The Russian authoritarian regime is not necessarily immoral, but its morality shares characteristics with that of street gangsters—and aristocrats. As argued in this article, there are two competing moral orders in Russia—the culture of honor and the culture of dignity. The article presents the readers with a case study of General Viktor Zolotov’s challenge of the leader of the liberal opposition Aleksei Naval′nyi to a duel in September 2018. Seen through an analytical lens, this seemingly absurd speech act and its reception reveal the extremes in the spectrum spanning from the ideal-typical culture of honor to the ideal-typical culture of dignity, both of which are present in Russia today. The study points to the hidden reasons behind the failure of the rivals and their respective supporters to engage in a real mutual debate—each side employs moral arguments that make sense only within its respective moral order. The Russian public is divided, not only by political views, interests, class, or even values but also by morality. If we are to understand the Russian regime’s behavior internationally and domestically, it is important to recognize this rupture. After all, even the military and security service officials in the ruling elite, the author argues, to a degree share the moral culture of criminal groups but are strangers to the law-based moral culture of the liberal urban middle class—and vice versa.
Corrupt and Honorable, Gangster and Nobleman: Naval′nyi, Zolotov, and the Conflicting Moral Cultures in Russian Politics
Jardar Østbø is associate professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, Norwegian Defence University College. He has published The New Third Rome: Readings of a Russian Nationalist Myth (2016) and peer-reviewed articles on Russian politics and society. Østbø is the leader of the international research project RUSECOPOL (2019–21), which analyzes the Russian political elite.
Jardar Østbø; Corrupt and Honorable, Gangster and Nobleman: Naval′nyi, Zolotov, and the Conflicting Moral Cultures in Russian Politics. Cultural Politics 1 July 2020; 16 (2): 171–191. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-8233378
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