12 July 2006

Post-Modern States

Regular readers will know that I tend to rail on about the "reversal of america," and the correspondences between America under Bush-the-Younger, and Russia under Stalin. I have even pointed to the rise of fascism in the country that has heretofore been hailed as an exemplar of democracy. But today, I came across an interesting article by George Schöpflin posted at openDemocracy concerning Russia framed as a post-modern state in a battle against globalization. I was struck (again) by the correspondences between Putin's Russia and Bush Jr.'s America - not in the specifics, since both countries are coming from very different grounds, but in the intended effects.

Schöpflin describes how globalization brings about three principle effects that serve to undermine authoritarian control, reducing the ability of the state to control both its population, and the flow of information, and to introduce a continual process of change through enabling technologies whose complexity of consequences are more or less unpredictable by command-and-control oriented authorities. Putin's problem with respect to globalization is an interesting one. He had to re-establish some degree of stability in the chaotic aftermath of Boris Yeltsin's introduction of pseudo-democratic politics, and a quasi-open market economy, without reverting to the former iron-fisted Soviet-style central planning and control.
Globalisation has strengthened individual empowerment. This can be seen in the demands that the collective will of the majority and state power should give way to individual preference. Simultaneously the state is made more porous through the impact of new technology, information and immigration, to name but three. Putin's Russia is determined to resist this weakening of the state. Its understanding of the relationship between state power and the individual is one of dependency, not reciprocity.
Schöpflin describes the ideological threat of Isalm, which nonetheless "does not prevent ad hoc deals with Islamic states" as a matter of "pragmatism." He describes the return of "xenophobic rhetoric and a recovery of influence and voice by Orthodox Christianity. The old idea of sobornost (the community of the faithful) has acquired new life and necessarily excludes non-Russians." He also notes the "mounting hostility towards Europe" and points out Russia's reinforcment of its control over economic resources. Finally, Schöpflin observes how "the elite ... live in a semi-detached way from the people, and concentrate hegemonic power in its hands... [while] giv[ing] the people enough to pre-empt serious discontent, but not enough to create the preconditions for an upheaval." These goals are accomplished by reducing government services, clamping down on serious dissent while tolerating limited, marginal, and obscure protests, tightly controlling the politically-oriented mass media while enabling populist television programming, and creating systemic impediments to the formation of strong civil society institutions and organizations.

As I read this description of Putin's handiwork, I cannot help but hear echoes of analogous social constructs and constrictions that are occurring throughout America. Cloaked in technological debates about intellectual property rights and net neutrality, the underpinnings of civil society's ability to organize and disseminate information are swiftly being eroded. Politically explosive reportage by mass media outlets result in calls for jail or worse by key government players. The sharp increase in "xenophobic rhetoric," the influential rise in orthodox (read: fundamentalist) Christianity, and the exclusion of non-Americans may be different in figure from those issues in Russia, but the intended ground effects seem to be identical. However, coming from a historical ground of individual liberty and openness, Bush's America is experiencing a more troublesome transition to rather hidden central control than Putin's Russia:
There is little sign that Russia's new form of state is facing any kind of crisis; far from it. ...it seems to have found an equilibrium, at any rate for the foreseeable future. Whether the Putin system can weather future shocks is another question, but for the time being it looks well established and has no incentive to change. It's a system that is going with, not against, the grain of Russia's culture.

[Technorati tags: | | | | | | | ]

No comments: