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12:31PM

Civilization = bad connectivity principle, but dream = good

Trio of stories (2 FT and 1 NYT) on evolving ideologies of Russia (old leader), Egypt (new leader) and China (new leader).

Putin is floating a unique Russian civilization idea - likely as his legacy signature concept in governance.  The purpose is setting the long-term course of how Moscow handles the federation's many nationalities.  For now, a trial balloon, but already the blowback is sensed and it's building.  These nationalities naturally feel like they're being told to assimilate or find themselves a bit lost in Russia's future - as defined by Putin et al.

Morsi in Egypt is now revealing a similar bias on his effort with the constitution.  He wants to make it so Islamist that Egypt's many minorities are reacting badly, seeing no good space for themselves in Egypt's future on this basis.

My point in raising both issues:  when you argue civilization and, on that basis, identity (typically tied to religion), then you're saying, "This is how we're going to run this place and this is how we're going organize our connectivity with the outside world - by requiring this sort of homogeniety at home."

Problem is, the self-limiting nature.  If you want connectivity, you want to promote diversity.   That attracts the bodies and minds and the money.  This is an old concept, as in back to Amsterdam and the Dutch when they built up their global nets.  England picks up this vibe and does similarly.  The US gets the DNA via New Amsterdam-cum-New-York.

When you don't care about identity/religion on this level, you take on all comers, meaning you're open for business with everyone.  That's how you succeed.

Third cite:  Xi Jinping in China resurrecting "Chinese dream" notion as part of his reform/progressive agenda.

That "dream" apes the US version, which is centered on success and the pursuit of happiness.  

Why good?  It says your identity is more about success than comformity and homogeniety.  You'll work with anybody, because the dream trumps the exclusionary identity.

So, my point:  if you go the civilization/religious identity route, you scare off connectivity and globalization (or certainly retard it), but if you go the "dream" route, you choose pragmatism over such identity.  Your identity is simply your culture of success.

I think both Russia and Egypt will learn the limits of this approach, and it will be a painful process. But these are natural growth patterns.

China, I think, risks the other pathway:  the cult of success makes it harder to promote morality.

So it's the old choice:  preserve the identity and the attached morality, or risk both by opening up and prioritizing success.

Why I always advocate the latter:  It simply works better on raising income, and when you raise income, it's a virtuous cycle, as the people become even more tolerant and open, seeing the value in this path.

Meanwhile, if you choose identity over success, you makes less money and achieve less, and you tend to trigger a vicious cycle, as the outside world becomes more evil in your eyes ("Why won't they do business with us on our terms?")

But this is why China succeeds where Russia (and I fear Egypt) will not.

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Reader Comments (3)

Only Nixon can go to China. Only the Patriarch can reconcile Russia with the West.

The liberalizers all try to bring Russia from its uncultured state to ape the West. This will never work and always has and always will create irresistible backlash centered around ancient grievances, a desire to hold on to the unique cultural treasures of Russia of which Orthodoxy is the most aggrieved, the most unique of them all.

On any day, the patriarchs can sign an act of union. For my entire life, they have all been working towards it. For it to work, heterodox Orthodoxy has to be brought under control. The whole squabbling mess, except the westernizers, the liberalizers, the modernizers have to be focused, loyal, and unwilling to fragment in a sort of fortress Russia based on the unyielding orthodoxy of the Patriarch of Moscow. Then if the patriarchs move, those left on the outside will follow because they get what they have always said they've wanted while those who would naturally form the backlash find their foundation has done the unthinkable, moved them into the vanguard and to triumph. They win in their uniqueness and gain unity on their terms and they're going to like it or be crushed.

Oh well, one can dream for competence and deep planning. We will no doubt see whether this is what is *really* going on in time.

December 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTMLutas

Tom, Putin's doing just fine. Russia has both a higher birth rate and a higher total female fertility than China. The Russian population has stabilized, in the teeth of the Anglosphere's incessant vituperation of Putin. Yes, births will decline in a few years as the demographic consequences of the Yeltsin era (the last time Russia tried "connectivity") begin to impact them, but rising Russian life expectancy and immigration will likely maintain things.

December 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrkka

rkka,

If you think that stopping the fertility drop and reducing external mortality rates = Putin is doing fine, then I guess that's one narrow way to define it.

But one can just as easily argue that Yeltsin was no more responsible for those problems than Putin was responsible for their being stemmed. Connecting to the outside world isn't an explanation for demographic crises. People have babies when they feel optimistic about the future.

Postwar situations always feature demographic dips. The Cold War was far more real to the Russians than it ever was to American society. Anybody who ever spent any time in the USSR (including me) recognized that.

Moreover, it would shortsighted to claim that the slight recovery "fixes" Russia's demographic decline long term. Russia adds about 250,000 souls this year. If it held as a trend, Russia could be 155-160m strong come mid-century. America is on pace to add 100m by 2050, pushing us up to 400m. China's steep (and continuing) fertility decline still translates into about one and half billion souls by mid-century.

Russia's issues are deeper than a temporary demographic dip created by the natural disjuncture of a war's end.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Barnett

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