Staunton, February 21 – US President Donald Trump understands two fundamental truths about the world today: international agreements reduce the sovereignty of countries, and social change has undermined the peoples of individual countries and replaced them with an amorphous “population” that is increasingly short term in its approach, Oleg Shabrov says.
In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, the Moscow political scientist says that Trump is seeking to overcome the first and operate within the limits of the second with his slogan of “America First” and that Putin should follow his lead and make “Russia first” his guiding principle (ng.ru/ng_politics/2017-02-21/9_6934_first.html).
Shabrov, a researcher at the Presidential Academy of Economics and State Service, argues that Trump has understood that the residents of his country or any other lose their own power when they give up sovereignty to pan-national groupings of states like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
And he has understood that a people is “not simply a collection of citizens.” It is a historically evolved community” that is united by history, values, a sense of identity, and connected with the fate of the country. A population in contrast is only a collection of individuals who vote for their own interests and feel no responsibility for future generations.
Populations as opposed to peoples, Shabrov says, will support those candidates “who promise and are capable of creating conditions for the cloudless existence of these individuals ‘here and now.’ [And] it is this that Aristotle had in mind when he said that democracy is the worst form of rule.”
National identity is under threat not only from supra-national agreements and groupings, the Moscow political scientist says. It is also being overwhelmed by the mediazation and globalization of social links and mass global migration and by the failure under the impact of massive change to pass on the values of the older generation to the younger.
And finally, Shabrov says, the meaning and methods of representing interests is losing its former importance. “The 21st century is also the century of the information society,” one that consists of people who are open to “an excess of information” and who thus treat things in all spheres in an increasingly superficial way.
As a result of all these things, he continues, “state power is gradually losing sovereignty,” with transnational corporations attacking it from above and the supportive role of the people undermined by its replacement with populations. Elections have been reduced to ritual and manipulation rather than as a means to express support for this or that program.
“Russian supporters of democracy,” Shabrov says, “are striving after the ideals of the past,” making “a fetish” of something that is no longer true.
What should Russia do? he asks rhetorically.
First of all, its leaders must recognize that military-political means are not sufficient to guarantee that Russia will remain sovereign. The country must move away from its dependence on the export of raw materials and from corruption, and the state must promote the re-industrialization of the economy.
Second, the state must focus on “the preservation of the people” as the necessary condition for genuine democracy. National identity must be supported. “Either we are Russia or part of Europe or part of China or part of Eurasia or ‘a man’ of the world.” That means, Russia must follow Trump and make its device “the simple words: ‘Russia First!’”
And third, the Russian state must “stop the trend toward the atomization of Russian society” by returning to education its socialization tasks and ending the constant “de-heroization and discrediting of the past, regardless of whether it is the princely past, the monarchic one, the imperial or the Soviet.”
“It is not exclude that direct elections as an institute of political representation has exhausted itself,” Shabrov says; and he urges a system of indirect elections from the bottom up much like the one that functioned in the RSFSR until the mid-1930s. Effective in many ways, this system proved “incapable of opposing authoritarian tendencies under conditions of a single party and closed state institutions.” Russia today must think about how to avoid that.
But in the end, the political scientist says, “one cannot fail to consider the specific feature of Russian culture. One must come to terms with the fact that we are oriented more on a leader than on institutions and that the latter, with their branches of power, parties and elections is secondary” and that such a leader must be “charismatic” and a reflection of national traditions.