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Russia’s Moral Framework and Why It Matters

September 24, 2015 Topic: Society Tags: RussiaCultureMorality

Russia’s Moral Framework and Why It Matters

A look into Russia's moral framework and the relationship it has with religion and state values could help us better understand what makes Moscow tick.

In his book, The Righteous Mind, professor Jonathan Haidt highlights the vast values gap that exists between the “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic” nations (WEIRD), and nations that prefer an “ethic of community” or an “ethic of divinity.” In these latter, Haidt writes, “the personal liberty of secular western nations”—including the unrestrained freedom of expression—“looks like libertinism, hedonism, and a celebration of humanity’s baser instincts.”

What has transformed this rather amorphous values consensus into a discernible global agenda for a new world order is the growing sense that the West, though still dominant in power, wealth, and resources, lacks the cultural and spiritual capacity to deal with many emerging global crises. Traditional religions also typically reinforce the idea that there is a limit to humanity’s ability to transform itself and its environment, and that to assert the contrary, as “WEIRD” values do, is dangerous hubris.

Most Western analysts, however, cannot fathom why this would lead to a confluence of interests among countries as diverse as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.[1] Perhaps a better way to think of it is this—the soft power of the BRICS is an expression not of any one set of national values, but of the common values that, according to these states, ought to underlie a new international order.

Russia’s moral framework fits this agenda like a glove, magnifying the impact of Russian soft power. Russia now believes that it can rely on a core constituency of states to assist it in the face of intense western hostility, since its efforts benefit not only Russia, but indirectly all nations that share the desire for a new international order.

Nicolai N. Petro is a professor University of Rhode Island.

This is an extended version of the author’s presentation on “Russia’s Soft Power: A Matter for Church and State” at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York City, September 10, 2015.

[1] A notable exception is professor Gilbert Rozman whose latest book, The Sino-Russian Challenge to the World Order, argues that a deep cultural affinity has emerged between China and Russia that is based on the common goal of reshaping the present Westphalian international system.

Image: Flickr/Lst1984