Actual Images of the Russian Revolution of 1917: Dynamics and Perspectives

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

It is important not only to analyze the legacy of the Russian Revolution of 1917 from the point of view of historical science, but also to bear in mind its impact on the modern information and ideological processes. Discussing the Russian Revolution has become a way to think and talk about today, and different approaches to the discussion correspond to different views on modernity and different political ethics. There are five approaches to the evaluation of the Russian Revolution in the ideological space of today: the classic liberal, the neoliberal, the Western left, the Russian left, and the traditionalist approach.

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Liberal Democracy and “Other” Democracies

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow..

The idea of liberal democracy only makes sense because of a basic contradiction between liberalism and democracy. As a description of a form of government, democracy designates a government by the people, whose decision-making power would not be restricted by any higher authority. The power of democracy derives from its ability to mobilize a majority of the members of a political order for collective goals. This rule by popular will can also entail a freedom from higher authorities, including such entities like monarchs and aristocrats, but also ecclesiastical or moral authorities that would establish basic values for guiding decision-making. Since democracy alone would lack constraints on the popular will, liberalism, as a set of principles that include protection of minorities and freedom of expression, is needed to provide the limitations on democratic decision-making that protect democracy from erratic and changes in the public mood. As such, liberalism sets a limit on democratic power, and the basic contradiction between democracy and liberalism maintains a dynamic equilibrium between popular will and liberal principles that can be stabilizing due to its flexibility.

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The Incongruities of Asymmetric War

Assessing asymmetric wars in the abstract is a problematic task, even though most are “small wars” fought by “big nations.” Armed conflicts with these characteristics brim with persistent, undeclared, and low-intensity violence. It rarely is extinguished, and the lingering injuries sustain even more violence on the same scale. Many of these small wars began in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East during, or not long after, World War II. Armed resistance there never completely ended; instead it intensified with decolonization and/or postcolonial state failure. Now virtually institutionalized in many violent wild zones around the world, low-intensity wars also flare up as asymmetric conflicts between rich countries and poor peoples, Westernized nations and anti-Western movements, liberal democratic states and illiberal theocratic insurgents after 1989.

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Asymmetric Warfare: The First Three Thousand Years

The thoughts below were first presented at the 2017 Telos Paul Piccone Institute conference, “Asymmetrical Warfare: The Centrality of the Political to the Strategic.” On the perhaps naïve presumption that politics are grounded in ideals, norms, and values that guide (if not govern) societal conduct, I have extended the title to “Asymmetrical Warfare: The Centrality of the Ethical to Politics and the Strategic.” Since the writing of these remarks, Donald Trump has taken the office of president, promised a vast build-up of the U.S. military, and proposed large increases in the military budget alongside substantial decreases in humanitarian aid programs. He has detonated in Afghanistan the largest non-nuclear bomb in U.S. military history, he is saber-rattling with North Korea, and he has bombed Syria—all in his first 100 days, indicating a certain unconsidered readiness to use military force.

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Call for Papers: The 2017 Telos Moscow Conference

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, there is arguably a crisis of democracy: not only has the transition from totalitarian communism failed to bring about liberal market capitalism, but politics in mature democracies has been becoming post-democratic. Models of authoritarianism and state capitalism are spreading in different parts of the world, while countries with long-standing democratic traditions are characterized by a rejection of the political mainstream and a turn to extremes on the far left or the far right.

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Asymmetry and the Reimagining of Political Theology

If the phrase “asymmetrical warfare” is taken to connote scenarios where “one side is possessed of overwhelming power with respect to its adversary,” together with manifold embodiments “of asymmetry in media representations, ideology, religion, sub- and supra-national actors, the environment and even psychology,” then there would appear little doubt that today’s world is pervaded by such conflict. Necessarily, the unique historical conditions of the present, globalizing era—with its fragmenting as well as revanchist states, and its dizzying technological accelerations—are evoked by “new wars” that embroil a proliferation of non-state actors, along with states who believe that they should rightly monopolize (or be immune from, as the case may be) such asymmetrical modalities as nuclear arsenals, mercenary forces, drones, cyberattacks, and propaganda innovations.

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