Living in times of dynamic change, is it still meaningful to talk about Lithuanian conservatism, which from the oldest times has looked at the change in at least a skeptical light?
Musings on this forgotten topic were encouraged by Mantas Adomėnas’ “return” to the ranks of the TS-LKD (I know not, why he was expelled), with party leader G. Landsbergis recognising that the invited has significantly contributed to strengthening the seemingly conservative party’s ideological foundation, Mečys Laurinkus writes in lrytas.lt
Indeed, after appearing in the Lithuanian political arena, M. Adomėnas energetically took to revitalising the concept of conservatism and what lies behind it, after it had been washed ashore by a wave of liberalism. In 2010, he released the book Libertas & Pietas. Lithuanian Conservatism, organised a number of intellectual discussions.
What influence these efforts had on the policies of the party, which first called itself the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Conservatives, is hard to say for probably even the members of this political organisation. After changing names to the TS-LKD, the organisation’s leaders with Aandrius Kubilius at their head made use of V. Landsbergis’ efforts and were, as well as continue to be. In essence, active reformers, and liberals, who occasionally take up some conservative, clearly boring to the majority of the party’s membership topic, for example, the concept of family.
A. Kubilius’ most frequent word is reforms. Not just any reforms, but intensive ones and the more, the better. Nothing bad, nothing weird, it could not have been otherwise.
Conservatives as reformers
Lithuania regained independence in post-modern times when the separations between classical party names were rapidly fading, traditional ideologies evoked constipation and the term “conservatism” was associated with a medicated old reactionary. A wave of liberal reform swept across all of Eastern Europe. After all, would you ever enter the European Union with a plan economy and kolkhozes?
By the way, the programme of the Sąjūdis was also filled with the spirit of liberal reform. The only conservative fragment of this historic document was the idea of patriotic schooling, which quickly faded out. After the Maastricht Treaty, the Lithuanian political elite became obsessed with the idea of the EU and with it, of course, membership in NATO. You could call a political organisation or party whatever you wanted back then, what mattered was that it would have a liberal reform programme.
With the Conservative party’s founding, G. Vagnorius quipped that you first have to “boil” something to have something to conserve. The Social Democrats also took to the ranks of right-wing reformists and themselves did not take distance to business.
It is natural that it was mainly the liberals, who became one of the most popular political powers. Thick books on the liberal philosophy and ideology and political practices spread rapidly, while regarding conservatism, you only had a thin pamphlet you could read over breakfast. And who is it that has for years commented for us on economic life? The Free Market Institute. And also, what of various public liberal youth organisations, Rotary and similar clubs.
Thus, we continue to live. Whatever happens in the liberals’ ranks, they will continue to be visible and supported by the public. Such is the spirit of the current epoch.
What is the fate of Lithuanian conservatism?
But what will the fate of Lithuanian conservatism be? Is it all in the past, a philosophy once popular among landowners? I believe that conservatism will not be left in the past for two reasons: it is linked to human psychology, character and temperament, while also, alongside a reformative advance, in public life there will always be a wary look at rapid, but not always measured reforms and especially processes, which threaten national traditions, language, and ethnic identity.
American sociologist, political scientist, conservative traditionalist C. Rossiter highlights four uses of the term conservatism. One of them defines the human temperament, certain character traits, which appear in daily life among various social groups. Habits, inertia, the fear of unexpected changes, also the fear of losing one’s status in your usual social group – constant elements of such a psychological state, which are typical to the individual at all times.
Another definition of conservatism is situational conservatism. The defining feature of this is fear, which in political life turns into a fear of radicalism, which proposes to remake the world at the expense of traditional values, systems, and lifestyles.
Upon throwing both these manifestations into political life, we find political conservatism. In the broad sense, it is the purification of an existing order, proven political systems, and universal moral norms. Usually, it is associated with the right wing, whose political history can be very different in each country. The conservatism of this type should be distinguished from reactionism, which sighs in its memory of the past and seeks to return it.
Let’s dig deeper into conservatism
The attitude of the conservatism toward revolution is also important. According to C. Rossiter, “The mission of political conservatism in the West was not combatting revolution, but preventing it.”
A separate and much broader topic than this article permits is philosophical conservatism. It is a strong European intellectual power, born from disappointment in liberalism. While the real conservatists are uninclined to delve into theoretical speculations, in philosophical publications, there are constantly discussed topics.
It is a moral order supported by religion, natural human inequality, inevitable split of society into classes and group, the role of private property in seeking personal freedom and social order, the recognition that namely traditional norms are an engine of progress, the limits of the human mind and the importance of tradition, symbols, rituals and even superstition, as well as many other musings, some of which would even shock our society. For example, the tyranny of the majority.
In recent years, the increasing attention to national interests in opposition to globalism is doubtless a new wave of conservatism, perhaps even a renaissance of it. How it could manifest in Lithuania is a topic that requires serious thought.