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Geopolitics

The Many Misconceptions About 'Liberalism'

Partisans of political moderation are mistaken if they are looking for the ideals of the European liberal tradition in today's neoliberalism.

Is it liberalism still meaningful ?
Is it liberalism still meaningful ?
Alfonso Reece

-OpEd-

QUITO — I see a growing, and disconcerting tendency to disparage "democracy" among people who declare themselves to be liberals, presumably followers of the European tradition of political moderation. Some even advocate for an authoritarian system and a strong-handed government as a means of imposing "liberalism," reduced here to its economic dimension, or the unfettered free market. They have no qualms about stating their approval of dictators and regimes that imposed liberal or deregulated economies. Among their favorites, one stands out: Chile's late military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet.

These people likely went astray when some liberal thinker criticized democracy understanding it in its Aristotelian sense. Greek philosopher Aristotle considered democracy, or the government by the people for the people, to be a perverted regime. What he meant was that it allowed the majority to take power for its own benefit, to the exclusion and detriment of minorities. The opposite was an upright system he referred to as republic, wherein the majority governs to benefit everyone.

Freedom is an indivisible condition, and cannot be altered in part without being entirely spoiled.

When a notable intellectual opposes democracy in that sense, a good many confused souls immediately conclude he was referring to the modern democratic system — with its flaws, failings, and constant process of betterment, this is our modern-day equivalent of the Aristotelian republic. These people repeat the mantra that there is no political liberty without economic liberty, and that is true — but so is the opposite. The tyrant or gang of oligarchs will inevitably use their political power to favor their interests, which in turn makes nonsense of broader economic rights. It is what is happening in China and what happened with Pinochet who used public funds for his personal security after leaving office. Freedom is an indivisible condition, and cannot be altered in part without being entirely spoiled.

Colored photo of General Augusto Pinochet circa 1974 — Photo: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile

Such misconceptions arise when liberals move closer to the conservative groups with which they share a respect for private property. But even that coincidence is misleading. Upon closer inspection, conservatives view private property as a right in itself and part of the natural order, which they may go as far as calling divinely-ordained. European-style liberals however must understand it as a manifestation of the basic right to freedom. This explains why one frequently finds an inclination among conservatives toward protectionism or other forms of state intervention, to protect property as a form of perpetual possession rather than a means of freely disposing of a good.

Such misconceptions arise when liberals move closer to the conservative groups.

The confusion around the term "liberal" is compounded by its use in U.S. politics to denote a kind of social-democrat, while a conservative is someone of the Right, for want of a better term. In this mess, it was inevitable that "liberals' would enlist as sympathizers of Donald Trump, whose truly conservative, nationalistic and racist discourse demonstrates, above all, ignorance as abundant as the flow of the Mississippi River. It shows ignorance of the terminology and a shocking ignorance of U.S. history. Trump's ideas, again for want of a better word, are the very negation of liberalism, and his project is a perfect example of democracy as a perversion of the republic. In other words, the majority wielding power to the detriment of the rest of the community.

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Geopolitics

With The Chechen War Veterans Fighting For Ukraine — And For Revenge

They came to fight Russia, and to avenge the deaths of their loved ones and friends killed in Chechnya. Not wanting to sit in the trenches, they've found work in intelligence and sabotage.

Photo of members of the pro-Ukrainian Chechen group "Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion" posing with weapons

Members of the pro-Ukrainian Chechen group "Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion"

Lydia Mikhalchenko

At least five Chechen units are fighting for Ukraine, with more than 1,000 troops in each unit — and their number is growing.

Most of these Chechen fighters took part in the first and second Chechen wars with Russia, and were forced to flee to Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe after their defeat. Vazhnyye Istorii correspondent Lydia Mikhalchenko met with some of these fighters.

Four of the five Chechen battalions are part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and are paid the standard wages (about €4,000 per month for those on the front line) and receive equipment and supplies.

Chechen fighters say they appreciate that Ukrainian commanders don't order them to take unnecessary risks and attack objectives just to line up with an unrealistic schedule or important dates — something Russian generals are fond of doing.

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The experienced Chechen fighters have taken fewer losses than many other units. Unhappy sitting in trenches, they mostly engage in reconnaissance and sabotage, moving along the front lines. "The Russians wake up, and the commander is gone. Or he's dead," one of the fighters explains.

Some of the fighters say that the Ukrainian war is easier than their previous battles in Chechnya, when they had to sit in the mountains for weeks without supplies and make do with small stocks of arms and ammunition. Some call this a "five-star war."

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