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The Cultural and Philosophical Roots of Russian Totalitarianism

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Many Western assessments of Russian totalitarianism depart from the premises that although the country has no democratic tradition, the basic ideas about the state and the political subject current in Russian society are nonetheless the same as what Western socio-political discourses operate with. The goal of this lecture is to show that this is not the case. Russian totalitarianism has longstanding cultural roots based on the idea of historical messianism and national uniqueness (“the Russian soul”), which permeated also the modernizing discourses that developed in Russia, under the influence of Hegel, during the latter half of the 19th century and led to the establishment of the Bolshevist regime. As a result, all influential Russian political ideologies have jettisoned the citizenship-based political visions that derive from Enlightenment ideals and advocate instead a theory of the political subject that must find its self-realization in its sacrificial commitment to the Russian/Communist idea. In combination, these circumstances have given rise to both the Russian totalitarian doctrine and a society that actually sees itself in its terms.  

Rein Raud is the Distinguished Professor of Asian and Cultural Studies at the School of Humanities, Tallinn University. His circle of research interests is broad and ranges from cultural semiotics and sociology to process philosophy and theories of the subject on the one hand, and various aspects of Asian and Western cultural history on the other. His academic books include Being in Flux: A Post-Anthropocentric Ontology of the Self (Polity, 2021), Asian Worldviews: Religions, Philosophies, Political Theories (Wiley-Blackwell 20121), Meaning in Action: Outline of an Integral Theory of Culture (Polity 2016) and Practices of Selfhood (together with Zygmunt Bauman, Polity 2015).


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