by Lenon Campos Maschette
Over the past few centuries, the concept of civil society has shifted a few times to the centre of political debate. The end of the 20th century witnessed one of these moments. From the 1980s, civil society resurfaced as a central political idea, an important conceptual tool to address all types of social and political problems as well as describe social formations. At the end of the last century, a general criticism of the state and its inability to solve key social problems and the search for a ‘post-statist’ politics were problems shared by several countries that allowed the civil society debate to spread globally.
In Britain, ideologies of the right had an important role in this movement. From the 1980s, all the discussions around community and citizen participation have to be analysed, at least in part, within the context of how the nature and function of the state were being reshaped, especially through the changes proposed by right-wing intellectuals and politicians. This tendency is even more noticeable within the British Conservative Party. In one of the most important works on the British Conservative Party and civil society, E. H. H. Green argues that the Conservative Party’s state theory throughout the 20th century was more concerned with the effectiveness of civil society bodies than with the role of the state. Therefore, it is a long tradition that was continued and reinforced by Thatcher’s leadership.
As I argued in another work, the Thatcher government redefined the concept of citizenship and placed civil society at the centre of its model of citizenship. In this new article, I want to compliment that and argue that civil society had vital importance in Thatcher’s project. From this perspective, the Thatcher government redefined the idea of civil society, regarded as the space par excellence for citizenship—at least in the way Thatcherism understood it. Thatcherism attributed to civil society and its institutions a central role in the socialisation of individuals and the transmission of traditional values. It was the place par excellence of individual moral development and, consequently, citizenship.
Thatcherism and civil society
The Conservative Party never abandoned the defence of civil associations as both important institutions to deliver public services and essential spaces for maintaining and transmitting shared values. Throughout the post-WW2 period, the Party continuously emphasised the importance of the diversity of voluntary associations, and as a response to the growing dissatisfaction with statutory welfare, support for more flexible, dynamic, and local voluntary provision became part of its 1979 manifesto.
As already mentioned, civil society had virtually disappeared from the public debate and Thatcher herself rarely used the term ‘civil society’. However, the idea had a central role within Thatcherism. As the article will show, the Conservatives were constantly thinking about the intermediary structures between individuals and the state, and from these reflections we can try to comprehend how they saw these institutions, their roles, and their relationships. According to the Conservatives, civil society was being threatened by a social philosophy that had placed the state at the centre of social life to the detriment of communities. In fact, civil society had not disappeared, but was experiencing profound changes. In a more affluent and ‘post-materialistic’ society, individuals had turned their attention from first material needs to identities, fulfilment, and greater quality of life. Charities and religious associations had also changed their strategies and came close to the approach and methods of secular and modern voluntary associations, loosening their moralistic and evangelical language and adopting a more political and socially concerned discourse. These are important transformations that are the basis of how the Thatcher government linked the politicisation of these institutions with the demise of civil society.
Thatcher always made clear that voluntary associations and civil institutions were central to her ‘revolutionary’ project. The Conservatives under Thatcher regarded the civil institutions as the best means to reach more vulnerable people and the perfect space for participation and self-expression. The neighbourhood, this smallest social ‘unit,’ was more personal and effective than larger and more bureaucratic bodies. Furthermore, civil society empowered individuals by giving them the opportunity to participate in local communities and make a difference. It is noteworthy that Thatcher’s individualism was not synonymous with an atomised and isolated individual. Thatcher did not have a libertarian view about the individuals. As she argued to the Greater Young Conservatives group, ‘there is not and cannot possibly be any hard and fast antithesis between self-interest and care for others, for man is a social creature … brought up in mutual dependence.’ According to her, there was no conflict between her ‘individualism and social responsibility,’ as individuals and community were connected and ‘personal efforts’ would ‘enhance the community’, not ‘undermine’ it. She believed in a community of free and responsible individuals, ‘held together by mutual dependence … [and] common customs.’ Working in the local and familiar, within civil associations and voluntary bodies, individuals, in seeking their own purposes and goals, would also achieve common objectives, discharge their obligations to the community and serve their fellows and God. And here is the key role of civil and voluntary bodies. They were responsible for guaranteeing traditional standards and transmitting common customs. By participating in these associations, individuals would achieve their own interests but also feel important, share values, strengthen social ties, and create a distinctive identity. Thatcherites believed that voluntary associations, charities, and civil institutions had a central position in the rebirth of civic society. These conceptions partly resonated with a conservative tradition that recognised the intermediated structures as institutions responsible for balancing freedom and order. For conservatives, civil institutions and associations have always played a central role within civil society as institutions responsible for socialising and moralising individuals.
From the Thatcherite perspective, these ‘little platoons’—a term formulated by Edmund Burke, and used by conservatives such as Douglas Hurd, Brian Griffiths, and Thatcher herself to qualify local associations and institutions—provided people a space to develop a sense of community, civic responsibility, and identity. Therefore, Thatcher and her entourage believed that civil society had many fundamental and intertwined roles: it empowered individuals through participation; it developed citizenship; it was a repository of traditions; it transmitted values and principles; it created an identity and social ties; and it was a place to discharge individuals’ obligations to their community and God.
The state—not Thatcherism, nor indeed the market—isolated individuals by stepping into civil society spaces and breaking apart the intermediary institutions. In expanding beyond its original attributions, the state had eclipsed civil associations and institutions. Centralisation and politicisation were weakening ‘mediating structures,’ making people feel ‘powerless’ and depriving individuals of relieving themselves from ‘their isolation.’ It was also opening a space for a totalitarian state enterprise. While the state was creating an isolated, dependent, and passive citizenry, the new social movements were politicising every single civil society space, fostering divisiveness and resentment.
The great issue here was politicisation. Civil and local spaces had been politicised. The local councils were promoting anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic agendas, local government and trade unions were encouraging riots and operating ‘to break, defy, and subvert the law’ and the Church was ‘failing the people of England.’ Neoconservatives drew attention to both the intervention and politicisation from the state but also from social movements such as feminism. As shown earlier, civil society dynamics had changed and new and more politicised movements emerged. John Moore, a minister and another long-term member of Thatcher’s cabinet, complained that modern voluntary organisations changed their emphases from service groups to pressure groups. That is the reason why Thatcher, in spite of increasing grants to the voluntary sector, carefully selected those associations with principles related to ‘self-help and enterprise,’ that encouraged ‘civic pride’ while also discouraging grants to institutions previously funded by left-wing councils.
The state and the new social movements had politicised and dismantled civil society spaces, especially the conservatives' two most important civil institutions: the family and the Church. Thatcherism placed the family at the centre of civil society. Along with the ‘surrounding community of friends and neighbours,’ the family was a key institution to ‘individual development.’ This perspective dialogued with a conservative idea that came directly from Burke and placed the family at the core of civil society. From a Burkean perspective, the family was an essential institution for civilisation as it had two fundamental roles: acting as the ‘bulwarks against tyranny’ and against the ‘perils of individualism.’ The family was important as the first space of socialisation and affection and, consequently, the first individual responsibility. Within the family, moral values were kept and transmitted through generations, preventing degeneration and dependence. Thatcher’s government identified the family as the ‘very nursery of civil virtue’ and created the Family Policy Group to rebuild family life and responsibility. The family also had a decisive role in checking the state authority. Along with neoconservatives, Thatcherites believed that the welfare state and ‘permissiveness’ had broken down the family and its core functions. From this perspective, the most important civil institution had been corrupted by the state and the new social movements. If Thatcherism dialogued with neoliberalism and its criticism of the state, it was also influenced by conservative ideas of civil society and neoconservative arguments against the new social movements and the welfare state. Despite some tensions, Thatcherism was successful in combining neoliberal and neoconservative ideas.
The other main civil institution was the Church. Many of Thatcher’s political convictions were moral, rooted in puritan Christian values nurtured during her upbringing. Thatcher and many of her allies believed that Christianity was the foundation of British society and its values had to be widely shared. The churches were responsible for exercising ‘over [the] manners and morality of the people’ and were the most important social tool to moralise individuals. Only their leaders had the moral authority ‘to strengthen individual moral standards’ and the ‘shared beliefs’ that provide people with a moral framework to prevent freedom to became something destructive and negative.
Thus, the conservatives had the goal of depoliticising civil society. It should be a state- and political-free space. Thatcher’s active citizen was an apolitical one. The irony is that the Thatcher administration made these institutions even more dependent on state funding. Thatcherism was incapable of comprehending the new dynamics of civil institutions. The diverse small institutions, mainly composed of volunteer workers, had been replaced by larger, more bureaucratic and professionalised ones closely related to the state.
If the state and, consequently, politicians could not moralise individuals—which, in part, explains the lack of a moral agenda in the period of Thatcher’s government, a fact so criticised by the more traditional right, since ‘values cannot be given by the state or politician,’ as she proclaimed in 1978—other civil society institutions not only could, but had a duty to promote certain values.
The Thatcher government and communities
From the mid-1980s, the Conservative Strategy Group advised the party to emphasise the idea of a ‘good neighbour’ as a very distinct conservative concept. The Conservative Party turned its eyes to the issue of communities and several ministers started to work on policies related to neighbourliness. At the same time, Thatcher’s Policy Unit also started thinking of ways to rebuild ‘community infrastructure’ and its voluntary and non-profit organisations. The civil associations more and more were being seen by the government as an essential instrument in changing people’s views and beliefs.
As we have seen, it was compatible with the Thatcherite project. However, it was also a practical answer to rising social problems and an increasingly conservative perception, towards the end of the 1980s, that Thatcher’s administration failed to change individual beliefs and civil society actors, groups, and institutions. And then, we begin to note the tensions between Thatcherite ideas and their implications for the community.
Thatcherites believed in a community that was first and foremost moral. The community was made up of many individuals brought up by mutual dependence and shared values and, as such, carrying duties prior to rights. That is why all these civic institutions were so important. They should restrain individual anti-social behaviour through the wisdom of shared ‘traditional social norms that went with them.’ The community should set standards and penalise irresponsible behaviour. A solid religious base was therefore so important to the moral civil society framework. And here Thatcher was always very straightforward that this religious basis was a Christian one. Despite preaching against state intervention, Thatcher was clear about the central role of compulsory religious education to teach children ‘the difference between right and wrong.’ In order to properly work, these communities and its civil institutions should have their authority and autonomy restored to maintain and promote their basic principles and moral framework. And that is the point here. The conservative ‘free’ communities only could be free if they followed a specific set of values and principles.
During an interview in May 2001—among rising racial tensions that lead to serious racial disturbances over that year’s spring and summer—Thatcher argued that despite supporting a society comprised of different races and colours, she would never approve of a ‘multicultural society,’ as it could not observe ‘all the best principles and best values’ and would never ‘be united.’ Thatcher was preoccupied with immigration precisely because she believed that cultural issues could have negative long-term effects. As she said on another occasion, ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ Different individuals would work together and keep themselves together only if they shared some basic principles and beliefs. Thatcher’s community was based on common tradition, not consent or contract. Conservatives believed that shared values were essential for social cohesion. That is why a multicultural society was so dangerous from her perspective. Moreover, there is also another implication here. Multiculturalism not only needed to be repulsed because it was regarded as divisive, but also because it presupposes that all cultures have equal value. It was not only about sharing the same values and principles, but also about sharing the right values and principles. And for the conservatives, the British and Christian traditions were the right ones. That is why Christian religious education should be compulsory for everybody, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.
In part, it explains the Thatcher administration’s long fight against local councils and authorities that supported multiculturalism and anti-racist movements. They were seen as a threat to cultural and traditional values as well as national sovereignty. In addition to responding many times with brutal police repression to the 1981 riots—which is in itself a strong state intervention—the government also released resources for urban regeneration and increased the budget of ‘ethnic projects’ in order to control these initiatives. The idea was to shape communities in a given way and direction and create tools for the community to police themselves. The government was seeking ways to change individual attitudes that, according to the Conservatives, were at the root of social problems in the inner cities. Rather than being the consequence of social problems, these attitudes, they argued, were caused by cultural and moral issues, especially in predominantly black communities. In encouraging moderate black leaders, the government was trying to foster black communities that would behave as British middle-class neighbourhoods. Thatcher’s government also tried to shape communities through business enterprises and market mechanisms. In the late 1980s, her government started a bold process of community refurbishment that aimed to revitalise what were regarded as deprived areas. The market was also seen as a part of civil society and a moralising space that encouraged good behaviour.
Thatcher’s relationship with the family, the basis of civil society, was also problematic. The Conservatives had a very traditional conception of family. The family was constituted by a heterosexual married couple. If Thatcherites accused new social movements of imposing their worldview on the majority, Thatcher’s government tried to prescribe a ‘natural’ view of family that excluded any type of distinct formation. Furthermore, despite presiding over a decade that saw a rising expansion of women's participation in the workplace and education, Thatcher advanced an idea of community that was based on women's caring role within the family and the neighbourhood.
Finally, the Church, regarded as the most important source of morality, was, at first, viewed as a natural ally, but soon would become a huge problem for her government. As with many established British institutions, according to the Conservatives, the Church had been captured by a progressive mood that had politicised many of its leaders and diverted the Church's role on morality. The Church was failing Britain since it had abdicated its primary role as a moral leader. It was also part of a broader attack on the British establishment. Thatcher would prefer to align her government with religious groups that performed a much more ‘valuable role’ than the established Church.
The tensions between the Thatcher government's ideas and policies—which blended neoliberal and neoconservative approaches—and its results in practice would lead to reactions on both left and right-wing sides. If Thatcher herself realised that her years in office had not encouraged communities’ growth, the New Labour and the post-Thatcher Conservative Party would invest in a robust communitarian discourse. Tony Blair's Party would use community rhetoric to emphasise differences from Thatcherism, whereas the rise of ideas that focused on civil society, such as Compassionate Conservatism, Civic Conservatism, and Big Society, would be a Conservative response to the Thatcher's 1980s.
Conventionally, conservatives have treated civil society as a vehicle to rebuild traditional values, a fortress against state power and homogenisation that involved the past, the present and the future generations.
Thatcher believed that a true community would be close to the one where she spent her childhood. A small community, composed by a vibrant network of voluntary bodies free from state intervention, in which apolitical and responsible citizens would be able to discharge their religious and civic obligations through voluntary work. These obligations resulted from religious values and individuals' mutual physical and emotional dependence, which imposed responsibilities prior to their rights, derived from these duties rather than from an abstract natural contract. Therefore, the Thatcherite community was, above all, a moral community. Accordingly, it was based on a narrow set of values and principles that was based on conservative British and Christian traditions. In a complex contemporary world of multicultural societies, it is difficult not to see Thatcher's community model as exclusionary and authoritarian.
Despite her conservative ideas about neighbourhoods, her government seems to have encouraged even more irresponsible behaviour and community fragmentation. Thatcher seems not to have been able to identify the problems that economic liberalisation policies and strong individualistic rhetoric could cause to the community. Here, the tensions between her neoliberal and neoconservative positions became clearer. As she recognised during an interview, ‘I cut taxes and I thought we would get a giving society and we haven’t.’
To conclude, it is interesting to note that the civil society debate emerged in the UK with and against Thatcherism. The argument based on the revitalisation of civil society was used by both left and right-wingers to criticise the Thatcher years. New Labour’s emphasis on communities, post-Thatcher conservatism’s focus on civil society, the emergence of communitarianism and other strands of thought that placed civil society at the centre of their theories; despite their differences, all of them looked to the community as an answer for the 1980s and, at least in part, its emphasis on the free market and individualism. On the other hand, as I have tried to show, Thatcherism was already working on the theme of community and raised many of these issues during the years following her fall. The idea of civil society as the space par excellence of citizenship and collective activities, as the place to discharge individual obligations and as a site of a strong defence against arbitrary state power, were all themes advanced by Thatcherism that occupied a lasting space within the civil society debate. Thatcherism thus also influenced the debate from within, not only through the reaction against its results, but also directly promoting ideas and policies about civil society.
 Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997), 71-72.
 E.H.H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism. Conservative Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 278.
 Lenon Campos Maschette, 'Revisiting the concept of citizenship in Margaret Thatcher’s government: the individual, the state, and civil society', Journal of Political Ideologies, (2021).
 Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture (‘Liberty and Limited Government 11 January 1996). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108353.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Greater London Young Conservatives (Iain Macleod Memorial Lecture, ‘Dimensions of Conservatism’ 4 July 1977). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103411.
 Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (London: Harper Collins, 1993), 627.
 Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party Conference, 14 October 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation document 107352: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107352.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (‘I BELIEVE – a speech on Christianity and politics’ 30 March 1978). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103522.
 Thatcher, The Moral Basis of a Free Society. Op. Cit.
 Douglas Hurd had several important roles during Thatcher’s administration, including Home Office. Brian Griffiths was the chief of her Policy Unit from the middle 1980s and one of her principal advisors.
 Michael Alison, ‘The Feeding of the Billions’, in Michael Alison and David Edward (eds) Christianity & Conservatism. Are Christianity and conservatism compatible? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), 206-207; Brian Griffiths, ‘The Conservative Quadrilateral’, Alison and Edward, Christianity & Conservatism, 218; Robin Harris, Not for Turning (London: Corgi Books. 2013), 40.
 Griffiths, Christianity & Conservatism, 224-234.
 Margaret Thatcher. Speech to Conservative Party Conference 1985. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106145.
 John Gummer, apud Martin Durham, ‘The Thatcher Government and “The Moral Right”’, Parliamentary Affair, 42 (1989), 64.
 American neoconservatives such as Charles Murray, George Gilder, Lawrence Mead, Michael Novak, etc., worked on the social, cultural, and moral consequences of the welfare state and the ‘long’ 1960s. They were also much more active in writing on citizenship issues. These authors had a profound influence on Thatcher’s Conservative Party through the think tanks networks. Murray and Novak, for instance, even attended Annual Conservative Party conferences and visited Thatcher and other Conservative members’ Party.
 Timothy Raison, Tories and the Welfare State. A history of Conservative Social Policy since the Second World War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990), 163.
 Geoffrey Finlayson, Citizen, State and Social Welfare in Britain 1830 – 1990 (Oxford, 1994), 376.
 Douglas Hurd, Memoirs (London: Abacus, 2003), 388.
 Richard Boyd, ‘The Unsteady and Precarious Contribution of Individuals’: Edmund Burke's Defence of Civil Society’. The Review of Politics, 61 (1999), 485.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to General Assembly to the Church of Scotland, 21 May 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107246.
 Douglas Hurd, Tamworth Manifesto, 17 March 1988, London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v10/n06/douglas-hurd/douglas-hurds-tamworth-manifesto.
 Douglas Hurd, article for Church Times, 8 September 1988. THCR /1/17/111B. Churchill Archives, Churchill College, Cambridge University.
 Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (1978), Op. Cit.
 Margaret Thatcher, apud Matthew Grimley. Thatcherism, Morality and Religion. In: Ben Jackson; Robert Saunders (Ed.). Making Thatcher’s Britain. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2012), 90.
 Many meetings emphasised this issue throughout 1986. CRD 4/307/4-7. Conservative Party Archives, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.
 ‘Papers to end of July’, 18 June 1987. PREM 19/3494. National Archives, London.
 Edmund Neill, ‘British Political Thought in the 1990s: Thatcherism, Citizenship, and Social Democracy’, Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts fur soziale Bewegungen, 28 (2002), 171.
 Margaret Thatcher, ‘Speech to Finchley Inter-church luncheon club’, 17 November 1969. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/101704.
 Margaret Thatcher, interview to the Daily Mail, 22 May 2001, apud Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher, Vol. III Herself Alone (London: Penguin Books, 2019), 825.
 Margaret Thatcher, TV Interview for Granada World in Action ("rather swamped"), 27 January 1978. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485.
 Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/30/oliver-letwin-blocked-help-for-black-youth-after-1985-riots.
 Paul Gilroy apud Simon Peplow. Race and riots in Thatcher’s Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), 213.
 Grimley, Op. Cit., 92.
 Thatcher’s interview to Frank Field, apud Eliza Filby. God & Mrs Thatcher. The battle for Britain’s soul (London: Biteback, 2015), 348.
 Neill, Op. Cit., 181.
by Jack Foster and Chamsy el-Ojeili
In September 2021, penning his last regular column for the Financial Times after 25 years of writing on global politics, Philip Stephens reflected on a bygone age. In the mid-1990s, an ‘age of optimism’, Stephens writes, ‘the world belonged to liberalism’. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the integration of China into the world economy, the realisation of the single market in Europe, the hegemony of the Third Way in the UK, and the ‘unipolar moment’ of US dominance presaged a century of ‘advancing democracy and a liberal economic order’. But today, following the financial crash of 2008 and its ongoing fallout, and turbocharged by the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘policymakers grapple with a world shaped by an expected collision between the US and China, by a contest between democracy and authoritarianism and by the clash between globalisation and nationalism’. Only five months later, the editors of the FT judged that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had definitively closed the ‘chapter of history opened by the fall of the Berlin Wall’; the sight of armoured columns advancing across the European mainland signals that a ‘new, darker, chapter has begun’. At this juncture, with the all-consuming immediacy of the war in Ukraine, and the widespread appeal of framing the conflict in civilisational terms—Western liberal democracy facing down an archaic, authoritarian threat from the East—it is worth reflecting on some of the currents that flow beneath and give shape to the discourse of Western liberal elites today.
In a previous essay, we argued that the leading public intellectuals and governance institutions of Western capitalism have struggled to effectively interpret and respond to the political and economic turmoil first unleashed by the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007–2008. We traced out a crisis of intellectual and moral leadership among Western elites in the splintering of (neo)liberal discourse over the past decade-and-a-half—the splintering of what was, prior to the GFC, a relatively consensual ‘moment’ in elite discourse, in which cosmopolitan neoliberalism had reigned supreme. As has been widely argued, the financial crisis brought this period of confidence and self-congratulation to an abrupt and unexpected halt. Both the enduring economic malaise that followed the crash, and the crisis of political legitimacy that has unfolded in its wake, have shaken the intellectual and ideological certitude of Western liberals.
All political ideologies experience ‘kaleidoscopic refraction, splintering, and recombination’, as they are adapted to historical circumstances and combined with elements of other worldviews to produce novel formations. However, we argued that the post-GFC period has seen a particularly intense and marked splintering of (neo)liberal discourse into three distinctive but overlapping and intertwining strands or ‘moments’. First, a neoliberalism of fear, which is animated by the invocation of various dystopian threats such as populism, protectionism, and totalitarianism, and which associates the contemporary period with the extremism and instability of the 1930s. Second, a punitive neoliberalism, which seeks to conserve and reinforce existing power relations and institutions of governance. And third, a pragmatic and reconciliatory neo-Keynesianism, oriented above all to saving capitalism from itself. In this essay, we want to expand upon one aspect of this analysis. Specifically, we suggest here that one way in which we can distinguish between these three strands or ‘moments’ is as distinct responses to the repoliticisation of ‘the economy’ and its management in the years following the GFC. Respectively, these responses can be summarised as rejection, repression, and reconciliation (see Table 1, below).
Depoliticisation and repoliticisation
In our previous essay, we argued that the 1990s and early 2000s were marked by the predominance of cosmopolitan neoliberalism as a successful project of intellectual and moral leadership, the moment of the ‘end of history’ and ‘happy globalisation’. In this period, we saw the radical diminution of economic and social alternatives to capitalism, the colonisation of ever more spheres of social life by the market, the transformation of common sense around the proper relationship between states and markets, the public and the private, equality and freedom, the community and the individual, and the institutionalisation of post-political management, or what William Davies has called ‘the disenchantment of politics by economics’. Of this last, neoliberalism, as both a political ideology and a set of institutions, has always been oriented to the active depoliticisation and indeed dedemocratisation of ‘the economy’ and its management—what Quinn Slobodian calls the ‘encasement’ of the market from the threat of democracy. In practice, this has been pursued in two primary ways. First, it has been accomplished via the legal and institutional insulation of ‘the economy’ from democratic contestation. Here, the delegation of critical public policy decisions to unelected, expert agencies such as central banks and the formulation of rules-based economic policy frameworks designed to narrow political discretion are emblematic. Second, this has been buttressed by ideological appeals to the constraints placed upon domestic economic sovereignty by globalisation and the necessity of technocratic expertise in government—strategies that lay at the heart of the Clinton administration in the US (‘It’s the economy, stupid!’) and the Third Way of Tony Blair in the UK. Economic management was to be left to Ivy League economists, central bankers, and the financial wizards of Wall Street and the City. The so-called ‘Great Moderation’—the period from the mid-1980s to 2007 that was characterised by low macroeconomic volatility and sustained, albeit unspectacular, growth in most advanced economies—lent credence to these ideas.
The hubris of elites in this period should not be underestimated. As Claudio Borio, head of the Monetary and Economic Department at the influential Bank for International Settlements, put it to an audience of European financiers in 2019, ‘During the Great Moderation, economists believed they had finally unlocked the secrets of the economy. We had learnt all that was important to learn about macroeconomics’. And in his ponderous account of how global capitalism might be saved from the triple-threat of financial instability, Covid-19, and climate change, former governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney recalls ‘how different things were’ prior to the credit crash—a period of ‘seemingly effortless prosperity’ in which ‘Borders were being erased’.
The GFC catalysed both an epistemological crisis in mainstream economics, and, after some delay, the rise of anti-establishment political forces on both the left and the right. The widespread failure to reflate economic development in the wake of the crisis and the punishing effects of austerity in the UK and the Eurozone, and at the state level in the US, only exacerbated the problem. Over the past decade-and-a-half, questions of economic development, of who gets what, and of who should be in charge, have come back on the table. How have Western elites responded?
One dominant response to this repoliticisation of ‘the economy’ and its management has been to invoke a host of dystopian figures—populism, nationalism, political extremism, protectionism, socialism, and totalitarianism—all of which are perceived as threats to the stability of the open-market order, to economic development, and to a thinly defined ‘liberal democracy’. This is the neoliberalism of fear Four years prior to the election of Donald Trump, the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Risks’ assessment was already grimly warning that the ‘seeds of dystopia’ were borne on the prevailing winds of ‘high levels of unemployment’, ‘heavily indebted governments’, and ‘a growing sense that wealth and power are becoming more entrenched in the hands of political and financial elites’ following the GFC. In 2013, Eurozone technocrats were raising cautious notes around the ‘renationalisation of European politics’. By 2015, Martin Wolf, long-time economics columnist for the FT, was informing his readers that ‘elites have failed and, as a result, elite-run politics are in trouble’. This climate of fear reached fever-pitch in 2016, with the shocks delivered by the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump, and again in January 2021, with mounting fears that President Biden’s inauguration would be blocked by a truculent Republican party. The utopian world of the long 1990s, in which globalisation was ‘tearing down barriers and building up networks between nations and individuals, between economies and cultures’, in the words of Bill Clinton, has thus disappeared precisely as ‘the economy’ and its management began to be repoliticised.
Two aspects of this often-histrionic neoliberalism of fear stand out. First, we see a striking inability to cognitively map the repoliticised terrain. Rather than serious attempts to map out why and in what ways repoliticisation is occurring, this strand or ‘moment’ is characterised by a reliance on a set of questionable historical analogies, above all the 1930s and the disasters of totalitarianism. Second, extraordinary weight is given over to these threats and fears, and there is a corresponding absence of serious attempts to construct a new ideological consensus. Instead, repoliticisation is countered in a language that is defensive, hectoring, and dismissive. For Wolf, populist forces have organised to ‘muster the inchoate anger of the disenchanted and the enraged who feel, understandably, that the system is rigged against ordinary people’. In like fashion, former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, reflecting on his role in resolving the GFC, writes that in crises, ‘fear and anger and ignorance’ clouds the judgement of both the public and their representatives and impedes sensible policymaking; it is essential, in times of crisis, that decisions are left to coldly rational technicians. Musing on the integration backlash in the EU, Mario Draghi, then president of the European Central Bank, noted that while ‘protectionism is society’s natural response’ to unchecked market forces, it is crucial to ‘resist protectionist urges’, and this is the job of enlightened technocrats and politicians, who must hold back the populist forces threatening to roll back market integration. In other words, while recognising that a rampaging globalisation has driven social and political unrest, within this neoliberalism of fear the masses are viewed as too capricious and ignorant to be trusted; the post-GFC malaise, while frightening and disorienting, will certainly not be solved by more democracy.
Closely related to, and overlapping with, this neoliberalism of fear is the second core strand or ‘moment’, that of a punitive and coercive neoliberalism. If the neoliberalism of fear can be understood as a dismissive overreaction to repoliticisation, this second strand represents a more direct and focused attempt to manage this new, more unstable, and more contested political economy. Fears of deglobalisation, of protectionism, of fiscal recklessness are also prominent in this line of argument; however, equally prominent are the necessary solutions: strengthening the rules-based global order, ongoing flexibilisation and integration of labour and product markets—particularly in the EU—and a harsh but altogether necessary process of fiscal consolidation.
The problem of public debt has, of course, been one of the major battlegrounds here. Preaching the necessity of fiscal consolidation at the elite Jackson Hole conference in 2010, for example, Jean-Claude Trichet raised the cautionary tale of Japan, a country that ‘chose to live with debt’ in the 1980s and suffered a ‘lost decade’ in the 1990s as a result. These concerns were widely echoed in the financial press and by international policy organisations; here, the threat of market discipline was also consistently evoked as justification for fiscal retrenchment and punishing austerity. As former IMF economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff infamously warned, prudent governments pay down public debt, because ‘market discipline can come without warning’.
Much has been made of the punitive, moralising, and post-hegemonic dimensions of this discourse. However, it is worth bearing in mind that there are also genuine attempts to match the policy prescriptions associated with this more authoritarian and coercive neoliberalism—fiscal austerity, enhanced fiscal discipline and surveillance, structural adjustment, rules-based economic governance—with a positive vision of the political economy that these policies will deliver: economic growth, global economic stability, a route out of the post-GFC doldrums. Viewed in this way, the key ideological thrust here seems to be less that of punishment for punishment’s sake than it is of the deliberate repression and foreclosure of repoliticisation. Pace the classical neoliberal thinkers, the driving logic is that economic development and economic management are far too important to be left to democracy, which is altogether too fickle and too subject to capture by interest groups to be trusted. The upshot? Austerity, flexibilisation, the strengthening of the elusive rules-based global order: all this must be pushed through regardless of dissent. As with any ideological formation, shutting down alternative arguments is also important. As one speaker at the Economist’s 2013 ‘Bellwether Europe Summit’ put it, ‘the political challenge’ to structural adjustment ‘comes not from the process of adjustment itself. People can accept a period of hardship if necessary. It comes from the belief that there are better alternatives available that are being denied’. In these ways, this second strand or ‘moment’ is directly hostile to the return of the political: less a hurried and defensive pulling-up of the drawbridge, as in the neoliberalism of fear, than a concerted counterattack.
While this punitive and coercive neoliberalism seeks to repress repoliticisation by further insulating ‘the economy’ and its management from democratic interference, the third main strand of post-GFC (neo)liberal discourse responds to repoliticisation in a more measured way. In our previous writing on this issue, we referred to this strand or ‘moment’ as a pragmatic neo-Keynesianism, which promotes technocratic policy fixes aimed at lightly redistributing wealth and rebuilding the social contract. Over the past couple of years, we suggest, these more reconciliatory energies have coagulated into a relatively coherent ideological project, that of stakeholder capitalism. Simultaneously, aided by the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the punitive and authoritarian neoliberalism of the 2010s has been discredited and has largely vanished from the pages of the financial press, the policy recommendations of the major international organisations, and the books and columns of Western public intellectuals. Thus, we use the term stakeholder capitalism to refer to the recent ideological shift in the Western policy establishment, among public intellectuals, and in business and high finance, that centres around the push for more ‘socially responsible’ corporations, for ‘green finance’, and for the re-moralisation of capitalism.
By 2019, this shift was gathering momentum. Former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz implored readers of the New York Times to help build a ‘progressive capitalism’, ‘based on a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed’. The FT launched its ‘New Agenda’, informing its readers that ‘Business must make a profit but should serve a purpose too’. The American Business Roundtable, the crème de la crème of Fortune-500 CEOs, issued a new ‘Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation’, in which it revised its long-standing emphasis on promoting shareholder-value maximisation. Rather than narrowly focusing on returning profit to their shareholders, it now claims that corporations should ‘focus on creating long-term value, better serving everyone—investors, employees, communities, suppliers, and customers’. Similarly, the WEF launched its 50th-anniversary ‘Davos Manifesto’ on the purpose of a company, promoting the development of ‘shared value creation’, the incorporation of environment, social, and governance (ESG) criteria into company reporting and investor decision-making, and responsible ‘corporate global citizenship […] to improve the state of the world’. And no lesser figure than Jaime Dimon, the billionaire CEO of JPMorgan Chase, America’s largest bank, noted in his 2019 letter to shareholders that ‘building shareholder value can only be done in conjunction with taking care of employees, customers and communities. This is completely different from the commentary often expressed about the sweeping ills of naked capitalism and institutions only caring about shareholder value’. Now, in early 2022, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset-management firm, has announced that it will be launching a ‘Center for Stakeholder Capitalism’ in the near future.
The term ‘stakeholder management’ was originally coined by the business-management theorist Edward Freeman in the 1980s, but the roots of this discourse go back to the dénouement of the first Gilded Age, where some business leaders began to promote the idea of the socially responsible corporation as a means of outflanking working-class discontent during the Great Depression. The concept of ‘stakeholder capitalism’ then became popular in the 1990s, associated above all with the Third Way of New Labour. Today, the discourse of stakeholder capitalism has been resurrected and updated, we suggest, in direct response to the repoliticisation of the economy and its management and the failure of authoritarian neoliberalism to provide a way out of the post-2008 quagmire.
At the root of this rebooted version of stakeholder capitalism is an argument for the re-moralisation of capitalism in the interests of social cohesion and long-term sustainability. To be sure, there remains a strong aesthetic-ideological attachment to neoliberal ideals of self-actualisation, entrepreneurialism, market-enabled liberty, consumer choice, and so on. But there is also a recognition of—or at least the payment of lip service to—the fact that a rampaging globalisation and widespread commodification has undermined social stability and cohesion. Thus, in contrast to the second strand or ‘moment’ of post-GFC (neo)liberalism, stakeholder capitalism seeks to deal with the repoliticisation of the economy and its management by establishing a more ‘inclusive’ capitalism.
To establish a more inclusive capitalism means making some relatively significant shifts in economic policy. ‘[T]argeted policies that achieve fairer outcomes’ are the order of the day. A more fiscally active state and investment in infrastructure, health, education, and R&D are all called for. So too is an expanded social-welfare safety net, primarily in the form of active labour-market policies. And above all, stakeholder capitalism is about tackling the green-energy transition, which presents, for boosters of a private-finance-led transition, ‘the greatest commercial opportunity of our time’. This means ‘smart’ state intervention to steer and ‘derisk’ private investment. Cultural reform, economic education, and democratic renewal are also viewed as important enabling features of this more ‘inclusive’ capitalism. Here, policymakers must lead from the front, finding ways to better communicate with, and to educate, citizens and to foster consensus.
In these respects, if the ‘moment’ of punitive and authoritarian neoliberalism was characterised by the repression of repoliticisation, then stakeholder capitalism seeks reconciliation. But while the legitimacy of democratic dissatisfaction is broadly recognised, and while there is a place for ‘more democracy’ in the discourse of stakeholder capitalism, this is democracy conceptualised not as the meaningful contestation of the distribution of power and resources, but as a relentless machine for building consensus. Opposing value systems and fundamental conflicts over the distribution of resources do not exist, only ‘stakeholder engagement’ oriented to revealing the ‘public interest’ or the preferences of ‘society’ at large. Exponents of stakeholder capitalism call for more education on how the economy works and emphasise the need to ‘listen’ more attentively to the citizenry. But the intention behind such endeavours is to develop or fortify consensus around already-existing institutions, or at best to tweak them at the margins. In these respects, there is an ambivalence running through this third—and perhaps now dominant—strand or ‘moment’: the mistrust of democracy, made explicit in the neoliberalism of fear and its authoritarian counterpart, is never completely out of the frame.
Table 1: Rejection, repression, and reconciliation
Despite its obvious limitations from the normative point of view of radical or even social democracy, the (re)emergent ideological formation of stakeholder capitalism does, we suggest, represent a relatively coherent attempt at rebuilding ideological consensus in Western societies. After years of intellectual and moral disorganisation, the rise to dominance of stakeholder capitalism among the policy establishment, high finance, some liberal intellectuals, and the financial press perhaps signals the reestablishment of intellectual and ideological discipline among elites. But it seems unlikely that this line of approach will bear fruit in the long run; the dysfunctions of the (neo)liberal world order—spiralling inequality and oligarchy, post-democratic withdrawal and outrage, resurgent nationalism, and anaemic, debt-dependent economic growth—run deep. More immediately, the war in Ukraine, and the unprecedented financial and economic sanctions imposed upon Russia by Western powers, threatens to once again reorder the ideological terrain and to intensify the shift away from globalisation. Perhaps the dominant response among (neo)liberal commentators thus far has been to frame the conflict as the first battle in a coming war for the preservation of liberal democracy: we are seeing the return of a more ‘muscular’ liberalism, reminiscent of the early years of the War on Terror. Indeed, throughout modern history, war has served to restore liberalism’s ideological vigour; the conflict in Ukraine may yet prove to be a shot in the arm.
 P. Stephens, ‘The west is the author of its own weakness’, Financial Times, 30 September 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/9779fde6-edc6-4d4c-b532-fc0b9cad4ed9
 The Editorial Board, ‘Putin opens a dark new chapter in Europe’, Financial Times, 25 February 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/a69cda07-2f63-4afe-aed1-cbcc51914105
 J. Foster and C. el-Ojeili, ‘Centrist Utopianism in Retreat: Ideological Fragmentation after the Financial Crisis’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 2021.
 Q. Slobodian and D. Plehwe, ‘Introduction’, in D. Plehwe, Q. Slobodian, and P. Mirowski (Eds), Nine Lives of Neoliberalism (London: Verso, 2020), p. 3.
 N. Schiller, ‘A liberalism of fear’, Cultural Anthropology, 27 October 2016, https://culanth.org/fieldsights/a-liberalism-of-fear
 W. Davies, ‘The new neoliberalism’, New Left Review, 101 (2016), pp. 121-134.
 W. Davies, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty, and the Logic of Competition, revised edition (London: Sage, 2017).
 Q. Slobodian, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2018). The reduction of essentially political problems to their economic dimension is a long-standing feature of liberalism as such and is therefore not an original aspect of neoliberalism; it is, however, particularly pronounced in the latter.
 C. Borio, ‘Central banking in challenging times’, speech at the SUERF Annual Lecture, Milan, 2019.
 M. Carney, Value(s): Building a Better World for All (London: William Collins, 2021), p. 151.
 World Economic Forum, Global Risks 2012 (Geneva: WEF, 2012), pp. 10, 19.
 B. Cœuré, ‘The political dimension of European economic integration’, speech at the Ligue des droits de l’Homme, Paris, 2013.
 M. Wolf, The Shifts and the Shocks: What We Have Learned – and Have Still to Learn – From the Financial Crisis (London: Penguin, 2015), p. 382.
 William Clinton, ‘President Clinton’s Remarks to the World Economic Forum (2000)’, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOq1tIOvSWg
 Wolf, The Shifts and the Shocks, p. 383.
 T. Geithner, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises (London: Random House, 2014), p. 209.
 M. Draghi, ‘Sustaining openness in a dynamic global economy’, speech at the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, Jackson Hole, 2017.
 J-C. Trichet, ‘Central banking in uncertain times – conviction and responsibility’, speech at the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, Jackson Hole, 2010.
 Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, ‘Why we should expect low growth amid debt’, Financial Times, 28 January 2010.
 See, for example, Davies, ‘The new neoliberalism’.
 J. Asmussen, ‘Saving the euro’, speech at the Economist's Bellwether Europe Summit, London, 2013.
 J. Foster, ‘Mission-oriented capitalism’, Counterfutures 11 (2021), pp. 154-166.
 J. Stiglitz, ‘Progressive capitalism is not an oxymoron’, New York Times, 19 April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/opinion/sunday/progressive-capitalism.html
 Financial Times, ‘FT sets the agenda with a new brand platform,’ Financial Times, 16 September 2019, https://aboutus.ft.com/press_release/ft-sets-the-agenda-with-new-brand-platform
 Business Roundtable, ‘Business Roundtable redefines the purpose of a corporation to promote “an economy that serves all Americans”’, 19 August 2019, https://www.businessroundtable.org/business-roundtable-redefines-the-purpose-of-a-corporation-to-promote-an-economy-that-serves-all-americans
 World Economic Forum, ‘Davos Manifesto 2020: The universal purpose of a company in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, 2 December 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/12/davos-manifesto-2020-the-universal-purpose-of-a-company-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/
 J. Dimon, ‘Annual Report 2018: Chairman and CEO letter to shareholders’, 4 April 2019, https://reports.jpmorganchase.com/investor-relations/2018/ar-ceo-letters.htm?a=1
 L. Fink, ‘Larry Fink’s 2022 letter to CEOs: The power of capitalism’, https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter
 See E. Freeman, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach (Boston: Pitman, 1984).
 J. P. Leary, Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018), pp. 162-163.
 For an early statement, see W. Hutton, The State We’re In (London: Random House, 1995). Freeman also wrote on the concept of ‘stakeholder capitalism’ in the 1990s. It is notable that the drive to develop this more ‘inclusive’ capitalism is made in the absence of, and often disdain for, the key conditions that enabled Western social democracy to (briefly) thrive—namely, a more autarkic global political economy, mass political-party membership, high trade-union density, the ideological threat posed by Soviet communism, a more coherent and engaged public sphere, and stronger civil-society institutions. Further, exponents of stakeholder capitalism retain a strong aesthetic-ideological attachment to neoliberal ideals of self-actualisation, entrepreneurialism, market-enabled liberty, and so on. For these reasons, we suggest that its closest ideological cousin is the Third Way.
 B. Cœuré, ‘The consequences of protectionism’, speech at the 29th edition of the workshop ‘The Outlook for the Economy and Finance’, Villa d’Este, Cernobbio, 2018.
 Carney, Value(s), p. 339.
 D. Gabor, ‘The Wall Street Consensus’, Development and Change, 52(3) (2021), pp. 429-459.
 M. Wolf, ‘Putin has reignitied the conflict between tyranny and liberal democracy’, Financial Times, 2 March 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/be932917-e467-4b7d-82b8-3ff4015874b
Revisiting the original Palaeolithic democracies to rethink the postliberal democracies of the future
by F. Xavier Ruiz Collantes
Why do we overlook the original democracies?
God created the world six thousand years ago. Human beings are not related to primates. There is no such thing as climate change. The first democracy emerged in classical Athens.
There are some important groups that continue to hold fast to certain beliefs, despite the availability of a mass of contrary evidence.
One such group is composed of many people interested in history, philosophy and political theories. While there is ample evidence that democratic principles were applied to power relations in Palaeolithic Homo sapiens communities tens of thousands of years, i.e., long before the Athenian democracy of antiquity emerged, a mainstream claim in history, philosophy and political theory discourses continues to be that democracy first emerged in Athens.
It has been documented, in the political anthropology and evolutionary anthropology fields, that the first political systems—those that have governed us for most of our existence on this planet—were democratic. The existence of these democracies, which I call the “original democracies”, is confirmed by two types of evidence. Firstly, in different parts of the world, hunter-gatherer communities that have survived in a form close to their original Palaeolithic form, organise themselves politically according to democratic principles, e.g., African peoples such as the Bushmen and Pygmies, Australian and New Guinean Aborigines, indigenous Amerindian peoples, etc. Secondly, Palaeolithic fossil records provide evidence of egalitarian and non-hierarchical societies. Considering just the Upper Palaeolithic, democratic hunter-gatherer communities lasted several tens of thousands of years; in contrast, non-democratic, authoritarian systems only began to emerge less than ten thousand years ago, during the Neolithic, with the consolidation of agriculture and livestock herding and a sedentary way of life.
The fact that many historians, philosophers and political theorists hold that democracy first emerged in classical Athens is certainly problematic, yet it is also very significant, because it reflects perceptions of our species derived from the epistemological bias of Western and contemporary culture, determined by extreme chrono-centric and ethno-centric perspectives that run very deep. Ultimately, such perspectives contribute to placing the contemporary white race originating in Western culture at the top of the evolutionary tree and legitimises its usurpation of the planet.
Numerous authors, however, when they write about democracy, also refer to Palaeolithic democracies, e.g., Federico Traversa, Kenneth Bollen, Pamela Paxton, Doron Shultziner and Ronald Glassman.  Those democracies of the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer peoples are called “Palaeolithic democracies” by Doron Shultziner, “community democracies” by Federico Traversa and “campfire democracies” and “clan and tribal democracies” by Ronald Glassman. I suggest that these democracies should preferably be called "original democracies”, first, because this term better reflects the importance of these democracies in the evolution of humanity, and second, because it establishes a chronological sequence going back in time, from modern democracies to ancient democracies to the original democracies.
The evolution to Homo sapiens: a journey towards democracy
Palaeolithic democracies, which emerged in all parts of the world settled by Homo sapiens, undoubtedly represent the most important cultural development of our species, first, because these democracies reflect almost all of human existence, and second, and more importantly, because these democracies have greatly shaped the natural and cultural tendencies of Homo sapiens.
Joseph Carroll  identifies four different power systems, reflecting periods from the emergence of hominids to the Homo sapiens of today: (1) alpha male domination; (2) Palaeolithic egalitarian and democratic systems; (3) despotic or authoritarian domination as emerged with the Neolithic; and (4) Western Modernity systems deriving from democratic revolutions.
Homo species split from the pan species about six million years ago . This evolutionary divergence reflected a journey to democratic communities from the alpha male-dominated despotic communities, typical, for instance, of current great apes species such as chimpanzees and gorillas. The evolutionary journey to Homo sapiens is, therefore, also a journey from despotism to Palaeolithic democracy. Broadly speaking, what we understand by a democratic system for organising and equally distributing political power within a community is specific to Homo sapiens.
Various factors led to the disappearance of the alpha male in Homo sapiens hunter-gatherer communities. The advent of lethal weapons meant that subjugated individuals could easily kill an alpha male; the need for cooperation in hunting and raising children generated a communitarian and egalitarian spirit; and the development of hypercognition and language meant that decision-making affecting a community could be based on open and joint deliberation by members.
The tens of thousands of years in which humans lived in Palaeolithic democratic communities has left deep marks on our species. These include the development of discursive capacities that enabled deliberation, negotiation and cooperation and also the burgeoning of a certain morality based on the principles of justice and equity. This morality, original, egalitarian and democratic originated in the Upper Palaeolithic, explains why present-day humans are largely repulsed by abusive coercion, non-legitimate power and arbitrary decisions deemed unjust. While humans have inherited (from the hominin species prior to Homo sapiens) a tendency to dominate others, they have also developed al sense of egalitarianism and anti-domination. Our social morality and politics operate within this contradiction.
For all these reasons, while we have a tendency towards domination over others, we also tend to reject domination over ourselves and others. The sense of democratic and egalitarian morality that beats in the heart of humans is largely due to the evolutionary development of Homo sapiens living in democratic and egalitarian hunter-gatherer communities of the Palaeolithic.
Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer communities, and later tribal societies, did not have a state, as this form of governance developed later from primitive chiefdoms and kingdoms. But the fact that there was no state did not mean that there were no politics and no social power systems. Circumscribing politics exclusively to societies with a state reflects chrono-centric bias. The original Homo sapiens communities clearly demonstrate that politics reached beyond the historical existence of the state.
The main problem in considering hunter-gatherer communities to be fully democratic is that, in those peoples that survive to this day, the most important decisions are generally made by adult males. While the exclusion of women would suggest a significant democratic deficit, it is no greater a deficit than that of classical Athens or even, until universal suffrage for men and women was finally introduced, of that of our liberal democratic societies.
Nonetheless, this issue has given rise to controversy, as important archaeologists and anthropologists, such as Lerna Lerner, Riane Eisler, and Marilène Patou-Mathis,  argue that women during the Palaeolithic had the same prestige and power as men and that this status was not lost until the Neolithic. As evidence, they indicate that the archaeological record does not unequivocally demonstrate that men had a superior status to women, and they further argue that the notion that Palaeolithic women were subordinate is simply a product of the andro-centrism that overwhelmingly dominated early archaeology and anthropology work. If women did indeed possess the same status as men, then those communities were truly democratic.
There is a fundamental problem in studying Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer communities from similar communities that have survived to the present day, namely, that, in recent centuries, many of the surviving communities have seen their original way of life contaminated, degraded or radically suppressed by other cultures and by domination exercised by other cultures, especially modern and Western empires. This is an accelerating process and, as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain reliable data on the original political life of hunter-gatherer and tribal peoples. The domination and influence of states, empires and large business corporations, aided by the new technologies, today reach into all corners of the earth. The consequences for the original hunter-gatherer peoples is that they no longer preserve their original forms of life and culture.
Democratic systems in Palaeolithic communities
Democratic systems and decision-making bodies existed in both hunter-gatherer and mobile tribes, according to anthropological studies, which document organs of power such as community assemblies, functional leadership and community chiefs.
Space does not allow for an extensive explanation of the political organisation of hunter-gatherer communities. However, some brief considerations are necessary, because despite being limited and even reductionist, they can also be very illustrative.
Although the records that throw light on these early political power systems are drawn from peoples who have lived within their original systems until recently, in what follows the past tense will be used because those communities are assumed to have existed during the Upper Palaeolithic.
We can, for instance, point to the existence of “community assemblies”, which were meetings of all adults to discuss, deliberate and reach agreements on fundamental issues affecting their community’s future. All adult members of the community, men and women, participated in these assemblies, although, from some of the known present-day communities of hunter-gatherers and horticulturists, we can deduce that smaller and more formal assemblies were composed only of adult males. In many cases, the women stood around those smaller assemblies, actively participating and making their voices heard.
In hunter-gatherer community meetings, decisions had to be made by consensus, as the survival of small communities depended on cooperation between members. The search for consensus often meant that the assemblies were extremely lengthy, while no decisions were even reached if there was no unanimity. Community fusion and fission processes were common in hunter-gatherer communities, and, in cases of great conflict, the solution was for the community to split.
Persons who excelled in public speaking skills and persuasive strategies were important and acquired prestige in community assemblies. Kenneth E. Read,  in an article describing the political power system of the Gahuku-gama (an aboriginal people of New Guinea), provides an excellent explanation of individual communication strategies aimed at influencing community assemblies. In some hunter-gatherer peoples a group strategy that ensured that no one would try to put themselves above the rest was ridicule and laughter directed at people who used bombastic oratory to impress.
We can also distinguish individuals who could be defined as "functional leaders" or "task managers”, i.e., men or women who were expert or skilled at a particular task, e.g., hunting, warfare, healing, birthing, music, dance, various rituals, etc. Leadership was not a designated role; rather, roles were acquired by individuals who demonstrated particular knowledge, experience or skills. Leaders only had the authority as permitted by the community and only for the performance of their assigned tasks.
Although they held the most important political position in hunter-gatherer communities, chiefs were typically powerless. That is why they were a major source of surprise for the first Europeans who came into contact with these communities. Roberth H Lowie, who studied the chiefs of Amerindian peoples, such as the Ojibwa, the Dakota, the Nambikuara, the Barana, etc, concluded that chiefs did not have any coercive force to impose their decisions, nor had they executive, legislative, or judicial power. They were fundamentally peacemakers, benefactors and the conduit of community principles and norms. Fundamentally, they functioned as mediators and peacemakers in internal conflicts and resource providers to community members in need, and also provided periodic reminders of the norms and values on which member coexistence and community survival depended.  This figure of the powerless chief has been encountered in hunter-gatherer communities around the world. According to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the benefits of being a community chief were so few and the burden of responsibility so high that many refused to assume the role. However, what did motivate some individuals to assume the chiefdom was the associated prestige and a vocation to assume certain responsibilities for the community. 
The community chief was generally elected by the adult community members—men and women—and could also be removed by the community. An example is given by Claude Levi-Strauss in his explanation of the power system of the Nambikwara in Brazil: if the chief was egoistic, inefficient or coercive, the community dismissed or abandoned him.  In some tribes, while war chiefs acquired important executive powers, these could only be exercised in periods of war, and despite the associated prestige, they had few or no powers in peacetime.
It can hardly be argued that these hunter-gatherer communities—the original democracies—were not democratic, as argued by some authors. Karl Popper, for instance, stated that they were not "open societies" and were therefore undemocratic.  However, this argument is based on a liberal perspective: Popper essentially claimed that they were not liberal societies. Yet those societies were profoundly communitarian and egalitarian and, although they were not what we currently understand as liberal, they were in their way democratic.
Political theory and political anthropology
In the field of modern Western political theories, the tendency to overlook the relevance of the original democracies in the history of humanity is the outcome of the narrow perspective of our cultural tradition. What we call modern democracies are little more than two hundred years old, yet for some thirty thousand years, the original democracies organised the political power structures of Homo sapiens, with the resulting decisive impact on our evolution and on what we are today.
Instead of taking into account the reality of the original democracies, Western thinking has focused on establishing hypotheses—with little foundation in reality—regarding illusory states of nature and assumed contracts between individuals aimed at shaping a society and, further on in time, creating a state. Thus, instead of taking into account the key contributions of anthropology, Western thinkers have explored the contractarian ideas of authors like Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, and Kant, not to mention other more recent authors inspired by liberal contractualism, e.g., Rawls and Nozick.
Human society and its political power systems did not originate from a contract between isolated individuals, but from the evolution of societies and power systems of other Homo species from which Homo sapiens arose. Given that the evolutionary processes that gave rise to the first human societies are known, the contractarian origin myth—a device that legitimises liberal individualism—makes little sense, even as a mere logical hypothesis for reflection.
In their introduction to a classic overview of the political systems of African peoples, the anthropologists Meyer Fortes and Edward Evans-Pritchard argued that the teachings of political philosophy were of little help with ethnographic research into the political systems of African peoples as conducted by anthropologists in the field.  The philosophy, political and anthropological disciplines may be very different, but both philosophers and political theorists need to take anthropological data into account in their reflections.
Political principles of the original democracies
Two anthropologists in particular, in their reflections on the political systems of hunter-gatherer peoples, have developed important theoretical models: the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres and the US anthropologist Christopher Boehm.
Pierre Clastres, whose thinking has strongly influenced French theorists such as Claude Lefort and Miguel Abensour, drew a novel conclusion from his ethnographic studies of Amerindian peoples in the Amazon region in the 1970s, namely, that hunter-gatherer peoples were not people without a state. Rather, they acted against the state, i.e., their political power systems were designed so that no state would ever emerge. For this reason, communities always tried to ensure that their chief was a chief with little or no power, while the community as a whole and its assembly was considered to predominate over any other political power that might be established. 
As for Christopher Boehm, he concluded, from a detailed study of a large number of ethnographic works conducted in almost all continents, that the political systems of hunter-gatherer peoples were based on the principle of a reverse dominance hierarchy, in which the communities established formal and informal systems that ensured that a chief never achieved power, that no political body could coerce the community, and that no individual or group could prevent community members from freely making decisions on matters that concerned the community. Systems of control over the power of chiefs or leaders ranged from mild punishments, such as ridicule, to much more serious punishments, such as ostracism, banishment or even execution. For Christopher Boehm, the first genuinely human taboo was the taboo of dominance, and the first individual outlawed by the Homo sapiens community was the individual with aspirations to be the alpha male of the community. 
Both principles—Clastres’ society against the state and Boehm’s reverse dominance hierarchy—are valid, but neither has been applied to date to develop theories consistent with models of democracy. Of the two principles, I consider the reverse dominance hierarchy to be the more productive principle, among other reasons, because it allows us to think about forms of non-state domination of a community. If, for instance, we transfer this principle to modern societies, it would apply to the dominance of certain groups in our society, not only in relation to the control of state apparatuses, but also to the wealthy, religious leaders, private armed militias, excessively powerful corporations, and media and information and communication systems oligopolies, etc.
From my point of view, the reverse dominance hierarchy leads to a model of democracy that separates domination from management. In the original democracies, chiefs could exercise direction and influence but held little or no power; rather, it was the community as a whole, through its deliberative assemblies and other formal and informal decision-making mechanisms, which held power over itself, including over the chief, and also over alpha males aspiring to take power, who would be banned by the community. The reverse dominance hierarchy in original democracies allowed communities to freely take decisions over themselves without the interference and dominance of individuals and powerful groups. Adapting this principle to modern societies would lead to reflection on alternative models of democracy.
Why revisit the original democracies?
My focus on the original democracies is not intended as an exercise in historical or anthropological scholarship, but is grounded in two needs. First, we need to respect the remaining indigenous and aboriginal communities on our planet, as an enormous reserve of democratic culture, ancestral wisdom and human dignity. In recent centuries, their numbers have been greatly reduced, their communities have been annihilated, and their members have been enslaved and acculturated by Western imperialism and predatory capitalism. Second, we need to revisit the moral and political principles of the original democracies in order to be able to rethink our own democracies and our democratic projects for the future. For instance, I consider the reverse dominance hierarchy principle to be a very fruitful and interesting concept for rethinking the notion of democracy. I also believe that we could reflect on the notion of “people” in accordance with political characteristics of hunter-gatherer communities in defence of freedom and the power of the community as a whole.
Liberal democracy, the hegemonic form of democracy today, is clearly in crisis, among other reasons due to its increasingly diminished legitimacy in society. The fact that liberal democracy allows socioeconomic inequalities to grow to a disproportionate degree leads to the suspicion that elected politicians do not really represent the majority of voters, thereby reflecting a profound crisis of representation. Moreover, the alliance between liberal democracy and runaway capitalism and its fostering of senseless consumerism and unbounded economic growth is leading scientists and conscientious citizens to fear the planet and humanity are headed for ecological collapse.
An important task for political theorists today is to consider alternative forms of post-liberal democracy that lead to greater equality and freedom. Democracy, in sum, needs to be rethought. While republicanism, since the end of the last century, has developed a line of thinking that seeks to renew democracy by drawing on sources such as classical Greece, the Roman Republic and the Italian republics of the Renaissance, those sources are too close to our own culture; they are, in fact, where our political culture originated. We need, surely, to decentralise more, to seek inspiration in sources more remote from our habitual way of thinking—because, if our thinking is derived from what is familiar, then we will likely continue to think in the same way and devise broadly similar solutions.
Rethinking democracy by considering Palaeolithic communities has a number of advantages. Looking back to those cultures so foreign to us could bring us closer to alternative perceptions of the human power relationships, and so opens up perspectives lost to us. Furthermore, those different perceptions would not be fanciful or speculative but anchored in reality, and would reflect deeper and more specific aspects of our nature as a species. Palaeolithic cultures can show us that another way of being human and of being a community is possible because that alternative form of humanity lies in our own evolutionary roots.
It is not about appealing for the return to an idealised past, as this is evidently neither possible nor desirable, given the immense differences between the original democracies and modern urban and technologically advanced societies. Rather than some kind of futile anachronistic exercise, it is a matter of seeking new references that break with known modes of thinking. It is about looking forward, but considering what led to our present. And what led to our present is not only a few millennia of human authoritarianism and despotism, but also tens of millennia of egalitarian and democratic communities. Hunter-gatherer peoples may not have a written culture, but they do have a very rich oral culture—even if it is increasingly impoverished by the intrusion of Western culture. The myths that they keep alive are their means for formulating deep political thought; those myths also reveal their way of life and their governance and political systems. Undoubtedly we have much to learn from these original democracies, and much to reflect on and to rethink regarding their practices and the data and reflections of the anthropologists who have studied them.
 The Upper Palaeolithic dates to approximately 40,000 to 10,000 years ago.
 The Neolithic dates to approximately 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.
 See: Glassman, R. M. (2017). The Origins of Democracy in Tribes, City-States and Nation-States. Springer; Bollen, K. & Paxton, P. 1997. Democracy before Athens. Inequality, democracy, and economic development 13-44. Cambridge University Press; Traversa, F. (2011). La gran transformación de la democracia: de las comunidades primitivas a la sociedad capitalista. Ediciones Universitarias; Shultziner, D. (2007). From the Beginning of History: Paleolithic Democracy, the Emergence of Hierarchy, and the Resurgence of Political Egalitarianism Shultziner et al. (2010). The causes and scope of political egalitarianism during the Last Glacial: A multi-disciplinary perspective. Biology & Philosophy, 25(3), 319-346.
 Carroll, J. (2015). Evolutionary social theory: The current state of knowledge. Style, 49(4), 512-541.
 Pan species that have survived to this day are the chimpanzee and the bonobo. They are part of the family of the great apes (hominids), which includes humans, gorillas and orangutans.
 See: Eisler, R. (1987). The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. Harper Collins; Lerner, G. (1990). La creación del patriarcado. Editorial Crítica; Conway Hall; Patou-Mathis, M. (2020) L’homme préhistorique est aussi une femme. Allary.
[7 Read, K. E. (1959). Leadership and consensus in a New Guinea society. American Anthropologist, 61(3), 425-436.
 Lowie, R. H. (1948). Some aspects of political organization among the American aborigines. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 78(1/2), 11-24.
[9 ] Lévi-Strauss, C. (1967).The social and psychological aspects of leadership in a primitive tribe, in Cohen and Middleton, Comparative Political Systems. New York: Natural Historical Press.
 Lévi-Strauss, C. (1992). Tristes tropiques. Penguin Books.
 Popper, K. (1966) The Open Society and its Enemies. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
 Fortes, M., & Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (2015). African political systems. Routledge.
 See: Clastres, P. (1974). La société contre l'Etat. Minuit; Clastres, P. (1977). Archéologie de la violence: la guerre dans les sociétés primitives. Editions de l'Aube.
 See: Boehm, C. (2012). Ancestral hierarchy and conflict. Science, 336(6083), 844-847; Boehm, C. (2000). Conflict and the evolution of social control. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7(1-2), 79-101; Boehm, C. (1999). Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press.
by Katy Brown, Aurelien Mondon, and Aaron Winter
Discussion and debate about the far right, its rise, origins and impact have become ubiquitous in academic research, political strategy, and media coverage in recent years. One of the issues increasingly underpinning such discussion is the relationship between the far right and the mainstream, and more specifically, the mainstreaming of the far right. This is particularly clear around elections when attention turns to the electoral performance of these parties. When they fare as well as predicted, catastrophic headlines simplify and hype what is usually a complex situation, ignoring key factors which shape electoral outcomes and inflate far-right results, such as trends in abstention and distrust towards mainstream politics. When these parties do not perform as well as predicted, the circus moves on to the next election and the hype starts afresh, often playing a role in the framing of, and potentially influencing, the process and policies, but also ignoring problems in mainstream, establishment parties and the system itself—including racism.
This overwhelming focus on electoral competition tends to create a normative standard for measurement and brings misperceptions about the extent and form of mainstreaming. Tackling the issue of mainstreaming beyond elections and electoral parties and more holistically does not only allow for more comprehensive analysis that addresses diverse factors, manifestations, and implications of far-right ideas and politics, but is much-needed in order to challenge some of the harmful discourses around the topic peddled by politicians, journalists, and academics.
To do so, we must first understand and engage with the idea of the ‘mainstream’, a concept that has attracted very little attention to date; its widespread use has not been matched by definitional clarity or subjected to critical unpacking. It often appears simultaneously essentialised and elusive. Crucially then, we must stress two key points establishing its contingency and challenging its essentialised qualities. The first of these points is therefore that the mainstream is constructed, contingent, and fluid. We often hear how the ‘extreme’ is a threat to the ‘mainstream’, but this is not some objective reality with two fixed actors or positions. They are both contingent in themselves and in relation to one another. In any system, the construction and positioning of the mainstream necessitate the construction of an extreme, which is just as contingent and fluid. These are neither ontological nor historically-fixed phenomena and seeing them as such, which is common, is both uncritical and ahistorical. What is mainstream or extreme at one point in time does not have to be, nor remain, so. The second point is that the mainstream is not essentially good, rational, or moderate. While public discourse in liberal democracies tends to imbue the mainstream or ‘centre’ with values of reason and moderation, the reality can be quite different as is clearly demonstrated by the simple fact that what is mainstream one day can be reviled, as well as exceptionalised and externalised, as extreme the next, and vice versa. Racism would be one such example. As such, the mainstream is itself a normative, hegemonic concept that imbues a particular ideological configuration or system with authority to operate as a given or naturalise itself as the best or even only option, essential to govern or regulate society, politics and the economy.
One of the main problems with the lack of clarity over the definition of the mainstream is that its contingency is masked through the assumption that it is common sense to know what it signifies, thus contributing to its reification as something with a fixed identity. Most people (including academics) feel they have a clear idea of what is mainstream; they position themselves according to what they feel/think it is and see themselves in relation to it. We argue that a critical approach to the mainstream, which challenges its status as a fixed entity with ontological status and essentialised ‘good’ and ‘normal’ qualities, is crucial for understanding the processes at play in the mainstreaming of the far right.
To address various shortcomings, we define the process of mainstreaming as the process by which parties/actors, discourses and/or attitudes move from marginal positions on the political spectrum or public sphere to more central ones, shifting what is deemed to be acceptable or legitimate in political, media and public circles and contexts.
The first aspect we draw attention to is the agency of parties and actors in the matter. Far-right actors are often positioned as agents, either unlocking their own success through internal strategies or pushing the mainstream to adopt positions that would otherwise be considered ‘unnatural’ to it. While we do not wish to dismiss the potential power of far-right actors to exert influence, it is essential to reflect on the capacity of the mainstream to shift the goalposts, especially given the heightened status and power that comes from the assumptions described above. What we highlight as particularly important is that shifts can take place independently and that the far right is not the sole actor which matters in understanding the process of mainstreaming. A far-right party can feel pressured or see an opportunity to become more extreme by mainstream parties moving rightward and thus encroaching on its territory. However, a far-right party can also be made more extreme without changing itself, but because the mainstream moves away from its ideas and politics. The issues associated with the assumed immovability and moderation of the mainstream have led towards a lack of engagement with the role of this group. It is therefore imperative to challenge these assumptions and capture the influence of mainstream elite actors, particularly with regard to discourse, in holistic accounts of mainstreaming.
This leads on to one of the core tenets of our framework, which places discourse as a central feature with significant influence across other elements. Too often, discourse has been swallowed up within elections, seen solely as the means through which party success might be achieved, but we argue that it can stand alone and that the mainstreaming of far-right ideas is not something only of interest and concern when it is matched by electoral success. Our framework highlights the capacity of parties and actors from the far right or mainstream (though the latter has greatest influence) to enact discursive shifts that bring far-right and mainstream discourse closer or further from one another.
Problematically, we argue, discourse is often seen solely in terms of its strategic effects for electoral outcomes. While we do not deny its importance in this regard, we suggest that discursive shifts may not always be connected in the ways we might expect with elections, and that the interpretation of electoral results can itself feed into the process of normalisation. First, changes at the discursive level do not always lead to a similar electoral trajectory, nor do the effects stop at elections: the mainstreaming of far-right ideas and narratives (including in and as policies) has the potential to both weaken the far right’s electoral performance if mainstream politicians compete over their traditional ground or bolster such parties by centring their ideas as the norm. Whatever the case, we must not lose sight of the effects on those groups targeted in such exclusionary discourse. The impact of mainstreaming does not stop at the ballot box. This feeds into the second key point about elections, in that the way they are interpreted can further contribute to normalisation, either through celebrating the perceived defeat of the far right or through hyping the position of far-right parties as democratic contenders. Certainly, this does not mean that we should not interrogate the reasons behind examples of increased electoral success among far-right parties, but that we must do so in a nuanced and critical manner. We must therefore guard against simplistic conclusions drawn from electoral, but also survey, data which we discuss at length in the article. Accounts of the electorate, often referred to through notions of ‘the people’ or ‘public opinion’, have tended to skew understandings of mainstreaming towards bottom-up explanations in which this group is portrayed as a collection of votes made outside the influence of elite actors. Through our framework, we seek to challenge these assumptions and instead underscore the critical role of discourse through mediation in constructing voter knowledge of the political context.
Far from being a prescriptive framework or approach, our aim is to ensure that future engagement with the concept, process and implications of mainstreaming is based on a more critical, rounded approach. This does not mean that each aspect of our framework needs to be engaged with in great depth, but they should be considered to ensure criticality and rigour, as well as avoid both the uncritical reification of an essentially good mainstream against the far right, and the normalisation and mainstreaming of the far right and its ideas. We believe it is our responsibility as researchers to avoid the harmful effects of narrower interpretations of political phenomena which present an incomplete yet buzzword-friendly picture (i.e. ‘populist’ or ‘left behind’), often taken up in political and media discourse, and feed into further discursive normalisation.
This brings us to the more epistemological, methodological, and political reason for the intervention and framework proposal: the need for a more reflective and critical approach from researchers, particularly where power and political influence are an issue. It is imperative that researchers reflect on their own role in contributing to the discourse around mainstreaming through their interpretations of related phenomena. This is important in the context of political and social sciences where, despite unavoidable assumptions, interests and influence, objectivity, and neutrality are often proclaimed. Necessarily, this demands from researchers an acknowledgement of their own positionality as not only researchers, but also as subjects within well-established and yet often invisibilised racialised, gendered, and classed power structures, notably those within and reproduced by our institutions, disciplines, and fields of study.
by Taras Kuzio
The roots of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are to be found in the elevation of Tsarist imperial nationalist and White Russian émigré views, which deny the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians. The Soviet Union recognised Ukrainians as a people separate but close to Russians. Russian imperial nationalists hold a Jekyll-and-Hyde view of Ukraine. While denigrating Ukraine in a colonial manner that would make even Soviet-era Communist Party leaders blush, Russian leaders at the same time claim to hold warm feelings towards Ukrainians, whom they see as the closest people to them. In this light, ‘bad’ Ukrainians are nationalists and neo-Nazis who want their country to be part of Europe; ‘good’ Ukrainians are obedient Little Russians who know their place in the east Slavic hierarchy and want to align themselves with Mother Russia. In other words, ‘good’ Ukrainians are those who wish their country to emulate Belarus. In practice, during the invasion, cities such as Kharkiv and Mariupol that have resisted the Russian incursion have been pulverised irrespective of the fact they are majority Russian-speaking. In turn, the fact of this resistance means to Russia’s leaders that these cities are inhabited by ‘Nazis’, not Little Russians who would have greeted Russian troops—and who should therefore be destroyed.
Without an understanding of the deepening influence of Tsarist imperial nationalism in Russia since 2012, and especially following Crimea’s annexation in 2014, scholars will be unable to grasp or explain why Putin has been so obsessed with returning Ukraine to the Russian World—a concept created as long ago as 2007 as a body to unite the three eastern Slavs, which underpinned his invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Putin’s invasion did not come out of nowhere, but had been nurtured, discussed, and raised by Putin and Russian officials since the mid-2000s in derogatory dismissals of Ukrainians, and in territorial claims advanced against Ukraine. Unfortunately, few scholars took these at face value until summer 2021, when Putin published a long 6,000-word article detailing his thesis about Russians and Ukrainians constituting one people with a single language, culture, and common history. Ukrainians were a ‘brotherly nation’ who were ‘part of the Russian people.’ ‘Reunification’ would inevitably take place, Putin told the Valdai Club in 2017.
The overwhelming majority of scholarly books and journals have dismissed, ignored, or downplayed Russian nationalism as a temporary phenomenon. Richard Sakwa claimed Putin was not dependent upon Russian nationalism, ‘and it is debatable whether the word is even applicable to him.’ Other scholars described it as a temporary phenomenon that had disappeared by 2015–16. A major book on Russian nationalism published after the 2014 crisis included nothing on the incorporation of Tsarist imperial nationalist and White Russian émigré discourse that dismissed the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine backed by Russian nationalist rhetoric has led to many Western academics suggesting that the Russian forces have ended up—or will end up—with egg on their faces. Why they felt the need to take this angle has varied, ranging from elaborate political science theories popular in North America about the nature of the Russian regime to the traditional Russophilia found among a significant number of Euro-American scholars writing about Russia. As Petro Kuzyk pointed out, in writing extensively about Ukrainian regionalism, scholars have tended to exaggerate intra-Ukrainian regional divisions.  This has clearly been seen during the invasion, when Russia has found no support among Russian-speakers in cities such as Kharkiv, Mariupol, Odesa, and elsewhere. Furthermore, the prevailing consensus prior to the invasion among scholars and think tankers was eerily similar to that in Moscow; namely, that Ukraine would be quickly occupied, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would flee, and Kyiv would be captured by Russian troops. That this did not happen again shows a a serious scholarly miscalculation about the strength of Ukrainian identity, and an overestimation of the strength of Russian military power.
Nationalism in Putin’s Russia has integrated Tsarist imperial and Soviet nationalisms into an eclectic ruling ideology that drives the invasion. Putin, traditionally viewed as nostalgic for the Soviet Union, has also exhibited some pronounced anti-Soviet tendencies, above all in criticising Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin for creating a federal union of republics that included ‘Russian lands’ in the south-east, and artificially creating a ‘fake’ Ukrainian people. Putin’s invasion goal of ‘denazification’ aimed to correct this mistake by destroying the ‘anti-Russia’ nurtured by the West.
Both scholars and Russian leaders have been baffled as to how to understand and explain the tenacity of Ukrainian identity that has fought the Russian army to a standstill, and is now in the position of launching counterattacks. What is particularly difficult for Russian political leaders and media journalists to explain is how a people that supposedly does not exist (Ukrainians) could greet the ‘special military operation’ (Putin’s dystopian term for the invasion of Ukraine) not with bouquets of flowers but met it with armed resistance.
Instrumentalism: Russian Nationalism as a Temporary Phenomenon
Sakwa writes that ‘the genie of Russian nationalism was firmly back in the bottle’ by 2016. Pal Kolstø and Marlene Laruelle, along similar lines, write that the nationalist rhetoric of 2014 was novel and subsequently declined. Meanwhile, Henry Hale also believes Putin was only a nationalist in 2014, not prior to the annexation of the Crimea or since 2015. Laruelle concurs, writing that by 2016, Putin’s regime had ‘circled back to a more classic and pragmatic conservative vision’. Laruelle describes Putin’s regime as nationalistic only in the period 2013–16, arguing that ‘since then [it] has been curtailing any type of ideological inflation and has adopted a low profile, focusing on much more pragmatic and Realpolitik agendas at home and abroad.’ Paul Chaisty and Stephen Whitefield write, ‘Putin is not a natural nationalist’ and ‘[w]e do not see the man and the regime as defined by principled ideological nationalism.’ Sakwa is among the foremost authors who deny that Putin is a nationalist, describing him as not an ideologue because he remains rational and pragmatic—which sharply contrasts with an invasion that most commentators view as irrational. Allegedly, moreover, there has been a ‘crisis’ in Russian nationalism. Other scholars, meanwhile, believed that Putin ‘lost’ nationalist support.
In reality, the opposite took place. Russian imperial nationalism deepened, penetrated even further into Russian society and became dominant in Putin’s regime during the eight years between the invasions of Crimea and Ukraine. Russian imperial nationalist denials of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians became entrenched and have driven the invasion of Ukraine.
Patriots and Conservatives - Not Nationalists
Scholars described Russian nationalists as ‘patriots’ and western-style ‘conservatives.’ In the same year that the constitution was changed to allow Putin to remain president until 2036, Laruelle writes ‘the Putin regime still embodies a moderate centrist conservatism.’ Petro, Sakwa, and Robinson analogously describe a ‘conservative turn’ in Russian foreign policy.
If contemporary British conservatives annexed part of Ireland and denied the existence of the Irish people, “conservatism” would no longer fully capture the ideology they represented. By the same token, the Putin regime’s annexation of Crimea and denial of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians has sharply steered Russian conservatism towards the conceptual centrality of imperial nationalism.
In their analyses, Sakwa and Anna Matveeva could only identify ‘militarised patriotism’ or elites divided into ‘westerners’ and ‘patriots.’ Following his 2012 re-election, Sakwa writes that Putin only spoke of ‘Russian identity discourse’ and Putin’s ‘conservative values’ which he believes should be not confused with a Russian nationalist agenda.
Sakwa has generally avoided using the term ‘nationalist’ when discussing Russian politicians. This created problems in explaining why a ‘non-nationalist’ Putin might choose to support a wide range of far-right and a smaller number of extreme left political movements in Europe and the US, ranging from national-conservatives, populist-nationalists, irredentist imperialists to neo-Nazis in Europe. Sakwa attempts to circumvent this conundrum by relying on a portfolio of euphemistic alternatives, describing these far-right and extreme left movements as ‘anti-systemic forces,’ ‘radical left,’ ‘movements of the far right,’ ‘European populists,’ ‘traditional sovereigntists, peaceniks, anti-imperialists, critics of globalisation,’ ‘populists of left and right,’ and ‘values coalition.’
Putin’s Imperial Nationalist Obsession with Ukraine
The Soviet regime recognised a separate Ukrainian people, albeit one that always retained close ties to Russians. The Ukrainian SSR was a ‘sovereign’ republic within the Soviet Union. In 1945, Joseph Stalin negotiated three seats at the UN for the USSR (representing the Russian SFSR), Ukrainian SSR, and Belarusian SSR. In the USSR, there was a Ukrainian lobby in Moscow, while this has been wholly absent under Putin.
Soviet nationality policy defined Ukrainians and Russians as related, but nevertheless separate peoples; this was no longer the case in Putin’s Russia. In the USSR, Ukraine, and the Ukrainian language ‘always had robust defenders at the very top. Under Putin, however, the idea of Ukrainian national statehood was discouraged.’ Although the USSR promoted Russification, it nevertheless recognised the existence of the Ukrainian language. For a decade prior to the invasion, the Ukrainian language was disparaged by the Russian media and political leaders as a dialect that was artificially made a language in the Soviet Union.
Russian nationalist myths and stereotypes underpinning the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine had been raised, discussed, and threatened for over a decade prior to the ‘special military operation’. When Putin returned as president in 2012, he portrayed himself as the ‘gatherer of Russian [i.e., eastern Slavic] lands.’ Ukraine’s return to the Russian World, alongside Crimea and Belarus, was Putin’s unfinished business that he needed to accomplish before entering Russia’s history books. Ukraine, as a ‘Russian land’, should fall within the Russian World and remain closely aligned to Russia. Ukrainians, on this account, had no right to decide their own future.
Russia sought to accomplish Ukraine’s return to the Russian World through the two Minsk peace agreements signed in 2014–15. Ukrainian leaders resisted Russian pressure to implement the agreements because they would have created a weak central government and federalised state where Russia would have inordinate influence through its proxy Donetsk Peoples Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic.
The failure of Russia’s diplomatic and military pressure led to a change in tactics in October 2021. Early that month, former President Dmitri Medvedev, now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, penned a vitriolic attack on Ukrainian identity as well as an anti-Semitic attack on Jewish-Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, ruling out further negotiations with Kyiv. Medvedev claimed Ukrainian leaders were US puppets, and that therefore the Kremlin needed to negotiate directly with their alleged ‘puppet master’—Washington. Meanwhile, Russia would ‘wait for the emergence of a sane leadership in Ukraine,’ ‘who aims not at a total confrontation with Russia on the brink of war…but at building equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia.’ Medvedev was revealing that Russia’s goal in any future military operation would be regime change, replacing an ‘anti-Russia’ leadership with a pro-Kremlin leader.
In early November 2021, Russia’s foreign policy machine mobilised and made stridently false accusations about threats from Ukraine and its ‘Western puppet masters.’ Russia began building up its military forces on the Ukrainian border and in Belarus. In December 2021, Russia issued two ultimatums to the West, demanding a re-working of European security architecture.
The consensus within Euro-American commentary on the invasion has been that this crisis was completely artificial. NATO was not about to offer Ukraine membership, even though Ukraine had held periodic military exercises with NATO members for nearly three decades, while the US and NATO at no point planned to install offensive missiles in Ukraine. The real cause of the crisis was the failure of the Minsk peace process to achieve Ukraine’s capitulation to Russian demands that would have placed Ukraine within the Russian sphere of influence. After being elected president in April 2019, Zelenskyy had sought a compromise with Putin, but he had come round to understanding that this was not on offer. The failure of the Minsk peace process meant Ukraine’s submission would now be undertaken, in Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s words, by ‘military-technical means’—that is, the ‘special military operation’ that began on 24 February 2022.
Russian Imperial and White Émigré Nationalism Captures Putin’s Russia
Downplaying, marginalising, and ignoring Russian nationalism led to the ignoring of Russian nationalism’s incorporation of Tsarist and White Russian émigré denials of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians. Marginal nationalism in the 1990s became mainstream nationalism in Russia in the 2000s under Putin when the ‘emergence of a virulent nationalist opposition movement took the mainstream hostage.’ The 1993 coup d’état against President Boris Yeltsin was led by a ‘red-brown’ coalition of pro-Soviet and far-right nationalists and fascists. The failure of the coup d’état and the electoral defeat of the Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov in the 1996 elections condemned these groups to the margins of Russian political life. At the same time, from the mid 1990s, the Yeltsin presidency moved away from a liberal to a nationalist foreign and security approach within Eurasia and towards the West. This evolution was discernible in the support given to a Russian-Belarusian union during the 1996 elections and in the appointment of Yevgeny Primakov as foreign minister. Therefore, the capture of Russia by the Soviet siloviki began with the Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Primakov, four years before the chairman of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Putin, was elected president. Under Primakov, Russia moved from defining itself as part of the ‘common European home’ to the country at the centre of Eurasia.
Under Putin, the marginalised ‘red-brown’ coalition gradually increased its influence and broadened to include ‘whites’ (i.e., nostalgic supporters of the Tsarist Empire). Prominent among the ideologists of the ‘red-white-brown’ coalition was the fascist and Ukrainophobe Alexander Dugin, who has nurtured national-Bolshevik and Eurasianist political projects. In the 2014 crisis, Dugin, then a professor at Moscow State University, stated: ‘We should clean up Ukraine from the idiots,’ and ‘The genocide of these cretins is due and inevitable… I can’t believe these are Ukrainians. Ukrainians are wonderful Slavonic people. And this is a race of bastards that emerged from the sewer manholes.’
During the 2000s the ‘red-white-brown’ coalition came to prominence and Putin increasingly identified with its denial of Ukraine and Ukrainians. Tsarist imperial nationalism was integrated with Soviet nostalgia, Soviet traditions and symbols and historical myths, such as the Great Patriotic War. Since the mid 2000s, only five years into his rule, Putin spearheaded the rehabilitation of the White Russian émigré movement and reburial of its military officers, writers, and philosophers in Russia. These reburials took place at the same time as the formation of the Russian World Foundation (April 2007) and unification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the émigré Russian Orthodox Church (May 2007). These developments supercharged nationalism in Putin’s Russia, reinforced the Tsarist element in the ‘red-white-brown’ coalition and fuelled the growing disdain of, and antipathy towards Ukraine and Ukrainians that was given state support in the media throughout the two decades before the invasion.
Putin personally paid for the re-burial of White Russian émigré nationalists and fascists Ivan Ilyin, Ivan Shmelev, and General Anton Deniken, who called Ukraine ‘Little Russia’ and denied the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation. These chauvinistic views of Ukraine and Ukrainians were typical of White Russian émigrés. Serhy Plokhy writes, ‘Russia was taking back its long-lost children and reconnecting with their ideas.’ Little wonder, one hundred descendants of White Russian émigré aristocrats living in Western Europe signed an open letter of support for Russia during the 2014 crisis.
Putin was ‘particularly impressed’ with Ilyin, whom he first cited in an address to the Russian State Duma as long ago as 2006. Putin recommended Ilyin to be read by his governors, senior adviser Vladislav Surkov, and Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The intention was to use Ilyin’s publications in the Russian state programme to inculcate ‘patriotism’ and ‘conservative values’ in Russian children. Ilyin was integrated into Putin’s ideology during his re-election campaign in 2012 and influenced Putin’s re-thinking of himself as the ‘gatherer of Russian lands;’ that is, integrating Belarus and Ukraine into the Russian World, and specifically his belief that the three eastern Slavs constituted a pan-Russian nation.
Laruelle has downplayed the importance of Ilyin’s ideology, writing that he did not always propagate fascism, and that Putin only quoted him five times. Yet Putin has not only cited Ilyin, but also asked Russian journalists whether they had read Deniken’s diaries, especially the parts where ‘Deniken discusses Great and Little Russia, Ukraine.’ Deniken wrote in his diaries, ‘No Russian, reactionary or democrat, republican or authoritarian, will ever allow Ukraine to be torn away.’
In turn, Tsarist imperial nationalist and White Russian émigré denials of Ukraine and Ukrainians were amplified in the Russian media and in its information warfare for over a decade prior to the invasion. Ukraine and Ukrainians were mocked in the Russian media in a manner ‘typical in coloniser-colonised relationships.’ Russia and Russians were cast as superior, modern, and advanced, while Ukraine and Ukrainians were portrayed as backward, uneducated, ‘or at least unsophisticated, lazy, unreliable, cunning, and prone to thievery.’ As a result of nearly two decades of Russian officials and media denigrating Ukraine and Ukrainians these Russian attitudes towards Ukraine and Ukrainians ‘are widely shared across the Russian elite and populace.’ This is confirmed by a March 2022 survey conducted by Russia’s last remaining polling organisation, the Levada Centre, which found that an astronomical 81% of Russians supporting Russian military actions in Ukraine. Among these supporters, 43% believe the ‘special military operation’ was undertaken to protect Russophones, 43% to protect civilians in Russian-occupied Donbas, 25% to halt an attack on Russia, and 21% to remove ‘nationalists’ and ‘restore order.’
Russian Imperial Nationalist Denigration and Denial of Ukraine and Ukrainians
Russian imperial nationalist views of Ukraine began to reappear as far back as the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, when Russian political technologists worked for pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych’s election campaign, producing election posters designed to scare Russian speakers in south-eastern Ukraine about the prospect of an electoral victory by ‘fascist’ and ‘nationalist’ Viktor Yushchenko. This was when Russia revived Soviet ideological propaganda attacks against Ukrainian nationalists as ‘Nazi collaborators.’
Putin’s cult of the Great Patriotic War has been intricately linked to the promotion of Russia as the country that defeated Nazism in World War II (this is not true as all the Soviet nations contributed to the defeat) and which today is fighting contemporary Nazis in Ukraine, Poland, the three Baltic states, and beyond. Ukraine’s four de-communisation laws adopted in 2015 were despised in Moscow for many reasons. The most pertinent to this discussion was one law that equated Nazi and Soviet crimes against humanity (which contradicted Putin’s cult of Stalin) and another law that moved the terminology of Ukraine’s wartime commemorations from the 1941–45 ‘Great Patriotic War’ to ‘World War II’ of 1939–45.
One of the 2004 election posters, reproduced below, imagines Ukraine in typical Russian imperial nationalist discourse as divided into three parts, with west Ukraine as ‘First Class’ (that is, the top of the pack), central Ukraine as ‘Second Class’ and south-eastern Ukraine as ‘Third Class’ (showing Russian speakers living in this region to be at the bottom of the hierarchy).
Poster Prepared by Russian Political Technologists for Viktor Yanukovych’s 2004 Election Campaign
Text:Yes! This is how THEIR Ukraine looks. Ukrainians, open your eyes!
The map of Ukraine in the above 2004 election poster is remarkably similar to the traditional Russian nationalist image of Ukraine reproduced below:
Map of Russian Imperial Nationalist Image of Ukraine
Note: From right to left: ‘New Russia’ (south-eastern Ukraine in red), ‘Little Russia’ (central Ukraine in blue), ‘Ukraine’ (Galicia in orange), ‘Sub-Carpathian Rus’ (green).
Putin’s Growing Obsession with Ukraine Ignored by Scholars
Imperial nationalism came to dominate Russia’s authoritarian political system, including the ruling United Russia Party. Putin’s political system copied that of the late USSR, which in turn had copied East European communist regimes that had created state-controlled opposition parties to provide a fake resemblance of a multi-party system. In 1990, the USSR gave birth to the Liberal Democratic Party of the Soviet Union, becoming in 1992 the Liberal Democratic Party of the Russian Federation (LDPRF). Led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the LDPRF repeatedly made loud bellicose statements about Ukraine and the West. The LDPRF’s goal has always been to attract nationalists who would have otherwise voted for far-right political parties not controlled by the state. In the 1993 elections following the failed coup d’état, the LDPRF received 22.9% - more than the liberal Russia’s Choice Party (15%) and the Communist Party (KPRF). Under Putin, these state-sponsored political projects expanded to the extreme left through the national-Bolshevik Motherland Party, whose programme was written by Dugin, and the Just Russia Party, which was active in Russian-occupied Donbas.
Putin’s authoritarian regime needs internal fifth columnists and external enemies. Domestically, these include opposition leaders such as Alexei Navalny, and externally ‘anti-Russia’ Ukraine and the West. Changes to the Russian constitution in summer 2020 extended the ability of Putin to remain president for fifteen years, but in effect made him president for life. Political repression and the closure of independent media increased after these changes, as seen in the attempted poisoning of Navalny, and grew following the invasion of Ukraine. In 2017, The Economist said it was wrong to describe Russia as totalitarian; five years later The Economist believed Russia had become a totalitarian state.
A similar evolution has developed over whether Putin’s Russia could be called fascist. In 2016, Alexander J. Motyl’s article declaring Russia to be a fascist state met with a fairly tepid reception. and widespread scholarly criticism. Laruelle devoted an entire book to decrying Russia as not being a fascist state, which was ironically published a few weeks after Russia’s invasion. By the time of the invasion, all the ten characteristics Motyl had defined as constituting a fully authoritarian and fascist political system in Russia were in place:
Fascists rely on projection; that is, they accuse their enemies of the crimes which they themselves are guilty of. This has great relevance to Ukraine because Russia did not drop its accusation of Ukraine as a ‘Nazi’ state even after the election of Zelenskyy, who is of Jewish-Ukrainian origins and whose family suffered in the Holocaust. Indeed, civilian and military Ukrainians describe Russian invaders as ‘fascists,’ ‘racists’, and ‘Orks’ (a fictional character drawn from the goblins found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). After shooting and severely wounding a Ukrainian civilian, the Russian soldier stood over him saying ‘We have come to protect you.’ Another Russian officer said to a young girl captive: ‘Don’t be afraid, little girl, we will liberate you from Nazis.’
Putin and the Kremlin’s justification for their ‘special military operation’ into Ukraine was based on many of the myths and chauvinistic attitudes to Ukraine and Ukrainians that had been disseminated by Russia’s media and information warfare since the mid 2000s. Of the 9,000 disinformation cases the EU database has collected since 2015, 40% are on Ukraine and Ukrainians. The EU’s Disinformation Review notes, ‘Ukraine has a special place within the disinformation (un)reality,’ and ‘Ukraine is by far the most misrepresented country in the Russian media. Russia’s information warfare and disinformation has gone into overdrive since the 2014 crisis. ‘Almost five years into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Kremlin’s use of the information weapon against Ukraine has not decreased; Ukraine still stands out as the most misrepresented country in pro-Kremlin media.’
Since the mid 2000s, Russian media and information warfare has dehumanised Ukraine and Ukrainians, belittling them as unable to exist without external support. In colonialist discourse, Ukrainians were mocked as dumb peasants who had no identity, did not constitute a real nation, and needed an ‘elder brother’ (US, Russia) to survive. Such discourse was reminiscent of European imperialists when discussing their colonies prior to 1945.
Ukraine was repeatedly ridiculed as an artificial country and a failed, bankrupt state. Putin first raised this claim as far back as in his 2008 speech to the NATO-Russia Council at the Bucharest NATO summit. Ukraine as a failed state is also one of the most common themes in Russian information warfare. In 2014, the Ukrainian state allegedly collapsed, requiring Russia’s military intervention. The Ukrainian authorities were incapable of resolving their problems because Ukraine is not a real state and could not survive without trade with Russia.
Russian disinformation claimed that Ukraine’s artificiality meant it faced territorial claims from all its neighbours. Central-Eastern European countries would put forward territorial claims towards western Ukraine. Russia has made territorial claims to south-eastern Ukraine (Novorossiya [New Russia] and Prichernomorie [Black Sea Lands]) since as far back as the 2008 NATO summit and increased in intensity following the 2014 invasion of Crimea. Putin repeatedly condemned Lenin for including south-eastern Ukraine within the Soviet Ukrainian republic, claiming the region was ancient ‘Russian’ land.
Another common theme in the Russian media was that Ukraine was a land of perennial instability and revolution where extremists run amok, Russian speakers were persecuted, and pro-Russian politicians and media were repressed and closed. Ukrainian ‘nationalist’ and ‘neo-Nazi’ rule over Ukraine created an existentialist threat to Russian speakers. Putin refused to countenance the return of Ukrainian control over the Russian-Ukrainian joint border because of the alleged threat of a new ‘Srebrenica-style’ genocide of Russian speakers. Putin used the empirically unsubstantiated claim that Russian speakers were subject to an alleged ‘genocide’ as justification for the ‘special military operation.’ On 16 March, the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, threw out the Russian claim of ‘genocide’ and demanded Russia halt its war.
Putin and the Kremlin adopted the discourse of an artificial Ukrainian nation created as an anti-Russian conspiracy. Putin said: ‘The Ukrainian factor was specifically played out on the eve of World War I by the Austrian special service. Why? This is well-known—to divide and rule (the Russian people).’ Putin and the Kremlin incorporated these views of Ukraine and Ukrainians a few years after they had circulated within the extreme right in Russia. The leader of the Russian Imperial Movement, Stanislav Vorobyev said, ‘Ukrainians are some socio-political group who do not have any ethnos. They are just a socio-political group that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century by means of manipulation of the occupying Austro-Hungarian administration, which occupied Galicia.’ Vorobyev and Putin agreed with one another that ‘Russians’ were the most divided people in the world and believed Ukrainians were illegally occupying ‘Russian’ lands.
These nationalist myths were closely tied to another, namely that the West created a Ukrainian puppet state in order to divide the pan-Russian nation. Russia’s ‘special military operation’ is allegedly not fighting the Ukrainian army but ‘nationalists,’ ‘neo-Nazis and drug addicts’ supported by the West. Putin has even gone so far as to deny that his forces are fighting the Ukrainian army at all, and has called on Ukrainian soldiers to rebel against the supposed ‘Nazi’ regime led by Zelenskyy—an especially cruel slur given that several generations of the latter’s family were murdered during the Holocaust.
The Russian nationalist myth of a Ukrainian puppet state is a reflection of viewing it as a country without real sovereignty that only exists because it is propped up by the West. Soviet propaganda and ideological campaigns also depicted dissidents and nationalists as puppets of Western intelligence services. Russian information warfare frequently described former President Petro Poroshenko and President Zelenskyy as puppets of Ukrainian nationalists and the West. 
These Russian nationalist views have also percolated through into the writings of some Western scholars. Stephen Cohen, a well-known US historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, described US Vice President Joe Biden as Ukraine’s ‘pro-consul overseeing the increasingly colonised Kyiv.’ President Poroshenko was not a Ukrainian leader, but ‘a compliant representative of domestic and foreign political forces,’’ who ‘resembles a pro-consul of a faraway great power’ running a ‘failed state.’ Cohen, who was contributing editor of the left-wing The Nation magazine, held a derogatory view towards Ukraine as a Western puppet state, which is fairly commonly found on the extreme left in the West, and which blamed the West (i.e., NATO, EU enlargement) for the 2014 crisis, rather than Putin and Russia.
Soviet propaganda and ideological campaigns routinely attacked dissidents and nationalist opposition as ‘bourgeois nationalists’ who were in cahoots with Nazis in the Ukrainian diaspora and in the pay of Western and Israeli secret services. Ukraine has been depicted in the Russian media since the 2004 Orange Revolution as a country ruled by ‘fascists’ and ‘neo-Nazis.’ A ‘Ukrainian nationalist’ in the Kremlin’s eyes is the same as in the Soviet Union; that is, anybody who supports Ukraine’s future outside the Russian World and USSR. All Ukrainians who supported the Orange and Euromaidan Revolutions and are fighting Russia’s ‘special military operation’ were therefore ‘nationalists’ and ‘Nazis.’
Between the 2004 Orange Revolution and Putin’s re-election in 2012, Russian imperial nationalism rehabilitated Tsarist imperial and White Russian émigré dismissals of Ukraine and Ukrainians into official discourse, military aggression, and information warfare. In 2007, the Russian World Foundation was created and two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church were re-united. Returning to the presidency in 2012, Putin believed he would enter Russian history as the ‘gatherer of Russian lands’ which he proceeded to undertake with Crimea (2014), Belarus (2020), and Ukraine (2022).
The origins of Putin’s obsession with Ukraine lie in his eclectic integration of Tsarist imperial and Soviet nationalisms. The former provides the ideological bedrock for the denial of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians while the latter provides the ideological discourse to depict as Nazis all those Ukrainians who resist being defined as Little Russians. Putin believed his military forces would be greeted as liberators by Little Russians eager to throw off the US imposed nationalist and neo-Nazi yoke, the artificial Ukrainian state would quickly disintegrate, and the country and capital city of Kyiv would be taken within two days. Russian troops brought parade uniforms to march down Kyiv’s main thoroughfare and victory medals to be awarded to troops. This was not to be, because Putin’s denial of a Ukrainian people is—put simply—untrue. The Russo-Ukrainian war is a clash between twenty-first century Ukrainian patriotism and civic nationalism, as evidenced by Zelenskyy’s landslide election, and rooted in a desire to leave the USSR behind and be part of a future Europe, and nineteenth-century Russian imperial nationalism built on nostalgia for the past.
Unfortunately, many scholars working on Russia ignored, downplayed, or denied the depth, direction, and even existence of nationalism in Putin’s Russia and therefore find unfathomable the ferocity, and goals behind the invasion of Ukraine. This was because many scholars wrongly viewed the 2014 crisis as Putin’s temporary, instrumental use of nationalism to annex Crimea and foment separatism in south-eastern Ukraine. Instead, they should have viewed the integration of Tsarist imperial and Soviet nationalisms from the mid 2000s through to the invasion as a continuous, evolutionary process that has led to the emergence of a fascist, totalitarian, and imperialist regime seeking to destroy Ukrainian identity.
 See Taras Kuzio, Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War: Autocracy-Orthodoxy-Nationality (London: Routledge, 2022).
 Vladimir Putin, ‘Pro istorychnu yednist rosiyan ta ukrayinciv,’ 12 July 2021. http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66182?fbclid=IwAR0Wj7W_7QL2-IFInLwl4kI1FOQ5RxJAemrvCwe04r8TIAm03rcJrycMSYY
 Y.D. Zolotukhin, Bila Knyha. Spetsialnykh Informatsiynykh Operatsiy Proty Ukrayiny 2014-2018, 67-85.
 Vladimir Putin, ‘Speech to the Valdai Club,’ 25 October 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvY184FQsiA
 Anna Matveeva, A. (2018). Through Times of Trouble. Conflict in Southeastern Ukraine Explained From Within (Lanham, MA: Lexington Books, 2018), 182, 218, 221, 223, 224, 277.
 Richard Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest. The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 125.
 Pal Kolsto, ‘Crimea vs. Donbas: How Putin Won Russian Nationalist Support—and Lost It Again,’ Slavic Review, 75: 3 (2016), 702-725; Henry E. Hale, ‘How nationalism and machine politics mix in Russia,’ In: Pal Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud eds., The New Russian Nationalism. Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 221-248, at p.246; Marlene Laruelle, ‘Making Sense of Russia's Illiberalism,’ Journal of Democracy, 31: 3 (2020: 115-129.
 P. Kolstø and H. Blakkisrud eds., The New Russian Nationalism. Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).
 For a full survey see T. Kuzio, ‘Euromaidan Revolution, Crimea and Russia-Ukraine War: Why it is Time for a Review of Ukrainian-Russian Studies,’ Eurasian Geography and Economics, 59: 3-4 (2018), 529-553 and Crisis in Russian Studies? Nationalism (Imperialism), Racism, and War (Bristol: E-International Relations, 2020), https://www.e-ir.info/publication/crisis-in-russian-studies-nationalism-imperialism-racism-and-war/
 See Petro Kuzyk, ‘Ukraine’s national integration before and after 2014. Shifting ‘East–West’ polarization line and strengthening political community,’ Eurasian Geography and Economics, 60: 6 (2019), 709-735/
 T. Kuzio, ‘Putin's three big errors have doomed this invasion to disaster,’ The Daily Telegraph, 15 March 2022. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/03/15/putins-three-big-errors-have-doomed-invasion-disaster/
 ‘Do not resist the liberation,’ EU vs Disinfo, 31 March 2022. https://euvsdisinfo.eu/do-not-resist-the-liberation/
 T. Kuzio, ‘Inside Vladimir Putin’s criminal plan to purge and partition Ukraine,’ Atlantic Council, 3 March 2022. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/inside-vladimir-putins-criminal-plan-to-purge-and-partition-ukraine/
 R. Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest, 159.
 P. Kolsto, ‘Crimea vs. Donbas: How Putin Won Russian Nationalist Support—and Lost It Again’ and M. Laruelle, ‘Is Nationalism a Force for Change in Russia?’ Daedalus, 146: 2 (2017, 89-100.
 H. E. Hale, ‘How nationalism and machine politics mix in Russia.’
 M. Laruelle, ‘Making Sense of Russia's Illiberalism,’126.
 M. Laruelle, ‘Ideological Complimentarity or Competition? The Kremlin, the Church, and the Monarchist Idea,’ Slavic Review, 79: 2 (2020), 345-364, at p.348.
 Paul Chaisty and Stephen Whitefield, S. (2015). ‘Putin’s Nationalism Problem’ In: Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and R. Sakwa eds., Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives (Bristol: E-International Relations, 2015), 165-172, at pp. 157, 162.
 R. Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine. Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris, 2015) and Russia Against the Rest.
 Robert Horvath, ‘The Euromaidan and the crisis of Russian nationalism,’ Nationalities Papers, 43: 6 (2015), 819-839.
 P. Kolsto, ‘Crimea vs. Donbas: How Putin Won Russian Nationalist Support—and Lost It Again’ and H. E. Hale, ‘How nationalism and machine politics mix in Russia.’
 M. Laruelle, ‘Making Sense of Russia's Illiberalism,’126.
 R. Sakwa, ‘Is Putin an Ism,’ Russian Politics, 5: 3 (2020): 255-282, at pp.276-277; Neil Robinson, ‘Putin and the Incompleteness of Putinism,’ Russian Politics, 5: 3 (2020): 283-300, at pp.284-285, 287, 289, 293, 299); Nicolai N. Petro, ‘How the West Lost Russia: Explaining the Conservative Turn in Russian Foreign Policy,’ Russian Politics, 3: 3 (2018): 305-332.
 A. Matveeva, Through Times of Trouble, 277 and Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest, 119.
 R. Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest, 125, 189.
 Ibid., 60, 75, 275, 276.
 Mikhail Zygar, All the Kremlin’s Men. Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (New York: Public Affairs, 2016), 87.
 Taras Kuzio, ‘Medvedev: The Russian-Ukrainian War will continue until Ukraine becomes a second Belarus,’ New Eastern Europe, 20 October 2021. https://neweasterneurope.eu/2021/10/20/medvedev-the-russian-ukrainian-war-will-continue-until-ukraine-becomes-a-second-belarus/
 Charles Clover, Black Wind, White Snow. The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2016), 287.
 M. Laruelle, ‘The three colors of Novorossiya, or the Russian nationalist mythmaking of the Ukrainian crisis,’ Post-Soviet Affairs, 3: 1 (2016), 55-74.
 Mykola Riabchuk, ‘On the “Wrong” and “Right” Ukrainians,’ The Aspen Review, 15 March 2017. https://www.aspen.review/article/2017/on-the-wrong-and-right-ukrainians/
 Anders Aslund, ‘Russian contempt for Ukraine paved the way for Putin’s disastrous invasion,’ Atlantic Council, 1 April 2022. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/russian-contempt-for-ukraine-paved-the-way-for-putins-disastrous-invasion/
 Serhy Plokhy, Lost Kingdom. A History of Russian Nationalism from Ivan the Great to Vladimir Putin (London: Penguin Books, 2017), 327.
 Ibid., 332.
 M. Laruelle, ‘In Search of Putin’s Philosopher,’ Intersection, 3 March 2017. https:// www.ponarseurasia.org/article/search-putins-philosopher
 S. Plokhy, Lost Kingdom, 326.
 Alena Minchenia, Barbara Tornquist-Plewa and Yulia Yurchuk ‘Humour as a Mode of Hegemonic Control: Comic Representations of Belarusian and Ukrainian Leaders in Official Russian Media’ In: Niklas Bernsand and B. Tornquist-Plewa eds., Cultural and Political Imaginaries in Putin’s Russia (Leiden and Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2018), 211-231, at p.225.
 Ibid, 25 and Igor Gretskiy, ‘Lukyanov Doctrine: Conceptual Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Foreign Policy – The Case of Ukraine,’ Saint Louis University Law Journal, 64:1 (2020), 1-22, at p.21.
 T. Kuzio, ‘Stalinism and Russian and Ukrainian National Identities,’ Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 50, 4 (2017), 289-302 .
 Anna Oliynyk and T. Kuzio, ‘The Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity, Reforms and De-Communisation in Ukraine,’ Europe-Asia Studies, 73: 5 (2021), 807-836.
 Masha Gessen is wrong to call Russia a totalitarian state,’ The Economist, 4 November 2017.
 ‘The Stalinisation of Russia,’ Economist, 12 March 2022. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/03/12/the-stalinisation-of-russia
 Alexander J. Motyl, ‘Putin’s Russia as a fascist political system,’ Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 49: 1 (2016), 25-36.
 I was guest editor of the special issue of Communist and Post-Communist Studies and remember the controversies very well as to whether to publish or not publish Motyl’s article.
 M. Laruelle, Is Russia Fascist ? Unraveling Propaganda East and West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2022).
 Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, ‘Putin's Militocracy,’ Post-Soviet Affairs, 19: 4 (2003), 289-306.
 Zelenskyy is the grandson of the only surviving brother of four. The other 3 brothers were murdered by the Nazi’s in the Holocaust.
 Yuriy D. Zolotukhin Ed., Bila Knyha. Spetsialnykh Informatsiynykh Operatsiy Proty Ukrayiny 2014-2018 (Kyiv: Mega-Pres Hrups, 2018), 302-358.
 T. Kuzio, Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War,1-34.
 ‘Putin fears second “Srebrenica” if Kiev gets control over border in Donbass,’ Tass, 10 December 2019. https://tass.com/world/1097897
 V. Putin, ‘Twenty questions with Vladimir Putin. Putin on Ukraine,’ Tass, 18 March 2020. https://putin.tass.ru/en
 V. Putin, ‘Ukraina – samaya blyzkaya k nam strana,’ Tass, 29 September 2015. https://tass.ru/interviews/2298160
and ‘Speech to the Valdai Club,’ 25 October 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvY184FQsiA
 ‘Putin references neo-Nazis and drug addicts in bizarre speech to Russian security council – video,’ The Guardian, 25 February 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2022/feb/25/putin-references-neo-nazis-and-drug-addicts-in-bizarre-speech-to-russian-security-council-video
 Stephen Cohen, War with Russia?: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2019), 145.
 Ibid., p. 36.
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.
by Blendi Kajsiu
There is a strong tendency to conflate populism and anti-politics. In the media every political actor or party that rejects the political status quo is labelled populist, regardless of their political ideology. In academia, on the other hand, the rejection of the existing political class and institutions is understood as the very essence of populism. According to one of the leading political theorists of populism, Margaret Canovan, ‘in its current incarnations populism does not express the essence of the political but instead of anti-politics.’ In similar fashion, Nadia Urbinati argues that anti-politics constitutes the basic structure of populist ideology. Hence, the concept of populism has been ‘regularly used as a synonym for “anti-establishment”’.
The conflation between populism and anti-politics is understandable given that anti- elitism constitutes one of the core features of populism in its dominant definitions, whether as a thin ideology or as a political logic. In most contemporary populist movements anti- elitism has taken the specific form of anti-politics, whether in the rejection of traditional political parties (la partidocracia) by Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or the denunciation of the political establishment by Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece. The traditional political class has also been the main enemy of right-wing neo-populist movements in Latin America. Likewise, dissatisfaction with the political establishment has constituted an important source of right-wing populism in Europe. Hence, the confusion between anti-politics and populism, even when absent theoretically, can easily appear at the empirical level.
Yet anti-politics and populism are two distinct phenomena. The rejection of the political status quo, the denunciation of the existing political class and institutions can be articulated from different ideological perspectives. Politics, politicians, and political institutions can be rejected for violating the popular will (populism), for undermining market competition (neoliberalism), for weakening the nation (nationalism), for undermining tradition and family values (conservatism), or for producing deep inequalities and high concentrations of wealth (socialism). Hence, there are populist, conservative, socialist, neoliberal, and liberal anti-political discourses, alongside many others, which combine various ideological perspectives in their rejection of the political class and political institutions.
It is only when the rejection of politics, politicians, and the political status quo is combined with key concepts of populism that we can talk of populist anti-politics. Following Mudde, I understand populism as a “thin-centred ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people.” The antagonism between the honest people and the corrupt elite, the people as the underdog and the only source of political legitimacy, as well as popular sovereignty, constitute the conceptual core of any populist discourse because they are present in all its historical manifestations.
Populism functions as an ideology insofar as it partially fixes the meaning of these concepts in relation to each other. Thus, from a populist perspective, democracy is understood primarily as a direct expression of ‘the’ people’s will rather than as a set of institutional or procedural arrangements (liberal democracy). Popular sovereignty here means that ‘the people are the only source of legitimate authority’. Political legitimacy is defined in terms of the will of the people, as opposed to tradition (conservatism) or procedures (liberalism). Within the people–elite antagonism, the people are defined vertically as the underdog (the plebs) against a corrupt elite. This is different from the horizontal definition ‘the-people-as-nation’ within nationalist ideology, where the people are defined primarily in opposition to non-members rather than against the elite.
The last point is important in order to distinguish between populism and nativism. The latter denotes an exclusionary type of nationalism ‘that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by the members of the native group [….] and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogeneous nation-state.’ It is normally conflated with populism given that ‘both nationalism and populism revolve around the sovereignty of “the people”, with the same signifier being used to refer to both [“the people” and “the nation”] in many languages (e.g., “das Volk”).’
Although in practice these two ideologies are interweaved, they define ‘the people’ in distinctive ways. From a populist perspective, the people is defined vertically as the underdog against an oppressive elite. This is an open-ended definition which implies that all those social groups that are being oppressed by the elite could be part of the people. In other words, the ‘people’ is not defined positively through a fixed set of criteria, as much as negatively in opposition to the corrupt elite.
The nativist ideology, on the other hand, defines the people horizontally as a nation in opposition to other nations, cultures, religions, or social groups. This is a closed definition that assigns a set of positive attributes to the people in terms of language, territory, religion, race, culture, or birth. Hence, from a nativist perspective the national elite remains ‘part of the nation even when they betray the interests of the nation and their allegiance to the nation is questioned.’ This is not true in the case of populism where ‘the elite’ by definition is not part of the ‘people’.
Given that populism as a very thin ideology articulates a very limited number of key concepts, anti-politics can rarely be simply, or even primarily, populist. This is why a number of scholars have argued that although radical right-wing parties in Europe are often labelled populist they are primarily defined by ethnic nationalism or nativism. In other words, their rejection of the existing political class and institutions is more nativist than populist. Yet despite the growing consensus that ethnic nationalism or nativism is the key ingredient of extreme right-wing parties in Europe, they are still labelled populist radical-right parties, and not nationalist or nativist radical-right parties.
This is not to say that there cannot be right-wing political parties that articulate anti-politics primarily in a populist fashion, although they are hard to find in Europe. A number of leaders and political movements in Latin America, usually labelled neo-populists, have successfully combined a neoliberal ideology with populism. Presidents Alberto Fujimori in Peru (1990–2000), Carlos Menem in Argentina (1989–1999), and Fernando Collor (1990–1992) in Brazil combined populism and neoliberalism when in office. In all these cases, populism, and not nativism, was the key element of their political articulation.
Hence the articulation of populism with nativism in right-wing populist movements is contingent rather than necessary. It appears natural due to the Eurocentrism of most literature on radical right-wing populism, which focuses on Europe and often ignores right-wing populist movements in Latin America and beyond. Our obsession with populism can blind us to the ideological zeitgeist that fuels the current anti-politics. Instead of identifying the populist versus anti-populist cleavage that has supposedly displaced the left–right division, it could be more productive to clarify how ideological polarisation has been producing rejections of current politics, whether along the cosmopolitan–nationalist or the left–right ideological dimensions.
Indeed, ideological polarisation along the left–right and the cosmopolitan–nationalist spectrums would tell us a lot more about the 2020 Presidential Elections in the USA than the populist–non-populist cleavage. A focus on nationalism would tell us a lot more about the emergence of radical-right parties in Europe, as well as the rise of extreme right-wing politicians such as Eric Zemmour in France, which mainstream media calls “populist”. Not to mention that populism, unlike nationalism, tells us very little about the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Focusing on populism diverts our attention from the multiple ideological dimensions of anti-politics discourses today. The rejection of politics, the political class, and political institutions is rarely developed simply from a populist perspective, especially in Europe. It is often justified in the name of tradition, equality, identity, and especially in the name of the nation. Equating populism with anti-politics tends to obscure the ideological dimension of the latter, especially when populism is understood as a non-ideological phenomenon that lies beyond the left–right spectrum.
 M. Canovan, The People (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 78.
 N. Urbinati, Me the People: How Populism Transforms Democracy (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2019), 62.
 J. W. Müller, What Is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 1.
 See C. Mudde, 'The populist zeitgeist', Government and Opposition 39:4 (2004), 542–563, at p. 543 and E. Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005).
 K. Weyland, 'Neopopulism and Neoliberalism in Latin America: Unexpected Affinities', Studies in Comparative International Development 33:3(1996), 3–31, at p. 10.
 See C. Fieschi & P. Heywood, 'Trust, cynicism and populist anti-politics', Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004), 289–309; as well as H. G. Betz, ‘Introduction’, In Hans-Georg Betz and Stefan Immerfall (Eds.) The New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).
 C. Mudde, 'The populist zeitgeist', 543.
 B. De Cleen and Y. Stavrakakis, 'Distinctions and Articulations: A Discourse Theoretical Framework for the Study of Populism and Nationalism', Javnost – The Public 24:4 (2017), 301–319, at p. 312.
 C. Mudde, ‘Why nativism not populism should be declared word of the year’, The Guardian, 7 December 2017, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/07/cambridge-dictionary-nativism-populism-word-year
 B. De Cleen and Y. Stavrakakis, 'Distinctions and Articulations', 301.
 B. De Cleen, ‘Populism and Nationalism’ in C. Rovira Kaltwasser, P. Taggart, P. Ochoa Espejo, and P. Ostiguy, (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Populism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 342–362, at p. 351.
 See B. Moffit, ‘The populism/Anti-populism Divide in Western Europe’, Democratic Theory 5 (2018), 1–16; B. De Cleen, ‘Populism and Nationalism’, 349; J. Rydgren, ‘Radical right-wing parties in Europe: What’s populism got to do with it?’, Journal of Language and Politics 16:4 (2017), 485–496.
 K. Weland, 'Neoliberal Populism in Latin America and Eastern Europe', Comparative Politics 31 (1999), 379–401, at p. 379.
by Jan Niklas Rolf
With Russia deploying more than 100,000 troops near the border to Ukraine and China detaining more than 1,000,000 Uyghurs in the region of Xinjiang, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), felt compelled to appeal to the Olympic spirit of peace in his Beijing 2022 opening ceremony speech: “This is the mission of the Olympic Games”, he said, “bringing us together in peaceful competition. Always building bridges, never erecting walls. Uniting humanity in all our diversity”.
Yet, given the US-led diplomatic boycott, there were hardly any officials to engage in the kind of ping-pong diplomacy that Nixon and Mao had practiced fifty years ago. Due to the regime’s strict zero-COVID policy, there were also no foreign spectators in China to make a connection, and the athletes and coaches that actually made it into the country were put in a bubble that prevented them from immersing into the culture. “Building bridges”, thus, seemed to come down to the commentators that bring one of the most televised events in the world into our homes.
By analysing the television coverage of the parade of nations during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, this post explores how commentators are engaging with other nations. The two TV stations chosen are the public-service broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) and the pan-European network Eurosport 1, both of which are freely available in Germany. As the most successful nation at Olympic Winter Games, Germany has a strong Olympic fan base and, hence, should make for a good case study.
But first, we have to establish the link between the Olympics and peace. During the ancient Olympic Games, a truce was proclaimed to allow for a safe journey to and from historic Olympia. In 1992, the IOC renewed this tradition by calling upon all nations to put aside their political differences for the duration of the Games, and invoked it at every Games ever since. While a brief ceasefire during the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer allowed for the vaccination of an estimated 10,000 children in Bosnia, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Georgia took place on the day of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The conflict in Ukraine, too, escalated around the time the 2014 Winter Games were held in nearby Sochi. In the face of Russia’s military build-up in the lead-up to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly unanimously adopted the Olympic Truce Resolution that
“Urges Member States to observe the Olympic Truce individually and collectively, within the framework of the Charter of the United Nations, throughout the period from the seventh day before the start of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games until the seventh day following the end of the XIII Paralympic Winter Games, to be held in Beijing in 2022 […].”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine between the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, thus, constituted not only a violation of international law, but also of the Olympic Truce.
But even if observed, the Olympic Truce only guarantees a temporary or negative peace. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, was more interested in fostering a sustainable or positive peace:
“We shall not have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races shall have been outlived. To attain this end, what better means than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility?”
Like the current IOC president, de Coubertin saw the Games as a locus of encounter where people of different nations get “to know one another better”. Knowledge, in turn, “will replace dangerous ignorance, mutual understanding will soften unthinking hatreds”. Enshrined in the Olympic Charter, which pictures sports as means to “better understanding between each other and of friendship, thereby helping to build a better and more peaceful world”, and the Olympic Truce Resolution, according to which “sports can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding among peoples and nations”, this view has taken on an “ossified form” over the years. However, unlike other elements of de Coubertin’s ideological morphology such as athleticism and amateurism, Simon Creak notes, it “has remained remarkably resistant to critical analysis ever since”.
This post examines whether commentators are engaging with the ‘other’ in a meaningful way, thereby promoting a deeper understanding of other countries and cultures that the IOC and UN deem critical for a more sustainable peace. To that end, it conducts a discursive analysis of the television coverage of the parade of nations—an integral part of the opening ceremony during which the teams of participating nations parade into the stadium—by the two networks ZDF and Eurosport 1 along the three dimensions of sports, politics and culture.
On both networks, the greatest chunk of commentary was on sports. And yet the focus was a very different one. The two ZDF commentators—reporter Nils Kaben and correspondent Ulf Röller—used the nation as a frame of reference, making frequent references to the Olympic record of national teams: We learn that Hungary and Poland have participated in all Winter Games so far, that Norway and Switzerland were particularly successful at the previous Winter Games and that Turkey and Azerbaijan are yet to win their first medals at Winter Games. Where references were made to individual athletes, they tended to be references to flag-bearers as representatives of their respective nations.
In contrast, the two Eurosport 1 commentators—reporter Siegfried Heinrich and journalist Birgit Nössing—seemed to follow the mantra of the Olympic Charter that—all appearances to the contrary—the “Games are contests between individuals and not between nations”, telling a number of personal stories: We learn that an athlete from Ecuador does not eat anything before her contests and that another athlete from Andorra always wears different colored FC Barcelona socks during her contests. When the national teams of Brazil and Spain entered the stadium, it was particular athletes that came to the mind of the commentator: “Brazil marches in. And there I’m thinking, if you allow, of the cross-country skier Bruna Moura […]”. “Now comes Spain […]. When I think of Spain, I think of [Francisco Fernández] Ochoa […]. And I have to think of Javier Fernández [López], the figure skater”. The exchange the commentator had with the co-commentator on figure skater Vladimir Litvintsev, flag-bearer of Azerbaijan, is particularly telling in this regard:
Co-commentator: “Until 2018, he skated under the Russian flag and then he changed to Azerbaijan.”
Commentator: “And why?”
Co-commentator: “ROC [Russian Olympic Committee] is the keyword.”
Co-commentator: “ROC [pause]. Well, the Russians are not allowed [to compete] under their own flag.”
Commentator: “No, not only. He changed because the competition in Russia had become too fierce.”
Co-commentator: “That’s what you mean.”
Commentator: “Yes. He said to himself, I'll go to Azerbaijan, because there I'll have my starting place for sure.”
For the co-commentator, Litvintsev’s decision to become an Azerbaijani citizen was governed by the fact that Russia, due to its state-sponsored doping, was banned from the Games, forbidding Russian athletes to compete under the Russian flag. For the commentator, in contrast, it was a rather opportunistic decision that had little to do with not being able to compete under the Russian flag, but with being able to compete at all, no matter under which national flag. Once again, the commentator refused to engage in “methodological nationalism”, that is, to conceive of the nation as the sole unit of analysis.
The second most discussed topic after sports was politics. Commentators from both broadcasters commented on the political situation in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Russia and China. In addition, Eurosport 1 commentators mentioned the unrest in Belarus and Kazakhstan. While Eurosport 1 commentators thus made more references to politics, the general tone was more tentative: “And now it’s going to be a bit political, that’s clear. Because now comes Chinese Taipei, that is, Taiwan […]”. “It remains a bit political when we have Hong Kong here […]”. “Ukraine, and things are getting a bit political here too […]”. While in each case the commentators added a few sentences about the political situation before turning the conversation to other issues, the introductory phrase “a bit political” downplayed the import of it.
ZDF commentators, in contrast, employed a number of superlatives when talking about politics: “This [the political status of Taiwan] is a super sensitive topic […]. It is the great political goal of Xi Jinping to bring Taiwan back to the mainland and there is a huge political dispute about this with the Americans”. The commentary was also more accusative, emotive and generalising in nature: “The pictures that we recently had to see from Hong Kong [in this moment, the camera captures the political leader of China] for which he, Xi Jinping, is responsible, also shook us to the core”, with the “us” supposedly referring to an assumed national, if not global, community. When the Chinese team entered the stadium, both ZDF and Eurosport 1 commentators talked about the government’s attempt to turn China into a competitive winter sports nation. And yet ZDF commentators were way more negative about this than Eurosport 1 commentators, as can be seen from a comparison of the following two conversations:
Commentator (ZDF): “With a lot of effort, with a lot of European trainer know-how, they want to close the gap with the world’s best. Very ambitious [in fact, China was among the three most successful nations at the Games, even outperforming the United States in gold medals].”
Co-commentator (ZDF): “Of course, China is not a winter sports nation, but they have bought heavily internationally, and have turned many athletes into Chinese people, given them a Chinese passport to improve the performance of the team.”
This patronising (“with a lot of European trainer know-how”) and slightly sinophobic (“turned many athletes into Chinese people”) language can be contrasted with the rather positive and personalised commentary on Eurosport 1:
Co-commentator (Eurosport 1): “In order to make China a winter sports nation they are bringing in the best of the best coaches […]. They are supposed to make stars out of the Chinese rough diamonds […]. And then there is Eileen Gu [a US born freestyle skier who competes for China, for which she has attracted a lot of criticism].”
Commentator (Eurosport 1): “Well, Eileen Gu, that’s the story par excellence […]. Dad is American. Mom is Chinese. And she said what I think is a really beautiful sentence: Nobody can deny that I’m American, she said, nobody can deny that I’m Chinese, and that’s almost a conciliatory story.”
Indeed, by starting for China, Gu hopes “to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations”. The Eurosport 1 commentator moved on to talk about the Chinese ice hockey team, which is mostly made up of former US-Americans and Canadians, only to conclude with: “But it’s nice that it happens like this”.
Surprisingly, culture was the least discussed topic during the carnival of cultures that is the parade of nations. The only time it featured in the ZDF commentary was when the Austrian team, rather coincidentally, entered the stadium to a waltz tune and the commentator, noticing this, commented: “And then there’s a bit of waltz music in the bird’s nest”. But comments on culture were not only sparse; sometimes they were also false. The Eurosport 1 commentator, for example, suggested that, instead of the national anthem, Russian gold medal winners will hear Beethoven’s 9th symphony where, in fact, it was Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto no. 1. On three more occasions, the Eurosport 1 commentator touched upon culture and customs. When the Argentinian team marched into the stadium, he complained:
“Well, Argentina. With six participants. I don’t understand that, because there are such great ski areas in Argentina and yet nothing comes out of it that would be remotely competitive athletes.”
With the co-commentator not responding, which could be interpreted as a sign of dissent, the commentator came to qualify his statement by attributing the lack of competitive athletes to a different culture:
“Not everyone sees sport as the main goal in life, you have to take this into consideration, of course. There are cultures where sport is important, there are cultures where sport is not so important or not that valued.”
This is indicative of a learning process that de Coubertin sought to instill in society at large: Being raised in a country that is passionate for (winter) sports, the commentator wonders in quite derogatory terms that a country with favorable conditions does not produce competitive athletes. After some reflection, however, he recognises that there are cultures that might not share his enthusiasm for sports. A similar learning process was evident when the commentators talked about a female athlete from Iran:
Commentator: “She is only the third woman from Iran to qualify for the Winter Games. I find that remarkable and very conciliatory when you know how hard women in Iran have to fight for recognition, for sporting recognition.”
Co-commentator: “Yes, and she is asked again and again, she said in an interview, are you allowed to ski at all, does your religion allow it and then of course she said that it is no problem at all. Some of the questions she doesn’t even understand. For example, is there snow in Iran and she always says, well, we are not a desert like Saudi Arabia.”
Commentator: “That’s probably true”.
Whereas the commentator was echoing the Western narrative that women in Iran and other Islamic republics are severely suppressed, the co-commentator, by citing the Iranian athlete, questioned that very narrative and other stereotypes about Iran, which the commentator, by responding with “that’s probably true”, seemed to accept. Lastly, when the flag-bearer of Timor-Leste entered the stadium in traditional clothes, the commentator made an approving comment of the costume. Apparently noting the Orientalism in his words, he added: “I wouldn’t consider it as exotic, it’s just something that one likes to see”.
While there was no further discussion of cultural artefacts, commentators did present some geographical facts about what they assumed to be lesser known countries, that is, far-away or small countries, or both. Eurosport 1 viewers learned that Timor-Leste is “an island nation in Southeast Asia near Indonesia” and ZDF viewers got to know that Madagascar is “the second largest island nation in the world by area after Indonesia, located in the Indian Ocean, east of Africa”. The latter audience was also told that San Marino is “a microstate surrounded by Italy” and that Andorra is “a principality in the Pyrenees”. Yet, rather than talking about its peculiarity, Andorra was compared to and lumped together with other European microstates: “By area, the largest of the six European microstates. San Marino, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Vatican City are all among them”. Madagascar, too, was only made sense of by reference to other African countries: “Madagascar, the first of five representatives from Africa”. When the national team of Ghana entered the stadium, the ZDF commentator proclaimed: “Ghana, the next representative of Africa”. Notably, no other teams were pictured as representatives of their respective continent—an expression of the common conflation of African countries with the African continent. The Eurosport 1 commentator, on the other hand, conflated Great Britain with England when he remarked: “In curling, the English, represented by Scotland, have recently beaten the Swedes [...]. The Scots are very important for England”. Strictly speaking, even the official brand name, “Team GB”, is not correct, as the team also includes athletes from Northern Ireland, which does not belong to Great Britain. Yet commentators did not even get some of the more basic facts straight.
Nor can commentators be expected to contribute towards a better knowledge of other cultures and countries within the thirty seconds or so that they have when a national team enters the stadium during the parade of nations. What commentators can do, however, is to set the tone. Here, the tentative and reflective tonality of Eurosport 1, focusing on the individual, seems to be more conducive towards cross-cultural understanding and, eventually, positive peace than the affective and accusative tonality of ZDF, applying a national frame. While there was no evidence of assertive nationalism or chauvinism, a national bias was clearly discernible.
Indeed, even the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), who, on their website, claim to provide “unbiased” and “neutral” coverage to national broadcasters (who then add their own commentary), were not able to fully deliver on that promise: When the German team entered the stadium, an applauding Thomas Bach—IOC president and German national—was captured by the cameras. When the Portuguese team paraded into the stadium, António Guterres—UN General-Secretary and Portuguese national—appeared on the screen. The same holds true for most of the state leaders—from Albert II of Monaco to Xi Jinping of China—that attended the opening ceremony. However, when the Russian Olympic Committee marched in with Russian flags stitched onto their otherwise neutral jackets, the OBS director—maybe in anticipation of what was yet to come—chose to edit out a cheering Vladimir Putin.
 H. L. Reid, ‘Olympic Sport and Its Lessons for Peace’, Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 33 (2006), pp. 205-214.
 Pierre de Coubertin, ‘The Olympic Games of 1896’, Century Magazine 53 (1896), pp. 39-53 at p. 53.
 Pierre de Coubertin, cited in J. J. MacAloon, This Great Symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the Origins of the Modern Olympic Games (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), p. xxv.
 Simon Creak, ‘Friendship and Mutual Understanding. Sport and Regional Relations in Southeast Asia’, in B. J. Keys (ed.), The Ideals of Global Sport. From Peace to Human Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), pp. 21-46 at p. 26.
 All comments have been transcribed and translated by the author.
 Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller, ‘Methodological Nationalism and Beyond: Nation-State Building, Migration and the Social Sciences’, Global Networks 2 (2002), pp. 301-334.
by Feng Chen
Ideology has been a central force shaping labour movements across the world. However, the role of ideologies in labour activism in contemporary China has received scant scholarly attention. Previous studies on Chinese labour tend to hold that in China’s authoritarian political context, ideologically driven labour activities have rarely existed because they are politically risky; they also assume that ideologies are only related to organised labour movements, which are largely absent in the country. In contrast to these views, I argue that ideologies are important for understanding Chinese labour activism and, in fact, account for the emergence of different patterns of labour activism.
By applying framing theory, this piece examines how ideologies shape the action frames of labour activism in China. Social movements construct action frames by drawing from their societies’ multiple cultural stocks, such as religions, beliefs, traditions, myths, narratives, etc.; ideologies are one of the primary sources that provide ideational materials for the construction of frames. However, frames do not grow automatically out of ideologies. Constructing frames entails processing the extant ideational materials and recasting them into narratives providing “diagnosis” (problem identification and attribution) and “prognosis” (the solutions to problems). Framing theory is largely built on the experiences of Western (i.e., Euro-American) social movements. When social movement scholars acknowledge that action frames can be derived from extant ideologies, they assume that movements have multiple ideational resources from which to choose when constructing their action frames. Movement actors in liberal societies may construct distinct action frames from various sources of ideas, which may even be opposed to each other. Differing ideological dispositions lead to different factions within a movement.
Nevertheless, understanding the role of ideology in Chinese labour activism requires us to look into the framing process in an authoritarian setting. In this context, the state’s ideological control has largely shut out alternative interpretations of events. It is thus common for activists to frame and legitimise their claims within the confines of the official discourse in order to avoid the suspicion and repression of the state. Nevertheless, the Chinese official ideology has become fragmented since the market reforms of the late 1970s and 1980s, becoming broken into a set of tenets mixed with orthodox, pragmatic, and deviant components, as a result of incorporating norms and values associated with the market economy. From Deng Xiaoping’s “Let some people get rich first”, the “Socialist market economy” proposed by the 14th National Congress of the CCP, to Jiang Zeming’s “Three Represents”, the party’s official ideology has absorbed various ideas associated with the market economy, though it has retained its most fundamental tenets (i.e., upholding the Party Leadership, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Socialism Road, and Proletariat Dictatorship) crucial for regime legitimacy.
Correspondingly, China’s official ideology on labour has since evolved into three strands of discourse: (1) Communist doctrines about socialism vs. capitalism as well as the status of the working-class. (2) Rule of law discourse, which highlights the importance of laws in regulating labour relations and legal procedures as the primary means to protect workers’ individual rights regarding contracts, wages, benefits, working conditions, and so on. (3) The notions of collective consultation, tripartism, and the democratic management of enterprises. These notions are created to address collective disputes arising from market-based labour relations and maintain industrial peace. These three strands of the official discourse, which are mutually conflicting in many ways, reflect the changes as well as the continuity within Chinese official ideology on labour.
Framing Chinese labour ideology
The fragmentation of the official ideology provides activists with opportunities to selectively exploit it to construct their action frames around labour rights, which have produced moderate, liberal, and radical patterns of labour activism. To be sure, as there is no organised labour movement under China's authoritarian state, the patterns of labour activism should not be understood in strict organisational terms, or as factions or subgroups that often exist within labour movements in other social contexts. The terms are heuristic, and should be used to map and describe scattered and discrete activities that try to steer labour resistance toward different directions.
Moderate activism, while embracing the market economy, advocates the protection of workers’ individual rights stipulated by labour laws, and seeks to redress workers’ grievances through legal proceedings. One might object to regarding this position as ideological—after all, it only focuses on legal norms and procedures. However, from the perspective of critical labour law, it can be argued that labour law articulates an ideology, as it aims to legitimate the system of labour relations that subjects workers to managerial control. Moreover, moderates’ adherence to officially sanctioned grievance procedures restrains workers' collective actions and individualises labour disputes, which serves the purpose of the state in controlling labour.
Radical activism is often associated with leftist leanings and calls for the restoration of socialism. Radical labour activists have expressed their views on labour in the most explicit socialist/communist or anti-capitalist rhetoric. They condemn labour exploitation in the new capitalistic economy and issue calls to regain the rights of the working class through class struggle. Unsurprisingly, such positions are more easily identified as ideological than others.
Liberal activists advocate collective bargaining and worker representation. They are liberal in the sense that their ideas echo the view of “industrial pluralism” that originated in Western market economies. This view envisions collective bargaining as a form of self-government within the workplace, in which management and labour are equal parties who jointly determine the condition of the sale of labour-power. Liberals have also promoted a democratic practice called “worker representation” to empower workers in collective bargaining.
To make their action frames legitimate within the existing political boundaries, each type of activist group has sought to appropriate the official discourse through a specific strategy of “framing alignment”.
Moderate Activism: Accentuation and Extension
Accentuation refers to the effort to “underscore the seriousness and injustice of a social condition”. Movement activists punctuate certain issues, events, beliefs, or contradictions between realities and norms, with the aim of redressing problematic conditions. Moderate labour activists have taken this approach. Adopting a position that is not fundamentally antagonistic to the market economy and state labour policies, they seek to protect and promote workers’ individual rights within the existing legal framework, and correct labour practices where these deviate from existing laws. Thus, their frame is constructed by accentuating legal rights stipulated by labour laws and regulations and developing a legal discourse on labour standards. Moderate activists’ diagnostic narrative attributes labour rights abuses to poor implementation of labour laws, as well as workers’ lack of legal knowledge. Their prognostic frame calls for effective implementation of labour laws and raising workers' awareness of their rights.
Extension involves a process that extends a frame beyond its original scope to include issues and concerns that are presumed to be important to potential constituents. Some moderate activists have attempted to extend workers’ individual labour rights to broad “citizenship rights”, which mainly refer to social rights in the Chinese context, stressing that migrant workers’ plight is rooted in their lack of citizenship rights—the rights only granted to urban inhabitants. They advocate social and institutional reforms for fair and inclusionary policies toward migrant workers. While demand for citizenship rights can be seen as moderate in the sense that they are just an extension of individual rights, it contains liberal elements, because such new rights will inevitably entail institutional changes. To extend rights protection beyond the legal arena, moderate activists are instrumental in disseminating the idea of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) and promoting it to enterprises. This aims to protect workers’ individual rights by disciplining enterprises and making them comply with labour standards.
Liberal Activism: Bridging
Frame bridging refers to the linking of two or more narratives or movements that have a certain affinity but have been previously formally unconnected. While the existing literature has paid more attention to “ideologically congruent but structurally unconnected frames regarding a particular issue or problem”, “bridging” can also be understood as a means of “moral cover”. That is, it splices alternative views to the official discourse, as a way of creating legitimacy for the former. This is a tactic that China’s liberal labour activism has used fairly frequently. Liberals support market reforms and seek to improve workers’ conditions within the current institutional framework, but they differ from moderates in that their diagnostic narrative attributes workers’ vulnerable position in labour relations to their absence of collective rights.
Meanwhile, their prognostic narrative advocates collective bargaining, worker representation, and collective action as the solution to labour disputes. The ideas liberal activists promote largely come from the experiences of Western labour movements and institutional practices. As a rule, the Chines government regards these ideas as unsuited to China’s national conditions. To avoid being labelled as embracing “Western ideology”, liberal activists try to bridge these ideas and practices with China’s official notions of collective consultation, tripartism, and enterprise democracy, justifying workers’ collective role in labour disputes by extensive references to the provisions of labour laws, the civil law, and official policies. These are intended to legitimise their frame as compatible with the official discourse.
Radical Activism: Amplification
Amplification involves a process of idealising, embellishing, clarifying, or invigorating existing values or beliefs. While the strategy may be necessary for most movement mobilisations, “it appears to be particularly relevant to movements reliant on conscience constituents”. In the Chinese context, radical activists are typically adherents of the orthodox doctrines of the official ideology, either because they used to be beneficiaries of the system in the name of communism or they are sincerely committed to communist ideology in the Marxist conception. Unlike moderates and liberals, who do not oppose the market economy, radicals’ diagnostic frames point to the market economy as the fundamental cause of workers’ socioeconomic debasement. They craft the “injustice frame” in terms of the Marxian concept of labour exploitation, and their prognostic frame calls for building working-class power and waging class struggles.
Although orthodox communist doctrines have less impact on economic policies, they have remained indispensable for regime legitimacy. Radical activists capture them as a higher political moral ground on which to construct their frames. Their amplification of the ideological doctrines of socialism, capitalism, and the working class not only provide strong justification for their claims in terms of their consistency with the CCP’s ideological goal; it is also a way of forcefully expressing the view that current economic and labour policies have deviated from the regime’s ideological promises.
These three action frames have offered their distinct narratives of labour rights (i.e., in terms of the individual, collective, and class), and attributed workers’ plights to the lack of these rights as well as proposing strategies to realise them. However, this does not mean that the three action frames are mutually exclusive. All of them view Chinese workers as being a socially and economically disadvantaged group and stress the crying need to protect individuals’ rights through legal means. Both moderates and liberals support market-based labour relations, while both liberals and radicals share the view that labour organisations and collective actions are necessary to protect workers’ interests. For this reason, however, moderates have often regarded both liberals and radicals as “radical”, as they see their conceptions of collective actions as fundamentally too confrontational. On the other hand, it is not surprising that in the eyes of liberals, radicals are “true” radicals, in the sense that they regard their goals as idealistic and impractical. It is also worth noting that activist groups have tended to switch their action frame from one to another. Some groups started with the promotion of individual rights but later turned into champions for collective rights.
The three types of labour activism reflect the different claims of rights that have emerged in China’s changing economic as well as legal and institutional contexts. While the way that labour activists have constructed their frames indicates the common political constraints facing labour activists, their emphasis on different categories of labour rights and strategies to achieve them demonstrates that they did not share a common vision about the structure and institutions of labour relations that would best serve workers’ interests. The lack of a meaningful public sphere under tight ideological control has discouraged debates and dialogues across different views on labour rights and labour relations. Activists with different orientations have largely operated in isolation, and often view other groups as limited and unrealistic—a symptom of the sheer fragmentation of Chinese labour activism. Yet the evidence shows that, although they have resonated with workers to a varying degree, these three patterns of activism have faced different responses from the government because of their different prognostic notions. Both liberal and radical activism have been met with state suppression, because of their advocacy of collective action and labour organising. Their fate attests to the fundamental predicament facing labour movements in China.
 For this perspective, see J. Conaghan, ‘Critical Labour Law: The American Contribution’, Journal of Law and Society, 14: 3 (1987), pp. 334-352.
 K. Stone, ‘The Structure of Post-War Labour Relations’, New York University Review of Law and Social Change, 11 (1982), p. 125.
 R. Benford and D. Snow, ‘Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment’, Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000), pp. 611–639.
 S. Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
 R. Benford and D. Snow, ‘Framing processes and social movements: An overview and assessment’, Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000), pp. 611–639.
 D. Westby, ‘Strategic Imperative, Ideology, and Frames.” In Hank Johnstone and John Noakes (Eds.), Frames of Protest (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), pp. 217–236.
 R. Benford and D. Snow, “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment.” Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000), pp.611–639.
by Noam Hadad and Yaacov Yadgar
How are we to understand a self-proclaimed “religious-nationalist” ideology if we take seriously the critical insights of a wide field of studies that question the very meaning of and distinction between the two organs of this hyphenated identity (i.e., religion and the supposedly secular nationalism)?
A wide field of studies (what is usually termed post-secularism or critical religion) have convincingly situated the emergence of the modern usage of these categories or concepts in specific historical and political configurations of power, debunking the (nevertheless prevalent) notion that they are universal and supra-historical concepts, the distilled essences of which can be found everywhere and everywhen in human history, only the outer appearance of them changing from place to place and from time to time. These critical studies caution us not to accept the assumed distinction between irrational, apolitical and private religion and secular, public and rational politics as a natural “given”. Instead, they encourage us to highlight exactly the specific political and historical makeup of the configuration of power that motivates the very construction and usage of these concepts.
We take Religious-Zionism as a case study to explore the manner in which the so-called religious identity of an ideology whose foundational values are those of nationalism and the nation-state, is shaped. We also explore the ways in which this ideology, bent on “hyphenating” nationalism and religion, deals with the ideational challenges posed by an epistemology that insists that the two are mutually exclusive.
The Western construction of “religion” and “the secular”
Popular imagery, as well as the discourse prevalent in large swaths of the academic field tend to view religion and the secular as universal (that is, culturally agnostic), almost natural and obviously neutral categories, that are used to describe—and to analyse—any given social and political reality. Religion is described in this context as a primordial, non-rational (or irrational) basis of human society, and secularism or secularisation as a rational, enlightened release from the archaic bonds of religion.
Powerful critiques reject this construction of both religion and the secular. Critics retrace the emergence of the conceptual binary to its historical and cultural (modern, Christian, largely Protestant, European) context, and warn against employing this binary as if it were supra-historical and universal. The prevailing concept of religion, they show, has developed in the context of the emergence of the modern, secular nation-state. Religion is charged with a (negative) normative load, often captured in what secularist partisans depict as the violent and irrational nature of religion. The critics further show that the secular is constructed as the mirror image of religion, associated with a positive normative load of reason, rationality, and progress. Most importantly, these critiques highlight the ways in which this Western construction of religion serves the politics of the nation-state, while delegitimising competing claims for authority as religious, hence irrational and danger.
This construction of religion and the secular nourished on Protestant ideas, especially the depiction of religion as a personal, apolitical matter. The Church, this view would claim, should avoid interfering in matters of politics, leaving it for the secular state to conduct. The outcome of this segregation of religion and its distancing from politics is thus inherently political: it dictates that one’s loyalty should be given exclusively to the state. Loyalty to God (and the teachings taught in God’s name by tradition) is to be depoliticised, neutralised of its public power.
The secularist discourse is thus presented with a dilemma when considering the phenomenon of religious nationalism: How to account for this obviously modern “hybrid”, that professes political loyalty to both God and nation-state? The academic discourse on Religious-Zionism, which for the most part has been bound into the secularist discourse suggests that the key for understanding this phenomenon is in the balance of power between the two organs: religion and nationalism. Many of these studies have employed the concept of fundamentalism to study Religious-Zionism. Other studies reject fundamentalism as an irrelevant framework, describing instead this ideology as existentially torn between its competing, incompatible commitments to secular Zionism and the religious Judaism.
What all these approached has in common is their insistence on employing the secularist epistemology, analysing Religious-Zionism through the contrast and tension between a secular nationalist ideology (i.e., Zionism), and religion.
Yet a critique of the ways in which academic literature based on secularist epistemology has struggled to understand Religious-Zionism is not in itself sufficient to overcome this hurdle. This is so since spokespeople and thought leaders of Religious-Zionism themselves also rely on the bipolarity that pits religious tradition against secular politics as an infrastructure of their thought. Religious-Zionism has for decades based its self-perception on this bipolarity, viewing itself as tasked with the challenge of synthetising or reconciling this apparent binary of a thesis and its antithesis.
This is the background against which to appreciate far reaching changes in the ways in which Religious-Zionists have understood the meaning of their religious commitments and allegedly secular nationalist loyalties. Much of the history of the Religious-Zionist thought in the past half-century can thus be explained as a struggle to reconcile what its carriers viewed as an inevitable conflict between the two, potentially conflicting but equally cherished cores of their identity.
As practically all scholars agree, the June 1967 Six Days war mark, in this regard, a watershed, further motivating this ideological soul-searching. But its effect took time to emerge into the foreground. The two decades immediately following the war saw Religious-Zionists continuing to view their guiding ideology as offering a unique combination of secular and religious values into a whole, consistent system of thought. Some viewed this combination as achieving wholeness, while others insisted on preserving the distinction between the two separate yet interlocked arms. The “Western” (i.e., Euro-American) conceptual toolkit remained their primary framework for understanding their politics. This was especially apparent when spokespeople for Religious-Zionism took a leading role in resisting what they depicted as the separation of religion from state politics, demanding that certain aspects of Jewish tradition are granted a substantial place in public life. The epistemological tension entailed in trying to combine and unify what are, according to the very fundamentals of the secularist discourse, separate and mutually exclusive organs has been apparent. Even when it was clear that the writers are acutely aware of the tension, they were unable to solve it, invested as they were in the conceptual framework that nourished it in the first place.
This tension was rapidly coming to a head during the early 1990’s when the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were negotiating and signing what became known as the Oslo Accords. Religious-Zionists commentators, who read the Accords as an Israeli capitulation, led by secular Zionist leaders, could no longer accept the principal legitimacy of secular dimension of Zionism. They began to question the legitimacy of the so-called secular element in Zionist thought. It is the thin ideological bedrock of secular nationalism, these spokespeople argued, that results in the Israeli inability to safeguard Zionist fundamentals. The only remedy against this precariousness of the Zionist commitments is, they concluded, religion. It is religion, in other words, that safeguards nationalism and guarantees that it is not undermined. Religious-Zionist writers thus solved, in this context, the tension between secular nationalism and religion by transforming the (allegedly secular, even by their own measures) nation-state into a supreme religious value. In effect, this solution meant that any secular Jewish-nationalism is not properly Zionist, since it is only Religious-Zionism that fits bill of authentic Zionism.
Yet this solution, too, remains wedded to the same conceptual framework, where religion and nationalism are understood to be distinct from each other. In retrospect, it is clear that it has not gained much ground. It was during the Religious-Zionist campaign against the Israeli “Disengagement” (namely, the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and armed forces from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank) in 2005 that religion, in its Western-constructed manner, was no longer presented as a foundational element in Religious-Zionist identity. Neither was religion used to distinguish Religious-Zionism from general, secular Zionists. Instead, Religious-Zionist spokespeople focused on the notion of Judaism, which they saw as identical to Zionism writ large. Moreover, there were also calls from within the Religious-Zionist camp to separate religion from realpolitik, or at least to substantially limit its footprint, since it was limiting Religious-Zionism’s ability to confront this realpolitik of the state. While in the past Religious-Zionist spokespeople sought to legitimate religion as worthy of playing a role in politics, they now started to question religion’s political worth, and to position it at the lower ranks of Religious-Zionist ideology, assigning it a utopian more than politically practical and influential role.
In other words, we can see here a renewed “Protestanisation” of Jewish religion among Religious-Zionists. Jewish tradition, seen as mere personal and spiritual “religion,” was gradually pushed aside from matters of national politics, which were fully dominated by the state. Ironic as it may sound, we can speak here of a Religious-Zionist trend of separating religion from politics, that gained power against the background of the Israeli “Disengaging Plan”.
Nationalism and Territory—the Land of Israel
The effects of the secularist, Western epistemology are also apparent when considering the ideological principle of the settlement of the national territory (the Land of Israel) with members of the sovereign nation, a central foundation of Zionist ideology generally. Scholars and commentators of various kinds have tended to single out the principle of settlement as the very core of Religious-Zionism. Critically, they have interpreted it as a matter of Religious-Zionism’s Judaic, religious commitments, depicting Religious-Zionism as promoting the achieving or fulfilling of this end or “commandment” by all available means, including the nation-state, and Zionist ideology itself. At the very least, these scholars have explained the settlement of the Land of Israel as an independent religious value, to which Religious-Zionism is committed as a matter of its religious orthodoxy, regardless of or in parallel to this ideology’s commitment to the nation-state. Accordingly, scholars subscribing to this view have explained various conflictual flash-points—especially since the onset of Religious-Zionist led settlement of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—as putting Religious-Zionism in an existential dilemma, torn between its religious commitment to settle the land and its political, secular commitment to the state. (Some even presented the latter as a matter of religion too).
Yet careful examination of Religious-Zionist public discourse during the half-century since the June 1967 war shows that the value of settling the Land of Israel was rarely granted an independent, self-fulfilling status. Instead, it was usually tied to and dominated by a broader nationalist view, at the center of which stands the state, the nation and nationalist ideology. The idea of the “undivided Land of Israel”, central and important as it has been in Zionist thought generally and in Religious-Zionist thought specifically, has not been elevated to the status of an absolute value, but remained subservient to the sanctification of nationalism and sovereign statehood.
Moreover, the Religious-Zionist public discourse has not focused on a theological discussion of the sanctity of the Land of Israel (a religious principle from which this ideology allegedly nourishes its commitment to colonising the land, according to the scholarship mentioned above.) Instead, most spokespeople have dedicated most of their and their readers’ attention to matters that are commonly identified as secular (primarily issues of security and strategic concerns, but also those of demography), ultimately revolving around one core issue: sovereignty over the national territory.
Thus, for example, one of the central arguments in the Religious-Zionist discourse on the Land of Israel (mostly following the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967) was about the “historical right”—not the theological one—of the nation-state to rule over the land. This right was presented as an axiom that needs neither proof nor explanation; it is clearly seen as part of a universal, political concept of sovereignty. Another major argument made by spokespeople for Religious-Zionism to defend their maximalist stance on matters of territory had to do with matters of security. Often, these security concerns have overshadowed all other arguments regarding the Land. They have argued that exercising sovereignty and military control over the territory and colonising it are a necessary condition for guaranteeing the security of the state. It is the latter—the state, its security—that held the status of the absolute value.
The Land of Israel—and the project of settling it—were presented as one of the most important means to achieving this primary end, not an ideological absolute in and for itself. Certainly, they were not made into a theological end. Moreover, even when the Land and settlement were dressed in a “religious” garb, they still formed part of a theopolitical argument, that is: as a nationalist, Zionist matter of Jewish nation-statism, not as a traditional Judaic value.
Militarism as the expression of the modern nature of Religious-Zionism
The values of militarism and security, which have gradually grown in dominance, culminating in their occupying the very center of Religious-Zionist ideology in the past decade or so, are also a rather stark expression of the all-encompassing commitment of this ideology to the politics of the sovereign nation-state. Militaristic political ideals that sacralise the security of the state and the nation, rendering this an absolute value and justifying in its name violence and bloodshed are indeed by definition bound to nation-statist thought.
Religious-Zionist ideology’s valorisation of the state’s security was most explicitly pronounced in the context of justifying and rationalising the death of Israeli soldiers as the price demanded for guaranteeing this security. This became all the more pronounced against the background of violent conflicts around which there was no consensus among Jewish-Israelis. Especially when critics (usually coming from the Zionist Left) doubted whether such deaths were justified, questioning the necessity, reason and morality of the violent conflicts into which the Israeli government sent its armed forces, Religious-Zionist pronouncements became all the more dominated by intensive, militant militaristic discourse. Indeed, a dominant theme in the Religious-Zionist militaristic discourse surrounding these events has been the demand that the Israeli military is sent to fight, even if this necessarily entails the death of Israeli soldiers. (This demand was made against a background of public debate which questioned the merit of this military adventures, exactly because of their price in human lives.) The prevalent argument heard over Religious-Zionist platforms (either explicitly or implicitly) was clear: the security of the state is an absolute value, that justifies the highest of sacrifices, that of soldiers’ lives.
Even more pronounced was this valorisation of the state’s security when what was at stake were the lives of civilians from the enemy’s side. There has been little doubt among formulators of the Religious-Zionist stance on these armed conflicts that such conflicts are a normal feature of the lifecycle of states, and that in this context the killing of civilians on the enemy’s side during war, unfortunate as it may be, is wholly justified and acceptable.
A striking feature of this Religious-Zionist militaristic discourse is its utter indifference to the kind of language, argumentation and reasoning that would usually (that is, when seen through the prevalent religious-secular binary) be put under the heading of “religious.” One would be hard pressed to find such “religious” aspects of this militaristic thought, with its focus on “secular” values of security and statism.
God and theopolitics
How are we, then, to understand the theological aspect of Religious-Zionist political thought? One crucial part of the answer has to do with the nature of these theological language and argumentations: they do not fit what the prevalent discourse will mark as the category of “religion”. This mainstream discourse does not consider the traditional Jewish elements within so-called “secular” Zionist ideology to be “religious”, no matter how deeply rooted they may be in what this same discourse sees as “religion”; instead, it would view the appearance of these elements within Zionism as a product of their “secularisation.” This theological language and argumentation is seen as essentially modernised, politicised and “rationalised”, and it is ultimately aimed at the politics of the nation-state: it fits neither within an apolitical, individual and a-rational notion of religion, nor within the frame of “fundamentalism”, which would put the interest of the state under a higher religious diktat.
Furthermore, it cannot be framed as one side of an alleged ideological “synthesis” of two organs that are allegedly separated-in-principle. The Religious-Zionist nation-statist commitment (or its patriotism) does not clash with, serve, or complement theology; rather, it is the very essence of this theology. Like many other modern cases, the political theology at hand sanctifies the modern, supposedly secular and rational nation-state, and positions it in the role of savior, who accordingly demands absolute loyalty and functions as the center of the political order. As William Cavanaugh (2003, 2) puts it (referring, of course, to the general genus of which Religious-Zionism is but a case), “supposedly ‘secular’ political theory is really theology in disguise”. Or, in Carl Schmitt’s famous phrasing, “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularised theological concepts.”
The God, who has traditionally occupied the very center of Jewish theology, was now joined, if not even pushed aside, by the state. At best, God is seen as sanctifying the state, shifting the focus away from Him to the (political, this-worldly) sovereign. Either way, Religious-Zionist theopolitics marks nationalism and the state, not God, at the ultimate purpose.
A continuing process of blurring the distinctions between theology, Judaism and nationalism has culminated in the relegation religion to the private realm, barred from the field of politics. “Religion” was replaced in the context of this argumentation by “Judaism” or “Jewish identity”, as these are understood by the modern, nationalist, Zionist discourse. Like the founding ideologues of the Zionist movement, a growing number of Religious-Zionist spokespeople, too, came to argue (either implicitly or explicitly) that Judaism is not necessarily (or not even primarily) about “religion”: rather, it is about (political) nationalism, and its primary value is patriotism.
We argue, then, that Religious-Zionism is best understood when considered as a nationalist, Zionist ideology, at the center of which stand not religion or traditional Judaism, but nationalism and the state. Contrary to this ideology’s self-perception, and against a prevalent stream within the academic field that similarly un-self-reflectively employs a modernisation-and-secularisation discourse to construct the meaning of religion and nationalism, we argue that Religious-Zionism should be viewed primarily as a quintessentially modern-Western ideology of the nation-state. The State of Israel, relying on its military power (in which context it is “security” concerns that dominate all others); Zionism; and nation-statist sovereignty over a territory to which the nation claims a “historical right”—these are all the very core of Religious-Zionist ideology, and not merely means to achieving some hidden theological ends such as redemption or the observance of religious praxis.
An understanding of the strong gravitational force of the notion of the nation-state that dominates Religious-Zionist ideology necessitates the release of its analysis from the grip of the Western, secularist epistemology, which developed as in the context of the emergence of the modern, secular nation-state. The modern epistemology serves primarily the state, depicting it as “secular”, thus legitimising it, while rendering some of its competitors “religious” hence illegitimate. Overcoming the dominance of this epistemology allows us to see how its conceptual toolkit shapes Religious-Zionist identity—both in constructing the meaning of its religiosity, and in situating the state as its ultimate value.
 W. T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); T. Fitzgerald, Discourse on Civility and Barbarity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); D. Dubuisson, The Western Construction of Religion: Myths, Knowledge, and Ideology (Baltimore, PA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007); T. Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, PA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).
 G. Aran, ‘Jewish Zionist fundamentalism: The Bloc of the Faithful in Israel (Gush Emunim)’, in M. E. Marty and R. S. Appleby (Eds.), Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 265–344; C. S. Liebman and E. Don-Yehiya, Civil Religion in Israel: Traditional Judaism and Political Culture in the Jewish State (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983); M. Inbari. Messianic Religious Zionism Confronts Israeli Territorial Compromises (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); A. Horowitz, ‘Religious-Zionism – from Zionist radicalism to religious-national fanaticism’, in D. Arieli-Horowitz (Ed.) Religion and Politics in Israel (Tel-Aviv: The Centre for Jewish Pluralism, 1996), 41–55.
 For example, M. Hellinger et al., Religious Zionism and the Settlement Project: Ideology, Politics, and Civil Disobedience (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2018); E. Don-Yehiya, ‘Messianism and politics: The ideological transformation of religious Zionism’, Israel Studies, 19 (2014), 239; A. Cohen, ‘Patriotism and religion: Between coexistence and confrontation’, in Ben-Amos, Avenr and D. Bar-Tal (Eds.) Patriotism: Homeland Love (Tel-Aviv: Haqibutz Hameuḥad and Dyonon, 2004), 453–78.
 A. Sagi and D. Schwartz, Religious Zionism and the Six Day War: From Realism to Messianism, trans. B. Stein (London: Routledge, 2018).
 W. T. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2003), 2.
 C. Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 36.