How postmodern Authoritarianism overtook modern culture, and threatens global stability

By Giles Longley-Cook

Despite the frequently hysterical associations made by the press, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin actually seem to have just one truly common feature. That is their phenomenal ability to remain both ubiquitous and indefinable. One simply cannot avoid them, both via the traditional strongman platforms of countless t-shirts, car bumpers and other regalia, and via endless media scrutiny, in Trump’s case as much because of his own verbal-diarrhea online, and for Putin because of the Western media’s almost mythical obsession with him. Why then, despite endless inspection, do they succeed remaining so utterly unpredictable and unaccountable? As if we were staring hard at them, but without spectacles, they remain a worrying blur. 

Documentary-maker Adam Curtis posits the theory that Trump has unintentionally latched onto the core political theory which has helped keep Putin untouchable in power for years [1]. The theory of ‘Managed Democracy’, crafted supposedly by the powerful Putin ideologue Vladislav Surkov, relies largely upon using unpredictability and disorientation to maintain power over a frightened, suspicious and disparate society, in his case post-Soviet Russia. I say supposedly because, true to form, Surkov has gone to great lengths to muddy the waters regarding his exact position and beliefs, further adding to the confusion. Having grown up as an avant-garde artist in the moribund, fake utopia of the late USSR, and then as a PR man in the cynical con-job that was Yeltsin’s new democratic Russia, Surkov is well-versed in the hypocrisy, irony, cynicism and despair which have come to define his ideology. He proceeded to forge a Russia in which the worst aspects of both worlds complemented each other. For example, he would fund political grassroots organizations and parties, both left and right, organizing fake rallies and protests, only to then reveal his manipulation openly, creating an inescapable atmosphere of isolation and fear amongst the body politic, and leaving Putin as the only man capable of understanding what was going on and what to do [2].

It has already been noted that Donald Trump has succeeded in mimicking Surkov and Putin’s methods almost accidently. Trump contains a toxic mixture of the spoilt, entitled heir, the soulless huckster, the cynical falseness-embracing reality-TV star and quite possibly a mounting senility-induced lack of introspection.  The resulting political outlook is of one convinced both of his own ability to interpret and shape the world, and also of the inherent meaningless of any real fixed beliefs. In this sense at least, it has turned him into Vladimir Putin.

But where Putin and Surkov had a disillusioned, disempowered and dying population to manage, Trump had to impress a populace which, despite all the battering of economic decline, media cynicism and political stagnation, is nonetheless still theoretically more free, boisterous and defiantly independent than almost any other in history. How then has he been so successful?

While we should not overestimate the popularity of either Putin or Trump, we may have to consider that the success of their politics amongst many people has been achieved because, just as Trump intuitively absorbed Putin’s crafted strategy, so multiple factors of modern life have made them acceptable to us all.

The decades preceding today’s crisis have arguably witnessed an unprecedented coordination of collapse. Economies, institutions and nations have fallen, especially in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and culminating in global recession and the fracturing of the once-monolithic EU. Ideologies, worldviews and hierarchies that could have explained or replaced them have too. In countries like Britain and France, ostensible ‘socialist’ parties have long since thrown off any such beliefs, while conservatives everywhere have largely exchanged traditional values for neoliberal economics. And like the Russian experience, those left stranded in this deluge are increasingly finding themselves feeling isolated and paralyzed in a disconcerting and unpredictable world.

It can be no wonder then that we are witnessing the increasing acceptance of the fakery and meaninglessness of politics amongst Western populations. The numbness to falsity is coming not via stupidity or restrictions, as many once worried, but through a seemingly willful state of cynicism and despair, in which unreality becomes a mere fact of life. An instructive symptom and enabler of this malaise is the tacit acceptance of automated ‘bots’ responsible for influencing the popularity and thus power of certain figures in social media. Influential politicians, such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage, have lauded their huge Internet following, only to have more than half of said followers exposed (Surkov-style) as bots [3]. Even non-political figures get in on the game, with bloggers buying followers to increase their online footprint, with as little compunction as a corrupt banana republic politician [4].

The geopolitical results of such ubiquitous acceptance of falsity cannot be understated. National governments and economic policies are being approved despite any appeal to proven reality [5]. Where previous governments, no less corrupt than our current ones, felt the need to lie and cover up foreign interventions, the recent Obama administration managed to get away with its extraordinary drone assassination programme seemingly by citation of Obama’s accepted peace-maker credentials alone. More recent interventions in Syria by both Russia and the USA have seen similar application of indefinable, ‘non-linear’ warfare, by design or accident, whose logic consists of open-ended, illogical alliances, assaults and enmities designed more to defy reality than achieve any sort of traditionally accepted ‘victory’ [6].

An American officer in Vietnam once claimed that he ‘destroyed the village in order to save it’. Along with bodies, such insultingly insane justifications continue to litter warzones worldwide. However, that officer’s statement became infamous and added to the anti-war movement in America. Nowadays, despite anti-war and anti-governmental sentiment being just as strong as in the 1960’s, no such movement has had any meaningful size or impact. This fact alone can cause despair, and tells us that suspicion of those in power is not enough to enact radical change. Cynicism, whether carefully managed from above, or absorbed from culture, is in danger of paralyzing our critical faculties as well as blind trust ever did.


[1] Adam Curtis (2016): Hypernormalisation,…

[2] Peter Pmerantsev (2011): Putin’s Rasputin, London Review of Books,

[3] London Web News,…

[4] Sarah Magliocco (2017): Want More Insta Followers? Buying them is the dishonest new trend,

[5] Adam Curtis (2016): How Propaganda turned Russian politics into theater,

[6] Peter Pomerantsev, Foreign Policy (2014) How Putin is Reinventing Warfare,

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