Staunton, October 6 – Many public statements by Russian leaders today shock “not so much by their reactionary quality…but by their illiteracy,” the result, Vladimir Pastukhov says, of the unleashing by the Kremlin of “a mechanism of ‘the de-civilization’ of Russian society, which, if extraordinary measures are not taken in time could turn out to be irreversible.”
This is one of “the serious cultural risks,” the St. Antony’s College scholar says, that “the policy of the Kremlin formed on the basis of opposing the West in the struggle for influence in Ukraine” entails even though it “has hardly been considered by the architects of the new Kremlin course.”
Anyone who “attentively follows events in Russia cannot fail to take note of the qualitative changes in the Russian ‘cultural stratum,” Pastukhov continues, or to recognize that there has been an “absolute” decline in the cultural level in Russia. But this soon will be “impossible to ignore.”
In one respect, of course, this is “not some new tendency but rather a continuation of the movement along the trajectory which was put in place by the Bolshevik revolution almost a century ago,” but in recent times, the downward slope of that trajectory has clearly increased, Pastukhov suggests.
And at the same time, much of this is not the result of “some evil ‘Kremlin plan’” but rather is happening as a result of “the living creativity of the masses.’” And that in fact makes the situation more disturbing because it resembles “the loss of calcium in the bones in osteoporosis,” something that leaves the outside the same but hollows out the interior.
“Places at the very top of the political pyramid are ever more frequently occupied by half-educated provincials,” people who have only the foggiest ideas about history and culture of the civilization they like to claim they are defending. And the decline in cultured people among them is going faster than the depopulation of Russia as a whole.
There is no question that Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the advisor to Alexander III, “as no less reactionary than many of the people in the current Russian Duma, but at least it was impossible to suspect him of being totally without culture.”
But there is another reason to be concerned by the “de-civilization” of Russia, Pastukhov says, and that is that there are unsettling precedents: the same thing happened in Stalin’s times in the Soviet Union and in Nazi Germany under Hitler. In short, culture matters in politics, and cultural decay matters even more.
The Kremlin’s promotion of patriotism has had an extremely unwelcome consequence: it has unleashed some “dark social instincts” and leading to the re-emergence of an old “Russian disease,” the loathing of any thinking that Nicholas Berdyayev and others wrote about in “Vekhi” before World War I.
That in turn, Pastukhov says, “goes hand in hand with social infantilism.” Many Russians have good minds as they demonstrate when they land in European or American universities. But when they are at home, it often happens that they combine professional competence with “social irresponsibility and ‘humanitarian limitedness.’”
Otherwise intelligent people are, under current Russian conditions, “instantly converted into barbarians” when there is any talk about resolving social conflicts or avoiding arguments with neighbors or a war with Ukraine.
But the immediate danger of this is elsewhere, Pastukhov argues. “The Kremlin mistakenly supposes that it can easily manipulate the attitudes of people. But this is a one-way street.” It is easy to unleash such attitudes by promoting a growth in unquestioning patriotism, but it is no easy thing to control them or drive them back into the box.
One can provoke hysteria in a calculated way, the St. Antony’s scholar says, but one can’t end it in the same way. For that, typically what one requires is “shock therapy.” The Germans had to suffer defeat in World War II. What Russians will have to suffer if they are to recover is likely to be something of equal magnitude.