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May 12, 2005 by AK

David Brooks takes a look at Russia’s social disorder in a column somewhat latmely entitled Mourning Mother Russia. His take is simplistic, as Johan Maurer explains, but he is drawing our attention to the social fabric of a country, refraining from abstract platitudes.

When totalitarian regimes take control of a country, they destroy the bonds of civic trust and the normal patterns of social cohesion.They rule by fear, and public life becomes brutish. They pervert private and public morality.

When those totalitarian regimes fall, different parts of society recover at different rates. Some enterprising people take advantage of economic recovery, and the result of their efforts is economic growth.

But private morality, the habits of self-control and the social fabric take a lot longer to recover. So you wind up with nations in which high growth rates and lingering military power mask profound social chaos.

Sounds obvious and trite but is worth repeating. Of course, it does not mean private morality is dead in Russia, but there is a large subset of Russians whose self-control leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, a lot of the “entreprising people” who have taken advantage of recovery are weak on ethics. The other way round, some Russians who would be successful businessmen in a different environment prefer to stay hired employees to avoid the ethical complications of running a real-life business in Russia.

Communism did not destroy all old horizontal networks; it also created new ones. Generally speaking, network members should have done better in post-Soviet times than the “atomized.”


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