Russia, Modernity and Globalization

The Making and Unmaking of Modernity


V.V. Maliavin

Institute of Russian & Slavic Studies,

Tamkang University, Taiwan, R.O.C.

            Ever since the sociological genius of Max Weber discovered the profound  political and cultural ambiguity of  that seemingly plain term: “modernization,  the world, or at least the scholarly world, has been haunted by the ghost of another modernity. The latter has appeared under various guises, such as “delayed modernization”, “reactionary modernization” ( a term frequently applied to Nazi regime in Germany,  “forced modernization” characteristic of  Soviet Russia and Communist China, “colonial modernization” in Black Africa etc. Obviously, these alternative ways of development in Russia, Far East or the Third World do not fit the “classical” pattern of modernization in the West bear their peculiar fruits.  Is there a common ground between these very different, sometimes to the point of being mutually exclusive forms of modernization?

The classical theory relates modernization in some way or other to the rationalization of social behavior., to be precise – to the newly discovered opportunity to choose one’s absolute values. Modernity is born out of man’s identity crisis. It is primary, I believe, in this sense that one can speak of modernization as the first really universal, or global, process in human history. And yet, contrary to what modernist ideologies claim, in actual history modernity does not evolve out of purely rational – i.e. arbitrary –  choice but is determined by culturally specific background. Modernization does not make the world  unitary and still less united. On the contrary, it aggravates tensions in the world. These conflicts are not triggered by cultures themselves. In fact, cultures as the embodiments of uniqueness and diversity of human experience simply have no common ground to contest with each other. Only modernization through  affirming  the universal and absolute values of cultural specificity lays conditions for global conflicts, including the World Wars.

There exist in the world – and, as we shall soon see, not accidentally – widely divergent perspectives on the phenomenon of modernization, but at least one feature of the latter remains undisputed: modernization is the growth of humankind’s mastery over nature inevitably paralleled by the growing mastery of human beings over themselves. On this premise the liberal scholars in the West, and many non-liberal ones like Karl Marx, found in modernization the cause for human self-liberation. This conclusion is not to be reached so easily, though. A startling discovery precipitated already by Friedrich Nietzche was that the very will to the domination over the nature enslaves man himself: under the spell of what came to be called “metaphysics of production” man can be free  from and towards anything except his very will to be free. Russian thinker Mikhail Gershenson in his small book “A Triple Image of Perfection” published in 1918 outlined the main consequences of this irresistible  drive towards the universal domination: man discloses some universal substance in the individual things while losing his individuality himself.  After the ore has been transformed into the metal equipment operated by an engineer there is neither natural object nor autonomous subject any more but a kind of man-machine medium possessing its own rules of functioning and even self-improvement. In the final account, the technological system brings about the relation of humankind to the totality of being, a sort of pure, or absolute activity forever upgrading itself. Russia’s leading avanguard artist K. Malevitch pushed this line of thinking to its logical end when he declared , writing in 1919:  “By my new being I put an end to the wasting of rational energy and bring to standstill the life of the green animal world. Everything will be directed towards the unity of  mankind’s skull as a perfect tool of nature’s culture”.

This sort of naive but aggressive  Futuristic optimism, let me note in passing, antedates and strikes unexpected resonance with the so called “conservative revolution” movement in pre-Nazi Germany which celebrated the notions of Gestalt and Totalitat as embodiments of “people’s spirit”. Suffice is to recall Earns Junger’s concept of the global Worker modeling the totality of the world. This is only one of the many modernist images of superman predicted by Nietzche. It is truly universal and has been at work in many modernizing regimes, both communist and nationalist. Its correlates are charismatic leader in politics, bureaucratic control in social life and nostalgia (as well as anticipation) of the lost Gemeinschaft in culture.

Taken on its global scale, therefore, the modernizing process has strict limits to its development. It is bound to lose its actual subject, i.e. the strategy of rationalization,  and finally come, as it were, to a visible standstill. This means in fact its falling back on itself, a retreat from representation to the generating matrix, an ongoing implosion which bogs down, in J/ Baudrillard’s words, to “accelerating in the.void”.  The super-Futurist Malevitch argued that human thinking was destined to venture into the “subject-less world”, and a final culmination of human technical  achievements will be the “absolute laziness” as most pure action. He even proposed a fancy etymology of the name Lenin which, he claimed, should be derived from  the word len which means laziness. Surely, Malevich’s  fantasies do not look as weird to-day as they did to the Russian communists at that time provided the amount of idleness and boredom in contemporary life.  Technology creates power, but power eliminates technology: such is a peculiar dialectics of the Western modernization in nietzschean perspective.

This strange affinity of two almost antagonistic gates of  modernity did not pass without notice in contemporary  literature. Z. Bauman, for example, claims that nationalism, communism and fascism “all were [modernity’s] legitimate children”  In Bauman’s opinion, the liberal model of modernity suits the elite of society or the “decision-makers”, while its collectivist counterpart addresses “the masses”. However, this evaluation lacks temporal perspective. In particular, it does not explain the universal failure of the “collectivist” model. In order to tackle with this problem we must look closer to that high point of modernizing process when human activity achieves the  condition of universality or “eternal recurrence” of the Will. It is at this moment, one can assume, that modernity is bound to slip into the “post-modern condition”. This change also signals the end of modernity’s utopian optimism, whether humanistic or totalitarian. It is precisely at this point that the inner contradictions of modernization previously concealed by the humanistic narratives of Enlightenment are suddenly disclosed. What is to be done to the Will to power which has so triumphantly imposed itself both on the external world and the human subjectivity? This question is all the more pressing and frustrating since the essence of this Will is nothing else but violence, an essentially negative and self-negating force.

The solution to this problem in Western history proved to be twofold: either to project this force unto some external reality or to make it the principle of one’s own sociality. I believe that the crucial distinction between Western democracies and  totalitarian regimes is to be discovered in the opposition of these two answers to the challenges of the modernizing drive.

The liberal strategy of dealing with the modernization’s negativity  has been the dissociation of the latter’s causes and effects or the creation of the gap between the globalism  of the new virtual reality from show business to financial markets on the one hand and the real world of liberal values and “life in the neighborhood” on the other. As J. Baudrillard has noted, the real world, once it is shut off from representation, inevitably acquires somewhat ghostly and demonical status: it becomes the “alien” world of misery and violence. A not so readily observable fact is that the economic strategy of adaptation which dominates the Western science of management provides a good solution to the problem of the Will’s negativity: it compels to reduce the modernizing ambitions to the point where humanistic rationalization (primary capitalist enterprise) perfectly matches the social environment. This  elusive point of balance between potentiality and actuality evokes the totality of man’s technological relation to the world. Violence related to modernization invisibly leaks out, as it were, through these innumerable points of contact with the external world. The totality of human presence thus finds its unique expression. Nevertheless, this solution remains rather technical and tactical: it does not eliminate the gap between the inside and the outside world.

The alternative modernization moves rather in the opposite direction: it encloses its own negativity and endows  it with some social substance whether it is a “people’s spirit” or “proletarian solidarity”. It is permeated with the revolutionary pathos and calls for ascetic behavior to the point of self-sacrifice for the sake of the (universal) type of the  “new man”. It brings about the convergence of the Will-fullness  and the actual world in an omnipresent hyper-reality: Nazi or Communist myths were the reality of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia  Inevitably, the ghosts of the Will’s negativity were to be discovered right in the neighborhood and terror on mass scale was the part of everyday life.

And yet for a philosopher like M. Heidegger the existent political solutions of  modernity’s problem, totalitarian and liberal alike, are illusory because the core of the nihilistic Will  remains unnoticed in them. This core, according to Heidegger, is the  most elementary force in human life, a “catastrophic anarchy” which makes unlimited consumption, i.e. wastefulness, the basic norm of human existence. The comforting talk about “human values” turns out to be too poor a cover for this destructive drive. In his search for an alternative to the Western modernity Heidegger came to the concept of Gelassenheit, “letting oneself go” as an attempt to transcend the grip of the nihilistic Will. This project, disregarding Heidegger’s personal views,  restores the particularistic wholeness of experience affirmed by culture. Thus post-modernism brings human striving back to culture and assumes the form of glocalism – a globalized localism.

We can conclude now that the familiar image of modernity as a pinnacle of human universality is inauthentic. Modernity is essentially not a certain postulated unity of humanity but, on the contrary, a pure difference in existence, which is different even from itself and thus generates an incessant identity crisis. Nihilistic Will triumphs over modern rationality. But the pure negativity of this newly discovered void is hardly bearable by itself. To escape its own elimination under such circumstances human thinking has to resort to the methodical, and ruthless, discrimination between what is “one’s own” and what is “alien”. Alternative forms of modernization, if they are possible at all, must take into account the presence of this inner split in man’s experience and make it a foundation of human universality  The demand for such post-modern modernities nowadays is quite apparent and acute. What is to be achieved here is not just the organic non-repressive relationship between humanity and the world but the liberation of reason from its very desire to liberate oneself. But this task requires , as I. Illich noted already more than twenty years ago,  “a Copernican revolution in our perception of values”.


Russia’s Path to Modernity

What is the nature of the above mentioned omnipresent limit, a difference or rupture, in human life? This crack  in the continuum of Being is the transcendental opening which constitutes the core of human existence, the principle of human ontogenesis.  And as long as we are capable of mediating between the Self and the Other we are actualizing our human potential (such mediation points to the principle of human phylogenesis). As long as modernity fixes our personality it throws us in the dehumanized world.  The split in question is in fact a moment of self-transformation and, therefore, of communion. It has no general content or form and this is why it  serves as a foundation (itself not founding) of culture which always affirms the universal qualities of uniqueness.

Now this principle of Being’s non-identity has always played the major role in establishing Russia,s self identity. V.V. Rozanov, one of the greatest connoisseurs of Russian soul, in the beginning of one of his early articles bluntly asserts:  “There exist two Russias: apparent Russia and essential Russia…”. So real Russia – in fact that “Holy Russia” which for Russians has always constituted their real Motherland, is bound to remain unseen.  This mystery cannot be defined, still less exposed. It can only be evoked through symbolic associations. It makes herself known through self-alienation. And thus “essential Russia”  speaks the language of globalism. After all Russian communism owes a great deal to the so called “Russian messianism” with its emphasis on the universal message of “Russian Idea” (this very term was coined by the foremost ecumenical Russian thinker V.S. Soloviov in a book published in French).

Let us now turn to the  historical making of  Russian modernity. One cannot help feeling that Russia provides an exceptionally illuminating case for the study of modernization process. Both aspects of the latter – an affirmation of one’s specificity and the quest for universality became apparent quite early in Russia’s history  What is the nature – or rather the ideological account – of this specificity? The most apparent fact about Russia is that she is an extraordinary vast country. Empty space is a determining geopolitical factor of Russia   as the “original void between Europe and Asia” (in Daniil Andreev’s words).  Russia’s vastness has shaped the mentality of Russian population in  one quintessential way. Russians have always been attracted by the desolated land that stretches out before them. As F. Stepun once noted  (drawing upon the poetical illuminations of Tiutchev),  the key to understanding Russia lies hidden in her “mystically amorphous landscape” while the  essential element of the latter is the skyline itself, a point of transcendence in mundane existence which  constantly calls for overcoming the actual world. Indeed,  an ideal site for Russians  as it is defined in Russian folklore is “the Desert” (pustyn),  literally  “a desolated place”. This desert comes to represent a transcendental opening that brings together spiritual and material qualities of human life.

The unconditional openness of Being requires the reciprocal opening  on behalf of Humanity. This is why the beauty of the world is perceptible only to the self-transcending hermit and wanderer. Contemporary Russian thinker V. Bibikhin has aptly grasped this Heideggerian stance of the Russian Mind when he remarked that Russia can  be reconciled only with the world at large, i.e. through ultimate openness. Until Russia and the world come to embrace each other in this double-layered  and essentially operational sphere of the Great Void the function of the Russian government will be limited to the attempts to hush up, or “to talk around, to talk out”  (ogovorit, zagovorit)  the unbearably compelling silence  of the Void which is Russia.

As a  result,  Russian thought has traditionally adhered to a sort of “mystical realism” (a term coined by V.V. Zenkovsky) which presupposes the convergence of Earthly and Heavenly existence within a universal hierarchical order.  Such  a convergence , however, is nothing but the moment of universal self-transformation, a “flame of things”.  It means essentially the mutual penetration of extremes,  a permanent slipping into the Other. Instead of parallelism between a subject and an object or between a sign and a thing it asserts the antinomy of depth and surface exemplified in the notions of “trace”, “shadow”, or “an image in the mirror” (a closer look reveals that these concepts may correspond  to progressive elaboration of cultural symbolism in history).  A shadow cannot be converted into a separate object; as the very limit of the body  it has no corresponding idea. Rather, it evokes the inner depth of experience, the intuition of the infinitely variable and hence  esthetically perceived plenitude of Being. Such is the quality of spiritualized life celebrated in ancient Russian culture under the category of lepost (“ornamental beauty”). The shadowy presence of this beauty remains impervious to the technical project of Man: it possesses the quality of immutability (kosnost).  This kind of thinking produced strictly ritualistic society based on the insight into people’s habitus  as a foundation of tradition.

Since  reflective mind cannot appropriate the “ornament of existence” the latter’s inner and outer dimensions are conceived as undivided and, consequently, any attempt to act in purely external way and, therefore, every political action is bound to bear a stamp of violence on itself. This is the hidden core of Russian political culture with its seemingly paradoxical coexistence  and even convergence of spontaneous democracy, the quest for the encompassing “togetherness” (sobornost) of all people and the overtly  “despotic” and violent character of the governmental policy.

The silent union of “Kingdom” (zarstvo) and  unrestrained “Freedom” (volia), or of absolutism and general consensus are only the more visible signs of this basic antinomy of Russian life. The truth here is not to be found through the light of formal reasoning but obtained in the act of  self-transcendence or self-denial. It has the  weight of righteous action and can only be testified by the martyr’s body – a proper object of violence and a perfect though incomprehensible  medium of the interchange between the internal abyss and the ornamental externals of human existence. The  Saint’s body is transformed into the holy relics – an embodiment of life eternal. Hence the extremely pious veneration of the dead and no less exalted obsession with death so peculiar to the Russian mentality. The symbolism of miracle determines not objects but that which is e-jected –  Being’s springing forth: it precipitates the existence of things. This is the proper domain of cultural symbolism.

The social consequences of the pattern of thinking described above are  well known: authorities rule at their (all too often whimsical) will while  the common people are anxious to avoid any and all contact with the state. Some of them, however, are privileged to become martyrs  of the World. Of course, the absence of  external communication between the rulers and the ruled does not  preclude their inner “togetherness”: the runaway peasants displayed a strong sense of their state mission, the governmental oppression only strengthened belief in a “genuine tzar” who is in hiding. So to Chaadayev’s invective about the apparent “emptiness” of Russia Neo-Slavophile philosopher Vladimir Ern responds with a passionate apology of Russia’s inner, meta-historical achievements:

“All who are of a bright and heroic brand in Russia, responding to the call from high, humbly stand up, leave their parents, their whole way of life and start on a journey to the suffering heart of their motherland, wedded to Christ. And all who walk along this road of purification and sacrifice, having reached a certain limit, suddenly disappear from view… The seeds of divine abundance are being covered, as it were, by the earth; they grow and bear fruit in mystery, in calmness and some  place  hidden from external looks”.

Later the Bolshevik mobilization was successful precisely because the communists were waging  quite a peculiar war – a war pitting the government against its own people. In the Russian tradition defeat amounts to victory : a triumph of morality which compels one to go beyond morality – either to the Orthodox Heavens or to the  Bolsheviks’ hell with its slogan: “The worse – the better”.

How did this cultural pattern evolve in history? The period of the Moscow State was marked by a desire to visualize the inner or  “Heavenly” images corresponding to the symbolic depth of  spiritual experience – the angelic Heavens, the Sobor of Saints, the Heavenly Jerusalem etc. This trend, however,  was essentially self-contradictory since  the subject of traditional symbolism is not an image but rather a signal capable of reverberating and a type, i.e. a limit of image, a sign of self-transformation. The necessity to preserve the  canonical set of types – potentially inexhaustible in number – led, as is well known, to the Schism in the Orthodox Church. Eventually this course of development led to a sudden leap from symbolism generated by signals to the new brand of ideological thinking which operates with of the opposition of idea and objects.

The reforms of Peter the Great put an end to the previous ad hoc development of  political system which previously had been subordinated to the ascetic experience of inner transformation. Yet they did not demolish the traditional pattern. They simply reversed  the traditional order: the logistics of the Empire was re-projected on religious symbolism changing it into a tool of  secular ideology. Indeed, for the first Russian Emperor serving the state  was quite literally a sacred duty – an attitude which later produced Kozma Prutkov’s satirical comment: “Only in the state service one cam learn the Truth".. As a result, both  Enlightenment and traditional symbolism have acquired in Russia a mistaken identity.  As the French philosophical saying goes, “Descartes went mad in Russia”. New cultural pattern did make possible, though, the easy transition to the modern nihilism and the “iron cage” of  Soviet bureaucracy.

This condition of  “faked appearances”  accounts , among other specific Russian phenomena, for the permanent co-existence of liberalism or rather liberationalism and  stubborn conservatism (okhranitelstvo) in Russian empire while the dominant trend in social life  oscillated with astonishing regularity between these  two polarities:  a shift towards liberalization was inevitably followed by the wave of conservatism. A the present moment we are witnessing a  new turn to the “mystical” side of Russian political tradition represented, for lack of more suitable esoteric corporations, by the KGB’s successor.

Such is the historical background of Russian intelligentsia which on mega-historical scale represented Russia’s response  to her specific problems  Intelligentsia’s cradle was, once again, Russia’s Void but this time not Heavenly pustyn but a middle space of the deliberate cultural bastardization inaugurated by Peter the Great, a nihilistic wasteland (pustyr). This sort of dwelling place was aptly described in 1890 by Rozanov in his letter to K. Leontiev:  Rozanov confessed that he was haunted by the image of an “empty space without humanity or God into which the young are being pushed one by one”. As the embodiment of cultural inconsistency intelligentsia as a whole (and quite often on the individual level) was forced to take over both secular and mystical aspects of imperial tradition. It has inherited as well the traditional antinomy of Russian politics: the heightened sense of the universal mission  and no less heated protest against this burden imposed by the state. The  overall result of this cul-de-sac situation was the  inability “to discriminate between the ideal and the miracle” (L. Shestov)  so apparent in the intelligentsia’s utopian mentality.

An authentic reflection on the historical message of intelligentsia was attempted by the early Slavophiles who worked out a  post-hegelian concept of sociality as an internalized communion having priority over external social forms. But, like some rare earth element too complicated to sustain itself  the Slavophile ideal immediately dissolved into two kinds of ideologies: conservative nationalist and revolutionary. Russian conservatism simply denied the gap between symbolic and the objective (instrumental)  knowledge  in a manner expressed by Gogol’s desperate  appeal to his compatriots “Your monastery is Russia!” This attitude meant in fact intelligentsia’s self-annihilation and did not produced  much effect.

Eventually the only viable means of bringing together reason and reality in Russian history became the revolutionary action, i.e. action which, though being asocial and even antisocial, purported to create a new  social reality. This is clearly a new “nihilistic” version of continuity between religious symbolism and bureaucratic rationality that served as the foundation of the empire. Let us add that despite its claims to be “the self-conscious part of the society” revolutionary intelligentsia was utterly unconscious of its own historical nature. There was a good reason for it for intelligentsia worked a virtual miracle by turning the Void as a delimiting factor of experience, a pure finitude into the substance of social practice. It really tried to make, to paraphrase the communist anthem, everything out of nothing. In a word, revolutionary voluntarism corresponded to the degree of intelligentsia’s social blindness.

Historically intelligentsia has been steadily expanding its ideological “wasteland”. The process started from the alienated individuals which soon evolved into circles and later revolutionary parties. This attempt to solve Russia’s age-old problem of uniting symbolic depth of experience with objective world by creating a permanently renovated, i.e. revolutionary, social space  resulted in the total submission of society to the  “revolutionary action” – a perfect embodiment of the nihilistic drive and thus essentially self-denying. It would not be accurate to say merely that the Communist regime inherited  traditional pattern of thinking. The new regime became a rarefied expression of intelligentsia’s modernist core. It inherited, too, the specific blindness of Russian self-identity which goes back to the inability to differentiate between symbolic and ideological values.


Divergent modernities and globalization


Let us now look at the  Russian mentality from a comparative perspective. Perhaps the simplest criteria for comparing different cultural patterns is provided by the differences between culturally determined types of human self-knowledge. The civilization of the modern West is based on the  correlation between the subject and the object and thus on a reflective space  which makes possible measuring and subsequently  “managing”  things. The starting point for the Eastern civilization (I have in mind the cultural legacy of the Far East) is a reflection on the very limit of experience. The Mind in the Eastern thought is not examined or analyzed but described by means of suggestive images such as the metaphors of a clear mirror or the womb which contain within themselves all things, or – to elaborate somewhat on this image – a vessel turned upside down, its contents leaking freely into the world as all-pervading luminous flow. The Mind’s function here is not the grip of consciousness over experience, the self-determination of autonomous subject but, on the contrary, “letting oneself go” within a boundless sphere of universal correspondences. .The Mind’s  nature in Chinese tradition is exactly the void of the mirror or the life-giving womb which are as omnipresent as they are absent in any given place or moment of time. Psychologically and, we should add, politically the paradoxical Chinese idea of knowing as preserving one’s integrity provides radical solution to the modern neurotic obsession with security. As the ancient Taoist sage Chuang-tzu puts it in his brilliantly ironical manner, “hide the world within the world, and it will never be stolen”. Culturally this outlook, it should be noted, was rooted in the ritualistic elaboration of practice into a set of types.

Described in this way Chinese epistemology looks strikingly similar to the Postmodernist abandonment of  metaphysical thinking. As, for example,  J. Baudrillasrd puts it, in the Postmoderm world “there is no more subject, no more focal point, no more center or periphery… no more violence or surveillance: only “information”, secret virulence, a chain reaction, a slow implosion and simulacra of spaces in which the effect of the real again comes into play”. It is evident, though, that “the post-modern” condition of the Western man denies  the basic premises of the European intellectual tradition, including modernity itself,  and this fact probably accounts for air of playful experimentation which still cloaks post-modernity’s real intellectual challenge.

While the Western modernity ascribes its highest value to knowledge and external action, the Eastern civilization values especially the use of things, an indirect but integrative “influence”  and virtuoso skill Chuang-tzu’s words express this basic intuition of Chinese thought very well: “Whatever is useful is thoroughly penetrating. Reaching this we stop near the Truth”. It is impossible to possess the Truth because the latter is the Way, a moment of (self)transformation which transcends logical postulates. For  the Taoist philosopher the  world is the absolute (and thus non-functional) Function  which is constantly in use, i.e. at work,  but can not be known. This Function represents the infinite finitude, a concrete universality, an act of transcending as preserving, an all-embracing openness. It corresponds to the “emerging” state of Being, a symbolic matrix of praxis which precipitates the course of events. It is the project of mastery which does not impose itself on the world and, therefore, does not affirm hidden split in human identity. The Chinese sage manages everything through “non-acting” which stands for the infinite efficiency present in a finite act  or, to borrow a phrase from J. Deleuze, “an action adequate to Aeon”. Such non-objectifying, ever-enduring action brings perfect peace of mind.  Indeed, Chinese sage is motivated by the non-willingness, i.e. the will to keep Being intact, to let everything be.

In the age of China’s modernization Chinese traditional thinking gave birth to the slogan: “Chinese learning is substance, Western learning is usage” (Chung hsue wei t’i, hsi hsue wei yung).  This formula enjoyed undying popularity in China throughout the 20th century because, I believe, it asserts the priority of that highest, albeit symbolical efficiency which lays conditions for the usage of the instrumental knowledge. As in postmodern age, this formula confirms the supremacy of culture over technological project.

As for Russian tradition, it has been led in its mature forms to an attempt  to reflect upon the very idea of a non-measurable pure difference which is the condition of all possible living worlds. Quite often this “Russian idea”  appears as a violent reaction to the  unsolvable ambiguity of such predicament but also as a passionate assertion of the absolute freedom of creativity beyond culture  Consequently, the Russian mentality puts emphasis on creativity per se, i.e. anticipation of existence, and  is distinguished by strong passion which is always an expression of the impasse of thought. The presumption that Russian civilization is based on an attempt to reflect on the un-reflective pure difference constituting the core of human existence explains well its apparently disintegrated condition: in Russia a sophisticated spiritual tradition of the Orthodox faith, elaborate secular culture of the  Empire and material civilization with its highly developed technological systems and ideologies borrowed from the West quite visibly stand apart and possess an extraordinary degree of autonomy. By contrast, both Western and Eastern civilizations have achieved a remarkable inner continuity between spiritual life, cultural practice and the objective dimension of life shaped by civilization.

Another important comparative perspective is suggested, as we have seen. by the  concept of Postmodernism. The latter means, as we nay have noticed, an exhausted Modernism which has abandoned its concern with objective truth and confines itself to the ironical mode of knowledge. It is worthy of note that the Eastern civilization reacted  quite passively to the  Western modernity never going beyond the immediate demands and goals of technological systems and bureaucratic control. But Postmodern condition  by elevating communicative efficiency over rational discourse has  for the first time in history opened  a  common perspective for the East and the West. In many important aspects it has even provided serious advantages for the Eastern pragmatic mode of thinking qua using and, above all,  “acting-as-preserving”. In both cases the sphere of material civilization and ideologies stands out as logical and historically conditioned extension of culture.  With the advent of the Modern Age this continuity between symbolical and rational values made possible the overturning of their traditional sequence: civilization as an expression of the autonomous rationality  has absorbed culture or, rather usurped the latter’s prerogatives.

Now Russian mentality looks quite peculiar, not to say unique, with its evident   inconsistencies between spiritualized life of the tradition, culturally articulated sociality and technological systems and, above all, with its willingness to stress the limit of knowing and using, to transcend both ideology and culture. Let us not forget that  Russia produced, among other things,  the  artistic avant-guard  whose vocation was to expose the contradictions and even the outright incompatibility between the form and the content of  thought. This ingenuous expression of  Russian Mind bears, too, a persuasive evidence of the predominance of a split, a differentiating function of relations within Russian cultural type. This split within existence constitutes in fact not the dialectical relationship of thought and nature but the non-duality of two extremes: the pure knowledge and pure naturalness.

These remarks lead to a conclusion which  intuitively  is already accepted by many: Russia has been the greatest challenge to the Western versions of modernization and yet in some deep sense she cannot be torn away from the world history. Moreover, the  relations of Russia and the world are destined to be that of mutual transformation: Russia must let the world in her cultural space and simultaneously give herself to the world. If Russia  finds the way to overcome her non-identity this will be the victory of the whole world; if Russia fails in this task, the whole world will fail.

As the space of this paper does not permit to describe in detail the suggested perspective, I will confine myself  to a few general observations.  In phenomenological terms we are facing the re-discovery of that symbolic depth of existence (concealed by Modernity) which gives rise to various cultural patterns.  This ontology of existence  will make possible bringing together the reflective distance (the Western element) and the immediate awareness (the Eastern element) in a new type of acting self-reflection. In terms of religion it would mean the recognition of symbolical,  or “Heavenly”, dimension of human existence and the “mysterious coincidence” of Divine Revelation (or Wisdom) and natural experience.  In terms of human projective faculty it will account for the limitless variety of living worlds and their in-depth unity.  In a word, Russia’s problem is a justification of the absolute otherness as an essence of culture and a real basis for self-reflection. To solve Russian question amounts to clarifying  conditions for the unity of humanity as the principle of Being’s diversity.

In practical terms Russians (and the world) will have to deal with the problem of the split within Russian Mind which has been to blame for the age-old disaccord  between the state and intelligentsia. In recent times this split has once again facilitated the alienation of Russia’s  ruling elite and nouveaux riches from  the traditionally conceived social space. It is not difficult to predict the course of events in the coming years. After many unsuccessful attempts to change  her fate Russia has entered the phase of standstill in the reversible movement of the  pendulum of Russian politics. Meanwhile the government, it should be noted, is beginning to articulate consciously and use to its advantage the two traditional aspects of Russian  –  “conservative” and “revolutionary”. This policy may eventually bring more political stability to the country. Curiously enough, liberalism in Russia is alien to both tendencies and thus has no cultural support and no stand of its own in Russian politics. It is quite possible, though, that equilibrium will not be maintained for long. Then the new round of Russian political history will be set into motion.

Can Russia break free from the prison of her false and outdated identities – liberal, conservative or communist?  This will depend on whether Russians are capable to go through the vigorous reflection on the sources of their thinking habits and find a creative response to the  challenge that their tradition presents to them. A good starting point for this is provided by the heritage of the Slavophile tradition although this line of Russian thought is, regrettably,  still being pushed aside by more militant and superficial ideologies. As Russia’s various Neo-Slavophile thinkers were quick to observe, this heritage has little to do with physical Russia and is quite hostile to nationalism. It sets the goal of transforming Russian predicament into a global factor of human thinking.  It calls for a culturally diversified and stratified  world order where different types of culturally conditioned reflection will be assembled in a hierarchy of humanistic knowledge assuring the supremacy of symbolic/spiritual values. The fulfillment of this task requires a certain austerity of spirit and life habits or, as Chinese sages would say, “overcoming the Self” which means in fact overcoming the “exaggerated self-importance” nurtured by the Western metaphysical thinking.

We can assume by now that “alternative modernization” is not a historical curiosity but a necessary goal which to be achieved by the joint efforts of humanity. Until now we have been familiar with the “closed” forms of modernity which resulted either in the social catastrophe, as in the case of  the totalitarian modernity, or in a growing tension in the world finally leading to a sort of the global “domestication” of terrorism. What is needed is an “open”  form of modernization which would give priority to the very act of relatedness over rarefied and ideologically sanctified social-cultural “essences”. If Russia and China are to announce the coming of such modernity, then it must be stressed that only open Russia and open China will match the world and only the whole world can match these two countries.