Authoritarianism of the Head

Robert Skidelsky goes to both Valdai and Yaroslavl, finding not only competing ideas on history, democracy, and modernization, but a faint but unmistakable odor of a looming conflict” and “a fascinating glimpse of a crumbling diarchy.  However the path of least resistance seems to point to Putin’s way and the avoidance of reform and modernization.

But there were two broad views about the relationship between political and economic modernization. Putin’s view is that democracy results from a modern economy, a kind of reward for hard work. If the state pushes modernization from the top, democracy will grow naturally, if slowly, as a result of rising prosperity and a growing middle class.

The Kremlin’s chief ideologist, Vladislav Surkov, has suggested that full democracy presupposes “democracy in the head,” implying that this desirable mental condition was still a long way off in Russia.

The alternative view, championed by people such as Igor Yurgens, head of Medvedev’s favorite think tank, the Institute of Contemporary Development, is that democracy is the precondition for economic modernization. Their argument is that the Russian state, as now constituted, lacks any real incentive to reform its own ― or Russians’ ― bad economic habits.

The record bears this out. Russia has staged a modest recovery from the recession. But there is almost no innovation, the elites are happy to live comfortably off energy rents, and corruption continues unchecked. Putin is the strong leader of a weak state, which, lacking a mobilizing or feedback mechanism, is incapable of carrying out a modernizing project.