INTRODUCTION by Co-editors and Contributors of the Special Section Elena Chebankova and Piotr Dutkiewicz
The collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the twentieth century ended the pre-existing bipolar Cold War system and resulted in a unipolar moment in which the United States enjoyed a position of almost unchallenged global and civilizational leadership [Krauthammer 1991; Waltz 1993; Wohlforth 1999]. However, despite the initial elation of some Western politicians and analysts [Fukuyama 1992; Brooks, Wohlforth 2008; Kagan 2008], who hoped to see the triumph of the Western idea universally, this situation was relatively short-lived. Global dialogue soon moved beyond this moment of unipolarity toward its more conventional form, in which states struggle for power and influence and search for areas of mutually beneficial co-operation. At the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century, we see a qualitatively different world. There have been profound political changes since the post-Cold War unipolarity.
In this world, the idea of civilization has become a virtual currency of international relations and global dialogue. Many analysts [Coker 2019; Acharya 2020; Stuenkel 2016; Higgott 2019] discuss the rise of civilizations in world affairs as the new sociopolitical reality. Countries such as Russia, China, India, Turkey, and Brazil are often considered civilizational states – challengers to the West. Historically, philosophers have oscillated between the idea of multiple civilizations, with the West being one civilization of many (Spengler, Huntington, Danilevsky), and a single and universal Western civilization (Hayek, Kant). The former approach became a cardinal frame of reference of the global discourse during the past decade.
Three central processes contributed to this shift in narrative. First, the United States, which represents the Western geopolitical core, has lost some of its previous global and civilizational significance. Despite the fact that some analysis still insists on the longevity and flexibility of the power of the United States [Kagan 2008], many observers paint a different and more pessimistic picture [Layne 2006; Monteiro 2011; Pape 2009; Fukuyama 2021]. The ability of the United States to dominate the world’s economic affairs has diminished since the end of the Cold War. America can no longer grant unchallenged security benefits to its supporters and economic tensions erupt between the United States and its strategic partners. In this connection, Michael Mastanduno notes that ‘the United States may continue act in its own way, but it can no longer count on getting its own way’ [Mastanduno 2009: 123]
Second, a group of new states have emerged to claim global leadership in the economic, political, and – in some ways – civilizational spheres. These emerging powers have pursued their specific engines of integration and growth and the ideas of cultural and civilizational distinctness from the West [Destradi 2010; Schweller, Pu 2011; Nau, Ollapally 2012; Mead 2014]. The idea of multipolarity, in which the world relies on several effective centres of influence – often referred to as civilizations – each with its distinct cultural and political-institutional pattern, has become prominent among these rising countries [Monteiro 2011; Stuenkel 2016; Hurell 2007; Zala 2017].
Finally, and most importantly, the West has undergone a profound transformation of its foundational value base, which by and large has granted it global cultural, economic, and political leadership since the Renaissance [Solzhenitsyn 1978]. Specifically, Jurgen Habermas argues that a set of pre-capitalist values that find their roots in the Abrahamic tradition lent legitimacy to Western capitalism and ensured its civilizational leadership [Habermas 1975]. The West exported its values and institutions globally, mainly as the champion of monotheistic metaphysics. The past several decades witnessed a profound recasting of this ideational base [Mahoney 2018]. This transition of the ideational base must logically lead to a new wave of evolution, in which a new post-Western or neo-Western civilization should be born and developed.
The growing prominence of civilizational discourse generated a plethora of academic debates and questions. In this connection, some Western authors lament the departure of universalism and the idea of ‘universal values’ from the world’s political scene [Coker 2019; Acharya 2020]. In many ways, such lamentations are linked to the natural sense of loss generated by the West’s waning leadership and its erstwhile ability to produce a culture that invoked global envy and the desire to follow [Ferguson 2004; Kaplan 2006; Fukuyama 2015; Mearsheimer 2018; Fukuyama 2021].
Partly to placate these concerns, some observers ponder the extent to which ‘the rest’ can change the extant world order, because each new order relies on the pre-existing structures [Ikenberry 2011; Stuenkel 2016]. As Oliver Stuenkel insists, ‘the old parts live on and become the materials out of which restructuring develops when formerly peripheral players become central actors in the new system’ [Stuenkel 2016: 60]. Pursuing this logic, commentators, such as Amitav Acharya, argue that, while cultures and civilizations differ and therefore have some historical foundations, authoritarian regimes of the non-Western world merely deploy civilizational nationalism as a political trump card at home and abroad. These thinkers also claim (mistakenly in our view) that the new civilizational discourse ‘deliberately obscures the possibility of building common ground between their values and those of the West’ [Acharya 2020: 150].
Our position is that, while civilizational rhetoric does not aim at a convergence that assumes the submerging of one value system by another, civilizational discourse always invokes the idea of dialogue [Kazarinova 2018; Yakunin 2018]. This dialogue respects tangible cultural-spiritual differences, seeking at the same time the areas in which co-operation and mutual understanding are possible [Lavrov 2021]. Moreover, as the postmodern world takes shape, universalism, which was the central tenet of modernity, is departing the political arena. Instead, the doctrine of genuine value pluralism, as introduced by Isaiah Berlin and sustained by many philosophers such as, gains prominence [Mouffe 1988; Gray 1995; Lyotard 1979; Eisenstadt 2002; Williams 2005]. This doctrine rejects the idea of the universal validity of one or another socioeconomic model of modernity and assumes the mutual recognition and respect of differing cultural-spiritual paradigms.
Another area of contention invoked by the emergent civilizational narrative relates to whether rising states represent specific civilizations or just variations of the current post-capitalist system. The answers to this question derive from the methodological premise adopted by a researcher. Those who adhere to the principles of economic determinism, particularly researchers working within the Marxist methodological tradition, often argue that economic structures define the development of sociopolitical processes and influence the socio-cultural consciousness of the masses. From this position, it is clear that, as economic structures of the world become harmonized, their socio-political realms should also converge, if not overlap.
Rationalism lends a methodological premise to the opposite approach, focusing on the cardinal role of discourse in our understanding of civilizations and world political processes. Historical, cultural, and social context, along with the conventions of the age, are of primary importance in this analysis. From this point of view, we depart from the study of the civilization’s underlying structure, which Braudel [1993 28] defined as shared symbols of faith, historical references, perceptions of truth and justice, timeless attitudes to life and death, family frameworks, enjoyment, and work. The difference in the underlying culture, traditions, and customs begin to play a decisive role in shaping the nature of political institutions and the means of economic redistribution.
This special section of Polis, titled ‘Reflections on Civilizations, Multipolarity, and World Order’, which we were invited to co-edit, continues the dialogue on these and other central issues of current international affairs. In some ways, this section builds on our forthcoming in Routledge Publishing House co-edited book, Civilizations and World Order [Civilizations… 2021]. To compose this section, we invited select authors who worked with us on the volume above and some new colleagues from Russia whose views on the subject we were keen to share on the pages of this section. In what follows, we introduce central themes and problems that our group of authors present in this special issue.
Ivan Safranchuk and Fyodor Lukyanov open the discussion by arguing that the world is moving toward the convergence of economic models of governance, exhibiting at the same time a significant difference in the discursive field. Civilizations, therefore, may exhibit similarities in the economic realm, but at the same time diverge in the areas of culture, spirit, and social life. Such civilizations act as poles of influence in the emerging multipolar world, thus gradually altering the current architecture of international relations based on the nation-state. Lukyanov previously argued that the multipolar world would be moving from the nation-state structure to a new configuration, where the ‘basic constituent parts’ are ‘conglomerations of economic interests united around the most powerful centres of attraction and economic growth’ [Lukyanov 2010: 24].
Adrian Pabst continues this theme by arguing that such centres of cultural, economic, and political influence turn into so-called civilizational states. These states define themselves not in terms of ethnic, national, or territorial homogeneity, but in terms of the values embedded in their cultural kernels. In contrast to the Western authors discussed above, who consider rising civilizational states the main threat to Western hegemony, Pabst argues that the internal socio-political transformations occurring within the West pose a much greater and more immediate danger to its civilization. His central thesis is that the West is undergoing a cardinal transformation of its value base, during which the worst demons of liberalism, such as tyranny, oligarchy, and demagogy, are unleashed.
Elena Chebankova and Piotr Dutkiewicz continue that transformations of such magnitude are invariably ideological. Ideology justifies the vision, goals, strategies, and actions of its adherents. Chebankova and Dutkiewicz discuss the context of the age in which the ideology of civilizational discourse appeared. In addition, the authors illuminate the central tenets of such civilizational ideology.
We then continue to ponder the central question of the extent to which the new poles of global influence could be considered as civilizations. David Lane argues that the thesis on the variety of capitalism and the civilizational nature of such varieties needs qualification. These types of capitalism, he claims, are a mere reflection of geopolitical struggles between leading capitalist countries, not self-sufficient civilizations. Lane’s central thesis, in our view, is that the twentieth century produced two distinct civilizations: capitalist and socialist. Both civilizations were the offspring of modernity, yet they exhibited distinct differences in their economic, social, and, above all, cultural-spiritual spheres. As we see it, Lane’s thesis logically parallels, perhaps without the author’s personal preferences,
Hayek’s central conception on the cardinal difference between Western civilization – or the ‘Great Society’ to use Adam Smith’s term – and socialism. Hayek focused on the profound divergence in the moral base that shaped the Western and socialist systems, viewing Western civilization as the only viable model of modern society – with no other meaningful alternatives if humanity were to continue living and multiplying numerically [Gamble 2007: 26-27; see also Coker 2019: 10-11, for parallel ideas]. Simultaneously, Hayek accepted socialism as a distinct civilization with a clear moral code, though he found its ethical base suitable only for archaic communities that were unable to sustain large human societies such as the modern world. Lane diverges from Hayek’s far-reaching qualitative assessment of the socialist civilization. At the same time, Lane pursues the idea that the world had just two types of civilizations – capitalist and socialist – with the intellectual rigour and sophistication to invoke academic reflection and potential public consideration.
Given the growing significance of cultural factors in international politics, Marina Lebedeva discusses the emergence of a social and humanitarian approach to international relations. Lebedeva’s main contribution is to show how interstate relations can be analyzed and theorized about through the lenses of the humanitarian dimension of world politics and the instruments of cultural and humanitarian diplomacy. The paper also opens a new debate on whether the humanitarianization of international relations can be treated either as a universal or a civilization-specific notion. An understanding of the term (not to mention its application in international practice) is culturally sensitive, and it may be interpreted within the cultural boundaries of its users.
In conclusion, these authors agree that the challenge of our time is not only intellectual. We are living through a period of profound civilizational transition – or decline – of the hegemonic civilization, and are witnessing at the same time the rise of new centres of power, both in the economic and discursive realms. Human history has already witnessed similar transitions, yet they occurred in qualitatively different socio-political environments that were free from the weapons of mass destruction, rapid means of transportation, and virtually instant global communication.
Crucially, our political transformation poses serious navigation challenges, including the control of nuclear arsenals and the sustaining of military security worldwide. Alexey Arbatov discusses the problems and contradictions of the nuclear deterrent, management of military nuclear arsenals, and risks related to the human factor in these processes. As a leading specialist on the nuclear deterrent, he stresses the importance of this political-military instrument in the current global dialogue. His conclusions on the need to introduce greater transparency around nuclear deterrence and move toward the gradual limitation of nuclear arsenals worldwide provide politicians and analysts with grounds for reflection.
Finally, we hope that this special section sheds light on some crucial problems of today’s world and fosters further debate and discussion on these issues. Last but by no means least, we thank the editors Professor Chugrov and Professor Lapkin, for presenting us with the unique opportunity to co-edit this timely and much-needed section and co-operate with a brilliant group of authors in due process. The faults, of course, remain our own.
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