For a long time, Russia preferred to rely on the principles of realism in foreign policy. However, the very fact that Russia has thrown an open challenge to the United States and its allies in the situation around Ukraine is a significant precedent. If the “Russian rebellion” is not suppressed, the blow to US prestige could be extremely painful. Such a blow would not necessarily bring down the US leadership. However, it can become a factor in its erosion, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
The new concept of Russia’s foreign policy, unexpectedly for many, introduced the idea of a state-civilisation in official use. Its appearance may be the beginning of a change in the conceptual framework of Russian foreign policy thinking. Moreover, the changes may both be compared with post-Soviet doctrinal documents and with the basic guidelines of the Soviet period. The new conceptual framework faces serious competition with three major political theories. Here we are talking about the “big three” — liberalism, socialism and conservatism. Each such theory has its own concepts (interpretations) of international relations and foreign policy. A shift towards the notion of civilisation can be an alternative line of thought, which, however, will require careful intellectual elaboration. However, until such a study is completed, realism retains its relevance as the basis of foreign policy.
What is political theory?
Political theory is how we understand the system of normative views and ideas and the proper arrangement of power relations; the goals, values and means of domestic and foreign policy. What distinguishes political theory from ideology is the presence of arguments which are open to being criticised and contested. Ideology claims a single and undeniable view. Every theory requires scientific reflection and constant re-examination. An ideology can be derived from a theory, feeding on its concepts and assumptions. However, it cannot replace theory. In the case of such a substitution, the theory becomes unviable. Each political theory is a system of concepts, that is, interpretations of individual key concepts — power, authority, good, freedom, justice, interest, etc. Major political theories offer their interpretations of foreign policy and international relations. They can directly or indirectly set the paradigm of foreign policy and the contours of foreign policy thinking. Three basic political theories have developed in modern political thought: liberalism, socialism and conservatism. They have many variations and branches, which does not prevent their fundamental assumptions from being preserved.
Liberal theory: From the rational individual to the nation state
Liberal theory can be called rationalistic. It proceeds from the assumption of the power of the human mind, which is capable of taming the manifestations of the worst aspects of human nature — aggression, prejudice, ignorance, selfishness and, as a consequence, the Hobbesian “war of all against all.” By analogy with the taming of the elements of nature with the help of rational technical inventions, the elements of war, violence and other social vices can be brought under control by a rational political order. In liberal political theory, the social contract, embodied in the system of legal institutions of the state, has become a cornerstone concept (although the very concept of social contract has deeper roots and is not ignored by other theories). Institutions, on the one hand, serve the public good, that is, the reduction of disasters and the growth of wealth. On the other hand, they act in the name of freedom from despotism.
Justice is understood in terms of legal norms common to everyone. Accordingly, the source of state sovereignty is the nation as a political community of equal citizens of the state. The nation-state is in many ways a liberal concept that has gradually become the “world standard” for conceptualising the state as such. The nation, as the source of sovereignty and legitimacy of power, delegates power to elected representatives who exercise it in accordance with legal norms. The latter, in turn, are determined through rational procedures that are transparent to citizens. The rational order of the rule of law is a means of controlling internal anarchy and serves to establish a community of citizens with equal rights. Liberation from class boundaries and prejudices is the value and goal of the nation state.
Historically, all these provisions had a direct connection with political practice. They became the doctrinal basis of a number of bourgeois revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, leading to tectonic changes in the nature of states. Huge masses of the population were emancipated, and the usual monarchical and imperial orders collapsed. The liberal doctrine of the nation state retained its influence during the process of decolonisation. The overwhelming majority of new states became republics, adopted constitutions, and declared their peoples to be the source of sovereignty. Often the transition to the nation-state was marred by bloodshed. It commonly failed to actually lead to the achievement of liberal ideals. The energy of revolutionary chaos sometimes gave rise to ugly political forms, nominally called republics, which in fact were modernised despotisms with formal democratic attributes.
The liberal interpretation of international relations was also rationalistic. International relations are anarchic. There is a “war of all against all” going on within them, which cannot be stopped due to the lack of a monopoly on power and the use of force by one specific country or a community of such countries. This means that anarchy must also be taken under the control of a rational order in the form of international institutions. They must be supported by economic interdependence, which makes wars unprofitable. In addition, the guarantee of peace between peoples is their democratisation. From the liberal perspective, wars are the result of the arbitrariness of elites, which are not controlled by citizens. If they are brought under control by democratic institutions, then there will be fewer wars, or they will disappear altogether. By default, the liberal theory of international relations implies that individual countries can take the lead in solving the problem of anarchy and war. They must be democracies themselves, promote democratisation to others, guarantee the stability of world trade, organise the international community in the form of institutions, and, if necessary, use force against violators of the new order.
Liberal political theory has become the framework of US foreign policy thinking, although it has not completely absorbed it. The period of the unipolar moment after the end of the Cold War can be considered the pinnacle of the practical implementation of this doctrine: the United States was the leader of the victorious democratic world, its former rivals, the USSR and the Soviet bloc, sought to join the “world community”, the American-centric globalisation of the economy was gaining momentum, and the United States was the key military power, intervening in conflicts and the affairs of individual states at its own will, while simultaneously playing a crucial role in international institutions, including the UN.
Socialist theory: Reason vs. alienation
Socialist theory, like liberal theory, also proceeds from the limitless possibilities of the human mind. However, if liberalism was forged in the struggle against obsolete imperial and monarchical forms, socialism challenged both the old order and liberalism itself. Just like liberalism, socialism postulates the idea of liberation (emancipation) of a person from class orders, religious prejudices and despotic rulers. Socialism is also based on the Enlightenment ideas of rational progress. It would seem that both theories are compatible. But socialism takes aim at an important aspect of the liberal model — the capitalist economy. The bourgeoisie is the engine of liberal revolutions and it freed the citizens from the oppression of classes and prejudices. Free labour is the basis of the capitalist economy. A citizen is limited only by laws that are adopted on his behalf and on behalf of his equal fellow citizens. Free labour is an atom of the capitalist economy, selling its own labour or buying someone else’s labour at its own discretion, while alienating part of the cost of such labour in its favour. It is either an employee or a capitalist. The difference between the two is that the worker receives stability in the form of a predictable income, but alienates part of his labour to the capitalist. The latter, on the other hand, appropriates the added value, but at the same time takes on the risks of the failure of the capitalist enterprise, because the success of the business model is far from guaranteed.
It was the problem of alienation that became the basis of the socialist critique of liberalism. Not without reason, the socialists pointed to the growth of monopoly capital and its concentration, to the alienation of the labour of huge masses of working people, to the social problems generated by such alienation, to the many crises of the capitalist economies, which left millions unemployed and living in the streets. In international relations, the socialists saw the main problem in the acceleration of imperialism. Big capital merged with state institutions. The developed industrial powers were actively expanding, using, among other things, military force. Capitalism gave a powerful impetus to colonialism. While gradually and unevenly forming democratic institutions at home, the capitalist powers at the same time pursued aggressive policies in their colonies. Like the liberals, the socialists offered a rationalist solution though revolutionary changes to put an end, on the one hand, to the old and obsolete monarchical and class order. On the other hand, they sought to crush the capitalist economy to free the broad masses from the trap of alienation. For international relations, the destruction of capitalism would also mean a solution to the problem of imperialism. The working people have no reason to fight with each other and nothing to share. The solidarity of workers is the basis of peace. The economy would be organised in the form of rational planning and distribution, and the state, amid such conditions, would change its nature to embrace true democracy, or even wither away.
Symptomatically, it was in Russia that socialism won its first major victory in the early twentieth century. On the one hand, by the beginning of the century, Russia retained political forms that were backward for those times. The demand for political change in favour of greater representation of the people and the rule of law was gathering momentum for most of the 19th century. The authorities understood the threat, but the reforms threatened to cost them control, leading to the complete collapse of the political system. Time after time, reforms were incomplete and episodic. Gaining momentum, capitalism exerted a growing pressure on the political system. At the same time, Russian capitalism itself was largely peripheral in nature. Russia’s place in the international division of labour was far from optimal. The country remained backward, although the pace of its development at the beginning of the 20th century was amazing. This development, however, was extremely uneven, giving rise to new and potentially dangerous social movements. In the 19th century, the key challenge to power was from the small intelligentsia, liberal or socialist in orientation. With all its activity (from the coup attempts by the Decembrists and the opposing nobility to the Narodnaya Volya terrorists), the government successfully suppressed the protests.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the urban proletariat became a revolutionary force. Moreover, its domestic version differed from the Western European one. It was more marginal and socially vulnerable. At the same time, it was more developed in comparison with the overwhelming majority of the peasant population and was receptive to revolutionary ideas. The “labour aristocracy” and the middle class were too small compared to the larger and poorer masses of the proletariat. The number of such masses was constantly growing due to unprecedented population growth, the scarcity of land suitable for efficient agriculture, and the attractiveness of a few industrial cities as a source of income. While remaining a small social group across the country, the concentration of the proletariat in the cities acquired an important political significance. The 1905 revolution was the first harbinger of the catastrophe awaiting the old order. The revolution of February 1917 brought it down.
The revolution of October 1917, when a small, but at the same time well-organised and motivated group seized power in the country via a coup, put an end to liberal experiments. At the same time, the victorious Bolsheviks managed to retain power, relying on the attractiveness and innovation of the ideas of socialism at the time. Vladimir Lenin was undoubtedly its most prominent theoretician. Without their political doctrine, the Bolsheviks would hardly have been able to retain power in the country and make it legitimate. Socialism became a powerful tool for maintaining their control and fundamentally modernising the state. For the capitalist world, Russia became a most dangerous rival, whose strength was based not only on the power of the resources and demographic base, but also on the advanced political theory and ideology. Moreover, socialism promised to turn Russia into a modern, and therefore much more powerful state. The danger of Soviet Russia was of an ideological and, as it would turn out, quite material nature.
The victorious march of liberalism and socialism in the 19th and 20th centuries naturally gave rise to a conservative response. The key thought of the conservatives was that the human mind is far from being as perfect as it seemed to liberals and socialists. Rational schemes simply don’t work. The price of social experiments manifesting in a series of revolutions and subsequent wars is millions of lost human lives. Institutions must change evolutionarily, not revolutionary. It is impossible to destroy traditions mindlessly, to deny authority. Too much freedom is dangerous. Besides, it only exists on paper. In reality, power is seized by bureaucrats, who manipulate the masses at their discretion, on their own behalf. It is simply impossible to manage complex social systems with relying on planning methods — they are too complex. Changes must occur, but very carefully and without excesses. Justice cannot be understood as a rational clockwork.
In foreign policy thinking, conservatism manifested itself in the theoretical doctrine that is commonly called realism. The main idea is that the anarchic nature of international relations cannot be brought under control by any rational scheme like a general international organisation. It simply will not withstand the pressure of contradictions between the great powers. Controlled anarchy is a harmful delusion. What matters is national interests, which are determined by common sense, not by rational abstraction. The optimal strategy for a state is to prepare for the worst-case scenario, be powerful enough not to fall prey to its neighbours, to negotiate and to compromise if necessary. At the same time, the political structure of states is not taken into account by realists. Both democracies and autocracies have the same predatory instincts in the international arena. To say that democracies do not fight is both duplicitous and hypocritical.
Realism emerged as an influential doctrine between the world wars and especially during the Cold War. In the US, it was bizarrely combined with liberal political theory. Liberalism manifested itself in the form of an ideological canvas, but political decisions were often dictated by the logic of realism. Behind the velvet glove of liberalism was an iron conservative hand. A similar model, albeit with its own characteristics, has developed in the USSR. The Soviet leadership quite quickly, by historical standards, cooled down on the idea of a global revolution and the abandonment of the state system. State interests in the field of security have become a significant driver of policy despite external ideologisation. The Soviet Union built a community of socialist states, but their solidarity also concealed very pragmatic interests.
During the Cold War, realism turned into an unofficial, but at the same time significant conceptual framework for Soviet foreign policy. As the resources of socialist ideology became exhausted, realism objectively became more and more in demand. The crisis of socialist theory in the Soviet Union at the late stage of its existence can be explained by many factors. Among them were the excessive ideologisation of theory, cynicism and growing corruption among the political elite, fear of reforming the political and economic system, its reasonable democratisation and emancipation, the actual replacement of the power of the Soviets by the power of an overly centralised and less effective bureaucracy, and growing frustration and cynicism within society. All this took place against the backdrop of colossal achievements in science, technology, industry, and the solution of many development problems.
At the same time, the socialist challenge became a powerful stimulus for the renewal of liberalism. Western countries, including the United States, have introduced a number of elements that are commonly associated with the socialist Soviet experience. These include major state social programs, the planning of certain areas of economic development, and the fight against poverty. The collapse of the Soviet Union briefly made ideas of integration into the liberal community the central thought process governing Russia’s foreign policy. This was reflected in Mikhail Gorbachev’s “new thinking” and doctrinal documents of the early 1990s. During the Yeltsin presidency, Russia moved away from liberal idealism. Foreign policy thinking was based increasingly on the principles of realism, which were finally consolidated in the Munich speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007.
Nationalism and the Big Three
Speaking of the “big three” political theories, the question arises about the place of nationalism. Is it an independent doctrine? Can nationalism be considered a political theory comparable to the Big Three? We should start with the fact that nationalism is a powerful ideological construct that has manifested itself in the political development of the vast majority of modern states. In some cases, it was based on political principles. In particular, it can be considered a derivative of the liberal idea of the nation as a political community. Nationalism coexisted quite well with socialism through the idea of political representation. The Soviet version of socialism added an ethnic component to the concept of a nation. The Soviet republics were a political representation of large ethnic groups united by common socialist principles. Nationalism also found common ground with conservatism. Historical and cultural traditions became an important source for constructing the identity of many modern nation states; more precisely, they constructed modern interpretations of such traditions. The key difference is that any nationalism is local, while the “big three” political theories are universal.
The locality of nationalism does not prevent it from being quietly present even in those states that promote universal ideas. American liberal messianism goes well with American patriotism and a specific local identity. Modern Chinese socialism is also combined with Chinese nationalism, giving rise to socialism with Chinese characteristics. The same could be said about the Soviet Union, which combined the state-sponsored nationalisms of the republics and all-Soviet patriotism. With the Soviet Union, this approach played a cruel joke. The national identities of the new states of the post-Soviet space were carefully prepared by the Soviet leadership itself. In some cases, nationalism has degenerated into ugly forms like fascism or national socialism. The defeat of fascism and Nazism by the Soviet Union and its Western allies was the most important event of the twentieth century, but it did not completely solve the problem. Neo-Nazism makes itself known in the 21st century.
Moment of unipolarity
After the end of the Cold War, the United States reached the height of its power. It would seem that liberal theory had no alternatives left. Russia had withdrawn from the competition, quickly shedding its liberal illusions and focusing on its pragmatic interests and a realist foreign policy paradigm. China has retained its commitment to socialism with its own national characteristics, but at the same time successfully integrated into the Western-centric global economy. The European Union, despite its economic strength, remained in the liberal paradigm and its variations. India concentrated on its development, relying on its self-sufficient national and cultural bonds. The Islamic world, one way or another, had a religious community, but was not politically consolidated. There was no political consolidation in Latin America, Africa, or Asia. The post-Cold War world seemed unshakable in its unipolarity.
However, the moment of unipolarity did not last long. In the United States itself, an understanding of a possible weakening of its role in the international arena began to take shape as early as the 1990s. There were material factors driving such a weakening. These included the economic growth of new centres of power, which sooner or later could be transformed into military power and qualitatively new political ambitions. The limits of US influence on internal processes in a number of states were visible. It was possible to turn a blind eye to “rogue states” such as the DPRK or Iran, but the obvious course towards autonomous policymaking in China and Russia could only be met with alarm. At the same time, both China and Russia remained an important part of the US-centric global economy. The big question was what would prevail — the benefits of globalisation or the desire to maintain autonomy and independence, including on fundamental issues of foreign policy? Ultimately, it was China and Russia that emerged as the most dangerous threats to American leadership. Moreover, the threats are not only material, but also ideological.
The growing economic and military power of China, independence in political decision-making, persistence in matters of principle in world politics, and the gradual exit of Chinese diplomacy outside the Asia-Pacific region are only part of the problem for the United States, and not the biggest one. After all, the US remains a major military and technological power with a large pool of allies and the ability to contain China. More importantly, China has adapted its own version of socialist theory to the new realities of international relations. Beijing has formulated a systematic and deeply developed doctrine. It is based on the idea of universal gain, the common destiny of mankind, and overcoming dividing lines and conflicts. China reinforces its ideas with a willingness to promote the development of other countries in the common interest, based on its own experience of successful and comprehensive modernisation. Whether willingly or not, China has created a powerful ideological platform based on socialist theory and its own modernisation experience, which is quite capable of becoming an alternative to the liberal vision of the modern world order.
Russia for a long time avoided formulating such ideas, relying on the principles of realism in foreign policy. However, the very fact that Russia has thrown an open challenge to the United States and its allies in the situation around Ukraine is a significant precedent. If the “Russian rebellion” is not suppressed, the blow to US prestige could be extremely painful. Such a blow would not necessarily bring down the US leadership. However, it can become a factor in its erosion. Combined with other factors, the risks for the US are growing.
At the same time, there are signs Russia is going beyond the usual realism and attempts to find new conceptual foundations of foreign policy. A significant indicator is the appearance in the new Foreign Policy Concept of a state-civilisation. It has the potential to develop further into a more systemic paradigm that is not reducible to the “big three” political theories. However, the path promises to be quite difficult.
The concept of civilisation has long appeared on the “radar” of political theory. For liberalism and socialism, civilisation is determined by the measure of the dominance of the human mind. The more civilised a society is, the more rationality and progress it has. Such a linear picture divides the world into developed civilised societies and undeveloped uncivilised ones, with a large grey area in between.
There was another approach, considering civilisations as large communities, united within themselves by spiritual and material culture and by no means always reduced to separate states. Civilisation can go far beyond the history of a particular state, and also spatially cover a large number of them. On the other hand, we can also talk about the existence of states-civilisations, such as China or India. But even in this case, their civilisational boundaries are wider than national ones, taking into account the large Chinese and Indian diasporas abroad. In addition, in the bosom of one civilisation there may be different ethnic groups that have similar tribal, civilisational features. This approach assumes the coexistence of several civilisations at once. In their development, they can go through the stages of birth, flourishing, breaking, decline and death, although such a scenario is not necessarily predetermined. The concept of civilisations was developed by such prominent scholars as Nikolay Danilevsky, Oswald Spengler, Pitirim Sorokin, Arnold Toynbee and many others, and their developments went in parallel with the rapid conceptual development of the Big Three theories, forming, as it were, a parallel intellectual reality.
Benefits of a civilisational approach
What is the advantage of this approach to international relations? First, the historical depth. Liberalism, socialism and conservatism often operate within a relatively narrow range of historical experience. At best, we are talking about several centuries, although their intellectual roots are much deeper. For civilisational studies, the depth of analysis is hundreds and even thousands of years. The system-forming cultural nodes of individual civilisations were laid long before the era of modernity and still retain their relevance. Second, this approach allows us to go beyond the usual scheme in which the players are nation-states. Obviously, cultural and civilisational motives can act as a factor in international politics, where not only interests but also identities collide. In addition, quite specific civilisational components are used in the national ideology of a number of states. The states of the Islamic world are a striking example. Third, the civilisational view covers both spiritual and material aspects of culture. The nation state is but one of the possible political forms born of the Western civilisation and, in a relatively short period of time, became ubiquitous, but not necessarily definitive.
Disadvantages of the civilisational approach
There are also obvious disadvantages. First of all, historical depth does not always allow the real influence of distant history on modern politics to be revealed. The political identities of modern states are often artificially constructed. That is, political and intellectual elites choose certain civilisational aspects that correspond to their vision of identity, but just as successfully ignore others. In the same way, the process of constructing the image of a “significant other”, that is, an idea of key rivals or competitors on the world stage, takes place. Such constructs are also biased and do not solve practical and ideological problems. In other words, it would be incorrect to perceive civilisation only from the point of view of culture and history, while losing sight of the construction of culture and history by the elites of modern states. The modern idea of civilisation is not an idea of objectively existing civilisations, which are often politically conditioned.
Another shortcoming is that the civilisational factor plays an extremely contradictory role in explaining peace and war. So, for example, the “Anglo-Saxons” today are united by allied relations and common political interests. But at the beginning of the 20th century, Great Britain seriously considered the scenario of a naval war against the United States. Within the United States itself, in 1861, a civil war broke out between the “Anglo-Saxons”, which claimed more than half a million lives. In 1814, the British burned the White House and many other government buildings in Washington, and a few decades earlier, cultural and civilisational proximity did not help them keep 13 colonies obedient. What can we say about continental Europe, which at the beginning of the 18th century was called a single Christian community, but at the same time stood on the bones of the victims of hundreds of wars between European states, the apotheosis of which were two world wars? The powerful civilisational backlog of the Russian Empire in the form of a common cultural, political and material space did not prevent its collapse. The same is true of the Soviet Union, in which local nationalism at a critical moment in history turned out to be stronger than shared cultural, linguistic, ideological, infrastructural and many other bonds. In the current conflict in Ukraine, the opposing sides facing each other across the front lines are mentally almost the same people. They have similar habits, faith, language, and way of life. However, such proximity does not prevent the interference of nationalism, external forces and specific security interests. There are many such examples.
Another problem is determined by the complexity of combining the concepts of sovereignty and civilisation. The concept of sovereignty was developed in line with rationalist theories and was closely tied to the concept of the nation state. Its attachment to the concept of civilisation is much less obvious. It will work in those cases where the boundaries of civilisation and state more or less coincide. In such cases, albeit at a stretch, the sovereignty of a civilisation can be identified with the sovereignty of a nation. With certain reservations, we are talking about India, China, Japan (if, of course, we consider it a separate civilisation, and not part of the West, which is also undeniable). But what about less obvious cases like Africa, Latin America or the Islamic world? Each of them is home to many states. They have a certain cultural, historical or religious commonality. However, it is not enough for political consolidation. Nation states within such civilisations have different interests, material resources, and local cultures. Since their cultural closeness hardly generates a consolidated and stable political will, one can hardly speak of the sovereignty of civilisation in their relations. It will inevitably become attached to the nation state. If a civilization does not have political agency, then it is very difficult to consider it as an actor in international relations.
The concept of the state-civilisation: the Russian context
Let’s return to Russia. Bringing the concept of the state-civilisation into an official document brings us back to the fundamental questions of our identity. Who are we? What is the nature of our state? What is our vision for the future for ourselves and for the rest of the world? Who are our “significant others”? To what extent are we willing to deny or accept “significant others”? Issues of identity are fundamental to foreign policy thinking. The direction of answers to the posed questions depends on our choice of the concepts we use to define ourselves. The concept of the state-civilization should hardly be underestimated as such a conceptual framework. However, it should be borne in mind that theoretical and practical work in this direction is complicated by several factors.
The first is the track of Russia’s identity over the past century and a half. At the end of the 19th century, Westernizers and Slavophiles drew a fairly clear picture of the conflict between our identities. For Westerners, Russia’s problem lies in its unfinished Westernization. Since Peter the Great and even before him, we adopted certain Western models (organisation of the army, bureaucracy and, to some extent, industry), but for various reasons we avoided larger-scale political, economic and social reforms. Accordingly, Westerners saw the task of Russia as completing modernisation according to the Western model and achieving the proper level of Western civilization. Slavophiles, on the contrary, saw the reforms of Peter the Great as the beginning of the distortion of Russia’s civilizational identity, the perversion of its culture and way of life, the split of society and the elite, and the “satanisation” of the country. Accordingly, they considered the task of Russia as one of returning to its cultural and civilizational heritage.
The victory of the 1917 revolution in Russia was an unconditional triumph of Westernism. Socialism is of Western origin. The country has made a powerful leap forward. In terms of Westernism, the collapse of the Soviet Union can be seen as the result of the incompleteness of the Soviet modernisation project, the replacement of modern institutions with archaic imitations of them, coexisting with unprecedented and progressive achievements. Actually, the reforms of the late 1980s took place precisely under the slogans of modernisation, and the desire to integrate with the West also reflected the perception of the causes of the crisis of that time in an unfinished or distorted modernisation project. Throughout the 20th century, the West or parts of it were political opponents of Russia. But in terms of views on the organisation of society and its institutions, the Soviet Union developed under the influence of Western ideas. Thirty years of the history of post-Soviet Russia have also passed in accordance with the logic of Westernism. The conservative turn that began in the late 1990s fit in well with it. Another thing is that the movement did not remove specific political problems in relations with a number of Western countries, but in some places exacerbated them. The causes of such problems lay mainly in the conflict of interests, and not in the conflict of civilizational identities. Foreign policy thinking in terms of the state-civilization brings us back to the perception of Russia as a separate civilization for which the West is a “significant other.” This is a way out of the rut of at least one century. Getting out of this rut will not be easy.
The second factor is determined by the specifics of the development of Russian society. The domestic Slavophiles of the 19th century had a serious and real argument in the form of huge sections of the population retaining a system of traditional culture and values. They had not yet been affected by modernisation, had not been distorted by urbanisation, industrialisation and other attributes of modernity. A century and a half of such modernisation has greatly changed Russian society. It has become much less religious. Its traditional way of life was broken. The modern Russian is radically different from his ancestor who lived a century ago. While a number of developing states today have a purely human resource to rely on, offering cultural and civilizational bonds, then such resources, for Russia, are much more modest. The last 30 years somewhat reduced the Soviet excesses, but did not return, and could not return Russia to the past. Moreover, Russia has turned into a full-fledged capitalist state, with all the ensuing consequences for its culture and lifestyle. Of course, Russia has a colossal historical experience, which can and should be one of the foundations of its identity. A lot has been done in this respect over the past several decades. But the direct connection with tradition has narrowed along with the shrinking of the footprint of traditional society. Russia can be imagined as a state-civilization, but it is much more difficult to place it on a real-life civilizational platform. However, many others face the same challenge.
The third factor is related to the fact that other states-civilizations, and indeed a large number of other states, maintain close ties with the West and are not going to give them up, even if political relations with these countries spark on separate issues. Many are in favour of a multipolar world and constructive relations with Russia, but are in no hurry to give up certain products of Western civilization. China remains a socialist country, albeit with its own specifics. India is cultivating democratic institutions, even if they are not considered liberal by some Western observers. Numerous countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America generally distance themselves from the choice between the West and non-West, pragmatically using those elements of Western spiritual and material culture that they consider acceptable and beneficial for themselves. With the same success, elements of, for example, Chinese culture may be absorbed in the future. Civilizations that are more or less pure become abstractions. Whereas political practice still requires specifics, especially in building a dialogue on individual issues. The need to diversify world finances and move away from the dominance of the dollar is easier to justify by common security interests than in terms of civilizational differences from the West.
All things considered, the concept of a state-civilization makes it possible to construct our political identity, to complete it with new elements. But this will require a lot of theoretical work both on the concept itself and on a wider range of topics. It will not be easy to create a new, full-fledged political theory, an alternative to the Big Three. Russian reality, and international relations themselves, are permeated with the conceptual apparatus of the three “big” theories. Time will tell to what extent the concept of the state-civilization will be developed both in theory and in practice. The new Foreign Policy Concept leaves room for manoeuvre. In the meantime, the realism of foreign policy remains relevant.