On the Concept of the Social Tradition

Aleksandr Shchipkov

The article deals with a systemwide crisis that the liberal capitalist model of society is currently going through, and examines the archaization and ideological deconstruction of this pattern. The author considers the present to be a transition period. The author describes the synthesis of traditionalism and the ideas of the social justice – the Social Tradition – as the most likely alternative to neoliberalism in the near future. The continuity of such a model of society is based on the agreement between generations. From the author's point of view, abandoning the neo-colonial ideology of superiority and returning to the Christian tradition values are necessary for the shift in the development paradigm.

Keywords: archaization of society, axio-modernism, colonialism, counter-modernism, liberalism, myth of superiority, Orthodox ethics, Russo-Byzantine world, the social tradition, traditionalism

Globalization has exhausted its natural limits for development.

The development model that the US and the global ruling class imposed on the world in the 1990s was based on the local elites controlling the Third World countries and depended on dollar emissions. The global crisis has now generated doubts about this hegemonistic project. The capital efficiency is plummeting. The project begins to crumble. This paradigm has exhausted all possibilities for development.

Despite the messianic character of neoliberalism ideology and the humanist rhetoric it declares, the world today witnesses the neoliberal model of society turning archaic. This is reflected in the increasing use of ‘force projection’ in world politics, in the decline of the neoliberal ideological discourse and the accumulation of insoluble contradictions within it, as well as in sharp decrease in social guarantees, flaring Christianophobia and de-Christianization, Nazism and fundamentalism renewal and the emergence of the ‘new wildness’ phenomenon in the modern cultural space.

The world today is facing a global perestroika, not unlike the one that happened in the USSR of old. Each individual nation has now the right to choose whether to serve as fuel for the doomed geopolitical project or to claim the right to choose its own destiny. Our common goal is to create a new model of social development before the old building completely collapses.

The ideological pathos of a liberal society is revealed in its declaring a self-assumed special status of the most advanced civilization. The criteria of being civilized, however, have always been of a utilitarian nature. The Western society always boasted of its pragmatic and independent public institutions, and yet, the energy resources for their development (both technical and social) were pumped first from the colonies, and then from the Third World countries. Colonialism is a driver of liberal capitalism.

From the start, this practice gave rise to the myth of cultural superiority, which acted as the conceptual core of colonialism. In essence, the German Nazism phenomenon was a continuation of colonialist policy in its worst forms.

Liberalism is now deeply criticized by both conservative and left-wing thinkers. Immanuel Wallerstein, for example, is inclined to depart from Marxism canons and to consider the bourgeois period as a historical zigzag of ‘capital autocracy’ that strays from the history’s main highway, namely, pre-capitalist society becoming egalitarian. ‘The egalitarian remuneration tendency was stopped, and resolutely turned in the opposite direction. The upper classes have again secured a strong political and ideological control’ [1, p. 97].

Contrary to the opinion about the ‘closed character of traditional societies’, totalitarianism is really the product of the liberal culture of Modern times. The majority of the twentieth-century ideologies share a common moral imperative, or the law of total competition, which appears to be none other than the principle of natural selection, transferred to human society from the animal world. The doctrine used to be known as ‘social-Darwinist’ during the Socialism era. The second common symptom of some twentieth century ideologies is the use of a split world model, and the ‘human material gradation’, as justification of inherent inequality.

According to the Russian philosopher A. S. Panarin, ‘the new civilizational essence of the global conflict, which used to be ideologically stylized at first, is now revealing itself... Not long ago, the transition from the authoritarian-totalitarian to democratic forms was viewed on the basis of formational universalism – a natural social evolution process which does not discriminate according to race, ethnic character and geography. Now, the prevailing civilizational paradigm allows the Western civilization to appropriate the concepts of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, and ‘civil society’ as their exclusive interpreter and guardian. The democratic rejection of totalitarianism resulted in their rejection of non-Western civilizations as inherently suspicious. Yet, as we all know, it is useless to fight Nature, and driven out of the door, it will come back through the window’ [3, p. 17–18].

The modern Western world will be faced with a radical rethinking of its historical past and reassessment of its basic values, with the absolute rejection of the colonialist ideological matrix that gave rise to Nazism as a radical form of colonialism, communism as authoritarian reaction to colonialism and neoliberal globalization as the modern form of colonialism. Nobody in our immediate future will be able to issue the license to use the label ‘civilized’ and to oppress other nations.

Simultaneously, the West will have to bridge the gap to their own (Christian) tradition and return to Christian values. No other civilization in the world except the West has ever based its development upon the destruction of its own tradition, the rejection of it. There will be no restoring fundamental social society without first overcoming painful Christianophobia and the reflexes of historical chauvinism and vandalism.

The juxtaposition of tradition and modernity as ‘rational’ and irrational, barbaric and civilized is rooted in the past and is yielding way to the idea of dialectical tradition. A new future, however, can only be formed based on a ‘lofty’ and progressive kind of traditionalism. There are several Christian European and Islamic Middle Eastern countries that fulfil this condition. High tradition appears both as a dynamic link between the past and the future and as the social mechanism that eliminates historical gaps and conflicts. And that is the reason it needs to include egalitarian type ethics. With this condition fulfilled, tradition is able to satisfy the social need for a new moral consensus.

In some cases, the tendency towards archaization and the degradation of liberal modernism are called counter-modernism. Whether a new Great style – axio-modernism – will emerge, or whether counter-modernism will remain a long-term dominant systemic phenomenon, is largely dependent on the prospective synthesis of the Christian tradition and classical rationality values, cleaned from positivist and social racist ideological speculations. A full recovery of Christian universalism is impossible without a return to genuine rationality. As we rethink the meaning of tradition, we should counter the right-wing traditionalism with the left, social traditionalism, which puts the ethics of justice in the first place. We should exchange the pagan idea of the right of the strongest with the tradition of Christian charity. Ideological discussions are inevitable, but they should happen within the field of traditional meanings rather than abstract political schemes.

One of the important consequences that these dramatic changes will bring about will be the transformation of the familiar political spectrum. The classic ‘conservatism-liberalism-socialism’ triad will be succeeded by ‘nationalism-socialism-traditionalism’.

It is quite possible that the new development paradigm will be created by the productive synthesis of the left-wing and moderately conservative lines of thought. The synthesis of traditionalism and socialist ideas, that is, the social traditionalism, appears to be a promising future political trend. This kind of traditionalism believes in the equality of nations, peoples and cultures, as well as their incommensurability and uniqueness, while also standing for social justice and for overcoming the painful gaps that are part of every nation’s history.

As a political trend, social traditionalism has nothing to do with Bolshevik repressions or the elitism of the new right fundamentalists and liberals, or such concepts as ‘passeism’, ‘conservatism’, ‘archaic’ or ‘patriarchal’. The social tradition is developed, consolidated and reproduced based on social justice values and the welfare state idea. The social traditionalism supporters use the following definition: ‘Tradition is a set of ways of preserving historical continuity based on giving the process of inheritance ethical meaning.’

Tradition belongs to everyone. The main social traditionalism thesis therefore declares that there can be no expendable people in society, redundant nations or superfluous history periods. Even the Soviet period of Russian history with its radical rejection of tradition enables the researcher to find and explore some topical elements that preserve the traditional matrix, however distorted those elements may seem.

The social-traditionalist ‘large society’ model involves family-type social relations, the presence of historical contract between generations, the synthesis of ‘heritage’ and ‘project’ concepts, fair distribution of public goods and the recovery of collective historical consciousness. Social traditionalism also means the return from the fictitious to the real democracy, as traditional values are equally binding to all social strata.

Tradition is not the object of restoration, but a method of social and cultural development. There is either the ‘gathering’ of tradition or the rupture of tradition with no third option. And the hard alternatives that the elite impose upon the society are always a sign of the approaching or impending rupture.

The basis of Russian (Russo-Byzantine) tradition and identity can be determined by reformulating Max Weber’s well-known formula of ‘the sum of Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism’ [2] in the following way: ‘Orthodox ethics and the spirit of solidarity’. The unity of heaven and earth, of religion and solidarity is a characteristic Russian trait. That is why the Russian religiosity displays a heightened sense of earthly justice and love for the humiliated and oppressed.

The social justice and equality sought by the Soviet system, were undoubtedly not only the result of Marxism, but also were influenced by the Orthodox ethics, which was still present despite having been repressed into the collective subconscious by the state doctrine of atheism.

The Russo-Byzantine world is a kind of world where people are not divided into the colonizers and the colonized, and where newly accessed territories join into the existing legal space. The symbolic core of the Russian national traditions is closely connected with Constantinople, which is extremely important for the Russian cultural myth. It is substituted today by the image of the Crimea and Chersonesîs/Korsun, which had logically led to the reconciliation of the former ‘whites’ and ‘reds’ and to the formation of the Crimean consensus as the basis of national consolidation.

We need to find an outcome today that will allow everyone to get out of the crisis with minimal losses. And for that to happen, the change in social paradigm is absolutely necessary.


1. Wallerstein, I. Historical Capitalism. Capitalist Civilization / I. Wallerstein. – M. : Tovarischestvo nauchnykh znaniy KMK, 2008. – 176 p.

2. Weber, M. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism / M. Weber. – Moscow : East View, 2002. – 352 p.

3. Panarin A. S. Orthodox Civilization in the Global World. – M.: Eksmo Publishing house, 2003. – 544 p.

About the author

Aleksandr Vladimirovich Shchipkov is a Doctor of Political Sciences, Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Professor of Philosophy, Religion and Religious Studies at the Philosophy faculty of Lomonosov Moscow State University, State Councilor of the 3rd class; Advisor to the Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, first Deputy Chairman of the Synodal Department of the ROC responsible for the Church’s relations with society and the media and editor-in-chief of the online magazine "Religare".