The Archaic Mechanisms of Legitimizing Power in Russia, or the Outline of the Nostalgic Conscious Origins

Background notes

One of the most striking features of Russia in the beginning of 21st century is a strong “nostalgic” mood that has embraced an overwhelming majority of the social life spheres1 Debates 2007.1— from political shows’ rhetoric, “golden oldies”, “discos of 80’s” and “Retro” radio boom to old ladies conversations. However, while the latter is more or less clear and does not need any additional explanations, investigation of political nostalgia does make sense. I leave aside the “psychological” origins of the “nostalgia for the 70’s and 80’s”, an argument popular nowadays. They surely exist. After the tough times of 90’s when most of the country’s population had to drastically and radically change their behavior strategies, the significant and the important in social terms group of people 40—50 y.o. tried to “construct themselves” pulling “threads from the past”. However, the fact that the matrix for this construction is their past rather than the pretty successful present deserves other than psychological approach, especially when such matrix becomes the main country policy and ideology aspiring to the status of a new center of power.

Why would a country that in 1990’s made an unbelievable jump towards the West, which can be only compared to the times of Peter the Great, all out of a sudden threw itself back into the “sweet embraces” of the past and the seized epoch? Which latent mechanisms of the Russian politics’ functioning have shown here? This article is dedicated to answers to these questions. However, before grappling with the main tasks of this work, it makes sense to determine the methodological position and notional context, within which the problems, set in the article, will be analyzed.

The statement about the ambiguous (east-west, religious-secular, or and other) position of Russia has become a truism2 See Akhiezer 1991; Pastukhov 1994; Pivovarov 2002 and other.2. Neither questioning nor further developing this thesis, I would like to focus one of its methodological implications. Dual reality can not be studied with one analytical tool. The methods used by the modern political science and political philosophy allow us to reveal only some part of this reality. An attempt to cover the whole most often results in the total methodological eclecticism that is presented as the “knowledge about life” or the actualization of the “true values”.

If the existing methods are totally inadequate to the studied reality, as, for example, in case of Iran or Turkmenistan situation analysis, they might be put aside and substituted by the ethnological or any other ones. When studying cases that are closer to the theoretically thinkable invariant, these methods can be used while treating each case as a modus of the common model. However, neither the first nor the second variant fits Russia3 It is quite possible that this is also the case in Japan and India, but this is the question ofa separate research3.

In the first case, the anomaly lies in the fact that Russia possesses a relatively developed industry as well as strong “westernized” traditions in politics, culture and law down to the Christianity being the cornerstone of both Russian and pan-European civilization. As a result, the history of Russia from St. Vladimir to Peter I and Lenin is perceived as a sequence of serious errors, and nostalgia is targeted at the legendary epoch of the pre-Christian Russia rather than the “good old 70’s”.

In the second case, the analysis ignores the “fundament” of the Russian culture, its “essence” so the research turns into an endless statement of “absence” in the lack of opportunity to affirm the “presence”. We can easily find out what it is that Russia lacks being unable to answer the question: what it is that Russia has. Another problem is that political science and political philosophy’s methodological apparatus in principle is badly fit for capturing “peculiarities”. Thus, one has to rely on the very same ethnology4 Kovalev, Steinberg 19994. or use conceptions that are “exotic” to the European social sciences. Probably, it is the reason for the increase of interest in neoinstitutionalism, in particular in the Olson/McGuire model5 Olson 1995.5. Along with it the introduction of such models creates an impression of eclecticism and absence of the clearly defined research subject. “The essence” stays unmarked.

It seems that the analysis of the “nostalgia” movement in the Russian politics will if not reveal the “essence” of the Russian politics, but at least help to come closer to it. The empirical object that my thoughts will be concentrated on is the latest State Duma and presidential elections in Russia. Their departure point will be the “multilayer character” of Russian reality6 Blyakher 2003.6 with each layer being able under the certain circumstances to represent the wholeness shielding the other layers from the watcher’s eye.

The majority of arguments stated below are initiated by the conception of the Russian System by Yu.Pivovarov and A.Fursov7 Pivovarov,Fursov 2001; Pivovarov 2002.7. However, while A.Fursov and Yu.Pivovarov were mostly concerned with the genesis and forms of the self-development of the Russian System, I am more interested in its “output”. These statements, especially in the methodological terms, were significantly influenced by the ideas that were laid out in the book by S.Kaspe dedicated to the research of the macrosocial centers8 Kaspe 2008.8. Strictly speaking, I will try to derive the specifics of Russian political space from the organizational principle and substantial characteristics of the Center. After all in Europe, secular and religious spheres interacting with each other “left” the Center itself in transcendence, whereas in Russia both of them were fused and personified in the figure of the Leader9 Uspensky 2002.9, who being at the same time vested with the highest secular power and sacred-religious status was the main mediator between the reality and the transcendental area. It is the existence of such a monolithic Center that structured political space and provided the notional context for the political behavior.

Unlike Kaspe’s work, which mostly described the structural properties of the “Empire of West”, in this article it is the Russian political space that I will focus on. However, since the peculiar features of the latter might be figured out only through the comparison, I will start my investigation with a brief analysis of the processes unfolding in Europe and countries of the so called world periphery.

The European case: economy as the status burdened sphere

The common feature of the epoch known as the Early Modern Period has become the deepened division of labor, which having emerged in the industry (manufacture), gradually embraced all the social spheres spawning relatively autonomous social locals — economics, politics, culture etc.10 Foucault 2002.10, — seemingly the very “multilayer character”. However, the multilayer character in reality was rather relative. The status system, the idea about the integrity of the Lord’s world and many other things inherited from the Middle Ages continued to bond the social tissue. But the main clip that created an unprecedented cohesiveness although not within the Lord’s world but on the separated territory was the state and the state bureaucracy’s power that neutralized all the differences. The objective of this integrity, as S.Kaspe convincingly proved, was in an opportunity to take under control the resources’ flows crossing the territory. “The wobbly prospect of satisfying the objective resource hunger became a strong subjective motive for setting absolutely novel goals and using new methods of reaching them”. Since “under the conditions of the feudal system with its plexus of personal dependencies and the domination of the norm “vassal of my vassal is not my vassal”, the resources’ flows “were distributed between too many receivers and thus were exhausted very soon”, the idea of “monopolizing access to these resources... was...natural and could have hardly failed to emerge”11 Kaspe 2007:132—133.11.

It is important to emphasize that such monopolization was aiming at assuring the maintenance of the traditional status-hierarchical structure. After all, neither the catholic King of Spain nor the Christian King of France nor (at the beginning) the English monarch had pretensions of legitimacy other than imperial and clerical. Being the holders of the local and therefore limited, “technical power”, they had to take care of spiritual well-being of their subjects and consequently, possess the necessary resource. To put it differently, most of the radical, revolutionary changes that took place in the 16th and the “long 17th” centuries were linked to the desire to preserve the society and its world of sacred ideals intact.

Avoiding the twists and turns of the Modernity epoch’s state territorial development, I will delve into just one problem that arises in the process of this analysis. For a state to be claimed the local “power center” and organizational origin, it has to possess not only the power resource, but also the material one that might be withdrawn without fatal ramifications for the society. Therefore, there is a need for people who would produce an additional resource and also for those who would be capable of controlling its withdrawal and organizing the homogenous state territory itself. In other words, there is a demand in entrepreneurs and bureaucracy. However, the structure of the feudal state as a local center of the sub-imperial level possessed neither the first nor the second ones. Royal “governors” in the districts (earls, stewards, bailie, sheriffs and others) by the essence of their governance were not able to uniformly exercise the state jurisdiction because they were relying on the “superior” justice and the “God’s” rather than the King’s jurisdiction. The most important thing is that through districts controlling governors became in a way “equal” to the King and got access to those resources that should have been monopolized. Moreover, the resource flows coming from peasants were not defined well enough to present the basis for implementing cost accounting12 For example, in the southern France, according to F.Braudel estimates, there was one year of plenty for every3 lean years(Braudel 2002: 273)12. The problem of the value-added product as well as the tool of its withdrawal and the “order” maintenance raised in the 17th century when the economy that was enjoying its boom for more than 2 years changed into the deepest crisis.

But if the system of the feudal monarchy didn’t have such entrepreneurs and administrators, it does not mean that they did not exist at all. In the city centers, especially in the southern ones, both were in abundance. Nor were they absent in the royal cities, such as Lyon, Bordo, Neapol etc. “...Territorial states annexing anything they were coming across appeared to be incapable to manage the acquired affluent economic resources, — states F.Braudel. — This powerlessness left a loophole for cities and merchants”13 Braudel 2002: 469.13. The loophole was also created as both entrepreneurs and representatives of the urban bureaucracy who switched to work in the public state sector were not “nobly born”, that is by definition they could not be viewed as the alternative “power entrepreneurs”14 Volkov 2005: 1914 and competitors to the state. Even a podesta of the Italian city republics was a hired man-servant and not a lord, let alone officials in the royal cities, especially merchants or manufacturers. The Venetian envoy of the 16th century M.Suriano in his description of French (royal) merchants noted: “They had neither advantages nor merits, because any trading activity is considered obnoxious for the gentry”15 Volgin 1950: 156.15. Such people were attracted by the state sphere. They did not rule, they were executing orders.

The formation of economy as the leading social sphere was happening quite slowly in accordance with the “theater principle” (“the same and Sophia”). The economy at first being a necessary, but still a secondary branch, from a lissome maid has turned into a noble mistress, having stolen the limelight of the other social spheres and made the previously important deeds and behavior strategies meaningless. The changes of the 13—14th centuries led to the emergence within the “long 17th century” of one more social mobility scale that had to do with money, industry and trade as well as with a position in the state bureaucratic structure rather than the church or court career (empowered by God or by birth). It was its emergence that gave a state and a king an opportunity to establish himself as an “emperor in his kingdom” and to overcome the crisis. This process took the most strongly pronounced shape in the northern countries such as England, Netherlands, and France.

However, the South, the motherland of strong commercial city-states, was also hurt by the crisis. It’s worth scrutinizing to the life of these cities — Venice, Genoa, Florence. It is there where the most significant status changes occurred that have become a model for the whole European area, and the “matrix” of changes and social mobility was created. The economy itself previously playing only functional role was getting a significant and socially determined status. The wealth of the “new Italians” was invested into the status (patricians). As the thinker of the 16th century Sebastian Frank puts it, the population of the “powerful and free cities” is divided into 2 categories: “the ordinary citizens and the high-born ones seeking to be somewhat noblemen who earn their living by rent like the gentry”16 Ibid.: 90.16. The patriciate has gradually got access to the “true” gentry titles. Aristocracy by blood and that by money are getting closer. The economy that earlier used to carry only technical function gains (although not entirely “pure”) a status. In addition, a new “economic feeding” for the traditional social structure emerged. Moreover, the funds earned within commercial and industrial operations were sometimes invested into the far less profitable land rents getting involved into traditional forms of the economy rather than into a new economic cycle. Thus the wealth, although it was not that obvious yet, appears to be a social elevator that is capable to significantly change its owner’s status.

Despite the uniqueness of the Italian experience, we can also find some interpenetration of the aristocracy by blood and money, although to a lesser extent, in France, Spain, and England. The famous English enclosures and the French leases were also regarded as the forms of such interpenetration. However, there was a fundamental difference between the North and the South. Southern people did not create new statuses and did not seek to appropriate status structure of the gentry. The traditional manufactory structure with its inherent range of statuses was reproduced. If the city patriciate appeared to be strong enough, it “flowed into” the gentry. It suggests that the wealth only allowed acquiring a status rather than being its direct source.

The situation was more complicated in the North. A new entrepreneur, connected to the “world” markets, was stronger than a manufactory, but fell behind the level of a Venetian or even Hamburg’s patrician who was capable to join the gentry. No less important that his activity was minimally regulated by the society. He neither possessed any social status nor did he seek to head it. A new entrepreneur either broke or ignored it preferring other territorial-economic unions or connections. As a result, he could not become a part of any existing at that time status scales, hanging in the vacuum and thereby depriving himself from the “social visibility”, life world, and an opportunity of everyday communications. His communications didn’t go beyond strictly professional, i.e. technical. He appeared to be Robinson Crusoe without ever finding himself on the desert island. But it is his position that as a result created a resource that allowed the society to reproduce itself. The manufacture and the world trade were becoming a means not only for personal wealth, but also for society’s survival. Getting richer, a new entrepreneur was providing “jobs for thousands”17 Ibid.: 203.17, whereas all the other economic forms at best maintained the existence of the staff members.

However, being absolutely necessary for the society, new entrepreneurs were caught in a communications trap. For them, professional and social communications existed in the parallel worlds. It is no accidence that in that epoch’s documents merchants and manufacturers usually appeared as strange or even hostile people towards “good people”18 Volgin 1950.18. During the professional communication they obtained money for existence and gave it to others. Receiving a status, visibility and comprehensibility required social communication. However, since new strata put all their efforts into the economic activity they were just unable to manage the social contacts. In order to get the status, an entrepreneur had to... stop the entrepreneurship, or at least radically cut it down. When he had free time, he could use his financial resource and enter one of the existing hierarchies. But this way was open only to the minority as by stopping his activity an entrepreneur himself was losing this resource depriving of this resource (taxes) the society as well.

The impossibility to stop the production cycle without losses and ascribe entrepreneurs to the existing status hierarchy step by step became one of the serious challenges for “northern societies”. Too many people in these societies were engaged in the life-support system to stay socially invisible, or marginal. They had to dedicate too much time to the economic activity so they couldn’t enter any other system of relations except for the relations of production. Thus, it was necessary to load something that used to be only functional with the statuses and values. The way out was the “matrix” described above which converted wealth into status. Although northern entrepreneurs who were significantly behind the southern ones in terms of wealth rarely could directly obtain a status, the existence of such “matrix” added some status flavor to the wealth. Receiving the “reflected light” of the traditional statuses, the wealth gradually called into life a new hierarchy, the property one. In other words, it was shaping its own status scale that was simpler and less personal and therefore, to a far greater degree fit the impersonalized nature of the state.

So the industrial and scientific revolution has occurred in parallel to the status one. A system of statuses derived from the economic activity (with profit and consumption being the criteria), and its religious justification (Protestantism) emerged. It is no doubt that the connection between Protestantism and capitalism is not linear, but the opportunity to provide property with a status is rooted specifically in it. One shouldn’t forget the philosophic foundations for this revolution (Hobbes, Locke and others). However, such arguments indicate the reflection on the implications of the status revolution rather than just the revolution itself.

In spite of all the existing qualitative differences between them, the statuses in the Middle Ages possessed one value scale based on the idea of Salvation, which was interpreted in the same way within all the social groups19 Gurevich 1972.19. Forming a new scale destabilized the social structure. The plurality of status positions emerged; the society split into the social communities (manufactures, guilds, city-unions, merchant companies, manors etc.); and the God’s world into the worlds of Giordano Bruno. It is the reconciliation of statuses that the “common agreement” and Leviathan were necessary for. The God’s world needed an upholder represented by the Earth’s God, namely a state. The entrepreneurship becoming an autonomous sphere, that is economy, made it necessary for the political one to emerge.

On the one hand, the detachment of political into an autonomous sphere stabilized the society, on the other hand, it resulted in the need for an equally autonomous platform to hold negotiations with the Leviathan. While the God’s world had always been harmonic and had not undergone any alterations, the our-side world starting with the Renaissance marked itself with changes, development. The future was viewed as an ideal project, whereas the presence was only a transition step towards this future. The changing reality required changeable Leviathan and consequently, a space where such change could take place. The public sphere has become this space. Strictly speaking, there was no demand for it within the reproducing society, but it is vital under the conditions of dynamism and permanent changes of the social life forms.

In other words, economy brings up politics for itself and creates one status scale based on the wealth. The system of statuses that are legitimized through politics rather than religion grows from the economy. The politics itself is legitimized, at least ideally, through the publicity and delegation.

“Taming” the world economy

Europe-based economic system aimed at development and reality proved to be the most efficient due to obvious reason: it was the only one to compete. The economy was not separated into an autonomous sphere in other societies20 Polanyi 2002.20. Despite being interested in the trade with the West, the East created neither production nor politics by the western analogy. The Eastern goods on the whole were more expensive than the European ones, which allowed the East to easily buy technology goods without changing its social structure. The Eastern politics also dealt with reconciling interests, but they were far more stable: those were interests of the family and neighbors’ economic associations that the “political class” was derived from or was included in the associations if it was ethnically different. The most evident example of how an alien political class (nomads) was “accustomed” by the local (settled) population is probably given by the Central Asia. The economy in this region is a method of satisfying the needs of the social organization, which in its turn rests upon the family and/or neighbor commune (avlod, mahalli, tribe, clan etc.). One might come across a somewhat different organizational type in India or China. Nevertheless, the archetypical feature here is that the social reality is indiscrete one that is founded on the ethnic, territorial, religious or ethical component.

The Western interest in the Eastern goods and the organization of an unequal exchange resulted in the increasing pressure on the Eastern countries. With the creation of the colonial empires and semi-colonial systems, the Eastern states were “loaded” with the economy, as the Canary Islands with sugar cane and Cyprus with vineyards21 Braudel 2002.21. The new economic structure relied upon the suppressive military force based on the technological superiority. However, the economy hasn’t got any status as it contradicted the Eastern way of life.

As a result, the colonies, especially those with their own cultural experience and history, got a task of taming the economy that was imposed on them. The method of such taming appeared to be very simple: to include the elites into the economy. They were obtaining European education and making European careers. But they were turned into elites by the local social structure. In their turn, within this structure they were having an extremely important function: they were pumping the resources taken from the world economy into the traditional society thereby feeding the destroyed economy of their own. The resources extracted from the “economy” were invested into the senseless from the economic (European) standpoint sphere: traditional agriculture and cattle farming, maintenance of the family and tribes’ structure etc. The World Empire of the West adjusted to the local conditions.

It is these elites which joined the European economy have become the anti-colonial movement foundation. Before becoming politically active masses were rather indifferent towards the colonial “exploitation”. It is K.Marx or a European merchant who knew that beads and mirrors cost nothing in comparison to gold and diamonds, and guns and axes were much cheaper than fur or spices. An aborigine knew something different. For absolutely unnecessary or not really necessary pieces of metal or stone he received vital things that let him to ascend in terms of status in his real life.

As long as the colonizers were able to provide resources essential for maintaining the local social structure, their presence didn’t provoke neither a feeling that justice was violated nor a protest. Otherwise (for example, as it happened in the North America), the local structure was simply destroyed and became a substrate of a new structure that differed from the colonizing as well as colonized one. With the emergence of Europeanized elites the situation has changed. Upon entering the economy, the elites realized the true value of the resources they possessed: gold, wood, diamonds, spices, oil etc. Consequently, they began to view trade with metropolis as nonequivalent. It is the emerged deprivation that brought an idea that the predominance of the “whites” (“long-nosed” or something else) does not meet justice criteria (the God’s norms, the predecessors’ covenants). This is where an aspiration to get rid of the “colonial yoke” originates from. Since most of the population did not express much dissatisfaction with the situation, the elites created this dissatisfaction and directed it. They compared two social spaces and declared their incomparability. The epoch of the anti-colonial movement began.

Remarkably though that having freed themselves from the metropolises’ power, not a single of the former colonial states refused to participate in the world economy. Even those with scarce resources joined the international labor division and the world trade. There are several reasons for that.

The colonial authorities have significantly transformed the local economic-political system that lost its autarky. As it was already said before, even in the colonial period the traditional economy needed some “feeding” from outside. With the collapse of the colonial empires, such necessity did not vanish; in contrast, it increased. Firstly, as the new border lines emerged there were often hostile tribes within one state, which made it more costly to maintain peace. Secondly, the development of health service and some elements of the hygiene led to a radical increase in the demographic pressure. Under the new demographic conditions, considerable resources were needed to secure the previous (traditional) social organization. It is the similar situation within which Europe has “created” the economy.

At the same time, the situation, in which the world periphery found itself, was significantly different from the one that took shape in Europe in the 16th century. It happened 4 centuries later, when the economy and the adequate politics were already “created”. Moreover, despite the global confrontation between “capitalism” and “socialism” both models competing in the 20th century defined themselves within the Western culture. The downfall of the colonial system, the emergence and rise (let alone its collapse) of the “socialist camp” didn’t cancel neither the world Empire of the West nor the world economy. There was no space left for another “world economy”, and thus, one had to resort to the existing one and exploit the resources of the available global economic-political networks. But to achieve that the traditional status society loaded with semantics and values had to become a state among states possessing a number of its essential features and, preferably, democratic attributes (elections, president, parliament etc.). Hence a lot of former colonies and semi-colonies started to imitate the democracy.

With all obvious imitations22 Merkel, Croissant 2002.22 such “democracies” play a crucial role in maintaining viability of the traditional societies. It is through these states-imitations and these institutions-imitations that the world economic resources are being transferred to these societies. The forms of “pumping” resources range from the “mutually beneficial” to the extremely nonequivalent ones. The export of natural resources is, for example, the one of a “mutually beneficial” character: energy products, gems, precious metals etc. Here the situation with guns and iron axes that were exchanged for furs, spices, diamonds, and slaves repeats itself. The raw materials that are of paramount importance for the Europeans are “exchanged” for the resources that allow the traditional society to reproduce itself. Something similar occurs with local labor resources exploitation. As a result, some sort of an peculiar equifinality emerges: the world economy is growing; the world politics is getting one more state with the “triumphing democracy” or the one undergoing the process of democratization, whereas the local community obtains the additional resources for its existence that often require far fewer costs than the traditional economic forms. The less “equal” ones include deployment of the military bases on the territory of once dependent states, and contrary to the existing stereotype it is the Western states and not the former colonies that find themselves in a disadvantaged situation since they pay tribute to the local leader (king, chief, president). The least equivalent form is various loans, humanitarian aid etc.

The described situation is especially interesting in a sense that the participants of the interaction interpret it completely differently. Not only because the ongoing processes are objectively ambivalent and might be interpreted as a result of global economic, political, and information networks’ functioning as well as taming the world economy and using it in the local interests. The point is that entering the international labor division and the world economy etc. the traditional social structure implying indivisibility of the mytheconomy-politics-everyday life is “translated” by the local elites into the language of the “Western Empire”. It is this “translation” that brings democracy, authoritarianism, dictatorship in accordance to which the policy of the world Center is elaborated. The nature of this policy largely hinges upon the importance of the resource that the corresponding state possessed and its geostrategic position. The owner of the resource that is of a special value might be forgiven for the “wrong political course”. The fact that the wrong character of this course is a result of the inaccurate “translation” from the reality into the “simulacrum” is not a subject for reflection. The real contradictions take place only in two cases that deserve a more detailed discussion.

The first one is when the source of maintaining the traditional society appears to be illegitimate in the eyes of the world Center. The most striking example is probably the drugs production and export. There are two ways of violating equifinality concerning drugs. First, a number of cultures consider psychedelics’ consumption quite normal. Coca leaves for Indians in Latin America or opiates for Pushtuns are as natural as alcohol for Europeans. Explaining to the representative of such culture why exporting these products is illegal and in which way it is different from selling, say, cotton, is rather difficult. Theoretically they can agree, but will not regard it as a “problem” and take such ban as an embargo. Secondly, the local community (tribe, clan, neighbor commune etc.) represents the real life for the dwellers of the world periphery. Consequently, the “outside” resources that are “pumped” in it are not loaded with values: their main and their only function is maintaining the existence of an area, a kishlak or a family. In this sense “combating drug traffic” in Tajikistan that is based on the highly precise mechanism is a rather illustrative example. The customs officers and border guards detain exactly as many “drug carriers” as to keep the post (it is also the commune’s resource). Most of the “drug carriers” smoothly cross the border maintaining the survival of the economy that was practically destroyed within the 100-year long foreign government and 10-year long civil war. The similar scheme is visible in “human trafficking”.

Another case is when the Western project is confronted with the similarly global alternative project. Today the only articulated alternative project is the World Caliphate23 The project ofthe Great China isalso quite possible,but yet it is onlypotential.23. Interestingly it is supported mostly by the countries that for some reasons “dropped out” of the world resources’ trade and therefore, deprived themselves of the feeding from outside (Afghanistan that lost oil Eldorado; Iran, whose resources were exhausted during the long-lasting war with Iraq etc.). Lacking the feeding that is necessary for the traditional society maintenance, life in these countries appeared to be under a threat, which is exactly what causes such a boisterous reaction. It is no accident that here the rhetoric of the “Crusades” is applied: it clearly sounded in the speeches of G.Bush, Jr. Such a clash of interpretations can not be resolved via the translation into the language of the world Center since the conflicting parties are practically incomparable. Within the project of the World Caliphate the states and the supranational bodies of the West are confronted with the network structures that are based on the traditional communal relationships and lack a strong center, thus being immune to the forceful actions.

So not only the world Center exploits the world periphery, but also vice versa. The local societies “adapt” the world economy making it serve their own interests. Therefore, the political structure of these locals differs to a great extent from that of the world Center.

According to M.Ilyin, the specific feature of the political system of the world peripheral countries lies in the “ambivalence” of the political structures that are established there, which in its turn is regarded as a recipe for the gradual transformation of the traditional societies into the democratic ones, and their state structure into a modern state24 Ilyin 1993.24. This is no doubt the case when a monarch declares himself a president and his advisors — the parliament, but the situation is totally different when the roles of a monarch and a president are not close in the particular context. It is what we have in reality. The governor (the owner of the supreme power) becomes a president when dealing with the world economy and the world politics, but continues to be a monarch with his subjects. Moreover, as long as the world economy carries out its functions vis-à-vis the local community, and the latter does not collapse for its own internal reasons, the equifinality retains (as well as stability of the investments). So the emerged system consists of the “social core” determining the essence of the society, its self-identity and value scale and the “protective layer” aimed at dealing with the outside world, in the first place, the world Center, rather than is an “ambivalent” political structure.

In contrast to the “core” that is stable and possesses powerful mechanisms of the religious or cultural-mythological regulation, the “protective layer” is dynamic because otherwise it would not be able to interact with the dynamic environment and to provide the society with the vital resources. This “layer” can easily include the high-tech technologies, active worldwide communications and many other things. It is important that the bearers of the “progressive tendencies” (scientists, engineers, military, diplomats etc.) are rooted in the local society as all the other members. It is the society that is a basis for their self-identification, and it is its interests that the members represent and defend.

Receiving external impulses, the “protective layer” maintains stability of the “core” protecting it from the disturbances. In a society where the economy, membership in the local commune and power are indivisible, the direct interaction between the external actors and the “core” might lead to the catastrophic implications since it inevitably shifts the balance of power, bring new groups to power that represent other territorial or clan associations. The traditional leaders deprived of power wage start an armed struggle that might continue for decades since it is dignity of the whole association rather than ambitions that is at stake and end all of a sudden (for an outside watcher) when the “core” will come to a new equilibrium point.

In other words, the invasion of the world economy and world politics provoked the emergence of a two-layer structure (the “core” — the “protective layer”) that allowed making the resources of the global economic networks serve in the interests of the traditional society rather than the process of democratization. However, even against this background the Russian case looks quite peculiar.

Power as the social ontology

Throughout its history for most of the time the power has been the main problem in Russia. V.Volkov insists on the close semantic connection between the words meaning “given”, “tribute” and “subject” that are cognate in the Russian language (“dano”, “dan’”, and “poddannyi”, correspondingly) in a sense that the only one to exist (or “given”) is one under the “tribute” and being a subject25 Volkov 2005.25. To put it differently, the space where a person was granted with a status was the space of power. The power being comparable with the highest value laid a basis for the axiological scale, structured the society and secured its “indivisible unity”.

The number of conditions is necessary to shape such a structure. The first one is an acute necessity in the unity while lacking any possibility of the “natural” unification. The emergence of such a necessity is usually connected with the need for the joint efforts to provide protection from the external foe that equally endangers all the potential participants of the association26 RewordingM.Olson (see Olson1995), such a foecan be called a “stationaryaggressor”.26(the Austrian Empire), or to take the trade routes under control (The Tamerlane Empire). In this case, the territory must be rather heterogeneous so that to resist the “natural merge”, and there should not be any obvious hegemony that is capable of merging. In such situation the power is regarded as an integrating carcass, which the society would just collapse without.

The second condition is an outside resource that considerably surpasses the local ones and that the authorities can distribute, thereby providing a subject with a status, whose ability to proceed with a further distribution depends on the volume of the resources that were allotted to his advantage. Supported by this resource (forceful, symbolic or economic), the power suppresses the undesirably active lower class social groups and harmonizes the social relations in the appropriate form.

The third condition is distant power. In order to legitimize a society, power should be of a sacred character (as M.Bakhtin27 Bakhtin 1975.27 puts it, it should be “removed from the zone of the hob-and-nob contact”). Legitimizing power out of transcendence provides the conceptual content for the existence of a society connecting the highest values directly with the power. The power based on the “transcendence” does not need the recognition from the society (all the claims should be addressed to the “source of the legitimacy”), its foundations and principles can not be questioned. This is not a topic for a discussion; it is rather a context that allows agreeing upon something, or the “objective circumstances”, under which a social subject should live and act. This is a social ontology.

In the case of Russia the need for the unification was explained by the permanent threat emanating from the “stationary aggressor” — the nomads28 Anderson 2007.28. There was also the necessary outside resource — the “trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks” and the trade duties. With the help of the latter the dukes’ power gained the upper hand over the communes’ leaders (soothsayers) also depriving them of the ideological power through embracing Christianity. It is after the Mongolian conquest and the establishment of the system, under which the right to become a grand duke could only be obtained from the Golden Horde yoke, that distant power emerged.

As Pivovarov29 Pivovarov 2002.29 shows, it is the Mongolian period when power becomes truly absolute. The outside source of the legitimacy and the overwhelming forceful resources (in the form of the Mongolian military troops) made it possible for the power to become stronger than a society.

The overthrow of the Mongolian khans did not entail any significant changes in the model of the interaction between the power and the society. Within the conception “Moscow is the third Rome” even more distant mechanism of legitimizing power was established, that is the power from God. The only thing to have altered was the character of resource distribution. First being forceful, it has turned into the economic, commercial and symbolic one. Russia began to “accrete with Siberia”, the Far East, the Russian southern prairies, along with the unique peltry, “walrus tusk”, land, and ores. The mechanism and the goal of such “accretion” were rather special.

Since after the overturn of the Mongolian power the forceful resource was significantly reduced with the symbolic one not being shaped yet, the necessity in expanding the resources’ base by adding the economic resource emerged. One could get that recourse only by increasing taxes, that is by the concentration of the local resource in his hands and burdening the society to a greater extent30 Anderson 2007.30. In Europe the similar situation entailed great peasantry wars. In Russia the reaction to it was not a “Jacquerie” but the unique immigration movement. The territorial expansion was in its essence the escape of the subjects from the authorities with the latter chasing them. When the authorities ran them down, they appropriated the most valuable from the received resources (fur, tea, silver, iron, gold etc.), thereby getting new forces and a new possibility of redistribution.

Along with chasing its subjects the authorities were also creating a sacred and symbolic resource to make the act of the appropriation and distribution meaningful. The redistribution and expansion alone are no more than technical means. Their only function is to make a society live under the common value (transcendence) with power being its modus on the Earth. This is why the benefits that are to be distributed are necessary.

As V.Tsymbursky31 Tsymbursky 1993.31 convincingly demonstrated, “the island Russia”, that is Moscow, is not just the third (by count) Rome, but it is the world that survived after the collapse of the world and found its salvation. Such an assumption predetermined a twofold character (local-global) of the project that is based on it. On the one side, Russia is an island and thus a part of the world. Therefore, the project seems to be local and comparable with the European territorial monarchies. On the other side, “the island Russia” is the only part of the world. The rest of the world did not just “sink into vice”, it seems to be opaque32 By the way,viewing new territoriesas “empty” is alsoderived from thisassumption.32. It makes the project global, universal, being comparable with an empire. The same assumption inevitably implies the sacred functions of power with its main purpose being Salvation and confrontation with Antichrist. The material benefits are necessary so that the local economic activity and the autonomy of the local communities do not tempt people to make any choice other than the one prescribed by the sacred power of the last Rome.

Such benefits gain in the eyes of the authorities a true sense linked to the sacred goals only if they provide an opportunity for attracting an outside resource. Controlling an access to it makes it possible to stiffly structure a society. Forceful resources alone are not sufficient (however, nor can one handle it without guns, sabers, salaried officers etc.) to inhibit the local economic activity. There was a need for a “value added” economic resource that would considerably outstrip the internal one in terms of its volume or at least in terms of its importance. It is only in this case when the distribution maintains the absolute power. The absolute power itself is also a “means”. It is regarded as a mediator between the everyday life and the supreme reality. It is no accidence that the key status for the Russian tsars was sacred rather than “governmental” or “military”33 See Skrynnikov 1975.33.

As the power is sacred, the resource, which is distributed by this power, is also becoming sacred. However, this resource is inherently paradoxical. As it was mentioned before, it can only be obtained from outside. The resource pumped out from inside leads to the emergence of the independent economic subjects, encourages the development of the activity that is in principle on our side of the world and therefore, it is sinful. However, given that the whole world except for the “island Russia” is opaque, then the outside resource is a priori sinful. Even the Latin language that is spoken and written in the “opaque world” is also sinful34 Uspensky 2002.34. It is its “cleanup” that a special mediatory space emerges for. This space appears to be a carnival.

Since there is already a bulk of literature35 See, e. g., Bakhtin 1986.35 on the carnival nature of the Russian culture, starting with Muscovia, I will not go into details. In this case we are interested only in one sense of the carnival, that is its fake character visà-vis the true and sacred power. It is no other “protective layer” that “walrus tusk”, peltry etc. flow into. The exchange occurs within this layer. Since this membrane is created by the sacred actor (power), the resource similarly to the above mentioned Uspensky’s book in Latin is being cleaned up. The mediatory space “masks” an empire that becomes a state among other states, facilitates obtainment of the resources and the fulfillment of the most important — sacred — task.

In order to acquire and secure the resource, the Russian “core” under Alexei Mikhailovich, tsarevna Sophia and Peter the Great creates a European “protective membrane”. The carnival is being institutionalized. Regular army, bureaucracy, state and controlled private trade, semi-state industry and, what is of most importance, unique raw stocks and transcontinental trade routes provide the conditions that are necessary for maintaining the ontology-power and making any other activity outside of the power space senseless.

At first, the “protective layer”, as in the above described case with the world peripheral countries, minimally affected the social relations, the way of ascribing statuses and the value scale. “The educated audience”, “thinking people of the nation”, who the leading representatives of the Russian social thought referred to, even at the end of the 19th century consisted of the “superfluous men” that dropped out of the society36 Notably, all thesepeople were alsocomic in Europe thatthey looked up to(“Russian European”by Karamzin).36. The society itself was strictly structured by the power. The table of ranks and merchants’ guilds from above, and the communal elders, clerks etc. from below determined all the legal social manifestations. At the same time, a huge territory and the personification of the power laid a basis for the emergence of a new structure that is today labeled with the term “informal relations”.

Since neither the principle of the resources distribution nor the mechanism of supreme power obtaining (before the law of succession was passed in 1917) was codified, the struggle for power and resources was transformed into the private and sacred spheres. The legitimization of the supreme power occurred in the sacred sphere, and the scope of its authorities could be confirmed post factum or in any other way. As the analysis of the phenomenon of the impostors in Russia conducted by B.Uspensky illustrated, impostors emerged only when the true coming of a tsar (from God) was questioned. If a tsar was “from God”, all other features were of far less importance. Carnival Ivan the Terrible and “antichrist” Peter were recognized as the true tsars, whereas, let us say, Boris Godunov, was regarded as an “impostor” (not from God)37 Uspensky 2002.37. A lot of writers and ethnographers recall people’s belief in the “tsar body signs”38 Ibidem.38. The authenticity criterion in this case was feelings and concerns whether a head of state corresponds to the existing balance of power and to the highest value rather than some formal characteristics. Further allocation of power and consequently, of a status was performed in the informal (quasi-private) sphere: feasts, hunting, later different types of games etc.

The communal relations that had been already destroyed by the duke’s power were replaced with the “friendship” relations that carried out the same function ranging from “tell me, who your friend is...” to the official post “the minister’s friend”. They created microsocial groups of mutual support being commensurate with a personal level. It was also of no less importance that in contrast to the power itself that was closed for the “hob-and-nob contacts” as a result of its distant character, its holder could well become accessible for them39 Bakhtin 1975.39. For not only power, but also its holder was in the sacred sphere, the contact with him allowed a counteragent to adhere to the sacred, highest sense. In the “friendship” sphere the system of statuses was established and provided the right to distribute. It was also an indicator of belonging to the sacred sphere.

However, this “friendship” itself was not that private. O.Malinova reasonably labels this sphere private-public underlining its ambivalent character40 Malinova 2007.40. Emerged as an imitation, or carnival, the system of the “European institutions” gradually transformed into the space where the results of the informal interaction were consolidated. The carnival space increasingly actively penetrated into the “core” of the society making it also two-layer. The twofold character of the monarch’s name (emperor, autocrat) in the same texts including the official ones was rather illustrative of that. But the penetration of the carnival (anti-sacred) space was leading to the desacralization of the society, at least one of its parts, those “thinking people of the nation” that were called “raznochinetz”41 Literally it means“of different statuses”.41. The name of the latter is worth noticing: those are people who live in the worlds of the formal statuses, in the carnival space of the “protective layer” that was increasingly becoming the essential element of the culture and society. Putting everything else aside, such desacralization made the society senseless with the sacred governor being turned into the tyrant. It is no mere chance that at the turn of the 20th century there was an intensive search for transcendence, sacredness and justice based on them. According to the natural logic, the transcendence “of the objective laws of history” being the most “oppositional” vis-à-vis the dominant one became the winner.

Having rejected God and Mongolian khan, bolshevists at the same time did not deny the principle of the sacredness itself, the concept of power being distant from the society (as well as the principle of the distribution). Their project became truly universal, since revolution was viewed exactly as the world prospect. Being rather sacred, the bolshevist power was also legitimized outside the society, in the “objective laws if history” mentioned above. Consequently, the bolshevist government assumed the role of the universal mediator between the reality and the ideal transcendence. The “protective layer” was also gradually formed. The universal project was locked within one country (“Motherland of the winning socialism”). Being a state among other states, the Soviet Union (Big Russia) had to obtain the attributes of the sovereignty. Already in the 1920s (the departure point here is likely to be the Genoese conference) the “protective layer” began to actively permeate into the depth of the society’s sacred space. It is the “layer’s” border that profitable connections were rooted in and became “more powerful than the Council of People’s Commissars”42 Ledeneva 1999.42. The informal relations determined the real status of the formally equal “first secretaries” and “production captains”. Even the appointment (ascribing a status) was based on the informal relations. Raw materials and weapons were regarded as a basis for distribution, while the ideology provided an opportunity to decrease the consumption level on the whole.

The direct cause of the power-ontology’s crisis at the end of the 20th century was the exhaustion of the resource connected to the fall of the oil prices. However, the deep reason for the crisis in the first line lied in the collapse of the universal (imperial) project that makes the existence of the society meaningful. The stagnation of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s did not affect the economy. As the research findings of the economists indicate, the economic situation that was more or less acceptable. The labor capacity was slowly but growing. Even in the worst years of stagnation, the GDP growth stayed within 4%, which according to the international criteria is quite good43 Debates 2007.43. The crisis was conceptual in the first place. The state (let it be in the form of the superpower) won the Empire, or the world revolutionary project. With the crash of this project the “Motherland of the winning revolution” turned into nothing more than one of the aggressive states that conquered a considerable territory. The very existence of the superpower lost its sense. Hence, there was an aspiration to find a new source of legitimization that should be of the same outside character as the “objective laws of history”.

A new variant of the outside legitimization of power was the power from the “world community”, the modern version of the power from God or Mongolian khan. However, this time the features of transcendence were stiffly restricted. Transcendence had to legitimize the already established power practices. It is at this point that the fundamental contradiction emerged. In order to be absolute, impeccable, distant from a society, the power should have been... democratic. It could be solved only through “taming” democratic procedures, which would have allowed comparing it to the traditional power practices and adjusting to the traditions of the power that is distant from a society.

In the 1990s democracy obtained a sacred status. At the same time this sacredness was rather peculiar. It was based on the traditional concept of the Highest justice rather than the idea of the “national sovereignty” or the idea “of the construction of the City of God on the Earth”44 Pecherskaya2001.44. Therefore, it was a range of the formal electoral procedures and “names” of institutions that was sacralized not the democracy itself.

However, even upon legitimation from the “world community”, the power did not obtain the desirable resource. The Soviet trophy ran out soon, and there was nothing left for further distribution. The informal relations (the statuses distribution within the quasi-private space) significantly speeded up this process. As a result, the local territorial associations were formed where the power (of the governors) possesses all 3 features of the Russian Power: being absolute, distant and able to distribute. The regional mythology that rapidly developed in the 1990s was commensurate with the ideas of the Highest justice to a much greater extent than the confused federal power. The political carcass of the state obviously began to crumble.

The power that desired to save itself and the society based on the power ontology faced two pressing problems: “taming” the democracy and obtaining the resource that the power could distribute. In other words, the power had to create the “protective layer” around the “core”. The specialty of that “protective layer” lied in the fact that it was created for the protection from the source of the legitimization rather than from the ‘opaqueness” or the “hostile surrounding”.

The method of “taming” democracy and obtaining a status became the “presumption of guilt”45 For more detailssee Blyakher 2003.45. The formation of the legislative excess when one and the same social act was regulated by several often contradicting each other legislative norms denied the economic and social agents an opportunity to act within the law. Nearly each of them had to perform actions that entailed the imposition of sanctions. The latter did not always take place (otherwise, the economic life in Russia would have waned) — their application depended on the degree of the “correctness” of a citizen or an organization’s behavior in the situation of the political interaction, in the first place within the elections.

The opportunity to catch any social or economic agent in the violation of law and the citizens’ inner approval of the existing grounds for introducing sanctions provided the power with the proper (that is comfortable for it) electorate’s behavior. And not only this. The “presumption of guilt” slowly but surely transformed the economic subjects into the state’s agents being the source of the value added (that was distributed by this official) resource. The independent subjects that emerged within the speculations wave in the 1990s were extruded as criminal. The Russian new economy did not encourage new policy since from the beginning it was mostly based on the distributed resource (the Soviet trophy). Those who wanted to forget about it were reminded through the “Basman court jurisdiction”. Changing the principle of the distribution between the municipal, provincial and federal power paved the way for recreating the status-distributional structure and the power carcass along with it. The abolition of the governors’ electiveness, restoration of the informational control over the society finalized this process. Regions became “subsidiary”, and their survival has become directly depended on the “transfers”. The regional mythology was pushed to the periphery of the political concepts and replaced by the “integrated informational space”. The energy sources’ price ascent made the outside resource significantly bigger (and easier accessible) in comparison to what was obtained from the “internal production”. The powerontology seemed to be restored.

However, in the process of constructing the power carcass the transcendental (external) legitimacy was partly lost. Apart from the obvious economic (and therefore, secondary) contradictions between Russia and the “world society”, there was a key one, that is of a political nature. That was the contradiction between the declared intention of Russia to enter the “civilized world” and its inability to accept the essence of the democratic practices being scared of losing the absolute power. The “world society” effort to provide help and teach the “young democracy”, which on the whole met the established practices vis-à-vis most of the “new” democracies, provoked an immediate and unhealthy reaction.

To a certain extent, such reaction was linked to the fact that the resource that the “world society” could offer was significantly less than the oil and gas resources in terms of its volume, while the advice of the “civilized world” hampered its use. Yet, the most important is that the “lessons” were articulated in public, which called the power authenticity into question. It is only the power that could be a mediator between the transcendence and the society. The presence of other mediators deprived the power of its sacredness, thereby making it senseless. Thus, the publicly given “lessons” were followed by the responses also made in public that were interpreted by the other side as unmotivated and inadequate. The equifinality that was established in the beginning of the 1990s and reinforced by the antiterrorist rhetoric was violated, with both sides blaming each other for the initiative. The “protective layer” was increasingly losing its attractiveness for the “core” and thus was becoming thinner. Therefore, the need for another “external legitimization” that would not have been tied to the “world community” that “betrayed Russia” was growing. It was probably for the first time in the history of Russia that it was transcendence that has become an “impostor” and not the tsar.

The violated legitimacy was partly restored through the charismatic legitimacy of the leader and ...reference to the conceptual bloc that mostly resembled the classic nationality of the beginning of the 19th century or the middle of the 20th that in its turn was an allusion to the ideal complex of the third Rome. The old tradition rhetoric allowed it to make a transit to the new types of practices and another source of legitimization.


The legitimization through the “impostor” (the one that “betrayed”) transcendence was impossible. Therefore, a need for the new transcendence has arisen. Due to the lack of other candidates this role was assumed by the history, not in the sense of its “objective laws” but in the form of the nostalgic image of the Soviet Union, the successor of the Great Russia. In this case the conflict of the traditions was ignored. Within the new mythology of the “Revival of Russia” the Russian history was viewed as a single line of mightiness. The tradition was sacralized and became transcendent from the everyday life.

The opportunity for the nostalgic transcendence to be established was provided by the superfluous criticism of the “Soviet regime” in the 1990s as well as the unperceived break with the past (revolution)46 Blyakher 2006.46. The radical social jump and the change of the whole conceptual structure of the society occurred, but they were neither evaluated nor comprehended. The postcatastrophiñ 1990s prepared a psychological ground for praising the 1970s. In the states of the “popular democracy” where the revolutionary scale of the event was realized, the severe implications of the collapse and the decrease in the quality of life were mitigated by the revolutionary encouragement of the masses that considerably relieved their worries. In Russia where modernity was viewed as the continuation of the Soviet Union they overlapped with the complex about defeat and national humiliation.

However, the nationality in its soviet-nostalgic version presumed “nationwide approval” as an essential element that also obtained the sacred character. It is this approval that was elaborated within the electoral cycle of the 2007—2008 years. The excess of the artificially organized electoral support that stroke the eye already during the Duma elections in 2007 became absolutely clear within the presidential ones. The “standards” imposed from above did not correspond to the “technically” necessary percents. The nearly absurd “race of percents” swept the country. The explanation that this is the way how the country raised its profile “in the West” did not hold water. Moreover, it contains the allusion to the once discarded source of the legitimization. At the same time the ultrahigh percentage (up to 99% and even higher) met the criteria of the new, nostalgic transcendence, in which “people and party are united”. It is why these percents are meaningful. Within the nostalgic tradition of the “people being the legitimating force” any disagreement with a nationally elected parliament or a president is regarded as a disagreement with the people itself. Therefore, the power finds itself in its usual position, or being in the transcendence vis-à-vis the society. The nationally elected parliament and president in any case stay “true”, whereas their opponents are always “impostors”.

However, in this situation a rather serious distinction from the two-layer model in the world peripheral countries as well as from the sacred Russian Power arose. The distribution-power relations embrace the society to a lesser extent. The layer of the distributors is being locked up. Furthermore, which might be of more importance, the “nostalgic transcendence” did not entirely correspond to the ideas about the sacred sphere. Russia, the Russian state traditionally was regarded as a symbol and embodiment of the Highest sense (it does not really matter which one). In the framework of the nostalgic version Russia appears to be a symbol... of the Soviet Union, or at its best, of “the Russia that we lost”, that is a symbol of the lost highest values. As a reaction, the country population transferred into its private life (this time it is real rather than quasi-private life). As long as the outside resource is significant and the distribution, although being so nonequivalent, allows the population to exist, the shaky balance between the power and non-power is retained. However, even a slight decline in the quality of life is enough for this balance to collapse and for the legitimacy of power to “hang in the air again”. It is hard to predict what events will follow it. Anyway, it will be a completely different society.



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