Self and Other in International Relations Theory: Learning from Russian Civilizational Debates

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Self and Other in International Relations Theory:

Learning from Russian Civilizational Debates

In a special issue of International Studies Review “Responsible Scholarship in International Relations,” edited by J. Ann Tickner and Andrei P. Tsygankov, Vol. 10, No. 4, 2008, pp. 762-775.


One important critique of the “West’s” hegemony in international relations theory has been this theory’s inability to come to terms with the problem of difference or the Self/Other dialectic. To further highlight the importance of the Self/Other relations, this article proposes to analyze Russian theoretical discourse of relating to Europe and the West. For centuries, Russia has participated in intense interactions among European, Asian and Middle Eastern regions, and it has developed a language and theories for relating to its various Others. Studying Russian debates can assist us in the task of reflecting on problematic epistemological and ethical assumptions behind international relations scholarship, as well as suggest some paths to a genuinely diverse and global IR theory. To research both continuity and progression of Russian arguments, I draw cases from imperial and post-Soviet historical periods and analyze their debates – Eurocentrism and Eurasia – in terms of assumptions their participants held about interacting with the Other. Although moving beyond viewing the East/West interaction as something mutually exclusive has been a challenge to Russian thinkers, some of them have found ways to conceptualize the two cultural entities as in dialogue with one another and to learn from opposing perspectives.
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Andrei P. Tsygankov is Professor at the departments of Political Science and International Relations at San Francisco State University. He served as Program Chair of International Studies Association, 2006-07. His latest books are Russophobia: the Anti-Russian Lobby and American Foreign Policy (Palgrave 2009 forthcoming) and Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity (Rawman & Littlefield, 2006).

Self and Other in International Relations Theory:

Learning from Russian Civilizational Debates

By Andrei P. Tsygankov1
Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences.

- Vladimir Nabokov

1. Introduction

Scholars in the field of international relations acknowledge that their discipline remains largely ethnocentric and hegemonic reflecting various cultural biases of Western nations, particularly the United States (Hoffmann, 1995 [1977]; Alker and Biersteker, 1984; Holsti, 1985; Weaver, 1998; Crawford and Jarvis, 2001; Tickner, 2003). Despite various attempts to broaden and deepen the discipline, however, there remains a thick wall separating us from the rest of the world in terms of how “we do IR.” Graduate students coming to the United States from outside are typically surprised to learn that debates over relative power and democratic peace dominate this diverse field. Those trained to be sensitive to history, culture and ethics, find that top international relations programs offer a limited selection of courses in these areas, often at the expense of statistics and game theory. Area studies scholars rarely try to publish in international relations journals, and – when they do – they are not infrequently rejected on the ground that their work is “not really IR.” In the meantime, some of the “real” international relations scholars often equate understanding of the world with elaboration on perceived foreign policy concerns of their national governments.

One important critique of the “West’s” hegemony in international relations theory has been this theory’s inability to come to terms with the problem of difference (Inayatulla and Blaney 2004; Barkawi and Laffey 2006; Jones 2006) or the Self/Other dialectic. Scholars with interests in culture have argued that the discipline of international relations continues colonial practices of teaching at the periphery, rather than trying to learn from it. To further highlight the importance of Self/Other relations, this paper proposes to analyze Russian theoretical discourse of relating to Europe and the West. Russian civilizational debates, defined as sustained reflections on reproducing cultural ties across time and space, present an interesting case. For centuries, Russia has participated in intense interactions among European, Asian and Middle Eastern regions, and it has developed a language and theories for relating to its various Others. Studying Russian civilizational debates can, therefore, assist us in the task of reflecting on problematic epistemological and ethical assumptions behind international relations scholarship.

I argue that, as a European nation, Russians too had to face the challenge of “provincializing Europe” (Chakrabarty 2000) and overcoming the attitude of Eurocentrism in relations to significant Others. In the aftermath of the Crimean war, through the voices of Nikolai Danilevski and Konstantin Leontyev, Russians moved from not recognizing their distinctiveness from the European Self toward the recognition-threat attitude to it. With some modifications, the new attitude persisted throughout most of the twentieth century, but in the late 1970s-1980s, Russians developed new, more dialectical ways of relating to the Other. Rather than thinking about the East/West interaction as something mutually exclusive, the late socialist and then post-socialist thinkers came to conceptualize the two cultural entities as in dialogue with one another. Learning from opposing perspectives has been a major challenge for Russian civilizational theory which continues to be dominated by essentialist approaches. Still, some intellectual progress took place, evidence of which has been Russia’s new and increasingly diverse field of international relations. To research both continuity and progression of Russian civilizational arguments, I draw cases from imperial and post-Soviet historical periods. After reviewing scholarship on the Self/Other dialectic (section 2) and Russian key civilizational schools (section 3), I analyze two prominent debates – Eurocentrism and Eurasia – in terms of assumptions their participants hold about interacting with the Other (section 4). In conclusion, I summarize lessons of Russian engagement with the Other and its implications for global international relations theory.

2. International Relations Theory and the Self/Other Dialectic

Scholars who are interested in culture have long argued that international relations ought not be viewed as a product of Western discourse alone – such an approach would reflect a status quo bias and deprive us of the same transformative logic that John Ruggie (1983) found missing in static neorealist thinking. Over time, a number of scholars have issued a strong challenge to western intellectual hegemony in international studies. For example, critics of modernization theory revealed its unilinear and progressive pro-Western bias (Wiarda 1981; Oren 2000). Much like modernization theory, that historically assisted the state in justifying its colonial practices, international relations theory tends to offer no reciprocal engagement with the Other merely expecting it to follow the West’s lead. By allowing little conceptual space for “non-western” theorists, western IR treats them as dependent subjects (“subalterns”) and consumers of already developed knowledge. Taking the Other seriously, or engaging in a dialogue with it, means committing to assumptions of the Other’s equality to the Self in terms of defining parameters and boundaries of knowledge. By contrast, ethnocentric, or excessively pro-Western theories proclaim their commitment to exclusively defined values of their environment and are closed for possible fertilization from the external environment. Such theories assume superiority of the Self and its moral community, and inferiority of the Other thereby justifying the legitimacy of hegemonic actions toward the Other. The authors of ethnocentric ideas are willing to promote their visions outside their social universe because they are firmly committed to their concept of “virtue” and “good.” Post-colonial scholarship argues that, in contrast to eeeeeedsdthnocentrism, production of a more global knowledge requires defining the Self and its moral values as something open to negotiation, rather than absolute, exclusive, and essentialist; and viewing the Other as different, but morally equal and, for that reason, as a source of potential learning. In practical terms, such an approach would promote negotiations to establish mutually acceptable norms and reduce space for hegemonic actions.

Engaging in a dialogue with the Other also requires a particular sense of ethics as mutual empowerment of the Self and the Other. In the West, the tradition of communitarian thought in the humanities has long been engaged in debates about inclusiveness and recognition in building order and community (MacIntyre 1981, 1987; Walzer 1977; Taylor 1983, 1991, 1992). The principal accomplishment of these debates has been justification of the ethics of responsibility as that to/for the Other(s) and distinction between such ethics and that of rules/regulations for pre-given, autonomous subjects.2 Non-western thinkers have also generated important ideas about dialogue, mutual engagement, and responsiveness for our words and actions. For instance, one might mention the Russian religious philosophical tradition of acknowledging guilt/responsibility by intellectuals for contributing to a discourse of social violence. In the early twentieth century, a group of former Marxist sympathizers responded to the revolution of 1905 by publishing the collective volume Vekhi (1991) (Signposts) and calling for the Russian intelligentsia to be constructive, rather than “nihilist,” in its social criticism. The authors of the volume held the Russian radical intelligentsia responsible for the revolutionary violence giving a new turn to the old tradition of intellectuals’ reflections on their engagements with social reality.3 If we are to adequately address challenges of a global multicultural world, we need a notion of responsibility that involves both the Self and the Other. In this world, it it important to sustain a discourse of constructive tensions in which “local” and “global” both conflict and cooperate for the purpose of dialectical engagement and negotiating a mutually acceptable norms and solutions.

Such mutual engagement or dialogical perspective should be distinguished from realist and cosmopolitan perspectives, each of which is refusing to engage the Other. For realists, the image of anarchy and competition remains the key metaphor in describing the nature of world order. Although some realists appreciate the role of culture in international politics, most of them deny that the world is becoming more globalized. This group is explicit about defining its cultural community as local,4 and its vision of responsibility is, therefore, highly reductionist. Realists emphasize anarchy as the key force in the world. They perceive the Other as a threat and typically limit their recommendations for the Self to those of a defensive nature. The cosmopolitan writers are fully aware of the increasingly globalized character of world politics, but they maintain an image of a progressively culturally homogeneous global society and overlook the forces of identity and diversity. Most typically, this cultural development in global society is linked to the progress of western civilization. Both conservative and radical cosmopolitan writers tend to view cultural development as a worldwide spread of westernized modernity and its norms of nation-states, market economy, political democracy, etc., rather than as a dialectical interaction of diverse local communities.5 Whether supportive or critical of the Westernization process, cosmopolitans trace how the norms of a dominant civilization transcend the values of different cultural communities, rather than studying non-unproblematic receptions of “dominant” values by local cultures and emerging dialectic syntheses of global and local.

These biases hidden in hegemonic international relations theories reveal themselves in multiple research agendas. Hegemonic theories avoid asking crucial questions: Who is the Other that may react to their theories? How different is the Other from the Self in its previous experience? How distinct is the Other in its present concerns? Such ethical and epistemological agenda tend to produce knowledge that is didactic and ethnocentric, rather than dialogical and dialectical. One can hardly be surprised, for instance, by highly critical reactions to the familiar west-centered theories of the end of history or clash of civilizations from non-western Others, such as Russia and China (Tsygankov 2004). These theories bear an excessive imprint of western culture and, by insisting on their universal applicability, they contribute to the hegemony/dependence relationships in the global context. Therefore, cultural biases hidden in international relations theory remain a deep-seated obstacle for establishing robust institutions of world peace. In a world that is multicultural and discourse-sensitive, not giving the Other the consideration it deserves means not describing the world’s problems adequately, much less offering sensible solutions.
3. Russian Civilizational Theory and Its Currents

Seeking to respond to their nation’s borderland location between European and Asian civilizations, Russian politicians and intellectuals have pursued diverse visions of relating to the Other. For the purpose of this article, civilization is defined as an idea-based community that extends beyond a nation and is reproduced across time and space in response to various historical developments.6 Russian civilizational perspectives can be classified along two main axes: their identity - Europe/West versus non-West – and a degree of essentialism.

The argument that Russia is a part of Europe is centuries-old (Neumann 1996), and it figures prominently in the national discourse, at least since Czar Peter the Great. It was Europe that created the larger meaningful environment in which Russia's rulers defended their core values. Although Europe’s recognition of Russia as one of its own was never unproblematic (Neumann 1999; Malia 1999), all Russia’s leaders identified with European ideas. Some rulers––most prominently Alexander II––attempted to redefine the country's identity in line with the new European ideas of Enlightenment, constitutionalism, and capitalism. Others sought to defend the old Europe and preserve the basic features of the autocratic regime. Yet Russians disagreed on whether western Europe could serve as a role model or whether Russia itself should become the leader of European civilization. The disagreement lied at heart of the debate between Westernizers and Slavophiles.

Westernizers supported Peter the Great’s efforts to modernize Russia and went on to advocate the widespread application of European institutions on Russian soil. Influenced by the French Revolution, Westernizers grew critical of the Russian autocratic tradition and produced a variety of arguments in favor of social reform. The Decembrists of the early nineteenth century, for example, followed the lead of people like Speranski and advocated constitutionalism and the abolition of serfdom in Russia. Later, in the aftermath of Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, Westernizers split into two distinct camps. One group—Cadets, or constitutional democrats—continued to advocate Russia’s liberal reforms and constitutional development. Their most prominent spokesman was the historian turned politician Pavel Milyukov (1910). Other Westernizers emphasized the need for the country’s industrialization. For example, Minister of Finance Sergei Witte argued for a more radical break with the country’s rural tradition and the monarchy-led “energetic and decisive measures” to develop the industrial base and satisfy the needs of Russia (Neumann 1996:70, 213). Unlike Slavophiles, who often saw the industrialization of Russia as a sell-out to Europe, this group advocated rapid economic development.

In contrast to Westernizers, Slavophiles thought of Russia as a unique culture, rather than merely as an offspring of the European civilization.7 Beginning with Ivan Kireyevski and Alexei Khomyakov, they saw their nation as a part of Europe while advocating Russia’s indigenous tradition, which they visualized as a genuine religious and social community. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the spiritual leader of Slavophiles was the philosopher Vladimir Solovyev (2000), who placed Christian religion at the center of his reflections about the role of Russia in Europe. In response to the crisis of European identity in the 1840s-1850s, even some prominent Westernizers, such as Alexander Herzen, grew disappointed with conservative restorations and adopted some of the ideas of the Slavophiles. Herzen (1946), proposed not to discard Russia’s communal cultural features, but instead, build on those features in order to take a development shortcut and “catch up” with the West. In an extreme way, the “catching up” line of thinking found its continuation in Bolshevism. Even for Slavophiles, however, the West (Europe) remained the significant Other, and they continued to make sense of Russian development by contrasting it to that of Europe. Like Westernizers, Slavophiles were thoroughly familiar with western religious, social, and political traditions, even though they were convinced that the West was finished its role as the world’s leader and that Russia must now become the capital of world civilization.

The East, on the other hand, was viewed by both currents in a typical European fashion – as barbaric, backward, and unworthy of acceptance. The attitude only began to change when philosophers, such as Nikolai Danilevski and Konstantin Leontyev, grew especially fearful of Europe in the aftermath of Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Crimean war. Lond before Samuel Huntington, the late Slavophile Danilevski (1869) asserted that Russia was a “special cultural-historical type” that could not see itself as a part of Europe. Leontyev went further and became known for his calls to embrace the East. He parted with his teacher’s belief in a kingdom of Slavs as a way to defend Russia’s distinctiveness and predicted that Russia would create a “neo-Byzantine”, rather than a Slavonic, cultural type (Leontyev 1875). Russia’s global mission, Leontyev believed, would be to draw on the moral force of Byzantine Orthodoxy and save Europe from herself by “uniting the Chinese state model with Indian religiousness, and subordinating European socialism to them” (Duncan 2000 42-43). At about the same time, Russia’s prominent writers and philosophers, such as Fedor Dostoyevski, were also reevaluating their original beliefs in Russia’s European destiny and arguing that “our future lies in Asia. It is time to part with ungrateful Europe. Russians are as much Asians as they are Europeans. The error of our recent policy was in attempting to convince peoples of Europe that we are genuine Europeans” (Utkin 2000, 135). Russians, therefore, turned to the East, but more as a result of their new hatred toward Europe than of eagerness to learn from different civilizations.

The Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 did not end the civilizational debates. Although liberal Westernizers could no longer be part of the official discourse, arguments between those who wanted to “teach” Europe and those who wanted to build Russia’s own distinct civilization continued. The former line was especially pronounced in the Lenin-Trotski doctrine of world revolution which was based on the self-perception of Soviet Russia as superior to the “decadent” and “rotten” western capitalist civilization and justified a widespread external expansion. The latter, however, emphasized self-sufficiency and rebuilt many of familiar features of the old Russia, such as a strong autocratic state and a state-dependent economy. They were assisted by the work of some émigré intellectuals who, building on Danilevski and Leontyev’s ideas, developed the notion of Russia as a principally non-European, “Eurasian” civilization (see especially Eurasianism 1926).8 Indeed, over the decades of revolutionary transformations, the Soviet system obtained qualities of a distinctive civilization (Kotkin 1990; Sinyavski 2001; Kara-Murza 2002). Yet, those who favored Russia’s strong cultural association with Europe persisted and ultimately prevailed. As Russia grew more open to the outside world in the post-Stalin period, it developed its own version of democratic socialism culminating in Mikhail Gorbachev’s ‘New Thinking’ in relations with the West (English 2000). The leader of Perestroika was relying on ideas of Russia’s socialist distinctiveness (Larson and Shevchenko 2003), while drawing on European social democratic ideas, as well as American theories of trasnationalism and interdependence.

Soviet disintegration, while bringing about a fundamental change in Russia’s discourse, preserved the core civilizational disagreements. Liberal Westernizers (Kozyrev 1995; Gaidar 1997; Trenin 2006) returned and argued for a “natural” affinity of their country with the West based on such shared values as democracy, human rights, and a free market. The new leaders Andrei Kozyrev and Boris Yeltsin’s vision of “integration” and “strategic partnership with the West” assumed that Russia would develop liberal democratic institutions and build a market economy after the manner of the West. Westernizers were opposed by neo-Eurasianists (Panarin 1998; Zyuganov 1999; Dugin 2002), the group that traced its roots to Danilevski and the classical Eurasianist movement of the 1920-1930s. Neo-Eurasianism viewed Russia as a land-based civilization with strong ties in the former Soviet region, Asia, and the Muslim world, and emphasized relative cultural and geopolitical independence, or “self-standing” (samostoianiye in Russian). It is a concern with the stability of borders and the accommodation of an ethnically diverse Euro-Asian periphery and the domestic population, as well as the sometimes uncooperative stances of seemingly alien Westerners, that lay at the heart of Eurasianist political philosophy and has given Eurasianism a new life under the post-Soviet geopolitical situation.

Westernizers and Eurasianists represent polar opposites of Russia’s civilizational identity. Spatially, they relate to the West and non-Western nations respectively. They also offer radically different perspectives on Russia’s past. While Westernizers have a tendency to be nihilistic about the national history, Eurasianists are prone to an exaggerated sense of pride, even glorification of Russia’s past. Both currents also have a tendency to display essentialist attitudes toward the Other: if Russia is with the West, then it cannot be with the East, and vice versa. Between these two extremes are multiple less essentialist perspectives that view civilization building as an interactive process involving elements of learning from diverse cultural entities. One example of such a perspective is the so-called “civilized Eurasianism” pioneered by the philosopher Aleksandr Panarin in his early writings (1994, 1995).9 Other intellectuals and politicians have developed civilizational visions with similar dualistic meanings. Thus, parliamentarian Vladimir Lukin (1994) and presidential advisor Sergei Stankevich (1994) argued that the market economy and political democracy should be viewed as compatible with Russia’s distinct Eurasianist interests. The political consultant Gleb Pavlovski (2004) coined another term —“Euro-East” which seeks to position Russia as culturally European, yet poised to preserve a special influence in the former Soviet region.


Tables 1 and 2 summarize the discussed civilizational currents in Russia along the axes of their identity and degree of essentialism.


4. The Self/Other in Russian Civilization Debates

This section offers a brief discussion of how Russian thinkers have analyzed relationships with the Other. The cases are drawn from the Russian and post-Soviet eras– to demonstrate complexity, as well as a learning curve, in civilizational discussions. In the span of a hundred years, some Russian thinkers have abandoned the essentialist “either West or East” discourse and learned to conduct a dialogue between two opposing perspectives. In so doing, they have moved beyond ignoring or recognizing the Other merely as a threat and toward viewing it in more inclusive terms.
4.1. Eurocentrism

With regard to viewing the Eastern Other, Russia’s nineteenth century discourse was not principally different from that of western Europe. The lands toward the east of Russia were viewed with a mixture of superiority and fear. The superiority attitude was the predominant one, as both Westernizers and Slavophiles were engaged in sparing over how Europe should be leading the rest of the world toward a better future. While Westernizers put the emphasis on its “progressive” institutions, Slavophiles pointed to Europe’s decline and argued that only Russia could offer genuine salvation for the world. However, both currents viewed the non-Western nations as an object of modernization or a source of threat either because of their “primitive” political institutions or because of what Vladimir Solovyev referred to as an “inhumane God” (Duncan 2000, 44). The challenge to this deeply ingrained Eurocentric worldview only came when Europe itself began to crumble under pressures generated by a struggle of ideas. The liberal and egalitarian ideas of the French revolution split the European continent into progressive and anti-revolutionary camps. Divided against itself, Europe was increasingly viewed by many Russians as morally weak. The defeat in the Crimean war added to the perception of weakness and the view of Europe as politically hostile. The combined image of a morally corrupt and politically hostile continent laid the groundwork for the emergence of anti-European civilizational theories.

Danilevski was among first to turn to the East and away from Europe, and his approach soon resonated with dominant attitudes in elite circles. His response to the Eurocentric attitude, displayed by both Westernizers and Slavophiles, included several key points. The most significant was the concept of “historico-cultural types,” which was meant to undermine the linier view of progress. Anticipating the later theories of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, Danilevski distinquished ten types of civilization in the past, of which Romano-Germanic of European was only one. “These types are not evolutionary stages on the ladder of gradual perfectibility … but entirely different plans – plans without any common denominator – in which each entity evolves in a specific and distinct fashion toward the multiformity and perfection within its reach.” (Danilevski 1990: 8). Progress therefore was not unidirectional and universal. Danilevski (1990: 123) proposed abandoning the concept “universal humanity” (obshchechelovechestvo) in favor of the notion of “all-humanity” (vsechelovechestvo), by which he meant a richness of cross-cultural interactions across the world. For Russia, this perspective did not mean the need to “lead” Europe or “catch up” with it, as was emphasized by Westernizers and Slavophiles, respectively. Russia could still create a new, eleventh cultural type – and it might yet prove to be the most developed – but it would not owe anything to Europe. In fact, Danilevski insisted on Russia being tough on Europe in defending its foreign policy interests.

Leontyev, a student of Danilevski, went even further in parting with Russia’s Eurocentrism. A former diplomat in Turkey, he abandoned Danilevski’s idea of creating the Slav cultural type. “We should regard Pan-Slavism as something very dangerous if not downright disastrous” (Walcki 1979, 304). Although he shared his teacher’s desire for Russia to control Constantinopole, Leontyev saw such control as a platform for creating an original Orthodox-Byzantine, rather than Slavonic, culture. His greater trust in non-European cultures was expressed in his belief that Russia should ultimately save Europe from itself by “uniting the Chinese state model with Indian religiousness and subordinating European socialism to them” (Duncan 2000, 43). Leontyev, therefore, showed himself to be even more hostile toward Europe and more receptive toward non-European cultures than Danilevski. Of all nineteenth century philosophers, Leontyev came the closest to the worldview of Vostochniki (“Easterners”), or those Russian scholars who saw Russia’s mission as being in Asia, rather than in the Balkans and Eastern Europe (Hauner 1990, 49).

Europeanists responded to writings of Danilevski and Leontyev by reiterating their beliefs in Europe’s future and hailing the two thinkers’ projects as dangerous utopias. Milyukov saw in Danilevski’s Russia and Europe an ideology of “hatred toward Europe and a grand project - a Pan-Slav federation headed by Russia” (Novikova and Sizemskaya 1997: 174). Solovyev (2000: 413) accused Danilevski of a desire to create a Slav future on the ruins of European culture and he had a similarly harsh reaction to the writing of Leontyev (Solovyev 2000: 418). Both Westernizers and Slavophiles showed hardly any enlightenment regarding non-European cultures, and they refused to engage Danilevski and Leontyev on this issue. The pro-European attitude toward the East remained deeply ethnocentric, which was soon noted by their critics (Strakhov 1990). Solovyev, for instance, demonstrated his deep fear of the Muslim East and later became obsessed with the “yellow peril” (Duncan 2000: 44-45). His way of reconciling the East with the West was through coercive power and the imposition of Russian values. Although Danilevski and Leontyev were far from adopting the recognition-acceptance attitude toward the East, by challenging the Eurocentric ideology they laid out important preconditions for future movement in the identified direction.
4.2. Post-Soviet Eurasia

A different discursive development took place under post-Soviet conditions. The dominance of pro-Western narratives, associated with Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, was soon met with a formidable opposition, which advanced a different civilizational identity for Russia. Initiated by presidential advisor Sergei Stankevich and then the Chief of Foreign Intelligence, Yevgeni Primakov, this perspective advocated the notion of Russia as a distinctly Eurasianist power. Although the Eurasia debate is far from over, it has already revealed the full spectrum of Russian attitudes toward the Other.

Westernizers – not unlike the Europeanists a century ago – have demonstrated the attitude of hegemony or non recognition toward the non-Western Other and an attitude of dependence toward the Western Other. According to this school, Russia is an organic part of Western civilization, whose “genuine” identity was hijacked by the Bolsheviks and the Soviet system. During the Cold War Russia had acted against its own national identity and interests, and now it finally has an opportunity to become a “normal” western country. Thus, Andrei Kozyrev (1995 16) argued that the Soviet Union was not merely a “normal” or merely “underdeveloped,” but a “wrongfully developed” country. Russia is now to correct this distortion by accepting the priority of the individual and the free market over society and the state in order to develop what he referred to as a “natural partnership” with western countries (Kozyrev 1992). By ignoring historically specific aspects of Russia’s development and challenges of interaction with both East and West, this vision sought to sidestep the question of Russia’s civilizational Other. It was a clear product of a long tradition of linear Westernist thinking. Such eminent 19th century historians, as Vasili Klyuchevski and Pavel Milyukov, saw Russia’s national characteristics, but insisted – not unlike the west-centered modernization school – that their country would nevertheless develop in the same direction as the West and go through the same stages of development.

Many neo-Eurasianists, on the other hand, revealed the recognition-threat attitude toward western nations. Much like Samuel Huntington (1996) in his “clash of civilizations” thesis, Eurasianists concluded that the world represents a struggle for identity and domination among culturally alien units. In this world, the main threat to Russia’s identity and status comes from the Atlanticism or “trade civilization,” associated especially with the United States. Some neo-Eurasianists (Dugin 2002) advocate constant accumulation of power by way of territorial expansion as the only appropriate behavior. In this struggle for power against the “trade civilization”, they want to pit Europe against the United States and eventually build a larger geopolitical axis of allies—such as Germany, Iran, and Japan—in order to resist Atlanticist influences. Other neo-Eurasianists (Zyuganov 1999) advocate the restoration of the “union” within the former Soviet borders and interpret empires as independent civilizations that are relatively self-sufficient and geopolitically stable, not constantly expanding units. The two groups are in agreement, however, about the perceived threat from the West and want to build closer relationships with China, India, and the Muslim world in response to this threat. Much like Danilevski and the earlier Eurasianists, neo-Eurasianists are mainly concerned about containing European cultural influences. As this group’s guru wrote (Gumilev 1990), Europe represents an alien Supraethnic group and can never be mixed with Russia.

This battle of the two civilizational essentialisms, Western and Eurasinist, is far from the only discoursive development in Russia. A powerful intellectual tradition, Eurasianism has been adopted and considerably modified by scholars and politicians uncomfortable with the zero sum civilizational dichotomy. Politically, the move was supported by Russia’s second foreign minister Yevgeni Primakov and therefore – at least by default – by President Yeltsin who appointed Primakov.

One influential spokesman of the moderate Eurasianism in policy circles was Presidential advisor Sergei Stankevich. Stankevich (1992) took issue with Kozyrev since his first attempt to systematically formulate Russia’s national interests at the Foreign Ministry conference “The Transformed Russia in the New World” in February 1992, and since then, Stankevich (1992) has sought to promote the vision of Russia as a cultural bridge between Europe and Asia insisting, for example, on defending the rights of ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republics and reactivating special relations with Muslim countries. In arguing the notion of Russia’s special “civilizational status,” Stankevich and those who shared this perspective (Panarin 1995) have been critical of many of the West’s characteristics, such as individualism and consumerism, and do not view western civilization as universal. Yet, they have also fought against Neo-Eurasianist attempts to present Russia as culturally superior, insisting on learning from the West skills of free enterprise and political liberty. The more dialectical perspective was reflected in official documents. For example, the country’s National Security Concept of 1997 described Russia as an “influential European and Asian power” and recommended that Russia maintain equal relations with “global European and Asian economic and political actors.”10

More recently, Russians have developed yet another version of a cross-cultural dialogue. President Putin embraced the earlier articulated vision of Russia as a part of the West insisting that Russia “was, is and will, of course, be a major European power” (Putin 2005). Putin is clear, however, that while moving in the same direction of freedom and democracy as Europeans, Russia does so at its own pace given its own conditions and special ties with non-European nations.11 Putin’s supporters have interpreted his vision using the idea of “Euro-Eastern” civilization, which should be differentiated from the previously discussed “West” and “Eurasia” (Tsygankov 2007). They have articulated three components of the new civilizational idea. First, the countries of the Euro-East, such as Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, share with Europe values of a market economy and a growing middle class. Second, because of their preoccupation with domestic economic and social modernization, the Euro-Eastern area is in special need of maintaining political stability. Finally, domestic transformation of the Euro-Eastern nations requires preservation of political sovereignty and defense from attempts by outsiders to exploit the internal resources of the nations of the region.

The Eurasia debate has demonstrated that, despite the prominence of essentialist perspectives on relating to the Western Other, Russians have been moving in a number of different directions. This movement is far from homogeneous, yet it shows that many Russians refuse to reflect on their identity in essentialist categories and see the challenge of identity construction as bridging separate elements from East and West, rather than chosing between them. This growing attitude of recognition-acceptance reflects realities of a rapidly changing world of globalization, in which culturally ethnocentric perspectives, such as Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” or Huntington’s “clash of civilizations”, cannot serve as reliable guides. Increasingly, understanding of this compexity finds its expression in a pluralistic IR scholarship emerging in post-Soviet Russia. If anything, Russian theory of international relations today is arguably more open to dialogue with the outside world than that of Western nations. Intellectual paroichialism and isolationism, widespread in the Soviet era, are now fighting a marginal battle, and mainstream IR scholars can no longer imagine their development without a dialogue with their foreign colleagues (Lebedeva 2004; Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2004).

5. Conclusion

For scholars of International Relations – a discipline commonly viewed as excessively Western and America-centric – reviewing Russian debates on relating to different Others is important. Geographically positioned between Europe and Asia, Russia has been involved in intense cross-national interactions and has produced a rich civilizational discourse. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, Russian thinkers were intellectually dependent on Europe, and they gave little recognition to the Eastern Other. The situation began to change with Russia’s defeat in the Crimean war and the resulting growing perception that Europe was no longer interested in giving Russia its due recognition. Danilevski and Leontyev’s writings marked the end of Russia’s intellectual Eurocentrism and – through formulation of theories of “historico-cultural types” and “Byzantian roots” – prepared the ground for a more complex civilizational engagement with Europe and non-European nations. The more recent Eurasia debate revealed, along with highly essentialist attitudes toward the Western Other, a number of efforts to develop a dialogue among different cultures and civilizations. Overall, despite the prominence of essentialism in Russian civilizational discourse, one can register intellectual progress in moving from not recognizing the Other to recognizing and accepting it.

Table 3 summarizes Russia’s civilizational debates.


As scholars of international relations develop an awareness of the cultural and civilizational assumptions behind their research, it is important to study various roles played by these assumptions, as well as ways in which one can move beyond the Self/Other dichotomy in empirical research and policy recommendations. This, of course, cannot happen without full realization that scholarship has profound ethical implications, and that the scholar is involved in the production of values, as much as empirical knowledge. Avoiding engaging in ethical reasoning is impossible, so long as we continue to live in a multicultural world, in which there are multiple Others and multiple moral contexts. Much more is required for moving away from what remains “an American social science” (Hoffmann 1977) and toward a genuinely global discipline that is able to accept the vital significance of the Other in the production of knowledge. Global theory of international relations is cosmopolitan and culturally diverse at the same time, and it is a process, in which bottom-up developments and influences are as valuable as those that look at the world from the top-down.
Table 1. Russian Civilizational Currents: West Versus Non-West



Conservative Westernizers

Liberal Westernizers


Socialist expansionists

Democratic socialists

Civilized Eurasianists

Late Slavophiles



Socialist isolationists


Table 2. Russian Civilizational Currents: Degree of Essentialism

More Essentialist

Less Essentialist







Socialist expansionists

Socialist isolationists

Liberal Westernizers


Democratic Socialists

Civilized Eurasianists


Table 3. Russia’s Civilizational Debates:

Recognition of the Other and Representative Authors

No recognition












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1 Some of the themes of this essay are explored in greater details in Tsygankov 2004, 2007.

2 Here, more traditionally-oriented theorists like MacIntyre (1981) appealed to premodern morality, whereas more postmodernist thinkers argued for a need to radically reinterpret the notion of ethics and morality (Gilligan 1982; Taylor 1992).

3 In 1974, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn continued this tradition of self-reflection and self-critique by publishing the samizdat collective volume Iz-pod glib. Solzhenitsyn charged that the intelligensia had essentially lost its sense of social responsibility and turned itself into a loyal servant of the Soviet regime (Ibid, 187-221). The Russian tradition of intellectual repentance and responsibility is alive and well, however. See Siniyavski (1996) for an example of liberal self-reflections (“Intelligentsiya i vlast’”) and Panarin (1998), for a more conservative perspective.

4 For example, Huntington (1996) is explicit in dichotomizing the “West against the rest” and perceiving the rise of alternative cultural communities as a threatening development.

5 Some radical cosmopolitan writers, favoring the classical Marxist tradition emphasize the power of western capitalism and industrial technology in reshaping world order and subsuming the diversity of local cultures. Ernst Gellner (1983) and Benedict Anderson (1983) link nationalism to industrial modernization and print technology, and Antony Giddens (1985) adds the role of information and military technology. Other, liberal cosmopolitans, such as Michael Doyle (1986) and Francis Fukuyama (1989), argue for the progressive spread of Westernized market democracy throughout the world. Still other scholars (Held 1995; Linklater 1998) argue for the emergence of new structures and institutions of governance at the supranational and transnational levels. This group recognizes the pluralism of local cultures and identities, and proposes that this plurality of identities flourish, not disappear, during the globalization era. At the same time, they call for radical global democratization transcending the currently existing system of nation-states (Held 2000), “The Changing Contours of Political Community,” 283), rather than for dialogue and learning among local communities. Their procedural universalism can hardly be neutral and may eventually encourage new divisions between exclusively defined Self and Other. For more “bottom up” perspectives, see Dallmayr 1999; Inayatulla and Blaney 2004.

6 For similar definitions of civilization that emphasize ideas and claims that hold them together by reproduction and defense over time, see Cox 1995, 11; Jackson 1999, 143; O’Hagan 2002; Hall and Jackson 2007.

7 For good overviews of the Russian Westernizers-Slavophiles’ debates, see Neumann (1996) and Tolz (2000). For a selection of Russian original writings of Westernizers and Slavophiles, see Kohn (1955).

8 The connection between Eurasianists and the official Soviet “Marxist” view is far from obvious. For some work tracing the connection, see Hauner 1990; Zyuganov 1998.

9 After 1996, Panarin’s views became closer to radical Eurasianists. See especially, Panarin 2000, 2001.

10 National Security Concepts and Foreign Policy Concepts are available in: Shakleyina 2002 Vol. 4, 51-90, 110-111.

11 On a number of occasions, Putin has referred to Russia as a country of “Eurasian” identity, and he has further developed ties with nations outside the West. In the mind of many Russian politicians, “European” and “Eurasian” are not in opposition to one another.

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