The Agony of the Russian Idea by Tim McDaniel

By Tim McDaniel

This publication is needed interpreting for someone who desires to comprehend Russia. It highlights components of Russian political tradition which have been current for decades--before, in the course of, and after the Soviet period--and which are nonetheless correct this day. even if political tradition as an explanatory framework has flaws as a rule, its strength in explaining the Russian political context can't be disputed.

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By Tim McDaniel

This publication is needed interpreting for someone who desires to comprehend Russia. It highlights components of Russian political tradition which have been current for decades--before, in the course of, and after the Soviet period--and which are nonetheless correct this day. even if political tradition as an explanatory framework has flaws as a rule, its strength in explaining the Russian political context can't be disputed.

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Such ideas became the basis of antimodernist ideologies insisting on the need to maintain the purity of national cultures against the impact of soulless modernization. The German nation should protect itself against the leveling effects of bourgeois society, which turns all relations into expressions of interest. Such ideas also became standard responses of non-Western countries to the threat of Western cultural and political domination. For example, Japanese political elites seeking to modernize their countries also insisted upon the distinctiveness of Japanese communal traditions.

His friend and opponent in debate Alexander Herzen traced this difficulty to the “mistake of the Slavophiles . . in their thinking that Russia once had an individual culture. ”4 Similarly, the great nineteenth-century publicist Belinsky not only was skeptical of the life-giving power of Russian tradition but even argued that old Russia consisted of nothing but deformation. His consolation was: even though Russian culture was degraded by Byzantium and the Tartars, the fact that these faults were acquired and not endemic also meant that they could be cast off.

Their sense that Russia lagged behind, not just in the military or technological sense, but in the social and cultural spheres as well, led them to attempt to recast Russia partially along foreign models. Russia, especially with the advent of Peter the Great around the turn of the eighteenth century, became the pioneer society of forced modernization. Russia was also the first relatively industrialized country to witness a social revolution: Marx’s predictions that capitalist industrialization would culminate in revolution were not borne out in Europe, but in Russia a radical proletarian movement played an absolutely central role in the 1917 revolution.

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