From Western Post-Modernism To Russia’s Neo-Modernism – Director General Of Government-Funded Think Tank, Kortunov: ‘International Relations Today Are Entering A Neo-Modern Period’

The director-general of the Russian think-tank RIAC, Andrey Kortunov, shares pro-Kremlin philosopher Alexander Dugin’s appraisal: post-modernism is in decline. Post-modernism can be considered a core concept of liberalism. In his book, The Fourth Political Theory (Arkos media publisher), Dugin concludes that today’s liberalism is “rotten,” since it has recognized that its [key foundations] of progress, freedom, and development are absolute fictions. “Liberalism has recognized that it is a kind of particular totalitarian approach. Behind all these ideas of liberation, freedom, equality, individualism, etc., stands none other than the will to power,” Dugin explained.

Therefore, to avoid backsliding into communism and fascism (the two competing political theories that together with liberalism characterized the XX century), Dugin suggested that a Fourth Political Theory is needed, whose premises are based on the rejection of post-modernity, the post-industrial society, liberal thought, and globalism. The same analysis is shared by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who considers that the “end of history” as foretold by Francis Fukuyama failed to materialize.

Similarly, Kortunov states that post-modernism is in its final days, and identifies neo-modernism as the new paradigm of international relations, though considering its tenets as vulnerable as the postmodernism’s ones. Kortunov enumerates the four pillars of post-modernism:

Agnosticism (i.e. legal relativism and moral relativism).

Pragmatism (i.e. foreign policy viewed as a purely technical mechanism for servicing immediate economic interests).

Eclecticism (i.e. double standards and political correctness in foreign policy narratives).

Anarcho-democracy (i.e. a “geopolitical deconstruction,” in which rigid structures are replaced with flexible tactical alliances, where every member can determine the format and degree of its involvement without making any firm or long-term commitments).

Neo-modernism, in contrast, is characterized by the following four tenets that are antagonistic to post-modernist principles:

Nationalism (as opposed to post-modernists tearing down walls along the “friend or foe” line)

Transactionalism (i.e. joint work with partners and opponents on the international stage to establish business relations where each negotiating party bargains for the best possible terms. Notions like “common values,” “interests of humanity” or “world public opinion” are not key priorities. Transactionalism disparages the double-speak, and the political correctness of the post-modern era).

Holism (i.e. when economic considerations are deprived of their determining role in foreign policy, and considerations of national security, ethno-cultural identity and state sovereignty achieve equal importance).

Historicism (contrary to post-modern leaders, who draw their inspiration “from fantasies about the global future of mankind”, neo-modernists are guided by political beacons rooted in their national past).

Another major difference between post-modernists and neo-modernists is that for the majority of neo-modernists the question of democracy and authoritarianism recedes into the background, yielding in importance to an issue they consider much more important: the border between order and chaos in international relations. For neo-modernists “keeping the emphasis on the advance of democracy would be an unaffordable luxury,” since at stake is not “development but survival, not prosperity but security.”

According to Kortunov, politicians like former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy never positioned themselves as “post-modernists,” but the paradigm of post-modernism could have been perceived in their past international activities. However, Kortunov declares that the era of the “unchallenged reign of post-modernism in international relations” ended, or at least we are observing its decline. Kortunov writes: “The agenda of post-modernism is considered exhausted not only by the fringes of society but also by the middle class and even a large part of the global intellectual elite. Foreign-policy post-modernism has degenerated into a trivial desire to keep the status quo, and this alone made it doomed.” According to some analysts, the decline began in 2016 with Brexit and with Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. elections. For many, these two events mark the “points of no return” of post-modernism and the start of a neo-modern period in international relations.

Kortunov mentions Russian President Vladimir Putin as a neo-modernist leader. However, he explains that it is erroneous to think of the existence of a “united global front of neo-modernists.” Kortunov writes: “Russian President Vladimir Putin is not marching along with Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and Chinese President Xi Jinping is not very close with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. If Francois Fillon becomes the next French president, he is unlikely to be a comfortable partner for his American vis-à-vis Donald Trump. France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen has little prospect of becoming British Prime Minister Theresa May’s best friend.” Nevertheless, Kortunov adds that it would be at least premature to declare the “full and final victory of neo-modernism over post-modernism.” According to Kortunov, post-modernism is continuing its “desperate resistance” to neo-modernism, and the pocket of resistance in Europe is Germany, under the guidance of Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, Kortunov writes: “Even if the advance of neo-modernism is stanched on one front, and if the post-modernist underground partly succeeds in undermining it from inside, the world will never go back to the golden age of post-modernism.” According to Kortunov, post-modern politicians actually proved unable to make prompt corrections and introduce new ideas to the political practice and missed the “point of no return” in the development of the international system.

Nevertheless, Kortunov is also skeptical of neo-modernism’s ascendancy. Kortunov writes: “One cannot but notice that the four basic symbols of neo-modern faith are as unreliable, internally contradictory and exposed to opponents’ criticism as the four tenets of post-modernism were unreliable, relative, controversial, and vulnerable.” According to the Russian intellectual, in order for neo-modernism to last, it needs to prove able “to develop, evolve and correct mistakes,” something that post-modernists never bothered to do.

Kortunov also wonders if nationalism can act as a mechanism for long-term sociopolitical mobilization in the 21st century, and whether holism, based on the conviction that every country has its own “unique destiny” and its foreign policy should perform a “special international mission,” can be handled by a democracy or just by authoritarian regimes, where “foreign-policy decision-making process is overly centralized”. He also wonders whether transactionalism is able to solve challenges “by a simple sum-total of numerous individual transactions between different international political players.” And concerning historicism, Kortunov says: “How long can one walk forward while looking backward all the time?”

Below are excerpts of Kortunov’s article, titled “From Post-Modernism To Neo-Modernism,” published in the Russian foreign policy journal, Russia in Global Affairs:

The Underlying Concepts Of Post-Modernism

“It is common knowledge that the concept of post-modernism came into international relations lexicon from the French philosophy of the 1970s-1980s. Shortly before the end of the last great rise of French intellectual universalism, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan and other founders and opponents of post-structuralism formulated the basic characteristics of post-modernism as an integral sociological and historical interpretation of the modern world.”


MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6847 –  Read full text