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Review by Alex Alraf (Alex Battler) on the book:




The alienation between Russia and America is gradually beginning to disappear. One of the signs of this process is the publication of the first co-operative book of American and Russian philosophers devoted to the global questions of the modern world.

            According to William Gay, one of the editors of this collection, it was not easy to publish this manuscript because of the many technical obstacles. Thanks to the tenacity of T.A. Alekseeva, another editor, and of course, Mr Gay himself, they nevertheless managed to assemble 'under one roof' the most competent philosophers and publish their joint efforts.

            The essays in this collection address the following themes: 1) The Status of Political Realism; 2) The Future of Nuclear Deterrence and Alternative Approaches to Security; 3) The Prospects for the Left and for Russia in the Post-Cold War World; 4) Traditional and Emergent Values within Russian Society.

The authors are unanimous in their criticism of Realpolitik which denies morality in the conduct of domestic and international politics. Laura D. Kaplan (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) and Joseph C. Kunkel (University of Dayton) devoted their essays to this problem. Canadian philosopher Bob Litke (Wilfred Laurier University) considers that power as a domination in the concept of Realpolitik could defeat us. To counterbalance the concept of power he suggests creating 'a general theory of restraints' (76). For the Americans, this type of criticism has become traditional. The Russians see the problem of morality in politics as a new theme for discussion. From the school bench, we Russians knew very well that "politics cannot be done with white gloves" (Lenin).

In modern Russia, politicians still do not think about morality. It is therefore encouraging to see such Russian philosophers as I. Kravchenko begin to tackle this problem, siding with Hobbes and Leo Strauss as opposed to Karl Schmitt. Incidentally, all Russian philosophers mentioned here are members of the Institute of Philosophy in Moscow.

The same theme is touched upon during the discussion of the Nuclear Deterrence theory. Ron Hirschbein (California State University at Chico) examines the conflict between the declared American nuclear policy and their real policy. In spite of the break up of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons remain and, moreover, continue to be developed. Hirschbein explains this 'surrealistic' phenomenon by the psychological orientations, and political intentions, of the American leaders. In the opinion of N.S. Yulina, the theory and practice of reliance on nuclear weapons are founded on human 'aggression as natural', theoretically justified by social Darwinism and Hobbesian political rationality.

This theory, however, does not bear in mind that the instinct for survival '...embraces not only an egoistic struggle for power but also altruism, co-operative efforts, and sacrifices' (106). The development of these aspects of human nature allows Yulina to be optimistic about achieving a complete ban on, and elimination of, nuclear weapons. Another Russian philosopher, V.S. Stiopin, putting forward the concept of 'technogenic' civilisation, calls for a search of a strategy of non-violence that, to his mind, is 'not just a good dream, but the paradigm of human survival' (147).

William Gay (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) puts forward interesting ideas to solve the same problem. He proposes to replace the theory of 'military defence' with the 'concept of 'civilian defence'. He proves that the latter is no less effective for defending security than the former (124).

The problem of the future of socialism is analyzed by V.M. Merzuev. His perception is that socialism as a total sum of ideas should not necessarily be tied to Bolshevik experiments in the USSR. Socialism and liberalism have similar historical roots and refract in practical politics into the common problem of 'freedom and equality'. In Merzuev's opinion, there is every reason to think that 'with the modernization of Russian society, interest in the goals and ideals of socialism will increase' (162). Dick Howard (State University of New York at Stony Brook) analyses close interconnections between democracy and totalitarianism. Based on the practices of the 1960's Left Wing, and theoretical concepts of Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, he writes: 'Totalitarianism is not beyond democracy; it is immanent within the logic of democracy...' (187). He persuasively shows the shortcomings of both systems. Hence, relying on the principle of rights, or of the right to have rights, Marx' approach to democracy also has the right to exist.

The essay of T.A. Alekseeva deals with Russian nationalism, while comparing the Russian empire and the Socialist empire, that is to say, the USSR. After the dissolution of the former Soviet Union the main problem became that of the 'identification' of the Russian people. This one became the impetus of splashes of different nationalistic currents within Russian society. At present the future of Russia depends on 'what type of nationalism will prevail?' (209). V.I. Tolstykh, referring to great Russian writers and philosophers, contends that traditional Russian culture includes global human values. Those reflected in 'the Russian idea' may yet have to enrich the world.

James  Sterba (University of Notre Dame) lectured a lot in the Soviet Union and Latvia and, to his surprise, discovered that women of those countries were disinterested in feminism. However, he feels that recently there has been some development in that direction. This may appear to be true, but I have doubts that the feminist movement will fully develop, at least in Russia. I would only like to express my hope that Russian women will preserve their femininity and beauty.

L.N. Mitrokhin focuses on the tradition of Christianity in Russian society that survived even under socialism. This tradition will remain 'as a base of future culture' (238), but it will be enhanced by 'cosmism' - the assumption about the special place of human consciousness in the Universe - that has had strong support in Russian tradition.

The most valuable aspect of this collection is that each essay provokes a polemic and provides a basis for discussion. I think this should be the purpose of all scientific writings.


Alex Alraf (Alex Battler), University of British Columbia

William Gay and T.A. Alekseeva, eds. On the Eve of the 21st Century: Perspectives of Russian and American Philosophers. Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1994. - Canadian Philosophical Review. – 1994, August, vol., XIV, No. 4. pp. 254-256.