Elliott
One of the most remarkable traits of modern conservatism in Britain and the United States is its populism—its ability to speak for and to a working class audience. Traditionally, conservative parties attracted popular support by pitching themselves to the masses as steadfast bastions of property and the established order. Yet in recent years, disruptive political movements on both sides of the Atlantic—Brexit in Britain and Trumpism in America—have magnified the importance of the direct (and personal) dialogue between conservative leaders and their working class supporters.
Calls from leading Brexiteers for Britain to ‘take back control’ from the European Union continue to resonate with disempowered voters in deprived regions of England, amplifying the reach of Boris Johnson’s opportunistic brand of conservatism. In the United States, Donald Trump speaks directly to the concerns of his working-class base, delighting thousands of adoring supporters at mass rallies, while—at least until recently—captivating (and enraging) millions more instantaneously via Twitter. And across the airwaves, conservative pundits like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson address viewers face-on, speaking directly to camera in an ersatz conversational style in order to give the impression that right-wing talking points emerge out of a straightforward and ‘authentic’ dialogue among reasonable Americans.
Using this approach, conservative leaders have been able to cultivate personal loyalty, to construct an ‘alternative’ narrative of political events around core ideological beliefs, and to undermine the credibility of the experts and journalists that question the new political orthodoxy. To those outside the bubble, this ‘alternative’ narrative often appears like a bewildering display of mendacity, bombast, nationalism, and self-aggrandisement, bearing little resemblance to reality. But for all the talk of transition to a ‘post-truth’ era of politics (and the cannibalism of conservatism), the current state of affairs is not as unprecedented as we often tend to imagine.
The ‘alternative’ narratives that have developed out of the contemporary dialogues between conservative leaders and their working-class supporters draw on many of the same strategies that have been used over the past three centuries to mobilise mass support during periods of intense political partisanship. By examining two rich historical examples (without losing sight of the clear differences in historical context) it should be possible to elucidate how these strategies work in practice. Moreover, it should become easier for us to step outside our own experience and reflect on some of the ways that populism expands and transforms conservative ideology.
The first example is a classic propaganda pamphlet targeted towards the labouring classes. Hannah More’s Village Politics (1792) was published at the height of the French Revolution, as the moderate constitutional aims of the early revolutionary years gave way to much more radical demands for social and political transformation. More’s popular pamphlet reflects the growing anxiety of the British ruling elite that revolutionary ideas would spread across the Channel, inspiring the lower orders to rise up and overthrow the existing political system. More sought to counter this threat (manifested in the immense popularity of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man) by addressing the labouring classes directly in the form of a dialogue between two characters: Tom Hod, the mason, and Jack Anvil, the blacksmith. At the beginning of the dialogue, Tom reveals that a book of revolutionary ideas has caused him to grow dissatisfied with his lot. He demands ‘Liberty and Equality, and the Rights of Man’. Jack initially laughs off Tom’s sudden political transformation, before countering his demands with a discussion of the violent excesses of the French Revolution and the natural superiority of the English constitution. As Tom gradually cedes ground, Jack demonstrates that the ‘Rights of Man’ are all abstract theoretical principles with no real foundation. And he reminds Tom of the tangible benefits of the existing order (from a day off every week on the Sabbath to the ‘superfluity’ of ale). Ultimately, Tom abandons his new revolutionary ideas, accepting that ‘we’re better off as we are’.
The second example plays on many of the same themes. C. S. Price’s Love and Mr. Smith (1932) was one of a series of ‘Plays for Patriots’ intended for use as propaganda during the interwar period. These mini-dramas were official campaign materials (approved by the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Parties), performed by party-members to an audience of local electors. Crucially, the plays were not simply am-dram electioneering: they reflected real anxieties among conservatives about the dangers of socialism and the threat of class war. Love and Mr. Smith centres on the tension that arises in a working-class household when ‘good old-fashioned’ conservative values are challenged by the arrival of a communist interloper. Mr. Smith returns home from a political meeting fuming that the local Conservative candidate has been heckled by communists intent on stirring up trouble. His daughter has invited Billy Johnson, the young man that she is walking out with, for dinner. But it soon emerges that Johnson is one of the communist agitators that disrupted and ultimately broke up the meeting. Mr. Smith is outraged, and proceeds to lecture Johnson and the audience on the perils of social disintegration if the communists get their way. Fortunately, the drama is resolved when the middle-class curate arrives and explains that Johnson was fighting back against the bully tactics of his comrades, and Johnson renounces his former political beliefs for the love of Mr. Smith’s daughter.
Neither historical example is especially subtle. But the similarities between Village Politics and Love and Mr. Smith highlight some of the most effective strategies employed by conservative cultural and political leaders to construct an ‘alternative’ ideological narrative for their working-class supporters.
First, the narrative is presented in the form of a horizontal (i.e. a non-hierarchical) dialogue between ‘authentic’ working characters, encouraging the audience to identify with the message presented to them without closely scrutinising its provenance. Both historical examples then build upon this conceit by contrasting the horizontal transmission of conservative ideas with the vertical transmission of revolutionary ideas from detached intellectual sources (books) and pernicious left-wing elites (philosophers and party apparatuses). While the audience is encouraged to laugh at Tom the mason for gesturing towards the intellectual authority of The Rights of Man and proclaiming that ‘I find here that I'm very unhappy, and very miserable; which I should never have known if I had not had the good luck to meet with this book’, the message is clear: revolutionary ideas (and all related discontents) are artificially imposed from above, while conservative principles arise naturally out of the community.
And yet, there is a certain irony to this horizontal dialogue, given the didactic tone and the condescension that the authors privately felt towards their working-class audience. More commented that Village Politics was ‘as vulgar as [the] heart can wish; but it is only designed for the most vulgar class of readers’, while historian David Jarvis has noted that ‘Plays for Patriots’ were informed primarily by middle-class prejudices about the workers, and for this reason draw on very simple stereotypes. To contemporaries that saw through the conceit (and that cared about such things), the cognitive dissonance must have been jarring. The insincerity of conservative strategy was obvious, while its success was positively bewildering.
Second, the narrative is played out in the sphere of domestic drama, building personal stakes that transcend the political message. Love, friendship, family prosperity, and the social order are all thrown into turmoil by the prospect of revolution. Mr. Smith reminds everybody around the dinner table that communists ‘envy the people who’ve got the grit an’ the stomach to work ‘ard an’ get on’, inciting the weak and desperate to class war. By turning the communist preoccupation with the welfare of the working classes on its head, he elevates the domestic concerns of the household over the political concerns of the party activist. At the same time, he explicitly challenges the communist conception of the worker, bolsters a competing vision of working-class respectability, and primes the audience to remember that their own security and happiness is tied to a conservative political outlook.
Nonetheless, for all the anxiety, the audience is inclined to root for a happy resolution in both domestic dramas because the characters are relatable, pragmatic, and funny. Poor Billy Johnson has to suffer through a traumatic first meeting with his sweetheart’s parents before he can reveal that he has turned his back on communism for the love of Mr. Smith’s daughter. The eventual dénouement draws sympathy and laughs from the audience in equal measure. Likewise, in Village Politics, Jack’s repeated references to Sir John, the local landowner, his ‘rantipolish’ wife, and her desire to tear down and rebuild the estate with the changing fashions lends an element of mirth to a staid, conservative analogy for revolutionary reform. In the end, it is the personal stakes of this amiable cast of characters—and the humour that they bring to the dialogue—that enables the audience to look past the contrivances and identify with an ‘alternative’ ideological narrative.
Third, the narrative defines conservative values relative to a ‘foreign’ ideological antithesis, allowing the audience to fall back on the simple dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Throughout their debate, Tom never really challenges Jack’s assertion that ‘Liberty, Equality, and the Rights of Man’ are quintessentially French principles and are thus intrinsically alien. In fact, Jack makes hay with this distinction, contrasting French freedom (‘They make free to rob whom they will, and kill whom they will’) with English freedom (‘a few rogues in prison keep the rest in order, and then honest men go about their business, afraid of nobody’), before demanding to know ‘suppose the French were as much in the right as I know them to be in the wrong; what does that argue for us?’
Ultimately, the nationalist distinction between English conservative values and foreign revolutionary dogmas applies a subtle psychological lever that makes it possible for conservative leaders to draw their supporters towards quite radical patriotic affirmations. As Jack and Tom proclaim: ‘While Old England is safe, I'll glory in her and pray for her, and when she is in danger, I'll fight for her and die for her’.
Fourth, by drawing and expanding upon all three preceding strategies, the audience is persuaded of the existence of a conspiracy to subvert natural social relations and suppress the truth. Though Jack has some success in casting doubt onto the value of foreign innovations, Tom remains obstinately convinced that his new revolutionary principles are sound until Jack pulls back the curtain: ‘Tis all a lie, Tom. Sir John's butler says his master gets letters which say 'tis all a lie. Tis all murder, and nakedness, and hunger’. The abstract theoretical principles of the revolution are a cover for an all-out assault on civil society. As Jack makes plain: ‘when this levelling comes about, there will be no Infirmaries, no hospitals, no charity-schools, no Sunday-schools’, and no security in marriage, because ‘for every little bit of tiff, a man gets rid of his wife’. Or, as Mr. Smith puts it rather more bluntly, the communists would have ‘No Gawd, no country, no marriage’.
At this point, it doesn’t really matter that the conspiracy appears wildly outlandish and all-encompassing, because it plays into a much more fundamental aspect of the ‘alternative’ ideological narrative: its anti-intellectualism. The plan to overthrow civil society is being perpetrated by a self-serving intellectual elite determined to further its own power at any cost. In Village Politics, this elite is embodied by Tim Standish, the local philosopher, who talks ‘Nonsense, gibberish, downright hocus pocus’, and is every bit the treacherous rat: ‘He is like many others, who take the king's money and betray him’. Men like Tim Standish should be grateful for the patronage of their social superiors, and should feel an obligation to preserve the status quo. Instead, they actively challenge it: they are guilty of the ancient Socratic crime of corrupting the youth with radical and dangerous ideas. Emphasising this point has two major consequences. First, it absolves all ‘misguided’ idealistic working class participants in the dialogue from blame (as Jack tells Tom, ‘they've made fools of the most of you’), and opens the door for reconciliation and even romance. Second, it primes the audience to believe that any attempt by intellectuals to appeal to reason is simply another attempt to deny the truth.
For those that are willing to buy into the narrative, the only reliable source of information becomes the ‘horizontal’ dialogue with likeminded conservatives. And at this point, it becomes more logical to deny expert authority and to reject evidence that appears to contradict the party line than to try to come to terms with a complicated reality. Thus, the narrative really does become an ‘alternative’ framework for understanding and explaining the world.
Of course, Village Politics and Love and Mr. Smith only provide a glimmer of insight into the kind of strategies that conservatives use in order to shape ‘alternative’ ideological narratives for their working-class supporters. But both of these examples do reveal continuity across time that may help to explain the flourishing of ‘alternative’ ideological narratives in the ‘post-truth’ world of today. Core aspects of conservative ideology clearly do incentivise cultural and political leaders to cultivate a direct dialogue with their working-class supporters, and to use that dialogue to shape the political reality. All it takes is a charismatic, amiable, or funny candidate, and the right kind of political appeal.
 Hannah More, Village Politics (1792).
 Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791-92).
 C. H. Price, Love and Mr Smith – A Play in One Act (June 1932). This play, and many others like it, form a rich body of propaganda literature in the Conservative Party Archive.
 As quoted in M. G. Jones, Hannah More (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), p. 134.
 David Jarvis, ‘British Conservatism and Class Politics in the 1920s’, English Historical Review, cxi (1996), p.63-4.