Sunday, September 29, 2019

Putin’s Imitation Democracy has Put Russia on ‘Road to Serfdom,’ Sergeyenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 25 – The existence of democratic forms without the constraints on the actions of the powers that only the division of powers and the enforcement of the laws on all inevitably has put Russia on what Austrian political economist Friedrich Hayek called “the road to serfdom,” Moscow philosopher Alla Sergeyenko says.

            That is because those in power use the legitimacy they have in the eyes of the population to act in ways that ignore the will of the majority and instead reflect either their own personal preferences or the pressures of much smaller interest groups who carve out areas of unrestricted power for themselves, she writes (

                And consequently, “after coming to power with the help of the support of the majority, state institutions begin to pursue their own tasks which are different from public goals,” thus subverting what democracy is supposed to achieve while maintaining the fiction that it continues to function. 

            “Democracy,” Sergeyenko argues, “cannot reflect the will of the majority only when an interested and energetic majority acts justly and only in the framework of established common rules. If such rules do not exist, then this will be only an expression of the unbridled will of society and various groups which seek to achieve their own goals.”

            The consequences of that, “in the majority of contemporary states,” she continues following Hayek’s argument, “is the rise of enormous ‘governmental and semi-governmental apparatuses’ which include all kinds of parties, unions, and economic groups, the goal of which is to receive as many goods and privileges as possible” in exchange for supporting the regime.”

            They and not the majority become the real players in the state; and if there is no division of powers or effective law, they increasingly act at odds with what society as a whole wants even though it remains quiescent because its members assume that democratic forms are a sufficient guarantee.

            Drawing again on Hayek’s arguments, Sergeyenko says that “the real value of democracy is the defense of the people from the misuse of the administrative apparatus of its authorities.”  Recognizing the importance of that, she continues, “at its present stage of development, it is hardly possible to call Russia a contemporary democratic state.”

            Instead, its “imitation democracy” combines elements of neo-feudalism in which “the social-political sphere is divided up into various spheres of influence controlled by one or another interest group” and which a single ruler determines everything and subordinates all to his will.

            “The birth of neo-feudalism in contemporary Russia,” the scholar says, “has been made possible by two main factors,”  the existence of democratic forms which legitimize the powers but do not limit them or provide a feedback loop and “the degradation of the bureaucratic apparatus and the general moral degeneration of the administrative apparatus.”

            And the simultaneous rise of neo-patrimonialism, as Russian scholar Aleksandr Fisun has pointed out, has been promoted by “the present in post-Soviet states of ‘an informal agreement on the seizure of the state and the monopoly appropriation of public political-legal functions” rather than their being shared with the population. 

            Sergeyenko concludes that Russian analyst Dmitry Furman was right when he observed a decade ago that “when it is very difficult to live under conditions of democracy and when there are no ideological alternatives to democracy, society easily shifts to its imitation. And that is why now there are so many imitation democracies.”

            Unfortunately, one of the worst cases of this is Russia today.

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