National Ideology and ir theory: Three Incarnations of the "Russian Idea"

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National Ideology and IR Theory: Three Incarnations of the “Russian Idea”

By Andrei P. Tsygankov and Pavel A. Tsygankov

In an attempt to broaden our perspective on IR theory formation, this paper seeks to highlight the significance of ideology. Consistent with the recently revived sociology of knowledge tradition in international studies, we view IR scholarship as grounded in certain social and ideological conditions. Although some scholars have studied the political, ideological, and epistemological biases of Western, particularly American, civilization, in order to achieve a better understanding of global patterns of knowledge formation, it is important to look at cases beyond the West. We therefore look at the formation of IR knowledge in Russia, and we argue that the development of a Russian theory of international relations responds to the old debate on the “Russian idea,” and three distinct ideological traditions that had been introduced to the national discourse in the mid-19th century. Focusing on theories and concepts of the international system, regional order and foreign policy, as developed by Russian scholars, we attempt to demonstrate how they are shaped by ideological and therefore pre-theoretical assumptions about social reality.

An earlier version of the paper was delivered at the 49th Annual International Studies Association Convention, San Francisco, USA, March 27, 2008. The authors are grateful to the editors of the European Journal of International Relations and the anonymous reviewers of the article for critical comments and encouragements. Usual disclaimers apply.

Word count: around 11,400

National Ideology and IR Theory:

Three Incarnations of the “Russian Idea”

“There are spheres of thought in which it is impossible to

conceive of absolute truth existing independently of the values

and position of the subject."

(Mannheim [1936] 1968, 79)

1. Introduction

The recent revival of the sociology of knowledge tradition1 in international studies has drawn scholarly attention to the fact that IR scholarship is grounded in certain social conditions and may reflect ideological and cultural premises. In particular, some scholars (Hoffmann 1977; Crawford and Jarvis 2001; Inayatullah and Blaney 2004; Jones 2006; Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2007) have come to view international relations as a branch of research that often reflects political, ideological, and epistemological biases of Western, particularly American, culture. Implicit in the argument is the importance of ideology, especially national ideology, in shaping the foundations of social science. In the case of the United States, an essentially national ideology claims to have universal status, and the positivist methodology then serves to shape knowledge in accordance with the standards of the particular local community – in part, for the purpose of shaping the world politically. As E. H. Carr observed in 1977, the “study of international relations in English-speaking countries is simply a study of the best way to run the world from positions of strength” (Carr 2001, xiii).

If we are to move further down the path of analyzing the social and ideological foundations of knowledge, it is important to look beyond the already explored case of the United States. If ideology remains an ever-powerful influence on knowledge in the world of states, scholars ought to research the relationship between ideology and IR theory formation outside of the United States. Continuing with the above-quoted observation, Carr suggests that “The study of international relations in African and Asian universities, if it ever got going, would be a study of the exploitation of the weaker by the stronger” (Barkawi and Laffey 2006, 349). Recently, scholars from across the globe have attempted to understand IR from the perspective of various peripheries – Asian (Callahan 2004b, 2008; Acharya and Buzan 2007; Shani 2008), East European (Guzzini 2007), Latin American (Tickner 2003, 2008) and Russian (Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2007; Tsygankov 2008) – suggesting emergence of the new sub-discipline of comparative IR theory (Callahan 2004a).

In an attempt to further broaden our perspective on IR theory formation and highlight the significance of ideology, this paper takes up the case of Russia. Defining ideology as a systematic presentation of Self, Other and their relationships, we argue that the Russian theory of international relations is grounded in three main ideological traditions. We refer to these traditions as Westernism, Statism and Civilizationism; each emphasizes a category of, respectively, the West, the independent state and a distinct civilization as the desired identification of the Russian Self. Although these ideologies have recovered their currency after the Soviet disintegration, they have their roots in the history of Russia’s relations with Europe and the 19th century debates about the “Russian idea.” Those scholars who believe in the importance of studying local knowledge in order to move away from intellectual hegemony and ethnocentrism will benefit from analyzing potential “non-Western” roots of these phenomena. To make our case, we first hypothesize relationships between national ideology and IR theory. We then describe the nature of Russia’s ideological disagreements and debates about the “Russian idea.” In the second half of the paper we attempt to match the ideologies of Westernism, Statism and Civilizationism to the new Russian IR focusing on, arguably, the better developed theories and concepts of the international system, regional order and foreign policy. Following Hayward Alker and other scholars (Alker 1981; Alker and Biersteker 1984; Alker, Amin, Biersteker and Inoguchi 1998) we do not make a sharp distinction between IR theory as an academic/social institution and foreign policy discussions -- instead, we adopt a broad definition of international relations theory, viewing it as a systematically developed and culturally grounded image of the world. The conclusion discusses the implications of our argument for international relations theory.

2. National Ideology and IR Theory

The end of the Cold War produced new theoretical expectations of an increasing economic and political convergence across nations. The concepts of globalization and democratic peace anticipated that nations would redefine their interests to fit the standards of the newly emerging and West-defined openness in the world.2 Rooted in the mainstream tradition of modernization theory, the vision of the worldwide ascendancy of liberal capitalism is based on assumptions of the West’s moral and institutional superiority.3 The vision assumes the relative homogeneity and uniformity of the West relative to the rest of the world. It also implies that countries outside the West have no distinct social and ideological roots and therefore are unable to make their own contribution to world development; at this post-historical point, all that is left to the non-Western world is to patiently and passively wait to be absorbed by West-defined globalization.

Many scholars have justifiably criticized such assumptions as vastly unrealistic and propose to move beyond the existing cannon of theorizing international relations from the perspective of the currently dominant Western civilization in general and the United States in particular. They point to the empirical problems with such theorizing by drawing scholarly attention to new geographic regionalization (Stalling 1995; Mansfield and Millner 1997), social and economic inequality (Murphy 2001), political polarization, violence and lawlessness (Mansfield and Snyder 2007). No less importantly, they also highlight the need to study how, instead of relying on the benefits of Western hegemony, to re-adjust to new international conditions nations often seek refuge by reformulating their interests in a way which is consistent with their historical pasts and local environments (Crane 1999; Tsygankov 2004; Helleiner and Pickel 2005). Furthermore, scholars have demonstrated the importance of studying patterns of local knowledge and its implications for IR theory (Waever 1998; Callahan 2004a, b; Tickner 2003; Inayatulla and Blaney 2004; Guzzini 2007; Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2007).

In making sense of this persisting diversity of national policies and patterns of knowledge, it is essential that we treat “nation” and “national interest” as open to various meanings and interpretations, rather than something determined by the structure of the international system. Several influential schools of thought suggest themselves as a framework for such treatment. The sociology of knowledge (See especially Mannheim [1936] (1968); Berger and Luckmann 1967; and Harding 1998) examines the social conditions of the emergence, development, and decline of national ideas, arguing that such ideas only function meaningfully in and respond to particular social circumstances. The Aristotelian practical reasoning (Haan et al 1992; Alker 1997) views a theorist or ideas-producer as ethically involved with, rather than neutral toward, social developments. The Frankfurt school (Habermas 1973) more forcefully places theory in the center of social and political transformation. And post-colonial theory (Said 1993; Chakrabarti 2000) argues that scholarship may reflect the desire to culturally dominate the Other, treating it as a dependent subject and consumer of the already developed knowledge. Borrowing from these schools, scholars of international relations (Inayatulla and Blaney 2004; Barkawi and Laffey 2006; Jones 2006; Shani 2008) recently highlighted the West’s intellectual hegemony and inability to come to terms with the problem of difference or recognition of the Other.

One way to gain a better understanding of the described diversity in national policies and patterns of knowledge is to study social science as a form of social action shaped by locally meaningful ideological debates. As presentations of relationships between Self and Other,4 ideologies may be consciously held or “unconscious” (Weber 2005, 5). Some ideologies offer no reciprocal engagement with the Other, merely expecting it to follow the Self’s lead, while others take the Other more seriously and assume the importance of engaging it in a dialogue (Inayatulla and Blaney 2004; Tsygankov 2004). Ideologies develop in response to various historical developments and have a built-in capacity to influence national cohesiveness by connecting across time and space. The time connection refers to the reproduction of the existing mental constructions by mobilizing inter-generational memory. The spatial dimension means that ideologies are able to successfully disseminate their values across their socially defined space. Due to conducive institutional arrangements, repetitive historical practices, and the activities of intellectual entrepreneurs, the ideological meanings become consolidated within a certain discursive area, thereby confirming their status relative to more particularistic values. As with other cultural entities, ideologies are not always stable. More stable cultural communities are characterized by dominance of some ideologies over others, but no discourse is homogeneous or entirely hegemonic; instead it is always composed of both hegemonic and recessive trends (Alker, Biersteker, and Inoguchi 1989; Wight 1992). For instance, while some social forces favor a radical cultural renovation and the borrowing from other societies, others prefer a more gradual change and greater reliance on their own social experience. To the extent that the choice is controlled by elites, the role played by policy actors and intellectuals in reshaping their nation’s identity and ideology is critical.5

By offering a developed and coherent picture of how Self fits with its environment, ideology introduces a series of clearly articulated and hidden assumptions that may then find their way into social science scholarship. What often matters here are certain concepts, rather than fully developed theories and propositions, that help to define the nature of social reality on a broader level of abstraction before such a definition becomes accepted in scholarly work. Examples of such concepts abound, and in the context of Western scholarship include those of “democracy” and the “market economy.” To illustrate the point of ideological biases hidden in international relations theories, let us briefly consider the “democratic peace” debate in the discipline (the list can certainly be continued and extended beyond Western International Relations). Advocates of the democratic peace6 thesis proclaim that it closely resembles a “law” in international relations (Levy 1994, 452), yet they shy away from discussing social conditions that define notions of democracy and peace. Critics point out that the democratic peace claim is ahistorical and reflects American values of what is “democratic,” and that those values themselves have been shaped by the United States’ perception of external threats (Oren 1995, 2002). Critics also argue that social structures, in which democratic orders take root, may vary considerably. In some cases, such social structures are far from conducive to promoting peace and stability. For example, in the postcommunist context, democratization may be accompanied by state weakness, thereby becoming a permissive condition allowing for the re-emergence and rise of a previously dormant militant ethnic nationalism. As a result, not only do some of the newly established democracies go to war against each other, but they also may do so in part as a result of their moving away from authoritarianism (Mansfield and Snyder 2007). Therefore some principally important assumptions about reality found their way into the theory of democratic peace without being critically examined. By insisting on its universal applicability, the theory – as commonly practiced – bears an excessive imprint of Western culture.

Some efforts have already been made to understand the development of IR theory in response to nations’ ideological imperatives. Stanley Hoffmann (1977) famously exposed the hegemonic nature of the American theory of international relations by linking it to the nation’s universalist ideas, power and institutions. Since then other scholars have analyzed international relations as a discipline that is ethnocentric, reflecting American/Western ideational and political biases (Alker and Biersteker 1984; Holsti 1985; Inayatullah and Blaney 1996; Crawford and Jarvis 2001; Jones 2006). Ole Waever (1998) includes “ideologies” or traditions of political thought in his survey of sociology of international relations in the United States, Germany, France, and Britain. William Callahan (2004a, b) discusses how ideas of International Society, Democratic Peace and Harmony in British, American, and Chinese international studies, respectively, reflected these nations historical perceptions and ideological agendas in the world. Tsygankov and Tsygankov (2004, 2006) added to this discussion the case of Russia, arguing that a wide-ranging pluralization within the new post-Soviet Russian IR is a result of the country’s transitional ideological uncertainly after the fall of Soviet Marxism’s dominance.

Within nations, an ideology’s impact is different, yet also noticeable. Although national IR theory is a product of intense competition and contestation, the debates in the field are often informed by larger ideological assumptions and yield themselves to ideological classifications. Some well-known and still widely practiced classifications of IR theory in the West, such as realism, liberalism and critical theory or constructivism (Viotti and Kauppi 1998; Weber 2005; Nau 2006), are shaped by theorists’ ideological preferences. As they each emphasize concepts of balance of power, international institutions, and human exploitation/emancipation in their research, these theories reflect broader ideological concerns about Self/Other relationships. Realists, for example, tend to perceive the rise of alternative communities or the Other as a threat, and recommend that the Self prepare to defend its security. On the other hand, many Western liberals, while recognizing the increasingly globalized character of world politics, maintain the image of a progressive assertion of the Self’s values and overlook the forces of identity and diversity associated with the Other. Some critical theorists too have a tendency to oversimplify the Self/Other relationships (Shani 2008).

Building on the above-made observations by Hoffmann (1977) and others, the impact of ideology on international relations knowledge can be summarized in the following way. As a state-related institution, national ideology influences knowledge formation through a proposed interpretation of historical events, institutional arrangements, and funding. As a systematic presentation of Self/Other relationships, each ideology may get either strengthened or weakened by local conditions and contemporary behavior of the outside world. On the level of social, or pre-theoretical assumptions, an ideology may signal to IR theorists which international norms and influences to emphasize – those that require autonomy and strength as recognized by realists or those that value cooperation and democracy as promoted by liberal IR scholars. If and when the state appropriates a particular ideological vision as a guide in policy making (national interest), it may further reinforce the formational of IR knowledge by soliciting and funding scholarly research.
3. The “Russian Idea”: Three Schools of Thinking about Self and Other

Although Russia’s thinking and policy respond to various international contexts, it has also displayed a remarkable degree of historical continuity. Across the eras of monarchy, Communism and liberalism, Russia’s engagement with the world has followed several consistent patterns. As a borderland nation in an uncertain, often volatile external environment, Russia has had to continuously respond to similar challenges to its security. These challenges included unrest in neigbouring territories, threats of external invasion, and the difficulties of preserving internal state integrity. Over time, the country has developed three distinct ideologies or schools of thinking about the Self and Other—Westernist, Statist and Civilizationist. This classification loosely fits Martin Wight’s (1992) triple conceptualization, which includes those who emphasize international anarchy and control (the realists), those who concentrate on international interactions as a civilizing force in world politics (the rationalists) and those who focus on various transformations of the international system (the revolutionists). Yet the classification is also distinct, as Westernist, Statist and Civilizationist ideologies emerged out of Russia’s historical interaction with the outside world, and in response to the Russian elites’ perception of this world’s challenges and opportunities. Having established their images of Self and Other, throughout the centuries the three ideological traditions have sought to present Russia’s international choices in ways consistent with their respective worldviews.7 This section briefly describes the three ideologies and their historical roots, and the rest of the paper spells out ways in which the described ideologies have influenced Russian IR scholarship.

Westernizers saw the Russian idea as an essentially Western idea, and they placed emphasis on Russia’s similarity with Western nations, viewing the West as the most viable and progressive civilization in the world. At least since Peter the Great [date?], the West played an especially prominent role in creating for Russia the system of meanings in which to defend international choices. The early Westernizers sought to present Russia as a loyal member in the family of European monarchies. Alexander I [date?], for instance, championed the so called legitimist policies and established the “Holy Alliance” with Germany and Austria in order to suppress revolutionary activities on the continent. Since the mid-nineteenth century Westernizers, such as Alexander II, began to identify with the West of constitutional freedoms and political equality. Westernizers within the Soviet system saw Russia as not standing too far apart from European social-democratic ideas. For instance, one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s favorite lines of thinking was that Soviet Union had to “purify” itself of Stalinist “distortions” and become a democratic, or “human,” version of socialism (gumannyi sotsializm). Finally, the post-Soviet liberal Westernizers argued for the “natural” affinity of their country with the West based on such shared values as democracy, human rights, and a free market. Sharing prejudices of many in the West, liberal Westernizers, like Andrei Kozyrev and Boris Yelstin, were fearful of the non-Western Other and warned against relations with former Soviet allies. They insisted that only by building Western liberal institutions and integrating with the coalition of what was frequently referred to as the community of “Western civilized nations” would Russia be able to respond to its threats and overcome its economic and political backwardness.

Statists have equated the Russian idea with that of a strong independent state, emphasizing the state’s ability to govern and preserve the social and political order. They too have expressed wariness of the Other, and have introduced the notion of external threat as the central to Russia’s security. Depending on the situation, the threatening Other has been presented as coming from either an eastern or western direction. Ever since the two centuries-long conquest by Mongols, Russians has developed a psychological complex of insecurity and a readiness to sacrifice everything for independence and sovereignty. For instance, when justifying the need for a rapid industrialization, the leader of the Soviet state Josef Stalin famously framed his argument in terms of responding to powerful external threats, “The history of the old Russia was the continual beating she suffered because of her backwardness … We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall be crushed” (Stalin 1947, 357-358).

The Statists are not inherently anti-Western; they merely seek the West’s recognition by putting the emphasis on economic and military capabilities. The Statists of the monarchical era valued Russia’s autocratic structure of power, partly because such were the structures of European monarchies as well. The socialist Statists insisted on the importance of the Communist Party’s firm control over society for the purpose of maintaining political order and averting external “capitalist” threats. In foreign policy, some Statists advocated relative accommodation with the West, while others favored balancing strategies. Maxim Litvinov, for instance, supported a “collective security” system in Europe in order to prevent the rise of Fascism. Nikita Khrushchev, too, wanted to break taboos of isolationism and to bring Soviet Russia closer to Europe. On the other hand, Stalin’s pact with Hitler, as well as Brezhnev’s “correlation of forces” strategy, reflected the will to respond to perceived threats from the outside world. That dualism survived the Soviet era. For instance, both Primakov and Putin viewed Russia’s greatness and strength as key goals of their foreign policies, yet the former was trying to reintegrate the former Soviet region and contain the United States through a strategic alliance with China and India, whereas the latter emphasized bilateral relations in Russia’s periphery and had the ambition to develop partnership with America to deter terrorism.

Finally, Civilizationists conceptualize the Self/Other relationship in terms of cultural oppositions. This ideological tradition positions Russia and its values as principally different from those of the West. Viewing Russia as a civilization in its own right, many Civilizationists insisted on its “mission” in the world and on spreading Russian values abroad (Duncan 2000). As a policy philosophy, Civilizationism dates back to Ivan the Terrible’s “gathering of Russian lands” after the Mongol Yoke, and to the dictum “Moscow is the Third Rome,” adopted under the same ruler. Some representatives of this school advocate a firm commitment to the values of Orthodox Christianity, while others view Russia as a synthesis of various religions. In the nineteenth century, Civilizationists defended the notion of Slavic unity, and their ideology of Pan-Slavism affected some of the csar’s foreign policy decisions. Born out of the agony of autocratic and liberal Europe, Soviet Russia saw itself as superior to the “decadent” and “rotten” Western capitalist civilization. The early socialist Civilizationists challenged the West in a most direct fashion, defending at one point the doctrine of world revolution. Other Soviet thinkers, however, advocated peaceful co-existence and a limited cooperation with the world of “capitalism.” Yet another version of Civilizationist thinking is the so-called Eurasianism that saw Russia as an organic unity distinctive from both European and Asian cultures. Eurasianists view the world in terms of struggle between land-based and sea-based powers and advocate the notion of geopolitical expansion.8

Not all Civilizationists have viewed Russia as in principal opposition to other cultural entities. Although moving beyond viewing cultural interaction as something mutually exclusive has been a challenge to Russian thinkers, some of them have found ways to conceptualize the interaction of cultural entities as a dialogue within which to learn from opposing perspectives (Tsygankov 2008). For example, some of Mikhail Gorbachev’s supporters may be viewed as advocates of a cross-cultural dialogue, in which Russia’s civilizational distinctiveness, defined in terms of association with socialist values, would be preserved and respected, rather than eliminated or suppressed.

Table 1 summarizes the content of the three Russian ideologies.


4. Westernism and Russian Liberal IR Theory

Russian IR theory largely conforms to the broad ideological visions that have developed in the country over time. The country’s theoretical diversity after the Soviet breakup (Lebedeva 2004a; Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2004) may be viewed as a reflection of profound ideological divisions that go back centuries and have obtained a new significance after the end of the USSR. The three IR currents we consider are connected with the identified ideological visions in terms of the general assumptions they each make about the world and about appropriate foreign policy actions. Our choice of defining the Russian theoretical currents as liberal, realist, essentialist and constructivist is also partly determined by their connections with Western theoretical concepts and propositions, which may be found in the Russian authors’ occasional references to Western authors, such as Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington or Robert Keohane. For the purpose of illustrating the conformity of Russian new IR with the identified ideologies, we focus on concepts of the international system, regional order and foreign policy. These three remain the most developed in the Russian field of international relations9 and are therefore representative of the overall sample of Russian IR theory.

Russian liberal scholarship of these issues is heavily shaped by Western, even American approaches, and betrays the Westernist ideological preferences of its advocates. Liberal concepts of the international system and regional order demonstrate almost a religious belief in the triumph of the Western Self, fear of the non-Western Other and a readiness to act toward the suspicious Other in a hegemonic fashion. Thus many Russian scholars treat the world’s institutional development as predominantly West-centered. One example of it is the conceptualization of the emerging world as a “democratic unipolarity” (Kulagin 2002, 2008). The concept is Western in its origins, because democracy is understood to be a West-centered universal phenomenon, rather than developing out of local cultural, historic and political conditions. The supporters of the concept contend that “[Francis] Fukuyama and [Robert] Heilbronner were basically correct in arguing the ‘end of history’ thesis which implied the absence of a viable alternative to Western liberalism” (Shevtsova 2001). The argument implies that Russia too would do well to adopt standards of Western pluralistic democracy if it wants to be peaceful and “civilized,” even if this means to grant the right to use force to the only superpower in the world, the United States (Kremenyuk 2004, 2006).

Other scholars envision a world in which non-state actors, movements and networks are at least as powerful as states in shaping the contemporary world order (Barabanov 2002, 45-46, 49-50; Barabanov 2008; Lebedeva 2008), which these scholars view as a challenge to the very nature of great powers-based international system. During 2004-2005, Russia’s leading international relations journal Mezhdunarodnyye protsessy (International Trends) organized a discussion which sought to clarify concepts of international relations and world politics, the latter being reserved by some participants for capturing the growing diversity of non-state actors.10 Consistent with the West-centered view of the world, Russian liberals also argue that non-state ties and interactions are especially developed within the area of Western economically developed and democratic nations, and weak outside the area of Western democracies. This is why the region of the most economically developed nations “remains the center of the global civil society” (Baluyev 2007).

An example of conceptualizing regional order by Russian liberal scholars is the notion of the end of Eurasia introduced by Deputy Director of Moscow Carnegie Center Dmitri Trenin (2001) in one of his books. The concept is a liberal attempt to respond to Russia’s conservative geopolitical projects of integrating the region around Moscow’s vision, and its reflects the “no security without the West” thinking associated with politicians like Yegor Gaidar and Andrei Kozyrev, who held key government positions during the early stages of Russia’s post-communist transformation. The concept assumes that the age of Russia as the center of gravity in the former Soviet region historically associated with the Tsardom of Muscovy, the empire, and the Soviet Union is over. Trenin maintains that, because of pervasive external influences, especially those from the Western world and the West-initiated globalization, the region of Russia-centered Eurasia no longer exists. Russia therefore must choose in favor of gradual geopolitical retreat from the region.11

Liberal foreign policy concepts too clearly reflect the Westernist ideology. To support this argument, we briefly discuss two foreign policy concepts, Atlanticism and liberal empire. Introduced by leading liberal figures Andrei Kozyrev and Anatoli Chubais during Russia’s respective decline and recovery, they illustrate the ideological connection we seek to highlight. Kozyrev’s Atlanticism (1992, 1995) assumed a radical re-orientation of Russia’s foreign policy toward Europe and the United States, and it included radical economic reform, the so-called “shock therapy,” gaining a full-scale status in transatlantic economic and security institutions, such as the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, International Monetary Fund, and G-7, and separating the new Russia from the former Soviet republics economically, politically, and culturally. The Atlanicist vision shaped the new foreign policy concept prepared in late 1992 and signed into law in April 1993. The concept of liberal empire articulated by the former Yeltsin’s privatization tsar Anatoli Chubais (2003) also had in mind Russia’s pro-Western integration, but mostly by the means of free commerce and enterprise. Not unlike the early prophets of globalization, such as Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman, Chubais argued for the inevitability of Russia’s successful economic expansion within the former Soviet region and outside due to its successfully completed market reform.

In addition to its historical influence, several institutional channels assisted Westernist ideology in shaping liberal IR scholarship in Russia. Immediately following the Soviet disintegration, Westernizers found themselves in a position of power and signaled to the emerging IR community the importance of studying the world as influenced by the West’s globalization. Just as some prominent policymakers in the United States (Clinton 1994; Bush 2002) welcomed theories of interdependence and democratic peace, Russia’s statesmen promoted these theories in their country. Disappointed by their own experience, they were eager to borrow knowledge from those more economically and politically advanced. Westernizers in power wanted to integrate with the United States and other western nations through the rapid economic reforms and pro-Western foreign policy as recommended by advisors in the International Monetary Fund and the White House. In this highly politicized context, the domestic intellectual capital was discredited by association with the old Soviet state, and the intellectual vacuum was filled with liberal American ideas. Many IR concepts in Russia, such as Atlanicism and interdependence, were first introduced to academia by policymakers.12 In addition, a number of influential public servants of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras came to the world of policy making from academia and maintained their relationships with the “Ivory Tower.” For example, a number of known foreign policy advisors, such as Vladimir Lukin, Sergei Karaganov and Sergei Stankevich, were formerly associated with the Insitute of the United States and Canada, the Institute of Europe, and the Institute of General History – all specialized government branches of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Finally, it is difficult to understand the influence of Westernist ideology on Russian scholarship of international relations without discussing the new financial situation presented by the Soviet breakup. Under conditions of extremely painful economic reform, the post-Soviet social scientists found themselves lacking even elementary resources at home. Formerly state-supported, they scraped for funds, while new private foundations barely existed. Many were forced out of the profession, while others had to work several jobs simultaneously. Under these conditions, American liberal agencies funding social science research, such as Ford, MacArthur and Soros, have played a prominent role in shaping Russia’s young international relations discipline. In attempting to meet their expectations, Russian scholarships has often reflected American, rather than local, theoretical agendas (Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2007).

5. Statism, Derzhava and Russian Realist IR

Just as Russian liberal IR is shaped by Westernism, Russian realism conforms to the main assumptions of Statist ideology. The notion of threat, particularly one from the West as a potentially hegemonic center of power, is a product of Russia’s centuries-long development, and it has continued to shape the nation’s thinking, this time expressed through academic theories and concepts of international relations. Consistent with this ideological vision, realists have developed their theories and concepts largely out of expectations of external threats to Russia’s Self and the perceived necessity to preserve internal stability. Although Russian realists borrow from the Western, particularly American, IR many conceptual tools (Konyshev 2004, 2005), they are driven primarily by Russian concerns and used these tools creatively.

In research on the international system's structure and polarity, realists have developed a variety of concepts differentiating between various types of unipolar, bipolar and multipolar system (Shakleyina 2003). One example of it is Aleksei Bogaturov’s (1996, 1998, 2003) proposal to view the post-cold war international system as “pluralistic unipolarity”, in which the unipolar center is a group of responsible states, rather than one state (the United States). Bogaturov sees Russia as a member of the group and argues for the consolidation of its position within the global center, as well as for discouraging the formation of one state-unipolarity in the world. His approach to world order includes, not unlike the British school tradition, the notions of norms and rules (Bogaturov 1999). It also complicates the Self/Other ideological opposition, because the Russia’s Self was expected to develop closer ties with the Other (West), while resisting the tendency of its members (the U.S.) to become predominant in the system. Realists have been also critical of the liberal notion of universal democratic ideas questioning the significance of internal characteristics in international struggle for power and security. Many in Russia see attempts to globally promote Western-style democracy as little more than ideology covering a struggle for the world’s domination (Volodin 2006; Gadziyev 2008; Karaganov 2008). Rather than recommending development of this kind of democracy, realists propose that Russia concentrate on strengthening its international position by consolidating regional ties and pursuing even-handed relations with Western and non-Western nations.

In studying the regional order, realists too have sought to defend the position of Russia’s independence and power. One example of it is the concept of the former Soviet region as a post-imperial space first introduced in a series of reports by the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (1992, 1993, 1996), the influential non-governmental organization that was launched and headed by Sergei Karaganov since the early 1990s. The notion of post-imperial space served the ideological objectives of those social groups – industrialists, businessmen, intellectuals, and mass opinion leaders— that saw themselves as defenders of the region’s order and stability based on preservation of Russia’s influence. Just like the notion of pluralistic unipolarity, post-imperial space was a hybrid of hard-line and moderate influences because it sought to revive social, economic, and political coherence of the former Soviet region, without reviving the empire. While a departure from Kozyrev’s isolationism, the notion of post-imperial space, as seen by its advocates, could not be likened to restoration of the empire or revival of aggressive imperial nationalism. For instance, the 1996 report by the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy referred to the idea of the Soviet restoration as a “reactionary utopia.” At the same time, the report argued that a reasonable alternative to post-Soviet integration was not available and that Russia should assume the role of a leader of such integration.

Consistent with their defense of Russia as a relatively independent power center, realists have pursued the notion of multi-vector foreign policy. A former senior academic, and the second foreign minister of Russia, Yevgeni Primakov (1996, 1998), argued that if Russia was to remain a sovereign state with capabilities to organize and secure the post-Soviet space and resist hegemonic ambitions anywhere in the world, there was no alternative to acting in all geopolitical directions. Primakov and his supporters warned against Russia unequivocally siding with Europe or the United States at the expense of relationships with other key international participants, such as China, India, and the Islamic world. Realists have argued for flexible alliances in all geopolitical directions (Gadziyev 2007), which too resonates with the official discourse. The country’s National Security Concept of 1997 identified Russia as an “influential European and Asian power,” and it recommended that Russia maintain equal distancing in relations to the “global European and Asian economic and political actors” and presented a positive program for the integration of the CIS efforts in the security area (Shakleyina 2002, 51-90). The government’s official Foreign Policy Concept of 2000 referred to the Russian Federation as “a great power … [with a] responsibility for maintaining security in the world both on a global and on a regional level” and warned of a new threat of “a unipolar structure of the world under the economic and military domination of the United States” (Shakleyina 2002, 110-111).

The influence of Statist ideology in the post-Soviet era too has been assisted by Russia’s institutional arrangements. As this was the case with Westernizers, a number of prominent Statist policy makers have maintained close relations with academia. Examples include academics-turned-policymakers, such as Presidential advisor Sergei Stankevich and Foreign Minister and subsequently Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov. Whereas liberal IR gained strength in the context of the nation’s departure from the old Soviet thinking, Russian realists drew their support from traditionally strong geopolitical theories that emphasized values of order and security over those of freedom and democracy. These theories revived their prominence due to growing disorder, corruption, and poverty that had resulted from the Soviet disintegration and Yeltsin’s Westernist reforms. Accompanied by new conflicts in the Russian periphery and the West’s decision to expand NATO eastward by excluding Russia from the process, these changes stimulated rise of IR theories with emphasis on geopolitics and security balancing. The language of these theories soon filled academic and semi-academic conferences, as well as national media. For example, at the 1992 conference “The Transformed Russia in the New World,” Presidential advisor and former academic Sergei Stankevich (1992) took issues with then the Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and promoted the vision of Russia as a great power and cultural bridge between Europe and Asia. Well-connected, Statists soon found ways to exploit state resources and reestablished opportunities for funding realist IR scholarship. Multiple research institutes and think tanks, such as the Institute of Defense Studies and the Institute of Strategic Studies, devote themselves to studying Russia’s national interests and security challenges.

6. Civilizationism and the Choice between Culturally Essentialist and Constructivist IR

Finally, Russian culturally essentialist and constructivist IR theories have been supported by varieties of the Civilizationist ideological vision. The two schools are radically different in conceptualizing local cultures. Whereas cultural essentialists have been inspired by visions of a self-sufficient and autarchic Eurasian or Orthodox empire, constructivist scholars place the emphasis on cultural syntheses and cross-civilizational dialogue. While essentialists tend to view culture as homogeneous and relatively closed to outside influences, to constructivists cultures are subject to change and interaction with other entities. Broadly defined, the constructivist movement includes theorists that are both conventional and critical in their assumptions about world politics and the appropriate tools to research it (Hopf 1998). While Russian constructivists are different in their intellectual priorities and research tools, they share with their Western counterparts the notion of culture as a socially constructed phenomenon. This section considers Russian constructivists and essentialists together because the two schools share interest in studying role of culture in international relations and proceed from the assumption of Russia’s cultural or civilizational distinctiveness. It is important to stress, however, that beyond this general interest the two do not have much in common, just as Samuel Hungtington (1996) and some of his Western critics (Said 2001) agree on the significance of studying the role played by civilizations in world politics, but radically differ in methodological and ontological assumptions they make in their research.

Essentialists view the international system in terms of the irreconcilable struggle of cultures, or a conflict of civilizations, not unlike the one described by Samuel Huntington (1996). Some, similarly to Huntington, identify a multipolar civilizational struggle (Nartov 1999; Zyuganov 1999, 2002), while others see an essentially bipolar geocultural conflict. Alexander Dugin’s (2002) concept of a great war of continents is of the latter kind. The bipolarity Dugin perceives is the result of a struggle for values and power between the two competing rivals—the land-based Eurasianists and the sea-oriented Athlanticists. The Eurasianist orientation is expressed most distinctly by Russia, Germany, Iran, and to a lesser extent, Japan, while the Athlanticist posture is well expressed by the United States and Britain. Similarly, a recent popular volume (Proyekt Rossiya 2008, 42-45) identifies two cultural poles—the material profit-driven America, and a Russia that is viewed as the last stronghold of Christianity.

From the constructivist perspective, the fact that the world is culturally pluralist does not mean that cultures are doomed to conflict. Instead, they should strive to establish a “unity in diversity” regime, under which Self and Other are be able to maintain an intense dialogue and cooperation by observing certain globally acknowledged rules, yet still follow their own internally developed sets of norms. In order to sustain the culturally pluralist system, new ideas are necessary to challenge the dominance of US-centered economic and political globalization (Batalov 2005; Alekseyeva 2007; Voytolovski 2007). Some constructivists have proposed the strengthening of the United Nations as a prototype for future world government, with the General Assembly as parliament, the Security Council as executive body, and the Secretary General as president of the world state. For example, former Gorbachev advisor Georgi Shakhnazarov (2000) argued that such a structure was necessary in order to address urgent global problems, such as growing militarism, the depletion of world resources, overpopulation, and environmental degradation, and to mitigate the selfish impulses of local civilizations. In his view, the Huntington-proposed restructuring of the Security Council in accordance with the civilizational representation would mean throwing away all the positive potential of the United Nations and returning to the times of isolation and the rule of crude force in world politics. Instead, and for the purpose of preserving and developing the central governing structure of the world, he proposed a piecemeal development of the United Nations by gradually incorporating into the Security Council those states that have acquired indisputable world influence, including Germany, Japan, and possibly even India, Brazil, and other states.

A similar divide between essentialists and constructivists concerns analysis of the regional order. Eurasianists, like Dugin, view such order as a Russia-centered empire free of any Atlanticist influences. Similarly, Russian religious nationalists have advanced the notion of a Russian Orthodox empire. For instance, the recent influential volume (Russkaya doktrina 2007) set out a regional order capable of resisting the West and becoming self-sufficient. Projecting the United States’ retreat from the region between 2010 and 2015, nationalists call for “a full-fledged political, economic and – ideally – military union in the manner of a Warsaw Pact” with China, India, Iran and other non-Western nations (Russkaya doktrina 2007, 297, 313).

In their turn, more constructivist-oriented thinkers suggest concepts that transcend the known dichotomy of the region as either pro-Western or Eurasian. Unlike pro-Western liberals, who commonly see Russia as in need to “return” to Europe, some scholars have assumed that Russia already is in Europe/The West. By their historical accounts, Russia has been Western longer than some other nations, including the United States. Therefore the challenge for Russia is not to be included, but to develop a deeper awareness of itself as a legitimate member of Europe and of its special ties with the world. Put differently, Russia has to intellectually absorb the world/West, rather than let itself be absorbed by it. An example of such thinking is Gleb Pavlovski’s (2004) concept of Euro-East, which conceptualizes the region as a part of Europe and distinct in its own right. The Euro-East shares with Europe values of the market economy and growing middle class, yet being mainly preoccupied with economic and social modernization, the region is in special need of maintaining political stability.

Foreign policy too is viewed by cultural essentialists and constructivists in a principally different light. Both Eurasianists and Russian Orthodox nationalists insist on the toughest possible policy response as the means of restoring Russia’s geopolitical status as the Eurasian Heartland (Bassin and Aksenov 2006) and of imperial self-sufficiency, as well as offering a new attractive idea for the world (Russkaya doktrina 2007, 11; Kholmogorov 2006; Маtveychev 2007). Constructivists see foreign policy differently. More socialist-oriented thinkers (Tolstykh 2003) argue for a cultural dialogue as a key humanistic principle that may set the world on the path of solving the above identified global problems of militarism, poverty and environmental degradation. More conservative thinkers inspired by Orthodox Christian values (Panarin 2002) advocate a cross-religious synthesis of Western reason and Eastern myth. They see Russia as a natural place for such a synthesis and, therefore, as a model for the world.

Similar to Westernism and Statism, Civilizationist ideology has been historically influential and promoted by various political and social forces. Many of the above-cited works works would have not appeared without support from these forces. For example, Mikhail Gorbachev and his Gorbachev Foundation organized a number of wide-ranging discussions on international relations and funded important constructivist research promoting the idea of inter-cultural dialogue (Gorbachev 2003). Russia’s officials also sympathized with the idea. For example, in March 2008 President Putin sent a message to the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Senegal in which he said that "deeper relations of friendship and cooperation with the Islamic world are Russia's strategic course,” and that "we share concerns about the danger of the world splitting along religious and civilizational lines" (RFE/RL March 14, 2008). On the other hand, concepts developed by essentialists are not infrequently supported by the Russian Orthodox Church and nationalist political organizations, such as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Thus, a number of Orthodox priests, such as Metropolit Kirill, endorsed Russkaya doktrina. The Communist Party leader, Gennadi Zyuganov, has regularly written on issues of geopolitics and national interests. Yet another Eurasianist and prolific geopolitical writer, Alexander Dugin, has been politically and ideologically involved, having founded the International Eurasian Movement.13

Table 2 offers a summary of the above-discussed concepts and their relations to IR theories and ideologies of the Russian idea.


7. Conclusion

Contrary to some old theories, ideology is neither a false consciousness (Marx and Engels [1846] (1964); Mannheim [1936] 1968), nor a truly scientific (Lenin [1902] (1969) representation of reality. Rather, it is a system of assumptions about reality. Formed by a nation’s historical experience, these assumptions precede a theory formation and therefore are pre-theoretical. Being a social science, IR theory can only meaningfully function within a certain nationally-confined ideological context, and that dictates the importance of carefully scrutinizing ideological assumptions. Ever since Stanley Hoffmann (1977, 213) has written about “the rude intrusion of grand ideology” into the realm of social science, the situation has not fundamentally changed.

Russian IR theory after the Soviet breakup is only new in the sense that it represents a new form of framing reality, yet behind the new concepts, such as democratic unipolarity or multi-vector foreign policy, one can recognize the same old debate about the Russian idea that had been introduced by the Westernizer/Slavophile polemics in the mid-19th century. The Russian idea has not disappeared from the public discussion; rather, it has been reincarnated in the post-Soviet context, thanks to a considerable extent to the debates among scholars of international relations. As our analysis indicates, Russia’s distinct ideologies of Westernism, Statism and Civilizationism have obtained new life by informing and inspiring IR concepts of the international system, regional order and foreign policy. Not only in the United States, but also (and perhaps especially) in Russia, national ideology has not been evicted from the social sciences by the rational spirit of modernity. In some respects, theorists in Russia are closer to and less ashamed of ideology, and it is more common among them to be explicit about their ideological assumptions. For example, claiming the scientific status of their theories does not preclude thinkers, such as Nikolai Nartov (1999, 305) and Gennadi Zyuganov (1999, 2, 9-10), from openly stating their ideological beliefs – that Russia is the Eurasia’s Heartland; that the United States is a hostile alien; and that a self-sufficient empire is the natural state of the Russian political order. Pre-theoretical, these beliefs are essential for the functioning of a theory, for in their absence a theory loses its meaning.

We have also argued that a society is never ideologically homogenous. At a given time, not one, but several ideological traditions exist, overlap and compete for national influence, informing and inspiring developments within the discipline of international relations. These ideologies influence knowledge formation by offering a coherent interpretation of historical events and utilizing available institutional channels. Importantly, IR theories and concepts in Russia – of liberal, realist, constructivist and essentialist orientation – have their ideological and political supporters outside academia. Just as liberal scholars of international relations benefited from decline of Soviet institutions, realists became strengthened in the context of the new consolidation of the Russian state. Constructivists and essentialists too had to learn to exploit existing social institutions and sources of support.

Because the social sciences respond to human needs and desires, it is important to study the ideological foundations of IR theory. Although not in the literal sense, theory follows politics, and when political changes bring a new form of ideological competition, social science research agendas also get modified, with old concepts and theories giving way to those that are more attuned to a new ideological agenda. As scholars of international relations develop a better awareness of the cultural and ideological assumptions behind their research, it is important to study the 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. If we are to develop a truly global understanding of IR theory formation, the examination of non-American and non-Western ideological assumptions is just as important as those of America and the West.
Table 1. Three Russian Ideologies





Part of the West

Derzhava, or independent state

Independent civilization




States threatening Russia’s independence

Western and non-Western civilizations


Integration with

the West

Building a normal

great power

Resisting Western pressures OR

Promoting inter-civilizational dialogue

Table 2. Ideologies, Theories and Concepts in Russian IR: Some Examples




International System

Regional Order

Foreign Policy Objective



Democratic unipolarity (Kulagin)

End of Eurasia


Atlanticism and integration with the West (Kozyrev)
Liberal empire




Pluralistic unipolarity


Post-imperial space


A multi-vector orientation



Cultural Essentialism

Great war of continents


New Eurasia

Orthodox empire

(Russkaya doktrina)

Heartland of Eurasia


(Russkaya doktrina)


Pluralism of civilizations




Humanistic globalism and cultural dialogue

Orthodox synthesis of Western reason and Eastern myth


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