by Juliette Faure
Since the mid-2010s, ‘tradition’ has become a central concept in political discourses in Russia. Phrases such as ‘the tradition of a strong state’, ‘traditional values’, ‘traditional family’, ‘traditional sexuality’, or ‘traditional religions’ are repeatedly heard in Vladimir Putin’s and other high-ranking officials’ speech. Paralleling a visible conservative rhetoric hinging on traditional values, the Russian regime demonstrates a clear commitment to technological hypermodernisation. The increased budget for research and development in technological innovation, together with the creation of national infrastructures meant to foster investments in new technologies such as Rusnano or Rostec, and the National Technology Initiative (2014) show a firm intent from the regime.
At the level of official rhetoric, the conservative conception of social order conflicts with a progressive politics of technological modernisation. The Russian president blends a traditionalist approach to social norms based on a fixed definition of human nature, and a liberal approach to technological modernisation emphasising the ideas of innovation, change, speed, acceleration, and breakthrough. The concept of tradition entails cultural determinism and heteronomy: individuals are bounded by a historical heritage and constrained by collective norms. On the contrary, technological modernisation relies on a constant development that strives to push back the limits of the past and nature.
In fact, recent studies of science and technology in the post-war USSR increasingly document the positively correlated relations between technoscientific modernisation and political liberalisation. Scientific collaboration with the West, the importation of standards, the multiplication of ‘special regimes’ for scientific communities, and the objectivisation of decision-making through the use of computer science and cybernetics have contributed to the erosion of the Soviet system’s centralisation, the normalisation of its exceptionalism, and its ultimate liberalisation. The USSR arguably failed to sustain itself as a ‘successful non-Western modernity’. The Soviet experience therefore substantiated the technological determinism assumed by liberal-democratic convergence theories.
Despite that, there has recently been an increasingly visible effort by contemporary Russian conservative intellectuals to overcome the dichotomy between authoritarian–traditionalist conservatism and technological modernity in order to coherently articulate them into a single worldview.This form of conservatism was already advocated in the late Soviet period by the journalist and writer Aleksandr Prokhanov (1938–). In the 1970s, Prokhanov opposed the domination, among the conservative ‘village prose’ writers, of the idealisation of the rural past and the critique of Soviet modernity. Instead, he aimed to blend the promotion of spiritual and cultural values with an apology of the Soviet military and technological achievements. After the fall of the USSR, Prokhanov’s modernism became commonplace among the members of the younger generation of conservative thinkers, born around the 1970s. Young conservatives framed their views in the post-Soviet context, and regarded technological modernity as instrumental for the recovery of Russia’s status as a great power. One of the leading members of the young conservatives, Vitalii Averianov (1973–), coined the concept of ‘dynamic conservatism’ to describe their ideology. This ideology puts forward an anti-liberal conception of modernity where technology serves the growth of an authoritarian state power and a conservative model of society. Unlike classic conservatism, ‘dynamic conservatism’ resembles the type of political ideology that Jeffrey Herf identified, in the context of Weimar Germany, as ‘reactionary modernism’.
The intellectual origins of ‘dynamic conservatism’ across generations of conservative thinkers: Vitalii Averianov and Aleksandr Prokhanov
In 2005, ‘dynamic conservatism’ served as the programmatic basis of one of the major contemporary conservative collective manifestos, the Russian Doctrine, co-authored by Vitalii Averianov, Andrei Kobiakov (1961–), and Maksim Kalashnikov (1966–) with contributions from about forty other experts. The Doctrine was put forward as a ‘project of modernisation of Russia on the basis of spiritual and moral values and of a conservative ideology’. The leading instigator of the Doctrine, Averianov, described the ideology advocated by the Russian Doctrine as follows:
'The purpose of the proposed ideology and reform agenda is to create a centaur from Orthodoxy and the economy of innovation, from high spirituality and high technology. This centaur will represent the face of Russia in the 21st century. His representatives should be a new attacking class—imperial, authoritarian, and not liberal-democratic. This should be the class that will support the dictatorship of super-industrialism, which does not replace the industrial order but grows on it as its extension and its development.'
In his essay Tradition and dynamic conservatism, Averianov further explains that the ‘dynamic’ aspect of conservatism comes from two paradigmatic shifts that occurred in 20th century’s Orthodox theology and history of science. Firstly, he resorts to the theologian Vladimir Lossky’s (1900–1958) concept of the ‘dynamic of Tradition’. Vladimir Lossky developed this concept in order to address and reform what he perceived as the Orthodox Church authorities’ formal traditionalism and historical inertia. Secondly, Vitaly Averianov appeals to the work of the physicist and Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine (1917–2003). According to him, the discovery of non-linear dynamic systems disclosed the ‘uncertain’ character of science and offers a post-Newtonian, post-mechanic, and ‘unstable’ view of the world. As Averianov puts it:
‘We situate ourselves at the intersection between Orthodox mysticism and theology, which are embodied by Lossky, who coined the term [of dynamic conservatism], and on the other hand, systems theory and synergetics.’
In 2009, the authors of the Russian Doctrine convened in the ‘Institute for Dynamic Conservatism’, which subsequently merged with the ‘Izborsky Club’ founded in 2012 by Aleksandr Prokhanov. Born in 1938, Prokhanov is a well-known figure in Russia as one of the leading ideologues of the putsch against Gorbachev’s regime in August 1991, as a prolific writer of more than sixty novels, and as the current editor-in-chief of the extreme right-wing newspaper Zavtra. In 2006, he articulated a theory about the restoration of the Russian ‘Fifth Empire’, according to which the new Russian ‘imperial style’ should combine ‘the technocratism of the 21st century and a mystical, religious consciousness’. More recently, Prokhanov adopted Averianov’s formula, ‘dynamic conservatism’, to describe his own worldview, which is meant to ‘ensure the conservation of resources, including the moral, religious, cultural, and anthropological resources, for modernisation’.
Prokhanov’s reactionary modernism is rooted in the Russian philosophical tradition of ‘Russian cosmism’, which regards scientific and technological progress as humanity’s instruments to achieve the spiritualisation of the world and of human nature. The philosopher Nikolai Fedorov, regarded as the founding figure of Russian cosmism, offered to use technological progress and scientific methods to materialise the Bible’s promises: the resurrection of the dead, the immortality of soul, eternal life, and so on. Fedorov articulated a scientistic and activist interpretation of Orthodoxy, according to which humanity was bound to move towards a new phase of active management of the universe, thereby seizing its ‘cosmic’ responsibility. Following on from Fedorov, 20th-century scientists such as Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, the ‘grandfather’ of the Soviet space programme, or Vladimir Vernadskii, the founder of geochemistry, also belong to the collection of authors gathered under the name ‘Russian cosmism’, since they too advocated a ‘teleologically-oriented’ vision of technological development.
Prokhanov and other Izborsky Club members claim the legacy of Russian cosmism in their attempt to craft a specifically Russian ‘technocratic mythology’, as an alternative to the Western model of development.
A strategic ideology branded by a lobby group at the crossroads of intellectual and political milieus
Introduced as a rallying ‘imperial front’ for the variety of patriotic ideologues of the country (neo-Soviets, monarchists, orthodox conservatives), the Izborsky Club seeks to ‘offer to the Russian government and public […] a new state policy with patriotic orientation’. With more than fifty full members and forty associated experts—including academics, journalists, economists, scientists, ex-military, and clerics—the Club gathers together the largest group of conservative public figures in contemporary Russia. Aleksandr Dugin (1962–), the notorious Eurasian philosopher, is one of its founding members. Despite Dugin’s promotion of Orthodox traditionalism and his critique of technological modernity, his membership of the Club was based on his long-standing relationship with Prokhanov. In this new context of their ideological alliance, Valerii Korovin (1977–), Dugin’s younger disciple and another member of the Izborsky Club, has spelled out a reformed understanding of traditionalism, which regards technological modernity as an instrument for the promotion of Russia as an imperial great power in confrontation with the West:
'We have to separate scientific and technical modernisation and its social equivalent. There is a formula that Samuel Huntington introduced—‘Modernisation without Westernisation’. Russia is developing scientific and technical progress! Our scientists are the best in the world. They create breakthrough technologies. With this, we achieve modernisation while rejecting all Western delights in the field of human experiments. That is—no liberalism, no Western values, no dehumanisation, no mutants, clones, and cyborgs!’
In spite of its ideological variety, the Izborsky Club therefore put forward a ‘traditionalist technocratism’ or the ‘combination of ultramodern science with spiritual enlightenment’ as stated in one of its roundtables in September 2018, or as a glance at the Club journal’s iconography rapidly evinces.
In blunt opposition to democratic convergence theories, the Izborsky Club brands dynamic conservatism as a strategic ideology for Russia’s development as a great power. The concept of ‘dynamic conservatism’ goes further than simply challenging the normative argument of Francis Fukuyama’s modernisation theory. It also contradicts its empirical claim, which contends that democracy is the regime naturally propelled by the development of modern natural science. Indeed, Fukuyama argues that the success of ‘the Hegelian-Marxist concept of History as a coherent, directional evolution of human societies taken as a whole’ lies in 'the phenomenon of economic modernisation based on the directional unfolding of modern natural science. This latter has unified mankind to an unprecedented degree, and gives us a basis for believing that there will be a gradual spread of democratic capitalist institutions over time.'
Based on this technological determinism, liberal modernisation theories claim that economic modernisation, especially in its latest innovation and information based ‘post-industrial’ phase, is incompatible with an authoritarian regime and central planning. What is more, liberal-democratic modernisation’s theorists expect that a ‘post-industrial society’ would eventually lead to the convergence of societies and the ‘end of ideology’.
By contrast, ‘dynamic conservatism’ holds that the success and performance of the Russian techno-scientific innovation complex requires the strengthening of the state’s sovereignty under an authoritarian power. They oppose what they perceive as ‘the myth of post-industrialism, aimed at undermining and permanently destroying the real industrial sector of the domestic economy’, and instead advance the need for ‘super-industrialism’ and total ideological mobilisation. In this endeavour, Izborsky Club members frequently refer to the Chinese experience as a lasting challenge to the technological determinism described by liberal modernisation theories. They have voiced their admiration for China’s ability to maintain state ownership and state control in the organisation of its economy. Furthermore, they seek inspiration in China’s process of defining a national idea, the ‘Chinese dream’, combining a ‘harmonious society’ and a technologically advanced economy. Likewise, the Izborsky Club advocates a vision of a ‘Russian dream’ based on a national-scientific and spiritual mythology as an alternative to the ‘American dream’.
The Izborsky Club has secured close ties with political, military, and religious elites. The Club’s foundation in 2012 was supported by Andrei Turchak (1975–), who was at the time the governor of the region of Pskov and is now the Secretary-General of the ruling party ‘United Russia’. Moreover, the Club received a financial grant from the presidential administration in its first years of operation. Members of the government or of the presidential administration have often attended the Club’s roundtables and discussions. The Club also entertains close ties with governors and regional political elites in the federal districts, where it has established about twenty local branches.
The ideology of dynamic conservatism has also attracted the interest of the Russian Orthodox Church’s authorities. Vitalii Averianov’s experience working for the Church as the former chief editor of the newspaper ‘Orthodox Book Review’ and as chief developer of the most read Orthodox website Pravoslavie.ru, has been key to engaging with the Church at the time of the publication of the Russian Doctrine. Patriarch Kirill (1946–), then Metropolitan and chairman of the Church’s Department of External Relations, displayed public support for the doctrine. In 2007, when discussing the text at the World Russian People’s Council, a forum headed by the Orthodox Church, he declared:
‘This is a wonderful example of Russian social thought of the beginning of the 21st century. I believe that it contains reflections that will still be interesting to people in 10, 15, and 20 years. In addition to purely theoretical interest, this document could have practical benefits if it became an organic part of the national debate on the basic values of Russia.’
Finally, the Izborsky Club is vocal about its proximity with the military-industrial complex. The rhetoric, symbols, and iconography used by the Club in its publications portray the army as the natural cradle of the ‘Russian idea’ that they advocate for: ‘Our present military and technical space is the embodiment of the Russian dream.’
Beside Prokhanov’s declarations, such as ‘The Izborsky club will help the army prevent an “Orange revolution” in Russia’, actual cooperation with the military-industrial complex has been demonstrated by the regular organisations of the Izborsky Club’s meetings in military-industrial factories. Also significantly, in 2014, a Tupolev Tu-95 bomber was named after the Izborsky Club and decorated with its logo, thereby following the Soviet tradition of naming military airplanes after famous national emblems.
In today’s Russia, the patriotic, spiritualised ideology of technological development has been increasingly able to compete with the secular and Western-oriented liberal socio-technical imaginary. This polarity is brought to light by the leadership of technology-related state corporations. The nomination of Dmitrii Rogozin (1963–) as the head of Roscosmos, the state corporation for space activities, in 2018, contrasted with the nomination of Anatolii Chubais (1955–) as the head of Rusnano, the government-owned venture in charge of investment projects in nanotechnologies, in 2008. While Chubais is a symbolic representative of the Russian liberals, as vice-president of the government in charge of the liberalisation and privatisation program of the post-Soviet economy during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, Dmitrii Rogozin is one of the key leaders of the conservative political elites. He is the former deputy prime minister in charge of defence industry (2011–18), the co-founder of the far-right national-patriotic party Rodina, and a close ally of the Izborsky Club. In line with the agenda advocated by the Izborsky Club, Rogozin has been an active promoter of a nationalist, romantic, and messianic vision of the Russian space programme. According to him:
‘The Russian cosmos is a question of the identity of our people, synonym for the Russian world. For Russia cannot live without space, outside of space, cannot limit the dream of conquering the unknown that drives the Russian soul.’
While Vladimir Putin’s discourse runs through a wide and heteroclite ideological spectrum spreading from traditional conservative social values to neoliberal policies of technological development, the ideology of the Izborskii Club flourishes in specific niches in the ruling elites. The impact of their vision on the direction Russia is taking relies on the balance of power negotiated among these elites.
 Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 12 December 2012, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/17118; Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 12 December 2013, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/19825; Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 4 December 2014, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/47173; Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 1 December 2016, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53379.
 See for instance his references to the Russian people’s ‘genetic code’ and ‘common cultural code’. Vladimir Putin, ‘Direct Line with Vladimir Putin’, President of Russia, 17 April 2014, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20796.
 This liberal-progressive vocabulary was particularly dominant in Vladimir Putin’s March 2018 address to the Federal Assembly. The discourse included 12 occurrences of the word ‘breakthrough’ (‘proryv’), 60 occurrences of the word ‘development’ (‘razvitie’), 10 occurrences of the word ‘change’ (‘izmenenie’) and 40 occurrences of the word ‘technology’ (‘tekhnologiia’). Vladimir Putin, ‘Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly’, Official website of the President of Russia, 1 March 2018, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56957.
 In 1972, the creation of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Austria provided a place for scientific collaboration between the United States and the USSR until the late 1980s. See Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, The Power of Systems: How Policy Sciences Opened up the Cold War World (Ithaca ; London: Cornell University Press, 2016); Jenny Andersson, The Future of the World: Futurology, Futurists, and the Struggle for the Post Cold War Imagination (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018).
 As evidenced by the participation of Soviet delegates in the meetings of the Hasting Institute and the Kennedy Center in the United States to establish an ethical framework on biotechnology, and the USSR’s adoption of the DNA manipulation rules of the US National Institute of Health that were established at the Asilomar Summit. Loren R. Graham, ‘Introduction: The Impact of Science and Technology on Soviet Politics and Society’, in Science and the Soviet Social Order, ed. Loren R. Graham (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Pr, 1990), 1–16.
 Kevin Limonier, Ru.Net: Géopolitique Du Cyberespace Russophone, Carnets de l’Observatoire (Paris : Moscou: Les éditions L’Inventaire ; L’Observatoire, centre d’analyse de la CCI France Russie, 2018).
 Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2002).
 Egle Rindzevičiūtė, ‘The Future as an Intellectual Technology in the Soviet Union - From Centralised Planning to Reflexive Management’, Cahiers Du Monde Russe 56, no. 1 (March 2015): 111–34.
 This argument is developed by Richard Sakwa : ‘the Soviet developmental experiment represented an attempt to create an alternative modernity, but in the end failed to sustain itself as a coherent alternative social order’. See Richard Sakwa, ‘Modernisation, Neo-Modernisation, and Comparative Democratisation in Russia’, East European Politics 28, no. 1 (March 2012): 49; Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, ‘The Civilizational Dimension of Modernity: Modernity as a Distinct Civilization’, International Sociology 16, no. 3 (September 2001): 320–40.
 As famously articulated in Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York : Toronto : New York: Free Press ; Maxwell Macmillan Canada ; Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992); Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1973); Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties: With a New Afterword (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988).
 This argument was also formulated by Maria Engström in Maria Engström, ‘“A Hedgehog Empire” and “Nuclear Orthodoxy”’, Intersection, 9 March 2018, http://intersectionproject.eu/article/politics/hedgehog-empire-and-nuclear-orthodoxy.
 On the ‘village prose’ movement and the different forms of conservatism in the late Soviet Union, see Yitzhak M. Brudny, Reinventing Russia: Russian Nationalism and the Soviet State, 1953-1991, Russian Research Center Studies 91 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998).
 See Juliette Faure, ‘A Russian Version of Reactionary Modernism: Aleksandr Prokhanov’s “Spiritualization of Technology”’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 27(1), published online at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13569317.2021.1885591.
 On the younger generation of Russian conservatives, see Alexander Pavlov, ‘The Great Expectations of Russian Young Conservatism’, in Contemporary Russian Conservatism. Problems, Paradoxes, and Perspectives, ed. Mikhail Suslov and Dmitry Uzlaner (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2020), 153–76.
 Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
 See the list of experts and contributors involved in the writing of the Doctrine: http://www.rusdoctrina.ru/page95506.html
 ‘Russkii Sobor Obsudil Russkuiu Doktrinu’, Institute for Dynamic Conservatism (blog), 21 July 2007, http://www.rusdoctrina.ru/page95525.html.
 Vitalii Averianov, ‘Nuzhny Drugie Liudi', Zavtra, 14 July 2010, http://zavtra.ru/blogs/2010-07-1431.
 Vitalii Averianov, ‘Dinamicheskii Konservatism. Printsip. Teoriia. Ideologiia.’, Izborskii Klub (blog), 2012, https://izborsk-club.ru/588.
 In Order Out of Chaos : Man’s New Dialogue with Nature, that he co-authored with Isabelle Stengers, Ilya Prigogine concludes that science and the ‘disenchantment of the world’ are no longer synonyms. See Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature (London: Flamingo, 1985).
 Averianov, ‘Dinamicheskii Konservatism. Printsip. Teoriia. Ideologiia.’, art. cit.
 On the Izborsky Club, see Marlène Laruelle, ‘The Izborsky Club, or the New Conservative Avant-Garde in Russia’, The Russian Review 75 (October 2016): 634.
 Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Imperskii Stil’, Zavtra, 30 October 2007, http://zavtra.ru/blogs/2007-10-3111.
 Quoted in Dmitrii Melnikov, ‘"Valdai" na Beregakh Nevy’, Vesti.ru (2012) : https://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=944192&cid=6
 Juliette Faure, ‘Russian Cosmism: A National Mythology Against Transhumanism’, The Conversation (2021): https://theconversation.com/russian-cosmism-a-national-mythology-against-transhumanism-152780.
 George Young, The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Fedorov and His Followers (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
 Michael Hagemeister, ‘Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today’, in The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, Bernice G. Rosenthal (Ed.) (Ithaca ; New York: Cornell University Press, 1997).
 Faure, ‘Russian Cosmism: A National Mythology Against Transhumanism’, art. cit.
 See the ‘about us’ page of the Izborsky Club’s website: https://izborsk-club.ru/about.
 Laruelle, ‘The Izborsky Club, or the New Conservative Avant-Garde in Russia’, 634.
 Other prominent members of the Izborsky Club include the economist Sergei Glaziev, the Nobel Prize physicist Zhores Alferov (1930-2019), Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov, the writers Iurii Poliakov and Zakhar Prilepin, leading journalists for Russia’s TV ‘Channel One’ such as Maksim Shevchenko or Mikhail Leontev, who is also the press-Secretary for the state oil company Rosneft.
 See Faure, ‘A Russian Version of Reactionary Modernism: Aleksandr Prokhanov’s “Spiritualization of Technology”’, art. cit., p. 9.
 ‘Na Iamale Otkrylos Otdelenie Izborskogo Kluba', Izborskii Klub (blog), 1 April 2019, https://izborsk-club.ru/16727.
 ‘Stenogramma Kruglogo Stola Izborskogo Kluba "V Poiskakh Russkoi Mechty i Obraza Budushchego"’, Izborskii Klub (blog), 10 October 2018, https://izborsk-club.ru/15978.
 See for instance the cover pages of the Club’s journal 2018 issues : https://izborsk-club.ru/magazine#1552736754837-283c3fe0-bb20
 Francis Fukuyama, ‘Reflections on the End of History, Five Years Later’, History and Theory 34, no. 2 (May 1995): 27.
 Francis Fukuyama reformulates Friedrich Hayek’s argument. See Friedrich Hayek, ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’, The American Economic Review 35, no. 4 (1945): 519–30. The compatibility between a centralised and authoritarian political system and the development of an economy of innovation was however considered by Joseph Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942, Harper & Brothers).
 Bell, The End of Ideology, op. cit.; Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, op. cit.
 Averianov, ‘Nuzhny Drugie Liudi', art. cit.
 According to Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘without ideology, there is no state at all’, see Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Raskol Intelligentsii’, Institute for Dynamic Conservatism Website, 11 October 2013, http://dynacon.ru/content/articles/2039/.
 See for instance Aleksandr Nagornii, ‘Kitaiskaia Mechta Dlia Rossii', Izborskii Klub (blog), 9 April 2013, https://izborsk-club.ru/1130.
 Faure, ‘Russian Cosmism: A National Mythology Against Transhumanism’, art. cit.
 Faure, ‘A Russian Version of Reactionary Modernism: Aleksandr Prokhanov’s “Spiritualization of Technology”’, art. cit.
 The ‘about us’ section of the Izborsky Club website writes : ‘The governor of the Pskov Region A.A. Turchak played an important role in the creation of the Club.’ See : https://izborsk-club.ru/about
 For instance, the Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinskii took part in the inauguration ceremony of the Club in September 2012.
 For a list of the Izborky Club delegations in the regions, see : https://izborsk-club.ru/contacts
 ‘Vsemirnii Russkii Narodnii Sobor Rassmatrivaet "Russkuiu Doktrinu" v Kachestve Natsionalnogo Proekta'’, 28 June 2007, http://www.rusdoctrina.ru/page95531.html.
 ‘Stenogramma Kruglogo Stola Izborskogo Kluba "V Poiskakh Russkoi Mechty i Obraza Budushchego"’, art. cit.
 Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Izborskii Klub Pomozhet Armii Predotvratit "Oranzhevuiu Revoliutsiiu" v Rossii', Izborskii Club (blog), 13 March 2019, https://izborsk-club.ru/16616.
 Laruelle, ‘The Izborsky Club, or the New Conservative Avant-Garde in Russia’, art. cit.
 Rogozine has founded the Rodina Party with Sergei Glaziev, a permanent and founding member of the Izborsky Club. Regarding his strong personal relationship with Aleksandr Prokhanov, see Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘Strategicheskii Bombardirovshchisk “Izborskii Club”’, Zavtra, August 21, 2014, http://zavtra.ru/content/view/strategicheskij-bombardirovschik-izborskij-klub/.
 Dmitrii Rogozin, ‘Rossiia Bez Kosmosa Ne Mozhet Ispolnit Svoi Mechty', Rossiiskaia Gazeta, 11 April 2014, https://rg.ru/2014/04/11/rogozin.html.
by Benedict Coleridge
In the course of a 2018 interview undertaken with Jürgen Habermas by the Spanish newspaper El País, the visiting journalists noted that Habermas’ residence, decorated with modern art, presented ‘a juxtaposition of Bauhaus modernism and Bavaria’s staunch conservatism’. While the shelves were lined with the German Romantics, the walls were adorned with icons of European aesthetic modernism, fitting the style of the house itself. In an autobiographical preface to his essays on Naturalism and Religion, Habermas gives an account of the confluence of his decorative and intellectual tastes, highlighting the distinctive experiences and hopes to which they testify. He writes of the post-war revelations that disclosed a civilisational rupture after 1945, along with the sense of cultural release brought about by the doors being opened ‘to Expressionist art, to Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Hermann Hesse, to world literature written in English, to the contemporary philosophy of Sartre and the French left-wing Catholics, to Freud and Marx, as well as to the pragmatism of John Dewey’. He goes on to suggest that ‘contemporary cinema also conveyed exciting messages. The liberating, revolutionary spirit of Modernism found compelling visual expression in Mondrian’s constructivism, in the cool geometric lines of Bauhaus architecture, and in uncompromising industrial design.’ Together, these aesthetic movements espoused what Virginia Rembert calls a determination to develop an artistic practice that conveyed a ‘new world image’. And according to Habermas, the ‘cultural opening’ instigated by these aesthetic pursuits ‘went hand in hand with a political opening’, which primarily took the form of ‘the political constructions of social contract theory … combined with the pioneering spirit and the emancipatory promise of Modernism’.
In the imaginative resources it marshals, and in its fixation with conceptual transposability, formality, and procedural neutrality, contemporary political liberalism of the Habermasian variety interacts with modernist visions of social transformation and stabilisation, even while it refuses an account of historical change spurred on by abrupt or destructive rupture. And if political and social theory leans frequently upon structuring metaphors, then it’s worth wondering whether a picture, or in this case an aesthetic, holds the Frankfurt School captive rather more literally than Wittgenstein’s phrase intends: a ‘picture’ that insists upon a conceptual and practical association between modernity, emancipation and abstraction.
On the one hand, modernism seems an unlikely inspiration for a movement concerned to integrate a textured and historically alert account of social life into its theory of normativity. As William Rehg and James Bohman point out, the reformulation of Frankfurt School critical theory undertaken by Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel, while more heavily indebted to Kant than to Marx, also sought to be ‘increasingly attuned to the challenges of social complexity and cultural pluralism’. That’s an attunement prompted by the pragmatist commitment to deriving moral norms from social experience rather than transcendental ideals, partly out of an aversion to the imperial chauvinisms unleashed by strong universalist accounts of truth, rationality, or progress.
On the other hand, however, the turn to experience is made in an effort to re-found a critical normativity beyond the impasse of the Linguistic Turn, so prising open the horizon of modernity and sustaining the kind of ‘emancipatory promise’ at which post-modernists direct suspicion. And while, unlike the Bauhaus and its drive towards an aesthetically and politically cleansed future, Habermas and his intellectual heirs refuse Walter Gropius’ mantra of “starting from zero”, modernism’s ‘cool geometry’ remains in view as an intellectual ideal and structuring metaphor. Its emancipatory promise rests primarily upon a claim, made on behalf of abstract formalism, to culture-transcending ethical neutrality—that is, the notion that we can develop normatively resonant aesthetic forms that do not suffer from the perspectival limitation that the articulation of experience generally bears with it.
To pursue the neo-Kantian ‘project of modernity’ in political theory is to search for a culturally neutral vantage-point from which to establish a universal rule morality capable of conditioning diverse ethical personalities. Of course, the powerful ideological dimension to this project is its self-construal as an essentially moral rather than a political enterprise drawing from pre-political, rational, insights. And if secular reason has been dethroned, or at least seriously challenged, by post-colonial critiques of hegemonic rationalism, then the search is on for a more diminutive, yet nevertheless critically powerful, foundation for Kantian normative universality.
In this spirit, contemporary Frankfurt school theorists of the Habermasian variety seek to sustain the ‘new world image’ of Kantian universalism without resorting to ethically parochial or rampantly metaphysical idealisations. To do so they require a kind of normativity that’s substantively ‘empty’ and open to transposition across different political and cultural sites, even while ensuring the possibility of moral imperatives in the style of basic norms, rights, and deliberative procedural commitments. For Habermas this, famously, means the rational presuppositions of communicative action, while for fourth-generation Frankfurt School theorists such as Rainer Forst and Alessandro Ferrara it entails a basic right to justification and a shared mode of aesthetic judgment respectively. By construing normativity as a matter of ‘higher level internalism’ free from dependence upon particular ethical languages (Forst), or as a matter of discerning ethical-aesthetic forms like ‘exemplary self-congruence’ in ethical traditions (Ferrara), contemporary Frankfurt School theorists, for all their internal differences, lean upon the ideal of generalisable normative forms unimpaired by narrative content, ethical convention, or cultural substance. In so doing, they recognisably accord with mid-century modernist attempts at signifying experience through an idealised aesthetic formalism that eschews cultural ‘likeness’, hoping to elude ideological parochialism via the surreal, the impressionistic, and the abstract.
But for what kind of modernity might the cool geometry and abstraction of Western modernism supply allegorical inspiration? And how might aesthetic modernism mould the relation envisaged by Frankfurt School theorists between an emancipatory spirit and a perplexingly multivalent social world? Contemporaneous with Habermas’ own career, the prominent American art critic Clement Greenberg elucidated and developed the aesthetic instincts to which Habermas has evidently gravitated, his views about artistic modernism (including Mondrian) offering some possible insights into Habermas’ own inclinations. Consider, for example, Greenberg’s influential, and controversial, articulation of the raison d’être of the avant-garde in twentieth-century art, by which painters such as Mondrian and Kandinsky produced work the excitement of which lay ‘in its pure preoccupation with the invention and arrangement of spaces, surfaces, shapes, colours, etc., to the exclusion of whatever is not necessarily implicated in these factors’. What marks aesthetic modernism, writes Greenberg, is a turn away from the ‘the subject matter of common experience’ towards the ‘medium’ of one’s own craft, meaning that the ‘nonrepresentational or “abstract”’ must ‘stem from obedience to some worthy constraint or original’. This ‘constraint’, which might once have been located in ‘the world of common, extroverted experience’, has collapsed and can now ‘only be found in the everyday processes or disciplines by which art and literature have already imitated the former’.
Note here the manner in which Greenberg associates modernism with a fixation upon the power of the medium to generate its own principles of rational construction; hence, the artist may produce and deploy colour or form in a manner that isolates them from antecedent aesthetic traditions and the cultural narratives towards which they gesture. One may thereby mobilise colour in a manner that makes the colour itself the subject of the work, rather than an element involved in the culturally defined ‘subject matter of common experience’ from which modernism, on Greenberg’s reading, turns. The implication here is that such an act of ‘pure’ aesthetic formalism is, firstly, possible and, secondly, emancipatory in its liberation of the elements that together constitute the work of art so as to establish their aesthetic relevance upon medium-specific principles—that is, as elements autochthonous to the work itself rather than bearers of cultural sediment.
The emancipatory power of the ‘spirit of modernism’—at least in the Western forms that appear on Habermas’ wall—rests upon its refusal of co-dependence between aesthetic form and cultural substance or, in relation to the social process of normative ideation, the manner in which ‘precepts and narratives operate together to ground meaning’. To flesh out this refusal in more concrete terms let’s briefly attend to one of Greenberg’s critics (and Habermas’ contemporary), Rosalind Krauss, who presents an analysis of ‘the grid’ as ‘a structure that has remained emblematic of the modernist ambition within the visual arts.’ For Krauss the grid, employed and developed by Mondrian, in whom Habermas takes express interest, ‘announces, among other things, modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse.’ If we follow Krauss’ argument, the will to silence performed by abstract forms amounts to a rejection of antecedence and postcedence, as well as any relationship of dependence upon ethically- or socially-embedded forms and traditions, thereby enacting the ‘emancipatory promise of Modernism’ to which Habermas’ project cleaves.
In so doing, an abstraction such as the grid performs a function that is ultimately non-discursive, working visually to declare its autonomy from the social or natural worlds from which aesthetic creativity might conventionally draw form. It does so, argues Krauss, by enacting a regularising and levelling function upon the artwork, ‘crowding out the dimensions of the real and replacing them with the lateral spread of a single surface.’ By means of its organised regularity the grid enacts an ‘aesthetic decree’, rather than an entry into discourse that evokes objects external to the artwork in its technical dimension.
The key point here, relevant to an assessment of aesthetic modernism’s relation to contemporary iterations of Frankfurt School social and political theory, is the notion that form, disassociated from the ‘dimensions of the real’ or from ‘the world of common experience’, possesses an internal logic that validates its own enterprise. The grid operates independently of any specific content or traceable lineage, working to order the artwork by marginalising the hinterland of cultural discourse that gives it its political and social intelligibility. Of course, intelligibility still relies upon an audience with some understanding of what is being enacted through the refusal of narrative and the rejection of precedent, but the claim that is made by the abstract self-reliance of the grid is nevertheless one of control and self-authorisation. In its avoidance of any mimetic relation to the natural or social worlds the grid sets out to establish itself as the product of ‘pure relationship’, so ‘abrogating the claims of natural objects to have an order particular to them’. And, as the scholar of African and African diaspora art history, Salah Hassan, reminds us, this has a powerful political dimension. Twentieth-century Western modernism’s emphasis on the experimental and alienated avant-gardes worked to exclude ‘realist and narrative modes’, including those produced outside of the Euro-Atlantic metropolitan art world; the narrative dissonance of the experimental performed the essential ‘purifying’ and emancipatory functions.
None of this is to say that all modernist departures from aesthetic realism or naturalism amount to a fixation upon ‘pure’ formalism at the expense of culturally-configured restatements of identity. Just as modernity remains a polysemic phenomenon, modernism as an account of the relationship between past and present takes different forms, shaped by distinct political projects and social resources. And, of course, post-war artistic modernism was as pluralistic and varied as the novel intellectual resources being generated at that moment in post-colonial constitutional and political thought. Kobena Mercer points for example to the ‘modernist strategies of formal experimentation’ present in mid-century ‘Afro-Modernism’, which destabilised an established image of ‘Africa’ available in Western societies and ‘opened a space for new understandings of black cultural influences as a core feature of global modernity.’
Afro-Modernism, suggests Mercer, was capable of establishing ‘multi-perspectival viewpoints’ by integrating the miniature and the monumental, thereby asserting their mutual dependence and the potential for non-dichotomous interaction. Jacob Lawrence’s The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, produced between 1986 and 1997, for example, is composed out of 15 prints developed from 41 tempera paintings, conveying episodically the dramas of the Haitian Revolution in tandem with stylistic hints at Soviet monumentalism (perhaps reflective of Lawrence’s interest in Soviet silent cinema). Afro-Modernists such as Lawrence developed formal innovations so as to produce a ‘pictorial narrative’ that ‘addressed the past genealogically’ so as to discern its political relevance. Intimate narrative scenes were made central to discerning the direction of modern emancipatory efforts. Differently, the Cuban sculptor Agustín Cárdenas, who joined the surrealist movement in Paris in the 1950s, reconciled more formal considerations in sculpture with references to totemic symbolism drawn from the Dogon ethnicity of present-day Mali. And artists like Ibrahim El-Salahi of the Khartoum School of African modernist painters have drawn upon obviously paideiac calligraphic practices derived from Qur’anic transcription, even while working under the eaves of the ideologically powerful avant-garde encountered in the former imperial metropole, London.
The ‘spirit of modernism’, therefore, doesn’t necessarily entail a disjuncture between cultural particularity and critical power of the kind pursued visually by some Western modernists and philosophically by neo-Kantians. Rather, when experimenting with form in open contact with genealogy, history, and experiential specificity, it enables the emergence of new claims to recognition through the re-conceptualisation of modernity as ambiguous, locally-determined, and hermeneutically challenging. This form of modernism moves within the contingent parameters of a particular or localised identity, making its emancipatory effort one of hermeneutical ‘amalgamation’, rather than displacement. In this sense, it arguably refuses the more canonically Western modernist program that, in Greenberg’s terms, ‘rejects the subject matter of common experience’ to pursue aesthetic and social transformation through the development of autonomous form and abstract solidarity.
Whereas, according to Kant’s definition in the Groundwork, ‘practical principles are formal if they abstract from all subjective ends’, Afro-modernism held subjective—which is to say, locally, customarily, formed—ends and their cultural signifiers to be the material from which to compose a pluralised modernity, so challenging the presuppositions of the Western art schools. This isn’t to say that, in the conventional role allotted to the non-Western post-colonial world, Afro-modernism supplied some kind of folkloric antidote to the rationalism of Weberian modernity. Rather, Afro-Modernism, amongst other post-colonial artistic movements, prised open discursive opportunities for transculturation, which made ‘modernism’ into something that conveyed multifarious cultural symbols and aesthetic ideals. Resourced by experiences and political hopes for transformation from beyond the former metropole, it began to visualise the ‘spirit’ of the avant-garde not as the displacement of customary practices but in terms of their entry, re-fashioned, into the dialogue of social and political modernity, with its novel experiences of the state, mass society, and post-coloniality.
Given the intellectual and aesthetic movement from which they stem, the visions of Bauhaus modernism and constructivism that adorn Habermas’ walls presumably convey notions of unity, abstraction, anti-historicism, and world-creation, all of which are recognisable features of his moral and political project—a project that responds to the barbarities of World War Two with the re-assertion of progressive social order based normatively upon an inter-subjective continuation of Kantianism. There are, of course, ideological connections between this interest in abstraction and the kind of modernity to which Habermas’ project strives—connections that belie the claim to normative system unburdened by cultural or ideological particularism. Indeed, without a testing stretch of the imagination a definitively modernist form such as the aforementioned grid might be construed as an aesthetic paradigm that corresponds with the broader high-modernist ambition for a rationally-designed social order, with its inevitably fraught relation to the “non-rational” and non-secular.
James Scott’s well known exploration of high modernism and state planning alerts us to the optical dimension involved in establishing a ‘rationally’ ordered relation between the social and natural worlds and over social life through the centrally enacted visions involved in urban-planning and design. But perhaps the more important point to make here is that there are imaginative alternatives that continue to move in an experimentally avant-garde direction. Instead of developing the ideological claim to authoritative cultural neutrality via formal abstraction, non-European movements like Afro-modernism and the Khartoum School actively inserted particular, historically over-shadowed identities into the modernist frame, so making the ‘new world image’ of modernity more multiform than Habermas’ domestic collection might suggest. Thought-provokingly for the political theorist, they signify that particular, local experiences, crafts, and customs may themselves propel critical social and intellectual re-arrangement and, with it, the struggle for a shared modern horizon.
 Borja Hermoso, ‘Philosophy: Jürgen Habermas: “For God’s Sake, Spare Us Governing Philosophers!”’, El País Semanal (25 May 2018),
 Jürgen Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, Ciaran Cronin (tr.) (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), 19.
 Virginia Rembert, Piet Mondrian (New York, NY: Parkstone Press, 2015), 40.
 Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, 19.
 William Rehg and James Bohman, “Introduction,” in Pluralism and the Pragmatic Turn (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 1.
 Steffen de Rudder, ‘The Bauhaus and the City as a White Spot: How Gropius Lost His Reputation on the Streets of New York’, in Laura Colini and Frank Eckardt (eds.), Bauhaus and the City: A Contested Heritage for a Challenging Future (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2011), 82.; Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (London: Abacus, 1986), 14.
 Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1965), 7.
 Ibid., 6.
 Robert Cover, ‘Nomos and Narrative’, in Martha Minnow, Michael Ryan and Austin Sarat (eds.), Narrative, Violence and the Law (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press), 139.
 Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘The Grid, the True Cross, the Abstract Structure’, Studies in the History of Art 48(1) (1995), 50.
 Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, 19.
 Krauss, #The Grid, The True Cross, The Abstract Structure’, 50.
 See Salah M. Hassan, ‘African Modernism: Beyond Alternative Modernities Discourse’, South Atlantic Quarterly 109(3) (2010).
 For example, see Frederick Cooper on constitutional rearrangements of post-war French West Africa. Frederick Cooper, Citizenship Between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa 1945-1960 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014); and see Adom Getachew on postwar anticolonial ‘worldmaking’ in Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019).
 Kobena Mercer, ‘Cosmopolitan Contact Zones’, in Tanya Barson and Peter Görschluter (eds.) Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic (exh. cat., Tate Liverpool, 2010), 43.
 Ibid., 42.
 James C. Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).