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Conservatism Yesterday and Today

Recently, right-wing parties in Bulgaria have spoken together about conservatism. What would be a more appropriate political time than the upcoming election campaign for 44 National Assembly for us to deepen - of course, as long as the genre of article allows that - discussion on the topic in order to enhance the political culture of Bulgarian citizens, yet also to eliminate the impression of a functional dependence on the processes in Europe and the US, which means to try and have an effective dialogue between the Bulgarian and foreign experience on the subject, as well as to avoid the contemptuous laughter of the ubiquitous Bai Ganyu around the corner of the past, who, with his virtuoso language is always ready to say: "Liberals and conservatives: all scoundrels!"

Conservative ideology emerged at the end of the seventh century in Britain. This fact is essential because for two centuries – (18th-19th) Britain was the arbiter of relations of the Great Powers in Europe  (see Kissinger. Diplomacy) which - with the exception of France - are monarchies and have anti-revolutionary foreign and domestic policies. Britain is the guarantor of the balance of power between the leading countries in Europe, which means that neither of them should dominate the other. The consensus is the consequence of the dangerous combination of Cardinal Richelieu's political conception of 'rezon d`etat' and the revolutionary ideas of 1789, which made France an empire under Napoleon I, and this seriously threatened the balance in Europe.


The father of conservatism is the astute Scottish philosopher Edmund Burke, who created the doctrine as an alternative to the French Revolution of 1789, because the latter began with human rights and ended with terror that questioned the very existence of the French state. He writes from the position of the Glorious English Revolution of 1688, which underlies the correlation between traditional authority and law: two centuries later Michel Foucault, who cannot be suspected of fondness for the right-wing thinking, acknowledged that the English Revolution has created a legal discourse that shapes the criterion for legitimacy of political and future regimes (Foucault. Abnormal); today the American conservative places the law at the base of modern conservatism (see Kekesh. Against Liberalism), and the social democrat Habermas insists on the legitimacy of correlation between moral and right  (see Habermas. Morality, Law, Ideology).

The term "conservator" is of French origin. It appeared during the Restoration and was widely distributed through Chateaubriand's magazine Le Conservatoire in 1818. It is polysemantic and has a turbulent history. To put it firmly, I propose Benton's definition: “… Conservatism is the intellectual (and political) movement of the modern era that was born with it, as it is directed against it; the conservative doctrine was developed to protect the traditional political and social order of the European nations…. pure conservatism is traditionalism". (Benton. Conservatism. Bulgarian ed., 1992, p. 10).

What are the core values ​​of conservatism, according to Burke? First, the doctrine is counter-revolutionary; it rejects revolutionary reason in a categorical way, respectively, revolutionary anthropology, who argue that it is possible to create a "new man" because man is not a "blank sheet" but a continuity; here we should extend this position because the radicals of Paris take the concept of man as a "tabula rasa" from the liberal John Locke, i. e. the revolutionary and the liberal thinking find unexpected similarities between themselves and intertwine; at the beginning of the 21st Tzvetan Todorov proved that scientific communism and liberalism have epistemic, ideological and empirical similarities (see Todorov. The Intimate Enemies of Democracy); second, Burke defends traditional authority (family, church, common and sustainable moral history, etc.); third, the philosopher is convinced that man is "complex in nature", which implies that political order is also a complex system and any simplification of it would end in disaster: it is impossible not to mention that this understanding of the thinker seems prophetic - communism simplified the system of human relations to "class struggle" and ended with a spectacular failure; and fourth, Burke realized that replacing the word of God with officialese, which is pre-Babylonian, would disrupt human communication. Burke's conservatism also has strongly debatable elements, e.g. he criticizes democracy in favour of aristocracy: the Russian conservative Nikolai Berdyaev expresses similar view in this regard because he considers freedom to be a privilege of the aristocratic spirit.


In continental Europe, conservatism is similar to the doctrine of Burke, but it is not identical. Here I will point out the principle similarity between them, because differences would require a different genre. The French conservative Joseph de Maistre writes: "What is a constitution? Isn't it the solution to the following problem:

Considering the population, manners, religion, geographical location, political relations, wealth, good and bad characteristics of a nation, find the laws that suit it. " (quoted in Benton. Conservatism, p. 41).


During the same period, Russia was a Great Power. The Russian state was almost theocratic, i. e., with God-anointed authority, therefore conservative. Yet this is an aspect of foreign policy, and in the domestic one - Russian conservatism arises and develops in principle differently from the above, because it exists with a premonition for revolution; its most prominent representatives (Konstantin Leontiev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, etc.) understand that nihilism and radicalism will be twinned and they foreshadow a catastrophe for monarchical Russia: despite the difference, conservatives turn out to be prophets - in 1917 Christian Russia ceased to exist, replaced by atheist Leninism in the name of Marx but not following Marx, as expressed by Berdyaev (see Berdyaev. The Origins of Russian Communism; and Berdyaev. The Road of Russia).


How is in Bulgaria? Bulgarian conservatism emerged during the Bulgarian Renaissance. Its principles are similar to the European ideas, yet at the same time to the Russian ones. It honors traditional authorities (Christian religion, sacred language, church, education - education is God-pleasing, and its abandonment is considered a sin, family, sustainable moral history, ethical work, etc.). For decades the relationship between the above-mentioned institutions developed and culminated in an autocephalous Bulgarian church, thanks to which Bulgarians were recognized in the Ottoman Empire as a separate nation. The schism, however, follows: this is the first failure of Bulgarian conservatism, which among other things has accelerated revolutionary ideas among Bulgarians.

The second major failure of Bulgarian conservatism was during the meetings of the Constituent Assembly in the city of Turnovo in 1879. This was the constitutional regulation of the Bulgarian state; I mean the political collision between the liberals - previously revolutionaries - and the Conservatives on the fundamental subject of "single-chamber or two-chamber system"; main speakers were Petko Slaveykov and Todor Ikonomov: the speech of the liberal Slaveykov marks the beginning of demagogy in Bulgarian politics according to Simeon Radev (see The Builders of Contemporary Bulgaria) and thanks to it the majority prevails over the astute words of the conservative Todor Ikonomov. The consequences of this loss of the Conservatives are long-lasting: the last Bulgarian Constitution of 1991 is liberal and the parliament is single-chamber. The problem is extremely serious because it raises the essential theme of legal voluntarism: since 1989, there is hardly any Bulgarian law that has not been amended dozens of times, and this no less means that the laws in question are no longer coherent texts, therefore not the norm but the interpretation is now leading, which itself destroys the logic of the lawsuit.

The failure of the Conservatives in the Constituent Assembly is so serious that it presupposes the next one. Just two years after the disturbingly short-written and discussed Turnovo Constitution, the political philosophy of conservatism was transformed into a tactical party instrument to achieve aims that remain unclear to some of the participants in the events otherwise put in the forefront. Specifically I mean Konstantin Stoilov and Grigor Nachevich as leaders of the Conservative Party, who in 1881 became entangled in complex political relations with profound cultural and symbolic consequences. I take into consideration the first coup d'état in the Third Bulgarian State - what a sinister irony: the Conservatives are leading a long list of upheavals and it seems this shapes a tradition, which is destructive for Bulgarian politics - in which the main subjects are Prince (knyaz) Alexander of Battenberg, Konstantin Stoilov and others, and ...Russia. The stated purpose was to rectify"Ikonomov's mistake", but this is a nonsense: can a coup achieve a lasting, beneficial purpose? Moreover, I am not at all sure that Konstantin Stoilov understood the difference between strengthening of monarchism and the authoritarianism of Battenberg. Something far more important: Russia's assistance in this case, on the one hand, is a continuation of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78, but on the other, it leads to an expansion of the Russian influence, and this itself is directly linked to Bulgarian identity. It is amazing that the traditionalists did not understand the fundamental importance of the topic. However, the coup failed and the one-chamber Turnovo constitution was restored. 


Konstantin Stoilov and Grigor Nachevich and increasingly decrepit party conservatives appear once more on the political scene. This comes at a time of constitutional crisis prompted by Russia's refusal to recognize Prince Ferdinand's legitimacy. The situation is dramatic and complicated because here emerges the dilemma of "Monarchy or Republic". The contradictory management of Stefan Stambolov - positive economic results, but synchronized with civil unrest and the idea of ​​dualism with Turkey - further inflames the Bulgarian passions. Then the prince appointed the conservatives, headed by Konstantin Stoilov, to save the situation, that is, to improve the relations with Russia, respectively, to stabilize the monarchy in Bulgaria. The goals were achieved, yet the topic of the relations described above and their impact on Bulgarian identity was not raised in depth. Conservatives were not at all aware of the consequences of the events of 1881 and 1894 and the years that followed: symbolic evidence of the latter statement is found in the sinister murder of Stefan Stambolov and of the brilliant and honorable lawyer, i.e. the conservative from the European point of view Aleko Konstantinov.

But this is not the end. Later Bulgarian conservatism appeared in the unexpected - in fact, a quasi form. I am referring to the period between 1956 and 1989, when Todor Zhivkov was an unchangeable "party and state leader"; the State Council was established, the Communist allusion to the Second Chamber, the "Father", so the people called Todor Zhivkov, appointed his daughter, son and son-in-law to prestigious government posts; The members of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party resemble more aristocrats - in fact, quasi ones, i. e., the Republic is nominal and the Monarchy is real. It is striking that the concerns described above are not a subject of a study: they undoubtedly affect the topic of the collective Bulgarian consciousness and proclaims above historic directions.

If today's Bulgarian conservatism wants to achieve authenticity, it should replace the perspective of its history with a new one - a history of change (Robert A. Nisbet. Social Change and History). And more: 1. to convey the topic of a two-chamber parliament, respectively a new Grand National Assembly and, in this context, a judicial reform; 2. to transform the education from state to spiritual and ethical obligation; 3. to initiate a dialogue between religions in Bulgaria in order to consolidate public morality; and 4. to reaffirm the democratic political system in Bulgaria, respectively its European path. And especially: conservatism highly values ​​culture because it preserves and discusses the existential.

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