No sort of philosophy of history, whether Slavophil or Westerniser, has yet solved the enigma,
why a most unstatelike people has created such an immense and mighty state,
why so anarchistic a people is so submissive to bureaucracy,
why a people free in spirit as it were does not desire a free life? --Nikolai Berdyaev, 1915
The sky is high; the tsar is far. --Russian proverb
Another election day on planet Earth, another population refusing to act the way Right-Thinking Westerners believe it should.
Two things have mystified the Francis Fukuyamas of the world about non-Western peoples and their way of 'adopting democracy.' One is these peoples' annoying propensity to produce rulers who stuff urns, crack heads, and throw opponents in prison. The other is that even when such peoples do manage to squeeze out a 'fair' election, 50+% of them vote for some brutal lunkhead completely unpalatable to Right-Thinking Westerners:
A monitoring group set up by protesters in Russia has refused to recognise the results of the presidential election which returned Vladimir Putin to power.
The League of Voters said there had been widespread fraud and the poll was an insult to civic society in Russia.
Mr Putin, it added, won 53%, not 63.6% as reported officially. Such a result would have still brought him victory.
Because everyone knows that Democracy (TM) leads a priori to the kind of leaders Right-Thinking Westerners find palatable. Why just look at Iran in 1979, Algeria in 1991, Nicaragua, Venezuela, or Palestine in 2006, or Ukraine just last year.
Russians, in any case, have long fascinated Western Europeans. Who is this people, one once asked, held in semi-slavery by their own ethnic brethren? Who is this people, one asked later, who has abolished free entreprise as well as religion? Who is this people, one asks today, who continues to happily elect a man famous for clamping down debate and strangling the free press?
Impossible to know the soul of another people without living it. Outsiders can only observe, listen, hope to catch a glimmer of what they can never truly grasp.
In 1919, P.R. Radosavljevich said that
Russia has been called the land of extremes. Here a despotic and autocratic bureaucracy has been continually opposed by groups which championed the cause of the common people, but in their demands were just as uncompromising and rigid as the dominant autocracy they opposed. Is autocracy inevitable to Russia? Or is it an outgrown institution which maintains itself artificially by the use of brute force? The bulk of opinion [...] is quite unanimous that Russian autocracy has established itself under peculiar historical conditions and that it will pass away when these conditions shall have changed. There are others who consider Russian autocracy the resultant of ethnic composition, and of the psychology of the Slav as well...
Radosavljevich was not the only one to sense this paradox. Nikolai Berdyaev, in his 1915 essay 'The Soul of Russia':
Russia -- is the least statelike, the most anarchistic land in the world. And the Russian people -- is the most apolitical of peoples, never having managed to set its land right. All the genuinely Russian, our national writers, thinkers, publicists -- all were non-statists, all were uniquely anarchists. [...]
No one has wanted the power to rule, all were afraid of the power to rule, as something impure. Our Orthodox ideology concerning autocracy -- is a manifestation the same of a non-state spirit, it is a refusal of the people and society to construct a state life. [...]
At the wellsprings of Russian history rests a remarkable legend about the summoning of the Varangian [Viking] foreigners for administering the Russian Land, since "our land be great and abundant, but order in it there is not". How characteristic this is for the fateful incapacity and lack of desire of the Russian people itself to arrange order in its own land! The Russian people as it were desires not so much a free state, freedom within a state, as rather freedom from the state, freedom from concerns about worldly arrangements. The Russian people does not want to be a masculine builder, its nature defines itself as feminine, passive and submissive in matters of state, it always awaits a bridegroom, a man, a ruler. Russia -- is a land submissive and feminine. The passive, the receptive femininity in regard to the state power -- is so characteristic for both the Russian people and for Russian history.
A century later, among other countries in her region, where does Russia fall on major societal indices?
Her place, as well as that of other Eastern Europeans, in the 2010 World Democracy Index:
If we look only at the Democracy Index for her region?
If we exclude the Caucasus and Central Asia?
Among other countries in her region, where does Russia fall today on perceived corruption?
Where does she fall on the Human Development Index?
(We have given the HDI with Gross National Income factored out, as many claim it is not a fair measure of human development.)
It can be interesting to compare Russians not only to other Slavs but also to other northern peoples on modern self-reported values surveys.
Future orientation: How much does this people plan for the future?
Power distance: How comfortable is this people with rigid hierarchy?
In-group collectivism: Whatever 'the group' may be (family/clan/ethnie), how loyal to it is this people?
Societal collectivism: How loyal is this people to the larger society?
Uncertainty avoidance: How much does this people desire rules and a sense of order?
Performance orientation: How strongly does this people emphasize individual performance?
Genetics blogger HBD Chick has examined inbreeding practices around the world and their possible links to social outcomes, including in Eastern Europe, and she points us to Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700 by Eve Levin. She sums up the relevant text thusly:
...both pre-christian southern slavs and the rus lived in extended familiy communal groups called zadruga or obshchina in russian. these family groups were patrilinear and patrilocal and often consisted of up to four generations of an extended family living together with great-grandpa in charge. most slavs continued to live in such extended-family households post-conversion, too.
levin says that the pre-christian slavs were concerned about inbreeding within the zadruga, so it’s likely that they avoided first- and second-paternal cousin marriage. i would guess that maternal cousin marriage was the norm since that is the most common form of cousin marriage globally, but that is only a guess on my part. (see the paragraph about the south slav trebnici in the excerpts below, tho.) the christian church in the east banned first- and second-cousin marriage, which coincided well with slavic family structure, and in addition also, of course, banned both paternal and maternal cousin marriage.
in russia specifically, the canon laws regarding marriage varied over time (they did so in western europe, too). between the 1100s and 1400s, there were no specific bans on cousin marriage, only a ban on “marriage within the clan.” levin claims that during this time period, the russians did not consider mating by cousins to be incestuous, so you would think there would’ve been a good deal of cousin marriage during these centuries amongst the russians. so that’s another four hundred years or so of close mating practices by the russians as compared to western europeans. recall that during the 1000s and 1100s in western europe, the church had banned marriages up to and including sixth cousins. after 1215, it was up to and including third cousins. by the end of the 1400s in russia, marriage with persons up to fourth cousin was banned by the orthodox church.
As for family structure, Emmanuel Todd has re-visited 19th century sociologist Frédéric Le Play's seminal Les Ouvriers Européens, showing us the vast differences in traditional family structure (1500-1900) in Europe, East and West:
As for the 'obshchina' (or village Commune) mentioned above, it has long fascinated observers, as well as inspiring the early eastern Socialists as they cooked up the Proletariat's future. Douglas Mackenzie Wallace, a Scot who soujourned many years in Russia, wrote of the 'obshchina' in 1877:
From these brief remarks the reader will at once perceive that a Russian village [obshchina] is something very different from a village in our sense of the term, and that the villagers are bound together by ties quite unknown to the English rural population. A family living in an English village has little reason to take an interest in the affairs of its neighbours. The isolation of the individual families is never quite perfect, for man, being a social animal, takes necessarily a certain interest in the affairs of those around him, and this social duty is sometimes fulfilled by the weaker sex with more zeal than is absolutely indispensable for the public welfare; but families may live for many years in the same village without ever becoming conscious of common interests. So long as the Jones family do not commit any culpable breach of public order, such as putting obstructions on the highway or habitually setting their house on fire, their neighbour Brown takes probably no interest in their affairs, and has no ground for interfering with their perfect liberty of action.
Amongst the families composing a Russian village, such a state of isolation is impossible. The Heads of Households must often meet together and consult in the Village Assembly, and their daily occupation must be influenced by the Communal decrees. They cannot begin to mow the hay or plough the fallow field until the Village Assembly has passed a resolution on the subject. If a peasant becomes a drunkard, or takes some equally efficient means to become insolvent, every family in the village has a right to complain, not merely in the interests of public morality, but from selfish motives, because all the families are collectively responsible for his taxes. For the same reason no peasant can permanently leave the village without the consent of the Commune, and this consent will not be granted until the applicant gives satisfactory security for the fulfilment of his actual and future liabilities. If a peasant wishes to go away for a short time, in order to work elsewhere, he must obtain a written permission, which serves him as a passport during his absence; and he may be recalled at any moment by a Communal decree.
Centuries of serfhood, a near-century of Soviet Socialism, and now twenty years of Some Other Kind of Democracy. Despite the most fervent hopes of Right-Thinking Westerners, despite all the Coca-Cola and Global Village, the Russians continue to confound and mystify. Berdyaev again (1915):
The Russian people has always loved to live in the warmth of the collective, a sort of dissolving back into the element of earth, into the bosom of the mother. Knightly chivalry forges a sense of personal worth and honour, it creates the tempering of the person. This personal tempering has not been created over the span of Russian history. In Russian man there is a softness, in the Russian face there is no sharply distinct profile. Tolstoy's Platon Karataev -- is rounded in features. Russian anarchism -- is feminine, and not masculine, is passive, not active.
Russia -- is the most bureaucratic statelike land in the world, everything in Russia has been transformed into a tool of politics. [...] The person has been smothered by the vast dimensions of the state, presenting insuperable demands. The bureaucracy developed to monstrous proportions. [...] It came about in the struggle against the Tatar-Mongols, in the Time of troubles, with the invasion of foreigners. But it then transformed itself into a self-sufficing abstract principle; it lives its own particular life, a law unto itself, not wanting to assume its subordinate function to the life of the people. This peculiarity of Russian history has imposed upon Russian life an imprint of joylessness and smothering. The free play of the creative powers of man has been impossible. The grip of power of the bureaucracy in Russian life was an inner assault unperceived. And somehow unperceived it entered organically into the Russian state and took hold upon the feminine and passive Russian element. .... Great sacrifices were imposed upon the Russian people for the building up of the Russian state, much its blood was shed, but it remained itself powerless within its vast state. ... it submissively surrendered its powers to the building up of imperialism, in which its heart was disinterested. Herein is hidden a mystery of Russian history and the Russian soul.
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We have posited before that a people's likelihood of adopting English-style Liberal Democracy is in direct proportion to that people's resemblence to the English. Some Western Slavic peoples seem to have taken to this government system quite naturally (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks). But can a Western Slav be compared to an Eastern Slav? Are these two different worlds, with two different souls? Will the Russians one day begin to act the way Right-Thinking Westerners would like them to? Should they? And, most importantly, is it in the U.S.'s best interests to continue covertly and semi-covertly funding, with your and my taxpayer dollars, efforts to this end?