Monday, August 3, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ Shaping Moscow’s Approach, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 3 – Political leaders in Russia have been profoundly affected by Samuel Huntington’s theory of the clash of civilizations, all the more so, one Moscow commentator suggests, because of the late Harvard theorist’s suggestion that Orthodox Christianity constitutes the basis for one of those civilizational blocs.
In a provocative article posted online last week entitled “Why Huntington was Wrong about ‘Orthodox Civilization,’” Vladimir Mozhegov argues that it should have come as no surprise that Russian leaders would be attracted to and then fundamentally misuse Huntington’s ideas (
The Moscow publicist says that Moscow elites, political and especially religious, were drawn to Huntington’s theory less because of his call for a multi-polar world and criticism of the West for its application of “double standards” around the world than for his comments about the existence of a Russian-centered “Orthodox civilization” at odds with other civilizations.
The notion of a distinctly “Orthodox” civilization, as Mozhegov notes, has long been a favorite idea of Patriarch Kirill and has been elaborated most fully by his close aide and advisor Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Kirill’s longtime deputy in the Patriarchate’s External Affairs Department and now head of the Church’s department for social relations.
More than two years ago, in an article entitled “Five Postulates of Orthodox Civilization,” Chaplin argued that “a religiously neutral” state in an Orthodox country like Russia was “impermissible,” unlike in the West where that notion lies at the foundation of civil society (
According to Mozhegov, Chaplin in his 2007 essay was simply expressing in a “traditional Byzantine-Soviet” manner Huntington’s ideas and insisting the following hierarchy for Russia: “at the top are the powers that be, a little lower is the Church, still lower is society, and at the very bottom is the individual.”
Some commentators have suggested, Mozhegov says, that this points to the possible “return of the Brezhnev model of the USSR (out of which, as out of Gogol’s overcoat, came all the current bureaucracy) where in place of the discredited CPSU will appear a modernized Russian Orthodox Church.”
Whether the situation will develop in that way, of course, is far from certain, the Moscow writer says, but this stress on “an Orthodox civilization” as unique will at a minimum represent a clear rejection of the Euro-centric approach that Russia has had for more than two centuries and open the way for Eurasianism, which he says will “in fact mean permanent Islamization.”
That is because, Mozhegov continues, that keeping things within the “paradigm” of “Orthodox civilization” will turn out to be “impossible simply because there are no real foundations for it except for political demagogy and myths,” however much Kirill, Chaplin, and their followers in the political elite believe otherwise.
After September 11th and all the ensuing events, Mozhegov argues, “the single fruit of ‘Orthodox civilization’ on the geopolitical space has become the elaboration of a system of a new global division” between the West and the rest of the world “in which Russia will try to advance its geopolitical ambitions by presenting itself as the leader of ‘traditional civilizations.’”
Such an approach, Mozhegov continues, will “sooner or later” lead to disaster, not only because efforts to build “an Orthodox civilization” will lead to the collapse of the Russian Federation itself but also trigger a new growth in geopolitical tensions and possibly give Russia the doubtful “honor to be the detonator of a new global war.”
One reason that Huntington’s ideas have found such a fertile field in Russia, the Moscow commentator says, is that the American political scientist does not devote sufficient attention to the fundamental reality that “the contemporary world reflects the splitting apart of a [hitherto] unified Christian world.”
As a result of that, “the separating out of ‘Orthodox civilization’ from the common Christian civilization” – and Mozhegov says that he has never heard anyone talking about “a Catholic or Protestant civilization” – “distorts and vulgarizes the actual historical perspective of development.”
But the real reason that the notion of a separate “Orthodox civilization” is playing such a negative role, he continues, is not to be found in Huntington’s theory itself with its borrowings from Toynbee and Spengler but rather in the way in which Russians have once again misused a set of ideas from the West.
“If at the foundations of the ideas of Russian Slavophiles lay the idealism of Hegel and Schelling,” Mozhegov argues, “then it is not surprising” that today’s domestic ideologues of “post-modern Slavophilism,” in a way that parallels what the Bolsheviks did with the ideas of Karl Marx, have been inspired “by American political scientists” like Huntington.
In short, the Moscow writer argues, Huntington’s “main mistake” was that he “did not take into account the Russian mentality, that very civilizational factor which he points to as the source of future conflicts and global clashes” and thus helped open the way for a renewed clash between Russia and the West, given how some Russians are misusing his ideas.

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