by Sergei Akopov
In this essay I will discuss the philosophical, political, and cultural insights that we may gain through a continued debate on an existential approach to political ideology, and on ‘loneliness’ as one of its key concepts. In my previous research, I have attempted to open a wider discussion and show the connection between the ideology of sovereigntism and different forms of what I call “vertically” and “horizontally” organised loneliness. The ‘vertical’ management of loneliness anxiety is usually carried out through an enactment of statism and strong vertical power. By contrast, its ‘horizontal’ equivalent is more associated with non-state lateral transnational networking. There are also risks of a disbalance between the development of ‘vertical’ politics if loneliness arises at the expense of ‘horizontal’ politics, including risks for human freedom.
There are three specific themes that I kept in my mind while writing this article. However, before I turn to that, it might be useful to say about where the theme of loneliness came from in the first place. I started to work on this theme in 2018 before COVID-19 made social alienation and loneliness even more popular topic of study. I was originally inspired by my observations of key social characteristics of people who voted in favour of Russian sovereigntism. Sociologically speaking, many of those people had district features and experiences of political alienation and atomisation. For example, social opinion polls signalled that Russia’s 2018 elections and 2020 constitutional amendments referendum were heavily dependent on the mobilisation of elderly voters (77% of those who voted ‘yes’ were above 55 years old). At the same time, there is data that reveals higher levels of loneliness among Russian pensioners and senior citizens. Was it a pure coincidence that ‘lonely citizens’ voted in favour of further Russia’s ‘geopolitical loneliness’?
As I worked through the article in 2019 and 2020 I saw how the theme of loneliness ‘underwent a bit of a renaissance ’ within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Readers might consequently think that after the pandemic is over, the motivational force of a ‘politics of loneliness’ might lose its relevance. Instead, I am convinced that the pandemic has only ensured that manipulations of human loneliness anxiety are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Moreover, they will remain one of the core topics of human and consequently social life. Therefore, we should not underestimate the role of existential aspects of political processes, including the so-called ‘emotional turn’ in political science. Emotions like loneliness and anxieties about the ontological security of humans and states will not disappear. They will continue to shape ontological insecurities in our societies in even more sophisticated and complex ways. Further into our ‘digital era’, the human drive to get rid of loneliness will remain as vital as it has been since Plato and Laozi, but perhaps in different historical ways.
Theorising loneliness politically
Returning to the first potential step in my research program, we should build a firm theoretical framework whereby loneliness would be theorised within the web of other, what Felix Berenskoetter called supporting, cognate, and contrasting political concepts’. My synthetic novelty lies in theorising loneliness as a new concept in existential IR and political theory will, for example, require drawing deeper connections between loneliness and its opposites. While some say today that the opposite of negative loneliness can be a creative solitude, others instead consider that to be ‘intimacy’. We need to systematically explore political loneliness as a foundational concept and an umbrella term for empirical phenomena usually described as ‘social isolation’, ‘atomisation’, ‘marginalisation’, ‘silencing’, ‘uprootedness’, ‘commodification’, ‘silencing’, ‘оbjectification’ (or ‘subjectivation’ in terms of Michel Foucault), and so on. We also need to systematise already existing research on loneliness and its links to ‘supporting’ concepts like ‘identity’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘state’, ‘ontological security’, ‘subalternity’ (loneliness in a postcolonial perspective), ‘political power’, and ‘ideology’.
I see three blocks of such theoretical analysis.
The first corpus of literature I label as ‘psychological’, since loneliness is a political emotion, which requires taking into consideration the apparatus currently applied in political psychology. Here pioneers of psychological research on loneliness include, for example, Clark Moustakas, Ronald Laing, Ben Mijuskovic, Michael Bader, Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz.
The second ‘cluster’ of authors is focused more on the sociological and political dimensions of loneliness, which include works on ideology by Gregory Zilborg, Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm, Zygmunt Bauman, but also the governmentality and biopolitics of Foucault and Agamben. Here I would also put literature on ontological security studies in modern international relations, as well as contemporary research on the existential turn in IR. I would also include in this ‘political’ group case studies on particular geopolitical loneliness in different countries, like ‘taking back control’ during Brexit, ‘making America great again’ in the US under Trump, and so on.
The third block of ‘loneliness literature’ comes from philosophical and cultural studies, particularly its phenomenological and existential traditions. Before Foucault, the problem of human liberation from subjectification and commodification was considered by a number of thinkers. Søren Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich, for example, looked at the religious dimension, which should never be disregarded when talking about loneliness anxiety as an existential reservoir for political ideology. Russian philosopher Nikolay Berdyaev explored four modes of loneliness in relation to human conformism and non-conformism. Jean Baudrillard addressed the issue of loneliness as a result of a replacement of reality with the so-called ‘simulacrum’. This idea was developed by Cynthia Weber in her notion of ‘state simulacrum’, by which she understood performative practices of imitation of state sovereignty through politically charged talks on sovereignty and intervention. That raises the problem of what ‘reality’ is, who is ‘the authentic subject’ in more general terms, and in Heideggerian and Sartrean terms ‘how can the individual live authentically in a society steeped in inauthenticity’.
I find these three blocks of literature vital since they should enable us to outline connections between loneliness anxiety and concepts such as ‘shame’, ‘trauma’, ‘ontological insecurity’, ‘collective identity’, ‘sovereigntism’, and ‘political exceptionalism’ (the latter as a consequence/condition of ‘geopolitical loneliness’).
The political manipulation of loneliness
As for critical scholars, our second step of research into organised forms of political loneliness should include, in my view, the deconstruction of the existing political manipulations of loneliness. With further ‘digitalisation’ of human life, including its ideological aspects through sophisticated technologies of surveillance, internet trolling, etc., human loneliness and self-objectification may only become more and more camouflaged under the guise of ‘digital efficiency and happiness’. Therefore, a cross-comparative study of ‘trickeries’ with human loneliness are required to uncover the mechanisms that underpin ideological legitimisations of power in different cultural contexts.
In my research, I have mostly focused on links between ‘vertical’ national politics of loneliness and ideology within Russian sovereigntism, comparing it, very briefly, with Brexit in the UK. I proposed three discursive models of vertically organised loneliness--historical, psychological, and religious—for the sake of illustrating the theoretical argument, not to claim that such models are either final or all-encompassing. However, links between loneliness and ideology can only be fully considered in the dialectics of (1) a comparative domestic perspective and (2) the implications they have for ‘foreign policy’ in countries that try to justify their geopolitical loneliness in world politics. I mostly concentrated on the ‘undertones’ of Russia’s loneliness in its domestic ideological configurations.
However, sooner or later, the domestic politics of loneliness may turn into ‘geopolitical loneliness’ in foreign affairs. In 2018, Vladislav Surkov, one of the former main ideologists of the Kremlin, repeated the slogan of Tsar Alexander III: ‘Russia has only two allies: its army and navy’ – ‘the best-worded description of the geopolitical loneliness which should have long been accepted as our fate’.
Beyond the politics of loneliness
Two areas that should be developed further are (1) how we can further develop non-vertical, lateral ‘transnational politics of loneliness’; and also (2) how we can demasculinise this ‘vertical politics of loneliness’. The first problem of the underdevelopment of horizontal ties of overcoming loneliness is aggravated by the resurgence of nation states and national borders against the background of COVID-19 vaccine nationalism, with the latter only very weakly resisted by supranational organisations like the World Health Organisation. Concerning the second question: how we can demasculinise the ‘vertical politics of loneliness’, a few things have to be considered. The first issue is to make more visible masculine practices that establish cultural hegemony and try to turn women into ‘nice girls’ (Ellen Willis) whose political role is passive, and whose freedom is taken away through mechanisms of the ‘management of female loneliness’ (with side-effects like the objectification and commodification of women).
Another important thing, in my view, is to ‘extract’ from our routines the ‘male gaze’ that monopolises our optics of loneliness studies. The same ‘male gaze’ also underpins and reinforces what Marysia Zalewski described as ‘masculine methods’, which might not necessarily be the best ones to reflect our reality. In my view, an alternative methodology of loneliness research can include the epistemology of interpretivism (including, for example Michael Shapiro’s postpositivist analysis of war films and photos). Another way to explore the horizontal politics of loneliness is by conducting autoethnographic writing (including fiction) and in this way building positive ties of solitude (and intimacy) together with colleagues across the globe.
Certainly, the 2022 military escalation of conflict in Ukraine only proves that the existential foundations of sovereigntism and its deep links with attempts to overcome ‘geopolitical loneliness’ anxiety both on the domestic and international arena must be considered very seriously. The analysis of political discourse and the ‘politics of loneliness’ during these events is to become a subject of new upcoming research. However, it is evident that we are entering a period when new ‘bubbles’ of ontological insecurities create the conditions for more complicated ideological manipulations with human loneliness anxiety. The new manifestations of sovereigntisms during the current international crisis are unfortunately only likely to provide a wealth of new empirical data for new analysis in the near future.
 S. Akopov. Sovereignty as ‘organized loneliness’: an existential approach to the sovereigntism of Russian ‘state-civilization’, Journal of Political Ideologies, (published on line October 25, 2021). DOI: 10.1080/13569317.2021.1990560
 L. Gudkov. ‘Kto I kak golosoval za popravki v Konstituciyu: zavershaushii opros’, Yuri Levada Analytical Centre, July 8 2020 https://www.levada.ru/2020/08/07/kto-i-kak-golosoval-za-popravki-v-konstitutsiyu-zavershayushhij-opros/, [11 November 2020].
 ‘Odinochestvo, i kak s nim borot’sya?,’ Russia’s Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), February 15 2018, https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=116698, [12 November 2020].
 F. Berenskoetter ‘Approaches to Concept Analysis.’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies 45 (2), 2016. p. 151
 B. Mijuskoviс Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology, and Literature. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2012.p. xl.
 For example, Subotić, Jelena, and Filip Ejdus. “Towards the existentialist turn in IR: introduction to the symposium on anxiety.” Journal of international relations and development, 1-6. 24 Aug. 2021, doi:10.1057/s41268-021-00233-z
 See, for instance, P. Spiro, ‘The New Sovereigntists: American Exceptionalism and Its False Prophets, Foreign affairs, 79(6), (2000), pp. 9-15; M. Freeden, ‘After the Brexit referendum: revisiting populism as an ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 22 (1), (2017), pp. 4-5.
 C. Weber, ‘Reconsidering Statehood: Examining the Sovereignty/Intervention Boundary,’ Review of International Studies 18 (3), (1992), p. 216
 A. Levi, ‘The Meaning of Existentialism for Contemporary International Relations’. Ethics, 72 (4) (1962), p. 234
. Umbach and Humphrey, ibid., p. 39.
 V. Surkov, ‘The Loneliness of the Half-Breed’, Russia in Global Affairs (2), March 28 2018, Available at: https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/book/The-Loneliness-of-the-Half-Breed-19575, [14 November 2020].
 C. Masters. 2016. Handbook on Gender in World Politics. Steans, J. & Tepe-Belfrage, D. (eds.). Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, p.322.