Russia’s Bizarre Preoccupation With The Idea Of The “National Idea”

There’s tons of criticism that Russia no longer has a “national idea.”

The sentiment comes from almost everyone: Nationalists, liberasts, Communists, foreign critics, Russian “experts” with far too much time on their hands, and even some otherwise astute observers.

I don’t disagree with the thesis, but do ask: Why is that such a bad thing?

Grand narratives and universal theories tend to be poor at describing the world as it really is, and not infrequently lead to large-scale mistakes and suffering when pursued with excess zeal. The USSR is a classic example of a country with a “national idea.” So was the US under the neocons.

Even when they don’t lead to stupid outcomes they are almost inevitably farcical when promoted by politicos, under virtually any political system. Instead of inspiring, the only thing “universal” about them is that everyone mocks them. Suffice to mention “The Big Society” (Tories, UK); “sovereign democracy” (Surkov, Russia); “harmonious society” (the Chinese Communist Party).

Putin himself put it best, in response the question, “When will Russia get an idea for which one can live for and create for?” He said, “Galina Dmitrievna, – for our children, our grandchildren, for our Motherland, Russia, it always was, is, and will be worth living for and creating for. What else is there? However we might try to come up with a national idea, it has to be said directly: There is nothing closer to someone than his family, his close ones, and his own country.”

Alternatively, the joke website Lurkmore too has a good article on the concept.

National ideas suck. Putin emphasizes pretty mundane things like conservatism, patriotism, pragmatism, and a growing GDP and I for one am more than satisfied with that.

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