Experts think that the excesses of globalisation have created an identity crisis across the world, facilitating the rise of nationalist movements.
In the wake of the G20 summit in Japan last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that liberal democracy has reached its limits, outliving its purpose with policies of “mindless multiculturalism”.
The decline of liberalism, which has long been discussed in academic circles, is not a new idea, but Putin’s recent assertion shows that it’s not a theoretical issue anymore, incrementally becoming a political reality.
Despite their differences, experts from different ideological orientations share the Russian president’s conclusions.
“I think it’s generally reasonably accurate given that I am looking at this particular topic at the moment,” said Gregory Simons, an associate professor at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University.
Simons believes that liberalism’s decline is apparent given the outcome of the recent EU elections, where nationalist and conservative parties made crucial gains across Europe.
He describes it as “a fantastic example” of how liberals are losing.
In national elections, liberals have also been weakened because they no longer deliver what they promised in the first place, according to Simons.
“They have completely abandoned democracy in favour of liberalism, imposing liberalism on people, who are least willing to observe the cost of liberalism… a misunderstanding related to the idea of globalisation and multiculturalism,” Simons told TRT World.
Like Putin, Simons thinks that liberalism’s willingness to sacrifice national character and identity at the expense of globalism and ‘multiculturalism’ has angered large masses, leading to the emergence of populist movements across the world.
“The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population,” Putin said during the interview.
Liberal democracy, which has been the driving force behind globalisation and multiculturalism since the fall of the communist bloc led by the Soviet Union in 1989, appears to have created an identity crisis, expanding across the world with the rise of nationalist movements.
Liberalism and identity crisis
The crisis has also been recognised by other experts.
Francis Fukuyama, one of the most popular American political scientists, who wrote The End of History and The Last Man, infamously claimed that the victory of the US liberal order over communism would be a permanent state for the whole of humanity. Now he is not so sure.
In his new book Identity, Fukuyama has backtracked on his bold theory in the face of various challenges to the liberal order, primarily from the Eurasian region, where Russia and China have a dominant role.
“What I said back then  is that one of the problems with modern democracy is that it provides peace and prosperity but people want more than that,” the American political scientist conceded.
According to Fukuyama, what people want more than peace and prosperity is a sense of belonging to something which makes them feel good about life and their relation to it.
“Liberal democracies don’t even try to define what a good life is, it’s left up to individuals, who feel alienated, without purpose, and that’s why joining these identity groups gives them some sense of community,” Fukuyama said in an interview in October.
But Fukuyama’s new book still attempts to frame the main obstacle facing liberal democracy as ordinary people, who feel alienated ideologically and impoverished economically in the face of growing globalism.
On several occasions, Putin has described Russia as a country that was never allowed to thrive in the US-led liberal capitalist world order. He has often claimed to be the guardian of alienated and impoverished people.
The emergence of non-liberal democracy?
The rise of Russia, based on an ideology that mixes nationalism, conservatism, democracy and authoritarianism, has also partly inspired the European nationalists and populists from Britain to France, Germany and Hungary.
Even US President Donald Trump’s leadership style, which has relied more on personal charisma than democratic precedences and institutions, carries similarities to Putin’s way of managing Russia.
“Authoritarian rule is not always, but in many ways more effective. I believe that the whole world is moving toward a kind of combination of authoritarian democracy or democratic authoritarianism,” said Sergei Karaganov, a former policy advisor to the Kremlin, who is also an influential political scientist in Russia, in a previous interview with TRT World in October.
But some experts also think that Russian political stances have been accompanied by certain problematic elements, ranging from authoritarianism to racism and anti-migrant sentiments.
"Russia has considerable 'soft power' within EU member states through its connections with far right, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic groups,” said Sener Akturk, Associate Professor of International Relations at Koc University.
“Russian President Putin implicitly positions himself as the protector of a white, Christian-origin, conservative Europe allegedly being attacked by mysterious 'multiculturalists',” Akturk, the author of Myth of a Christian Europe and the Massacre in Norway, told TRT World.
Others still maintain that the rise of Russia signals a worldwide political trend, heralding the incoming of conservative democracy, which different experts define in different terms from illiberal democracy to authoritarian democracy.
“[We witness] these different emotions of democracy. Russia did go through stages of trying to frame or brand itself as sovereign democracy. I think others have tried other things. For example, Uzbekistan tried this eastern democracy brand,” Simons said.
“They tried to differentiate themselves away from this liberal democracy brand. This is the main thing, offering something else within the markets of different style of democracies. They are trying to differentiate themselves from this idea of liberal democracy.”