The Drama of Russian Political History: System against Individuality

The Drama of Russian Political History: System against Individuality

The Drama of Russian Political History: System against Individuality

The Drama of Russian Political History: System against Individuality

Synopsis

In his introduction, Alexander Obolonsky notes that Russian history and life are full of paradoxes, most of them rather sad. Why, he asks, have the Russians, who have not only been endowed by nature with enormous natural, human, and intellectual resources, but who have also developed a great literary and scientific heritage and made significant contributions to world civilization, proved unable to arrange the conditions of their own existence to realize their great potential? "What fundamental deficiency," he wonders, "made this great anomaly possible?"Alexander Obolonsky has undertaken the formidable task of reinterpreting Russian history from the Time of Troubles and the reign of Ivan the Terrible to perestroika, glasnost, and the dismantling of the Soviet system under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. He seeks to understand the present and assess the social trends that will shape the future through a careful reconsideration of Russia's past.In his sweeping analyses of historical trends, Obolonsky structures his analytic narrative around two opposed concepts- a system-centered understanding of social existence in which individuals are viewed as "cogs" functioning for the sake of the whole, and a liberal person-centered paradigm in which society seeks to promote the development of the individual.Obolonsky distrusts all monistic explanations, from Marxism and geopolitics to scientific and technological models. He prefers to utilize a variety of variables-ethical, economic, sociopsychological, cultural-to explain Russian history, presenting its course as a long-term and ongoing struggle between two competing models of life. Oblolonsky is neither a determinist nor a romantic. In his thought-provoking and historically grounded analysis, he challenges standard interpretations regarding Russia, the USSR, the role of political leaders, and the Russian people. Far from satisfied with Russia's past, Obolonsky worries that Russia's future will be tainted by the persistence of an anti-individualist mentality and attitudes shaped by centuries of autocratic rule and by a conservative mass consciousness rooted in Russian experience.Students of Russian history, politics, and culture, and also those interested in the broader issues of twentieth-century society will find this informative magnum opus of a senior Russian scholar insightful and thought-provoking.

Excerpt

The drama of Russian political history is important to all humankind. The Russian Revolution, the Soviet experiment, and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have occupied worldwide attention as critical developments of the twentieth century. No other events have stirred such far-reaching ramifications among the diverse peoples of this world. Nor have other events been marked by greater suffering and tragedies during the twentieth century. What began as heroic adventures turned into tragedies of global proportions.

Alexander Obolonsky’s The Drama of Russian Political History is an effort by one who has lived with that drama to understand its deeper meaning as a struggle for the human soul, reaching to dimensions of personality, character structure, and the meaning of life. The struggle is one between individual freedom and responsibility and the requirements of the social order as a system that makes its demands for conformity. In one, individuals are presumed to be free to choose and to assume their responsibility in the social order. In the other, individuals take the place assigned to them in an order that is dominated by the requirements of the system and by one’s status in the system. In one, human character structures are more strongly person-oriented in a general system of ethics consistent with more universal moral orders. In the other, an established status system is bound together by rituals associated with different estates in which the requirements of the system prevail in relation to that of the individual. One is person-centered; the other is systemcentered.

Henry Sumner Maine, in a volume entitled Ancient Law, first published in 1861, conjectured that “the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract” (italics his). Rather than using well-defined status systems in stratified social orders, the shift to “contract” implies a shift to equality in assigning standing to persons as a legal concept, accompanied by freedom among individuals to enter into legally binding voluntary agreements with one another over . . .

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